Thursday, January 15, 2015

Oakland Plantation and the Battle of Baton Rouge

Oakland Place, belletisdale.blogspot.com
William H. Pratt's Oakland Plantation, five miles east of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Original in possession of Vera Booksh Zimmerman.
Many of Belle Tisdale's letters were written while she was staying at her grandparents' home, Oakland Plantation, located five miles east of Baton Rouge. Belle Tisdale's cousin Kate Craig Coutouri√© typed a letter in 1904 to "Cousin Will," that included her memories of Oakland and the Battle of Baton Rouge and even mentions the death of A. H. Todd, half-brother of Mary Todd Lincoln.  I have transcribed the words exactly as written. I have used brackets whenever I inserted information.
1229 N. Tonti St.
Aug. 18, 1904
New Orleans, La.
Dear Cousin Will: 

At last I will make an attempt to write you and to return the papers so kindly sent me so long ago. I don't want to think about what you must think of me by this time, and don't want to fill my letter with excuses, although many days made a study of the family history your papers contain, and I have copied into a large book every word you sent me.

Grandfather and Grandmother Pratt came from Ky. and owned property in Baton Rouge town and lived there first. [Handwritten note: Your Dads grandparents.] Grandfather was lessee of the penitentiary. In 1853 they moved out onto the Plantation five miles east of Baton Rouge on account of the yellow fever which was very bad that year. There was only a small log cabin on the place then, but Grandfather built a lovely large rambling plantation home-such as Louisianna [sic] is justly famed for - and it was very beautiful, white, with large French windows reaching to the ground and green shutter[s] or “blinds”. It was lovely and home like nestling amid a bower of green trees and lovely flowers. He furnished the peneten[t]iary with all its wood - and made quite a good deal of money. He was one of the Superin[ten]dents (if not the only or principal one) of the building of the State capital at Baton Rouge. It is still today as it was then, nothing has been changed, and it is considered an excellent piece of work. It is beautiful too. Grandfather prospered and was a very prominent man i[n] his locality. He owned many negroes, fine horses and carriages, sheep, cattle, etc. Had a large cotton and corn mill. There were about 2000 acres in this piece of land, besides he owned several other pieces of plantations and minor pieces of land.

Then the war came on. He believed devoutly in the Supremacy of the South, lent three sons (all he had, one only 15 yr. old) and his son in law to her defense. When others sold their slaves, he man[a]ged to change confederate money into U.S. money; he bought slaves, held onto his confederate money, bought more plantations, and then - the deluge. He found himself at the end of the war, with lots of land and no slaves to work it. Mills and gins and stables burned, horses and carriages stolen, negroes driven off like so many cattle in front of blue coat regiments. Ah well it was the end of good times.

Grandfather got rid of his other plantations, but kept the Homestead and proceeded to pick up the threads of life again, as best he could. He was an old man over 60 with his children mostly married, and he would still have done well for himself, Grandmother and the two children, too. They were all welcome, dear old Grandpa.

The negroes all came home too and stayed with him till the end. They are all in this country still, those who are still living and their children too. But things were different and had to be readjusted. There came a day when the Home Plantation had to be mortgaged. $20,000.00 was what he got on it as a loan, and when he died the place went into the hands of his best friend(?). I know not how it was, but it was said that Grandfather was outwitted. Not a difficult thing to do, for he was a gentle trusting man, believing all that was said, and invariable [sic] go[t] the worst of a deal with a "sharper."

They always lived in style at home till the last. I know not how the poor old man kept up. But he did and never complained, never heard a hard word from him. He kept open house in the summer time. All the family came home with husbands and children, and never a cent to pay. An old friend use to say, "By God Uncle Billi, (called that by lots of old friends) how do you do it?["] 
["]Damme [sic] Sir this is an India rubber house. It can always stretch for one more" and so it seems it could, for none were ever turned aside. All were given a nights lodgeing [sic] with supper and breakfast for man and beast and a "God speed you on your journey Sir" next morning, and if a cent was offered in return he was as offended as a mad hornet. "Damme [sic] Sir, I'll let you know I'm not keeping a hostelry" and so it was and he grew poorer and poorer each year, and died without a cent.

Uncle Eugene [handwritten note: Pratt, still family property] could not leave the old home place, and so bought a little corner of it, and put up a little home and still lives there. Grandfather died ten years before Grandmother did. Aunt Eliza Tisdale was a widow with eight children. They all lived at "home" with grandfather. After he died they went in the town of B. R. and grandma lived with her till she died. When grandpa first died grandma went to Point[e] Coupee Parish to live with Uncle James (Dr. Pratt) but she could not stay because there were no childrn [sic]. She said for sixty yeays [sic] she had never been where there was not a baby in the house, and she could not live without children about her.

Poor Grandfather. He was a good manager with plenty of money and lands etc. but too good and generous and free for the hard times. People ate his hand and then lamented "What a poor manager he is", but he managed of many years to large contigent [sic] without  a murmur of ill will towards anybody.

After the battle of B. R. (about 62 I believe) the wounded were brought home until they could be moved elsewhere. The long wide gallery going across the front and end of the house was lined with poor fellows as well as the two 20 ft. sq. rooms on either side of the hall. Three of the poor fellows died - a Mr. Reames - a Mr. Smith and Lei[utenan]t - Todd - a brother of Mrs. (President) Lincoln (who had two brothers in the northern army and one in the soughtern [sic]) and all three were buried on the place. Grandfather had it enclosed, and my aunt planted flowers shrubs, etc. about the enclosure and as long as they stayed there the spot was cared for. My mother, brother, sister, one Aunt Bina's babies and grandfather were buried at the old home but in a different place.

Grandmother was buried in B.R. in the Prodestant [sic] Cemetary [sic] - there beside her idol Mary Tisdale. Grandmother reared Mary and idolized her. Poor unhappy child. Since the old plantation passed out of the Pratt hands it certainly has not thriven. It has changed hands several times and each time looks more dreary and miserable. The old house is falling to ruin. The ancient trees, all live oaks in and about the immediate premises drooped with gray moss, as though mourning its departed master. Our beautiful pastures of trade trees have been destroyed and land plowed sewn with cotton and corn, our beautiful pond filled and planted too...It is heart rending to see the old place now. There was a magnificent grove of pecan trees at the back of the enclosure. That too has been destroyed in order to give more room for the plow.
Your Cousin
Kate Craig Coutouri√©

[A handwritten note at the end of the letter says:]
Leit. Todds body was removed after the war, by his family.

Kate Craig's letter was transcribed from a copy provided by Pete Tisdale, grandson of Belle's younger brother Robert. He received the copy from Lee Tisdale Lawson, daughter of Belle's brother William Pratt Tisdale.  Location of the original letter is unknown. I first came across quotes from this letter in the Connelly Connections newsletter published by Roger Connelly in 1986. I had also seen similar information in correspondence with Harriet Tisdale Davis, Lee Tisdale Lawson's niece.  The Connelly newsletter identifies Cousin Will as Kate Craig Couturie's cousin, William Itti Lowry. William Itti Lowry (1869-1944) was the grandson of William Itti Lowry (1797-1852), husband of Olivia Wakefield Connely, Bernice Connely Pratt's sister. He would have been Kate's second cousin.

Kate Craig (1859-1936)

Kate Craig c1872, belletisdale.blogspot.com
This carte de visite photo of Kate Craig was taken at the studio of A. D. Lytle in Baton Rouge about 1872 , judging from her age. The original is in an album that belonged to Belle Tisdale, now in the possession of Vera Booksh Zimmerman.

Kate Craig was born to Susan May Pratt and Robert Emmett Craig in March 1859. Susan May and Eliza Pratt were sisters so Kate and Belle were first cousins. At age one Kate is listed in the 1860 census with her father and mother, Emmett and Susan Craig living in Covington, Kenton County, Kentucky. They must have returned to Louisiana soon after the war started because Kate's brother Marigny was born in New Orleans in 1862.

In August 1862 the Civil War did indeed come close to Oakland as Kate wrote in her letter. She would have been only three years old at the time of the Battle of Baton Rouge, but the event evidently made an impression on her. Maybe Kate helped her Aunt plant flowers around the graves. It must have been discussed in the family for many years afterward although it didn't make its way down our branch of the family tree.

In the 1870 census she is enumerated on 1 August in the 3rd Ward, East Baton Rouge Parish with her father "Ernest," age 34, an Engine Boiler, born in Ohio. She is 11 years old, born in Louisiana, and her sister Mary is 7, born in Alabama. Her mother is not listed. Her death is believed by the family to have been 24 December 1870 but may have been 1869. The Craigs are living in Dwelling number 329. The dwellings listed just before the Craig family are those of her grandparents William and "Bernea" Pratt with Uncle Eugene, Aunt Eliza Tisdale and her six children, then Aunt Albina and her husband George Durr and their two children. So they were all living on the old Oakland Plantation property.

In 1880 Kate "Kreg" is listed in the 3rd Ward, East Baton Rouge Parish, age 21, a Boarder in the home of William and Bernice Pratt. Also living in the same house are Aunt Eliza and five of her children. Next door is Joel Pratt (her Uncle Eugene) and his wife and three children. So they were all still living at Oakland. Kate married Paul Eduard Couturie on 18 May in 1881 in New Orleans.  (Orleans Parish, Louisiana, Marriages Book 87, Folio 648, Couturie-Craig; Louisiana State Archives, Baton Rouge)

In the 1900 census Kate is living at the address on her letter, 1229 North Tonti Street in New Orleans, with husband Edward Couturie, their four children and her widowed father Emmett Craig.  

The Battle of Baton Rouge

On May 12, 1862, Union forces had taken possession of the arsenal, barracks and "other public property of the United States" at Baton Rouge. Admiral David Farragut' s fleet arrived from New Orleans later that day and on the thirteenth of May 1,500 troops arrived to occupy the city. Farragut's gunboats bombarded the city in retaliation for being shot at by guerrillas. Many buildings were damaged including the state capitol building. Fortunately the state government had already been moved to Opelousas as soon as word of the passing of Forts Jackson and St. Phillip reached Baton Rouge. (www.knowla.org)

 In July Confederate General John C. Breckinridge led an expedition to retake Baton Rouge.  4,000 men left Vicksburg by train on July 27 for Camp Moore in Tangipahoa Parish in Louisiana. There they would join the men that General Lovell had sent from New Orleans. We don't know if B. F. Tisdale was among those men, but he may have been. The heat, rain, and lack of shelter at Camp Moore reduced the effective number of men to 3,000. On August 2 they left for Greenwell Springs on the Comite River, 10 miles east of Baton Rouge.The two day march through blinding heat "was a nightmare." Many of the men were barefoot, some were shirtless and some dressed in rags. The heat, bad water, and dysentery took their toll.  Counting the troops from Camp Moore, Breckinridge had only 2,600 men.  They rested for a few hours by the river and at 11 PM they resumed the march toward Baton Rouge under cover of darkness. (Winters, The Civil War in Louisiana,  p. 111, and www.knowla.org)  

About 4 AM on August 5 they stopped on the outskirts of Baton Rouge probably not far from Oakland. Two hundred Partisan Rangers were sent out to picket the roads into town. They ran into Union pickets and a skirmish ensued. "Several enlisted men and one officer were killed, and others were wounded. The officer was A. H. Todd, half-brother of Mary Todd Lincoln." (Winters, p. 112) This was the event that Kate recounted in her letter. The alarm had been sounded and the element of surprise was lost, but the ragged troops waited in lines on either side of Greenwell Springs Road for dawn to begin the attack. Thick fog protected them as they marched into Baton Rouge. (Winters, p. 114)

The Confederate troops drove the Union forces through town toward the river. The heaviest fighting was along Greenwell Springs Road and at Magnolia Cemetery. Union troops pulled back to the river where U. S. gunboats fired on the Confederates. (http://www.exploresouthernhistory.com/batonrougebattle.html)

After six hours of heavy fighting Breckinridge withdrew his men to the eastern city limits where they found water in cisterns. While they rested carriages and wagons began to arrive to take the wounded to homes  in the area. Perhaps Uncle Eugene came with a wagon and brought some of the wounded back to Oakland. (Winters, p. 120)

Breckinridge had expected the Confederate ironclad ram boat Arkansas to arrive at Baton Rouge at dawn to give his men protection from the Union gun boats, but her engines failed and she was not able to get within four miles of the city. At last she had to be fired by her own crew and set adrift to explode and sink. At 4 o'clock that news reached Breckinridge and he abandoned plans to continue the attack. The exhausted men headed back east about dark. John Winters writes, "That night they traveled about four miles and rested. An outpost was established at Pratt's farm, only 5 miles from Baton Rouge, but the troops were in no danger, as the enemy did not leave the city." In the one day battle the Confederate casualties were 84 dead, 315 wounded,  and 57 missing. The Union losses were similar, 84 killed, 266 wounded, and 33 missing. (Winters, p. 121-122)

In spite of not taking Baton Rouge Breckenridge's expedition was not totally unsuccessful. Two days later his troops occupied Port Hudson, between Baton Rouge and Bayou Sara, one of the strongest points on the river. Batteries on the bluffs protected shipment of food, supplies, and men from the trans-Mississippi area to Vicksburg and other points. (Winters, p. 124)

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