Hebert, Paul Octave (1818–1880)

By: Thomas W. Cutrer

Type: Biography

Published: 1952

Updated: January 1, 1995

Paul Octave Hébert, Confederate Army officer, was born in Iberville Parish, Louisiana, on December 12, 1818, the son of Paul and Mary Eugenia (Hamilton) Hébert. He graduated first in his class at Jefferson College in 1836 and first in his class at the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1840, ranking well ahead of classmates William T. Sherman and George H. Thomas. Hébert was commissioned a second lieutenant of engineers and in 1842 returned to West Point as an instructor, but resigned from the army on March 31, 1845, to become chief engineer for Louisiana. In the Mexican War he returned to the service, accepting a commission as lieutenant colonel of the Third United States Infantry on March 3, 1847. On April 9, 1847, he was transferred to the Fourteenth Infantry. On September 8 of that year he was brevetted to the rank of colonel for his "gallant and meritorious" conduct at the battle of Molino del Rey. Hébert left the service on July 25, 1848, at the conclusion of the war and returned to Iberville Parish, where he became a successful and wealthy sugar planter. In 1852 he was a delegate to the state constitutional convention and from 1853 to 1856 was governor of Louisiana, the youngest man to that time to be elected to the office.

With Louisiana's secession, Hébert was appointed colonel of the First Louisiana Artillery; on August 17 he was promoted to brigadier general. Soon thereafter he was appointed to the command of the Department of Texas, superseding Earl Van Dorn and the interim administration of Henry E. McCulloch. Hébert assumed command on September 16, 1861, and established his headquarters at Galveston. Appalled by the state's lack of an adequate coastal defense system, he wrote to Secretary of War Leroy Pope Walker, "I regret to say that I find this coast in almost a defenseless state, and in the almost total want of proper works and armaments; the task of defending successfully any point against an attack of any magnitude amounts to a military impossibility." The general called, therefore, on every Texan to "clean his old musket, shot-gun, or rifle, run his bullets, fill his powder-horn, sharpen his knife, and see that his revolver is ready to his hand." If the men responded to his call, he assured them, although the Texas coast might be invaded, the enemy would "never hold a foot of your soil-never!" Despite such rhetoric, Hébert proved unpopular with Texas troops, who considered him aristocratic and imperious. Further, he did not win the approval of Governor Francis R. Lubbock, who considered him "somewhat bewildered by the magnitude of the task assigned him, and not to have matured...any definite line of policy." Hébert was replaced, therefore, in 1862 by Gen. John B. Magruder. Thereafter he commanded the subdistrict of North Louisiana, where, in the words of Lt. Col. James Arthur Lyon Fremantle of Her Majesty's Coldstream Guard, he was "shelved at Monroe, where he expects to be taken prisoner any day." His only combat experience came at the battle of Milliken's Bend, Louisiana, on June 7, 1863.

After the war Hébert once again became Louisiana state engineer and supervised construction of the Mississippi River levees. He was married to Cora Wills Vaughn on August 3, 1842; the couple had five children. After Cora's death he married Penelope L. Andrews (1861), with whom he had five more children. He was active in Democratic politics until he died of cancer in New Orleans on August 29, 1880. He is buried near Bayou Goula, Louisiana. Hébert was the cousin of Gen. Louis Hébert, who commanded the infantry brigade of Gen. Benjamin McCulloch's Army of the West in Arkansas and Missouri.

Norman D. Brown, ed., Journey to Pleasant Hill: The Civil War Letters of Captain Elijah P. Petty (San Antonio: University of Texas Institute of Texan Cultures, 1982). Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register and Dictionary of the United States Army (2 vols., Washington: GPO, 1903; rpt., Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965). Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Gray (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959).

Time Periods:

  • Civil War

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Thomas W. Cutrer, “Hebert, Paul Octave,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed January 22, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/hebert-paul-octave.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1995

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