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[744] About eight thousand men and sixteen guns, under command of General Bee, were found in possession of the Bluff on the opposite side of the river, who were evidently surprised at the unexpected presence of our army, but ready to dispute our only passage to Alexandria. At daybreak one division of the Nineteenth and Twentieth corps each, the cavalry commanded by General Arnold, and the artillery by Captain Classon,--the whole under command of General W. H. Emory,--were ordered forward to the river for the purpose of forcing this position. The pickets of the enemy were encountered on the west side of the river, and quickly driven across; but the main position was found to be too strong to be carried by direct attack. A reconnoitring party, under Colonel Bailey, of the Fourth Wisconsin volunteers, sent to ascertain the practicability of crossing the river below the ferry toward Red River, on the morning of the twenty-third reported that the river was not fordable below the ferry, and that, owing to the impassable swamps on one side, and the high bluffs on the other, it would not be possible to cross Cane River at any point below the ferry. If we failed to dislodge the enemy at the ferry, the only alternative open to us was to attempt a crossing at the north side of Red River,--an excedingly difficult and dangerous movement.

At the same time a force under command of General H. W. Birge, consisting of his own command, the Third brigade, of the First division, Nineteenth army corps, Colonel Fessenden commanding, and General Cameron's division Thirteenth corps, were ordered to cross the river three miles above the ferry, and turning the left flank of the enemy, carry the heights in reverse if possible. Upon the success of this movement depended the passage of the river by the army. The route traversed by General Birge's command was intersected by bayous, swamps, and almost impenetrable woods. This force reached its position late in the afternoon. To accomplish the purpose in view, it became necessary to carry two strong positions held by pickets and skirmishers, before the enemy, was encountered in force on the crest of a hill commanding an open field, over which our troops were compelled to cross in making the attack. The Third brigade, Nineteenth corps, Colonel Fessenden commanding, carried this position, which was defended with vigor, by assault. Its occupation compelled the retreat of the enemy from the bluffs commanding the ferry and ford.

Our losses in this most brilliant and successful affair were about two hundred killed and wounded.

Colonel Fessenden, who led his command with gallantry, was severely wounded. General Birge--as in all actions in which he has been engaged — deserved and received the highest commendation. Lieutenant William Beebe, of the ordnance department, and Mr. Young, of the engineers' department, both volunteers, were conspicuous in the fight. Mr. Young was twice wounded, and died in New Orleans, in July, of injuries received in this battle. The attack on the rear of the enemy's position, covering the line of the enemy's retreat, failed in consequence of the difficulties encountered on the march and the late hour at which our troops gained their position.

The enemy was thus enabled to escape with his artillery by the Fort Jessup road to Texas.

The main body of the army had moved from Cloutreville, at half past 4 A. M. on the twenty-third, to the river.

They drove in the enemy's pickets three miles in advance of the river, and formed a line of battle in front of the enemy's position, while General Birge was moving upon the enemy's left flank. The enemy opened with a heavy cannonade from his batteries, which was returned by our artillery with spirit and effect. The fire was continued at intervals during the morning, but the troops were held in reserve for the purpose of forcing the passage of the river at the moment that General Birge commenced his attack on the right. The action lasted till dark, when the enemy retreated, and the heights were held by our forces. General A. J. Smith's command had sharp skirmishing with the advance of the enemy in our rear on the twenty-third.

At two o'clock on the morning of the twenty-fourth, six guns were fired from the camp of the enemy in our rear. It was interpreted as a signal that they were ready for a combined attack; but the enemy in front had then been driven from the river, and the contemplated movement upon our front and rear failed.

During the morning of the twenty-third, an effort had been made by a portion of the cavalry under Colonel E. J. Davis to turn the right flank of the enemy's position by crossing the river below the ferry in the direction of Red River, which proved impracticable on account of the impassable swamps. A sharp engagement occurred on the morning of the twenty-fourth between the troops of General T. Kilby Smith and the enemy in the rear, which resulted in the repulse of the latter. Our loss was about fifty in this affair.

Had the enemy concentrated his forces and fortified his position at Monet's Bluff, we could not have forced him from it, and should have been compelled to accept the chances of crossing Red River above Cane River in the presence of the enemy on both sides of the river. Orders had been sent to General Grover to move with all his forces upon Monet's Bluff, in the event of its being occupied by the enemy, or our march seriously obstructed; and his troops were in readiness for this movement. The army marched from Monet's Bluff on the afternoon of the twenty-fourth of April, and established lines of defence at Alexandria on the twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth of April.

In the twenty-four days intervening between the departure of the army from Alexandria and its return, the battles of Wilson's Farm, Sabine Cross-Roads, Pleasant Grove, Pleasant Hill, Compte, Monet's Bluff, and several combats in the neighborhood of Grand Ecore while we were in occupation of that point, had been fought. In

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H. W. Birge (5)
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