Doc. 17.-reduction of Fort Esperanza, Tex.
Report of Major-General Washburn.
headquarters, pass Cavallo expedition, Fort Esperanza, Texas, December 4, 1863.Major: I herewith inclose reports of Brigadier-General T. E. G. Ransom, commanding brigade Second division, and Colonel H. D. Washburn, commanding First brigade First division Thirteenth army corps, detailing the action of their respective brigades in the reduction of this Fort. I refer to these reports, as containing most of the details pertaining to the expedition, and for the names of such persons as deserve specially to be honorably mentioned. On the twenty-first ultimo, I arrived at Aransas Pass with the Thirty-third Illinois, and part of the Eighteenth Indiana, on board steamer Clinton. On the twenty-second ultimo, I received the order of Major-General Banks to take command of an expedition up the coast, for the purpose of capturing this fort. On the same day, I proceeded to St. Joseph's Island, and landed the troops and stores on board the Clinton by twelve M., on the twenty-third ultimo. I pushed forward, same day, to head of St. Joseph's Island, eighteen miles distant, having previously sent General Ransom in the advance, with instructions to bridge, if possible, the Pass between St. Joseph's and Matagorda Island. On arriving at this Pass, (called Cedar Bayou,) I discovered that to bridge would be impossible. With a width of nearly three hundred yards, a strong current, and exposed to the terrible winds that here prevail, I saw that our only chance to get over was to ferry. Fearing that such would prove the case, I brought along, on my wagons, four yawl-boats. By lashing together, I was able to take over my troops, wagons, and artillery. My horses and mules were swum across. On the twenty-fourth, a terrific norther sprung up, rendering it impossible to cross the Pass; but on the following morning, the gale having subsided, the force commenced to cross, and by midnight were all over, and the rear went into camp about eight miles up the coast, at three A. M. On the twenty-sixth, marched over twenty miles, and encamped ten miles from the fort; and on the twenty-seventh, at eleven A. M., came within range of the guns of the fort. Spent the rest of the day reconnoitring the position, the gunboats, which were to cooperate, not having come up. I soon discovered that the fort was a large and complete work, mounting heavy guns, and that all approaches were well guarded. The country around was a level plain, and their outworks, which were of a most complete character, extended across from the gulf to a bayou connecting with the back-bay. On the night after our arrival, a fierce norther sprung up, causing my men to suffer greatly, and rendering the prosecution of operations exceedingly disagreeable The norther continued for two days, rendering it impossible for the gunboats to render us any assistance. I applied for launches, with which I intended to land troops on Bayucos Island, and cut off their communications with the main, but the gale prevented their being furnished until too late. The force within the fort was from seven to eight hundred, all of whom escaped under cover of night, except six belonging to their rear-guard. The rebels left one man on the ground killed. If they had any wounded, they took them away. We lost one killed and two wounded. Lieutenant Fifer, a gallant young officer of the Thirty-third Illinois, was severely wounded in the breast. We captured ten guns, ranging from twenty-four to one hundred and twenty-eight pounders. The fort was bombproof and cased with railroad iron, and surrounded with a wide and deep moat, filled with water. Five magazines were blown up, containing forty-two thousand pounds of powder. For a more particular description of the fort, and the captures therein, I refer to the report of Captain Baker, Engineer. We also captured a small fort on Bayucos Island, with one twenty-four pounder field-gun. I cannot express, in too strong language, my admiration of the conduct of the officers and men engaged in this expedition. We left the foot of St. Joseph's Island without transportation of any kind, except twelve wagons, which were used for transporting supplies. With this small train, I had to supply two thousand eight hundred men, together with animals belonging to the train, and horses for two batteries, nearly sixty miles from my base of supply. The weather, much of the time, was very inclement, water very bad, and fuel scarce; but I never heard a complaint or murmur of any kind. The troops accompanying me were as follows, namely: Eighth Indiana infantry, commanded by Major Kinney; Eighteenth Indiana, Lieutenant-Colonel Charles; Thirty-third Illinois, Colonel C. E. Lippincott; Ninety-ninth Illinois, Colonel Bailey; and Seventh Michigan battery, Lieutenant Stillman, composing First brigade; Twenty-third Iowa., Colonel Glasgow, of the Second brigade, First division, Thirteenth army corps--all commanded by Colonel H. D. Washburn: and the Thirty-fourth Iowa, Lieutenant-Colonel Dungan; Thirteenth Maine, Colonel Dyer; Fifteenth Maine, Colonel Hazeltine; and Foust's Missouri battery, of the Second brigade, Second division, Thirteenth army corps, commanded by Brigadier-General Ransom. It affords me great pleasure to state that the conduct of Brigadier-General Ransom and Colonel H. D. Washburn, commanding brigades, was most prompt, gallant, and efficient, and deserves the highest praise. The navy has shown every disposition to cooperate in the most prompt  manner; and to Captain Strong, of the Monongahela, commanding the fleet, and Captain Lamson, of the Granite City, I am under many obligations. Their failure to take part in the attack on the fort was attributable solely to the gale which at the time prevailed. Respectfully yours,
Major G. Norman Leiber Assistant Adjutant-General:
Major G. Norman Leiber Assistant Adjutant-General:
C. C. Washburn, Major-General.
Brigadier-General Ransom's report.
headquarters Third brigade, Second division, Fort Esperanza, Texas, December, 6, 1863.Major: I have the honor to report that, on the twenty-second ultimo, in obedience to the order of Major-General C. C. Washburn, I moved my command (consisting of the Thirteenth and Fifteenth Maine, and Thirty-fourth Iowa infantry, and battery F, First Missouri artillery) from Aransas Pass, eight miles up St. Joseph Island, and encamped at a ranch for the night. Moved on the next morning, and reached Cedar Bayou about noon, twenty-third ultimo, when my advance-guard of mounted infantry, under command of Captain C. S. Ilsley, Fifteenth Maine, had a slight skirmish with a scouting-party of the enemy, in which Major Charles Hill, commanding the rebel party, was killed, and Sergeant James Sanders, company F, Fifteenth Maine, was slightly wounded. I halted at this place, and commenced the construction of a ferry across Cedar Bayou. On the twenty-fifth ultimo, I ferried my command across Cedar Bayou, and encamped about seven miles up Matagorda Island, where I was joined by Colonel Washburn's brigade about midnight. On the twenty-sixth, I marched my command about twenty miles up the island, and encamped at a ranch about ten miles from this point. On the morning of the twenty-seventh, I advanced my brigade, under the direction of General Washburn, up the middle of the island, while Colonel Washburn moved his brigade in a parallel line up the gulf beach. About eleven A. M., we met the advanced pickets of the enemy, and drove them into his works. After reconnoitring and ascertaining the location of the works and main fort of the enemy, I placed my command in an advanced position, indicated by General Washburn, on the left of our line and under cover of a slight rise of ground. This afternoon and the following day were occupied in reconnoitring the approaches to the enemy's work, and was attended with occasional skirmishing and sharpshooting on both sides, and occasional artillery shots from the enemy. On the night of the twenty-eighth, I threw up an earthwork in advance of my left, and on the opposite side of a salt lagoon, which intervened between my position and the chief work of the enemy, where I placed Captain Foust's battery, supported by the Thirty-fourth Iowa infantry, and opened fire on the fort at daylight on the twenty-ninth, continuing at intervals all day. In the mean time, the Seventh Michigan battery, of Colonel Washburn's brigade, had been advanced under cover of the sand-hills on the beach, and opened upon the fort from the right of our line. No casualties occurred in my command. During the night of the twenty-ninth ultimo, the enemy evacuated their works and retired, setting fire to their magazines and stores. The whole of the troops of my command acquitted themselves creditably, and bore the hardships of the severe “norther,” of the twenty-eighth and twenty-ninth, on short rations, with a cheerfulness scarcely to be expected from troops most of whom had never experienced a field campaign. I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Report of Colonel H. D. Washburn.
headquarters First brigade, First division, Thirteenth army corps, Saluria, Texas, December 3, 1864.Major: I beg leave to submit the following report of the part taken by the First brigade, First division, Thirteenth army corps, in the reduction of Fort Esperanza, on Matagorda Island: At midnight, November twenty-fifth, I had succeeded, after much difficulty, in getting the whole of my force across Cedar Bayou upon the island, and marched immediately to join General Ransom, some eight miles in advance. After a few hours' rest we moved up the island, making a very hard march through the sand of twenty-three miles; camped for the night, and moved in the morning for this place. My brigade, by your order, moving along the beach, about twelve o'clock we had advanced to the lighthouse, and in close proximity to the enemy's works. The main portion of the command was halted, and, by your order, I proceeded with one company from each of my regiments, under the command of Captain Ira Uloore, Thirty-third Illinois, a most excellent officer, supported by the Thirty-third regiment Illinois infantry, to reconnoitre and endeavor to find the strength and position of the enemy. Moving cautiously up the beach, we soon drove in the enemy's pickets, and our advance was safely lodged in a range of sand-hills within three hundred yards of the outer work of the enemy — a heavy earth-work, extending from the bay to a lagoon running from the bay on the mainland side of the island. The work was regularly laid out, about fifteen feet in thickness, and from ten to fifteen feet in height. The enemy now opened upon us, from Fort Esperanza, with his one hundred and twenty-eight pounder, and twenty-fours, throwing shells, but with little or no effect. Having found out the position and apparent strength of the enemy, by your order I withdrew my advance. During the night a heavy “norther” coming on, we were unable to do much the twenty-eighth. The night of the twenty-eighth, Captain McAllister, of the Eighth Indiana, and Captain  Hull, of the Ninety-ninth Illinois, both of whom had had considerable experience in that line in the rear of Vicksburgh, with a fatigue-party from each of the regiments in the brigade, under cover of the darkness, dug a rifle-pit from the sand-hills on the beach, (occupied by us on the first day,) and running parallel with the enemy's works, two hundred and ten yards in length, sufficient to cover a regiment. Sergeant Goodlander, of company F, Eighth Indiana, with a small detail from the different regiments, was ordered to move at early dawn in advance of our rifle-pit and endeavor to gain a position on the outer edge of the enemy's works. The Eighth Indiana was also moved out and ordered to lie down in the open prairie, in order to take advantage of any lodgment our advance might make. Captain Hull, of the Ninety-ninth, volunteered and accompanied the advance. The morning was bitterly cold, and our men suffered severely. Our advance moved up slowly, and cautiously took position on the outside of the work; the inside being controlled by the enemy in the sand-hills between the work and the main fort. Driving in a small picket force on the inside, (the force for protection of the works having been driven by the weather to the sand-hills,) they endeavored to rally and drive our men back, but in vain. The Eighth Indiana was immediately sent forward in small detachments, to avoid the fire of the heavy guns of the fort, and gained a safe footing in our rifle-pit arid on the enemy's work. Finding ourselves more successful than I had dared to hope, I returned to the main portion of my brigade, and immediately sent forward Colonel Lippincott, with his regiment, to the front, with instructions to take command of the force in front, and to advance as fast as prudence would allow, and to get, if possible, a position where our artillery might be made effective. Colonel Lippincott moved promptly with his command, and I soon had the pleasure of hearing from him, that he had secured a good position for our artillery. Adjutant W. W. Zener, of the Eighteenth Indiana, now on my staff, was ordered to bring up two pieces of the First Michigan battery, under command of Lieutenant Stillman, which he accomplished with despatch. The pieces were brought up, and placed in battery under a heavy fire from the fort, fortunately not very accurate, and we soon had the pleasure of seeing our shells dropping in the enemy's stronghold and driving them from their guns. Colonel Lippincott had very judiciously disposed of the two regiments, and had, previously to the arrival of the artillery, advanced several companies into the sand-hills in our front driving back the enemy nearer to his main work. I also ordered possession to be taken of an old work several hundred yards in our front, and to the left and rear of the fort, which was gallantly done by Captain McAllister, Eighth Indiana, with his company. This enabled us to move our advance on the right nearer the fort. In the mean time, I had ordered Lieutenant-Colonel Charles, Eighteenth Indiana, to move his regiment to the support of the Eighth and Thirty-third, in doing which he passed under a heavy fire of the fort, but, fortunately for him, the enemy threw nothing but solid shot, which, from their size, were easily avoided, and he gained his position with the loss of but one man. Night coming on, found four companies of the Eighth Indiana, five companies of the Thirty-third, in the sand-hills near the fort, (seven hundred and twenty-five yards, as shown by measurement;) two companies of the Eighth Indiana held the old work to our front; the balance of three regiments held the outside of the new work. The men, although the night was raw and cold, remained upon the field and in their position. A fatigue party was detailed from the reserve regiments, and proceeded to move the four pieces of the Seventh Michigan battery to the work occupied by our troops, and, by filling the ditch, placed them in a fine position. I also ordered a portion of the Eighteenth Indiana, under Captain Loues, to reenforce Captain McAllister, as I believed that to be an important point. The Ninety-ninth Illinois and Twenty-third Iowa, who were held in reserve, were to move at daylight to our position, while a general advance of the whole brigade was to take place. These arrangements were hardly completed, when, about half-past 12 o'clock, an explosion of gunpowder in the fort warned us that the enemy were on the move. I immediately ordered an advance of the skirmishers, and found that the enemy had fled, leaving behind him his stores and ammunition, and the personal baggage of the officers. They had, however, piled a large quantity of cotton around the different magazines, after having scattered gunpowder around in different places. The advance pushed on to the ferry, but were too late; the enemy had cut the rope, allowing the floating bridge to swing around upon the shore. They had also attempted to destroy it by piling cotton upon it and firing it, but our men were too close, and put out the fire. Six of the eight men left by the enemy to fire the trains were captured. At daylight I moved a small force across to McHenry Island, and took possession of a small earthwork, containing one twenty-four pounder gun, considerable ammunition, and some garrison equipage. In Fort Esperanza we found one one hundred and twenty-eight pounder columbiad, and seven twenty-four pounder siege guns. Two of the magazines were saved, and considerable camp and garrison equipage was in the fort, but, owing to the danger from explosion, we failed to save it. My total loss was one man killed and ten wounded; among the latter, Lieutenant George N. Fifer, Acting Aid-de-Camp, a gallant and brave officer, who fell severely wounded during our first reconnoissance. My officers and men behaved gallantly, showing that they had lost none of that coolness and bravery evinced by them upon the battle-fields of Pea Ridge, Fredericktown, Port Gibson, Champion Hills, Black River Bridge, Vicksburgh, and Jackson.  Colonel Lippincott, of the Thirty-third Illinois, rendered me great assistance in the advance upon the enemy's works, and diplayed both courage and judgment. Major Kinney, of the Eighth Indiana, though but lately promoted to the position, proved by his courage and coolness that he was well worthy of the same. Lieutenant-Colonel Charles, of the Eighteenth Indiana volunteers, brought his regiment, in fine style and good order, through a heavy fire from the fort, to the support of the two advance regiments. Colonel Bailey, of the Ninety-ninth Illinois, and Colonel Glasgow, of the Twenty-third Iowa, who were held in reserve, were both anxious to be moved to the front, and more by accident than any thing else were thrown into the reserve. Both regiments had already established their reputation as veterans, in the well-fought fields of Mississippi. I was greatly indebted to Captain McAllister, Eighth Indiana, and Captain Hull, Ninety-ninth Illinois, for their assistance in the digging and laying out of their rifle-pit and placing of the battery. Lieutenant Stillman, commanding Seventh Michigan battery, rendered very efficient aid in discomfiting the enemy; two guns of his battery were worked right under the fire of the guns of the fort. My own staff discharged their duties with fidelity, courage, and ability. They are as follows: Major J. H. Elliott, Thirty-third Illinois, Inspector and Chief of Staff; Captain S. H. Dunbar, Eighth Indiana, A. A. A. General; Captain John Reuss, Eighth Indiana, A. A. C. S.; Lieutenant and Adjutant W. W. Zener, Eighteenth Indiana, A. D. C. and P. M.; Lieutenant G. H. Fifer, Thirty-third Illinois, A. D. C.; Lieutenant J. G. Seaver, Ninety-ninth Illinois, Ord. Officer; Major Lillie, Ninety-ninth Illinois, Senior Surgeon, was detailed on Operating Board. I would, also, make especial mention of Sergeant John Goodlander, of company F, Eighth Indiana, and private Addison Hollenbeck, company K, Eighteenth Indiana, who were the first to mount the enemy's works the morning of the twenty-ninth. In mentioning the above, I would not have it understood that any of my officers or men failed to do their duty, and their whole duty. I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,