A ragtag band led by Confederate Maj. St. Leon Duperier had been giving the Union troops fits that fall and winter, emerging from time to time from the depths of the Atchafalaya Basin to make hit-and-run attacks and then disappearing back into the swamp.
But this time Major Montgomery had more on his mind than Duperier’s irregulars. He and his company drew up in front of the St. Martin de Tours Church, his attention focused on a small stable that sat between the church and the rectory, and on the six fine horses that were kept there.
Gem, Orga, Gazell, Maurka, Puss, and Mary were owned by Father Ange-Marie Jan, the 61-year-old pastor who was regarded by his parishioners as a saint. But he was also a man who stood his ground.
This was not the first time that Union troops had visited St. Martinville and his church. In the spring of 1863, the 114th New York Infantry had marched through, taking horses, hogs, cattle and corn, stealing chalices from the church and desecrating its altar.
This time, Father Jan decided to do something about it.
“At about 10 o’clock in the evening,” he recorded later, “my Sacristan told me that someone was taking my horses, and that the Federals were in the yard.”
When he went out into the November chill to investigate, he found his household servants hitching up a carriage as Federal cavalrymen looked on.
“I asked them what they were going to do with my carriage; I had received no call to go out,” he wrote. “The soldiers told me it belonged to them. I attempted to unharness my horses but the soldiers pushed me aside.”
Father Jan showed the men a “safe conduct” document that was supposed to protect him and his property from such raids, but that did no good.
“I told them I was a French subject,” he wrote, “but they laughed at me. I had two French flags unfurled and attached to my balconies, but those flags were dragged down by the soldiers.”
The outraged priest then lunged at a Federal officer and, aided by a parishioner, was able to wrestle away the reins of one of his horses. But that was a pyrrhic victory at best, a foolish mistake under any estimation.
The aging, overweight priest was no match for the several soldiers that grabbed him and pinned him to the ground while the officer the priest had attacked used the flat of his sword to give Father Jan a severe beating on his backside.
Adding insult to injury, when the good priest finally retired to his rectory, he was followed by four officers who demanded that they be wined and dined while the soldiers fed their horses the grain that the priest had stored for his animals.
When St. Martinville’s citizens heard of the affair, they were infuriated by what they deemed a sacrilege visited upon their beloved priest. That was part of the reason that a gang of poorly armed and untrained citizens tried to attack Union forces near the town several weeks later.
But they, like the priest, were no match for the Federal soldiers and the disorganized mob was sent scurrying back to town. A dozen men from St. Martinville were taken into custody but, miraculously, nobody was killed.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.