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Père Turgis Armée du Tennessee

Updated: Sep 18, 2023

Turgis, Isidore-François – Père Turgis Armée du Tennessee[i]


Rev. Father Isidore F. Turgis was born on April 12, 1813, in Marigny, the Manche department, the region of Normandy in northwest France.[ii]

The church ordained him a Roman Catholic priest on May 31, 1846. During the Crimean War, he initially failed at his attempts to secure an appointment as a chaplain of the French army because he was small in stature and frail. He persisted and was appointment to the Corps of Chaplains. The Crimean War raged from October 1853 through March 1856. During the Second Italian War of Independence which took place in 1859, he served as a chaplain with the French army at the battles of Montebello, Palestra, Magenta, Crossing of the Tessin and Solferino. He soon after served briefly as a missionary in Cochinchina. Cochinchina, which the French army began attempting to colonize in 1858, was the region known today as the southern portion of Vietnam.[iii] He returned to France not long after where he was among many who were moved, upset and motivated after reading the anti-slavery novel La cabane de l'oncle Tom by American author Harriet Beecher Stowe. He was also exposed to the heroic stories of missionaries and saints in the New World, especially those characterized by French author François-René de Chateaubriand in his work entitled Génie du Christianisme. Now determined to “live among the black slaves of Louisiana”, he immigrated at age 47 from Le Havre, France to the United States. He arrived in New York, New York on June 13, 1860 on the Steamer Arago. [iv] He made his way to New Orleans and there the Archbishop assigned him to the Saint Louis Cathedral in the city. Père Turgis quickly became popular with the creole population. When war broke out, the 48-year-old war veteran chaplain accompanied the Bataille des Gardes d'Orleans or the Orleans Guards Battalion to Corinth, Mississippi. They formed on Feb. 24, 1862 and the war department ordered them into Confederate service two weeks later. On March 10th, Father Turgis gained an appointment as chaplain of the Orleans Guards.

At the bloody Battle of Shiloh in April 1862, Father Turgis “displayed great zeal, courage, virtue, piety and won the esteem & admiration of all who saw him.”[v] He rushed alongside the Orleans Guards during both of their charges that day to help those in need on the battlefield. Many also witnessed him caring for Union soldiers, one of which was a wounded Union surgeon.[vi]

After Shiloh, he wrote Archbishop Jean-Marie Odin, head of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, saying there were many thousands of Catholics in the Confederate army. All of them spoke or understood French, yet he was the only priest. He noted that he gave absolution for 18 hours on the battlefield without stopping. He said he could not prevent himself from weeping continually when thinking of the thousands of wounded or sick Catholics who asked for him but were impossible for him to see.[vii] When thousands of New Orleans citizens were exiled to Mobile in May 1863 Archbishop Odin designated Father Turgis to accompany these them.[viii] Just as many of these exiles enlisted in the Pointe Coupee Artillery in Mobile, many also enlisted in the Orleans Guards Battalion which then became Co. F., 30th Louisiana Battalion. Turgis informed Archbishop Odin, “I believe that my mission could be better performed if I were connected with the Army.” Turgis then wrote a letter to Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard in Charleston, South Carolina to secure his commission as chaplain of the 30th Louisiana Infantry Battalion. Father Turgis enlisted in the battalion on June 20th in Mobile, and his commission as chaplain of the 30th became effective June 23, 1863.[ix]

He accompanied the new Orleans Guards recruits from Mobile to the front line of Gen. Joe Johnston’s Army of Relief who were then near the Big Black River between Vicksburg and Jackson, Mississippi. In early July 1863, Johnston’s army, including Capt. Bouanchaud’s Pointe Coupee Artillery and the 30th Louisiana, retreated to Jackson just ahead of Union Gen. W. T. Sherman’s pursuing corps.

As the Siege of Jackson began, many of the men of the Pointe Coupee Artillery met Turgis for the first time. Private Pierre Jorda of the Pointe Coupee Artillery recalled years later, “Our battery was quartered in an open square, and early in the morning the first things the Yankees did was to open fire on us. One regiment had its guns stacked in line, and the first thing we knew a shell came and swept all the guns away. Just at this moment I was standing at Father Turgis’ side, for, though he was the chaplain of the Orleans Guards, he was everybody’s chaplain, too, and often visited our regiment to see what he could do for us. A second shell came before we were able to recover from the shock of the first volley and killed a horse just two feet from where we were standing. Father Turgis looked on calmly, and pulling out his snuff box, said: ‘We’ll take a pinch to give you good luck, as this is the first time you have been under fire.’”

After the evacuation of Jackson, the Confederate army retreated eastward into central Mississippi. Jorda recalled there was constant fighting of the Confederate rear guard. Jorda noted, “Father Turgis was always at the side of the wounded and dying and it would have done your heart good just to have seen how tenderly he watched over them. A mother could not have been kinder.” This was the last time they saw Father Turgis for many months as he accompanied the 30th Louisiana to other quarters, “But we never lost sight of his beautiful life lesson.”


The Orleans Guards proceeded to Mobile in August 1863. In September, Turgis traveled from Mobile to Richmond, Virginia, Charleston, South Carolina and Augusta, Georgia, visiting hospitals and garrisons. He later reported to Archbishop Odin that he took 182 confessions and gave mass and hope to many Catholic soldiers. Turgis also reported the shortage of Catholic missionaries in the area. He noted his health was good, but the trip fatigued him.[x] He rejoined the Orleans Guards in Mobile. On May 21, 1864, the Orleans Guards and the rest of the 30th Louisiana received orders to report to the Confederate Army of Tennessee then in north Georgia. They arrived in time to participate in the Battle of New Hope Church. The men of the Pointe Coupee Artillery became acquainted with him again during this time and Turgis periodically came to see them to conduct mass. Confederate officers appreciated how Turgis set an example for good behavior in camp. They also expressed amazement and respect for his enemy-less attitude. His dedication to fallen soldiers, "Federal and Confederate" routinely placed Father Turgis in dangerous situations.

Pierre Jorda recalled seeing Father Turgis during the Battle of Ezra Church, a.k.a Battle of Lick Skillet Road. “The enemy was pressing hard, and our left was engaged in battle as we went along the Lick Skillet road. Our [Bouanchaud’s] battery was ordered to join the army on the left, and while we were marching on many wounded were left on the road side. We passed a soldier from Mississippi who recognized our letters, ‘L A’, on our cap, and with his dying breath he called out, ‘All is safe; you have Father Turgis and Louisiana is going to the front.’ But Father Turgis was not in our ranks; we did not know where he had gone. Further up the road was a spring and a stream of running water, and there we saw the good and holy priest, with the wounded lying alongside the spring bank, and he himself naked to the waist and tearing his garments into strips while he brought water and bathed the wounds of the suffering men and bandaged them as best he could. He did not raise his head; so absorbed was he, but we watched him, and after he had staunched their wounds, he bent over them and lifted his hand in blessing and gave them the last sacraments.” Jorda continued, “Our hearts were touched beyond expression. With one accord, we took off our hats and cried, ‘God bless you, Father Turgis’. He stood erect and while the shot and shell fell around and he was so exposed, he raised his hand, like the Master of old, and said solemnly, ‘And God bless you, my children.’”

Edward H. Lombard, who was a Protestant lieutenant with the Pointe Coupee Artillery (Bouanchaud’s Battery) remembered, “Can I ever forget - can any of us ever forget the frail, delicate form, this brave spirit, moving about amid that scene of carnage and doing the work of the good Samaritan in his dark habiliments, that were torn to shreds and rags? Bless his great, good heart - he knew no danger, he was there as the faithful representative of God - to do his duty and die, if need be, for his children, and well did he perform his sacred duty. He did not hesitate to minister to all regardless of creed.” Lombard continued, “The soldiers often said to me that a bullet would not hit Father Turgis, and I had almost learned to believe it until I saw him fall from a flying shell that had exploded over him while holding up a wounded man belonging to a passing regiment of infantry that supported the Pointe Coupee Battery, on the left, of Atlanta in 1864. It struck his head, felling him to the ground, inflicting a severe wound on the scalp.” Pierre Jorda also witnessed this event saying he recalled that when they saw Father Turgis hit in the head with the exploding shell, “the Pointe Coupee boys and the Orleans Guards rushed forward to catch their unconscious friend... He recovered consciousness as they were bearing him from the field; he understood and refused to go, but begged them to carry him to the wounded men. They were obliged to yield to his entreaties, and bleeding and faint he did his duty by two or three who passed to the other shore.”[xi] The Battle of Ezra Church of July 28, 1864 left three-fourths of the Orleans Guards killed or wounded.[xii]

When the 30th Louisiana was, at times, stationary such as in the entrenchments surrounding Atlanta, Turgis often secured an order from the commanding officer allowing him to visit other camps of Creoles “who want a chaplain to have with them to make them clean.”[xiii] Pierre Jorda recalled that on Aug. 15, 1864 Father Turgis came by to conduct a mass for the men of Capt. Bouanchaud’s Pointe Coupee Artillery. August 15th was, and is, a high holiday in the Roman Catholic Church known as the “Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary”.[xiv] At the time, Jorda and the rest of Bouanchaud Battery were in the entrenchments near Whitehall Fort almost due west of downtown Atlanta. Two-thirds of the men of Bouanchaud’s Battery were Roman Catholic French Creoles who spoke Father Turgis’ native tongue and 40% of Bouanchaud’s men were from New Orleans. Jorda recalled, “He was so glad to be with our boys again.

His altar consisted of a plank, which he had placed across two barrels. The shells were flying all around, but Father Turgis turned and gave us his blessing; a shell whizzed past him and carried the alter away. We all closed our eyes, we thought he was killed, but he turned and slowly, with uplifted hands, finished the service. His face was a trifler paler, but his voice was as firm as though speaking in his own church in times of peace in New Orleans.” Anytime the men protested Turgis’ coming so close to the front and exposing himself to such danger, Père Turgis Armée du Tennessee would always reply, “Je fais mon devoir” or “I do my duty.” Jorda continued, “He was essentially a man of duty: it ruled his brain, fired his heart, nerved his arm in the discharge of his sacred trust in the hour of peril. ‘Je fais mon devoir’… was the creed that stamped his every action; the creed that made his life sublime.”[xv]

New Orleans native, Private Pierre Jorda, was a 41-year-old graduate of Georgetown University in Washington D.C. He worked as a bookkeeper at the Bank of New Orleans before the war. He recalled that in Atlanta, “the Orleans Guards and all the Louisiana boys clubbed together, and with our poor confederate pay resolved to buy a pony for Father Turgis. He seemed so frail and we feared for his health. We bought the animal (a calico pony as we called it) and gave it to Father Turgis. He thanked us with tears in his eyes, but as we marched on, we soon found that he had not gone a mile before he had dismounted from the pony and had put a poor wounded soldier upon it and himself led the horse. It was soon nicknamed ‘everybody’s pony,’ for everybody had the use of it.”[xvi]

Edward H. Lombard recalled, “I have seen two wounded men on the pony at once, and the noble-hearted man leading him in his bare feet. This unselfish act was no new thing to the soldiers, and it was a valuable example to them to do likewise to their fellow men.”[xvii] Lombard noted, “Father Turgis came to us as a gift from Almighty God… by a happy accident, and the Pointe Coupee Artillery boys have never ceased to thank Almighty God for the accident. We had no chaplain then… we became real hungry for the consolation and help of a good, religious influence, and we found it in the person of the sainted Father Turgis, who came to us, as from heaven, to bless us… He was not with us long until we found his true worth and character as soldier, priest and patriot.” Lombard continued, "Everyone went to him, Catholic, Protestant, Hebrew and Atheist, and all found in him a friend and a helper."[xviii]

After the evacuation of Atlanta on September 1, 1864, the men of the Pointe Coupee Artillery did not see Father Turgis again the rest of the war. Gibson’s Louisiana Brigade, which consisted of no less than 10 Louisiana regiments or battalions, served in a different army corps and the brigade often entrenched many miles away. The two days of fighting near Nashville in December 1864, left many more of the rest of the Orleans Guards Battalion killed, wounded, or captured.

Father Turgis accompanied his Louisiana soldiers during the very difficult retreat from Nashville to north Mississippi. “Many recollect his taking the shirt from his back in the retreat from Nashville in December 1864, to dress the wounds of a soldier, and that, too, in a bitter cold day; and though shivering with the cold, yet his face lighted with the smile which only the consciousness of a good act can lend it. How frequent kindred acts were with him, those who knew him in the hour of trouble best know.”[xix]

The remnants of the 30th Louisiana Battalion, which included the Orleans Guards, consolidated with several other under strength Louisiana regiments in February 1865. They became part of the 13th Louisiana Infantry Regiment. The consolidated unit fought in the Siege of Spanish Fort near Mobile from March 27 to April 8, 1865. Turgis remained with them until the end of the war “and where the fire was hottest and the carnage most terrible, there was he ever to be found ministering to the wants of the wounded and dying.”[xx]

During the war, he often knelt over the mortally wounded men administering last rites. Often their last, most pressing, concern was for the welfare of their wives and children after they were gone. He promised them he would do everything in his power to care for their widows and children. One veteran recalled that Father Turgis contacted the families of the New Orleans soldiers, “who fell on the field of honor, so that he could offer them some words of consolation, and especially so that he could fulfill the promises made on the fields of battle.”[xxi]

Immediately after the war he established the Société des Enfants de Marie or the Society of the Children of Mary for the relief of New Orleans orphans and widows of soldiers who were killed during the war. This became The Asylum for Destitute Widows and Orphans on Dumaine street in New Orleans. He became that charity’s administrator. Father Turgis was also a director of the Southern Hospital for Invalid Soldiers.[xxii] Just as he was during the many wars, he worked tirelessly in his benevolent efforts. He oversaw a fair on December 9, 1865 for their benefit and two piano and violin concerts given in early 1866 at Odd Fellows’ Hall. These three fund raisers alone brought in nearly $5,000 for the widows and children. This is the equivalent of $115,000 in the year 2023 dollars. He organized eulogies for Louisiana’s war dead, decorated graves of unknown soldiers, and placed monuments and banners in different parishes with names of Louisiana’s Confederate war dead.[xxiii] He worked to arrange transportation for wounded men of the Orleans Guards who were in hospitals throughout the Southern states. In January 1867, Father Turgis arranged for the remains of Orleans Guards Capt. Louis Fortin and Sr. 1st Lieutenant James Vienne, both of whom were killed in the Atlanta entrenchments in August 1864, to be brought home. The church buried them on January 15, 1867 in Saint Louis Cemetery No. 2 in New Orleans. He delivered an eloquent oration among a large procession of citizens, veteran soldiers and ladies.[xxiv]

Less than a year after the war, many local New Orleans Confederate veterans began petitioning Archbishop Jean-Marie Odin for a separate church for Father Turgis. They asked the archbishop to establish a parish church for the Catholic veterans and their war time chaplain. Supporting this effort were men of the Orleans Guards Battalion, the Orleans Guard Battery, the Orleans Howitzers, New Orleans men of the Pointe Coupee Artillery and several prominent New Orleans veterans and businessmen including Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard.

They gained spiritual comfort before and after battles as Father Turgis conducted mass for them. Their letter to the archbishop read in part, “During the sufferings and misfortunes of war, we have come to know, to love and to respect the good Père Turgis.” They added that since God placed them in a position to gather in his service during the war that after the war, “it is extremely important for his presence among us.”[xxv] The archbishop and other church leaders gave Father Turgis the Mortuary Chapel on North Rampart Street. Everyone knew that Father Turgis was frail and in poor health. They hoped the chapel would serve as his place of retirement. However, just as from the time of his return from the war “to the hour of his death, his life has been one continuous deed of pious charity. He has known no rest from his labors.”

In the Spring of 1868, Father Turgis’ health rapidly declined. Many thought he never fully recovered from fatigue caused by his ministering to victims of a yellow fever epidemic which raged through New Orleans during the summer of 1867.[xxvi] He also suffered from stomach ulcers which some believed was stomach cancer. Rev. Father Isidore Francois Turgis died on March 3, 1868, “… In that little back room on North Rampart Street.” Pierre Jorda and others were by his side. Jorda remembered that some of his last words were: ‘I have seen death so near and so often that I have no fear of it.’”[xxvii]

Father Turgis lies buried in St. Louis Cemetery No 3 in New Orleans.[xxviii] His funeral was one of the biggest New Orleans had ever seen up to that time. “The wealthiest and the poorest, the most distinguished and the most unknown, all contributed to pay the last tribute of their veneration to his memory.” The editor of The Morning Star and Catholic Messenger concluded, "His devotion, his courage, and his wounds, secured to him the respect and admiration of all who came within his sphere of action. Many a poor soldier... will remember his name with blessings as long as life lasts."[xxix] The inscription on his tomb reads, " Père Turgis, Armée du Tennessee C.S.A. 1861-1865." Edward H. Lombard, noted years later, “We called him ours, nay, everybody's chaplain.”[xxx]


Written by Pointe Coupee Artillery researcher, R. Jackson Rogers. pcartillery(at)aol.com.

[i] Photo (cdv) of Father Turgis standing is courtesy of Perry Frohne. [ii] Even though Father Turgis was said to be 63 years old at his death in 1868, most sources note 1813 as his year of birth. [iii] Source: McClarey, Donald R., “Father Turgis: Preacher by Deeds, Not Words”, The-american-catholic.com. [iv] The Morning Star and Catholic Messenger (New Orleans, LA),March 8, 1868, Image 4, Chroniclingamerical.loc.gov; Immigration Year: 1860; Arrival: New York, New York, USA; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Line: 139; List Number: 451, Ancestry.com. [v] CSR, Confederate, Officers, “Turgis, Isidore F.”, p. 6, Fold3.com. [vi] Turgis, Father Francis, letter to Archbishop J. M. Odin, April 8, 1862, Archives.nd.edu. [vii] Turgis, Father (Isadore Francis), letter to Archbishop J. M. Odin, April 16, 1862. Catholic Church. Archdiocese of New Orleans. (CANO) IV-4-a to VI-3-d, Archives.nd.edu; Also, Turgis, Father (Isadore Francis) Turgis, letter to Archbishop J. M. Odin, id., April 7, 1863, Archives.nd.edu. [viii] Turgis, Father (Isadore Francis) to Beauregard, P. G. T., in Charleston, General Commanding Dept. of S. C, Georgia and Florida, June 12, 1863. [ix] CSR, Confederate, Officers, “Turgis, Isidore F.”, p. 6-7, Fold3.com; CSR, Confederate, Louisiana, Thirtieth Louisiana Infantry, “Turgis, J. F.” [sic]. The 30th La. Infantry was apparently often referred to as the Orleans Guards. He received $80 per month pay in late 1863. [x] Turgis, Father (Isadore Francis), letter to Archbishop J. M. Odin, Sept. 23, 1863. Catholic Church. Archdiocese of New Orleans. (CANO) IV-4-a to VI-3-d, Archives.nd.edu citing VI-2-g A.L.S. (French) 1p. [xi] "Father Turgis’ Life Story Told.", The Daily Picayune (New Orleans, LA), April 6, 1898, p. 14, col. 5-7, Genealogybank.com. [xii] Bergeron, Arthur W. Guide to Louisiana Confederate Military Units, 1861–1865. United States: LSU Press, 1996. 30th Battalion, p. 142, 169-70. [xiii] Pasquier, Michael, Catholic Southerners, Catholic Soldiers: … in New Orleans. 2003. Citing Ignace Francois Turgis to Jean-Marie Odin, Mobile, 20 October 1863, AANO. [xiv] The Glasgow Daily Herald (Glasgow, Scotland), Aug. 17, 1864, p. 5, col. 4, Newspapers.com. [xv] "Father Turgis’ Life Story Told.", id. [xvi] "Father Turgis' Life Story Told.", id. [xvii] The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), April 7, 1898, p. 10, Newspapers.com. [xviii] The Times-Picayune, April 7, 1898, id. [xix] The Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas), March 7, 1868, p. 1, col. 8, Newspapers.com. [xx] Bergeron, Arthur W. Guide to Louisiana Confederate Military Units, 1861–1865. United States: LSU Press, 1996. 30th Battalion, p. 142, 169-70; CSR, Confederate, Louisiana, 13th Infantry, “Turgis, J. F.” [sic], p. 3, Fold3.com; The Charleston Daily News, March 11, 1868, p. 2, Col. 2, Newspapers.com. [xxi] Pasquier, Michael, Catholic Southerners, Catholic Soldiers: …in New Orleans. 2003. Citing Fernand Vatin, Etude Biographique: I. F. Turgis. 1813-1868 (Saint-Lo, France: Les Aleleirs Leclerc, 1934), 50- 51. [xxii] The Morning Times (Selma, Ala.), Dec. 2, 1865, p. 1, col. 1, Newspapers.com; The Times-Democrat (New Orleans, LA), May 16, 1866, p. 6, Newspapers.com; Pasquier, Michael, Catholic Southerners, Catholic Soldiers in New Orleans. 2003. Footnote 5. [xxiii] The Morning Star and Catholic Messenger, id. [xxiv] Daily Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA), Jan 21, 1867, p. 2, col. 2, Genealogybank.com. [xxv] Pasquier, Michael, Catholic Southerners, Catholic Soldiers: … in New Orleans. 2003. Citing Arthur Picolet, F. O. Trepagnier, and Leon Queyrouze letter to Archbishop Jean-Marie Odin, Catholic Church. Archdiocese of New Orleans. February 1, 1866, AANO. Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard also signed this letter; Also see The Item Magazine (New Orleans, LA), July 3, 1921, p. 2. [xxvi] The Morning Star and Catholic Messenger (New Orleans, LA), March 8, 1868, p. 4, Newspapers.com. [xxvii] "Father Turgis' Life Story Told.", id; Built in 1826 as a burial church for victims of yellow fever, the chapel, located at N. Rampart St. and Conti St., is the oldest surviving church in the city. The church there today is known as Our Lady of Guadalupe. [xxviii] The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), March 4, 1868, p. 4, col. 3, Newspapers.com. The funeral was on the 5th. [xxix] The Morning Star and Catholic Messenger (New Orleans, LA), March 8, 1868, p. 4, Newspapers.com. [xxx] The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), April 7, 1898, p. 10, Newspapers.com.

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