When the Civil War first started, people in and around the Vermilion enthusiastically supported the formation of the Confederate States. Once the reality of war sank in — up close and personal — their fervor waned.
Not only did Union troops patrol the Gulf and Vermilion Bay, in April of 1863 they captured New Iberia and destroyed the salt works on Avery Island. After that victory, Federal commanders divided their forces into two groups, with one heading directly toward the Pinhook Bridge and the other advancing up the west bank of Bayou Teche to St. Martinville and then westward to the Pinhook Bridge.
On April 17, 1863, just as Confederate General Richard Taylor, the son of U.S. President Zachary Taylor, and the last of his supply wagons crossed the bridge, the first group of Union soldiers arrived at the Pinhook Bridge. Once the Confederate troops and supplies were safely across, Taylor ordered the bridge destroyed. With the bridge ablaze, the Confederates positioned their infantry and artillery and engaged the advancing Federal forces. The two armies struggled for about four hours, with few casualties.
The next day as Union troops built a pontoon bridge, about half of the tired and dirty soldiers decided to take advantage of the spring weather and water. They stripped off their clothes and jumped into Vermilion. About that time, some of Taylor’s cavalry doubled bank and opened fire on the bathers. Madness ensued as naked and half-dressed Union soldiers scrambled amidst Confederate shots firing.
According to an eyewitness description, “Such a spectacle never before was seen. The long [drum] roll was sounding and naked men, in every direction, were making a dash for their guns, trying to dress as they ran. Some with their trousers on hind side before; didn't know whether they were advancing or retreating.”
About six months later, on October 9, 1863, Union troops approached the Pinhook Bridge again. Once again, Confederate soldiers set the newly rebuilt bridge afire. And, once again, Union soldiers built another temporary bridge. However, it was not strong enough to support their artillery and wagons.
Once the Civil War was in full force, the Union’s naval presence along the Louisiana coast intercepted occasional schooners operating as blockade-runners out of the Vermilion.