Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hatfields and McCoys Part II: The Black River War

Brigadier General St. John R. Liddell

       St. John R. Liddell was born on 6 September 1815 in Mississippi. He graduated from the United States Military Academy and came to run his own plantation called "Llanada" near Harrisonburg, Louisiana. Liddell was a very outspoken gentleman and sometimes tended to rub others the wrong way. He commanded an Arkansas brigade under Patrick Cleburne during the Civil War until the Battle of Chickamauga when he commanded his own division. Frustrated with the in-fighting among the officer corps of the Army of Tennessee, he requested and received a transfer to the Trans-Mississippi Department to be near his family. He was captured at Fort Blakely near Mobile, Alabama on 9 April 1865.
       The famous feud began in late 1847 and came to be called the Jones-Liddell Feud or The Black River War. The feud would last 23 years and cost 14 lives before it was finally over. The feud between Charles and his wife Laura Jones and Liddell is still remembered in Louisiana, although most of the rest of the country has forgotten about it. 
       Charles Jones was born in Ireland and had a tendency to find trouble every place he went. He encountered trouble in Kentucky, Monroe, Louisiana, and finally where he settled near St. John Richardson Liddell. He even had a feud with his own wife Laura when she took him to court and forced their personal property to be divided evenly between the two. 
       The actual origins of the feud have been lost to history, but several legends have been passed down through the generations. The first legend states that the feud began over a flock of Charles Jones's geese. The more believable story was told by someone close to Liddell. The story goes that the two men had met at a social gathering. Charles Jones had stood and proposed a toast to the female virtue and Liddell threw his wine out the window. 
       Whatever occurred between the two men, we know that Jones spent the next six months threatening the life of St. John Liddell. He even appeared armed at a place where Liddell was visiting, but couldn't pull off his plan because of too many witnesses. Jones even attacked and wounded a close friend of Liddell's with a knife. 
       At this point the feud had changed gears from any of the original reasons. Charles Jones coveted a piece of land owned by Phillip and Eliza Nichols, both close friends of Liddell. Jones then began to spread false rumors about Eliza's moral character. As Liddell was arriving to visit Phillip Nichols he saw Eliza and Charles Jones talking at the end of the drive at her home. Eliza pulled a pistol and shot Jones in the face and shot him again as he fled the scene. The situation was quickly unraveling. 
       Charles Jones refused to be disgraced by the fact that a woman had shot him. He told all his friends that St. John Liddell had been the actual shooter. Charles must have told his wife Laura the truth because she offered a reward to all her slaves for the murder of Eliza Nichols. 
       Charles and Laura Jones soon left the area travelling to Ohio and defusing the situation for the time being. He sent threats against Liddell and his friends stating that he would return and kill him. In 1852, Charles and Laura Jones returned with two shady men he'd hired as assassins. The two men hid behind a tree to ambush Liddell, but the general never appeared. Another friend of Charles Jones named Henry Huntington called Liddell a coward and challenged him to a duel on the Texas state line. Liddell fearing another ambush refused to accept. 
        Soon thereafter, Samuel Glenn, another friend of Jones, began to make threats against Liddell. Someone warned Liddell that Glenn and a friend had gone to Jonesville and would soon be returning. Liddell hid and ambushed both men in their carriage. He managed to kill both Glenn and his friend Moses Wiggins. Liddell was arrested for murder, but acquitted in 1854. In 1857, a document was drawn up stating that both Jones and Liddell were to pass each other on the street as strangers and have no more intercourse among them. 
       The Civil War found both men preparing to fight for the same side. Liddell became a Confederate brigadier general and served faithfully throughout the war. Charles Jones became Lieutenant Colonel of the 17th Louisiana Infantry and eventually served on the staff of Confederate Brigadier General Daniel Ruggles. 
       As soon as the war was over, Charles Jones became a republican in order to save his vast land holdings and money. When Liddell applied for bankruptcy, Jones did everything in his power to obtain the property, even suing in court for rights to the land. Liddell thinking of his arch enemy owning the graves of his family warned Jones what would happen if he continued to pursue the purchase of the land. 

"Llanada" Plantation

       Liddell was on a boat having dinner with two friends when Charles Jones and his two sons boarded. Several men attempted to intervene for peace telling both parties to ignore the other. Jones and his sons passed by in front of Liddell's table in a probable show of defiance. Liddell attempted to rise and his friend attempted to hold him back. Jones and one of his sons opened fire striking Liddell in the chest three times. As Liddell lay on the cabin floor, Jones and his sons stood over him and continued to shot him until he was dead. The Jones's then raced from the boat and escaped. They went to the home of Sheriff Oliver Ballard and surrendered. Ballard was a close friend of Jones and everyone knew there would be no fair trial in the area.

The grave of St. John R. Liddell

       At 2:00 A.M. on 27 February 1870, 30 friends and relatives of Liddell surrounded the home of Sheriff Ballard. They allowed everyone to leave except Charles Jones and his sons. They stormed the house and shot Charles and his son William to death. His other son Cuthbert Jones survived by hanging ten minutes from an upper floor window sill while the lynch mob searched for him. He escaped to New Orleans and was never tried for the crime. 
       Samuel Jones mother had made a prophecy in 1852 about the feud. She'd said that neither Jones, nor Liddell would die a natural death and both men would die with more lead in their bodies than her son. Her prediction was correct. 

The Liddell family cemetery where the general rests today on his old plantation.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Joseph E. Johnston: Misunderstood?

General Joseph E. Johnston

       Some of my friends believe the old legend that if President Davis would have left Joseph E. Johnston in command of the Army of Tennessee then Atlanta would not have fallen. I say we take a look at General Johnston's record as a commander and see if it supports the legend. 
       In early March of 1862, General Johnston abandoned the Manassas line before the Federal army ever left Washington. He promised President Davis that he would do his best to secure all the supplies and heavy artillery. Johnston made no attempt to keep this promise. Most of the heavy artillery was abandoned to the Federal army and most of the supplies were burned. A meat processing plant at Thoroughfare Gap was burned along with one million pounds of meat. All this occurred without a single threat of a Federal move. He further surprised the president when he stated that he hadn't selected a line to hold when he retreated. 
       He stated during the Peninsula Campaign that he could make no guarantee's that he would be capable of holding Richmond. The man could have been Union General George McClellan's long lost twin. Neither man wanted to fight at all unless assured of a victory before hand. Unfortunately for Johnston, but fortunately for the South, he was wounded at the Battle of Fair Oaks just east of the capital. Davis turned to a man who would willingly fight the Federals to save his state. Robert E. Lee drove McClellan away from the capital with attacks upon his right flank and by September had invaded Maryland. Johnston would never have accomplished as much.
       During the siege of Vicksburg, Johnston was given a force of 24,000 troops and ordered to assault the rear of Grant's army in an attempt to help Pemberton's forces escape. Johnston refused to move without more men. It was the same thing McClellan had done with Lincoln. Neither man could ever have enough men. Mary Boykin Chestnut the famed diarist of Charleston, South Carolina had told a story about Johnston before the war. He'd been invited to go duck hunting with Wade Hampton. They'd hunted all morning and Hampton had taken several ducks. Johnston had never fired a shot. Each time the birds came by he said they were too high or too far. You see, Johnston had a reputation as a crack shot and if he missed a duck he was afraid his reputation would be ruined. He was the same way in command of an army. As long as he didn't risk a battle, his generalship could never be questioned. 
       My friends use the Atlanta Campaign as evidence of his superior generalship. They claim (along with the legend) that he was luring Sherman far from his supplies and then planned on striking him. I have seen nothing in the record of the man that would make me believe he would ever have attacked Sherman. He would not give President Davis an assurance that he would fight for Atlanta and therefore he was relieved and a man was put in command that would fight. As General Hood stated following the war, if a man couldn't hold the mountains of Northern Georgia, he wasn't much of a general. William Sherman himself stated that Northern Georgia itself was one vast fortress. General Longstreet wrote his friend Joseph Johnston before the Atlanta Campaign began. He understood Johnston's philosophy and wanted to help him. He told Johnston that unless he placed a force on Sherman's flank to force him to protect his long supply line, Sherman would simply turn his flanks all the way to Atlanta and that is exactly what he did. 

The late Shelby Foote

       The late Shelby Foote once said that Joseph Johnston was the worst full general in the Confederacy during the war. That is a pretty bold statement and tells you what he thought of Johnston when you had Braxton Bragg as another pretty bad full general. Foote believed the man was afraid to fight and the record supports this claim. 

Johnston monument at Bentonville

       I took my wife to her first reenactment at Bentonville, North Carolina and she was able to see the unveiling of the statue of General Johnston at the time. She was so excited to witness the event. I told her what I thought of the general and how he was quite a bit overrated in my opinion. That didn't deter her one bit. She was still excited to have witnessed something that historic. I suppose she has a point. Studying these men wouldn't be interesting if each of them were alike. I do enjoy learning the parts of the war that are legend and how we come to believe today what was decided by one person and truly isn't very accurate.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012 and Ignorance

Selma City Council: No More Monuments to KKK Hate!

A misleading photograph on a false petition

       I'm a member of and have signed many petitions for people who have been wronged.  The problem I have is when someone starts a petition without taking the time or trouble to read a book or research their facts.  According to the petition begun by Malika Fortier, the city of Selma, Alabama is putting up a monument to Lieutenant General Nathan Bedford Forrest.  She is opposed to the monument because it would promote hate against black people. She wants people to sign her petition because Forrest was allegedly the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.  Let's review what we know about Forrest and the original KKK.  

Malika Fortier

       There were huge differences between the KKK of the 1870's and the KKK founded in 1915.  The Klan of the 1900's were violent and a racist organization.  The Klan just after the Civil War was an attempt by ex-Confederates to regain the right to vote and run for office.  It might surprise Mrs. Fortier to know that General Forrest actually supported the "Jubilee of Pole Bearers" which was the fore runner of the NAACP.  They actually asked General Forrest to make a speech before their group in post war Memphis, Tn.  After his speech, he received a standing ovation.  Now Mrs. Fortier is going against her own people to protest the very man they applauded.  It's just too bad that Mrs. Fortier hasn't the energy to pick up a good book and learn for herself.  

       Historian Michael Grissom stated that the present day Klan cannot be confused with the original Klan which was organized to stop Carpet Bagger tyranny.  As an example of why the original Klan was formed we need to look at Reconstruction.  

A typical reconstruction legislature

       John Patterson of Pennsylvania moved to South Carolina following the war.  In 1872 he stated that he believed there remained another five good years of stealing left in the state.  People like Patterson are responsible for the origination of the KKK.  At the time there were 155 state legislators in South Carolina's Congress.  Of those 155, 98 were freed slaves.  Of those 98 freed slaves, only 22 could read or write.  This legislature set up by Northern thieves voted themselves gold watches, horses, carriages, champagne and all sorts of ridiculous items.  After four years of devastating war the state deficit was 7 million dollars.  After one year of this legislative rule the state deficit exceeded 29 million dollars.  It would take until after World War II for the state of South Carolina to pay off this debt.  With the shape the country is in financially today, you would think someone like Mrs. Fortier would understand what the orginial KKK was attempting to do. 

       Patrick Cleburne said that if the South loses the war, our children will be taught from Northern textbooks.  He was correct in this statement, because people like Mrs. Fortier are not intelligent enough to pick up a book and learn for herself.  

       A great book for her to read would be Forrest’s Redemption. Of course reading takes quite a bit of energy and brain power, so I don’t expect things to change anytime soon. The movie Idiocracy may be a true picture of this country’s future and quite possibly the world. I remember my old political science professor teaching us to think for ourselves, grab a book or a newspaper. He called the majority of the citizens of this nation a bunch of skillet heads. He said, everyone is too lazy to think for themselves. They allow others to do their thinking for them. How accurate he was. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The General Who Died Near My House: William Wirt Allen

Major General William W. Allen

       Recently, I had the opportunity to meet the great grandson of Confederate Major General William Wirt Allen. Sheffield City Historian Richard Sheridan sent me an email inviting me to meet him at the Sheffield City Library to meet a Confederate general's grandson Bill Allen. I arrived to find a distinguished gentleman with an old southern accent. My accent is unfortunately North Alabama Redneck. 
       I asked Bill if he knew where the General had died and he said he knew the exact location. I was surprised because I had no idea. It turns out that General Allen was living in a home that overlooked the Tennessee River beside where the present day Sheffield Water Tower is located. General Allen was walking across his bedroom on the second floor and dropped dead of a heart attack. He'd been suffering from heart trouble for some time. He was relatively young at the time at the age of 59 or what I consider young as I approach my 44th birthday. The most amazing thing to me was how close this was to my house. It is exactly two short blocks away, not over 200 yards. Unfortunately, the home was torn down sometime after the turn of the century. There is nothing there today that would make someone think a house had ever stood on the spot. 

Me with Bill Allen in the Sheffield City Library

       I know I appear very short in the picture next to Mr. Allen, but I'm actually five foot eight inches. I was surprised to find the general's grandson at six feet four or more. Mr. Richard explained to Bill that I write Civil War books and I approached him with the idea of me writing a book on his grandfather. I don't know of any book that's ever been written on him. Mr. Allen said he would talk to his son and get back with me. He said his son actually knows more of General Allen's personal stories than he does. I hope he or his son gives me a call someday. 

General Allen's house stood to the right of the water tower

       I told Bill that I had visited the grave of General Allen and had my photograph taken there. Bill was surprised because he said he had attempted to locate the cemetery where he was originally buried and couldn't find it. I said, "I thought he rests in Elmwood Cemetery in Birmingham, Alabama. Bill said, "He is, but I thought you were talking about the cemetery where he was originally buried in Florence, Alabama." I was surprised because I thought General Allen was originally buried in Sheffield's Oakwood Cemetery. Bill said that was an error and he wasn't sure why they carried him to Florence. He said they buried him in a small family cemetery there that he has yet to locate. 
       Bill said the general was really just coming into his own when the war ended. He missed almost two years of the war because of wounds and disease. General Allen had suffered from dysentery during the early months of the war and was slightly wounded at Perryville. At the Battle of Murfreesboro he was shot in the right hand and following surgery he only retained the use of his thumb, ring finger and little finger. The result of this wound was his being out of action for over a year. He was slightly wounded again at Waynesboro, Georgia. 

Me at the grave of General William W. Allen