Extraordinary things can come bound in brown leather with tiny, cramped writing. In search of some family history, I took a trip to Tulane University’s Special Collections Archives in New Orleans. It was a trip for firsts. It was not only my first time to the Crescent City, but my first ever archival excursion. Like many budding Civil War historians, I wanted to know if I had any personal connections to the conflict. Amongst my ancestors, I found several soldiers who had served in the Confederacy from Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana regiments on both sides (special mention to one ancestor who served on the 32nd Wisconsin and the ONLY Union soldier in my family tree). I was after a diary written by a member of the 15th Confederate Cavalry, Company G, the same regiment to which one of my ancestor belonged. While the diary didn’t disclose any pertinent information about my ancestor, this unpublished primary source was mind-blowing in other ways.
Jacques Alfred Charbonnet of New Orleans, Private in 15th Confederate Cavalry, Company G (ancestry.com)
The author of the diary, Jacques Alfred Charbonnet was born on November 8, 1840 in St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana to wealthy Creole planter François Léo Charbonnet and his wife Célèste Adathée. He was one of several children, most of whom were girls. In 1850, their property was appraised at $55,000 and according to the corresponding Slave Schedule, they enslaved 33 blacks on their plantation. From his later writings, it can be presumed that Jacques received a thorough education and fluently spoke both English and French. Typical of French Creole families of Louisiana, Jacques was also raised Catholic and his religious convictions are palatable in his diary. Jacques married Marie Nathalie Loew on April 20, 1860 and they were soon blessed with a daughter, named after her mother, on May 20, 1861 just one short month after the outbreak of war. Before the war, the family lived in New Orleans, but from the sounds of his wartime writings, the family evacuated after the city came under Union occupation. Though it’s unsure where they refugeed to, it is certain that his parents also left behind their plantation and relocated to southern Mississippi, close to the Alabama state line near Mobile. Continue reading