Leonville and the Union Troops in 1863

By John A. Speyrer

Don't expect very much from this article as Leonville was not the site of any historic battles or even noteworthy skirmishes during the Civil War. Most of the information in this article is from Yankee Autumn in Acadiana (1979) by David C. Edmonds, who at the time of its writing was a professor of Economics and Finance at the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette.

While reading Dr. Edmond's book, which narrates the Union army's battles and forages during the Fall of 1863, I made notes concerning references to Leonville and areas in its immediate vicinity. Union troops were in the Leonville area before the Autumn of 1863. Earlier that year there was actual warfare in the areas near Washington and Opelousas.

The ultimate reason for Union forces being in this area during the Civil War was to assure that Confederate Texas would remain under the U.S. flag. Washington was fearful that France through Mexico had sinister motives and wanted to capture Texas. During the earlier campaigns there were efforts to keep the Red River open to steamboat traffic so that there would be market for the area's cotton production.

The first part of the book concerns the movement of Union forces from New Orleans into Acadiana via Brashear (present day Morgan City) on a newly completed railroad. The plan was to rout the Confederate rebels along the way to Texas. But the Union forces stayed in the Acadiana much longer than had been planned.

It was for purposes of foraging and reconnaissance that Union forces made their way to obviously non-stratgegic areas such as Leonville. The first mention made of Leonville in the book is in reference to a force of five thousand men who left Vermilionville (present day Lafayette), and after meeting very limited resistence, proceeded to Barre's Landing (Port Barre) via Grand Coteau, Leonville and Notleyville and up Bayou Teche.

Port Barre, in 1863, was scarcely a town; it was merely a steamboat landing and trading post. There were a number of Union camps in the area of Barre's Landing. The area where the Little Teche or Bayou Marie Croquant (an interesting name!) flows into Bayou Teche, as well as the area on both sides of the Teche in present-day Port Barre, held Union army camps. There were at least three encampments nearby in Opelousas. (Union Street derives its name for the Union camp located at its end near the St Landry Catholic Church.) Other Union army encampments in St Landry Parish were at Bellevue, south of Opelousas, with battles and skirmishes occurring at Chretien Point near Sunset, and at Bayou Bourbeau, south of Opelousas.

But whereever the Union forces were, there was a continual need for provisions since rail shipments to Morgan City were not dependable. These shortages impelled the Union forces to supplement their army rations with local delicacies such as sweet potatoes and oranges. So, to an extent, although it was illegal, the yankee troops lived off the land and make daily excusions from their camps to plunder the countryside for provisions, horses, bridles, saddles and mules.

Edmond writes: ``They . . . were concentrating on the densely-settled prairies in the vicinity of Leonville. Among those visited were Andre and Hypolite Mallet, Francois Guillory, Adelaid Lanclos and Romain Dupre. Some of these settlers had practiced considerable ``ingenuity'' in secreting their property. Bridles and saddles were found up chimneys, in attics, under beds, in closets and even bured in the ground.'' My grandfather, Jules Conrad Speyrer, who was a youngster in 1863, successfully hid in small saddle under his house!

Overland the distance from the camp at Bayou Marie Croquant to Leonville was only two miles. If they went through Notleyville, the journey was somewhat longer. Because of this proximity, the presence of Union troops were probably not an unusual sight for the citizens of Leonville and Notleyville.

In a normal Autumn of the year the citizens of Leonville would have been preparing to celebrate La Fte de la Roulaison which took place upon the completion of the sugar cane harvest. But the Autumn of 1863 was a year unlike any previously with the infernal yankees disrupting normal life.

On a number of occasions the author referred to Leonville as Gros Chevreuil. I remember that Pecanniere had also been known by that name. But, Professor Edmonds writes, for example, '' . . . (they) headed across Prairie Laurent to Gros Chevreuil (currently Leonville) where they found a recently arrived, but poorly educated, Frenchman named Joseph Camy.''

I had always heard the ``Leon'' in Leonville came from Leon Camy. But since Leonville was so named many years before the arrival of Leon Camy, he cannot be the source of Leonville's name. While attending college at Loyola University in New Orleans, I met a Gloria Comisky. She informed me that Leonville was named after one of her ancestors, Leon Comisky and that the name had been changed to sound more French. So the origin of the Leonville's name remains to be settled.

Edmond's book recounts Joseph Camy's immigration to Leonville in 1856 and his work as a laborer for Jules Mistric in his general merchandise store located on the northern bank of Bayou Teche in Leonville. Also recounted is the story of Jules' twelve-year old son, Leon Mistric watching helplessly nearby as the maurading Union soldiers helped themselves to $500 worth of merchandise from the store.

The author of Yankee Autumn in Acadiana writes, ``A few of the older houses around Port Barre (Barre's Landing), Notleyville, and Leonville date back to the year 1863 and were the scenes of the plunder described in this work.''

What happened to the Texas overland expedition which was the purpose of this concentration of Union troops in Acadiana? The Union army's sojourn in Acadiana was much longer than originally planned. Due to indeciveness on the part of the command staff in New Orleans, the march to Texas did not occur. However, in the Spring of 1864 another force called the Red River Campaign was dispatched and the Union forces were kept out of Texas, but with a large loss of life to both sides.

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