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[697] was impregnable to his attack, I resolved to strike a blow before he had time to organize and mature a new scheme of assault.

The enemy held Baton Rouge, the capital of Louisiana, forty miles below the mouth of Red River, with a land force of about three thousand five hundred men, in conjunction with four or five gunboats, and some transports. It was a matter of great necessity to us that the navigation of Red River should be opened as high as Vicksburg. Supplies, much needed, existed there, hard to be obtained from any other quarter, and strong military reasons demanded that we should hold the Mississippi at two points, to facilitate communications and co-operation between my district and the Trans-Mississippi Department. The capture of Baton Rouge, and the forces of the enemy at that point, would open the Mississippi, secure the navigation of Red River, then in a state of blockade, and also render easier the recapture of New Orleans. To this end I gave orders to General Breckinridge to move upon Baton Rouge with a force of five thousand men, picked from the troops at Vicksburg, and added to his command the whole effective force of General Ruggles, then at Camp Moore, making a total force of six thousand men. To ensure the success of the plan, I ordered the Arkansas to co-operate with the land forces by a simultaneous attack from the river. All damages sustained by the Arkansas from the fleets of the enemy had been repaired, and when she left the wharf at Vicksburg for Baton Rouge, she was deemed to be as formidable, in attack or defence, as when she defied a fleet of forty vessels of war, many of them iron-clads. With such effective means, I deemed the taking of Baton Rouge and the destruction or capture of the enemy on the land and water, the reasonable result of the expedition. By epidemic disease, the land force under Major-General Breckinridge was reduced to less than three thousand effective men, within the period of ten days after he reached Camp Moore. The Arkansas, after arriving within a short distance of Baton Rouge, in ample time for joint action at the appointed hour of attack, suddenly became unmanageable, from a failure in her machinery and engine, which all the efforts of her engineers could not repair. The gallant Breckinridge, advised by telegram every hour of her progress towards Baton Rouge, and counting on her co-operation, attacked the enemy with his whole effective force, then reduced to about two thousand five hundred men, drove him from all his positions, and forced him to seek protection under the cover of his gunboats. I regret to state that the labors of General Breckinridge, in a distant field of operations, have thus far prevented him from making to me a report of his action; but enough has transpired to enable me to assure the department that the battle of Baton Rouge illustrated the valor of our troops, and the skill and intrepidity of their commander. His report will be forwarded as soon as it is received. It will be thus manifest to the department that an enterprise, so hopeful in its promise, met with partial failure, only from causes which were not only beyond my control, but out of the reach of ordinary foresight. I could not anticipate the sudden illness of three thousand picked men, and the failure of the Arkansas at the critical hour appointed to her for added honors, was a joyful surprise to the startled fleet of the enemy, and a wonder to all who had witnessed her glory at Vicksburg. Advised of the result of the expedition, I immediately ordered the occupation of Port Hudson, a point selected for its eligibility of defence, and for its capacity for offensive annoyance of the enemy, established batteries, manned them with experienced gunners, and guarded them by an adequate supporting force, holding Baton Rouge, in the meanwhile, in menace. The effect of these operations was the evacuation of Baton Rouge by the enemy, and his disappearance from the Mississippi between the capital of Louisiana and Vicksburg. The results sought by the movements against Baton Rouge have been, to a great extent, attained. We hold two points on the Mississippi — more than two hundred miles--unmolested by the enemy, and closed to him. The navigation of the Mississippi River from the mouth of Red River to Vicksburg was at once opened, and still remains open to our commerce, giving us also the important advantage of water connection, by Red River, of the east with the west. Indispensable supplies have been, and continue to be, drawn from this source. The desired facilities for communication and co-operation between this district and the Trans-Mississippi Department have been established. The recapture of New Orleans has been made easier to our army.

I think it due to the truth of history to correct the error, industriously spread by the official reports of the enemy, touching the destruction of the Arkansas. She was no trophy won by the Essex, nor did she receive injury at Baton Rouge from the hands of any of her adversaries. Lieutenant Stevens, her gallant commander, finding her unmanageable, moored her to the shore. On the cautious approach of the enemy, who kept at a respectful distance, he landed his crew, cut her from her moorings, fired her with his own hands, and turned her adrift down the river. With every gun shotted, our flag floated from her bow, and not a man on board, the Arkansas bore down upon the enemy, and gave him battle. Her guns were discharged as the flames reached them, and when her last shot was fired the explosion of her magazine ended the brief but glorious career of the Arkansas. “It was beautiful,” said Lieutenant Stevens, while the tears stood in his eyes, “to see her, when abandoned by commander and crew, and dedicated to sacrifice, fighting the battle on her own hook.” I trust that the official report of Commodore Lynch will do justice to the courage, constancy, and resolution of the officers and men who were the last crew of the Arkansas.

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John C. Breckinridge (3)
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