Levi Motts (1845-1864)

Levi Motts (1845-1864).  Young confederate soldier in love with Ruby Robison.  He fights and dies in Battle of Mansfield, April 8, 1964.

Ancestors:  Randall Motts (1752- 1821); Lucas Motts (1797-1875); Luther Motts (1820-1871).

Randall Motts was an Englishman who came to the Colonies in 1782, entering first at Pennsylvania and then making his way across the mountains into Alabama.  He amassed twelve sections of land planted for cotton and became quite wealthy.  His son Lucas, always one for adventure and not a timid young man, headed west and settled in North Louisiana.  There he found a land ideal for growing cotton and created his own large plantation.  Lucas was Levi’s grandfather.

Lucas’s son, Luther Motts, Levi’s father, took over the day-today operations of his father’s cotton farm and managed it extremely well.  Levi grew up in a house of plenty, and took it completely for granted.  Happy to live off his father’s largess and not one to get his hands dirty, much less calloused, Levi spent his time playing cards, drinking and visiting the growing number of brothels in the new town of Shreveport.

Levi was not like like his father who balanced his somewhat reckless ambition with disciplined hard work.  Levi saw the South’s secession and march towards war as an adventure that he would not miss. Levi as was true for most of the young men of his generation, never thought of war as anything but a short term, almost harmless, righteous fight filled with excitement.  Having grown up reading the novels of Walter Scott, Levi imagined himself as one of those Scottish heroes embarking upon the opportunity of a lifetime to prove his mettle as a man standing up against oppression.  So it came as no surprise to his father and grandfather that as soon as the canons fired upon Fort Sumter, Levi volunteered in 1862 to fight in the Rebel cause.

Mustering out of Monroe, Louisiana Levi and his cousin Coleman Broussard  joined up with in Colonel Henry Gray’s brigade, the Louisiana Gray’s.  It did not take them long to find their way to the burgeoning red light district of Shreveport. There Levi met and took up with one of the young sporting girls there, Ruby Robison.  Cole was also smitten and Ruby seeing Levi for what he was, a rake and leaky vessel for her to place her future, encouraged Cole in his romantic dreams.  They were a inseparable trio, the two kinsmen and the beautiful and fragile young whore hedging her bets, so to speak.

Despite Coleman’s obvious romantic aspirations, Ruby couldn’t deny her stronger feelings for Levi.  Defying the conventions of the time she and Levi made plans for marriage as soon as the war was over.  However, the Louisiana Grays were called up to confront the Union troops already marching towards Louisiana after conquering Vicksburg.  Gray’s brigade is one of the units in Gen. Robert Taylor’s army tasked with stopping the Trans-Mississippi Campaign of Nathaniel Bank’s invading force at Mansfield.

While the Battle of Mansfield was a Confederate victory, Levi Motts was one of only about a hundred Southern men who died there on April 8, 1864.  When he went into battle, Levi knew that Ruby was pregnant with their child. This child, a girl Ruby named Pearl, is born in late December of 1864. Because of her illegitimate status Pearl chose to use the name Robison for most of her life (see songs “Levi Motts is My Name” and “Fannin Street“).

Coleman returned to Shreveport and Ruby alone.  She and Cole both loved Levi, and bonded over their shared loss and their prior closeness matured into kind of a love of their own.  Coleman would raise Levi’s daughter and he and Ruby would have more kids of their own.  But Cole never forgot he was her second choice and would never excite her heart the way Levi had.

Lucas Motts lived to bury both his son and grandson and watching as the Mott family fortunes are destroyed by the war and Reconstruction.

“Levi Motts Is My Name”

Levi Motts is My Name
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Levi Motts is my name
Come from Northwest Louisiana
I joined up with Colonel Gray
He said be ready to march today
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
If this war will ever end

Ruby Robison is my gal
Keeps a room down in the bottoms
We talked of gettin’ out of there
Make a new life anywhere
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
If this war will ever end

Ruby wrote me a letter
We were waitin’ outside Mansfield
Wrote there’s a baby on the way
We fought the Yankees April Eighth
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
If this war will ever end

Levi Motts is my name
Come from Northwest Louisiana
Lead ball went through my neck
That afternoon I bled to death
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
If this war will ever end

Continue reading “Levi Motts Is My Name”

The Battle of Mansfield

The Red River campaign of Union General Nathaniel Banks grinds to a halt when Confederate General Richard Taylor routs Banks’ army at Mansfield, Louisiana.

Gray and Taylor

The Red River campaign, which had begun a month earlier, was an attempt by the Union to invade Confederate Texas from Shreveport, Louisiana. Banks, accompanied by a flotilla on the Red River, would move northwest across the state and rendezvous at Shreveport with a force under General Frederick Steele moving from Little Rock, Arkansas.

The slow-moving Banks approached Mansfield and opted to take a shorter road to Shreveport than one that ran along the Red River. Not only was the road narrow, it was far away from the gun support offered by the Union flotilla on the river. Banks’ troops ran into Taylor’s force and a skirmish erupted. At 4 p.m., Taylor ordered an all-out assault on the Yankees. The Rebels eventually broke the Union lines, sending the Federals in a disorganized retreat. The Yankees fell back three miles before reinforcements stopped the Confederate advance.

Banks suffered 113 men killed, 581 wounded, and 1,541 missing, while Taylor had about 1,500 total casualties. But Banks was now in retreat, and the Red River campaign was failing. Taylor attacked again the next day, but this time Banks’ men held the Confederates at bay. Banks was unnerved, though, and he began to retreat back down the Red River without penetrating into Texas.

Ruby Robison (1845-1933)

Ruby Robison (1845-1933).  Young prostitute on Fannin Street; has daughter, Pearl, with Confederate soldier Levi Motts.  After learning that Levi is killed at the Battle of Mansfield in April, 1864, Ruby marries his cousin Coleman Broussard and has four other children.

Ruby came to Shreveport during the Civil War, perhaps with Union troops up the Red River from New Orleans following the occupation of that city. Born in Ireland in 1845, her family may have been among the large numbers of Irish immigrants who sought refuge in America during the potato famines of the mid-nineteenth century.  She most likely resorted to prostitution as a means of survival.

Ruby had a room in one of the dozens of brothels in downtown Shreveport area around Fannin Street, but her life took an unexpected turn when she met Levi Motts.  Ruby and Levi began to have serious feelings for each other and Levi swore that he would find a way to get her out of the life she’d known as a prostitute.  But the war got in the way, sending Levi off to fight and die in the Battle of Mansfield (see songs, “Fannin Street” and “Levi Motts is My Name“).

Ruby had let Levi know of her pregnancy and she gave birth to a daughter in 1865, whom she named Pearl.  Levi’s cousin, Coleman Broussard chose to marry Ruby and they had four children together.  Their first son, Lucas was the great-grandfather of Mike “Sarge” Broussard.

Ruby lived to the ripe old age of 88, living to see not only her daughter grow up, get married and have children of her own, but well into the lives of her great-grandchildren.

“Fannin Street”

Fannin Street
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

On Fannin Street, Fannin Street
There’s a room upstairs for the men she meets
She’s not theirs and never was,
Just what she does
On Fannin Street

There was one boy, fine and sweet
Not like the rest of Fannin Street
He was all she ever loved
In the room above
Fannin Street

On Fannin Street, Fannin Street …

The boy he said he’d take her away
From the life she led one day
He left for Mansfield to the restless beat
Of Marching feet
In columns of grey

On Fannin Street, Fannin Street …

In her room alone Ruby Robison
Heard that the Rebels had won
She went to Mansfield but there she cried
For the baby inside
And the boy who was gone

On Fannin Street, Fannin Street …

© 2017 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

Shreveport, Louisiana

Shreveport is the third-largest city in the state of Louisiana and is the seat of Caddo Parish. It extends along the Red River into neighboring Bossier Parish; Shreveport and Bossier City are separated by the Red River. The Shreveport-Bossier City metropolitan area had a population exceeding 441,000 in 2010, and has remained the third most populous metropolitan area in Louisiana.

Jake McLemore spent a good portion of his childhood in Shreveport since his father moved the family there upon starting to work for the United Gas Corporation. Levi Motts and Ruby Robison met in Shreveport, in one of the brothels in the St. Paul’s Bottoms. Vivian, Louisiana is not far from Shreveport and Mike Broussard and D.W. Washington often went there, D.W. more than Mike. After Tully Tate moved to Hosston and started working the job at the pulp paper mill, Shreveport-Bossier was the place to go to let off steam and party.

Shreveport was founded in 1836 by the Shreve Town Company, a corporation established to develop a town at the juncture of the newly navigable Red River and the Texas Trail, an overland route into the newly independent Republic of Texas and, prior to that time, into Mexico. The city grew throughout the 20th century and became a center for the oil industry throughout the United States. Standard Oil of Louisiana (absorbed by Standard Oil of New Jersey and now part of ExxonMobil) and United Gas Corporation (now part of Pennzoil) were headquartered in the city.

During the American Civil War, Shreveport was the capital of Louisiana from 1863 to 1865, having succeeded Baton Rouge and Opelousas after each fell under Union control. The city was a Confederate stronghold throughout the war and was the site of the headquarters of the Trans-Mississippi Department of the Confederate Army. Fort Albert Sidney Johnston was built on a ridge northwest of the city. Because of limited development in that area, the site is relatively undisturbed.

Isolated from events in the east, the Civil War continued in the Trans-Mississippi theater for several weeks after Robert E. Lee’s surrender in April 1865, and the Trans-Mississippi was the last Confederate command to surrender, on May 26, 1865. Confederate President Jefferson Davis tried to flee to Shreveport, intending to go down the Mississippi, when he left Richmond but was captured en route in Irwinville, Georgia.

The Red River, which had been opened by Shreve in the 1830s, remained navigable throughout the Civil War. Water levels got so low at one point that Union Admiral David Dixon Porter was trapped with his gunboats north of Alexandria. His engineers quickly constructed a temporary dam to raise the water level and free his fleet.

By 1914, neglect and lack of use due to diversion of freight traffic to railroad lines resulted in the Red River becoming unnavigable. In 1994, the United States Army Corps of Engineers restored navigability by completion of a series of lock-and-dam structures and a navigation channel.

Coleman Broussard (1842-1910)

Coleman Broussard was a first cousin to Levi Motts and both fought for the Confederacy.  They also shared a love for Ruby Robison, fragile young prostitute in Shreveport.

Coleman was older than Levi by three years, and almost the complete opposite in character.  Levi was a rake and rounder whereas Cole was sober and straight-forward.  However, they both fell in love with Ruby, and the love was reciprocated by her to both, although Levi excited her imagination while Cole represented husband material.

Cole and Levi both joined up with the Rebels in Shreveport as soon as the war commenced. But while Levi saw the war as a great adventure, Cole was more clear-eyed about it and joined the fight out of a sense of duty but really to keep an eye on Levi.

Sadly, Levi died on the field at Mansfield, leaving Cole to return, alone, to Ruby, whom he married (see song “Levi, Ruby & Cole“).  He knew she was pregnant with Levi’s baby, and took on the responsibility of raising this baby girl, Pearl.  He and Ruby enjoyed a long marriage, having four children of their own and celebrating their 56th anniversary shortly before Cole died in 1910.

Confederate Colonel Henry Gray (1816-1892)

Henry Gray, Jr. (January 19, 1816 – December 11, 1892) was an American lawyer and politician who served in the state legislatures of Mississippi and then Louisiana. During the American Civil War, he was a general in the Confederate Army and subsequently served in the Confederate States Congress.

Gray was born to a military family in the Laurens District of South Carolina. He was a son of Henry Gray (a captain in the United States Army during the War of 1812) and Elvira Flanagan Gray. His grandfather Fredrick Gray had been a captain in the American Revolutionary War.

At the beginning of the Civil War, Gray enlisted as a private in a Mississippi infantry regiment in January 1861,until his friend Jefferson Davis called him to go back to Louisiana to raise a regiment. In April and early May 1862, Gray organized the 28th Louisiana Infantry at Camp Taylor and was elected as its colonel. He and his men were mustered into the Confederate Army on May 2.

On April 14, 1863 Gray was wounded in the fighting near Bayou Teche, Louisiana. Department commander Edmund Kirby Smith ordered his promotion to brigadier general on April 8, however the Confederate Congress disallowed it. Gray was given brigade command in Polignac’s Division in April.

Gray saw action around Vicksburg and in various battles within Louisiana while leading his brigade. He assumed the command of a division during the Battle of Mansfield on April 8, 1864, following the mortal wounding of Alfred Mouton.

Gray was elected to represent his northwestern Louisiana congressional district to the Second Confederate Congress, a position he had not sought nor had any knowledge of until notified of his election. He subsequently left the army in camp at Camden, Arkansas, and traveled to Richmond, Virginia. He was promoted to brigadier general on March 17, 1865, backdated to the Mansfield fight, and Gray rejoined his brigade in Polignac’s Division until the end of the war. There is no record of his being paroled from the U.S. Government.

“Levi, Ruby & Cole”

Levi Motts and Coleman Broussard were cousins, and each one loved Ruby Robison and she loved them both, as well.  Levi and Cole were Confederates, and fought at Mansfield.  But Levi died that afternoon, leaving Ruby and Cole to carry on together.

Levi, Ruby & Cole
WRITTEN BY: F.D. LEONE

Cole was strong and steady
Straight as a rail
Levi was born ready
Always raisin’ hell
Ruby loved Levi all the way
But Cole was who she chose
Levi might grow up some day
But, who knows

Ruby knew Cole loved her
But Levi charmed her heart
Cole was down to earth
Levi sparkled like a star

The War broke this trio up
Only one came back home
Ruby had two loves
Levi and Cole

Cole knew he and Ruby
Would never have
The kind of magic love
She and Levi had
Just taking care of her
For Cole, it was enough
He ain’ the apple of her youth
But theirs was also love

Ruby knew Cole loved her …

© 2018 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP)

The Knox Family : Ulster Scots

Matthew Knox was the first of his family to cross the mountains and enter Mississippi.  The covered wagon he drove pulled a milk cow while two sows and a collie dog trailed along, and his wife sat in the back. Under the tarpaulin, among the farm implements, resting neatly next to a jug of clear whiskey medicine, was a small bible his grandfather, Jeremiah Knox, had given him in 1862 when he went off to fight in the Confederate War. Together Matthew and this bible had survived the war and would stay together throughout the tense aftermath.

Matthew cared nothing for the book itself. He placed no stock in anything as speculative as religion and was even suspicious of those who preached from a bible despite coming from a family that boasted of no fewer than six Presbyterian ministers.  No, the significance of the book lay solely in the list of names written in a careful scrawl by different hands over more than 200 years: his Knox progenitors.

Matthew went to Meridian, Mississippi in 1866, just after the end of the Confederate War in which he’d served.  He’d heard that the new territory was ripe for an industrious young man looking to make his mark.  A new start is what he needed, after his grandfather’s farm had nearly burned up when a spark from the fire under a pot of molasses jumped loose and set fire to the dry field grass which had seen no rain for more than six weeks.

Matthew only heard about the fire well after the fact.  When he rode up to the farm, months had elapsed since that dreadful day of the fire that had taken not only grass and trees, but his grandfather’s life as well.

Jeremiah and his daughter-in-law Cora had fought that fire all afternoon and into the evening, digging fire breaks and throwing the dirt on the fire.  But a steady wind fueled the fire that leapt over each break they created and burned everything on the near side short of the house and barn before finally burning itself out at the springhouse.  Jeremiah had inhaled too much smoke; burns to his head and hands, as well as the stress of the physical exertion, it combined to be too much for the tough 90 year old man.  He lingered for almost three weeks before dying in his sleep.

Matthew’s father Josiah did not arrive back at the farm until mid-1865, almost a year after the fire.  However, once the full impact of the devastation had sunk in, his father told him, “you go; your mother and I might have just enough strength to rebuild this farm even if it takes the rest of our lives.  You’re still young, at the start of your life and can make something of yourself in a new territory.”

This Matthew did.  With him into the wilderness of Mississippi he brought the bible with the list of names: a tether to his past and his Ulster family.

Family Bible

Tristan Knox, Scotland, (1622), to Ulster in 1656
Angus Knox, Scotland, (1645), to Ulster in 1656
Jacob Knox, Ulster, (1670)
James Knox, Ulster, (1701)
Nathaniel Knox, Ulster, 1722, later to Pennsylvania in 1756, then Carolina, 1783, d. 1799
Bartholomew Knox, Nathaniel’s son, Ulster, 1750, Pennsylvania after 1756, Carolina 1783, d. 1829
Jeremiah Knox, Nathaniel’s grandson, Pennsylvania, 1774, North Carolina in 1783, dies in fire 1864
Josiah Knox, Jeremiah’s son, 1804, North Carolina, d. 1886
Matthew Knox, Jeremiah’s grandson, North Carolina, 1833, Meridian, Mississippi, 1865, d. 1909

The first name in the bible was put there by Matthew’s sixth great-grandfather, whose name was unknown to him, but this anonymous Scotsman notated the name of his eldest son, born in 1621 in County Galway, Scotland.  The name he wrote was Tristan Knox.

Tristan was born during the first great wave of migration from Scotland to northern Ireland begun by King James the VI  known as the Ulster Plantation.  His father decided against relocated across the channel.  However, Tristan left Scotland in 1656 along with other Scotch Presbyterians.  The Tristan Knox family went to Donegal, where a few  kinsmen had staked out some land.

Several generations of Knoxes lived on this land in Donegal, the names written under Tristan Knox on the list were Angus (b. 1645), Jacob (b. 1670), James (b. 1701) and Nathaniel (b. 1722).

But by now, Scots in Ulster were feeling the pinch between the Irish Catholics and the English Anglicans.  Scots left Ulster in growing numbers for religious tension but they also left for economic reasons forced upon them by rising rents imposed by English overlords. Those were the sticks driving them out, the carrots were stories of a bountiful and rich the land, with no overlords or religious persecution, that waited for them across the Atlantic.

Almost exactly 100 years after Tristan left Scotland for Ulster, Nathaniel left Ulster for America.

Nathaniel Knox did what many Ulster Scots did in order to find a ship for America, he signed a contract for himself and his family for five years of labor.  Indentured service was common and often the only method a tenant farmer in Ulster could pay for passage across the ocean.

The Knox family entered the New World through Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which was the largest Colonial city, and a common port of entry.  The service contract Nathaniel Knox had signed placed him on a farm in southwestern Pennsylvania, within view of the Allegheny Mountains.  Nathaniel’s son Bartholomew was just six when they stepped off the boat, and by the time the family had worked out of the indenture, he was nearly a teenager.

Marriage was going to be a possibility for Bartholomew in a few years, so Nathaniel started looking for some acreage of his own. The first Knox farm was a 66 acre tract of Pennsylvania land that was covered with rich topsoil and timber.  Nathaniel increased his holdings whenever he could and over the next twenty years amassed nearly 200 acres of productive land.

Also over that time Pennsylvania was becoming more crowded and government intrusion becoming more and more of a bothersome thing for Scots-Irish immigrants and something of which they were decidedly intolerant. Eventually, Nathaniel and the Knox family packed up and moved once again in 1783, this time to North Carolina. Along with Nathaniel came Bartholomew’s growing family, whose oldest son, Jeremiah, at nine years old was the first native born American Knox.

Nathaniel and Bartholomew invested the money from the sale of their Pennsylvania farm into even more acreage in Carolina, where there were fewer people and less government.  They might still be on the east side of the mountains, but they were well into the frontier.

This is the land where Jeremiah grew into a young man.  The Knox farm produced tobacco, corn, sugar cane, and barley; and provided a good living for the Knox family.  Jeremiah married a local girl, Kathleen Kerby, in 1799.  Kathleen lost two infants before finally carrying to term a boy, whom they named Josiah after Kathleen’s father, Joseph, but also following in the Knox family tradition of choosing biblical names for their male children.

Josiah began helping his father with the farm work when he was eight years old and by the time he was 25, he was ready to take over the day-to-day operations and find a wife.  That was Cora Adams, whom he married in 1830.

Our story began with their son Matthew, who married Willa Thomas in 1855, had their first child, Georgiana in 1856 and together they went to Mississippi, in the tarp-covered wagon with the bible, to continue the Knox family adventure in America .  Having experienced the precarious nature of farm life, at the mercy of the elements, Matthew chose instead to operate a mercantile store in Meridian, Mississippi. Later he became quite successful as a cotton agent in Jackson.

Matthew and Willa were the grandparents of Elijah “Lige” Langford, and the great-great-great-great-grandparents, on his mother’s side, of Levi Hooper (see songs “The Langfords and the Littlejohns” and “Mildred’s House of Values”).

Although he knew of the bible, Levi Hooper was only vaguely aware of the entire history of his mother’s family.  He’d heard how the bible had been carefully handed down from Scotland all the way to his maternal grandmother Marjy Littlejohn, the daughter of Emily Langford and George Littlejohn.  Mamaw Littlejohn in turn gave it to her daughter Mildred Langford Motts, Levi’s mother.  Mildred was saving this bible for her oldest grandchild, if and when Levi ever found a nice girl and settled down.