The idea of a foothold in Texas had been gradually swelling until at length it had attained the dimensions of an overland army of occupation. For this the nature of the region to be traversed, as well as the character of the enemy to be met, demanded a large mounted force. Therefore the government sent from Washington and from other Northern stations the 2d New York veteran cavalry, the 11th New York, the 18th New York, the 2d Maine, the 3d Rhode Island, the 12th Illinois, and the 3d Maryland, and from the West many horses. Banks also mounted seven more regiments of infantry, and having thus raised Lee's cavalry division, when all had joined, to nineteen regiments, they were finally organized in five brigades, with three batteries of horse artillery, namely, Duryea's, Rawles's, and Nims's. These three batteries were lost to the Nineteenth Corps, and with them four of the mounted infantry regiments, the 2d Louisiana, the 75th New York, the 8th New Hampshire, and the 31st Massachusetts; the last three only for a time.
Returning from sick-leave, Emory relieved Weitzel in command of the First division on the 13th of December. Weitzel presently went North on special service and did not resume his command but was transferred in the spring to the Army of the James.
In February, 1864, while the Nineteenth Corps lay in camp at Franklin, it was once more re-organized by breaking up the First, Third, and Fourth divisions, and forming two new divisions, the First, commanded by Emory, comprising the brigades of Dwight, McMillan and Benedict; the Second division, commanded by Grover, composed of the brigades of Nickerson, Birge, and Sharpe. Emory's division was already concentrated on the Teche, but Grover's brigades were separated, Nickerson's being in the defences of New Orleans, Birge's in La Fourche, and Sharpe's at Baton Rouge. The first intention was to concentrate the division at Madisonville, and move it by rail to join Franklin; but events interposed.
The Corps staff serving at this time at headquarters in the field included Colonel Charles C. Dwight, acting assistant inspector-general; Surgeon Eugene F. Sanger, medical director; Captain J. G. Oltman, topographical engineer; Captain Thomas H. Annable, commissary of musters; Captain A. W. Chapman, judge-advocate; Lieutenant John J. Williamson, ordnance officer; Captain Henry C. Inwood, provost-marshal; Captain John P. Baker, Captain George M. Franklin, and Lieutenant David Lyon, aides-de-camp.
CHAPTER XXIII. THE RED RIVER.
Seven months had thus been spent in desultory adventures and in multitudinous preparations without a serious military object, and still the capture of Mobile was to be put off, and still the dream of a foothold in Texas was to be pursued. As for Texas, if the government had, especially at this time, any settled plan, it is by no means easy to make out what it was. In the previous July the occupation of some point in Texas had been put forward by Halleck as an object of paramount importance. At first the particular place and manner were of no consequence; yet, when the mouth of the Rio Grande had been seized, with the effect of cutting off the contraband trade of Matamoras, Seward, who may be supposed to have known the diplomatic purposes of the government, was frankly delighted, while Halleck, who must be regarded as expressing its military views, was as frankly disgusted. Finally, when not one foothold but many footholds had been gained along the coast of Texas, Halleck wound up the long correspondence (1) by renewing his instructions of the previous summer, looking to a combined naval and military operation on the Red River upon a scale even greater than that originally contemplated; for now, besides the great fleet of ironclads under Porter, the project was to absorb the available strength of three armies. Banks was to move northward by the Atchafalaya; Steele was to advance from the line of the Arkansas; and from Vicksburg Grant was to send Sherman, with such troops as he could spare. Grant, Banks, Sherman, and Steele, as well as Admiral Porter, received corresponding instructions at the same time, and, understanding them in the same sense, the Red River expedition was fairly launched.
Once committed to the scheme, Banks devoted himself loyally to the arrangements necessary for prosecuting it on a scale at least commensurate with the magnitude of the undertaking and with the expectations of the government, as he understood them. Texas was to be his objective, and he was the lead his army up the Red River, as the shortest and best way to Texas. From the outset he was committed to the use of a large body of cavalry able to operate on the plains that lie beyond the Sabine, as well as to overcome the opposition of the mounted forces of the Confederacy in that region. Not only was forage scarce in the Red River country, but Shreveport once taken and passed, the march would lie for three hundred miles across a desert; an immense forage train was therefore indispensable. It was also reasonable to suppose that, before passing Shreveport, the combined armies of the Confederacy in the trans-Mississippi would have to be met and beaten, and for this end a large force of infantry and artillery must also form part of the expedition, at least as far as Shreveport. The co-operation of the Navy was necessary, in its turn, if only to keep open the long line of supply by the Red River. Finally the usual time of the highest water in the upper Red River fixed the date of the movement.
Sherman came from Vicksburg to New Orleans on the 1st of March, and within a few hours reached a distinct agreement with Banks as to the aid expected from the Army of the Tennessee. Admiral Porter had already arranged to be at the mouth of the Red River with a large fleet of gunboats in time for the rising of the waters; and now Sherman promised to send with the fleet ten thousand picked men of his army, to be at Alexandria on the 17th of March. Banks, on his part, agreed that his troops, marching north by the Teche, should meet Sherman's at Alexandria. Steele, who was at Little Rock, undertook to move at the same time to meet the combined forces and the fleet on the Red River. Confronting Steele was Price; across Banks's line of advance stood Taylor; with the whole or any part of his force, Sherman and Porter might have to reckon, and in any case Fort De Russy must be neutralized or reduced before they could get to Alexandria.
Thus upon a given day two armies and a fleet, hundreds of miles apart, were to concentrate at a remote point far within the enemy's lines, situated on a river always difficult and uncertain of navigation, and now obstructed and fortified. Not often in the history of war is the same fundamental principle twice violated in the same campaign; yet here it was so, and even in the same orders, for after once concentrating within the enemy's lines at Alexandria, the united forces of Banks, Sherman, and Porter were actually to meet those of Steele within the enemy's lines at Shreveport, where Kirby Smith, strongly fortified moreover, was within three hundred miles, roughly speaking, of either Banks or Steele, while Steele was separated from Banks by nearly five hundred miles of hostile territory, practically unknown to any one in the Union armies, and neither commander could communicate with the other save by rivers in their rear, over a long circuit, destined to lengthen with each day's march, as they should approach their common enemy in his central stronghold.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about all this was Sherman's ready and express assent to the disregard of the first rule of the great art of which he had always been an earnest student and long past a master; yet it is to be observed that Sherman knew the Red River country better than any one in the Union armies; he knew well the scanty numbers and the scattered state of the hostile forces; with him, as well as with Admiral Porter, this movement had long been a favorite; he had indeed hoped and expected to undertake it himself; but he evidently had in mind a quick and bold movement, having for its object the destruction of the Confederate depots and workshops at Shreveport, without giving the enemy notice, breathing space, or time to concentrate. But this was not to be. On learning, at New Orleans, that Banks meant to command in person, Sherman naturally gave up all thought of accompanying the expedition, and went back to Vicksburg to get his troops ready. The contingent he had promised to send from the Army of the Tennessee he now made up of two divisions of the Sixteenth Corps, united under Mower, with Kilby Smith's division of the Seventeenth Corps, and the command of the whole he gave to A. J. Smith.
As early as the 2d of March Porter assembled at the mouth of the Red River a great fleet of nineteen ironclads, including fifteen of the heavier class and four of the lighter. The fleet carried 162 guns, of which 62 were of the higher calibres, from 80-pounder rifles up to 11-inch Dahlgrens, and the combined weight of projectiles was but little less than five tons.
On the 10th of March, A. J. Smith embarked his force at Vicksburg on an admirably organized fleet of nineteen river transports, controlled by a simple system of signals from the flagship Clara Bell. When, the next day, Smith joined Porter at the mouth of the Red River, six days were still left until the time when Banks had agreed to be at Alexandria with his army. Sherman's orders to Smith required him to make use of the interval by co-operating with the navy in an expedition up the Black and the Washita, for the destruction of Harrisonburg, but Porter had already done the work single-handed. Naturally supposing that Banks's troops were in march up the Teche toward the point of meeting, although they knew that Banks himself was still detained at New Orleans, Smith and Porter determined at once to take or turn Fort De Russy, and then to push on to Alexandria. On the morning of the 12th of March, the combined fleet entered the Red River. At the head of the Atchafalaya, Porter, with nine of the gunboats, turned off to the left and descended that stream as far as Simmesport, followed by the army transports, while Phelps, with the Eastport and the remainder of the fleet, continued the ascent of the Red River, with a view of threatening Fort De Russy, and occupying the attention of its defenders until Smith could land and march across country to attack them.
On the morning of the 13th of March Smith landed, and toward nightfall took up the line of march for Fort De Russy, distant by land twenty-eight miles, although by the windings of the river nearly seventy. In his front, Smith found Scurry's brigade of Walker's division partly entrenched on Yellow Bayou; but Mower quickly brushed Scurry aside, and Walker, after observing the strength of his enemy, concentrated on the Bayou De Glaze, to avoid being shut up in the elbow at Marksville, as well as to get Mouton in support; and thus the way was open to Smith. On the afternoon of the 14th, Mower arrived before Fort De Russy, and just before nightfall the brigades of Lynch and Shaw swept over the parapet and forced a surrender, with a loss of 3 killed and 35 wounded. The captures included 25 officers and 292 men, and ten guns, of which two were 9-inch Dahlgrens from the spoils of the Indianola and the Harriet Lane, once more restored to their first owners.
Phelps, who had with great energy burst through the formidable raft nine miles below Fort De Russy, came up in Eastport in time to fire one shot from his 100-pounder Parrott, and to see the white flag displayed.
When this news reached him, Porter at once ordered his fastest boats to hasten to Alexandria. The advance of the fleet arrived off the town on the 15th of March, just as the last of the Confederate boats were making good their escape above the falls. Kilby Smith and his division followed on the transports with the remainder of the fleet, and, landing at Alexandria during the afternoon of the 16th, relieved the naval detachment sent ashore some hours earlier to occupy the town. On the 18th of March, A. J. Smith marched in with Mower's two divisions. Thus the advance of Porter's fleet was in Alexandria two days, and the head of A. J. Smith's column one day, ahead of the appointed time.
Walker retreated on Natchitoches, accompanied by Gray's brigade of Mouton's division from the Huffpower. Taylor, quitting his headquarters at Alexandria, called in Polignac's brigade from the line of the Tensas and concentrated his force at Carroll Jones's plantation, on the road between Opelousas and Fort Jesup, distant forty-six miles in a south-southeasterly direction from Natchitoches, twelve miles south from Cotile, and twenty miles southwesterly from Alexandria. Here he was in a good position for receiving supplies and reinforcements, for covering Natchitoches, and for observing any approach of the Union forces either from Opelousas or from Alexandria.
Meanwhile Banks had called in from Texas the divisions of Cameron and Ransom of the Thirteenth Corps and sent them to join Franklin on the lower Teche. The command of this detachment being given to Ransom, his division fell to Landram. Lee's cavalry was given the same direction, excepting Fonda's brigade, which stayed at Port Hudson. His last brigade, that of Dudley, marched from Donaldsonville on the 6th of March, crossed Berwick Bay on the 9th, and arrived at the cavalry camp near Franklin on the 10th. Cameron's wagons reached him at Berwick on the 12th, and he marched to join the army in the field on the morning of the 13th. On the evening of the same day Lee led the advance of the army from the town of Franklin, but, his column being quite nine miles long, it was not until the following morning that his rear-guard filed into the road. On the morning of the 15th of March he was followed by Emory and Ransom. Lee arrived at Alexandria on the 19th, Emory on the 25th, and Ransom on the 26th. The troops were, with some exceptions among the newly mounted regiments, in admirable condition, all were in fine spirits, and the long march of one hundred and sixty miles was well ordered and well executed, without confusion, haste, or delay, so that when, with closed ranks and bands playing, and with measured tread and all intervals observed, the column entered Alexandria, the appearance of the men drew exclamations of admiration even from critics the least friendly.
When the news of A. J. Smith's and Porter's arrival in the Red River and of the capture of Fort De Russy reached New Orleans on the 16th of March, it found Banks himself preparing to set out on the following morning to join Franklin near New Iberia. He at once despatched Stone to Alexandria by the river, and following him on the 23d on the transport steamer Black Hawk, arrived at Alexandria on the 24th, and took command of the combined forces of Franklin and A. J. Smith.
Grover, as has been said, was to have moved with Franklin, or close upon his heels, but the 7th of March had come before the first preparatory orders were given for the movement of Sharpe's brigade from Baton Rouge, and not until the 10th was Grover told to concentrate his division at Thibodeaux. His route was now changed to the river. Accordingly Sharpe's brigade debarked at Alexandria on the 26th, and the Second brigade under Molineux on the 28th, but Nickerson stayed for a fortnight longer at Carrollton.
Vincent, who with the 2d Louisiana cavalry had been watching and reporting Lee's movement and regularly falling back before his advance, joined Taylor at Carroll Jones's on the 19th. Then Taylor sent Vincent with his regiment and Edgar's battery to watch the crossing of Bayou Jean de Jean and to hold the road by which Banks was expected to advance on Shreveport. Vincent encamped on the high ground known as Henderson's Hill, commanding the junction of the Bayou Rapides and Cotile twenty-three miles above Alexandria. Here he was in the air, and A. J. Smith, realizing the importance of seizing the passage without loss of time, at once proceeded to dislodge him. Accordingly, on the 21st of March he sent out Mower with his two divisions of the Sixteenth Corps and Lucas's brigade of cavalry. Mower made his dispositions with great skill and promptness, and that night, during a heavy storm of rain and hail, completely surprised Vincent's camp and captured the whole regiment bodily, together with four guns of Edgar's battery. A few of Vincent's men managed to escape in the darkness and confusion, but about 250 were brought in and with them 200 horses. This was a heavy blow to Taylor, since it deprived him of the only cavalry he had with him and thus of the means of scouting until Green should come from Texas. Mower returned to Alexandria on the 22d, and Taylor, probably unwilling to risk a surprise in his exposed position, withdrew about thirty miles to Kisatchie, still covering the Fort Jesup road; but a week later he sent his cavalry northward twenty-six miles to Natchitoches and with his infantry retired to Pleasant Hill.
Banks has been blamed for his delay in meeting A. J. Smith and Porter at Alexandria, yet, whatever may be the theoretical merits of such a criticism, in fact no loss of time that occurred up to the moment of quitting Alexandria had the least influence on the course of the campaign, for even after the concentration was completed the river, though very slowly rising by inches, was still so low that the gunboats were unable to pass the rapids. The Eastport hung nearly three days on the rocks in imminent peril, and at last had to be hauled off by main force, a whole brigade swaying on her hawsers to the rhythm of the field music. This was on the 26th of March, and the Eastport was the first of the gunboats to pass the rapids, the Admiral being naturally unwilling to expose the boats of lighter draught as well as of lighter armament to the risk of capture if sent up alone. The hospital steamer Woodford, which was the first boat to follow the Eastport, was wrecked in the attempt. The next five boats took three days to pass, nor was it until the 3d of April that the last of the twelve gunboats and thirty transports, selected to accompany the expedition to Shreveport, floated in safety above the obstructions. Several of the transports drew too much water to permit them to pass the rapids; these, therefore, stayed below, and with them the remaining seven gunboats.
And now occurred the first important departure from the original plan of operations. The season of high water had been looked forward to as insuring constant communication along the whole length of the Red River as far as the fleet should be able to ascend. But the Red is a treacherous river at best, and this year it was at its worst. There was to be no March rise worth speaking about. Thus the rapids presented an obstacle, impassable, or only to be passed with difficulty; the bare rocks divided the fleet in twain, the only communication was overland by the road around the falls. The supplies had to be landed at Alexandria, loaded into wagons, hauled around, and re-shipped, and this made it necessary to establish depots in the town as well as above the falls, and to leave behind Grover's division, 4,000 strong, to protect the stores and the carry. At the same time McPherson recalled Ellet's marine brigade to Vicksburg, and thus the expedition lost a second detachment of 3,000 men; but this loss was partly made up by Dickey's brigade of colored troops, 1,500 strong, which joined the column from the garrison of Port Hudson. Withal the force was ample, for at the end of March there were 31,000 officers and men for duty, including about 4,800 under Ransom, 6,600 under Emory, 9,000 under A. J. Smith, and Lee's cavalry, 4,600. Here was a superb fighting column of 25,000 officers and men of all arms, with ninety guns. This more than met the calculations of Banks and Sherman on which the campaign was undertaken. In the three columns there were to be 40,000 men; of these, Sherman was to furnish 10,000, Banks 15,000, and Steele 15,000.
Steele had already sent word that he could not be counted upon for more than 7,000, all told. He had expected to march from Little Rock by the 14th of March on Arkadelphia, there to be joined by Thayer moving at the same time from Fort Smith. Thayer marched on the 21st with 4,000 effectives and 14 guns, Steele on the 23d with 7,500 effectives and 16 guns; besides these, he left Clayton with 1,600 men and 11 guns to hold Pine Bluff.
We have seen how, in one movement, three divergent ideas were being carried out without either having been distinctly decided on: a foothold in Texas, an overland occupation in force, and a swift raid by the river. To these there was now to be added a fourth idea, in itself sound, yet fatally inconsistent with the others.
On the 27th of March, before setting out from Alexandria, Banks received, by special messenger, the orders of Lieutenant-General Grant, dated the 15th of March, on taking command of the armies of the United States. For the first time during the war, all the armies were to move as one, with a single purpose, ruled by a single will; along the whole line, from the Mississippi to the Atlantic, a combined movement was to take place early in May, and in this the entire effective force of the Department of the Gulf was to take part. A. J. Smith was to join the Army of the Tennessee for the Atlanta campaign, and Banks was to go against Mobile. Sherman had lent A. J. Smith to Banks for thirty days. This limit Grant was willing to extend by ten or fifteen days, but if Shreveport were not to be taken by that time—that is, by the 25th of April at the very latest,—then Banks was to send A. J. Smith's detachment back to Vicksburg in season to arrive there at the date originally named—that is, by the 10th of April,—even if this should lead to the abandonment of the expedition. The orders for the expedition given by Halleck, while occupying nominally the supreme command that had now in truth fallen into the strong hand of Grant, were not revoked; the expedition was to go on; only, to make sure that it should not be gone too long, it was to be put in irons.
Grant may easily be excused if, while as yet hardly warm in the saddle, he hesitated to revoke orders that he must have known to be those of the President himself; yet, since a door must be either open or shut it would have been far better to revoke the orders than to trammel their execution with conditions so hard that Banks might well have thrown up the campaign then and there. However, Banks on his part had good reason to know the wishes of the government and not less the consequences of disregarding them; moreover, as the case must have presented itself to him, there was an off chance that Kirby Smith might not be able to concentrate in time to save Shreveport; another, still more remote, that he might give up the place without a fight; and a third, more unlikely than either, that Steele might join Banks in time to make short work of it, or at all events to make Banks strong enough to spare A. J. Smith by the appointed time. Two weeks remained until the earliest date set for A. J. Smith to be at Vicksburg; twenty-nine days to the latest day allowed for the taking of Shreveport. In his dilemma Banks decided to run these chances.
After seeing the first of the gunboats safely over the falls, on the 26th of March Banks set his column in motion. A. J. Smith marched on Cotile Landing to wait for his boats. On the 28th Lee, with the main body of the cavalry, preceded Smith to Henderson's Hill, in order to hold the road and the crossing of Bayou Jean de Jean. Franklin with Emory and Ransom and the main supply trains followed on the same day.
Twenty miles above Cotile Landing the Red River divides, and, for sixty miles, until Grand Ecore is reached, the waters flow in two unequal channels; the most southerly of these, along which the road runs, is known as Cane River, or Old Red River. This was formerly the main stream, but the more northerly branch, at once deeper and less tortuous, now forms the only navigable channel, and is called the Rigolets du Bon Dieu, or more familiarly the Bon Dieu.
Lee crossed Cane River at Monett's Ferry, and, recrossing above Cloutierville, entered Natchitoches on the 31st of March. At Monett's Ferry on the 29th, Cloutierville on the 30th, and again at Natchitoches he encountered slight opposition from the enemy's skirmishers.
Franklin, marching by the same road, encamped at Natchitoches on the 2d of April.
Embarking on his transports as they came, A. J. Smith set out from Cotile Landing on the 2d of April in company with Porter's fleet, and landed at Grand Ecore on the 3d.
The river was still rising slowly, and it was not until the 7th of April that Porter considered the draught of water sufficient to justify him in going farther. Then, leaving at Grand Ecore the six heavy boats that had come with him thus far, he began the ascent of the upper reach of the river with the Carondelet, Fort Hindman, Lexington, Osage, Neosho, and Chillicothe, convoying and closely followed by a fleet of twenty transports, bearing Kilby Smith's division and a large quantity of military stores of all kinds. Porter expected to be at Springfield Landing, 110 miles above Grand Ecore, on the 9th. On arriving there, Kilby Smith was to reconnoitre towards Springfield, and if practicable, to send a regiment to seize the bridge across the Bayou Pierre in the direction of Mansfield.
On the 6th of April, as soon as the movement of the fleet was decided on, Banks resumed the march on Shreveport. Shortly after leaving Natchitoches the main road, with which the road from Grand Ecore unites, strikes off from the river toward the west to avoid Spanish Lake, and, traversing a barren wilderness, affords neither position nor resting-place until Shreveport is reached. Banks meant to be at Mansfield, holding the roads that there converge, simultaneously with the arrival at the fleet at Springfield Landing. Lee, who was encamped at Natchitoches with the brigades of Lucas, Robinson, and Dudley, led the advance, and marching twenty-three miles encamped that night at Crump's Corner. Ransom broke camp at Natchitoches at six o'clock in the morning, and marched sixteen miles. Emory followed closely upon Ransom. A. J. Smith remained at Grand Ecore till the next day, to await the departure of the fleet, and then marching eight miles on the Shreveport road fell into the rear of the column. Dickey's colored brigade formed the guard of the main wagon train, and Gooding's brigade of cavalry covered the rear and left flank. From this time Lee's movements were to be directed by Franklin.
Meanwhile, between the 3d and 5th of April, Taylor, after consuming the forage for twenty miles around Pleasant Hill, had withdrawn his infantry to Mansfield. Green's cavalry, long expected, was now beginning to come in, largely augmented, from Texas, whither it had been hastily sent, early in the winter, to meet the threatened invasion from the coast.
On the morning of the 7th of April, Lee advanced on Pleasant Hill, Robinson leading, supported by Lucas. Robinson easily drove before him the advance guard of the Confederate cavalry until about two o'clock in the afternoon, at Wilson's farm, three miles beyond Pleasant Hill, he came upon the main body of Green's force, comprising Major's brigade, under Lane, posted in the skirt of the wood, on rising ground, behind a clearing. Robinson dismounted his men and engaged the enemy, who resisted so firmly that Lucas was sent to Robinson's support just in time to save him from being driven off the field by a determined charge. Lucas likewise dismounted his men, and the two brigades, charging together afoot, drove the Confederates from their position, and pursued them to Carroll's saw-mill, on the southerly branch of Bayou St. Patrice, about seven miles beyond Pleasant Hill, where, toward nightfall, they made a strong stand. In this action, Lee took 23 prisoners, and suffered a loss of 11 killed, 42 wounded, and 9 missing.
Ransom marched at half-past five in the morning, and at two o'clock in the afternoon the head of his column was at Pleasant Hill, nineteen miles distant, where he went into camp, having overtaken the cavalry train during the march, and Dudley's brigade at the close. Emory, closely following Ransom, arrived at Pleasant Hill about five o'clock in the afternoon, and went into camp. The last of the infantry and all the wagons were much retarded by a heavy storm that broke over the rear of the column and cut up the road badly. The night was far spent when Ransom's train joined him, and Emory's, in spite of every exertion, could not be brought up until late on the following morning. A. J. Smith was now a good day's march behind Ransom and Emory.
When Lee found himself so obstinately opposed, and so hindered by these dilatory tactics, he sent a message to Franklin, through Banks's senior aide-de-camp, who had been riding with the advance, asking that a brigade of infantry might be sent forward to his assistance. Lee's view was that the infantry, advancing in skirmish order, could make better progress than the cavalry, which, in a country so thickly wooded, found itself reduced to the same tactics, with the added drawback that as often as they dislodged the enemy they had to run back after their horses before they could follow. Franklin declined to accede to this request without orders, justly reflecting that infantry thus advanced at night, after a hard day's march, must be worn out in the attempt to keep touch with the cavalry, while, in the history of these mixed forces, the instances are rare indeed in which the mounted men have not, after bringing on the action, left it, as the proper thing, for the infantry to finish. However, late in the evening Banks joined Franklin, and an hour or two before midnight ordered him to send a brigade to Lee, to report to him at dawn. Upon this Franklin directed Ransom to send either a brigade or a division, at his discretion, and Ransom, in his turn, ordered Landram to take Emerson's brigade of his division and join the cavalry for the service indicated.
(1) January 4, 1864—Official Records, vol. xxxiv, part ii., p. 15.
CHAPTER XXIV. SABINE CROSS-ROADS.
Landram accordingly marched at three o'clock on the morning of the 8th of April, and reported to Lee about five.
Soon after sunrise Lee moved forward against the enemy, Lucas leading, with one regiment of his brigade dismounted and deployed as skirmishers, supported by two regiments of Landram's infantry, in line of battle. Green's men still adhering to the obstructive policy of the day before, after a time the two remaining regiments of Emerson's brigade were deployed and required to drive the enemy more rapidly, while the cavalry covered the flanks. About one o'clock in the afternoon, when half the distance that separated Mansfield from his camp of the night before had been accomplished, Lee found himself at the edge of a large clearing on the slope of a hill, with the Confederates in force in his front and on his right flank.
Ransom marched from Pleasant Hill at half-past five, and at half-past ten was ten miles distant on the northerly branch of the Bayou St. Patrice, designated as his camp for the day. He was just going into bivouac when, on a request from Lee for a fresh force of infantry to relieve the exhausted men of Emerson's brigade, Franklin directed Ransom to go forward himself with Vance's brigade, and thus to make sure of Emerson's return.
Franklin's arrangements for the day's march of his command, as well as Banks's for the whole force, contemplated a short march for the head of the column and a longer one for the rear, so that a comparatively early hour in the day the army would be closed up, ready to encounter the enemy in good order. Accordingly, shortly before three o'clock in the afternoon, Emory went into camp on the banks of the south branch of the St. Patrice, within easy supporting distance of Ransom, while A. J. Smith continued his march, until at night, having accomplished twenty-one miles, he went into bivouac about two miles before reaching Pleasant Hill.
At last nearly the whole of Green's cavalry corps had joined Taylor, and at the same time two divisions of Price's army had come in from Arkansas and taken post in supporting distance of Taylor at Keachie, which is about half-way between Mansfield and Shreveport, or about twenty miles from either. With his own force, under Walker and Mouton, Green's Texans, Churchill's Arkansas division, and Parsons's Missouri division, Taylor now had at least sixteen thousand good men, with whom, if permitted, he might give battle in a chosen position, while Banks's force was stretched out the length of a long day's march on a single narrow road in a dense pine forest, with no elbow-room save such as was to be found in the narrow and infrequent clearings. In such a region excess of numbers was a hindrance rather than a help, and cavalry was worse then useless for offence. Banks was, moreover, encumbered by twelve miles of wagons bearing all his ammunition and stores, and was weakened by the necessity of guarding this long train through the barren wilderness deep in the heart of the enemy's country. Of these conditions Kirby Smith was planning to take advantage, and it was to guard against such an enterprise that Banks's column was closing up in readiness to meet the enemy with its full strength, when suddenly on both sides events took the bit in their teeth and precipitated a battle that was in the plans of neither.
It was about eleven o'clock when Ransom set out to go to the front with Vance's brigade. The distance to be passed over was about five and a half miles. Riding ahead, Ransom himself arrived on the field about half-past one in the afternoon. At this time, by Lee's orders, Landram had pushed forward the 19th Kentucky, deployed as skirmishers, and supporting it strongly with the rest of Emerson's brigade, had driven Green's troopers across the open ground, over the hill, and well into the woods beyond, and had taken position on the crest. Here he was joined by Nims, who brought his guns into battery across the road. On the left of Nims were placed two of Rottaken's howitzers, detached from the 6th Missouri cavalry. On the right and left of the horse artillery Emerson formed, and Vance, as soon as he came up, took position on Emerson's right, but as Banks undertook to hasten the movement through the direct action of his own staff-officers, it resulted that the regiments of the two brigades were sandwiched. Lucas, dismounted, extended the line of battle to the right. With him were a section of Rawles's battery and another of Rottaken's.
To cover the flanks in the forest Dudley deployed as skirmishers the 8th New Hampshire on the right, and on the left the 3d and the 31st Massachusetts, supported by the 2d Illinois. Robinson was with the cavalry train, which was rather closely following the march of its division, in order to clear the head of the infantry without starving the cavalry.
Neither side could move forward without bringing on a battle. But Lee, instead of being able and ready to disengage his cavalry advance-guard and to fall back to a chosen field, was now anchored to the ground where he found himself, not alone by the concentration of the main body of the cavalry at the very front, but also and even more firmly by the presence of the infantry with its artillery and their employment, naturally enough, to form the centre of his main line.
The clearing, the largest yet seen by the Union Army since entering the interminable wilderness of pines, was barely half a mile in width; across the road it stretched for about three quarters of a mile, and down the middle it was divided by a ravine.
Directly in front of Banks stood Taylor in order of battle, covering the crossing of the ways that lead to Pleasant Hill, to Shreveport, to Bayou Pierre, and to the Sabine. On his right was the cavalry of Bee, then Walker's infantry astride of the main road, and on Walker's left Mouton, supported on his left by the cavalry brigades of Major and Bagby, dismounted. To this position, well selected, Taylor had advanced from Mansfield early in the morning, with the clear intention of offering battle, and, regardless of Kirby Smith's purpose of concentrating nearer Shreveport, had sent back orders for Churchill and Parsons to come forward. They marched early, and were by this time well on the way, but a distance of twenty-five miles separated their camp of the night before from the field of the approaching combat.
As on the previous day's march, Stone had been with Lee's advance since the early morning, without, however, being charged with the views of his chief and without attempting to issue orders in his name; but now Banks himself rode to the extreme front, as his habit was. Arriving on the ground not long after Ransom, and seeing the enemy before him in force, Banks at once ordered Lee to hold his ground and sent back orders to Franklin to bring forward the column. The skirmishing that had been going on all the morning, as an incident of the advance and retreat of the opposing forces, had become the sharp prelude of battle, and through the openings of the forest the enemy could be seen in continuous movement toward his left. This was Major and Mouton feeling their way to the Union right, beyond which and diagonally across the front ran the road that leads from Mansfield to Bayou Pierre.
Whether Taylor, as he says, now became impatient at the delay and ordered Mouton to open the attack, or whether, as others have asserted, Mouton attacked without the knowledge or orders of Taylor, is not quite clear, nor is it here material. About four o'clock, when the two lines had looked at each other for two hours or more, Taylor suddenly delivered his attack by a vigorous charge of Mouton's division on the east of the road. Ransom's infantry on the field numbered about 2,400 officers and men; including Lucas, Banks's fighting line fell below 3,500, and the whole force he had at hand was not above 5,000 strong. Against this, Taylor was now advancing with nearly 10,000. It was therefore inevitable that on both flanks his line must widely overlap that of Banks as soon as the two should meet.
When Ransom perceived Mouton's movement, he threw forward his right to meet it with such spirit that Mouton's first line was driven back in confusion on his second; then rallying and returning to the charge, Mouton's men halted, lay down, and began firing at about two hundred yards' range. The two batteries of Landram's division, Cone's Chicago Mercantile, and Klauss's 1st Indiana, now came on the field, and were posted by Ransom on the ridge near the centre, to oppose the enemy's advance on the left, before which Dudley's men were already falling back. Bee and Walker had in fact turned the whole left flank, and were rapidly moving on, breaking in the line as they advanced. This soon left Nims's guns without support, and at the same time Klauss and Cone came under a fire so severe from Walker's men, that Ransom determined to withdraw to the cover of the wood in his rear at the edge of the clearing. Unfortunately, Captain Dickey, his assistant adjutant-general, fell mortally wounded in the act of communicating these orders, and thus some of the regiments farther toward the right, being without orders, and fighting stubbornly against great odds, stood their ground until they were completely surrounded and taken prisoners. While aiding Landram to rally and reform the remnants of his division in the skirt of timber, Ransom was severely wounded in the knee, and had to be carried off the field. Vance and Emerson were wounded and taken prisoners, each at the head of his brigade.
Meanwhile, shortly after three o'clock, at his quarters, near Ransom's camp of the forenoon, Franklin received his first suggestion of an impending battle, in Banks's order to bring all the infantry to the front. First sending back word to Emory, Franklin set out at once and rode forward rapidly, followed by Cameron's division. When, some time after four o'clock, he entered the clearing and galloped to the hill where the guns of Nims still stood grimly defiant and Ransom's men were still desperately struggling to hold their first ground, the situation was already hopeless. Hardly had he arrived on the ground, than, by a single volley from Walker's advancing lines, Franklin's horse was killed, and he himself and Captains Chapman and Pigman of his staff were wounded.
Cameron came up just as Landram was striving hard to rally his men and to hold a second position in the lower skirt of the wood, to prevent the enemy from coming on across the clearing; but for this, time and numbers and elbow-room were alike wanting. Moreover, every movement of the Confederate troopers must be gaining on the flanks. Nor was Cameron's handful, barely 1,300, enough to enable the remnant of the Thirteenth Corps to hold for many minutes so weak a position against such odds. Cameron deployed his four battalions and tried hard, but the whole line soon crumbled and fell apart to the rear.
Until this moment, Banks and Franklin, as well as every officer of the staff of either, beginning with Stone, had exerted themselves to the utmost to second the efforts of Ransom and of Landram to save the day. The retreat once fairly began, all attempt to stay its course was for a time given up as idle, for every man knew just how far back he must go to find room to form a line of battle longer than the road was narrow. Green's cavalry having been for the most part dismounted and on the flanks, as well as in the forest, the pursuit was not very vigorous and was now and then retarded by the successive covering lines of Lucas and of Dudley, so that the prospect seemed fair of bringing off the remnants of the fighting force without much more loss, when about a mile behind the battle-field, at the foot of a slight descent, the retreating column came upon a knot of wagons inextricably tangled and stuck fast in a slough. This was the great cavalry train trying to escape. Instantly what had been a severe check became a serious disaster. Already, by holding so stiffly to his first position, in the front line, in the road, Nims had lost more than half his horses, and thus in quitting the field he found himself compelled to abandon three of his guns; yet not until he had inflicted vast injuries on his enemy, and to the last furnished a noble example of coolness in the performance of duty and the highest courage in the hour of trial. Now the remnant of this fine battery was swallowed up in the wreck of the wagons, and soon fourteen more guns went to swell the ruin. Thus Rails and Rottaken lost each a section, Cone and Klauss their whole batteries. In all twenty guns were lost; three on the field and seventeen at the jam. With them went 175 wagons, 11 ambulances, and 1,001 draught animals. To pass the obstruction the infantry had to turn widely out of the road and for a long distance push their way through the woods. No semblance of order survived. After this there was only one mass of men, wagons, and horses crowding to the rear.
How little expectation there had been of fighting a battle that day, especially on the line where the extreme outposts chanced to be, and how suddenly all was changed, is aptly shown by what was happening in Emory's camp when, at a quarter before four o'clock, he received Franklin's order to go to the front. The wagons of the Thirteenth Corps were in the road in the act of passing the lines of the Nineteenth Corps on the way to join their proper command. Emory's wagons had been with him for some little time and several of the quartermasters were even engaged in issuing clothing when the summons came. There had been no heavy firing as yet, such as indicates a battle, and the exact degree of urgency may be best represented by saying that the marching orders were delivered to Emory in writing by a mounted orderly and were in these words: "Move your infantry immediately to the front, leaving one regiment as guard to your batteries and train. If your train has got up, you will take two days' rations and the cooking utensils." The language of this order, which may fairly be taken as an authentic reflection of the oral message from Banks, on which it was directly based, would have justified Emory in taking an hour or more for the issue of the rations; but Emory, whose nature it was to forecast danger, had from the first hour of the campaign been apprehensive of some sudden attack that should find the army unprepared; and thus it was that, merely stopping to take a double ration of hard bread, twelve minutes later the head of his column filed into the road and marched to the front. At this hour the battle was just beginning, and the first sounds, rolling to the rear, served to quicken the march of Emory's men. About a quarter before five he was met by an aide-de-camp with orders to hasten, coupled with the first direct information that an engagement was in progress. A mile farther on an ambulance was met bearing Ransom to the rear. Emory exchanged a few words with the wounded officer, and then ordered his division to take the double-quick. A mile beyond, the usual rabble of camp followers and stragglers was encountered, and soon the road was filled with the swollen stream of fugitives, crying that the day was lost.
And now from Emory down to the smallest drummer-boy every man saw that the hour had come to show what the First division was made of. The leading regiments and flankers instantly fixed bayonets; the staff-officers drew their swords; hardly a man fell out, but at a steady and even quickened pace, Emory's men forced their way through the confused mass in the eager endeavor to reach a position where the enemy might be held in check. This, in that country, was not an easy task, and it was not until the last rush of the flying crowd and the dropping of stray bullets here and there told that the pursuing enemy was close at hand, that Emory found room to deploy on ground affording the least advantage for the task before him. He was now less than three miles from the field where Lee had been beaten back and Ransom had been overwhelmed. The scene was a small clearing with a fenced farm, traversed by a narrow by-road and by a little creek flowing toward the St. Patrice. Here the Confederates could be plainly seen coming on at such a pace that for some moments it was even doubtful whether Emory might not have delayed just too long the formation of his line of battle. Such was his own though as in the dire need of the crisis he determined to sacrifice his leading regiment in order to gain time and room for the division to form. Happily the Confederates helped him by stopping to loot the train and the rejoice loudly over each discovery of some special luxury to them long unfamiliar.
Then rapidly sending orders to Dwight to hold the road at any cost, to McMillan to form on the right, to Benedict to deploy on Dwight's left, Emory himself rode up to Kinsey, and together they led forward the 161st New York and deployed the regiment widely as skirmishers across the whole front of the division, in the very teeth of the Confederate line of battle, rapidly advancing with wild yells and firing heavily as they came. Not a man of the division, not one of the 161st, but felt as well as Emory the imposing duty laid on that splendid regiment and the hard sacrifice expected of it; yet they stood their ground so well and so long that not only had the whole division time to deploy, but, when at last the Confederate line of battle refused any longer to be held back by a fringe of skirmishers, it became a serious question whether friend and foe might not enter the Union lines together. Then, when Emory saw that his line was formed, he gave to word to Kinsey to retire. For some seconds his skirmishers masked fire of their own lines, but, as the Confederates followed with great impetuosity, Dwight's whole line, kneeling, waiting, and ready, opened a fierce fire at point-blank range and soon threw off the attack with heavy loss to their assailants. The brunt of the attack was borne by the 28th Maine, holding the centre and the road. An attempt followed to turn Emory's right flank; in this Dwight's right was pressed so heavily that Emory was obliged to deploy McMillan nearly at right angles to the main front, and thus the onset was easily checked. About the same time the Confederates, whose line was longer than Emory's, made a like attempt to turn the left, but Benedict held on firmly, and although his position was a bad one, soon drove off his assailants. The whole fight was over in twenty minutes, but while it lasted it was sharp. It rolled back the pursuit and changed the fortunes of the evil day.
In no other battle of the war was so little use made of artillery. In Ransom's fight only a few guns could be brought into action on either side, though these indeed were served with vigor. As for Emory, he left his batteries and his baggage to the safekeeping of the 153d New York and swept to the front with all the rest of his infantry, while the same jam of wagons that entrapped the guns of Lee and Ransom likewise held back the guns of Taylor. Thus Emory's fight was fought by infantry alone against infantry and dismounted cavalry, and no roar of cannon was heard to break the rattle and the wail of the musketry.
So great a change had these few hours wrought that the same sun rose upon an army marching full of confidence that within two days Shreveport would be in its grasp, and set up the same army defeated, brought to bay, its campaign ruined, saved only by a triumph of valor and discipline on the part of a single division and of skill on the part of its intrepid commander from complete destruction at the hands of an enemy inferior in everything and outnumbered almost as two to one. The passage of a wood is the passage of a defile; there, then, was a blind defile, where of six divisions four were suffered to be taken in detail and attacked in fractions on ground of the enemy's choosing. Hardly any tactical error was wanting to complete the discomfiture. Ransom was overwhelmed and double outflanked by two or three times his numbers; even Emory had but five thousand against a force reduced by casualties and straggling, yet still half as large again as his and flushed with victory; moreover, his position was, whether for offence or defence, worthless beyond the passing hour.
Banks's losses in the battle of Sabine Cross-Roads were as follows:
Killed. Wounded. Missing. Total. Cavalry Division . . . . 39 250 144 433 Cameron's " . . . . . 24 99 195 318 Landram's " . . . . . 28 148 909 1,085 Emory's " . . . . . 24 148 175 347 Staff of Nineteenth Corps 0 3 0 3 _ _ __ _ In all . . . 115 648 1,423 2,186
By Taylor the action is called the battle of Mansfield. He puts his losses at 1,000, all told. Foremost among the slain, while leading the fierce onset against Ransom's right, Mouton fell, a regimental color in his hand, and with him perished many of his brave Louisianians.
Clearly the next thing, whatever might be the next after, was to concentrate and reform on the first fair ground in the rear. Such were Banks's orders. Accordingly at midnight Emory marched in orderly retreat, with all his material intact, and at eight o'clock the next morning, the 9th of April, went into bivouac at Pleasant Hill, where A. J. Smith was found near his resting-place of the night before, and with him Gooding. Thither Lee and the shattered remnants of Ransom's Corps, now under Cameron, had already retired, and there they now reformed in comparative order.
CHAPTER XXV. PLEASANT HILL.
The scenes and events of the 8th produced a deep effect on Banks. At first he was disposed to look on the campaign as lost. Whatever hope he might have had that morning of taking or even reaching Shreveport within the time fixed for the breaking up of the expedition, was at an end before night fell. Not only must A. J. Smith be sent back to Vicksburg within two days, but Banks himself must be on the Mississippi with his whole force ready to move against Mobile by the 1st of May. Such were his orders from Grant, peremptory and repeated. Therefore Banks at once made up his mind to retreat to Grand Ecore, and sent messenger after messenger across the country to tell Kilby Smith and Porter what had happened and what he was about to do. In thus deciding he chose the second best course, and the one that Taylor wished for; it would have been far better to cover Blair's Landing and thus make sure of the safety as well as the support of the gunboats and Kilby Smith.
Pleasant Hill was a village of a dozen houses dispersed about a knoll in a clearing. Beside the main highway between Natchitoches and Shreveport, by which Banks had come and was now going back, fairly good roads radiate to Fort Jesup and Many on the south to the crossings of the Sabine on the west, and on the north and east towards the Red River. The nearest point on the river was Blair's Landing, distant sixteen miles from Pleasant Hill by the road and forty-five miles by water above Grand Ecore.
Though a good place to fight a battle, Pleasant Hill was not a position that could be held for any length of time, even if there had been an object in holding it. It was too far even from the immediate base of supplies, and there was no water to be had save from the cisterns in the village. These were merely sufficient, in ordinary times, for the storage of rain water for the daily use of the inhabitants. Now two armies had been drawing from them, and there was not enough left in them to supply the wants of Banks's men, to say nothing of the animals, for a single day; and for this reason, if for no other, it was impossible for the army to stay there an hour longer than was really necessary to cover a safe and orderly withdrawal of the train.
Accordingly, early on the 9th of April, Banks gave orders for the wagon train to be set in motion toward Grand Ecore, escorted by Lee with the cavalry and Dickey's colored brigade, and put his army into position at Pleasant Hill to cover the movement.
Churchill with Tappan and Parsons had accomplished the march of twenty miles from Keachie to Mansfield too late in the evening of the 8th to take any part in the battle of Sabine Cross-Roads. At two o'clock the next morning he marched toward the front in order to arrive on the ground in time to renew the fight. By the earliest light of morning Taylor saw that his adversary had already left the field. Then he promptly advanced his whole force, feeling his way as he went. Green led with the cavalry; next came Churchill with his own division, under Tappan; then Parsons, Walker, and Polignac. The morning was wellnigh spent, when Taylor with the head of his column drew near Pleasant Hill and discovered his adversary in position. The last of his infantry did not come up until after noon. Churchill's men were so fagged by their early start and their long march of forty-five miles since the morning of the 8th that Taylor thought it best to give them two hours' rest before attempting anything more.
Two miles to the southward, across the main road, stood Emory, firmly holding the right of the Union lines. Dwight's brigade formed the extreme right flank, thrown back and resting on a wooded ravine that runs almost parallel with the road. Squarely across the road and somewhat more advanced, in the skirt of the wood before the village, commanding an open approach, was posted Shaw's brigade, detached from Mower's Third division, to strengthen the exposed front of Emory. Benedict occupied a ditch traversing a slight hollow, the course of which was nearly perpendicular to the Logansport road, on which his right rested in echelon behind the left of Shaw. Benedict's front was generally hidden by a light growth of reed and willow, but his left was in the open and was completely exposed. Grow's battery, under Southworth, held the hill between Dwight and Shaw, and Closson's battery, under Franck Taylor, was planted so as to fire over the heads of Benedict's men. McMillan's brigade was in reserve behind Dwight and Shaw. The position thus occupied by Emory was a short distance north of the village in front of the fork of the roads that lead to Mansfield and to Logansport.
About four hundred yards behind Benedict, and slightly overlapping his left, the line was prolonged by A. J. Smith, with the two divisions of Mower, strongly posted in the wood, to cover the crossing of the roads to Fort Jesup, to Natchitoches, and to Blair's Landing. Near Mower's right, Closson placed Hebard's battery.
The extreme left flank on the Fort Jesup road was for a time held by Cameron; but, through some uncertainly or misunderstanding of orders, he appears to have considered himself charged with the duty of protecting the right flank and rear of the retreating trains, rather than the left flank of the army. Accordingly five o'clock found him with the wagons, two hours' march from the field of battle.
Lucas, with about 500 picked men of his own brigade, taken from the 16th Indiana, the 6th Missouri, and the 14th New York, and a like number from Gooding's brigade, was detached from the cavalry division for service under the immediate orders of Franklin. With these detachments Lucas skilfully watched all the approaches.
Thus matters rested until the afternoon was well advanced, the long train steadily rolling on its way, and the prospects of being molested seeming to grow by degrees fainter as hour after hour passed and gave no sign of movement on the part of the Confederates.
Taylor formed his line of battle and set his troops in motion between three and four o'clock in the afternoon. Bee with two brigades of cavalry was on the left or east of the Mansfield road, supported by Polignac, on whose division had fallen the heaviest losses of the day before. On the right or west of the road was Walker, while Churchill, with three regiments of cavalry on his right flank, moved under cover and out of sight on the right or south of the upper road to the Sabine.
As early as the previous evening Taylor had considered the chances of Banks's retreat on Blair's Landing, and had sent a detachment of cavalry to gather intelligence of such a movement and to seize the crossing of Bayou Pierre. Now, hearing nothing from this detachment, he sent Major, with his own brigade and Bagby's, to the right of the Union army in time to seize and hold the road to the landing.
Taylor's intention was that Churchill should gain the Fort Jesup road and fall upon the flank and rear of the Union army, while at the same instant Walker was to deliver a direct attack in echelon of brigades from the right. As soon as Churchill should have thrown the Union left into disorder, Bee was to charge down the Mansfield road, while Major and Bagby were to turn the flank of Emory.
It was after three o'clock when Churchill took up his line of march through the woods, Parsons leading. Whether for want of a good map of the country or from whatever cause, it seems probable that, when the head of Churchill's column had gained the lower Sabine road, which enters Pleasant Hill from the southwest, he mistook it for the Fort Jesup road, which approaches the village from the south. Thus, changing front to the left, the double lines of Parsons and Tappan charged swiftly down on the left flank and diagonally upon the front of Benedict, instead of falling, as Taylor meant, upon the flank and rear of Mower. Emory says the attack began at a quarter after five; other reports name an earlier hour. However that may be, night was approaching, and the Union army had practically given up the idea of being attacked that day, when suddenly the battle began.
Benedict's position was, unavoidably, a bad one, and this oblique order of attack was singularly adapted for searching out its weakness. When once Benedict's skirmishers had been driven back through the skirt of the woods that masked his right and centre, Churchill's men had but to descend the slope, firing as they came on, but without checking their pace, and it was a mere question of minutes when the defenders of a line so exposed and overlapped must be crushed by the weight of thrice their numbers. For one brief moment, indeed, the fight was hand to hand; then Benedict's men were driven out of the ditch, and forced in more or less disorder up the reverse slope. So they drifted to the cover of the wood, where Mower lay in wait, and there by regiments they re-formed and sought fresh places in the front of battle; for Benedict had fallen, and the night followed so quickly that darkness had closed in before the discreet and zealous Fessenden had gathered the brigade and held it well in hand. The whole brigade bore the searching test like good soldiers, yet conspicuous in steadiness under the shock and in prompt recovery were the 30th Maine and the 173d New York, inspired by the example and the leadership of Fessenden and of Conrady.
When Green heard the sound of Churchill's musketry he launched Bee with Debray's and Buchel's regiments in an impetuous charge against the left of Shaw's line; but this wild swoop was quickly stopped by the muskets of the 14th Iowa and the 24th Missouri at close range. Many saddles were emptied; Bee, Buchel, and Debray were among the victims, and in great disorder the beaten remnants fled.
Eighteen guns, among them, sad to say, trophies of Sabine Cross-Roads, concentrated their fire upon the six pieces of Southworth and presently overcame him by sheer weight. The giving way of Benedict had already exposed Shaw's left when Walker closed with him. Vigorously attacked in front, and menaced in flank, Shaw made a stout fight, but he was in great danger of being cut off. Not a moment too soon A. J. Smith recalled him.
When Shaw gave back, Dwight suddenly found himself attacked in front by Walker and in flank and rear by Major. At this trying moment the 114th New York and the 153d New York were covering the fork of the roads to Mansfield and to Logansport, while beyond the Mansfield road, on the right, stood the 116th New York. To protect the left and right flanks of this little line, Dwight quickly moved the 29th Maine and the 161st New York. Fortunately his men stood firm under the trial of a fire that seemed to come from all quarters at once. For a moment, indeed, the exultant and still advancing Confederates seemed masters of the plain. Along the whole Union front nothing was to be seen in place save Dwight's men far off on the right, standing as it were on a rocky islet, with the gray floods surging on every side.
But far away, out of sight from the plain, an event had already occurred that was to cost the Confederates the battle. Parsons, following up the overthrow of Benedict, offered his own right flank to Lynch, who stood alert and observant in the skirt of the woods, beyond the left of Mower. Lynch struck hard and began doubling up the Missourians. Seeing this, and noting the condition of affairs on the other flank, A. J. Smith instantly ordered forward his whole line. Shaw had already re-formed his brigade on the right of Mower. Across Dwight's rear Emory was leading McMillan from his position in reserve, to restore the line on Dwight's left. Then, just at the instant when to one standing on the plain the day must have seemed hopelessly lost, the long lines of A. J. Smith, with Mower riding at the head, were seen coming out of the woods and sweeping, with unbroken front and steady tread, down upon the front and flank of the enemy. To the right of this splendid line McMillan joined his brigade, and among its intervals here and there the rallied fragments of Benedict's brigade found places. Under this impetuous onset, Parsons and Tappan and Walker melted away, and before anything could be done with Polignac, the whole Confederate army was in hopeless confusion. Their disordered ranks were pushed back about a mile, with a loss of five guns, and after nightfall Taylor's infantry and part of his cavalry fell back six miles to the stream on which Emory had encamped on the morning of the previous day, while the cavalry retired to Mansfield, but Taylor himself slept near the field of battle with the remnant of Debray's troopers. In the superb right wheel, three of the guns lost at Sabine Cross-Roads were retaken.
As soon as the news of the battle of Sabine Cross-Roads reached Kirby Smith at Shreveport, he rode to the front and joined Taylor after nightfall on the 9th of April. The earliest Confederate despatches and orders of Kirby Smith and Taylor claimed a signal and glorious victory, and to this view Taylor seems to have adhered; but in a report dated August 28, 1864, Smith says, in giving his reasons for not adopting Taylor's ambitious plan of pursuing Banks to New Orleans, that Taylor's troops
"were finally repulsed and thrown into confusion . . . The Missouri and Arkansas troops, with the brigade of Walker's division, were broken and scattered. The enemy recovered cannon which we had captured, and two of our pieces were left in his hands. To my great relief I found in the morning that the enemy had fallen back during the night. . . . Our troops were completely paralyzed by the repulse at Pleasant Hill."
In an article written in 1888 (1) he adds:
"Our repulse at Pleasant Hill was so complete and our command was so disorganized that had Banks followed up his success vigorously he would have met with but feeble opposition to his advance on Shreveport. . . . Polignac's (previously Mouton's) division of Louisiana infantry was all that was intact of Taylor's force. . . . Our troops were completely paralyzed and disorganized by the repulse at Pleasant Hill."
Again, in an intercepted letter, very clear and outspoken, Lieutenant Edward Cunningham, one of Kirby Smith's aides-de-camp, is even more emphatic:
"That it was impossible for us to pursue Banks immediately—under four or five days—cannot be gainsaid. It was impossible . . . because we had been beaten, demoralized, paralyzed, in the fight of the 9th."
The losses of the Union army in the battle of Pleasant Hill were 152 killed, 859 wounded, 495 missing; in all, 1,506. Of these, nearly one half fell upon Emory's division, which reported 8 officers and 47 men killed, 19 officers and 275 men wounded, 4 officers and 374 men missing; in all, 725. The Confederate losses were estimated by Taylor at 1,500.
Each side claims to have fought a superior force, yet the numbers engaged seem to have been nearly equal. Including the thousand horsemen, who were not seriously engaged at any time during the day, and in the battle not at all, the Union army can hardly have numbered more than 13,000 nor less than 11,000. Taylor's force must have been about the same, for, although Kirby Smith's figures account for 16,000, on the one hand the attrition of battle and march is to be reckoned, and on the other hand Taylor himself owns to 12,000.
(1) "Century War Book," vol. iv., p. 372.
CHAPTER XXVI. GRAND ECORE.
In the first moments of elation that succeeded the victory, Banks was all for resuming the advance, but later in the evening, after consulting his corps and division commanders, he determined to continue the retreat to Grand Ecore. Unfortunately by some mistake the ambulances had gone off with the wagon train, so that there were no adequate means of relieving the wounded on the field. Indeed, all the wounded had not been gathered, and most of the dead lay still unburied, when, about midnight, Banks gave the orders to march. Then from each corps a detail of surgeons was ordered to stay behind, with such hospital stores as they had at hand, and two hours later, in silence and in darkness, unobserved and unmolested, the army marched to the rear, leaving the dead and wounded of both sides on the ground. In the order of march Emory had the head of the column, Mower the rear. Early in the afternoon of the 10th, after a march of twenty miles, the column halted at the Bayou Mayon. At sunrise on the 11th the march was resumed; and the same afternoon found the whole army in camp at Grand Ecore.
Great was the astonishment of Taylor when daylight revealed to him the retreat of the victors of Pleasant Hill. He sent Bee with some cavalry to follow, and this Bee did, yet not rashly, for in twenty miles he came not once near enough to Mower's rear-guard to exchange a shot. Green, with all the rest of the cavalry, was then brought back to Pleasant Hill to carry on operations against the fleet in the direction of Blair's Landing, while the main body of the infantry was drawn in to Mansfield to reorganize.
The fleet was now in great peril. Pushing slowly up the river, constantly retarded by the low stage of water, the gunboats and the transports arrived at Loggy or Boggy Bayou at two o'clock on the afternoon of the 10th of April. Kilby Smith at once landed a detachment of his men, and was proceeding to carry out his orders with regard to opening communication with Banks by way of Springfield, when about four o'clock, Captain Andrews, of the 14th New York cavalry, rode in with his squadron, bringing word of the battles of Sabine Cross-Roads and Pleasant Hill, and bearing a message from Banks to Kilby Smith that directed his return to Grand Ecore. He was at the moment consulting with Porter how best they might get rid of the obstructions caused by the sinking by the Confederates of a large steamboat, called the New Falls City, quite across the channel from bank to bank, and they had just decided to set fire to her and blow her up; the bad news made it clear that nothing remained to be done but to go back down the river with all speed.
The natural obstacle presented by the deep waters and by the steep banks of the Bayou Pierre would have formed a complete defence against any assault on the fleet from the west bank of the Red River, had it not been for the fact that there are three good ferries across the bayou, approached by good roads. The upper of these ways led to the river a long distance above the point attained by the fleet; the second struck the bank at Grand Bayou, fifteen miles below where the fleet stopped; the third was the road from Pleasant Hill to Blair's Landing, which is fifty miles below Grand Bayou. Liddell was already watching the east bank of the river, and Taylor now sent Bagby across from Mansfield to Grand Bayou with his brigade and Barnes's battery, to cut off the fleet. However, Bagby did not start from Mansfield until after daybreak on the 11th, so that his arrival at the mouth of Grand Bayou was many hours too late to catch the fleet, which at eight that evening tied up for the night at Coushatta Chute. Here Kilby Smith received a second order of recall from Banks, this time in writing, and dated "On the road, April 10th."
By noon on the 12th, Bagby, riding fast and making use of the short cuts, overtook the rear of the fleet; and somewhat later Green, who had marched from Pleasant Hill early on the morning of the 11th, with Woods's and Gould's regiments and Parsons's brigade of Texans, and the batteries of Nettles, West, McMahan, and Moseley, struck the river at Blair's Landing almost simultaneously with the arrival of the fleet. Here, about four o'clock in the afternoon, in the bend between the high banks, Green caught the rear of the transport fleet at a disadvantage. Making the most of his opportunity, he attacked with vigor. Instantly Kilby Smith and Porter responded and a sharp fight followed, but by sunset they succeeded, without great loss, in driving off their assailants. Indeed the total casualties in Kilby Smith's division above Grand Ecore were but 19, and Porter mentions only one. Chief among the Confederate killed was the brave, impetuous, and indomitable Green.
About noon on the 13th, several of the boats being aground in mid-stream, they were attacked by Liddell, strongly posted on the high bluff known as Bouledeau Point. However, all passed by without loss or serious injury, and on the morning of the 14th, the fleet reached the bar at Campti, where A. J. Smith was met marching up the left bank of the river to its relief. But, although Campti is barely twenty miles above, so crooked and shallow was the river that it was midnight on the 15th before the last of the fleet lay in safety at Grand Ecore.
Below Grand Ecore there was a bad bar. As the river continued to fall, the larger gunboats were sent down as fast as possible to Alexandria, whither Porter followed them on the 16th, leaving the Osage and Lexington at Grand Ecore, and the big Eastport eight miles below, where, on the 15th, she had been sunk to her gun-deck either by a torpedo or by a snag. The admiral brought up his pump boats and after removing the guns got the Eastport afloat on the 21st.
As Banks realized that his campaign was ruined, he grew earnest in trying to meet Grant's expectations and orders, requiring him to be on the Mississippi by the first of May. For ten days he had been waiting at Grand Ecore, only to see the last of the fleet pass down in safety. Meanwhile he had entrenched his position, thrown a pontoon bridge across the river, placed a strong detachment from Smith's command on the north bank, and sent urgent orders to Alexandria, to New Orleans, and to Texas for reinforcements. Birge, with his own brigade and the 38th Massachusetts and 128th New York of Sharpe's brigade, embarked at Alexandria on the 12th of April, and joined Emory on the 13th. Nickerson's brigade came from New Orleans to join Grover at Alexandria. On the 20th of April, learning that the Eastport was expected to float within a few hours, Banks sent A. J. Smith to take position covering Natchitoches, and when the next day he heard from the admiral that the Eastport was actually afloat, he lost not a moment in beginning the march on Alexandria.
An hour later the Eastport again struck the bottom; eight times more she ran hard aground; at last on the 25th she lay immovable on a raft of logs, and the next day her crew gave her to the flames.
For some time the relations between the commanding general and his chief-of-staff had been strained, and in spite of Stone's zeal and gallantry in the late battles, Banks had determined on a change, indeed had already announced it in orders, when on the 16th of April he received an order of the War Office bearing date the 28th of March, whereby Stone was relieved from duty in the Department of the Gulf, deprived of his rank of brigadier-general, and ordered to go to Cairo, Illinois, and thence to report by letter to the adjutant-general of the army. For this action neither cause nor occasion has ever been made known. Then Banks recalled his own order and published this instead, and on the following day he made Dwight his chief-of-staff, the command of Dwight's brigade falling to Beal.
CHAPTER XXVII. THE CROSSING OF CANE RIVER.
Banks broke camp at Grand Ecore at five o'clock in the afternoon of the 21st of April and turned over the direction and control of the march to Franklin.
The cavalry corps, now commanded by Arnold, was separated by brigades. Gooding took the advance; Crebs, who had succeeded to Robinson's command, rode with Birge; E. J. Davis, with Dudley's brigade, covered the right flank; and Lucas, reporting to A. J. Smith, formed the rear-guard.
Birge led the main column with a temporary division formed of the 13th Connecticut and the 1st Louisiana of his own brigade under Fiske, the 38th Massachusetts and the 128th New York of Sharpe's brigade under James Smith, and Fessenden's brigade of Emory's division. Next were the trains, in the same order as the troops. Emory followed with the brigades of Beal and McMillan and the artillery reserve under Closson. Then came Cameron, and last A. J. Smith, in the order of Kilby Smith and Mower.
Crossing Cane River about two miles below Grand Ecore, the line of march traversed the length of the long island formed by the two branches of the Red River, and recrossed the right arm at Monett's Ferry. For the whole distance the army was once more separated from the fleet.
It was half-past one on the morning of the 22d before the last of the wagons had effected the first crossing of Cane River. By three o'clock Emory was on the south bank, and A. J. Smith at five.
As early as the 14th of April, at Mansfield, Kirby Smith had withdrawn Churchill and Walker from Taylor and sent them to aid in driving Steele back into Arkansas. This left Taylor only the infantry of Polignac, reduced to 2,000 muskets, and the reorganized cavalry corps under Wharton, comprising the divisions of Bee, Major, and William Steele. With this handful, Taylor undertook to hurry Banks by blocking his communications and beating up his out-posts; but just at that moment Banks moved and thus, by the merest chance, brought Bee and Major, with four brigades and four batteries, directly across his path, on the high ground at Monett's bluff, commanding the ford and the ferry. At three o'clock in the afternoon of the 22d, Wharton with Steele's division, supported by Polignac, engaged Lucas sharply, compelling A. J. Smith to deploy and the rest of the column to halt for an hour; and thus began a series of almost continuous skirmishes that lasted nearly to Alexandria, yet without material result.
At seven o'clock in the evening of the 22d of April, Birge halted for the night two miles beyond Cloutierville. Under orders inspired by the urgency, he had been pushing on at all speed to seize the crossing; in spite of the heat and the dust, he had led the column at the furious pace of thirty-eight miles, perhaps forty, in twenty-six hours; but Gooding had already found the Confederates in strong possession, and now it seemed clear that the passage must be forced. At nine o'clock Emory and Cameron closed on Birge and halted, and at three in the morning A. J. Smith came up.
At daylight on the 23d of April, Franklin moved down to the ferry and began to reconnoitre. His wound had now become so painful as to disable him; accordingly, after maturing his plans, he turned over his command to Emory, with orders to dislodge the enemy and to open the way. With equal skill, care, and vigor, Emory instantly set about this critical task, upon which the fate of the army may almost to have said depended, and with this the safety of the fleet.
The grounds on which the Union army found itself was, like the whole island, low and flat and largely covered with a thick growth of cane and willow. Near the river the soil was moreover swampy and the brakes were for the most part impenetrable. On the high bluff opposite, masked by the trees, stood Bee with the brigades of Debray and Terrell, Major with his two brigades under Baylor and Bagby, and the twenty-four guns of McMahon, Moseley, West, and Nettles. The position was too strong and too difficult of approach to be taken by a direct attack save at a great cost. Through the labyrinthine morass that lay between the ferry and the river's mouth Bailey and E. J. Davis searched in vain for a practicable ford. Nothing remained but to try the other flank.
Birge with his temporary division augmented by Cameron's, without artillery and with no horsemen save a few mounted men of the 13th Connecticut, was to march back, to ford Cane River two miles above the bluff, and by a wide detour to sweep down upon the Confederate left.
To amuse the enemy and to draw his attention away from Birge, Emory, who had yielded his division to McMillan, caused him to deploy the First and Second brigades under Beal and Rust, and to threaten the crossing directly in front, while Closson advanced his guns and kept up a steady and well judged fire against the Confederate position on the hill.
Birge took up the line of march at nine o'clock. His progress was greatly delayed not only by the passage of Cane River, where the water was waist-deep, but also by the swampy and broken ground, and by the dense undergrowth through which he had to force his way. Thus the afternoon was well advanced before he found the position of the Confederates on a hill, with their right flank resting on a deep ravine, and their left upon a marsh and a small lake, drained by a muddy bayou that wound about the foot of the hill. Up to this point Fiske had led the advance. Now, in deploying, after emerging from the thicket, he found himself before the enemy's centre, while Fessenden confronted their left. Fiske formed his men in two lines, the 13th Connecticut and the 1st Louisiana in front, supported by James Smith with the 38th Massachusetts and the 128th New York. To Fessenden Birge gave the duty of carrying the hill.
Behind a hedge and a high fence Fessenden deployed his brigade from right to left in the order of the 165th New York, the 173d New York, the 30th Maine, and the 162d New York. Directly before them, on the other side of the fence, was an open field inclining toward the front in a gentle slope, and traversed at the foot by a second and stouter fence, beyond which a sandy knoll arose, covered with trees, bushes, and fallen timber. On the crest the enemy stood, Bee having changed front to the left and rear as soon as he made out the movement of Birge.
Stopping but to throw down the fence, at the word Fessenden's whole line ran across the field to the foot of the hill. There the brigade quickly re-formed for the ascent, and then, with Fessenden at the head, charged stiffly up the difficult slope straight in the teeth of the hot fire of Bee's dismounted troopers. Many fell, among them Fessenden with a bad hurt, the 165th New York found itself hindered by the marsh, but gallantly led on by Hubbard, by Conrady, and by Blanchard the 30th Maine, the 173d New York, and the 162d New York won the crest and opened fire on the retreating foe. Once more halting to re-form his lines, Birge swept on, gained the farther hill without much trouble, and moving to the left uncovered the crossing. Birge's loss in this engagement was about 200, of whom 153 were in Fessenden's brigade, and of these 86 in the 30th Maine. In leading the charge across the open ground Fessenden was severely wounded in the leg, and the command of his brigade fell to Lieutenant-Colonel Blanchard.
As soon as Emory, on the north bank of Cane River, heard the noise of the battle on the opposite heights, he posted five guns under Closson (two of Hinkle's twenty-pounder Parrotts, one gun of Nields' 1st Delaware, one of Hebard's 1st Vermont, and one of the 25th New York battery), to silence the Confederate artillery on their right, in front of the crossing, well supported by the 116th New York, and deployed his skirmishers as if for an assault. Tempted by the exposed position of these guns, Bee sent a detachment across the river to capture them, but Love easily threw off the attack; and, seeing this, Chrysler, whose regiment, the 2d New York Veteran Cavalry, was dismounted in skirmishing order on the left, at once led his men in pursuit and seized the crossing.
Bee retreated rapidly to Beasley's, thirty miles away to the southward on the Fort Jesup road, without making any further effort to stay or trouble the retreat of Banks.
Word coming from Davis that he had been unable to find a crossing below, Emory, when he saw the enemy in retreat, sent Chrysler and Crebs in pursuit, supported by Cameron. However, this came to nothing, for Chrysler naturally enough followed the small Confederate rear-guard that held to the main road toward Alexandria.
The pontoon bridge was at once laid, and being completed soon after dark, the march was continued by night, McMillan, with Beal and Rust, moving six miles to the reversed front to cover the trains.
About ten o'clock on the same morning Wharton charged down on Kilby Smith, who was moving up to the rear of A. J. Smith's command and of the army, but was driven off after a fight lasting an hour.
By two o'clock on the afternoon of April 24th, Beal's men being on the south bank of Cane River, the bridge was taken up and the march continued without further molestation by Cotile and Henderson's Hill, the head of the column resting at night near the Bayou Rapides.
Marching thence at six o'clock on the morning of the 25th of April, the head of the column arrived at Alexandria at two o'clock that afternoon, and on the following day A. J. Smith brought up the rear. Here the fleet, with the exception of the ill-fated Eastport, was found lying in safety, yet unfortunately above the falls.
Here, too, early on the 27th came Hunter, with fresh and very positive orders from Grant to Banks, bearing date the 17th, requiring him to bring the expedition to an immediate end, to turn over his command at once to the next in rank, and to go himself to New Orleans. In truth, this was but the culmination of an earnest and persistent wish on Grant's part, shown even as far back as the beginning of the campaign, to replace Banks in command by Hunter or another. When, afterward, Grant came to learn of the perilous situation of the fleet, and moreover perceived that none of the troops engaged in the expedition could be in time to take part in the spring campaigns east of the Mississippi, he suspended these orders, and, without recalling that portion of them that required Banks to go to New Orleans, directed the operations for the rescue of the navy to go on under the senior commander present. In any case, however, it was now clearly impossible to abandon the fleet in its dangerous and helpless position above the rapids, with the river falling, and an active enemy on both banks.