Fallen Leaders: Colonel Isaac Seymour, 6th Louisiana Infantry, Part 1

The loss of a leader had the potential to impact the morale of the soldiers below them. It had less to do with how important they were to the success of the battle or what rank they held, and more to do with the connection they shared with the men they left behind. A leader who wasn’t loved by his men wouldn’t be missed. But a leader who had the trust and admiration of their subordinates could be mourned for years.

Colonel Isaac G. Seymour, 6th Louisiana Infantry (author photo, 2020, original at Confederate Memorial Hall, New Orleans)

One such example of a fallen leader whose absence was felt throughout the war, was Colonel Isaac G. Seymour of the 6th Louisiana Volunteers. He was born in October of 1804 to an old Connecticut family in Savannah, Georgia, and graduated from Yale University with honors in 1825. He moved to Macon to practice law, but soon grew weary of it. He turned to publishing and became editor of the Georgia Messenger for 17 years before he relocated to New Orleans in 1848. He became editor of The Commercial Bulletin, one of the city’s major business newspapers. But before he became a noted editor and influential social and political figure, he had served time in the military, first commanding a company of volunteers during the Seminole Wars in Florida under General Winfield Scott in 1836, then again in the Mexican American War leading a cavalry battalion between 1846 and 1847.

Isaac Seymour once more, now at age 56, stepped into military command over a regiment recruited from the streets of New Orleans. The 6th Louisiana Volunteer Infantry, with its ten companies of 1215 men, was primarily made up of Irish (468), German (123), and native-born Louisianans (163), with a sprinkling of other nationalities like French, Scandinavian, Scottish, Belgian, Canadian, Swiss, Cuban, and Italian. Others came from adjacent Confederate states and some were born in the North. In all, the regiment was made up of two-thirds foreign-born recruits of some nationality and made up the urban working class of New Orleans.[1] They were dock workers, riverboat crewmen, carpenters, bricklayers, blacksmiths, sailors, clerks, printers, barkeepers, butchers, and wagon drivers.

A colorized lithograph by Adrian Persac during the spring of 1861 (campmoorela.com)

Seymour was known for being an “accomplished tactician and strict disciplinarian” with a fatherly disposition that eventually made the 6th Louisiana Volunteers “one of the most efficient in the service.”[2] Though Seymour had spent most of his life in the southern states, he was a firm Unionist, believing that many of the “wrongs of the South could be more readily redressed and its rights more certainly secured in the Union than out of it.”[3] Regardless of his political opinion, his old age, and his newspaper business in New Orleans, Seymour enlisted and was trusted with the command of the regiment, given the rank of Colonel. He left the newspaper in the care of his son, William, and followed the 6th Louisiana out of Camp Moore and to the east, arriving at Manassas Junction mid-June, 1861.

Camp life suited Seymour and his men affectionately called him “the old man” for his silver hair and stern, but fatherly deportment. He wasn’t above the occasional use of the rod or switch to whip his men into shape. One comical instance involved a drummer boy who beat the wrong call in camp. Seymour, clearly in a foul mood over the error, rushed out of his tent and grabbed the nearest youth – not the drummer boy – and dispensed punishment. When he came back to his tent, his orderly tried to hold in his laughter over the mistake. Seymour had just beat the sergeant of Company F. Seymour immediately felt embarrassed for the misunderstanding, went out to retrieve the sergeant to apologize and treated him with an apple toddy. Once again, the orderly snickered, because Seymour had just given the apple toddy to the drummer boy, not the sergeant.[4]

Through a miscommunication at Manassas, the 6th Louisiana did not participate in the battle like its sister regiments, the 7th Louisiana and Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheat’s 1st Louisiana Special Battalion. The 6th Louisiana would pass an uneventful winter, but were grouped with a few more regiments from their home state to make the First Louisiana Brigade under General William H.T. Walker from Georgia. They included the men of the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th Louisiana, and Wheat’s Battalion. Thus was born the “Louisiana Tigers,” renown for their fierce and roughneck style of combat.[5] In a letter to a friend, Seymour voiced his relief at not being appointed the commander of the brigade himself, “I never stood a ghost of a chance for it; never expected it and of course, I am not disappointed – cause – I can not be used as a politician.”[6]

General Richard Taylor, Louisiana Brigade

His choice of words foreshadowed the appointment of Richard Taylor, Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ brother-in-law, as leader of the brigade to replace Walker, which came only nine weeks later. This stirred the indignation of the men and officers, as Taylor had no military experience and the promotion was a clear show of nepotism. Rumors of resignation filtered through the New Orleans newspapers over the matter, editorializing that Seymour, the senior military officer of the brigade, should have been appointed, with the lament “Unfortunately, however, he is not either a relative of any of the ‘grand chiefs’ or a rapid politician of the Slidell stamp.”[7]

In the spring of 1862, the Louisiana Brigade was called to the Shenandoah Valley and plugged in with General Richard Ewell’s division – yet another command appointment that displeased the Louisianans. Seymour wrote to his son, “We are all exceedingly dissatisfied with our division commander, Gen. Ewell, who is very eccentric and seems half the time not to know what he is doing.”[8] These frustrations continued to mount until Seymour’s breaking point had been reached during the movements down the Valley.

Officers above and below him continually frustrated his situation, though he admitted that he was attached to his regiment and the men reciprocated that sentiment. Additionally, he wrote, “I am getting tired and want some rest. Since my dunking in the creek when my horse fell with me, I have had rheumatism in my shoulder, which when I am wet, and which is most of the time, is very painful.” He saw his rheumatism as a “good way and not an ungraceful one to get rid of my command.”[9]

Uniform and photo of Colonel Isaac Seymour on display at Confederate Memorial Hall, New Orleans (author photo, 2020)

His men didn’t see it that way. When the news came on May 9th, the same day as the regiment’s election of officers, the Louisiana Tigers were grieved at the thought of losing their colonel. They even went so far as to borrow a band from a neighboring regiment and serenaded him in his tent in an effort to change his mind. Touched, but unconvinced, Seymour’s decision remained. In a last-ditch effort, the first sergeants of the 6th Louisiana companies signed a petition, demanding that Taylor persuade Seymour to stay and reject his resignation. A separate petition was signed and given to General Ewell for the same purpose, commending Seymour for the “immense amount of labor he has extended on us, to render us proficient in drill and all that constitutes good soldiers… You cannot wonder at our feeling for him a love, almost if not quite filial.” They begged Ewell to use his “authority of influence to save us from the consequences of an error so fatal.”[10]

This outpouring of devotion and loyalty shown by his men convinced him to stay. He led his regiment into their first battle on May 24th, 1862 at Middletown where they captured two sets of colors, then again on May 25th at the first battle of Winchester, both victories for the Confederates under General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson as they pushed General Nathaniel Banks further north. The army was recalled to address the pressing issue of General George B. McClellan’s advance up the Peninsula toward Richmond. The 6th Louisiana continued to gain recognition and praise for their conduct in the engagements as the army withdrew from the Valley. The valor of the 6th Louisiana seemed to enlighten Taylor’s views of the Irish – being a member of the “Know Nothing” party that despised immigrants. He wrote after the war that the regiment, “was composed of Irishmen, stout, hardy fellows, turbulent in camp and requiring a strong hand, but responding to kindness and justice, and ready to follow their officers to the death.”[11] On the 25th of June, Taylor became severely ill and was unable to maintain command of the Louisiana Brigade. The baton was finally passed to its senior colonel, Isaac Seymour, who took temporary command of the Louisiana Brigade. The men of the 6th Louisiana had already proven Taylor’s comments true regarding their loyalty to their colonel in the Valley, and they would prove it yet again during the Peninsula Campaign.

To be continued in Part 2…

Footnotes

[1] James P. Gannon, Irish Rebels, Confederate Tigers: A History of the 6th Louisiana Volunteers, 1861-1865, London, England: Da Capo Press, 1998, p. xiii & Appendix B “Birthplaces of 6th Louisiana Men,” p. 393

[2] Unidentified newspaper clipping in Seymour family Civil War scrapbook, in Seymour Papers, Schoff Civil War Collection, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. (hereafter referred to as Seymour Papers)

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Reminiscence of the War,” unidentified newspaper clipping in Seymour family scrapbook, Ibid.

[5] Gannon, p. 7

[6] Isaac G. Seymour to “Sir,” September 2, 1861, Seymour Papers.

[7] Alison Moore, The Louisiana Tigers, Baton Rouge, LA, 1961, pp. 49-51

[8] Isaac G. Seymour to William J. Seymour, May 2, 1862, in Seymour Papers.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Letter to Ewell dated Camp Bragg, Va. May 7, 1862, in 6th Louisiana muster roll files, National Archives.

[11] Richard Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction: Personal Experiences of the Late War, Bantam Books, 1992, p. 73

About Sheritta Bitikofer

Sheritta Bitikofer is a lifelong student of history with a specific interest in the Civil War era. Along with being a wife, historical fiction author, and fur-mama of two, she is an active member of the Mobile and Pensacola Civil War Roundtables and currently pursuing a bachelors degree in US History at American Public University.
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4 Responses to Fallen Leaders: Colonel Isaac Seymour, 6th Louisiana Infantry, Part 1

  1. Interesting post, and eager to read Part 2…!

  2. jazzdoc1 says:

    Shreitta, don’t make wait too long for part 2. Keep up the good work! We in the Pensacola and Mobile Civil War Roundtables are proud of you.
    Norman Vickers

  3. Sean Michael Chick says:

    Great work here on Seymour.

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