1863 September 8: “Another Rebel Stronghold fallen! Fort Beauregard, La., evacuated by the rebels”
Fort Beauregard was one of four Confederate forts guarding the Ouachita—pronounced washita—River in Louisiana. In early May 1863, the fort successfully defended the village of Harrisonburg from attack by Union gunboats. After four days of bombardment, little damage was done, and the gunboats left. On September 4, 1863, the fort was evacuated and destroyed by the Confederates. Union General M. M. Crocker¹ led the expedition that resulted in the opening description of Edwin Levings’ September 8th letter. The original letter is in the Edwin D. Levings Papers (River Falls Mss BO), in the University Archives and Area Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
Natchez Miss, Sept 8th, 1863
Hurrah for the 3rd Brig[ade]! Another Rebel Stronghold fallen! Fort Beauregard, La., evacuated by the rebels. Magazine blown up, cannon spiked etc. You are surprised I should begin a letter thus, and want to know what is the matter. Well, you shall know. I told you before, we were about making a raid into La. We left on the 1st and returned yesterday after an absence of 7 days. The troops comprised the 17th Wis Mounted Infy [Infantry] and the 2nd and 3rd brigades, all under the command of Gen Crocker.¹ We penetrated La. 45 miles, to the above mentioned fort, crossing two rivers, chasing and scaring the rebels awfully & compelling them to abandon their stronghold & destroy its stores, including ammunition, supplies & so on. Fort Beauregard is situated at Harrisonburg on the right bank of the Washita River 12 miles from its mouth, and is the same fort our gunboats tried to take last spring & failed—no impression could be made on it by them. We took along a big pontoon train with which to cross Black River at Trinity. The Tensas (pronounced Tensaw), Washita & Little Rivers unite at Trinity & form the Black River. Now take your map & trace the road of our march. Crossed the Miss. opposite Natchez to Vidalia, thence proceeded along the southern shore of Lake Concordia, a very beautiful lake, 8 or 11 miles long & ¾ of a mile wide & abounding in fish. Camped on this lake the 1st night. Distance, 7 miles. Next day traveled along a slough & came to the ferry at Bush Bayou about noon & crossed, went on to within 3 miles of Black river, camping on the Tensas. Cavalry took some prisoners. Distance, 18 miles. 3rd — Crossed Black river on scows, boats & sections of the pontoons, the river being too wide for the pontoon bridge to reach across, 250 ft. the river being very deep & 250 yds wide. The rebels had hauled all the boats across to the other side & our boys had to swim the stream amid a shower of bullets. The cav[alry] replied by volleys when the citizens came out with the white flag & the rebels took to their heels. The crossing occupied till 3 P. M. when we went on, marching most of the night in a big swamp up the Washita. We lay down to take a little sleep & at 2 in the morning we arose & proceeded to where the roads strike a pine ridge which runs to the Washita. I heard explosions during the night which I thought must be the rebels blowing up their fort. At this crossing the Cav. had captured a rebel officer carrying a dispatch that Col. Walker would be at the fort that night or the next morning with 3000 reinforcements. So we were fast in time & cut them off. At 7 A. M. we started for the Fort which on the termination of this pine ridge the 2nd Brigade was close behind. We had not gone a mile when we were attacked in the rear & had to put back to the crossing at a double [unreadable]. There we found a line of Battle was formed, the corn cut down & the Cav. went ahead chasing the rebels 8 or ten miles, found where they had camped, the rascals would not stand. When the 2nd Brig. came up we left them and went to the Fort at Harrisonburg & found the rebels gone. They did not have time to take away anything but some artillery. They left 2 siege guns spiked, 4 fine brass pieces unspiked, 1½ tons of powder, some small arms, cartridges and shell, any amount, corn meal, &c, caissons, wagons & so on. We destroyed all these taking away two cannon.
Fort Beauregard was a splendid work & the strongest I ever saw. There were no forts at Vicksburg as strong. It would have been impossible to have taken it by storm, no charge would have gained it. Only a siege could have done the thing. All were very much surprised at its strength. There were a fine jail inside, 2 nice fortified wells & every convenience almost. There were only 150 men in it when evacuated. They thought we had 8 or 10,000 men. We scared them out of it & compelled them to do the work of destruction mostly. We burned the court house & jail & several other buildings. If Walker had got in before we did, our force would have proved powerless. 500 men could have held it in spite of us. So we came back. Fared well of chickens, potatoes &c. though the country is a miserable one. We passed th[r]ough places where the water had stood 10 to 15 ft deep. Alligators, lots of them. Don’t think you would like to live here. Would you?
Sept. 9th — The Capt.² returned this yesterday morning with 3 fine recruits. Looks well, says you came down to [unreadable] & saw him. We are having a good time. David Burr³ writes he is at Stevenson, Ala., that his regt. is establishing a convalescent camp there, — is well &, like us, asks no favors of the doctors.
It is supposed Sumter4 has fallen and that Charleston can not survive the shock much longer. The papers, at least, convey this intelligence. The boys are all much gratified at the late Union State convention held at Madison, and with the nominations. I am suited with the Resolution, especially the last, relating to Foreign Intervention.—The war does not look likely to end in some time. The ominous clouds of war are rising from across the waters, & how we can avert the storm I can not see.—England seems bent on provoking us to a war.—Well, let it come. God help us. We shall do our duty. I am ready. Our only safety and deliverance are in going forward, trusting in Him who controls the destinies of nations as well as individuals. I have not time to write as much as I would like to. Good by. Write soon. Yours affectionately, Edwin D. Levings
1. Marcellus Monroe Crocker (1830-1865) attended West Point but did not graduate. He held the title of Captain in the 2nd Iowa Infantry inn 1861and was promoted to colonel later that year. He was part of the Battle of Shiloh in April of 1862, the Battle of Corinth in October of 1862, and was promoted to General in November of 1862. He also took part in the Vicksburg Campaign, and the Battle of Jackson in 1863.
2. Captain Orrin T. Maxson was back home in Prescott, Wisconsin, in August 1863. The recruits he brought back with him were:
- Francis M. Barrett, from Prescott, enlisted August 13, 1863
- Christian Hanningson, from Prescott, enlisted August 19, 1863
- John McCallum, from Prescott, enlisted August 19, 1863.
3. David C. Burr, from River Falls, enlisted in Company F, 1st Wisconsin Infantry, on September 4, 1861. He will be taken prisoner at the Battle of Chickamauga (September 19-20, 1863) and will die December 29, 1863, in Danville. During the Civil War, six Danville, Virginia, tobacco warehouses were converted and used between December 1863 and February 1865 to house captured Union soldiers.
4. Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor (South Carolina).