DUGANNE - TWENTY MONTHS IN THE DEPARTMENT OF THE GULF
C H A P T E R X X X V I I I .
RED RIVER ADVICES.
SHORTLY after the abortive attempt at a "stampede" chronicled in my last chapter, Lt.-Col. Leake received sudden orders to march, with his officers and men, under guard, to Shreveport, there to be forwarded for "exchange" to the Federal lines near Alexandria. Though parting from the gallant Western men with regret, we rejoiced in their prospect of speedy enlargement, and hoped that our own would soon follow. Meantime, the news which we received almost daily, in reference to affairs on the Red River, served to elevate our spirits wonderfully.
Mr. Cushing, of the "Houston Telegraph," had been as good as his word in extending many acceptable courtesies to our officers. To Captain Crocker and myself he sent his paper regularly, and its news, although colored, of course, by rebel sympathies, was usually very reliable. I was indebted, subsequently, likewise, to this editorial friend, for a welcome gift of a real treasure to prisoners -- a half-ream of good writing-paper, -- which not only replenished my own exhausted stock, but served to supply my comrades with a medium for conveying their thoughts to the beloved ones at home. I shall pleasantly recall the kindness of Mr. Cushing, in this and other disinterested attentions toward a stranger and prisoner, as a guaranty that his heart is right, whatever may be the errors of his head upon the questions which make up our conflict of opinion. The "amenities of literature" were happily illustrated to me, through such intercourse as it was my fortune to have with Mr. Cushing and other friendly spirits in Texas.
With my accession of writing materials, I found myself enabled to transcribe various detached jottings and journalizings, as well as to take down the verbal relations of fellow-prisoners, concerning many interesting events and experiences, which the limits of this book will not permit me to include in its pages. Few among the multitude of incidents connected with our war will ever be told veraciously in official documents. Reports by commandants of posts, or colonels in command, are in general more elaborate than correct, and yet of such is history made. No mortal eye can trace the fortunes of a single battle-hour in all their shifts and changes; no single record of a conflict, though it be endorsed by the commmander-in-chief, and vouched for by an army corps of generals, can ever comprehend the fight in its details; the sudden dash, the quick recoil, the giving and disputing ground, the fierce melee, the isolated grapple, the death-shot, the last agony; with all their infinite phases of wild excitement, iron hardihood, cool forecast, and deliberate purpose, veiled and canopied with a lurid haze of smoke and dust and blood; now dense as thunder clouds, now torn and rifted by the dreadful shock of cannonry. We may believe no bulletin reports a tithe of what one dying soldier beholds with closing eyes, within the compass of his regimental line. It is well, perhaps, that all this terrible minutiae of a human battle should be left to the imagination to depicture, and that every fighter should be so involved and swallowed up in the great action of the strife as to remain quite noteless of all scenes or acts beyond his individual part in the wild drama. Nevertheless, when, here and there, apart from the red-tape-bound formula of war-office reports, we read or listen to some personal story of a soldier's battle-life, some episode of peril or prowess in the fiery heat of conflict, we are fain to linger over the unstudied sentences, and wish that history were wrought from such materials.
So, when the simple reminiscences of soldiers found expression in as simple words, and the representatives of many a fight exchanged opinions around our log-house hearths, I often gleaned a better knowledge of the battle or campaign than I could gain from all the papers of the War Department. Here, in the rapid crayon-dashes of a personal story, I realized groups of cannoniers, all grim with powder, standing round their gun, and charged upon by rebel horse; and presently a double-quick step behind them, and a blaze of musketry from the supporting infantry column, driving back the grey-coats in disorder. There, sketched rudely on our clay-floor, with a pointed stick, I traced the flanks and centre of a line of battle, with the enemy's direction of attack and the position of our own artillery and reserves. Meantime, the observations, "We were here," and "Thus we moved," and "Here the rebels showed themselves," with quick rejoinders and additions by a score of mutual actors on the field, were worth, to one who would compare and "inwardly digest," much more than all the multiplex reports of aids or adjutants on regulation-paper.
Meantime, I could study character at my leisure; and there is a variety of it to be found among prisoners, at all times. The "wise and simple" are closely proximate in such quarters as ours were. Nor were my many chats with enlisted men, and conversations with officers, productive only of time-killing. I gleaned food for after-speculation in much of my daily intercourse, and recognized, in the attrition of mind, devoid of conventional lubrication, a healthful stimulus to my own mental faculties.
Chess-playing amused, labor occupied, but social converse was, after all, our chief enjoyment. There were many strong intellects among my comrades, with whom it became interesting to discuss both men and books. Among the "oldest inhabitants," of Camp Ford, were Col. Leake, whose professional schooling and quick wit made him sound in argument and ready at repartee; Mr. Finley Anderson, a correspondent of the New York Herald, who was exchanged before my arrival at the corral, and who subsequently, I think, became attached to Gen. Hancock's staff; Lieut. Louis W. Stevenson, of the "Ironsides," who was wounded at Brashear City, and whom I had left at the hospital in New Iberia; Captain Torrey, of the 20th Iowa regiment, Col. Leake's command; and many other choice spirits, whose discourse wiled prison-life of much of its irksomeness.
Captain Torrey, with his regimental brother, Captain Coulter, were captured at Aransas Bay, on the Texan coast, in December, 1863. He had reached Texas with the expedition that landed at Brazos Santiago and Point Isabel, taking Brownsville, on the Rio Grande, soon afterwards. A force of land-troops, disembarking at Mustang Island, and Corpus Christi inlet, marched twenty miles to Aransas Bay, capturing there about one hundred prisoners and three pieces of artillery. Reinforcements following, an expedition was marched the entire length of St. Joseph's and Matagorda Islands, which lie along the Texan main-land. These advances accomplished the seizure of Fort Esperanza, whose garrison succeeded in a timely evacuation of the place. Our troops held Matagorda Peninsula, and the town of Indianola, during several weeks, and occupied the town of Lavacca repeatedly. During this campaign of winter and spring, inconsiderable damage was done to the enemy, and many casualties occurred among the Federals. A worthy and intelligent sergeant of my regiment, accompanying Col. Kempsey, the former chaplain of our "Ironsides," who had obtained command of a negro-battalion, was drowned in one of the bayous, while swimming his horse. Poor Vassar was an earnest, loyal soldier, and had earned a better fate. It was during this period of coast occupation by our forces, that Captains Torrey and Coulter were made prisoners, together with three privates and some citizens, upon the schooner Gen. Ransom, taken near Lamar, in December. In January, a Federal corporal and three privates were surprised on the prairie, near Lavacca, while they were hunting beef; and other squads of our soldiers were captured while "prospecting" for fuel upon the shores of Aransas Bay. Delays and disappointments continually harrassed our forces. Sometimes, for days, no rations were provided for the men, owing to insufficiency of quartermaster's supplies; and, during weeks, the poor fellows shivered and froze in their bleak camps, on barren stretches of sand, without a stick of wood within miles of them. The whole account of Federal operations on the Texan coast may be summed up by a large expense of fleets and armies, life and money, in holding a useless tract of sea-shore, during five or six months; balanced by a few hundred bales of cotton seized at Brownsville. The Rio Grande campaign, like its "supporting" campaign on Red River, was a lamentable waste of time and treasure. Generals and commanders have been superseded and disagraced for much less disreputable failures.
We have now to speak of the Red River campaign, whose disastrous results speedily became felt at Camp Ford. Col. Leake and his expectant comrades had been gone from us scarcely a week, when, instead of pleasing advices concerning their "exchange," a very different sort of news arrived to dishearten us. We learned of the battle of Mansfield. Dispatches, from Kirby Smith to Col. Allen, our rebel post-commandant, notified him to prepare for the reception of three thousand Federal prisoners. We were indignant at this outrage on our good sense. We spurned the report as a "weak invention of the enemy." But it was too true. Corroborations of a woful repulse of Gen. Banks's grand army of invasion came thickly and fast. Conviction forced itself upon us; and bodily proof arrived, soon enough, in the shape of a first instalment of 1186 Federals, captured at Mansfield, on the 8th of April, 1864.
It is no marvel, at the opening of the year 1864, that Gen. Banks, Commander-in-chief of the Department of the Gulf, should desire to twine some Augustan laurels over the Caesar-like baldness of his administration, thus far. It is true, he had the credit of reducing the rebel strong-hold of Port Hudson and it may be that his approaches, assaults, minings, and forlorn hopes, necessitated the surrender of that place, after the suggestive example of Vicksburg, some days previous. But, with the exception of Port Hudson conquest, and the Teche raid, our General's military triumphs had not been brilliant ones. The swoop of Texan legions on Opelousas railroad lines, and their menace of the Crescent City itself, were only opening moves of an intricate chess-game which has been played on the Trans-Mississippi board, since midsummer of 1863. Gen. Tom Green and his tattered regiments, repulsed at Donaldsonville, which Green attacked just after the capture of Brashear City, (and where his subordinate, Lt. Col. Phillips, lost his life and my sword), posted their batteries on Mississippi curves, and waged destructive ambush-war upon river-boats for many a month thereafter. Meantime, reoccupying the rail-road to Berwick Bay, which the rebels had evacuated after a month's possession, Maj. Gen. Banks organized and dispatched that famous expedition, of gunboats and transports, which, under Gens. Franklin and Weitzel, were driven back so ingloriously from a mud-fort at Sabine Pass. Subsequently transpired the coast-wise operations, which nibbled at the edges of Texan shores, till they served to stimulate the organization of a large defensive force through all the State. Then took place sundry bloodless explorations into Calcasieu morasses, begetting much astonishment among vagrant "Cagians," but little result otherwise. Finally loomed up - "graviter commodus --" the Red River Expedition of 1864.
This expedition was, without doubt, well-planned, and effectually preceded by organization and preparation. The mortar-fleet and gun-boats of Com. Porter were to cooperate with the army. Numerous transports carried the troops. Abundant commissary stores and munitions were provided. Veteran regiments, with officers of tried skill and courage, made up a majority of the forces. What was lacking for success? Nothing -- but a Chief
For it is unhappily the fact that Gen. Banks, however capable as a financial or civil executive, has too little of that iron in his nature which is requisite for a great military leader. Gen. Banks is not a good Commander-in-chief. He will take care of his army's subsistence, and he is equal to an intelligent comprehension of warfare; but he is not a Dictator, as every General charged with the responsibility of a Department or a Campaign ought to be. He cherishes the suaviter in modo to the neglect of the fortiter in re. Hence, where the General should be supreme, we find the staff omnipotent; where the Commander should ordain, we find the subordinates overruling. I need not dilate upon a matter that is patent to the army of the Gulf; but I might fill chapters with testimony which shows that our reverses and disasters in Louisiana have been the result of wrong-headed and arrogant intermeddling of staff-officers and other inferiors, who should have been kept in their position, under curb-reins, and, if necessary, under the whip of a Commander's discipline.
But the Red River Expedition moves, and its first steps are victorious ones. The rebels retire before its fleets and forces. Fort De Russy, with an iron-clad water-battery, surrenders, after a brief resistance, yielding garrison and guns. Alexandria is speedily occupied. Red River is illumined by Stars and Stripes. Yankee craft crowd its waters, from the Atchafalaya to the Mississippi mouths. Amid all this blazonry of Federal success, Gen. Banks arrives from his seat of Government, and prepares for an advance on Shreveport, by land and water.
It is a brave sight, this march of our grand army, on fine roads, and by a broad river, past the beautiful city of Alexandria, which crowns her lofty water-front with rich villas -- the homes of luxurious planters. Gen. Franklin arrives, preceding his army-corps, all reported in good health and spirits. Gen. Smith's troops defile through Alexandria streets. Gun-boats and transports, propelled by steam and canvass, move gallantly under the bluffs. Cane River is crossed by a pontoon bridge. Natchitoches is occupied by our forces, under Gen. Lel. The rebels burn their cotton-bales, and the smoke thereof becomes a beacon for Federal advance, Gen. Banks's progress up the Red River, escorted by gun-boats and transports -- saluted by cannon-discharges -- is like that of a conqueror.
Porter precedes him, occupying Grand Ecore. Porter selects a van-guard of gun-boats, and pushes up the river toward Shreveport. On the third day, he reaches Springfield Landing, but finds that the rebels have sunk a large steamer across the channel. Porter is stopped, but he sets vigorously at work to remove the obstructions, and is about succeeding, when a courier from Gen. Banks reaches him. He hears "unpleasant and most unexpected news." Our "army has met with a reverse." In fact, the battle of Mansfield has been fought, and Gen. Banks, defeated, is falling back to Pleasant Hill. Let us trace the BATTLE OF MANSFIELD.
Click above to view Mansfield battlefield map.
(Reference to David Poché's Poché Family History website)
Picture a nearly triangular space, broken by woods, fences, and fields; its base a long fence, running from south-east to north-west; its lower side traced by a line extending westerly to a line of woods that forms the left rect-angle, as you approach the area, by a road -- the Mansfield highway -- which intersects that area. Fancy your march advancing from the south, through a narrow defile of the woods, and suddenly entering on the comparatively open triangular-area I have described. This was the manner and route of march of our cavalry sent forward by Gen. Banks to occupy the enemy, who were understood to be in force on the road near Mansfield, but who, it was supposed, would not make a stand at that place. The cavalry rode on, through the woods, until they debouched into the open space, called Moss's Plantation. They left their supply wagons halted, in a long line, on the narrow woodland road, while they galloped on and engaged in desultory skirmishing with Texan horse.
Fancy, now, the advance of our Federal infantry, with some artillery, arriving upon Moss's fields, and engaging with the enemy, who are massing between the plantation and Mansfield. The left of our line of battle rested upon woods, west of the Mansfield road. There Col. Dudley's cavalry brigade had been skirmishing with rebel horse. There was the 23d Wisconsin infantry, supported by a section of Nims's Battery. On their right stood the 57th Indiana regiment, backed by another section of Nims's guns. Next to the Indiana men were stationed the 77th Illinois veterans, not in line, but at an obtuse angle, retiring toward the right. The 48th Ohioans came next; at their right, the 19th Kentuckians, and next to these the 83d Ohio volunteers, flanked by a cavalry force under Col. Lucas. This was the first line of battle, just within an open piece of wood-land, from its advanced left, on the Mansfield road to its receding right, extending Southeasterly. Before it, at a distance of a hundred yards, was a high fence, and beyond the fence, at about the same distance, rebel lines were forming. Behind our line of battle, on rising ground, were clear fields, in which were stationed the Chicago Mercantile and the 1st Indiana Batteries. In rear of these batteries, Maj. Gen. Banks, with Gens. Franklin, Lee, Stone, Ransom, and other commanders, took post at intervals. A fence enclosed the base of these fields.
Now, the battle has begun in earnest. It is nearly four o'clock in the afternoon. Our troops have been marched from Pleasant Hill; some of them had to fight their way, in skirmishes, over eight miles of road; others have been double-quicked more than that distance. They passed, on their route, long lines of our cavalry force at a halt, and have had to file by the wagon-trains that occupy the narrow road between Pleasant Hill and Mansfield. The fight waxes warm. The foe bring heavy guns up. It is now found that a whole rebel army is in front, where it was fondly fancied no opposition would be made to our march. Presently, our skirmishers and cavalry fall back. At the same time, a movement of the enemy is noticed. They are coming at double quick, to gain the fence in front of us. That must be prevented. The word is given for our line of battle to advance. The line pushes forward, through heavy timber, and over broken, uneven ground, to reach the fence. It is a race for position; but our side wins. We gain the fence, and pour a volley from behind its shelter, that carries death into rebel ranks. But, meantime, the enemy's right has swept in contact with our left, which was somewhat advanced. At that point the rebels reached the fence first, and, from it, drove back our infantry. That left was the weakest portion of our line. It should have been the strongest, for it was to hold the Mansfield road. But when our first line of battle was formed, the 19th Kentucky volunteers were shifted from the 1st brigade, which held our extreme left, to the centre of the 2d brigade, in order to strengthen that wing. Hence, in the 2d brigade, our right, there were five regiments, while but two regiments remained in the left -- our real front. The enemy massed heavily on these two battalions, compelling them to fall back, just as our right won the fence. We maintained our line at that fence nearly two hours. delivering volley after volley on the rebels, and repulsing their repeated charges. It was not until the enemy's left, extending beyond our front, succeeded in flanking the position, that we fell back, in order, to the open fields at our rear. Meantime, the enemy's right, having broken our left flank, capturing Nims's Battery, swung to the rear of our first line of battle -- occupied the road, which had been left with only a small guard of cavalry -- and then prepared to charge our boys from a new position.
The Mercantile Battery had been stationed, as before intimated, at the north-west edge of an open field in rear of the original line of battle. When our two left regiments fell back, part of them, together with some of the contiguous brigade, being made prisoners, the battery shifted to position in a peach orchard, at the left of the Mansfield road, about eight hundred yards behind its former ground. Two regiments of our cavalry, that had retreated, likewise, before the enemy's left wing, took post at the rear of one section, which began a brisk artillery play upon the rebels. One piece, however, was soon disabled; while the Indiana battery, which had occupied the right of the Mercantile and fell back with it, left three pieces to the foe, and became, thereafter, hors du combat.
This was substantially the end of the battle. The 3d Division of the 13th Army Corps had, after marching out of Pleasant Hill in the forenoon, turned into camp about two o'clock, P. M., and remained thus till half-past three o'clock, P. M., when it received orders to advance toward Mansfield. This force did not reach the scene of action till five o'clock P. M.; when, under direction of Gen. Banks, its first brigade formed on the right of Mansfield road, its second brigade on the left. The division was then moved forward, to the edge of the open field, over which the enemy was, at this time, moving in force, to attack our wearied troops in rear. When a distance of about three hundred yards intervened between the rebels and our new line, the latter opened fire and drove the former. The enemy rallied, and was again repulsed. Another force now massed on the rebel left, to flank our right. Lt. Col. Florey, who commanded the 1st Brigade, forming our right, dispatched Adj. Watts, to inform Gen. Cameron, Acting General of Division, of his peril. Not finding Gen. Cameron, Lieutenant Watts reported to Gen. Franklin, who immediately ordered Col. Florey to hold his position, assuring him that the enemy would receive due attention. Subsequently, finding his flank imminently menaced, Col. Florey sent Capt. Wells to Gen. Banks; who repeated an order that the position should be held, as Gen. Emory was moving up to check the enemy. At this juncture, heavy firing was heard in front, the 2d Brigade fell back, flanked, and a rebel force of cavalry advanced upon our left. Col. Florey then directed his brigade to give ground; when the enemy's column, that had massed on our right, closed in suddenly, and the colonel found his force attacked at once on both flanks and in rear. Another line of the enemy advanced, meanwhile, at the point of the bayonet. All the late battlefield was now overwhelmed by rebel reserves. The whole Confederate force, after sweeping roads and fields, and swallowing up regiments of our previous line, which had continued their resistance, now concentrated on Moss's fields. An unavailing rally of scattered forces was made at the line of woods, but the mass of our discomfited Army Corps retreated in wild disorder on the Mansfield road, impeded by cavalry wagon-trains. We had lost the battle.
The 13th Army Corps bad sustained the brunt of this conflict, and suffered terribly. Its 3d Division numbered no more than 1200 men in the fight; its 4th Division, under Col. Landram, comprised about 2000. Col. T. E. G. Ransom commanded the entire force, and bore himself gallantly, till he received his wound in a skirmish near the peach orchard.
Our 19th Army Corps remained at its camp, six or eight miles back, upon the road. This corps was composed of 7000 effective soldiers. Behind, not yet arrived at Pleasant Hill, was Gen. Smith's corps of 9000 men. Yet our van-guard, repulsed at Mansfield, was so demoralized, it would appear, that the entire army was obliged to retrograde, the Red River expedition was abandoned, and our fleet and forces barely escaped annihilation at the hands of pursuing rebels.
Is this creditable? Yet it is a fact! And it is a fact, also, acknowledged even by Texans, that the rebel army, though nominally masters of the field; though in possession of guns, colors, and nearly four thousand prisoners; was, in reality, terrified at its own temerity. It dared not remain upon Mansfield battle ground. It fell back, at the very same time that our Federal army was retreating upon Pleasant Hill.
Why was not the 19th Army Corps brought up to retrieve the fortunes of Mansfield? Even though utter lack of generalship had attenuated our march, through an enemy's country, to such an extent that Gen. Smith's corps was left far behind; even though the fatal mistake was made of underrating the enemy's force, and deciding where he ought to fight and where he ought not to stand; even though mere regiments and depleted brigades were thrown forward on a powerful hostile army, without supporting masses within immediate handling; yet, after all these blunders, Mansfield defeat might have been converted into a success. Had our general possessed a just knowledge of his foe; had he "plucked the flower safety from the nettle danger," and brought up his fresh reserves, to give the rebels a Blucher upon their half-won battle-field -- Gen. Banks might have regained his ground; might have driven the rebels to Mansfield village; in a word, might have pursued his march triumphantly; but he chose rather to adopt "discretion as the better part of valor," and to lose instead of win his Red River campaign.
The pages of this book are not the place to discuss all, or to relate all, that is familiar to my comprehension regarding that barren march of our army on the Louisiana and Texan borders. History will weigh its merits and its demerits.
But what mighty results hung upon that Red River expedition! "Texas," said General Magruder, "is the Trans-Mississippi Department!" Texas, during years, indeed, was the gate and outer wall of the Confederacy. It was a prize worthy of our best steel.
But what is the history of our campaigns against Texas? We captured Galveston, the key city, and lost it, disgracefully. We menaced Sabine City, with a fleet and army, and were repulsed by two score of militia men. We directed our columns toward the Attakapas prairies, and penetrated the Calcasieu with gun-boats, only to withdraw irresolutely from both. We threw ships and forces on the southwestern coast, and occupied the Rio Grande; pawed at an edge of the Nueces wilderness; alighted, like the water-fowl, on Decrow's Point; remained ingloriously squatting on bleak sands during a winter; and then returned, without accomplishing anything, without a single raid into those rich interior counties, lying coast-wise; Matagorda, Brazoria, Wharton, and the populated bottoms further inland. Yet a true occupation or menace of Central Texas might have kept Red River clear for our expeditions to that border. An effective army corps on the Rio Grande might have occupied Magruder with work at his door, so that his famous "plan of defence" could not have been solely devoted to eastern frontiers. But our Federal Commander-in-chief, slowly dribbling out his operations, like his armies, by piece-meal, gave Magruder and Kirby Smith ample time to consolidate their several programmes. So much for our invasions of Texas. I shall not discuss the "Generalship" which directed them.
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