Nevertheless, from the moment Lee succeeded to the command of the army in Virginia, he was facile princeps in the war, towering above all on both sides, as the pyramid of Ghizeh above the desert. Steadfast to the end, he upheld the waning fortunes of the Confederacy as did Hector those of Troy. Last scene of all, at his surrender, his greatness and dignity made of his adversary but a humble accessory; and if departed intelligences be permitted to take ken of the affairs of this world, the soul of Light Horse Harry rejoices that his own eulogy of Washington, "First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen," is now, by the united voice of the South, applied to his noble son.
Foregoing criticisms have indicated the tendency of engineer service to unfit men for command. It was once said of a certain colonel that he was an admirable officer when absent from soldiers. No amount of theoretical training can supply the knowledge gained by direct and immediate association with troops. The ablest and most promising graduates from West Point are annually assigned to the engineer and ordnance corps. After some years they become scientists, perhaps pedants, but not soldiers. Whatever may be the ultimate destination of such young men, they should be placed on duty for at least one year with each arm of the service, and all officers of the general staff below the highest grades should be returned to the line for limited periods. In no other way can a healthy connection between line and staff be preserved. The United States will doubtless continue to maintain an army, however small, as a model, if for no other purpose, for volunteers, the reliance of the country in the event of a serious war. It ought to have the best possible article for the money, and, to secure this, should establish a camp of instruction, composed of all arms, where officers could study the actual movements of troops.
THE DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA.
A month of rest at Richmond restored my health, which subsequently remained good; but in leaving Virginia I was separated from my brigade, endeared by so many memories. It remained with Lee's army, and gained distinction in many battles. As the last preserved of Benjamin on the rock of Rimmon, scarce a handful survived the war; but its story would comprise much of that of the Army of Northern Virginia, and I hope some survivor, who endured till the end, will relate it. A braver command never formed line of battle.
And now I turned my steps toward the West, where, beyond the "father of waters," two years of hard work and much fighting awaited me. The most direct route to the Southwest was by Chattanooga, where General Bragg was concentrating the Army of Tennessee. This officer had requested the War Department to assign me to duty with his army as chief of staff, and it was suggested to me to call on him en route. He had reached Chattanooga in advance of his troops, then moving from Tupelo in northern Mississippi. In the two days passed at Chattanooga, General Bragg communicated to me his plan of campaign into Kentucky, which was excellent, giving promise of large results if vigorously executed; and I think its failure may be ascribed to the infirmities of the commander.
Born in North Carolina, graduated from West Point in 1837, Bragg served long and creditably in the United States artillery. In the war with Mexico he gained much celebrity, especially at Buena Vista, to the success of which action, under the immediate eye of General Zachary Taylor, he largely contributed. Resigning the service, he married a lady of Louisiana and purchased an estate on the Bayou Lafourche, where he resided at the outbreak of civil war. Promoted to the rank of general after the death of Albert Sidney Johnston, he succeeded Beauregard, retired by ill health, in command of the Army of Tennessee. Possessing experience in and talent for war, he was the most laborious of commanders, devoting every moment to the discharge of his duties. As a disciplinarian he far surpassed any of the senior Confederate generals; but his method and manner were harsh, and he could have won the affections of his troops only by leading them to victory. He furnished a striking illustration of the necessity of a healthy body for a sound intellect. Many years of dyspepsia had made his temper sour and petulant; and he was intolerant to a degree of neglect of duty, or what he esteemed to be such, by his officers. A striking instance of this occurred during my visit. At dinner, surrounded by his numerous staff, I inquired for one of his division commanders, a man widely known and respected, and received this answer: "General —— is an old woman, utterly worthless." Such a declaration, privately made, would have been serious; but publicly, and certain to be repeated, it was astonishing.
As soon as we had withdrawn to his private room, I asked by whom he intended to relieve General ——. "Oh! by no one. I have but one or two fitted for high command, and have in vain asked the War Department for capable people." To my suggestion that he could hardly expect hearty cooeperation from officers of whom he permitted himself to speak contemptuously, he replied: "I speak the truth. The Government is to blame for placing such men in high position." From that hour I had misgivings as to General Bragg's success, and felt no regret at the refusal of the authorities to assign me to duty with him. It may be said of his subordinate commanders that they supported him wonderfully, in despite of his temper, though that ultimately produced dissatisfaction and wrangling. Feeble health, too, unfitted him to sustain long-continued pressure of responsibility, and he failed in the execution of his own plan.
The movement into Kentucky was made by two lines. General Kirby Smith led a subordinate force from Knoxville, East Tennessee, through Cumberland Gap, and, defeating the Federals in a spirited action at Richmond, Kentucky, reached Lexington, in the center of the State, and threatened Cincinnati. Bragg moved on a line west of the Cumberland range toward Louisville, on the Ohio River; and this movement forced the Federal commander, Buell, to march north to the same point by a parallel road, farther west. Buell left garrisons at Nashville and other important places, and sought to preserve his communications with Louisville, his base. Weakened by detachments, as well as by the necessity of a retrograde movement, Bragg should have brought him to action before he reached Louisville. Defeated, the Federals would have been driven north of the Ohio to reorganize, and Bragg could have wintered his army in the fertile and powerful State of Kentucky, isolating the garrisons in his rear; or, if this was impossible, which does not appear, he should have concentrated against Buell when the latter, heavily reenforced, marched south from Louisville to regain Nashville. But he fought a severe action at Perryville with a fraction of his army, and retired to Central Tennessee. The ensuing winter, at Murfreesboro, he contested the field with Rosecrans, Buell's successor, for three days; and though he won a victory, it was not complete, and the summer of 1863 found him again at Chattanooga. In the mean time, a Federal force under General Burnside passed through Cumberland Gap, and occupied Knoxville and much of East Tennessee, severing the direct line of rail communication from Richmond to the Southwest.
This condensed account of the Kentucky campaign, extending over many months, is given because of my personal intimacy with the commander, who apprised me of his plans. General Bragg died recently in Texas. I have rarely known a more conscientious, laborious man. Exacting of others, he never spared himself, but, conquering disease, showed a constant devotion to duty; and distinguished as were his services in the cause he espoused, they would have been far greater had he enjoyed the blessing of health.
Leaving Chattanooga, I proceeded to my destination, western Louisiana, and crossed the Mississippi at the entrance of Red River. Some miles below, in the Atchafalaya, I found a steamer, and learned that the Governor of the State was at Opelousas, which could be reached by descending the last river to the junction of the Bayou Courtableau, navigable at high water to the village of Washington, six miles north of Opelousas. Embarking on the steamer, I reached the junction at sunset, but the water in Courtableau was too low for steam navigation. As my family had sought refuge with friends in the vicinity of Washington, I was anxious to get on, and hired a boat, with four negro oarsmen, to take me up the bayou, twenty miles. The narrow stream was overarched by trees shrouded with Spanish moss, the universal parasite of Southern forests. Heavy rain fell, accompanied by vivid lightning, the flashes of which enabled us to find our way; and before dawn I had the happiness to embrace wife and children after a separation of fourteen months. Some hours later I reached Opelousas, and met the Governor, Thomas O. Moore, with whom I had served in our State Assembly. This worthy gentleman, a successful and opulent planter, had been elected Governor in 1860. He was a man of moderate temper and opinions, but zealously aided the Confederate cause after his State had joined it. Forced to leave New Orleans by the approach of Farragut's fleet, he brought my family with him, and was unwearied in kind attentions.
Melancholy indeed was the condition of the "District of Louisiana," to the command of which I was assigned.
Confederate authority had virtually ceased with the fall of New Orleans in the previous April. Fortifications at Barataria, Berwick's Bay, and other Gulf-coast points had been abandoned, the garrisons withdrawn, works dismantled, and guns thrown into the water. The Confederate Government had no soldiers, no arms or munitions, and no money, within the limits of the district. Governor Moore was willing to aid me to the extent of his ability, but, deprived by the loss of New Orleans and the lower river parishes of half the population and three fourths of the resources of his State, he could do little.
General Magruder had recently been assigned to command in Texas, and General Holmes, the senior officer west of the Mississippi, was far to the north in Arkansas. To him I at once reported my arrival and necessities. Many days elapsed before his reply was received, to the effect that he could give me no assistance, as he meditated a movement against Helena on the Mississippi River. Without hope of aid from abroad, I addressed myself to the heavy task of arousing public sentiment, apathetic if not hostile from disaster and neglect, and the creation of some means of defense. Such was the military destitution that a regiment of cavalry could have ridden over the State, while innumerable rivers and bayous, navigable a large part of the year, would admit Federal gunboats to the heart of every parish.
To understand subsequent operations in this region, one must have some idea of its topography and river systems.
Washed on the east, from the Arkansas line to the Gulf of Mexico, by the Mississippi, western Louisiana is divided into two not very unequal parts by the Red River, which, entering the State at its northwestern angle, near the boundaries of Texas and Arkansas, flows southeast to the Mississippi through a broad, fertile valley, then occupied by a population of large slave-owners engaged in the culture of cotton. From the southern slopes of the Ozark Mountains in Central Arkansas comes the Washita River to unite with the Red, a few miles above the junction of the latter with the Mississippi. Preserving a southerly course, along the eastern foot of the hills, the Washita enters the State nearly a hundred miles west of the Mississippi, but the westerly trend of the great river reduces this distance until the waters meet. The alluvion between these rivers, protected from inundation by levees along the streams, is divided by many bayous, of which the Tensas, with its branch the Macon, is the most important. These bayous drain the vast swamps into the Washita, and, like this river, are in the season of floods open to steam navigation. Here was one of the great cotton-producing regions of the South. Estates of 5,000 acres and more abounded, and, with the numerous slaves necessary to their cultivation, were largely under the charge of overseers, while the proprietors resided in distant and more healthy localities. Abundant facilities for navigation afforded by countless streams superseded the necessity for railways, and but one line of some eighty miles existed. This extended from Monroe on the Washita to a point opposite Vicksburg on the Mississippi; but the great flood of 1862 had broken the eastern half of the line. Finally, the lower Washita, at Trinity, where it receives the Tensas from the east and Little River from the west, takes the name of Black River. And it may be well to add that in Louisiana counties are called parishes, dikes levees, and streams bayous.
South of the Red River, population and industries change. The first is largely composed of descendants of French colonists, termed creoles, with some Spanish intermixed, and the sugar cane is the staple crop, changing as the Gulf is approached to rice. At the point where the united Red and Washita Rivers join the Mississippi, which here changes direction to the east, the Atchafalaya leaves it, and, flowing due south through Grand Lake and Berwick's Bay, reaches the Gulf at Atchafalaya Bay, two degrees west of its parent stream, and by a more direct course. Continuing the line of the Red and Washita, it not only discharges much of their waters, but draws largely from the Mississippi when this last is in flood. Midway between the Atchafalaya and the city of New Orleans, some eighty miles from either point, another outlet of the great river, the Bayou Lafourche, discharges into the Gulf after passing through a densely populated district, devoted to the culture of sugar cane and rice. A large lake, Des Allemands, collects the waters from the higher lands on the river and bayou, and by an outlet of the same name carries them to Barataria Bay. Lying many feet below the flood level of the streams, protected by heavy dikes, with numerous steam-engines for crushing canes and pumping water, and canals and ditches in every direction, this region resembles a tropical Holland. At the lower end of Lake Des Allemands passed the only line of railway in southern Louisiana, from a point on the west bank of the river opposite New Orleans to Berwick's Bay, eighty miles. Berwick's Bay, which is but the Atchafalaya after it issues from Grand Lake, is eight hundred yards wide, with great depth of water, and soon meets the Gulf in Atchafalaya Bay. A few miles above the railway terminus at Berwick's there enters from the west the Teche, loveliest of Southern streams. Navigable for more than a hundred miles, preserving at all seasons an equal breadth and depth, so gentle is its flow that it might be taken for a canal, did not the charming and graceful curves, by which it separates the undulating prairies of Attakapas from the alluvion of the Atchafalaya, mark it as the handiwork of Nature. Before the war, the Teche for fifty miles, from Berwick's Bay to New Iberia, passed through one field of sugar canes, the fertile and well-cultivated estates succeeding each other. The mansions of the opulent planters, as well as the villages of their slaves, were situated on the west bank of the bayou overlooking the broad, verdant prairie, where countless herds roamed. On the east bank, the dense forest had given way to fields of luxuriant canes; and to connect the two parts of estates, floating bridges were constructed, with openings in the center for the passage of steamers. Stately live oaks, the growth of centuries, orange groves, and flowers of every hue and fragrance surrounded the abodes of the seigneurs; while within, one found the grace of the salon combined with the healthy cheeriness of country life. Abundance and variety of game encouraged field sports, and the waters, fresh and salt, swarmed with fish. With the sky and temperature of Sicily, the breezes from prairie and Gulf were as health-giving as those that ripple the heather on Scotch moors. In all my wanderings, and they have been many and wide, I can not recall so fair, so bountiful, and so happy a land.
The upper or northern Teche waters the parishes of St. Landry, Lafayette, and St. Martin's—the Attakapas, home of the "Acadians." What the gentle, contented creole was to the restless, pushing American, that and more was the Acadian to the creole. In the middle of the past century, when the victories of Wolfe and Amherst deprived France of her Northern possessions, the inhabitants of Nouvelle Acadie, the present Nova Scotia, migrated to the genial clime of the Attakapas, where beneath the flag of the lilies they could preserve their allegiance, their traditions, and their faith. Isolated up to the time of the war, they spoke no language but their own patois; and, reading and writing not having come to them by nature, they were dependent for news on their cures and occasional peddlers, who tempted the women with chiffons and trinkets. The few slaves owned were humble members of the household, assisting in the cultivation of small patches of maize, sweet potatoes, and cotton, from which last the women manufactured the wonderful Attakapas cotonnade, the ordinary clothing of both sexes. Their little cabanes dotted the broad prairie in all directions, and it was pleasant to see the smoke curling from their chimneys, while herds of cattle and ponies grazed at will. Here, unchanged, was the French peasant of Fenelon and Bossuet, of Louis le Grand and his successor le Bien-Aime. Tender and true were his traditions of la belle France, but of France before Voltaire and the encyclopaedists, the Convention and the Jacobins—ere she had lost faith in all things, divine and human, save the bourgeoisie and avocats. Mounted on his pony, with lariat in hand, he herded his cattle, or shot and fished; but so gentle was his nature, that lariat and rifle seemed transformed into pipe and crook of shepherd. Light wines from the Medoc, native oranges, and home-made sweet cakes filled his largest conceptions of feasts; and violin and clarionet made high carnival in his heart.
On an occasion, passing the little hamlet of Grand Coteau, I stopped to get some food for man and horse. A pretty maiden of fifteen springs, whose parents were absent, welcomed me. Her lustrous eyes and long lashes might have excited the envy of "the dark-eyed girl of Cadiz." Finding her alone, I was about to retire and try my fortune in another house; but she insisted that she could prepare "monsieur un diner dans un tour de main," and she did. Seated by the window, looking modestly on the road, while I was enjoying her repast, she sprang to her feet, clapped her hands joyously, and exclaimed: "V'la le gros Jean Baptiste qui passe sur son mulet avec deux bocals. Ah! nous aurons grand bal ce soir." It appeared that one jug of claret meant a dance, but two very high jinks indeed. As my hostess declined any remuneration for her trouble, I begged her to accept a pair of plain gold sleeve buttons, my only ornaments. Wonder, delight, and gratitude chased each other across the pleasant face, and the confiding little creature put up her rose-bud mouth. In an instant the homely room became as the bower of Titania, and I accepted the chaste salute with all the reverence of a subject for his Queen, then rode away with uncovered head so long as she remained in sight. Hospitable little maiden of Grand Coteau, may you never have graver fault to confess than the innocent caress you bestowed on the stranger!
It was to this earthly paradise, and upon this simple race, that the war came, like the tree of the knowledge of evil to our early parents.
Some weeks before I reached my new field, General Van Dorn, who commanded the Confederate forces east of the Mississippi, had successfully resisted a bombardment of Vicksburg by Federal gunboats, during which the Confederate ram Arkansas, descending the Yazoo River, passed through the enemy's fleet, inflicting some damage and causing much alarm, and anchored under the guns of Vicksburg. To follow up this success, Van Dorn sent General Breckenridge with a division against Baton Rouge, the highest point on the river above New Orleans then held by the Federals, and the Arkansas was to descend to cooeperate in the attack. Breckenridge reached Baton Rouge at the appointed time, assaulted, and was repulsed after a severe action; but the Arkansas, disabled by an accident to her machinery, was delayed, and, learning of Breckenridge's failure, her commander ran her ashore on the west bank of the river a few miles above Baton Rouge, and destroyed her. Strengthening their garrison in this town, the Federals employed many steamers on the river between it and New Orleans, a hundred and twenty miles, armed vessels of Farragut's fleet guarding the stream. From time to time parties of infantry were landed to plunder and worry the peaceful inhabitants, though after the fall of New Orleans no Confederate forces had been on that part of the river, and no resistance was made by the people.
Two days were passed at Opelousas in consultation with Governor Moore, who transferred to me several small bodies of State troops which he had organized. Alexandria on the Red River, some seventy-five miles north of Opelousas, was the geographical center of the State and of steam navigation, and the proper place for the headquarters of the district. To escape the intense heat, I rode the distance in a night, and remained some days at Alexandria, engaged in the organization of necessary staff departments and in providing means of communication with different parts of the State. Great distances and the want of railway and telegraph lines made this last a heavy burden. Without trained officers, my presence was required at every threatened point, and I was seldom enabled to pass twenty-four consecutive hours at headquarters; but Adjutant Surget, of whom mention has been made, conducted the business of the district with vigor and discretion during my absence. Subsequently, by using an ambulance in which one could sleep, and with relays of mules, long distances were rapidly accomplished; and, like the Irishman's bird, I almost succeeded in being in two places at the same time.
Leaving Alexandria, I went south to visit the Lafourche and intervening regions. At Vermilionville, in the parish of Lafayette, thirty miles south of Opelousas, resided ex-Governor Mouton, a man of much influence over the creole and Acadian populations, and an old acquaintance. Desiring his aid to arouse public sentiment, depressed since the fall of New Orleans, I stopped to see him. Past middle age, he had sent his sons and kindred to the war, and was eager to assist the cause in all possible ways. His eldest son and many of his kinsmen fell in battle, his estate was diminished by voluntary contributions and wasted by plunder, and he was taken to New Orleans and confined for many weeks; yet he never faltered in his devotion, and preserved his dignity and fortitude.
In camp near New Iberia, seven and twenty miles south of Vermilionville, was Colonel Fournet, with a battalion of five companies raised in the parish, St. Martin's. The men were without instruction, and inadequately armed and equipped. Impressing on Fournet and his officers the importance of discipline and instruction, and promising to supply them with arms, I proceeded to the residence of Leclerc Fusilier, in the parish of St. Mary's, twenty miles below New Iberia. Possessor of great estates, and of a hospitable, generous nature, this gentleman had much weight in his country. His sons were in the army, and sixty years had not diminished his energy nor his enthusiasm. He desired to serve on my staff as volunteer aide, promising to join me whenever fighting was to be done; and he kept his promise. In subsequent actions on the Teche and Red River, the first gun seemed the signal for the appearance of Captain Fusilier, who, on his white pony, could be seen where the fight was the thickest, leading on or encouraging his neighbors. His corn bins, his flocks and herds, were given to the public service without stint; and no hungry, destitute Confederate was permitted to pass his door. Fusilier was twice captured, and on the first occasion was sent to Fortress Monroe, where he, with fifty other prisoners from my command, was embarked on the transport Maple Leaf for Fort Delaware. Reaching the capes of Chesapeake at nightfall, the prisoners suddenly attacked and overpowered the guard, ran the transport near to the beach in Princess Anne County, Virginia, landed, and made their way to Richmond, whence they rejoined me in Louisiana. Again taken, Fusilier escaped, while descending the Teche on a steamer, by springing from the deck to seize the overhanging branch of a live oak. The guard fired on him, but darkness and the rapid movement of the steamer were in his favor, and he got off unhurt.
I have dwelt somewhat on the characters of Mouton and Fusilier, not only because of their great devotion to the Confederacy, but because there exists a wide-spread belief that the creole race has become effete and nerveless. In the annals of time no breed has produced nobler specimens of manhood than these two; and while descendants of the French colonists remain on the soil of Louisiana, their names and characters should be reverenced as are those of Hampden and Sidney in England.
To Berwick's Bay, a hundred and seventy-five miles from Alexandria. Here, on the eastern shore, was the terminus of the New Orleans and Opelousas railroad. A deep, navigable arm of the bay, called Bayou Boeuf, flows east of the station, which is on the island fronting the bay proper. Some engines and plant had been saved from the general wreck at New Orleans, and the line was operated from the bay to Lafourche crossing, thirty miles. The intervening territory constitutes the parish of Terrebonne, with fertile, cultivated lands along the many bayous, and low swamps between. From Lafourche crossing to Algiers, opposite New Orleans, is fifty miles; and, after leaving the higher ground adjacent to the Lafourche, the line plunges into swamps and marshes, impassable except on the embankment of the line itself. Midway of the above points, the Bayou des Allemands, outlet of the large lake of the same name, is crossed; and here was a Federal post of some two hundred men with two field guns. On the west bank of the Lafourche, a mile or two above the railway crossing, and thirty-two miles below Donaldsonville, where the bayou leaves the Mississippi, lies the town of Thibodeaux, the most considerable place of this region. Navigable for steamers, whenever the waters of its parent river are high, restrained from inundation by levees on both banks, the Lafourche flows through the fertile and populous parishes of Assumption and Lafourche, and, after a sinuous course of some ninety miles, reaches the Gulf to the west of Barataria Bay. Above Thibodeaux there were no bridges, and communication between the opposite banks was kept up by ferries.
One or two companies of mounted men, armed with fowling pieces, had been organized under authority from Governor Moore, and Colonel Waller's battalion of mounted riflemen had recently arrived from Texas. These constituted the Confederate army in this quarter.
OPERATIONS IN LOUISIANA AND ON THE MISSISSIPPI.
Mention has been made of the plundering expeditions of the Federals, and the post at Bayou des Allemands was reported as the especial center from which raids on the helpless inhabitants were undertaken. I determined to attempt the surprise and capture of this post, which could be reached from the river at a point fifty miles below Donaldsonville. My estate was in the immediate vicinity of this point, and the roads and paths through plantations and swamps were well known to me. Colonel Waller was assigned to the duty, with minute instructions concerning roads and movements, and competent guides were furnished him. Moving rapidly by night, and, to escape observation, avoiding the road near the river, Waller with his Texans gained the enemy's rear, advanced on his camp, and, after a slight resistance, captured two companies of infantry and the guns. The captured arms and accouterments served to equip Waller's men, whose rifles were altered flintlocks and worthless, and the prisoners were sent to the Teche to be guarded by Fournet's Acadians. This trifling success, the first in the State since the loss of New Orleans, attracted attention, and the people rejoiced at the capture of the Des Allemands garrison as might those of Greece at the unearthing of the accomplished and classic thief Cacus. Indeed, the den of that worthy never contained such multifarious "loot" as did this Federal camp. Books, pictures, household furniture, finger rings, ear rings, breastpins and other articles of feminine adornment and wear, attested the catholic taste and temper of these patriots.
Persuaded that the Federal commander at New Orleans, General Benjamin F. Butler, was ignorant of the practices of his outlying detachments, I requested ex-Governor Wickliffe of Louisiana, a non-combatant, to visit that officer under a flag of truce and call his attention to the subject. Duty to the suffering population would force me to deal with perpetrators of such misdeeds as robbers rather than as soldiers. General Butler received Governor Wickliffe politely, invited him to dine, and listened attentively to his statements, then dismissed him without committing himself to a definite reply. However, the conduct complained of was speedily stopped, and, as I was informed, by orders from General Butler. This was the only intercourse I had with this officer during the war. Some months later he was relieved from command at New Orleans by General Banks, whose blunders served to endear him to President Lincoln, as did those of Villeroy to his master, the fourteenth Louis. When the good Scotch parson finished praying for all created beings and things, he requested his congregation to unite in asking a blessing for the "puir deil," who had no friends; and General Butler has been so universally abused as to make it pleasant to say a word in his favor. Not that he needs assistance to defend himself; for in the war of epithets he has proved his ability to hold his ground against all comers as successfully as did Count Robert of Paris with sword and lance.
Preservation of the abundant supplies of the Lafourche country, and protection of the dense population from which recruits could be drawn, were objects of such importance as to justify the attempt to secure them with inadequate means.
A few days after the Des Allemands affair, I was called to the north, and will for convenience anticipate events in this quarter during my absence. Minute instructions for his guidance were given to Colonel Waller. The danger to be guarded against while operating on the river was pointed out, viz.: that the enemy might, from transports, throw forces ashore above and below him, at points where the swamps in the rear were impassable; and this trap Waller fell into. Most of his men escaped by abandoning arms, horses, etc. Immunity from attack for some days had made them careless. Nothing compensates for absence of discipline; and the constant watchfulness, even when danger seems remote, that is necessary in war, can only be secured by discipline which makes of duty a habit.
Meanwhile, two skeleton regiments, the 18th Louisiana and Crescent, and a small battalion (Clack's) of infantry, with Semmes's and Ralston's batteries, reached me from east of the Mississippi, and were directed to the Lafourche. There also reported to me Brigadier Alfred Mouton, son of Governor Mouton, and a West Pointer. This officer had been wounded at Shiloh, and was now ordered to command on the Lafourche. His instructions were to make Thibodeaux his centre of concentration, to picket Bayou Des Allemands and Donaldsonville, thirty miles distant each, to secure early information of the enemy's movements, and to provide a movable floating bridge by which troops could cross the bayou, as the water was too low to admit steamers from the river. These same instructions had been given to the senior officer present before Mouton's arrival, but had been imperfectly executed. A feint on Des Allemands had induced the movement of nearly half the little force in that direction, and Mouton had scant time after he reached Thibodeaux to correct errors before the enemy was upon him.
In the last days of October the Federal General, Weitzel, brought up a force of some 4,000 from New Orleans, landed at Donaldsonville, and advanced down the Lafourche, on the west bank. There were Confederates on both sides of the bayou, but, having neglected their floating bridge, they could not unite. With his own, the 18th, the Crescent, Colonel McPheeters, and the four-gun battery of Captain Ralston—in all 500 men—Colonel Armand resisted Weitzel's advance at Labadieville, eight miles above Thibodeaux. The fighting was severe, and Armand only retired after his ammunition was exhausted; but he lost many killed and wounded, and some few prisoners. Colonel McPheeters was among the former, and Captains Ralston and Story among the latter. The loss of the Federals prevented Weitzel from attempting a pursuit; and Mouton, who deemed it necessary to retire across Berwick's Bay, was not interrupted in his movement. With his forces well in hand, Mouton would have defeated Weitzel and retained possession of the Lafourche country. The causes of his failure to concentrate have been pointed out. Information of these untoward events reached me on the road from the north, and I arrived at Berwick's Bay as Mouton was crossing.
To return to the time of departure from the Lafourche. Several days were passed at New Iberia in attention to a matter of much interest. Some eight miles to the southwest of the village there rises from the low prairie and salt marsh, at the head of Vermilion Bay, an island of high land, near a thousand acres in extent. Connected with the mainland by a causeway of some length, the island was the property and residence of Judge Avery. A small bayou, Petit Anse, navigable for light craft, approached the western side and wound through the marsh to Vermilion Bay. Salt wells had long been known to exist on the island, and some salt had been boiled there. The want of salt was severely felt in the Confederacy, our only considerable source of supply being in southwestern Virginia, whence there were limited facilities for distribution. Judge Avery began to boil salt for neighbors, and, desiring to increase the flow of brine by deepening his wells, came unexpectedly upon a bed of pure rock salt, which proved to be of immense extent. Intelligence of this reached me at New Iberia, and induced me to visit the island. The salt was from fifteen to twenty feet below the surface, and the overlying soil was soft and friable. Devoted to our cause, Judge Avery placed his mine at my disposition for the use of the Government. Many negroes were assembled to get out salt, and a packing establishment was organized at New Iberia to cure beef. During succeeding months large quantities of salt, salt beef, sugar, and molasses were transported by steamers to Vicksburg, Port Hudson, and other points east of the Mississippi. Two companies of infantry and a section of artillery were posted on the island to preserve order among the workmen, and secure it against a sudden raid of the enemy, who later sent a gunboat up the Petit Anse to shell the mine, but the gunboat became entangled in the marsh and was impotent.
At Alexandria, where every effort was made to collect material, but without funds and among a depressed people, progress was slow. It was necessary to visit Monroe, the chief place of the important Washita country; and I was further impelled thereto by dispatches from Richmond advising me that Lieutenant-General Pemberton had been assigned to command of the country east of the Mississippi, and that it was important for me to meet him, in order to secure cooeperation on the river. I rode the distance, via Monroe, to a point opposite Vicksburg, over two hundred miles, excepting forty miles east of Monroe, where the railway was in operation. The eastern half of the line, from Bayou Macon to the Mississippi, had been broken up by the great flood of the previous spring.
Near Bayou Macon was encamped Colonel Henry Grey with his recently organized regiment, the 28th infantry. Without much instruction and badly equipped, its material was excellent, and there were several officers of some experience, notably Adjutant Blackman, who had accompanied my old regiment, the 9th, to Virginia, where he had seen service. The men were suffering from camp diseases incident to new troops, and Colonel Grey was directed to move by easy marches to the Teche. In the low country between the Macon and the Mississippi were some mounted men under Captain Harrison. Residents of this region, they understood the intricate system of swamps and bayous by which it is characterized, and furnished me guides to Vicksburg.
Vicksburg lies on the hills where the river forms a deep reentering angle. The peninsula on the opposite or western bank is several miles in length, narrow, and, when the waters are up, impassable except along the river's bank. It was through this peninsula that the Federals attempted, by digging a canal, to pass their gunboats and turn the Vicksburg batteries. The position of the town with reference to approach from the west was marked by me at the time, and should be borne in mind.
General Pemberton, who was at Jackson, came to Vicksburg to meet me, and we discussed methods of cooeperation. It was of vital importance to control the section of the Mississippi receiving the Red and Washita Rivers. By so doing connection would be preserved between the two parts of the Confederacy, and troops and supplies crossed at will. Port Hudson, some forty miles below the entrance of Red River, was as favorably situated as Vicksburg above: for there again the hills touched the river and commanded it. My operations on the Lafourche had induced the enemy to withdraw from Baton Rouge, fifteen miles below, and one or two heavy guns were already mounted at Port Hudson. Pemberton engaged to strengthen the position at once. As there were many steamers in the Red and Washita, I undertook to supply Vicksburg and Port Hudson with corn, forage, sugar, molasses, cattle, and salt; and this was done beyond the ability of the garrisons to store or remove them. Quantities of these supplies were lying on the river's bank when the surrenders of the two places occurred.
A Pennsylvanian by birth, Pemberton graduated from West Point in 1837, and was assigned to an artillery regiment. His first station was in South Carolina, and he there formed his early friendships. The storm of "nullification" had not yet subsided, and Pemberton imbibed the tenets of the Calhoun school. In 1843 or 1844 I met him for the first time on the Niagara frontier, and quite remember my surprise at his State-rights utterances, unusual among military men at that period. During the war with Mexico he was twice brevetted for gallantry in action. Later, he married a lady of Virginia, which may have tended to confirm his political opinions. At the beginning of civil strife he was in Minnesota, commanding a battalion of artillery, and was ordered to Washington. Arrived there with his command, he resigned his commission in the United States army, went to Richmond, and offered his sword to the Confederacy without asking for rank. Certainly he must have been actuated by principle alone; for he had everything to gain by remaining on the Northern side.
In the summer of 1862 General Van Dorn, commanding east of the Mississippi, proclaimed martial law, which he explained to the people to be the will of the commander. Though a Mississippian by birth, such a storm was excited against Van Dorn in that State that President Davis found it necessary to supersede him, and Pemberton was created a lieutenant-general for the purpose. Davis could have known nothing of Pemberton except that his military record was good, and it is difficult to foresee that a distinguished subordinate will prove incompetent in command. Errors can only be avoided by confining the selection of generals to tradespeople, politicians, and newspaper men without military training or experience. These are all great commanders d'etat, and universally succeed. The incapacity of Pemberton for independent command, manifested in the ensuing campaign, was a great misfortune to the Confederacy, but did not justify aspersions on his character and motives. The public howled, gnashed its teeth, and lashed itself into a beautiful rage. He had joined the South for the express purpose of betraying it, and this was clearly proven by the fact that he surrendered on the 4th of July, a day sacred to the Yankees. Had he chosen any other day, his guilt would not have been so well established; but this particular day lacerated the tenderest sensibilities of Southern hearts. President Davis should have known all about it; and yet he made a pet of Pemberton. "Vox populi, vox diaboli."
Returned to Alexandria, I met my chief of artillery and ordnance, Major J.L. Brent, just arrived from the east with some arms and munitions, which he had remained to bring with him. This officer had served on the staff of General Magruder in the Peninsular and Richmond campaigns, after which, learning that I was ordered to Louisiana, where he had family connections, he applied to serve with me. Before leaving Richmond I had several interviews with him, and was favorably impressed.
A lawyer by profession, Major Brent knew nothing of military affairs at the outbreak of the war, but speedily acquainted himself with the technicalities of his new duties. Devoted to work, his energy and administrative ability were felt in every direction. Batteries were equipped, disciplined, and drilled. Leather was tanned, harness made, wagons built, and a little Workshop, established at New Iberia by Governor Moore, became important as an arsenal of construction. The lack of paper for cartridges was embarrassing, and most of the country newspapers were stopped for want of material. Brent discovered a quantity of wall paper in the shops at Franklin, New Iberia, etc., and used it for cartridges; and a journal published at Franklin was printed on this paper. A copy of it would be "a sight" to Mr. Walter and the staff of the "Thunderer." The esprit de corps of Brent's artillery was admirable, and its conduct and efficiency in action unsurpassed. Serving with wild horsemen, unsteady and unreliable for want of discipline, officers and men learned to fight their guns without supports. True, Brent had under his command many brilliant young officers, whose names will appear in this narrative; but his impress was upon all, and he owes it to his command to publish an account of the services of the artillery in western Louisiana.
En route to Lafourche, I learned of the action at Labadieville, and hurried on to Berwick's Bay, which Mouton had just crossed, and in good time; for Federal gunboats entered from the Gulf immediately after. Their presence some hours earlier would have been uncomfortable for Mouton. It is curious to recall the ideas prevailing in the first years of the war about gunboats. To the wide-spread terror inspired by them may be ascribed the loss of Fort Donelson and New Orleans. Omne ignotum pro magnifico; and it was popularly believed that the destructive powers of these monsters were not to be resisted. Time proved that the lighter class of boats, called "tin-clads," were helpless against field guns, while heavy iron-clads could be driven off by riflemen protected by the timber and levees along streams. To fire ten-inch guns at skirmishers, widely disposed and under cover, was very like snipe-shooting with twelve-pounders; and in narrow waters gunboats required troops on shore for their protection.
Penetrated in all directions by watercourses navigable when the Mississippi was at flood, my "district" was especially exposed, and every little bayou capable of floating a cock-boat called loudly for forts and heavy guns. Ten guns, thirty-two and twenty-four-pounders, of those thrown into the water at Barataria and Berwick's Bays after the surrender of New Orleans, had been recovered, and were mounted for defense. To protect Red River against anything that might chance to run the batteries of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, two thirty-twos were placed in position on the south bank, thirty odd miles below Alexandria, where the high ground of Avoyelles Prairie touches the river; and for the same purpose two guns were mounted at Harrisonburg on the west bank of the Washita. An abrupt hill approached the river at this point, and commanded it.
The presence of gunboats in Berwick's Bay made it necessary to protect the Atchafalaya also; for access to the Red and Washita could be had by it. As yet, the waters were too low to navigate Grand Lake; but it was now November, and the winter flood must be expected. Some twelve miles from St. Martinsville on the Teche was a large mound on the west bank of the Atchafalaya, called "Butte a la Rose." A short distance above the point, where the river expands into Grand Lake, this "Butte" was the only place for many miles not submerged when the waters were up. The country between it and the Teche was almost impassable even in the dry season—a region of lakes, bayous, jungle, and bog. I succeeded in making my way through to inspect the position, the only favorable one on the river, and with much labor two twenty-fours were taken there and mounted. Forts Beauregard on the Washita, De Russy on the Red, and Burton on the Atchafalaya, were mere water batteries to prevent the passage of gunboats, and served that purpose. It was not supposed that they could be held against serious land attacks, and but fifty to a hundred riflemen were posted at each to protect the gunners from boats' crews.
During the floods of the previous spring many steamers had been brought away from New Orleans, and with others a powerful tow-boat, the Webb, now lying at Alexandria, and the Cotton. This last, a large river steamer, was in the lower Teche in charge of Captain Fuller, a western steamboat man, and one of the bravest of a bold, daring class. He desired to convert the Cotton into a gunboat, and was assisted to the extent of his means by Major Brent, who furnished two twenty-fours and a field piece for armament. An attempt was made to protect the boilers and machinery with cotton bales and railway iron, of which we had a small quantity, and a volunteer crew was put on board, Fuller in command.
Midway between Berwick's Bay and Franklin, or some thirteen miles from each, near the Bisland estate, the high ground from Grand Lake on the east to Vermilion Bay on the west is reduced to a narrow strip of some two thousand yards, divided by the Teche. Here was the best position in this quarter for a small force; and Mouton, who had now ten guns and about thirteen hundred men, was directed to hold it, with scouts and pickets toward Berwick's. A floating bridge, of the kind described, was just above the position, and two others farther up stream afforded ready communication across the bayou. A light earthwork was thrown up from Grand Lake Marsh to the Teche, and continued west to the embankment of the uncompleted Opelousas Railway, which skirted the edge of Vermilion Marsh. The objection to this position was the facility of turning it by a force embarking at Berwick's, entering Grand Lake immediately above, and landing at Hutchin's, not far from Franklin, through which last passed the only line of retreat from Bisland. This danger was obvious, but the people were so depressed by our retreat from Lafourche that it was necessary to fight even with this risk.
Weitzel had followed slowly after Mouton, and now, in connection with gunboats, made little attacks on our pickets below Bisland; but I knew his force to be too small to attempt anything serious. In these affairs Fuller was always forward with the Cotton, though her boilers were inadequately protected, and she was too large and unwieldy to be handled in the narrow Teche. Meanwhile, I was much occupied in placing guns on the rivers at the points mentioned, getting out recruits for the two skeleton infantry regiments, consolidating independent companies, and other work of administration.
In the first days of January, 1863, Weitzel's force was increased to forty-five hundred men (see "Report on the Conduct of the War," vol. ii., p. 307); and on the 11th of the month, accompanied by gunboats, he advanced up the Teche and drove in Mouton's pickets. Left unprotected by the retreat of the pickets, the Cotton was assailed on all sides. Fuller fought manfully, responding to the fire of the enemy's boats with his twenty-fours, and repulsing the riflemen on either bank with his field piece. His pilots were killed and he had an arm broken, but he worked the wheel with his feet, backing up the bayou, as from her great length the boat could not be turned in the narrow channel. Night stopped the enemy's advance, and Mouton, deeming his force too weak to cope with Weitzel, turned the Cotton across the bayou, and scuttled and burned her to arrest the further progress of the Federal boats. Weitzel returned to Berwick's, having accomplished his object, the destruction of the Cotton, supposed by the Federals to be a formidable iron-clad.
Much disturbed by the intelligence of these events, as they tended still further to depress public sentiment and increase the dread of gunboats, I went to Bisland and tried to convince officers and men that these tin-clads could not resist the rapid fire of field guns, when within range. At distances the thirty-pound Parrotts of the boats had every advantage, but this would be lost by bringing them to close quarters. During my stay several movements from Berwick's were reported, and Mouton and I went down with a battery to meet them, hoping to illustrate my theory of the proper method of fighting gunboats; but the enemy, who intended nothing beyond annoyance, always retired before we could reach him. Yet this gave confidence to our men.
The two twenty-fours removed from the wreck of the Cotton were mounted in a work on the west bank of the Teche, to command the bayou and road, and the line of breastworks was strengthened. Some recruits joined, and Mouton felt able to hold the lines at Bisland against the force in his front.
In the last days of January, 1863, General Grant, with a large army, landed on the west bank of the Mississippi and began operations against Vicksburg, a fleet of gunboats under Admiral Porter cooeperating with him. The river was now in flood, and the Federals sought, by digging a canal through the narrow peninsula opposite Vicksburg, to pass their fleet below the place without exposing it to fire from the batteries. Many weeks were devoted to this work, which in the end was abandoned. In February the Federal gunboat Queen of the West, armed with a thirty-pound Parrott and five field guns, ran the batteries at Vicksburg and caused much alarm on the river below. The tow-boat Webb, before mentioned, had powerful machinery and was very fast, and I determined to use her as a ram and attempt the destruction of the Queen. A thirty-two-pounder, rifled and banded, was mounted forward, some cotton bales stuffed around her boilers, and a volunteer crew organized. Pending these preparations I took steamer at Alexandria and went down to Fort De Russy, and thence to Butte a la Rose, which at this season could only be reached by river. The little garrison of sixty men, with their two twenty-fours, had just before driven off some gunboats, attempting to ascend the Atchafalaya from Berwick's Bay. Complimenting them on their success and warning them of the presence of the Queen in our waters, I turned back, hoping to reach De Russy; but at Simmsport, on the west bank of the Atchafalaya, a mile or two below the point at which it leaves the Red, I learned that the Federal boat had passed up the latter river, followed by one of our small steamers captured on the Mississippi. Accompanied by Major Levy, an officer of capacity and experience, I took horse and rode across country to De Russy, thirty miles.
It was the 14th of February, a cold, rainy day; and as we emerged from the swamps of Deglaize on to the prairie of Avoyelles, the rain changed to sleet and hail, with a fierce north wind. Occasional gusts were so sharp that our cattle refused to face them and compelled us to halt. Suddenly, reports of heavy guns came from the direction of De Russy, five miles away. Spurring our unwilling horses through the storm, we reached the river as night fell, and saw the Queen of the West lying against the opposite shore, enveloped in steam. A boat was manned and sent over to take possession. A wounded officer, with a surgeon in charge, and four men, were found on board. The remainder of the crew had passed through the forest to the captured steamer below, embarked, and made off down river. A shot from De Russy had cut a steam pipe and the tiller rope, but in other respects the Queen was not materially injured. She was an ordinary river steamer, with her bow strengthened for ramming. A heavy bulwark for protection against sharp-shooters, and with embrasures for field guns, surrounded her upper deck.
Pushing on to Alexandria, I found the wildest alarm and confusion. The arrival of the Federal gunboat was momentarily expected, and the intelligence of her capture was hardly credited. The Webb was dispatched to overtake the escaped crew of the Queen, and the latter towed up to Alexandria for repairs. Entering the Mississippi, the Webb went up river, sighted the escaped steamer, and was rapidly overhauling her, when there appeared, coming down, a heavy iron-clad that had passed the Vicksburg batteries. This proved to be the Indianola, armed with two eleven-inch guns forward and two nine-inch aft, all in iron casemates. The Webb returned to De Russy with this information, which was forwarded to Alexandria. We had barely time to congratulate ourselves on the capture of the Queen before the appearance of the Indianola deprived us again of the navigation of the great river, so vital to our cause. To attempt the destruction of such a vessel as the Indianola with our limited means seemed madness; yet volunteers for the work promptly offered themselves.
Major Brent took command of the expedition, with Captain McCloskey, staff quartermaster, on the Queen, and Charles Pierce, a brave steamboatman, on the Webb. On the 19th of February Brent went down to De Russy with the Queen, mechanics still working on repairs, and there called for volunteer crews from the garrison. These were furnished at once, sixty for the Webb under Lieutenant Handy, seventy for the Queen, on which boat Brent remained. There were five and twenty more than desired; but, in their eagerness to go, many Texans and Louisianians smuggled themselves aboard. The fighting part of the expedition was soon ready, but there was difficulty about stokers. Some planters from the upper Red River had brought down their slaves to De Russy to labor on earthworks, but they positively refused to furnish stokers for the boats. It was a curious feature of the war that the Southern people would cheerfully send their sons to battle, but kept their slaves out of danger. Having exhausted his powers of persuasion to no purpose, Major Brent threw some men ashore, surrounded a gang of negroes at work, captured the number necessary, and departed. A famous din was made by the planters, and continued until their negroes were safely returned.
In the night of the 22d of February the expedition, followed by a tender, entered the Mississippi, and met a steamer from Port Hudson, with two hundred men, sent up by General Gardiner to destroy the Queen of the West, the capture of which was unknown. This, a frail river boat without protection for her boilers, could be of no service; but she followed Brent up the river, keeping company with his tender. On the 23d Natchez was reached, and here the formidable character of the Indianola was ascertained. While steaming up river in search of the enemy, the crews were exercised at the guns, the discharge of which set fire to the cotton protecting the boilers of the Queen. This was extinguished with difficulty, and showed an additional danger, to be guarded against by wetting the cotton thoroughly. Arrived in the afternoon of the 24th at a point sixty miles below Vicksburg, Brent learned that the Indianola was but a short distance ahead, with a coal barge lashed on each side. He determined to attack in the night, to diminish the chances of the enemy's fire. It was certain that a shell from one of the eleven-or nine-inch guns would destroy either of his boats.
At 10 P.M. the Indianola was seen near the western shore, some thousand yards distant, and the Queen, followed by the Webb, was driven with full head of steam directly upon her, both boats having their lights obscured. The momentum of the Queen was so great as to cut through the coal barge and indent the iron plates of the Indianola, disabling by the shock the engine that worked her paddles. As the Queen backed out the Webb dashed in at full speed, and tore away the remaining coal barge. Both the forward guns fired at the Webb, but missed her. Returning to the charge, the Queen struck the Indianola abaft the paddle box, crushing her frame and loosening some plates of armor, but received the fire of the guns from the rear casemates. One shot carried away a dozen bales of cotton on the right side; the other, a shell, entered the forward port-hole on the left and exploded, killing six men and disabling two field pieces. Again the Webb followed the Queen, struck near the same spot, pushing aside the iron plates and crushing timbers. Voices from the Indianola announced the surrender, and that she was sinking. As she was near the western shore, not far below Grant's army, Major Brent towed her to the opposite side, then in our possession, where, some distance from the bank, she sank on a bar, her gun deck above water.
Thus we regained control of our section of the Mississippi, and by an action that for daring will bear comparison with any recorded of Nelson or Dundonald. Succeeding events at Vicksburg and Gettysburg so obscured this one, that in justice to the officers and men engaged it has seemed to me a duty to recount it.
Brent returned to Red River, with his boats much shattered by the fray; and before we could repair them, Admiral Farragut with several ships of war passed Port Hudson, and the navigation of the great river was permanently lost to us. Of the brave and distinguished Admiral Farragut, as of General Grant, it can be said that he always respected non-combatants and property, and made war only against armed men.
In the second week of March a brigade of mounted Texans, with a four-gun battery, reached Opelousas, and was directed to Bisland on the lower Teche. This force numbered thirteen hundred, badly armed; and to equip it exhausted the resources of the little arsenal at New Iberia. Under Brigadier Sibley, it had made a campaign into New Mexico and defeated the Federals in some minor actions, in one of which, Valverde, the four guns had been captured. The feeble health of Sibley caused his retirement a few days after he reached the Teche, and Colonel Thomas Green, a distinguished soldier, succeeded to the command of the brigade. The men were hardy and many of the officers brave and zealous, but the value of these qualities was lessened by lack of discipline. In this, however, they surpassed most of the mounted men who subsequently joined me, discipline among these "shining by its utter absence." Their experience in war was limited to hunting down Comanches and Lipans, and, as in all new societies, distinctions of rank were unknown. Officers and men addressed each other as Tom, Dick, or Harry, and had no more conception of military gradations than of the celestial hierarchy of the poets.
I recall an illustrative circumstance. A mounted regiment arrived from Texas, which I rode out to inspect. The profound silence in the camp seemed evidence of good order. The men were assembled under the shade of some trees, seated on the ground, and much absorbed. Drawing near, I found the colonel seated in the center, with a blanket spread before him, on which he was dealing the fascinating game of monte. Learning that I would not join the sport, this worthy officer abandoned his amusement with some displeasure. It was a scene for that illustrious inspector Colonel Martinet to have witnessed.
There also arrived from the east, in the month of March, 1863, to take command of the "Trans-Mississippi Department," Lieutenant-General E. Kirby Smith, which "department," including the States of Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas, and the Indian Territory, with claims on New Mexico, extended over some millions of square miles. The occupation of a large part of this region by the Federals would have spared General Smith some embarrassments, had he not given much of his mind to the recovery of his lost empire, to the detriment of the portion yet in his possession; and the substance of Louisiana and Texas was staked against the shadow of Missouri and northern Arkansas.
General E. Kirby Smith graduated from West Point in 1845, in time to see service in the war with Mexico. Resigning from the United States cavalry to join the Confederacy, he moved with General Joseph E. Johnston's forces from the Valley to reenforce Beauregard at Manassas, where he was wounded while bringing up some troops to our left. Commanding in eastern Tennessee in the summer of 1862, he led a force into Kentucky through Cumberland Gap, to cooeperate with Bragg. At Richmond, Kentucky, a body of Federals was driven off, and Smith moved north to Lexington and Frankfort; after which his column was absorbed by Bragg's army. The senior general west of the Mississippi, Holmes, was in Arkansas, where he had accomplished nothing except to lose five thousand of his best troops, captured at Arkansas Post by General Sherman. It was advisable to supersede Holmes; and, though he proved unequal to extended command, Smith, from his training and services, seemed an excellent selection. General Smith remained for several weeks in Alexandria, when he was driven away by the enemy's movements. The military situation of my immediate command was explained to him.
To reopen the navigation of the Mississippi was the great desire of the Federal Government, and especially of the Western people, and was manifested by declarations and acts. Grant was operating against Vicksburg, and Banks would certainly undertake the reduction of Port Hudson; but it was probable that he would first clear the west bank of the Mississippi to prevent interruption of his communications with New Orleans, threatened so long as we had a force on the lower Atchafalaya and Teche. Banks had twenty thousand men for the field, while my force, including Green's Texans, would not exceed twenty-seven hundred, with many raw recruits, and badly equipped. The position at Bisland might be held against a front attack, but could be turned by the way of Grand Lake. With five thousand infantry I would engage to prevent the investment of Port Hudson; and as such a reenforcement must come from Holmes, and could not reach me for a month, I hoped immediate orders would be issued.
On the 28th of March Weitzel, who had been quiet at Berwick's Bay for some time, sent the gunboat Diana, accompanied by a land force, up the Teche to drive in our pickets. The capture of the Queen of the West and destruction of the Indianola had impaired the prestige of gunboats, and the troops at Bisland were eager to apply my theory of attacking them at close quarters. The enemy's skirmishers were driven off; a section of the "Valverde" battery, Captain Sayres, rapidly advanced; the fire of the gunboat was silenced in a moment, and she surrendered, with two companies of infantry on board. She was armed with a thirty-pounder Parrott and two field guns, and had her boilers protected by railway iron. Moved up to Bisland, her "Parrott" became a valuable adjunct to our line of defense.
ATTACKED BY THE FEDERALS—ATTEMPT TO RELIEVE VICKSBURG—CAPTURE OF BERWICK'S BAY.
Increased activity of the enemy at Berwick's Bay in the first days of April indicated an advance; and to guard against the danger from Grand Lake, Fuller, whose wounds in the Cotton affair were partially healed, was sent to Alexandria to complete repairs on the Queen and convert one or two other steamers into gunboats. It was hoped that he might harass the enemy on Grand Lake, delay the landing of troops, and aid the little garrison at Butte a la Rose in defending the Atchafalaya. Fuller was as energetic as brave, but the means at his disposal were very limited. Accompanied by a tender, he descended the Atchafalaya on the Queen, leaving orders for his steamers to follow as soon as they were armed. They failed to reach him, and his subsequent fate will be mentioned.
On the 10th of April the enemy had assembled at Berwick's sixteen thousand men under Weitzel, Emory, and Grover ("Report on the Conduct of the War," vol. ii., page 309). On the 12th Weitzel and Emory, twelve thousand strong, advanced up the Teche against Bisland, while Grover, with four thousand men, embarked on transports to turn our position by Grand Lake. Weitzel and Emory came in sight of our lines before nightfall, threw forward skirmishers, opened guns at long range, and bivouacked; and our scouts reported the movement on the lake. My dispositions were as follows: Mouton, with six hundred men and six guns, held the left from the lake to the Teche. The Diana in the bayou and two twenty-fours on the right bank guarded the stream and the main road; and sixteen hundred men, with twelve guns, prolonged the line to the railway embankment on our extreme right, held by Green with his dismounted horsemen. One of Green's regiments, Colonel Reilly, the 2d Louisiana cavalry, Colonel Vincent, recently embodied, and a section of guns, were at Hutchin's Point on Grand Lake.
The cannonading ceased at dark, and when all was quiet I rode up to Franklin, thirteen miles, to look after my rear. A staff officer had been previously sent to direct the removal of stores from New Iberia, order down Clack's battalion, some ninety men, from the salt mines, and communicate with Fuller at Butte a la Rose; but the country around the Butte was flooded, and he was unable to reach it.
Above Franklin the Teche makes a great bend to the east and approaches Grand Lake at Hutchin's Point, where there was a shell bank, and a good road leading to the high ground along the bayou. The road to New Iberia leaves the Teche at Franklin to avoid this bend, and runs due north across the prairie. Just clear of the village it enters a small wood, through which flows a sluggish stream, the Bayou Yokely, crossed by a bridge. In the wood and near the stream the ground was low and boggy, impassable for wagons except on a causeway. The distance from Hutchin's Point to Yokely Bridge was less than that from Bisland; and this bridge, held by the enemy, made escape from the latter place impossible; yet to retreat without fighting was, in the existing condition of public sentiment, to abandon Louisiana.
I remained at Franklin until after midnight, when, learning from Reilly that no landing had been made at Hutchin's, I returned to Bisland. The enemy was slow in moving on the 13th, apparently waiting for the effect of his turning movement to be felt. As the day wore on he opened his guns, and gradually increased his fire until it became very heavy. Many of his field pieces were twenty-pounder Parrotts, to which we had nothing to reply except the Parrott on the Diana and the twenty-fours; and, as our supply of ammunition was small, Major Brent desired to reserve it for an emergency.
With the exception of Green's command, the troops on the right of the Teche were raw, and had never been in action. As shot and shell tore over the breastwork behind which they were lying, much consternation was exhibited, and it was manifest that an assault, however feeble, would break a part of the line. It was absolutely necessary to give the men some morale; and, mounting the breastwork, I made a cigarette, struck fire with my briquet, and walked up and down, smoking. Near the line was a low tree with spreading branches, which a young officer, Bradford by name, proposed to climb, so as to have a better view. I gave him my field glass, and this plucky youngster sat in his tree as quietly as in a chimney corner, though the branches around were cut away. These examples, especially that of Captain Bradford, gave confidence to the men, who began to expose themselves, and some casualties were suffered in consequence.
From the extreme right Colonel Green sent word that his corner was uncomfortably hot, and I found it so. The battery near him was cut up, its captain, Sayres, severely wounded, and Major Brent withdrew it. Green was assured that there were no places on our line particularly cool, and there was nothing to be done but submit to the pounding.
A heavy fire was concentrated on the twenty-fours and the Diana. Captain Semmes, son of Admiral Semmes of Alabama fame, and an officer of much coolness in action, had been detached from his battery and placed in command of the boat. A message from him informed me that the Diana was disabled. She was lying against the bank under a severe fire. The waters of the bayou seemed to be boiling like a kettle. An officer came to the side of the boat to speak to me, but before he could open his mouth a shell struck him, and he disappeared as suddenly as Harlequin in a pantomine. Semmes then reported his condition. Conical shells from the enemy's Parrotts had pierced the railway iron, killed and wounded several of his gunners and crew, and cut a steam pipe. Fortunately, he had kept down his fires, or escaping steam would have driven every one from the boat. It was necessary to take her out of fire for repairs. To lose even temporarily our best gun, the thirty-pounder, was hard, but there was no help for it.
During the day staff officers were frequently sent to Mouton to ascertain his condition; and, as the bridge over which they passed was in the line of fire directed on the Diana and the twenty-fours, the promenade was not a holiday affair.
Several times in the afternoon the enemy appeared to be forming for an assault; and after my men had become steady, I hoped an attack would be made, feeling confident of repulsing it.
Night brought quiet, and no report came from Reilly at Hutchin's. No news seemed good news; for I would have ample time to provide against a debarkation north of Hutchin's. The force at Bisland was in fine spirits. Protected by the breastwork, we had suffered but little; and the Diana was expected to resume her position before morning.
At 9 P.M. appeared Colonel Reilly to make the following report: The enemy had landed at Hutchin's, several thousand strong, with artillery, and advanced to the Teche, pushing our people back to and through Franklin. Reilly had left his command in camp below Franklin, toward Bisland, but thought the enemy had not reached the village at nightfall. Here was pleasant intelligence! There was no time to ask questions. I hoped to cut my way through, but feared the loss of wagons and material. Mouton was directed to withdraw from the left bank of the bayou, start the artillery and trains to Franklin, and follow with the infantry. Green, with his mounted men and a section of guns, was to form the rear guard; and Semmes was told to hurry his repairs and get the Diana to Franklin by dawn. As there was no means of removing the two twenty-fours, they were to be disabled. Leaving Major Brent to look after his artillery and Major Levy to superintend the prompt execution of orders, I rode for Franklin, taking Reilly with me. Reaching his camp, three miles from the town, I found the men sleeping and the trains parked, though the enemy was so near at hand. The camp was aroused, the troops were ordered under arms, and Reilly left to move up at once, with his trains following.
Two hours after midnight, and the village of Franklin was as silent as the grave. Beyond the last houses, toward New Iberia, a faint light from some camp fires could be seen. Were the Federals in possession of the road? Approaching the fires cautiously, I saw a sentinel walking his post, and, as he passed between me and the light, marked his ragged Confederate garb. Major Clack had reached this point after dark, and intended to resume his march to Bisland in the morning. He speedily got his little band under arms, and in the darkness we beat the wood to our right. Not a picket nor scout was found, and Yokely Causeway and Bridge were safe. From the farther edge of the wood, in open fields, Federal camp fires were visible. It was a wonderful chance. Grover had stopped just short of the prize. Thirty minutes would have given him the wood and bridge, closing the trap on my force. Reilly, with his own and Vincent's regiments of horse and the two guns, came up. The guns were placed on the road near the Teche, with orders to stand fast. Reilly and Vincent dismounted their men, sent horses well to the rear, and formed line in the wood to the left of the guns, with Clack to the left of Vincent.
The first light of dawn made objects visible and aroused the Federals, some two hundred yards distant. Advancing rapidly from the wood, our line poured in a fire and rushed forward with a shout. Taken by surprise, the Federals fell back, leaving a battery on their right exposed. To prevent the sleepy gunners from opening, I rode straight on the guns, followed by my staff and four mounted couriers, and the gunners made off. All this was easy enough. Surprise and the uncertain light had favored us; but broad day exposed our weakness, and the enemy threw forward a heavy line of skirmishers. It was necessary for us to regain the wood, now four hundred yards to the rear. Officers behaved admirably in seconding my efforts to encourage and steady their men and keep them well in hand. Our two guns on the road fired rapidly and effectively, but the Federals came on in numbers, and their fire began to tell. Reilly was killed, Vincent wounded in the neck, and many others went down. At this moment the peculiar whistle of a Parrott shell was heard, and Semmes appeared with the Diana.
The enemy's advance was arrested; Gray's infantry from Bisland came up; the wood was occupied; Mouton with the remaining infantry arrived, and all danger was over. Green, in command of the rear guard, showed great vigor, and prevented Emory and Weitzel from pressing the trains. Besides the twenty-fours mentioned, one gun of Cornay's battery, disabled in the action of the 13th, was left at Bisland, and with these exceptions every wagon, pot, or pan was brought off. Two months later these guns were recaptured, much to the delight of our men.
The trains over Yokely Bridge and on the road to New Iberia, Mouton skillfully withdrew from Grover's front as Green entered Franklin from below. To facilitate this, Semmes was directed to work the Diana's gun to the last moment, then get ashore with his crew, and blow up the boat. With his usual coolness Semmes carried out his instructions, but, remaining too long near the Diana to witness the explosion he had arranged, was captured.
The object sought in holding on to Bisland was attained. From this time forward I had the sympathy and support of the people, and my troops were full of confidence. Our retreat to Opelousas, by New Iberia and Vermilionville, was undisturbed, Green with his horse keeping the enemy in check. Indeed, the pursuit was without energy or vigor. The first defensible position was at the Bayou Vermilion, thirty miles south of Opelousas. Here, after an action of some warmth, the enemy was held back until night and the bridge destroyed. From Opelousas the infantry, by easy marches, moved to and up the valley of the Red River, where supplies were abundant. The country was open, and the great superiority of his numbers enabled the enemy to do as he liked. Mouton, with Green's horse, marched west of Opelousas. It was hoped that he could find subsistence between that place and the Mermentou River, and be in position to fall on the enemy's rear and capture any small force left on the Teche. I supposed that the Federal army, after reaching Alexandria, would turn to the east, cross the Mississippi, and invest Port Hudson; and this supposition proved to be correct.
Meantime, accompanied by a tender, Fuller on the Queen entered Grand Lake on the 13th, expecting his two armed steamers to follow. On the morning of the 14th the Federal gunboats from Berwick's Bay appeared, and Fuller, dispatching the tender up the Atchafalaya to hasten his steamers, prepared for action, as he doubtless would have done in presence of Admiral Farragut's fleet. A shell set fire to the Queen, and Fuller with his crew was captured. On the 20th the enemy's gunboats, assisted by four companies of infantry, captured Butte a la Rose with two twenty-four-pounders and sixty men. Semmes, Fuller, and the prisoners taken from the Queen and at the Butte, were on the transport Maple Leaf with Captain Fusilier, and escaped in the manner related, excepting Fuller, who from wounds received in his last action was unable to walk. Remaining in charge of the Maple Leaf until his friends were ashore, he restored her to the Federals, was taken to Fort Delaware, and died in prison. A braver man never lived.
The Federal army reached Opelousas on the 20th of April, and remained there until the 5th of May, detained by fear of Mouton's horse to the west. Unfortunately, this officer was forced by want of supplies to move to the Sabine, more than a hundred miles away, and thrown out of the game for many days.
In the "Report on the Conduct of the War," vol. ii., pp. 309 and 310, the Federal General Banks makes the following statements: "During these operations on the Teche we captured over twenty-five hundred prisoners and twenty-two guns; destroyed three gunboats and eight steamers"; and further: "A dispatch from Governor Moore to General Taylor was intercepted, in which Taylor was directed to fall back into Texas." At the time, my entire force in western Louisiana was under three thousand, and it is rather startling to learn that we were all captured. Two twenty-fours and one field gun were abandoned at Bisland, and two twenty-fours lost at Butte a la Rose. We scuttled and burnt the Cotton at Bisland, and blew up the Diana (captured from the enemy) at Franklin. The Queen (also captured) was destroyed in action on Grand Lake. The Federals caught two small steamers, the Ellen and Cornie, in the Atchafalaya, and we destroyed two in the Teche. The other four reported by General Banks must have come from the realm of the multitude of prisoners and guns. It also appears from the intercepted dispatch of Governor Moore that major-generals of the Confederate army were under the orders of State governors—an original discovery.
The delay of the Federals at Opelousas gave abundant time to remove our stores from Alexandria. General Kirby Smith, the new departmental commander, was advised to retire to Shreveport, two hundred miles up Red River, where, remote from danger or disturbance, he could organize his administration. Threatened in rear, Fort De Russy was untenable; so the place was dismantled and the little garrison withdrawn. On the 16th of April Admiral Porter with several gunboats had passed the Vicksburg batteries, and the abandonment of De Russy now left the Red River open to him. He reached Alexandria on the 9th of May, a few hours in advance of Banks's army. From the 8th to the 11th of the same month some of his gunboats bombarded Fort Beauregard, on the Washita, but were driven off by the garrison under Colonel Logan.
At this time I was sorely stricken by domestic grief. On the approach of the enemy to Alexandria my family embarked on a steamer for Shreveport. Accustomed to the gentlest care, my good wife had learned to take action for herself, insisting that she was unwilling to divert the smallest portion of my time from public duty. A moment to say farewell, and she left with our four children, two girls and two boys, all pictures of vigorous health. Before forty-eight hours had passed, just as she reached Shreveport, scarlet fever had taken away our eldest boy, and symptoms of the disease were manifest in the other children. The bereaved mother had no acquaintance in Shreveport, but the Good Samaritan appeared in the person of Mr. Ulger Lauve, a resident of the place, who took her to his house and showed her every attention, though he exposed his own family to great danger from contagion. The second boy died a few days later. The two girls, older and stronger, recovered. I was stunned by this intelligence, so unexpected, and it was well perhaps that the absorbing character of my duties left no time for the indulgence of private grief; but it was sad to think of the afflicted mother, alone with her dead and dying, deprived of the consolation of my presence. Many days passed before we met, and then but for an hour.