Elam Sparks Dortch
- By Ann Middleton
Bossier Parish history is filled with colorful and interesting characters. Elam Sparks Dortch falls easily into the category of interesting characters.
Born in Claiborne County, Mississippi in 1841, his family moved to Louisiana when Elam was a child. The plantation on which he grew up was nine miles from Minden.
In his lifetime he became a leading planter, a justice of the peace, a Bossier Parish police juror and a postmaster at Ash Point, Louisiana. But, according to the remembrances of his daughter, Mrs. Pearl D. Colbert, it was his military experiences in the Civil War about which he most loved to reminisce.
Dortch was 20 years old when the Civil War began. He enlisted in the army and became a member of the first company to leave Bossier Parish. His company fought in numerous major battles. He was wounded in his right arm at the second Battle of Bull Run. After being granted a leave of several months, he returned to the army and was assigned duty with the Medical Corps and served under Dr. Egan, a Shreveport physician. He was trained to help with operations and to dress wounds. He served in this capacity until his division was captured and taken to Fort McHenry at Baltimore, then to Fort Delaware where he remained until the surrender of Lee at Appomattox. One of his favorite stories was that after his division was captured they began a 100 mile march to prison, during which Dortch lost one of his shoes in the mud and walking on the frozen ground made his foot bloody and numb. The prisoners were being escorted by Federal Cavalry when they came to a stream about waist deep.
The Federal officer insisted that the prisoners wade the stream. Dortch decided that he would rather be shot than freeze to death, so he refused to wade the stream. When the officer questioned him as to how he was going to get across, Dortch jumped up behind him when the officer's horse stepped into the water to swim across. Dortch had his arms clasped so tightly around the officer that he could not be shaken off. When they neared the bank on the opposite side, Dortch slipped off the horse and mingled with the crowd and was lost to view.
Although he was exposed to small pox by a bunk mate, Dortch did not contract the disease. And, when asked if he ate rats when food was very scarce, he replied that he could never catch one. When Elam Sparks Dortch died on August 29, 1943, he was just 17 days shy of his 102nd birthday. His life span covered a period marked by five wars-the Mexican War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II. To explore the lives of other interesting people in Bossier Parish, visit the Bossier Parish Library Historical Center.