Louis Passineau, alias “Louis Napoleon,” was born in 1835 in Quebec, Canada.
Louis left Canada and came to western Michigan, probably to work in the lumber mills along Lake Michigan, sometime before the war broke out.
He stood 5’8” with blue eyes, black hair and a dark complexion and was a 26-year-old laborer who could not read or write (at least in English), living in Muskegon County when he enlisted in Company H on May 6, 1861. (Company H, formerly the “Muskegon Rangers,” was made up largely of men from the vicinity of Muskegon and Newaygo counties.)
Louis spoke very little, if any English, at least according to both Lieutenant Peter Bergevin of Company H and Mrs. Louisa Bryant, wife of the commanding officer of Company H, Captain Emery Bryant. Louisa had accompanied her husband and the regiment to Washington, DC in June of 1861. Lieutenant Bergevin described “Napoleon” as “a Canadian Frenchman of fair complexion and medium size, and spoke the English language very imperfectly but spoke the French language well, and as I spoke that language I became well acquainted with him.”
Mrs. Bryant stated some years afterward that she “had studied the language [French] and for that reason conversed with him in French and took pains to do so and became very well acquainted with him.” Mrs. Bryant further stated that when the Third Michigan left northern Virginia to join the Army of the Potomac on the “Peninsular Campaign” in the Spring of 1862, Napoleon gave her $25.00 to keep for him. “I never saw him afterwards,” she declared,
but in the year 1881 I learned from Lieutenant P. P. Bergervin late of the same Co & Regt, that in answer to a letter written by him to P. B. Fisk Esq. of Chateaugay N.Y. in reference to evidence in Napoleon’s claim for a pension in which my name was mentioned, that when Napoleon heard my name mentioned he exclaimed “I know that woman. I gave her $25 to keep for me [and] I never saw her since & never got my money.” I then wrote him through Mr. Fisk that under the circumstances I would send him the money which I afterwards did in post office money orders from the post office at Washington D.C. payable to Louis Napoleon at post office at Chateaugay N.Y. at the dates and in the amounts as follows: Sept 6th 1881 $5.00, Oct 7th 1881 $5.00, Nov 18th 1881 $5.00, March 7 1882 $10.00.
Louis was on the company rolls through October of 1861 and present for duty on December 31, 1861. He may have been sick briefly in the Regimental hospital early in 1862, but had returned to the Regiment by the end of February, and was present for duty through the end of June. He was shot in his chin and neck on May 31, 1862, at Fair Oaks, Virginia. (Although in his pension claim declaration of 1879 he testified that during the war he suffered only from general disability sometime after August of 1862, however according to a later statement, probably in late 1882 or early 1883, he claimed that he had been wounded on May 31 at Fair Oaks. The War Department also noted that he had been wounded in May. ) He later claimed that the wound cut “the skin and flesh about two inches in length across his throat or chin under his jaw contracting the skin and muscles of his chin and front part of his neck also still remaining very tender and easily irritated and injured. . . .”
Louis was possibly suffering from general debility when he was transferred to a hospital in Washington, DC where he reportedly remained for only two days before being sent on to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania sometime in early September. He was subsequently hospitalized and was reported absent sick in the hospital from August of 1862 until he was discharged for consumption on February 9, 1863, at Fourth and George Streets hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
It is not known if Louis returned to Michigan after his discharge from the army. He listed Malone, Franklin County, New York as his mailing address on his discharge, and he was living in Chateaugay, Franklin County, New York in 1879 when he applied for a pension (no. 292,265).
He married New York or Canadian native Lucia Patenaude (1838-1885) who was unable to read or write (at least in English), and they had at least three and possibly four children: Frank (b. 1866), Mamie (b. 1868), Chlotildis (known in the family as “Clemina”), and Daniel Bernard (1874).
By 1880 Louis was working as a laborer and living with his wife and children in Chateaugay, New York.
He resided in upstate New York working as a laborer until his death on October 17, 1883. He was buried in St. Patrick’s cemetery, Chateaugay: section 3 (his wife is buried in section 9) or 1-108 for both.
His widow also applied for a pension (no. 310513), but the certificate was never granted.