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 soldier life might bestow upon them, unmindful that war 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 Farragut West Gulf fleet ran passed the Lower Mississippi River forts to capture New Orleans, leaving only Port Hudson and Vicksburg to block the Union Navy advance along the entire river.
Very quickly thereafter, the Civil War became known as "a rich man war and a poor man 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 Louisiana 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 Louisiana 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:
"...Many honest and hard working men deserted or evaded the draft because they never owned a slave, never participated in the planter way of life, and decided not to defend it. They are not to be confused with the bands of lawless men, composed of deserters and draft dodgers, who organized into bodies which they called...guerrillas. They were mounted and armed... 2
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 Taylor 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 Niblett 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 Niblett Bluff to reload. And that route 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 Taylor retreat before the Union forces were felt. A lengthy quote from the first letter, dated August 23, 1863, follows:
"Things in Lower Louisiana: ...The facts presented to us leave no doubt that there is a system of wholesale stealing going on in that (Calcasieu) section of the country that would astonish most of our readers, and we regret to say that Texans are largely concerned in the thieving operations. Gangs of Negroes have been enticed away from their owners by various false representations, and brought into different parts of Texas and sold... Some of them have run away from their seducers while being brought into Texas, and being unacquainted with the country, are now occasionally seen in gangs, wandering about, nearly starved to death... Indeed their statements are often confirmed. Texas officers and soldiers, as well as private citizens, are often implicated in these disgraceful operations...
"...We fear many of our citizens have been badly swindled by buying slaves thus stolen from Louisiana plantations... It is further stated... that a large amount of the property captured by our troops after the retreat of (Gen. Nathaniel) Banks has been appropriated, by wagon loads, by certain officers and individuals, and we have reason to believe that some of this property has been sold in the (Houston) black market...
"...It is stated that the Louisiana deserters who ran away to escape the service are now in the Calcasieu River bottom, and with the few Negroes in their company, number about 700. They are said to be very desperate and are perpetrating the most horrible outrages from time to time, which are retaliated on them occasionally by our troops in a manner almost too shocking to relate...4
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:
"Things in Lower Louisiana:...The number of deserters and others rendezvousing in the swamps of the Calcasieu are sometimes stated... as seven or eight hundred... The best information I can get shows that... about September and October, 1862, some persons residing in the north of Calcasieu and the west part of Rapides parishes, who were subject to the Conscript Act of April, 1862, absented themselves from home in order to avoid being enrolled and formed in camps in the woods - on the Sabine; one on the Calcasieu, near the boundary line between this parish and Rapides; and one on Beckwith Creek in Calcasieu Parish...
"...I obtained information of these camps, numbers, etc. and communicated to an officer in the Confederate States service...He did nothing to disperse them. Encouraged by the immunity enjoyed by these, others were emboldened to join them. As soon as the exemption law was made public, this sent their hide-outs many more recruits. It was soon observed that the immediate neighbors of the enrolling officer were staying home. Young men, his intimate acquaintances, were in daily attendance upon their ordinary vocations in the near vicinity of the enrolling officer residence...
"...Persons whom everyone knew had no lawful exemptions were returned home from Camp Pratt, exempted from military servic. Public officers shelter their kindred under various fraudalent pretenses. By April, 1863, deserters came and went with the same freedom in the parishes of Rapides, Vermilion, Calcasieu and St. Landry. Nothing is being done to suppress them, and others, who would cheerfully enter our service, are deterred from doing so by fear of the injury that may be done by the Jayhawkers to their families. Indeed we are here without protection of law, with stealing and plundering by passing soldiers and others as the general order of the times...5
In October, 1863, Colonel Augustus Buchel First Texas Mounted Rifles were stationed at Niblett 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 Fournet 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 Buchel troopers, Captain Matt Nolan, wrote about two blockade-runners, loaded with gunpowder, that were at anchor in Mermentau River. Nolan reported that:
"...Lieutenant Aikens is of the opinion that the (Mermentau) Jayhawkers are watching the two schooners in the Mermentau, and that the moment they attempt to unload their powder cargoes, they (the Jayhawkers) will seize them. He says they can raise 200 men, well-mounted, in two hours time... 7
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:
"...Regiment sent to catch jayhawkers. Found their nest, but no birds in it... Near Flat Town, (La.), two of our men were captured by jayhawkers not more than 500 yards from camp, were disarmed, then taken 5 miles from camp and turned loose. A few days before, the jayhawkers had taken two men of the 2nd Louisiana Cavalry (Colonel W. Vincent Regiment) and they murdered them in a most horrible manner... While en route to Texas for clothing on the Alexandria and Burr Ferry road, about 50 miles from the ferry, we were taken prisoner by the jayhawkers, but were released in about half an hour...8
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:
"...I have just learned from Doctor (Milledge) McCall, who is down from Grand Chenier, that the commander of Louisiana District has sent a force into the (Mermentau) Jayhawkers, and that force is capturing and killing them off, hanging the scoundrels. When the doctor left up there, some 9 or more had been captured, a good many more killed, and they were then hemmed in a place called Toussand Cove, and still fighting... 9
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 writer 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:
"...During the war, my father, Captain Goos, operated a hospital for wounded Confederate soldiers in our home in Goosport...10 He was also engaged in the highly profitable business of blockade-running, buying cotton around this country, and taking it down to Matamoras in the old Lehmann. He received $30,000 a cargo for the cotton, and the schooner ran the blockade four times.
"...One day a young man about 25 or 30 years of age, very handsome and debonaire, and attired in the uniform of a Confederate officer, came to our home. He had with him about 25 or 30 men. Father told him to come in, provided quarters for his men, and brought the officer into the house... We entertained the officer at dinner... I played the piano, and we sang, and had an enjoyable evening...
"...In the morning after breakfast, the young officer gathered together his men... As they started to ride away, the young officer turned around. "Do you know who I am?" he asked. "I am Carriere, the Jayhawker." We all started back in great alarm. We had heard terrible things about Carriere and his band. "Last night I came here to rob you, Captain Goos. You have $30,000 in gold in a chest under your bed. I came after that gold, and I would have burned your house and killed you to get it. I might also have burned your mill. But you have entertained us so royally that we decided not to take your money.
"...With that, he and his men rode off. That night father and mother got a spade, and he and mother took the chest out some where and buried it. Three days later a man from Texas passed our way on the way to Opelousas, where his daughter attended a convent. He was driving a fine horse, hitched to a new buggy. That man fell in with the Jayhawkers and was never heard from again...11
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 Vincent 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 Vincent punitive expeditions against the Mermentau Jayhawkers in March, 1864, as follows:
"...A few days past, some of Col. Vincent cavalry came in sight of Captain Cady, a Jayhawker chief, and eighteen of his company. They were hotly pursued and driven to the Mermentau, and all captured. A drum head court martial was at once formed, the party tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death. The sentence was executed without the least delay... 12
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 Smith (the writer 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:
"...On August 2, 1863, a conscripting vessel sailed to the mouth of the Calcasieu and read the Declaration of the Confederate Congress at Leesburg. Many called it a recruiting vessel...but (it was) identical with the British press gangs of the War of 1812...
"...The conscriptor was after troops - and did not care how they were gotten. At any rate Duncan Smith was on the west side of the river, and he immediately took to the water to get to his home on the east side... It takes a good man to keep on rowing with one leg shot to pieces... When Smith was nearing the shore, a woman came running from the village and met him at the water edge... And when the woman appeared, the firing stopped.... 13
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 Smith home, he escaped capture again by hiding under his wife 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:
"...We could not fare worse were we surrounded by a band of Lincoln mercenary hirelings. These men pillage homes, stealing anything they can find. And if you asked these lawless wretches, their reply is that they are carrying out the orders of their Captain Todd... 16
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 "Carriere 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 Carriere 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 Taylor 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 Carriere 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 Carriere 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 Carriere men, as follows:
"...(Savoy) replied that he was not a soldier and belonged to no company. They then told him they would let him go if he promised not to inform on them. They further told him that they were acting under orders from one certain Ozeme Carriere; that in letting him go, they would have to keep it a secret from Carriere to keep him from punishing them... 22
During the same month the St. Landry enrolling officer reported to General Taylor, as follows:
"...The Jayhawkers swept over the country known as Plaquemine Ridge, robbing the inhabitants in many instances of...all their fine horses and good arms they could find...These lawless bands are daily increasing in numbers; not only are they collecting the discontented white and the free Negroes, but the slaves...are going over to them every day...
"...I speak from my own knowledge when I say that Carriere is daily becoming more and more popular with the people, and every day serves to increase his gang. These men are making the ignorant and deluded suppose that they are their champions...that their object is to bring the war to a close...
"...The few men who report declare that they will never leave home until some steps are taken to afford some security for the defenseless ones they leave behind them...23
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:
"...those prisoners of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, of which there are large numbers in this (St. Landry) parish, have in many instances gone inside the Jayhawker lines and cannot be gotten out of them... 24
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 Carriere 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 Carriere 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, Carriere men deserted and went home until only fifty remained in May, 1865, when Colonel Bringier cavalry attacked them. During the onslaught, Carriere was killed and Martin Guillory, Carriere chief officer, was mortally wounded, thus concluding St. Landry Parish 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:
"...individuals their vengeance and vindictiveness. This irregular force entered the residences of planters, carrying off whatever they needed...In remote parts of the parish, they burned buildings... 30
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:
"...a band of them were routed in the swamps, and two were sentenced to be shot. One of them had a wife and children who came to see him, and oh! It was piteous to hear the weeping...!32
In February, 1864, Major R. E. Wyche and Captain G. W. Smith 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 Paul Rangers. One description of him was that: "...Jayhawkers were killed wherever found and without consideration..." Paul 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, Holloway Prairie, and David 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:
"...In fact it is dangerous to travel in that part of Louisiana...they (the Jayhawkers) are banded together in large numbers, bid defiance to all authorities, and claim to have a government of their own in opposition to the Confederate government...38
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 but one way to get rid of the guerrillas, who infest and almost hold undisputed possession of the country from the (Bayou) LaFourche to Grand Lake. If we pursue them with cavalry, they take to their canoes and small boats. If we undertake to cut them off with a gunboat, they run into a chain of smaller bayous where a gunboat cannot follow them. The only plan left by which we can insure success is to gather together what small boats we can at Bayou Bouef, and build enough more to carry...125 picked men and fight them in their own way... 39
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 Quantrell stature that have drawn the most historical attention. Hopefully that field will attract other historians in the future.
Many times the writer 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.