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Chapter 7:

General Butler was a politician whose strongest ambition was, oddly enough, to become a successful commander. Without previous experience as such he was sufficiently wise to lean on servants trained in military affairs. He thought highly of Gen. Thomas Williams, a graduate of West Point and a veteran of the Mexican war. He leaned also upon the knowledge and scientific skill of Godfrey Weitzel, promoting him to brigadier-general of volunteers. Once safely seated in his office, and with troops in easy call, General Butler's martial ardor began to ferment. He was fond of surrounding himself with an air of military activity. His first work was practical

At Algiers, on the river opposite the city, was the terminus of the New Orleans & Opelousas railroad. Promptly confiscating its rolling stock, he employed the road to bring in provisions to the city. On May 5th he ordered the Twenty-first Indiana to Brashear City at the other end of the line. The movement was wholly unexpected. The troops found the citizens quietly pursuing their business, unconscious of the enemy on their side of the river. After dispersing a military organization forming there the expedition captured two brass 6-pounder field guns, with their ammunition. Besides this success, the Twenty-first seized and brought off two citizens of loose tongue, who were doubtless indignant [63] at the sight of a uniform not quite in fashion in the State since January 26, 1861. Butler, with the provostmarshal spirit strong in him, spoke of them as ‘two citizens who persisted in insulting our troops.’

He also proceeded to confiscate the whole Jackson rail. road as far as Manchac Pass. By making sure of the Opelousas railroad he had cut off from the Confederates the valuable supply of cattle coming from Texas. Besides this advantage he had gained possession of 6,000 barrels of coal, of great value to Farragut's fleet. An example of his smaller expeditions, undertaken for plunder, may suffice: One day the U. S. gunboat Essex was, as it was wont, merrily shelling woods and fields along the Mississippi A transport was busy seizing sugar and cotton on the levee, waiting to be carried to Bayou Sara. Of course the Essex, being there only to protect the confiscating transport, shelled Bayou Sara.

As it was a rule with a bayou, so it was a law with a railway. With Butler, it was always Point Danger to be situated on either. Pontchatoula had the ill luck of being situated on the Jackson railroad. During 1862 the town was attacked no less than three times. After awhile it turned into a game of see-saw. On the days following the various attacks, the Confederates generally visited to the full upon the pillagers of the days previous. Sometimes they took the first step in a skirmish, one of which, in December, is in point. A scouting party of 25 men, under command of Lieutenant Evans, attacked the Federal steamboat Brown. The Brown, counting two guns, was going up Bayou Boufouca, two miles from Fort Pike and sixty miles from Pontchatoula. The Brown was more timid than daring. After delivering one fire she backed down the bayou. Being true to the newest tradition in Louisiana, the Brown shelled the woods as she steamed past to a safer place.

The easy success of his Brashear City expedition stimulated Butler to more important movements. He dispatched [64] from the city a force of 4,500 men under General Williams to act in conjunction with a naval movement against Baton Rouge. This was the key-note to the expedition—a note already enforced at the forts below New Orleans. No Confederate troops being in the little capital, the combined expedition, conducted in the interest of an open river, vied with the capture of Brashear in the bloodlessness of the triumph achieved. One effect, however, soon became apparent. In the hearts of the Confederates this easy triumph aroused a strong desire for revenge. This was aggravated by the fact that, since the 28th of May, the picturesque little city had been garrisoned by the Federals.

In the meantime the gunboats, satisfied that Baton Rouge was in the care of their army, continued up the river to Vicksburg. Here was the Third Louisiana brigade under the command of that General Smith whom we know in connection with the special defense of the ‘interior line’ at Chalmette. The bombardment by the clamorous mortars lasted for sixty-seven days. This was a heavy ordeal for troops not only new to service, but specially unused to so severe a tax upon their strength as well as their energy. Among the men manning batteries were three companies of the First regiment of Louisiana artillery; two companies Twentysec-ond and two companies Twenty-third, Major Clinch; three companies Eighth Louisiana battalion, Major Ogden; and Lieut.-Col. Charles Pinkney, of the Eighth. The picketing imposed upon the command was especially burdensome. The nearer to a citadel the more hazardous always the call of duty. This duty was performed with equal patience and care by the Twenty-sixth, Twenty-seventh and Twenty-eighth Louisiana volunteers, under Colonels DeClouet, Marks and Allen Thomas; the Fourth, Col. Henry Watkins Allen, and the Seventeenth Louisiana, Colonel Richardson. With these Louisianians, certified to by the general commanding as [65] having performed their full duty, all reference to the first long but indecisive bombardment of Vicksburg may be dropped here. Stirring events were preparing to culminate in July, 1863, when a leader, less fortunate than Gen. M. L. Smith, commanded troops not less heroic than those who stood victoriously behind the batteries of June, 1862.

On June 28, 1862, Maj-Gen. Earl Van Dorn, having relieved Major-General Lovell from the command of the department, assumed command of the forces at Vicksburg. To keep up his thin line, General Smith had hailed the arrival of the advance of Major-General Breckinridge's Second corps. Within a month Breckinridge was to be attacking the Federals at Baton Rouge. On July 15th the Arkansas made her first and only appearance, as a ram, to the terror of the enemy's fleet. Her coming out of the Yazoo river was a signal for mingled joy and anxiety on the part of our troops. She bravely stood alone against a fleet ribbed with iron and bristling with guns. .For a space, she remained motionless, inviting attack, but the fleet declined the invitation. The Arkansas still delayed, as if planning to ram. Then, on a signal, quickly her guns began their work, delivering broadside for broadside. The fleet still did not approach too near. Then the Arkansas rushed upon the enemy ahead of her, ran the gantlet of the upper fleet of twelve vessels, destroying one of the enemy's vessels in the path and forcing two of his boats to strike their colors. Satisfied with this formidable exhibition of power, such as the great river had not before seen, the Arkansas, after running the ordeal, found herself, still a menace, in safety under the Vicksburg guns.

It was in August, 1862, that the lesson of Confederate reprisals was to be enforced at Baton Rouge. The city was about 130 miles above New Orleans. In the early part of the war it occupied a position of importance at once strategic and political. As the capital of Louisiana, [66] its possession gave a direct political advantage to the army actually holding to it. Being 40 miles down the stream from the mouth of Red river, its occupation by either army would impartially form a strong factor in keeping the Mississippi open or closed. At this time, such a power would necessarily prove of signal service. Red river country was still Confederate. Large droves of cattle still continued to roam its fields—cattle which the Federals from the lower Mississippi were already coveting, but which the Confederates were equally anxious to control. For the Confederates, more especially the Louisianians, the continued possession of Baton Rouge would have excited far more interest than that of any town outside the limits of New Orleans. It concentrated in a marked degree that subtle love for the State of one's birth and rearing, which is never so strong as when it beats in the heart of the American who hazards his life for its defense. The continued Federal occupation of Baton Rouge was a long, very long step toward their open navigation of the river. Vicksburg was one protesting point; Baton Rouge added, a long gap would be made in the line of armed occupation. It was General Breckinridge's special hope to create this gap.

On August 14, 1862, Breckinridge's division had come as far as the Comite river, under orders from Major-General Van Dorn, commanding the district, to move upon Baton Rouge. The division had suffered severely from exposure and sickness at Vicksburg in June and July, and Breckinridge now found himself with less than 3,000 effective men. During the march he learned that the force of the enemy was not less than 4,500 men, and that the fighting ground around the town was commanded by three gunboats, lying in the river. This determined him not to make the attempt unless he could be relieved from an enfilading fire from the fleet. He felt implicit reliance on the Arkansas, which was based on the fact that he had seen her brilliant work against [67] the Federal fleet before Vicksburg. Could she be sent down to clear the river? Or, failing that, could he look for her to divert the fire of the gunboats? These queries, telegraphed to Van Dorn, brought an immediate answer. ‘The Arkansas will be ready to co-operate at daylight on Tuesday, August 5th.’

With this assurance, Breckinridge marched his division at once. Leaving the Comite at 1 p. m., he reached the vicinity of Baton Rouge, ten miles off, a while before daybreak on the morning of the 5th. The three gunboats were on the river. Before the day would be out, the Arkansas would be there among them! With this hope strong in him, Breckinridge waited for the dawn. While waiting in the darkness, an independent sortie of the Louisiana partisan rangers provoked an exchange of shots between the pickets. Galloping back, the rangers caused some disorder and were followed by a storm of bullets from the enemy in the town. Brigadier-General Helm was dangerously wounded by the fall of his horse; A. H. Todd, his aide-de-camp, was killed, and Captain Roberts, Fourth Kentucky, wounded. Several enlisted men were killed or wounded. Two of Captain Cobb's three guns were rendered, for the time, useless. But order was soon brought out of disorder. The force was placed in position on the right and left of the Greenwell Springs road. Breckinridge, with a single line of battle, a small regiment of infantry and one piece of artillery to each division as a reserve, now faced the enemy, already awaiting him in a compact line, made very strong with heavy reserves distributed at intervals.

It was a little after daylight. A thick fog darkened the morning, but despite its prevalence the order to advance was given. General Ruggles, commanding the left, brought on the engagement with his second division. The Fourth and Thirtieth Louisiana, Boyd's Louisiana battalion, and Semmes' battery were under the command [68] of Colonel Henry Watkins Allen. With Ruggles, also, was a brigade of regiments from Kentucky and Alabama under Colonel Thompson. Allen's fame was already crescent. The Louisiana leader combined the dash of d'artagnan with the thirst for battle of Anthony Wayne. Before an enemy he was a Pennsylvanian engrafted upon a Creole. An odd compound, but one first-class for war.

The line had proceeded but a few hundred yards when it was met by a brisk fire from the enemy's skirmishers, strongly posted on the right. Simultaneously, Semmes, battery was ordered forward to drive off the skirmishers. Fired by their leader's example the Louisianians dashed to the front, with ringing cheers, charging a battery stationed at the head of a street on the outskirts of Baton Rouge. Ruggles' order had been peremptory—‘March straight to the front until you hear “ Stop!” ’ and Allen was not the man to question an order while the battle was on. To the front, straight as he could go, he swept, carrying the colors in his hand and pressing up to the very muzzles of the guns. At that point, there came a scattering discharge of canister which struck him down. shattering both of his legs.1 Lieut.-Col. Samuel Boyd was also severely wounded in the same charge. The vigilant enemy, seeing signs of trouble in their front, threw in strong reinforcements, which forced the brigade back in some confusion. Rallied by the efforts of Colonel Breaux, of the Thirteenth, and LieutenantCol-onel Hunter, Fourth, the Louisiana brigade, although it did not further participate in the assault, bravely [69] maintained a new and hazardous position under fire from the gunboats and from the land-batteries of the enemy. Throughout this movement, Semmes' battery served efficiently.

The First division, under Gen. Charles Clark, brigades of Colonel Hunt and Colonel Smith, advancing to the right of the Greenwell Springs road, made a gallant charge, constantly pressing the enemy back until, after several hours of fighting, he was driven to his last encampment. This was in a large grove just in rear of the penitentiary. It was here the division suffered the greatest loss. The fight had turned hot and stubborn. Colonel Hunt, commanding the Kentucky brigade, was shot down. At this juncture the attack was pressed with great vigor until General Clark received a wound, supposed at the time to be mortal. Through some misapprehension Hunt's brigade began to fall back down the slope, but still preserving order and obeying commands. Captain Buckner, of General Breckinridge's staff, had been placed at its head. Breckinridge notified Buckner that he did not yet desire to make a retrograde movement. He was still expecting to hear the guns of the Arkansas in victorious thunder. Captain Buckner, therefore, about-faced his brigade and renewed vigorously the attack, aided by Smith. Thompson's brigade was discovered by Breckinridge to be without ammunition, and he at once ordered it to advance to the support of Buckner with fixed bayonets. During this movement the fire from the gunboats, growing fast and furious, was causing considerable suffering to our men, which fortunately did not last long. By this time the opposing lines were approaching each other closely in the heat of the assault and defense, and a regard for their comrades obliged the gunboats to suspend their fire. For a space bloodiest battle surged around the last Federal camp. Breckinridge here directed a charge, which drove the enemy in confusion through his last regimental encampment [70] to the river, under the protection of his gunboats. A part of our men pursued and fired at the Federals for some distance down the street, as they fled in front of the arsenal and barracks. They did not reappear during the day. The battle of Baton Rouge, which had been going on since daybreak, was over. General Breckinridge's corps had scored a brilliant victory, won by hard fighting and resolute pluck. Our men had constantly advanced with steadiness, driving the enemy from encampment to encampment. The third and last camp reached, victory had closed the battle. It was still early in the day.

A small battle may easily resemble a great battle in partial outlines. Thus it happened that Breckinridge's attack on Williams, at Baton Rouge, was marked by features resembling somewhat Albert Sidney Johnston's surprise of Grant at Shiloh. It was about 4:30 a. m. when each of the Confederate armies burst into attack. At Shiloh the Federals were driven pell-mell by our troops from camp to camp, as at Baton Rouge they were forced back by us from encampment to encampment. At Shiloh the camps were mostly in the woods; at Baton Rouge they were mostly in the suburbs of the town. At Shiloh the nearest camp to the Tennessee was that in which Prentiss and his fighting brigade were captured; at Baton Rouge the last encampment through which the enemy was driven was near to the Mississippi. It was a mere difference of entourage. From both rivers, danger, before the fight was on, had vaguely threatened. In the Tennessee had been gunboats, waiting to bite; in the Mississippi were other gunboats, now biting hard!

It was now 10 a. m. Beauregard, at Corinth, had satirically asked Lovell, regarding Vicksburg: ‘Will the Arkansas also be just one week too late, like the Mississippi?’ Breckinridge, never ceasing to vex, was hard at work putting the same query to himself. He knew that the Arkansas had failed at the heroic rendezvous. Why had [71] she failed? It was a new and perplexing variant of the old theme. Not until 4 p. m. did he learn, by express, the grim truth. Before daylight, and within four miles of Baton Rouge, ‘the machinery of the Arkansas had become disabled and she lay helpless on the right bank of the river.’ Machinery too easily disabled, as in the Arkansas; motive power insufficient, as in the Louisiana! War vessels built in the ship-yards of the Confederacy were strong as iron could make them; yet structural defects—the fruit of inexperience and want of facilities in naval construction—often proved them, on trial, weak like cockle-shells. Some of these vessels, whose glory will not be forgotten, made history singly against fleets—the Virginia, on Hampton Roads; the Manassas, at Fort Jackson; the Arkansas, at Vicksburg; the Tennessee, in Mobile bay.

Breckinridge regretted only the failure of the Arkansas as an ally. He said: ‘It was now ten o'clock; we had listened in vain for the guns of the Arkansas. I saw around me not more than 1,000 exhausted men, who had been unable to procure water since we left the Comite river. The enemy had several batteries commanding the approaches to the arsenal and barracks and the gunboats had already reopened upon us with a direct fire. Under these circumstances, although the troops showed the utmost indifference to danger and death, were even reluctant to return, I did not deem it prudent to pursue the victory further. Having scarcely any transportation I ordered all the camps and stores of the enemy to be destroyed, and directing Captain Buckner to place one section of Semmes' battery, supported by the Seventh Kentucky, in a certain position on the field, withdrew the rest of the troops about one mile, to Ward's creek, with the hope of obtaining water. Finding none there fit for man or beast, I moved the command back to the field of battle, and procured a very imperfect supply from some cisterns in the suburbs of the town. This position we occupied for the rest of the day.’ [72]

The Confederate loss at Baton Rouge was 446 killed, wounded and missing. The contest had been stubborn and had involved much close fighting, in which both armies suffered considerably. The loss of the enemy, partially given, was believed to be about the same. Had it been infinitely smaller, the death of Brig.-Gen. Thomas Williams alone, put against heaviest statistics of casualties, would have weighed the balance down. The death of that excellent soldier proved a serious loss to their army. The enemy was superior both in numbers and artillery, and the battle was marked by other sharp disproportions—4,500 Federals2 (Butler's estimate June 1st) against 2,600 Confederates—no less than 18 pieces of field artillery, exclusive of the guns of the fleet, against 11 pieces—Federals fresh and well-clothed, against Confederates foot-sore with marching from the Comite, many of them weak from sickness, in rags and on indifferent food. Although the Federals held the city, their occupation of it told the tale of defeat. On the 20th of August, Confederate scouts drove in their pickets. On the 21st the Federals evacuated Baton Rouge.

Both armies had claimed the battle of Baton Rouge on August 5th. The evacuation by the enemy, two weeks after the battle, justified the Confederate claim. This withdrawal from Baton Rouge was the result of certain skillful operations by that dashing tactician, Major-General Van Dorn. He had already clearly seen the importance to the Confederacy of the occupation of Port Hudson. With that in view, he had ordered an immediate movement toward the place. He had selected that point specially for its eligibility for defense, and for its capacity for offensive annoyance to the enemy. Baton Rouge would, in the meanwhile, be held in menace. The event justified Van Dorn's military foresight. The enemy disappeared from the Mississippi between Baton Rouge and Vicksburg. [73] The navigation of the Mississippi from the mouth of Red river to Vicksburg was at once opened. Communication between the district of Mississippi and the Trans-Mississippi department was established. More than 200 miles of the river were thus closed to the Federal fleet.

Not for long, however, was this repose to last. After August, 1862, projected the mighty shadow of July, 1863, when, with Vicksburg fallen, Port Hudson after a gallant fight was also to fall, and the Mississippi was to run unvexed to the sea. In accordance with Van Dorn's plan Breckinridge, a few days after the battle of Baton Rouge, occupied Port Hudson with a part of his troops, under the command of Ruggles. The next day he received orders to move his entire force to the same point. Apparently, he himself was not yet wearied with Baton Rouge. He left General Bowen, who had just arrived with his command on the Comite river, to observe the city from that quarter. He remained long enough at Port Hudson to advise with General Ruggles as to the selection of eligible positions for heavy batteries. He had previously ordered Captain Nocquet, chief engineer, to report to him temporarily for this duty. Nocquet had acted with notable promptness. Some of the works were already waiting to receive the guns, which ought to command the river more completely than at Vicksburg. This was the opinion of Breckinridge, who now moved from Port Hudson to Jackson, Miss., leaving Ruggles in command. [74]

1 From this wound Henry Watkins Allen never entirely recovered. He came out from his illness strong in spirit but weak in health. He came out the idol of his Fourth Louisiana, the pride of his State, the future choice of her people for their war-governor to succeed Thomas O. Moore. In that office, it is safe to say that never was there a more devoted administrator of the interests of Louisiana, in peace or in war, than Henry Watkins Allen. He stood at her dying; and, heart-torn at the sight, he took refuge in Mexico where In 1886, he passed away, an alien on a foreign soil.

2 By Federal reports 2,500 ‘actually engaged,’ of which the loss in battle was 383 killed and wounded.

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