Regional Reports from across the state
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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.