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Doc. 7.-battle of Grand Coteau, La.1

Major-General Ord's report.

headquarters Thirteenth army corps, New-Orleans, La., January 18, 1864.
Brigadier-General L. Thomas, Adjutant General U. S. A., Washington, D. C.:
sir: I have the honor to inclose sub-reports, just received, of the affair at Bayou Bourbeaux, of November third, 1863.

Disparaging remarks having appeared in a large part of the public newspapers, upon the management of this affair, by Major-General Washburn, I beg to call attention to the report of that officer, to that of General Burbridge, Colonel Guppy, Twenty-third Wisconsin volunteers, and the order of march of Major-General Franklin, by which it will be seen that General Washburne was at his prescribed post, with his command, on the morning of the attack, and that it was owing to his zeal and diligence that the rear-guard, when attacked, were reinforced promptly, and the enemy driven away discomfited.

Lieutenant-Colonel Buhler, whom General Washburne reports guilty of conduct attributable to cowardice or incompetence, will be brought before a commission for examination for competency, as soon as he joins the corps. He is at present (I am unofficially informed) at a camp of paroled or exchanged prisoners, somewhere in this Department.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

E. O. C. Ord, Major-General Vols., Commanding Thirteenth Army Corps.
Official Copy. C. A. Nichols, Assistant Adjutant-General.

General Washburn's report.

headquarters detachment Thirteenth army corps, Vermillion bridge, November 7, 1863.
Major William Hoffman, Assistant Adjutant-General:
Major: I inclose herewith report of Brigadier-General Burbridge, in regard to the battle of “Grand Coteau,” on the third instant. Also of Lieutenant-Colonel Robinson, commanding Seconds Louisiana cavalry, and statements of Captain Simms, Sixty-seventh Indiana, and Lieutenant Gorman, Second Louisiana cavalry, who were wounded and taken prisoners, but who were supposed to be privates, and were delivered over, under a flag of truce, with other wounded. On the twenty-seventh instant, the First division of this corps, under Brigadier-General Lawler, moved from Opelousas back to New-Iberia, with a view of being where they could be moved rapidly to Brashear City, should circumstances require it. That left at Opelousas the Third division, under General McKinnis, and one brigade of the Fourth division, under General Burbridge, at Barras Landing, eight miles east of Opelousas, and east of the Bayou Teche, near its juncture [150] with the Bayou Cutableau. On the morning of the first instant, by order of Major-General Franklin, the troops of the Third division were ordered to march and encamp at Carrion Crow Bayou, while General Burbridge, with the troops under his command, was ordered to march down the Teche and cross it, and move by way of “Grand Coteau,” where the road from Vermillion to Opelousas crosses Muddy Bayou, about three miles from Carrion Crow Bayou, in the direction of Opelousas, and go into camp there on the north side of the bayou. Colonel Fonda, with about five hundred mounted infantry, was also ordered to encamp near him. The troops all moved and went into camp as ordered. The Nineteenth corps on the same day moved back to Carrion Crow Bayou, and on the following day to Vermillionville, leaving the Third and First brigades of the Fourth division of the Thirteenth corps, to hold the positions before named. The position of the troops, on the morning of the third instant, was then as follows: Brigadier-General Burbridge, with one brigade of the Fourth division, about one thousand two hundred strong, with one six-gun battery of ten-pounder Parrotts, and Colonel Fonda, with about five hundred mounted infantry and a section o fNimms's battery, on the north side of Muddy Bayou; and the Third division, General McGinnis commanding, three thousand strong, with one battery, at Carrion Crow Bayou, three miles in the rear of General Burbridge. The two bayous before named run, in an easterly direction, nearly parallel with each other, and along the stream there is a belt of timber about a hundred and fifty yards in width, while between the two is smooth level prairie. To the right of General Burbridge's position was an extensive and dense tract of woods, while on his front and left the country was high open prairie. About nine o'clock in the morning of the third, I received a note from General Burbridge, saying that the enemy had shown himself in some force. I immediately ordered out the Third division, and just as I got them into line, I received another note from General Burbridge, saying that the enemy had entirely disappeared. Ordering the division to remain under arms, I rode rapidly to the front, and learning from General Burbridge and Colonel Fonda that all was quiet, and that such troops of the enemy as had shown themselves had all fallen back, I started to return to my headquarters, near the Third division. When I had arrived at about midway between the two camps, I heard a rapid cannonade. Sending two members of my staff to the rear, to bring up the Third division, I rode back to the front, and crossing the bayou, and passing through the timber to the open ground, I soon discovered that we were assailed with terrible energy, by an overwhelming force, in front and on both flanks. Many of the troops had broken and were scattered over the field, and the utter destruction or capture of the whole force seemed imminent.

The attack on the right through the woods was made by infantry, and though our troops fought most gallantly on that wing, they were compelled to give way before overwhelming numbers. Here it was that we lost most of our men in killed and wounded. The Twenty-third Wisconsin, Colonel Guppy commanding, Ninetysixth Ohio, Lieutenant-Colonel Brown commanding, and Sixtieth Indiana, commanded by Captain Gatzler, and Seventeenth Ohio battery, Captain Rice commanding, fought with the greatest desperation, holding the enemy in check for a considerable length of time, but for which our entire train, with our artillery, would have been captured. As it was, General Burbridge was enabled to bring off every wagon, and all Government property, with the exception of one tenpounder Parrott gun, which was captured just as it was crossing the bayou, the horses having been shot. The bringing off of the section of Nimms's battery, commanded by Lieutenant Marland, after the regiment sent to its support had surrendered, extorted the admiration of every beholder. While the fight was proceeding, the Third division came up on a double-quick, but by the time they had reached the middle of the prairie, and one and a half miles from the scene of action, General Burbridge's command had been driven entirely out of the woods, while the rebel cavalry, in great force, charged through the narrow belt of timber on the left, and were corning down on his rear. By this time, the Third division had come within range, formed in line, and commenced shelling them, which immediately checked their further advance, while General Burbridge, who had again got his guns into position, opened a raking cross-fire upon them, when the whole force of the enemy retreated to the cover of the woods. Our whole force was deployed in line of battle, and moved as rapidly as possible through the woods, driving the enemy out of it, who retreated rapidly. I moved the troops up on their line of retreat about one and one half miles, while the cavalry pursued about three miles; my men having been brought up at a double-quick, were very much exhausted, and it was not possible to pursue farther. Our losses are twenty-six killed, one hundred and twentyfour wounded, and five hundred and sixty-six missing. The loss of the enemy in killed was about sixty; number of wounded not known, as they carried all but twelve off the ground; but wounded officers, who were taken prisoners, represent the number of wounded as being very large. We took sixty-five prisoners.

Brigadier-General McGinnis, being very ill, was not able to be on the field. The troops of the division behaved admirably under the command of Brigadier-General Cameron, of the First, and Colonel Slack, of the Second brigade. The action of General Burbridge was gallant and judicious, from the time I first saw him until the close of the engagement. The conduct of the Sixty-seventh regiment Indiana infantry was inexplicable, and their surrender can only be attributed to the incompetency or cowardice of the commanding officer. They had not a single man killed. Our mounted force, under Colonels Fonda and Robinson, though very small, behaved [151] very handsomely. I left at Carrion Crow Bayou, to hold that position, three regiments of the Third division, namely, the Eleventh Indiana, Twenty-ninth Wisconsin, and Twenty-fourth Iowa, with one section of artillery. It was fortunate that I did so, for, while the fight was proceeding with General Burbridge's command, Colonel Bayler, of the First Texas mounted rifles, swept round on our left, and attacked the camp at Carrion Crow Bayou, but they were driven off with a loss of three killed; we lost none. I refer particularly to the report of General Burbridge for the names of those deserving honorable mention. On the fourth instant the enemy sent in a flag of truce, proposing to give up such of our wounded as they had, not having the means to take care of them. I sent for and received forty-seven. They refused to give up our wounded officers, among them Colonel Guppy, of the Twenty-third Wisconsin, a most gallant and meritorious officer; though wounded, I am pleased to learn that his wound is not severe, and that all our prisoners are being well treated. As to the force of the enemy engaged, opinions are conflicting; but, from the best data I have, I judge them to have been from six to seven thousand, the whole under the command of Brigadier-General Green.

Respectfully yours,

C. C. Washburn, Major-General Commanding.
Official Copy. W. H. Morgan, Major and Assistant-Adjutant-General.
Official Copy. C. A Nichols, Assistant-Adjutant-General.

Wisconsin State Journal account.

New-Orleans, La., Nov. 9, 1863.
I returned yesterday from Opelousas, and hasten to give you the details of a contest at Bayou Bourbeaux, about nine miles this side of that village, which took place on the third of November, involving, as you will see, very important results to the Twenty-third Wisconsin. My description, being largely that of my own personal hazards and experience, must be taken for what it is worth in a purely military sense, as I do not pretend to give an accurate account of movements on the field, or the reasons for them.

We reached Opelousas after dark, on the night of the thirty-first of October, stopping with Major-General Washburn, who received us with great kindness, and on the first of November, fell back with the whole army — the Thirteenth and Nineteenth corps--to Carrion Crow Bayou, about twelve miles. The brigade of Colonel Owen, (General Burbridge's old brigade,) in which were the troops I was assigned to pay, was at Bear's Landing, eleven miles in advance of Opelousas, and came in on another road, camping at Bayou Bourbeaux, three miles nearer Opelousas than the balance of the corps. Impatient to see the “boys” of the Twenty-third, I went out the same night to their camp, and was most kindly and hospitably received by officers and men. Indeed, what is the use of talking about rank or dignity when one gets among old friends and neighbors, so far from home? It was late at night before we could get through the warm greetings and answer the innumerable questions about the loved ones at home, from highest to lowest in the regiment.

On the second, was waked at four o'clock. The long-roll was beat, and the men fell into their places in line of battle. An hour after, it proved to be a picket skirmish, and the men proceeded to get their breakfasts.

The camp was on the margin of a most beautiful prairie, the right wing resting upon the woods, the left projecting about twenty rods into the prairie, with woods in the rear, and the whole fronting the north-west, or Opelousas. The prairie rose with a very gentle swell in front about three quarters of a mile, where the descent was from us. The forests here are thin lines of trees, following the windings of the bayous through the prairies, and are rarely above eighty rods through, maintaining the line with singular regularity. The trees are mainly live-oak — an evergreen, draped in the everlasting Spanish moss — and it is rare that there is any undergrowth. The prairies thus cut up or detached by the lines of trees are from three to six miles in length, and from two to four in width. They are as green and fresh as our prairies at home in mid-summer. This particular spot was called Buzzard Prairie.

About ten o'clock the long-roll again beat, and the men of the Twenty-third fell in and marched to the right of the line about a mile, and took position near a slight ravine, where they remained drawn up for some hours. I went out at twelve M. and found one of the First Louisiana cavalry had been killed and four wounded. The skirmish was over, and the forces returned to camp. As an election was to be held in the Twenty-third next day, I gave out tickets I had procured printed in New-Orleans; and Colonel Guppy had requested of General Burbridge lighter duty next day for his men, if possible, so as to allow of their voting and receiving their pay.

On the third, at two o'clock A. M., an order came to Captain Bull, chief of the pickets and outposts, to go at once to the picket-line and change the countersign, as one or two deserters had gone over to the enemy. He got back to camp about four o'clock. The long-roll again beat, and the troops fell in and stood in line until about six, when they got their breakfast. About nine o'clock the Seventeenth Ohio battery went out on the prairie and shelled the woods on the left for half an hour, about fifty rebel cavalry having shown themselves on that side. The line of battle was re-formed, and so remained until the action took place at a later hour. During all this time, and until the final clinch, we all supposed it to be a mere guerrilla annoyance, that no serious attack was contemplated — and felt quite as safe as if in the streets of Madison. The voting went on, and was nearly completed in [152] most of the companies, and four of them were sent in from the line and paid.

About half-past 11, Colonel Guppy ordered dinner prepared for his men, with a good cup of coffee for each, saying jocosely he could not ask his regiment to fight first-class on an empty stomach. He had his own dinner also prepared, and while we were partaking of it was in particularly good spirits. When nearly through, we heard sharp picket-firing far on the right, and in a few moments the roar of the battery, pitching shells into the woods. He left the table hurriedly, saying there might be something serious up, and went over to his men, who had just swallowed their coffee.

As I stepped out of the tent, an orderly galloped up to the Colonel, and the regiment immediately moved off to the right. The roar of musketry and the cannon rapidly increased in volume, and the smoke drifted down upon us from the battery, about one hundred rods distant. At this time, General Washburn and staff galloped by near where I was standing, and went into the line of fire. The battery suddenly changed from shells to canister, and the musketry broke out in great volumes of sound, completely overpowering the noise of the cannon. I kept an anxious look upon the line of the Twenty-third as it pushed rapidly forward along the margin of the prairie, finally breaking into a double-quick — formed suddenly — a terrible shout came back — a burst of smoke, and the regiment disappeared from the scene.

I turned about and instantly ordered my safe and army-chest loaded into an army-wagon, with whatever else could be tumbled in, and to leave the field, and my ambulance to be ready for instant departure. My associate, Major Brigdon, paying the second regiment to the right, I knew must be lost unless I could get him and his clerk into the ambulance, and I ran up the line, and fortunately was enabled to attract his attention in time. As I turned to make for the ambulance, I saw a vast line of cavalry sweeping down upon the camp, which had not an armed man in it — saw them gobble up the pickets, and come on with the velocity of the wind. Our mule-team was put to its highest speed, and fortunately made the woods, here about eighty rods across, before they could come up; but they sent their compliments in the shape of a shower of bullets.

As we emerged on the south side, the prairie was a moving spectacle of teams and stragglers, going at the highest speed. On our left hand, about a hundred rods distant, stood a huddle of soldiery in apparent disorganization — the debris of the brigade — all, indeed, that remained of it — about three hundred in number. The road we had taken led round an old field having a sod fence, near a mile out in the prairie, around which it turned at a sharp angle toward the south, compelling us to travel about a mile and a half to make half that distance in a straight line; and the rebel cavalry pressing behind, struck across this line to head off the train, instead of following us directly in rear. When we saw that cloud break out of the, woods into the field, it certainly looked as if the chances for going to Dixie were of the first class. It was the most exciting, not to say exhilarating, race I ever got caught in. Looking over into the field from the ambulance to see if there was a chance, we saw a battery gallop furiously up, and without waiting to unlimber even, twice poured a storm of shells into the advancing columns, and we had the satisfaction of seeing men and horses tumble in heaps. It was certain that without infantry support the cavalry would ride over the battery, and we were lost; but as the column of cavalry dashed madly forward and came in range, the guns vomited among them a storm of canister, and a regiment of infantry, which had been lying flat upon the ground invisible to us, jumped up and greeted them with a shower of bullets. They turned tail — to in a moment, what were left, and we had the consolation of seeing the tallest kind of a race, in which we were not partners. This check saved the train. The guns we are so much indebted to were Nimms's Massachusetts battery. It did wonders that day.

It was with a sense of terrible oppression about the heart that I looked over at the little group of the brigade, standing where they were when we emerged from the woods, only organized and in line — and thought of so many friends and acquaintances in the Twenty-third that I had twenty minutes before seen disappear in a cloud of smoke on the other side of the line of forest. That some had fallen was certain — while the brigade had dwindled down a handful. Who were lost? I felt little consoled at the regiments of reserves hastening to their relief. It was too late. The battle was over; the firing had ceased, and at the distance of a mile and a quarter the rebels were plundering the camp. As they fell into line, however, they advanced into the woods, and the rebels took to their heels, not having time to destroy one half of what had been left on the ground.

We waited over an hour in the road for news to come in. I found it impossible to procure a horse, or I should have gone back at once. First came a rumor that the brigade was all gobbled, though part of it was in plain sight; then that the Twenty-third Wisconsin, Sixtieth and Sixty-seventh Indiana, and Ninety-sixth Ohio had all been killed or captured. Finally I met a Twenty-third straggler, who reported the regiment destroyed, who was soon followed by an orderly, who stated that the regiment — what was left, seventy-three in number — were in the old camp, and then came the imperturbable Dwight Tredway, Quartermaster of the Twenty-third, with that perpetual smile on his face, looking for his trains, without the slightest trace of alarm or excitement. From him we learned that about ninety of the boys were left, and subsequently the number increased to about a hundred--that Colonel Guppy was wounded and a prisoner, Captain Sorenson the same; that Captain Bull was taken prisoner; that the brave and daring soldier, Alonzo G. Jack, and some others were [153] killed, and so of a long list of neighbors and friends.

I started at once for the field, but meeting General Washburn, was informed that the whole force was ordered back to Carrion-Crow Bayou, and that it was useless to proceed, as they would leave before I would reach the old camp, so we fell back to headquarters to wait for them. It was long after dark before they arrived. I stood upon the bridge full two hours waiting for them. They came up joking and laughing, in no way dispirited or depressed at the terrible ordeal they had passed; and then there was such a handshaking with all of them as I never had before. They supposed us lost. They had stood on higher ground than the camp — had seen the cavalry rush down upon it before we were aware of it, and had fairly given us over to the chances in Dixie — and their joy was in proportion at seeing us safe, while mine was equally great at finding so many unhurt, and so comparatively few killed and wounded.

This battle opened by a sudden attack of two thousand five hundred rebel infantry upon the Sixtieth Indiana and Ninety-sixth Ohio in the woods, which soon broke and fell back, when the rebel cavalry charged upon the battery, (Seventeeth Ohio,) and captured two guns, one of which was retaken. The charge of the Twenty-third Wisconsin was to save the balance of the battery, and it saved it; but was itself speedily overwhelmed, and compelled to retreat. General Burbridge gives it this credit, and of saving what was left of the brigade. It checked the advance long enough to allow a retreat, and certainly it was not in mortal power, under such a fire, to have done more.

The brigade went into the fight with one thousand and ten men, and came out with three hundred and sixty-one. The Twenty-third went in with two hundred and six muskets and twenty officers, and came out with ninety-eight men. Being now reduced to a mere company, the authorities in Wisconsin ought, if possible, to secure its return to the State, to recruit up its wasted strength. No braver men ever went upon a battle-field, and, although one of the later regiments, it yields to none in the service it has rendered.

The rebel loss was far more severe. Green and Taylor united their forces for the dash, and, from the best sources of information attainable, they brought into the field two thousand five hundred infantry, four thousand cavalry or mounted men, and one battery. Eighty of them lay dead directly in front of our first line of battle in the woods, and how many others fell, our forces had not counted at the time of leaving. Wounded prisoners were exchanged next day, and the rebels reported their loss at about one hundred and ninety killed, from four hundred to five hundred wounded, and about one hundred prisoners. As their attacking force came up eight lines deep, the bullets must have told terribly upon them.

Of the result of the election in the Twenty-third, nothing specific can be stated. The vote for the Union ticket was nearly unanimous; but the poll-lists of part of the companies were lost; and of those saved, there is generally a lack of officers left to make out the certificates. In one company, one inspector was killed, one taken prisoner, with both clerks — leaving but one officer of the board. I advised him to append an affidavit of the facts, but what will be done I do not know.

Both the Thirteenth and Nineteenth Corps had fallen back to Vermillion Bayou, when I left there on Saturday. It is reported that the Thirteenth has been ordered to Memphis; it belongs to Grant's army proper. It is reported also, and believed, that Brownsville, Texas, is in possession of General Banks. If so, my next assignment will take me to the Rio Grande.

H. A.

1 also known as the battle of Bayou bourbeaux.

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