Tuesday, December 8, 2009

POSTCARDS ABOUT THE CIVIL WAR

My good friend, Morris Raphael of New Iberia, has many talents, the most well-known one being his skill to write books about Teche country and a column in “The Daily Iberian.” However, he’s also a unique artist who has designed post cards covering Civil War battles in the bayou country that showcase his deftness in drawing. Raphael sketches the intricate details of battles that he has also narrated in BATTLE IN THE BAYOU COUNTRY and A GUNBOAT NAMED DIANA, two of a dozen or more books he has written.

The postcards are miniature, vividly-colored drawings that should attract the attention of Civil War buffs and warrant framing, which one of Morris’s sisters-in-law in northern California has done. I keep my postcard collection atop a bookcase in my study and am considering framing them as a Christmas gift to the house here (that’s the newest narcissistic rage – giving yourself a Christmas gift!).


The postcard that particularly attracts me is that of the Yankees converting the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany into a hospital, showing one of the pews that has been removed from the church being used as a feeding trough for horses. Several of those pews were salvaged, complete with the horse’s teeth marks, and remain in the back of Epiphany Church. They’ve outlived threats to sand and restore them to shiny new pieces of church furniture.


Another colorful postcard depicts General Banks celebrating the Yankee occupation of the David Weeks mansion, now known as The Shadows on the Teche, a property of the National Trust. Raphael’s mini history on the back of the postcard describes Banks riding horseback through the dining room of the old mansion. According to Raphael’s WEEKS HALL: THE MASTER OF THE SHADOWS; Mrs. Moore, who had become wife of Judge John Moore after her first husband David Weeks died, fled to the attic of The Shadows because she refused to take the oath of allegiance to the United States. She became a prisoner in her own home, and as is revealed in WEEKS HALL, “General Banks and his staff did everything that they could for the mistress of the house, but she would have none of it and moved to a room in the garret on the third floor, remaining there in willful seclusion…” The First Lady of the Shadows died in 1863 and was buried in the southwest corner of the ground between two magnolia trees.

Many of the cards depict scenes around New Iberia, including the Rebels repulsing Yankee invasion at Bayou Petite Anse, Avery Island, Louisiana. The card reveals a Union plan to destroy the Avery Salt Mine that was thwarted by a small artillery unit positioned on the hillside. The Yankees were forced to retreat, carrying their dead and wounded back to gunboats on the bayou. Another postcard depicting a battle scene near New Iberia shows Confederate Col. William Vincent and his 2nd Louisiana Cavalry ambushing two Yankee cavalry units at the Nelson Canal bridge. According to Raphael, the Union advance was halted, leaving the road full of dead and wounded.


Battles at Irish Bend near Franklin,, at Brashear City (near Morgan City), Vermilion Bridge, and at Cornay’s bridge near Pattersonville, Louisiana – these are a few of the skirmishes included in the postcard set and exhibit Raphael’s skillful draftsmanship and imagination. I’m happy to own a full set drawn by this talented friend.

In 1979, Raphael received the Jefferson Davis award from the United Daughters of the Confederacy in recognition of his historical works. Now in his ninth decade, this New Iberia writer and artist continues to write a column for “The Daily Iberian” and feature stories for “Acadiana Life” magazine. He and his wife Helen live in a home with windows overlooking the fabled Bayou Teche, a stream which inspires many of his Teche country stories.
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