The Bayou Pierre, three hundred feet wide and too deep to ford, leaves the Red River a few miles below Shreveport, and after a long course, in which it frequently expands into lakes, returns to its parent stream three miles above Grand Ecore, dividing the pine-clad hills on the west from the alluvion of the river on the east. Several roads lead from the interior to landings on the river, crossing Bayou Pierre by ferries. One from Pleasant Hill to Blair's Landing, sixteen miles, has been mentioned. Another led from Mansfield to Grand Bayou Landing, eighteen miles. Dispatches from Captain McCloskey informed me that the enemy's fleet had passed this last place on the morning of the 9th, pushing slowly up river, impeded by low water. Feeling assured that intelligence of Banks's defeat would send the fleet back to Grand Ecore, and hoping to cut off its communication, at dawn of the 11th I sent General Bagby, with a brigade of horse and a battery, from Mansfield to Grand Bayou Landing. Before reaching the ferry at Bayou Pierre, he ascertained that the fleet had turned back on the afternoon of the 10th. There was a pontoon train at Shreveport that I had in vain asked for, and Bagby experienced great delay in crossing Bayou Pierre by means of one small flat. The fleet, descending, passed Grand Bayou Landing at 10 o'clock A.M. of the 11th, some hours before Bagby reached the river; and he pushed on toward Blair's Landing, where he arrived on the night of the 12th, after the close of Green's operations of that day.
General Green, from Pleasant Hill, had been directing the movements of our advanced horse, a part of which, under Bee, was in front of Grand Ecore and Natchitoches. Advised of the movements of the enemy's fleet, he, with seven hundred and fifty horse and two batteries, left Pleasant Hill for Blair's Landing at 6 o'clock P.M. on the 11th. As in the case of Bagby, he was delayed at Bayou Pierre, and, after hard work, only succeeded in crossing three guns and a part of his horse before the fleet came down on the 12th. Green attacked at once, and leading his men in his accustomed fearless way, was killed by a discharge of grape from one of the gunboats. Deprived of their leader, the men soon fell back, and the fleet reached Grand Ecore without further molestation from the west bank. The enemy's loss, supposed by our people to have been immense, was officially reported at seven on the gunboats and fifty on the transports. Per contra, the enemy believed that our loss was stupendous; whereas we had scarcely a casualty except the death of General Green, an irreparable one. No Confederate went aboard the fleet and no Federal came ashore; so there was a fine field of slaughter in which the imagination of both sides could disport itself.
With facilities for crossing the Pierre at hand, the fleet, during the 11th and 12th, would have been under the fire of two thousand riflemen and eighteen guns and suffered heavily, especially the transports, crowded with troops. As it was, we accomplished but little and lost General Green.
Like Mouton, this officer had joined me at an early period of my service in western Louisiana. Coming to me with the rank of colonel, his conspicuous services made it my pleasant duty to recommend him for promotion to brigadier and major-general. Upright, modest, and with the simplicity of a child, danger seemed to be his element, and he rejoiced in combat. His men adored him, and would follow wherever he led; but they did not fear him, for, though he scolded at them in action, he was too kind-hearted to punish breaches of discipline. In truth, he had no conception of the value of discipline in war, believing that all must be actuated by his own devotion to duty. His death was a public calamity, and mourned as such by the people of Texas and Louisiana. To me he was a tried and devoted friend, and our friendship was cemented by the fact that, through his Virginia mother, we were related by blood. The great Commonwealth, whose soil contains his remains, will never send forth a bolder warrior, a better citizen, nor a more upright man than Thomas Green.
The brigade of horse brought by General Green to Louisiana, and with which he was so long associated, had some peculiar characteristics. The officers such as Colonels Hardiman, Baylor, Lane, Herbert, McNeill, and others, were bold and enterprising. The men, hardy frontiersmen, excellent riders, and skilled riflemen, were fearless and self-reliant, but discharged their duty as they liked and when they liked. On a march they wandered about at will, as they did about camp, and could be kept together only when a fight was impending. When their arms were injured by service or neglect, they threw them away, expecting to be supplied with others. Yet, with these faults, they were admirable fighters, and in the end I became so much attached to them as to be incapable of punishing them.
After the affair at Blair's Landing on the 12th, the horse returned to Pleasant Hill, and thence joined Bee in front of Grand Ecore, where Banks had his army concentrated behind works, with gunboats and transports in the river, Bee occupying the town of Natchitoches, four miles away. On the morning of the 13th General Kirby Smith visited me at Mansfield. Relieved of apprehension about the fleet, now at Grand Ecore, he expressed great anxiety for the destruction of Steele's column. I was confident that Steele, who had less than ten thousand men and was more than a hundred miles distant from Shreveport, would hear of Banks's disaster and retreat; but General Kirby Smith's views differed from mine. I then expressed my willingness to march, with the main body of the infantry, to join Price in Arkansas, and serve under his command until Steele's column was destroyed or driven back; insisting, however, that in the event of Steele's retreat I should be permitted to turn on Banks and Porter, to complete the work of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill. The destruction of the Federal army and capture of the fleet, helpless alone by reason of low and falling water in Red River, were the legitimate fruits of those victories, and I protested with all possible earnestness against a policy that would fail to reap them. After this conversation General Kirby Smith returned to Shreveport, leaving me under the impression that my last proposition was acceded to. The loss of valuable time incurred by a wild-goose chase after Steele was most annoying, but I was hopeful it might be recovered. To get the fleet down to Alexandria and over the falls at that place would require much time in the low condition of the water; and Banks's army was so much demoralized by defeat that Bee found no difficulty in restraining its movements with his horse.
At dawn of the 14th Walker's and Churchill's divisions of infantry, with their artillery, prepared for an active campaign, marched for Shreveport, forty miles. The same day Polignac's infantry division, reduced to some twelve hundred muskets, was sent toward Grand Ecore to strengthen the horse in front of the enemy. On the evening of the 15th I reached Shreveport, and had a short interview with General Kirby Smith, who informed me that Steele had begun his retreat from a point a hundred and ten miles distant, but that he hoped to overtake him, and would personally direct the pursuit. I was further informed that my presence with the troops was not desired, and that I would remain in nominal command of Shreveport, but might join the force near Grand Ecore if I thought proper. All this with the curt manner of a superior to a subordinate, as if fearing remonstrance. General Kirby Smith marched north of Shreveport on the 16th, and three days thereafter I received a dispatch from his "chief of staff" informing me that the pontoon train, asked for in vain when it would have been of priceless value, would be sent back from his army and placed at my disposition. Doubtless General Kirby Smith thought that a pontoon train would supply the place of seven thousand infantry and six batteries.
I remained at Shreveport three days, occupied with reports and sending supplies to my little force near Grand Ecore, toward which I proceeded on the 19th of April. Major-General Wharton, who had gained reputation as a cavalry officer in the Confederate Army of Tennessee, accompanied me. He had reported for duty at Shreveport on the 18th, and was assigned to the command of the horse to replace the lamented Green. We reached Polignac's camp, in the vicinity of Grand Ecore, ninety odd miles from Shreveport, on the evening of the 21st, and learned that the enemy had threatened an advance during the day. This convinced me of his intention to retreat, and an officer was sent to General Bee to warn him.
Cane River leaves the main channel of the Red below Grand Ecore, and, passing by Natchitoches, returns to the Red after a winding course of sixty miles. Except at the season of floods, it is not navigable; but the alluvion through which it flows is very productive, while the pine forest immediately to the west is sterile. Bee, under instructions, occupied the valley of Cane River with his horse, and had been ordered to keep his pickets close to Grand Ecore and Natchitoches, draw his forage from plantations along the river, and, when the enemy retreated toward Alexandria, fall back before him to Monette's Ferry, which he was expected to hold. Monette's Ferry, forty miles below Natchitoches, was on the only practicable road to Alexandria. Here the river made a wide, deep ford, and pine-clad hills rose abruptly from the southern bank. On the left, looking toward Natchitoches, were hills and impassable lakes, easily held against any force. On the right, hills, rugged and pine-clad, extended eight miles to the point at which Cane River reenters the Red. The distance from Monette's to Alexandria is thirty-five miles, of which fourteen is through wooded hills. Roads led west to Carroll Jones's and Beaseley's, twelve and thirty miles respectively; and on these roads Bee was directed to keep his trains.
Concerning the position at Monette's General Banks reports: "The army marched from Grand Ecore on the morning of the 22d of April. To prevent the occupation of Monette's Bluff, on Cane River, a strong position commanding the only road leading across the river to Alexandria, or to prevent the concentration of the enemy's forces at that point, it became necessary to accomplish the evacuation without his knowledge." As before stated, the threatened advance of the 21st convinced me that the enemy's retreat was imminent, and so I advised Bee; but there was not time to send General Wharton to him after I reached Polignac's camp. Bee had two thousand horse and four batteries, and, after several days to examine and prepare his ground, might well be expected to hold it with tenacity.
Immediately after the battle of Pleasant Hill I had sent Vincent, with his own and Bush's regiments of Louisiana horse, to threaten Alexandria and drive out small parties of the enemy from the Attakapas and Teche regions. Subsequently, a brigade of Texas horse, seven hundred strong, under Brigadier William Steele, joined me, and was now with Polignac.
As anticipated, the enemy left Grand Ecore during the night of the 21st and marched without halting to Cloutierville, thirty-two miles. With Steele's brigade, Wharton drove his rear guard from Natchitoches on the morning of the 22d, capturing some prisoners, and continued the pursuit to the twenty-four-mile ferry. On the 23d, after a sharp action, he pushed the enemy's rear below Cloutierville, taking some score of prisoners. Polignac's infantry joined that evening, and covered a road leading through the hills from Cloutierville to Beaseley's. If Bee stood firm at Monette's, we were in position to make Banks unhappy on the morrow, separated as he was from the fleet, on which he relied to aid his demoralized forces. But Bee gave way on the afternoon of the 23d, permitting his strong position to be forced at the small cost to the enemy of less than four hundred men, and suffering no loss himself. Then, instead of attacking the great trains, during their fourteen miles' march through the forest, and occupying with artillery McNutt's Hill, a high bluff twenty miles from Alexandria and commanding the road thither in the valley, he fell back at once to Beaseley's, thirty miles. Before this mistake could be rectified, the enemy crossed at Monette's, burning many wagons at the ford, and passed below McNutt's Hill. General Bee had exhibited much personal gallantry in the charge at Pleasant Hill, but he was without experience in war, and had neglected to study the ground or strengthen his position at Monette's. Leaving Mansfield for Shreveport on the 15th, under orders from General Kirby Smith, I only got back to the front on the night of the 21st, too late to reach Monette's or send Wharton there.
It was very disheartening, but, persuaded that the enemy could not pass the falls at Alexandria with his fleet, I determined to stick to him with my little force of less than forty-five hundred of all arms. It was impossible to believe that General Kirby Smith would continue to persist in his inexplicable policy, and fail to come, ere long, to my assistance.
On the 26th Bee's horse, from Beaseley's, joined Steele's at McNutt's Hill; and together, under Wharton, they attacked the enemy in the valley and drove him, with loss of killed and prisoners, to the immediate vicinity of Alexandria.
When General Banks retreated so hastily from Grand Ecore, Admiral Porter was laboring to get his fleet down to Alexandria. In a communication to the Secretary of the Navy from his flag-ship below Grand Ecore, he says ("Report on the Conduct of the War," vol. ii., pages 234-5):
"I soon saw that the army would go to Alexandria again, and we would be left above the bars in a helpless condition. The vessels are mostly at Alexandria, above the falls, excepting this one and two others I kept to protect the Eastport. The Red River is falling at the rate of two inches a day. If General Banks should determine to evacuate this country, the gunboats will be cut off from all communication with the Mississippi. It cannot be possible that the country would be willing to have eight iron-clads, three or four other gunboats, and many transports sacrificed without an effort to save them. It would be the worst thing that has happened this war."
The Eastport, the most formidable iron-clad of the Mississippi squadron, grounded on a bar below Grand Ecore. Three tin-clad gunboats and two transports remained near to assist in getting her off; and, to prevent this, some mounted riflemen were sent, on the morning of the 26th, to cooeperate with Liddell's raw levies on the north bank of the river. These forced the enemy to destroy the Eastport, and drove away the gunboats and transports. Our loss in the affair was two killed and four wounded. Meantime, to intercept the gunboats and transports on their way down, Colonel Caudle of Polignac's division, with two hundred riflemen and Cornay's four-gun battery, had been posted at the junction of Cane and Red Rivers, twenty miles below. At 6 o'clock P.M. of the 26th the leading gunboat and one transport came down. Our fire speedily crippled and silenced the gunboat, and a shot exploded the boiler of the transport. Under cover of escaping steam the gunboat drifted out of fire, but the loss of life on the transport was fearful. One hundred dead and eighty-seven severely scalded, most of whom subsequently died, were brought on shore. These unfortunate creatures were negroes, taken from plantations on the river above. The object of the Federals was to remove negroes from their owners; but for the lives of these poor people they cared nothing, or, assuredly, they would not have forced them, on an unprotected river steamer, to pass riflemen and artillery, against which gunboats were powerless. On the following day, the 27th, the two remaining gunboats and transport attempted to pass Caudle's position; and the former, much cut up, succeeded, but the transport was captured. Colonel Caudle had one man wounded, and the battery one killed—its commander, Captain Cornay, who, with Mouton, Armand, and many other creoles, proved by distinguished gallantry that the fighting qualities of the old French breed had suffered no deterioration on the soil of Louisiana.
The following extracts from the report of Admiral Porter well exhibit the efficiency of Caudle and Cornay in this affair:
"FLAG-SHIP CRICKET, OFF ALEXANDRIA, April 28, 1864.
"When rounding the point, the vessels in close order and ready for action, we descried a party of the enemy with artillery on the right bank, and we immediately opened fire with our bow guns. The enemy immediately returned it with a large number of cannon, eighteen in all, every shot of which struck this vessel. The captain gave orders to stop the engines. I corrected this mistake, and got headway on the vessel again, but not soon enough to avoid the pelting showers of shot and shell which the enemy poured into us, every shot going through and through us, clearing all our decks in a moment. I took charge of the vessel, and, as the battery was a very heavy one, I determined to pass it, which was done under the heaviest fire I ever witnessed. Seeing that the Hindman did not pass the batteries, the Juliet disabled, and that one of the pump boats (transport) had her boiler exploded by a shot, I ran down to a point three or four miles below. Lieutenant-Commander Phelps had two vessels in charge, the Juliet and Champion (transport), which he wished to get through safely. He kept them out of range until he could partially repair the Juliet, and then, starting under a heavy fire, he make a push by. Unfortunately the pump boat (Champion) was disabled and set fire to. The Hindman had her wheel ropes cut away, and drifted past, turning round and round, and getting well cut up in going by. The Juliet was cut to pieces in hull and machinery; had fifteen killed and wounded. I inclose the report of Lieutenant-Commander Phelps, from the time of his first misfortune until his arrival at this place (Alexandria), where I now am with all the fleet, but very much surprised that I have any left, considering all the difficulties encountered. I came up here with the river on the rise, and water enough for our largest vessels; and even on my way up to Shreveport from Grand Ecore the water rose, while it commenced falling where I left the largest gunboats. Falling or not, I could not go back while in charge of the transports and material on which an army of thirty thousand men depended."
This is high testimony to the fighting capacity of two hundred riflemen and four guns, two twelve-pounder smooth-bores and two howitzers, all that Admiral Porter's three gunboats had to contend with. It proves the utter helplessness of gunboats in narrow streams, when deprived of the protection of troops on the banks. Even the iron-clads, with armor impenetrable by field guns, were readily driven off by sharp-shooters, who, under cover, closed their ports or killed every exposed man.
On the 24th Liddell, from the north bank of Red River, dashed into Pineville, opposite Alexandria, killed and captured a score of the enemy's party, and drove the remainder over the river.
On the 27th Admiral Porter's fleet was lying above the falls, now impassable, and Banks's army, over twenty thousand strong, was in and around Alexandria behind earthworks. Such was the condition to which this large force had been reduced by repeated defeat, that we not only confined it to its works, driving back many attacks on our advanced positions, but I felt justified in dividing my little command in order to blockade the river below, and cut off communication with the Mississippi. Wharton's horse was divided into three parts, each a thousand strong, and accompanied by artillery. The first, under Steele, held the river and Rapides roads, above and west of Alexandria; the second, under Bagby, the Boeuf road to the south of that place; while Major, with the third, was sent to Davide's Ferry, on the river, twenty-five miles below. Polignac's infantry, twelve hundred muskets, was posted on the Boeuf within supporting distance of the two last. Liddell's seven hundred newly-organized horse, with four guns, was of little service beyond making feints to distract the enemy.
Major reached his position on the 30th, and on the following day, the 1st of May, captured and sunk the transport Emma. On the 3d he captured the transport City Belle, on her way up to Alexandria, with the 120th Ohio regiment on board. All the officers and two hundred and seventy-six men were taken, with many killed and wounded. On the evening of the 4th the gunboats Covington and Signal, each mounting eight heavy guns, with the transport Warner, attempted to pass. The Covington was blown up by her crew to escape capture, but the Signal and Warner surrendered. Four guns, two three-inch rifled and two howitzers, were engaged in this action with the Covington and Signal. They were run up to the river's bank by hand, the howitzers above, the three-inch rifles below the gunboats, which, overpowered by the rapid fire, moved back and forth until one surrendered and the other was destroyed, affording a complete illustration of the superiority of field guns to gunboats in narrow streams. There was no further attempt to pass Major's position, and Federal communication with the Mississippi was closed for fifteen days.
During these operations the enemy was engaged night and day in the construction of a dam across the Red River, to enable him to pass his fleet over the falls; and the following extracts from the report of Admiral Porter to the Secretary of the Navy well exhibit the condition of affairs in and around Alexandria ("Report on the Conduct of the War," vol. ii., page 250):
"FLAG-SHIP CRICKET, ALEXANDRIA, April 28, 1864.
"SIR: I have written you an account of the operations of the fleet in these waters, but take the liberty of writing to you confidentially the true state of affairs. I find myself blockaded by a fall of three feet of water, three feet four inches being the amount now on the falls. Seven feet being required to get over, no amount of lightening will accomplish the object. I have already written to you how the whole state of things has been changed by a too blind carelessness on the part of our military leader, and our retreat back to Alexandria from place to place has so demoralized General Banks's army that the troops have no confidence in anybody or anything. Our army is now all here, with the best general (Franklin) wounded and unfit for duty in the field. General Banks seems to hold no communication with any one, and it is impossible for me to say what he will do. I have no confidence in his promises, as he asserted in a letter, herein inclosed, that he had no intention of leaving Grand Ecore, when he had actually already made all his preparations to leave. The river is crowded with transports, and every gunboat I have is required to convoy them. I have to withdraw many light-draughts from other points on the Mississippi to supply demands here. In the mean time the enemy are splitting up into parties of two thousand, and bringing in the artillery (with which we have supplied them) to blockade points below here; and what will be the upshot of it all I can not foretell. I know that it will be disastrous in the extreme, for this is a country in which a retreating army is completely at the mercy of an enemy. Notwithstanding that the rebels are reported as coming in from Washita, with heavy artillery to plant on the hills opposite Alexandria, no movement is being made to occupy the position, and I am in momentary expectation of hearing the rebel guns open on the transports on the town side; or if they go down or come up the river, it will be at the risk of destruction. Our light-clads can do nothing against hill batteries. I am in momentary expectation of seeing this army retreat, when the result will be disastrous. Unless instructed by the Government, I do not think that General Banks will make the least effort to save the navy here. The following vessels are above the falls and command the right of the town: Mound City, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Carondelet, Chillicothe, Osage, Neosho, Ozark, Lexington, and Fort Hindman. At this moment the enemy have attacked our outposts, and driven in our indifferent cavalry, which came up numbering six thousand, and have brought nothing but calamity in their train. Our whole army is cooped up in this town, while a much inferior force is going rampant about the country, making preparations to assail our helpless transports, which, if caught filled with men, would be perfect slaughter-houses. Quick remedies are required, and I deem it my duty to lay the true state of affairs before you. If left here by the army, I will be obliged to destroy this fleet to prevent it falling into the enemy's hands. I can not conceive that the nation will permit such a sacrifice to be made, when men and money can prevent it. We have fought hard for the opening of the Mississippi, and have reduced the naval forces of the rebels in this quarter to two vessels. If we have to destroy what we have here, there will be material enough to build half a dozen iron-clads, and the Red River, which is now of no further dread to us, will require half the Mississippi squadron to watch it. I am apprehensive that the turrets of the monitors will defy any efforts we can make to destroy them. Our prestige will receive a shock from which it will be long in recovering; and if the calamities I dread should overtake us, the annals of this war will not present so dire a one as will have befallen us."
Thus Admiral Porter, who even understates the facts.
In vain had all this been pointed out to General Kirby Smith, when he came to me at Pleasant Hill in the night after the battle. Granted that he was alarmed for Shreveport, sacred to him and his huge staff as Benares, dwelling-place of many gods, to the Hindoo; yet, when he marched from that place on the 16th of April against Steele, the latter, already discomfited by Price's horse, was retreating, and, with less than a third of Banks's force at Grand Ecore, was then further from Shreveport than was Banks. To pursue a retreating foe, numbering six thousand men, he took over seven thousand infantry, and left me twelve hundred to operate against twenty odd thousand and a powerful fleet. From the evening of the 21st of April, when I returned to the front near Grand Ecore, to the 13th of May, the day on which Porter and Banks escaped from Alexandria, I kept him advised of the enemy's movements and condition. Couriers and staff officers were sent to implore him to return and reap the fruits of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill, whose price had been paid in blood. Not a man was sent me; even the four-gun battery with Liddell on the north of the river was, without my knowledge, withdrawn toward Arkansas. From first to last, General Kirby Smith seemed determined to throw a protecting shield around the Federal army and fleet.
In all the ages since the establishment of the Assyrian monarchy no commander has possessed equal power to destroy a cause. Far away from the great centers of conflict in Virginia and Georgia, on a remote theatre, the opportunity of striking a blow decisive of the war was afforded. An army that included the strength of every garrison from Memphis to the Gulf had been routed, and, by the incompetency of its commander, was utterly demoralized and ripe for destruction. But this army was permitted to escape, and its 19th corps reached Chesapeake Bay in time to save Washington from General Early's attack, while the 13th, 16th, and 17th corps reenforced Sherman in Georgia. More than all, we lost Porter's fleet, which the falling river had delivered into our hands; for the protection of an army was necessary to its liberation, as without the army a dam at the falls could not have been constructed. With this fleet, or even a portion of it, we would have at once recovered possession of the Mississippi, from the Ohio to the sea, and undone all the work of the Federals since the winter of 1861. Instead of Sherman, Johnston would have been reenforced from west of the Mississippi, and thousands of absent men, with fresh hope, would have rejoined Lee. The Southern people might have been spared the humiliation of defeat, and the countless woes and wrongs inflicted on them by their conquerors.
It was for this that Green and Mouton and other gallant spirits fell! It was for this that the men of Missouri and Arkansas made a forced march to die at Pleasant Hill! It was for this that the divisions of Walker and Polignac had held every position intrusted to them, carried every position in their front, and displayed a constancy and valor worthy of the Guards at Inkermann or Lee's veterans in the Wilderness! For this, too, did the handful left, after our brethren had been taken from us, follow hard on the enemy, attack him constantly at any odds, beat off and sink his gunboats, close the Red River below him and shut up his army in Alexandria for fifteen days! Like "Sister Ann" from her watch tower, day after day we strained our eyes to see the dust of our approaching comrades arise from the north bank of the Red. Not a camp follower among us but knew that the arrival of our men from the North would give us the great prize in sight. Vain, indeed, were our hopes. The commander of the "Trans-Mississippi Department" had the power to destroy the last hope of the Confederate cause, and exercised it with all the success of Bazaine at Metz.
"The affairs of mice and men aft gang aglee," from sheer stupidity and pig-headed obstinacy. General Kirby Smith had publicly announced that Banks's army was too strong to be fought, and that the proper policy was either to defend the works protecting Shreveport, or retreat into Texas. People do not like to lose their reputations as prophets or sons of prophets. Subsequently, it was given out that General Kirby Smith had a wonderful plan for the destruction of the enemy, which I had disturbed by rashly beating his army at Mansfield and Pleasant Hill; but this plan, like Trochu's for the defense of Paris, was never disclosed—undoubtedly, because c'etait le secret de Polichinelle.
After many days of energetic labor, the enemy on the 13th of May succeeded in passing his fleet over the falls at Alexandria, evacuated the place, and retreated down the river, the army, on the south bank, keeping pace with the fleet. Admiral Porter, in his report to the Secretary of the Navy, gives a graphic account of the passage of the falls, and under date of May 19th, says: "In my report in relation to the release of the gunboats from their unpleasant position above the falls, I did not think it prudent to mention that I was obliged to destroy eleven thirty-two-pounders, not having time to haul them from above the falls to Alexandria, the army having moved and drawn in all their pickets. For the same reason I also omitted to mention that I was obliged to take off the iron from the sides of the Pook gunboats and from the Ozark, to enable them to get over."
To harass the retreat, the horse and artillery, on the river above Alexandria, were directed to press the enemy's rear, and the remaining horse and Polignac's infantry to intercept his route at Avoyelles Prairie. During the 14th, 15th, and 16th he was constantly attacked in front, rear, and right flank; and on the 17th Wharton charged his rear near Mansura, capturing many prisoners, while Colonel Yager, with two regiments of horse, cut in on the wagon train at Yellow Bayou, killed and drove off the guard, and destroyed much property. Meanwhile Liddell, on the north bank of the Red, followed the fleet and kept up a constant fire on the transports. But for the unfortunate withdrawal of his battery, before alluded to, he could have destroyed many of these vessels. On the 18th we attacked the enemy at Yellow Bayou, near Simmsport, and a severe engagement ensued, lasting until night. We held the field, on which the enemy left his dead, but our loss was heavy, four hundred and fifty-two in killed and wounded; among the former, Colonel Stone, commanding Polignac's old brigade. Polignac, in charge of division, was conspicuous in this action. The following day, May 19, 1864, the enemy crossed the Atchafalaya and was beyond our reach. Here, at the place where it had opened more than two months before, the campaign closed.
The army I had the honor to command in this campaign numbered, at its greatest strength, about thirteen thousand of all arms, including Liddell's force on the north bank of Red River; but immediately after the battle of Pleasant Hill it was reduced to fifty-two hundred by the withdrawal of Walker's and Churchill's divisions. Many of the troops marched quite four hundred miles, and from the 5th of April to the 18th of May not a day passed without some engagement with the enemy, either on land or river. Our total loss in killed, wounded, and missing was three thousand nine hundred and seventy-six; that of the enemy, nearly three times this number.
From the action at Yellow Bayou on the 18th of May, 1864, to the close of the war in the following year, not a shot was fired in the "Trans-Mississippi Department." Johnston was forced back to Atlanta and relieved from command, and Atlanta fell. Not even an effective demonstration was made toward Arkansas and Missouri to prevent troops from being sent to reenforce Thomas at Nashville, and Hood was overthrown. Sherman marched unopposed through Georgia and South Carolina, while Lee's gallant army wasted away from cold and hunger in the trenches at Petersburg. Like Augustus in the agony of his spirit, the sorely pressed Confederates on the east of the Mississippi asked, and asked in vain: "Varus! Varus! Where are our legions?"
The enemy's advance, fleet and army, reached Alexandria on the 16th of March, but he delayed sixteen days there and at Grand Ecore. My first reenforcements, two small regiments of horse, joined at Natchitoches on the 31st; but the larger part of Green's force came in at Mansfield on the 6th of April, Churchill's infantry reaching Keachi the same day. Had Banks pushed to Mansfield on the 5th instead of the 8th of April, he would have met but little opposition; and, once at Mansfield, he had the choice of three roads to Shreveport, where Steele could have joined him.
Judging from the testimony given to the Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War, cotton and elections seem to have been the chief causes of delay. In the second volume of "Report" may be found much crimination and recrimination between the Navy and Army concerning the seizure of cotton. Without attempting to decide the question, I may observe that Admiral Porter informs the Secretary of the Navy of "the capture from the rebels of three thousand bales of cotton on the Washita river, and two thousand on the Red, all of which I have sent to Cairo"; while General Banks testifies that he "took from western Louisiana ten thousand bales of cotton and twenty thousand beef cattle, horses, and mules." From this, the Army appears to have surpassed the navy to the extent of five thousand bales of cotton and the above-mentioned number of beef cattle, etc. Whether Admiral Porter or General Banks was the more virtuous, the unhappy people of Louisiana were deprived of "cakes and ale."
In his enthusiasm for art the classic cobbler forgot his last; but "all quality, pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war" could not make General Banks forget his politics, and he held elections at Alexandria and Grand Ecore. The General describes with some unction the devotion of the people to the "Union," which was and was to be, to them, "the fount of every blessing."
Says General Banks in his report: "It became necessary to accomplish the evacuation [of Grand Ecore] without the enemy's knowledge. The conflagration of a portion of the town at the hour appointed for the movement partially frustrated the object." And further on: "Rumors were circulated freely throughout the camp at Alexandria, that upon the evacuation of the town it would be burned, and a considerable portion of the town was destroyed." Evidently, these burnings were against the orders of General Banks, who appears to have lost authority over some of his troops. Moreover, in their rapid flight from Grand Ecore to Monette's Ferry, a distance of forty miles, the Federals burned nearly every house on the road. In pursuit, we passed the smoking ruins of homesteads, by which stood weeping women and children. Time for the removal of the most necessary articles of furniture had been refused. It was difficult to restrain one's inclination to punish the ruffians engaged in this work, a number of whom were captured; but they asserted, and doubtless with truth, that they were acting under orders.
From the universal testimony of citizens, I learned that General Banks and the officers and men of the 19th corps, Eastern troops, exerted themselves to prevent these outrages, and that the perpetrators were the men of General A.J. Smith's command from Sherman's army. Educated at West Point, this General Smith had long served in the regular army of the United States, and his men were from the West, whose brave sons might well afford kindness to women and babes. A key to their conduct can be found in the "Memoirs" of General W.T. Sherman, the commander who formed them, and whose views are best expressed in his own words.
The city of Atlanta, from which the Confederates had withdrawn, was occupied by Slocum's corps of Sherman's army on the 2d of September, 1864. In vol. ii. of his "Memoirs," page 111, General Sherman says: "I was resolved to make Atlanta a pure military garrison or depot, with no civil population to influence military measures. I gave notice of this purpose as early as the 4th of September, to General Halleck, in a letter concluding with these words: 'If the people raise a howl against my barbarity and cruelty, I will answer that war is war, and not popularity-seeking. If they want peace, they and their relations must stop the war.'" On pages 124-6 appears the correspondence of General Sherman with the mayor and councilmen of Atlanta concerning the removal of citizens, in which the latter write: "We petition you to reconsider the order requiring them to leave Atlanta. It will involve in the aggregate consequences appalling and heartrending. Many poor women are in an advanced state of pregnancy, others now having young children, and whose husbands for the greater part are either in the army, prisoners, or dead. Some say, 'I have such a one sick at my house; who will wait on them when I am gone?' Others say, 'What are we to do? we have no house to go to, and no means to buy, build, or rent any; no parents, relatives, or friends to go to.' This being so, how is it possible for the people still here, mostly women and children, to find shelter? And how can they live through the winter in the woods?" To this General Sherman replies: "I have your letter of the 11th, in the nature of a petition to revoke my orders removing all the inhabitants from Atlanta. I have read it carefully, and give full credit to your statements of the distress that will be occasioned, and yet shall not revoke my orders, because they were not intended to meet the humanities of the case. You might as well appeal against the thunderstorm as against these terrible hardships of war. They are inevitable; and the only way the people of Atlanta can hope once more to live in peace and quiet at home is to stop the war, which can only be done by admitting that it began in error and is perpetuated in pride." Again, on page 152 is Sherman's telegram to General Grant: "Until we can repopulate Georgia, it is useless for us to occupy it; but the utter destruction of its roads, houses, and people will cripple their military resources. I can make this march, and make Georgia howl." It could hardly be expected that troops trained by this commander would respect the humanities.
EAST OF THE MISSISSIPPI.
Prostrated by two years of constant devotion to work—work so severe, stern, and exacting as to have prevented me from giving the slightest attention to my family, even when heavily afflicted—and persuaded that under existing administration nothing would be accomplished in the "Trans-Mississippi Department," a month after the close of the Red River campaign I applied for relief from duty. After several applications this was granted, and with my wife and two surviving children I retired to the old Spanish-French town of Natchitoches. The inhabitants, though impoverished by the war, had a comfortable house ready for my family, to which they invited me, with all the warmth of Southern hearts and all the good taste of the Latin race. Here I remained for several weeks, when information of my promotion to lieutenant-general came from Richmond, with orders to report for duty on the east side of the Mississippi. The officers of my staff, who had long served with me, desired and were permitted to accompany me, with the exception of Brent, now colonel of artillery, who could not be spared. Colonel Brent remained in west Louisiana until the close of the war, attaining the rank of brigadier. Of his merit and services I have already written.
The Red River campaign of 1864 was the last Federal campaign undertaken for political objects, or intrusted to political generals. Experience taught the Washington Government that its enormous resources must be concentrated, and henceforth unity of purpose and action prevailed. Posts on the Mississippi between Memphis and New Orleans were strengthened, intervening spaces closely guarded by numerous gunboats, and parties thrown ashore to destroy all boats that could be found. Though individuals, with precaution, could cross the great river, it was almost impossible to take over organized bodies of troops or supplies, and the Confederates on the west were isolated. The Federal Government now directed its energies against Richmond and Atlanta.
Upon what foundations the civil authorities of the Confederacy rested their hopes of success, after the campaign of 1864 fully opened, I am unable to say; but their commanders in the field, whose rank and position enabled them to estimate the situation, fought simply to afford statesmanship an opportunity to mitigate the sorrows of inevitable defeat.
A grand old oak, on the east bank of the Black River, the lower Washita, protected my couch; and in the morning, with two guides, the faithful Tom following, I threaded my way through swamp and jungle to the Mississippi, which was reached at sunset. A light canoe was concealed some distance from the river bank, and after the short twilight faded into night this was borne on the shoulders of the guides, and launched. One of the guides embarked to paddle, and Tom and I followed, each leading a horse. A gunboat was lying in the river a short distance below, and even the horses seemed to understand the importance of silence, swimming quietly alongside of our frail craft. The eastern shore reached, we stopped for a time to rub and rest the cattle, exhausted by long-continued exertion in the water; then pushed on to Woodville, some five and twenty miles east. This, the chief town of Wilkison county, Mississippi, was in telegraphic communication with Richmond, and I reported my arrival to the war office. An answer came, directing me to take command of the department of Alabama, Mississippi, etc., with the information that President Davis would shortly leave Richmond to meet me at Montgomery, Alabama. While awaiting telegram, I learned of the fall of Atlanta and the forts at the entrance of Mobile Bay. My predecessor in the department to the command of which telegraphic orders had just assigned me was General Bishop Polk, to whom I accord all his titles; for in him, after a sleep of several centuries, was awakened the church militant. Before he joined Johnston in northern Georgia, Polk's headquarters were at Meridian, near the eastern boundary of Mississippi, where the Mobile and Ohio Railway, running north, is crossed by the Vicksburg, Jackson, and Selma line, running east. To this point I at once proceeded, via Jackson, more than a hundred miles northeast of Woodville. Grierson's and other "raids," in the past summer, had broken the New Orleans and Jackson Railway, so that I rode the distance to the latter place. It was in September, and the fierce heat was trying to man and beast. The open pine forests of southern Mississippi obstruct the breeze, while affording no protection from the sun, whose rays are intensified by reflection from the white, sandy soil. Jackson reached, I stopped for an hour to see the Governor of Mississippi, Clarke, an old acquaintance, and give instructions to Brigadier Wirt Adams, the local commander; then took rail to Meridian, eighty miles, where I found the records of the department left by General Polk, as well as several officers of the general staff. These gentlemen had nothing especial to do, and appeared to be discharging that duty conscientiously; but they were zealous and intelligent, and speedily enabled me to judge of the situation. Major-General Maury, in immediate command at Mobile, and the senior officer in the department before my arrival, had ordered General Forrest with his cavalry to Mobile in anticipation of an attack. Forrest himself was expected to pass through Meridian that evening, en route for Mobile.
Just from the Mississippi river, where facilities for obtaining information from New Orleans were greater than at Mobile, I was confident that the enemy contemplated no immediate attack on the latter place. Accordingly, General Maury was informed by telegraph of my presence, that I assumed command of the department, and would arrest Forrest's movement. An hour later a train from the north, bringing Forrest in advance of his troops, reached Meridian, and was stopped; and the General, whom I had never seen, came to report. He was a tall, stalwart man, with grayish hair, mild countenance, and slow and homely of speech. In few words he was informed that I considered Mobile safe for the present, and that all our energies must be directed to the relief of Hood's army, then west of Atlanta. The only way to accomplish this was to worry Sherman's communications north of the Tennessee river, and he must move his cavalry in that direction at the earliest moment.
To my surprise, Forrest suggested many difficulties and asked numerous questions: how he was to get over the Tennessee; how he was to get back if pressed by the enemy; how he was to be supplied; what should be his line of retreat in certain contingencies; what he was to do with prisoners if any were taken, etc. I began to think he had no stomach for the work; but at last, having isolated the chances of success from causes of failure with the care of a chemist experimenting in his laboratory, he rose and asked for Fleming, the superintendent of the railway, who was on the train by which he had come. Fleming appeared—a little man on crutches (he had recently broken a leg), but with the energy of a giant—and at once stated what he could do in the way of moving supplies on his line, which had been repaired up to the Tennessee boundary. Forrest's whole manner now changed. In a dozen sharp sentences he told his wants, said he would leave a staff officer to bring up his supplies, asked for an engine to take him back north twenty miles to meet his troops, informed me he would march with the dawn, and hoped to give an account of himself in Tennessee.
Moving with great rapidity, he crossed the Tennessee river, captured stockades with their garrisons, burned bridges, destroyed railways, reached the Cumberland River below Nashville, drove away gunboats, captured and destroyed several transports with immense stores, and spread alarm over a wide region. The enemy concentrated on him from all directions, but he eluded or defeated their several columns, recrossed the Tennessee, and brought off fifteen hundred prisoners and much spoil. Like Clive, Nature made him a great soldier; and he was without the former's advantages. Limited as was Clive's education, he was a person of erudition compared with Forrest, who read with difficulty. In the last weeks of the war he was much with me, and told me the story of his life. His father, a poor trader in negroes and mules, died when he was fifteen years of age, leaving a widow and several younger children dependent on him for support. To add to his burden, a posthumous infant was born some weeks after the father's death. Continuing the paternal occupations in a small way, he continued to maintain the family and give some education to the younger children. His character for truth, honesty, and energy was recognized, and he gradually achieved independence and aided his brethren to start in life. Such was his short story up to the war.
Some months before the time of our first meeting, with two thousand men he defeated the Federal General Sturgis, who had five times his force, at Tishimingo; and he repeated his success at Okalona, where his opponent, General Smith, had even greater odds against him. The battle of Okalona was fought on an open plain, and Forrest had no advantage of position to compensate for great inferiority of numbers; but it is remarkable that he employed the tactics of Frederick at Leuthen and Zorndorf, though he had never heard these names. Indeed, his tactics deserve the closest study of military men. Asked after the war to what he attributed his success in so many actions, he replied: "Well, I got there first with the most men." Jomini could not have stated the key to the art of war more concisely. I doubt if any commander since the days of lion-hearted Richard has killed as many enemies with his own hand as Forrest. His word of command as he led the charge was unique: "Forward, men, and mix with 'em!" But, while cutting down many a foe with long-reaching, nervous arm, his keen eye watched the whole fight and guided him to the weak spot. Yet he was a tender-hearted, kindly man. The accusations of his enemies that he murdered prisoners at Fort Pillow and elsewhere are absolutely false. The prisoners captured on his expedition into Tennessee, of which I have just written, were negroes, and he carefully looked after their wants himself, though in rapid movement and fighting much of the time. These negroes told me of Mass Forrest's kindness to them. After the war I frequently met General Forrest, and received many evidences of attachment from him. He has passed away within a month, to the regret of all who knew him. In the States of Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee, to generations yet unborn, his name will be a "household word."
Having devoted several hours at Meridian to the work mentioned, I took rail for Mobile, a hundred and forty miles. This town of thirty thousand inhabitants is situated on the west bank of the Alabama (here called Mobile) River, near its entrance into Mobile Bay, which is five-and-twenty miles long by ten broad. A month before my arrival Admiral Farragut had captured Fort Morgan at the eastern mouth of the bay, after defeating the Confederate fleet under Admiral Buchanan, who was severely wounded in the action. Two or three of Buchanan's vessels had escaped, and were in charge of Commodore Farrand near Mobile. The shallow waters of the bay were thickly planted with torpedoes, and many heavy guns were mounted near the town, making it safe in front. Mobile had excellent communications with the interior. The Alabama, Tombigby, and Black Warrior Rivers afforded steam navigation to central Alabama and eastern Mississippi, while the Mobile and Ohio Railway reached the northern limit of the latter State. Supplies from the fertile "cane-brake" region of Alabama and the prairies of eastern Mississippi were abundant. Before they abandoned Pensacola, the Confederates had taken up fifty miles of rails from the Pensacola and Montgomery line, and used them to make a connection between the latter place and Blakeley, at the eastern head of the bay, opposite Mobile. From the known dispositions of the Federal forces, I did not think it probable that any serious attempt on Mobile would be made until spring. Already in possession of Fort Morgan and Pensacola, thirty miles east of the first, and the best harbor on the Gulf, the enemy, when he attacked, would doubtless make these places his base. It was important, then, to look to defensive works on the east side of the bay, and such works were vigorously pushed at Blakeley, above mentioned, and at Spanish Fort, several miles south. I had no intention of standing a siege in Mobile, but desired to hold the place with a small force, so as to compel the employment of an army to reduce it; and for this its situation was admirably adapted. The Mobile River, forty miles long, and formed by the Alabama and Tombigby, is but the estuary at the head of Mobile Bay, silted up with detritus by the entering streams. Several miles wide, it incloses numerous marshy islands in its many channels. These features make its passage difficult, while the Mobile and Ohio Railway, trending to the west as it leaves the town to gain the high land above the valley, affords a ready means for the withdrawal of a limited force.
The officer commanding at Mobile was well qualified for his task. Major-General D.H. Maury, nephew to the distinguished Matthew Maury, formerly of the United States navy, graduated from West Point in time to serve in the war with Mexico, where he was wounded. A Virginian, he resigned from the United States cavalry to share the fortunes of his State. Intelligent, upright, and devoted to duty, he gained the respect and confidence of the townspeople, and was thereby enabled to supplement his regular force of eight thousand of all arms with a body of local militia. It was a great comfort to find an able officer in this responsible position, who not only adopted my plans, but improved and executed them. General Maury had some excellent officers under him, and the sequel will show how well they discharged their duty to the end.
From Mobile to Meridian, and after some days to Selma, ninety miles east. The railway between these last places had been recently laid down, and was very imperfect. There was no bridge over the Tombigby at Demopolis, and a steam ferry was employed. East of Demopolis, the line passed through the cane-brake country, a land of fatness. The army of Lee, starving in the trenches before Richmond and Petersburg, could have been liberally supplied from this district but for lack of transportation.
Here it may be asserted that we suffered less from inferiority of numbers than from want of mechanical resources. Most of the mechanics employed in the South were Northern men, and returned to their section at the outbreak of war. The loss of New Orleans, our only large city, aggravated this trouble, and we had no means of repairing the long lines of railway, nor the plant. Even when unbroken by raids, wear and tear rendered them inefficient at an early period of the struggle. This had a more direct influence on the sudden downfall of the Confederacy than is generally supposed.
Selma, a place of some five thousand people, is on the north bank of the Alabama River, by which it has steam communication with Mobile and Montgomery, forty miles above on the opposite bank. In addition to the railway from Meridian, there was a line running to the northeast in the direction of Dalton, Georgia, the existing terminus of which was at Blue Mountain, a hundred and odd miles from Selma; and, to inspect the line, I went to Blue Mountain. This, the southern limit of the Alleghanies, which here sink into the great plain of the gulf, was distant from the Atlanta and Chattanooga Railway, Sherman's only line of communication, sixty miles. A force operating from Blue Mountain would approach this line at a right angle, and, drawing its supplies from the fertile country near Selma, would cover its own communications while threatening those of an enemy from Atlanta to Chattanooga. On this account the road might be of importance.
Returning to Selma, I stopped at Talladega, on the east bank of the Coosa River, the largest affluent of the Alabama, and navigable by small steamers to Rome, Georgia. Here I met Brigadier Daniel Adams, in local command, and learned much of the condition of the surrounding region. After passing Chattanooga the Tennessee River makes a great bend to the South, inclosing a part of Alabama between itself and the Tennessee State line; and in this district was a small Confederate force under Brigadier Roddy, which was enabled to maintain an exposed position by knowledge of the country. General Adams thought he could procure wire enough to establish communication with Roddy, or materially shorten the courier line between them; and, as this would duplicate my means of getting news, especially of Forrest, he was directed to do so. I had no knowledge of Hood's plans or condition, saving that he had been defeated and was southwest of Atlanta; but if he contemplated operations on Sherman's communications, which was his true policy, he must draw supplies from Selma, as much of the country between the Tennessee and Alabama Rivers was sterile and sparsely populated. Accordingly, I moved my headquarters to Selma and ordered the collection of supplies there, and at Talladega; then took steamer for Montgomery, to meet the General Assembly of Alabama, called in extra session in view of the crisis produced by Hood's defeat and the fall of Atlanta. Just as the steamer was leaving Selma, I received dispatches from Forrest, announcing his first success after crossing the Tennessee river. Traveling alone, or with one staff officer, and unknown to the people, I had opportunities of learning something of the real state of public sentiment in my new department. Citizens were universally depressed and disheartened. Sick and wounded officers and men from Hood's army were dissatisfied with the removal of Johnston from command, and the subsequent conduct of affairs. From conversations in railway carriages and on river steamers I had gathered this, and nothing but this, since my arrival.
Reaching Montgomery in the morning, I had interviews with the Governor and leading members of the Assembly, who promised all the assistance in their power to aid in the defense of the State. The Governor, Watts, who had resigned the office of Attorney-General of the Confederacy to accept his present position, was ever ready to cooeperate with me.
Late in the afternoon a dispatch was received from President Davis, announcing his arrival for the following morning. He came, was received by the State authorities, visited the Capitol, addressed the Assembly, and then received leading citizens; all of which consumed the day, and it was ten o'clock at night when he took me to his chamber, locked the door, and said we must devote the night to work, as it was imperative for him to return to Richmond the next morning. He began by saying that he had visited Hood and his army on his way to Montgomery, and was gratified to find officers and men in excellent spirits, not at all depressed by recent disasters, and that he thought well of a movement north toward Nashville. I expressed surprise at his statement of the condition of Hood's army, as entirely opposed to the conclusions forced on me by all the evidence I could get, and warned him of the danger of listening to narrators who were more disposed to tell what was agreeable than what was true. He readily admitted that persons in his position were exposed to this danger. Proceeding to discuss the suggested movement toward Nashville, I thought it a serious matter to undertake a campaign into Tennessee in the autumn, with troops so badly equipped as were ours for the approaching winter. Every mile the army marched north, it was removing farther from supplies, and no reenforcements were to be hoped for from any quarter. Besides, Sherman could control force enough to garrison Chattanooga and Nashville, and, if time were allowed him to accumulate supplies at Atlanta by his one line of rail, could abandon everything south of Chattanooga, and with fifty thousand men, in the absence of Hood's army, march where he liked. The President asked what assistance might be expected from the trans-Mississippi. I replied, none. There would not be another gun fired there; for the Federals had withdrawn their troops to concentrate east of the river. The difficulty of bringing over organized bodies of men was explained, with the addition of their unwillingness to come. The idea prevailed that the States west of the Mississippi had been neglected by the Government, and this idea had been encouraged by many in authority. So far from desiring to send any more men to the east, they clamored for the return of those already there. Certain senators and representatives, who had bitterly opposed the administration at Richmond, talked much wild nonsense about setting up a government west of the Mississippi, uniting with Maximilian, and calling on Louis Napoleon for assistance. The President listened attentively to this, and asked, "What then?" I informed him of the work Forrest was doing, pointed out the advantages of Blue Mountain as a base from which to operate, and suggested that Hood's army be thrown on Sherman's line of railway, north of Atlanta. As Johnston had been so recently removed from command, I would not venture to recommend his return, but believed that our chances would be increased by the assignment of Beauregard to the army. He still retained some of the early popularity gained at Sumter and Manassas, and would awaken a certain enthusiasm. Apprehending no immediate danger for Mobile, I would strip the place of everything except gunners and join Beauregard with four thousand good troops. Even the smallest reenforcement is inspiriting to a defeated army, and by seizing his railway we would force Sherman to battle. Granting we would be whipped, we could fall back to Blue Mountain without danger of pursuit, as the enemy was chained to his line of supply, and we certainly ought to make the fight hot enough to cripple him for a time and delay his projected movements. At the same time, I did not disguise my conviction that the best we could hope for was to protract the struggle until spring. It was for statesmen, not soldiers, to deal with the future.
The President said Beauregard should come, and, after consultation with Hood and myself, decide the movements of the army; but that he was distressed to hear such gloomy sentiments from me. I replied that it was my duty to express my opinions frankly to him, when he asked for them, though there would be impropriety in giving utterance to them before others; but I did not admit the gloom. In fact, I had cut into this game with eyes wide open, and felt that in staking life, fortune, and the future of my children, the chances were against success. It was not for me, then, to whimper when the cards were bad; that was the right of those who were convinced there would be no war, or at most a holiday affair, in which everybody could display heroism. With much other talk we wore through the night. In the morning he left, as he purposed, and I returned to Selma. My next meeting with President Davis was at Fortress Monroe, under circumstances to be related.
Some days at Selma were devoted to accumulation of supplies, and General Maury was advised that he must be prepared to forward a part of his command to that place, when a message from Beauregard informed me that he was on the way to Blue Mountain and desired to meet me there. He had not seen Hood, whose army, after an ineffectual attack on Altoona, had left Sherman's line of communication, moved westward, and was now some fifteen miles to the north of Blue Mountain. Having told me this, Beauregard explained the orders under which he was acting. To my disappointment, he had not been expressly assigned to command Hood's army, but to the general direction of affairs in the southwest. General Maury, a capable officer, was at Mobile; Forrest, with his cavalry division, I had sent into Tennessee; and a few scattered men were watching the enemy in various quarters—all together hardly constituting a command for a lieutenant-general, my rank. Unless Beauregard took charge of Hood's army, there was nothing for him to do except to command me. Here was a repetition of 1863. Then Johnston was sent with a roving commission to command Bragg in Tennessee, Pemberton in Mississippi, and others in sundry places. The result was that he commanded nobody, and, when Pemberton was shut up in Vicksburg, found himself helpless, with a handful of troops, at Jackson. To give an officer discretion to remove another from command of an army in the field is to throw upon him the responsibility of doing it, and this should be assumed by the government, not left to an individual.
However, I urged on Beauregard the considerations mentioned in my interview with President Davis, that Sherman had detached to look after Forrest, was compelled to keep garrisons at many points from Atlanta to Nashville, and, if forced to action fifty or sixty miles north of the former place, would be weaker then than we could hope to find him later, after he had accumulated supplies. I mentioned the little reenforcement we could have at once from Mobile, my readiness to take any command, division, brigade, or regiment to which he might assign me, and, above all, the necessity of prompt action. There were two persons present, Colonel Brent, of Beauregard's staff, and Mr. Charles Villere, a member of the Confederate Congress from Louisiana. The former said all that was proper for a staff officer in favor of my views; the latter, Beauregard's brother-in-law, warmly urged their adoption. The General ordered his horse, to visit Hood, and told me to await intelligence from him. On his return from Hood, he informed me that the army was moving to the northwest, and would cross the Tennessee river near the Muscle Shoals. As this plan of campaign had met the sanction of President Davis, and Hood felt confident of success, he declined to interfere. I could not blame Beauregard; for it was putting a cruel responsibility on him to supersede a gallant veteran, to whom fortune had been adverse. There was nothing to be said and nothing to be done, saving to discharge one's duty to the bitter end. Hood's line of march would bring him within reach of the Mobile and Ohio Railway in northern Mississippi, and supplies could be sent him by that road. Selma ceased to be of importance, and my quarters were returned to Meridian. Forrest, just back from Tennessee, was advised of Hood's purposes and ordered to cooeperate. Maury was made happy by the information that he would lose none of his force, and the usual routine of inspections, papers, etc., occupied the ensuing weeks.
My attention was called about this time to the existence of a wide-spread evil. A practice had grown up of appointing provost-marshals to take private property for public use, and every little post commander exercised the power to appoint such officials. The land swarmed with these vermin, appointed without due authority, or self-constituted, who robbed the people of horses, mules, cattle, corn, and meat. The wretched peasants of the middle ages could not have suffered more from the "free companies" turned loose upon them. Loud complaints came up from State governors and from hundreds of good citizens. I published an order, informing the people that their property was not to be touched unless by authority given by me and in accordance with the forms of law, and they were requested to deal with all violators of the order as with highwaymen. This put an end to the tyranny, which had been long and universally submitted to.
The readiness of submission to power displayed by the American people in the war was astonishing. Our British forefathers transmitted to us respect for law and love of liberty founded upon it; but the influence of universal suffrage seemed to have destroyed all sense of personal manhood, all conception of individual rights. It may be said of the South, that its people submitted to wrong because they were engaged in a fierce struggle with superior force; but what of the North, whose people were fighting for conquest? Thousands were opposed to the war, and hundreds of thousands to its conduct and objects. The wonderful vote received by McClellan in 1864 showed the vast numbers of the Northern minority; yet, so far from modifying in the smallest degree the will and conduct of the majority, this multitude of men dared not give utterance to their real sentiments; and the same was true of the South at the time of secession. Reformers who have tried to improve the morals of humanity, discoverers who have striven to alleviate its physical conditions, have suffered martyrdom at its hands. Years upon years have been found necessary to induce the masses to consider, much less adopt, schemes for their own advantage. A government of numbers, then, is not one of virtue or intelligence, but of force, intangible, irresistible, irresponsible—resembling that of Caesar depicted by the great historian, which, covering the earth as a pall, reduced all to a common level of abject servitude. For many years scarce a descendant of the colonial gentry in the Eastern States has been elected to public office. To-day they have no existence even as a social force and example. Under the baleful influence of negro suffrage it is impossible to foretell the destiny of the South. Small wonder that pure democracies have ever proved ready to exchange "Demos" for some other tyrant.
Occasional visits for inspection were made to Mobile, where Maury was strengthening his defenses. On the east side of the bay, Blakeley and Spanish Fort were progressing steadily, as I held that the enemy would attack there, tempted by his possession of Pensacola and Fort Morgan. Although this opinion was justified in the end, hope may have had some influence in its formation; for we could meet attack from that quarter better than from the west, which, indeed, would have speedily driven us from the place. The loss of the Mobile and Ohio railway would have necessitated the withdrawal of the garrison across the bay, a difficult operation, if pressed by superior force.
The Confederate Congress had enacted that negro troops, captured, should be restored to their owners. We had several hundreds of such, taken by Forrest in Tennessee, whose owners could not be reached; and they were put to work on the fortifications at Mobile, rather for the purpose of giving them healthy employment than for the value of the work. I made it a point to visit their camps and inspect the quantity and quality of their food, always found to be satisfactory. On one occasion, while so engaged, a fine-looking negro, who seemed to be leader among his comrades, approached me and said: "Thank you, Massa General, they give us plenty of good victuals; but how you like our work?" I replied that they had worked very well. "If you will give us guns we will fight for these works, too. We would rather fight for our own white folks than for strangers." And, doubtless, this was true. In their dealings with the negro the white men of the South should ever remember that no instance of outrage occurred during the war. Their wives and little ones remained safe at home, surrounded by thousands of faithful slaves, who worked quietly in the fields until removed by the Federals. This is the highest testimony to the kindness of the master and the gentleness of the servant; and all the dramatic talent prostituted to the dissemination of falsehood in "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and similar productions can not rebut it.
About the middle of November I received from General Lee, now commanding the armies of the Confederacy, instructions to visit Macon and Savannah, Georgia, if I could leave my department, and report to him the condition of affairs in that quarter, and the probabilities of Sherman's movements, as the latter had left Atlanta. I proceeded at once, taking rail at Montgomery, and reached Macon, via Columbus, Georgia, at dawn. It was the bitterest weather I remember in this latitude. The ground was frozen and some snow was falling. General Howell Cobb, the local commander, met me at the station and took me to his house, which was also his office. Arrived there, horses appeared, and Cobb said he supposed that I would desire to ride out and inspect the fortifications, on which he had been at work all night, as the enemy was twelve miles north of Macon at noon of the preceding day. I asked what force he had to defend the place. He stated the number, which was utterly inadequate, and composed of raw conscripts. Whereupon I declined to look at the fortifications, and requested him to order work upon them to be stopped, so that his men could get by a fire, as I then was and intended to remain. I had observed a movement of stores in passing the railway station, and now expressed the opinion that Macon was the safest place in Georgia, and advised Cobb to keep his stores. Here entered General Mackall, one of Cobb's subordinates, who was personally in charge of the defensive works, and could not credit the order he had received to stop. Cobb referred him to me, and I said: "The enemy was but twelve miles from you at noon of yesterday. Had he intended coming to Macon, you would have seen him last evening, before you had time to strengthen works or remove stores." This greatly comforted Cobb, who up to that moment held me to be a lunatic. Breakfast was suggested, to which I responded with enthusiasm, having been on short commons for many hours. While we were enjoying the meal, intelligence was brought that the enemy had disappeared from the north of Macon and marched eastward. Cobb was delighted. He pronounced me to be the wisest of generals, and said he knew nothing of military affairs, but had entered the service from a sense of duty.
Cobb had been Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, and Secretary of the Treasury in the administration of President Buchanan. Beloved and respected in his State, he had been sent to Georgia to counteract the influence of Governor Joe Brown, who, carrying out the doctrine of State rights, had placed himself in opposition to President Davis. Cobb, with his conscripts, had been near Atlanta before Sherman moved out, and gave me a laughable account of the expeditious manner in which he and "his little party" got to Macon, just as he was inditing a superb dispatch to General Lee to inform him of the impossibility of Sherman's escape.
While we were conversing Governor Brown was announced, as arrived from Milledgeville, the State capital, forty miles to the northeast. Cobb remarked that it was awkward; for Governor Brown was the only man in Georgia to whom he did not speak. But he yielded to the ancient jest, that for the time being we had best hang together, as there seemed a possibility of enjoying that amusement separately, and brought the Governor in, who told me that he had escaped from Milledgeville as the Federals entered. People said that he had brought off his cow and his cabbages, and left the State's property to take care of itself. However, Governor Brown deserves praise at my hands, for he promptly acceded to all my requests. With him were General Robert Toombs, the most original of men, and General G.W. Smith, both of whom had been in the Confederate army. Toombs had resigned to take the place of Adjutant-General of Georgia; Smith, to superintend some iron works, from which he had been driven by Sherman's movements, and was now in command of Governor Brown's "army," composed of men that he had refused to the Confederate service. This "army" had some hours before marched east toward Savannah, taking the direct route along the railway. I told the Governor that his men would be captured unless they were called back at once; and Smith, who undertook the duty in person, was just in time. "Joe Brown's army" struck the extreme right of Sherman, and suffered some loss before Smith could extricate it. To Albany, ninety miles south of Macon, there was a railway, and some forty miles farther south, across the country, Thomasville was reached. Here was the terminus of the Savannah and Gulf Railway, two hundred miles, or thereabouts, southwest of Savannah. This route I decided to take, and suggested it to the Governor as the only safe one for his troops. He acquiesced at once, and Toombs promised to have transportation ready by the time Smith returned. Taking leave of Cobb, I departed.
Several years after the close of the war General Cobb and I happened to be in New York, accompanied by our families, but stopping at different inns. He dined with me, seemed in excellent health and spirits, and remained to a late hour, talking over former times and scenes. I walked to his lodgings with him, and promised to call with my wife on Mrs. Cobb the following day at 1 o'clock. We were there at the hour, when the servant, in answer to my request to take up our cards, stated that General Cobb had just fallen dead. I sprang up the stair, and saw his body lying on the floor of a room, his wife, dazed by the shock, looking on. A few minutes before he had written a letter and started for the office of the inn to post it, remarking to his wife that he would return immediately, as he expected our visit. A step from the threshold, and he was dead. Thus suddenly passed away one of the most genial and generous men I have known. His great fortune suffered much by the war, but to the last he shared its remains with less fortunate friends.
Traveling all night, I reached Thomasville in the early morning, and found that there was telegraphic communication with General Hardee at Savannah, whom I informed of my presence and requested to send down transportation for Governor Brown's troops. There was much delay at Thomasville, the railway people appearing to think that Sherman was swarming all over Georgia. At length I discovered an engine and a freight van, which the officials promised to get ready for me; but they were dreadfully slow, until Toombs rode into town and speedily woke them up. Smith returned to Macon after my departure, found transportation ready for his men, brought them to Albany by rail, and was now marching to Thomasville. Toombs, who had ridden on in advance, was not satisfied with Hardee's reply to my dispatch, but took possession of the telegraph and threatened dire vengeance on superintendents and road masters if they failed to have the necessary engines and carriages ready in time. He damned the dawdling creatures who had delayed me to such an extent as to make them energetic, and my engine appeared, puffing with anxiety to move. He assured me that he would not be many hours after me at Savannah, for Smith did not intend to halt on the road, as his men could rest in the carriages. A man of extraordinary energy, this same Toombs.
Savannah was reached about midnight, and Hardee was awaiting me. A short conversation cleared the situation and enabled me to send the following report to General Lee. Augusta, Georgia, held by General Bragg with a limited force, was no longer threatened, as the enemy had passed south of it. Sherman, with sixty or seventy thousand men, was moving on the high ground between the Savannah and Ogeechee Rivers; and as this afforded a dry, sandy road direct to Savannah, where he would most readily meet the Federal fleet, it was probable that he would adhere to it. He might cross the Savannah river forty or fifty miles above and march on Charleston, but this was hardly to be expected; for, in addition to the river named, there were several others and a difficult country to pass before Charleston could be reached, and his desire to communicate with the fleet by the nearest route and in the shortest time must be considered. Hardee's force was inadequate to the defense of Savannah, and he should prepare to abandon the place before he was shut up. Uniting, Bragg and Hardee should call in the garrison from Charleston, and all scattered forces along the coast south of Wilmington, North Carolina, and be prepared to resist Sherman's march through the Carolinas, which he must be expected to undertake as soon as he had established a base on the ocean. Before this report was dispatched, Hardee read and approved it.
Meanwhile scores of absurd rumors about the enemy came in. Places I had passed within an hour were threatened by heavy columns; others, from which the enemy was distant a hundred miles, were occupied, etc. But one of importance did come. The railway from Savannah to Charleston passes near the coast. The officer commanding at Pocotaligo, midway of the two places, reported an advance of the enemy from Port Royal, and that he must abandon his post the following morning unless reenforced. To lose the Charleston line would seriously interfere with the concentration just recommended. Hardee said that he could ill spare men, and had no means of moving them promptly. I bethought me of Toombs, Smith, and Governor Brown's "army." The energetic Toombs had frightened the railway people into moving him, and, from his telegrams, might be expected before dawn. Hardee thought but little of the suggestion, because the ground of quarrel between Governor Brown and President Davis was the refusal of the former to allow his guards to serve beyond their state. However, I had faith in Toombs and Smith. A short distance to the south of Savannah, on the Gulf road, was a switch by which carriages could be shunted on to a connection with the Charleston line. I wrote to Toombs of the emergency, and sent one of Hardee's staff to meet him at the switch. The governor's army was quietly shunted off and woke up at Pocotaligo in South Carolina, where it was just in time to repulse the enemy after a spirited little action, thereby saving the railway. Doubtless the Georgians, a plucky people, would have responded to an appeal to leave their State under the circumstances, but Toombs enjoyed the joke of making them unconscious patriots.
In the past autumn Cassius Clay of Kentucky killed a colored man who had attacked him. For more than thirty years Mr. Clay had advocated the abolition of slavery, and at the risk of his life. Dining with Toombs in New York just after the event, he said to me: "Seen the story about old Cassius Clay? Been an abolitionist all his days, and ends by shooting a nigger. I knew he would." A droll fellow is Robert Toombs. Full of talent and well instructed, he affects quaint and provincial forms of speech. His influence in Georgia is great, and he is a man to know.
Two days at Savannah served to accomplish the object of my mission, and, taking leave of Hardee, I returned to my own department. An educated soldier of large experience, Hardee was among the best of our subordinate generals, and, indeed, seemed to possess the requisite qualities for supreme command; but this he steadily refused, alleging his unfitness for responsibility. Such modesty is not a common American weakness, and deserves to be recorded. General Hardee's death occurred after the close of the war.
In this journey through Georgia, at Andersonville, I passed in sight of a large stockade inclosing prisoners of war. The train stopped for a few moments, and there entered the carriage, to speak to me, a man who said his name was Wirtz, and that he was in charge of the prisoners near by. He complained of the inadequacy of his guard and of the want of supplies, as the adjacent region was sterile and thinly populated. He also said that the prisoners were suffering from cold, were destitute of blankets, and that he had not wagons to supply fuel. He showed me duplicates of requisitions and appeals for relief that he had made to different authorities, and these I indorsed in the strongest terms possible, hoping to accomplish some good. I know nothing of this Wirtz, whom I then met for the first and only time, but he appeared to be earnest in his desire to mitigate the condition of his prisoners. There can be but little doubt that his execution was a "sop" to the passions of the "many-headed."
Returned to Meridian, the situation of Hood in Tennessee absorbed all my attention. He had fought at Franklin, and was now near Nashville. Franklin was a bloody affair, in which Hood lost many of his best officers and troops. The previous evening, at dusk, a Federal column, retreating north, passed within pistol-shot of Hood's forces, and an attack on it might have produced results; but it reached strong works at Franklin, and held them against determined assaults, until night enabled it to withdraw quietly to Nashville. This mistake may be ascribed to Hood's want of physical activity, occasioned by severe wounds and amputations, which might have been considered before he was assigned to command. Maurice of Saxe won Fontenoy in a litter, unable from disease to mount his horse; but in war it is hazardous to convert exceptions into rules.