Isaac Gurdon Seymour was born in Savannah, Ga., in 1804, to a family with roots in Connecticut. Graduating from Yale with the class of 1825, Seymour moved to Macon, Ga., and opened a law office, but soon found himself drawn into publishing, and in 1832, he became an editor for the Georgia Messenger. Seymour's life in Georgia was marked by personal and financial accomplishment. A committed Whig, he took a deep interest in local politics, serving on the city council and as first mayor of Macon, and when the occasion arose, he also distinguished himself militarily, serving under Winfield Scott in both the Seminole and the Mexican Wars. Scott thought so highly of Seymour that he appointed him military governor of the Castle of Perote, Santa Anna's home, and allowed him to escort the defeated general to exile in Jamaica. The only real reversals of fortune to beset Seymour came in his family life. He and his wife, Caroline E. Whitlock, whom he married in 1829, lost three children in infancy and a fourth, their daughter Caroline, at the age of 19. Only one of their five children, William Johnson Seymour (b. May 12, 1832) survived into adulthood.
After returning from his service in the Mexican War, Seymour moved to New Orleans and became an editor and partner in the New Orleans Commercial Bulletin, the most important financial paper in the city. By the outbreak of the Civil War, Seymour was an established and well respected citizen of the community and was quick to offer his military skills in the defense of his adopted state. After turning over responsibility for the Commercial Bulletin to his son, Seymour enlisted in the mostly Irish 6th Louisiana Infantry, and was elected Colonel on May 21st, 1861. To Seymour's chagrin, the 6th Regiment and its officers soon earned a reputation as a hard brawling, hard drinking set of reprobates, but to his credit, they soon, too, proved their mettle as soldiers.
The 6th Louisiana Infantry was attached to the Army of Northern Virginia and sent to Centreville, Va. Having missed the Battle of Bull Run while assigned to guard baggage trains in the rear, the regiment spent an uneventful winter on the Peninsula, but with the Spring campaigns of 1862, they were soon drawn into action. In April, the regiment was withdrawn and sent to the Shenandoah Valley under the command of Richard Stoddert Ewell, a man whom Seymour found personally repulsive and incompetent. But it was in the Shenandoah Campaign that the Irishmen of the 6th proved their worth as soldiers, playing important parts in the Battles of Front Royal, Winchester, Cross Keys and Port Republic. After returning to the Peninsula in June to help counter McClellan's advance, the 6th Louisiana was devastated at the Battle of Gaines Mills, emerging with fewer than 50 effectives. Col. Seymour was killed in the battle, leading his Tigers into Boatswain's Swamp and was buried on the battlefield.
Col. Seymour's son, William, appears to have had more than a little of his father's spirit. Having accepted the editorship of the Commercial Bulletin only reluctantly, William obeyed his father's wishes and refrained from joining in the war only until the spring of 1862, when he received an appointment as aide to Brig. Gen. Johnson Kelly Duncan, and went into the unsuccessful defences of Forts Jackson and St. Philip. On April 28th, having endured the heavy shelling of Union gunboats and the mutiny of their own men, Seymour and his fellow officers surrendered Fort Jackson to David D. Porter, and were granted release on parole, only to return to New Orleans just before it, too, capitulated.
Seymour remained in New Orleans through the fall, witness to what he considered the brutal and immoral administration of Ben Butler. Having been informed by Butler that if closed, the Commerical Bulletin would be reopened as a Union newspaper, Seymour stubbornly kept it going, however Butler seized the paper anyway after a laudatory obituary to Col. Seymour appeared, and placed William in confinement at Fort Jackson. William was released from Fort Jackson in October and married Elizabeth Berthoud Grimshaw. Butler allowed the young couple to leave New Orleans in December.
After leaving his new wife in Macon, Seymour reentered the service, this time as aide de camp under the new commander of the 1st Louisiana Brigade, Harry T. Hays (Ewell's Division, Stonewall Jackson's 2nd Corps, A.N.V.). William arrived just as the spring offensive of 1863 was beginning, and survived Chancellorsville, 2nd Winchester and Gettysburg (Cemetery Hill), and later in the fall, Bristoe Station and Mine Run. Despite suffering heavily in these engagements, the Louisiana Brigade continued in their effective service through the campaigns of 1864, and the battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania Campaign (the Bloody Angle), North Anna River and, for a second time, the Shenandoah Valley. Exhausted and ill, Seymour was ordered to report to the Brigade Surgeon on June 4th, 1864, who placed his on disability for 50 days, later extended to 70.
When Seymour returned to duty, the tide of the war had clearly changed, and while he still considered the southerner troops to be superior to the northern, it was clear to Seymour that they were now badly outnumbered and outgunned. At Winchester, Seymour witnessed the loss of yet another Confederate general, Robert Emmet Rodes, and was present at Fisher's Hill and ensuing engagements as Confederate resistance buckled under the pressure of Sheridan's forces. In the middle of October Seymour's health failed, and he was placed on sick leave for at least five months. While convalescing, he appears to have attempted to secure a transfer to a post in the deep south, but with what success is hard to judge. After the war, Seymour returned to his publishing business in New Orleans, but was troubled with ill health for much of the remainder of his life. He died of heart failure in 1886, leaving his wife and five surviving children.
The Seymour papers contain materials relating primarily to the Civil War service of Col. Isaac G. Seymour (6th Louisiana Infantry) and his son, William J., both residents of New Orleans. The most important items in the collection are the two journals kept by William Seymour describing his experiences in the defense of New Orleans, 1862, and as Assistant Adjutant General in the 1st Louisiana Brigade, Army of Northern Virginia. The first of these "journals" was begun by Col. Isaac Seymour as a manuscript drill manual for his regiment (55 pp.), but it appears to have been taken up by William following Isaac's death. This volume is arranged in four sections and includes a record of William Seymour's experiences from March, 1862 through May, 1864. The second volume is organized in a similar manner, but covers the period from April, 1863 through October, 1864, terminating in the middle of a description of the Battle of Cedar Creek. Both of William's "journals" are post-war memoirs drawn extensively from original diaries and notes, with some polishing and embellishment.
William Seymour's "journals" contain outstanding descriptions of life in the Confederate Army and are one of the premier sources for the Confederate side of the Battle of Forts Jackson and St. Philip. His journals also contain very important accounts for Chancellorsville, 2nd Winchester, Gettysburg (Cemetery Hill), Mine Run, the Wilderness and Spotsylvania (the Bloody Angle), but almost as important are the descriptions of camp life, and the morale and emotions of the troops. Seymour is an observant, critical, and knowledgeable writer who was placed in a position where he had access to information on fairly high level command decisions. Yet while his journal is focused on the military aspects of the war, he includes a number of brief personal sketches of officers and soldiers, and vignettes of life in the army, ranging from accounts of Union soldiers bolstered in their courage by whiskey, to the courage of an officer's wife stopping a deserter and the Knights of the Golden Circle surfacing in Pennsylvania during the Confederate invasion.
The remainder of the collection includes three Civil War-date letters relating to Isaac Seymour, one written from Camp Bienville near Manassas, Va. (1861 September 2), one from the Shenandoah River (1862 May 2), and the third a letter relaying news of Seymour's death at Gaines Mills. The letter of May 1862 is a powerful, despairing one, and includes Isaac Seymour's thoughts on the Confederate loss of New Orleans and severe criticism for Jefferson Davis, a "man of small caliber, with mind perhaps enough, but without those qualities which go to make up the great and good man." At this moment, Seymour reported that he was disappointed in the quality of his officers, and regretted that he had not resigned his commission upon his son's enlistment, and further, he felt that the Confederacy was being held together only tenuously, due solely to the "the righteousness of our cause, and the innate, deep rooted mendicable hatred to the Yankee race." The remainder of the correspondence consists primarily of documents, but includes an interesting Seminole War letter of Isaac to Eulalia Whitlock and a letter from "Sister Régis" to Isaac, as editor of the New Orleans Bulletin, begging the aid of the press on behalf of the Female Orphan Asylum.