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Doc. 96.-capture of Fort de Russy, La.

on board flag-ship, Fort de Russy, March 18, 1864.
To understand the importance of the great expedition up Red River, it is necessary to review the military situation in the beginning of March. Sherman had returned to Vicksburgh from his grand but disappointing raid into Mississippi, and instead of directing his forces toward Mobile, the point greatest and almost the only position of vital concern to the rebels, he detached a portion of them to General Banks's assistance, who, it appears, had predetermined on scattering or demolishing the forces in West-Louisiana. It is altogether probable that something in the seasons had dictated this choice to General Banks. For example, the Red River is only high enough to be navigable by the largest vessels during this month and the next, while the task of taking Mobile is one which might be undertaken at any time, though it is unaccountably strange that it was not begun in December instead of May.

As is well known, the column under General Franklin crossed from New-Orleans to Brashear City about the first instant, and thence took up the line of march along the Bayou Teche, substantially the same route pursued nearly a year ago, via Opelousas to, Alexandria. The forces under General A. J. Smith, from the department of the Tennessee, comprising the brigades under Generals F. K. Smith, Thomas, and Ellet, embarked at Vicksburgh on the tenth, and proceeded down to the mouth of Red River, where they found an immense fleet of gunboats ready for the ascent.

Touching the naval force, it may be well to remark that a more formidable fleet was never under single command than that now on the Western rivers, under Rear-Admiral Porter; and, it might be said also, never to less purpose. At the time of departure, the strength of the rebellion in the inland waters had been crushed. Its forts had been demolished at Henry, Donelson, Columbus, Island 10, Vicksburgh, Hudson, and New-Orleans, by the gallant Foote and Farragut, united with the army. Its fleet had been sunk by Ellet, Farragut, and Davis. All that remained to be extinguished was one insignificant fort at Gordon's Landing, and one ram and one gunboat on Red River. To meet this force, we had collected twenty powerful war-vessels of all classes, from the light draught to the heaviest monitor. Among them were the monitors Ozark, Osage, Neosho; the iron-clads Benton, Carondelet, Pittsburgh, Mound City, Louisville, Essex, and Chillicothe; the rams Price, Choctaw, La Fayette, besides the lighter boats, Blackhawk, Ouachita, Champion, and Taylor. Contemplating this vast array of armed vessels to meet so weak a foe, those who are familiar with the history, cannot but contrast with it the different equipments with which the lamented Colonel Ellet was despatched on the same errand more than a year ago, with the Queen of the West only.

The twenty transports, preceded by the twenty gunboats, started from the Mississippi on the tenth, and ascended the Red River as far as what is called the Old River, when we turned into the Atchafalaya instead of continuing up Red River. Many were the speculations upon our course as they saw us descending the stream instead of ascending. To a person unacquainted with the peculiarities of this region, it seems indeed strange that the water should run up and down consecutively. The whole of West-Louisiana is overspread with a network of bayous, which are interlaced with each other in a very [430] unusual manner. Indeed, though Red River is usually accounted one of the tributaries of the Mississippi River, there is abundant evidence to believe that at no great period back the Red River continued its course to the Gulf through the Atchafalaya. The latter stream is now mainly fed by the former, and should properly bear its name. We found it for twelve miles a deep and navigable stream.

At Simmsport the fleet came to a landing. The town itself does not exist, a few chimneys alone marking the former site, having been burned up by Colonel Charles Rivers Ellet, in retaliation for their having fired on his boat, the Queen of the West. Colonel John Ellet afterward visited the place with the Switzerland, during the siege of Port Hudson, when he had a severe engagement with the batteries, and finished the work of his cousin.

Two new earthworks were found in course of construction, and abundant evidences of the traffic across the stream at this point. A short distance up the bayou, which enters at this point, were found twenty-four pontoons used for a bridge; also, portions of a raft of timber long enough to stretch across. News reached us that a camp near the river had been hastily evacuated at the sight of the fleet; afterward we heard that about two thousand had a fortified camp three miles from the river, at the intersection of Bayou Glaize, (Yellow Bayou.) Next morning the land forces were disembarked, and marched out by sunrise to find the camp broken up and the enemy gone; the bridge leading across the stream burning, and evidence of a fright. There were two extensive earthworks, still incomplete, and a prodigious raft being constructed across Bayou Glaize so as to prevent the gunboats ascending the little channel during high-water. This location of their principal fortifications is significant in two things: their intention to make the Atchafalaya as their line of defence, and their distrust of their ability to hold forts immediately on the banks of navigable streams. Henceforth we imagined their policy would be to hold the roads to the interior by works erected beyond the range of the gunboats. Their abandonment of Simmsport was indicative that they had lost hope of defending successfully these latter.

Five miles further out, our force overtook five teams loaded with tents, which they burned, and loaded up the teams with sugar and molasses, which the rebels had unsuccessfully attempted to destroy. The whole column then returned to the boats. I should not be a faithful historian if I omitted to mention that the conduct of the troops since the late raid of General Sherman, is becoming very prejudicial to our good name and to their efficiency. A spirit of destruction and wanton ferocity seems to have seized upon many of them, which is quite incredible. At Red River landing they robbed a house of several thousand dollars in specie, and then fired the house to conceal their crime. At Simmsport, a party of them stole out, and robbed and insulted a family two miles distant. In fact, unless checked by summary example, there is danger of our whole noble army degenerating into a band of cut-throats and robbers. I am glad to say that General Smith is disposed to punish all offenders severely.

It was decided that the column should march overland to Fort De Russy, the place to which it was supposed they had retreated, distant thirty-five miles. At daybreak, they started in light marching order. The boats were steamed up the Red River, which proved to be extremely tortuous and difficult of navigation. At a point sixty-five miles above the mouth, and twenty-five above Black River, we came upon a small earthwork, without guns, distant by land about five miles from the main fort. Hewn piles and timbers had floated past during the day, preparing us for the evacuation above.

Meanwhile the column under General Smith, with Morse's brigade in the advance, made a night march across from Simmsport. Before they had gotten five miles out on their march, they were beset by the enemy's cavalry, which kept harassing front and rear during the entire route. A company of cavalry, under Captain Hughes, preceded the column, skirmishing continually. General F. Kilby Smith, who commanded the division in the rear, was often obliged to form in line to repel their threatened attack. Notwithstanding that a delay of three hours occurred in rebuilding a bridge destroyed by the flying enemy, the entire march, thirty miles, was accomplished in twenty hours, and, as the result showed, captured a strong position before sundown — a feat which has hardly a parallel. The country back of the Fort is an undulating table-land, beautiful to behold, and inhabited by descendants of the early French settlers. Indeed, many of them had hoisted over their porches the tri-color of France, although they have been living here, receiving the privileges of citizenship, for more than twenty years.

It was about three o'clock as the head of the column neared Fort De Russy; some time was spent in making cautious approaches to the position, when the lines were moved up to the edge of the timber. The Fort then opened heavily with four guns, firing shells and shrapnel, our forces bringing two batteries into action. The cannonading continued two hours, when General Smith ordered a line of skirmishers to advance, when a heavy fusilade followed. A charge was ordered; the Fifty-eighth Illinois and the Eighth Wisconsin led, when just as the men had reached the ditch the garrison surrendered. About this time the boats made their appearance, the Eastport in the lead. They fired two shots without effect, across a rock, when the cheers of our delighted soldiers told them the Fort was ours. The gunboats were not engaged; the honor of this victory may be set down to the credit of the land forces.

The Fort consists of two distinct and formidable earth-works connected by a covered way. [431] The upper part, the one facing the road from the interior, is a beautiful specimen of engineering skill, and is remarkable for the substantial and permanent manner in which every part is constructed. It mounted at the time of capture four guns, two field and two siege, though capable of accommodating twenty. It is perhaps a quarter of a mile from the river-bank, and seated on the gradual slope of a ridge, the first seen on ascending the river. In the lower work commanding the river was a casemated battery of three guns of superior construction. Upon a solid frame of twenty inches of timber were laid two layers of railroad iron, the upper tier reversed and laid into the interstices of the lower. But two guns were in position in it--one eleven-inch columbiad, taken from the Indianola, and an eight-inch smooth bore. On each side were batteries of two guns each, one a seven-inch rifle, of Parrott pattern, making in all eight siege and two field-pieces. There were found besides large quantities of ammunition and a thousand muskets, besides flour, sugar, etc.

Our loss in the affair was four killed and thirty wounded; rebels, five killed and four wounded. Two hundred prisoners constituted the garrison then in the Fort, all of which fell into our hands, with twenty-four officers. A force of about a thousand men has been stationed at De Russy until recently. The smallness of the gar rison is a matter of much surprise, as the enemy must have known of our presence for some days; besides, it appears that a small number left in the morning before the attack. Two thirty-two pounders, on wheels, were hauled off only a few hours before our arrival, and narrowly escaped capture by our forces. It is unaccountable that the rebels should leave so valuable a position almost defenceless at this time, and can only be accounted for on the ground that General Banks was menacing Alexandria, and they decided to sacrifice one of the two places to hold the other. The troops have already reembarked, and are on the way to Alexandria.

Fort De Russy takes its name from Colonel De Russy, who formerly commanded in this vicinity, and lives not far distant. Lieutenant-Colonel Bird was in command, though he reported to General Walker, whose headquarters were at Alexandria.

The following officers are prisoners: Captains Stevens, Morran, Wise, Wright, Laird, and King; Lieutenants Denson, Fuller, Fogarty, Claydon, Trumbull, (Eng.,) Burbank, Hewey, Assenheimer, Fall, Hauk, Ball, Little, Barksdale, Spinks, Bringhurst, and Stout.

From various sources we gather that the rebels here have about abandoned the idea of defending any of their navigable streams. When asked to account for their apparent neglect of so important a fort, they reply that this was considered merely as an experiment in engineering, (certainly a very creditable one, and one which the gunboats alone might have vainly assailed for a: month,) but claim that so soon as we leave the rivers they will fall on us for destruction. This certainly does not find corroboration in the fact that they surrendered to forces which marched across the country. Of this sort was the unfinished obstruction of piles about nine miles below here, which the gunboats had to tear away to allow the huge transports to pass through. As nearly as I can learn, Walker has two thousand men, mostly infantry, south of us. Taylor has, perhaps, as many at Alexandria, and it is probable that they may be united at the latter place. Banks has some, doubtless, in his front about Opelousas.

The Red River has not been used for large transports or gunboats since May last, being hitherto too low. The Webb, Missouri, Grand Duke, and Mary Keene are at Shreveport, armed. The distances on this river from the Mississippi are: Black River, forty miles; De Russy, seventy miles; Alexandria, one hundred and forty miles; Shreveport, four hundred and fifty miles.

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