Doc. 71. the retreat from Alexandria.
New Orleans, May 23, 1864.Having got our gunboats over the falls above Alexandria in safety, about the thirteenth instant, they, together with the transports, moved down the river, and with inconsiderable annoyance from the guerrillas along the shore, reached Fort De Russy without any casualties worthy of special mention. The capture by the rebels on the fourth instant of the little gunboat Signal has not been made public. The event occurred at or near Snaggy Point, and very close to the place where the “John Warner” was taken about the same date. The following officers were taken prisoners along with her: Lieutenant William Simpson, A. D. C., on General Banks' staff; Lieutenant-Commanding E. A. Morgan, U. S. Navy ; Acting-Ensign Charles P. Bragg, U. S. Navy; Acting-Ensign William F. Loam, U. S. Navy; Acting Master's-Mate E. D. Lovel; Acting Master's-Mate R. P. Croft; Acting Master's-Mate And. Donaldson; Third Assistant-Engineer J. F. Liddell; Paymaster's Steward Eugene Colbert, and the mail messenger. As our army marched out from Alexandria the mounted scouts of the enemy were seen hovering almost constantly about us, though they seldom approached near enough to give a chance to pick them off. As our forces arrived on the sixteenth at Avoyelles Prairie General Banks learned that the enemy, in heavy force, had taken a strong position to dispute our passage. A belt of thick woods on the summit of what passes in this country for a hill, but which really amounted to nothing more than a gradual swell in the prairie, was the site chosen and from the protection which the timber afforded his men, was admirably selected. Our skirmishers were immediately thrown out to feel the enemy and draw his fire, the artillery was brought up, and preparations made to show the rebels that the men who had fought and whipped them at Pleasant Hill and Monett's Bluff, were not to be intimidated by the prospect of another brush with the same ragged battallions then. We had not long to wait. The Confederates opened upon us at once with some twenty pieces of artillery. Having ascertained the position and strength of the enemy, we opened our batteries in return, and continued a furious cannonade on their lines for between three and four hours, when the fire from their artillery gradually slackened, and the greater part of them were silenced. This was followed by an advance of our infantry, accompanied by a few volleys of musketry, when the panic-stricken rebels hastily retired, carrying their dead and wounded along with them from the field. It was the opinion of many of the officers that pursuit would have enabled us to make a complete route of the  enemy's retreating forces, but the Commanding General thought it best to save the extra fatigue to our already tired soldiers for the remaining march toward Simmsport, and so our column headed again for the Atchafalaya. The remainder of that day, throughout the whole of the following one, our only collisions with the enemy were the occasional brushes which our cavalry had with theirs, really amounting to nothing, except to show the intrepid bravery which inspired our men throughout this fatiguing and really harassing movement. For it is perhaps one of the most difficult things in the whole military catalogue of difficult operations to withdraw an army from an enemy's country successfully. On Wednesday the eighteenth, our army reached Yellow Bayou, which by the way is a bayou that unites with Bayou de la Glaise and empties into the Atchafalaya a short distance above Simmsport. Here our advance had crossed, together with stores, trains, etc., and also a part of our main forces, when the enemy made a sudden dash upon us with the evident hope to throw our troops into a panic. In this they were disappointed, as the sequel will show. His very serene highness Prince Major-General Polignac, commanded the rebels, and he was evidently burning to distinguish his new born titles with deeds worthy their exalted quality. Brigadier-General Mower received his Highness with befitting honors, and after one of the most brilliant affairs of the war — the whole engagement lasting scarcely beyond an hour's time — despatched his Eminence back to those who sent him, with a loss in killed and wounded of not less than five hundred and three hundred prisoners left in our hands. A charge made upon their lines was one of the most spirited of the whole campaign, and resulted in the infliction of the heavier part of their losses in killed, and the capture of the three hundred prisoners above spoken of. Our casualties in this engagement were inside of one hundred and fifty all told. The rebel retreat was a scene of the wildest disorder — their troops throwing away every thing which might encumber them, and skedaddling in fine style. We lost no prisoners in this engagement. On the nineteenth the army arrived at the Atchafalaya, and a pontoon bridge was improvised as follows: Twenty transports were anchored abreast in the stream, and over them was laid a bridge, on which the army, with all its paraphernalia, passed as orderly, conveniently, and securely as it would or could have done over a turnpike bridge in the land of steady habits. On the twentieth instant our entire army had crossed the river at Simmsport, and again moved toward the Mississippi river. The next evening it reached Morganzia, and went into pleasant camping ground in security and peace, to rest from its labors and dangers till the next move on the chess-board shall call it forth to other labors and successes. General Canby is with the army at Morganzia. Among the brilliant movements which deserve mention is a charge by the Twenty-sixth New York battery at the engagement of Avoyelles Prairie. The cavalry was under the command of Richard Arnold, Chief of Artillery of the department, and was handsomely handled throughout. General Mower's division of the Sixteenth Army Corps, a part of the Thirteenth corps, also under the same, and the cavalry, bore the largest part of the hardest fighting. The most severe losses were sustained by the Fifty-eighth Illinois infantry, the Sixth Massachusetts, and Third Maryland cavalry. The morale of the army at its camps at Morganzia is excellent, and its position pleasant and healthful, and when again called on to act, the country will hear a good account of what it is called on to perform.