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Operations of the artillery of the army of Western Louisiana, after the battle of Pleasant Hill.

Report of Colonel J. L. Brent.

head quarters of artillery, Dist. West Louisiana, in the field, May 20th, 1864.
Major E. Surget, Assistant Adjutant General:
Major,--I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of the artillery of this army, since the battle of Pleasant Hill.

On the 10th and 13th of April, on the north bank of Red river, Lieutenant Coleman, commanding section of Ralston's battery, and Lieutenant T. Jeff. Key, commanding section of Cameron's battery, engaged the enemy's transports and gunboats, firing the aggregate number of 105 rounds of ammunition. The steam pipe of a gunboat was cut and a transport and gunboat were reported as badly crippled.

These two sections were under the immediate command of Captain Fauntleroy, Chief of Artillery of General Liddell's command.

On the 12th of April, the Howitzer section of Captain J. A. A. West's Horse Artillery engaged in the sanguinary combat of Blair's Landing, firing with effect on the transports, and being exposed to a terrible fire from the iron-clads.

Captain West and his men behaved with gallantry and coolness. In this engagement Major-General Thomas Green was killed.

On the 23d and 24th of April, Captain I. T. M. Barnes, with his battery, reporting to General Steele, engaged the rear guard of the enemy at and beyond Cloutierville with fine effect, firing 215 rounds of ammunition. Captain Barnes and his men exhibited coolness and courage in contending against great odds.

On the 23d of April, at Monette's Ferry, Major Semmes, with Moseley's, McMahon's, West's (Lieutenant Yoist commanding), and the rifle section of Nettles's (Lieutenant Hume commanding), disputed the passage of Cane river, and held the enemy in check until our left was turned, when the batteries were withdrawn, Mosely's covering the rear. [258]

Lieutenant Fontaiue, commanding a section of McMahon's artillery, posted on our extreme left, distinguished himself by remarkable coolness and bravery to which we are indebted for the safety of his two guns, which, placed in a very critical position, would have been lost but for the exhibition of these qualities. These batteries fired on that day 533 rounds ammunition.

The artillery, being withdrawn, marched all night, and reached Beasley's, 30 miles distant, at 1 A. M., 24th instant, and at 12 M., same day, were ordered to march to Carroll Jones's, 20 miles distant, which was accomplished by sun-down.

The batteries were here halted, by order of General Bee, and did not reach McNutt's hill until the enemy's train had passed, but Major Semmes took McMahon's and West's batteries into the plain and skirmished with the enemy.

The endurance exhibited by Major Semmes and his command of artillery has not been surpassed in this or any other war. For four days the horses did not have a grain of corn, and for two days the men were without rations. The active nature of the campaign forbade the horses from being unharnessed even when resting, except at rare intervals, and the barren nature of the pine woods made, in the neighborhood of Beasly's, more barren by fire, gave the scantiest grazing.

The march from Monette's Ferry to Beasly's, and then back to Carroll Jones's, fifty miles, was made in about twenty-six hours. Notwithstanding all these privations, I found on the 26th and 27th of April, when personally inspecting this command, the officers and men cheerful, and still eager to be brought to the front.

On the evening of the 26th of April, Captain Cornay, with his battery, consisting of two twelve pounder brass guns and two howitzers, engaged on Red river, above the lower mouth of Cane river, three Federal gunboats and two transports, which attempted to pass him.

The transport Champion, No. 3, was struck in the boiler by a solid shot, and was enveloped in hot steam and water. This transport was loaded with near two hundred negroes, consisting of men, women and children, taken from the plantations above, and most recklessly and cruelly attempted, under the convoy of gunboats, and under actual fire, to be run through the lines of our army.

The twelve pound gun solid shot which struck the boiler of the transport, was probably the most fatal single shot fired during the war, producing the death of one hundred and eighty-seven human beings, over one-half instantaneously, and the remainder within twenty-four [259] hours. All on board except three perished by the most frightful of deaths, and the steamer fell into our hands.

The three gunboats and the transport still above, persisted in their attempt to run the gauntlet of the battery. One of these, reported by the prisoners to be the “Cricket,” flagship of the Mississippi squadron, with Rear-Admiral Porter commanding squadron, on board, succeeded in running by the four light field guns, composing Cornays battery, though searched with fatal effect by their rapid and precise fire, which drove the more numerous guns, and heavier calibre of metal of the flagship into the total abandonment of her consorts and convoy, which latter, unable and unwilling to submit any longer to the close and accurate fire of this gallant but unsheltered and uncovered battery, turned their bows up stream and retired from the fight. In this engagement fell the gallant gentleman and brave soldier, Captain F. O. Cornay, while courageously and efficiently directing the fire of his battery against these gunboats.

On the next morning, the 27th, the remaining gunboats undertook to pass the battery, convoying the transport Champion No. 5; after a short engagement, the gunboats, receiving serious damage from this heroic battery, ingloriously fled and left the transport exposed to so fatal a fire that she soon sunk and became our prize. In these two engagements the battery fired 243 rounds of ammunition. Colonel Caudle, of Polignac's division, with his sharp-shooters, rendered gallant and effective support to the battery, and his men are entitled to special commendation for courage and accurate firing. The conduct of the officers and men of this efficient four-gun battery in these two engagements, in which, without protection of any kind, exposed at short range to the fire of the heavy guns of the gunboats, it engaged thirty times more than its weight of metal, drove to flight three gunboats fighting under the eye of Rear-Admiral Porter, and captured from them two valuable transports, entitles it to to the special notice of the Major-General commanding.1

On the morning of the 26th of April two gunboats of the enemy, one an iron plated monitor, supposed to be the Osage, and the other of [260] the class called tin-clad, mounting eight guns and protected by about an inch of iron, were discovered lying near De Loach's Bluff in Red river.

Benton's Rifle section, Captain Benton, commanding, and Nettles's Smooth-bore section, Lieutenant Smith, commanding, (Captain Nettles present), supported by Major Williams, with a battalion of sharpshooters, were placed in position and opened fire on the tin-clad, who, after severe punishment, rapidly fled after an engagement of thirty minutes.

The iron plated monitor poured a heavy enfilading fire on the artillery and its support, but no attention was paid to it, in obedience to general artillery orders not to reply to the fire of the iron-plated monitors, and our whole fire was directed on the eight-gun gunboat.

On the 28th of April, General Majors, with his division, attacked and drove the enemy on the Bayou Rapides road back towards Alexandria, and Major Semmes took McMahon's battery with him to support the movement. Captain McMahon gallantly performed his part, moving his battery to the front and firing on the enemy repeatedly, at 600 and 800 yards, with considerable effect.

From the 2nd to the 8th May inclusive, Captain Mosely, with his battery, reporting to Brigadier-General Steele, was engaged in many affairs with the enemy on Bayou Rapides.

On the 5th and 7th, at Middle Bayou, Graham's and Long's, he was of efficient service in checking advances of the enemy made in great force.

On the 6th and 7th, Captain H. C. West, with his battery, also reported to Brigadier-General Steele.

On the 7th, Mosely's and West's batteries covered the withdrawal of our forces over Gordon's bridge, driving back the enemy, when they pressed on too rapidly, and delivering some rounds of canister.

On the 5th May, Captain Benton, reporting to Brigadier-General Bee, after a night march of twenty-two miles, engaged the advance of the enemy at Polk's plantation, and punished him severely. He held one position with sufficient tenacity to enable him to fire canister upon the advancing enemy.

On the 6th May his battery covered the crossing of the cavalry when driven over Polk's bridge; and Captain Benton reports that he only crossed the bridge in rear of the cavalry. Just before our forces fell back to Lecompte, this battery was exposed to a heavy and flank fire of the enemy's much more numerous artillery, and stubbornly sustained the engagement, until both rifle guns were disabled by rapid firing. In [261] retiring, much coolness was observed in the officers and men in bringing off one of their howitzers, which had become disabled by the breaking of a linchpin, after all support had retired and while the enemy were advancing. The disabling of the rifle section of this battery accounts for its failure to take part in subsequent engagements.

On the 2nd May Captain J. A. A. West's battery of horse-artillery, Lieutenant John Yoist commanding, consisting of two ten-pound Parrott's and two twelve-pounder Howitzers, reached the southern bank of Red river, and immediately commenced skirmishing with the enemy's cavalry.

On the 3d May the United States transport, “City Belle,” having on board the One Hundred and Twentieth Ohio regiment, came up the river, and was engaged by the battery and sharp-shooters. The third shot from the rifle guns exploded her boilers, and she was run ashore on the opposite side. Lieutenant Yoist, aided by the cavalry and his cannoneers, then ran two pieces by hand to within one hundred yards of her, and she surrendered. The enemy's loss in killed and wounded was severe, and above two hundred prisoners were captured. The battery was then divided, one section being three miles from the other, but both on the river.

At sunrise on the 5th instant, the United States transport “Warner,” convoyed by the United States gunboats “Signal” and “Covington,” each mounting eight guns, came down from Alexandria and attempted to run past the battery. They succeeded, with considerable loss, in passing the upper section, and with the “Warner” in lead, unexpectedly encountered the lower section, commanded by Lieutenant Lyne, and so rapid was his fire that in fifteen minutes the “Warner” surrendered. The gunboats retired before the effective fire of these two guns and sought to shelter their sixteen guns behind a bend of the river, above Lieutenant Line's position, where his guns could not reach them. When the transport and two gunboats succeeded in passing Lieutenant Yoist above, this gallant officer, unwilling to give up the chase, and animated by the most gallant impulse, limbered up and continued the pursuit as rapidly as possible. He reached a point near where the gunboats, sheltered by the high river banks, were shelling Lieutenant Lyne. Lieutenant Yoist, not hesitating for a moment, unlimbered his pieces and ran them by hand out on the open bank, in 350 yards of the gunboats, and first directed his fire upon the “Covington.” Here occurred one of the most marvelous incidents of this extraordinary campaign. These two gunboats, attacked above and below by the four light field pieces of this battery, fled first from one and then from the [262] other, now seeking to escape below, and now above. The sharpshooters, under Colonel Baylor, joined in the perilous hunt, where the unprotected breasts of our men over-matched the heavy artillery and iron-clad bulwarks of the gunboats. At last the boiler of the “Covington” was exploded by shot from the battery, and she was fired and abandoned by the crew, and soon after blew up. Lieutenant Yoist then moved his rifled guns over the levee right upon the gunboat “Signal,” when she, with her officers and crew, surrendered. Soon after this another gunboat from below, attracted by the heavy firing, came up, was opened on by the ten-pounder Parrott guns, and driven back; apparently ashamed of this retreat, after a little while she returned, and in attempting to pass, received two shots through her hull from Lieutenant Lyne's section, and then precipitately abondoned the fight.

We saved the armament of the gunboat “Signal,” consisting of eight guns, and when the river falls will be able to secure the eight guns of the “Covington.”

Lieutenant Yoist, commanding this battery, reports that he at all times received effective, willing and gallant support from Colonel Baylor and his brigade. I cannot speak too highly of the courage and efficiency manifested by this brigade and Cornay's battery. It has conclusively established the fact that our field batteries, when well served and supported, can close the navigation of Red river against anything but the heaviest iron-plated gunboats of the enemy. In fact this was the case, for, intimidated by the disaster which overtook these gunboats, Admiral Porter for fifteen days abandoned the navigation of Red river, and only undertook to raise the blockade with the aid of their entire army and iron-clad fleet combined.

On the 12th inst., Major Squires placed Winchester's (formerly Faries) four rifled pieces, near Mme. Davids on Red river. Shortly after reaching there, an iron-plated gunboat of the first class, and a tin-clad passed up. It being contrary to my orders for the field batteries to engage gunboats of the first-named class, they were permitted to pass. Shortly afterwards the tin-clad, a little in advance of the iron-clad, came back. Captain Winchester ran his pieces out in an open field and opened on her with the greatest rapidity, firing with effect twenty-four rounds. She immediately backed up behind a point of the river bank, and the iron-clad being nearly at the point our guns were promptly and skilfully withdrawn. On the 15th inst., these guns were employed in heavy skirmishing near Marksville and Mansura.

On the 16th inst., Major-General Wharton determined to make a [263] temporary stand and force the enemy to display his force. At the request of Major-General Wharton, I made a reconnoissance of the country near Mansura and recommended to him, as suitable for the employment of artillery, the beautiful position at Mansura. He then ordered all the artillery to be put in position, and the following dispositions were made: Major Semmes, Chief of Artillery of Wharton's corps, having command on our right, placed in position H. C. West's and Winchester's batteries, of Squires's battalion, Major Squires commanding; McMahon, Mosely's and J. A. A. West's of his, Lennies battalion of horse artillery; and Major Faries, Chief of Artillery of Polignac's division, commanding on the left, was ordered to place in position Cornay's and Barnes's light batteries, and Lieutenant Bennett, with his two thirty-pound Parrott's. Lieutenant Tarleton was in command of Cornay's battery.

On the 16th, before sunrise, the engagement commenced, and soon swelled into the proportions of the most considerable artillery combat ever witnessed west of the Mississippi. Eighty pieces of artillery were engaged. The fire of our artillery was precise and effective, and whenever the dense masses of the enemy's infantry, which could be clearly discovered in the broad prairie, approached in range, it was immediately broken and driven back. The fire of the enemy was accurate but not effective, owing to the use of spherical case, at long range and defective shells.

As the enemy discovered the strength of our position, he began to mancoeuvre to turn it on our exposed left, concentrating on Barnes's and Cornay's batteries a very heavy fire, which was received with coolness and courage; and General Wharton, satisfied with the results that he had obtained, determined to withdraw, which was done without the least confusion. Major Semmes with great deliberation withdrew his batteries en echelon from our right; and on the left, Lieutenant Bennett with his heavy Parrotts, was first withdrawn, followed by Barnes, who had exhausted all his long range ammunition; Lieutenant Tarleton, commanding Cornay's battery, was the last to retire, and from his Napoleon section poured a heavy fire into the enemy at 300 yards range. Notwithstanding the heavy fire of artillery and infantry playing on it, this superb and veteran battery limbered to the rear, with the precision and coolness of parade and moved off at a walk, and only retired more rapidly in obedience to a positive order to that effect. The cavalry and infantry supports of the artillery in this engagement exhibited a solidity and steadiness indicative of admirable courage and resolution.

On the 17th instant, McMahon's battery, the rifle section of Winchester's, [264] commanded by Lieutenant Gaudet, and a six-pounder gun of H. C. West's battery, commanded by Lieutenant DuMay, opened with great effect on the flank of the enemy near Moreauville.

On the 18th instant, at Norwood, the artillery again became engaged under the immediate command of Major Semmes. Squires's battalion, consisting of Winchester's and H. C. West's batteries, Mosely's, McMahon's, J. A. A. West's, Val. Verde, and Faries's batteries under him, consisting of Barnes's and Cornay's were all brought into that stubborn and sanguinary action. Their conduct on this, as on many other occasions, was satifactory, and General Wharton reports that their aid prevented him from suffering a disaster.

In this long and eventful campaign, requiring on the part of the artillery officers the various and unusual qualities necessary for engaging gunboats, of fighting in masses and separately, of preceding an advance and covering a retreat, it is peculiarly gratifying to me to have nothing to express but commendation and praise.

While I cannot undertake to enumerate the names of all the officers commanding batteries, I feel it a duty and a pleasure to specially mention the valuable services rendered to the army by Major O. J. Semmes, chief of artillery of cavalry corps. Whenever it has been possible for him, he has been present in the various engagements in. which his batteries have taken part, and his skill and cheerful courage have always imparted additional vigor to our fire.

Major Squires reported to me for duty while we were at McNutt's Hill, and was assigned to the command of the reserve battalion of the army, and exhibited in the subsequent operations at Marksville, Mansura, and the bloody combat at Norwood, the high soldierly qualities to be expected from one who had served with such distinction in the army of Northern Virginia.

Major Faries, Chief of Artillery of Polignac's division, only took command in the latter days of the campaign, and at Mansura and Norwood displayed the same energy and courage that characterized him as a Captain.

I herewith transmit the reports of Major Semmes and Major Faries, of Major Squires, Captains Mosely, McMahon, Benton, Nettles, J. A. A. West, Lieutenant Yoist, Barnes, Lieutenant Berwick, Captains H. C. West and Winchester.

I have the honor to be, Major,

Yours respectfully,


Joseph L. Brent, Colonel and Chief of Artillery, &c.


Since this report was written Admiral Porter's report has been published. from which it seems the three gunboats were the Cricket, the Hindman and the Juliet. The admiral states that he encountered eighteen guns, which is very complimentary to the service of Captain Cornay's four guns.

He also says that the Cricket was struck thirty-eight times with shells and solid shot, and that she and the Juliet and Hindman lost forty-seven killed and wounded.

J. L. B. May, 1867.

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