For many Lafourche area natives, driving by Civil War battlefields is an everyday occurrence.
But Nic Clark, historian and owner of Civil War Tours of New Orleans, hopes to shed light on how the area played a key role in the war, even without national recognition.
Clark is offering a guided bus tour of the battles fought along Bayou Lafourche on Oct. 21. It will feature inside looks at plantation homes, battlefields and special guest Chris Pena, author of "Touched by War: Battles Fought in the Lafourche District.”
The tour includes stops at the site of the Battle of Lafourche Crossing, Laurel Valley Plantation, Fort Butler, St. Emma Plantation and Georgia Landing, plus a tour through Thibodaux.
Registration ends Oct. 14 and costs $120. The tour includes lunch and will pick up and drop off customers in New Orleans and Raceland.
“People equate the Civil War with the battles, particularly the big ones,” Clark said. “But I talk about the sideshow to the big show; nothing in history is one-dimensional.”
Bayou Lafourche is a piece of the Civil War puzzle just like any other, he said.
In the South, the well-known battles tend to be those like Vicksburg or the Union’s capture of New Orleans, but along Bayou Lafourche, Union soldiers were thrown into the tropics and swamps and left behind stories that deserve to be told, he said.
“At the Battle of Lafourche Crossing, those bullets and cannonballs were just as deadly,” Clark said.
Confederate soldiers in south Louisiana weren’t the strong, well-outfitted soldiers that fought alongside Robert E. Lee. They were rough Cajuns and Creoles who preferred the solitude of the swamps.
The poor largely did not support the Confederacy, Clark said. When conscription orders went around, many people living in the area took to the woods.
In some accounts of the Red River Campaign, those who did fight for the Confederacy were described more like “swash-buckling pirates with bowie knives in their teeth, desperate and outnumbered,” Clark said.
In Virginia, battles took place in the countryside, but in south Louisiana, soldiers were often fighting across their neighbor's farm, or even their own, he said.
Toward the end of the war, battles resembled guerilla warfare more than the common visual of neat rows of soldiers marching across an open field as a drummer kept the pace, Clark said.
Plantation owners had to decide their loyalties and hope they provided the right answer when 100 soldiers wearing blue coats showed up on their driveway.
Just like every other war, civilians got caught in the middle and hundreds of homes were burned.
When the Union’s Anaconda Plan successfully cut the South in two, New Orleans was able to recover quickly by continuing on as best it could, Clark said.
“Society flipped on it’s ear,” he said.
But by 1864, the war was essentially over in the city and industries there had no competition on the national market, allowing them to turn hefty profits and build the large houses that still stand in the Garden District of New Orleans.
Remnants like that can be found throughout the region, but it’s one thing to see it, it’s another thing to know what you’re looking at, Clark said.
“Theses stories are more than just books, they’re living history,” he said.
Visualizing the stories while standing in the spot where they took place puts a new perspective and understanding of what really happened.
Maybe locals will hear nothing new, he said, but with 30 years of studying under his belt, chances are they will.
Information about reserving a seat on the bus tour or one of Clark’s walking tours in New Orleans can be found at civilwarnola.com.
Staff Writer Julia Arenstam can be reached at 850-1148 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @gingerale214.