By Renée S. Gordon
“Creole” is from a Spanish word meaning “born of the New World.”
Control of the rivers was vital to the Union efforts to win the war and the battle that solidified their hold on the Mississippi took place in Louisiana and African American troops were heavily involved. The plan, code named “Anaconda,” was to halve the Confederacy by controlling the Mississippi. By early 1863 the Union was in charge of all but Vicksburg, Port Hudson and the land between the two.
On May 27, 1863 an attack was launched on Confederate fortifications at Port Hudson. This attack was the initial use of African American soldiers in combat and at one point the first and third Louisiana Native Guards led the attack. The Union failed in attempts to take the city and decided instead to lay siege. Although a second attack was launched in June the siege lasted 48 days, the longest in American history. On July 9th, five days after the fall of Vicksburg, the Confederates surrendered. www.crt.state.la.us/crt/parks/porthud/Pthudson.htm
The Louisiana Native Guard was originally a Confederate unit formed in New Orleans in 1861. Eight hundred free blacks created several self-funded companies and attempted to serve with the Confederate forces. They were not allowed to serve until the loss of New Orleans loomed when they were left to guard the city while the rest of the army retreated. Once the city was under Union control they offered to join forces and, because they were free men of color, on September 27, 1862, the 1st Louisiana Native Guard earned the distinction of being the Union’s first African American unit. Their most notable members were P. Pinchback, the South’s first black governor and Charles Sauvinet, the black soldier who served the longest in the Civil War, being mustered out in June of 1865. Ultimately Louisiana would provide more black soldiers to the Union cause than any other state.
Union forces under the command of General Banks now set out to control Shreveport following a route along the Red River. They entered the heart of the state, the Alexandria/ Pineville area, in March of 1864. Two months later they retreated through the city burning it to the ground as they went. www.apacvb.org
The Louisiana History Museum is housed in a 1907 Carnegie Library built to replace the library destroyed in the war. The museum relates the history of the region from before first contact through the 20th-Century. Jewels of the collection include a letter ordering that Kent House not be burned, information on Confederate blacks and early maps and Spanish land grants. One display is devoted to Daniel Emmett, an African American minstrel and songwriter who, while homesick in New York, wrote the song “Dixie.” www.louisianahistorymuseum.org
Mt. Olivet Chapel was constructed in 1857 and is the oldest building in Pineville. The gothic structure is pine with oak floors and the Tiffany-style windows and coal oil lamps are significant architectural elements. The chapel was erected at a cost of $700 and in the 1990s it was restored for $1,000,000.
The adjacent cemetery has burials that date from 1824. Highlights of a tour are the ornate iron fences, zinc markers and an unusual gravestone with a Jewish symbol on one side and a Christian symbol on the other. Of the Civil War veterans interred there only one fell in battle. The site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).
Fort Randolph/Buhlow State Historic Site allows visitors to view the place in the river where Bailey’s Dam was constructed and learn about the war in a 15-minute video, “The War Comes to the Red River.” During the Union retreat Porter’s fleet was stuck at this point and in danger of being captured by the Confederates because the water level was extremely low. Col. Joseph Bailey led the effort to construct a dam that would raise the water level. Soldiers and African American workers built the dam and the Confederate forts built in 1864-65, used enslaved labor. A .5-mile trail and boardwalk goes over the trenches and to the dam site. www.lastateparks.com
Visits to regional plantations provide an excellent overview of the colonial, antebellum, war and reconstruction eras. They offer guided tours, scheduled events and interactive exhibits.
Kent Plantation House is the oldest extant building in Central Louisiana. The main house was constructed 1795-1800 and interprets 1795-1855 and the home front experiences of the Civil War. Authentically clad docents guide you through the Creole-style, six room house and the historic outbuildings. Highlights of the house tour are the 1790 armoire in the master bedroom, an 1815 bed that belonged to a slave-owning family of color and a Federal sewing table with a basket drawer.
Significant sites on the plantation tour are the brick and post construction slave cabin and the sugar mill. Inside the cabin there is a portrait of Miss Maggie (1830s-1940s) who helped build the cabin. www.kenthouse.org
General Sherman lived at Tyrone Plantation for a brief time before the war and it is believed this is why it escaped destruction. The owner, George Mason, founded the Louisiana State Seminary and Military Academy and Sherman was its first superintendent. It was the largest of the plantation homes and during the war the owner barricaded himself on the lower floor, with his horses, and the Union established their headquarters on the upper level. Tours are by reservation only.
If you can only visit one site you should strongly consider Frogmore Plantation because it offers a wide variety of thematic tours and even the gift shop is exceptional. This 1,800-acre cotton plantation gives visitors an opportunity to experience life on a working plantation from 1800 until modern times. It was established in 1815 when the owner and four slaves arrived. In August 1864 the owner allowed Union troops to camp on the property. Many were black troops stationed in the area to keep the Confederates from attacking Natchez.
Tours begin with an outstanding orientation film that puts the Civil War and Frogmore’s place in it in perspective. Highlights of a visit are the 19 historic outbuildings, eight of which are furnished including the slave cabins, steam-powered gin, overseer’s cottage and a tour of the modern aspects of a computerized cotton plantation.
There are a number of specialized tours to select from, The Plantation Civil War: Challenges and Changes, Cotton…Then and Now, Farming Today: Cotton, Corn & Rice and a unique Delta Music Tour that is presented in an 1800’s plantation church. www.frogmoreplantation.com
Mansfield was a small town filled with ordinary folks who were not prepared for the carnage that would hit their town in 1864. Mansfield State Historic Site is where, on April 8, 1864, Union troops were stopped and Gen. Banks chose to retreat to Pleasant Hill. A museum recounts the details of the Confederates last major victory. A 10-minute orientation film and exhibits enhance visitors’ understanding. www.mansfieldbattlefield.org
The Louisiana Female College Museum in Mansfield was organized in 1843 and was the first college for women west of the Mississippi River. There were three areas of study, fine arts, domestic science and education. The college closed during the war and was used by both Confederate and Federal troops as a hospital. So many were wounded that when nothing more could be done for the men they were placed beneath a tree where townspeople would pick them up and take them to their homes. Two of the original buildings remain. A tour takes you through a series of thematic displays including “Buttons and Bows,” on 19th-Century clothing, a 2000 volume genealogy library and a hospital room complete with artifacts. It should be noted that there is a resident ghost. www.sos.louisiana.gov
An original log courthouse, second oldest in Louisiana, built in 1843 is also on Mansfield’s historic trail. It contains photographs and documents and an original bell. The property once belonged to an African American. www.desotocatwnonline.net
Natchitoches is Louisiana’s oldest gem. The city was originally founded in 1714 by Louis Juchereau de St. Denis as a French trading post at the start of El Camino Real de Los Tejas, the 300-mile trail that ran from Louisiana territory to San Antonio, and on into Mexico. Main Street in the Historic District has been designated one of the five most romantic streets in the country and the region has the largest collection of Creole architecture in the nation. www.natchitoches.net
The 116,000-acre Cane River Creole National Historic Park consists of seven National Historic Landmarks that paint an accurate picture of the Creole culture and history. www.nps.gov/cari
Oakland Plantation was established in 1820 in typical French Creole-style. Seventeen of the original buildings have survived and it is so authentic that it was used for the filming of “the Horse Soldiers.”
Tours begin in the 1868 Company Store and proceed to the 1821 residence. This is a must see! The house was constructed by Solomon Wilson, an enslave craftsmen, completely without nails. The house is filled with rare antiques and beneath the house is “Mammy’s Room.” She was the only slave allowed access to the private area in the home via a hidden stair and trapdoor. Areas of particular note on the exterior are the bottle garden, roofed log corncrib, pigeonniers and four-seater outhouse with baby seat. This plantation raised the first cotton west of the Mississippi.
Magnolia, the property of the largest slave-owners in the city, was founded in 1835. The plantation has 18-acres of dependencies including eight brick slave built slave cabins, the only wooden cotton press in its original location slave hospital and the 27-room mansion.
Louisiana was devastated as a result of the Civil War. It went from being the second wealthiest state in the country to 17th. You can trace the role that North Louisiana played in this drama with visits to the sites I’ve listed and all the towns and communities along the trail. This is a story worth learning. www.explorelouisiananorth.org
I wish you smooth and steadfast travels!