Civil War Louisiana (CWLA)

Civil War Louisiana (CWLA)
CWLA seeks to provide an online resource of any and all material of the Civil War relating to Louisiana with a special interest in the war in Acadiana in southwest Louisiana.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Texans in Louisiana, early 1865

The surrender of Robert E. Lee's and Joseph E. Johnston's armies in April 1865 are well documented occaisions. The beauty of these surrenders, and even Richard Taylor's surrender at Meridian in May, is that they provide us with a lot of primary accounts and rosters of those surrendered. That changes quite a bit to what happened to Kirby Smith's Trans-Mississippi Department. When word came of the surrender of Confederate armies east of the Mississippi it did not take long for whole companies and regiments to begin to melt away in mid-May 1865.

John G. Walker's famous "Greyhounds" Texas Division was a mainstay force in northern and southwestern Louisiana for the better part of two years. Many a Texans from this division defended our state with their lives. General Walker reported to Kirby Smith in mid-May about his famed division:

"My obeservation convinces me that the troops of this distirct cannot be relied upon. They consider the contest a hopeless one, and will lay down their armes at the first appearance of the enemy. This is the unanimous opinion of the brigade and regiment commanders...".

Alwyn Barr described the end of Prince Camille de "Polecat" Polignac's Texas Brigade (another veteran of Louisiana battlefields such as Mansfield and Pleasant Hill) on page 56 of his book Polignac's Texas Brigade:

"Most of the men...had accepted ultimate defeat by May 19 and had gone home on their own accord. The remaining troops of the division [Forney's] had been discharged on the 20th. Thus, without fanfare or even the bitter memory of a mass surrender, the men who had made up Polignac's Texas Brigade trudged homeword."

Yes, the surrender of Lee was a serious blow to morale. No doubt. What I found fascinating, though, was a letter written to the Galveston Weekly News in ealry 1865 from a Texas soldier serving in Louisiana. Its no wonder that soldiers in Louisiana were very quick to melt away and go home with the news of Lee's surrender. Looks like these men were in a serious bind:

Headquarters, &c., Near Colqeut [Colquet?], La.,
February 25th, 1865.

Ed. News:--It has been some time since I saw they free and handsome columns. I have been far away to the northward, with ye cavalry, but I have returned, and as editors are presumed to know almost everything, we have decided to ask you some questions of vital importance to us, after first stating what we know relative thereto. Cotton by the thousand bales has been shipped to Mexico, and many thousand pounds of the precious article have been sold to Yankee trading boats on the Mississippi river; and the citizens tell us that their cotton has been taken by government officials for the purpose of buying clothing for the soldiers. And our worthy commanders, when questioned on this point, tell us that the cotton trade is absolutely necessary, to relieve the necessities of the private soldiers of this department in furnishing them with shoes, shirts, blankets, hats, coats, pants, &c. Laudable undertaking, is it not, thus to have the welfare and comfort of the private soldier so much at heart? But Mr. Editor, notwithstanding this exportation of cotton has been going on at a fearful rate, for two years, we have not yet had our necessities relieved. Plenty of time has certainly elapsed for as to have received the first installment; but this winter finds us, after an active and arduous campaign of ten months very destitute of clothing, in fact, almost naked. The citizens are surprised to see us in this condition, after hearing of the unceasing labors of the great men at Shreveport to clothe us.

There is not one soldier in every three of the rank and file of this division, that has a change of clothing, and there is not an average of one good blanket to every man in the command throughout and, at least, fifty men are now absolutely barefooted, and many more so nearly that they suffer intensely from the cold biting frosts that we have even in Louisiana. We have not tents or cooking utensils, but we care not for tents, pots, skillets, frying pans, &c. We can do as we have done before, bake our bread on boards and roast our beef on bricks. But when our tender hearted, considerate rulers have done so much and have labored so assiduously in shipping cotton both to Mexico and the Federal Union, to supply the soldier's wants, we think we should reap the benefits of their labors, at least, to the tune of one suit each year. If you have traveled much in the great State of Texas, Mr. Editor, within the year 1864, you perhaps know as well as I do, that nearly every town in the State is a military Post. These posts have their commanders, who rank from Lieutenant up to full Colonel. You will find also Post Adjutants, with rank appropriate to their responsible positions, and no town whether it be a Post or not, is free from A.Q.M's and A.C.S's. Take the two latter, as a clan, and it is as numerous almost as the sands of the sea. I have often asked myself the question: Where did they all come from? All of these officers, Mr. Editor, if you are a close observer, you find wearing the newest of uniforms, with glittering buttons thereon, and such quantities of lace, Mr. Editor, as is never seen on the battle field. And it is said by those who have been there, that the two hundred or more officers that honor Shreveport with their presence, dress in the same style. All must have and do have caps, cloaks, overcoats, &c. If this is the case, the wardrobe of one of these patriotic, heroic dandies would well nigh clothe a small company of private soldiers. Some of our boys thinks that the gentlemen above alluded to, have drawn the cloth that was purchased for them, with all the cotton; but then soldiers are so ignorant they don't know, and, in fact, have but little use for the little sense they have. What do you say Mr. Editor?

Sometimes it is the case that officers resign, way up here on the Northern frontier of this Department, and leave the service; go right to Shreveport or some other place, to see a Governor or a General, to see if it is possible to get an agency in the Cotton Bureau; to try their hands at relieving the necessities of the soldiers. (Only a few days ago, a Colonel resigned, and I fancy, from what I know, that, were another month has shown its tail, he will be rolling somebody's cotton bales.) After these men have been in the cotton trade six or eight weeks, we find them sporting gold watches, heavy chains and jingling double eagles for pocket pieces. Brass mounted McClellan saddles, silver plated bitts, ivory handled pistols and new pocket cutlery follow. At the end of six months, we see them purchasing plantations and negroes—wonderfully progressive—don't you think so? And the General or Governor who assists these men to position in the Cotton Bureau, is almost certain to receive a demijohn of fine brandy, a gold watch or something of the kind. Some of our boys think that there is a private understanding between these Generals, Governors and Cotton Bureau men, but I guess it ain't so.

Mr. Editor, was you ever a soldier? Well, if you never was, you know nothing of muster rolls, pay day, &c. We have all been soldiers for nearly four years and we know almost as little as you, who have never been one, in regard to these small details of military life. We were last paid on the 31st day of August, 1863—about 17 months ago. Our Quartermaster, Major P., says that he has received a written paragraph order, ordering him to make estimates for funds. But, Mr. Editor, this pleasant little incident related by the worthy Major, as plausible as it may seem, is no sign that we will be paid; it is only a proof that ye grand Quartermaster of ye Department wants to keep his clerks out of mischief, and he can do it most effectually by keeping them at work. We are told that the "new issue" is beautiful to look upon and easy made—in all respects much better than the "old issue"' but one of our boys tried to buy one bushel of sweet roots, some time ago, from a detailed twenty negro man, and he asked him twenty dollars in "new issue." Our boys, Mr. Editor, didn't have but ten dollars and they came away without the roots.

It is not likely that we will go into winter quarters, as it is impossible to forage our animals long at a place. However, the going into winter quarters is a matter of small consequence, as the winter is now nearly gone. Our boys are in good spirits, Mr. Editor, and will be ready for the field in a very short time, and they hope that, in the interim between to-day and the opening of the spring campaign, to welcome back their gallant leader, major General J. S. Marmaduke, who is now held a prisoner on Johnson's Island. We are all anxious for his early return. We have confidence in him, Mr. Editor, for he is sober, discreet, noble and brave. It would, indeed, be a happy day for his old Division were he to return to-morrow. Will our rulers do all they can to have him exchanged? I hope so.
Respectfully, Wallingham.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting letter ! Seems like a case of "rich man's war; poor man's fight!" Does it not?


Coppens' Zouave Battalion

Coppens' Zouave Battalion
Lt. Colonel George Coppens (seated) and brother, Captain Marie Alfred Coppens.Image sold at auction on Cowan Auctions, for $14,375