previous next

Doc. 6.-the Texan expedition.

A national account.

flag-ship McLellan, off Brazos de Santiago, Texas, Nov. 2, 1863.
Again an army of American soldiers is on Texas soil, and once more in the neighborhood of the almost sacred battle-fields of Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma.

The following account of the expedition from the time it left South-West Pass to the successful landing of troops on the Texan coast, at Brazos de Santiago, nine miles from the mouth of the Rio Grande del Norte, will be read with interest by all.

An expedition was fitted out at New-Orleans under the command of Major-General Dana. General Banks and staff also accompanied it.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, all went well, the vessels keeping in line at their proper distances; weather fine, sea a little rough.

On Friday morning, October thirtieth, at half-past 4 o'clock, there was a sudden and great change. The weather, up to this time, (night and day,) had been uncomfortably hot, but at the hour mentioned a “heavy norther” struck us; the fleet could no longer be kept together, many vessels being compelled to separate and run before the wind, which soon blew a gale. The weather all day was bitter cold.

For nearly twelve hours the storm raged, and long after the wind had ceased to blow, the waves ran “mountains high.” We had, perhaps, the best fleet of sea-going vessels, of any expedition which has left port during this war, and fears were entertained for the safety of only three or four light-draught steamers, which we were under the necessity of taking along — the Zephyr, Bagley, Union, etc. There was also great danger of the sinking of the schooners in tow, and it was not until this morning that we learned the full extent of the loss which the fleet had sustained. The Union and two schooners went down. The Zephyr had her machinery broken, and was taken in tow by the gunboat Owasco. The Bagley was compelled to run before the wind, and up to this morning it was feared that she had sunk, with all on board; but at an early hour we spoke the United States brig Bahia, off Aranzas Pass. She reported having spoke the Bagley last evening, and her captain requested the blockader to report to the flag-ship: “All's well; we shall remain at the rendezvous for instruction.” This was glorious news, for, though three vessels have sunk, not a life has been lost nor a man injured. I may here state that it was arranged that, if a storm occurred, or if any of the steamers should by any means become separated from the fleet, they should assemble at a place appointed on the Texas coast, and there wait for orders.

The steamer Union, Captain Mayhood, sunk between seven and eight o'clock on Saturday morning. In addition to the crew, there were forty-six negroes of the Corps d'afrique and one lieutenant on board. In towing the steamship Empire City, she proved so heavy that she strained the upper works of the Union to such an extent as to cause her to leak badly. About eleven o'clock on Friday night, Captain Baxter was hailed by Captain Mayhood, who reported that the Union was sinking. The former immediately ordered a boat to be lowered and manned, Mr. Ward, the second mate of the Empire City, taking charge of her. This, with the life-boat from the Union, rescued the crew and negroes, and all were saved before the steamer sank, though many of the latter were so overcome by fear that they were unable to spring into the boats as they approached the side of the vessel, and to save them from going down with her it was found necessary to throw them overboard, and trust to those in the boats to pick them up. Five trips were made to the sinking steamer, by Mr. Ward and the boats' crews of the Empire City. Captain Baxter and his gallant fellows deserve great praise for their coolness, bravery, and perseverance in this trying hour. The Union was a light-draught steamer, of about one hundred and fifty tons burden, between eight and nine years old, and was worth probably about seven thousand dollars.

Nothing of further interest occurred up to four o'clock P. M. At that hour we again spoke the Empire City, she having been absent from the fleet several hours. She answered to our inquiry if all were well on board: “All well, sir.” The captain then informed us that a few hours previous, he had picked up, forty miles off Pass Cavallo, a small boat with two deserters from the enemy, they having been at sea forty hours. The poor fellows were ordered to be sent on board the McClellan in a boat, but they were so weak and stiff from exposure, hunger, and the want of sleep as to be perfectly helpless, each requiring the assistance of two men. They stated that they belonged to company B, Eighth Texas infantry, but on the twenty-sixth of August, they, with eight others, were detailed to serve on board the John F. Carr, (rebel gunboat.) On Thursday night last, about nine o'clock, they saw a small boat lying between the gunboat and Fort Esperanze, and thinking this a good opportunity to desert, they entered it, rowed out to sea, and started for the mouth of Brazos River, where they learned were some of our blockaders; but a norther coming up, they were unable to manage the boat, and let her drift before the wind. All day Friday, through that terrible storm, all night, and up to ten o'clock on Saturday morning, they were driven in every direction in their frail boat, which could only be kept afloat by constant baling. They were thus exposed for about forty hours, and, as I before observed, without rest or a mouthful to eat. They were received by all on board the Empire City and McClellan with a hearty welcome, and several of the staff-officers offered the poor, ragged, and barefooted deserters their beds, and furnished them with food and drink, both of which they were sadly in need of.

When these men were able to converse, it was [147] discovered that they knew much that was of great importance to the generals commanding. They said that revolvers and powder in large quantities were manufactured at New-Brownsville, and that the former sold at two hundred and fifty dollars each, rebel money. General Magruder, they say, is now at Houston. He has only two thousand troops (cavalry) there, the remainder of his army being scattered about at various places, the most being at Galveston and Sabine Pass. At the former city there is also a regiment of heavy artillery. There is a formidable fort near Brownsville, on the Rio Grande, called Fort Brown. Brigadier-General Bee is in command. Since receiving this news, I learn from another party that General Bee has been superseded, and Brigadier-General Slaughter appointed to the command. About the time we picked up these men, we could see along the Texas coast the sand-hills of Isla del Padre. The distance, however, was very great, and even with the aid of a glass they looked dark, and resembled trees in appearance. As the sun was setting, we approached nearer land, and though no human habitation was seen, we were observed from the shore, as a column of dense smoke was seen to rise from the sand-hills immediately in our front, instantly followed by a second and a third, and though each of the latter rose far to our right, they were plainly visible from the steamer's deck. About seven o'clock, when the sun had disappeared, and hills and sea were enveloped in darkness, far as the eye could reach, a bright light was seen, and a moment later the heavens were illuminated by the answering signal-fires along the coast, reminding one of “Bonnie Scotland” in feudal times, when the beacon-lights burst forth in a blaze from every hill-top, calling to arms the clans of the numerous chiefs, or warning them of threatened danger. I have no hesitation whatever in saying that in less than one hour the whole South was startled with the news of our arrival off the mouth of the Rio Grande.

Sunday was a bright and beautiful day, though the heavy swell was not very agreeable to those who had not yet recovered from sea-sickness, and many of the officers in consequence were in danger of throwing up their commissions. The flag-ship cruised around for several hours in search of the steamers which had lost the fleet in the night, and we approached within four miles of the mouth of the Rio Grande del Norte. To the left, in Mexican waters, I counted thirty-seven sail of blockade-runners; but could not see a single steamer, though toward evening an officer from one of the gunboats reported that later in the day a French man-of-war and another steamer were with the fleet of blockade-runners. The Leviathan had assisted the McClellan in searching for the missing vessels of the fleet, and at three o'clock in the afternoon the whole, with the exception of the Monongahela, Owasco, (the latter having the Zephyr in tow,) the Pocahontas, and the Bagley, were together and lying opposite Brazos Santiago. The McClellan approached close in shore, in three and a half fathoms, and a close examination was made of the mouths of the Brazos and Boca Chica Passes. We then steamed slowly along the shore, running in about five fathoms, when, once more joining the fleet, we headed for Brazos Santiago bar, and anchored for the night about a mile distant — sea running high, weather sultry.

At an early hour this morning the bar was examined, and casks laid down as buoys. Nine feet of water was found upon the bar, and once over, navigation was easy. We accordingly commenced preparing to enter the harbor, and the light-draught steamer General Banks, with the Nineteenth Iowa on board, got under way, and was soon rising and falling amid the foam of the huge breakers; but as she steamed gallantly on and crossed the bar in safety, the soldiers on board gave three hearty cheers, which were heard on the flag-ship and answered by the waving of hats and handkerchiefs. She crossed the bar at precisely twelve o'clock noon, and from that moment Texas was ours. The General's despatch-boat — the little steamer Drew--followed, and she went capering along like a frisky young coquette of sixteen, bounding over the bar like a cork. The Clinton, with the Thirteenth and Fifteenth Maine regiments on board, was the third to cross, and it was her good fortune to be the first to disembark her troops, the soldiers of the Fifteenth Maine first touching Texas soil. The next moment, the flag of this regiment, followed by that of the Nineteenth Iowa, was raised. Thus the men from the extreme northern point of the Union were the first to raise the flag of America over the soil of the extreme southern point, and finish the work so gloriously begun, of planting the banner of freedom in the last State in rebellion, over which the Stars and Stripes have not waved for some time.

On landing on Brazos Island, the Fifteenth Maine, Colonel Dwyer, accompanied by Major Von Hermann, of General Banks's staff, started for Boca Chica, took possession of the Pass, and encamped there, throwing out pickets. No resistance whatever was offered, and no human beings have yet been seen on the island or elsewhere, if I except the repulse of two companies of cavalry by the guns of the T. A. Scott, Captain O'Brien, which anchored off the mouth of Boca Chica this morning, and opened upon the rebels who had attempted to cross. The same transport the night previous anchored off the mouth of the Rio Grande, and amused herself by keeping up an almost constant fire upon the Mexican vessels crossing and recrossing the river. The old salt was a few miles wrong in his reckoning; for he afterward stated that he “thought he was peppering away at the damned rebels in Boca Chica instead of the harmless Mexicans on the Rio Grande,” so that we shall probably have to make an apology for the slight mistake of firing upon their vessels while engaged in a contraband trade with the rebels on the Texan shore.

Those of your readers who have ever visited Ship Island can have a good idea of this barren, [148] inhospitable shore. Brazos, as well as all the islands along the Texan coast, is a sandy desert. One house (deserted) stands to our right, and a mile or so farther toward the interior are two lighthouses, one on each side. Charred ruins show that three dwellings were destroyed by fire some time ago. Nothing but the chimneys remain standing. The foundations of the buildings used by General Taylor for stores can yet be seen; but no other vestige remains. Sand and sand-hills meet the eye in every direction, and for miles there is no covering from the rays of the burning sun by day, nor the heavy, chilly dews by night. Four wells were discovered by our soldiers, but the water is brackish and unpalatable. Around these were collected from thirty to forty head of poor cattle. They were suffering terribly from thirst, and drank with avidity the miserable water that our men gave to them from the wells. The few inhabitants who lived on this desert probably fled as soon as our fleet anchored off the shore; for, as I have before stated, not a human being was to be seen.

This morning, the Exact, one of the transports of the fleet, was discovered by the gunboat Virginia while cruising, about twenty miles from the mouth of the Rio Grande. Thinking her to be a blockade-runner, she gave chase, the Exact running from her as if attempting to escape. The Virginia, however, approached her rapidly, and fired a gun across her bow. This brought the supposed prize to; but on the Virginia hailing, “What steamer's that?” was rather disappointed when the answer was given, “The exact, of the transport fleet;” for by this time she had discovered that she was being chased by one of our own war-vessels. Each took the other for an enemy. A similar mistake to this occurred on the evening of the storm. About seven o'clock the McClellan hailed a dark-painted, suspicious-looking three-masted schooner, ten miles from Cavello. She proved to be the gunboat Kittatinny. We took her for a prize, and she took us for the Alabama.

It has been said that the French occupy Metamoras. This is not true. There are no French troops in the city.

Tuesday, November 3.--This morning the remainder of the fleet joined us. They are the transports Bagley, Pocahontas, and Zephyr, and the war-vessels Monongahela and Owasco. The whole had been waiting nearly three days at the rendezvous. Several rebels have been discovered at work erecting a fort at Point Isabel. They have already two guns mounted, bearing in the direction of the fleet. Their case will be attended to. On Thursday last the Monongahela and the McClellan chased a schooner for several hours, but were unable to come up with her. She was believed to have been a blockade-runner. One of the transports which arrived here this morning reports having spoken the schooner. She proved to have been a prize to the Granite City at the time that we were pursuing her. She had nearly five hundred bales of cotton on board.

About one o'clock P. M., the gunboats Monongahela and Owasco, with the transport Scott--the latter with troops on board — started for the mouth of the Rio Grande on a reconnoissance, for the purpose of landing soldiers on the Texas shore. Captain J. S. Crosby, of General Banks's staff, Captain Griffin, (fleet-captain,) and Captain Strong, of the Monongahela, entered a small boat and reconnoitred the Texas coast. Finding all clear, with no enemy in sight, the order for disembarking the troops was given. The boats of the three steamers were at once lowered, making nine in all. One hundred and forty soldiers then entered them, each man being armed. After the sailors (sixty) had taken charge of the boats, they started for the shore, but in crossing the bar four were capsized, and seven soldiers and two of the crew of the Owasco were drowned. One of the boats, after returning from landing her men, succeeded in picking up a large number of those in the water, and the Mexican shore being much nearer than the other, the bow of the boat was turned toward it; but the Mexicans would not allow it to land, and the boat was compelled to cross the river to the Texas side, where all were placed safely on shore. The landing of the troops in the other boats was effected without difficulty, and during the whole time not an armed rebel was seen. None of the boats of the Monongahela were capsized.

One of the schooners belonging to the fleet drifted from the channel and struck on the bar off Brazos Santiago. A boat's crew was immediately sent to her assistance from the McClellan. The executive officer, Mr. Comstock, was in charge, Captain Phillips, coast pilot, Mr. McHood, Master of Transportation, and Mr. Harvey, Quartermaster of the McClellan, were also in the boat, together with five sailors. Besides rescuing the schooner, it was intended that range lights should be placed on the bar, so that vessels could cross in the night. While running a hawser from the General Banks to the schooner, the boat capsized in the surf, and as she floated, bottom up, among the breakers, every man succeeded in clinging to it. This occurred about five o'clock. The General Banks could not assist them, as she had no boat on board, but, steaming to the McClellan, the facts were communicated to Captain Gray, when a boat was lowered in an instant, and as she left the side of the vessel, Captain Gray said, “Give way, men, give way; do your duty;” to which the boatswain, Mr. Lewis, replied: “Ay, Ay, sir; we'll not come back without them.” Well, the gallant fellow kept his word, for every man was saved, though they had been in the water over two hours, and it was dark before the boat reached them. While relating this, I must not forget to do justice to the Virginia's boat's crew, who have been stationed constantly on board the McClellan. Master's Mate Rogers immediately manned his boat, and also started to their assistance. On the arrival of the fleet off Brazos Santiago, Mr. Comstock and Captain Phillips volunteered their services for the purpose of sounding the bar.

The work of disembarking the troops is nearly [149] complete, but two or three regiments yet remaining upon steamers drawing too much water to go over the bar. They are being transferred on board schooners and light-draught boats as rapidly as possible, and before to-morrow night every man will be ashore. We have had great trouble with the horses, and a large number yet remain upon the steamers. Those which were upon the light-draught vessels were disembarked on Brazos Island without difficulty; but how to get those safely ashore on the others is a mystery, the work of transferring them from one boat to another outside the bar being considered impossible on account of the swell. The Peabody yesterday morning approached as near the shore as possible, when eight or ten were lowered into the water in the hope that they would swim ashore, but as soon as they arrived at the breakers they became frightened, and more than half were drowned. If the sea subsides, the horses will be placed in slings and transferred in a few hours.

Wednesday, November 4.--The troops are all safely disembarked. The men are in excellent health and spirits, and, though ready to meet the enemy when called upon, I must say that they are not “dying” for a fight; nor have I during this war ever met with a single soldier in such a lamentable situation.

The horses are being slowly transferred from one steamer to another, the motion of the sea outside the bar rendering it both difficult and dangerous. We have had fine weather the last three or four days. This is necessary, as, if a storm of long duration had occurred, nearly all the horses on the steamers drawing more than nine feet must have perished.

Five o'clock P. M..--We have just received official news of the greatest importance.

The government buildings at Fort Brown were burned to the ground yesterday by the rebel garrison, preparatory to their evacuating the Fort.

From the same source we learned that about this time (three o'clock on Tuesday afternoon) a squad of sixty rebel cavalry, which had witnessed the landing of the soldiers under the guns of the Monongahela, at the mouth of the Rio Grande, dashed into Brownsville and commenced setting fire to the buildings, with the intention of destroying the town. The property-holders and Union men resisted them, when the secessionists joined the cavalry, and a bloody street-fight took place, which lasted all the afternoon, the buildings burning in every direction around them. The fight was still going on when the messenger left for the purpose of communicating the news to the General Commanding.

The Fifteenth Maine, which was in the advance at the time, at once received orders to march without delay, and by daylight to-morrow morning, this regiment, with others in supporting distance, will be in Brownsville.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
November 2nd, 1863 AD (1)
November 4th (1)
November 3rd (1)
October 30th (1)
August 26th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: