My infantry, hardly a thousand strong, with the trains, had marched to Natchitoches and camped, and some mounted scouts to observe the enemy were kept in the vicinity of Alexandria.
On page 309 of the "Report" before quoted, General Banks says: "A force under Generals Weitzel and Dwight pursued the enemy nearly to Grand Ecore, so thoroughly dispersing his forces that he was unable to reorganize a respectable army until July." A party of Federal horse crossed Cane River at Monette's Ferry, forty miles below Grand Ecore, and chased a mounted orderly and myself about four miles, then turned back to Alexandria; but I maintain that the orderly and I were not dispersed, for we remained together to the end.
The Federal army withdrew from Alexandria on the 13th of May, and on the 23d crossed the Mississippi and proceeded to invest Port Hudson; whereupon I returned by steamer to Alexandria, directing the infantry at Natchitoches to march back to the Teche to unite with Mouton. Having obtained supplies on the Sabine, Mouton and Green, the latter promoted to brigadier for gallant conduct, returned to the Teche country, but arrived too late to cut off the enemy, who with large plunder had crossed to the east side of Berwick's Bay, where he had fortifications and gunboats.
At Alexandria a communication from General Kirby Smith informed me that Major-General Walker, with a division of infantry and three batteries, four thousand strong, was on the march from Arkansas, and would reach me within the next few days; and I was directed to employ Walker's force in some attempt to relieve Vicksburg, now invested by General Grant, who had crossed the Mississippi below on the 1st of May.
The peculiar position of Vicksburg and the impossibility of approaching it from the west bank of the Mississippi have been stated, and were now insisted upon. Granting the feasibility of traversing the narrow peninsula opposite the place, seven miles in length and swept by guns afloat on both sides, what would be gained? The problem was to withdraw the garrison, not to reenforce it; and the correctness of this opinion was proved by the fact that Pemberton could not use the peninsular route to send out messengers.
On the other hand, I was confident that, with Walker's force, Berwick's Bay could be captured, the Lafourche overrun, Banks's communication with New Orleans interrupted, and that city threatened. Its population of two hundred thousand was bitterly hostile to Federal rule, and the appearance of a Confederate force on the opposite bank of the river would raise such a storm as to bring General Banks from Port Hudson, the garrison of which could then unite with General Joseph Johnston in the rear of General Grant. Too late to relieve Port Hudson, I accomplished all the rest with a force of less than three thousand of all arms.
Remonstrances were of no avail. I was informed that all the Confederate authorities in the east were urgent for some effort on our part in behalf of Vicksburg, and that public opinion would condemn us if we did not try to do something. To go two hundred miles and more away from the proper theatre of action in search of an indefinite something was hard; but orders are orders. Time was so important that I determined to run the risk of moving Walker by river, though the enemy could bring gunboats into the lower Red and Washita, as well as into the Tensas, and had some troops in the region between this last and the Mississippi. Steamers were held in readiness, and as soon as Walker arrived his command was embarked and taken up the Tensas. I went on in advance to give notice to the boats behind of danger; for, crowded with troops, these would have been helpless in the event of meeting an enemy.
Without interference, a point on the Tensas opposite Vicksburg was reached and the troops disembarked. Here Captain Harrison's mounted men, previously mentioned, met us. For safety the steamers were sent down the Tensas to its junction with the Washita, and up the last above Fort Beauregard; and bridges were thrown over the Tensas and Macon to give communication with the terminus of the Monroe Railway.
Walker rapidly advanced to the village of Richmond, midway between the Tensas and Mississippi, some twelve miles from each, where he surprised and captured a small Federal party. At Young's Point, ten miles above Vicksburg, on the west bank of the river, the enemy had a fortified camp, and a second one four miles above Young's, both occupied by negro troops. Holding one brigade in reserve at the point of separation of the roads, Walker sent a brigade to Young's and another to the camp above. Both attacks were made at dawn, and, with the loss of some scores of prisoners, the negroes were driven over the levee to the protection of gunboats in the river.
Fifteen miles above Vicksburg the Yazoo River enters the Mississippi from the east, and twenty-five miles farther up Steele's Bayou connects the two rivers. Before reaching the Mississippi the Yazoo makes a bend to the south, approaching the rear of Vicksburg. The right of Grant's army rested on this bend, and here his supplies were landed, and his transports were beyond the reach of annoyance from the west bank of the Mississippi.
As foreseen, our movement resulted, and could result, in nothing. Walker was directed to desist from further efforts on the river, and move to Monroe, where steamers would be in readiness to return his command to Alexandria, to which place I pushed on in advance. Subsequently, General Kirby Smith reached Monroe direct from Shreveport, countermanded my orders, and turned Walker back into the region east of the Tensas, where this good soldier and his fine division were kept idle for some weeks, until the fall of Vicksburg. The time wasted on these absurd movements cost us the garrison of Port Hudson, nearly eight thousand men; but the pressure on General Kirby Smith to do something for Vicksburg was too strong to be resisted.
At Alexandria I found three small regiments of Texan horse, just arrived. Together they numbered six hundred and fifty, and restored the loss suffered in action and in long marches by the forces on the Teche. Colonel (afterward brigadier) Major, the senior officer, was ordered to move these regiments to Morgan's Ferry on the Atchafalaya; and by ambulance, with relays of mules, I reached Mouton and Green on the lower Teche in a few hours.
The Federals had a number of sick and convalescent at Berwick's Bay, but the effective force was small. Some works strengthened their positions, and there was a gunboat anchored in the bay. Mouton and Green were directed to collect small boats, skiffs, flats, even sugar-coolers, in the Teche; and the importance of secrecy was impressed upon them. Pickets were doubled to prevent communication with the enemy, and only a few scouts permitted to approach the bay. Returning north to Morgan's Ferry, I crossed the Atchafalaya with Major's command, and moved down the Fordoche and Grosse-Tete, bayous draining the region between the Atchafalaya and Mississippi. A short march brought us near the Fausse Riviere, an ancient bed of the Mississippi, some miles west of the present channel, and opposite Port Hudson.
Halting the command on the Fordoche, I rode out to the estate of an acquaintance on Fausse Riviere, whence the noise of battle at Port Hudson could be heard. Two ladies of the family, recently from New Orleans, told me that the Federal force left in the city would not exceed a thousand men; that a small garrison occupied a work near Donaldsonville, where the Lafourche leaves the Mississippi, and with this exception there were no troops on the west bank of the river. From our position on the Fordoche to the Bayou Boeuf, in rear of the Federal camp at Berwick's Bay, was over a hundred miles. The route followed the Grosse-Tete to Plaquemine on the Mississippi, and to escape observation Plaquemine must be passed in the night. Below this point there was an interior road that reached the Lafourche some distance below Donaldsonville. Minute instructions and guides were given to Major.
It was now the 19th of June, and he was expected to reach the Boeuf on the morning of the 23d. The necessity of punctuality was impressed on him and his officers, as I would attack Berwick's at dawn on the 23d, and their cooeperation was required to secure success. Indeed, their own safety depended on promptness. The men carried rations, with some forage, and wagons were sent back across the Atchafalaya. Major moved in time to pass Plaquemine, twenty odd miles, before midnight, and I hastened to Mouton's camp below Bisland, reaching it in the afternoon of the 22d.
Fifty-three small craft, capable of transporting three hundred men, had been collected. Detachments for the boats were drawn from Green's brigade and the 2d Louisiana horse. Major Hunter of Baylor's Texans was placed in command, with Major Blair of the 2d Louisiana as second. After nightfall Hunter embarked his men, and paddled down the Teche to the Atchafalaya and Grand Lake. Fortunately, there was no wind; for the slightest disturbance of the lake would have swamped his fleet. He had about twelve miles to make, and was expected to reach before daylight the northeast end of the island, a mile from Berwick's and the railway terminus, where he was instructed to lie quiet until he heard General Green's guns from the west side of the bay, then rush on the rear of the Federal works. During the night Green placed a battery opposite the gunboat and railway station, and deployed five hundred dismounted men along the shores of the bay, here eight hundred yards wide. The battery was run up by hand, and every precaution to secure silence taken. At dawn of the 23d (June, 1863) our guns opened on the gunboat, and speedily drove it away. Fire was then directed on the earthwork, where the enemy, completely surprised, had some heavy pieces with which he attempted to reply. A shout was heard in his rear, and Hunter with his party came rushing on. Resistance ceased at once; but before Hunter closed in, a train of three engines and many carriages escaped from the station toward the Boeuf, seven miles away. I crossed in a "pirogue" with Green, and sent back two flats and several skiffs found on the east side for his men, who used them to get over, their horses swimming alongside.
It was a scene of the wildest excitement and confusion. The sight of such quantities of "loot" quite upset my hungry followers. Wandering through the station and warehouse, filled with stores, a Texan came upon a telegraphic instrument, clicking in response to one down the line. Supposing this to be some infernal machine for our destruction, he determined to save his friends at the risk of his own life, and smashed the instrument with his heavy boots; then rushed among his comrades, exclaiming: "Boys! they is trying to blow us up. I seen the triggers a-working, but I busted 'em."
Mouton now crossed with some infantry, and order was restored; and Green, who had brought over several scores of horses, mounted his men and followed the rail toward the Boeuf. Before reaching it he heard the noise of the train; then, firing and moving forward, found the train stopped, and Major, up to time, in possession of the bridge. The capture of the train was of importance, as it enabled us to operate the thirty miles of rail between Berwick's and the Lafourche.
In the combined movements described, Green and Major had set out from points more than a hundred miles apart, the latter marching through a region in possession or under control of the enemy, while the boat expedition of Hunter passed over twelve miles of water; yet all reached their goal at the appointed time. Although every precaution had been taken to exclude mistakes and insure cooeperation, such complete success is not often attained in combined military movements; and I felt that sacrifices were due to Fortune.
In his rapid march from the Fordoche Major captured seventy prisoners and burned two steamers at Plaquemine. He afterward encountered no enemy until he reached Thibodeaux, near which place, at Lafourche Crossing, there was a stockade held by a small force to protect the railway bridge. Colonel Pyron, with two hundred men, was detached to mask or carry this stockade, and Major passed on to the Boeuf. Pyron's attack was repulsed with a loss of fifty-five killed and wounded, Pyron among the latter; but the enemy, after destroying the bridge, abandoned the post and three guns and retired to New Orleans.
The spoils of Berwick's were of vast importance. Twelve guns, thirty-twos and twenty-fours (among which were our old friends from Bisland), seventeen hundred prisoners, with many small arms and accouterments, and great quantities of quarter-master's, commissary, ordnance, and medical stores, fell into our hands. For the first time since I reached western Louisiana I had supplies, and in such abundance as to serve for the Red River campaign of 1864. Three fourths of the prisoners were sick and convalescent men left here, as well as the stores, by General Banks, when he marched up the Teche in April. Excepting those too ill to be moved, the prisoners were paroled and sent to New Orleans under charge of their surgeons.
I was eager to place batteries on the Mississippi to interrupt Banks's communication with New Orleans; but the passage of Berwick's Bay consumed much time, though we worked night and day. We were forced to dismount guns and carriages and cross them piecemeal in two small flats, and several days elapsed before a little steamer from the upper Teche could be brought down to assist. It must be remembered that neither artillery nor wagons accompanied Major's march from the Fordoche.
On the 24th General Green, with Major's men and such of his own as had crossed their horses, marched for Donaldsonville, sixty-five miles, and General Mouton, with two regiments of infantry, took rail to Thibodeaux and sent pickets down the line to Bayou Des Allemands, twenty-five miles from New Orleans. Our third regiment of infantry remained at the bay, where Major Brent was at work mounting the captured guns on the southern end of the island and on the western shore opposite. Gunboats could stop the crossing, and entrance from the Gulf was open. While we might drive off "tin-clads" the enemy had boats capable of resisting field guns, and it is remarkable that, from the 23d of June to the 22d of July, he made no attempt to disturb us at Berwick's Bay.
General Green reached the vicinity of Donaldsonville on the 27th, and found an earthwork at the junction of the Lafourche and Mississippi. This work, called Fort Butler, had a ditch on three sides, and the river face was covered by gunboats in the stream. The garrison was reported to be from two to three hundred negro troops. After some correspondence with Mouton, Green determined to assault the place, and drew around it five hundred of his men in the night of the 27th. Two hours before dawn of the 28th Colonel Joseph Phillipps led his regiment, two hundred strong, to the attack. Darkness and ignorance of the ground caused much blundering. The levee above the fort was mistaken for the parapet, and some loss was sustained from the fire of gunboats. Changing direction, Phillipps came upon the ditch, unknown to him as to Green, who had been deceived by false information. The ditch passed, Phillipps mounted the parapet and fell dead as he reached the top. An equally brave man, Major Ridley, worthy of his leader, followed, and, calling on his men to come, jumped into the work. Frightened by his appearance, the enemy abandoned the parapet; but finding that Ridley was alone, returned and captured him. A dozen men would have carried the place; but the ditch afforded protection from fire, and the men, disheartened by Phillipps's death, could not be induced to leave it. Indeed, the largest part of our loss, ninety-seven, was made up of these men, who remained in the ditch until daylight and surrendered.
The above statements are taken from the report of Major Ridley, made after he was exchanged. The affair was unfortunate. Open to fire from vessels on the river, Fort Butler was of no value to us, and the feeble garrison would have remained under cover; but, like the Irishman at Donnybrook, Green's rule was to strike an enemy whenever he saw him—a most commendable rule in war, and covering a multitude of such small errors as the attack on Fort Butler.
Meantime I was detained at Berwick's Bay, engaged in hurrying over and forward artillery and arranging to transport the more valuable stores into the interior. It was not, however, until near the end of the first week in July that I succeeded in placing twelve guns on the river below Donaldsonville. Fire was opened, one transport destroyed and several turned back. Gunboats attempted to dislodge us, but were readily driven away by the aid of Green's men, dismounted and protected by the levee. For three days the river was closed to transports, and our mounted scouts were pushed down to a point opposite Kenner, sixteen miles above New Orleans. A few hours more, and the city would have been wild with excitement; but in war time once lost can not be regained. The unwise movement toward Vicksburg retarded operations at Berwick's and on the river, and Port Hudson fell. During the night of the 10th of July intelligence of its surrender on the previous day reached me, and some hours later the fall of Vicksburg on the 4th was announced.
An iron-clad or two in Berwick's Bay, and the road at Plaquemine held by troops, supported by vessels in the river, would close all egress from the Lafourche, and the enemy could make arrangements to bag us at his leisure; while Grant's army and Porter's fleet, now set free, might overrun the Washita and Red River regions and destroy Walker's division, separated from me by a distance of more than three hundred miles. The outlook was not cheerful, but it was necessary to make the best of it, and at all hazards save our plunder. Batteries and outposts were ordered in to the Lafourche; Green concentrated his horse near Donaldsonville, the infantry moved to Labadieville to support him, and Mouton went to Berwick's, where he worked night and day in crossing stores to the west side of the bay.
On the 13th of July Generals Weitzel, Grover, and Dwight, with six thousand men, came from Port Hudson, disembarked at Donaldsonville, and advanced down the Lafourche. Ordering up the infantry, I joined Green, but did not interfere with his dispositions, which were excellent. His force, fourteen hundred, including a battery, was dismounted and in line. As I reached the field the enemy came in sight, and Green led on his charge so vigorously as to drive the Federals into Donaldsonville, capturing two hundred prisoners, many small arms, and two guns, one of which was the field gun lost at Bisland. The affair was finished too speedily to require the assistance of the infantry.
Undisturbed, we removed not only all stores from Berwick's, but many supplies from the abundant Lafourche country, including a large herd of cattle driven from the prairies of Opelousas by the Federals some weeks before. On the 21st of July, we ran the engines and carriages on the railway into the bay, threw in the heavy guns, and moved up the Teche, leaving pickets opposite Berwick's. Twenty-four hours thereafter the enemy's scouts reached the bay. The timidity manifested after the action of the 13th may be ascribed to the fertile imagination of the Federal commander, General Banks, which multiplied my force of less than three thousand of all arms into nine or twelve thousand.
In the "Report on the Conduct of the War," vol. ii., pages 313 and 314, General Banks states:
"Orders had been sent to Brashear City [Berwick's] to remove all stores, but to hold the position, with the aid of gunboats, to the last. The enemy succeeded in crossing Grand Lake by means of rafts, and surprised and captured the garrison, consisting of about three hundred men. The enemy, greatly strengthened in numbers, then attacked the works at Donaldsonville, on the Mississippi, which were defended by a garrison of two hundred and twenty-five men, including convalescents, commanded by Major J.D. Bullen, 28th Maine volunteers. The attack was made on the morning of the 28th of June, and lasted until daylight. The garrison made a splendid defense, killing and wounding more than their own number, and capturing as many officers and nearly as many men as their garrison numbered. The enemy's troops were under the command of General Green of Texas, and consisted of the Louisiana troops under General Taylor and five thousand Texas cavalry, making a force of nine to twelve thousand in that vicinity.
"The troops engaged in these different operations left but four hundred men for the defense of New Orleans. Upon the surrender of Port Hudson it was found that the enemy had established batteries below, on the river, cutting off our communication with New Orleans, making it necessary to send a large force to dislodge them. On the 9th of July seven transports, containing all my available force, were sent below against the enemy in the vicinity of Donaldsonville. The country was speedily freed from his presence, and Brashear City [Berwick's] was recaptured on the 22d of July."
Here are remarkable statements. Fourteen hundred men and the vast stores at Berwick's (Brashear City) are omitted, as is the action of the 13th of July with "all my [his] available force.... The country was speedily freed from his [my] presence, and Brashear City reoccupied," though I remained in the country for eleven days after the 9th, and had abandoned Brashear City twenty-four hours before the first Federal scout made his appearance. The conduct of Major J.D. Bullen, 28th Maine volunteers, with two hundred and twenty-five negroes, "including convalescents," appears to have surpassed that of Leonidas and his Spartans; but, like the early gods, modern democracies are pleased by large utterances.
While we were engaged in these operations on the Lafourche, a movement of Grant's forces from Natchez was made against Fort Beauregard on the Washita. The garrison of fifty men abandoned the place on the 3d of September, leaving four heavy and four field guns, with their ammunition, to be destroyed or carried off by the enemy.
MOVEMENT TO THE RED RIVER—CAMPAIGN AGAINST BANKS.
Recent events on the Mississippi made it necessary to concentrate my small force in the immediate valley of Red River. Indeed, when we lost Vicksburg and Port Hudson, we lost not only control of the river but of the valley from the Washita and Atchafalaya on the west to Pearl River on the east. An army of forty odd thousand men, with all its material, was surrendered in the two places, and the fatal consequences were felt to the end of the struggle. The policy of shutting up large bodies of troops in fortifications, without a relieving army near at hand, can not be too strongly reprobated. Vicksburg should have been garrisoned by not more than twenty-five hundred men, and Port Hudson by a thousand. These would have been ample to protect the batteries against a sudden coup, and forty thousand men added to General Joseph Johnston's force would have prevented the investment of the places, or at least made their loss of small moment.
After wasting three months in ineffectual attempts to divert the channel of the Mississippi, General Grant ran gunboats and transports by the batteries, and crossed the river below. Instead of meeting this movement with every available man, Pemberton detached General Bowen with a weak division, who successfully resisted the Federal advance for many hours, vainly calling the while for reenforcements. Pemberton then illustrated the art of war by committing every possible blunder. He fought a series of actions with fractions against the enemy's masses, and finished by taking his defeated fragments into the Vicksburg trap. It may be stated, however, that, had he acted wisely and kept out of Vicksburg, he would have been quite as much hounded as he subsequently was.
Grant's error in undertaking an impossible work cost him three months' time and the loss by disease of many thousands of his men. The event showed that he could as readily have crossed the river below Vicksburg at first as at last; but, once over, he is entitled to credit for promptly availing himself of his adversary's mistakes and vigorously following him. The same may be said of his first success at Fort Donelson on the Cumberland. The terror inspired by gunboats in the first year of the war has been alluded to; and at Fort Donelson General Grant had another potent ally. The two senior Confederate generals, politicians rather than warriors, retired from command on the approach of the enemy. One can imagine the effect of such conduct, unique in war, on the raw troops left behind. General Buckner, an educated soldier, was too heavily handicapped by his worthy superiors to make a successful defense, and General Grant secured an easy victory. "Among the blind, the one-eyed are kings."
General Grant's first essay at Belmont failed, and at Shiloh he was out-manoeuvred and out-fought by Sidney Johnston, and, indeed, he was saved from destruction by Johnston's death. Before he moved against Bragg at Missionary Ridge, the latter had detached Longstreet with a third of his force, while he (Grant) reenforced Thomas with most of the Vicksburg army and two strong corps under Hooker from the east. The historian of the Federal Army of the Potomac states that, in reply to a question of General Meade, Grant said: "I never manoeuvre"; and one has but to study the Virginia campaign of 1864, and imagine an exchange of resources by Grant and Lee, to find the true place of the former among the world's commanders. He will fall into the class represented by Marshal Villars and the Duke of Cumberland.
Genius is God-given, but men are responsible for their acts; and it should be said of General Grant that, as far as I am aware, he made war in the true spirit of a soldier, never by deed or word inflicting wrong on non-combatants. It would be to the credit of the United States army if similar statements could be made of Generals Sherman and Sheridan.
Released at length from the swamps of the Tensas, where it had suffered from sickness, Walker's division of Texas infantry joined me in the early autumn, and was posted to the north of Opelousas. Major-General J.G. Walker served as a captain of mounted rifles in the war with Mexico. Resigning from the United States army to join the Confederacy, he commanded a division at the capture of Harper's Ferry in 1862, and in the subsequent battle of Antietam; after which he was transferred to Arkansas. Seconded by good brigade and regimental officers, he had thoroughly disciplined his men, and made them in every sense soldiers; and their efficiency in action was soon established.
On the 29th of September Green, with his horse and a part of Mouton's brigade of Louisiana infantry, crossed the Atchafalaya at Morgan's Ferry, and attacked and routed the enemy on the Fordoche, capturing four hundred and fifty prisoners and two guns. Green lost a hundred in killed and wounded; the enemy, who fought under cover, less than half that number.
In October the Federals moved a large force of all arms up the Teche, their advance reaching the Courtableau. I concentrated for a fight, but they suddenly retired to the Bayou Bourbeau, three miles south of Opelousas, where they left a considerable body under General Burbridge. On the 3d of November Green, reenforced by three regiments of Walker's division, was ordered to attack them, and they were beaten with the loss of six hundred prisoners. This was the first opportunity I had had of observing the admirable conduct of Walker's men in action. Green's pursuit was stopped by the approach of heavy masses of the enemy from the south, who seemed content with the rescue of Burbridge, as they retired at once to the vicinity of New Iberia, fifty miles away. Green followed with a part of his horse, and kept his pickets close up; but one of his regiments permitted itself to be surprised at night, on the open prairie near New Iberia, and lost a hundred men out of a hundred and twenty-five. So much for want of discipline and over-confidence. General Banks's report mentions this capture, but is silent about Bourbeau.
The prisoners taken at the Bourbeau were marched to the Red River, where supplies could be had. The second day after the action, en route for Alexandria in an ambulance, I turned out of the road on to the prairie to pass the column, when I observed an officer, in the uniform of a colonel, limping along with his leg bandaged. Surprised at this, I stopped to inquire the reason, and was told that the colonel refused to separate from his men. Descending from the ambulance, I approached him, and, as gently as possible, remonstrated against the folly of walking on a wounded leg. He replied that his wound was not very painful, and he could keep up with the column. His regiment was from Wisconsin, recruited among his neighbors and friends, and he was very unwilling to leave it. I insisted on his riding with me, for a time at least, as we would remain on the road his men were following. With much reluctance he got into the ambulance, and we drove on. For some miles he was silent, but, avoiding subjects connected with the war, I put him at ease, and before Alexandria was reached we were conversing pleasantly. Impressed by his bearing and demeanor, I asked him in what way I could serve him, and learned that he desired to send a letter to his wife in Wisconsin, who was in delicate health and expecting to be confined. She would hear of the capture of his regiment, and be uncertain as to his fate. "You shall go to the river to-night," I replied, "catch one of your steamers, and take home the assurance of your safety. Remain on parole until you can send me an officer of equal rank, and I will look to the comfort of your men and have them exchanged at the earliest moment." His manly heart was so affected by this as to incapacitate him from expressing his thanks.
During the administration of Andrew Johnson a convention met in the city of Philadelphia which, at the earnest instance of the President, I attended. The gallant Wisconsin colonel was also there to lend his assistance in healing the wounds of civil strife. My presence in the city of brotherly love furnished an occasion to a newspaper to denounce me as "a rebel who, with hands dripping with loyal blood, had the audacity to show myself in a loyal community." Whereupon my Wisconsin friend, accompanied by a number of persons from his State, called on me to express condemnation of the article in question, and was ready, with the slightest encouragement, to make the newspaper office a hot place. This was the difference between brave soldiers and non-fighting politicians, who grew fat by inflaming the passions of sectional hate.
The ensuing winter of 1863-4 was without notable events. Control of the Mississippi enabled the enemy to throw his forces upon me from above and below Red River, and by gunboats interfere with my movements along this stream; and as soon as the Lafourche campaign ended, steps were taken to provide against these contingencies. Twenty miles south of Alexandria a road leaves the Boeuf, an effluent of Red River, and passes through pine forest to Burr's Ferry on the Sabine. Twenty odd miles from the Boeuf this road intersects another from Opelousas to Fort Jesup, an abandoned military post, thence to Pleasant Hill, Mansfield, and Shreveport. At varying distances of twelve to thirty miles the valley of the Red River is an arc, of which this last-mentioned road is the chord, and several routes from the valley cross to ferries on the Sabine above Burr's. But the country between the Boeuf and Pleasant Hill, ninety miles, was utterly barren, and depots of forage, etc., were necessary before troops could march through it. With great expenditure of time and labor depots were established, with small detachments to guard them; and events proved that the time and labor were well bestowed.
Movements of the Federals along the west coast of Texas in November induced General Kirby Smith to withdraw from me Green's command of Texas horse, and send it to Galveston. This left me with but one mounted regiment, Vincent's 2d Louisiana, and some independent companies, which last were organized into two regiments—one, on the Washita, by Colonel Harrison, the other, on the Teche, by Colonel Bush; but they were too raw to be effective in the approaching campaign. Mouton's brigade of Louisiana infantry could be recruited to some extent; but the Texas infantry received no recruits, and was weakened by the ordinary casualties of camp life, as well as by the action of the Shreveport authorities. The commander of the "Trans-Mississippi Department" displayed much ardor in the establishment of bureaux, and on a scale proportioned rather to the extent of his territory than to the smallness of his force. His staff surpassed in numbers that of Von Moltke during the war with France; and, to supply the demands of bureaux and staff, constant details from the infantry were called for, to the great discontent of the officers in the field. Hydrocephalus at Shreveport produced atrophy elsewhere. Extensive works for defense were constructed there, and heavy guns mounted; and, as it was known that I objected to fortifications beyond mere water batteries, for reasons already stated, the chief engineer of the "department" was sent to Fort De Russy to build an iron-casemated battery and other works. We shall see what became of De Russy.
In the winter there joined me from Arkansas a brigade of Texas infantry, numbering seven hundred muskets. The men had been recently dismounted, and were much discontented thereat. Prince Charles Polignac, a French gentleman of ancient lineage, and a brigadier in the Confederate army, reported for duty about the same time, and was assigned to command this brigade. The Texans swore that a Frenchman, whose very name they could not pronounce, should never command them, and mutiny was threatened. I went to their camp, assembled the officers, and pointed out the consequences of disobedience, for which I should hold them accountable; but promised that if they remained dissatisfied with their new commander after an action, I would then remove him. Order was restored, but it was up-hill work for General Polignac for some time, notwithstanding his patience and good temper. The incongruity of the relation struck me, and I thought of sending my monte-dealing Texas colonel to Paris, to command a brigade of the Imperial Guard.
In the first weeks of 1864 the enemy sent a gunboat expedition up the Washita, and Polignac's brigade, with a battery, was moved to Trinity to meet it. The gunboats were driven off, and Polignac, by his coolness under fire, gained the confidence of his men, as he soon gained their affections by his care and attention. They got on famously, and he made capital soldiers out of them. General Polignac returned to Europe in 1865, and as he had shown great gallantry and talent for war while serving with me, I hoped that he might come to the front during the struggle with Germany; but he belonged to that race of historic gentry whose ancestors rallied to the white plume of Henry at Ivry, and followed the charge of Conde at Rocroy. Had he been a shopkeeper or scribbling attorney, he might have found favor with the dictator who ruled France.
All the information received during the months of January and February, 1864, indicated a movement against me in the early spring; and in the latter month it was ascertained that Porter's fleet and a part of Sherman's army from Vicksburg would join Banks's forces in the movement, while Steele would cooeperate from Little Rock, Arkansas. This information was communicated to department headquarters, and I asked that prompt measures should be taken to reenforce me; but it was "a far cry" to Shreveport as to "Lochow," and the emergency seemed less pressing in the rear than at the front.
The end of February found my forces distributed as follows: Harrison's mounted regiment (just organized), with a four-gun battery, was in the north, toward Monroe; Mouton's brigade near Alexandria; Polignac's at Trinity on the Washita, fifty-five miles distant; Walker's division at Marksville and toward Simmsport on the Atchafalaya, with two hundred men under Colonel Byrd detached to assist the gunners at De Russy, which, yet unfinished, contained eight heavy guns and two field pieces. Walker had three companies of Vincent's horse on the east side of the Atchafalaya, watching the Mississippi. The remainder of Vincent's regiment was on the Teche.
Increased activity and concentration at Berwick's Bay, and a visit of Sherman to New Orleans to confer with Banks, warned me of the impending blow; and on the 7th of March Polignac was ordered to move at once to Alexandria, and thence, with Mouton's brigade, to the Boeuf, twenty-five miles south. Harrison was directed to get his regiment and battery to the west bank of the Washita, gather to him several independent local companies of horse, and report to General Liddell, sent to command on the north bank of Red River, whence he was to harass the enemy's advance up that stream. Vincent was ordered to leave flying scouts on the Teche and move his regiment, with such men as Bush had recruited, to Opelousas, whence he afterward joined me on the Burr's Ferry road. At Alexandria steamers were loaded with stores and sent above the falls, and everything made ready to evacuate the place. These arrangements were not completed a moment too soon.
On March 12th Admiral Porter, with nineteen gunboats, followed by ten thousand men of Sherman's army, entered the mouth of Red River. (These numbers are from Federal official reports.) On the 13th, under cover of a part of the fleet, the troops debarked at Simmsport, on the Atchafalaya near the Red, other vessels ascending the latter stream, and on the 14th, under command of General A.J. Smith, marched to De Russy, thirty miles, which they reached about 5 P.M. As stated, the work was incomplete, and had time been given me would have been abandoned. Attacked in the rear, the garrison surrendered after losing ten killed and wounded. Byrd's two hundred men were in rifle pits on the river below, where gunboats, under Commander Phelps, were removing obstructions in the channel. A number of Byrd's men and a few gunners escaped to the swamps and rejoined their commands; but we lost a hundred and eighty-five prisoners, eight heavy guns, and two field pieces. Thus much for our Red River Gibraltar.
Cut off from direct communication by the sudden appearance of the enemy on the 12th, the three mounted companies east of the Atchafalaya were forced to cross at Morgan's Ferry, below Simmsport, and did not rejoin Walker until the 15th. This officer was thereby left without means of information; but, judging correctly of the numbers of the enemy by a personal observation of his transports and fleet, he fell back from his advanced position to the Boeuf, forty miles, where he was united with Mouton and Polignac. His division at this time was reduced to some thirty-three hundred muskets, too weak to make head against A.J. Smith's column.
On the afternoon of the 15th of March the advanced boats of Porter's fleet reached Alexandria, whence all stores had been removed; but, by the mismanagement of a pilot, one steamer was grounded on the falls and had to be burned.
In the "Report on the Conduct of the War," vol. ii., page 192, Colonel J.S. Clarke, aide-de-camp to General Banks, states that Banks's army in this campaign was twenty-eight thousand strong, eighteen thousand under Franklin, ten thousand under A.J. Smith. General Steele, operating from Arkansas, reports his force at seven thousand; and the number of gunboats given is taken from the reports of Admiral Porter to the Secretary of the Navy.
To meet Porter and A.J. Smith, Major-General Franklin had left the lower Teche on the 13th for Alexandria, with eighteen thousand men. My entire force on the south side of Red River consisted of fifty-three hundred infantry, five hundred horse, and three hundred artillerymen; and Liddell, on the north, had about the same number of horse and a four-gun battery. From Texas, if at all, the delayed reenforcements must come, and it was vital to cover the roads from the Sabine.
From the Boeuf, on the 16th, I marched on the Burr's Ferry road to Carroll Jones's, which was reached on the evening of the 18th. Here, where the Burr's Ferry and Natchitoches roads separated, was a depot of forage, and I camped.
Polignac's and the Louisiana brigade, under Colonel Gray, were united in a division for General Mouton. Vincent's horse, from Opelousas, joined on the 19th, and on the following day was sent forward to the Bayou Rapides, twelve miles, where it skirmished with the enemy's horse from Alexandria, twenty miles below. At dawn of the 21st Edgar's battery, four guns, was sent to strengthen Vincent, and posted in a strong position near James's Store, where it overlooked and commanded the valley.
Meanwhile, couriers were dispatched to the Sabine to inform approaching reenforcements of my position, and direct them on to the Fort Jesup road. The 21st proved to be a cold, rainy day, with gusts of wind. Toward evening the sound of Edgar's guns was heard. Fearing a surprise during the night, Captain Elgee of my staff was sent to withdraw the battery and warn Vincent of the necessity of vigilance; but the enemy had been too prompt. Vincent's pickets found their fires more agreeable than outposts. At nightfall the battery and a number of the horse were captured, as was Captain Elgee, who rode up just after the event. We lost the four guns, with their caissons, and two hundred men. Vincent, with the remainder of his command escaped. In truth, my horse was too ill disciplined for close work. On the 22d we marched to Beaseley's, twelve miles, and remained until the 29th, hoping that reenforcements would reach us. Beaseley's was a depot of forage, and covered roads to Fort Jesup and Natchitoches; and a cross road reached the Red River valley at a point twenty-five miles below the latter place, by which some supplies were obtained. As no reenforcements arrived, and the enemy was moving up the river, the troops were ordered to Pleasant Hill via Fort Jesup, forty miles, and I went to Natchitoches, thirty miles. Here, on the night of the 30th, I met Colonel McNeill's regiment of Texas horse, numbering two hundred and fifty men, of whom fifty were without arms; and the following morning Colonel Herbert came in, with a hundred and twenty-five of his three hundred and fifty men unarmed. These were a part of Green's command, and the first reenforcements received.
The enemy's advance reached Natchitoches, by the river road, on the 31st, and McNeill and Herbert were directed to fall back slowly toward Pleasant Hill, thirty-six miles. I remained in the town until the enemy entered, then rode four miles to Grand Ecore, where, in the main channel of Red River, a steamer was awaiting me. Embarking, I went up river to Blair's Landing, forty miles by the windings of the stream, whence was a road, sixteen miles, to Pleasant Hill. Four miles from Blair's was Bayou Pierre, a large arm of the river, crossed by a ferry. At Pleasant Hill, on the 1st of April, Walker and Mouton, with their infantry divisions, artillery, and trains joined me, as did Green with his staff. From the latter I learned that De Bray's regiment of cavalry, with two batteries and trains, was in march from Fort Jesup. As the enemy was moving from Natchitoches, and could strike the Jesup road across country, De Bray was ordered to push forward his artillery and wagons, and look well to his right. He reached Pleasant Hill after dark. The enemy attempted to impede the march, but was driven off, with a loss of five wounded to De Bray. During the day our horse, toward Natchitoches, had some skirmishing.
It appeared that General Major, with the remainder of Green's horse, could not get up before the 6th, and he was directed to cross the Sabine at Logansport and march to Mansfield, twenty miles in my rear. This insured his march against disturbance; and, to give him time, I halted two days at Pleasant Hill, prepared for action. But the enemy showed no disposition to advance seriously, and on the 4th and 5th the infantry moved to Mansfield, where on the following day Major, with his horse and Buchell's regiment of cavalry, joined. General Major was sent to Pleasant Hill to take charge of the advance.
De Bray's and Buchell's regiments have been spoken of as cavalry to distinguish them from mounted infantry, herein called horse. They had never before left their State (Texas), were drilled and disciplined, and armed with sabers. Buchell's regiment was organized in the German settlement of New Braunfels. The men had a distinct idea that they were fighting for their adopted country, and their conduct in battle was in marked contrast to that of the Germans whom I had encountered in the Federal army in Virginia. Colonel Buchell had served in the Prussian army, and was an instructed soldier. Three days after he joined me, he was mortally wounded in action, and survived but a few hours. I sat beside him as his brave spirit passed away. The old "Fatherland" sent no bolder horseman to battle at Rossbach or Gravelotte.
During this long retreat of two hundred miles from the banks of the Atchafalaya to Mansfield, I had been in correspondence with General Kirby Smith at Shreveport, and always expressed my intention to fight as soon as reenforcements reached me. General Kirby Smith thought that I would be too weak to meet the enemy, even with all possible reenforcements, and suggested two courses: one, to hold the works at Shreveport until he could concentrate a force to relieve me; the other, to retire into Texas and induce the enemy to follow us.
My objection to the first suggestion was, that it would result in the surrender of the troops and Shreveport, as it would be impossible to raise a new force for their relief; and to the second, that its consequences would be quite as disastrous as a defeat, as it would be an abandonment of Louisiana and southern Arkansas. The men from these States might be expected to leave us, and small blame to them; while from the interior of Texas we could give no more aid to our brethren on the east of the Mississippi than from the Sandwich Islands. General Kirby Smith did not insist on the adoption of either of his own suggestions, nor express an approval of mine; but when Mansfield was reached, a decision became necessary.
Three roads lead from this place to Shreveport, the Kingston, Middle, and Keachi. The distance by the first, the one nearest to the valley of Red River, is thirty-eight miles; by the second, forty; and by the third, forty-five. From Keachi, five and twenty miles from Mansfield and twenty from Shreveport, roads cross the Sabine into Texas. Past Mansfield, then, the enemy would have three roads, one of which would be near his fleet on the river, and could avail himself of his great superiority in numbers. This was pointed out to the "Aulic Council" at Shreveport, but failed to elicit any definite response.
On the 21st of March there had reached Shreveport, from Price's command in Arkansas, two brigades of Missouri infantry and two of Arkansas, numbering together forty-four hundred muskets. These troops I had repeatedly asked for, but they were retained at Shreveport until the afternoon of the 4th of April, when they marched to Keachi, and reported to me from that place on the morning of the 6th. Supplies were far from abundant in the vicinity of Mansfield; and as I might at any moment receive an order to retire to Keachi, they were directed to remain there for the present. Green, now promoted to major-general, was placed in command of all the horse, with Brigadiers Bee, Major, and Bagby under him.
On the morning of the 7th of April, Major, from Pleasant Hill, reported the enemy advancing in force; whereupon Green went to the front. Later in the day the southerly wind brought such distinct sounds of firing to Mansfield as to induce me to join Green. Riding hard, I suddenly met some fifty men from the front, and reined up to speak to them; but, before I could open my mouth, received the following rebuke from one of the party for a bad habit: "General! if you won't curse us, we will go back with you." I bowed to the implied homily, rode on, followed by the men, and found Green fighting a superior force of horse. Putting in my little reenforcement, I joined him, and enjoyed his method of managing his wild horsemen; and he certainly accomplished more with them than any one else could have done. After some severe work, the enemy's progress was arrested, and it became evident that Green could camp that night at a mill stream seven miles from Pleasant Hill, a matter of importance.
The roads in this region follow the high ridge dividing the drainage of Red River from that of the Sabine, and water is very scarce. Between Pleasant Hill and Mansfield but two streams are found, the one above mentioned, and a smaller, seven miles nearer to the latter place. For twenty miles from Pleasant Hill toward Natchitoches there was little or no water; and at Pleasant Hill itself we had exhausted the wells and reduced the store in cisterns during our stay. This, as it affected movements and positions of troops, should be borne in mind.
Leaving Green, I returned to Mansfield, stopping on the road to select my ground for the morrow. This was in the edge of a wood, fronting an open field eight hundred yards in width by twelve hundred in length, through the center of which the road to Pleasant Hill passed. On the opposite side of the field was a fence separating it from the pine forest, which, open on the higher ground and filled with underwood on the lower, spread over the country. The position was three miles in front of Mansfield, and covered a cross-road leading to the Sabine. On either side of the main Mansfield-Pleasant Hill road, at two miles' distance, was a road parallel to it and connected by this Sabine cross-road.
General Churchill, commanding the Missouri-Arkansas troops at Keachi, was ordered to march for Mansfield at dawn of the 8th, and advised that a battle was impending. My medical director was instructed to prepare houses in the village for hospitals, and quartermasters were told to collect supplies and park surplus wagons. An officer with a small guard was selected to preserve order in the town, and especially among the wagoners, always disposed to "stampede." Walker and Mouton were ordered to move their divisions in the morning, ready for action, to the position selected; and a staff officer was sent to Green, with instructions to leave a small force in front of the enemy, and before dawn withdraw to the appointed ground. These arrangements made, a dispatch was sent to General Kirby Smith at Shreveport, informing him that I had returned from the front, found the enemy advancing in force, and would give battle on the following day, April 8, 1864, unless positive orders to the contrary were sent to me. This was about 9 P.M. of the 7th.
My confidence of success in the impending engagement was inspired by accurate knowledge of the Federal movements, as well as the character of their commander, General Banks, whose measure had been taken in the Virginia campaigns of 1862 and since.
On the morning of the 7th of April Admiral Porter left Grand Ecore with six gunboats and twenty transports, on which last were embarked some twenty-five hundred troops. The progress of these vessels up the river was closely watched by an officer of my staff, who was also in communication with General Liddell on the north side. Banks began his movement from Grand Ecore to Pleasant Hill on the 6th, with an estimated force of twenty-five thousand. Though lateral roads existed, his column marched by the main one, and in the following order: Five thousand mounted men led the advance, followed by a large wagon train and much artillery. Infantry succeeded, then more wagons and artillery, then infantry again. In the afternoon of the 7th I knew that the front and rear of his column were separated by a distance of twenty miles.
My troops reached the position in front of Sabine cross-road at an early hour on the 8th, and were disposed as follows: On the right of the road to Pleasant Hill, Walker's infantry division of three brigades, with two batteries; on the left, Mouton's, of two brigades and two batteries. As Green's men came in from the front, they took position, dismounted, on Mouton's left. A regiment of horse was posted on each of the parallel roads mentioned, and De Bray's cavalry, with McMahon's battery, held in reserve on the main road. Dense forest prevented the employment of much artillery, and, with the exception of McMahon's, which rendered excellent service, none was used in the action.
I had on the field fifty-three hundred infantry; three thousand horse, and five hundred artillerymen—in all, eight thousand eight hundred men, a very full estimate. But the vicious dispositions of the enemy made me confident of beating all the force he could concentrate during the day; and on the morrow Churchill, with forty-four hundred muskets, would be up.
The forenoon of the 8th wore on as the troops got into position. Riding along the line, I stopped in front of the Louisiana brigade of Mouton's division, and made what proved to be an unfortunate remark to the men: "As they were fighting in defense of their own soil I wished the Louisiana troops to draw the first blood." But they were already inflamed by many outrages on their homes, as well as by camp rumors that it was intended to abandon their State without a fight. At this moment our advanced horse came rushing in, hard followed by the enemy. A shower of bullets reached Mouton's line, one of which struck my horse, and a body of mounted men charged up to the front of the 18th Louisiana. A volley from this regiment sent them back with heavy loss. Infantry was reported in the wood opposite my left. This was a new disposition of the enemy, for on the 6th and 7th his advance consisted of horse alone; and to meet it, Mouton was strengthened by moving Randall's brigade of Walker's from the right to the left of the road. To cover this change, skirmishers were thrown forward and De Bray's regiment deployed in the field.
The enemy showing no disposition to advance, at 4 P.M. I ordered a forward movement of my whole line. The ardor of Mouton's troops, especially the Louisianians, could not be restrained by their officers. Crossing the field under a heavy fire of artillery and small arms, the division reached the fence, paused for a moment to draw breath, then rushed into the wood on the enemy. Here our loss was severe. General Mouton was killed, as were Colonels Armand, Beard, and Walker, commanding the 18th, Crescent, and 28th Louisiana regiments of Gray's brigade. Major Canfield of the Crescent also fell, and Lieutenant-Colonel Clack of the same regiment was mortally wounded. As these officers went down, others, among whom Adjutant Blackman was conspicuous, seized the colors and led on the men. Polignac's brigade, on the left of Gray's, also suffered heavily. Colonel Noble, 17th Texas, with many others, was killed. Polignac, left in command by the death of Mouton, displayed ability and pressed the shattered division steadily forward. Randall, with his fine brigade, supported him on the right; while Major's dismounted men, retarded by dense wood, much to the impatience of General Green, gradually turned the enemy's right, which was forced back with loss of prisoners and guns.
On the right of the main road General Walker, with Waul's and Scurry's brigades, encountered but little resistance until he had crossed the open field and entered the wood. Finding that he outflanked the enemy's left, he kept his right brigade, Scurry's, advanced, and swept everything before him.
The first Federal line, consisting of all the mounted force and one division of the 13th army corps, was in full flight, leaving prisoners, guns, and wagons in our hands. Two miles to the rear of the first position, the 2d division of the 13th corps brought up, but was speedily routed, losing guns and prisoners; and our advance continued. Near sunset, four miles from our original position, the 19th army corps was found, drawn up on a ridge overlooking a small stream. Fatigued, and disordered by their long advance through dense wood, my men made no impression for a time on this fresh body of troops; but possession of the water was all-important, for there was none other between this and Mansfield. Walker, Green, and Polignac led on their weary men, and I rode down to the stream. There was some sharp work, but we persisted, the enemy fell back, and the stream was held, just as twilight faded into darkness.
Twenty-five hundred prisoners, twenty pieces of artillery, several stands of colors, many thousands of small arms, and two hundred and fifty wagons were the fruits of victory in the battle of Mansfield. Eight thousand of the enemy, his horse and two divisions of infantry, had been utterly routed, and over five thousand of the 19th corps driven back at sunset. With a much smaller force on the field, we invariably outnumbered the enemy at the fighting point; and foreseeing the possibility of this, I was justified in my confidence of success. The defeat of the Federal army was largely due to the ignorance and arrogance of its commander, General Banks, who attributed my long retreat to his own wonderful strategy.
Night put an end to the struggle along the little stream, and my troops camped by the water.
A dispatch was sent to General Kirby Smith, at Shreveport, to inform him of the result of the day's fighting, and of my intention to push the enemy on the following morning. Leaving instructions for Green, with all the mounted force, to pursue at dawn, I rode to Mansfield to look after our wounded and meet Churchill. The precautions taken had preserved order in the village throughout the day. Hospitals had been prepared, the wounded brought in and cared for, prisoners and captured property disposed of. Churchill came and reported his command in camp, four miles from Mansfield, on the Keachi road; and he was directed to prepare two days' rations, and march toward Pleasant Hill at 3 A.M.
Sitting by my camp fire to await the movement of Churchill's column, I was saddened by recollection of the many dead, and the pleasure of victory was turned to grief as I counted the fearful cost at which it had been won. Of the Louisianians fallen, most were acquaintances, many had been neighbors and friends; and they were gone. Above all, the death of gallant Mouton affected me. He had joined me soon after I reached western Louisiana, and had ever proved faithful to duty. Modest, unselfish, and patriotic, he showed best in action, always leading his men. I thought of his wife and children, and of his father, Governor Mouton, whose noble character I have attempted to portray.
Churchill's march disturbed these solemn reveries, and I returned to the front, where Walker and Green were awaiting the approaching day. The horse, with a battery, moved early to Pleasant Hill, fourteen miles, leaving Walker and Polignac to follow Churchill's column as soon as it had passed. I rode with Green, and we found many stragglers, scattered arms, and burning wagons, showing the haste of the enemy's retreat. The mill stream, seven miles distant, was reached, then the vicinity of Pleasant Hill, before a shot was fired. A short mile in front of the latter place the enemy was found; and as our rapid advance had left the infantry far to the rear, feints were made to the right and left to develop his position and strength.
The village of Pleasant Hill occupies part of a plateau, a mile wide from east to west, along the Mansfield and Fort Jesup road. The highest ground, called College Hill, is on the west, and here enters a road from the Sabine, which, sixteen miles to the east, strikes the Red River at Blair's Landing; while, from the necessity of turning Spanish Lake, the distance to Natchitoches and Grand Ecore is thirty-six miles. The Federal fleet, with accompanying troops, was now many miles above Blair's, which by river is forty-five miles above Grand Ecore. Driven from Pleasant Hill to the latter place, the Federal forces would be widely separated, and might be destroyed in detail. Though it appeared to be the enemy's intention to continue his retreat, as he was known to be moving back his trains, yet if undisturbed he might find courage to attempt a junction with his fleet at Blair's Landing; and I did not wish to lose the advantage of the morale gained by success on the previous day.
Our reconnoissance showed that the Federal lines extended across the open plateau, from College Hill on their left to a wooded height on the right of the road to Mansfield. Winding along in front of this position was a gully cut by winter rains, but now dry, and bordered by a thick growth of young pines, with fallen timber interspersed. This was held by the enemy's advanced infantry, with his main line and guns on the plateau. Separating the gully and thicket from the forest toward Mansfield was an open field, several hundred yards wide near the road, but diminishing in width toward the west. Here the Federal commander had concentrated some eighteen thousand, including A.J. Smith's force, not engaged on the previous day.
My plan of attack was speedily determined. Orders were sent to the infantry to fill canteens at the mill stream, and to the trains to park there. Shortly after midday the infantry appeared, Churchill in advance; but a glance showed that his men were too much exhausted to attack. They had marched forty-five miles, and were thoroughly jaded. Walker's and Polignac's divisions had been heavily engaged on the previous day, and all were suffering from heat and thirst. Accordingly, two hours were given to the troops to lie down and rest.
At 3 P.M. Churchill, with two batteries and three regiments of horse, was directed to move to the right and turn the enemy's left. His route was through the forest for two miles to the road coming from the Sabine. The enemy's left outflanked, he was to attack from the south and west, keeping his regiments of horse well to his right, and Walker would attack on his left. This was explained to Churchill, and Mr. T.J. Williams, formerly sheriff of De Soto parish, and acquainted with every road in the vicinity, was sent with him as a guide. On Walker's left, near the road from Mansfield, Major Brent had twelve guns in the wood, with four on the road, where were posted Buchell's and De Bray's cavalry, under General Bee, and Polignac's division, the last in reserve. In the wood on the left of the road from Mansfield, Major, with two brigades of horse dismounted, was to drive back the enemy's skirmishers, turn his right, and gain the road to Blair's Landing. As no offensive movement by the enemy was anticipated, he would be turned on both flanks, subjected to a concentric fire, and overwhelmed. Though I had but twelve thousand five hundred men against eighteen thousand in position, the morale was greatly in our favor, and intelligent execution of orders was alone necessary to insure success.
At 4.30 P.M. Churchill was reported to be near the position whence he would attack; and, to call off attention, Major Brent advanced his twelve guns into the field, within seven hundred yards of the enemy's line, and opened fire. Soon thereafter the sound of Churchill's attack was heard, which the cheers of his men proved to be successful. Walker at once led forward his division by echelons of brigades from his right, Brent advanced his guns, and Major turned the enemy's right and gained possession of the road to Blair's. Complete victory seemed assured when Churchill's troops suddenly gave way, and for a time arrested the advance of Walker and Major.
The road from the Sabine reached, Churchill formed his line with the two Missouri brigades, General Parsons on the right, and the two Arkansas, General Tappan, on the left. Advancing three fourths of a mile through the forest, he approached the enemy's line, and found that he had not gained ground enough to outflank it. Throwing forward skirmishers, he moved by the right flank until the Missouri brigades were on the right of the Sabine road, the regiments of horse being farther to the right. Churchill should have placed his whole command on the right of the Sabine road, and he would have found no difficulty in successfully executing his orders. In his official report he states "that had my [his] line extended a half mile more to the right, a brilliant success would have been achieved"; and he gives as the reason for not so disposing his force that he judged, from information furnished by his guides, the enemy's left to be already outflanked.
The attack ordered, the Missourians threw themselves on the enemy, drove him from the gully and thicket, mounted the plateau, broke an opposing line, captured and sent to the rear three hundred prisoners, got possession of two batteries, the horses of which had been killed, and reached the village. Here a Federal brigade, left by Churchill's error on his right, attacked them in flank and rear, while their rapid charge had put three hundred yards between them and the Arkansas brigades, delayed by the gully. The enemy's reserve was thrust into this opening and advanced in front. Finding themselves assaulted on all sides, the Missourians retreated hastily, and in repassing the gully and thicket fell into much confusion. Colonel Hardiman, commanding the horse, checked the enemy, and Parsons rallied his men on the line first formed by Churchill. The Arkansas brigades had forced the gully and mounted the plateau as the Missourians retreated, whereupon they fell back, their left brigade (Gause's) running into Walker's right (Scurry's) and impeding its advance. Gause imagined that Scurry had fired on him; but as his entire loss in the action amounted to but fifteen killed and fifty-nine wounded, out of eleven hundred men, there appears little ground for this belief. Churchill's two batteries followed the Missourians, and with much difficulty reached the plateau, where they opened an effective fire. When the infantry retreated three carriages broke down in the attempt to get through the thicket and fallen timber, and the guns were lost. Night ended the conflict on this part of the field, and both sides occupied their original positions. We brought off three hundred prisoners, but lost three guns and one hundred and seventy-nine prisoners from Churchill's command. Out of two thousand men, the Missourians lost three hundred and thirty-one in killed and wounded, and the Arkansas brigades, of equal strength, one hundred and forty-two.
Within a few minutes of the time when our whole line became engaged, an officer came to inform me that General Walker was wounded. Directing Polignac to move up his division and hold it in readiness, I left General Green in charge of the center and hastened to Walker, whose division was now fully engaged in the wood. I found him suffering from a contusion in the groin, and ordered him to retire, which he unwillingly did. Here it was that our right gave way in the manner described. Scurry's brigade of Walker's, disordered by the sudden retreat upon it of Gause, was heavily pressed by the enemy. Scurry and his men struggled gallantly, but required immediate relief; and to give it, Waul and Randall on their left were ordered to drive back the line fronting them. Never was order more thoroughly executed. Leading on their fine brigades with skill and energy, these officers forced back the Federals and relieved Scurry.
Meanwhile, the fire of Brent's guns had overpowered a Federal battery posted on the plateau in front of the road from Mansfield. The confusion attending the withdrawal of this battery, coupled with the fierce attack of Waul and Randall, led General Green to believe that the enemy was retreating, and he ordered Bee to charge with his two regiments of cavalry, Buchell's and De Bray's. Bee reached the plateau, where he was stopped by a heavy fire from infantry, in the wood on both sides of the road. Some men and horses went down, Buchell was mortally wounded, and Bee and De Bray slightly. The charge was premature and cost valuable lives, but was of use in moral effect. I returned to the road as Bee, with coolness and pluck, withdrew. Brent advanced his guns close up to the opposing line, Polignac attacked on Randall's left with his reduced but stubborn division, and Green urged on his dismounted horsemen, cleared the wood from the Mansfield to the Blair's Landing road, and at nightfall held the position previously occupied by the Federal battery.
Severe fighting continued in the dense thicket, where Polignac, Randall, Waul, and Scurry were steadily driving back the enemy. Approaching twilight obscured the wood, but resistance in front was becoming feeble, and, anxious to reach the village, I urged on our men. As Randall and Waul gained ground to the front, they became separated by a ravine in which was concealed a brigade of Federals. Isolated by the retreat of their friends, these troops attempted to get out. Fired on from both sides of the ravine, a part of them appeared on the field in front of Brent's guns, to be driven back by grape. With heavy loss they at length succeeded in escaping through the thicket. A letter from the commander was subsequently captured, wherein he denounces the conduct of his superiors who abandoned him to his fate. However true the allegation, it is doubtful if his brigade could have rendered more service elsewhere. The suddenness of its appearance stopped our forward movement, and a cry arose that we were firing on our own people. The thickening gloom made it impossible to disabuse the troops of this belief, and I ordered them to withdraw to the open field. The movement was made slowly and in perfect order, the men forming in the field as they emerged from the thicket. The last light of day was fading as I rode along the line, and the noise of battle had ceased.
Churchill came to report the result of his attack, and seemed much depressed. I gave such consolation as I could, and directed him to move his command to the mill stream, seven miles to the rear, where he would find his trains and water. A worthy, gallant gentleman, General Churchill, but not fortunate in war.
The mill stream was the nearest water to be had, and I was compelled to send the troops back to it. The enemy made no attempt to recover the ground from which his center and right had been driven. Bee picketed the field with his cavalry, his forage wagons were ordered up from the mill stream, and it was hoped that water for his two regiments could be found in the wells and cisterns of the village. Sounds of retreat could be heard in the stillness of the night. Parties were sent on the field to care for the wounded, and Bee was ordered to take up the pursuit toward Grand Ecore at dawn, to be followed by the horse from the mill stream as soon as water and forage had been supplied. These dispositions for the morning made, worn out by fatigue and loss of sleep, I threw myself on the ground, within two hundred yards of the battle field, and sought rest. The enemy retreated during the night, leaving four hundred wounded, and his many dead unburied. On the morning of the 10th Bee pursued for twenty miles before he overtook his rear guard, finding stragglers and burning wagons and stores, evidences of haste.
In the two actions of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill my loss in killed and wounded was twenty-two hundred. At Pleasant Hill we lost three guns and four hundred and twenty-six prisoners, one hundred and seventy-nine from Churchill's, and two hundred and forty-seven from Scurry's brigade at the time it was so nearly overwhelmed. The Federal loss in killed and wounded exceeded mine, and we captured twenty guns and twenty-eight hundred prisoners, not including stragglers picked up after the battle. The enemy's campaign for conquest was defeated by an inferior force, and it was doubtful if his army and fleet could escape destruction.
These were creditable results, yet of much less importance than those that would have been accomplished but for my blunder at Pleasant Hill. Instead of intrusting the important attack by my right to a subordinate, I should have conducted it myself and taken Polignac's division to sustain it. True, this would have removed my reserve from the center and line of retreat, and placed it on a flank; but I was confident that the enemy had no intention of resuming the offensive, and should have acted on that conviction. All this flashed upon me the instant I learned of the disorder of my right. Herein lies the vast difference between genius and commonplace: one anticipates errors, the other discovers them too late.
The foregoing account of Churchill's attack at Pleasant Hill, hidden from me by intervening wood, is taken from his official report and the reports of his subordinates; and I will now supplement it by some extracts from the testimony given by General Francis Fessenden of the Federal army. On pages 94 and 95 of the second volume of the "Report on the Conduct of the War," the following appears:
"In the afternoon we were changed, from a position in the woods in front of Pleasant Hill, to a position in rear of a deep ditch near the town. We were placed behind this ditch, in open ground, and practically held the left of the front line; and my regiment was on the left. I think it was not expected that an attack would be made by the enemy in that direction. The attack was expected by the road which led in by the right center of the army. Instead of that, however, the enemy came around through the woods, and about half-past 5 o'clock drove in our skirmishers, and made a very fierce attack on the brigade I was in—Colonel Benedict's brigade. The brigade fell back under the attack a great deal broken up, and my regiment was separated from the other three regiments which went off in another direction. I had fallen back still further to the left, as I knew there was a brigade of troops in there to protect our left flank and rear from attack in that direction. My regiment being the last of the brigade to fall back, the enemy had already advanced so far after the other three regiments that I could not fall back where they did. I therefore fell back in another direction, rallying my regiment and forming on the right of the brigade referred to; and that brigade, my regiment, and another brigade, which I think had been brought up under General Emory, made an attack upon the enemy's column, which had advanced some distance, and drove them back with great loss. We continued to advance, and drove them a mile or more, so completely off the field that there was no other attack made by the enemy in that direction.
"That night we fell back again, marching all night and all the next morning, until we reached the camping ground at the end of our first day's march from Grand Ecore. I ought to state here that in that attack of the enemy on our left the brigade commander, Colonel Benedict, was killed, and I then assumed command of the brigade. We remained at Grand Ecore some eight or nine days, where we built intrenchments to a certain extent—rifle pits. I think the whole army threw up a kind of temporary work in front."
General Fessenden's statements accord with the reports of Churchill and his officers, and in other respects are accurate.
On page 62 of the volume quoted from, General A.L. Lee, commanding mounted division of Banks's army, testifies:
"The next morning (9th of April) I was ordered by General Banks to detach one thousand cavalry to act as scouts and skirmishers, and to take the remainder of my division, and take whatever was left of the detachment of the 13th army corps and some negro troops that were there, and take the trains and the majority of the artillery of the army to Grand Ecore. It was thought that the enemy would get between us and Grand Ecore. I started about 11 o'clock with this train, and with six or eight batteries of artillery, and reached Grand Ecore the next day. The battle of the 9th of April commenced just as I was leaving. The next day at night the main army had reached Grand Ecore and joined me there. General Banks impressed on me very strongly that, in sending me back from Pleasant Hill just as the fight was commencing, it was of the greatest importance to save what material we had left. Early the next morning, when I was distant from Pleasant Hill eighteen miles, I received a dispatch from General Banks. I have not the dispatch with me, but it was to this effect: that they had whipped the enemy terribly; that Price was killed, also two or three other rebel generals whom he named, but who have since recovered; and that I was to send back the subsistence trains for such and such troops. I was very much puzzled by that order, and immediately sent a staff officer back for more specific instructions. But he had not been gone more than half an hour when a staff officer of General Banks arrived with an order to me, with which he had left in the night, for me to continue pressing on with the whole train to Grand Ecore, and with instructions if any wagons broke down to burn them, not stop to fix anything, but get everything into Grand Ecore as quickly as I could, and look out very carefully on the flanks."
There can be no question of the correctness of these statements of General A.L. Lee.
The following quotations from the reports of Admiral Porter to the Secretary of the Navy are taken from page 239, and succeeding pages of the same volume:
"FLAG-SHIP CRICKET, GRAND ECORE, April 14, 1864.
"The army here has met with a great defeat, no matter what the generals try to make ofit. With the defeat has come demoralization, and it will take some time to reorganize and make up the deficiencies in killed and prisoners. The whole affair has been seriously mismanaged. It was well we came up, for I am convinced the rebels would have attacked this broken army at Grand Ecore had we not been here to cover them. I do not think our army would be in a condition to resist them. I must confess that I feel a little uncertain how to act. I could not leave this army now without disgracing myself forever; and, when running a risk in their cause, I do not want to be deserted. One of my officers has already been asked 'If we would not burn our gunboats as soon as the army left?' speaking as if a gunboat was a very ordinary affair, and could be burned with indifference. I inclose two notes I received from Generals Banks and Stone. There is a faint attempt to make a victory out of this, but two or three such victories would cost us our existence."
Again, on page 166 of the same volume appears this dispatch from Lieutenant-General Grant, at Culpepper, Virginia, to General Halleck, Chief of Staff, at Washington:
"You can see from General Brayman's dispatch to me something of General Banks's disaster."
Concerning the battle of Pleasant Hill General Banks reports (page 326):
"The whole of the reserves were now ordered up, and in turn we drove the enemy, continuing the pursuit until night compelled us to halt. The battle of the 9th was desperate and sanguinary. The defeat of the enemy was complete, and his loss in officers and men more than double that sustained by our forces. There was nothing in the immediate position and condition of the two armies to prevent a forward movement the next morning, and orders were given to prepare for an advance. But representations subsequently received from General Franklin and all the general officers of the 19th corps, as to the condition of their respective commands for immediate active operations against the enemy, caused a suspension of this order, and a conference of the general officers was held in the evening, in which it was determined to retire upon Grand Ecore the following day. The reasons urged for this course were: 1. That the absence of water made it absolutely necessary to advance or retire without delay. General Emory's command had been without rations for two days, and the train, which had been turned to the rear during the battle, could not be put in condition to move forward upon the single road through dense woods, in which it stood, without great difficulty and much loss of time."
Again, on page 13, General Banks states:
"The enemy was driven from the field. It was as clear a rout as it was possible for any army to suffer. After consulting with my officers, I concluded, against my own judgment, to fall back to Grand Ecore and reorganize. We held the field of battle. Our dead were buried. The wounded men were brought in and placed in the best hospitals we could organize, and surgeons were left with them, with provisions, medicines, and supplies; and at daybreak we fell back to Grand Ecore."
Here the proportion of fiction to fact surpasses that of sack to bread in Sir John's tavern bill; and it may be doubted if a mandarin from the remotest province of the Celestial Empire ever ventured to send such a report to Peking. General Fessenden's testimony, given above, shows that the army marched during the night of the 9th, and continued to Grand Ecore, where it intrenched; and General A.L. Lee's, that the main army joined him at that place on the evening of the 10th. Twenty of the thirty-six miles between Pleasant Hill and Grand Ecore were passed on the 10th by my cavalry before the rear of the enemy's column was seen; yet General Banks officially reports that his army left Pleasant Hill at daybreak of the 10th. Homeric must have been the laughter of his troops when this report was published.
ESCAPE OF BANKS AND PORTER.
From my resting-place on the ground at Pleasant Hill, after the battle of the 9th, I was aroused about 10 P.M. by General Kirby Smith, just arrived from Shreveport. This officer disapproved of further pursuit of Banks, except by a part of our mounted force, and ordered the infantry back to Mansfield. He was apprehensive that the troops on the transports above would reach Shreveport, or disembark below me and that place. In addition, Steele's column from Arkansas caused him much uneasiness, and made him unwilling for my troops to increase their distance from the capital of the "Trans-Mississippi Department." It was pointed out that the water in Red River was falling, and navigation becoming more and more difficult; that I had a staff officer watching the progress of the fleet, which was not accompanied by more than three thousand men, too few to attempt a landing, and that they would certainly hear of Banks's defeat and seek to rejoin him at Grand Ecore. As to Steele he was more than a hundred miles distant from Shreveport, harassed by Price's force; he must learn of Banks's misfortune, and, leading but a subsidiary column, would retire to Little Rock. Banks, with the remains of his beaten army, was before us, and the fleet of Porter, with barely water enough to float upon. We had but to strike vigorously to capture or destroy both. But it was written that the sacrifices of my little army should be wasted, and, on the morning of the 10th, I was ordered to take all the infantry and much of the horse to Mansfield.