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.


  1. Great to see the story. We have been researching Eliza Nicholls in our genealogy research...she is our 3rd great grandmother. Do you have any other information on Philip and Eliza Nicholls...

  2. Sadly, I don't have any more info. Thanks for the compliment.