(19th in a Series)                     

In late April 1860, Black River planter Charles Jones arrived in Charleston, S.C., to attend the Democratic National Convention, which ultimately failed to nominate a ticket. On that trip, however, Jones delivered a letter from his brother-in-law James Smith, who was married to Jones’ sister.  

James Smith’s Security Plantation was located three miles below Jones’ Elmly Plantation. Jones had arrived in Catahoula Parish in the late 1830s and by the late 1840s, he was involved in a bloody feud with another Black River planter, St. John Richardson Liddell, whose plantation was located just outside the present day city limits of Jonesville.  

Their dispute came to known as both the Jones-Liddell Feud and the Black River War. It did not end until 1870.  

Jones started the feud when a neighbor, Eliza Nichols, shot him in the face and back. She had been slandered by Jones and as a result Liddell had stood up for Eliza, who tutored Liddell’s orphaned niece. Jones blamed Liddell for the shooting and even accused him of firing the second shot, which was not true. A few years later, Liddell shot and killed two of Jones’ associates but during a trial, a Catahoula jury determined Liddell had acted in self-defense.  

As a civil war approached, the two men put their differences aside and turned their attention to support of the Confederacy.  

In the letter Jones delivered in Charleston, James Smith updated his brother on daily life along the Black River in the days before the Civil War.  

“The last two years has been overflowed,” Smith wrote in the 1860 letter, “and I did not make expenses. This season I have the prospect of a good crop; and we are now well levied to keep out high water, but not quite enough yet. We do not apprehend high water this season …”  

“I have also a chest of tools (very good they are too,) with which I work considerably. Last week I built a new poultry house 12 feet square with 10 nests for the hens. We had a small one but the raising family of chicks required more roost. We have any quantity of young chickens and turkeys.”  

James Smith wrote that he intended to make a dip net with mosquito netting to catch minnows as bait for fishing. He also indicated that he hunted as often as he could.  

“I take out a little bored rifle gun (say 200 ball to a pound of lead), nearly every morning and shoot the heads off Squirrels enough to eat.” (According to one account, Smith “was an excellent shot, and very reckless; so much so that when troubled by an ingrowing nail, he shot off the offending toe.”)  

 

MARCH TO SHILOH  

 

By the fall of 1861, Charles Jones was in Tangipahoa Parish at Camp Moore near Kentwood where the Louisiana 17th Infantry Regiment was formed to fight for the Confederacy. Members of the regiment included recruits from Catahoula Parish as well as Ouachita, Sabine, Plaquemines, Orleans, Caddo, Bossier, Morehouse and Claiborne.  

Two companies were formed from Catahoula – the Catahoula Rebels and the Catahoula Guards -- less than two dozen men all together.  

Jones was commissioned as a lieutenant colonel and placed in command of a regiment of 400 men, including 27 officers. In April 1862, he marched 20 miles with a Confederate Army under the command of General Albert Sidney Johnston over muddy roads during constant downpours from Corinth, Miss., to Shiloh and Pittsburgh Landing, Tenn., along the Tennessee River.  

Johnston’s newly formed Army of Mississippi included four corps. Jones’ 17th regiment was in the 2nd Corps under Major General Braxton Bragg. Bragg’s two divisions were commanded by brigadier generals Daniel Ruggles and Jones M. Withers.  

General U.S. Grant, who the next year would move his federal army through northeastern Louisiana during the Vicksburg Campaign, was in command of federal forces at Shiloh. One of his generals there was William Tecumseh Sherman, the first superintendent of the Louisiana Seminary of Learning in Pineville at the time secession began. The seminary later became known as Louisiana State University and was relocated to Baton Rouge.  

Sherman resigned in 1861 and joined the federal army. He tried to convince his southern cadets and professors that the South did not have the resources to defeat the North and that southern men underestimated the determination of northerners. Plus he felt the southern cause was not valid and that southern men thought of war as a romantic thing.  

"You may think that war is all glory, but it is all hell, boys,” he told them.  

At the battlefield in Tennessee, Jones’ regiment lined up near the Shiloh Church, also known as the Shiloh Meeting House, where Sherman was encamped. During the first day, Jones fought against Sherman’s men in the vicinity of the church and near a section of road that became known as the Hornet’s Nest due to the intensity of the fighting there.  

 

‘THROWN FROM MY HORSE’  

 

While the North was the victor of the two-day battle, losses were heavy on both sides. Back in Corinth, Miss., Jones filed a report on the efforts of his men in the 17th Louisiana Infantry.  

We were brought into action on the morning of the {April} 6th, occupying the extreme right of the brigade until we were exposed to the enemy’s artillery, where we remained for some time, until we were ordered, with a portion of the line on our right and left, to take a battery immediately in our front,” Jones wrote. “A Tennessee regiment was in front of us. We were delayed a moment by this regiment when I gave the order to charge.  

“When we reached the top of the hill the enemy poured into us a murderous fire. The Tennessee regiment before referred to retired by the flank through our lines, cutting their way through the center of our fourth company, separating our right from our left, and throwing us into some confusion. We did not retire, however, until we had poured several volleys into the enemy. We lost several killed and wounded in this charge.  

“We retired to the foot of the hill to reform for a second attack … I charged with the left wing on the enemy’s right around the left of the hill, where I received a destructive flank fire from another of the enemy’s batteries, as well as from his small-arms.”  

During this charge, two captains were severely wounded.  

“I advanced by the left flank to take a position about 200 yards in front,” Jones reported. “In accomplishing this we had to cross a ravine, where we were exposed to a raking fire of shot and shell, as well as from small-arms … my sergeant-major … was shot through the thigh, though not dangerously.”  

While ascending the hill, a first lieutenant’s left arm was “carried away by a cannon-ball. Immediately after I received a very severe shock and bruise by being thrown from my horse, which was frightened by the bursting of a bomb. Having recovered from my fall and secured my horse I hurried on to the action.  

“I could not find my left wing” but “found a portion of the right wing … We charged upon a line of the enemy and drove them from the field. We remained in this position for a considerable time, when General {Patton} Anderson arrived with the Twentieth Louisiana and ordered the line forward.

At this moment I was wounded in the left arm by a Minie ball and retired. After having my wound dressed I immediately returned to the field in search of my command.”  

Eventually, Jones “retired with {a} small force to the ambulance depot, to assist the wounded and remain during the night. Our wounded suffered greatly, having nothing to protect them from the rain, which fell in torrents a greater portion of the night. Many of them lay that night in pools of water two or three inches deep.”  

 

‘DEVIL’S OWN DAY’  

 

The same was true on the Union side, where General Grant, the brim of his hat shielding the rain from the cigar he was smoking, stood in the dark at Pittsburg Landing along the Tennessee River, about four miles from where Jones endured the night. There at the landing, Grant conferred with General Sherman on the day’s events.  

Rather than stay the night on a steamboat docked at the landing, Grant remained in the elements.  

“I made my headquarters under a tree a few hundred yards back from the river bank,” Grant wrote in his memoirs. “My ankle was so much swollen from the fall of my horse that I could get no rest. Some time after midnight, growing restive under the storm and the continuous pain, I moved back to the log house under the bank. This had been a hospital and all night wounded men were being brought in, their wounds dressed, a leg or an arm amputated as the case might require. The sight was more unendurable than encountering the enemy’s fire and I returned to my tree in the rain.”  

“Well, Grant,” Sherman said, “we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?”  

Grant answered: “Yes--lick ‘em tomorrow, though.”  

And he did. But barely.  

More than 100,000 men were in or near the fighting, including 62,000 Union troops and 45,000 Confederates.  

At the end of the two-day engagement, combined casualties of both armies amounted to 23,000 – 13,000 Yankees and 10,000 Rebels.  

 

‘BADLY COMMANDED’  

 

Jones would not see much more action during the war.  

According to the Shiloh National Military Park Facebook page, one volunteer in Jones’ regiment, Roland A. Oliver, was not impressed with Jones’ leadership. After the battle, Oliver wrote his wife:  

“Our Company fought as well as could be expected considering the Regiment was so badly commanded and separated. Col. Jones was in command but did not seem disposed to expose his precious life any more than he could help. He received two slight wounds.”  

In their reports of the battle, Jones’ superiors mentioned that he was wounded during the fighting but offered neither praise nor criticism of his leadership.  

Jones would return to Elmly Plantation during the war and begin work with wife Laura to hold on to their land.  

Now, if he wanted to, Jones could rightly claim that he had been shot three times – twice (by Eliza Nichols) during the Black River War and once (by a Yankee) during the Civil War.  

Liddell would return home in 1865.  

Five years after that, both Jones and Liddell would meet their end during the final episode of the Black River War.  

(Next Week: Liddell in the Civil War.) 

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