Gen. Taylor said a 'born soldier'
Led Southern resistance in South Louisiana

By Dr. Terry L. Jones
Special to The Journal

Dick Taysor, Louisiana native, was general in command of First Louisiana Brigade in Civil War
In the spring of 1863, the Union war effort focused on capturing Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Port Hudson, Louisiana-the Confederates' last strongholds on the Mississippi River. Reducing Port Hudson fell to Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks, but Banks first had to clear the Rebels out of Louisiana's Bayou Teche region so they could not threaten his rear.

Facing Banks in Acadiana was Maj. Gen. Richard Taylor. "Dick" Taylor (1826-1879) was a Louisiana native, the son of former President Zachary Taylor, and the brother of Jefferson Davis'first wife, Knoxie. A graduate of Yale University, he married into a wealthy Creole family and became a state senator and sugar planter. Taylor had no prior military experience before the war, but he was an avid student of military history. A friend wrote, "Dick Taylor was a born soldier. Probably no civilian of his time was more deeply versed in the annals of war."

Elected colonel of the 9th Louisiana Volunteers, Taylor led his men to Virginia. In October 1861, his former brother-in-law, President Jefferson Davis, promoted him to brigadier general and placed him in command of the First Louisiana Brigade. Davis' decision shocked the troops because Taylor was the junior officer of the brigade's four colonels. The whole affair smacked of nepotism and an embarrassed Taylor personally asked Davis to rescind the promotion but Davis refused.

Subsequent events proved Davis was justified in promoting Taylor, for he had a natural talent for fighting. Taylor gained many admirers, among them the famous cavalry commander Nathan Bedford Forrest, who served under Taylor late in the war. "He's the biggest man in the lot," declared Forrest. "If we'd had more like him, we would have licked the Yankees long ago."

If there were any weaknesses in Taylor's character they were bad health and an equally bad temper. One of his officers remembered, "Taylor well was charming company [but] Taylor sick was not a pattern of patience and amiability." Whether he was sick or not, Taylor's temper often got the best of him. Another veteran wrote that Taylor was "a very quiet, unassuming little fellow, but noisy on retreats, with a tendency to cuss mules and wagons which stall in the road."

Attached to Stonewall Jackson's army, Taylor played a key role in Jackson's brilliant Shenandoah Valley Campaign. As a result, Taylor was promoted to major general in July 1862. At age thirty-six he was the youngest Confederate major general at that time and one of the few non-West Pointers to achieve that rank during the war. Transferred back home, Taylor took command of the small Confederate army in South Louisiana.

Badly outnumbered, Taylor tried to stop Banks' Bayou Teche incursion by placing his men at Fort Bisland, near Franklin, with the gunboat Diana in the bayou to provide support. From Brashear City (Morgan City), Banks sent part of his force by boat through Grand Lake to land at Irish Bend, behind Taylor's position, while Banks led the rest of his men up the bayou. If all went well, Taylor would be trapped between the two converging columns. (Richard Taylor (Library of Congress)

After enduring a two-day artillery bombardment at Fort Bisland, Taylor learned the other Union force had landed behind him and began evacuating his position on the night of April 13 to escape the closing trap. The following day, he attacked the enemy at Irish Bend with the Diana and part of his infantry while the rest of the army escaped up Bayou Teche. After holding the Yankees at bay in a short, sharp fight, the Confederates blew up the Diana and then disengaged to continue the retreat northward. Banks ultimately reached Alexandria, but Taylor got away to fight another day. A Union officer complained, "We had the rebels in a bag . . . but the damn string was rotten, and they slipped through."

The entire Bayou Teche region was left devastated as both armies stripped the land of supplies, and the Yankees engaged in wholesale vandalism. One Union soldier admitted, "We have left an awful scene of desolation behind us. In spite of orders not to pillage, burned and sacked houses mark our course."

Taylor would end the war as one of the most respected Confederate generals, but it came at a high cost. He was financially ruined when his plantation was destroyed, and his two young sons died of scarlet fever while living as refugees. Taylor died at age fifty-three from severe internal congestion and rheumatoid arthritis. His classic memoir, Destruction and Reconstruction, was published shortly before he died.

Dr. Terry L. Jones is a professor of history at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and has published six books on the American Civil War.