(27th in a Series) 

In 1857, the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Roger B. Taney of Maryland, announced what is considered one of the most infamous High Court rulings ever. The decree came in the case of Dred Scott, an enslaved man who sued for his freedom. 

The case was of interest to planters in northeastern Louisiana, home to a large slave population along the Mississippi, Black, Tensas, Ouachita and Little rivers as well as the many other streams and bayous. 

The main question for the Supreme Court four years before the Civil War was whether African-Americans were U.S. citizens and thereby qualified to file suit in federal court. On a 7-2 vote, the court ruled against Scott and afterward Taney issued his infamous opinion that African-Americans “had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit. He was bought and sold, and treated as an ordinary article of merchandise and traffic, whenever a profit could be made by it.” 

In the vicinity of Vidalia, on the eastern side of Concordia, David Young labored on one of the Mississippi River plantations. He had been born into slavery in Kentucky in 1837. As a teenager in the decade before the Civil War, he briefly escaped bondage across the Ohio River in the free state of Ohio. But a short time later he was found and returned to his owner. 

Afterward, at the age of 14 in 1850, he was sold to a Natchez planter who sent him across the Mississippi to work the cotton fields of Concordia. But during the Civil War, Young left the plantation and joined the Union army where he learned to read and fought for his freedom. He worked the rest of his life to prove wrong the Taney ruling – that people with black skin were inferior to those with white skin. 

Young would return after the war and become an elected official in Concordia Parish, edit a newspaper and operate a business in Vidalia. Although his accomplishments would all be wiped away after Reconstruction and the rise of the Klan, Young had proved his point. 

 

RICHES IN THE VALLEY 

 

In 1864, along the Black River, the Southern fight to maintain slavery and operate under a new government -- the Confederate States of America – remained a cause of great bloodshed. 

General St. John Richardson Liddell, once a wealthy planter with scores of slaves, saw his fortune washed away as his family now scraped out a miserable living. Liddell had been fighting for the Confederacy primarily in Tennessee since the outbreak of the Civil War and now he was in Louisiana defending the home front and bracing himself for the Union’s Red River Campaign. 

Liddell’s commander, General Richard Taylor, wrote in his book (Destruction and Reconstruction) about the wealth of the plantation owners living along the rivers of northeastern Louisiana when the war broke out. 

The Ouachita River, he wrote, formed on the “southern slopes of the Ozark Mountains in Central Arkansas,” flowed into the Black River at Trinity (across Little River from present day Jonesville} and united with the Red River in southern Concordia and Catahoula parishes. 

At the mouth of the Black River at Acme, where it flows into the Red, Joseph Delhoste’s family was doing all it could to get by. A native of France, Delhoste and his wife had crossed the Atlanta to New Orleans and later rode a steamed powered boat to Acme, where Delhoste farmed and operated a coal chute to fuel steamboats. 

But shortly before the war began, Delhoste was murdered by cattle rustlers. When the war commenced, the family business suffered as the steamboat trade and the economy tanked. 

Now in the spring of 1864, Union coal barges were secured at the junction of the Black and Red to fuel the gunboats and transports passing by. 

Northeastern Louisiana at the outbreak of the war – from the Mississippi westward to the Ouachita-- recalled General Taylor in his war memoir, “was one of the great cotton-producing regions of the South.” Along the Mississippi, “estates of 5,000 acres and more abounded, and, with the numerous slaves necessary to their cultivation, were largely under the charge of overseers, while the proprietors reside in distant and more health localities.” 

But on the interior rivers – like the Black, Little, Tensas and Ouachita – the planters lived on their plantations and participated in the day to day activities. 

“Abundant facilities for navigation afforded by countless streams superseded the necessity for railways, and but one line of some eighty miles existed. This extended from Monroe on the Washita {Ouachita} to a point opposite Vicksburg on the Mississippi; but the great flood of 1862 had broken the eastern half of the line. Finally, the lower Washita, at Trinity, where it receives the Tensas from the east and Little River from the west, takes the name of Black River.” 

 

‘ALTOGETHER UNDISCIPLINED’ 

 

According to the Texas State Historical Association Handbook of Texas, “The Red River campaign of March to May 1864 occurred during the Civil War after the fall of Vicksburg and Port Hudson. At that time President Abraham Lincoln authorized a campaign against Shreveport, Louisiana, then the temporary capital of Confederate Louisiana. It was a major supply depot and a gateway to Texas. Though the operation was opposed by generals Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and Nathaniel P. Banks, it was favored by General in Chief Henry W. Halleck. 

“Banks was commander of the Department of the Gulf and was engaged in operations against the Confederacy along the Texas Gulf Coast. Under some pressure from Halleck, Banks concentrated his forces on a campaign to secure the area along the Red River to Shreveport. Objectives for this campaign included preventing a Confederate alliance with the French in Mexico; denying southern supplies to Confederate forces; and securing vast quantities of Louisiana and Texas cotton for northern mills.” 

Liddell’s actions during the Red River Campaign were outlined in a letter he wrote from Minden on July 2, 1864, to his Confederate superiors: 

“On assuming command on January 26, the only military force I found was Colonel Isaac F. Harrisons' brigade of cavalry, consisting of one reduced regiment and two fraction battalions. These latter were in progress of organization, which was not completed before the available portion of the force was called into the field by the movements of General Banks on Red River. 

“A large portion of the command had seen little or no service, was altogether undisciplined, armed with various weapons (shotguns, muskets, and rifles), and being destitute of cartridge-boxes these men were forced to carry their cartridges in their pockets, involving great waste. 

“I was required by orders to picket the front, from the Arkansas line along Bayou Macon to Red River, a distance of not less than 100 miles. In addition, I was required, by orders from district and department headquarters, to burn all the cotton between the Ouachita and Mississippi Rivers. 

“These requirements drew off a considerable portion of the force, and when ordered to move to Red River I could only gather together about 600 men, over 75 of whom deserted and joined the guerrilla bands in the different parishes in which they lived, disinclination to leave the neighborhood of their homes being one motive, probably, for their desertion, and hope of plunder and of comparative ease another. 

“There were two batteries of artillery in the command, two sections only of which-consisting of two 6-pounder smooth-bores and two 12-pounder howitzers-were available, though the horses were in poor condition. With this force I moved in the direction of Campti, on Red River, having previously sent in advance Colonel McNeill's battalion to operate on the gun-boats of the enemy coming up the Red River.” 

On April 11, the Union fleet “started back from the mouth of Boggy Bayou. From that time to the 15th I kept the boats constantly annoyed with sharpshooters and checking the progress of the entire fleet at Berdelon's Point for twenty-four hours with the two sections of artillery under command of Captain Fauntleroy.” 

On April 24, “at 6 a. m., I pushed my little command into Pineville, making 90 miles in thirty-six hours, fired into the gunboats that were in Alexandria, and was fired upon my artillery from the opposite side, which after a few rounds suddenly ceased and withdrew to the rear of Alexandria.” 

Liddell said he “sent a company under Captain Gillespie to occupy the country between Harrisonburg and the mouth of Black River, with a view to intercept any communications the enemy might attempt with Natchez. On its way, falling in with a company of jayhawkers, under the notorious Bob Taliaferro, it attacked them and killed 11. While my command was engaged on Red River the country on Bayou Macon became infested with bodies of men styling themselves guerrillas, who were engaged in plundering plantations of negroes, mules, and horses, and selling them at designated points … I was unable to redress this evil, an inability which I deeply regret.” 

 

AN EXTENDED TIME OUT 

 

In the end, the Confederates prevailed in the Union’s Red River Campaign, its only victory in 1864. By turning back the Yankee effort to take Shreveport and march into Texas, the South bought some more time. 

Liddell was weary of war. Prior to the Civil War, he had been on the front lines of the Black River War, a bloody feud with his neighbor planter Charles Jones. Black River was now a wasteland but in the days to come, Liddell and Jones would return home to rebuild. 

For these two enemies, the Civil War would be little more than an extended time out. 

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