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.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

8th New Hampshire in Louisiana

The regiment being once more united, went into camp at the upper end of Ship Island, which uninviting locality lays, like a long, low, sand-bank, along the coast of Mississippi, separating the waters of Mississippi Sound from those of the Gulf Forts Jackson and St. Philip having fallen before the irresistible valor of the navy, under the gallant Farragut, it remained for the army to follow up and complete the victory, by the occupation of New Orleans. The larger part of General Butler's forces were conveyed from Ship Island, up the Mississippi river; the remainder were to approach the city by way of Lake Ponchartrain. The Eighth New Hampshire were of this latter force, and four companies of the regiment were the first to seize and occupy Forts Wood and Pike, by which the entrance to the Lake was defended,—the rebels retreating precipitately, on the approach of the expedition.

The summer of 1862, was spent at Camp Parapet, Louisiana, where, although decimated by disease and death occasioned by the malarious locality, and often called to arms by threatened attacks, no severer duty was performed than is usual in the routine of camp life. In October, 1862, the regiment formed a part of General Weitzel's expedition, the object of which was the expulsion of the rebels from, and the occupation of the district of Lafourche — one of the most productive and wealthy parts of Louisiana. The troops were conveyed up the Mississippi on river steamers, landing at Donaldsonville at the head of Bayou Lafourche. From this point, the Union troops moved down the Bayou the 8th with a squadron of cavalry and two pieces of artillery marching on the right bank of the stream, the remainder of the troops upon the left. With the exception of a night skirmish between the pickets of the Eighth and a scouting party of rebel cavalry, no opposition was met with, until, a little beyond the village of Labadieville, the enemy were discovered in force under General Morton, advantageously posted on both sides of the Bayou, sheltered by a hedge and ditch. Companies E and F of the Eighth, were deployed as skirmishers to ascertain the position of the enemy. Soon the sharp crack of their rifles told that they had discovered them, and that the action had commenced. Almost at the first fire, the gallant Captain Warren fell, the first sacrifice of the regiment upon the altar of liberty and Union. The position of the rebels being ascertained, Gen. Weitzel threw re-inforcements across the Bayou, and the line advanced upon the enemy, the Eighth in the van. A short but sharp EIGHTH REGIMENT. 739

conflict ensued, ending in a charge which scattered the rebels in confusion, many being killed and wounded, about three hundred taken prisoners, and one piece of artillery and a large number of small arms captured. Being in the advance, and the first to charge the enemy's batteries, the Eighth suffered more severely than all the other regiments engaged, losing sixteen killed and forty-six wounded—among the former being the brave Captain Kelliher, who fell at the head of his men in the charge. The colors were riddled with bullets and the staff shot off about four inches above the hand of the color sergeant, who, nevertheless, seized the remnant and bore it forward amid the enthusiastic shouts of the men. No further opposition was encountered, the enemy having evacuated the Lafourche country and crossed over Berwick Day into Attakapas.

After a day's rest at Thibodeaux, the Eighth were sent with two squadrons of cavalry and a section of artillery, the whole being under the command of Colonel Fearing, to take possession of the New Orleans and Opelousas Railway. By a circuitous and tiresome march, through cypress swamps, heavily wooded and festooned with the sombre drapery of moss that characterizes Southern forests, the expedition reached Tigerville, Louisiana, capturing an immense quantity of sugar, that the rebels had been obliged to abandon upon the advance of our forces. On reconnoiteriug the railroad, it was found that a bridge, some one hundred and twenty feet long, across Bayou Bœuf, had been destroyed, while a mile of the track was covered with the ruins of engines and cars, burned to prevent their falling into our hands. Yankee skill and ingenuity were called into requisition, a detail was made from the regiment, the bridge rebuilt, the track relaid, an engine put in running order, and in one week trains were passing over the road, bringing stores and ammunition from New Orleans, ninety-three miles distant. During the winter of 1862-3, Lieut-Col. Lull was detached as Provost Judge of the Parish of Lafourche, with company B, as provost guard. In the spring of 1863, the regiment took part in General Banks' demonstration against Port Hudson at the termination of which, the troops were rapidly conveyed to Brashear City, and the campaign through Central Louisiana, which terminated in the investment's and capture of Port Hudson, commenced.

The enemy, under Gen. Dick Taylor, were first encountered in force, at Camp Bisland, on Bayou Tcehe, intrenched behind breastworks, mounting a number of heavy guns, and aided by an iron-clad gun-boat on the Bayou, and on the 12th and 15th of April, 1863, the battle of " Camp Bisland" was fought, resulting in the precipitate retreat of the rebels, a large number of whom were killed and wounded,—the capture of ten pieces of artillery, two colors, and two thousand prisoners, and the destruction of the gunboat and three transports. In this engagement, the regiment was advanced within two hundred yards of the works, sheltered by a shallow ditch from the ceaseless storm of ball, grape, and shell, that filled the air, not only from the enemy's works in front, but from our batteries in the rear. So close was the fire, that the búllete constantly struck the bayonets that projected above the edge of the ditch, and the lance that ornamented the flag-staff was carried away by a fragment of shell. While lying in the ditch, an order was given to storm the works—the regiment rose as one man, with an enthusiastic cheer, and prepared to face the storm of lead and iron that would have annihilated the gallant band before they could have reached the ditch of the fort, yet no one flinched and the attempt would have been made, had not the order been countermanded. The loss of the regi-" ment in this engagement, was only two killed and nine wounded —their close proximity to the enemy, and the friendly shelter of the ditch, saving them from the effects of the terrible fire. During the toilsome march of two hundred and thirty miles to Alexandria, Louisiana, the regiment was frequently ordered to the front when a show of resistance was made, but no opposition was encountered save slight cavalry skirmishes. Much suffering was experienced from heat, dust, and want of water, but the regiment bore these hardships so cheerfully, as to excite frequent encomiums from the commanding general.

In the flank movement, by which General Banks transferred his forces from Red River to the east bank of Mississippi, preparatory to the attack on Port Hudson the regiment was among the first to arrive at and invest that celebrated strong hold. The lines of investment being completed, reaching in a semi-circle, from the river above to the river below the place, on the 27th of May, 1863, a general advance was ordered, for the purpose of driving the enemy within his inner works. The regiment under command of the lamented Lieut-Col. Lull, (Colonel Fearing being in command of the second brigade, third division, nineteenth army corps.) were assigned a position on the right centre, in the second line of battle. The night previous to the attack, the regiment bivouacked in the woods, within rifle-shot to the concealed, hut watchful enemy, and as morning dawned, a hasty breakfast of hard-bread and coffee was eaten, ammunition was distributed, and all prepared for the '• imminent deadly fray." The order was given to advance—the regiment had not moved a hundred rods from their bivouac, before they were hotly engaged with the enemy, who, from behind trees, stumps, and log-breastworks, poured a deadly fire into the advancing lines; while, from their batteries beyond, showers of grape and huge shell were sent crashing through the woods, prostrating large trees like the passage of a whirlwind.

The first line of battle was broken and scattered, when the second brigade, to which the Eighth belonged was ordered to charge, and with a wild yell, the line swept forward, over the bodies of the fallen, driving the rebels in confusion from their outer works, through the tangled abattis, and broken ground in front of the fort, almost annihilating the Tenth Arkansas rebel regiment, who occupied the position. The slaughter was terrific, much of the fighting being hand to hand. Lieut-Col. Lull, while waving his sword and shouting " forward Eighth New Hampshire! steady men! steady!" fell mortally wounded by a minie ball, the color-sergeant was wounded, and one after another of the colorguard killed or disabled, until the only remaining corporal grasped the flag, splashed with the blood and brains of its defenders, and planted it on the exterior slope of the enemy's works, where, riddled by grape and canister, it remained until night ended the strife. Many of the men followed so closely upon the flying foe, as to get into the ditch of the works, unable either to advance or retreat, yet by their sharp fire, rendering it instantly fatal to any rebel, to raise his head above the parapet. During the remainder of the day, the enemy's artillery was silenced by the sharpshooters of the Eighth New Hampshire, and Fourth Wisconsin—the cannoniers would repeatedly endeavor to approach their pieces, but as often were driven back, or fell dead or wounded, by the hail of bullets that was poured upon them from every stump, log or bush, that concealed a Union soldier. The loss of the regiment on this bloody day, was one hundred and twenty-four killed and wounded. During the siege, the regiment was almost constantly in the rifle-pits, and daily additions were made to the lists oi killed and wounded.

On the 14th of June, 1863, another grand assault was ordered, and, as often before, the Eighth were placed in the front, being detailed in the storming party. The assault commenced at daybreak, under cover of a terrific cannonade from nearly three hundred pieces of artillery. The storming column was formed behind a hedge, about eight hundred yards from the works, and separated from them by an uneven open field. Across this the storniere advanced, witli the well-known "charging yell," until within about eighty yards of the works, when sheets of flame ran round the parapet, cannon on the front poured in their storm of canister, yet, though the dead and wounded fell thick on every hand, they advanced at " double-quick" until the rebels, thinking the day lost, began to break and retire from the works. Cheered by the hope of victory, part of the regiment scaled the parapet, and, had the supports came up, the place would have been ours; but the supports—mostly new troops, nine months' men—wavered, halted, and fell back, seeing which, the rebels returned to the breastworks, cut down or captured all who had entered, and, secure behind their defences, poured a murderous fire upon the remnant of the band of stormers who remained upon the field. Some escaped by crawling upon their hands and knees into ravines at the rear, while numerous instances occurred of men who had fallen badly wounded, being shot again and again,until the cessation of their movements told that death had ended their agonies. After the assault, the rebels, with fiendish cruelty, would neither succor the wounded, nor allow relief from our side to approach the field, firing on the stretcher-bearers, and refusing to receive a flag of truce until fifty hours after the battle, by which time the fierce heat of the summer sun and agonizing thirst had brought a death of torture to many, who, could they have been reached and cared for, would have ultimately recovered. The loss of the regiment in this charge was one hundred and thirty killed and wounded. On the capitulation of ,the place, the Eighth was one of six regiments, selected on account of their meritorious conduct during the siege, to receive the surrender. Accordingly on the 9th of July, 1863, the rebel army laid down their arms, in the presence of the victors, who, as the glorious "Stars and Stripes" rose over Port Hudson, forgetting the toil, hardships, and bloodshed by which the victory had been won, added their exultant shouts to the thunder of the cannon that proclaimed that the last obstacle to the navigation of the Mississippi was removed.

The next operation in which the regiment bore a part, was the expedition to Sabine Pass, Texas. Embarking on a transport steamer, Sept. 2d, 1863, the regiment joined the expeditionary fleet, and, after a voyage of two days, arrived off Sabine City, the point of attack, and on the following day had the mortification of seeing the gunboats repulsed, two of them falling into the hands of the enemy. After the return of this expedition, the regiment took part in a campaign in the interior of Louisiana, marching as far as Opelousas. In December, 1863, the regiment was ordered to Franklin, La., to be changed into cavalry, under the designation of "the Second New Hampshire Cavalry." While at this place, the regiment was mounted and armed with sabres, carbines and revolvers, and were constantly drilled in the evolutions of the cavalry tactics. On the 4th of January, 1864, a large proportion of the men ree'nlisted as veteran volunteers, under the provisions of General Orders 191 War Department, series of 1863, and soon after were'ordered toNew Orleans, and quartered in one of the large cotton presses of that city, where, after two months' drill, such proficiency had been attained in the use of the arms, management of the horses, and the cavalry tactics, as to merit the encomiums of many experienced cavalry officers. At the commencement of the Red River campaign, the regiment, with the rest of the cavalry division, about fifteen thousand strong, marched from New Orleans, through the interior of Louisiana, followed by the infantry, without encountering the enemy in force, to Alexandria, La., a distance of three hundred and eighty miles, where a junction was effected with Gen. A. J. Smith's ti-оорз, who had ascended the Red River. During that part of the route which lay within the Federal lines, the good order and discipline maintained were especially noticeable. Fences were untouched; hen-roosts and barn-yards—great temptations to hungry soldiers —remained intact, and the citizens made no complaints of being molested, either in their persons or property. From Alexandria, the cavalry pushed the enemy's rear-guard very closely, a skirmish taking place near Natchitoches, in which the rebels were driven, the Eighth (or as they were then called, the Second New Hampshire (Cavalry,) charging through the streets of the town, killing and capturing a number of the enemy. While waiting at Natchitoches for the infantry to come up, the regiment went on a reconnoissance, pushing the enemy's генг-guard back on to the main body, and ascertaining their numbers and position. When the forward movement recommenced, the regiment was constantly at the front, and participated in numerous skirmishes with the enemy. At the disastrous battle of Sabine Cross Roads, April 8th, 1864, the regiment fired nearly the first shot, coming unexpectedly upon the enemy, and charging alone and unsupported upon three or four regiments of the enemy's cavalry, who broke and fled, unmasking two divisions of infantry, who immediately opened fire. Apparently bewildered by the very audacity of the attack, the enemy allowed the regiment to retire with little loss, when they might have fallen an easy prey to superior numbers. In the action that followed, a part of the regiment were dismounted and deployed as skirmishers in front of the infantry, and were nearly all captured by the enemy, Capt. D. W. King, whose horse was shot under him in the charge, and forty-seven enlisted men being taken prisoners, and carried off into wretched captivity in the famous "stockade," or prison pen, at Tyler, Texas. After the disastrous defeat that followed, the regiment formed line seven times, and, by their fire, covered the retreat of the broken and retreating infantry. When, after the battle of Pleasant Hill, Gen. Banks returned to Grand Ecorc, the regiment suffered much from hunger, the train, with all the commissary stores of the brigade, having been captured. At Grand Ecorc, long lines of rifle-pits and acres of abatis were constructed by the men of the Eighth, of their own accord, which, on being surveyed by the chief engineer of* Gen. Banks' staff, met his approval and were adopted as part of the system of defences. On the march from Grand Ecore to Alexandria, the regiment participated in the battle of Cane River, in which the rebels were driven from the fords and a crossing effected in the face of the enemy. From this point to Alexandria, the regiment was the rear-guard of the whole army nearly all the time, and, from darkness, daily skirmishing with the enemy, holding them in check to allow the large wagon trains to proceed unmolested. While at Alexandria, the regiment, with the rest of the brigade to which it was attached, made two reconnoissances across Red River, in one instance bivouacking during the night almost within hearing distance of a rebel camp of several thousand men. On these scouts, a number of the enemy were killed or captured and much valuable information obtained, with a loss on our side of оЫу two or three wounded. The march from Alexandria to Morganzia, La., on the Mississippi river, was the hardest and most exhausting, both to men and horses, ever experienced by the regiment. Skirmishing continually through the daytime, and marching on at night to overtake the army, the men had no sleep, save what could be snatched during the short halts on the road, when, dismounting, each man would loop his bridle-rein over his arm, and lay down in the road beside his horse, to rest until the bugle-note called him "to horse " to commence again the toilsome march. In one of the innumerable skirmishes that occupied each day of the march, Lieut. Cobbs of Company B, was captured by the enemy, dismounted and disarmed, but before he could be taken to the rear, the regiment charged the rebels with the intention of capturing him. Seeing that he was about to fall into our hands, he was inhumanly murdered in cold blood, a rebel officer shooting him with his own pistol. His body fell into our hands, and was buried on the banks of Red River, by Ыз companions-in-arms, and a rude head-board carved with his name, rank, and regiment, and the emblems of the Masonic fraternity, of which he was a member, was erected to mark the spot. At Yellow Bayou, La., May 17th, 1864, the brigade, of which the regiment was a part, was surrounded by Polignac's and Taylor's divisions of the rebel army, numbering some six thousand men. The 'enemy's lines encircled the brigade in the form of a horse-shoe, while at the opening and between the brigade and the rest of the Union army, (which was six miles distant), a battery was planted that played directly upon the rear. Subjected to a cross fire from almost every side, the loss in the regiment and brigade was heavy, but the little band of horsemen retired stubbornly, presenting a bold front to the enemy, and actually cut its way out of the encircling lines of rebel infantry, within canister range of the enemy's artillery.

On the 18th of May, the enemy made a fierce assault upon our picket lines at Bayou de Glace, where the army had halted to bridge the Atchafalaya river. Gen. A. J. Smith's divisions of the Sixteenth and Seventeenth army corps, with the brigade of cavalry to which the Eighth belonged, were sent back to teach the rebels that they could not disturb us with impunity. The regiment was placed on the left flank in a thick growth of live oak and cypress timber, which, however, had no underbrush to impede the movements of cavalry. As the infantry advanced, the regiment charged the enemy, who were concealed behind the trees and under a heavy fire, broke and scattered two lines of battle, and forced back a third, punishing the enemy so severely that they did not again make their appearance during the remainder of the campaign. In this engagement, two hundred and fifty prisoners and two pieces of artillery were captured from the enemy. The loss of the regiment in the campaign was ninety-six killed, wounded and missing. While at Morganzia the regiment was ordered to New Orleans to proceed on veteran furlough. The reè'nlisted portion accordingly were sent north via the Mississippi river, starting upon the 11th, and arriving in Concord, N. H., on the 23d of July, where they met a warm reception at the hands of the State authorities, and were entertained at the expense of the State until the men were furloughed. After spending thirty days at home among their friends and relatives, from whom they had been separated for nearly three years, the veterans started for New Orleans on the 29th of August, and on their arrival at Camp Parapet, La., joined their comrades who had been left behind, and soon after were ordered to Natchez, Miss., where the regiment is now (December 15th, 1864), stationed.

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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