Doc. 197.-Colonel Chickering's expedition.
on board steamer Cahawba, off Georgia coast, June 5, 1863.No full account has yet found its way into print respecting the recent exploit of Colonel Thomas E. Chickering, of Boston, and having received the particulars from the Colonel, I am enabled to give the interesting details of this hazardous, but successful expedition. On Thursday, May twenty-first, at daybreak, Colonel T. E. Chickering, of the Forty-first Massachusetts cavalry, (extemporized for this particular service,) the Fifty-second Massachusetts, One Hundred and Tenth, One Hundred and Four-teenth, One Hundred and Twenty-fifth, and Ninetieth New-York, with one company each of the Thirteenth Connecticut, Twenty-second and Twenty-sixth Maine, and one section of Nim's Massachusetts battery, under command of Lieutenant Snow, the whole division under the immediate command of Colonel Chickering, proceeded, with three hundred army wagons, from Berrie's Landing, laden with cotton, sugar, molasses, and other valuable products, toward Berwick City. The ponderous train once in motion, soon began to wind itself along the easterly bank of the Teche, the white canvas covering to the wagons giving the train, at a distance, when viewed from a slight elevation, the appearance of a monster white boaconstrictor, which crawled slowly but surely along. Upon arriving at St. Martinsville, Colonel Chickering learned from his spies, and from those worthless negroes that Copperheads talk so much about, that the enemy were in ambush just beyond his advancing scouts. He at once crossed the Teche, and marched rapidly to New-Iberia, where he found the steamer J. M. Brown, laden with supplies for his troops. Unloading the supplies, they were soon distributed among the various regiments. The steamer was at once laden with cotton, sugar, corn, and molasses, and with one thousand contrabands on board, sailed for Brashear City. From New-Iberia the march was resumed toward Franklin, and the warlike caravan entered this pretty little secesh town amid the reverberation of the different bands, and the choruses of the regiments, swelling with the notes of the various camp songs, our glorious colors proudly fluttering their silken folds over the serried ranks — all tended to form a thrilling and beautiful picture. Perhaps you can form some sort of an idea of the gigantic proportions of one of of these wagon trains, when I state that the one under command of Colonel Chickering was five miles long. The noise of such a train in Virginia could be heard for miles, owing to the rocky soil and the iron axles ; but in Louisiana one must hunt very assiduously in order to discover a pebble, so that a train can move with but little noise — an advantage of great importance to an army on the move. On the evening of the twenty-second the advance had bivouacked at Centreville, and the weary sentinels paced up and down their posts, anxiously listening for the welcome footsteps of the relief-guard, when mounted messengers dashed into camp with news of an attack on our rear. Three squadrons of the Forty-first Massachusetts cavalry were at once ordered to the rear to prevent any surprise in large numbers, and to disperse the cowardly guerrillas that followed in the track of the train, annoying us constantly, evidently with the intention of harassing us to such an extent that a rapid advance would be impossible. In the mean time other messengers came in reporting that General Mouton, son of the ex-Governor of Louisiana, with Brigadier-General Greene, were but a short distance in our rear, with five thousand men, including a large number of “Texicans.” It was very plain that Mouton's object was to engage our rear, and then, by a comp-de-main, endeavor to flank the entire division. Upon discovering this scheme, Colonel Chickering had three regiments of infantry drawn up in line of battle, directly in front of the wagon-train, and orders were then given for the train to move on. Colonel Morgan, of the Ninetieth New-York, whose regiment formed the rear-guard, was instructed to retreat, giving battle, and at the same time protect the rear of the train. Colonel Morgan indulged in a few lively skirmishes with the scattered forces of the enemy, chiefly guerrillas. The train was pushed on with all possible speed during the night, followed closely by the most daring guerrillas, and on the morning of the twenty-sixty reached Berwick City, after a forced march of one hundred and ten miles in four days. The last forty miles was accomplished in the almost unprecedented short time of twenty-four hours, the enemy following close upon our heels. The rebels were exceedingly vigilant, and we were continually reminded that they were on the qui vive at all points. Colonel Chickering received information through reliable sources that the main body, numbering five thousand men, were at Calcosien, or Lake Charles Court-House, forty miles south-west of Opelousas, near the Texas boundary line, and from which State the troops were being drawn. The rebels were expecting Colonel Chickering and his train of booty on the Grand Coteau, and the shrewdness of the Colonel in command alone prevented the rebels from gaining a rich prize. The enemy's spies, who pretended, of course, to be the strongest kind of Union men, were permitted to hold converse with Colonel Chickering, and he very adroitly made use of them, by pretending to divulge to them the plans of the retreat; and he succeeded most admirably in “Yankeeing”  the sincere Union men. They were told confidentially that our forces were going to stop at Vermilion Bayou and construct the bridge over that stream, and the Union men, of course, had a strong force there, as we afterward learned from a trusty negro. Colonel Chickering is wholly responsible for their great victory at this point, and it is high time such irritating conduct toward our deluded Southern brethren was stopped. It was agreed between the rebel officers that we should be flanked at St. Martinsville, but the rapidity of the Colonel's movements thwarted them, when Franklin was decided upon as the spot where this immense “Yankee” potent corn-hopping nigger train was to be engulfed in the mighty jaws of the rebel army; but lo, presto, change! they passed through and beyond Franklin. Considerable powder and lead was wasted for the so-called Confederacy, and the chagrin of the baulked rebels was so bitter, that, for sixteen miles, from Franklin to Centreville, they fought us in their brave guerrilla style. The rebels fired from the windows of the house at which Colonel Chickering took dinner on the same day. At Franklin their programme was all laid out, but owing to some slight disarrangement of the machinery, the performances at the confederate theatre did not satisfy the eager audience. They had been told that the retreat of “the d — d Yankees” was to be cut off, as well as all their heads; but suddenly their boasted tragedy became, if possible, worse than a farce. Colonel Chickering arrested a believer in the Jeff Davis doctrine, and a faithful supporter of the “divine” or “peculiar” institution, by the name of Alfred Lastrappe, a wealthy planter, owning a sugar and cotton plantation at Breaux Bridge, on the banks of the Teche. Mr. Lastrappe is only suspected, with some pretty strong evidence to sustain the suspicion, of having murdered four of his best negroes who were preparing to join our army as soon as it passed the plantation. The four new-made graves were found, but the innocent says they died very suddenly, and no doubt they did. He is now under close arrest, and an examination is shortly to be made into the case. The principal evidence is from negroes who tell their simple stories of the great affection of the master for the “Yankees;” so great was it, that Mr. Lastrappe had only to hear that one of his negroes had dared to speak to a “Yankee,” and on goes the lash, and prostrate was the impudent Ethiopian in the embraces of the stocks. The women and children were very bitter all along the line of march, and Colonel Chickering arrested several insolent male rebels, who professed neutrality when arrested. Nim's battery fired several shots into a sugar-house, where upward of one hundred and fifty rebels were concealed. A number of them fled to the woods. We cannot state the casualties of this little artillery episode. The contrabands who were in the train were terribly alarmed at the guerrillas, and the scene beggars description. It required the greatest exertion and vigilance on the part of Colonel Chickering to keep the road open. Lieutenant Woods of the One Hundred and Tenth New-York regiment was killed, and a major and several commissioned officers were captured by these guerrillas. Colonel Chickering has heard since that they hung two of our officers, but he had not at last accounts received any thing authentic in relation to the matter. General Banks was very solicitous for the safety of this immense train, and a disaster to it would have sadly injured our cause. Now, as for the success, the following figures will show plainly. Six thousand negroes came into our hands, five hundred plantation wagons, three thousand mules and horses, besides a fabulous number of cattle. While the Forty-first Massachusetts were stationed at Berrie's Landing, five thousand bales of cotton were sent from that point, besides immense quantities of sugar and molasses, and it is estimated that upward of ten thousand negroes have been sent from Berrie's Landing to Brashear City and Algiers. It is superfluous business for me to attempt to praise the skill and energy of Colonel Chickering for the determination he evinced and the great success which has crowned his efforts. Let the record be his garland of laurel. All of these negroes are exceedingly eager to fight for their freedom, and I have often seen the tears rolling silently down their sable cheeks when the examining surgeon, after inspecting them, pronounced them physically worthless for active service in the field. Nothing is more false and ridiculously absurd than the statements of Northern Copperheads that the negro will not fight, will not labor without the cruel lash — is of too indolent a nature naturally to support himself. No honest man who has travelled in the revolted States can assert this. Many men come to Louisiana with these impressions upon their minds. The negroes will fight, and desperately too, as the bitter conflict at Port Hudson attests. They do labor, where remunerated faithfully. The negroes of Louisiana are the only friends we have in that State, and one single instance has yet to be named wherein they have proved faithless.