Regional Reports from across the state

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Northern

Worth Recalling

The Battles of Madison Parish
Perched high in the northeast corner of the Bayou State, Madison Parish sports a fascinating past. Located there are the Fitzhugh Mounds and the Raffman Site, ancient networks of American Indian sites.

During the 19th century, the Louisiana land once predominantly occupied by the American Indians was now rich with cotton; wealthy planters ruled over their fields filled with the puffy white crop that turned rose-colored at sunrise and sunset. The town of Richmond, once the parish seat of Madison Parish, was a bustling place 10 miles from the Mississippi River and on the road from Vicksburg to Texas. The Roundaway and Brushy bayous conjoined at Richmond, and the planters, using slave labor, cleared a 60-foot channel that allowed small steamships to wend their way up the bayou from the Mississippi River at New Carthage.

By the time the American Civil War exploded on the nation, the quiet cadence of life in Madison Parish was disrupted. With the fall of New Orleans in 1862, the Confederate government ordered all the cotton that had been shipped to New Orleans from across the state for storage to be burned before it fell into Union hands. Many a planter was affected by this loss. In addition, Madison Parish was being plagued by Union jayhawkers.

The thick cane and cypress swamps of the area became a refuge for a particularly motley crew composed of runaway slaves, army deserters and those generally involved in dodging the draft. Led by a former slave, this band, more than 100 strong, routinely robbed, kidnapped or murdered unsuspecting passersby on roadways. Attempting to stop the crime spree perpetrated by the outlaws, a group of Confederates donned Union uniforms, approached  the dissolute band and were warmly greeted by its giant of a leader. The disguised soldiers struck quickly, and a short time later, nearly 130 of the desperadoes lay dead, with the others escaping for their lives never to return again.

Across the Mississippi River, the 200-foot-high bluffs upon which Vicksburg, the Gibraltar of the Mississippi River, rose with powerful guns trained on Union gunboats below made a maritime Union conquest impossible. Ulysses S. Grant began an arduous land invasion. His attempt to build land canals that would divert the Mississippi River from Vicksburg failed miserably.

In June 1863, the Battle of Milliken’s Bend in Madison Parish was fought between Confederates and the black troops of the Union Army. The use of black troops in the Army was a hotbed of controversy; this battle marked the first major conflict between Confederates and black troops. It was a bloody hand-to-hand battle, and the Rebels were about to take Milliken’s Bend when heavy Union gunboat fire drove them back. This conflict left more than 1,000 casualties, and the road to Vicksburg was growing ever shorter for the Union Army. Over in Mississippi, the brilliant diversionary raid of Benjamin Grierson deliberately held the Confederate Army’s attention on his pillaging; destruction of railroads, warehouses, trains and supplies; and general mayhem while the Union Army made its way toward Vicksburg. Grierson eventually kept Confederate Gen. J. C. Pemberton so occupied that Grant’s Army was able to cross the Mississippi River to its eastern shore at Bruinsburg below Vicksburg without trouble in late April.

Richmond was on a vital Confederate supply route that fed the Vicksburg garrison. The victory at Milliken’s Bend severed the supply line, and the blue-clads advanced to Richmond. After lively skirmishes with a Texan troop led by Maj. Gen. John Walker, the Federals crossed Roundaway Bayou and burned the town of Richmond, site of Walker’s headquarters, to the ground.

Vicksburg fell less than a month later, and the Confederacy was split in two. Coinciding with the fall of Vicksburg that July was the disastrous Confederate defeat at Gettysburg. The strong showing of the black troops at Milliken’s Bend vindicated Lincoln’s decision that they should fight to preserve the Union. Nevertheless, they received less pay and had to pay for their uniforms unlike the white soldiers. It wasn’t until June 1864 that Congress deemed they were to receive full pay, retroactively, for their service.

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Reader Comments:
May 21, 2013 11:54 am
 Posted by  RebMac

Jeanne,

It's nice to see someone take an interest in events from long ago. This accident was the worst the Kansas City Southern has ever had. Thirteen souls were lost that August morning; all six employees in both locomotives, six passengers of the troop train, and the troop train's conductor. Eighty-two were injured, many seriously.

The track upon which this wreck occurred is abandoned, now - it is located a mile and a half north of the LA1 intersection you describe (the photo you published is actually of a location about two miles north of the actual wreck site). In fact, you will follow the existing tracks there north a couple hundred feet, then follow the still evident abandoned roadbed that diverges to the right/north up in to the woods. I would be sure to be prepared for the wildlife, for the area becomes heavily timbered and is swampy. The wreck location is just a hundred feet or so south of the tree line that opens upon a large open field. You will clearly be able to see the old roadbed continue across that field in a broad sweeping curve to the northeast. I don't remember anything that marks the spot, other than an eerie feeling that something terrible once happened in that place.

The worst part about this wreck is that it could have been prevented. I invite you to read the report of the ICC - http://ntl1.specialcollection.net/scripts/ws.dll?file&fn=6&name=S%3A%5CDOT_56GB%5CRailroad%5CWEBSEARCH%5C3419.PDF (you'll have to cut and paste); it tells a story of ignorance, arrogance, and tragedy - especially in light of new technologies of the day.

Thanks, again, for covering this wreck. Thirteen forgotten souls have been remembered.

Pat McCarthy

May 22, 2013 01:26 pm
 Posted by  JMFrois

Dear Pat,

Thanks very much for your kind comments and additional details about what happened. It's very gratifying to for me to receive a sensitive and informed response like yours to one of my stories. I always wondered where exactly the wreck took place and now you've given me an excellent picture. I think some kind of marker should be there; or even a historical marker on Hwy. 1 where the track crosses, because, paraphrasing your words, these souls should be remembered. I will definitely read the ICC report--I deeply appreciate that you've sent me the link to the actual report and took the time to respond to my story.

Best Wishes,

Jeanne Frois

May 25, 2013 05:12 pm
 Posted by  RebMac

Jeanne,

I was stunned to receive your very kind reply to my note on your piece about the wreck of the Southern Belle - so much so, if felt I should somehow respond.

So, thank you for your reply. My grandfather was a civil engineer for the KCS, and that wreck took the lives of four of his close friends. He grieved over it for years. Naturally, I was drawn to the story; I only wish he had lived long enough for me to talk about it with him.

I just ordered a copy of your book "Louisianians All," and am looking forward to reading it. Thank you, again.

Pat McCarthy
Jackson, Mississippi

May 29, 2013 02:37 pm
 Posted by  JMFrois

Dear Pat,

It was my pleasure to answer you. As a little girl I traveled the trains with my family and can still feel the spell they wove around us; your grandfather was part of the romance--and tragedy--of trains. I'm so sorry he lost four good friends in the wreck and it's only natural he would be haunted by such a loss. I understand why you would have wanted to talk about this with him. I would have loved to talk to him about it myself! Thank you so much for doing me the kindness of ordering my book. "Louisianians All" was a special project to me, a labor of love during a magical time of my life when I was surrounded by loving support on a few sides that I'll always cherish. I sincerely hope you enjoy it.

Best,

Jeanne Frois

Sep 1, 2013 03:14 pm
 Posted by  scheely

Jeanne - Thank you for the excellent article. My father is a member of the 1st 90 mm AAA Gun Battalion that served in Korea. He has published a book, "A Brief History of the 1st 90 MM AAA Gun Battalion, USMC". My father included a chapter on the train crash. The book is self-published and he makes additions as he receives photos and stories from Marines when they find out about the book. I would love to include the picture of the track now and a link to your article if you would approve? I am currently working on a 7th revision. He received photos of the crash from a Navy Corpsman, Bill Kayatta who was pulled out of the wreck by use of the rail tie. I was sad to learn of the loss of the boy on his horse. Please let me know about the photo and feel free to pass my note onto the other gentleman who posted. Thanks again for the article.

Jan 24, 2014 01:12 pm
 Posted by  JMFrois

Dear Scheely:

Just found your wonderful post this morning, nearly five months after--sorry! Congratulations about your father and the book, it sounds like a cherished, wonderful project. Give me a few minutes to run your request about the photo and link to the article by my publisher, Errol and I will let you know. Sorry to have kept you waiting so long! Best wishes and I'm so glad you enjoyed the article. Jeanne

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