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Official report of General R. L. Gibson of the defence and fall of the Spanish Fort.

[From manuscript in our possession.]

Meridian, Miss., April 16, 1865.
Major D. W. Flowerree, Assistant Adjutant-General, District of the Gulf:
Major: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of the forces under my command on the eastern shore of Mobile bay:

On the 23d of March, I was ordered by Major-General Maury, commanding District of the Gulf, to report with my brigade to Brigadier-General St. John Liddell, at Blakely, and by him directed to move towards Deer Park, near Fish river, and with two regiments of Holtzclaw's brigade, Colonel Bush. Jones commanding, and Colonel P. B. Spence's cavalry, to hold the enemy in observation. The following day I disposed these troops for this purpose, and early the next morning the enemy moved in force on the Durant road, towards Sibley's Mills, about two miles to the east, beyond Spanish Fort, in the direction of Blakely. I had selected a line of battle on the north side of D'Olive Creek, intending to dispute its passage and develop him, having already thrown my small cavalry force upon his flanks with orders to harrass him. At this point the Major-General commanding District of the Gulf came up to offer battle with his whole force; but in consequence of the rapid movement of the enemy to our left and rear, as above indicated, the larger portion of the troops were ordered to Blakely under Brigadier-General Liddell, and my instructions were to assume immediate command of the defences of Spanish Fort. Set apart for this purpose were Brigadier-General Bryan M. Thomas' brigade of Alabama Reserves, about nine hundred and fifty muskets strong; Colonel I. W. Patton's artillery, three hundred and sixty effectives; and my own brigade of five hundred rifles, Colonel F. L. Campbell commanding. Batteries Huger and Tracy likewise constituted a part of this general command; and the garrisons in them, under Major Wash. Marks, Twenty-second Louisiana Artillery, formed Patton's Artillery, but are not included in the above estimate; for though they-rendered valuable services, [216] they only furnished occasional reinforcements in defence of the field-works near the Water Battery, called Spanish Fort.

Upon examination I discovered the line of defence to be about three thousand five hundred yards long, enclosing a battery of four heavy guns in Spanish Fort, overlooking the bay, and strengthened by three redoubts so located that they commanded very well the right and center of the position.

The whole artillery consisted of six heavy guns, fourteen fieldpieces, and twelve Coehorn mortars. Several additional guns were received during the operations. Of this line there were four hundred yards on the extreme right, in front of which the forest had been cut down, but no defensive works constructed; about three hundred and fifty yards in the center, across a deep ravine, in front of which was only a slight curtain partially complete; and about six hundred yards on the extreme left, with no works of any kind, and the dense forest covering that flank untouched.

The three redoubts gave no mutual support with the exception of two guns in redoubts 2 and 3, and no cross-fire could be obtained. The main line from redoubt 3 was retired without any deviation, and the left flank was thrown back and fell off into such low ground that artillery could not be used to any extent along its front, as in a regularly laid out cremaillere. The works from redoubt 3 were placed so far back on the retreating slope that the infantry could only command its crest, but not the ravine beyond; and, generally, from the center to the extreme left flank, the enemy's line was upon the highest ground.

Such was the extent and incomplete condition of the defences at Spanish Fort when, on assuming command, I carefully inspected them.

It was apparent that an immense work with the spade, pick, and axe was before us, and that some decisive measure must be adopted to prevent the large army already upon our front from coming upon us vigorously or by an onset. At once the main body was disposed along the rifle-pits and set hard at work, though there was quite a deficiency of tools.

Special parties were detailed to lay off a long line of battle as far in advance of the position as they could go, and to make campfires along its whole length; and other devices were employed to create an exaggerated impression of our numbers and to conceal [217] the exact locality of our positions. To gain time, and by a show of confidence and boldness, to make the enemy cautious, I resolved to attack him before daylight the next morning. Lieutenant-Colonel R. L. Lyndsay, with five hundred and fifty men, in gallant style charged his lines, surprised and drove in his skirmishers, capturing a few prisoners and a large number of arms and accoutrements, and was only recalled after the enemy was revealed in a heavy and extended order of battle.

Our object seemed to be accomplished, for it was not until late in the evening that he advanced, feeling his way cautiously, and, making no assault, invested our defences.

My scouts had reported two corps d'armee in front of us (the Thirteenth and Sixteenth), Major-General Canby commanding. From information derived from the prisoners, and from drawings and maps captured with one of the engineers of the Sixteenth corps, I estimated the force to be not less than 20,000 muskets strong-perhaps much larger.

On his first advance he succeeded at some points in pushing his skirmishers to within two hundred yards; on the center and right he was driven back. Our artillery fire was reserved until his light batteries came well up, when it was suddenly opened, and it appeared to be with decided effect. On the left the ground was more favorable to the enemy, and to this fact and the want of works may be ascribed the nearness with which he was enabled to establish himself. On the right and center he was held at bay to the very close of the operations, nor did he at any time gain any decided advantages without severe contests and heavy losses. He sat down before us and developed rapidly a system of regular approaches by parallels. He gradually converted his advanced lines into heavy works, and after the first week displayed an exceedingly large armament of artillery. The absolute necessity of first completing our lines and the smallness of my force, prevented the attempt to meet his approaches by any system of advance. There was a great deficiency of tools. Spades, axes, and every available instrument that could be of service in any way were kept busy night and day from the commencement~ to the close. In the first days of the investment (the third I believe) Thomas' brigade of Alabama Reserves was relieved by Holtzclaw's and Ector's brigades, both together exceeding Thomas' by about one [218] hundred muskets. Large detachments from these commands did not rejoin them. While the transfer was being made, my force was greatly swollen, but the troops were for the most part out of position awaiting transportation. Sickness and constant heavy details diminished the number of muskets.

For the first ten days my artillery, aided by well trained sharpshooters, was able to cope with that of the enemy; sometimes silenced his guns and often broke up his working parties in handsome style; but after this time it was evident, from his overwhelming resources in men and guns, that it would be impossible with the means at my disposal to arrest his gradual advance. While he was steadily digging up to our front and flanks, his fleet kept up a well-directed and heavy fire in our rear, and mortars dropped over the entire surface shells of the largest size; his batteries in rear of his right flank bombarded batteries Huger and Tracy, exposing our communication and sweeping the woody flat upon the left flank, enfiladed for several hundred yards that part of the line, and took in reverse — the center and right — the batteries and riflepits. So his batteries in front of redoubt McDermott, No. 2, looked down upon our whole right, and took in reverse the left center and left.

Our works were shaped a good deal like a horse-shoe pressed open, and those batteries at the toe and heels could command every part of the line, and these batteries were of the weightiest metal. An expedition between us and Blakely, in Bay Minette, was daily growing more formidable, and it became necessary to guard our water flanks by picket-boats, and to dispose a considerable force to protect our rear and the telegraph lines, and the headway against his fleet and barges.

Several attempts were made by concentrated bombardment from day to day to demoralize the troops, with the intention to take advantage of any accident, and likewise repeated efforts to advance his lines without digging; but in each instance he was repulsed with a loss proportioned to the vigor of the attack.

At one time he established himself very close to redoubt 2, ahd it became necessary, in order to hold this battery and use it effectively, to dislodge him. It was designed to make a general attack on his part of the line to the extreme right, and Captain Clement S. Watson, my inspector general, led the sortie in front of the [219] battery and was completely successful. This party captured three times their own number of the enemy under cover of our artillery; and the moral effect was still more important, for it inspired our troops with a bolder spirit and the enemy with increased caution. After this the enemy guarded carefully against sudden dashes; and though frequent combats at particular points took place, and a few more sorties were contemplated, none could be undertaken with a reasonable prospect of success.

I found by the 8th of April that all my artillery was about silenced; that the enemy had largely increased his; that his working parties, greatly reinforced at every point and carefully protected against sorties, were pushing forward at a rate that would bring them up to our main works; that the pressure upon my flanks, especially the left, was so heavy that it would take my whole force to resist it successfully; that his preparations of launches in the Bay of Minettee had assumed formidable proportions; and finally, that there was unusual activity and movements in his lines.

I determined to develop the situation; to discover as accurately as possible his strength and intentions, and to measure our ability for further defence. It was apparent from his superiority in heavy guns and numbers, and the nearness of his approach at several points, that unless extraordinary reinforcements could be had, the moment had at length arrived when I could no longer hold the position without imminent risk of losing the garrison.

Not an officer or man had taken any unbroken rest, except such as they could snatch while on duty in the main works. When there was no fighting there was digging, cutting, moving ammunition, taking down and putting up heavy guns, and repairing damages and extending the main lines.

Two weeks of constant work, night and day, with the musket and spade, failed to discourage, but could not fail to fatigue and jade the troops.

Just at sunset, therefore, all the batteries were ordered to open, and the skirmishers and parts even of the main line to keep up a a brisk fire, and all officers to observe the enemy closely, and to hold themselves in readiness for any contingency.

My artillery was soon disabled and silenced, and the fire from his advanced lines showed them to be filled with men-strong lines of battle. [220]

Shortly after dark, while the firing was very heavy from all points, and especially upon the flanks, the enemy broke through the line on the extreme left, completely turned the flank of the main works and captured some of the men in them. He was enabled to do this, for the ground here was covered with water, a marshy and densely-wooded flat, and it had been impossible to get earth to throw up works or to make any covering for our men. A battery from an elevated point on the enemy's line, just in front of this flat, swept through it and rendered it almost untenable.

He was at once attacked with the force disposed in advance for this very contingency, and the moment General Holtzclaw gave the information, reinforcements were hastened to him with orders to drive back the enemy by a front and flank attack.

The general reported his force not sufficient for this purpose, and there was some confusion among the troops on the extreme left; that in the dark woods and fallen timber, the necessary disposition could not be made; and that the enemy was certainly in overwhelming strength. My staff officers and scouts brought similar intelligence. Colonel F. L. Campbell, commanding Gibson's brigade, was at once withdrawn from the right and directed to dispose a part of his command in skirmish order around the enemy, and to post the rest as a rear guard at the headway, so as to hold and secure the retreat. They at once drove back the advancing line of the enemy, and so strong and vigorous were these attacks that they soon compelled his overwhelming and constantly swelling forces to assume the defensive. He set to work to entrench. Our left might have been thrown back and re-established, but the labor for such an undertaking was altogether beyond our ability.

Moreover, he had advanced several hundred yards in rear of our works, and the probability arose almost to a certainty that as soon as he discovered where he really was, a general assault would be ordered; and he surely would ascertain this fact either during the night, or beyond all question, at daylight. His lodgment, too, when developed, would have enabled him to cut off retreat. I determined, therefore, to withdraw my troops.

My standing orders from Major-General D. H. Maury, commanding District of the Gulf, had been not to hold Spanish Fort for a moment after the garrison was in danger of capture — not to risk [221] in the defence of an outpost forces intended to occupy and defend the stronghold and the works around Mobile.

It was always a difficult and delicate task to decide, but I thought the moment had at length arrived contemplated by my instructions, when, however painful to the devoted defenders, the position had to be given up.

The guns were ordered to be spiked, and time was allowed for this purpose; the few remaining stores were issued; the sick and wounded were carefully removed — the infirmary corps and several hundred negroes who arrived that evening to be employed in the defence; and finally, in good order, the whole garrison was withdrawn. The retreat was along a narrow treadway, about eighteen inches wide, which ran from a small peninsula from the left flank across the river, and over a broad marsh to a deep channel opposite Battery Huger. It was about twelve hundred yards long and was commanded throughout by the enemy's heavy batteries in front of our left flank.

It was concealed by the high grass and covered with moss, and the troops pulled off their shoes, and thus, in a noiseless manner, succeeded in retiring without attracting the attention of the enemy. The night was rather dark and the movement could not be hurried. From the end of the treadway they were conveyed in light boats to Battery Huger, and thence to Blakely in steamers, except a few under Colonel Bush. Jones, who was directed to go up the marsh to Blakely. My scouts had already moved along this route with a view of ascertaining whether it was practicable. This was necessary in order to enable all the troops to get beyond range of the enemy's batteries before daylight. From Blakely they were ordered to Mobile by the Major-General commanding District of the Gulf. I regret to report that some of the skirmishers, in spite of the precautions taken and the ample time given, and the pointed inquiries made on the occasion, and the vigilance of brigade commanders and staff officers, which I did not fail to observe, were left upon the lines. The officers in command reported all their men called in and safe. It is to be hoped and presumed that these accidents will be satisfactorily explained. I deeply deplore the capture of even a part of these brave men.

I desire to express in the strongest terms my admiration of the steady valor and cheerful endurance of the officers and members [222] of Ector's, Holtzclaw's, and Gibson's brigades, as well as of Patton's Artillery. I thank them for their zealous co-operation and soldierly bearing: Brigadier-General J. F. Holtzclaw, commanding the left wing; Colonel J. A. Andrews, commanding Ector's brigade; Colonel Bush. Jones, commanding Holtzclaw's brigade; Colonel F. L. Campbell, commanding Gibson's brigade; Colonel Frank Zacherie, Colonel I. W. Patton, commanding the artillery; and also Brigadier-General Bryan M. Thomas and Colonel D. E. Huger, of the Alabama Reserves.

The artillery, under command of Patton, assisted by Marks, Slocomb, Barnes, Theard, Massenburg, Wells, Phillips, Chaleson, Leverich, Garrity, Hawkins, and their associated officers, was handled with skill and courage, and rendered valuable services not only on land but against the fleet. Three vessels were believed to be sunk during the operations.

I desire to make my special acknowledgment to the Major-General commanding District of the Gulf, and to his staff officers, particularly to yourself and Colonels Lockett and Elmore, of the Engineers. I may be pardoned for commending the intelligence and efficiency of my own staff officers-Captain C. S. Watson, Inspector-General; Captain George Norton, Adjutant-General; Lieutenants Cartwright Eustis and S. L. Ware, my Aides-de-Camp; Major W. V. Crouch, Commissary; Major J. H. Henshaw, Q. M.; and Captain W. P. Richardson, Ordnance Officer, were energetic and untiring. The medical department, in charge of Surgeon J. S. Holt and J. F. Fryar, was conducted in a manner highly creditable to them and their confreres.

The Rev. Father Turgis shared our dangers, and hardships, and gave the consolations of religion whenever occasion offered along the trenches and in the hospital.

I must refer you to the reports of my subordinate officers for the details of their operations. The losses reported up to the evacuation were seventy-three killed, three hundred and fifty wounded, and about half a dozen missing. I have not been able to get the exact number of casualties on the evening of the evacuation I estimate our loss to have been about twenty killed and forty-five wounded, and two hundred and fifty captured, making a total loss of ninety-three killed, three hundred and ninety-five wounded, and two hundred and fifty missing-out of a force of less [223] than two thousand men, contending for two weeks against two corps d'armee and a large fleet, with over seventy-five cannon on land and nearly as many on water. We had no means of estimating the exact loss or strength of the enemy, but from every indication he largely exceeded twenty thousand muskets, and his loss must have reached twenty-five hundred.

Among the killed were Colonel Burnett, Chief of Artillery of the District of the Gulf, who fell while examining the enemy's lines. His loss was greatly lamented by all of us, who knew and admired him as a skilful soldier and accomplished gentleman. Lieutenant A. G. Clark, of my staff, commandant of the post, was killed while charging at the head of the garrision guard to dislodge the enemy when he had turned the left flank. Louisiana has not lost during the war a truer man or a more thorough-going soldier.

The list might be prolonged; for, with the position, we left behind, filling soldiers' graves, many of the bravest and best; and if any credit shall attach to the defence of Spanish Fort, it belongs to the heroes whose sleep shall no more be disturded by the cannon's roar.

I have the honor to remain your obedient servant,

R. L. Gibson, Brigadier-General, Commanding.
P. S.-I have been constantly occupied most of the time on horseback, and some of the officers have been absent. This may account for any inaccuracies.

R. L. Gibson, Brigadier-General.

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