"Vignettes" of the Civil War

By Francis McRae Ward


Chapter Five


Along The Western Shore Of The River


When Grant's army left northeast Louisiana, and moved east of the Mississippi in April 1863, the citizens along the river were still not free from the enemy. Grant left behind a force to maintain convalescent camps, and hospitals; part of this force consisted of 1,250 Negro contrabands, mustered into the Union army on March 22nd, Grant's forces still remained unmolested, with the exception of Captain Joseph C. Lea's guerrilla opposition, until June 1863, when Confederate General John G. Walker's forces moved up from Alexandria in central Louisiana, and inflicted heavy losses in his surprise attack on white and Negro troops at Milliken's Bend. The garrison at Milliken's Bend was immediately reinforced, and the Confederate troops moved inland.[1]


After much fighting, drilling, and recruiting, during the latter part of 1863, Captain Lea moved into Tensas Parish in March 1864, and set up headquarters near the Mississippi River. Not far from his base, and within range of the Federal fleet, a large building had been erected by the enemy forces stocked with everything to sell to a needy people. The entire stock in this store was contraband; some of the items on hand were dress goods of the latest styles, groceries, surgical instruments, medicines, whisky, new revolvers, lead, powder, and percussion caps. Captain Lea fought for three days and nights for the valuable stores in this building, which were removed as the bombardment went on, and loaded into seventy-five captured army wagons with the necessary mules to pull them. Then every wagon and vehicle in the vicinity was made available to help haul the huge amount of supplies to headquarters, which was estimated to be worth $600,000 to the Confederacy.[2]


In the middle of 1864, Captain Jason W. James was on scouting duty in the southern part of Madison Parish. About eight o'clock one morning he and his company arrived at the Plantation home of Hr. Joshua James on Roundaway Bayou, who also owned the Ione Plantation in Tensas Parish.[3] There were several ladies sitting on the gallery as Captain James rode up and asked if he could get some breakfast for his men. There were no Negroes about the place as they had all left, but the ladies gladly prepared the meal. Mrs. James stated that several months past a detachment of Federal cavalry had taken her husband, a civilian, and placed him in the Vicksburg jail. She asked Captain James if he knew of any possible way to get him out of the jail. He told her that he would try to get some prisoners and exchange them for her husband.[4]


A short time after this, Captain James was informed of a Yankee cotton buyer located at the little town of DeSoto, Louisiana directly across the river from Vicksburg. A regiment of Negro soldiers was stationed there, and they would have to pass by them to get to the man they were looking for. Forty of the best men were selected and dressed in Federal uniforms, with Captain Lea in command. They passed through the Negro regiment, but not without suspicion. They were not fired upon, as the Negroes were not sure whether these men were Confederates or Federals. The night was almost as bright as day, by the light of a full moon. Arriving at the cotton buyer's house, they woke him up, then informed him that he was under arrest. The exchange was made the next day under a flag of truce at DeSoto. Mr. James was, of course, very happy to be able to go home, and the family expressed great appreciation for this kind act.[5]


In October 1864, Captain James received orders to go to Young's Point, and destroy a wood yard, which was used for fueling riverboats. Just above the Point, between the bank of the river and the levee, a regiment of Negro infantry and cavalry were camped. They were all in tents asleep. When they were within about two hundred yards of the wood yard, Captain James took six or eight men and charged it. The Negroes began to scramble out of their tents, and fall in line, preparatory to fight. Captain James rode back to his men that he held in reserve, and ordered them to charge, shooting right and left. The Negroes scattered like birds before they could even get in shape to make any resistance. Captain James And his men pulled out immediately, taking with them six mule teams, and about seventy mules and horses, besides killing twenty five of the Negroes. They reached the home of Mrs. W. T. McFarland[6], which joined the Holmes Plantation, and Captain James, asked Mrs. McFarland if she could prepare some breakfast for him and his men. He let six men at a time go down to Mrs. McFarland's to get their breakfast, and when they returned, another squad would go. His idea was to keep as much force together as possible so that, in the event a Federal force should follow them, he would be able to hold the road and prevent them from re-taking the captured stock. When the last squad had gone to get their breakfast, he looked up and saw a considerable body of blue-coated cavalry coming directly toward them. Captain James got together every man he could on the spur of the moment, which numbered seventeen; all armed with four Colts six shooters, which gave them twenty-four shots each. His little squad looked small compared to the force they were to oppose.[7]


Captain James fell back to the west side of the plantation near a large canebrake, and formed his men in some high weeds about eight steps from the road. Captain James rode his horse into the road, reconnoitered the position, and within sixty or eighty yards, he saw that they were all Negroes, with a big yellow Mulatto in command. The Negroes were formed in two squads, about fifty or sixty yards apart. Captain James turned around, rode his horse back to the head of his column, then, the big yellow Mulatto yelled, 'Yonder's my reb.' Captain James told his little body of men it would be hard to give up what they had captured, and to do their best to make a clean job. When the yellow Negro got opposite Captain James, he fired one of his heavy dragoon pistols at him and the Negro fell from his horse to the ground. One of the Negro squads rapidly rode up to where the dead Negro lay in the road, stopped, and looked at him. They had not seen Captain James' men, as they were still formed in the high weeds. Captain gave the order to charge, and eight or ten of the Negroes were shot from their horses, and the rest of them dismounted. Shooting in every direction, and pushing their way to the rear squad, Captain James and his men killed all of them except one, who escaped with a wound in his shoulder. Captain James had only seventeen men against the enemy's forty, but not one of his men was hurt. They captured forty more horses, all well equipped, forty guns, forty pistols, and a good supply of ammunition. The next day, they moved on westward to the Bayou Macon Hills, well pleased with their captured horses and equipment.[8]


Mrs. W. L. Sharkey, who lived on a plantation in the northeast part of Madison Parish, and bordering the Mississippi River, informed Captain James, of some Negroes and white renegades from both armies who had taken possession of a house on a vacant plantation south of Mrs. Sharkey about five miles down the river, who were killing cows, hogs, and chickens, and stealing anything they wanted, all belonging to people in the Sharkey Neighborhood. The house occupied by this band of thieves had a large front gallery, and the weather being warm, all the men were stretched out on it taking a rest. Captain James, and some of his men were whistling in a carefree way as they came in close range of the house, which made the thieves think they were Federal forces. Without speaking a word, they opened fire, as they didn't want any prisoners - they wanted to kill all of them. The ones who were not killed, and those who were not too badly wounded, took cover in the house, but not having time to reach for their guns, Captain James and his men ran them out, and they scattered among the weeds, which put an end to the trouble in the Sharkey neighborhood.[9]


At the head of Lake St. Joseph, in Tensas Parish, Captain Cy Hedrick[10] and Captain James, each commanding a Company, gave battle to one hundred and fifty Negro troops, commanded by white officers. The Negroes were all well fortified in log houses; the fight was fast and short and at close range; about one hundred and twenty five of the Negroes were killed; some making their escape in a nearby cypress swamp. One of Captain James' men, by the name of Chandler, who had distinguished himself at the battle of Corinth in Mississippi, was killed, and a Lieutenant Stevenson was killed by one of the white officers. When the fight was over the two men who were killed were tied across their horses and moved to the west bank of Tensas River, where they were wrapped in blankets, and two graves prepared, and when the graves were filled in, a volley of shots were fired over them. Chandler was fifty years old, and Captain James said; "He looked after and cared for me as if I were his son."[11]


Near Oak Ridge, Louisiana[12] in September 1864, a large force of Yankees were reported on the move - burning, destroying, murdering as they advanced, and the brave Captain Lea contesting every foot of the way, but being pushed back by much larger forces. The Federal forces had vowed revenge against the Oak Ridge region on account of Captain Lea and his hard-hitting guerrillas; excitement was intense and everyone was making preparation to flee the Negroes and Yankees.[13]


About a week before the excitement at Oak Ridge, two hundred troops, a part of the Corps D'Afrique, commanded by six white officers, set fire to the two little towns of Pin Hook and Floyd, leaving them in ashes, and not allowing anyone to remove any of their possessions from their homes. They were ruthless and insulting to the ladies; cursed and abused them, while removing the rings from their, fingers; tore pockets from their dresses, and about six people were murdered in the raid at Floyd. Of course, the Pin Hook and Floyd raids were in retaliation for a guerrilla raid a short time before, in which about ninety Negroes were taken out, and a large amount of government stores were destroyed. The Yankees knew how the white citizens resented being molested by Negro soldiers, but it seemed they were especially selected to commit outrages and crimes, upon a helpless unprotected people, most of them being women and children in a destitute situation with all the men of military age away from home.[14]



The Despots Rule In Louisiana And Mississippi


[1] A Texas Surgeon In The C. S. A., By John Anderson, The Confederate Publishing Co. Tuscaloosa, Alabama 1957 Footnotes Page 56. Also Brokenburn The Diary Of Kate Stone, 1955, Pages 218 and 219; Noted Guerrillas Or The Warfare Of The Border By Edwards, 1877, Pages 272 And 273

[2] Noted Guerrillas Or The Warfare Of The Border, Edwards. 1877, Pages 274 And 275

[3] Joshua James was a very wealthy cotton planter, who owned several large plantations in both Madison and Tensas Parishes. (See Conveyance Records, in Madison and Tensas Parishes)

[4] Memorable Events In the Life Of Captain Jason W. James, By Captain Jason W. James, Pages 38 And 39

[5] Memorable Events In the Life Of Captain Jason W. James, By Captain Jason W. James, Pages 38 And 39

[6] The McFarland family was one of the early settlers of Madison Parish. (See Madison Parish Conveyance Records).

[7] Memorable Events In The Life Of Captain Jason W. James, By Captain James, Pages 39 And 40

[8] Memorable Events In The Life Of Captain Jason W. James, Pages 40 And 41

[9] Memorable Events In The Life Of Captain Jason W. James, Pages 36 and 37

[10] Captain Cy Hedrick was a resident of Carroll Parish, Louisiana, and he was a great-uncle of Mrs. Tib Mitchiner, who resides in Lake Providence, Louisiana.

[11]Memorable Events In The Life Of Captain Jason W. James, Page 34

[12] Oak Ridge is a small town in Morehouse Parish, Louisiana

[13] Brokenburn, The Diary Of Kate Stone, 1955, Pages 296 And 297

[14] Brokenburn, The Diary Of Kate Stone. 1955, P Pages 296 And 297