From Sicilian POWs to the LSU Tigers

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The LSU Tigers will be playing for a National Championship on January 13, 2020.  The “Tigers” name comes from an concept by Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheat while he was in Sicily in 1860 fighting with General Garibaldi to unify Italy. Wheat and Garibaldi had landed in Marsala on May 11 taking over 12,000 Sicilians as Prisoners of War.

Wheat sensed war was coming to America and suggested Garibaldi allow him to take 2,000 men to New Orleans to fight as Confederates. This would make Wheat a General and remove the burden to Garibaldi of feeding them as POWs.

Six ships of hand-to-hand combat battle veterans left Sicily with POWs for New Orleans.  The Louisiana Tigers would eventually transfer under General Lee with almost all dying in battle. The LSU Song “Tiger Rag” was written in 1915 by New Orleanian Nick LaRocca of Sicilian Ancestry. Larocca liked to write songs with “animal” noises, such as the horse sound in “Livery Stable Blues.” His band was the “Orginal Dixieland Jass Band.” He changed the name of the music in November 1917 to Jazz.

LSU Tiger flags on the top of the Lee Circle column. The men who fought under Lee were called the Louisiana Tigers. The idea was developed while US Army Major Wheat was in Sicily in 1860.
Sicily Island in north Louisiana honors “The Tigers.”


Nick LaRocca was discovered in December 1915 in New Orleans and contracted for Chicago. From Chicago the band headed to New York and began recording records in 1917.

The Tigers earned their name when they ran out of bullets defending a supply bridge. The commanding officer advised them to hold their ground and throw the rocks at Union soldiers. The Tigers accuracy killed several Union soldiers and led to them retreating. This delay allowed for the Tigers ammunition to be supplied and victory achieved.

The uniform of the Louisiana Tigers was inspired from the uniform of the Italians and Sicilians during the Italian War of Unification of 1860-1861.

John Viola explains to AWE News the history of Sicilian POWs in the Civil War. Click on link below.

The Naples Civitella del Tronto Museum in Abruzzo Italy has an exhibit in honor of those 1,000 plus POWs that shipped to New Orleans in 1861.

The Naples Civitella del Tronto Museum in Abruzzo Italy has an exhibit in honor of those 1,000 plus POWs that shipped to New Orleans in 1861.

The above is from a published letter to the editor of The Advocate.

To read the full letter click this Link.

The Fighting Tigers under Robert E. Lee became the LSU Tigers.

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