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.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Yankee Perspective: Fordoche and Prison

Map of the Battle of Fordoche (Sterling's Plantation)

The Battle of Fordoche Bridge is one of the battles in Louisiana history that is generally overlooked and left to the side. Colonel Joseph B. Blake was Colonel of the 20th Iowa Infantry at the Battle of Fordoche and was captured. He left an account of his experience at Fordoche and an account of life as a prisoner in Confederate Louisiana and Texas. I thought it to be VERY interesting. ENJOY!


[Read March 3, 1886.]

AFTER the surrender of Vicksburg, the division of infantry which had been transferred from the Army of the Frontier to the army investing that city, and in which I served, under the command of MajorGeneral F. J. Herron, was ordered to proceed up the Yazoo River, and after capturing Yazoo City, to move out to Canton in order to protect the left flank of Sherman's army in its movement upon Jackson. We then returned to Vicksburg, and were immediately sent down the Mississippi River to Port Hudson. While at that place, on August 8, 1863, an order was received, assigning the division with some additions to the Thirteenth Army Corps, under command of Major-General Ord, as the Second Division of that corps. The division as now organized was divided into two brigades, and was composed of the following troops: First Brigade, Twentieth Iowa, Thirty-seventh Illinois, Twenty-sixth Indiana, Thirty-fourth Iowa, and Battery F, First Missouri Artillery, under command of Brigadier-General William Vandeveer; Second Brigade, Twentieth Wisconsin, Ninety-fourth Illinois, Ninety-first Illinois, Nineteenth Iowa, Thirty-eighth Iowa, and Battery E, First Missouri Artillery, under command of Brigadier-General Orme.

On the 16th of August we left Port Hudson, and on the next afternoon went into camp below Carrollton, about three miles above New Orleans. Shortly

afterward the entire Thirteenth Corps, in five divisions, was rendezvoused about Carrollton, where it was reviewed on the 22d of August and again on the 29th by General Banks. General Grant having arrived at New Orleans for conference with General Banks, another review was held by Generals Grant, Banks, and Adjutant-General Thomas, on the 4th of September. It was a fine spectacle, but it cost all that it was worth. The day was intensely hot, and we stood and marched from about eight A. M. until afternoon, sweltering in all the toggery which the regulations required. In the afternoon of this day General Grant was thrown from his horse, and received the injuries from which he suffered so long.

The navigation of the Mississippi River, which had been opened by the surrender of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, was becoming seriously obstructed by the operations of the Rebel forces on the west side of the river, — particularly at points between the mouth of Red River and Bayou Sara. General Herron received orders to take our division and proceed to the scene of the troubles. On the morning of September 5, 1863, the whole division, together with a battalion of cavalry under command of Major Bacon Montgomery, Sixth Missouri Cavalry, temporarily attached, was embarked on transports, and proceeded up the Mississippi River. The other divisions of the corps moved to or toward Brashear City, Louisiana. During the night of the 6th the division landed near Morgansia, in Morgan's Bend. From Morgansia a road leads almost directly west for about three miles, then bends and runs directly south for about four miles, then makes a bend of the exact shape of a horse-shoe of about two miles around from heel to heel, the toe pointing directly west, and then proceeds in a southeasterly direction to Bayou Grosse Tete. This road runs in its whole course along the side of a little bayou called Bayou Fordoche. On the left of the road, going out, is a levee about four feet high. From a point a little north of the toe of the horse-shoe bend, the Opelousas road leaves the bayou road, and crossing the bayou on a bridge, runs in a general direction north of west to the Atchafalaya River, thence up the river and along its bank for about a mile and a half, and crosses it at Morgan's Ferry. This road, from a point about two hundred yards beyond the bridge, runs through a densely wooded cypress swamp, and is about six miles long from the bridge to the ferry. At this ferry, on the west side of the Atchafalaya River, was encamped a Rebel force, estimated at forty-five hundred men, under command of Major-General Tom Green, of Texas, who from that point controlled the entire country from the mouth of Red River to about Port Hudson.

On the morning of the 7th of September, the Ninetyfirst Illinois, Ninety-fourth Illinois, Twentieth Wisconsin, and the cavalry, under command of Colonel Day of the Ninety-first, were sent out this road toward Morgan's Ferry. During the night Colonel Day sent back for reinforcements; and on the morning of the 8th, the remainder of the division marched out to within two miles of the Atchafalaya, and finding no enemy on their side of the river, bivouacked in the swamp. The following day they marched back to the boats and settled down into camp, on both sides of the road. On the next day another road, called the new Texas road, was found, leaving the Mississippi at a point a mile or two above Morgansia, and running directly west to the Atchafalaya at that same Morgan's Ferry, which was a shorter road from the Rebel camp to the Mississippi than the lower one, out which we had marched.

On September 12 I was ordered by General Herron to assume command of the battalion of cavalry (Major Montgomery commanding), the Twenty-sixth Indiana (Lieutenant-Colonel Rose commanding), the Nineteenth Iowa (Major Bruce commanding), and a section of Company E, First Missouri Artillery (Lieutenant Stauber commanding). The command numbered about six hundred men fit for duty. Upon reporting to General Herron for orders, I was informed that General Tom Green had a large force of Rebels at Morgan's Ferry; that our troops were advancing up the country west of the Atchafalaya, and probably there were gun-boats ascending the river, which would probably in a few days be in the rear of General Green's force. It was very desirable to keep him from moving either to assist the other Rebel troops in the lower country in preventing the advance, or to avoid capture himself should our troops advance sufficiently to his rear. I was therefore ordered to take the force named, and proceed out of the Bayou Fordoche road to the Norwood plantation, in the horse-shoe bend before spoken of, to make my headquarters at the house, and go into camp. From this point I was to feel of the enemy every day, and to keep his attention attracted toward my force and the forces at the river. I was ordered to take three days' rations, after which time we would probably be recalled.

At five o'clock A. M., on the 12th, we moved out, driving a small force of Rebel cavalry, and camped as directed, reconnoitring the roads in all directions, and establishing heavy picket-guards. On the morning of the 13th, with the cavalry and the Twenty-sixth Indiana, I drove the enemy's pickets to the Atchafalaya, drew the fire of the artillery, which was so posted as to command the road to the ferry, and satisfied myself that their force must be about forty-five hundred men with two batteries of artillery. On the 14th I decided that my position in the horse-shoe bend was entirely untenable,— my rear being more easily approached than my front. During the day the enemy was on the roads in heavier force, and many circumstances indicated an intention to attack. Toward evening, I received three days' more rations and orders to remain. Just after dark I fell back with the infantry and section of artillery to Mrs. Sterling's plantation, about three fourths of a mile, which took me beyond the neck of the horse-shoe bend, and placed all the approaches to my camp then known to me in my front. The cavalry was left at the old camp on picket I reported my change of camp, which was approved. From this time up to the 21st the force was employed every day in skirmishing with the enemy, driving in his pickets, and reconnoitring the country. The country was level and low; the roads very winding; beyond the fields of the plantations the woods were dense; and the plantations were overgrown with sugarcane and reeds, with plantation roads running in all directions. We could see but a very short distance from any point, which made the picket duty very difficult with a small force. I soon ascertained and reported that parties of the enemy were constantly passing north of my position on the New Texas road and appearing on the Bayou Fordoche road, between my camp and the division at Morgansia. I found a cross-road between those roads three or four miles to my rear, along which the whole Rebel force could pass without my knowing it.

On the morning of the 21st I made a reconnoissance in force to the Atchafalaya, driving in the enemy's pickets and drawing their artillery fire again, and satisfied myself that they were still there in full force. Returning from this reconnoissance I met General Vandeveer, who had come out to examine the condition of affairs. I explained to him the full danger of our position, pointed out the way by which the enemy could easily reach our rear, and asked him to get leave from General Herron for me to fall back about a mile to what I considered a less dangerous position. On the following day I received orders to stay where I was, as long as I could obtain water. On the next day, two or three men were taken prisoners while going to the division at the river, and the Adjutant of the Nineteenth Iowa, coming out, was fired upon, and barely escaped.

On the 24th I went to the river to see General Herron and to explain to him personally the condition of affairs, and earnestly requested that we might be recalled and some of the rest sent out. The General seemed listless, — said he was sick and very feverish, and had applied to be relieved on account of his health. He said he expected that we would all be ordered away in a few days, and as I was familiar with the country, I had better remain. I returned to camp, and began to get ready for an attack that I thought was sure to come. From the yard of the plantation house in which we were camped, there was on both sides and rear two hundred yards of open field, beyond which was tall sugar-cane. In front was the four-foot-high levee, then the road, then the bayou, beyond a small open field, and then dense woods. I cut holes through the levee for the artillery to enfilade the approach, and selected positions for each part of the force to take at once in case of sudden attack, particularly from the rear. If the enemy should come to our front, Major Montgomery was- in advance with his cavalry; and it seemed a simple matter to fall back on the division.

We kept up our daily reconnoissances, etc. On the 28th Major-General Dana arrived and took command of the division, and relieved -General Herron, who left on sick leave. On that evening it began to rain, rained all night and through the morning of the 29th. We had sent out to the front, but found nothing to attract attention. A small escort, sent down the evening before to the division to bring out knapsacks and rations, was anxiously expected about ten or eleven o'clock, but did not come.

At precisely twelve o'clock, noon, September 29, the pickets on the road to the divisions in my rear fired, and were rapidly driven in. The whole command was instantly in position, and almost immediately a brigade of Texas infantry emerged from the sugar-cane, and advanced across the open space. They were received by a withering fire, and after a brisk fight were driven back into the cane. Presently the same or another force appeared on our right flank. We changed front, and after a time drove that force back also. They rallied from both directions, and charged again, and crowded us over the levee into the road, when we drove them from our front.

During all this time, I heard nothing from Major Montgomery in front, and there seemed to be no trouble in that direction. While fighting over the levee, I saw a cavalry force coming from that direction, and sent Lieutenant Wright, Nineteenth Iowa, to see what it was. He soon reported that it was Major Montgomery coming. The forces in front wore our uniform. We then attempted to drive back their right, and so pass down the road toward the division. The men made a gallant charge and scattered the enemy so that we opened the road and began to move down it behind the levee. By this time the cavalry had approached near enough for me to speak to the officer in front. I stepped forward to give him an order, and found myself addressing Major-General Tom Green himself. In a moment the whole Rebel cavalry was riding over us. Those of our men who at once were not ridden down scattered into the bayou, and were gradually picked up singly and in squads. A few escaped. And so we became prisoners of war. The fight lasted two hours and ten minutes from the first volley we fired until the rush of the cavalry upon our rear, during all of which time the rain continued to pour.

I was badly wounded, though not taken off my feet, and was immediately taken from a squad of Texans by General Jim Majors and placed in charge of Lieutenant Chalmers of his staff, with directions to see that I was not interfered with.

This little engagement was called by the Rebels " the battle of Fordoche." On our side it has been noticed as an engagement at Sterling farm. While standing with General Majors, General Green rode up and told him to move back to Atchafalaya as soon as the prisoners were ready. Majors said, " Are you not going on to the river?" Green replied, "No, we've been kept here too long." Majors then said to me that they had started for our division at the river, and had not expected to waste fifteen minutes on us.

I afterward learned that on the 28th General Green's command was reinforced by Mouton's brigade of infantry. During that afternoon Green crossed all his infantry over Morgan's Ferry, and, making a detour around the upper or New Texas road, marched about eleven miles during the night, and in the morning came down into the Bayou Fordoche road within three or four miles of the division at Morgansia. A part of the Rebel cavalry was sent down an old railroad bed through the cypress swamps, and came out into the Fordoche road about three miles beyond the cavalry pickets, and crossing the road, advanced through the woods to the south of the neck of the horse-shoe bend before spoken of. Major-General Green, with the rest of the forces, came down the main road in the centre of his movement. I never have seen or heard from Major Montgomery since the fight. I was told that some time during the proceedings he fell back with his force to the southeast through the neck of the horse-shoe bend, and taking the woods to the south of the battleground, made his way to the river. If he sent any message to me, it never was received. He received great praise for his gallantry in cutting his way through the enemy and getting his command out. We had in the fight about four hundred and fifty men. General Majors told me they had on the field between five and six thousand. How many were actually engaged, I have no means of knowing.

Shortly after I was taken charge of by Lieutenant Chalmers, I was put into an ambulance and driven under escort to General Majors' headquarters across the Atchafalaya, arriving about dark at his cabin on the plantation. Some time during the evening General Majors came in, and jocularly invited me to be his guest so long as it was agreeable to me to stay; and we soon sat down to a supper, most of which was the contents of my own mess-chest. The General proved a very agreeable host. We ate and slept together for about two days, and during the whole time not a word was said or an act done by him or those about him which was not as courteous as they would have been had I been his guest and not his prisoner. On the first evening, after supper, Captain Semmes of one of the batteries— a son of Admiral Semmes of the Rebel navy, and hero of the Silver Wave exploit — came in, bringing a surgeon, who examined and dressed my wounds. The Captain was very polite, as indeed everybody of this command seemed to be. I believe none of our officers or men had any complaint to make of their personal treatment. During the process of capture, most of them lost everything they had ; but they were not afterward treated with indignity. I saved the clothes I had on, a pen-knife, a silver watch, a pair of gloves, and a pocket-handkerchief. I had surrendered my sword and pistol to General Majors. I afterward called his attention to the pistol, which had been presented to me upon going into the service, and said that if I ever got out of there, I should very much like to exchange for it anything which would be satisfactory to him. He said he would oblige me if he could. Of this, more farther on.

On the morning of October 1, I was conducted to the camp of the other prisoners, and our march to the interior began. That day we marched fifteen miles and camped between a couple of regiments in General Majors' brigade. For some reason the Rebel force had moved back into the interior. That night Captain R. P. Boyce, of Mullen's regiment, sent to me what appeared to be an ear of corn with the husk on. Upon opening the husk, I found, where the ear had been, a very palatable supper. The next morning we breakfasted on parched corn, and renewed the march, passing through Major-General Walker's entire division, — first Henry McCullough's brigade, then, at Kaneville, Randall's brigade, and five miles beyond, Hawes' brigade of four regiments, some one of which had a very good brass band. Within the last brigade we camped. They were not an agreeable lot, and we were glad to move on.

On the evening of October 5, we arrived at Alexandria, and were packed for the night in the second story of the court-house. It was a wretched night. There was not room for all to lie down at once on the floor, and none were permitted to go out of the building for any purpose. The next day the guards were extended, and we were let out in the court-house yard, and permitted to go to the river in front for water. On the 7th we were started for Shreveport, and marched twenty-five miles. I had an opportunity to sell my silver watch for one hundred and twenty-five dollars, and my gauntlets for twenty dollars, Confederate money, and so was somewhat put in funds. The march of the command to Shreveport took ten days, and was conducted with various degrees of annoyance according to the fussiness of the various officers in charge. One day, with a cavalry company as escort, we were marched two and one half hours without a halt; another day for eight miles without halting. Rations were short and irregular; the days were hot, and nights were getting cold, with occasional frost. We were nearly stripped of clothing, and had no covering of any kind, and general wretchedness of every kind had set in. Personally I fared a little better. On account of my wound I was sometimes allowed a little more privilege of the road. Some pleasant incidents occurred. Near Caney River, a very old negro, bent nearly double, was tinkering at a gate. I was walking along the side of the road in the rear of the guard. As soon as the guard had passed and I approached, the old man straightened up with a jerk, made a military salute, and hoarsely whispered the prayer, " De Lo'd go wid yo', an' bring yo' out o' da whar yo' gwine into! " after which he instantly collapsed. I have repeated that prayer a great many times since.

At Cloutierville I gained about an hour's time by cutting across a great bend in some way which a guard pointed out, who offered to go with me. I sat down at the door of some sort of a public-house, and began to eat a piece of rather damaged corn-bread which I took out of my pocket. Three young men gathered around me, and soon one of them wanted to know if I had been at Vicksburg. I said I was at the surrender, etc. After talking about it a few minutes, two of them went away. In about half an hour they came back, one of them carrying a large dinner-plate, nicely covered, which, removing the cover, he placed in my hand, saying, "There, eat that. We were prisoners at Vicksburg, and you fellows treated us right, and I am glad to return it." On the plate was half of a broiled chicken, a roasted yam, and some other things. I thought I had never eaten such a dinner.

On the 12th Captain M. W. DeBolle came up in a buggy, and was introduced by the captain of the guard as the Confederate commissioner for the exchange of prisoners. He proposed to take charge of me, and deliver me in Shreveport. I gave my parole, and was soon seated with the Captain in his buggy. We rode together up the road through Mansfield and Pleasant Hill, with which some of you afterward became familiar, and on to Shreveport, as if we had always been the best of friends. I certainly was greatly indebted to him for his kindness and courtesy. He provided for my entertainment as he did for his own, generally introducing me as a fellowConfederate, — which was easy enough, as large numbers of those we met wore our blue uniforms.

On the morning of October 15 we drove up to General E. Kirby Smith's headquarters in Shreveport, La., and Captain DeBolle took me right along with him into his office, which was in the second story of a small brick building. The outer office was occupied by General S. S. Anderson, his Adjutant-General; and a door communicated with an inner room occupied by General Smith. I was in presence of the commander of all the Rebel forces west of the Mississippi, and it was quite evident I was not welcome. The Adjutant-General took no notice of me whatever. There were three or four vacant chairs in the room, but my attention was not officially called to any of them. DeBolle said a few words to the Adjutant-General which I could not hear, and passed through to General Smith, who was seated at his desk, and in full view from where I stood. I could not hear what the Captain said, but the General instantly asked quite impatiently, " What did you bring him here for?" and then their voices dropped out of hearing. I was presently called in, when General Smith addressed me abruptly enough: " I can send you down to the county jail, or give you parole to the limits of the Verandah Hotel, if you can pay your expenses there." I told him I would try the latter. " Very well," he said. A parole was administered by the Adjutant-General, who thawed out a little, and I was escorted to the Verandah Hotel by Captain DeBolle. When the Captain left me, two days later, he assured me that under the arrangements for exchange we would all be back in our lines in about three weeks.

I spent three days and nights at that hotel, the principal one in Shreveport. I was practically free inside its limits, which extended over the sidewalk in front, covered by the verandah. During the time I saw many of the officers of the Rebel Army who came from Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas on business at the headquarters. I remember some of them with great pleasure, — many of them with much less. I was treated with no intentional rudeness. I know I owed much to the protection of Colonel Semmes, who commanded the Ninth Texas at Pea Ridge and lost an arm there, and was now commanding a brigade somewhere. Colonel H. E. Clarke, of Jeff. Thompson's command, once famous in Southeastern Missouri, offered to loan me money, which I thought better to decline. Colonel A. L. Dobbins, First Arkansas Cavalry, commanding a brigade formerly under General Walker (who had been killed in a duel by General Marmaduke), was quite anxious to be of some service to me. I told him he could not do me a greater service than to find me a tooth-brush. He searched the town until he found one, and brought it to me. It was the only luxury I enjoyed during my continued stay in the Confederacy.

The rest of the prisoners having come up on the morning of October 18, we were started on the road from Shreveport through Marshall to Camp Ford, which had been established as the place of confinement for prisoners captured west of the Mississippi. It was one hundred and ten miles a little south of west from Shreveport, and four miles east of Tyler in Smith County, Texas. The camp was located about two hundred yards south of the road, in an opening in the pine woods containing not more than six or eight acres. In about the centre of the open space from east to west a spring of excellent water flowed quite abundantly down a little vale, widening and deepening toward the south. On the high ground to the east of the valley down which the spring brook flowed stood a skeleton frame building in which were bunked seventytwo Union officers, the only prisoners. On the western acclivity stood a few log houses, in which were the headquarters and shanties for the guard. We were drawn up before the headquarters, looked over by the commander, Major Tucker of Harrison County, Texas, and his Adjutant-Lieutenant Ochiltree. The latter then conducted us down the ascent across the brook to the rising ground beyond, halted us, bowed ceremoniously, and said, "Gentlemen, there are your quarters," and walked away. There was the bare sandy hillside, and there were we — and that was all there was of it. There was not the slightest preparation for our coming, — no shelter of any kind, no rations, nothing but unspeakable wretchedness. The march from Shreveport had been a hard one, under escort of a company of ex-steamboat men on horseback. That day, after a slim breakfast, we had been marched twenty-one miles before three o'clock P. M., and then corralled like a lot of hogs.

No rations came that night, nor next morning. At three o'clock in the afternoon the wagons came, the mules on the full run. We had notified the Major that we did not propose to stay a great while longer, whatever the consequences might be. The ration was one pound of cornmeal, and one pound of beef per man; and the orders were to issue ten days' rations at one time, — that is, ten pounds of corn-meal and ten pounds of beef, to last ten days. There was not a box or bag or any other receptacle to put the stuff in. Some men cut off a leg of their pantaloons, some a coat-sleeve; some put it in their hats; those who could do neither dug a hole in as hard ground as they could find, and deposited it. I was fortunate enough to have a pair of drawers, in the legs of which I tied up mine. There was no cooking utensil of any kind whatever. Some of the men borrowed a skillet or two from the guard, who were at that time mostly old men and kindly disposed, and in these a little baking was done. Most of the meal was stirred up in the hand with water and eaten raw.

Before the next ration day came round, on November 2, MajorTucker was ordered away, and Colonel R. T. P. Allen, Seventeenth Texas Infantry, came to command the camp. Major Tucker was a good-natured, jolly, lazy, worthless fellow, without evil intention or malicious purpose toward us, but in fact, as cruel as absolute indifference and immovable sloth always must become when given authority over so many men. Colonel Allen was a man of an entirely different stamp. He had been an officer of the United States Army in the Florida War, Professor of Mathematics in Transylvania University, Kentucky, and when the war began was principal of a Military School at Bastrop, Texas. He was diligent, methodical, a good disciplinarian, soldierly, a Christian and a gentleman. A bullet had been sent through him in the Rebel attack upon Milliken's Bend on July 4, 1863, which he regretted very much to say had been shot by a " nigger." He brought his son, aged about twenty, Lieutenant Howard Allen, as his adjutant, a very fine fellow, to whose coolness and bravery on one occasion I was indebted for my life. Mrs. Allen was also installed at headquarters, a venerable lady, who smoked a corn-cob pipe and proved a veritable angel of mercy to us all. Colonel Allen straightened out the ration difficulty at once, by providing a big box to stand in the centre of the camp and issuing one day's ration at a time; and on November 19, I secured a private box for our mess, and relieved my drawers from further service in the commissary department. Colonel Allen began to build a stockade to enclose about three or four acres of ground ; and on November 14, two hundred negroes were at work at it. It was done by digging a ditch three feet deep, in which were placed endwise pine logs split in halves, cut in even lengths of fifteen feet. We were soon enclosed within a tight stockade twelve feet high, through which was only one wide gate in the middle of the north side. An increase of guards was soon apparent, — a younger class of men, — and the old men were sent home.

The most pressing need was that of some kind of shelter. Permission was given to a few at a time, provided any of the guards would volunteer to accompany them, to go into the adjoining woods and get such timber as they could get and were able to carry in. The only tools were three axes, which were used for all purposes in the camp. In time all sorts of arrangements for shelter began to appear. Some were mere booths, some were holes dug in the side of the hill with some sort of covering; some of the men succeeded in getting what seemed to be very comfortable log huts. My own mess of five officers succeeded in getting up one of the best, every log for which we carried in our arms not less than a quarter of a mile. We got the door in on December 4. Not the slightest attempt to help us was made. Colonel Allen's indulgence in allowing us to go out after timber was regarded with great disfavor by the new guards and the neighboring citizens.

On November 12, some men of the Twenty-sixth Indiana had obtained permission to go after timber. While two of them were standing well within the camp, in order to assist their comrades, a guard— Private Frank Smith of Captain G. S. Polly's company — suddenly raised his gun, called out "Ten spaces," and instantly fired. The ball passed through the body of Thomas Moorehead and then through the arm of James Veatch, both of the Twenty-sixth Indiana. Moorehead died that night, but Veatch slowly recovered. Colonel Allen immediately convened a court of inquiry, and invited the field officers among the prisoners to be present. I was allowed to examine the witnesses in aid of the Judge Advocate. The examination was continued from day to day; a number of witnesses were examined, both of prisoners and guards. At last some sort of a report was sent to Shreveport, and nothing further was ever heard of the matter. The excitement at the time was intense, but after a while cooled down. Smith was not again put on guard.

Rumors of exchange were from time to time brought within the camp. On November 23, a Major Schomberg appeared as a paroling officer, and we were informed that he had come to take away the enlisted men for exchange, but the officers must remain for further orders. After a great deal of fuss, the officers and men being prevented from all communication with one another, on November 29 the enlisted men were marched out of camp and disappeared in the direction of Shreveport. With them went Mr. Finley Anderson, who said he belonged to the staff of the New York " Herald," and had been picked up somewhere. He left me a copy of Pope's Iliad.

On December 22 forty officers arrived from Hempstead, Texas. They had been taken at the capture of Brashear City, Louisiana, and of Galveston, Texas, some time before, and had been imprisoned at what was called Camp Groce. Among them was Colonel C. C. Nott, One Hundred and Seventy-sixth New York, — now Judge of the Court of Claims, Washington, — Colonel Burroughs, Forty-second Massachusetts, and Lieutenant-Colonel J. H. Duganne, New York City. Their arrival was a great relief to the deadly monotony. They had been companions of the original seventy-two of our camp, and the reunions were particularly delightful. The rest of us were glad to make new friends and new subjects of conversation to be interested in.

On Christmas Colonel Allen invited the field officers among the prisoners to dine with him at headquarters. No regrets were sent. We gave paroles, of course. Mrs. Allen distinguished herself,—I have never seen such a dinner since. The Colonel was as courteous and as hospitable, the conversation was as free and unrestrained as if we had been a party of his best friends invited to his own home; but after a while the inexorable " Gentlemen, return to your quarters," dispelled all illusions.

We celebrated Washington's Birthday by a public meeting which all attended. Colonel Duganne, being a poet and owning two or three sheets of writing paper, wrote and read a poem. That poem got the Colonel into a good deal of trouble at the time. In some part of it, after addressing the various points of the compass, he exclaimed, —

" Land of the South, thy heart all fire,
Thy breath a vintage, and thy voice a lyre."

The use of the word lyre in that connection fired the Southern hearts of some of the Texan guards who attended the celebration; and the poetical Colonel had great difficulty in satisfactorily explaining his meaning. I was the orator of the day. It was quite a notable celebration, and helped to revivify our starving patriotism.

I forgot to mention that Colonel Allen gave prompt attention to providing us with some cooking utensils; a requisition on Shreveport produced nothing. He afterward sent a wagon to a foundry at Jefferson on Red River and obtained a few pots and skillets. On December 5, my mess of five received one pot and one skillet with a lid, having been without anything since October 23. It is worth something to know how rich five men can become in the possession of one pot and one skillet with a lid.

During the dreary winter there was much discussion of plans to escape. It was quite easy to get out, but then the difficulties became very great. We were three or four hundred miles from the nearest post in our lines, and the headquarters of the department and all the Rebel forces were between. Under the most favorable circumstances the journey must take two or three weeks, and the necessity for subsistence would lead to constant exposure. Much of the country was a wilderness. Many single attempts were made, but the fugitive was invariably starved out and brought back in a day or two. A company was organized to dig a tunnel under the stockade to come out about one hundred and fifty yards beyond it, behind a clump of trees. Colonel Nott, the principal mover in the project, was made President; and Major Anthony, Second Rhode Island Cavalry, now a resident of Chicago, with Captain Thomasson, One Hundred and Seventy-sixth New York, were made superintendents. Work began on March 21, 1864, from beneath the shebang of Lieutenant Walton, Thirty-fourth Iowa, and progressed favorably enough during the spring. The arrival of prisoners captured at Mansfield made the enlargement of the camp necessary, and the stockade under which the tunnel had been dug was removed and replaced outside of the clump of trees which was to have been the exit. That ended the tunnel business. Colonel Duganne, who never would have anything to do with the work, annoyed Colonel Nott by publicly proclaiming that he (Duganne) " never was fool enough to try to crawl out of there through a Nott-hole."

Having heard that General Banks was moving in force up Red River, a party of the officers thought that by striking south and crossing the Sabine River far below the Shreveport road, they might possibly get round the Rebel forces and connect with Banks' army near Alexandria, and after much consideration determined to make the attempt. After guard-mounting on the eve of March 24, I invited all the singers of the camp to assemble around my hut, where we began to sing all the songs we knew. The guards soon gathered from along the beats outside the stockade, and became attentive listeners. It was a very hilarious party. A post in the stockade on one of the abandoned beats was soon loosened and tipped back, and the whole fifteen were free. The post was then tipped back to place. The party consisted of Lieutenant-Colonel A. D. Rose, Captains W. J. Wallace, R. H. Stott, N. A. Logan, Lieutenants E. J. Collins, C. C. McDowell, and J. M. Robertson, all of the Twenty-sixth Indiana; Lieutenant J. F. Sherfrey, Twenty-first Indiana; O. H. Hibbard, Twenty-third Connecticut; P. W. Lyon, One Hundred and Seventy-sixth New York; and R. W. Mars of Chicago, A. H. Reynolds, B. S. Weeks, R. Rider, and Johnson, officers of the gun-boats. The escape was discovered during the night, and great commotion ensued. A pack of blood-hounds was brought from Tyler, and a strong party sent in pursuit Within three days they were all brought back except two, Captain Stott and Reynolds of the gun-boat " Sachem" succeeding in escaping to Banks' army.

On March 30 the enlisted men who had left us in November, so hopeful of exchange, were brought back and turned into the enclosure again. Some difficulty had taken place in the proceedings for exchange, and the men had been kept in an open camp near Shreveport all winter. Their sufferings at that camp were beyond the power of any language of mine to portray. When the movement up Red River began, they were hurried back to our camp. They were escorted by two companies of cavalry, one commanded by Captain Montgomery, the other by Captain Allford, of the Second Louisiana Cavalry. The captains took command on alternate days. The days in which Captain Allford was in command were days of horror. The march was conducted by him with the utmost brutality. The men were cursed, addressed with all manner of opprobrious epithets, and were driven along the road closely packed together, more like a herd of cattle or drove of hogs than human beings. At the risk of being tedious, I will give a few specific instances of the barbarous conduct. Peter Brown, a seaman, had a lariat thrown over his head by Lieutenant Haynes, the end of the lariat wrapped around the pommel of his saddle, and he was thus dragged by the neck, Lieutenant Haynes riding a distance of two hundred yards before releasing the man. Archibald M. Arthur, a seaman, was struck by Lieutenant Haynes with his sabre upon a wounded arm. B. F. Clines, seaman, was struck on the head with the butt of a musket by Lieutenant Haynes, injuring him severely, at the same time Haynes exclaiming,

" There, take that, you — 1 " Nelson

E. Hall, a drummer of Company D, Nineteenth Iowa, was struck three times with a musket in the hands of Lieutenant Haynes. Many other similar instances occurred. On the evening of March 28, Captain Allford in charge, the prisoners were camped six miles east of the Sabine River, upon the banks of a small stream, about two yards in width, at which the men could have obtained water expeditiously and with ease. The banks on each side of the stream were entirely level, and the water not over eighteen inches below the level of the camp. Instead of placing his guard on the side of the creek opposite the camp, so that the men could have free access to the water which flowed along the whole length of the camp, he placed a line of sentinels along the front of the camp between it and the water, established a gate at one corner, and would only permit four men to go through at a time to water only two yards distant. There were between eight and nine hundred men in the camp, and thus those hundreds of men, by a refinement of cruelty seldom equalled, were compelled to wait, during the long hours of that night, their turn to go by fours to slake their thirst after a hard and dusty march, at a brook flowing freely almost within arms' reach. The men of Company C, Nineteenth Iowa, did not get to the water till three o'clock in the morning. But I must avoid further details and hasten to a close.

A week after the arrival of the men at Camp Ford, on April 5, the officers and men of my command were all marched toward Shreveport again for exchange, and on the evening of the 8th camped one mile east of Marshall, Texas. We were halted over the 9th, 10th, and nth, to await the result of the battle of Mansfield, which was fought on April 8. Soon evidences began to come of our great disaster. On the 12th we were moved back from the road some distance and camped in an open field fringed by woods three or four hundred yards distant. We heard of the prisoners passing down the road and wondered from day to day what our own fate was now to be, — for we seemed to be chained out in that field. We ascertained the fact to be that when General Banks met with the disasters at Mansfield and fell back, he ordered the prisoners for whom we were to be exchanged back to New Orleans; and the Rebel authorities kept us waiting in that field, hoping that they would be brought back, and the exchange completed. We reached Marshall on April 8, and were kept there waiting until the 25th of May, when we were marched back to the old place, arriving late on the 27th. The whole appearance of the camp was changed. The stockade had been greatly enlarged, to accommodate the numbers captured at Mansfield, and it now enclosed about forty-five hundred men. The cabins which we had procured with such labor were all occupied by others, and we were turned loose again in the pen, — shelterless and in rags, many literally naked, except for some old rag tied around the loins.

On June 8 Colonel Allen was removed, and Colonel Scott Anderson, of Austin, Texas, was placed in command. Colonel Anderson remained at Tyler, and sent Lieutenant-Colonel Borders to have immediate command of the prisoners. He was a Rebel Englishman and a stolid brute; he had an Irish adjutant who was as active and malicious as a wasp; and they had absolute power over us. We spent from May 27 to July 5 in that prison-house of despair; and it was as near a hell on earth as suffering, want, exposure, and the malice and brutality of man could make it. The heat was intense, and there was not a tree within the stockade to cast a shadow. Men were dying daily, without any help being extended or any effort to administer relief. A Confederate surgeon was sent to examine the condition of the prison. Let me quote a line or two from his report. He said: —

" I at once set about examining the sanitary condition of the stockade, and although my mind was prepared by representations to meet with abundant materials for disease, it fell far short of the reality. The enclosed ground is entirely too small for the number of men (over forty-five hundred), and it would be impossible to make them healthy in such a crowded condition. The filth and offal have been deposited in the streets and between the quarters, from which arises horrible stench. A great number of the enlisted men have no quarter nor shelter, and have to sleep out on the ground with not even a blanket to cover them, etc."

If he had said " all of the enlisted men," he would have told the truth.

But the day of deliverance did come at last. On July 9 we marched out of that infernal stockade for the last time, and on the eve of the 13th were at Shreveport. On the 16th we embarked on the steamer " B. L. Hodge," and moved down Red River and were at Alexandria on the 18th. We were detained here for three days, during which I received a call from General Jim Majors, now a major-general, who entertained me with the incidents of the Red River campaign as viewed from the Rebel side. He brought back my pistol, which he had kept in the exact condition in which I had surrendered it, gave it to the commissioner for exchange, Colonel Szimanski, with the request to deliver it to me when the exchange was complete. I have it now. On the 22d of July, 1864, we arrived at the mouth of Red River, and there met the prisoners for whom we were to be exchanged. They were a healthy lot, loaded down with everything of comfort and luxury which men could carry away with them.

On the 23d, we steamed down the Mississippi under the old flag again, and landed at the wharf at New Orleans about midnight. July 24 was Sunday. After a good deal of resistance from Colonel Dwight, our commissioner of exchange who had us in charge, I at last obtained permission to march my command to General Canby's headquarters. At ten o'clock on that bright Sunday morning, when the people were on their way to church, we left the boat, formed on the levee, and marched up Canal Street, St. Charles, etc., to the corner of Tchoupitoulas and Robbins streets, and formed in front of a stately private residence in which General Canby had his offices. I entered his office and found him seated at his desk. I told him who we were, and requested him to come out and see for himself in what condition the Rebels returned our prisoners of war. He arose from his desk, and as we went out the door I took his arm and led him to the right of the line, and then we walked slowly down the front. Before we got halfway down, the tears were trickling down the General's cheeks. I have always loved him for those tears. When we had passed the line, we separated without a word. It was not a time to talk. He went back into the house; the men were escorted to a cotton-press; I went down to the St. Charles Hotel; and our imprisonment was at an end.

No comments:

Post a Comment

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