Some Notes on the Civil War Jayhawkers of Confederate Louisiana
By W. T. Block
The Calcasieu and Mermentau Jayhawkers
There was much enthusiasm in Louisiana when the American Civil War first began. The wealthier cotton and sugar planters usually owned many slaves, and the war was seen by them as the only way to preserve the plantation manner of life. Many young men flocked to the colors, seeking the glory and fame that a soldiers life might bestow upon them, unmindful that wars most frequent gifts were death and severed limbs instead of fame. Many youths enlisted, fearing the war would end before they could see action, and almost no one foresaw a war that would last for four years.
A year later, though, it became increasingly obvious that the war would last much longer. However, events of April, 1862, were soon to dampen enthusiasm for the war among Louisianans. In that month, the Confederate Congress passed a military draft for all men ages 18 to 35, later extending the years from 17 to 50 for three years of service. Also in April, 1862, Admiral David Farraguts West Gulf fleet ran passed the Lower Mississippi River forts to capture New Orleans, leaving only Port Hudson and Vicksburg to block the Unions Navys advance along the entire river.
Very quickly thereafter, the Civil War became known as "a rich mans war and a poor mans fight." While the Confederate government championed the cause of States Rights, many poor Southerners soon viewed it as a war to preserve the institution of slavery, and hence the way of life of the wealthy planter class that slavery permitted to flourish. It is believed that only one out of each twenty Confederate soldiers actually owned slaves. While a few of South Louisianas French Acadians belonged to the planter class, most of them were poor farmers, who depended for farm labor on their own large families, and who regarded the conflict as "the American war" (la guerre de les Americains).1
The first evidence of Louisianas Jayhawkers appeared with the Union invasion in May, 1863 of the Bayou Teche country between Opelousas and Brashear (Morgan) City. And very quickly three groups of men could be identified, all of whom the Confederates labeled as "Jayhawkers." The first of those were draft dodgers and conscripts, who hid out in the swamps. One writer explained their intents and way of life as follows:
A third group whom the Confederates also called Jayhawkers were Unionists, whom General Nathaniel Banks permitted to take the oath of allegiance, and he organized them into a regiment known as the First Louisiana Scouts, who did little in 1864 except exact "revenge against their former neighbors..."3 More about the Louisiana Scouts will be recorded later.
In May, 1863, a half dozen or more Texas Confederate units were transferred to General Taylors command to help defend against the new Union threat advancing north along the Bayou Teche. And the principal supply route from Texas moved by train from Houston to Beaumont, by steamboat from Beaumont or Sabine Pass to the Nibletts Bluff Quartermaster Depot, and then by wagon from the depot to Opelousas. Wagon traffic along that artery was two-way, loaded wagons moving to the east and empty wagons returning to Nibletts Bluff to reload. And that routes adjacency to the bottomlands of the Sabine, Houston, Calcasieu, Mermentau, and Vermilion rivers, as well as Bear Head and Beckwith creeks and Bayous Serpent, Nezpique, des Cannes, and Plaquemine Brule, made it an ideal location for Jayhawkers to prey on the Confederate supply line. In time many more Texas and Louisiana deserters, also draft dodgers, free Negroes, and escaped slaves, joined the many Jayhawker bands along that route.
Two 1863 letters from a Lake Charles clergyman explained the social disarray that existed in Southwest Louisiana when the effects of the draft and General Taylors retreat before the Union forces were felt. A lengthy quote from the first letter, dated August 23, 1863, follows:
Another letter written from Lake Charles on September 16, 1863, confirmed that considerable Jayhawker problems had arisen in Imperial Calcasieu and neighboring parishes, as follows:
In October, 1863, Colonel Augustus Buchels First Texas Mounted Rifles were stationed at Nibletts Bluff and were patrolling throughout Imperial Calcasieu Parish. Buchel did not report breaking up any Jayhawker bands, but he did note the capture of some Unionists - "William Griffith, the bridge burner, and Desire Labove, a deserter from Fournets Regiment; and Joseph Ritchie, a very dangerous character, and supposed to be one of their spies, will be forwarded to the provost marshal in Houston..."6
Also in October, 1863, one of Buchels troopers, Captain Matt Nolan, wrote about two blockade-runners, loaded with gunpowder, that were at anchor in Mermentau River. Nolan reported that:
First Sergeant H. N. Conner, whose four-year diary records his participation in twenty battles and skirmishes between Opelousas and Morgan City in 1863, also reported the presence of Jayhawkers on several occasions, as follows:
The brutality perpetrated by the Jayhawkers against the 2nd Louisiana Cavalry soldiers perhaps accounted for why Colonel Vincent hunted and hounded the Jayhawkers with such a vengeance in Vermilion, Lafayette, and St. Mary parishes. One such example was reported in a letter of Captain W. J. Howerton, as follows:
Doctor McCall had ample reason to hate the Jayhawkers, for his son, Milledge, Jr., had been killed in a fight with the Mermentau Jayhawkers. Dr. McCall also lost another son, Lt. Bill McCall, at the Battle of Mansfield. The writers grandmother, Ellen Sweeney, was a teenager on Grand Chenier during the war, and having no glass windows, she observed that they barred the wooden shutters not only to keep out the mosquitoes, but also the black panthers from the marsh and the Jayhawkers, who rode up and down the ridge at night.
Another story about the Calcasieu Jayhawkers was published in Lake Charles American Press about 1910, and was told by Mrs. Babette Goos Fitzenreiter of Lake Charles. She too was a teenager in the Daniel Goos home at Goosport in 1863 when Ewell Carriere and his Jayhawker band came for a visit. Her story continues:
Whether or not Mrs. Fitzenreiter had Ewell Carriere mixed up with Ozeme Carriere of St. Landry Parish is unknown. Ozeme Carriere also had two brothers who were Jayhawkers (although none named Ewell), and perhaps some nephews, Hilaire Carriere, a convicted murderer, being one of them.
According to one writer, Colonel William Vincents 2nd Louisiana Cavalry had perhaps the highest ratio of French Acadians mustered into it than any other known Louisiana unit. There is one other record of Vincents punitive expeditions against the Mermentau Jayhawkers in March, 1864, as follows:
Following the Battle of Gettysburg and the Confederate surrender of Vicksburg, it became ever harder to obtain Confederate conscripts in South Louisiana. The following quote describes Duncan Smiths (the writers great grandfather) encounter with an enrolling officer at Leesburg (now Cameron), despite the fact that Smith was 53 years old and supposedly exempt from conscription. The article continues:
Duncan Smith escaped that time with a minie ball in his leg, but if drafted, he would have deserted anyway. Although born in North Carolina and reared in Mississippi, he was an Abolitionist that hated slavery with a passion. In April, 1864, he was "go-between" for the Mermentau Jayhawkers for the sale of 450 stolen cattle and horses to the Union Navy for $9,000 in gold. As a result, two Union gunboats, the Wave and Granite City, anchored in the river to load the herd of livestock, when the Confederate Sabine Pass garrison of about 300 soldiers and four pieces of artillery attacked the gunboats on May 6, 1864. Following a 90-minute battle, the gunboats surrendered, and when the Confederates searched Smiths home, he escaped capture again by hiding under his wifes hoopskirts. Smith was the principal Union spy in Southwest Louisiana, rode aboard the offshore blockaders at will, and at the end of the war, had a $10,000 Confederate price tag on his head. In the meantime, the Mermentau Jayhawkers, who had driven their herd to the Calcasieu, galloped away into the marsh canebrakes and were not heard from again before the war ended.14
Ozeme Carriere and the St. Landry Jayhawkers
Without a doubt, the best known of the Louisiana Jayhawkers, was Ozeme Carriere, who in 1860 was a 29-year-old male, residing in the household of two Mulatto sisters, Mary and May Guillory.15 It does not appear that Carriere began mustering his Jayhawker followers until the summer of 1863, so who the earliest bands of St. Landry Parish were in 1862 is uncertain. One writer noted that women around the Bayou Chicot area, northwest of Ville Platte, appealed to Governor Moore as early as late 1862, as follows:
Another writer observed that in 1859-1860, western St. Landry Parish was already the scene of brigandage and various vigilante groups engaged in guerrilla-like warfare. In the summer of 1863, it was left to Carriere to recruit the disgruntled deserters and draft dodgers, many of whom were Acadians or prairie Creoles, into a group that some called "Carrieres Battalion" of about 1,000 men. Their ranks also included some Mulattoes, free Negroes, and escaped slaves.17 Apparently Carriere kept his forces broken up into much smaller groups, since complaints about them always reported the plundering of horses and arms by smaller groups of men. Bands of less than fifty men could probably hide out in the forests and bottomlands without attracting so much attention or retribution, although Carriere certainly had the ability to communicate quickly with his other Jayhawker bands by horseback.
During the fall of 1863, Carriere united his Jayhawkers into a close-knit and cohesive group.18 His first haunt was the Mallet Woods, but certainly by 1864 Carrieres raids extended into parts of Rapides, Lafayette, and Vermilion parishes. At first Carriere became popular with the residents because of his defiance of the Confederate Army and the Conscription Act. But during General Taylors general retreat along the Red River in 1864, his band drew more deserters, and his Jayhawker brigandage increased to much thievery and murder against civilians.19
In February, 1864, several residents of St. Landry Parish executed depositions that small bands of Carrieres Jayhawkers raided throughout the parish, stealing horses, weapons, saddles, blankets, cattle and food.20 Terry Jeansonne complained that after impressing 500 beeves for the depot commissary at Cheneyville, he was robbed by a number of Carrieres plunderers. T. P. Guidry deposed that seven Jayhawkers robbed him and his mother of a wagon load of corn, 2 horses, and other property, and Guidry recognized five of them to be Don Louis Godeau, Agile Myers, Edouard Simon, Maxmilien Guillory, and --- Ardoin.21
Francois Savoy deposed that while he was gathering beeves in Prairie Hayes, he was accosted by an armed band of Carrieres men, as follows:
During the same month the St. Landry enrolling officer reported to General Taylor, as follows:
Captain M. L. Lyons of "Headquarters, Paroled Prisoners," reported to General Taylor that it would take 200 well-armed men to subdue Carriere and his band. Lyons added that:
One writer believed that the Jayhawker chief, known as a Dr. Dudley, received a commission from Union General William Franklin, probably in the Louisiana Scouts, and that Carriere had been offered one, but refused it.25 It was after General Taylor defeated the Union advance at the Battle of Mansfield and Generals Franklin and Banks began a slow retreat down the Red River, that a major effort was made to destroy Carrieres brigands.
General Taylor assigned the duties of clearing out the St. Landry and Rapides Parish Jayhawkers to Colonel Louis Bush 4th Louisiana Cavalry, who in turn directed Lt. Colonel Louis A. Bringier to complete the task.26
Colonel Bringier conducted a totally repressive campaign against Carrieres Jayhawkers for next year, until May, 1865, during which time the latter doubled their efforts to burn houses, pillage, and murder civilians with a vengeance. When conscription laws ended, Carrieres men deserted and went home until only fifty remained in May, 1865, when Colonel Bringiers cavalry attacked them. During the onslaught, Carriere was killed and Martin Guillory, Carrieres chief officer, was mortally wounded, thus concluding St. Landry Parishs ugly struggle with the Jayhawkers.27
The Louisiana Scouts and the Other Parish Jayhawkers
When the armies of Union Generals William Franklin and Nathaniel Banks reached Alexandria late in March, 1864, hundreds of Unionists or loyalists, whom the Confederates also called Jayhawkers, began emerging from the forests and swamps, seeking to take the oath of allegiance to the United States. One Union soldier described them as looking "more like ragamuffins than men..." General Banks organized them into a regiment, and he gave to Dennis Haynes command of Company B, 1st Louisiana (Union) Battalion of Cavalry Scouts. Haynes managed to enroll 118 men into his cavalry company.28 The life of the Louisiana (Union) Scouts was relatively short after the Battle of Mansfield. Although several of the companies retreated south with Banks Union Army, four companies remained in Rapides Parish, and one company entered the swamps near Catahoula Lake.29 The Scouts principally sought revenge from persons loyal to the Confederate States. A person living in Alexandria noted that the Louisiana Scouts committed against:
One of those who was commissioned a Louisiana Scout was a Dr. Dudley, also known as "Colonel" Duley, against whom "all manner of outrages" were charged. Those included "houses...burned, livestock killed or stolen...," and even assassinations. There is a discrepancy about his ultimate fate though. One source noted that Dr. Dudley retreated to New Orleans with Banks army, only returning to Rapides Parish after the war.31 Another source observed however that Dr. Dudley, "a chief of the Jayhawkers," had been captured in January, 1865, and executed. The same source reported the capture of some Jayhawkers, location not shown, as follows:
In February, 1864, Major R. E. Wyche and Captain G. W. Smiths company of cavalry, Louisiana State Troops, were ordered to flush out the Jayhawkers in East Rapides and adjoining parishes, particularly in the swamps between Lake Larto and Catahoula Lake. Their instructions were to: "...hunt the Jayhawkers down with the utmost severity, and shoot any with arms in their hands, making resistance..."33
Another soldier active in the swamps of East Rapides and Concordia parishes was David C. Paul, captain of Pauls Rangers. One description of him was that: "...Jayhawkers were killed wherever found and without consideration..." Pauls reputation for severe retribution against the Jayhawkers enabled him later to be elected sheriff of Rapides Parish.34
Apparently a large area northeast of Alexandria, probably including swamp areas in LaSalle and Catahoula parishes between Little and Black rivers, were "infested with recusant conscripts and jayhawkers," and two letters to General C. J. dePolignac ordered: "...If Jayhawkers are taken in arms, they will be summarily executed..." Some of their locations were localized names difficult to identify, such as Big Creek, Holloways Prairie, and Davids Ferry.35
There were other parishes that were periodically molested by Jayhawkers. As early as September, 1863, General P. O. Hebert at Monroe was ordered to dispatch five companies of Colonel W. H. Parsons brigade into Winn and Jackson parishes to "...break up the bands of jayhawkers infesting that section of the county..."36 In March, 1864, General J. L. Brent reported that: "...bands of deserters and jayhawkers are infesting the country north of Red River and between Black and Mississippi rivers. I have ordered Lt. Griffin with a detachment of cavalry into that section of country..."37
Another letter of April, 1864, reported an infestation of Jayhawkers in Marion County, Mississippi on Pearl River, as well as in Washington Parish, Louisiana. The writer added:
Even the Union forces that occupied the LaFourche District around Assumption and Terrebonne parishes had their own troubles with the Jayhawkers, who did not care from whom they stole food, horses, or weapons. General Cameron, a Union general, reported in February, 1865, that:
There is, however, one incorrect statement, that logic maintains is in error, because no Jayhawker band would venture too far from its safe hiding place in the forests or swamps, nor permit itself to have to fight on the open prairie. One article reported that: "...Jayhawkers sometimes stole children and sold them in Texas. Sarah Dorsey told of 500 such children..."40 An earlier page noted that slaves stolen on Louisiana were being sold in Houston in 1863 by Texas soldiers returning from the fighting around Opelousas. Hence the slave children were being sold or traded by the Jayhawkers to the passing soldiers en route to Texas. The one exception might have been Jayhawkers hiding out in the Sabine River bottoms.
Obviously the American Civil War as fought in Louisiana was accompanied by as much heartache, military action, civil disobedience, and bloodshed as in any other Confederate state, except Virginia. The writer has an unpublished participant account of some twenty battles and skirmishes, fought by a Confederate cavalryman between Opelousas and Brashear (Morgan) City between June-November, 1863, that exemplifies some of the worst fighting and dying similar to that at Gettysburg. As was stated near the beginning, many Acadian farmers who owned no slaves quickly reasoned that it was not their war that was being fought, despite the knowledge of thousands of other Acadian Frenchmen who served the Confederacy with distinction. The ranks of the Louisiana Jayhawkers reached their peak around March, 1864, and included recruits of every persuasion - deserters from Texas and Louisiana, draft dodgers, free Negroes and escaped slaves, some of whom continued to fight even after General Lee surrendered. It appears that every Confederate state had some Jayhawker bands within its borders, yet it has generally been those guerrillas of Quantrells stature that have drawn the most historical attention. Hopefully that field will attract other historians in the future.
Many times the writers grandmother, Ellen Sweeney, recalled that night riders or vigilantes continued to ride up and down the Grand Chenier ridge, occasionally shooting or hanging people, for many years after the war had ended.
1 Gercie D. Daigle, "The Robin Hood of Mallet Woods," Las Voix des Prairies, XI, No. 41 (Apr. 1990), 33. The writer is also indebted to Ms. Daigle for furnishing the census, genealogical, and succession data for Ozeme Carriere.
2 E. Taylor, "Discontent in Confederate Louisiana," Louisiana History, II, No. 4 (Fall, 1961), 424-425.
3 A. W. Bergeron, "Dennis Haynes and his Thrilling Narrative...of Western Louisiana," Louisiana History, XXXVIII, No. 1, 36-37.
4 "State ofThings in Lower Louisiana," Galveston Weekly News, Sept. 2, 1863, p. 1.
5 "Letter From Lake Charles-Things in Lower Louisiana," Galveston Weekly News, Sept. 30, 1863, p. 1.
6 Buchel to Turner, Official Records, Armies, in The War of The Rebellion, Ser. I, Vol. XXVI,Pt. 2, p. 400.
7 Ibid., Noland to Livesay, Ser. I, Vol. XXVI, Pt. 2, p. 347.
8 H. N. Connor, "Diary of First Sgt. H. N. Connor, 1861-1865," Unpublished, copies in various Louisiana university Libraries.
9 Letter, Howerton to Smith, Official Records, Armies, Ser. I, Vol. XXXIV. Pt. 2, p. 1025.
10 In May, 1864, Capt. Daniel Goos opened his home for one month for both Confederate and Union wounded aboard the captured gunboat Wave, which had been brought up the river to Lake Charles, where some local persons did not wish to succor the "Yankee" wounded. The men were survivors of the Battle of Calcasieu Pass on May 6, 1864. Their wounds were attended to by Union Assistant Surgeon Vermuelen, who was a Confederate prisoner.
11 Babette Goos Fitzenreiter,"Incident of The Early 1860s," undated clipping, but about 1910, of Lake Charles American Press, furnished to the writer by Mrs. Fitzenreiters great granddaughter, Mrs. J. G. Miltner of Lake Charles.
12 "Military Movements in Louisiana," Galveston Weekly News, May 16, 1864, p. 2, c. 3.
13 "How Cameron Parish, La., Received the Name It Bears," (Beaumont, Tx.) Enterprise, June 30, 1907.
14 W. T. Block, "Annals of Duncan Smith," Cameron Parish Pilot, July 25 and Aug. 1, 1996; see Smiths participation in the Battle of Calcasieu Pass in Letter, Lt. Loring to Sec. Navy Gideon Welles, in Official Records, Navies, Ser. I, Vol. XXI, pp. 256-259; also see W. T. Block, "Calcasieu Pass Victory," East Texas Historical Journal, IX No. 2 (Oct. 1971), pp. 139-144
15 Eighth Decennial Census, 1860, St. Landry, La., Parish, p. 130.
16 E. Taylor, "Discontent in Confederate Louisiana," Louisiana History,II No. 4 (fall 1961), 425.
17 C. A. Brasseaux, "Ozeme Carriere and The St. Landry Jayhawkers," Attakapas Gazette, XIII No. 4 (Winter 1978), 185-186.
18 Ibid., 187.
19 Ibid., 188; G. D. Daigle, "The Robin Hood of Mallet Woods," La Voix des Prairies, XI No. 41 (April 1990), 33-34.
20 Depositions of Dejean, Guidry, Young, Jeansonne, and Savoy , Official Records, Armies, Ser. I, Vol. XXXIV. Pt. 2, 963-965.
21 Ibid., 963-964.
22 Ibid., 965.
23 Ibid., 965-966.
24 Ibid., 966-967.
25 Ibid., 978; Brasseaux," Ozeme Carriere and the St. Landry Jayhawkers," 188 .
26 Officials Records, Armies, Ser. I, Vol. XXXIV, Pt. 2, 962; also Brasseaux, "Ozeme Carriere," 188-189.
27 Gercie D. Daigle, "Robin Hood of Mallet Woods," La Voix des Prairies, II, No. 41, 34; Brasseau, "Ozeme Carriere," 189.
28 A. W. Bergeron, "Dennis Haynes and His Thrilling Narrative ...of Western Louisiana," Louisiana History, XXXVIII, No. 1, 36-37.
29 Official Records, Armies, Ser. I, Vol. XLVIII, Pt. 1, 1431.
30 Bergeron, "Dennis Haynes," 36-38.
31 G. P. Whittington, Rapides Parish, Louisiana: A History (Baton Rouge: 1932), 146.
32 Lt. John C. Sibley Diary, quoted in Shreveport Times, November 3, 1957.
33 Three letters, Official Records, Armies, Ser. I, Vol. XXXIV, Pt. 2, 972-973.
34 Whittington, Rapides Parish, Louisiana: A History, 146; J. O. Swanson, "White Mans Failure: Rapides Parish etc.," Louisiana History, XXXI, No. 1, 53.
35 Letters, Surget and Elgee to Gen. dePolignac, Official Records, Armies, Ser. I, Vol. XXXIV, Pt. 2, 944-946, 976.
36 Letters to Hebert and Col. Burleson, Official Records, Armies, Ser. I, Vol. XXVI. Pt. 2, 194-195.
37 Official Records, Armies, Ser. I, vol. XLVIII, Pt. 1, 143.
38 Ibid., Ser. I, Vol. XXXII, Pt. 3, 755.
39 Ibid., Ser. I, Vol. XLVIII, Pt. 1, 775-776.
40 E. Taylor, "Discontent in Confederate Louisiana," Louisiana History, II No. 4 (Fall 1961), 426. Four sets of the writers great granparents lived in Imperial Calcasieu during the Civil War. The war was utter heartbreak on both sides of his family, with some being Union sympathizers and others, including his Grandfather Block and his 3 brothers who were Confederate cannoneers at Sabine Pass, Also three great uncles, two by marriage, in the Confederate Army were killed in the fighting in Louisiana, including Pvt. Isaac Bonsall of Moutons Div. at Mansfield. Two great uncles and a great grandfather, Duncan Smith of Cameron, were Union spies in Calcasieu Parish.