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[184]

Battle of Pleasant Hill--an error corrected.

By General H. P. Bee.

San Antonio, Texas, February, 1880,
Rev. J. Wm. Jones, Secretary Southern Historical Society, Richmond, Va.:
It has been said that “history is the concurrent opinion of the day.” The Philadelphia Times newspaper has been collating and publishing for a considerable time annals of the war, which purport to be, or are intended to mould, the concurrent opinion of the American people upon the subjects of that great contest, and hence it becomes desirable, if not important, to correct the errors of its issues.

I have observed in an article published in that paper from the pen of Captain Burns, of the staff of General A. J. Smith, on the Red river expedition in the spring of 1864, a statement that is incorrect, and I propose to correct it through the authentic medium of the press of the Southern Historical Society, and to that end respectfully offer the following observations. He says:

Our rear guard did not leave Pleasant Hill until day was breaking. During the forenoon, while our surgeons (who were left on the battlefield) were trying to make comfortable the wounded, they were surprised at the appearance of a party from the camp of the enemy under a flag of truce, asking permission to bury the dead.

The battle of Pleasant Hill was fought by General Taylor, under the impression that he had defeated Banks' army at Mansfield the day before. This opinion would seem to have been justly formed, from the incidents of that battle. The captured train, the captured cannon, the thousands of prisoners, the pursuit at dawn the next morning by the cavalry under my command, encountering burning wagons, scattered material of war, the capture of prisoners along the road, who had strayed from their commands or been lost in the darkness of the night — all told of a defeated and demoralized army. General Taylor himself told me at three o'clock of the day of the battle of Pleasant Hill, that the superb line of battle which I had watched all day, with its serried lines compact and entrenched, and which he had not seen, “was a mere feint to cover the retreat of their wagon trains.” On this hypothesis, he formed his plan of attack, and with a force of less than 12,000 men of all arms, tired and worn by severe fighting the day before and by a march [185] for the infantry of twenty miles that day (the distance between Mansfield and Pleasant Hill), actually attacked a force of 25,000 men entrenched in line of battle. That he was unsuccessful is not surprising. The right wing, comprised of most of his infantry force, although in places they broke the line of entrenchments, and left many of their dead within the enemy's line, yet were repulsed, and so far as the attack on the right was concerned, it was unsuccessful; but the left-centre and left wing of the Confederate line, composed of Polignac's small division of infantry and the cavalry corps dismounted, under General Tom Green, were not defeated or driven back; they drove their foes within the line of their entrenchments, and held them there, although not able to break it, and in that position night found them. I retired from the field after dark to the hill on the road leading from Mansfield to Pleasant Hill, from which the Confederate batteries, it may be recollected, first opened fire, which position I had occupied all day and where my headquarters and servants were; and this statement, made with the positiveness of actual certainty, contradicts the statement of pursuit and defeat of the Confederate troops. Our army retired that night to where there was water, some eight miles in the rear, and there encamped.

I assent that General E. Kirby Smith, Commander-in-Chief of the Trans-Mississippi Department, who had ridden that day sixty miles from Shreveport, General Richard Taylor and myself, drank coffee together at my camp-fire, between eight and nine o'clock that night, and that the place was not more than eight hundred yards from the village of Pleasant Hill, and I thus contradict the assertion that the Confederate force were routed and driven from the field.

At about nine o'clock P. M., General Taylor ordered me “to return to the battlefield, picket up to the enemy's lines, and give him the earliest report of their movements in the morning.” General Smith and General Taylor then returned to Mansfield, and I to the position I had occupied during the battle of the afternoon, with four companies of the First Texas cavalry, and threw out pickets up to the Federal lines. The night was dark, and an occasional shot was fired by the pickets as late as ten o'clock. The noise and confusion in the Federal lines was noted — movement of wagons, felling of trees, denoting, as was thought, that the wounded from the battlefield were being sought for and carried into the hospitals. Towards midnight all was quiet. At dawn of [186] day the pickets advanced with due caution, and at sunrise I was myself in Pleasant Hill, at the house of a kind lady, whose name I forget, whence General Banks left at eight o'clock of the evening before, as she told me. Very soon after I was waited on by a number of surgeons of the Federal army, who had been left in care of their wounded, who, after stating their orders, awaited my pleasure whether they would be held as prisoners of war or allowed to attend to their duties. My answer was of course to offer any assistance within the scope of our limited ability, and to refer the question of their status to the Commanding-General.

I thus show that Captain Burns' statement, of course made from hearsay, that these same surgeons received a flag of truce from the Confederates during that morning, is incorrect.

I do not propose to write up the battle of Pleasant Hill--only to correct positive inaccuracies.

H. P. bee, Ex-Brigadier-General C. S. A., Commanding First Division, Green's Cavalry Corps.

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