Civil War: One of the Last
By Jim Bradshaw
When “Old Cousin Ben” Fontenot died in the St. Landry Parish community of Grand Prairie in December 1903, he was mourned as a Confederate hero who was “in that glorious band that fought on every bloody battle field” in Virginia during the Civil War.
As a foot soldier, his obituary in the St. Landry Clarion said, Benjamin Fontenot was one of the men who helped give Gen. Thomas J. Jackson the nickname “Stonewall.”
According to old Confederate records, Fontenot was a private in the 6th Louisiana Infantry Regiment, which was organized in May 1861.
The regiment was sent to Virginia where, it was assigned to Jackson’s brigade during the First Battle of Bull Run and, though outnumbered, fiercely held a precarious position long enough for reinforcements to arrive and bring about a Confederate victory.
This was the battle in which Jackson’s men “stood like a stone wall” to give the general his famous nickname.
“It was the … charge of gallant troops in offensive battles, or the … courageous stand in defensive conflict which so greatly contributed to … the glory … and the fame of their great generals,” in the newspaper’s view.
Soldiers in the 6th Louisiana fought throughout Virginia and Maryland and what was left of the regiment was with Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army during his final battle at Appomattox in April 1865.
“Only a few of [Fontenot’s] company came back,” according to the newspaper report, “and of that number there are [only] four or five still living [in 1903].” Those included E. J. Goings of Washington and Austin Lacome of Opelousas.
In the newspaper’s estimation, the South may have lost the war, but Fontenot and his fellow foot soldiers displayed “a wonderful exhibition of courage, constancy, and suffering which no disaster could diminish, no defeat darken.” They were “clothed … with glorious immortality.”
Historians wrote about the leaders, the obituary said, their books did not “recount [the] courage on the field” of Fontenot and other common soldiers.
“His battle picture, ever near the flashing of the guns, should be framed in the memory of all who admire heroism,” the newspaper said. “No monument can be built high enough to commemorate the memory of a typical private soldier. … [During battle] he stood with the old, torn slouch hat, the bright eye, the cheek colored by exposure and painted by excitement, the face stained with powder, his blanket in shreds, printing in the dust of battle the tracks of his shoeless feet.”
Old Cousin Ben apparently had no trouble telling his war stories. It was “always interesting” to hear him and “his memory never failed him in describing the battle grounds,” according to the Clarion.
But now the death that he eluded on the battle field had taken him to “the bivouac of eternal happiness,” and those memories and tales would begin to fade away.
The newspaper did not attribute the lines, but concluded Benjamin Fontenot’s obituary with the opening stanza of a poem written by poet and military officer Theodore O’Hara in memory of troops killed in the Mexican War in 1847:
“The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat
The soldier’s last tattoo;
No more on Life’s parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.”
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.