American Civil War Service
White's studies at Georgetown were interrupted by the American Civil War. It has been suggested that he returned to Bayou Lafourche, where he supposedly enlisted as an infantryman in the Confederate States Army under General Richard Taylor and eventually attained the rank of lieutenant. This is questionable, as his widowed mother had remarried and was living with the rest of the family in New Orleans at the time. When he returned to Louisiana, it was probably to his primary home in New Orleans. An apocryphal account states that White was almost captured by General Godfrey Weitzel's Union army when they invaded Bayou Lafourche in October 1862, but that he evaded capture by hiding beneath hay in a barn. It is possible that White enlisted in the Lafourche militia, as its muster rolls are not complete. There is no documentation, however, that White served in any Confederate volunteer unit or militia unit engaged in campaigns in the Lafourche area.
Another account suggests that he was assigned as an aide to Confederate General W. N. R. Beall and accompanied him to Port Hudson. Port Hudson had a garrison of 18,000 Confederate soldiers, but a numerically superior Union force surrounded it. After a siege lasting from May 21 to July 8, 1863 (the longest siege in North American history), the Confederate forces unconditionally surrendered after learning of the fall of Vicksburg. White's presence at Port Hudson is supported by a secondhand account of a postwar dinner conversation he had with Senator Knute Nelson of Minnesota, a Union veteran of Port Hudson, and another recounted by Admiral George Dewey (then a Federal naval officer at Port Hudson), in both of which White mentioned his presence during the siege. However, White's name does not appear on any list of prisoners captured at Port Hudson. According to another account of questionable reliability, White was supposedly sent to a Mississippi prisoner of war camp. (As practically all Confederate soldiers of enlisted rank of the Port Hudson garrison were paroled, and officers sent to prison in New Orleans and later at Johnson's Island, Ohio, this account is probably untrue.) When he was paroled, he supposedly returned to the family plantation, but it was abandoned, the canefields were barren, and most of the former slaves had left.
The only "hard" evidence of White's Confederate service consists of the account of his capture on March 12, 1865 in an action in Morganza in Pointe Coupee Parish contained in the Official Records of the American Civil War, and his service records in the National Archives, documenting his subsequent imprisonment in New Orleans and parole in April 1865. These records confirm his service as a lieutenant in Captain W. B. Barrow's company of a Louisiana cavalry regiment, for all practical purposes a loosely-organized band of irregulars or "scouts" (guerrillas). One organizing officer of this regiment, sometimes called "Barrow's Regiment" or the "9th Louisiana Cavalry Regiment," was Major Robert Pruyn. Pruyn (a postwar mayor of Baton Rouge, Louisiana) served as courier relaying messages from Port Hudson's commander, General Franklin Gardner, to General Joseph E. Johnston, crossing the Union siege lines by swimming the Mississippi. Pruyn escaped from Port Hudson prior to its surrender in the same manner. It is interesting to speculate that perhaps White accompanied Pruyn during that escape, which would explain White's absence from Port Hudson's prisoner rolls and later service in Pruyn's regiment. According to another account, after his parole in April 1865 and following the surrender of the western Confederate forces, White ended his military career by walking (his clothing in rags) to a comrade's family home in Livonia in Pointe Coupee Parish.
White's Civil War service was a matter of common knowledge at the time of his initial nomination to the United States Supreme Court, and the Confederate Veteran periodical, published for the United Confederate Veterans, congratulated him upon his affirmation. White was one of three ex-Confederate soldiers to serve on the Supreme Court. The others were Associate Justices Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar (II) and Horace Harmon Lurton. The Court's other ex-Confederate, Associate Justice Howell Edmunds Jackson, held a civil position under the Confederate government.
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