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1864 May 7: Red River Battles in Louisiana

May 7, 2014

The longer article is from The Prescott Journal of May 7, 1864, and the second, shorter, article is from The Polk County Press of the same date.

We have not heard much in the local newspapers about the Red River Campaign, except for the Battle of Fort DeRussy (March 12).  These articles are primarily about the Battle of Pleasant Hill, which took place on Saturday April 9, 1864.  The Battle of Mansfield/Sabine Crossroads took place on April 8, the Battle of Blair’s Landing on April 12, and the Battle of Monett’s Ferry on April 23.

The Battles in Louisiana.

From various sources we take the following additional particulars of the recent battles in Louisiana:

The Republican’s Red River letter of the 13th says that Gen. Smith’s command [A. J. Smith] began crossing the river opposite Ecore that day for an overland trip to Vicksburg, it being understood, Gen. Grant [Ulysses S. Grant] sent orders for Gen. Smith to return to that place.  Rebel prisoners say they had 25,000 men in the recent battles, and that they lost 3,000 in Saturday’s fight.  They left their killed and wounded on the field.  Our loss on Saturday was about 1,5000.  Our wounded were taken to Grand Ecore, and the killed were left on the field, but were recaptured afterwards by the cavalry.

Gen. Smith’s command consisted of portions of the 16th and 17th army corps belonging to Gen. Hurlbut [Stephen A. Hurlbut] and Gen. McPhersons [sic: James B. McPherson].

The correspondent says that great dissatisfaction is expressed at Banks’ Generalship [Nathaniel P. Banks].  Friday’s battle was fought contrary to Franklin’s plans  [William B. Franklin] and both Franklin and Ransom [Thomas E. G. Ransom] protested against having the cavalry so far in advance.  Gen. Smith protested against a retreat from Pleasant Hill after the victory of Saturday, he wishing to pursue the fleeing rebels, but Banks ordered the return of the entire army to Grand Ecore.

It is difficult to determine what the result of the expedition will be.  It will require some time to re-organize the expedition, and if the river continues full, Alexandria will necessarily continue to be the base of operations.

The following, from the New Orleans Era, is an account of the final victory of the Union forces, after some terrible fighting :  At seven o’clock on Saturday morning our forces were at Pleasant Hill, and the rebels were advancing their cavalry, being in front, and endeavoring to discover our position.  Col. O. P. Gooding,¹ with his brigade of Lee’s² cavalry corps, was sent out on the Shreveport road to meet the enemy and draw him on.  He had got about a mile, when he came on the rebel advance.  Skirmishing immediately ensued, and, according to the plan, he slowly fell back.  The fight was very sharp between these bodies of cavalry.  Col. Gooding lost nearly forty men in killed and wounded, inflicting, however, as much damage as he received.

The 18th corps was a reserve in the rear under Gen. Cameron.³  Gen. Ransom had been wounded the day before.  Gen. Smith was commander in chief of the second lines back of the crest, while Gen. Mower [Joseph A. Mower] was the commander of the rear.  The commander of the right brigade in General Smith’s west line was Col. Lynch4 ;  the left brigade was Col. Shaw’s5 ; the 3d Indiana battery was posted on the right of the 89th Indiana infantry, and the 9th Indiana battery on the right of the line of battle.  The Missouri Iron Sun battery and others whose names and numbers we could not ascertain, were also in this section of the battle.

The skirmishing was kept up with considerable vigor till about 5 o’clock in the  afternoon, when the rebels had completed their arrangements for attack.  At about this time Gen. Emory’s6 skirmish line was driven in on the right by the rebels, who appeared in large force coming through the timber.  They soon reached the open ground and moved on the attack in three lines of battle.  Our batteries and infantry opened with terrible effect doing great slaughter with grape and canister, while the enemy’s artillery, being in the woods and in bad position, did scarcely any damage.  Col. Benedict’s7 brigade on the left was first engaged, and soon followed by Dwight’s8 and McMillian’s.9  The fighting was terrific.  Old soldiers say it never surpassed for desperation.  Notwithstanding the terrible havoc in their ranks the enemy pressed fiercely on, slowly pushing the men of the 19th corps back up the hill, but not breaking their line of battle.

A sudden and bold dash of the rebels on the right gave them possession of Taylor’s battery and forced our line still farther back.  Now came the grand coup de main.  The 11th corps on arriving at the top of the hill suddenly flew over the hill and passed through the lines of Gen. Smith.

We must here mention that the rebels were now in but two lines of battle, the first having been almost annihilated by Gen. Emory, and what remained having been forced back.  But these two lines came on exultant and sure of victory  The first passed overt the knoll and, all heedless of the long line of cannons and crouching forms, passed on.  The second line appeared on the hill and the death signal was sounded.  Words cannot describe the awful effects of this discharge of seven thousand rifles and several batteries of artillery loaded to the muzzle with grape and canister.  They were fired simultaneously and the whole centre of the rebel line was crushed down, frightfully mangled by this one discharge.

No time was given them to recover their good order, but Gen. Smith ordered a charge and his men dashed rapidly forward, the boys of the 19th joining in.  The rebels fought boldly and desperately back to the timber, on reaching which a large portion fled, fully 2,000 throwing aside their arms.  In this charge Taylor’s battery10 was re-taken, as was also two of the guns of Nim’s battery,11 the parrot gun taken from us at Carrion Crow last fall, and one or two others belonging to the rebels, one of which was considerably shattered, besides 700 prisoners.

A pursuit and desperate fight was kept up for 3 miles when our men returned to the field of battle and there ended this fearful and bloody struggle for the control of Western Louisiana.

Battle of Pleasant Hill, from the Library of Congress (see footnote 12)

Battle of Pleasant Hill, from the Library of Congress (see footnote 12)

From Louisiana.

ST. LOUIS, April 29, 8.30 A. M.—The “Democrat’s” Vicksburg correspondence of the 22d says the steamer Lucy brings news from the Red River that no fighting had occurred up to the 20th, but the rebels were reported marching on Grand Ecore on the 22d.  Our troops are going out to meet them.

Our total loss in the late battle foots up four thousand.  Our artillery is believed to be securely entrenched at Grand Ecore on both sides of the river.

The report in circulation that Banks is to be superseded by Sickles [Daniel E. Sickles] is untrue.

Gens. Franklin and Stone [Charles P. Stone], whose neglect and carelessness contributed greatly to the disasters in Louisiana, will be relieved, and probably court martialed.

The “Herald’s” Grand Ecore (La.) dispatch of the 16th states that our total loss is 3,400, of which the killed probably do not exceed 300.

Emory’s division of the 10th corps had sixty-one killed and 411 wounded.  The missing increase this to 600, Lee’s cavalry lost 600.

Reports say Magruder [John B. Magruder] is between Shreveport and Gen. Steele [Frederick Steele] with 11,000 men.

1.  Oliver P. Gooding, colonel of the 31st Massachusetts Infantry.
2.  Albert Lindley Lee (1834-q907) was a lawyer and judge in Kansas and a founder of the Elwood Free Press before the Civil War. He started the War as major and then colonel of the 7th Kansas Cavalry. He was promoted to brigadier general in November 1862. Lee served as chief-of-staff to General John A. McClernand through much of the Vicksburg campaign, serving at the battles of Port Gibson, Champion Hill, and Big Black River. He led the cavalry forces during the Red River Campaign. In the last month of the war, he led a raid against Clinton near Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
3.   Robert Alexander Cameron (1828-1894) published the Valparaiso Republican in Indiana before the Civil War. He was the lieutenant colonel of the 19th Indiana Infantry, colonel of the 34th Indiana, and then promoted to brigadier general. He led a division of the XIII Corps during the Red River Campaign. During the Battle of Mansfield, Cameron’s men attempted to reinforce the crumbling Union line, but were forced back when it finally broke.
4.  William F. Lynch, colonel of the 58th Illinois Infantry.
5.  William T. Shaw, colonel of the 14th Iowa Infantry.
6.  William H. Emory (1811-1887) graduated from West Point in 1833 and specialized in civil engineering; Emory was most importantly a topographical engineer and explorer. Emory served as a brigade commander in the Army of the Potomac in 1862, commanded a division in the Port Hudson campaign, served in all the major battles in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign of 1864, especially at the Battle of Cedar Creek where Emory’s actions helped save the Union army from a devastating defeat.
7.  Lewis Benedict (1817-1864), colonel of the 162nd New York Infantry. He was killed in action at the Battle of Pleasant Hill on April 9, 1864.
8.  William Dwight, Jr. (1831-1888) attended West Point but resigned before graduating. He he was seriously wounded at the Battle of Williamsburg (May 5, 1862) and lost half of his command. Left for dead on the battlefield, Dwight was found by Confederate forces and held as a prisoner of war until he was exchanged in November 1862. He served as chief-of-staff to General Banks during the Red River Campaign, with service at the Battle of Mansfield and Battle of Pleasant Hill. Dwight later participated in the Valley Campaigns of 1864 and saw action at the battles of Winchester and Fisher’s Hill.
9.  James Winning McMillian (1825-1903) had served in the Mexican War, but was not a career military officer. He joined the Union cause in the Civil War as colonel of the 21st Indiana Infantry, which participated in the Union occupation of New Orleans in early 1862. McMillian was wounded at the Battle of Baton Rouge, and he was promoted to brigadier general in November 1862. He then participated in the Red River Campaign in the spring of 1864, fighting notably in the Battle of Mansfield on April 8, as well as partaking in the Battle of Monett’s Ferry on April 23. McMillian also participated in the Battle of Winchester (September 19) and the Battle of Cedar Creek (October 19), both in 1864.
10. “Taylor’s Battery” was the common name for the 1st Illinois Light Artillery, Company B.
11. “Nim’s Battery” was the common name of the 2nd Massachusetts Battery of Light Artillery.
12. “Battle of Pleasant Hill, Near Shreveport, Red River, La.” (Boston: Bufford’s Print Publishing House, 1864?). This digital copy is from the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

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