Civil War Louisiana (CWLA)

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Civil War Louisiana (CWLA)
CWLA seeks to provide an online resource of any and all material of the Civil War relating to Louisiana with a special interest in the war in Acadiana in southwest Louisiana.
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Friday, June 5, 2020

St. Landry Parish in April-June 1865

Reading through Volume 48, pt. 2, of the Official Records (ORs), presents a very desperate situation for St. Landry Parish at the end of the Civil War. Almost four years of war had definitely put a strain on this once prosperous community. The demand for men and materials to support the Confederate war effort was a serious strain. The Union blockade effectively killed St. Landry's major income of exporting sugar and cotton. On three separate occasions (April-May 1863, October-November 1863, March 1864) the Union armies invaded the parish and plundered it at all. On top of all those issues there existing in southwest Louisiana roaming bands of outlaws or "Jayhawkers" as they were called. They were composed of deserters from the Confederate army, pro-Union men, Creoles, mulattoes, runaway slaves. St. Landry Parish was hit hard by these groups from 1863-1865.

The collapse of Confederate authority during April-May 1865 and the establishment of Union occupation during May-June 1865 was an awkward time for St. Landry - meaning a lot of chaos and uncertainty. Here are exerts from this volume to help paint the scene at the time. This transition from "Confederate St. Landry" to back to Union control along with the economic and social transformation is a topic I plan on revisiting again in future posts.


Map of St. Landry Parish, 1865 (from G.W. Colton Map, 1865)


A Horace Bell traveled through south Louisiana in early April 1865 and reported back to Union authorities some of these details that relate to the St. Landry Parish region. He reported several troop movements he noticed on his trip from Morganza to Washington, to Alexandria, and then back to the south to Washington. Pertinent to St. Landry were these observations: 


  • 2nd Louisiana Cavalry: Captain Lewis D. Prescott's Company A was stationed at Washington and an additional company of that regiment (which company is unknown) was on picket duty at Opelousas.

  • 7th Louisiana Cavalry: Bush's 7th Cavalry marched toward Alexandria, passing through Washington on March 1st and returned to the region by March 16th.

Bell made a general observation about Confederate soldiers in the region he passed: 

"The demoralization of the army has extended to the officers. Several officers of the Second Louisiana Cavalry are in close confinement for attempting to desert to teh enemy, among whom are Captain Morell and one of his lieutenants. Captain Prescott (Lewis D. Prescott, Company A), of the same regiment, commanding at Washington, says if the army falls back to Texas he will surrender to himself to the Yankees. I found the country so rigidly policed that it was impossible for any person to pass through it without submitting to the closet scrutiny...". 

A Union report on Acadiana dated May 6th detailed Confederate units in Acadiana and their state of affairs:

"Captain Hargroder, Company B, Seventh Louisiana Cavalry, reports that he left his regiment on the 25th of April, at which time the companies were distributed as follows: Headquarters of the regiment, with five companies, a little below Vermillionville, La., on this side of the Vermillion Bayou. (Colonel Bringier commands the regiment.) One company (F), Captain Tertron, stationed near the mouth of Vermillion Bayou; four companies under Captain Murphy, stationed at Burn's Plantation, above Irish Bend. These companies picket the country from Butte-a-la-Rose to Berwick Bay. The station at Butte-a-la-Rose has seven men who couldn't as far as Hart's plantation, on Grand River. There are thirty men on Lake Fausse Pointe and twelve at Indian Village. The posts below Franklin are not known. The effective strength of the regiment is about 300 or 400. It was formerly the Fourth Louisiana Cavalry, Colonel Bush commanding. It is composed mostly of men who kept out of the service as long as possible. There are about 200 of them lying in the woods waiting on the opportunity to escape. Their principal duty is to catch deserters from other regiments, but will themselves desert if any demonstration is made by our forces in that country. Supplies very scarce. The informant heard by deserters who left the regiment on the 29th that they were to move on the 30th from Vermillionville to Opelousas."














Demoralization was sinking in fast for the Trans-Mississippi Confederates. News of Lee's surrender was reaching Louisiana - as were veterans paroled from Appomattox. On May 19th, it was reported at the camp of Harry T. Hays' Division of Louisiana soldiers in Mansfield, La: "The major portion of this command having deserted camp and gone to their homes, all the Government animals and most of the wagons having been forcibly taken possession of and carried away, the quartermaster's and commissary departments of this command and the post at Mansfield having been pillaged by the troops, all completely paralyzing the present military organizations, and rendering the maintaining of discipline and the subsistence of the troopers longer impossible, brigade commanders are hereby authorized to disband the troops under their commands and to permit them to proceed to their homes, there to await further orders from their commanding officers." This meant that Louisiana soldiers from Acadiana had deserted their units in mass and returned home, the war was over for them. They returned with their weapons and most to devastated homes ravaged by either Union soldiers, slaves, Jayhawkers or even former Confederate soldiers.

May 22, reported to Major General E. R. S. Canby:

"Captain Foster, of the secret service, just returned from a long trip in West Louisiana...The whole country between Bayou Boeuf and the Mississippi is underwater, and there is steam-boat communication to Opelousas. From there to the Sabine the people are loyal, the country in fine condition for field operations, but utterly destitute, although affording good grazing."


May 30th: General Sherman, commanding the Southern Division of Louisiana, was instructed yesterday to send the Ninety-eighth U.S. Colored Infantry and one company of the First Louisiana Cavalry to garrison New Iberia and Washington, La....for a total of 602 infantry and 64 cavalries. Soon, the occupation of Washington was passed to the 75th U.S. Colored Infantry commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John L. Rice. Rice played a pivotal role in 1865, overseeing the transfer of Confederate control to United States control in St. Landry Parish.


Lieutenant Colonel John L. Rice, 75th U.S. Colored Infantry

John Lovell Rice: After leaving school, he was engaged as a clerk in a store in Cornish, New Hampshire, until 1861, when he enlisted as a private in Company A of the 2nd New Hampshire Volunteers and was wounded at the First Battle of Bull Run and captured. He was exchanged in January 1862 and later enlisted in the 16th New Hampshire Infantry in October. He fought through McClellan's Peninsular Campaign, the Seven Days Campaign, and the 2nd Manassas Campaign. He was appointed a Captain of Company H and his regiment was sent to Louisiana in December. Rice fought with his unit through the Teche Campaign (April-May 1863) and the Siege of Port Hudson (May-July 1863). The 16th Regiment was mustered out of service in August and Rice took the opportunity to apply for a higher-ranked position in a colored regiment. On September 20, 1863, he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel of the 75th U.S. Colored Infantry (the old 3rd Louisiana Native Guards) (Luther Tracy Townsend, History of the Sixteenth Regiment, New Hampshire Volunteers, 1897, pp. 501-503; "Our County and Its People", A History of Hampden County, Massachusetts · Volume 31902, p. 562).

Lieutenant Colonel John L. Rice wrote of his occupation of Washington, La:

Left Brashear City on May 31st on the steamer Bart Able at 10:00 P.M., with the U.S. Steamer Carrabasset under Captain Leonard as an escort. Rice arrived at Washington at 9:00 A.M. on June 1st. On nearing Washington, Rice was met under a flag of truce by Captain Lewis Demarest Prescott, a native of Washington was the Confederate officer in charge of protecting Washington. Prescott was the commanding officer of Company A of the 2nd Louisiana Cavalry. Prescott had not learned of the Trans-Mississippi's surrendered and refused to oblige. To avoid bloodshed, Rice agreed to allow Prescot to send a courier to Alexandria to get confirmation. A five-day truce was agreed upon to allow this communication to occur. Rice's command camped east of the town of Washington and Prescott's command of 125 men were camped south of town.

Capt Lewis Demarest Prescott
Captain Lewis Demarest Prescott, Company A, 2nd Louisiana Cavalry 


While camped near Washington, Rice was approached by the Major of Opelousas and other "prominent citizens of Opelousas." The Major transmitted a request from Colonel Thompson commanding the 1st Regiment of Louisiana Reserves to keep is men armed to assist Rice in suppressing the Jayhawks west of the parish's main settlements of Washington, Opelousas, and Grand Coteau. This meant hundreds of Confederate soldiers keeping their arms and Rice could not allow that to occur and Thomas' request was refused. Instead, the men of that command would need to surrender their arms and be paroled.

As of June 16, 1865, the occupying force in St. Landry was: At Washington, 5 companies of 75th U.S. Colored, 225 men; Co. K, 1st Louisiana Cavalry (U.S.), 61 men.

Brigadier-General R. A. Cameron reported on the conditions of south Louisiana on June 16, 1865:

"The condition of the country is one of great distress and destitution. The ravages of the caterpillar upon the cotton crop, the merciless seizing of forage and subsistence by the rebels, with the present overflow, leaves many without food, and nearly all in circumstances of distress." 

Cameron's observation is indeed factual but also misleading. He left out the wholesale stealing of property by the Union army on three occasions in the area and by ex-slaves.


Again, these are random reports and information drawn from Volume 48, pt. 2, of the ORs on St. Landry Parish. There is a lot more information to draw upon in this interesting window of time.

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Coppens' Zouave Battalion

Coppens' Zouave Battalion
Lt. Colonel George Coppens (seated) and brother, Captain Marie Alfred Coppens.Image sold at auction on Cowan Auctions, for $14,375