Over 50,000 Louisiana men served in the various armies of the Confederacy; about 24,000 men of color from the state fought in the Union’s forces. During the course of the four-year war, over five hundred skirmishes occurred in Louisiana; twenty of them are considered major battles. The main targets for the Union were the Mississippi River and the port of New Orleans. The Union’s superior navy immediately blockaded the mouth of the Mississippi River, cutting Louisiana’s main supply line and discouraging planters from exporting their crops. Union Admiral David Farragut took the City of New Orleans in 1862, and Union troops occupied the city until the end of the war. From New Orleans, Union soldiers took advantage of waterways throughout south Louisiana to transport men and supplies. After 1862, two state governments existed in Louisiana: one for the area occupied by the Union and another for the area occupied by the Confederacy.
Delta Rifles and Tirailleurs: Fighting Men of West Baton Rouge Parish
The fourth Regiment of the Louisiana Infantry (4th LA) had ten companies, including the Delta Rifles (Company C, later F) and the Tirailleurs (Company D, later H), both of which consisted of men from West Baton Rouge Parish. At the start of the war, the Delta Rifles were headed by Captain Henry Mortimer Favrot and the Tirailleurs was led by Captain Francis Williams. In 1861, The J.S. Cotton Steamship picked up the Delta Rifles at the Town of West Baton Rouge railroad depot and the Tirailleurs at Brusly Landing. The ship transported the troops to Camp Moore in St. Helena Parish for training. The 4th LA was first sent to Ship Island, Mississippi and then to Tennessee where they suffered their first casualties at Shiloh in 1863. The 4th LA later fought in more battles throughout Mississippi and Georgia; they also fought at the Battle of Baton Rouge and were in the sieges at Port Hudson, Louisiana and Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Battle of Baton Rouge
Union troops took Baton Rouge on May 7, 1862, as part of their campaign to gain full control of the Mississippi River. Many Baton Rouge citizens had evacuated days earlier, some of them to West Baton Rouge Parish. A few months later, Confederate General John C. Breckinridge planned to retake the city. His plans called for the support of the ironclad ship, the Arkansas, which was scheduled to come down from Vicksburg, Mississippi, and keep the federal gunboats occupied while Breckinridge’s troops entered Baton Rouge.
At dawn on August 5, 1862, the Confederates, including the 4th LA, began their attack. The Confederates fought a hand-to-hand battle through the fog and pushed the Union troops to the river. Suddenly the fog lifted and the Union ships began firing. The Arkansas had not arrived - the ship had suffered engine failure four miles north of the city, and the ship’s crew was forced to destroy it so that she would not fall into the hands of the Union. During the battle, Henry Watkins Allen, then Colonel of the 4th LA, had his horse shot from under him and was wounded. Many of his men thought he was dead and began to withdraw, taking cover from Union snipers in the woods. The Confederate forces were unable to hold their position, but the Union troops could not push forward and risk losing the protection of their gunboats; the battle ended in a stalemate. Nevertheless, Breckinridge’s attack concerned Union General Butler, who asked for the troops to evacuate Baton Rouge and report to New Orleans.
Vicksburg and Port Hudson
After the Battle of Baton Rouge, the Delta Rifles and Tirailleurs moved north of Baton Rouge to Port Hudson. If the Confederates could defend Port Hudson and Vicksburg in Mississippi, they would have control over a strategic area of the river. Some troops in the Tirailleurs and Delta Rifles spent nine months at Port Hudson, while others were sent to Mississippi to help with the efforts to relieve the siege at Vicksburg.
Robert Pruyn of the Delta Rifles tried to get help for the besieged Confederate troops at Port Hudson by sending a message to General Joseph Johnston. Pruyn escaped Port Hudson by floating down the river using empty canteens as buoys. After landing on the west bank and finding refuge with his family, who were staying at the Devall Plantation in West Baton Rouge, he traveled over-land to Mississippi to find Gen. Johnston. He returned in late June with a message from Gen. Johnston stating that there were no men to spare for Port Hudson. In July, the long siege at Vicksburg ended in the surrender of the Confederate troops. Port Hudson’s surrender came just days after the fall of Vicksburg, finally opening the rest of the Mississippi River to Union navigation.
Rosedale Road March
Following the Union failure of the Red River Campaign in May 1864, Union Major-General Nathaniel P. Banks and his 25,000 Union troops retreated from Mansfield in north Louisiana to New Orleans. Banks was the Union commander at the siege of Port Hudson prior to this. The 1864 Red River campaign was among the last victories for the South, but it came too late. Banks retreated through West Baton Rouge Parish on Rosedale Road, spending six hours marching through the parish. On May 19, 1864 Banks was relieved of his command.
Those left at home aided the Confederacy in caring for their soldiers. The Confederate League was organized in West Baton Rouge Parish, with Dr. John T. Nolan as the chair, for the purpose of feeding, clothing, and sustaining the army. In 1861, they received $130,000 pledged in goods alone and another $25,000 pledged in cash for these purposes.
With most of the men gone into battle, the women of West Baton Rouge ran the plantations. Women also organized the Aid Sewing Society to make clothing, lint, and bandages for the fighting soldiers. Governor Henry Watkins Allen of Louisiana thanked the women of his state who “always respond most promptly and cheerfully to the calls of patriotism and duty. You clothed the soldiers, nursed the sick and wounded, cheered up the faint-hearted, and smoothed the dying-pillow of the warrior patriot.”
The Civil War came to the front door of West Baton Rouge Parish. People on the home-front had to face the constant worry that Union troops would invade their communities. The people of West Baton Rouge would have experienced the scene to the right when they looked across the river to Baton Rouge in the spring of 1862.
Henry Watkins Allen
Henry Watkins Allen was born in Virginia in 1820 and eventually became a lawyer in Mississippi. In 1852, Allen settled in West Baton Rouge after purchasing Westover Plantation with a business partner, and spent much of that year traveling and dabbling in politics. He was also known for his involvement in the “West Baton Rouge Porcupine Benevolent Association,” which was particularly famous for their poker games. He used the pseudonym Guy Mannering in this organization and also to write letters to the Baton Rouge Daily Comet with his musings on traveling throughout the South in the spring of 1853. When he returned, Allen was unanimously elected to the state legislature from West Baton Rouge Parish. Westover Plantation was split in 1855; one half retained the name Westover, while Allen’s portion was renamed Allendale. Although he did a great deal of traveling, his plantation remained one of the leading sugar-producers in the parish.
In 1859 during a trip to Europe, Allen was re-elected to the legislature. When the Civil War began he volunteered in the Delta Rifles Company as a high private, but was quickly promoted to the position of Lieutenant-Colonel of the Fourth Louisiana Regiment. Allen was wounded at the Battle of Shiloh and again at the Battle of Baton Rouge. He nearly had a leg amputated due to the wounds he received there and was never again able to walk without suffering great pain. He went on to serve in the army as a Brigadier General.
After being elected Governor of Confederate Louisiana in 1864, he first traveled the state to learn about the needs of the citizens and then set out to improve the state’s finances. Allen sent sugar and cotton to Mexico in exchange for supplies, established a system of state stores and factories, and created a state medical dispensary for urgently needed medicines. Allen helped persuade fellow Confederate commander Kirby Smith to cease fighting when asked to surrender, possibly saving Louisiana from further devastation.
Following the Confederacy’s defeat, Allen fled to Mexico and died there in 1866, but his remains were brought to New Orleans in 1867. Eventually his body and the 1872 granite monument to him were moved to the Capitol Grounds in Baton Rouge (now the “Old State Capitol”) in 1855. Another monument to Allen was erected in Port Allen in 1962.
Governor Henry Watkins Allen (1861)
Image courtesy of the State Library of Louisiana
The Emancipation Proclamation, effective January 1, 1863, was created by President Abraham Lincoln. It established that all enslaved people in states or parts of states still “in rebellion” (including West Baton Rouge Parish) were considered free by the U.S. government and military. The Proclamation also allowed freed slaves to join the armed forces of the Union. Slaves in states that had been loyal to the Union as well as slaves in parishes or counties that were already within Union lines were explicitly not freed. This included slaves in the southern river parishes of Louisiana that had already surrendered. Although the Proclamation did not free all slaves at the time, it did create a favorable sentiment for the Union abroad and solidified the Union cause to abolish slavery.