French native, Civil War veteran, taught at Danville school

Published 6:10 pm Friday, September 15, 2017

By Stuart W. Sanders

Contributing writer

During the 19th century, Boyle County was home to a number of noted all-girls schools. Perryville, for example, had the Ewing Institute and Harmonia College, both of which served as hospitals after the Battle of Perryville. Temperance crusader Carry Nation also attended Harmonia College for a time.

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In Danville, the Caldwell Female Institute (founded as the Henderson Female Institute in 1854) enjoyed a positive reputation across the South. Located on Lexington Avenue, the school’s prominence attracted a broad range of students. In 1860, for example, the Institute had 143 pupils, which included 74 from Danville, 31 from other Kentucky counties, and 38 from out-of-state.

This renown also brought a number of interesting faculty members to the academy. One of them—Jean Antoine Auguste Joyeaux—taught French at the Caldwell Institute from 1865 to 1869. A Civil War veteran, Joyeaux certainly brought a cosmopolitan flair to Danville, which then had a population of about 4,000 residents.

Joyeaux was “born of a good family among the Alps, near Grenoble, September 25, 1835.” He studied in Paris, taught school for three years, and, in 1856, joined the French army and fought in Italy. He then immigrated to the United States, reaching New York at Christmas 1862.

According to a later passport application, Joyeaux stood five feet, eight inches tall. He was described as having a high forehead, blue eyes, brown hair, a “prominent” nose, “ruddy” complexion, “long” face and “pointed” chin. It was said that Joyeaux could only “use the English language but imperfectly.”

Joyeaux moved to Rhode Island, where he helped manufacture blankets for the Union army. In September 1863, he decided to take a more active role in the Civil War. He enlisted into Company E of the 7th Rhode Island Infantry Regiment at Providence.

By the time Joyeaux joined the regiment, they had been bloodied. At the Battle of Fredericksburg, fought in December 1862, the unit lost 220 men killed and wounded out of 570 engaged.

Briefly stationed in Lexington, Kentucky, the regiment marched to Mississippi, where they fought around Vicksburg. They then returned to the bluegrass to chase Confederate cavalryman John Hunt Morgan. Joyeaux joined the regiment in Kentucky. This stint in the commonwealth must have left a positive mark on Joyeaux, for he returned to the state immediately after the Civil War.

According to a regimental history, the Frenchman made quite an impression on his fellow soldiers. “Joyeaux became at once a conspicuous figure about camp,” the regimental historian wrote, “for he was an expert swordsman, and soon was giving lessons to Colonel Bliss and the other officers, hence he was generally called ‘Professor.’”

His “fencing exercises” drew crowds. “Whenever his foil went home the boys all shouted, ‘Hurrah for Zou Zou,’ for he frequently sang the French song ‘Le Zou Zou.’”

In 1863, Joyeaux marched to Camp Nelson with his regiment. He fell ill and was confined there for two months. During that period, he served as a clerk at the camp headquarters. Upon his recovery, Joyeaux rejoined his regiment in Virginia.

In May 1864, the 7th Rhode Island fought at Spotsylvania Courthouse. During the engagement, Joyeaux was one of three men in his company to be wounded. The unit’s regimental historian wrote, “While grasping his musket a bullet struck the two smaller fingers of the left hand and scratched the forefinger of the right. Seizing his mutilated hand with the other he raised it above his head and shouted that he had rather be killed in the French army than lose two fingers in the American.”

Joyeaux was sent to a hospital in Alexandria, Virginia. While he never fought again, the 7th Rhode Island continued battling in Virginia, fighting at Bethesda Church, Hatcher’s Run and other battles.

On May 29, 1865, Joyeaux mustered out of the Union army in Washington D.C. He quickly returned to Kentucky, where he taught at the Caldwell Institute from 1865 to 1869.

The school evidently had success after the Civil War. In the 1870s, one advertisement stated that “The Institute itself is too well-known for any description of its past or present to be given. None in the State excel it in elegance and comfort of equipments. There is no better place for a man to send his daughter.”

After teaching in Danville, Joyeaux worked in Lexington, where he lived at 99 Upper Street and 379 Spring Street. He then taught in Memphis and Chattanooga. During this time he also received a military pension of $24 per month. He was still teaching in East Tennessee as late as 1912.

Joyeaux died at his son’s home in either Virginia or Maryland in August 1916. His obituary called him a “Union veteran of the Civil War and a widely known Frenchman.” He was also a colorful teacher at Danville’s Caldwell Female Institute.

Stuart W. Sanders is the author of three books, including Perryville Under Fire: The Aftermath of Kentucky’s Largest Civil War Battle.