About George Hildreth Devol
George H. Devol was, by his own admission, "the slickest rascal on the Mississippi River." A sure-thing gambler, Devol spent forty raucous years on the riverboats, cheating, conning, dealing cold hands, switching and stealing cards and fleecing suckers of an estimated quarter of a million dollars at the original sucker game, three-card monte. He was the prototypical riverboat gambler, proud of his craft,especially the various dishonest ways he could beat a sucker without the poor fellow catching on.
When the Civil War broke out, Devol and other riverboat gamblers formed a military unit in New Orleans called Wilson's Rangers. "A finer mounted troop of cavalry can hardly be found in the South," wrote the newspaper True Delta. Devol told a different story in his memoirs. Every morning, he said, the Rangers galloped conspicuously through the city's street, scarves fluttering, feathered hats tipped at rakish angles. The ladies were greatly impressed. Once outside town, the Rangers scouted out some shade trees, dismounted, and spent the day studying their "books" on tactics.
"We would remain in the shade till the cool of the evening," Devol recounted, "then mount up and ride back into town again. The people would cheer and wave handkerchiefs and give us bouquets ... for drilling all day in the hot sun, preparing to protect them from the damn Yankees."
Then one day in April 1862, Wilson's Rangers were called into action. Admiral Farragut's fleet was bombarding the forts below New Orleans. Out galloped the gallant Rangers to the cheers of the locals. Six miles downstream, Yankee ships greeted them with a salvo of canister-shot. The heroic Gamblers' Brigade wheeled and returned, full gallop.
"We dismounted without orders," Devol recalled, "cut the buttons off our coats, buried our sabers, and blended into the citizenry as quickly as possible."