Doc. 144.-capture of Ponchatoula, La.
A National account.
on board U. S. Steam transport General Banks, Lake Ponchartrain, La., Saturday April 4, 1863.The steamer from whose deck I write you is lying aground off Manchac Pass, with the One Hundred and Sixty-fifth regiment New-York volunteers (Second Duryea Zouaves) aboard, just returning from a successful expedition against the rebels at Ponchatoula. This regiment, since its arrival at New-Orleans early in January, has been encamped five miles from that city, within an extensive breastwork first thrown up by the enemy, and afterward strengthened by the Union forces, known as “the parapet.” There its commandant, Lieut.-Colonel Abel Smith, Jr., by dint of constant drilling and the severest discipline, has made it one of the most efficient corps in the service. The defences of New-Orleans having been placed under the charge of General Sherman, this regiment was added to his command, and has been very highly complimented by him on various occasions and in published orders. Their showy and distinctive uniform, the praise bestowed upon them, their confidence in their officers, (with a single exception all tried soldiers,) and a growing self-confidence inspired by a consciousness of constant improvement in the school of the soldier, gradually begot in the Zouaves an esprit du corps which has evinced itself vividly in the little fight whose details I am about to give you. The defence of New-Orleans required, in the judgment of General Sherman, the construction of a work at Manchac Pass which might prevent any approach of the enemy on the line of the New-Orleans and Jackson Railroad. Some effort on the part of the rebels to repossess the city in the absence of General Banks with the bulk of the forces at Baton Rouge and Port Hudson, was anticipated. In order that a fortification might be thrown up at this point without interruption, it became necessary to interpose a force between it and the enemy. Accordingly, Colonel Thomas S. Clark, of the Sixth regiment Michigan volunteers, was placed in command of a force consisting of his own regiment, the Zouaves, and detachments of the Ninth regiment Connecticut volunteers, the One Hundred and Seventy-seventh New-York volunteers, Fourteenth and Twenty-fourth regiments Maine volunteers, and two pieces of artillery, with directions to capture Ponchatoula, an important station on the Jackson Railroad, ten miles beyond the Pass. The forces of the enemy at this place were variously estimated, and Colonel Clark's plan was to take them by surprise, attacking them simultaneously in front, flank and rear. Colonel Smith, with the Zouaves, was to make the attack in front. The rest of the forces were to proceed in schooners up the Tickafaw river, and disembarking take the enemy in flank and rear. Colonel Smith was ordered to proceed to a point three miles from Ponchatoula, and when he should hear three guns fired by Colonel Clark--the signal that he was in the enemy's rear — to commence the attack. On Monday morning, March twenty-third, in a pelting rain, the Zouaves commenced their march over the trestle-work of the railroad, and a laborious and disagreeable march it was. The road runs through an impenetrable swamp, and the rails are laid on rafters, elevated six or eight feet above the level of the surrounding weeds and water. The men leaped from beam to beam, gauging every step where one false one might be their last. Arrived at North Manchac Pass, they were compelled to cross it over a long bridge, which the enemy had so far destroyed by fire  that one could barely pick his way across it, balancing himself on charred and crumbling rafters, just wide enough to pass over singly, or jumping, at imminent risk, from wet and slippery sleeper to wet and slippery sleeper. Just beyond, the advance-guard encountered the enemy's pickets, and kept up a running fire, driving them before it. The first shot fired (by Corporal Barker, company A) killed the captain of a rebel schooner which, with another vessel, both laden with cotton, was afterward captured and sent to New-Orleans. That night the men bivouacked on the track, cold, wet, and hungry, and disturbed at intervals by picket-firing, at a point a few miles from Ponchatoula. At daybreak next morning the march was cautiously resumed, the advance constantly skirmishing with the enemy. At midday the column emerged from the thickly-wooded marsh into an open tract of country, which the railroad traversed for a mile. The marsh on each side of the narrow track was still too deep for a man to wade through. At the further end of this open space commenced a tract of thickly-wooded and comparatively dry land, and here it was found that the enemy had resolved to make a stand. The woods were filled with their sharp-shooters, and they had obstructed the only approach on the railroad track. From this barricade and from the trees the enemy kept up a constant fire upon our men, while the latter constructed a barricade, tearing up a portion of the track. This was the point at which Colonel Smith had been directed to wait Colonel Clark's signal. At the very same point last summer, while a force of Union troops was advancing, the enemy brought down a piece of artillery on a car, and caused their precipitate retreat with great loss. Our men on this occasion tore up the track for some distance, in order to prevent a similar occurrence. Meantime the firing waxed pretty hot, and the enemy, doubtless seeking to gain time, sent out a flag of truce, which invited Col. Smith to a conference with the rebel commander, Lieut.-Colonel Miller, of Mississippi. A parley ensued, and an interchange of communications between the two commanders with regard to the cotton captured on the schooners--Col. Miller declaring that it was the property of British subjects. This ended, hostilities were resumed, and Colonel Smith soon after hearing the signal of Col. Clark, advanced with his regiment against the rebel position. The secessionists waited only long enough to exchange a few shots, and then took refuge in the woods. The Zouaves clambered over the barricade, and advanced toward Ponchatoula. None of our men were killed in this skirmish, and only three were wounded, all of them slightly. The Zouaves now advanced toward the town, and soon learned that Col. Clark, with his forces, after a sharp skirmishing with the enemy, driving them before him, had captured the place. The conduct of the men in the whole affair was unexceptionable. That night the weary and hungry soldiers had plenty to eat, and slept in the streets of the village. The next day the railroad bridges beyond the town having been burned, and every thing valuable to the enemy seized or destroyed, Colonel Clark, in accordance with his instructions, fell back on the line of the railroad, and held it until the fortification at Manchac Pass was so far completed as to render it no longer necessary to interpose troops between it and the enemy. In withdrawing, the Zouaves brought up the rear, burning the bridges and trestle-work behind them, and yesterday they embarked for the “Parapet” again. In this necessarily contracted outline of the expedition, I have omitted many details which it is pleasanter to recur to than it was to realize. The following are the names of the wounded Zouaves: Elias Tucker, James Brady, Joseph Reilly. As before stated, none of them were much hurt. The long nights of the bivouac in a Louisiana swamp; the alligators that were killed; the poisonous snakes that came out of the water to visit us; the mosquitoes that worried us; the screech owls that made night hideous; all these are perhaps better imagined than described. Campaigning in Louisiana in all these little respects is very much more disagreeable than it is in Virginia. Appended are the official reports of the expedition:
Colonel Clark's report.Manchac Pass, La., March 29, 1863.sir: In compliance with orders of date March twentieth, 1863, I proceeded with my command to Frenier Station, on the morning of the twenty-first, and there bivouacked for the night, assuming command at post. I found four companies, General Nickerson's brigade, at Frenier and De Sair Stations. On Sunday, the twenty-second, at seven A. M., I proceeded with the command to Manchac Pass, leaving about one hundred men to guard the bayou and road in my rear. Arrived at South Manchac Pass at one P. M. same day; at six P. M. four schooners and one small steamer containing five companies of Col. Smith's regiment, One Hundred and Sixty-fifth New-York volunteers, one company of my own regiment, two rifle field-pieces in charge of a detachment of the Ninth Connecticut volunteers, and a launch mounting one rifle, manned by detachment of Ninth Connecticut volunteers, arrived. On the morning of the twenty-third I debarked the One Hundred and Sixty-fifth New-York volunteers, placed one field-piece on the north side of the island, where the railroad bridge crosses the North Pass, and embarked the troops brought by me from Frenier, consisting of the Sixth regiment Michigan volunteers, two small companies One Hundred and Twenty-seventh New-York volunteers, one company Fourteenth Maine, and one company Twenty-fourth Maine volunteers. The embarkation was made in the midst of a terrible storm of wind and rain, which delayed us very much. I now directed Colonel Smith to proceed up the railroad, to within three miles of Ponchatoula, take position, and hold the pass  until he heard the signal of attack from me at Wadesboro Landing, when he was to advance, and form a junction with me at Ponchatoula. I then proceeded, with the main body of the troops, up the Tickafaw River, and Ponchatoula Creek, to Wadesboro Landing, three miles from Ponchatoula. Owing to the great difficulty of navigation in the creek, from its extremely tortuous course, we did not arrive at Wadesboro until about noon of the twenty-fourth. I immediately debarked the troops, threw out skirmishers, and advanced toward Ponchatoula. About a half-mile from the landing, we found the enemy's skirmishers in strong force; and believing, from the number of skirmishers, that the enemy were in stronger force than we had supposed, immediately formed line of battle, and advanced three companies ahead skirmishing. We drove them steadily before us, the main body never coming within range of their fire, into and through Ponchatoula. I immediately sent four companies, under command of Captain Trask, Fourteenth Maine volunteers, to the bridge across the Ponchatoula Creek, two miles above Ponchatoula, and despatched a messenger to Col. Smith, to inform him that we occupied the town. Col. Smith's regiment arrived about three P. M. He had a sharp skirmish, losing three men wounded, but drove the enemy before him. The enemy made a slight stand at the bridge, and I sent up four companies, under Col. Bacon, to make the work sure. They destroyed that bridge, and also a smaller one a mile this side. Having accomplished the object of the expedition thus far, and believing the village of Ponchatoula could not be held against forces greater than my own, I ordered the schooners and gunboat in Ponchatoula Creek, to the North Pass, and fell back, on the afternoon of the twenty-fifth, to a point three miles south of Ponchatoula, on the railroad, with the main body of my command, leaving six companies at Ponchatoula, under Major Clarke, Sixth regiment Michigan volunteers, as picket and provost-guard, with orders to fall back on the main body in case of attack. I here erected a small battery of railroad iron, and mounted one of the field-pieces in charge of the detachment of the Ninth Connecticut volunteers. On the evening of the twenty-sixth, the enemy appeared in strong force, and attacked our pickets at Ponchatoula, the pickets immediately retiring to the main body, at the point spoken of. No firing took place after the skirmishers retreated. As far as we can learn, they have a force consisting of two thousand infantry, three hundred cavalry, and two twelve-pound fieldpieces. The point occupied by us could have been easily held against this force, but owing to the difficulty of getting rations for the troops up from the Pass, I determined to fall back to the bend in the railroad, about eight miles this side of Ponchatoula, and did so last night, where I now am. I am erecting a small battery at this point. I forgot to mention, that on our arrival at Wadesboro Landing, we found the schooner L. H. Davis in flames. We also found two schooners loaded with cotton. We have captured some twelve prisoners, which have been sent on to New-Orleans. Owing to the very bad weather, the march over the trestle-work from Kenner was not only difficult, but dangerous, and many of our men were compelled to fall out, by means of hurts received by falling through the trestle-work. The skirmish on the twenty-fourth, was conducted by Capts. Griffin, company A ; Montgomery, company H; and Lieutenant Dickey, company E, Sixth Michigan volunteers, who bore themselves admirably; and on the afternoon of the twenty-sixth, by company D, Sixth Michigan volunteers, under Lieut. McIlvaine, and company K, under Capt. Chapman, and company F, One Hundred and Sixty-fifth New-York volunteers, Captain Thorpe; the whole under command of Major Clarke, Sixth Michigan volunteers; and the pickets were brought in in good shape. I feel very much obliged to Lieut.-Col. Smith, for his hearty and effective cooperation through-out the entire expedition. Lieut. C. W. Stone, Quartermaster of the expedition, has labored earnestly and efficiently, and accomplished a great deal with very few facilities. I cannot close this report without returning my thanks for the assistance rendered me by Capt. Perce, of your staff, during his stay with me. He was continually by my side, ready to assist me in every possible way. Capt. Bailey also rendered me valuable service in the erection of breastworks. I inclose Col. Smith's report; also a communication from the enemy. My total loss is nine wounded-none seriously; while the enemy is reported at three killed and eleven wounded--one mortally. All of which is respectfully submitted. I have the honor to be, Your obedient servant,
Colonel Smith's report.
headquarters one hundred and Sixty-Fifth Regt. N. Y.V., Ponchatoula, March 25, 1863.Lieutenant: I have the honor to report that, in compliance with the orders of the Colonel commanding, I disembarked my battalion, on the morning of the twenty-third, at about half-past 8 A. M., and took up the march about half-past 10 A. M., along the railroad, across Jones's Island, to the North Pass, which I crossed immediately, and halted on the north side in obedience to orders, sending out an advanced-guard. They discovered a rebel picket about one mile beyond, guarding two schooners loaded with cotton. They drove the pickets before them, and seized the schooners. The captain of one of the schooners was killed, while coming toward us to notify me (as was alleged by his companion) that the cotton belonged to the subjects of a foreign power. Not hearing further from the colonel commanding, I pushed on across the trestle-work, and bivouacked  for the night on the railroad, the rebel pickets keeping up a continued firing during the night. At daybreak, I moved forward, and halted at the opening in the pine woods. This was a very strong position, and could have been successfully held against a large force by a very few men; and as I had been ordered to remain at this place, until hearing the signal from Col. Clarke, I did not attempt to move further on, but only to hold my position. At twelve M., a flag of truce advanced fiom Col. Miller, commanding the rebel forces, when I received from him the inclosed communication, in relation to the cargoes of the two schooners. You will also please find inclosed my answer to the communication. At about one P. M., I heard the signal, and advanced and drove the enemy into the woods. About two miles from Ponchatoula, we met the party sent by the Colonel commanding, to inform us that he was in the town ; moved rapidly forward, and arrived here about three P. M. I have to report three men wounded slightly. Very respectfully yours,
Lieut. Dickey, A. A.A. G.:
Lieut. Dickey, A. A.A. G.:
Abel Smith, Jr., Lieut.-Col. Commanding.
We have word that a second expedition is preparing, in which the Zouaves are to take part. There is an excellent state of feeling among the men. They are anxious to see service, and when they do, you may depend that they will render a good account of themselves. The following are the officers of the regiment:
Lieut.-Colonel Commanding — Abel Smith, Jr. Major-Gouverneur Carr. Surgeon-James Ferguson. Assistant Surgeon--George C. Hubbard. Acting Adjutant-Lieut. Chas. R. Carville. Quartermaster — Asher M. Ellsworth. Aid-Nathan S. Putnam. Company A.--Captain, Felix Agnus; First Lieutenant, E. Hampton Mulford; Second Lieutenant, Charles A. Walker. Company B.--Captain, Henry W. Hicks, Jr.; First Lieutenant, Edward G. Hoffman; Second Lieutenant, De Forest H. Thomae. Company C.--Captain Wm. W. Stephenson; First Lieutenant, W. Henry Vance; Second Lieutenant, Gustave F. Linquist. Company D.-Captain, Wm R. French; First Lieutenant, Barry Fox. Company E.--Captain, Henry C. Inwood; First Lieutenant, John P. Morris; Second Lieutenant, E. Bayard Webster. Company F.--Captain, Gould H. Thorpe; First Lieutenant, James B. Vose; Second Lieutenant, Wm. J. Walker. There has been one death by disease, and three men have been accidentally killed since the regiment left New-York, on the eighteenth of December last. Private Spicer J. Ruderow, of company A, died, in January, of typhoid fever. Corporal David Brown, of company D, was shot during the same month, while on guard, by the accidental falling of a stack of muskets. Private Geo. Hoctor, and Corporal Andrew Jackson, both of company E, were killed last week. The first, while on guard, was accidentally shot by the corporal of the guard; the last was killed by a piece of shell, fired from the United States gunboat Portsmouth, which, by some strange carelessness, burst over the camp of the Zouaves. They were all estimable men, and their early death is deeply regretted. It has been proposed by General Banks to convert the battalion into a regiment of mounted Zouaves. The matter is under consideration. It would make a magnificent and dashing cavalry corps.