By Kenneth A. Dupuy
(Excerpted from a longer work)
Below is an excerpt from one of my articles, written for the Meridional several years ago. This particular article deals with the life and times of Charles Escudier and his sons, A. M. and Albert Escudier. Charles was both a tinsmith and a wordsmith, he worked with metals, and he was a journalist. A. M. Escudier inherited his father’s journalistic talents winding up in New Orleans. Albert Escudier, on the other hand, became a tinsmith and left New Iberia to live in Abbeville, as did Charles. When the cannon was transported to St. Martinville, the Escudiers were living in New Iberia, during the latter Reconstruction period. So, now let’s talk about a cannon from the battlefield of San Jacinto, Texas, that wound up in Vermilion Parish.
Speaking of artillery pieces, there was a cannon, which possibly passed along the Teche on its way to St. Martinville, that had a most interesting history. Maybe Escudier watched the boat that transported this cannon to St. Martinville as it traveled up the Teche.
This cannon's journey would take it from the bellicose battlefield of San Jacinto in Texas to the romantic shores of Evangeline: St. Martinville. In 1837, Captain John Mitchell, "an English sailor," was transporting shingles from the Vermilion River to Harrisburg in the newly founded Republic of Texas. Perhaps by chance, in the latter part of June, Captain Mitchell moored his boat near the San Jacinto battleground. It was on this site that General Santa Anna had been defeated by General Sam Houston on April 21, 1836, in what was to be the final battle to free Texas from Mexico.
Going ashore, Capt. Mitchell saw a six-pound cannon. No, the cannon didn't weigh 6 pounds, and I don't know why this artillery piece had such a name. I found an illustration of such a cannon, and to me it looks similar to the cannons seen in movies about the Civil War. The configuration and size are about the same, except that the six-pounder was slightly cruder in construction. Remember that this particular artillery piece had to have been made 25 to 30 years before the Civil War. I am uncertain on which side of the battle it had been used. Had it been left behind by the defeated Mexican forces, or had the victorious Texans left it behind feeling that it would no longer be needed?
Captain Mitchell decided to "appropriate [it] for ballast." Fortunately, the wheels were intact, and he and his men were able to roll it to the water's edge. Using their tackle, he and the crew were able to secure it in the bottom of their boat. A few days later, Capt. Mitchell sailed up to the Perry plantation on the Vermilion River. Had the bridge across the river been built yet? If so, it seems that the account of this cannon's journey would have mentioned the town of Perry's Bridge. I assume that the plantation's mansion was the same one seen in later photos, on the east bank of the river, across from the town of Perry's Bridge.
Whatever the case, "Colonel" Robert Perry and his neighbors were preparing a grand celebration for the Fourth of July. Stands had been erected under the "wide-spread oaks," so that patriotic speeches might be given from them. Tables stood on the "green sloping hillside." In the air were the savory smells of barbecued beef, mutton and pork. It didn't matter whether they would be considered party crashers or not. Capt. Mitchell and his crew, who had been on a ration of "hardtack and black coffee," wrangled an invitation to stay for the party, by offering the use of the cannon for this special occasion. Colonel Perry accepted the offer. After the cannon was rolled off the ship, it was anchored to the ground. At the proper moment in the celebration, the cannon was fired. It erupted with such a loud and unaccustomed roar, that people miles away were said to have been startled.
I recall another unexpected explosion, but this one was in the mid 1950s. I was working at the Chicken Shack Restaurant in Houston near the River Oaks subdivision. We were going about our chores in the kitchen, when the loudest explosion we had ever experienced shook us and the restaurant violently. I can still picture the horror, fear and confusion in the faces around me, and I can imagine what my own face must have registered. A mile or so away from the restaurant, a fireworks' factory had exploded, killing several people and causing property damage for blocks and blocks. Because of the decade, my first thought was that we had been hit by an atomic bomb! It was a very frightening time for us all before we learned the true nature of this explosion. Despite the tragedy of lost lives, there was such a relief to learn that we were safe from nuclear attack.
Returning to the subject of the cannon at Perry's plantation, I can imagine the confusion and apprehension of those who heard that inexplicable militaristic boom on that hot July day in 1837. Anyway, Colonel Perry made a "dicker," that is a "deal," with Capt. Mitchell for the cannon after the celebration was over, allowing Perry to keep the cannon in what would become Vermilion Parish some seven years later. Thereafter, Col. Perry fired this cannon on each succeeding July Fourth until his death in 1852. In fact, it was fired each year as many times as there were states in the union. This was the same Robert Perry with whom Father Megret battled to determine which town, Perry's Bridge or Abbeville, would be the parish seat of justice.
From the time of Col. Perry's death until the Civil War, Perry's sons carried on the tradition of firing the cannon as part of the celebration of our country's birth. His sons joined the Confederate forces shortly after the war began, and A. C. Perry returned for a day early in the war to check on his family and on his home. While there, he and a couple of other men dragged the cannon to the river and rolled it in, surely to keep it out of the hands of the Federal troops.
Col. Robert Perry's other sons, Robert S. and Oliver U., left home on June 5, 1861, "as members of the Attakapas Guards and went to a camp near Tangipahoa." There they enlisted in the 8th Louisiana Infantry Regiment. This unit soon traveled to Manassas Junction, "near Bull Run." There, this unit fought in the "Bull Run and Manassas Battles of the 18th and 21st of July, 1861." According to the 1897 account from which I am quoting, "General Irwin McDowell, commanding 45,000 men, was routed by Gen. Beauregard and Gen. Joseph E. Johnson with 28,000 men."
A month later, Oliver Perry died of typhoid fever at Camp Pickens, near Bull Run. Robert remained in the North Virginia army "until after the battle of Gettysburg, on July 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, 1863, at which time he was present." On September 7, 1863, Robert was captured by a corps of Mead's Army. For the next 21 months he was in the Johnson Island Prison, near Sandusky, Ohio. On June 13, 1865, he was released; Robert arrived at the family home near the end of August 1865.
The cannon remained dormant and wet until sometime between 1872 and 1877, during Wm. Kellogg's governorship. Kellogg had seized the governor's office, despite the fact that the Democratic candidate, John McEnery, had been duly elected; Kellogg left office around 1877. Sometime during that period, the cannon was "fished up" out of the Vermilion River where it had been sunk a decade or so before. Sometime between 1873 and 1877, "parties threatened to destroy St. Martinville," relative to the political battles occurring in the state. This historic cannon was sent to that town where the piece's "thick coat of rust (was) removed." The cannon "was mounted, and made ready for service." "Happily it was never engaged later in any action [other] than the celebration of Cleveland's election a time or two." I cannot determine if the cannon was fired in St. Martinville, or if its very presence caused the Metropolitan Police to leave town hurriedly. Perhaps all that had to be done was to roll this cannon out on the street so that the Metropolitan police could see what they were up against. How many movies have we seen in which a concealed weapon is revealed? Such action usually had a calming effect, and caused any resistance to stop. It is possible that the sight of the cannon had the same effect on the Metropolitan Police. It is also possible that this group had its own cannon.
The heading of the newspaper article about this cannon mentions its use in the "Expulsion of the Metropolitan Police in St. Martin Parish." Therefore, we can assume that it served its purpose in its apparent last battle. Grover Cleveland, who was mentioned above, served as president from 1885 to 1889 and then from 1893 to 1897. It was in 1897 that the article on this "historic cannon" was printed in the Meridional.
The citizens of St. Martinville continued to fire this cannon—fished from the Vermilion River—to celebrate the Fourth of July, as late as 1897. When we think of it, how appropriate it is that a cannon be used for such celebrations. Its voice is so commanding and insistent, and it speaks the language of war. Its roar makes such a dramatic statement, it says it all, especially in celebrating military victories. Remember the chorus of cannons in the "1812 Overture."
I've wondered where Abbeville got its cannon for that gigantic Fourth-of-July celebration in 1898, on Magdalen Square. Wouldn't it be something if it were this same cannon? Whatever the case may be, this particular artillery piece in St. Martinville heard everything from the wounded shouts and screams of the maimed and the dying, to the joyous shouts and screams of crowds celebrating our country's independence. To each of these occasions, this cannon added its own sonorous voice.
Apparently Robert S. Perry, who lived in New Iberia, and Captain A. C. Perry, who lived in Orange, Texas, continued to own this cannon. In 1897, these brothers were willing to return it to parties interested in preserving historic relics of the Texas Republic. However, I don't know what happened to this cannon. I cannot prove it, but it is probable that the cannon had been transported to St. Martinville by steamboat, in which case, Charles Escudier, and perhaps his family, may have watched as it journeyed northward through New Iberia in the 1870s. On the other hand, the cannon may have been hauled overland from Perry's Bridge to the land of Evangeline: St. Martinville.