(44th in a Series)  

While Col. Charles Jones and his two sons were held in the custody of Sheriff Oliver Ballard in Harrisonburg, the children of General St. John Richardson Liddell grieved the loss of their father.  

One son, Moses Judge Liddell, was beside himself with sadness and anger.  

Jones and his two oldest sons – Cuthbert and William – gunned down John Liddell aboard the steamboat St. Mary at Jones’ landing along the Black River in Catahoula Parish on Feb. 14, 1870.  

Liddell was the fourth fatality related to a 23-year feud between the two families that had begun in the late 1840s when Eliza Nichols, who had been slandered by Jones, shot him in the face and back. Liddell watched the shooting but was not involved. Yet Jones blamed Liddell and vowed revenge against him.  

Later, two of Jones’ friends who had publicly stated they intended to kill Liddell on Jones’ behalf were shot and killed by the general in 1852. Two years later, a parish jury believed Liddell’s claim of self-defense and set him free.  

There had been a few years of peace along Black River before the Civil War came and ended. But in 1870, as Liddell’s financial fortunes sunk and Jones’ riches grew, Liddell stood to lose his Llanada Plantation to a New Orleans bank.  

When Jones indicated he intended to buy Llanada in bankruptcy court, Liddell warned him against it, remarking that Jones would never own the land that held the remains of his loved ones.  

In January 1870, the banker who held the mortgage on Llanada shot and killed Jones’ broker in New Orleans. Blood in both camps boiled.  

The two planters had their final confrontation aboard the St. Mary when Jones and sons killed Liddell, who had drawn his pistol but only got off one shot into the ceiling as he fell to the floor mortally wounded by the bullets flying from the Jones’ revolvers.  


They were arrested and held by the sheriff while Liddell’s family and friends – mostly planters from Catahoula, Concordia and Tensas parishes – made plans to join Liddell’s family in avenging Liddell’s death. In a day of political chaos and power plays, a new interracial government now controlled state and local offices.  

The planters had lost their power and wanted it back. Liddell was their friend. Jones was their enemy because he was a part of the Republican Reconstruction government and early on pledged an oath of loyalty to the U.S. following the Civil War.  

Historian Eric Foner (Forever Free) described the era:  

“Reconstruction governments present a mixed picture of achievement and failure. Yet their very existence represented a radical transformation in southern life. Radical Reconstruction was a stunning experiment in the nineteenth-century world, the only attempt by a national government in league with emancipated slaves to fashion an interracial democracy from a slave society.  

“In some ways the era’s most remarkable development was how Reconstruction affected day-to-day life in local communities. In matters both prosaic and significant, the presence of sympathetic Republican officials made a real difference in the lives of former slaves.”  

In the year 1870, when Jones and his sons killed Liddell, “hundreds of black men were serving as police and justices of the peace and on juries throughout the South, ensuring that whites were prosecuted for crimes against blacks and that black defendants received a modicum of fairness in court. The appearance of black sheriffs, school board officials, and tax assessors in plantation regions – sometimes former slaves evaluating the property of their former owners – symbolized the political revolution wrought by Reconstruction.”  

But by the end of the 1870s, blacks and Republicans in general were banished from office with the help of the Ku Klux Klan as the Jim Crow era began.  

Because Catahoula Parish Sheriff Oliver Goldsmith Ballard, a white Southern man, was a Republican, the planters felt certain that the Jones’ would suffer no punishment, much less a trial. But the truth is that the legal process had begun, but would be delayed because of what happened to Charles Jones a short time after his arrest.  


No one person suffered more from the killing of General Liddell than his 25-year-old son Judge. Named after his grandfather who was also a judge, Judge Liddell adored his father.  

According to the research of Nathaniel Hughes in the book he edited (Liddell’s Record) on the general’s Civil War experiences, Judge was the second of 10 children born to John and Mary Liddell between 1842 and 1859.  

In 1860, Judge entered the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy in Pineville – known today as LSU and based in Baton Rouge -- but was kicked out on a charge of desertion. The fact was Judge did not want to testify against another cadet for other troubles they faced. He thought that if he left campus he would not have to testify and the problem would go away.  

In June 1861, 16-year-old Judge served as a junior second lieutenant in a company of guerrillas in Major Chatham Roberdeau Wheat’s battalions of the Louisiana Tigers. These men were notorious as vicious fighters in “one of the most famous outfits in the Confederate Army,” according to Hughes  

Later, Judge joined the 1st Virginia Calvary, and in 1862, joined Co. F, 1stLouisiana Calvary in J.S. Scott’s Cavalry Brigade in East Tennessee. In 1863, Judge transported Liddell’s slaves to Texas, out of the way of the Union Army.  

In 1864, Judge was back in Louisiana where he was advised by his father to lay low and avoid arrest by Union troops. Later, Judge was captured by the Union army. On May 12, 1865, he was paroled at Jackson.  

Returning from Texas in December 1865 on a failed effort to get the former enslaved population to return to Llanada, Judge informed his father that they would not sign labor contracts and would not be returning to the plantation.  

In 1868, Judge married Isabelle Semple in Wilkinson County, Miss., where Judge’s father had been born and reared and where his grandfather had amassed riches.  

After marrying, Judge and Isabelle moved to Girard along the Boeuf River in Richland Parish where the Liddell family owned hundreds of acres of land.  

He was living there when he got word that his father had been killed by Charles, Cuthbert and William Jones. Judge soon boarded the Governor Allen steamboat to head home and check on his grieving family at Llanada.  


When the steamer passed Harrisonburg on the Ouachita, Judge recognized Charles Jones walking near the riverbank outside the Sargent House, where Sheriff Ballard and his new bride, Margaret Sargent, lived with Margaret’s widowed mother Jeanette Sargent, and other family members.  

Because the parish jail and courthouse had been destroyed during the Civil War, Sheriff Ballard held the Jones men where he lived, in the home of Mrs. Sargent. It was a courageous act because he knew a mob of Liddell supporters would be riding to Harrisonburg at some point and he knew that the likelihood of help coming from the state was slim to none.  

He allowed the prisoners to walk about the grounds on occasion, and although they probably could have escaped if they wanted too – there were rumors that family and friends were camped nearby – they didn’t.  

Newspapers often noted – falsely – that the Jones would face no justice because Jones was a Republican and well connected to the Republican governor.  

The New York Sun reported that because the Jones’ “were in great favor with Republican officials of the State, they were … allowed to remain under the custody of the sheriff in a comfortable residence … and were permitted great liberty.  

“A few days after the death of Gen. Liddell, as the steamer Governor Allen was passing Harrisonburg, someone cried out, ‘There is Col. Jones.’ It was Col. Jones, indeed, standing on the river bank, accompanied by one of the sheriff’s officers.  

“Among the passengers on the Allen was the eldest son {Judge} of Gen. Liddell. He heard the remark, rushed to the cabin, procured his shotgun. As soon as Jones saw this he started to run, but too late, for the young man emptied both barrels into him, one bullet going through his right wrist, another through his right shoulder, while several buckshot struck him in other portions of the body, not however, inflicting fatal wounds. He was taken to the house of a Mrs. Sargent.”  

The New Orleans Times reported:  

“The steamboat Gov. Allen, which reached this city on Saturday last, brought the news that Gen. Liddell's oldest son, a young man of twenty-four or five years, who was standing on the deck of the Allen as she left Harrisonburg, suddenly discovering Col. Jones on the river bank, ran to the cabin for his double-barreled shot-gun, and succeeded in firing both barrels at Col. Jones, who, however, had moved off some distance before the gun was discharged.  

“Several of the shot lodged in the body of Col. Jones, inflicting painful, but not dangerous wounds. At the last accounts, Col. Jones was at the house of Mrs. Sargent, suffering from the effects of his wounds. He was still in the custody of the sheriff, and very anxious on account of his sons, and solicitous for an early examination by the committing magistrate.  

“The young Joneses, with some friends, fully armed, have encamped in the woods in apprehension of an attack from some of the numerous friends of Gen. Liddell. There were reports yesterday that one of these young men had been shot. It is stated that the relatives and friends of Gen. Liddell were in pursuit of them, and were determined to avenge the death of their distinguished relative.”  


In his study of the feud, historian Michael Lanza offers perhaps the best narrative of what happened:  

As the Governor Allen steamboat passed Harrisonburg, Judge “saw Colonel Jones, who was in the custody of Sheriff Oliver G. Ballard. From the boiler deck, Liddell fired both charges from a double-barreled shotgun. When Captain Richard Sinnot of the Governor Allen remonstrated, Judge Liddell said that the extraordinary circumstances surrounding his father’s death were the reasons for his actions.”  

Captain Sinnot told the New Orleans Daily Picayune that Judge “was utterly unable to control himself on seeing Col. Jones so near him.”  

Lanza wrote that Jones “suffered from four gunshot wounds. According to his younger son, one was a flesh wound in the right thigh; another struck the right wrist; a third was on the right shoulder, and a fourth scarped his scalp. Six buckshot also passed through his hat.”  

Confined to bed for a couple of days, Jones’ body was now filled with lead.  

Eliza Nichols had shot him in the face and back in the late 1840s.  

He had been thrown from a horse and shot in the left arm by the Yankees during the Battle of Shiloh in the Civil War.  

After the attack by Judge Liddell, Charles Jones battered body now contained lead from seven separate gunshots over two decades.  

Because of the recent wounds, wrote Lanza, “The legal investigation” into the shooting of Liddell “was postponed until March because of the wounds Jones had received.”  

Inside the Sargent house, all were nervous and on edge. Everyone feared what the night would bring.  

(To Be Continued)  

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.