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Doc. 208.-expedition to Ponchatoula, La.

Official report of General Butler.

headquarters Department of the Gulf, New-Orleans, September 24, 1862.
Major-General H. W. Halleck, Commanding Armies of the United States:
General: Having been informed that a small force of the enemy were repairing Manchac Pass, and that the troops had been withdrawn from Ponchatoula, forty-eight miles north of this city, the headquarters of Gen. Jeff. Thompson, I directed Major Strong, my Chief-of-Staff, to take five companies of men to complete the destruction of the bridge and the repairs, if any, and by a division of his force to endeavor to secure the person of Gen. Thompson, and to destroy his supplies.

Owing to the heavy draught of water of our boats, as set forth in Major Strong's report, herewith inclosed, it was found impossible to carry out the plan as originally proposed.

But Major Strong, not to be baffled, determined upon an attack, and in open day, at the head of one hundred and twelve men, made a march of ten miles upon the headquarters of a General who was collecting forces to attack New-Orleans, drove away a light battery of artillery, supported by three hundred infantry, took and occupied the town, destroyed the telegraph and post-offices, captured the despatches, possessed himself of the General's presentation sword, spurs, and bridle, as trophies, (our officers do not plunder generals' quarters of shirts and stockings,) burned his supply-train of twenty cars, and returned at his leisure — inflicting treble loss upon the enemy in killed and wounded.

I beg to commend this to the Commanding General as one of the most daring and successful exploits of the war, equal in dash, spirit, and cool courage, to any thing attempted on either side. Major Strong and his officers and men deserve great credit. It may have been a little daring, perhaps rash, but that has not been an epidemic fault with our officers.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

B. F. Butler, Major-General Commanding. A true copy: Geo. C. Strong, Assistant Adjutant-General.

Major strong's report.

headquarters Department of the Gulf, New-Orleans, September 24, 1862.
Major-General B. F. Butler, Commanding Department of the Gulf:
General: Pursuant to your orders of the third-teenth instant, I embarked on the afternoon of that day on board the steamer Ceres, at Lakeport, with three companies of the Twelfth regiment Maine volunteers, commanded respectively by Capts. Thornton, Farrington, and Winter, and one company, Captain Pickering's, of the Twenty-sixth Massachusetts regiment. I had previously sent one hundred men of the Thirteenth Connecticut regiment on board the gunboat New-London, whose commander, Capt. Read, had kindly consented to cooperate with me.

The object in view was to surprise the village of Ponchatoula, the headquarters of the rebel General Jeff. Thompson, forty-eight miles north of the city, on the line of the Jackson Railroad. To that end the New-London was to land her men at Manchac bridge, whence at daybreak next morning they were to drive the enemy that might be found there northwards to Ponchatoula, while the remainder of the force, having found the way fifteen miles up the Tangipahoa in the night, were to land and march six miles westward and capture Ponchatoula in season to secure those of the enemy who had been driven up from Pass Manchac.

The attempt at surprise failed, for not only was the New-London unable to get over the bar into Manchac Pass in the darkness, but the Ceres, too large for the easy navigation of the narrow and winding Tangipahoa, failed in each of the two succeeding nights to reach her destination on that river in season to admit of our gaining Ponchatoula before daylight.

I resolved, therefore, to go with that steamer to Manchac bridge, and did so on the morning of the fifteenth. From that point, Captain Winter was sent with his company southward, to make the destruction of the railroad on Manchac Island complete, which duty he thoroughly performed. Capt. Pickering's company was left to guard the steamer, and the companies of Captains Thornton and Farrington began a forced march of ten miles upon Ponchatoula.

A locomotive one mile below the village gave notice of our approach, (which could not be concealed,) and ran northward, giving the alarm at the village, and thence to Camp Moore for reenforcements.

We met, on entering Ponchatoula, a discharge of canister, at seventy yards, from a light battery, in charging which Captain Thornton fell severely wounded. His company, then, under Lieut. Hight, reenforced Capt. Farrington's platoon on the enemy's right, while Lieut. Coon, with the second platoon of that company, took a position, under partial cover, on the left of the enemy's line.

From these positions our men poured in so deliberate and destructive a fire that the enemy was driven from the field, the artillery galloping away, followed by the infantry, on a road through the forest, in a north-westerly direction. We then set fire to a train of upwards of twenty cars, laden with cotton, sugar, molasses, etc., and took the papers from the post and the telegraph-office, de stroying the apparatus in the latter, and General Jeff. Thompson's sword, spurs, bridle, etc., from his quarters in the hotel. The sword was presented to him by the so-called “Memphis patriots.”

A written document was obtained which showed the rebel force at that point to consist of three hundred troops of the Tenth Arkansas regiment, one company of the home guards, and one company of artillery with six pieces. [615]

I had, however, received, reliable information that the enemy's force was only two hundred infantry and no artillery. The reenforcements had taken place at a subsequent date. Our force engaged amounted to but one hundred and twelve men.

We left of killed, wounded, and missing, (exclusive of those who have just come in-among the last the gallant Capt. Thornton,) ten men at Ponchatoula.

Surgeon Avery, of the Ninth Connecticut volunteers, with his attendants, voluntarily remained with our wounded, but the former has since returned.

We brought in eleven men more or less severely wounded. One fatal case of sun-stroke occurred on board the steamer.

Our return from Ponchatoula was necessarily along the railroad, through a swamp, and on which there is no cover for troops, and it was therefore impossible to bring off those of our men who were most severely wounded, as they would be exposed for a long distance to the fire of the rebel artillery, which, with horses attached, would be brought back upon the line of the road as soon as we should have left the village.

The artillery did so return at the signal of the inhabitants; but, though actively served, did us no harm.

Surgeon Avery reports twenty of the enemy killed.

Capts. Thornton and Farrington, and the officers and men of their respective commands, though nearly exhausted by the march, two miles of which was over an open trestle-work, in the heat of the day, behaved nobly in the fight.

Captains Pickering and Winter, after a very rapid march, for which they are entitled to much credit, came up after we had left the village, covered our rear, and assisted in bringing in the wounded.

Lieuts. Martin, Allen, and Finegass, and Commander Buchanan, United States Navy, who accompanied the expedition, rendered important services, and their gallantry during the action deserves special mention.

I have the honor to be, General, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

George C. Strong, Acting General.

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George C. Strong (6)
John S. Thornton (5)
Jefferson Thompson (4)
Farrington (4)
Winter (3)
Pickering (3)
Benjamin F. Butler (2)
Avery (2)
Read (1)
William Martin (1)
W. Hight (1)
Henry W. Halleck (1)
Finegass (1)
Doc (1)
Coon (1)
B. F. Butler (1)
R. C. Buchanan (1)
Charles Allen (1)
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September 24th, 1862 AD (2)
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