The Independent

IN THE May 8, 1861, issue of The Independent weekly newspaper in Harrisonburg, Judge James Govan Taliaferro, an opponent of the Civil War whose stance against the Confederacy angered planters in Catahoula Parish, announced he would no longer publish the paper. On Page 2 in this final edition Taliaferro printed his motto for the last time in newsprint: Defendi rempublicam juvenisnondeseram senex.” Translation: “I defended the republic in my youth; I will not desert it as an old man.” The quote is from Cicero, the Roman philosopher and statesman.

(36th in a Series)  

Black River planter St. John Richardson Liddell returned home from the Civil War in 1865 to a plantation in disarray, a loss of riches and little hope for the future.  

He and others from Catahoula Parish who fought for the Confederacy had ignored the words of the publisher for The Independent weekly newspaper in Harrisonburg, where lawyer and future Louisiana Supreme Court Justice James Govan Taliaferro did his best to stop Louisiana’s secession from the Union.  

Before Taliaferro sold the newspaper in 1861, he had pleaded with secessionists to think long and hard about the future. He editorialized against war and vowed he would never abandon the Union.  

Liddell was for secession and along with a group of other investors planned to start a pro-secession newspaper in Harrisonburg and put Taliaferro out of business.  

Ill feelings toward The Independent, wrote Kenneth Michael Stickney in a thesis on Taliaferro, “may well have been mixed with some local sense of apprehension, as well, especially in a parish such as Catahoula {which then included LaSalle Parish}, where ardor for the Confederate cause may have been linked to social and economic status.”  

Those who proposed a pro-secessionist newspaper “were those who feared that Taliaferro held influence over the small farmers in the pinewoods sections of the parish, men who greatly outnumbered the wealthy cotton growers.”  

Liddell and other planters had heard that Taliaferro’s son, Robert, who waged war on local Confederate planters as a jayhawker during the war, had a letter published in a Northern newspaper saying that Southern men had been deceived by secessionists.  

J.W. Metcalfe suggested in a letter to Liddell that “armed men might be coming to Catahoula’s pine hills to take Harrisonburg, the seat of parish government.” Metcalfe wondered if “local Confederate calvary should be on the alert for a local military conflict.”  

Stickney wrote that although an invasion of Harrisonburg never occurred, “such rumors were not unusual for the time and for the state. Charges of treason abounded wherever free men took issue with the action of secessionists.”  

 

TALIAFERRO’S HISTORIC STANCE  

 

Downriver from Liddell’s Llanada Plantation was Charles Jones’ Elmly Plantation. These two planters had been in a feud more than a decade when the Civil War broke out.  

Jones had been shot in the face and the back as a result, while Liddell had killed two of Jones’ friends who had threatened multiple times to kill Liddell. Liddell, claiming self-defense, was tried in that case but found not guilty.  

Jones was a Union man, too, and he also was against secession. He and Taliaferro were likeminded in some of their political beliefs. But when war was declared, Jones fought for the Confederacy. Taliaferro did not fight, remaining opposed to the conflict.  

Taliaferro’s stance is so well known that he has made himself a name in Louisiana history.  

In his well-respected book, “The Civil War in Louisiana,” historian John D. Winters wrote this about Taliaferro’s opposition to the secession during s statewide secession convention in 1861:  

“Among the challengers, delegate James G. Taliaferro, from the small farming parish of Catahoula made the most withering denunciation of secession. He denied the constitutional right of Louisiana to leave the Union. He painted a gloomy picture of economic chaos, blighted prosperity, stagging taxation, and ‘fatal prostration of Louisiana’s interest under a Southern Confederation,’ and he could see no way ahead to prevent final anarchy and war. So ‘radical’ were the ideas of Taliaferro that the convention refused to print his protest in the pages of the Journal.  

“Whatever the opposition could say or do was to no avail. The stronger voice of the political majority had already deafened the ears of most of the delegates to suggestions of a compromise. There was no time for reconsideration; there was no turning back. On January 26, 1861, by an overwhelming vote, Louisiana left the Union.”  

 

RUINED BY CIVIL WAR  

 

Taliaferro’s fears of the devastation and hardships to come were a reality by the time Liddell arrived back home at Llanada in 1865.  

According to historian Winters, “From a total white population of 350,000 Louisiana raised nearly 1,000 military companies. Some 56,000 troops served in the Confederate army, and there were nearly 10,000 additional boys and over-age men in home-guard units.  

“Between five and six hundred battles and raids took place within the state during the four years of war. Although most of those were minor skirmishers, some of them were battles and campaigns of major importance.”  

Winters wrote that “only three states, Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia, had suffered more destruction and casualties than Louisiana during the war. It was estimated that around one fifth of the Louisiana men enrolled in the army had died in battle or in hospitals.”  

Liddell’s teenage son, Willie, was among the casualties.  

Winters wrote that the “river parishes, the center of slavedom, were the most seriously hurt by this loss, and many planters were forced to give up much of their land and to work a restricted area with their own hands in order to live. Some turned to trade for a living.  

“At least half of the horses, mules, sheep, cattle, and pigs had disappeared during the conflict. Two thirds of the farm equipment and machinery for making sugar had been destroyed or had rusted beyond repair. In 1865 the sugar plantations, numbering 1,200 in 1861, were reduced to 180. These surviving plantations were hard pressed to pay their laborers or to replace destroyed, worn out, and very expensive equipment.”  

Winters added that the “banking system was in a state of ruin. The once-strong banks of New Orleans, having sent most of their gold to the Confederate government, were left with now-worthless Confederate paper and credits that would never be redeemed.”  

Even private citizens, who had bought bonds produced by public bodies such as the Concordia Parish Police Jury, saw the bonds they had purchased during the war lose all value.  

“Many of the older mercantile firms,” Winters wrote, “were in financial ruin or were struggling to exist. Over one half of the former wealth of the state had been swept away from war.”  

Interest rates soared.  

So great was the investment of Louisiana planters into the purchase and sale of human beings that it was estimated, according to Winters, that $170 million “had been swept away by abolition.”  

 

DEPERATE THOUGHTS OF ESCAPE  

 

These post-war conditions hit Liddell like a ton of bricks when he returned to Llanada for good. He had few places to turn for help and even relatives who had loaned his wife Mary money to help keep the plantation afloat during the war were also suffering and trying to collect what they were owed.  

The pressure was so enormous that many planters and others who had fought for the Confederacy moved to Brazil after the war. Slavery remained legal there and the production of cotton was welcomed. It’s estimated that as many as 15,000 Confederates relocated to the South American country.  

According to historian Nathaniel Hughes, the editor of Liddell’s Civil War memoirs (“Liddell’s Record”), Liddell “planned to salvage what he could, gather his youngest children, and go to Brazil. He corresponded” with others about the move, while his “friends begged him not go.”  

“Brazil meant escape, however,” Hughes wrote, “and Liddell clung to this hope as late as 1867.”  

Liddell’s son Moses wrote in a May 1867 letter to a relative that his father and other sons had begun “to turn our eyes toward Brazil – the land of promise. He seems pretty determined to leave the U.S. and I too am almost tempted to leave in the fall with him.”  

“The desperation inherent in the Brazilian venture underlines how poorly Liddell adapted to postwar conditions,” wrote Hughes. “The terms ‘despair, disillusion, disgust, distraught’ take on fuller meaning when one reads Liddell’s correspondence. Prior to 1861, the Liddells had seen adversity at first hand. During the war they suffered loss of property, dislocation, and death. All that went before, however, pales when compared to the misfortunes of 1865-70.”  

This was a time, according to Hughes, when chaos seemed the exception rather than rule: “Widespread violence prevailed in Louisiana, as it had since late 1863. To combat disorder in Louisiana, the governor of Louisiana organized a regiment of militia in for Catahoula Parish in the fall of 1865, naming Liddell as colonel. Liddell issued a passionate proclamation appealing for the preservation of peace and good order, but nothing came of it.”  

Liddell’s day of influence, especially his economic power, was fading.  

But, Hughes wrote, Judge Taliaferro and Lt. Col. Charles Jones, did have some power and influence.  

 

AMNESTY AND RUIN  

 

“Upon urging by his friends, Liddell did seek amnesty,” wrote Hughes and with endorsements from Louisiana Democratic leaders, it was granted.  

“Harper’s Weekly” reported in April 1865 that two years earlier when Congress authorized Lincoln “to promise pardon and amnesty to rebels with such exceptions and conditions as he chose, the President issued his amnesty proclamation. By this act he pardoned all rebels who should solemnly take and faithfully keep the oath of allegiance to the Government, restoring all rights of property except as to slaves, and excepting from the pardon certain classes of persons who have held civil or military positions, and who had treated our colored soldiers, seamen, laborers, and officers otherwise than as prisoners of war.”  

Additionally, surrender terms between the U.S. and the Confederate Trans-Mississippi West that included Louisiana, set forth several conditions, including these:  

-- All hostilities between the two armies would cease.  

-- Confederate government property would be turned over the U.S.  

-- Officers and men could go home and they could keep their own horses and side arms.  

In his book on the Civil War, historian Winters quoted a Louisiana planter, E.W. Moore, who in a letter to a relative said the end of the war came after many areas in Louisiana had been “subjected to the ravages of both armies for the last two years.” Citizens were “in a very exhausted and ruined condition and I anticipate much suffering.” Moore wrote that he was “completed ruined.”  

His land had no value, his stock had been “nearly destroyed and every source of revenue completed dried up.”  

Liddell could relate. His debt was approaching $100,000, his plantation was in disrepair, his farming stock was “old and worn out,” and he was supporting a large family.  

The reality was that Liddell was losing Llanada, where near the plantation house rested the family cemetery and Liddell’s loved ones.  

Downriver at Elmly, Charles Jones sniffed opportunity and would begin a bold plan to take ownership of Liddell’s land.  

There were few things Jones loved more than land and if he wanted it, he would do just about anything to get it.  

Jones knew full well that Liddell would not let the land go to him without a fight, which was exactly what Jones was looking for.  

(To Be Continued)

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