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[547] The quietly retiring foe — the quietly advancing cavalry — the soldiers dismounted, and, creeping from tree to tree, occasionally interchanging shots — and sometimes so many at a time that it sounded like the badly-fired volleys by which some of our militia escorts at home pay the last honors to a dead comrade. Still, we pushed an, making progress, but very slow progress indeed, until we reached a point that seemed to be about five miles from the bayou, and the clearing beyond, where General Franklin had established his headquarters. At this point another clearing had been made for a plantation. It was roughly divided into fields for cotton and cane, and an old saw-mill near by seemed to indicate that the owner had a larger share of enterprise than is generally given to the chivalrous lords of these majestic pines. The irregular firing was at an end, for here the enemy ceased to creep, and seemed disposed to make a stand. Evidently we were marching too rapidly, and if they desired to save their trains they must fight for them. General Banks saw this, and ordered the infantry to the front to support the cavalry and make a spirited assault. In the mean time, in the event of the enemy being stronger than was expected, or too strongly posted, aids were sent to the rear to hurry forward the advance of Ransom's other division, commanded by General Cameron, as well as to General Franklin, directing him to advance with Emory's division of the Nineteenth army corps. We placed our artillery in position, and began to shell the woods where the enemy were posted. They made a feeble reply, but were evidently in strength. Our dismounted cavalry formed the first line of battle. The Fourth division formed in their rear, the line crossing the road, and extending its flanks into the woods. It was now about four o'clock, and it became evident, from the manner in which our cavalry attack was received, that the enemy was stronger than was anticipated. The events that I have been describing transpired very slowly, and the afternoon seemed to be wearing lazily away. But after four o'clock events began to grow and thicken with a bewildering fury that makes it difficult for a mere spectator like your correspondent to remember precisely what was done, and how it was done. The attack of our cavalry was weak and spiritless. The firing lasted for a few minutes, the discharges of musketry became incessant, the long, thin line of clay-colored rebels began to emerge slowly from the woods, firing constantly, but always advancing at a pace that seemed like an uncertain, shuffling run. Their fire was too strong for our cavalry, and it fell back with precipitation — too much precipitation it proved; for before Ransom had his line properly formed, he was compelled to meet the onset of the whole rebel force. The retreating cavalry had partly demoralized his men, for in the heat of action, and being where they could not see the field, they could not understand why this multitude of flushed and frightened men should thus be running from the scene of battle. Many who wanted nothing but a cheerful look or nod to make them brave men, turned around without having seen a rebel, and ran likewise, so that before the battle had really opened the road presented the strange sight of hundreds of armed and unarmed men hastening to the rear, some the pictures of fright, others of abject fear, and carrying exaggerated stories to all who troubled them for information.

Four o'clock had passed, and the long shadows of the evening were darkening the pine woods. Ransom's division fought with intrepid bravery, all things considered — the sudden attack, the panic-stricken cavalry, and the number of the enemy — with a bravery that cannot be too highly commended. The rebels, however, saw their advantage, and pressed it. In the beginning of the fight General Ransom was struck in the knee, and carried from the field. This dispirited the men, for they all loved the young commander, and rejoiced to speak his praise. The fight became furious, and for a few minutes there was doubt, and gloom, and anxiety among the Federal commanders. Aid after aid galloped down the road to bring up the Third division of the Thirteenth corps, commanded by General Cameron. It was evident Ransom's men could not stand the attack. It was doubted if even Cameron's men would be more successful. But other troops were behind — Emory and his splendid division — and we knew that the day was ours if time only permitted us to make a proper disposition of our forces. Ransom's column finally broke, but not until Cameron's was formed in the rear to renew the battle. Through a long hour — an hour that seemed to be an age to all who stood under those pine trees on that Friday afternoon--the fight raged. The enemy had a temporary advantage, and they pressed it with an energy that seemed to be appalling. They must have suffered terribly, for our guns poured into their lines one constant fire. Our men fought them with unavailing valor, for all the disadvantages were on their side.

If I have succeeded in making plain my account of this fight, the reader will understand that our forces were in an open space — a pine wood clearing — that our line of advance was one single, narrow road, and that, having made the attack ourselves, we found the enemy superior, and were compelled to make a defensive fight. There were other troubles. The country was so formed that artillery was almost useless. We could not place a battery without exposing it in a manner that suggested madness, and yet we had the guns and were compelled to fight them. A further disadvantage was to be found in the long trains that followed the different divisions. The cavalry had the advance; immediately behind came the baggage-wagons, moving in a slow, cumbersome manner, and retarding the movements of the infantry. This made it impossible for us to have our divisions in supporting distance, and when the time came for that support, it could not be rendered. General Banks perceived this at once, but it was too late to remedy it, and he was compelled to fight the battle in

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T. E. G. Ransom (6)
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