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Chapter 14:

  • The battle of Mansfield
  • -- Taylor's Formation for battle -- Mouton's gallant charge -- rout of the Federal army -- battle renewed at Pleasant Hill -- Monett's Ferry -- death of General Green -- official reports.

In the road between Mansfield and Pleasant Hill, in early April, 1864, history was preparing a trophy of arms for the honor of Louisiana Leaving Green, of the cavalry, in command of the front, Taylor hastened to the village of Mansfield, three miles away, to perfect his plans for the next day.1 He was resolved to fight a general engagement on the 8th, if the enemy advanced in force. As a soldier, Taylor loved to meet large masses in battle, provided only his own force was well in hand. It was a phase of his military mind, an inheritance, doubtless, from his father, who made light of Santa Ana and his odds at Buena Vista. Disparity of force could not daunt the soul of Richard Taylor. It only made him plan a little more thoughtfully, weigh a little more carefully—above all, take fewer chances. With all his dash, no commander could be more prudent than he when the need was. [136] was on this road, heaidng for Pleasant Hill. About the same hour, Taylor was making a careful disposition of his small army. The odds, which were an inspiration to him, were before him. His total force was 8,800 men— divided into 5,300 infantry, 3,000 mounted men and 500 artillery. Banks' force was estimated at 25,000 men, full. The battle-ground was three miles from Mansfield. The country in this neighborhood is hilly and heavily wooded. Over one of these hills the public road ran steeply. Evidently the enemy understood the value of heights. On the top of this high hill they had posted Nims' famous battery, that Henry Watkins Allen, colonel of the Fourth Louisiana, had hurled his men against, taken and lost, when wounded at Baton Rouge.

Taylor's line of battle reached along the road. In front of this line Taylor rode, scanning the men as he passed. As he breasted Polignac, occupying the center of Mouton's division, he called out cheerily: ‘Little Frenchman, I am going to fight Banks if he has a million of men!’ Walker's division occupied the right of the road facing Pleasant Hill, with Buchel's and Terrell's cavalry, under Bee, on the right. On the left of the same road was Mouton's superb division of Louisianians, with Major's division of cavalry (dismounted) on Mouton's left. Each division of infantry was skillfully supported by artillery, Haldeman's and Daniel's batteries on the right, in position with Walker's division. With Mouton on the left were Cornay's St. Mary's Cannoneers and Nettles' battery. A little to the rear Debray's cavalry rested on their horses. Near them was McMahon's battery, just in from the front with the cavalry advance. Debray's cavalry formed with the reserve artillery. This holding of artillery in reserve was a proof of Taylor's careful attention to the smallest details of the battle, on which so much depended. The country, being at this time heavily timbered, offered no [137] field for the employment of many guns. These were, therefore, held in reserve.

Taylor's line of battle, prudently veiled, was at the edge of a wood with cleared fields, stretching away on both sides of the Pleasant Hill road. The clearing, which was about 1,000 yards in extent, was a direct menace to an attacking force. Thus, having made ready, Taylor awaited with confidence the Federal advance. To Banks' pompous march he had opposed a skillful arrangement of his army. It would be hard to imagine a more effective disposition of his forces, at once cautious and bold. In the stand chosen for a waiting army, it gave assurance that every advantage in the ground had been taken by the Confederate leader. That the attack would be in force, he had hoped; that he would fight the harder against odds, none better than he knew.

Suddenly Taylor's army saw its cavalry rapidly driven back in its front. On the left a body of the enemy's cavalry, spurred by success and following incautiously, ran into a ‘stone wall,’ made up of the line of the Eighteenth Louisiana. In another moment the wall became moving men, who advanced, and in one strong movement in force destroyed the pursuers.

While this was going on, in the wood beyond the clearing could be seen the enemy forming his line of battle. Some light skirmishing without result took place. Taylor speedily detected the Federal design. It was evident that they were weakening their left to mass on their right, to turn him. To meet the new peril he hastened Terrell's regiment of horse to reinforce Major's cavalry on the left. Nor did he neglect the imperiled infantry. He ordered Randal's brigade of Walker's division from the right to the left to strengthen Mouton. In these transfers the whole line gained ground from the right to the left, to meet the onset. The movements among the Confederates were masked by throwing forward skirmishers toward the enemy, and deploying Debray's cavalry [138] in the open fields on both sides of the road.

It was 4 p. m. when the changes were perfected. In the wood, the enemy had shown no further signs of life. This silence made Taylor suspect that their arrangements were still incomplete. Under this impression, he decided to open the attack from the left. He had chosen his fighters well; Mouton's Louisianians, eager and watchful, were waiting for the call. At the word, Mouton led the charge of his infantry, sweeping through a murderous fire, which lasted twenty-five minutes of carnage. The charge carried the Louisianians at double-quick down a hill, through a ravine swept by the enemy's guns, over a fence, up another hill to look into the very muzzles of the guns which had been dealing out wounds and death. Here our greatest loss occurred. This attack deserves to be placed by the side of Pickett's charge against the guns on Cemetery ridge. The valor and heroism were the same, only numbers varied. It was the crucial moment of the battle. Here was the moment when victory, propitious, was to smile at one end of the line while it frowned at the other. So dramatic was this advance of Louisianians, so rich in its results to the Confederates, so sorrowful through the rank of its dead, that it may claim a distinctive place in the annals of military charges.

Taylor, at the moment of giving the order to attack, was sitting with his leg crossed over the pommel of his saddle, smoking a cigar. There he continued to sit, anxious, while the victory with its costly sacrifice of lives was winning. He was keenly alive to the slightest move connected with that awful charge into the valley over which Death's shadow hovered ominously. At this moment, Kirby Smith's courier galloped up with the commander's message, already cited. Taylor's eye flashed, and he seemed to rise in his stirrups. ‘Too late, sir,’ he snapped to the courier, ‘the battle is won! It is not the first time 1 have fought with a halter around [139] my neck.’ And, turning around on his horse, he once more peered through the smoke to trace the final fortunes of the fight.

Almost every man in the direct attack of Mouton's division was struck with a bullet. Taylor had seen that, in the terrible fire, all the men in front would be shot down. He had at once dispatched a body of his troops to turn the enemy's flank by getting around them. This move, while it could not prevent the heavy slaughter, lessened it considerably by distracting the enemy's attention. A peculiarity of this battle was a general agreement among the field officers that, on account of the heat, they would fight on horseback. Here, on their horses, was not only the place of honor, but an invitation to Death, ever watchful in battle, to crown the brave. The severe loss of the officers of the Eighteenth and Crescent regiments, in this assault, was owing to the terrible fire in the ravine, between the woods and the hill, of the Federal batteries. Armant, of the Eighteenth, received three wounds, the last one killing him, while the sword of defiance still gleamed in his hand. Mouton, that peerless Bayard of our fighting Creoles, found death in a way wholly worthy of the name, ‘Sans peur et sans reproche.’

The Federal battery on the hill was pouring grape and canister into our ranks. It was a fearful struggle through that dark ravine, up that hill, up to those guns. The Louisianians swept on, gladly following, with Mouton always in the van. The guns were taken after a desperate struggle. Here the enemy broke and fled. Mouton, in passing a group of thirty-five soldiers, noticed that they had thrown down their arms in token of surrender. Upon that group, the Confederates, not seeing the sign of submission, were about to fire. Mouton, true to his creed, now placed on trial, holding it unsullied, lifted up a hand of mercy to stop the slaughter. Perhaps, out of that group, one did not see the hand of [140] mercy. It may be that a sudden blindness struck five of the group. That moment, while the mad charge was still sweeping by in pursuit, five of the Federals, picking up their guns, aimed straight at the heroic figure which had, by a signal, given them back their own unworthy lives. Mouton, without one look or word or sign, fell from his saddle, dead. In the wild rush of battle some there were of his men who saw the dastard deed. With the yells of battle was mingled yet another yell; wilder, fiercer, more curdling, a yell for vengeance! Before their officers could check the savage impulse thirty guiltless Federals had paid with their lives for the cowardly act of five. As they lay around Mouton, one might have fancied them a guard of honor drawn from the foe to show him reverence.

In this charge through the ravine, to end the story, Mouton carried 2,200 men. Out of this number 762 died with him. He had said to Polignac just before the attack: ‘Let us charge them right in the face and throw them into the valley.’ That valley was the ravine, in which Mouton's noble life was offered up in the sacred name of mercy. Sans peur had been his life. In his death his fame was to be rounded sans reproche. In the broad battle annals of our Confederacy I can think of no loftier exit from its bloody stage recorded of any of its actors than that of Alfred Mouton, of Louisiana.

Taylor's report gives the bald truth. It is told in an adjective qualifying the charge. A list of the dead among the officers who led the charge emphasizes the same thrilling story, a story in which mention deigns, in passing, to glorify the color-bearers of one of the attacking regiments. ‘The charge made by Mouton across the open was magnificent. With his little division, consisting of his own and Polignac's brigade, the field was crossed under a murderous fire of artillery and musketry, the wood was reached and our little line sprang with a yell upon the foe. In this charge, General Mouton, commanding [141] division, fell. Colonel Armant, of the Eighteenth Louisiana; Colonel Beard, of the Crescent (New Orleans) regiment; Lieutenant-Colonel Walker, commanding Twenty-eighth Louisiana; Lieutenant-Colonel Noble, Seventeenth Texas; Major Canfield of the Crescent regiment, were killed; and Lieutenant-Colonel Clark, Crescent regiment, dangerously wounded. Seven standard bearers fell, one after another, with the flag of the Crescent regiment.’2 Not once, in spite of these permanent losses, did this noble division halt for one instant, nor did it in face of the disaster fall into confusion. Polignac was there to step into the place of the fallen leader. With ringing voice, that gallant soldier whom France had given to her daughter, Louisiana, continued the movement forward. While Mouton still led, his division had advanced with the left protected by Vincent's and Terrell's cavalry (dismounted). These gallantly kept pace with the sweep of the infantry, forcing back and turning, as they went, the enemy's right. No support could have been more effective than this good work of the dismounted horse. It kept the enemy busy in repelling flankings, while the invincible rush of the division paralyzed each successive attempt at concentrated resistance.

Banks' movement to Shreveport via Pleasant Hill was in mortal peril. The charge of the Confederate left was growing like a race of the fox and the hounds. The Thirteenth army corps fought stubbornly, making a gallant stand, for a time, against the Confederate advance. But the flag of the victorious Louisianians, floating near and nearer in the smoke, grew more and more distinct through spring's green foliage. Their yells turned shriller and more disturbing. Not one of the Louisianians but felt that with his State's soil under his feet and [142] Mouton to be avenged, he was invincible on that day which had seen his leader dead.

Taylor, seeing his left flank well developed, now paid attention to his right. Here Walker's division was pressing on the foe on hopeful feet. The attack, made equally effective from both our left and right, confused the Thirteenth army corps which had so steadily borne the day's brunt. Their soldier ranks began to shiver; their firm battle line swayed in weakness. In vain did the Thirteenth take advantage of the wooded ridges, so common in the country. As soon as formed, every line was swept away as by a flood. Every gun was captured as soon as placed for action. The slaughter of the men was keeping pace with the capture of the guns. The decisive moment that came to Wellington at Waterloo, when he shut up his field glasses; that certitude which came to Napoleon at Austerlitz, when he took snuff, had now come to Taylor at Mansfield. The Thirteenth army corps, breaking at last, fled wildly. For miles it was driven without intermission by a pressure that neither knew halt nor permitted rest. During the fight the Thirteenth army corps lost guns, prisoners, stands of colors. Four miles from the scene of the defeat of the Thirteenth, the Nineteenth army corps was found strongly posted. Change of corps did not bring change of fortune. Twenty-five hundred prisoners, 20 pieces of artillery, several stand of colors, many thousands of small-arms, and 250 wagons were taken. ‘Here,’ said Taylor in his report, ‘the Thirteenth corps gave way entirely, and was replaced by the Nineteenth, hurriedly brought up to support the fight. The Nineteenth, though fresh, shared the fate of the Thirteenth. Nothing could arrest the astonishing ardor and courage of our troops. Green, Polignac, Major, Bagby and Randal, on the left; Walker, Bee, Scurry and Waul, on the right, swept all before them.’

Flight on the part of the Thirteenth and Nineteenth [143] corps, dropping curses with the booty—on our part, pursuit, filling with triumphant yells the darkening hills. These continued until evening shadows began to obscure the path. Just as night was closing in, the enemy made a stand near a small creek of clear water. The water was an invitation to both armies. Half way between Mansfield and Pleasant Hill flowed this creek. Here occurred a sharply contested fight. This last effort of routed valor was brief. Taylor, needing nothing so much as water, ordered the foe to be driven from the creek. For a time he was disposed to be stubborn. Finally, he was forced back some 400 yards beyond. This done, the Confederates kept watch and ward over the water during the night, while the Federals kept their new position back from the creek.

‘Daylight on the 9th found every man at his post, and the pursuit was taken up with full ranks. This testimony is due to the army under my command. The village of Mansfield, only three miles from the fierce battle, was during the day and night the scene of order and quiet. ... Not a straggler was seen in the village on the 8th or 9th, and citizens assured me, but for the sounds of the guns, they might have supposed peace to reign in the land.’ (Report of General Taylor.) In proof of the admirable discipline of the victorious army of Mansfield, this official attestation is given. It admits of no dispute.

As had been expected, the enemy had retreated during the night. Taylor hastened back to Mansfield, pondering where he would deal his next stroke. Never for a moment, however, did he suppose that the expedition had been abandoned. He was of that order of commanders who suspect their foes making no sound. On the road to Natchitoches, leading in the opposite way to Shreveport, was Pleasant Hill. Returning to Mansfield, Taylor hurried forward Churchill's and Parsons' divisions, just arrived from Keachi, 22 miles away. With [144] these reinforcements, his forces amounted to 12,500 men, against Banks' 18,000 men. At 2 a. m. these were on the march. At 3:30 a. m. Taylor, in person, had planted himself at the front There, finding the enemy retreated during the night, he sent forward his entire cavalry under Green. With the cavalry he ordered the infantry to follow in column along the Pleasant Hill road. In this line stepped impetuously Mouton's old division, now under Polignac. Taylor preferred to pass ahead with the horse. A retreating foe does not always mean a paralyzed army. Ample evidences of the rout of the previous day were met. Along the road between Mansfield and Pleasant Hill were stragglers, burning wagons, broken wheels, knapsacks, canteens, rent haversacks, scattered arms—an army's debris everywhere. For twelve miles not a shot came from the hills.

‘Halt men!’ came sharply from Taylor, riding at the head of the horsemen. A mile in front of Pleasant Hill, our cavalry found the retreating army once more dangerous, drawn up in a strong position. Pleasant Hill occupies a plateau a mile wide, west to east, along the road to Mansfield. Banks' line extended across this plateau. On the plateau were placed his batteries. With the infantry far in the rear, Taylor, for a moment, was nonplussed. He could no more than develop, by feints to the right and left of the enemy, their position and strength. By orders captured on the 8th, he had already learned that Banks fully ‘expected to reach Shreveport on the 11th via Pleasant Hill and Mansfield.’

To push Banks beyond Pleasant Hill, on the side nearer Natchitoches, had become of vital importance. Ripe fruit is ready for picking. For Taylor, pushing Banks back was the ripest fruit of yesterday's victory. Clearly Banks, being here in force, was aiming to get back to his chosen road. The strength developed showed that fresh troops had joined him during the night. To wait for the infantry seemed Taylor's only plan. After some time [145] the infantry arrived, some regiments showing fatigue. Too exhausted for a forward movement, Taylor, who was as tender in bivouac as brave in action, ordered the men to rest for two hours.

From midday they rested until 3 p. m. At that hour the entire army was put in motion. With the renewed energy of the infantry, the cavalry and artillery awoke to action. The Louisianians had not yielded to fatigue. Polignac's new division, whose losses on the 8th had made it memorable, was now held in honorable reserve. On his side the enemy fought with renewed courage. Fighting behind temporary intrenchments and with heavy masses in reserve to replace losses, he was making a formidable resistance. With his infantry he skillfully occupied the wooded hill off the road. From this plateau, the key to his position, a strong battery was breeding mischief. On the left extended a range of broken hills densely clothed with young pines. Along these, up and down, the Federals were massed, protected ‘by piles of logs, rails and some abatis,’ the usual accessories of a Louisiana wood. Taylor's batteries, on the alert, responded viciously. So eager were the artillerists that at one time they advanced unsupported within 200 yards of the enemy's guns, and concentrated the fire on the ridge which was threatening them. The results were quickly made apparent on the foe. We so disabled many of his guns that they were removed to the rear.

Far from asleep, however, were the Federals to whatsoever was going on. Specially awake were they to a Confederate movement set in motion across the fields and up the opposite slope. Without warning, from the thick woods on either side of the road hissed close by a deadly musketry fire, which caused loss and temporary disorder among the Southern men. At this point, an error in his attack threw Churchill's division into added disorder. On the right, through the efforts of the leaders, [146] this was checked before disaster. On the left and center the fighting had become close, fierce, deadly. Apparently the enemy had gained a new lease of valor. Fresh troops were there, belonging to the Sixteenth and Seventeenth corps. Word had been passed along their line of battle that the Pleasant Hill road was essential to the plans, nay, to the very safety of the army. The dense woods preventing a clear view on our part of the field, the continuity of our line became somewhat impaired. However, Polignac and the other commanders rallied the men and led them again and again into action. Then, in addition to the denseness of the heights, there fell upon the field an added darkness. Both armies had been thrown by the darkness into some confusion. At the end Banks made no attempt to recover the ground from which his left and center had been driven. It was now observed, when the night fell, that both sides occupied their original fighting positions. When the night grew older, Banks retreated. The hour of retreat for his whole Federal army struck 3:30 a. m. on the 10th. He left 400 wounded in our hands. In further proof of the disaster which had fallen upon his arms, his dead remained on the field so lately abandoned by him.

While Pleasant Hill was still in the balance, Green, commanding the cavalry, was with his accustomed energy preparing under orders from Taylor to await the fleet at Blair's Landing, 16 miles from the Hill. In making this movement, Green found himself delayed by the lack of a pontoon. He finally succeeded in reaching the river near Blair's Landing. He had crossed only three guns and a part of his horse before the fleet on the 12th came hastily down the river. Taylor had felt well assured that the news of Banks' defeat would send the fleet hurrying down toward Grand Ecore, and so enable him to cut it off somewhere en route. Green, always prompt and fearless, at once engaged the fleet. As usual, it consisted of transports, crowded with troops, [147] protected by gunboats. The loss inflicted by Green upon the transports was terrible. Several times, indeed, they raised the white flag. On their side, the gunboats, covered with plating, continued to keep up a steady fire. The transports suffered the more for this, Green being compelled to renew the fire on them by reason of the gunboats. Many times, however, the sharpshooters forced even the gunboats to close their portholes. The capture of the fleet seemed imminent. A heavy discharge of grape from one of the gunboats at that moment unfortunately killed the noble Green. Banks was at Grand Ecore near by. He made no demonstration, he had not even heard war's thunder, though so close at hand.

Singularly cool in danger, strong in attack, never flurried, Green was a commander whom his soldiers had learned to follow with confidence. It was fortunate that his death should take place at the close of the Red river campaign rather than before it had opened. At any time during the war, however, his death would have been a loss to the Confederate cause. General Taylor trusted much in his ability as a cavalry leader who with his sword cut his mark on every march and in every battle.

The Confederate reports have been mostly relied upon in regard to the battle of Pleasant Hill. It was, under the rules which govern war, a substantial victory. Touching the result of that battle which, although fought with close ranks and signal bravery by the enemy, ended in a general retreat of the Federals, I make way for an extract from the report of Maj.-Gen. A. J. Smith, the soldier loaned to Banks by General Sherman: ‘The opinion of Major-General Banks, as to the action of the command and its results, may be gathered from his own words to me on the field just after the final charge, when riding up to me he remarked, shaking me by the hand, “God bless you, general, you have saved the army.” ’ In this further extract from Gen. A. J. Smith, [148] we see the strange inconsistencies arising from the mercurial disposition of Banks and his inward appreciation that the army had met a disaster, leaving unwhispered the word ‘rout.’ ‘About 12 o'clock on the night of the 9th I received orders from General Banks to have my command in readiness to move at 2 o'clock in the morning, and at that hour to withdraw them silently from the field and follow the Nineteenth army corps back to Grand Ecore. ... I represented to him that the dead of my command were not buried, and that I had not the means of transporting my wounded, . . . and asked of him permission to remain until noon the next day to give me an opportunity to bury my dead .... The permission to remain, however, was refused, and the order to move made peremptory. We reached Grand Ecore on the night of the 11th.’

Still another testimony is from President Davis in his ‘History of the Confederate States:’ ‘Our losses in the two actions of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill were 2,200. At Pleasant Hill, the loss was 426 prisoners. The loss of the enemy in killed and wounded was larger than ours. We captured, not including stragglers, 2,800 prisoners and 20 guns. Their campaign was defeated.’

Pleasant Hill road on the 9th had rapidly supplemented Mansfield on the 8th. I quote Taylor's report, written April 18th, but thought out ten days before, on the night of Pleasant Hill. ‘With 12,000 men, we had attacked twenty odd thousand, many of them fresh troops, posted strongly on ground unknown to us. We had driven them at every point, and, but for the mistake and consequent confusion on our right, we would have captured most of his army. This was accomplished by hard, stern, stubborn fighting .... The noise of the wagons moving in the rear of the enemy's position, confirmed me in my opinion that he would retreat in the night. The morning of the 10th found us in possession of Pleasant Hill. The enemy had retreated stealthily in [149] the night, leaving his dead unburied and some 400 wounded in our hands. Bee took up the pursuit and held it for 20 miles without receiving a check, capturing prisoners, and finding at every step the same evidences of rout as had marked the pursuit of the previous day.’

The general result is historically recorded in the following general order:

Soldiers of the Army of West Louisiana: At last have your patience and your devotion been rewarded. Condemned for many days to retreat before an overwhelming force, as soon as your reinforcements reached you you turned upon the foe. No language but that of simple narrative should recount your deeds. On April 8th you fought the battle of Mansfield. Never in war was a more complete victory won. Attacking the enemy with the utmost alacrity when the order was given, the result was not for a moment doubtful. The enemy was driven from every position, his artillery captured, his men routed. In vain were fresh troops brought up. Your magnificent line, like a resistless wave, swept everything before it. Night alone stopped your advance. Twenty-one pieces of artillery, 2,500 prisoners, many stands of colors, 250 wagons, attest your success over the Thirteenth and Nineteenth army corps. On the 9th you took up the pursuit and pressed it with vigor. For 12 miles prisoners, scattered arms, burning wagons, proved how well the previous day's work had been done by the soldiers of Texas and Louisiana. * * * This was emphatically the soldiers' victory. In spite of the enemy's position, held by fresh troops of the Sixteenth corps, your valor and devotion triumphed over all. Darkness closed one of the hottest fights of the war. The morning of the 10th dawned upon a fleeing foe, with our cavalry in pursuit, capturing prisoners at every step.

R. Taylor, Major-General commanding.

The Confederate Congress added its tribute in the following:

Resolved, by the Congress of the Confederate States of America, That the thanks of Congress are eminently due, and are hereby most cordially tendered to Maj.-Gen. Richard Taylor and the officers and men of [150] his command for the brilliant successes obtained by them over the enemy in Louisiana during the past year, and particularly for the victories at Mansfield and Pleasant Hill on the 8th and 9th of April last, and their subsequent operations against the retreating army of the Federal General Banks in the valley of the Red river.

Resolved, That the President communicate this resolution to Major-General Taylor and the officers and men of his command.

Approved June 10, 1864.


1 On the morning of the 8th, the Thirteenth army corps Decidedly, on that particular April 7th, the hills of De Soto were echoing with the music of war. A strong showing of Confederate strength was made at Wilson's farm, three miles from Shreveport. The enemy attacked 3,000 of Green's mounted Texans, but, being unable to dislodge them, were forced to retire.

On the same day the martial strain reached even the bluffs of the Mississippi. A small body of our cavalry encountered a detachment of Federals sent out from Port Hudson. A little shelling with one piece of artillery was followed by some skirmishing after which the enemy broke and were pursued as far as Plains store. Near the Port, our cavalry again met them. This time we succeeded in capturing the gun, six horses and seven prisoners.

2 ‘The consolidated Crescent regiment was the only Louisiana regiment that proved so unfortunate as to lose all its field officers in a single battle.’—Report of Adjutant-General (Louisiana), 1892.

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