Camp 21st Texas Cavalry,
Parish of Avoyelles, La.,
May 26th, 1864.
The battles of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill are familiar to your readers as a twice told tale. But who of them have imagined the savage waste of the battlefields? For twenty odd miles, below the former place, fences, houses and crops, racked, torn, demolished and crushed in the dust; residences and plantations rifled and denuded of everything that could be useful to man; smoking ruins, hundreds of dead horses—some mangled and torn—bullet scarred and cannon-splintered forest trees, confused and scattered rubbish; spoil and plunder of the enemy, hastily abandoned, all meeting the eye at every turn, made us realize a wild desolation which no ordinary shock of battle, strife of armies or disappointed ambition might have wrought. It was but the beginning however, of the terrible havoc inflicted upon this fatal land. The enemy, panic-stricken had gone in helter-skelter style to Natchitoches and Grand Ecore, leaving the pine woods strewn with arms and fragmentary equipment. Gen. Bee, was doing him the unwelcome service of 'closing up" his rear while Gen. Green, moved with Parsons' Brigade and Woods and Gould's Regiments to Blair's Landing to intercept his fleet. With the ever mournful and tragic event of the battle of Blair's Landing the whole country is painfully acquainted. An incident of the battlefield identified with the fallen Hero, is, however, worthy of mention. We were ordered across the open field in front of the fleet at a "double-quick." The distance being near a mile and our dismounted cavalry unused to foot service, it was found quite an ordeal. The earth was soft and spongy and thrown into ridges across the line of our march, and at every step our feet sank deep into the earth. A noble spirited fellow, overcome by fatigue and had fallen behind the line, was struggling to regain his place, as our lion-hearted General was crossing the field at the same point. Generous and kind, as well as brave, the Hero checked his horse and with a word of encouragement relieved the tired man of his gun till he could come up with the line. Passing on, a second and a third were relieved in like manner. The men recovered their places and received their arms with gratitude for the General's kind consideration. While yet the battle raged and the enemy's shells were shrieking through the air above us, this incident was related to me by one of the men, who could not express his feelings of gratitude for the generous and timely assistance. As we passed into the fight, our attention was arrested by an act of female heroism worthy of all admiration. Mrs. _____, with two little children occupied her dwelling on the river at the point of our attack, and had not been warned of her danger. But as we approached rapidly through her yard, she appeared at the door, offering water to our tired and thirsty men, while shells were flying thick and fast around. . . . [account of battle] But the scene was changed! The shades of evening witnessed our forces withdrawn and the enemy in quiet possession of the ground. Soon the torch was applied to the buildings of our patriotic heroine and the lurid glare of the flames made hideous the gory field. This savage act performed, while robbery and theft were doing their dirty work, the enemy made good his retreat farther down the river.
A part of our cavalry was environing the enemy's camp between Natchitoches and Grand Ecore with dangers. Gen. Bee was below to intercept his retreat, while the gallant Polignac was in reserve, on the watch. The Yankee army, thirty thousand strong, was beleaguered by a small division of cavalry. At length by a sudden sally in force our pickets were driven back and the enemy commenced his retreat, leaving Grandecore in ashes. A timely charge from Col. Burford's Regiment, saved Natchitoches from the like fate and secured in our hands a squad of the incendiaries.
Between Natchitoches, for perhaps 59 miles, Red River has three channels, the Boudieur or main channel, Cane River and Little River. The enemy's land forces passed down the valley of Cane River while his fleet pursued the course of the Boudieur.
Before the barbarian horde lay a country fertile and yielding as the valley of the Nile in the palmiest days of Egypt, smiling and buoyant with prosperity. Nature, art and wealth had contributed with lavish hands to improve it, and the ideas of luxury, utility and beauty were blended in tasteful harmony and profusion. A rich promise of plenty, too, was in its growing fields. But the Yankee destroyer, like the hosts of Attila, passed over it—more terrible, blighting and consuming than swarms of locusts or the simoon of Sahara. Columns of smoke by day, and glaring flames by night, before us, and stretching far down the valley, warned us of the fearful desolation. All that fire would burn, that the rifle could slay, that theft could appropriate, that disappointed malice and wanton mischief could destroy, were swept with the besom of ruin. Fences and hedges did not escape fire. The herds of stock which could not be destroyed were turned upon the remnant of growing crops which could not be trampled in the dust by the marching thousands. No habitation for man or beast escaped the flames, save now and then an isolated plantation, from which the savages were driven by our little force before they could accomplish their full purposes. For near fifty miles in unbroken stretch, a wide, black, smoking waste was spread before us. The affrighted families, driven ruthlessly from their dwellings before the devouring flames, fled to the h ills and forests for safety; and no signs of human life remained, save now and then a decrepit old negro groping among the ruins. But the climax of horrors was achieved by this army of demons, in subjecting delicate and refined ladies, (who were taken by surprise in their dwellings,) to the insults and brutality of negro soldiery and those other degraded wretches—lower still in the scale of being incredible and monstrous as it sounds, it was too fearfully true. On the first day's march we came up with their rear, just in time to rescue a lady upon whose person the scoundrels were attempting violence. Alas, the blood of villains can not atone for such brutality! But they left not the spot unstained with their blood. Said a beautiful and modest woman, whom I met overwhelmed with distress: "Oh, sir, their insults and abuses of us women were too horrible for us to mention."
But the valley of Cane River was passed. The battles above and at Clouterville had been fought by our Brigade. . .
His father march by land was over the plantations of Bayou Rapides. There in beauty, fertility, and improvement, rivaled those before described, and continued in unbroken succession to Alexandria, a distance of twenty odd miles. But the hand of the marauder swept over them, ornate as they were with every attraction, and their loveliness perished as the tender plant before the fiery breath of the desert. His savage appetite for plunder and ruin was insatiate. A wilderness of black desolation still followed upon his footsteps; and the cry of distress from women and children went up from burning villas. Their implorations for mercy and protection were met only by the sardonic grin of the ruffian or the cruel taunt of the savage. But now the tale of ruin ebbed. Our little Brigade, though wearied with a pursuit and contention against heavy odds for over sixty miles, with renewed resolutions dashed beyond the sea of desolation upon the heartless foe. Terror stricken, he forgets his work of rapine and was driven for miles before our hot pursuit. But now, taking courage from multiplied numbers, he rallied and turned upon us. . . .The enemy was leaving Alexandria. We next close upon his track. But he had already laid the city in ashes. We were greeted joyfully by the houseless family groups we met among the ruins, and some, who had saved food from the fire offered and pressed upon us refreshments. The day did not close till we had charged the foe, and without loss to ourselves, consigned a number of them to the sod. But my pen lacks time to follow them farther. My purpose was to picture the "wilderness of woe" into which the barbarian of the North has converted this lately blooming Eden. . . . G. R. F.