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Military operations in Louisiana in 1862.1

by Richard B. Irwin, Lieutenant-Colonel, Assistant Adjutant-General, U. S. V.
On the 1st of May General Butler took possession of New Orleans, and immediately after-ward of all its outlying defenses.2 His instructions from General McClellan, as General-in-Chief, dated February 23d, the main object of which had now been so successfully accomplished, looked to the occupation of Baton Rouge as the next step, “and the opening of communication with the northern column, bearing in mind the occupation of Jackson, Mississippi.” Mobile was to follow. The whole force assigned to General Butler, for all purposes, was 18,000, but his actual force can at no time have exceeded 15,000; it was now probably about 13,000.3

Two weeks before this the “northern column,” under Pope, had been called from Fort Pillow to Corinth; consequently there was no longer a northern column to cooperate with; and Jackson, Mississippi, meant Beauregard's rear.

Promptly on the 2d of May Farragut moved the fleet up the river, and on the 8th General Butler sent Brigadier-General Thomas Williams, with 1400 men of the 4th Wisconsin and 6th Michigan regiments, and two sections of Everett's 6th Massachusetts battery. On the 12th the troops landed at Baton Rouge and took possession of the town. The advance of the fleet anchored below Vicksburg on the 18th, when Commander Lee and General Williams jointly demanded from “the authorities” the surrender of the town, which was refused.

The whole available force of the department, as things were then, could not have held Vicksburg. Farragut's guns were heavily handicapped by the extreme elevation required to reach the batteries on the bluff, 200 feet above the river, while Williams could not land till the batteries were silenced. After a thorough reconnoissance on the 25th it was decided to drop down the river, leaving six vessels to keep up a blockade and an occasional bombardment. The Confederates now rushed the work on their batteries on the river-front, and in a short time the whole ten were completed and about 25 heavy guns mounted.4

On the 29th of May the troops were back at Baton Rouge, where they landed and went into camp for the first time in three weeks; indeed, the men had been almost continuously on the crowded transports, in a great state of discomfort, since the 17th of April. General Butler sent up reen-forcements, and with them orders “to proceed to Vicksburg. with the flag-officer, and then take the town or have it burned at all hazards.”

Accordingly, on the 20th of June, General Williams again set out for Vicksburg, under convoy, this time with four regiments and ten guns: the 4th Wisconsin, 30th Massachusetts, 9th Connecticut, 7th Vermont, Nims's 2d Massachusetts battery, and two sections of Everett's; leaving the 21st Indiana, 6th Michigan, the remaining section of Everett's battery, and Magee's troop of cavalry to hold Baton Rouge against a possible attack from Camp Moore, near Tangipahoa. At Ellis's Bluffs, and again at Grand Gulf, troops were landed to drive off the field-batteries that had been firing upon the gun-boats. On the 25th the troops were back at Vicksburg where the bulk of the fleet and sixteen of Commodore Porter's mortar-boats, or “bombers,” as they were rather familiarly called, were now lying at anchor.

After the failure of the attack by Farragut and Porter's fleets on the 28th of June, Farragut sent an urgent appeal for aid to Halleck, at Corinth, [583] saying: “My orders, General, are to clear the river. This I find impossible without your assistance. Can you aid me in this matter to carry out the peremptory order of the President?” Unfortunately, Halleck's army was broken up; he was sending reenforcements to Curtis and Buell, and was being asked to send 25,000 men to McClellan. The Confederates, however, were able to send 10,000 men to the support of the defenders. Finally the Arkansas came out of the Yazoo and put an end to the operations, and the two fleets turned their backs on each other and on Vicksburg, and on the 26th of July, abandoning the canal, the troops landed once more at Baton Rouge.

Overwork, malaria, and scurvy, the result of privation, had done their work on Williams's men; of the 3200 men that went up the river barely 800 came back fit for duty.5

Van Dorn at once prepared to assume the offensive. As the last of the fleet steamed away from Vicksburg, Breckinridge set out for Camp Moore with five thousand picked men. There he was to pick up the troops under Brigadier-General Daniel Ruggles, raising the whole force to six thousand, and promptly attack Baton Rouge, in cooperation with the Arkansas. The plan was admirably conceived and put in motion with great promptness. As Van Dorn estimated Williams's force at 3500 (it was in fact less), with four or five of the same gun-boats that the Arkansas had already treated so cavalierly, he had a right to look for success.

Breckinridge organized his force in two divisions, the first commanded by Brigadier-General Charles Clark, consisting of the brigades of Brigadier-General B. H. Helm and Colonel T. B. Smith, 20th Tennessee; the second division under Brigadier-General Daniel Ruggles, comprising the brigades of Colonel A. P. Thompson, 3d Kentucky, and Colonel H. W. Allen, 4th Louisiana. To these forces were attached three batteries of artillery, two mounted companies and 250 Partisan Rangers.

Shortly after daylight on the 5th of August. a dense fog prevailing, Breckinridge moved to the attack, Ruggles deployed on the left of the road from Greenwell Springs to Baton Rouge, Clark on its right. Williams stood to receive the attack, his troops deployed in a single line, with reserves, covering the rear of the town. No attempt at intrenching had been made, and from the nature of the country, for the most part an elevated plateau surmounting the bluff, the line was open to attack from any direction except the river. From left to right the troops were posted thus: 4th Wisconsin beyond Bayou Grosse; 9th Connecticut next; 14th Maine at the crossing of the Bayou Sara and Greenwell Springs roads on the left of the latter; 21st Indiana on its

Private houses (in New Orleans) in which Confederate officers were confined.

right; 6th Michigan across the Perkins and Clay Cut roads near their fork; 7th Vermont and 30th Massachusetts in reserve supporting the center and right; the batteries from left to right, Manning, Everett, Nims, with Brown in reserve.

Ruggles was soon engaged; Clark took up the attack; and falling on fiercely they at first carried everything before them. Some of the tents that were in advance of the line of battle were occupied, and Brown's two guns were captured by the [584] 4th Louisiana, but immediately retaken by the 6th Michigan, together with the colors of their opponents. Then as the attack spent its vigor and developed its direction, Williams re-formed the 21st Indiana and 6th Michigan, rather roughly handled at first, on the new line. The 9th Connecticut moved by the flank to the support of their left; the 30th Massachusetts covered the interval on the left of the 6th Michigan, and the 4th Wisconsin went to the assistance of the 14th Maine, which had been stoutly holding its own against the onset of Clark. Finally the Union troops advanced to the attack, the Confederates in their turn were driven back in some disorder, and at 10 o'clock the battle was over, with the attack thrown off and the battle-field in the hands of the defenders.

The Union loss was 84 killed, 266 wounded, 33 missing, in all 383. Among the killed were Colonel George T. Roberts, 7th Vermont, and the gallant commander, Brigadier-General Thomas Williams, who fell pierced by a rifle-ball in the chest, just after giving the final order to attack. An extremely rigid disciplinarian, a thoroughly trained and most accomplished officer, and a man of the highest courage and honor, General Williams's death was long and deeply regretted in the department.

The Confederate loss was 84 killed, 315 wounded, 57 missing,--total, 456. Brigadier-General Charles Clark, commanding the First Division, was severely wounded and made prisoner, and also among the wounded were three brigade commanders, Colonels Thomas H. Hunt, A. P. Thompson, and H. W. Allen, the last two severely.

The iron-clad Essex, Commander William D. Porter, with the Cayuga and Sumter above the town, and the gun-boats Kineo, Lieutenant-Commander George M. Ransom, and Katahdin, Lieutenant F. A. Roe, contributed materially to the defense.

The numbers engaged cannot have been far from equal — about 2500 on either side.

When Williams fell, Colonel Thomas W. Cahill, of Connecticut, succeeded to the command. On the 6th he was relieved by Colonel Halbert E. Paine, 4th Wisconsin, who had been sent up from New Orleans by Butler on receiving the first news of the battle. Being still menaced by Breckin-ridge, the troops took up a new and shorter line, extending from Bayou Grosse by the tannery and penitentiary to the neighborhood of the capitol; at 3 o'clock every morning they stood to arms, and by the 13th Colonel Paine, with characteristic care and energy, had strongly intrenched the arsenal grounds, with 24 guns in position, and with the cooperation of the navy concerted every measure for an effective defense against numbers. By General Butler's orders the library and a statue of Washington, in the capitol, were packed and shipped to New Orleans. On the 20th, by Butler's orders, Baton Rouge was quietly evacuated, and the troops, with all their material, proceeded to Camp Parapet, at Carrollton, just above New Orleans, where they set to work to extend and strengthen the old Confederate lines and put everything in good condition for defense.

Breckinridge had fallen back to Port Hudson, where, by Van Dorn's orders, the strong works were begun that were long to prove a formidable obstacle to the Union operations on the Mississippi. On the 19th of August Breckinridge was ordered by Bragg to leave the command in the hands of Ruggles and return to Mississippi.

The “Official Records” covering this period afford several strong hints of a Confederate plan for the recapture of New Orleans. Major-General Richard Taylor appears to have had that object committed to his special care when he was assigned (August 20th) to command in western Louisiana, and it seems likely that the troops of Van Dorn's department, as well as those at Mobile, were expected to take part.

Toward the end of September, Lieutenant Godfrey Weitzel, of the Engineers, having been made a brigadier-general on Butler's recommendation, was placed in command of a brigade of 4 regiments of infantry, 2 batteries and 4 troops of cavalry, and General Butler committed to his hands the preparations for dislodging Taylor's force and occupying the district of the La Fourche, important to the security of New Orleans because comprising or controlling all the fertile region between the Mississippi and the Atchafalaya. With the funds of the army, four light-draught gun-boats, the Estrella, Calhoun, Kinsman, and Diana, were quickly built, equipped, turned over to the navy, and sent to Berwick Bay, under Commander T. McKean Buchanan. When all was ready Weitzel took transports, under convoy, landed below Donaldsonville, entered the town, and on the 27th of October moved on Thibodeaux, the heart of the district. At Georgia Landing, two miles above Labadieville, he encountered the Confederates under Brigadier-General Alfred Mouton, consisting of the 18th and 33d Louisiana, Crescent and Terre Bonne regiments, Ralston's and Semmes's batteries, and 2d Louisiana Cavalry,--in all reported by Mouton as 1392 strong; they had taken up a defensive position on both sides of the bayou. After a short but spirited engagement, Mouton's force was routed and pursued about four miles. Mouton then called in his other troops, burned the bridges, and evacuated the district, Buchanan's gun-boats having been prevented by a gale from arriving in time to cut off the retreat. Mouton's report accounts for 5 killed, 8 wounded, and 186 missing,--in all, 199. Among the killed was Colonel G. P. McPheeters of the Crescent regiment.

Weitzel followed through Thibodeaux, and went into camp beyond the town. He claims to have taken 208 prisoners and 1 gun; his loss was 18 killed, 74 wounded, and 5 missing,--total, 97.

So ended operations in Louisiana for this year. Taylor continued to occupy the Teche country, and Weitzel the La Fourche, until the spring of 1863.

On the 9th of November, 1862, General N. P. Banks was assigned to the command of the Department of the Gulf to relieve General Butler. [585]

Burning of the State-House, Baton Rouge, on Sunday, December 28, 1862. from a sketch made at the time.

1 for an account of the naval operations, see p. 551.

2 General Butler at once declared martial law (by a proclamation dated May 1st), abridging the liberty of the press and placing the telegraph under military espionage. On the 6th a military commission was established to try capital and other serious offenses. On the 13th an order was issued forbidding fasting and prayer under the proclamation of Jefferson Davis; on the 15th an order (No. 28) prescribing that women guilty of insulting Union soldiers should be treated as “women of the town” ; and on the 16th an order forbidding the city and the banks from receiving Confederate money, and fixing the 27th of May as a date when all circulation of Confederate notes and bills should cease in the Department of the Gulf. William B. Mumford, who hauled down the flag which by Farragut's order had been raised over the Mint, was convicted of treason, and by General Butler's order was hanged on the 7th of June from a gallows placed under the flag-staff of the Mint. Mumford, who was a North Carolinian, though long a resident of New Orleans, addressed a vast crowd from the gallows. He spoke with perfect self-possession, and said that his offense had been committed under excitement.--editors.

3 General Butler raised, on his own motion, two good regiments of infantry, the 1st Louisiana, Colonel Richard E. Holcomb, a nd 2d Louisiana, Colonel Charles J. Paine, well commanded and well officered; three excellent troops of Louisiana cavalry under fine leaders, Captains H. F. Williamson, Richard Barrett, and J. F. Godfrey; and three colored regiments with white field and staff officers, designated as the 1st, 2d, and 3d Louisiana native guards (a name “captured” by General Butler), Colonels Spencer H. Stafford, Nathan W. Daniels, and John A. Nelson. I believe these were the first negro troops mustered into the service of the United States.--R. B. I.

4 On the way down the river a Confederate battery at Grand Gulf fired about sixty shots at short range at the transports, killing one private and wounding one officer (Captain Chauncey J. Bassett) of the 6th Michigan regiment. The gun-boat Kineo, Lieutenant-Commander Ransom, shelled the town, and General Williams sent four companies of the 4th Wisconsin, under Major Frederick A. Boardman, to disperse the neighboring Confederate camp. A skirmish in the dark followed, in which Lieutenant George DeKay, Aide-de-Camp to General Williams, was mortally wounded, while in front of the advance-guard.

De Kay was a most estimable young man, much loved by all that knew him, and was the first officer killed in the department.--R. B. I.

5 The work on the canal had proved especially exhausting, though the troops had the help of about 1200 to 1500 negroes. By the 11th of July, the cut, originally intended to be 4 feet deep and 5 feet wide, had been excavated through the clay (with much felling of trees and grubbing of roots) to a depth of 13 feet, and a width of 18 feet; the length of the canal was about a mile and half. The grade was now about 18 inches below the river level, and in a few hours the water was to have been let in. Suddenly the banks began to cave, and before anything could be done to remedy this, the river, falling rapidly, was once more below the bottom of the cut. Williams at once set about collecting more hands and tools, with the purpose of carrying the cut below the lowest stage of water, forty feet if necessary; this he calculated would take three months.--R. B. I.

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