It was a nice house, well situated. Their big farm on the east bank of Bayou Bourbeux was split by a road that crossed Bayou Carencro two miles south of their place, leading toward Vermilionville. The road crossed Bayou Bourbeux about a mile north of their house, leading toward Opelousas.
The road was a great convenience when the Arnauds began farming their plot. It provided easy access to towns where they could buy goods, market crops, go to church. But it became a curse in 1863, when it brought the Civil War to their front door.
Louis came to Louisiana from France in 1848 seeking to find the good life - and was on his way toward accomplishing that goal when the war broke out. He and Sarah lived in a comfortable Acadian-style home. They cultivated good crops of cotton and corn, an occasional patch of yams, and a large truck garden. A section of woodland provided all that was needed for cooking and heat.
It was just the sort of place that soldiers liked to find.
Federal troops came first in April 1863, when for two full days a seemingly endless train of foot soldiers, artillery, supply wagons and cavalry trod slowly past the Arnaud home. A steady stream of civilian wagons followed the military convoy. These were followed by runaway slaves and an assortment of camp followers driving stock stolen from places already passed.
The passing horde all but drained Arnaud's well, robbed him of anything they could grab, destroyed what could not be carried. Soldiers and civilians took horses, a new buggy and harness, horse collars, traces, bridles, saddles, mules, chickens, and hogs from the barn and yard, silk vests, a gold cross, earrings, money, and a French double-barreled shotgun from the house. They even took the couple's gold wedding rings.
Then they stuffed dead animals into the water well to make it useless.
Louis began to rebuild. He covered his face and had himself lowered into the well to remove the stinking carcasses to make the water fit for use. He planted corn and yams enough to get through the winter. He salvaged what furniture he could and cared for his ailing wife.
He was just about to get back on his feet by the end of the summer, when the Federal soldiers came back.
This time, Louis was among a number of men held for several days as possible Confederate spies. His corn crop was chopped down, his yams dug up, his barn torn down for firewood or to make beds for soldiers. Even his cypress fence was taken, the posts pulled from the ground. His yard was turned into a place to slaughter cattle and hogs.
Louis was finally released to go home to a fouled yard, littered with rotting carcasses. Still, the Arnauds persevered, thinking it couldn't get any worse.
They were wrong.
On Nov. 2, a Union officer was shot dead near the Arnaud place and was robbed of his clothing and boots. Witnesses said the robbers wore Federal uniforms. Nonetheless, Louis Arnaud and his neighbors were arrested as accomplices. Sarah was left alone, sick and hungry.
She, a young neighbor girl named Modeste, a small black girl named Rachel, and several elderly slave women were in the house when the ominous sound of small arms fire began the next day, Nov. 3. By noon it had become a awful, terrifying roar. A full scale battle had erupted -- and the Arnaud house was squarely in the middle of it.
The two little girls clung to each other in the fireplace as bullets slammed into the house. The women knelt near them, praying. Outside, troops scrambled through the yard, supply wagons raced up the road, ambulances raced down it.. Wounded men used the Arnaud porch for shelter, screaming in pain. Men and horses ran roughshod over everything.
When the battle was finally over, Sarah was taken to her brother's house in hysterics. Louis, freed during the battle, simply sat down on the floor and wept when he got back to his devastated home.
This time, he had little heart for rebuilding.
The troops were gone on Dec.10, 1863, when Sarah's brother was summoned to come quickly to the Arnaud farm. When he got there, he found a group of men staring down into the well. They were looking at the body of his brother-in-law.
To this day nobody knows just how he got there.
Some of his neighbors said he'd begun to talk about cleaning it out again, getting the farm going. Perhaps he'd fallen in.
Others said outlaws were seen near his farm. Maybe they'd killed him and thrown his body into the well.
But most of his friends thought life had just become too much for the little Frenchman to bear and that Louis Francois Desire Arnaud had become a war casualty every bit as much as any soldier.
You can contact Jim Bradshaw at email@example.com or P.O. Box 1121, Washington LA 70589.