The untimely passing of Art Bergeron marks a truly sad time for Civil War historians, particularly those with an interest in the Trans-Mississippi theater and in Louisiana. I met Art in 1994 during one of the late Jerry Russell’s legendary battlefield preservation programs—this one covering the Red River campaign. I was a grad student and I remember approaching Art and asking him to sign my copy of Guide to Louisiana Confederate Military Units. He did more than simply oblige the request. Art opened a conversation about my interest in the Civil War, Louisiana, and the Confederacy. He listened to my story about my ancestors serving in Gray’s 28th Louisiana Infantry and my work on Dick Taylor & Kirby Smith, and in a warm and conversational tone, he suggested avenues to explore and made me feel like a peer. Then, he told me to call him at any time if I had any questions about Smith or Taylor or Louisiana or the Civil War. I was stunned. Here was this big-time Civil War historian—an expert in my area of interest, no less—and he invited me to contact him.
It did not take long for me to take Art up on the offer. That summer, while conducting research at LSU, I asked one of the librarians if I could see a copy of Art Bergeron’s M.A. Thesis, General Richard Taylor: A Study in Command. I was shocked when the librarian refused my request and don’t remember the reasons she gave but I stammered out something about how I knew Dr. Bergeron and he’d want me to see it. She remained resolute and I retreated to a secure location where I proceeded to call Art. Fortunately, he was in his office at State Parks and took the call. I explained my situation and Art told me not to worry. He suggested a place on campus where I could grab lunch and return to the library in the afternoon. I did what he said, and when I got back to the library, the woman behind the reference desk smiled and handed me a copy of Art’s thesis and said, “Dr. Bergeron wants you to keep this for your files.” For me, a lowly grad student, there was nothing like calling in the cavalry and having them ride to the rescue to turn the tide of battle.
Art was always willing to talk with me about Smith & Taylor and answer any question on Louisiana troops—no matter how trivial the issue. He knew how a certain battery was positioned along a certain backcountry bayou and which men from which parish manned which guns and what kind of ordnance they fired and how many rounds they expended and what they had for lunch after the battle. He knew the location of some remote plantation where a colonel made his headquarters and he knew everything about the colonel and his command and his family including the shade of butternut the colonel wore. He knew Civil War, he knew Trans-Mississippi, he knew Louisiana, and he loved to share it all with anyone who had a passion for history.
Last time I saw Art was at a Harrisburg CWRT meeting in the fall of 2008. We sat together during dinner and over the course of the evening, we talked about Henry Gray and an article I was writing and how he had just heard about some letters in someone’s attic somewhere in Louisiana. We promised to get together and talk further. Maybe we would meet up at Gettysburg in the summer and walk Hays’s attack on Cemetery Hill. He joked about how to interpret the 9th Louisiana attacking around the water tower and I reminded him that a mobile home stood where Gray’s 28th advanced at Mansfield.
It always came back to Louisiana—it always came back to the experience of the officer, the foot soldier, the gentleman, the common man. Art was all of those. When we lose someone like that from our ranks, we are all diminished. We lose a chance to share his knowledge, we lose an ambassador for our discipline, and we lose a friend.