Meanwhile, the division being entirely without wagons, save a few that were loaded with the reserve ammunition, still another wait took place while the men's haversacks were being filled with hard bread and coffee. All these delays were now having their effect upon Grover's own calculations. He now knew nothing of Banks's movements or his situation. Of his own movements he was bound to suppose that Taylor had received early and full information. Moreover, the topography of the country where Grover found himself was obscure and to him unknown. Instead, therefore, of marching forward as fast as his troops could land, boldly and at all hazards to seize the roads by which Taylor must retreat, Grover now took counsel with prudence and concealing his force behind the natural screen of the wood, waited till his whole division should be fully ready.
Thus it was six o'clock and the sun stood low among the tree-tops when Grover, with Birge and Kimball, took up the line of march for the Teche. Crossing the upper of the two bridges, he went into bivouac on the right bank on the plantation of Madame Porter, and called in Dwight's detachment. Before setting out to rejoin the division Holcomb burned the lower bridge, under orders, and then marching up the left bank, crossed the upper bridge at a late hour of the night. In Grover's front stood Vincent alone, for Reily had not yet come; but in the darkness it was impossible for Grover to make out the enemy's force, or even to find his exact position.
When about nine o'clock that night, as related in the last chapter, Taylor heard the news from Reily, he supposed Grover to be already in strong possession of the only road by which the Confederates could make good their retreat up the Teche; yet desperate as the situation seemed, Taylor at once made up his mind to try to extricate himself from the toils. Sending his wagon train ahead, soon after midnight he silently moved out of the lines of Bisland and marched rapidly on Franklin, leaving Green to cover the rear and retard the pursuit. These dispositions made, Taylor himself rode at once to his reversed front, a mile east of Franklin. With him were Reily, whom he had picked up on the road below Franklin, Vincent who with the four guns of Cornay was still watching Grover, and Clack's Louisiana battalion, which had come in from New Iberia just in the nick of time. The plantation with the sugar-house, then belonging to McKerrall, is now known as Shaffer's. The grounds of Oak Lawn adjoin it toward the east and north, and along its western boundary stand Nerson's Woods, whence the coming battle takes the name given to it in the Confederate accounts. Here, beneath the trees, along their eastern skirt and behind a stout fence, Taylor formed his line of battle, facing toward the east, and waited for the coming of Grover. South of the bayou road stood Clack; on his left, two pieces of Cornay's battery, next Reily, then Vincent with a second section of Cornay's guns. The task before them was simple but desperate. They were to hold off Grover until all but they had safely passed behind the living barrier. Then they were to extricate themselves as best they could, and falling in the rear of the main column of the Confederate army try to make good their own escape. Before this could happen, Grover might overwhelm them or Banks might overtake them; yet there was no other way.
As early on the morning of Tuesday the 14th of April as it was light enough to see, Grover marched on Franklin by the winding bayou road. Preceded by Barrett and a strong line of skirmishers, Birge with Rodgers's battery led the column; Dwight with Closson's battery, followed; while Kimball with Nims's battery brought up the rear.
The head of Grover's column had gone about two miles, and in a few moments more would have turned the sharp corner of the bayou and faced toward Franklin, when, on the right, near the sugar-house, Birge's skirmishers ran into those of Clack's battalion, and the battle of Irish Bend began.
Between Birge and the concealed Confederate ranks, past which he was in fact marching, while his line of direction gave his right flank squarely to the hostile front, lay the broad and open fields of McKerrall's plantation, where the young sugar-cane stood a foot high above the deep and wide furrows. From recent ploughing and still more recent rains the fat soil was soft and heavy under foot, and here and there the cross-furrows, widening and deepening into a ditch, added to the toil and difficulty of movement, both for men and guns. On the left flowed the dark and sluggish Teche. On the right lay the swamp, thickly overgrown and nearly impassable, whence the waters of the Choupique begin to ooze toward the Gulf. Along the southern border of this morass ran a great transverse ditch that carried off the gathered seepage of the lesser drains. In front, on the western edge of the cane-field, stood Nerson's woods, where, as yet unseen, the Confederates lay in wait; while before them, like a screen, stretched a low fringe of brake and undergrowth.
Birge's order of march placed the 25th Connecticut in the advance, one wing deployed as skirmishers across the road, the other wing in reserve. Next came the 26th Maine with Bradley's section of Rodgers's battery, then the 159th New York, then the remainder of Rodgers's battery, while the 13th Connecticut brought up the rear. When he saw his skirmishers briskly engaged and by the sound and smoke discovered the position of the enemy, Birge made the reserved battalion of the 25th Connecticut change front forward and move across the field against the Confederate left. Bissell led his men quickly to within a hundred yards of the wood, where they lay down under the partial cover of a ditch and began firing. Hubbard, with the 26th Maine, came up on Bissell's left and took up the same tactics. At once the enfilade fire of the Confederate line became vigorous and annoying, until Bradley took his two guns at a gallop to the skirt of the undergrowth opposite the interval between the infantry battalions and, opening fire at five hundred yards' range, engaged for a time the whole attention of the Confederate cannoneers. Then Grover, who rode with Birge, sent in the 159th New York on the left of the 26th Maine, with orders to take the wood, while the 13th Connecticut, marching round the bend of the bayou, formed on the extreme left between the stream and the road.
Molineux promptly deployed his regiment, and gallantly led it forward at the double-quick over and beyond the left of the line already formed, until the men were within short point-blank range of the enemy's musketry; there, finding them exhausted by the rapid advance over the rough and heavy ground, as well as suffering severely from the bullets of the enemy, he made the men throw off their blankets and overcoats, lie down, and open a vigorous fire. Perhaps under the stress of this, but more probably in preparation for the counter-attack, the Confederates slackened their fire, and Molineux, perceiving his opportunity, as it seemed, was in the act of uttering the command "Forward!" when a bullet struck him in the mouth and he fell, painfully wounded, leaving the command of the regiment, for the time, to Captain Dayton. Lieutenant-Colonel Draper had already fallen, and Major Burt was with Grover, serving on the staff.
At the word the men sprang to their feet, but before the command could be carried out, suddenly came the crisis of the battle. About seven o'clock, Gray had brought up the 28th Louisiana to Taylor's aid, and with it the news that the rest of the forces from Bisland were close at hand and all was well with them. Under cover of the wood, Taylor moved Gray quietly to the left, and perceiving that his line now overlapped Grover's right, promptly determined to gain the brief time he still needed for the safe retreat of his main body by a bold and vigorous attack with the whole force he had under his hand. The order was obeyed with spirit. Out of the wood beyond the right, and from the main ditch, well in the rear of the 159th, the Confederates came charging strongly, and halting, they poured in a hot volley. Seeing that the situation was critical Dayton ordered the regiment to retire. Under a severe fire it fell back quickly, yet in good order, to the road. There it promptly re-formed on its colors, and Burt rejoining took command.
In their retreat the New Yorkers swept over the position of the 26th Maine and the 25th Connecticut and carried these already shaken regiments with them, in some natural disorder; but his lasted hardly longer than was needed for Dwight to hear and obey the command that now came back from Grover, to deploy the first brigade and take up the broken battle.
Bradley held his ground stoutly to the last moment, and when finally the choice was narrowed to retreat or capture, he retired in good order to a fresh position, and there serving his canister with coolness and deliberation, held off the enemy's advance. At this point, Rodgers, who with his centre section was in the road on the left, engaged at 800 and 400 yards with Cornay's right section, turned his attention to the Confederate infantry on the right, and crossing with spherical case-shot the canister fire of his Lieutenant, made good the check.
Almost at the moment when Taylor's left was thus roughly bearing down the right of Birge, on his left his own 13th Connecticut, under Lieutenant-Colonel Warner, enveloped in a grove, was moving steadily on the Confederate right, where Clack stood and the two guns of Cornay. Emerging from the grove into an open field that still lay between them and the enemy in the wood, Warner's men instantly replied to the volleys of cannon and small-arms that greeted their appearance and pushed on, firing as they went. More fortunate than their comrades in the direction and the moment of their attack, they pressed back Clack, drove off Cornay's guns, and took two of his caissons, a limber, and a color presented to his battery by the ladies of Franklin. Nearly 60 prisoners at the same time fell into their hands. They were still advancing when Grover's orders recalled them to the restored line of battle of the brigade.
As Birge's right retired, Dwight deployed in two lines, the 6th New York and the 91st New York in front, the 22d Maine, 1st Louisiana, and 131st New York in support, and advancing against Taylor's left flank and overlapping it in its turn pushed it back into and beyond the woods. In this movement Dwight took 70 prisoners. The resistance he encountered was feeble compared with the vigor with which Birge had been met and turned back, for in that effort the Confederate line of battle had practically gained its main object and had now only to extricate itself and make good its own withdrawal.
Birge, at the same time that he drew back the 13th Connecticut, once more moved forward his three other regiments and re-formed the brigade in two lines on Dwight's left.
Kimball, whose brigade was in two lines in reserve, brought up the 12th Maine to the support of the 13th Connecticut.
This done, Grover advanced the whole division through the woods to the open fields on their farther or western verge, and seeing the Confederates in force on the knoll beyond, to which they had retired, halted and began to observe and reconnoitre.
To cover the right flank of the last Confederate position Semmes brought up the Diana, whose injuries of the day before he had during the night partly made good by repairs. Her 30-pounder Parrott now opened a slow fire without great effect other than to add to Grover's caution.
Shortly after eight o'clock Mouton rode up. To him Taylor turned over the command of the force confronting Grover, and then rode into Franklin to direct the retreat. By half-past nine Green with the rear-guard moved out on the direct road toward New Iberia. The last of Green's troopers had not quitted the little town at the upper end when the first of Weitzel's entered at the lower end.
Some time passed before Mouton knew of this. Then for a brief space his peril was great; but fortunately for him the unlooked-for situation of affairs raised a momentary doubt in the minds of Green's pursuers. Should they go to the right or to the left? And where was Grover? After questioning prisoners and townspeople, Banks directed Weitzel to follow by the cut-off road and Emory to move up the bayou. The interval, short as it was, enabled Mouton to fall back quickly, and taking a by-way across country to strike into the cut-off road beyond the northern outskirts of Franklin. Not an instant too soon, for in the confusion Sibley had fired the bridge over the Choupique and across the blazing timbers lay Mouton's last hope of escape. Hardly had his men reached the north bank in safety when Weitzel's advance guard came in sight down the road. They galloped to the bridge only to find it impassable.
Before retiring the Confederates blew up the Diana and applied the match to all their transport steamers on the Teche save the hospital boat, the Cornie, which loaded with the sick and wounded of Bisland fell into the hands of the Union forces. Captain Semmes, who had but the day before left his battery to command the Diana, was taken prisoner, with all his crew. He and Weitzel had been friends and classmates at West Point; he now refused the offered courtesies of his captor, and a few hours later, finding himself rather loosely guarded, cleverly managed to regain his liberty.
To return to Grover. The situation of the enemy's force in his front, the vigorous resistance encountered in his advance, and lastly, the information gathered from the prisoners he had taken, had convinced him that he had to deal with Taylor's whole force, save a small rear-guard, and that Taylor had already succeeded in passing him, so that it was no longer possible to cut the Confederate line of retreat. Indeed, Grover seems rather to have thought that Taylor meant to attack him. It was while careful reconnoissances were being conducted to develop the true facts that Taylor slipped away, as we have seen, having thus adroitly extricated himself from the net spread in his sight.
About two o'clock, however, as Taylor did not attack, Grover moved forward, and as he marched down the bayou road soon met Emory coming up, as related in the last chapter.
Banks, seeing that the bridge could not be made passable before morning, and that nothing was to be gained by marching his tired troops over the long roundabout of the bayou road, went into bivouac early in the afternoon, covering the northern approaches of Franklin. Grover occupied his battle-field of the morning, Emory held the bayou road between Grover and the town, and Weitzel the cut-off road.
Taylor crossed the Cypremort and having marched fifteen miles since quitting Franklin, or twenty-five since midnight, rested near Jeannerette.
Grover reported his loss during the 13th, 14th, and 17th as 53 killed, 270 wounded, and 30 captured or missing; in all 353. In the battle of Irish Bend, according to the nominal lists as complied in the Official Records, his loss was 6 officers and 43 men killed, 17 officers and 257 men wounded, and 30 men missing; in all 353; agreeing with the first statement covering the three days, yet differing slightly in the details. Of this total Dwight's brigade lost 3 killed and 9 wounded on the 13th, 1 killed and 5 wounded on the 17th, and only 2 killed and 13 wounded in the battle. Both statements seem to leave out the 1st Louisiana, which had 2 men killed and the lieutenant-colonel and 2 men wounded on the 13th. In Birge's brigade the loss in the battle, according to Grover's report, was 46 killed, 236 wounded, 49 missing; in all 312. The official reports show 16 less in the columns of wounded and in the total: these are probably the 16 wounded officers accounted for in the nominal lists. Of the regiments engaged the heaviest loss fell upon the 159th New York, in which the nominal lists show 4 officers and 15 men killed, 5 officers and 73 men wounded, and 20 men captured or missing; in all 117.(1) But this fine regiment suffered even more severely than these figures indicate, for besides having to mourn the death of the gallant and promising Draper, Molineux received a grievous wound that for many weeks deprived the regiment of one of the best colonels in the service, while of the wounded officers two were mortally hurt and died soon afterward. Birge's loss was nearly one man in four or five, for his strength did not exceed 1,500, and it is probable that his fighting line numbered not more than 1,200.
The Confederate loss is not reported. They left on the field, to be cared for by their adversary, 21 of their dead and 35 of their wounded. Among these were Gray, Vincent, and Reily.
Taylor gives the number of his infantry engaged in the charge on Birge's right as less than 1,000. The disparity of the opposing forces in that affair was, therefore, not important, and Birge's somewhat greater numbers may fairly be considered as off-set by the advantages of Taylor's position and the familiarity with the country common to nearly all the Confederate soldiers there engaged, while to their antagonists it was an unknown land. Grover's whole force was about 5,000, of all arms, but of these, though all are to be taken into account, nearly a third were in reserve, neither firing nor under fire, while another third met a resistance so light that its loss was no more than one per cent. of its numbers —hardly more than it had suffered in the skirmishes of the day before. Grover had eighteen pieces of artillery, of which but four were in action; Taylor also had four guns of which he made good use, and these, toward the close of the battle, were reinforced by the five heavy guns of the Diana, of which, however, it is probable that but one, or at most two, could be brought to bear.
The field of battle was so contracted that Taylor's strength sufficed to occupy its front, while Grover was hindered or prevented from deploying a force large enough to outflank and crush his antagonist at a blow.
Viewed from a Confederate standpoint, the issue forms an instructive example of the great results that may be achieved by a right use of small forces. If, on the other hand, one turns to consider the lost opportunity of Grover, two things stand out in strong relief: the one, the positive disadvantage of employing forces, too large for the affair in hand or for the scene of operations; the other, that bold adventures must be carried boldly to the end.
Instead of making the campaign with four brigades and twenty-four guns, as Weitzel's original plan had contemplated, Banks, for greater security, set out with seven brigades and fifty-six guns. So far as concerned the main body ascending the Teche, this excess of strength could do no harm, but it was otherwise with the turning column by the lake; for to the needless augmentation of the artillery were directly due not only the day and night first lost, but also the still more precious hours of daylight consumed in landing guns that were not to fire a shot. Two brigades of infantry, with six guns at most, landing at Indian Bend, and marching directly toward the Cypremort, and quickly entrenching across both roads at or near their upper fork, would have been enough to hold the position against the best efforts of the whole of Taylor's army, with Emory close on their heels; and thus Taylor must have been lost and the war in Western Louisiana brought to an end. Consequences many and far-reaching would have followed. Moreover, when it was determined to use more than two divisions one of these was naturally Grover's, and thus it happened that to Grover, who knew nothing of the country, was assigned the delicate duty first cut out for Weitzel, while Weitzel, who had studied to the last point every detail of the topography and of the plan, stayed behind as the third in command of the column destined to butt its nose against the breastworks of Bisland and wait for the real work to be done a day's march on their farther side.
Grover has been often criticised and much misunderstood for alleged over-caution and for taking the wrong direction after quitting the borders of the lake. Both criticisms are unjust. Generals, like other men, act according to their temperaments. In the whole war no braver man than Grover ever rode at the head of a division, nor any more zealous, more alert, more untiring in his duty. No troops of his ever went into battle but he was with them. But he was by nature cautious, and the adventure was essentially one that called for boldness. Moreover, he was by nature conscientious. That his orders, based as they were on misinformation of a date much later than Weitzel's intelligence, required him to land at Irish Bend instead of at Indian Bend, as first arranged, and to march on Franklin instead of toward the Cypremort, was not his affair. Surely no soldier is to be blamed, least of all in combined and complex operations, for choosing to obey the clearly expressed orders of those set over him, rather than to follow the illusory inspirations of the will-o'-the-wisp commonly mistaken for genius.
As for the orders themselves, they were correct upon the information at hand when they were given and the state of affairs then existing. To land at Madame Porter's and to seize the roads at Franklin was better than to go farther afield to gain the same end; for the distance was less, and while on the march Grover was enabled to offer his front instead of his flank to the enemy. But the information proved inexact; when Madame Porter's road was tried it was found impassable, and with this and the unforeseen delays it happened that the orders became inapplicable.
(1) According to the regimental history (MS.), 4 officers and 22 men killed; 5 officers and 76 men wounded; 11 men missing; in all, 118: of the wounded, 2 officers and 10 men mortally.
CHAPTER XII. OPELOUSAS.
Cooke, after detaching the Clifton to go up the Teche after the Diana, as already related, remained at anchor in Grand Lake opposite Grover's landing-place and awaited developments. He had not long to wait. The first news of Banks's movement across Berwick Bay had overtaken and recalled Taylor on his way up the Atchafalaya to bring down the Queen of the West and her consorts, the Grand Duke and Mary T, to join in the intended operations against Weitzel. Although Taylor at once sent a staff officer to urge despatch, yet from some cause more than two full days had passed before, on the afternoon of the 13th, the distant smoke of the Confederate gun-boats coming down Lake Chicot was seen by the lookouts of the Union navy in Grand Lake. At daylight the Queen of the West and the Mary T, were seen approaching from Chicot Pass. Cooke at once got the Estrella, Calhoun, and Arizona under way, opened fire at long range, and forming his boats in a crescent began to close with the enemy. Soon, however, the Queen of the West was seen to be in flames, from the explosion of the Union shells, and, her consort having promptly taken to flight, Cooke ceased firing and lowered all his boats to save the crew of the burning vessel from drowning. Captain Fuller, who had formerly commanded the Cotton, was rescued with 90 of his men, but nearly 30 were lost. Then with a loud explosion the eventful career of the Queen of the West came to an end, leaving her five guns, however, once more in the hands of the Union navy. This fortunate stroke gave the mastery of the Atchafalaya into Cooke's hands with nothing save Butte-a-la-Rose and two feeble gunboats to hinder his taking possession.
Once safely across the Cypremort, Taylor's army began to melt away and his men, as they passed their homes, to fall out without hindrance. Many were of the simple class called Acadians, with scant sympathy for either side of the great war into which they found themselves drawn, and in all the regiments there were many conscripts.
On the 15th of April, Taylor marched ten miles to New Iberia. While there, he had the unfinished ironclad gunboat Stevens, previously known as the Hart, floated two miles down the Teche, destroyed by fire, and the wreck sunk in the channel.
On the 16th he marched twenty miles, crossed the Vermilion River, went into camp on high ground on the north bank, and burned the bridges behind him.
Early in the morning of the 15th of April, Banks took up the pursuit with his united force, now outnumbering Taylor's as three to one. Weitzel led the advance of the main column on the direct road. Emory followed him, and Grover marching at first on the bayou road fell in the rear after passing the fork. The army halted for the night at Jeannerette.
On the following afternoon Banks entered New Iberia. Here the ways parted, the right-hand road by Saint Martinville following for many miles the windings of the Teche, while the left-hand road leads almost directly to Opelousas, by way of Vermilionville, now called Lafayette.
Beyond Indian Bend the lowlands, in many places below and nowhere much above the level of the adjacent waters, may be said to end and the plains to begin; and soon after leaving New Iberia and Saint Martinville the troops found themselves on the broad prairies of Western Louisiana, where the rich grasses that flourish in the light soil sustain almost in a wild state vast herds of small yet fat beeves and of small yet strong horses; where in favored spots the cotton plant is cultivated to advantage; where the ground, gently undulating, gradually rises as one travels northward; where the streams become small rivers that drain the land upon their borders, instead of merely bayous taking the back waters of the Mississippi and the Red. Near the right bank of the Teche runs even a narrow ribbon of bluffs that may be said to form the western margin of the great swamps of the Atchafalaya. Along the streams live-oaks, magnolias, pecans, and other trees grow luxuriantly; but, for the most part, the prairies are open to the horizon, and at this time, though the gin-houses were full of cotton, the fields were mainly given over to the raising of corn for the armies and the people of the Confederacy.
From New Iberia Banks ordered Grover to send a detachment to destroy the famous Avery salt-works, on Petit Anse Island, distant about twelve miles toward the southwest. On the 17th of April, Grover accordingly dispatched Kimball on this errand, with his 12th Maine, the 41st Massachusetts, one company of the 24th Connecticut, and Snow's section of Nims's battery. The extremely rich natural deposit of rock salt was, at that time, in the hands of the Confederate government, being, indeed, the main source of supply of this indispensable article for the whole Confederacy, especially for the region between the Mississippi and the Atlantic. The works required for its extraction are, however, very simple, for the deposit lies close to the surface, and has only to be quarried in blocks of convenient size. These, always as clear and beautiful as crystal, have only to be crushed or broken to be ready to use for common purposes, and when pulverized, however rudely, yield the finest table salt. Kimball burned all the buildings, destroyed the engines and implements, with six hundred barrels of salt, and marched back to New Iberia, and, on the 19th, rejoined Grover on the Vermilion. The Confederates having drawn off the detachment and the guns previously posted to guard the works, Kimball met with no opposition.
On the 17th of April, Grover, with the main body of his division, reinforced by Gooding's brigade, temporarily commanded by Colonel John W. Kimball, of the 53d Massachusetts, continued the pursuit toward Vermilion, while Banks, with Weitzel and Emory, marched to Saint Martinville, on the Teche.
Early in the afternoon Grover caught sight of Green's rear-guard of Taylor's retreating forces, then about two miles distant, and in the act of crossing the Vermilion. Before Grover could overtake them, the bridges were in flames. Dwight's skirmishers deployed on the right and left of the road, and, with the help of the guns of Closson and Nims, drove off the enemy, posted to hinder or prevent the work of reconstruction. In this affair Dwight lost one killed and five wounded. The next day, the 18th of April, was spent by Grover in rebuilding the main bridge.
Then began to be felt the need of such a force of mounted troops as on these plains formed the main strength of Taylor's little army, and the source of its safety; for Banks's cavalry, taken as a whole, with some splendid exceptions, was at this time greatly inferior, not only in numbers but in fitness for the work at hand, to the rough riders led by the restless and indomitable Green. A few more horsemen, under leaders like Barrett, Williamson, and Perkins, would have saved the bridge and insured the dispersion or the destruction of Taylor's force.
Weitzel, who, as far as Saint Martinville, had led the advance of the main column, followed by Emory with Paine and Ingraham, there took the road to the left and halted on the evening of the 17th of April at Cote Gelee, four miles in the rear of Grover. The next morning Weitzel moved up to Grover's support, while Banks, with Emory, rested at Cote Gelee to await the rebuilding of the bridge.
From St. Martinville, Emory sent the 173d New York, under Major Gallway, with Norris's section of Duryea's battery, to follow the Teche road to Breaux Bridge and endeavor to capture the bayou steamboats, five in number, that were still left to the Confederates. Five miles below the village of that name, Gallway met a small Confederate picket, and pushing it aside, soon afterward found the bridge over the bayou in flames. On the morning of the 18th he learned that four of the boats had been burned by the Confederates, and about the same time his farther advance was stopped by orders from Banks, despatched as soon as it was known that Grover had been brought to a stand. A courier from headquarters having lost his way in the night of the 18th, on the following morning Gallway found himself in the air without any apparent object. He accordingly marched along the banks of the Teche and the Bayou Fusilier, and taking the road to Opelousas, there rejoined Paine on the 1st.
On the 19th of April the army crossed the Vermilion and the Carencro, and marched unopposed sixteen miles over the prairie to Grand Coteau. Gooding's brigade rejoined Emory during the day.
On the 20th the march was continued about eight miles to Opelousas. Just outside the town the Corps went into bivouac, after throwing forward all the cavalry, the 13th Connecticut, and a section of Rodgers's battery, to Washington, on the Courtableau.
On the same day, after a brief engagement, Cooke, with the gunboats Estrella, Arizona, and Calhoun, and a detachment of four companies of the 16th New Hampshire from Brashear, captured Fort Burton at Butte-a-la-Rose, with its garrison of 60 men of the Crescent regiment and its armament of two 32-pounders; thus at last gaining the complete control of the Atchafalaya, and at the same time opening communication with Banks by way of Port Barre or Barre's Landing on the Courtableau, distant about nine miles northeasterly from Opelousas. Then Cooke steamed up the Atchafalaya to make his report to Farragut, lying in the Mississippi off the mouth of the Red River, and to seek fresh orders.
At the outset of the campaign the 16th New Hampshire had been detached from Ingraham's brigade of Emory and left at Brashear to guard the main depots and the surplus baggage. After the battle of Bisland, the 4th Massachusetts was turned back to Brashear to relieve the 16th New Hampshire. This regiment having assisted in the capture of Butte-a-la-Rose, now formed the garrison of that desolate and deadly hummock.
While at Opelousas the army could draw its supplies from Brashear by the Atchafalaya and the Courtableau, but so long as the direction of the future operations remained uncertain, it was necessary to keep a firm hold of the communications by the Teche. Accordingly, the 175th New York took post at Franklin and the 22d Maine at New Iberia.
On the 22d of April the 162d New York, under Blanchard, with a section of the 1st Maine battery and one troop of the 2d Rhode Island cavalry, marched to Barre's Landing, seized the position, and captured the little steamboat Ellen, the last of the Teche fleet.
On the 23d of April the little Cornie arrived at Barre's Landing from the depot at Brashear, and the next day the first wagon-train came into camp laden with the supplies now sadly needed. At sight of the white-covered wagons winding over the plain, the men gave way to those demonstrations of delight so familiar to all who have ever seen soldiers rejoice. For fifteen days they had been subsisting upon an uncertain issue of hard bread, coffee, and salt, eked out by levies, more or less irregular, upon the countryside. They were sick of chickens and cornbread, and fairly loathed the very sight, to say nothing of the smell, of fresh-killed beef; tough at best, even in the heart of the tenderloin, the flesh had to be eaten with the odor and the warmth of the blood still in it, under penalty of finding it fly-blown before the next meal. Thus it was that, as Paine relates in his Diary, the men now "howled for salt pork and hard tack."
Although the army had now a double line of communication with its base, yet the long haul from New Iberia and the scarcity of light-draught steamboats adapted to the navigation of the narrow and tortuous bayous made the task of supplying even the urgent wants of the troops both tedious and difficult. The herds near Opelousas were fast disappearing under the ravages of the foragers, authorized and unauthorized, yet had it not been for the beef obtained from this source and for the abundant grass of the prairie men and horses must soon have suffered greatly.
On the 24th of April, Banks reviewed his army in the open plain, near Opelousas. The troops, not as yet inured to the long and hard marches, were indeed greatly diminished in numbers by the unaccustomed toil and exposure, as well as by the casualties of battle and the enervating effects of the climate, yet they presented a fine appearance, and were in the best of spirits.
On learning of Cooke's success at Butte-a-la-Rose, Banks detached Dwight, posted him at Washington in observation, and placed Grover with his remaining brigades at Barre's Landing, to secure the depots, while Emory and Weitzel covered Opelousas.
Having by burning the Vermilion bridge gained a day's rest for his tired soldiers, Taylor resumed the retreat at noon on the 17th of April, and passing through Opelousas and Washington on the 18th and 19th, on the following day found himself with all his trains behind the Cocodrie and the Boeuf. On the 20th he sent Mouton, with all the cavalry except Waller's battalion, westward over the prairie toward Niblett's Bluff, on the Sabine. Then, with Waller and the frayed remnant of the infantry, day by day wearing away at the edges, Taylor continued his retreat toward Alexandria, halting with what may be called his main body at Lecompte. To hinder the pursuit he burned the bridges over the Bayou Cocodrie and the Bayou Boeuf.
Opelousas, miles away from every thing, in the heart of a vast prairie, presented in itself no object for an invading army. Even the temptation of a good position was wanting.
Banks meant merely to halt there a day or two for rest, and then, if it should be found practicable to obtain the necessary supplies, to push on rapidly to Alexandria, and dispose for the season of Taylor's disordered fragments. Whether this could have been done will never be known, for although the army had now far outmarched its supplies, and even from its secondary base at Brashear was separated by nearly a hundred miles, and although the campaign had so far been made upon less than half the regular rations for men and animals, supplemented from farm, sugar-house, and prairie, the country on the line of march was no longer to be counted on for any thing save sugar in plenty and a little corn; nevertheless, it might have been possible, by great exertions, to replenish the trains and depots, as well as to fill up the haversacks. Moreover, a three days' march would find the army on the banks of Red River, with a new and ample source of supply open to them, and within easy reach of Grant, provided only the navy might be counted upon to control the waters of that stream and its larger tributaries. Of this Banks had no doubt whatever. To open communication with Grant and to dispose of Taylor had been the chief ends that Banks had proposed to himself in setting out on the campaign. These ends he now held almost in his hand. But on the 21st of April an event occurred that, slight as was its apparent importance, was destined, in the train of consequences, vitally to affect the operations of the Army of the Gulf.
This was the arrival at headquarters of Lieutenant Joseph T. Tenney, one of Dudley's aides-de-camp, who had been sent by Augur to find Banks, wherever he might be. With him Tenney brought important despatches from Grant and Farragut. What the contents were and what came of them will be related in the next chapter.
From Opelousas Bean, with the 4th Wisconsin, a section of Duryea's battery, and a squadron of the 2d Rhode Island cavalry, went a day's march toward the southwest, to the crossing of the Plaquemine Brule, and discovered that Mouton was retreating beyond the Mermentau. From Washington, Dwight moved out twenty miles along the Bayou Boeuf to Satcham's plantation without finding the enemy in force. After learning these things, on the 25th of April, Banks turned over the command of the forces to Emory and went to New Orleans to give his attention to affairs of urgency, chiefly affecting the civil administration of the department. He returned to headquarters in the field on the evening of the 1st of May.
Meanwhile Emory sent Paine, who, when crossing the Carencro, had seen the last of the Confederates disappearing in the distance, with his brigade and a section of Duryea's battery far out on the Plaquemine Brule road, in order to find and disperse some cavalry, vaguely reported to be moving about somewhere in that quarter, a constant menace to the long trains from New Iberia. In fact Mouton, with the Texans, was now on the prairie, beyond the Calcasieu eighty miles away, in good position to retreat to Texas or to hang on the flank and rear of the Union army, as circumstances might suggest. On the 26th of April Paine marched sixteen miles to the Plaquemine Brule, and on the following day sent four companies on horseback twenty miles farther toward the southwest across Bayou Queue de Tortue, and another detachment to Bayou Mallet to reconnoitre. Seeing nothing of the enemy, on the 28th Paine rejoined his division and resumed the command of it at Opelousas. Some time before this orders had been given to mount the 4th Wisconsin, and when the army finally marched from Opelousas this capital regiment made its appearance in the new role of mounted infantry. To say nothing of the equipments, a wide divergence in the size, color, and quality of the horses, hastily gathered from the four quarters of the prairie, gave to these improvised dragoons rather a ludicrous appearance it must be confessed; yet marching afoot or standing to horse, the 4th Wisconsin was always ready and equal to the work cut out for it.
From his advanced camp, on Shields's plantation, twenty-three miles beyond Washington and twenty-nine from Opelousas, Dwight fell back on the 28th of April to his bivouac at Washington and waited for the movement of the army to begin.
In preparation for this, on the evening of the 1st of May, Bean, with the 4th Wisconsin, mounted, was sent forward to join the main body of the cavalry, under Major Robinson, in front of Washington. That night Dwight, with the cavalry, his own brigade, and a section of Nims's battery, marched out some distance to discover the position of the Confederate outposts. These, in the interval that elapsed, had been advanced to the junction of the Cocodrie and the Boeuf. After driving them in Dwight returned the next morning to Washington.
The advance of the column from Franklin to Opelousas had been disfigured by the twin evils of straggling and marauding. Before the campaign opened, Banks had taken the precaution to issue stringent orders against pillage, yet no means adequate to the enforcement of these orders were provided, and the marches were so long and rapid, the heat at times so intense, and the dust so intolerable, that comparatively few of the men were able to keep up with the head of the column. This contributed greatly to disorder of the more serious kind. One regiment, neither the best nor the worst, halting at the end of a particularly hard day's march, found itself with scarcely fifty men in the ranks. Then, too, the men were on short rations, in what they considered the enemy's country; the whole region was sparsely populated; and the residents had, for the most part, fled from their homes at the news of the approach of the Union army.
With these disorders there sprang up a third, less prevalent indeed, but to the last degree annoying and not without its share of danger, for when the straggler chanced to find himself in easy range of any thing, from a steer to a chicken, that he happened to fancy for his supper, he was not always careful in his aim or accurate in his judgment of distance; thus a number of officers and men were wounded and the lives of many put in peril.
As if to complete the lesson so often taught in all wars, that discipline, care, and efficiency go hand in hand, when the army moved out from Opelousas, though but a fortnight later, a different state of things was seen. This must be ascribed to the fact that immediately after entering Opelousas the most stringent and careful orders were given for the regulation of future marches, and the punishment of stragglers and marauders. By these orders was provided for the first time a system adequate to their enforcement, and sufficiently elastic to meet without annoyance and difficulty all those cases, of hourly and even momentary occurrence in the movement of an army, that require officers or men to quit the column. In the rear of each regiment was posted a surgeon, without whose permission no sick man was allowed to fall out. In the rear of each brigade and division marched a detachment of cavalry, under the orders of the provost marshal of the brigade or division, charged with the duty of picking up as stragglers all men found out of the ranks without a written permit from the surgeon or the company commander. The vital importance of a strict enforcement of these arrangements was personally impressed upon the division and brigade commanders; yet this was not now necessary, for there were but few persons in the column of any rank that did not realize, in part at least, the evil consequences resulting from the irregular practices that had hitherto prevailed. Thus the march to the Red River was made rapidly and in order, and now for the first time the soldiers of the Nineteenth Army Corps marched with that swift and regulated movement of the column as a unit that was to be ever afterwards a source of comfort to the men, of satisfaction to their officers, and of just pride to every one belonging to the corps.
Unhappily, on the 25th of April, before the result of these arrangements had had a chance to show themselves, Dwight, while on detached service in the advance, caught an unfortunate man of the 131st New York, Henry Hamill by name, absent from his regiment under circumstances that pointed him out as a plunderer. Then, without pausing to communicate with the general commanding, Dwight took upon himself the task of trial and judgment on the spot, and becoming satisfied of the man's guilt, caused him to be shot to death at sunset in front of the brigade. This action Banks, who was just setting out for New Orleans, sustained in special orders as soon as he returned. Indeed, between this course and the instant delivery of Dwight to punishment, Banks had practically no choice. Nevertheless, whatever may have been the excuse or how extreme the provocation, the act was altogether wrong. The rules and articles of war lay down the penal code of armies in all its severity, in terms too clear to be misunderstood and too ample to warrant an attempt on the part of any one in the service, however exalted his rank, to enlarge or evade them. The offender should have been tried by court-martial. No emergency or exigency existed to delay the assembling of the court. Had he been found guilty, his death might swiftly have followed. Then the terrible lesson would have been impressive. Then none would have thought it hasty, needless, violent, or unlawful.
As it was, the wretched man's punishment furnished chiefly matter for regret, and an example to be avoided.
CHAPTER XIII. BANKS AND GRANT.
The first effect of the despatches from Grant and Farragut, referred to in the preceding chapter, was to cause Banks to reconsider his plan of campaign, and to put the direction of his next movement in suspense. While waiting for fresh advices in answer to his own communications and proposals Banks halted, and while he halted Taylor got time to breathe and Kirby Smith to gather new strength.
This correspondence has been so much discussed, yet so little understood, that, chronology being an essential part of history, the narrative of the events now at hand may be rendered clearer, if we turn aside for a moment to consider not only the substance of what was said upon both sides, but, what was even more important, the time at which it was heard.
Farragut's letter, written from the Hartford above Port Hudson on the 6th of April, was the first communication Banks had received from Farragut, save a brief verbal message brought to him by the Admiral's secretary, Mr. E. C. Gabaudan, on the 10th of April, just before the army set out from Brashear. Mr. Gabaudan had come straight from the Admiral, but without any thing in writing, having floated past Port Hudson by night in a skiff covered with twigs so as to look like a drift log. Farragut's letter gave assurance of the complete control of the Red River and the Atchafalaya by the navy of the Union.
Grant's despatch bore date the 23d of March. It was the first writing received from him. It conveyed the answer to the letter addressed to him by Banks on the 13th of March, and placed in the hands of Farragut just before the Hartford ran the batteries of Port Hudson. Thus on either side began a correspondence clearly intended by both commanders to bring about an effective co-operation between the two armies, aided by the combined fleets of Farragut and Porter. Yet in the end, while the consequences remained unfelt in the Army by the Tennessee, upon the Army of the Gulf the practical effect, after the first period of delay and doubt, was to cause its commander to give up the thought of moving toward Grant and to conform all his movements to the expectation that Grant would send an army corps to Bayou Sara to join in reducing Port Hudson. Thus, quite apart from the confusion and the eventual disappointment, much valuable time was lost while the matter was in suspense; and so was demonstrated once more the impossibility, well established by the history of war, of co-ordinating the operations of two armies widely separated, having different objectives, while an enemy strongly holds the country between them.
When Banks wrote his despatch of the 13th of March, he was at Baton Rouge, about to demonstrate against Port Hudson. When Grant received this despatch he was on the low land opposite Vicksburg, with the rising river between him and his enemy, laboriously seeking a practical pathway to the rear of Vicksburg, and in the meantime greatly troubled to find dry ground for his seventy thousand men to stand on. Grant's first idea, derived from Halleck's despatches, was that Banks should join him before Vicksburg, with the whole available force of the Army of the Gulf. When he learned from Banks that this would be out of the question so long as Port Hudson should continue to be held by the Confederates, Grant took up the same line of thought that had already attracted Banks, and began to meditate a junction by the Atchafalaya, the Red, the Tensas, and the Black rivers. What Grant then needed was not more troops, but standing-room for those he had. Accordingly, he began by preparing to send twenty thousand men to Banks, when the Ohio River steamers he had asked for should come.(1) They never came, yet even after he had embarked upon the campaign, alike sound in conception and splendid in execution, that was to become the corner-stone of his great and solid fame, Grant kept to his purpose.
On the 14th of April he penned this brief telegram to Banks:
"I am concentrating my forces at Grand Gulf; will send an army corps Bayou Sara by the 25th, to co-operate with you on Port Hudson. Can you aid me and send troops after the reduction of Port Hudson to assist me at Vicksburg?"
This message, although Banks and Grant were then only about two hundred miles apart, had to travel three thousand miles to reach its destination. Banks received it just before marching from Opelousas on the 5th of May, twenty-one days after it left Grant's hands. As received, the message was in cipher and without a date. As the prevailing practice was, in conformity with the orders of the Secretary of War, the only persons in the Department of the Gulf who held the key to the cipher were the Superintendent of Military Telegraphs and such of his assistants as he chose to trust, and Mr. Bulkley was at New Iberia, where the wires ended. The code employed was the route cipher in common use in the service, and with the help of the words "Bayou" and "Sara" as guides the meaning was not hard to make out. Banks did not trust to this, however, and waited until, late at night, he received from the Superintendent an official translation, still without date, as indeed was the original document received at headquarters from New Orleans. The 25th Banks naturally took to mean the 25th of May. Grasping eagerly at the first real chance of effective co-operation, he at once replied: "By the 25th probably, by the 1st, certainly, I will be there." This despatch was not in cipher, because he had no code. Captain Crosby carried it to the Hartford at the mouth of Red River. Captain Palmer, who was found in command, the Admiral having crossed Fausse Point and joined his fleet below, at once forwarded the despatch. Near Natchez Crosby met Captain Uffers of Grant's staff and turned back with him bringing Grant's despatch of the 10th of May, written at Rocky Springs. This Banks received at Alexandria on the 12th of May. From it he learned that Grant was not coming. Having met the Confederates after landing at Grand Gulf and followed on their heels to the Big Black, he could not afford to retrace his steps; but he urged Banks to join him or to send all the force he could spare "to co-operate in the great struggle for opening the Mississippi River." The reasons thus assigned by Grant for his change of mind were certainly valid; yet it must be doubted whether in these hurried lines the whole of the matter is set forth, for three weeks earlier, on the 19th of April, five days after the promise to send an army corps to Bayou Sara by the 25th, Grant had reported to Halleck: "This will now be impossible." Moreover, until the moment when he crossed the river with his advance on the 30th of April he not only held firmly to his intention to send the twenty thousand men to join Banks at Bayou Sara as soon as the landing should have been secured, but the corps for this service had been designated; it was to be made up of the main body of McClernand's corps and McPherson's, and Grant himself meant to go with it. It was indeed the 2d of May when Grant received at Port Gibson Banks's despatch sent from Brashear on the 10th of April indicating his purpose of returning to Baton Rouge by the 10th of May, and although Grant also attributes to this despatch the change of his plans, the 10th of May had already come before he made known the change to Banks.
All this time Banks bore with him Halleck's instructions of the 9th of November, and more than once studied with care and solicitude these significant words: "As the ranking general in the Southwest you are authorized to assume the control of any military force from the upper Mississippi which may come within your command. The line of division between your department and that of Major-General Grant is, therefore, left undecided for the present, and you will exercise superior authority as far north as you may ascend the river." By the articles of war, without these words, Banks would have been entitled to the command they gave him, but the words showed him plainly what was expected of him by his government. To the incentives of patriotism and duty were thus superadded one of the most powerful motives that can affect the mind of the commander of an army,—the hope and assurance of power and promotion. If, then, he held back from joining Grant in Mississippi, it was because he hesitated to take the extraordinary risks involved in the movement. In this he was more than justified.
Since the miscarriage of Sherman's attempt at the beginning of the year, Grant had been engaged in a series of tentative efforts, steadily prosecuted in various directions, yet all having a common object, the finding of a foothold of dry ground for a decisive movement against Vicksburg. Four of these experimental operations had failed completely, and Grant was now entering upon a fifth, destined indeed to lead to a great and glorious result, yet in itself conveying hardly more assurance of success than the most promising of its predecessors, while involving perils greater than any that had been so far encountered. Of these, the greatest danger was that the enemy, after allowing him to land on the east bank of the river and to penetrate, with a portion of his army, into the heart of Mississippi, might then concentrate all the available forces of the Confederacy in that region and fall upon him with vigor at the moment when his supplies should be exhausted and his communications interrupted. In such an event the fortune of war might have rendered it imperative for him to retire down the river; but what would have happened then if Banks, disregarding Port Hudson in his eagerness to join Grant before Vicksburg, should in his turn have abandoned his communications? Both armies would have been caught in a trap of their own making, whence not merit but some rare stroke of luck could alone have rescued either.
In the strong light of the great and decisive victory of Vicksburg, it is scarcely possible to reproduce, even in the mind of the most attentive reader, the exact state of affairs as they existed at the moment of Grant's landing below Grand Gulf. This phenomenal success was not foreshadowed by any thing that had gone before it, and it would have been the height of imprudence to stake upon it the fate of two armies, the issue of an entire campaign, and the mastery of the Mississippi River, if not the final result of the war. Nor should it be forgotten that Grant himself regarded this movement as experimental, like its forerunners, and that up to the moment he set foot upon the soil of Mississippi, he had formed no conception of the brilliant campaign on which he was about presently to embark. But instead of concentrating and acting with instant determination upon a single plan with a single idea, at the critical moment the Confederates became divided in council, distracted in purpose, and involved in a maze of divergent plans, cross purposes, and conflicting orders. While events caused the Confederate leaders to shift from one plan to the other, with the chances of the day, Grant was prompt to see and quick to profit by his advantage, and thus the campaign was given into his hands.
But on the 4th of May these great events were as yet hidden in the unknown future, and when, after waiting thirteen days at Opelousas, Banks began his march on Alexandria, it was with the earnest hope of a speedy meeting of the two Union armies on the Mississippi; then came the cipher telegram to exalt this hope into a firm and just expectation of finding three weeks later an entire corps from Grant's army at Bayou Sara, and as Banks mounted his horse to ride toward the head of his column, it was with the fixed purpose of being with his whole force at the appointed place at the appointed time.
(1) "I sent several weeks ago for this class of steamers, and expected them before this. Should they arrive and Admiral Porter get his boats out of the Yazoo, so as to accompany the expedition, I can send a force of say 20,000 effective men to co-operate with General Banks on Port Hudson."—Grant to Farragut, March 23d; received by Banks, April 21st. The cipher message that followed seemed to Banks a confirmation of this.
CHAPTER XIV. ALEXANDRIA.
Every one was in high spirits at the prospect of meeting the Army of the Tennessee, and, to add to the general good-humor, just before quitting Opelousas two pieces of good news became known.
Grierson rode into Baton Rouge on the 2d of May at the head of his own 6th Illinois and Prince's 7th Illinois cavalry, together 950 horse. Leaving La Grange on the 17th of April, he had within sixteen days ridden nearly 600 miles around the rear of Vicksburg and Port Hudson and along the whole line of the Jackson and Great Northern railroad. Beside breaking up the railway and the telegraph, and destroying for the time being their value to the Confederate army, Grierson's ride had an indirect effect, perhaps even more important than the direct objects Grant had in view when he gave his orders. That the railway should be rendered useless for the movement of troops and supplies, and the telegraph for the transmission of orders and intelligence, was of course the essential purpose of the operation, yet no one could have foreseen the extent of the confusion that followed, aided by Grierson's rapid movements, amid the fluttering and distracted councils at Vicksburg. Thus it happened that, when he heard of Grant's landing below Grand Gulf, Pemberton actually thought himself menaced by the advance of Banks, and this misapprehension was the parent of the first of those mistakes of his adversary of which Grant made such good use.
Lieutenant Sargent,(1) the aide-de-camp sent to communicate with Admiral Farragut, as stated in the last chapter, found at the mouth of the Red River Admiral Porter, with the gunboats Benton, Lafayette, Pittsburg, and Price, the ram Switzerland, and the tugboat Ivy, with which he had run the batteries of Vicksburg in preparation for Grant's movement. Porter brought, indeed, no despatches, but he brought the great news that Grant had secured his landing at Grand Gulf and had begun his victorious march on Vicksburg. When Sargent returned to headquarters at Opelousas, he brought with him a despatch from Porter, promising to meet the army at Alexandria.
Banks had already broken up the depots at Barre's Landing and New Iberia. On the afternoon of the 4th of May, he set Dwight in motion from his advance post at Washington. Weitzel marched from Opelousas at five o'clock the same afternoon, and Emory's division under Paine followed on the morning of the 5th. Emory, who had been suffering for some weeks, had at last consented to obey his surgeon's orders and go to New Orleans for a brief rest. Grover followed from Barre's Landing early in the afternoon of the same day. Banks himself remained at Opelousas until early in the morning of the 6th, having waited to receive and answer the translation of the cipher telegram from Grant; then he rode forward rapidly and joined his troops near Washington. From this time the communications of the army were to be by the Atchafalaya and the Red River.
On the 4th of May, while riding to the front to join the advance commanded by his brother, Captain Howard Dwight, Assistant Adjutant-General, was surprised and cut off at a sharp turn in the Bayou Boeuf by a party of armed men on the opposite bank. Having no reason to apprehend any special danger so far in the rear of the advance, the little party was proceeding along the road without precaution. At the moment of the encounter Captain Dwight was quite alone, concealed by the turn in the road from the ambulance and the few orderlies that were following at leisure. Armed only with his sword, and seeing that escape was hopeless, he instantly declared his readiness to surrender. "Surrender be damned!" cried the guerillas, and, firing a volley without further parley, shot him dead. When the orderlies who were with the ambulance heard the firing they galloped forward, only to find poor Dwight's lifeless body lying in the dusty road. The murderers had fled.
By this painful event the service lost a brave and promising young officer and the staff a pleasant and always cheerful comrade. The distinguished family to which this gallant gentleman belonged had given four brothers to the service of their country. Of these Howard himself most nearly resembled in character, looks, and bearing his elder brother Wilder, who fell at Antietam, honored and lamented by all that knew him.
Upon hearing the news, Banks instantly sent order to Brigadier-General Dwight to arrest all the white men he might find near the line of his march to the number of one hundred, and to send them to New Orleans to be held as hostages for the delivery of the murderers. "The people of the neighborhood who harbor and feed these lawless men," Banks wrote, "are even more directly responsible for the crimes which they commit, and it is by punishing them that this detestable practice will be stopped." There were not a hundred white men in the region through which Dwight was marching, but many were punished by imprisonment after this order—a harsh measure, it must be admitted, yet not without the justification that the countryside was infested by men wearing no uniform, who acted in turn the part of soldiers in front of the Union army, of citizens on its line of march, and of guerillas in its rear. When, under a flag of truce, Dwight presently demanded from Taylor the surrender of his brother's murderers, the Confederate officers not only disavowed but severely condemned the crime, declaring themselves, however, unable to pick out the criminals.
Two miles beyond Washington the Bayous Boeuf and Cocodrie unite to form the Bayou Courtableau, out of which again, below the town, flows the Bayou Maricoquant, forming a double connection with the Teche at its head. For a long distance the Boeuf and the Cocodrie keep close company, each following a crooked channel cut deeply into the light soil. Crossing the Courtableau above Washington, the line of march now lay along the east bank of the Boeuf, by Holmesville and Cheneyville, through a country of increasing richness and beauty, gradually rising with quickened undulations almost until the bluffs that border the Red River draw in sight.
Banks had promised that he would be in Alexandria on the morning of the 9th of May; but no opposition was encountered; the roads were good, dry, and easy under foot; the weather fine, and the men were filled with a desire to push the march, and with an eager rivalry to be first in Alexandria. Early on the afternoon of the 7th of May the brigades of Dwight and Weitzel, both under Weitzel's command, arrived at the beautiful plantation of Governor Moore, and went into bivouac. Here the cavalry, who had ridden well forward, returned, bringing the news that Porter, with his gunboats, was already in the river off Alexandria, where the fleet had cast anchor early that morning, a full day before its time. This made Banks desire to push on, and he at first ordered Paine to continue the march, preceded by all the cavalry. When Weitzel heard this, his spirit rose for the honor of his brigade, and in emphatic yet respectful terms he protested against being deprived at the last moment of the post he had held almost since leaving Brashear. Banks yielded to Weitzel's wishes, and his men, not less eager than their commander, notwithstanding the long march of twenty miles they had already made, at once broke camp and with a swinging stride set out the accomplish the twelve miles that still separated them from the river. One of the ever-present regimental wits sought to animate the spirits and quicken the flagging footsteps of his comrades by offering a turkey ready trussed upon his bayonet to the man that should get to Alexandria before him. For a long part of the way the men of the 8th Vermont and the 75th New York amused themselves by taking advantage of the wide and good roadway to run a regimental race. As the eager rivals came swinging down the hill, they found their progress checked by a momentary halt of the horsemen in their front, while watering their jaded animals. Then, "Get out of the way with that cavalry," was the cry, "or we'll run over you!"
It was ten o'clock at night when Weitzel's men led the way into Alexandria. A full ration of spirits was served out to the men, who then threw themselves on the ground without further ceremony and used to the full the permission to enjoy for once a long sleep mercifully unbroken by a reveille. Paine followed and encamped near Alexandria on the following morning; Grover rested near Lecompte, about twenty miles in the rear.
Beside his own vessels, Porter brought with him to Alexandria the Estrella and Arizona from the flotilla that had been operating on the Atchafalaya under Cooke. Porter was thus fully prepared to deal with any opposition he might encounter from the Confederate batteries at Fort De Russy; but, although only the day before the Albatross, Estrella, and Arizona had been driven off after a sharp fight of forty minutes, when, on the 5th of May, Porter arrived at Fort De Russy, he found the place deserted and the guns gone.(2)
On the 8th of May, finding that the river was falling, Porter, after conferring freely with Banks, withdrew all his vessels except the Lafayette, and descending the Red River, sent four of the gunboats seventy miles up the Black and its principal affluent, the Washita, to Harrisonburg. This latter expedition had no immediate result, but it served to show the ease with which the original plan of campaign might have been followed to its end.
While Banks was still at Opelousas, Kirby Smith, taking Dwight's approach to signify a general advance of the Union army, had arranged to retire up the Red River and to concentrate at Shreveport. Thither, on the 24th of April, he removed his headquarters from Alexandria and called in not only Taylor but a division of infantry under Walker, and three regiments of Texans already on the Red River. All the troops that Magruder could spare from the 8,000 serving in Eastern Texas he was at once to put in march to the Sabine. These orders, though too late for the emergency, brought about the concentration that was presently to threaten the ruin of Banks's main campaign on the Mississippi.
Weitzel, with Dwight, followed the Confederate rear-guard to Lawson's Ferry, forty-one miles by the river beyond Alexandria, taking a few prisoners. Taylor himself appears to have had a narrow escape from being among them.
During the week spent at Alexandria, Banks was for the first time in direct and comparatively rapid communication with Grant, now in the very heart of his Vicksburg campaign, and here, as we have seen, the correspondence was brought to a point. When he first learned that Grant had given up all intention of sending to him any portion of the Army of the Tennessee, Banks was greatly cast down, and his plans rapidly underwent many changes and perturbations. At first he was disposed to think that nothing remained but to retrace his steps over the whole toilsome way by Opelousas, the Teche, Brashear, New Orleans, and the Mississippi River to Baton Rouge, and thence to conduct a separate attack upon Port Hudson. This movement would probably have consumed two months, and long before the expiration of that time it was fair to suppose the object of such an operation would have ceased to exist. What led Banks to this despondent view was the fact that he had been counting upon Grant's steamboat transportation for the crossing of the Mississippi to Bayou Sara, and at first, he did not see how this deficiency could now be met.
Indeed, on the 12th of May, he went so far as to issue his preparatory orders for the retrograde movement; but the next day careful reconnoissances by his engineers, Major Houston and Lieutenant Harwood, led him to change his mind and to conclude that it would, after all, be possible to march to Simmesport, and there, using the light-draught boats of the Department of the Gulf, supplemented by such steamers as Grant might be able to spare for this purpose, to transfer the whole column to Grand Gulf and thence march to join Grant in the rear of Vicksburg. Accordingly, on the 13th of May, Banks gave orders for the immediate movement of his whole force in accordance with this plan, and set aside all the preparations that had previously been made.
When the news reached Washington that Grant had gone to Jackson and Banks to Alexandria, great was the dissatisfaction of the Government and emphatic its expression. On the 19th of May Halleck wrote to Banks:
"These operations are too eccentric to be pursued. I must again urge that you co-operate as soon as possible with General Grant east of the Mississippi. Your forces must be united at the earliest possible moment. Otherwise the enemy will concentrate on Grant and crush him. Do all you can to prevent this. . . .
"We shall watch with the greatest anxiety the movements of yourself and General Grant. I have urged him to keep his forces concentrated as much as possible and not to move east until he gets control of the Mississippi River."
And again, on the 23d of May, still more pointedly:
"If these eccentric movements, with the main forces of the enemy on the Mississippi River, do not lead to some serious disaster, it will be because the enemy does not take full advantage of his opportunity. I assure you the Government is exceedingly disappointed that you and General Grant are not acting in conjunction. It thought to secure that object by authorizing you to assume the entire command as soon as you and General Grant could unite."
When the despatches were penned, Grant and Banks were already committed to their own plans for the final campaign on the Mississippi. When they were received, Grant was before Vicksburg, Banks before Hudson; each had delivered his first assault and entered upon the siege. The censure was withdrawn as soon as, in the light of full explanations, the circumstances came to be understood.
(1) Professor Charles Sprague Sargent, of Harvard University, Director of the Arnold Arboretum, the distinguished author of the great book on Forest Trees of North America. At this time he was serving zealously as a volunteer aide-de-camp without pay.
(2) Under orders from Kirby Smith to Taylor, dated April 22d: "The General is of the opinion that if a portion of the force pursuing you should move against Fort De Russy by the road from Hauffpaur, it would be impossible to hold it." See also Smith to Cooper, April 23d: "The people at Fort De Russy cannot stand a land attack. The advance of the enemy's column to the Hauffpaur . . . will ensure its speedy fall, with loss of guns and garrison. Under these circumstances, General Taylor has ordered the removal of the 32-pounder rifle and 11-inch columbiads to a position higher up the Red River."
CHAPTER XV. BACK TO PORT HUDSON.
On the 7th of May Porter relived Farragut in the guardianship of the Mississippi and its tributaries above the mouth of the Red River. This left Farragut free to withdraw his fleet so long blockading and blockaded above Port Hudson. Accordingly he gave discretionary orders to Palmer to choose his time for once more running the gauntlet, and Palmer was only watching his opportunity when he yielded to the earnest entreaty of Banks, and agreed to remain and co-operate if the General meant to go against Port Hudson.
Grover began the movement on the 14th of May; Paine followed early on the morning of the 15th, while Weitzel, still retaining Dwight, was ordered to hold Alexandria until the 17th, and then to retire to Murdock's plantation, where the east and west road along the Bayou Hauffpaur crosses the road from Alexandria to Opelousas, and there await further orders.
Besides the ordinary duty of a rear-guard, the object of this disposition of Weitzel's force was to cover the withdrawal toward Brashear of the long train of surplus wagons for which there was now no immediate need, and which would only have encumbered the proposed movement of the Corps by water. All the troops took the road by Cheneyville instead of that by Marksville, in order to conceal from the Confederates as long as possible the true direction of the movement.
Having given these orders, Banks embarked on one of the river steamboats on the evening of the 15th and transferred his headquarters to Simmes's plantation on the east bank of the Atchafalaya opposite Simmesport. Thence he proceeded down the Atchafalaya to Brashear, and so by rail to New Orleans.
Grover broke camp at Stafford's plantation on the 14th of May, and marched seventeen miles to Cheneyville; on the 15th, fourteen miles to Enterprise; on the 16th, sixteen miles to the Bayou de Glaise; and, on the morning of the 17th, twelve miles to Simmesport, and immediately began to cross on large flatboats rowed by negro boatmen. To these were presently added a little, old, slow, and very frail stern-wheel steamboat, named the Bee, which, a short time afterwards, quietly turned upside down, without any observable cause, while lying alongside the levee; then the Laurel Hill, one of the best boats in the service of the quartermaster; afterward gradually but very slowly the other steamers began to come in. Grover finished crossing on the morning of the 18th, and went into camp near the Corps headquarters.
Paine, with the 6th New York added to his command for the few remaining days of its service, followed in the footsteps of Grover. Leaving Alexandria on the morning of the 15th, Paine marched twenty miles and halted at Lecompte. On the 16th, he marched twenty-five miles to the Bayou Rouge; on the 17th, twenty miles to the Bayou de Glaise, where the Marksville road crosses it; on the 18th, seven miles to Simmesport, and on the following morning began to cross.
Before leaving Alexandria, Weitzel, on the 14th May, sent two companies of cavalry to reconnoitre a small force of the enemy said to be near Boyce's Bridge on Bayou Cotile. The Confederates were found in some force. A slight skirmish followed, with trifling loss on either side, and when, the next day, Weitzel sent the main body of the cavalry with one piece of Nims's battery, accompanied by the ram Switzerland with a detachment of 200 men of the 75th New York, the Confederates once more retired beyond Cane River.
Weitzel moved out of Alexandria at four o'clock on the morning of the 17th of May, and, lengthening his march to thirty-eight miles during the night, encamped on Murdock's plantation on the following morning. The gunboats Estrella and Arizona and the ram Switzerland stayed in the river off Alexandria until noon of the 17th to cover Weitzel's withdrawal, and then dropped down to the mouth of Red River and the head of the Atchafalaya. The Confederates slowly followed Weitzel at some distance, observing his movements, and, on the morning of the 20th, attacked his pickets. Then Bean, who commanded Weitzel's advanced guard, consisting of his own 4th Wisconsin, mounted, the 12th Connecticut, and all the cavalry, threw off the attack and pursued the Confederates nearly to Cheneyville, where Barrett, advancing too boldly after the main body had halted, was cut off, with a detachment of seventeen of his troop, and, finding himself surrounded, was forced to surrender. Barrett himself and several of his men afterwards succeeded in making their escape. The attacking party of the Confederates consisted of Lane's regiment, fresh from Texas, Waller's battalion, and a part of Sibley's brigade, with a battery of artillery.
On the morning of the 22d, Weitzel, having completed the object of his halt at Murdock's plantation, marched at a stretch the thirty-four miles to Simmesport without further molestation, and arriving there on the morning of the 23d, at once began the crossing.
Chickering marched from Barre's Landing on the morning of the 21st of May. His force consisted of his own regiment, the 41st Massachusetts, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Sargent and mounted on prairie horses, the 52d Massachusetts, the 22d Maine, the 26th Maine, the 90th New York, the 114th New York, under Lieutenant-Colonel Per Lee, Company E of the 13th Connecticut, and Snow's section of Nims's battery.
The 90th New York, Colonel Joseph S. Morgan, was among the older regiments in the Department of the Gulf, having been mustered into the service in December, 1861. In January, 1862, it went to Florida with Brannan, on his appointment to command the Department of Key West; and in June, 1862, it formed the garrison of Fort Jefferson on the Dry Tortugas and of Key West; in November it was relieved by the 47th Pennsylvania, and joined Seymour's brigade on Port Royal Island, South Carolina. In March, 1863, it was back at Key West. There both regiments remained together until May. Meanwhile the district, then commanded by Woodbury, had been transferred from the Department of the South to the Department of the Gulf by orders from the War Office dated the 16th of March. These Banks received on the 10th of April, just before leaving Brashear, and as soon as he learned the condition and strength of the post, he called in the 90th New York. The regiment arrived at Barre's Landing just in time to go back to Brashear with Chickering. Morgan, though Chickering's senior in rank, waived his claim to the command and accepted a temporary brigade made up of all the infantry and the artillery.
The 114th New York, after quitting the column on the 19th of April, before passing the Vermilion, and performing the unpleasant duty of driving before it to Brashear all the beeves within its reach, was so unfortunate as to arrive at Cheneyville, on the return march, on the 12th of May, at the moment when Banks had made up his mind to retire to Brashear, and so just in time to face about and once more retrace its weary steps. Passing through Opelousas and Grand Couteau, the 114th turned to the left by the Bayou Fusilier and fell in with Chickering on the Teche.
The way was by the Teche, on either bank. By this time Mouton, reinforced by a brigade of three regiments under Pyron, with a light battery, probably Nichols's, had recrossed the Calcasieu under orders sent him by Kirby Smith on the 14th of May, before he knew of Banks's latest movement, and was approaching the Vermilion just in time to harry the flank and rear of Chickering's column, scattered as it was in the effort to guard the long train that stretched for eight miles over the prairies, with a motley band of 5,000 negroes, 2,000 horses, and 1,500 beeves for a cumbrous accompaniment. With the possible exception of the herd that set out to follow Sherman's march through Georgia, this was perhaps the most curious column ever put in motion since that which defiled after Noah into the ark.
On the 21st of May, Chickering halted near Breaux Bridge; on the 22d, above Saint Martinville; on the 23d, above New Iberia; on the 24th, at Jeannerette. On the following afternoon the column had halted five miles beyond Franklin, when a small force of the enemy, supposed to be part of Green's command or of Fournet's battalion, fell upon the rear-guard and a few shots were exchanged, with slight casualties on either side, save that Lieutenant Almon A. Wood, of the 110th New York, fell with a mortal wound. However, although the troops had already traversed twenty-five miles, this decided Morgan, who seems by this time to have taken the command, to push on, and the march being kept up throughout the night, the wearied troops, after a short rest for breakfast arrived at Berwick Bay at eleven o'clock on the following morning. In the last thirty-one hours the command had marched forty-eight miles. In the forty-one days that had passed since the campaign opened the 114th New York had covered a distance of almost 500 miles, nearly every mile of it afoot and with but three days' rest. The same afternoon the crossing began, and by the 28th every living thing was in safety at Brashear.
Banks had sent his despatches of the 13th of May to Grant by the hands of Dwight, with instructions to lay the whole case before Grant and to urge the view held by Banks with regard to the co-operation of the two armies. Dwight proceeded to Grand Gulf by steamboat, and thence riding forward, overtook Grant just in time to witness the battle of Champion's Hill on the 16th of May. That night he sent a despatch by way of Grand Gulf, promising to secure the desired co-operation, but urging Banks not to wait for it. The message arrived at headquarters at Simmes's plantation on the evening of the 17th, and was at once sent on to Brashear to be telegraphed to the commanding general at New Orleans. This assurance sent by Dwight really conveyed no more than his own opinion, but Banks read it as a promise from Grant, and once more convinced that it would be futile to attempt a movement toward Grand Gulf with the limited means of transport he had at hand, he again changed his plan and determined to go directly to Bayou Sara, hoping and trusting to meet there on the 25th of May a corps of 20,000 men from Grant's army.
The effective strength of the force now assembled near the head of the Atchafalaya was 8,400 infantry, 700 cavalry, 900 artillery; in all, 10,000. This great reduction was not wholly due to the effects of the climate, hardships, and long marches, but is partly to be ascribed to heavy detachments. These included the six regiments with Chickering, one at Butte-a-la-Rose, and one at Brashear.
At Simmesport the Corps sustained its first loss by expiration of service. The 6th New York, having completed the two years' term for which it had enlisted, went by the Atchafalaya and the railway to New Orleans, and there presently took transport for New York to be mustered out.
The movements of the army, though pressed as much as possible, were greatly retarded by the scanty means of water transportation and the pressing need of coal. From this cause the navy was also suffering, and urgent means had to be taken to supply the deficiency.
Reconnoissances, conducted by Lieutenant Harwood, in the course of which the enemy's cavalry was seen but not engaged, showed the roads from the Atchafalaya to Waterloo to be practicable for all arms. A detachment of cavalry sent out on the 18th to ascertain whether the Confederates had any force on the west bank of the Mississippi, encountered near Waterloo about 120 men of the 1st Alabama regiment, under Lieutenant-Colonel Locke, who had been sent over the day before from Port Hudson in skiffs to prevent any communication between the upper and the lower fleets. A skirmish followed, with slight loss on either side.
First placing Emory in command of the defences of New Orleans, and ordering Sherman to take Dow and Nickerson and join Augur before Port Hudson, Banks left the city on the 20th of May, rejoined his headquarters on the 21st, and at once set his troops in motion toward Bayou Sara. At half-past eight o'clock on the morning of the 21st of May, Paine broke up his bivouac on the Atchafalaya and marched to Morganza, after detaching the 131st New York and the 173d New York with a section of artillery to guard the ammunition train. Grover followed by water as fast as the steamboats could be provided. At two o'clock on the morning of the 22d of May, Banks and Grover, with the advance of Grover's division, landed at Bayou Sara without meeting any opposition from the enemy, who, up to this time, seems not to have suspected the movement. The other troops followed as rapidly as the means of transport permitted. Grover's division was sent ashore, followed by two brigades of Paine's division from Morganza. The wagon train went on down the road to the landing directly opposite Bayou Sara, under the escort of the 110th New York, and the 162d New York, with one section of Carruth's battery, all under the command of Benedict.
Soon after the landing at Bayou Sara, a party of cavalry rode in, bringing the news of Augur's battle of the 21st. Hearing that Augur was at that moment engaged with the enemy, Banks pressed forward his troops. In a violent storm of wind and rain Grover pushed on until he met Augur's outlying detachments. Then, finding all quiet, he went into bivouac near Thompson's Creek, north-west of Port Hudson. Paine followed, and rested on the Perkins plantation, a mile in the rear of Grover. Banks made his headquarters with Grover. Augur covered the front of the position taken up by the enemy after the battle of Plains Store. On the same day, the 22d, Sherman came up the river, landed at Springfield, and went into position on the Bayou Sara road on Augur's left. Thus at night on the 22d the garrison of Port Hudson was practically hemmed in.
On the 18th, Banks had ordered Augur to march with his whole disposable force to the rear of Port Hudson to prevent the escape of the garrison. As early as the 13th of May, while yet the plan of campaign was in suspense, Augur had sent Grierson with the cavalry and Dudley with his brigade to Merritt's plantation, near the junction of the Springfield Landing and Bayou Sara roads, to threaten the enemy and discover his movements. Dudley then took post near White's Bayou, a branch of the Comite, and remained in observation, covering the road to Clinton and the fork that leads to Jackson. On the 20th of May Augur moved the remainder of his force up to Dudley, in order to be ready to cover T. W. Sherman's landing at Springfield, as well as to meet the advance of the main column under Banks from Bayou Sara, now likely to occur at any moment. With Augur now were Dudley, Chapin, Grierson, Godfrey's squadron composed of troops C and E of the Louisiana cavalry, two sections of Rawles's battery, Holcomb's battery, and one section of Mack's commanded by Sergeant A. W. McCollin. At six o'clock on the morning of the 21st of May Augur marched toward the crossing of the Plains Store and Bayou Sara roads to seize the enemy's line of retreat and to open the way for Banks. When Grierson came to the edge of the wood that forms the southern boundary of the plain, his advance fell in with a detachment of the garrison under Colonel S. P. Powers of the 14th Arkansas regiment, and a brisk skirmish followed. The same afternoon Gardner sent out Miles, with his battalion, about 400 strong, and Boone's battery, to feel Augur's advance and perhaps to drive it away. This brought on the action known as the battle of Plains Store. Unfortunately, no complete reports of the affair were made and the regimental narratives are meagre.
In the heavy forest that then masked the crossroads and formed the western border of the plain, Miles met Augur moving into position; Dudley, on the right of the road that leads from Plains Store to Port Hudson, supporting Holcomb's guns, and Chapin on the left supporting Rawles's guns. For about an hour the artillery fire was brisk. The 48th Massachusetts, being badly posted in column on either side of the Port Hudson road, gave way in some confusion under the sharp attack of Miles's men coming on through the thicket, and thus exposed the guns of Beck's section of Rails. As the 48th fell back through the advancing ranks of the 49th Massachusetts, the progress of that regiment was momentarily hindered, but a brisk charge of the 116th New York restored the battle. On the right, a section of Boone's battery got an enfilade fire on Rails and Chapin, and enabled Miles to draw off and retire behind the breastworks. Thus the affair was really ended before Augur, whose duty it was to act with prudence, had time to complete the proper development of his division as for a battle with the full force of the enemy, which he was bound to suppose was about to engage him. Then he completed the task of making good his position, and proceeded to open communication with Banks and with Sherman.
The main loss fell upon Chapin, Dudley's casualties numbering but 18, Grierson's but 2. The total casualties were 15 men killed, 3 officers and 69 men wounded, and 25 men missing—in all, 102. Miles reports his loss as 8 killed, 23 wounded, and 58 missing,—in all, 89.
When Augur quitted Baton Rouge he placed Drew with the 4th Louisiana Native Guards in Fort Williams to hold the place, supported by the fleet, and ordered Nelson with the 1st and 3d Louisiana Native Guards to be ready to follow the division to Port Hudson.
CHAPTER XVI. THE TWENTY-SEVENTH OF MAY.
Port Hudson was now held by Gardner with a force of about seven thousand of all arms. During the interval that had elapsed since its first occupation a formidable series of earthworks had been thrown up, commanding not only the river but all the inland approaches that were deemed practicable. The first plan for land defence was mainly against the attack expected to come from the direction of Baton Rouge. Accordingly, about four miles below Port Hudson a system of works was begun that, if completed, according to the original trace, would have involved a defensive line eight miles in length, requiring thirty-five thousand men and seventy guns to hold it. As actually constructed, the lines were four and a half miles long, and ran in a semicircular sweep from the river near Ross Landing, below Port Hudson, to the impassable swamp above. Following this line for thirteen hundred yards after leaving the river on the south, the bluff is broken into irregular ridges and deep ravines, with narrow plateaus; thence for two thousand yards the lines crossed the broad cotton fields of Gibbons's and of Slaughter's plantations; beyond these for four hundred yards they were carried over difficult gullies; beyond these again for fourteen hundred yards their course lay through fields and over hilly ground to the ravine at the bottom of which runs Sandy Creek. Here, on the day of the investment, the line of Confederate earthworks stopped, the country lying toward the northeast being considered so difficult that no attack was looked for in that quarter. Sandy Creek finds its way into the marshy bottom of Foster's Creek, and from Sandy Creek, where the earthworks ended, to the river at the mouth of Foster's Creek, is about twenty-five hundred yards. Save where the axe had been busy, nearly the whole country was covered with a heavy growth of magnolia trees of great size and beauty. This was a line that, for its complete defence against a regular siege, conducted according to the strict principles of military science, as laid down in the books, should have had a force of fifteen thousand men. At the end of March the garrison consisted of 1,366 officers, 14,921 men of all arms present for duty, making a total of 16,287. The main body was organized in 5 brigades, commanded by Beall, Buford, Gregg, Maxey, and Rust. The fortifications on the river front mounted 22 heavy guns, from 10-inch columbiads down to 24-pounder siege guns, manned by 3 battalions of heavy artillerists, while 13 light batteries, probably numbering 78 pieces, were available for the defence of all the lines: of these batteries only 5 were now left, with 30 guns.
When, early in May, Pemberton began to feel the weight of Grant's pressure, he called on Gardner for reinforcements; thus Rust and Buford marched to the relief of Vicksburg on the 4th of May, Gregg followed on the 5th, and Maxey on the 8th. Miles was to have followed Maxey; in fact the preparations and orders had been given for the evacuation of Port Hudson; but now the same uncertainty and vacillation on the part of the Confederate chiefs that were to seal the doom of Vicksburg began to be felt at Port Hudson. Gardner, who had moved out with Maxey, had hardly arrived at Clinton when he was met by an order from Pemberton to return to Port Hudson with a few thousand men and to hold the place to the last. But ten days later, on the 19th of May, Johnston, who was then engaged in carrying out his own ideas, which differed radically from those of Davis and Pemberton, ordered Gardner to evacuate Port Hudson and to march on Jackson, Mississippi. This order, sent by courier as well as by telegraph, Gardner received just as Augur was marching from Baton Rouge to cut him off. Then it was too late, and when on the 23d Johnston peremptorily renewed his order for the evacuation, even the communication was closed.
The investment was made perfect by the presence in the river, above and below Port Hudson, of the ships and gunboats of the navy. Just above the place and at anchor around the bend lay the Hartford, now Commodore Palmer's flagship, with the Albatross, Sachem, Estrella, and Arizona. Below, at anchor off Prophet's Island, were the Monongahela, bearing Farragut's flag, the Richmond, Genesee, Essex, and the mortar flotilla. Both the upper and the lower fleets watched the river at night by means of picket-boats in order to discover any movement and to intercept any communication with the garrison.
At the Hermitage plantation, on the west bank of the river, Benedict was stationed with his own regiment, the 162d New York, the 110th New York, and a section of artillery to prevent the escape of the Confederates by water. As soon as Weitzel joined, on the 25th of May, Banks began to close in his lines along the entire front. Weitzel moved up to the sugar-house on the telegraph road near the bridge over Foster's Creek; Paine advanced into the woods on Weitzel's left; Grover moved forward on the north of the Clinton Railway, crossed the ravine of Sandy Creek, and occupied the wooded rest of the steep hill in front. Augur prolonged the line across the Plains Store road under cover of the woods, yet in plain view of the Confederate entrenchments. Sherman held the Baton Rouge road, occupying the skirt of woods that formed the eastern edge of Slaughter's and Gibbons's fields.
The 1st and 3d Louisiana Native Guards, under Nelson, having come up from Baton Rouge, were posted at the sugar-house near Foster's Creek, forming the extreme right of the line of investment.
Banks now placed Weitzel in command of the right wing of the army, comprising his own brigade under Thomas, Dwight's brigade of Grover's division under Van Zandt, together forming a temporary division under Dwight, the six regiments that remained of Paine's division after the heavy detachments, and the two colored regiments under Nelson. During the day of the 25th Weitzel gained the wooded slope covering the Confederate left front. The Confederate advanced guard on this part of their line, composed in part of the 9th battalion of Louisiana partisan rangers, under Lieutenant-Colonel Wingfield, resisted Weitzel's advance stoutly, but was steadily and without difficulty pushed back into the entrenchments.
When night fell on the 26th of May the division commanders met at headquarters at Riley's on the Bayou Sara road to consider the question of an assault. No minutes of this council were kept, and to this day its conclusions are a matter of dispute. They may safely be regarded as sufficiently indicated by the orders for the following day. By at least one of those present any immediate movement in the nature of an assault was objected to because of the great distance that still separated the lines of investment from the Confederate earthworks; it was urged that the troops would have to move to the attack over ground the precise character of which was as yet unknown to them or to their commanders, although it was known to be broken and naturally difficult and to be obstructed by felled timber. The general opinion was, however, that prompt and decisive action was demanded in view of the unusual and precarious nature of the campaigns on which the two armies of Grant and Banks were now embarked, the uncertainty as to what Johnston might do, and the certainty that a disaster at Vicksburg would bring ruin in Louisiana. Moreover, officers and men alike were in high spirits and full of confidence in themselves, and they outnumbered the Confederates rather more than two to one. This was the view held by Banks himself. Upon his mind, moreover, the disapproval and the repeated urgings of the government acted as a goad. Accordingly, as soon as the council broke up he gave orders for an assault on the following morning.
All the artillery was to open upon the Confederate works at daybreak. For this purpose the reserve artillery was placed under the immediate orders of Arnold. He was to open fire at six.
Weitzel was to take advantage of the attacks on the left and centre to force his way into the works on his front, since it was natural to expect that, whether they should prove successful or not, these attacks would distract the attention of the enemy and serve to relieve the pressure in Weitzel's front.
Grover was thus left with five regiments to support the left centre, to reinforce either the right or left, and to support the right flank of the reserve artillery, or to force his way into the works, as occasion might require.
Augur, holding the centre, with Dudley's brigade forming his right and Chapin his left, and Sherman, at the extreme left, separated from Augur by a thick wood, were to begin the attack during the cannonade by advancing their skirmishers to kill the enemy's cannoneers and to cover the assault. They were to place their troops in position to take instant advantage of any favorable opportunity, and, if possible, to force the enemy's works at the earliest moment.