OPELOUSAS — American and Confederate flags fluttered slightly in a gentle breeze on Saturday as they were draped across a state historical marker commemorating a Civil War battle that occurred outside of Opelousas.
The brief dedication ceremony just off an abandoned railway adjacent to La. 182, was held near the site where Union and Confederate troops engaged in combat Oct. 21, 1863, just south of the town.
John Harper, a local historian and author, spoke about the battle just before unveiling a bronze marker at the site. The Opelousas battle might not hold the significance of a Gettysburg or Manassas Junction, but it was nonetheless an important event as Union troops moved through Acadiana, he said.
“It was what you would call a large skirmish, and it was pretty important,” said Harper, who spent several years researching the battle. It was part of the Texas Overland Expedition that began in Brashear City (now Morgan City) in early 1863.
“The Confederates (in the Opelousas area) were outnumbered by about 12,000 Union troops. Some of the Union pushed northward, while the others went east to Barre’s Landing (now Port Barre),” said Harper.
The purpose of the expedition led by Union General Nathaniel Banks was to take Texas and engage with Confederate forces, Harper said.
Several weeks later just several miles south of Opelousas, Union and Confederate troops met again at Bayou Bourbeaux near Sunset.
Confederate forces following the Opelousas battle were pushed out of the town and further north toward Washington, allowing Union troops to occupy Opelousas for nearly two weeks.
According to the marker, Confederate forces regrouped after the Opelousas battle, later forcing Union solders out of the city.
A map of the battle, which Harper said was authenticated in the LSU historical archives, shows troops, led by Union Col. John Fonda, traveling up what is now 182 and encountering a Confederate ambush firing from both sides of the road.
Harper said there were an unspecified number of casualties on both sides.
During his research Harper said he encountered a letter from a Union soldier to his wife, documenting that a battle occurred near Opelousas.
Funding uncertainty stalled the marker project for several years, Harper said, until he contacted George Gremillion, a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
Gremillion agreed to secure funding and have the Mouton Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans sponsor the costs of the marker, which lies at the junction of the former railroad bed and 182.
It wasn’t until Harper contacted him, Gremillion said, that he knew a battle had occurred near Opelousas.
“I thought it would be the right thing to do, to get a marker installed here and expand local interest in our country’s history,” Gremillion said following the dedication.
James Douget, who represented the St. Landry Historical Preservation Society, said the marker can be a teaching tool for the local school district.
“What happened here will give people and students more insight into what occurred in their backyard. Too often we know the larger part of the story of American history, but as far as what happened locally, we are not always that well versed,” Douget said.
Prior to the ceremony, the Pledge of Allegiance was recited in addition to a salute to the Confederate flag.
Before the small crowd left, members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans sang, “Dixie,” before planting small American and Confederate flags below the marker.
Editor’s note: This article was changed on Tuesday, June 23, to reflect that the Texas Overland Expedition began near what is now Morgan City in early 1863.