Written by Dr. Tim Hudson
Jordan Gray Taylor was born on 29 September 1829 in Butler County Alabama, son of Judge John Taylor and Jane Wood, and grandson of William Taylor and Catherine Gray, and Col. Matthew Wood and Hannah Payne. Jordan’s father served as the Sheriff of Butler County at his birth, but shortly after 1830, the family moved north from Butler into southern Lowndes County, where his grandfather, Col. Wood, former commander of the Butler County Militia, operated a tavern on the Federal Road. In late 1835, Col. Wood left Alabama to explore the possibility of moving to the Ouachita Valley of northern Louisiana, and satisfied with the location, he returned to gather his extended family and many neighbors, including Jordan and his parents. The group departed from Lowndes County in late January 1837, traveling to Louisiana by steamboat via Mobile and New Orleans.
John Taylor settled on a large farm located about six miles northeast of Farmerville, where the Taylor/Liberty Hill Cemetery is now located, and Jordan grew up there in the latter 1830s and 1840s. His father served as the first parish judge, while his grandfather, Col. Wood, cleared the Farmerville townsite and served as the Union Parish Policy Jury’s first President, and his uncle, Dr. William Cleaton Carr, built the first house in Farmerville and served as the first sheriff. As the Jacksonian Democrats emerged as a major political force in the 1830s, the extended Taylor-Wood family became ardent supporters of the opposition, the Whigs. After stepping down as sheriff, Carr served two terms in the Louisiana Legislature as a Whig. As the Whig Party slowly disintegrated in the early 1850s over their failure to solve the issue of expansion of slavery into the territories, its former adherents flocked to a new political movement, the American Party, more commonly known as the Know Nothing Party, which focused on nativism and advocated anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic sentiments. Carr and the Taylors became firm Know Nothing advocates, with Carr editing the “Farmerville Enquirer,” the leading Know Nothing journal in the state. Jordan Gray Taylor ran as the Know Nothing candidate for Union Parish Sheriff in late 1853, winning election for the 1854–1856 term. In September 1857, the local Know Nothing Party nominated Taylor as their candidate for Union Parish’s Representative in the Louisiana Legislature, with Taylor running against the Democratic candidate, Shiloh farmer Jesse F. Fuller. In the November election, Union Parish citizens elected Taylor as their Representative for the 1858–1860 Legislature. It is unclear if Taylor ran for reelection in November 1860, but by this time, the Know Nothing Party had dissolved.
As the nation’s political stability continued its disintegration, the Taylors and many Union Parish residents became ardent supporters of the Union Constitutional Party, a fourth party that formed in 1860 to run against both Democrats and Republicans. Jordan G. Taylor and his father, Judge John Taylor, both served as local leaders of the Union Constitutional Party. Jordan G. Taylor helped draft a resolution supporting their cause, stating that, “all lovers of the Union have cause, and just cause, to fear for its perpetuity,” with their goal to “restore peace, harmony and tranquility to a distracted country” by electing an administration that “will know no North, no South, no East, no West – but the Union, the Constitution and the enforcement of the laws…” The Taylors clearly had no use for secession, but they also had no use for a Republican president. Jordan’s resolution stated that the Union Constitution Party “is the only party that can successfully oppose the election of a Black Republican President.”
Soon after war began in 1861, Jordan Gray Taylor and his younger brother, Samuel Wood Taylor, recruited men from the Farmerville vicinity to form a military company, calling themselves the “Phoenix Rifles.” They left Farmerville in September 1861, taking the new railroad from Monroe to Jackson, Mississippi, and then south to Camp Moore, in what was then the village of Tangipahoa, Louisiana, located today in Tangipahoa Parish, just south of the Mississippi line. Taylor’s unit became Company C, 17th Regiment Louisiana Infantry, and the men elected Jordan G. Taylor their captain and his brother as lieutenant. As the regiment had no equipment, Taylor journeyed to New Orleans on September 13th to obtain the badly needed supplies. Over the new few months, soldiers at Camp Moore suffered greatly from disease, and Taylor escorted home to Union Parish the remains of several of his men who perished from disease in mid-October. While in Farmerville, he recruited for his unit, returning to Camp Moore with six recruits on October 23rd. On November 23rd, Taylor’s regiment moved to Chalmette and spent the winter camped there. In late February, the men left New Orleans on railroad cars and travelled north to Corinth, Mississippi, arriving on March 2nd after a layover in Jackson. After a few days, they waded north through the mud and floodwater to Henderson Station, Tennessee for picket duty in anticipation of General Grant’s attack from the north before returning to Corinth. Capt. Taylor and his men left Corinth on April 3rd, headed towards the Tennessee River and Pittsburg Landing, where the Confederate Army attacked Grant’s forces on Sunday morning, April 6th. The 17th Regiment participated in several charges against Union positions in the morning, but in the chaos, the regiment became divided. After regrouping, they joined in the last few Confederate charges against the Hornet’s Nest late on the afternoon of April 6th, as well as some of the fighting on the 7th. The 17th Regiment remained relatively inactive in the initial attack until late that afternoon, perhaps due to inefficient leadership and lack of a clear battle plan by the Southern generals.
The 17th Regiment returned to Corinth for a month before ordered on 7 May 1862 to help defend Vicksburg. During May and June, they camped at Edwards’ Depot, on the railroad between Vicksburg and Jackson, about eighteen miles east of Vicksburg. Capt. Taylor returned home to Union Parish about May 23rd to recruit more soldiers, as disease had taken a toll on the soldiers of the 17th Regiment. After his return, Taylor and his men moved to reinforce the Vicksburg garrison against Admiral David Farragut’s naval bombardment of Vicksburg in June and July 1862. In September, the men moved to a dry place just outside Vicksburg that they named “Camp Ouachita,” where they remained until the end of the year. On December 21st, President Jefferson Davis reviewed the Vicksburg troops, including Capt. Taylor’s company. One of Taylor’s men described Davis as “a calm looking old fellow.”
Failing to reduce Vicksburg by bombardment, Gen. Grant now attempted to take the fortress by land, attacking from the north. Gen. William T. Sherman had overall control of the Union forces, while Grant planned to swing south through central Mississippi and attack from the east. Sherman’s men landed north of Vicksburg on December 26th and began slowly picking their way through the swamps and bayous blocking their approach. Confederate scouts observed the approach of Sherman’s men, and late that evening, the 17th Regiment received orders to make a hasty march from Camp Ouachita to Chickasaw Bayou, about five miles north of Vicksburg. Below the bluffs lining Chickasaw Bayou lay Widow Lake’s farm, and since his men arrived first, Richardson ordered Capt. Taylor’s company and the Claiborne Invincibles, from neighboring Claiborne Parish, to advance as pickets towards the swamps on the other side of Widow Lake’s old field. A torrential thunderstorm began as Taylor’s men scouted the area, and finding nothing, they went to the Lake resident for shelter. The rain continued all night, flooding the lowlands and forcing Sherman to concentrate his forces at the Lake house and follow the road to the bluffs. Taylor’s men became the first Southerners to exchange fire with Sherman’s advance troops on the 27th, but the bulk of the Northern army did not emerge from the swamps until 2:00 p.m. on the 29th. Sherman formed his army into double columns, eight abreast, and marched them double time across Lake’s old field. The columns divided, filed right and left towards the corners of the field, then fronted and charged the Confederate Army’s position along the bluffs. As the Southern troops had a secure and reinforced position behind the high bluffs and Indian mound, the slaughter of Northern troops charging uphill was horrendous. Taylor’s men took 400 prisoners, and one of his men alone fired 36 rounds at the Northern troops in defense of the Confederate position. One eyewitness reported that, due to the brave actions of her soldiers, the 17th Regiment gained, “not only ‘glory enough for one day,’ but enough to satisfy her ambition forever,” and that the regiment “truly had the post of honor that day” in dealing a resounding defeat to General Sherman’s Northern troops.
Capt. Jordan G. Taylor and his men remained on duty in Vicksburg until 1 May 1863, when they participated in the Battle of Port Gibson, engaged in heavy fighting from noon until 6:00 p.m., part of that time acting independently due to the hilly terrain. They returned to Vicksburg the next day, and although ordered out to Baker’s Creek a few weeks later, they did not arrive in time to participate in any action there. They joined the general retreat of the Confederate forces into Vicksburg on May 19th, then endured the siege that lasted until July 4th. Capt. Taylor commanded his men throughout the siege, serving as emergency reinforcements along the Confederate lines wherever needed. The men returned home on parole following the surrender at Vicksburg and remained there until April 1864, when they reported to Vienna. They again returned home to plant their spring crops, then reported to Minden until July, when they received their official exchange. Now reformed, the 17th Regiment moved to Pineville to guard against an expected attack from the south that never materialized. In February, they marched to Bayou Cotile, and on May 13th, the regiment’s commander, Col. Richardson, was placed in command of the entire Hays’ Division. As one of his final actions as division commander, Col. Richardson wrote a report of the somewhat inglorious end of Hays’ Division. Following orders, Richardson ordered the men to march from Natchitoches to Mansfield, but reports of Lee’s surrender in Virginia demoralized the men considerably, with many small groups leaving for their homes. Richardson reported that rumors caused the division to become a “mob and rabble, disregarding the authority of their superiors and governed along by a spirit of lawless plunder and pillage…predatory bands were formed, in many instances led by officers, for the seizure and appropriation of all public property.” Richardson reported that “Company C 17th Louisiana Infantry Commanded by Captain Jordan G. Taylor, this being the only company in the whole Division that performed their duty to the last,” guarded the division’s ammunition. Richardson said that, “I placed myself this ordnance in their charge. Though several attempts were made to take it, they preserved it and it is now safe. Too much praise cannot be ascribed to the gallant officer (Capt. J. G. Taylor) and his meritorious company who, when all around them was riot and confusion, did not cease to obey my orders and to perform their duty as men and as soldiers.”
After receiving his official parole from the Confederate Army on 18 June 1865, Capt. Taylor returned home to Union Parish, a region that managed to escape the destruction and deprivations inflicted by invading enemy armies on many other areas of the South, but whose economy now lay in shambles. Like other parish leaders, Taylor realized that the key to re-energizing the once-thriving agrarian economy of north Louisiana’s Ouachita Valley lay in rebuilding the region’s transportation infrastructure. In December 1865, Taylor began piloting the small bayou steamer, “Alice,” delivering cargo and passengers from all Bayou D’Arbonne landings to Trenton, where they connected with the larger Ouachita River steamboats destined for New Orleans. In July 1866, Taylor, along with Union Parish farmers Joseph B. Baker and Lemuel A. Doty and Ouachita Parish resident Abram Madden, purchased the “Alice” for $6000. Taylor and his steamer made regular runs between Trenton and inland Union Parish during the 1865–1866, 1866–1867, and 1867–1868 steamboating seasons. On 22 March 1868, Capt. Taylor piloted the “Alice” down the Ouachita River, and just above the mouth of Bayou DeSiard, she hit a snag (submerged tree trunk or large limb) that punctured her hull. Despite Taylor’s valiant efforts to reach the bank, the boat sank, completely destroying the “Alice” and her cargo.
After the destruction of the “Alice,” it appears that Capt. Taylor focused on his farming operation several miles northeast of Farmerville for the next four years. Taylor had made several investments in Ouachita Parish lands in the 1850s and 1860s, and in December 1870, he and James K. Ramsey jointly purchased the 455-acre Rockrow Plantation in Ouachita Parish for $7555. The plantation lay on the Ouachita River, just across the parish line from Port Union. Taylor and his wife moved there on 25 December 1872, and he managed a substantial farming operation there for the rest of his life.
Since he served as an officer in the Confederate Army, Capt. Taylor had no voting rights immediately after the war, but Congress restored his eligibility to vote in 1870 or 1871. Although he never thought he would involve himself in politics again, in 1876 he ran as the Democratic candidate for Ouachita Parish Representative. Like most Louisiana political contests during Reconstruction, controversy surrounded that election, with charges that white Democrats intimidated black voters. Capt. Taylor won the race, but along with numerous other Ouachita Parish citizens, the U.S. Congress summoned Taylor to New Orleans to testify before a Congressional Committee investigating suffrage abridgement. His testimony given on 28 December 1876 reveals his cool demeanor before sometimes prickly and annoying questions from the Congressmen, all Republicans from Northern states. Taylor said that due to illness, he did not extensively attend regular campaign rallies, but did attend some. He stated that he did not join the rifle clubs formed by white Democrats to maintain peace during the elections. Congressman Howe peppered Taylor with questions about the equality of the races, asking him about the “blotting out of the color-line,” and if white Democrats supported voting rights for black men, and the right for black people to ride in all public conveyances such as cars, stages, street and railway cars, and attend theatres. Taylor responded that they did support this. However, when Howe asked him about black and white children attending the same schools, Taylor stated that the Democrats would not support that, neither would the black people. Taylor stated, “As far as my knowledge extends among the intelligent colored people they do not desire their children and the white children to go to school together. They want schools and are willing for the whites to have schools, and the democratic party is in favor of educating the children irregardless of race, color, or previous condition.” Howe then asked him a rephrased version of the same question, to which Capt. Taylor gave this testy response, “I will repeat again. I tried to make it so you would understand. My observation and experience from talking with the most sensible people of the country is that they do not desire mixed schools…Individually, at least, I am in favor of the education of the whole country, irregardless of race, color, or previous condition.” Howe continued his questions about schools for black and white children, asking if mixed schools wouldn’t be more economical. Taylor responded, “I would like to be courteous and polite in answering, but those are hard questions to answer. Can you mix oil and water? Neither party desire it. The colored mothers would not send their children, neither would the white. You have got no compulsory process to compel them to go.” Howe then attempted to pin Capt. Taylor down on the difference between Democrats and Republicans. Taylor replied, “You call it ‘republican;” we call it ‘radical’…The definition we generally understand is a man that comes from some other section of the country here as a carpet-bagger and settles in among us and is a great hand to take airs to himself, and not much for the country.” Taylor stated that by joining forces in recent elections, black and white voters had managed to eliminate many of the carpetbaggers who had riddled the state government since the war.
Capt. Jordan Gray Taylor first married in the latter 1840s to Rebecca, born about 1830 in Alabama. She died in the 1850s, and in the latter portion of that decade, Taylor married Nancy Elizabeth Bledsoe, born about 1836 in Montgomery County Alabama. Capt. Taylor had no children by either of his wives.
After serving one term as the Ouachita Parish’s Representative in the Louisiana Legislature, Capt. Taylor decoded to not run for reelection and returned to farming. He died at his home on the Ouachita River on 3 January 1884. His wife buried him in the Taylor Cemetery, on his father’s old farm a few miles northeast of Farmerville.
Dr. Tim Hudson is the mathematics department head at Southeastern Louisiana and an avid historian on Union Parish. Hudson is a Union Parish native and graduate of Farmerville High School.