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Doc. 101.-expedition up the Black and Washita Rivers.

Report of rear-admiral D. D. Porter.

flag-ship Black Hawk, Mississippi Squadron, Red River, March 6, 1864.
sir: I have the honor to report that I sent an expedition up the Black and Washita Rivers on the first instant, under command of Lieutenant Commander F. M. Ramsay. The following vessels composed the expedition: Ouachita, Lieutenant Commander Byron Wilson; Fort Hindman, Acting Volunteer Lieutenant John Pierce; Osage, Acting Master Thomas Wright; Lexington, Lieutenant George M. Bache; Conestoga, Lieutenant Commander Thomas O. Selfridge; Cricket, Acting Master H. H. Gorringe.

The expedition was perfectly successful. The rebels, about two thousand strong, under General Polignac, were driven from point to point, some extensive works captured, and three heavy thirty-two-pounders brought away. The works were destroyed. The enemy suffered severely from our guns, and the vessels brought away all the cotton they could find. They also destroyed a pontoon-bridge, cutting the rebels off from their main body, at or near Alexandria; but, having no force to put on shore, they had time to escape.

The water falling very rapidly, forced the expedition to give up the intended trip further into the interior. Some houses were necessarily destroyed; but as the community is all rebel, it is not to be regretted.

I regret to say that we lost two killed and fourteen wounded, and the Fort Hindman was badly cut up with shot and shell, being struck twenty-seven times, but nothing to impair her efficiency.

I inclose Lieutenant Commander Ramsay's report. I am well pleased with the result of the expedition.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

David D. Porter, Rear-Admiral. Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C.

Report of Lieutenant Commander F. A. Ramsay.

United States steamship Choctaw, March 5, 1864.
sir: In obedience to your order, I left here on the Fort Hindman at half-past 1 P. M. on the twenty-ninth ultimo, taking the Osage, Cricket, Ouachita, Lexington, and Conestoga with me, and proceeding up Red River, anchored at dark about fifteen miles from the mouth of Black River. At daylight on the first instant, I got under way and proceeded up Black River. At four P. M., when about fifteen miles below Trinity, we were fired into by sharp-shooters, concealed behind the levee. All the vessels immediately opened on them with shrapnel, grape, and canister, and drove them away. When we reached Trinity, white flags were shown on the lower side of the town, but as soon as we rounded the point we were opened on by a battery of two twelve-pounder rifle guns. We immediately opened fire, and in a few moments drove the rebels, who were under the command of General Polignac, from the town. I then proceeded two miles above the town, and anchored for the night. At daylight on the second, I got under way, and proceeded up the Ouachita, with the Osage leading and the Hindman next. We had not proceeded more than five miles when the Osage became disabled, by the main wheel of the turret breaking in three pieces, which rendered it impossible to revolve the turret. Fortunately, the guns were pointed directly ahead at the time of the accident. When we arrived within two miles of Harrisonburgh, we were attacked by a brigade (General Polignac's) of sharp-shooters, lying behind the levee, and a battery of twelve-pounder rifle-guns. The fire of the battery was directed entirely at the [445] Fort Hindman. She was struck twenty-seven times by shot and shell, one shot disabling the starboard engine. I immediately dropped her down below the other vessels, and then went on board the Ouachita. The Ouachita was struck three times, but no damage done. The firing of the vessels was excellent, and soon drove the battery away. The banks were so high that it was impossible for the vessels abreast of the sharp-shooters to do them any damage; but the lower vessels enfiladed the banks, and, I afterward learned, killed and wounded a great many. A deserter reported that the colonel of his regiment was killed. Leaving the Hindman in a safe place, I proceeded up the river, with the other vessels, to Bayou Louis, which enters Sicily Island. The water was so shoal that the lightest boat I had could not enter. I then proceeded to Catahoula Shoals, where I found plenty of water to enable me to proceed to Monroe; but the water was falling so fast, I deemed it best to return. On our arrival at Harrisonburgh, I landed with the Ouachita, and set fire to some of the largest houses in the town. While the houses were being fired, a body of cavalry and infantry were observed coming down a ravine. I called the men on board, and opened fire from the vessels, causing the troops to scatter in every direction. The works at Harrisonburgh are very formidable. There are four forts on high hills, commanding the river for two miles below the town, and more than a mile above. Rifle-pits run all around, and connect the forts. At dark, I anchored two miles above Trinity. At daylight on the third, I got under way and proceeded to Trinity. At this place, two excellent earthworks are thrown up, one of which commands the river for more than two miles. It was my intention to burn the town; but finding so many women and children in it, I spared it.

We found there three thirty-two pounder guns and carriages. The guns I brought away, and burnt the carriages and platforms. Hearing that the rebels had a pontoon-bridge a mile from the mouth of Little River, I sent the Cricket up, and burned it. I remained at Trinity until the morning of the fourth, when we proceeded down Black River, and picking up all the cotton near the bank, anchored at dark about twelve miles from the mouth. At daylight on the fifth, I got under way, and arrived at this place at meridian.

I am much indebted to the officers of the different vessels for the manner in which they performed their duty. I regret to report that eight men were wounded on the Fort Hindman, one mortally, (since dead,) and two severely. One man was wounded severely on the Osage; Acting Ensign Ezra Beaman, of the Choctaw, whom I took with me as signal officer, was wounded in the right foot while on board of the Ouachita. I would respectfully bring to your notice James K. L. Duncan, ordinary seaman; Hugh Melloy, ordinary seaman; and William P. Johnson, landsman, of the Fort Hindman, for their gallant conduct during the engagement with the battery near Harrisonburgh. A shell burst at the muzzle of one of the guns, setting fire to the tie of the cartridge, which had just been put in the gun. Duncan immediately seized the burning cartridge, took it out of the gun, and threw it overboard. A shell pierced the bow casemate on the right of No. One gun, mortally wounding the first sponger, who had the sponge in his hand, which he dropped out of the port on the forecastle. Melloy immediately jumped out of. the port on the forecastle, picked up the sponge, sponged and loaded the gun, standing outside, under a heavy fire of musketry. Johnson, although badly wounded in the hand, took the place of a wounded man, sponged and loaded the gun during the entire action.

The following is the list of casualties in the different vessels: Hindman, one man mortally wounded, since dead; eight wounded, two severely; hit twenty-seven times. Osage, one wounded. Ouachita, one killed; two wounded; struck three times. Choctaw, one wounded.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

F. M. Ramsay, Commanding Expedition to Black and Washita Rivers. Rear-Admiral D. D. Porter, Commanding Mississippi Squadron.

Surgeon Mixer's account.1

United States steamer Lexington, off Trinity, Ouachita River, March 2, 1864.
. . . . . . . .

The Admiral came down on the afternoon of the twenty-ninth of February, and, true to my prediction, he has furnished us with something to do. We are on an expedition up the Ouachita. (Pronounce that Washitaw.) There are six vessels in the fleet, carrying seventy guns. The Ouachita rises in Arkansas, and empties into the Red, about forty-five miles from the mouth of the latter. The last sixty miles of the course of the Ouachita is sometimes called the Black River.

We started at noon on the first of March, and during the first day met no opposition. To-day we were also unopposed, until within four miles of our present position, when about one hundred men, concealed behind a levee, opened on us with musketry. The fire was replied to by the fleet, and we kept on our course until we were directly in front of the town. Trinity is a little town on the west bank of the river, and contains, perhaps, about three hundred inhabitants. When directly in front of this place, the rebels opened on us with two pieces of artillery, planted in the centre of the town. It was the most atrocious piece of folly ever committed, and if they had counted on our not firing on the town, they were very soon undeceived. Of our seventy pieces of artillery, we could bring to bear about forty, and they were discharged almost simultaneously. The shock may be imagined, but cannot be described. For about twenty minutes, the war of artillery was almost continuous, and the smoke hid every thing from view. Finding that we elicited no reply, we ceased firing. When the [446] smoke cleared away, we found that their guns were dismounted, nearly every house riddled; and, huddled down close to the water, under the bank, were scores of women, in an agony of terror, beseeching us, for God's sake, not to kill them. May I never see another such a sight! The ordinary horrors of war are bad enough, but the atrocity of making it necessary to open fire upon a village filled with women, I have never seen equalled. We have not landed, and know nothing of the loss they have suffered. No one was hurt on our side.

We are at anchor half a mile above the place; and the order is, that no lights shall be used on board to-night, and nobody undress. I am writing, with coats hung up over my windows, to hide my light, and am suffering from a slight headache.

Fifteen miles above here, at a place called Harrisonburgh, the rebels have a fort. We know nothing yet of its strength or weakness, but, as King William said, at the battle of the Boyne, I think, “strong or weak, we shall know all about it,” for we are going up in the morning to attack it.

. . . . . . . .

March 2d, Evening.--Thanks to a kind Providence, I am still alive and uninjured. As I told you in my letter of yesterday, we went up and attacked the fort at Harrisonburgh, this morning. Our fleet consists of the Osage, Fort Hindman, Ouachita, Cricket, Lexington, and Conestoga, and we went into battle in the order I have placed them.

I think I never said the rebels were cowards, but, if I ever did, I take it back. They fought like demons. They were deficient in artillery, but they used what they had with spirit. They occupied a high, commanding position, and had fortified it with skill. It was a series of hills, the top of each crowned with an earth-work, and the whole connected by rifle-pits.

The battle commenced about nine o'clock, and lasted two hours and a half. I should judge the rebels had three thousand men, and six pieces of artillery. We were completely successful; silenced every gun, and drove the last man from the field. We have no infantry force with us, and could not land, to know what we had accomplished. We burned the town, and proceeded five miles farther up the river, where, finding the water too shallow for us, it was decided to turn back, and are here at our old anchorage of the night before, just above Trinity.

Our losses are considerable. Fort Hindman is disabled, with a loss of nine men. The river is narrow, so that but one vessel can go at a time, and she and the Osage bore, for a time, the whole weight of the battle. All the vessels have lost more or less, except the Conestoga and Lexington.

While I am writing, a deserter brings us the intelligence that the rebels are assembling in force at Trinity. If this information proves to be correct, and I have no doubt it is, we are in for another fight in the morning.

March 3d, 10 o'clock A. M.--We came down here this morning, in confident anticipation of a fight, but the rebels got enough yesterday. During the night they abandoned their works here, burned their guns, and fled. The fleet now lies off the town, throwing an occasional shell over the place, to prevent an approach, while our crews are ashore, unearthing their guns, destroying the gun-carriages, dismantling the fort, collecting plunder, bringing off their guns, etc. It now seems probable that we may not have another fight while we are up here. They may attempt to annoy us with musketry, but are too much demoralized to make another stand, and, between here and the mouth of the Red, there is no place so favorable for them to give battle in, as this. Their losses in yesterday's battle must have been very severe. The guns in this fleet equal the artillery that would be used by an army of seventy-five thousand men; and this, directed against the limited force of the rebels, must have inflicted terrible loss on them. It seems to me now, incredible that they should have held their ground so long against such a fire. In a good cause they would be heroes; they are desperadoes.

No report has yet come on board of the number of guns found here, and I have, of course, no knowledge of the length of time we shall be detained, but think it probable we shall be able to get under way and start down in two or three hours. I can scarcely make myself believe, except as I pass around and see the sick, that we all went through the battle of yesterday, and came off without a mark. . . . .

1 o'clock P. M..--We have remained here all day. The fruits of the victory are, the destruction of two forts, the capture of three heavy siege-guns, the repulse of the rebels, with a loss we know not how heavy, and the opening of the river. We had demolished the fort and got the guns on board by one o'clock P. M.; but, unfortunately, the Conestoga got aground, and all our efforts to get her off have, thus far, proved unavailing. We are abundantly able to protect her, and she will ultimately be got off, but the delay is extremely vexatious. The river is falling, and we can remain up but a limited time, and we wish to use this time in picking up a little stray cotton, thus combining business with pleasure.

This Ouachita country is the finest portion of the South I have yet seen. The climate is delightful, and the soil yields its riches in never-ending productiveness. As we see it now, it is in the first blush of spring. Flowers of many-varied hues beautify the turf of richest green; the peach and plum are in full bloom, and forest trees are brightening into verdure hourly. I mean to see this country at some time, when we do not, as now, come with fire and sword to desolate it. Except that it is malarious, (and all the South is so,) I do not believe there is a finer country in the world.

. . . . . . . .

1 Surgeon Mixer was attached to the Lexington.

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