A Kaleidoscopic Upbringing "St. Landry Parish Courthouse at Opelousas During the Civil War," Period Engraving, ca. 1863; Wikimedia Commons
Horthere Fontenot was one of the youngest of six brothers from near Opelousas, in St. Landry’s Parish, Louisiana. Born in 1844, Horthere found himself in the midst of a vibrant, culturally diverse farming community, situated amongst the flat, upper portions of the Creole Triangle of Louisiana. Despite the stereotypes of the Cajun country as a land crisscrossed by inhospitable swamps and bayous, the land was quite fertile in and around Opelousas – yet the area was not necessarily filled with the large plantations of southern stereotypes either. That is not to say, however, that cash crops did not form a key component of the economy of St. Landry’s Parish. Cotton and sugarcane produced a considerable portion of the Parish’s cash flow, with nearly 6,000,000 pounds of sugarcane produced in 1850 alone. Smaller farms, and livestock, formed the backbone of the parish’s agricultural production. Although Horthere is absent from the Census of 1860, at least two older brothers – and later fellow soldiers– named Alexander and Denis are listed as farmers in the Census of 1860, though neither of them had estates of significant value. Alexander’s total personal estate, for example, is listed at a total value of $150 in 1860.
Unlike most southerners, Horthere grew up in a bilingual world of French Creole and English speakers; a world in which the former of these languages, especially amongst the upper classes of Louisiana society, began to rapidly disappear from public life in some corners of Louisiana. In Opelousas, however, the local newspapers regularly printed two editions of each issue, one in French and one in English. Because of the poorer status of many of the residents, French may have dominated in the conversations between the Fontenots and their neighbors. In the often homogenously Anglo-Saxon South, French Creole culture retained a mixture of distinctive European, African, and Native American elements. Much of this diversity came from the enslaved population of the Parish. African foodways and musical traditions, now recognized as integral to the entire cultural fabric of the South, formed a crucial backbone in the French Creole world of the 1860s alongside more than a century of rich French traditions. Newcomers from Europe, such as the Irish, Germans, and Scandinavians, formed another core component of French Creole society, especially in New Orleans. The kaleidoscopic mixing of peoples throughout Louisiana gave Horthere a multilingual, ethnically diverse society. Horthere, therefore, was potentially well-acquainted with non-native English speakers and immigrants in ways that few other Americans, especially in the rural South, could claim. This unique, multi-ethnic community would have played an instrumental role in shaping Horthere’s worldviews, providing him with a somewhat more complicated understanding of race, religion, and ethnicity than many of his fellow southerners who hailed from other regions. Certainly, Horthere felt deep connections to his southern brethren whose livelihoods and socio-political identities were largely rooted in the vast agricultural production and slave-based economy that formed the backbone of the American South. Yet, Horthere also must have felt a strange sense of “otherness” as a Catholic French Creole residing in the Anglo-Protestant society that dominated the states surrounding Louisiana – and indeed the nation at large.
Despite the racial and ethnic diversity of the region, however, and despite the introduction of rich African traditions into the culture of the region, most Africans suffered terribly in Horthere’s world under the yoke of slavery. The peculiar institution formed a core component of life in Opelousas: There were nearly 11,000 slaves in the Parish during Horthere’s childhood. With the intensification of agriculture and the continued movement of slaves from the Upper South to the Deep South in the remaining eleven years before the start of the Civil War, this figure may have been significantly higher by the beginning of the conflict. Slavery played a central role in Opelousas. Many French Creoles supported slavery, as it existed in their society under the grounds that it was more humane than slavery practiced in other parts of the American South. Although Horthere’s family likely did not own slaves, they no doubt benefitted from the institution. Slavery permitted farmers of more modest means to remain a step above the bottom rung of society. Further, the Fontenots may have hired out slaves to help with harvests.
The Roman Catholic Church, which held sway throughout Louisiana, further provided the Fontenots with a justification for slavery: Abolitionism was a Protestant belief. Northern Protestants, so often associated with anti-Catholic behavior in the antebellum United States, were depicted as stereotypically deranged abolitionists in sensationalist accounts of the period. Even Catholic brothers in the North, who were almost certainly immigrants, faced the threat of emancipation just as much as the farmers and planters of St. Landry’s Parish Immigrants offered a cheap labor source in the North’s growing industrial centers. Many immigrants feared an end to slavery would mean an end to their jobs as employers took advantage of an even cheaper source of labor: Recently emancipated slaves. Nevertheless, many northern Catholics were still uncertain what to make of their southern brethren and their stalwart dedication to the institution of slavery. It is little surprise, therefore, that great hostility existed in Opelousas towards abolitionism and “Yankee” Protestantism. Southern Protestants, at the very least, were allied economically with the Low Country Catholics.
Catholicism’s considerable sway over the life of St. Landry’s Parish bred both suspicions from without and pride from within. Mobs throughout antebellum America challenged Catholicism and the immigrants often associated with it. However, the Irish, so often maligned in antebellum society, saw a small measure of acceptance in the Creole community due to their Catholic faith. The Catholic acceptance of slavery and blacks’ racial inferiority further confirmed to many opponents the backwards nature of Catholicism. However, many French Creoles believed Catholicism theoretically bred a more “humane” form of slavery. The Church baptized enslaved children and protected families from division at the auction block. With such a world view, Horthere and his family no doubt scoffed at northerners’ zealous cries for abolitionism and believed the calls of secession to preserve the institution of slavery to be not only reasonable, but preferable. Therefore, despite the fact that the all-important ideals of states’ rights and American liberty that permeated so many other southern communities appeared absent in the monarchical structures of the Catholic faith, many Louisianans, such as Horthere, clung tightly to secessionists’ claims that remaining in the Union would ultimately destroy their entire way of life. Why should French Creole Catholics exist in a Protestant-dominated society that challenged one of the most vital institutions of the local economy? It was this logic that spurred many residents of Opelousas into the new Confederate States of America.
A Long Road to Gettysburg Fontenot Brothers, from left to right Hypolite, Denis, Horthere. Uploaded by User AUG on March 20, 2015 to CivilWarTalk.com
Fontenot Brothers: Uploaded by User AUG on March 20, 2015. https://civilwartalk.com/threads/the-four-fontenot-brothers-company-f-8th-louisiana-infantry.110980/
Scarcely a month after the first shots rang out on Fort Sumter, Opelousas’s newspaper published regular pieces of information regarding British sympathies towards the young Confederacy, the maneuverings of Louisiana militiamen, and the fact that slaveholders such as Washington, Jefferson, and Jackson were “the founders of our republic, formed its Constitution…and yet such men cannot live peaceably in a government of their own forming!” Following the logic both of these patriotic southern sentiments and of Catholic slave-holding, the French Creoles of Opelousas found themselves well-situated in the young Confederacy. The patriotic fervor sweeping the South soon scooped the first batch of Opelousas’s recruits up in its waves. Alexander J. Fontenot was the first of Horthere’s family to enlist, joining the locally raised Company “F” – the Opelousas Guard – of the Eighth Louisiana Infantry. This regiment was a diverse lot, containing French Creoles, Germans, Scandinavians, Irishmen, and, ironically enough, at least one light-skinned freeman of color. This man, Charles F. Lutz, was from the same community and served in the same company as the Fontenots did.
For the local French Creoles, the company provided an outlet for civic pride and the budding flower of southern nationalism. The diversity of the regiment, too, provided a thorough cross-section of Louisiana society. Many popular and scholarly portrayals of Louisiana troops focus on either Anglo-Saxon or French Creole units. Scholarly studies of the Civil War have tended to focus specifically on the distinctive identity of these and other commands, such as the Irish Brigade. The Oppelousas Guard, however, presents a complex picture that overturns this perception of a monolithic unit identity. The range of cultures, opinions, and beliefs in the ranks made for a truly cosmopolitan regiment. According to traditional military beliefs, a diverse regiment was destined for abysmal performance on the battlefield – military analysts have pointed to Austrian performance in Italy in 1859 as proof of such failures. However, all of these men came from the same small community, giving them a singular reason to fight. Further, the growing nationalism that bound the Confederate States together animated these men. It is for this reason that men were willing to travel the distance from Louisiana to Virginia to fight for a nation, as well as their individual homes; though their departure could potentially jeopardize the safety of their homes and families, the security of the nation, and their community’s specific stake in that nation, occupied a higher importance.
The Eighth Louisiana and her sister regiments formed into a brigade that would come to be known, through their fighting prowess and alarmingly rowdy behavior, as the Louisiana Tigers. Unfortunately, the rougher-edged characters that enlisted in many of these early Louisiana regiments, aided by stereotypes of immigrants, created a misleading characterization of the troops as all roughneck, ill-disciplined soldiers. Some men, such as Fr. Pere Louis-Hippolyte Gache, chaplain of the Tenth Louisiana Infantry, worked tirelessly to ensure the moral well-being of the men. (However, although the Father noted that there were some 600 Catholics in that regiment, scarcely 40 attended mass in the camp regularly in late 1861).
Horthere, along with his brothers Denis and Hypolite, enlisted the following March, and were forwarded on to brother Alexander’s company in Virginia. Holes had already formed in the ranks from disease, discharges, and fighting, and replacements were needed to keep the fighting capacity of the regiment as close as possible to an optimum level of performance. The timing of their enlistment was crucial. The Peninsula Campaign began that month – the Union’s first big eastern push of the war since First Manassas. Horthere and his brothers no doubt grew concerned for the safety of their brother already in the ranks, as he would soon be facing combat. The imminent danger to Richmond, too, presented reason enough to enlist. Shared southern ideals of martial masculinity, honor, and duty to one’s country generally spurred this wave of recruits. Horthere, however, would miss the heavy fighting which his brothers would see later that year during the Seven Days, Second Manassas, Antietam, and Fredericksburg, instead fighting his own battle in the wards of Confederate hospitals in Lynchburg. Although his service record does not record the exact sickness that he suffered, it certainly proved serious.
Like on any battlefield, literal or metaphorical, Horthere did not fight alone in the hospital. Thousands of sick and wounded Confederates soldiers, including Horthere, arrived in Lynchburg in the spring and summer of 1862, and funneled into two general hospitals that were quickly established in 1861 and rapidly expanded throughout 1862. Per his service record, Horthere became a ward of one of these hospitals. Despite the overwhelming numbers of sick and wounded flooding the hospitals, however, soldiers rarely found themselves the victims of haphazard medical care in the city. Local ladies and church congregations provided bedding and bandages for the soldiers, and the local community also established a kitchen depository for the hospitals. Despite the horror stories that attend the words “Civil War hospital,” great efforts were made to provide the highest quality care for the sick and wounded soldiers treated in Lynchburg. Medical care was rapidly improving throughout the Civil War, and at long-term, stationary hospitals behind the lines, the quality of care was all the better. That said, hospitals on both sides were still coming to understand the role of sanitation and sterilization in the care of their charges, and soldiers’ experiences while convalescing within them was far from a pretty picture.
Some military chaplains were also assigned to the hopsitals, including Father Gache. The Father estimated that one in every twenty patients was Roman Catholic, and it is possible that Horthere was included in this count of patients under the priest’s care. The moral support chaplains or members of religious orders such as the Sisters of Mercy provided for soldiers hundreds of miles from home was paramount in aiding the recovery and rejuvenation of soldiers broken in body and mind. Father Gache traveled throughout the Deep South in the years before the war, thus making him a familiar face to many of the Confederate soldiers to whom he tended. Horthere may have experienced considerable anxiety as his brothers marched into battle, so far away from home, without him, though his sickness continued to drag on. Despite the care provided, Horthere was not recovering sufficiently. Therefore, Horthere returned home on a furlough for a short period to recover. He finally rejoined his unit in the Spring of 1863.
Horthere’s first taste of combat likely occurred along the Sunken Road at Fredericksburg, Virginia on May 3, 1863, during the Second Battle of Fredericksburg. The Eighth Louisiana, along with the other Louisiana regiments under the command of Brigadier General Harry Hays, arrived on the outskirts of Fredericksburg that morning after a lengthy march. Nevertheless, they fell into the Confederate line along Marye’s Heights. The Union assault later in the day outnumbered the Confederates by more than 2:1, though the Confederate line initially held firm. Horthere witnessed intense, close-quarters combat along the road before the Confederate line was forced off of Marye’s Heights. Romantic ideas of perfectly dressed lines of battle gave way to badly bloodied men writhing on the ground, perhaps clutching an image of loved ones or a crucifix, offering a panicked final prayer as the battle continued to rage around them. Horthere no doubt saw men die during his time in the hospital, but this was different. This was chaotic death on a scale that must have seemed completely overwhelming. The men around Horthere were by this point seasoned veterans, desensitized to the suffering around them. However, for Horthere, the grisly sites were a sobering baptism of fire.
The Second Battle of Fredericksburg was a Confederate defeat. Nevertheless, the Louisianans would have another chance to prove themselves. Fighting around Salem Church raged throughout the remainder of May 3 into May 4. Hays’s brigade played a key role in halting advancing Union troops, thus ensuring that the main portion of Lee’s line was saved from a potentially catastrophic attack in the rear.
The Confederate ranks soon reformed, flush with success from the phenomenal, yet costly, victory in the Chancellorsville Campaign. The Army of Northern Virginia seemed nearly invincible, and the men knew it. Nevertheless, the tough fighting experienced by the regiment likely left Horthere dazed, or even disoriented. After all, the men of the company were from Opelousas, and the great loss of Louisiana life on these battlefields was deeply felt at home, as well as within the ranks of the tight-knit regiment that had marched off to war together. The Confederates, however, seemed to be nearing an imminent victory. The troops prepared to once more march north. Having missed the first opportunity to cross the Mason-Dixon Line, Horthere no doubt relished the second. Victory appeared imminent.
The march into Pennsylvania did little to combat the assumptions of victory. Military bands played “Dixie” as wary northerners watched the Confederates march into their state. Many of these civilians offered the famished Confederates food. The men, however, found mischief as well, going on a four-day drinking binge in the Commonwealth. The soldiers relished their newly earned reputation as the “Louisiana Tigers:” These men were now considered to be some of the hardest fighting, “true grit” soldiers in the entire Confederacy. The commander of the brigade, Harry Hays, allowed the men to retain this reputation, however non-representative it was of the entire unit. Such an identity served to create a distinctive esprit de corps in the ranks, blending pure masculinity with a French Creole identity in which the men took great pride.
Horthere and his brothers soon had an opportunity to put their scrappy reputation to the test. The brigade marched towards Gettysburg on the morning of July 1, 1863, arriving on the field just in time to aid in mopping up the remaining elements of O.O. Howard’s battered XI Corps to the north of Gettysburg. Confederate assaults had already badly bloodied elements of the Army of the Potomac’s I Corps throughout the day. As Confederate numbers weighed on the exhausted and overstretched Union lines, both Corps began to collapse. Several Confederate brigades slammed into soldiers of Francis Barlow’s command around the area of the battlefield today known as Barlow’s Knoll in the early evening, around 4 pm. The Louisianans found themselves surging into the outskirts of the town during this fighting, angling towards the exposed flank of Coster’s Union reserve. The thin Union line stood in front of a small brickyard, located just beyond the town. This last Union line of defense, aided by several artillery batteries, attempted to stem the tide of Confederate troops bearing down upon the edge of town. North Carolinians and Louisianans broke through the Union rear-guard but were impressed by the stiff resistance they encountered. Complete chaos reigned as the Union ranks collapsed. Horthere and his comrades soon scooped up scores of Union prisoners as they entered the town. Isolated infantry commands poured fire into the onrushing Confederates, who now fell in with a tangled mob of panicked, retreating Union soldiers. The Louisianans bashed through the Union line in less than one hour of fighting. Nevertheless, as sun set, the Union forces still held imposing positions along the far edge of town: Cemetery Hill.
Cemetery Hill loomed above the Confederates as a tantalizing final objective, and yet also offered a gasp of defensive hope for the retreating Union soldiers. The time seemed ripe for a final Confederate push by General Ewell’s command, which included the Eighth Louisiana. In what has become one of the greatest moments of contention in Gettysburg memory, Ewell chose not to press the attack, citing the exhaustion and disorientation of his troops, as well as a lack of much-needed reinforcements, as an explanation. Many of Ewell’s subordinates were understandably frustrated when they learned that they would not seek to capitalize on their late-afternoon victory. This decision would come to haunt Horthere and his brothers-in-arms the following day.
The Fontenot brothers were no doubt exhilarated by the rush of the successful charge late that afternoon as they bedded down for the evening of July 1. As the night passed into the pre-dawn hours of July 2, however, that sureness likely became unease. The sound of Union work parties echoed through the night, as well-ensconced Yankees filed into defensivepositions and dug breastworks to protect them from further Confederate assaults. For the Confederates, any attack made the following day would be far more difficult than the previous day’s work, when soldiers clashed in relatively open fields of battle. Not long after daybreak, the brigade moved to the base of East Cemetery Hill, where they remained throughout the day. Horthere and his brothers, along with their brothers-in-arms, experienced hours of sporadic peppering from sharpshooters and Union skirmishers. Standing up made men easy targets, and so Horthere hugged the ground closely most of the day. Finally, around 8 p.m., the evening brought the orders that the men had been expecting – and dreading – all day: The brigade was to assault the formidable Union positions on East Cemetery Hill.
Horthere and his brothers likely felt the anxiety of the impending assault on an even deeper level than did many of the typical soldiers in the ranks. There were brothers-in-arms, and then there were ¬brothers-in-arms. These familial bonds, coupled with the already strong communal connection binding the companies of the Eighth Louisiana, made any casualties a potential tragedy. And yet, as Horthere and his comrades advanced in the growing darkness, this regimental bond also improved the cohesion of the regiment. What man would run when his brothers and neighbors would be eyewitnesses to his cowardice? Union artillery shelled the advancing Confederates, knocking ghastly holes in the ranks. Some relief came as the ground dipped and rose, providing a brief rest from Union artillery fire, with the Confederates only to be exposed once again as theyrose over the next crest. Nevertheless, the advance continued.
As the Louisianans crested the hill, they found still further opportunity to test their mettle as they fought their way through the line of Federal entrenchments. The first line of Union infantry gave way, and soon the Louisianans, described by their opponents as “yelling like demons,” were upon the second line of Federal soldiers. Hand-to-hand fighting ensued. One of the most memorable moments of the evening for the Eighth Louisiana, and thus also Horthere, was the fight over the regiment’s standard,which ultimately fell into Union hands. A regimental standard was often created, and then presented to the regiment who bore it, by the women of the local community. Thus a flag presented a tangible symbol of home, as well as Confederate nationalism and the hopes of the local boys who carried the lovingly sewn flags from their mothers, sisters, and sweethearts into battle. Such flags demanded courage and dutiful execution of martial responsibilities from the men who fought under it; the capture of such cherished and symbolic regimental standards was, therefore, often devastating, if not a point of shame, for the men who lost it in battle. Despite this blow to the 8th’s morale, the fighting raged on. It seemed that Hays’s Brigade had nearly secured the Federal positions when Union reinforcements arrived from the rear. The impending darkness now weighed heavily against the Confederates.
Hays dashed back to the rear looking for his own reinforcements, though it soon became clear that none were coming. The Louisianans were crumbling. Hays, realizing that his withering command could easily be captured, ordered his men to shift to the northeast (towards the current location of the Middle School), and move back towards their former positions at the edge of the town proper. For Horthere and his brothers, the maneuvering itself was the least of their concerns. Hypolite, one of Horthere’s older brothers, was wounded. Fortunately, he was successfully removed from the field. The brothers now faced a tough choice: To stay with their brother and make sure that he was well cared for, or to continue with their command. The choice between defense of family or home and defense of nation was one that confronted Confederates time and again throughout the war; however, for the Fontenot brothers at Gettysburg, such a decision proved far more personal than for many of their comrades. Of course, remaining with their brother would have been a dereliction of duty, so they made the difficult decision to stay with their regiment. As they retreated, the men of Hays’s brigade could not help but feel sharp pangs of disappointment as they realized their earlier successes atop Cemetery Hill had ultimately been in vain. The Louisianans felt especially smarted when they received orders to return to their original positions along Middle Street. Morale, so high scarcely a day earlier, was replaced by insult and frustration.
The brigade remained in their positions on July 3, skirmishing with Union troops throughout the day and once again suffering under the fire of Union sharpshooters. This was, to be sure, a far cry from the romanticized set-piece battles that Civil War soldiers dreamed of. Nasty, bitter fighting ranged between houses and along side streets as soldiers from both sides infiltrated the unassuming homes of local civilians and converted them into sinister sharpshooters’ nests. Main streets were dangerous, as anyone who traversed them invited a quick death or agonizing wound from a sharpshooter’s gun. Many believed this fighting was cowardly, or at least uncivilized, as no man could fight “fairly” if he could not see his assailant. After surviving the deadly fighting the night before, it was a sad irony that these isolated engagements would ultimately prove Horthere’s undoing: During these menacing exchanges, Horthere was wounded in the thigh.. To further complicate Horthere’s situation, the street fighting was seemingly for nothing: The main Confederate attack occurring simultaneously on the Union center failed. The Union line had held firm as Confederates failed to dislodge Union forces from their positions; indeed, some of the gains made the previous evening on Culp’s Hill – during Horthere’s own assaults on Cemetery Hill – were undone by fierce Union assaults during the pre-dawn hours of July 3.
Following his wounding, Horthere was evacuated from the town to the William Douglas farm, one of the many Confederate hospitals established on the farms surrounding Gettysburg, located on the Hagerstown Road. Most of the Confederate wounded of Hays’s Brigade returned South with the battered Army of Northern Virginia. Horthere, however, did not. Union soldiers claimed Horthere as a prisoner, although he remained in a hospital for the rest of his days. Horthere spent nine days at the Douglas farm hospital, over which time his wound became gangrenous. Although it is unknown if he had access to a priest during his time in the hospital, his thoughts may have turned towards the all-important sacrament of Last Rites. His mind likely raced back to Opelousas County, to his family and friends he left behind, and back again to his brothers and fellow comrades who were on the march back down South. Hundreds of questions surely swirled in his mind: Did his brother survive his wounds? Would he ever see him again? After spending so long in a Confederate hospital near Lynchburg, perhaps he was also anxious as to whether he would soon find himself in another hospital for greater care. The ideal of the Good Death, so central to the life course of Americans both North and South, was uprooted during the course of the Civil War. Horthere’s last words, meant to be reserved for his grieving family, and perhaps the attending priest, would never be heard by his loved ones. His body, meant for burial in a small family plot where loved ones could visit him often, would likely never touch Louisiana soil again. Fortunately for him, Horthere would die in a hospital rather than on a battlefield, thus making it far more likely that he could make his last thoughts known to a proxy relation who might convey his final moments home to his family.
Horthere passed away on July 12, 1863 and was buried near the hospital in which he died.
Alive only in Memory Louisiana Monument; Photograph taken by Zachary Wesley
Louisiana Monument photograph taken by Zachary Wesley
Despite the tragedy of Horthere’s death and the devastating impact it had on his brothers, the war continued. So too did the casualties for the Fontenots. Hypolite was mortally wounded during the Battle of Monocacy on July 9, 1864. Denis was captured at Spotsylvania Court House and spent a considerable amount of time at Point Lookout, Maryland. A smaller farm family like the Fontenots would find questions left unanswerable from the loss in the war. How would the younger sons’ deaths impact work on the farms of the parents or elder brothers? The family suffered terribly, not only from a loss of capital during the war, but also now a loss of family members and farm labor.
The war’s impact on the Fontenot family represents just one family in the larger community of St. Landry’s Parish. The Eighth Louisiana surrendered only 57 men and officers at Appomattox Court House; thus the Fontenots were far from alone in knowing the pain of familial loss and uncertainty over the fate of loved ones from Opelousas. Opelousas itself also experienced the war first-hand, being occupied by Union soldiers in 1863 before experiencing the radical shifts in southern society brought about by the war and Confederate defeat: An end to slavery and a total restructuring of the social and political order.
Returning Confederate soldiers, including Horthere’s surviving brothers, found a region that suffered terribly during their absence. Unsurprisingly, tensions flared in the years immediately following the Civil War. In 1868, the situation boiled over into a tragic event known as Opelousas Massacre. A newspaper article written by a local white Republican teacher claimed that newly freed African Americans should stake their wellbeing with the Republican Party, incensing members of the Seymour Knights – a local branch of a Democratic white supremacist group. Rumors spread that the teacher was killed (he was, in fact, badly beaten before fleeing North), and armed members of both the African American community and the Democratic Party exchanged fire. Estimates vary, but the death toll fell somewhere between the conservative estimate of 50 and the high figure of more than 300. The Seymour Knights were the clear “victors” by the time the firing stopped, with some thirty “prisoners” executed the following day by the Knights. The community’s cherished pre-war racial order was thus maintained by force, though the violent clash continued to haunt Opelousas for decades.
As for Horthere, his distant burial was not forgotten. A local Gettysburg physician by the name of Rufus B. Weaver disinterred Horthere’s remains on June 13, 1872, before shipping them to Richmond where they were buried with great ceremony in Hollywood Cemetery. The Confederate dead from Gettysburg were slowly sent back South for burial; Rufus and his father, Samuel worked from the years just after the war’s end into the 1870s to return as many of the Confederate dead as could be found to the South (especially Richmond). The process itself was lengthy, and the promises of recompensation from Richmond elite never came. Nevertheless, the citizens of the former Confederate capital could now celebrate the returning Confederate dead as the heroes of the physically vanquished — although still very much alive, spiritually – Confederacy. Many of the tombstones for the Confederate dead were lost, and with them, the individual identities and life stories of the men attached to them. The Confederate dead, including Horthere, thus came to represent the collective heroism and sacrifice of all the Confederate soldiers buried in Hollywood Cemetery.
The memory of Horthere, and all the soldiers who fought and died at Gettysburg, lives on today in the dizzying array of monuments that cover the battlefield. The State of Louisiana dedicated a monument on June 11, 1971, to the approximately 3,000 soldiers sent to Gettysburg from within. It currently stands along Confederate Avenue, opposite Cemetery Ridge and nestled within a long line of impressive sculpted pieces memorializing the various Confederate states whose sons served at Gettysburg. Horthere was one of just over 700 Louisianans who became casualties of the battle. The fallen soldier lying at the base of the monument may not seem at first glance to belong to any particular unit either, providing the sense that it could be any of those 700 Louisianans, including Horthere, that lies before the viewer. The figure, a slain gunner of the Washington Artillery and the hovering spirit of the Confederacy, speaks specifically to one popular, though largely unrepresentative memory of the common Louisiana soldier. The Washington Artillery was a cosmopolitan assemblage, much like the Eighth Louisiana. However, these men were considered the elite of New Orleans society, garnering far more admiration and visibility than a group of poorer French Creole farmers. While the gunners of the Washington Artillery possess the same dashing, romantic reputation that all soldiers of the Confederacy hold in the popular imagination of many Americans, Horthere’s—and so many Louisianans’–anti-climactic, agonizing death in a distant Pennsylvania field hopsital is anything but the death experienced by the romantic, peaceful gunner depicted on the monument. Nevertheless, despite the monument’s inability to capture the full range of Lousiana soldiers and their experiences at Gettysburg, its representatiuon of a cosmopolitan, likely French Creole soldier still quietly bring’s Horthere’s individual memory into the picture. The Spirit of the Confederacy, seemingly frozen in mid air above the fallen soldier, embodies the almost Biblical reverence in which the dedicators of the monument hold all of Gettysburg’s fallen Louisianans.
Though geographically distant from East Cemetery Hill, as well as Barlow’s Knoll and the borough streets on which so many Louisianans fell, it speaks to the common bonds shared by the diverse lot of Louisianans who fought to preserve the “Spirit of the Confederacy” in Pennsylvania. The memory of Horthere, and indeed all the Confederate soldiers who are depicted on maonuments, lives on in popular, romantic notions of the fighting that defined the four bloody years of the American Civil War. Just as on the monument, the terrible bloodshed and complex social picture of the war disappears amidst the fanfare of heroic sacrifice depicted on the monument. It is through stories such as Horthere’s that we best can catch a glimpse of the multiple social layers and true diversity of the Louisianans who fought at Gettysburg, their varied experiences of battle, as well as the far-reaching impacts of their actions on the farm fields and streets of a small Pennsylvania town.
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Mingus, Scott L. The Louisiana Tigers in the Gettysburg Campaign: June – July 1863. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2009. Kindle.
Nordmann, Chris. “A Commitment to Leisure: The Agricultural Economy of St. Landry Parish, La., 1850.” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association 26, no. 3 (1985): 301-12. JSTOR.
Woods, James. M. A History of the Catholic Church in the American South, 1513-1900. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2011.
Assault on Cemetery Hill: “Confederate General Jubal Anderson Early’s Attack on East Cemetery HIll, July 2, 1863,” Engraving from Century Magazine, 1884. UnknownUnknown author [Public domain], <a href=”https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Early%27s_Charge_on_East_Cemetery_Hill.jpg”>via Wikimedia Commons</a>
Civil War Era Methodist Church: “Gettysburg’s Civil War Methodist Church,” Gettysburg Daily, Uploaded April 25, 2008, https://www.gettysburgdaily.com/gettysburgs-civil-war-methodist-church/.
Douglas Farm: David Stewart Farm Facebook page, Uploaded January 28, 2012, https://www.facebook.com/DavidStewartFarm/
Confederate Monument in Hollywood Cemetery: “Confederate Soldiers of Hollywood Cemetery,” Hollywood Cemetery, https://www.hollywoodcemetery.org/confederates.
All other photographs are attributed to the author.
Narrative and map by Zachary Wesley, Gettysburg College.