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.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

14th Louisiana Goes to War Pt. VI

The following write up comes from Wayne Cosby. It is a first hand account of Private W.P. Snakenburg of Co. K, 14th Louisiana Infantry. Wayne informed me that the original source of Snakenburg's letter is unknown but his account was printed in 1984 in the Amite News Digest. This piece covers the Overland Campaign in early 1864 and stops at Snakenburg's capture at the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. The next and last post (Pt. VII) will cover Snakenburg's experience as a prisoner and will end the series on his letters.

In the winter Gen'l Meade had been relieved of his command and Gen'l Ulysses Simpson Grant had been given command of the Yankee army. He crossed the river again in the wilderness, not far from the place where Gen'l Jackson had been wounded the year before. He crossed on May 4th and 5th, 1864, with a heavy force - over 200,000 men. On Thursday, May 5th, our Division (Johnson's) attacked his right flank and rear after he had formed his line in the Wilderness. Our Louisiana Brigade and (Brigadier General James Alexander) Walker's were on his flank, the rest of Johnson's Division led a charge on his front and drove them back, their flank was exposed to our Brigade (Stafford's) and the way we poured lead into them was a sin. We were placed on a high ridge and we could see every move they made, also, Johnson leading his line when they made the charge.

The enemy's ranks were as thick as blackbirds in the field and there was no reason for any man in our line to throw away any bullets. All could see where to shoot. We fired as long as they were within sight, then fired into the woods where they had gone. We were so busy shooting at those in our front, that the enemy got a line of battle in our rear, and fired a volley into our ranks before we had any idea that the enemy was behind us. By that volley many were killed and wounded in our line, among them was our Brigade General, Leroy Stafford. We faced about and fought them as they came up on the ridge, but they were too many for us. The right of the line gave way and left the ridge.

My Company, going on the extreme left, did not know that our lines were broken and gone. When I found it out, I was called by Private James Mullen of my Company and told. Then we started to get out of the scrape as fast as possible. There were only three of us left, Con Mullen, James Mullen and myself.

The Yankees line of battle was less than 50 yards when we ran down the side of the ridge into a road cut through the hill. James Mullen ran down the road to our right and was captured. Con Mullen and myself crossed the road and into a large open field, the one that Johnson had led the charge after the enemy, and ran toward our colors, more than a quarter of a mile away. We had not run far before Con falls and says: "My God, I am killed." I saw that he fell forward on his face then threw his hand to his breast dead. I kept on at angles to the enemy's line of battle, with their balls cutting all around me, and why I was not hit I will never know. When I got near my Company, several of the boys ran to me, taking hold and wanting to know where I was wounded. I answered that I was not hit and for a while I could not make them believe it. They said that I fell down and they were certain that I was wounded. They saw the Yankee line of battle shooting at me and the balls cutting the dirt all around me and never understood how I ran nearly parallel to a line of battle, the distance that I ran and never be hit. I told them that if I fell while before the line of battle, I did not know it. They saw Con Mullen fall and knew that Jim was caught a prisoner.

Part 5 - October 11th, 1984

We then formed another line of battle and threw up some breastworks and stayed on that line until Sunday morning early, and as Grant moved, we also moved. When we got our position on Grant's right on the 5th, we rested in the woods until the skirmishers went out forward to engage their skirmishers, and while there a red fox was disturbed and ran down our line between our line of battle and the skirmish line and right behind him came a large snake. I laid down my gun and got a pole to kill the snake, when it coiled up and made a hissing sound before I could strike. One of my Company hollered out to me to get away from him, that the snake was a rattler. I dropped my pole and jumped in a hurry, and let his snakeship alone and got my gun and in less than three minutes was in the fight hot and heavy going forward.

On Friday night, May 6th, Brigadier Gen'l John B. Gordon made a night attack on Grant's flank and drove his right into his center. Grant then moved to the left in the direction of Spotsylvania Court House, we followed, and on Sunday night got in his front at Spotsylvania and threw up breastworks.

Thursday, May 5th, 1864 was the longest day, it seemed many of the troops and many times the sun looked at and wished that it was night. Long after the war it has been said by the soldiers that that day the sun was hung up. Here the works in our front were laid off in the shape of a horse-shoe. Our Brigade was placed in the toe of the shoe. The trees in our front were cut down and the tops felled from the works, or in the direction of Grant's troops. Our sharpshooting was in front of the works, on the side of a road, on the opposite of which there was a large open field some 250 yards wide, then a deep woods, where the enemy were posted.

Monday we worked on our breastwork and cut off the boughs of the trees that were down in our front, making the ends of the limbs sharp.

Tuesday evening the 10th, our Company went out on the skirmish line for the night and had a fight with their skirmishers for two hours, and while we were busy, there was a heavy fight a short distance on our left. At that place the enemy succeeded in charging over the works, but were driven out by Gen'l Gordon's Division with heavy loss.

On Wednesday we had more works to throw up on the right and left of our Company, as the enemy had succeeded in planting batteries of cannon, so as to throw shell on the flanks. We made arrangement to go on the skirmish line again on Thursday morning and got up very early so as to get in the line before light. On account of having to travel through so large an opening, we tried to go early, so as to run as little risk in losing our men as possible.

About the time we were ready to start for the skirmish line, those on the line commenced firing very fast and soon came running into the works, saying that the enemy were advancing. We went into the works, but on account of a very heavy fog we could not for some time see anything, but waited until all the skirmish line had got in our works and the enemy had come near enough to be seen, we commenced firing on them.

On Tuesday night, while on the skirmish line, 10th, while on the skirmish line, we were informed that a spy was in our line and if possible to catch or kill him if he attempted to go out by us. He did not go out that night, but we learned afterward that he did get out on Wednesday night and told of the disposition of our troops.

On Wednesday evening a Brigade of troops were moved from the line on our right and taken to a position on our left where it was thought a heavy fight would be. A twelve gun battery was also moved out of the works late Wednesday evening and taken to the rear so as to let the horses graze during the night, and before they got in position in the morning the enemy had charged and come over the works. There were no troops placed where the Brigade was taken out the evening before, but those in line were ordered to spread out to fill their place, so the line was very thin and the spy saw it all and suppose he told of all the movement. They came over the works where they were thin and then down behind our division before we knew anything. I was on the parapet and fired a number of times, as those of my Company behind me kept loading and passing me their guns.

The day before the fight, I had gotten a number of small balls and cleaned and loaded an extra gun with 21 of them and set in the works, and after I fired a bullet and passed the gun back for another, I found the Company gone. I then picked up my extra gun and fired it at the New York and United States color bearers in Gen'l Winfield Scott Hancock's corps who made the charge in our front and threw colors to the ground. Before I had time to get my gun down, I found that I was a prisoner and the enemy all around me coming from behind and was told to go over the works. I did not know whether the color bearers were killed or not. This was the last shot I fired in the service of the Confederate States. I was a prisoner until the end of the War. On the works in front of my Company was an oak tree growing several inches through that was cut down by bullets fired at us from three directions. The tree was cut off just above the works. The artillery that was taken out of the works the night before came back to their position just in time to be captured, only two of the guns getting in position in time to be fired and they but once each. Gen'l Ed Johnson fired the gun and Brigadier Gen'l George Hume Stewart was standing close to him. I was near enough to them to have touched them with my gun by reaching forward.

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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