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Chapter 20: from Shiloh to New Orleans.

  • Sunshine and Shadow
  • -- clouds gather in the West -- Island no.10 -- Shiloh -- Illustrative valor -- deep depression -- was Johnston hounded to his death? -- fall of New Orleans -- odd situation of her captors -- Butler in command -- his place in southern opinion -- strategic results -- popular discontent -- effect on the fighters -- Butler and the women -- Louisiana soldiers.
    Within two weeks of his inauguration, the strongly hopeful words of President Davis seemed to approach fulfillment, through the crushing victory of the “Merrimac” in Hampton Roads, on the 8th March. There was no doubt of the great success of her first experiment; and the people augured from it a series of brilliant and successful essays upon the water. The late bugbear-gunboats-began to pale before the terrible strength of this modern war-engine; and hopes were cherished that the supremacy afloat — which had been the foundation of the claim of Federal victory — was at an end.

    On the 23d of the same month, Jackson — who was steadily working his way to the foremost place in the mighty group of heroesstruck the enemy a heavy blow at Kernstown. His success, if not of great material benefit, was at least cheering from its brilliance and dash.

    But the scale, that trembled and seemed about to turn in favor of the South, again went back on receipt of the news of Van Dorn's defeat, on the 7th March, in the trans-Mississippi. Price and his veterans — the pride of the whole people, and the great dependence in the West-had been defeated at Elk Horn. And again the calamity assumed unwonted proportions in the eyes of the people from the death of Generals Ben McCollough and McIntosh--the former a great favorite with Government, army and public.

    This news overshadowed the transient gleam from Hampton Roads and Kernstown; plunging the public mind into a slough of despond, in which it was to be sunk deeper and deeper with each successive despatch.

    After Nashville, Island No.10--a small marsh-surrounded knob in the Mississippi river-had been selected by General Beauregard, and fortified with all the appliances of his great engineering skill, until deemed well-nigh impregnable. It was looked upon as the key to the defenses of the river, and of the line of railroad communication [167] between New Orleans and the West with the Capital. In the middle of March the Federal flotilla commenced a furious bombardment of that station; and though a stubborn defense was conducted by its garrison, some boats succeeded in running its batteries on the 6th April. It was then deemed necessary at once to abandon the post, which was done with such precipitate haste that over seventy valuable guns-many of them perfectly uninjured; large amounts of stores, and all of the sick and wounded, fell into the hands of the captors.

    On the same day was joined the hardest and bloodiest battle that had to this time drenched the land with the best blood in it.

    General Grant, with an army of not less than 45,000 fresh and well-equipped soldiers, had been facing General A. S. Johnston, seeking to amuse him until a junction with Buell could surely crush his small force — not aggregating 30,000 effective men. To frustrate this intent, Johnston advanced to the attack on the plains of Shiloh, depending upon the material of his army, and his disposition of it, to equalize the difference of numbers.

    At early dawn on Sunday, the 6th April, General Hardee, commanding the advance of the little army, opened the attack. Though surprised — in many instances unarmed and preparing their morning meal — the Federals flew to arms and made a brave resistance, that failed to stop the onward rush of the southern troops. They were: driven from their camp; and the Confederates-flushed with victory,, led by Hardee, Bragg and Polk, and animated by the dash and ubiquity of Johnston and Beauregard-followed with a resistless sweep that hurled them, broken and routed, from three successive lines of entrenchments. The Federals fought with courage and tenacity. Broken, they again rallied; and forming into squads in the woods, made desperate bush-fighting.

    But the wild rush of the victorious army could not be stopped! On its front line swept!-On, like the crest of an angry billow, crushing resistance from its path and leaving a ghastly wreck under and behind it!

    While leading a charge early in the afternoon, General Johnston received a Min16-ball in his leg. Believing it but a flesh wound, he refused to leave the ground; and his falling from his horse, faint with, the loss of blood, was the first intimation the staff had of its serious nature; or that his death, which followed almost immediately, could result from so slight a wound. [168]

    The loss of their leader was hidden from the men; and they drove the enemy steadily before them, until sunset found his broken and demoralized masses huddled on the river bank, under cover of the gunboats.

    Here Grant waited the onset, with almost the certainty of annihilation. But the onset never came; that night Buell crossed upward of 20,000 fresh troops; the broken army of Grant was reformed; Wallace's division of it joined the main body; and next day, after a terrible and disastrous fight, the southrons slowly and sullenly retired from the field they had so nobly won the day before.

    A horrid scene that field presented, as foot by foot the fresh thousands of the Federals wrenched it from the shattered and decimated Confederates; the ground furrowed by cannon, strewn with abandoned arms, broken gun-carriages, horses plunging in agony, and the dead and dying in every frightful attitude of torture!

    The battle of Shiloh was the bloodiest of the war. The little army of the South had lost near one-third of its whole number; while the Federals had bought back their camp with the loss of not less than 16,000 men.

    And, while the bloodiest field, none had so splendidly illustrated the stubborn valor of the men and the brilliant courage of their leaders. Gladden had fallen in the thickest of the fight-,the circumstances of his death sending a freshened glow over the bright record he had written at Contreras and Molino del Rey. The names of Bragg, Hardee and Breckinridge were in the mouths of men, who had been held to their bloody work by these bright exemplars. Wherever the bullets were thickest, there the generals were foundforgetful of safety, and ever crying-“Come!”

    Governor Harris had done good service as volunteer aid to General Johnston; and Governor George M. Johnson, of Kentucky, had gone into the battle as a private and had sealed his devotion to the cause with his blood. Cheatham and Bushrod Johnson bore bloody marks of the part they took; while Breckinridge, who had already won undying fame, added to his reputation for coolness, daring, and tenacity, by the excellence with which he covered the rear of the army on its retreat to Corinth.

    The results of the battle of Shiloh-while they gave fresh cause for national pride — were dispiriting and saddening. It seemed as though [169] the most strenuous efforts to marshal fine armies-and'the evacuation of city after city to concentrate troops — were only to result in an indiscriminate killing, and no more; as if the fairest opportunities for a crushing blow to the enemy were ever to be lost by error, or delay.

    The death of General Johnston, too-seemingly so unnecessary from the nature of his wound-caused a still deeper depression; and the public voice, which had not hesitated to murmur against him during the eventful weeks before the battle, now rose with universal acclaim to canonize him when dead. It cried out loudly that, had he lived through the day of Shiloh, the result would have been different.

    It must be the duty of impartial history to give unbiased judgment on these mooted points; but the popular verdict, at the time, was that Beauregard had wasted the precious moment for giving the coup-de-grace. The pursuit of the Federals stopped at six o'clock; and if, said people and press, he had pushed on for the hour of daylight still left him, nothing could possibly have followed but the annihilation, or capitulation, of Grant's army.

    On the other hand, Beauregard's defenders replied that the army was so reduced by the terrible struggle of twelve hours-and more by straggling after the rich spoils of the captured camp — as to render further advance madness. And in addition to this, it was claimed that he relied on the information of a most trusty scoutnone other than Colonel John Morgan--that Buell's advance could not possibly reach the river within twenty-four hours. Of course, in that event, it was far better generalship to rest and collect his shattered brigades, and leave the final blow until daylight.

    An erroneous impression prevailed in regard to this fight, that Johnston had been goaded into a precipitate and ill-judged attack by the adverse criticisms of a portion of the press. No one who knew aught of that chivalric and true soldier would for an instant have believed he could lend an ear to such considerations, with so vast a stake in view; and the more reasonable theory came to be accepted — that he desired to strike Grant before the heavy columns that Buell was pouring down could join him.

    At al events, the sad waste of position and opportunity, and the heavy loss in brilliant effort and valuable lives, caused equal dissatisfaction [170] and gloom. Beauregard's new strategic point commanded a valuable sweep of producing territory, protected the communications, and covered Memphis. Still people were not satisfied; and tongues and pens were busy with the subject, until an event occurred that wrapped the whole country in wondering and paralyzing grief.

    On the 26th April New Orleans surrendered to Admiral Farragut!

    The Federal fleet had long been hovering about the twin forts at the mouth of the river; and daily telegrams of the progress of the bombardment and of their impregnability had schooled the country into the belief that the city was perfectly secure. Day after day the wires repeated the same story of thousands of shell and nobody hurt, until inquiry ceased to be even anxious; and the people were ready to despise this impotent attempt upon the most important point of the far South.

    So secure had the Government been in her defenses, that regiment after regiment had been withdrawn from New Orleans and sent to Corinth, until General Lovell found his command reduced to less than three thousand effective men-and more than half of these local militia and volunteer organizations.

    Suddenly came the despatch that the fleet had passed the forts at dawn on the 24th! All was consternation in the city. The confidence had been so great that daily avocations went on as usual; and the news found every one as unprepared for it, as though no enemy had been near.

    Confusion ruled the hour. General Lovell reached the city from below; and, feeling that his handful of men could effect nothing and might only offer an excuse for bombardment, he yielded to the desire of the city authorities and withdrew to Camp Moore. He carried with him all the munitions and supplies that were capable of transportation; and held himself ready to return at a moment's notice from the Council.

    Meanwhile, the Federal fleet had engaged the Confederate flotilla --consisting of an incomplete iron-clad, a plated tow-boat ram, and eight or ten useless wooden shells-and after a desperate fight had driven them off only to be blown up, one by one, by their own commanders.

    The water-batteries then offered no effective resistance. The obstructions had been opened to remove accumulated raft, and could [171] not be closed; and the fleet moved slowly up to seize the rich prize that lay entirely within its grasp.

    On the 26th April, the “Hartford” leading the van, it anchored off the city to find it hushed as death and wrapped in the eddying smoke-clouds from fifteen thousand burning bales of cotton. After the first burst of consternation, the people took heart; and even at the sight of the enemy's shipping did not lose all hope. There were no soldiers aboard; Butler's army could not dare the passage of the forts in the shells of transports that contained it; the fleet, cut off as it was from all re-enforcement and supply, could, at worst, only shell the city and retire-again running the gauntlets of the two forts; and then the only loss to the city — for the flotilla in its incomplete state could not have been made effective as a defense-would have been the cotton and the trifling damage done by the shells.

    So the people hoped on. A long correspondence, coupled with reiterated threats of bombardment, ensued between Mayor Monroe and Admiral Farragut, relative to the State flag that still floated over the Custom House. Still the city was not in Federal power and there might yet be a chance.

    But on the 28th, the news of the fall of the forts in consequence of the surrender of their garrisons-took the last support from the most hopeful. The city yielded utterly; the marines of the “Hartford” landed, took formal possession, raised the stars and stripes over the City Hall; and the emblem of Louisiana's sovereignty went down forever!

    Three days after, General Butler landed and took command of the city, for which he had not struck a blow. He stationed his garrison in the public buildings, the hotels, and even in private houses; and then commenced a system of oppression and extortion, that-while it made the blood boil in the veins of every southron — has sent his name to the honest thinkers of the future linked with a notoriety which all history proves to be unique.

    The annals of the war are not free from small pilferers and vicious imbeciles; but high above the tableau they form, this warrior has perched himself upon a pinnacle-let us hope-unattainable again!

    It is hard to overrate the consequences of the fall of New Orleans. The commercial city and port of the whole South-west-its depot and granary — the key to communication with the trans-Mississippi, and [172] the sentinel over vast tracts of rich and productive territory-her loss was the most stunning blow that had yet been dealt the cause of the South.

    It opened the whole length of the Mississippi as a new base for operations against the interior; and gave opportunities for establishing a series of depots, from which the Federal armies — if ever beaten and shattered-could be rapidly and effectively recruited.

    Not the least disastrous effect of this blow was its reception by the people. After the first bitter wail went up over the land, inquiry came from every quarter how long this state of things could last. Position after position-fortress after fortress-city after cityde-clared impregnable by the Government up to the very last moment, fell suddenly and mysteriously; only to expose, when too late, the chain of grievous errors that inseparably linked the catastrophe with the Government.

    The public demanded at least an explanation of these things-a candid expose of the condition to which they were reduced. If told they were battling hopelessly for their frontiers; that the enemy was too strong and the extent of territory too large for sure defense; if told, even, there were grave reason to doubt the ultimate issue-they were yet willing to battle for the hope, and to go uncomplainingly to the front and face the gloomy truth.

    But to be buoyed day by day with high-sounding protestations of invincibility, only to see their strongest points dropping, one by one, into the lap of the enemy; to be lulled into security to find, too late, that the Government had deceived them, while it deceived itself; and thus to imbibe a deep distrust of the hands in which their hopes and the future were placed-this was more than they could bear; and “a thick darkness that could be felt” brooded over the land.

    But as yet this feeling had not begun in any way to react upon the army. The hardy soldiers had enough to do to keep them busy; and besides had laid up a stock of glorious reminiscences, upon which to fall back when bad news reached them. Only the bare facts of these rapid and — terrible blows reached the camps; and stubborn, hard-fisted “Johnny Reb,” looked upon them smilingly as reverses to be made up to-morrow, or the next time he caught “Mr. Yank.”

    To the Louisiana soldiers, the news of the fall of their beautiful city had a far deeper and more bitter import. Some of the business men of New Orleans, who remained in the city, yielded to the promptings [173] of interest and fell to worshipping the brazen calf, the Washington high priest had set up for them. Some refused to degrade themselves and remained to be taught that might is right; and that handcuffs are for the conquered. Others collected what little they could and fled to Europe; while nobler spirits eluded the vigilance of their captors and came by scores into the Confederate camps.

    But the women of New Orleans were left behind. They could not come; and against them the Pontiff of Brutality fulminated that bull, which extorted even from the calm and imperturbable British Premier the exclamation--“Infamous!”

    The intended insult fell dead before the purity of southern womanhood; but the malignancy that prompted it seared deep into their hearts. Though their defenders were away, the women of New Orleans rose in their majesty of sex; and, “clothed on with chastity,” defied the oppressor and called on manhood everywhere to judge between him and them. As , “When the face of Sextus was seen amid the foes” in those earlier days when Roman womanhood was roused to defy that elder traducer-

    No women on the housetops
    But spat toward him and hiss'd;
    No child but scream'd out curses
    And shook its little fist!

    And the cry echoed in the hearts of the Louisianians in the battle's front. It mattered not so much to them if the defenses had been neglected; if the proper precautions had not been taken, and their firesides and families sacrificed, while they were battling so nobly far away. They only felt that those dear homes-their wives, and sisters, and sweethearts — were now in the relentless grasp of a hero who burned to war against women.

    And deep in their souls they swore a bitter oath to fight in the future, but only for the cause they loved, but for themselves; to strike each blow, nerved by the thought that it was for the redemption of their homes and their loved ones; or, if not for this — for vengeance t Gradually this spirit inoculated their fellow-soldiers. The bitter feelings of the struggle, strong enough before, became intensified; and in every Confederate camp was brewing a sullen and somber war-cloud, the sudden flashes from which were to strike terror to the heart of the North before that summer was done.

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