Citizens flee as war ravages life in Louisiana

By Dr. Terry L. Jones
Special to The Journal

It seems everyone was on the move in October 1863. Large numbers of Louisianians were fleeing to escape the ravages of war, slaves were running away to Union lines in search of freedom, and paroled Confederate prisoners were just trying to get home.

Kate Stone's family fled its Madison Parish plantation during the Vicksburg Campaign. After staying in Monroe awhile, they pushed on to Lamar County, Texas, where many Louisiana refugees were settling.

The Stones were not impressed with what they found. In her diary, Kate wrote that she had reached the "dark corner of the Confederacy . . .There must be something in the air of Texas fatal to beauty." In mid-October, Kate learned that the situation back home had deteriorated further. "Most of the citizens remaining boast of being Unionists and carry on a most profitable trade with Vicksburg. The Yankee cavalry came out to Monroe by invitation, and a number of citizens signed a petition asking them to come out and drive away our soldiers still there. This is too disgraceful to be true."

According to Kate, the Texans resented the refugees because the Louisianians were more refined and better dressed. Local bullies began harassing her two teenaged brothers. The local school master suggested keeping them at home when some of the Texans started wearing pistols to school. Instead, the Louisiana boys armed themselves, and the Texans gradually backed off.

Brother Johnny returned to Monroe and joined the army after turning seventeen. He survived the war but two of Kate's brothers did not. Like the Stones, the Wadley family also lived in the Monroe area and decided to join the exodus. Mr. Wadley gathered his family, some friends, and an unspecified number of slaves and headed back to his home state of Georgia.

After several days travel, Mr. Wadley rode ahead to Natchez to secure permission from Union forces to cross the Mississippi. The Yankees refused, however, and he had to return to camp with the bad news. The families considered trying to sneak across the river but concluded it was too dangerous and decided to return home.

Before breaking camp, Mr. Wadley called the slaves together to explain the decision to turn back and to describe to them the horrible living conditions slaves endured around Vidalia. According to his daughter Sarah, Wadley told them that he "had passed one plantation where there were a hundred Negroes with no overseer and they had not a morsel of salt and but little meat. All the able-bodied Negro men were put in the army, the others were left to shift for themselves." Wadley then declared he believed he could provide for the slaves for another year if they went back, but he would not be able to help them if they tried to sneak across the river and got caught.

It is not clear why Wadley felt the need to consult the slaves. Did he consider them as family members and just wanted them to be informed of what was happening? Or was he deliberately trying to frighten them with tales of woe to stop them from fleeing to the nearby Union lines? Whatever the case, all of the slaves agreed to return to Monroe with their masters.

The Stones and Wadleys wanted to flee Louisiana, but Sgt. William H. Tunnard was trying to sneak back in. Tunnard was a member of the 3rd Louisiana who had been captured and paroled at Vicksburg. In October, he joined several others in crossing the Mississippi River in an attempt to reach Alexandria.

The party successfully slipped past the Union gunboats patrolling the river and began a four day trek. The people of Sicily Island welcomed them and provided food and shelter, but the citizens of Harrisonburg turned them away. Disgusted, Tunnard reported that his companions "were actually refused permission to sleep on the galleries of the houses. . . ." The group finally found refuge just outside town with a poor man named Daly. "The cabin was a very rough structure, with only a single room; yet here slept the man and his wife, another woman, a young girl, three children, and the five Louisianians." The next day, Daly refused all attempts to pay him for his hospitality.

Tunnard's party reached Alexandria safely and, like countless others, waited to see what the war would bring next.

Sources: John Q. Anderson, ed., Brokenburn: The Journal of Kate Stone; Suzanne Rhodenbaugh, ed., Sarah's Civil War; and William H. Tunndard, A Southern Record.

Dr. Terry L. Jones is a professor of history at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and has published six books on the American Civil War.