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.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Van Alystne's Diary, Part VII

We continue with the diary of Lawrence Van Alystne was part of Co. B, 128th New York Infantry. His regiment was assigned to Louisiana in December of 1862. The 128th New York served in our state until July 1864, when it was transferred to Virginia. Van Alystne put together a book that included his diary he kept while serving in the 128th New York, Diary of An Enlisted Man(1910).

This post finishes Van Alystne's chapter on the Siege of Port Hudson. This piece covers June 18 - July 9, 1863 (the surrender).

June 18, 1863.

Thursday. Another squad of deserters came in this morning. I suppose they come in on other parts of the line just the same. This must weaken the enemy faster than our fighting has done. They all tell of hard times and short rations. The weather is hot, and a horrible stench comes from the dead horses and mules, which the buzzards are tearing to pieces. There is scarcely any firing between the sharpshooters. The lines here are so close the men talk with each other, and have agreed to warn each other when the officers come around. At other times it is more like visiting than anything else. It is terribly hot in the rifle pits. I made the rounds to-day, and had a chat with a middle-aged Johnnie. He said we were not at all like they had been told, and there were some who believed we had horns on our heads, and had feet like cattle. Now that they know better they don't want to fight us, and will only do so when obliged to. Three men were sunstruck while in the trenches to-day.

June 19, 1863.

Friday. Three more men knocked out to-day. One sunstruck and two wounded. The Rebs have men posted way back inside the works, with rifles having telescope sights, and it is these that do the mischief, rather than those in the rifle pits. Now that we are warned of these fellows, we must look sharp, and maybe then get a clip. This explains how a couple of balls whistled past me yesterday when no sound of a gun was heard.

June 20, 1863.

Saturday. One of Company B, while poking about yesterday, had the good luck to shoot a cow, and last night he came in dragging as much of it as he could. So we have had another fill up and the world seems well with us now. I went for another swim in the river, and gave my clothes another washing. My one shirt has shrunk so I can hardly get into it. Not a button is left on it. The wristbands only come a little below my elbows, and the bottom only just reaches to my trousers. I have no way to tell how I look, but the others are about as black as the negro troops, and I suppose I must be ditto. The rifle pits are being extended and the Rebs are shoving theirs just as fast, each keeping about the same distance from the other. No shooting is done, a sort of agreement having been made not to fire on each other until another assault is made along the whole line.

June 21, 1863.

Sunday. My diary says tc-day is Sunday. If I have kept my reckoning right it is, but nothing else hints at its being the day set apart for rest. Directly in front of our sleeping quarters is a high knob or hill, and directly back of that is the water battery on ground just as high and only separated from it by a V-shaped hollow between. There are men making a road up that knob, and I think it is going to be fortified. The storming party is said to be full, and are to report at General Banks' headquarters to-night. It is said thirty-five go from the I28th. If all the regiments send a like number there will be several thousand instead of one, as was called for. Nearly half from this regiment are from Company C. Company A is next, with nine, and the rest are from the other companies, except B, G, and E, which send none. They go way up to the right of the line, but where they will make the attempt is not told, if it is known. Captain Keesex goes in command of the squad from the I28th, and with sixteen from his own Company C, nine from Company A, three from Company D, one from Company F, two from Company H, three from Company I, and two from Company K, making thirty-six in all, making a big showing from our regiment. We bid them good-bye, for some of them, and perhaps all, have gone on their last march. There are men left who have proved themselves just as brave as these have ever done. We don't all see it alike, that's all. We feel as if we had had a big funeral in the family, and are a sober set to-night.

June 22,

Monday. Another drenching shower last night made our night miserable, though the sun soon dried us off this morning. A foraging party was sent out for fresh beef to-day, and came in minus one man, who it is supposed was picked up by guerrillas. Parties of them are said to be hovering about outside of our lines. The Rebs asked our pickets to-day when that thousand men was to come and get them. They would not tell how they knew of it, but perhaps General Banks has sent them word, as he has done of every move yet. No doubt the exact time and place will be told them by some one. I am more glad than ever now, that none of Company B went. The general opinion is now that the boys that have volunteered have been sacrified, and that if the thing was to be tried over again, few, if any, would stir a step. All quiet to-day except now and then a gun just to keep up appearances.

June 23, 1863.

Tuesday. Another detail for foragers to-day. I made out to get on this time. The quartermaster's team goes to bring in the beef or mutton or whatever it is we may get.

June 24, 1863

Wednesday. It is only by pure good luck that I am in my usual place of abode to-day, and able to write in my diary of yesterday's foraging expedition. A detail of three from each company set out with a four-mule team. We went until about opposite our old quarters, on the center, and then turned towards Port Hudson Plain. We divided up into squads, Smith Darling, the drummer boy, and myself of Company B making one, and each hunting on our own hook. If firing was heard, it would indicate a kill, and the wagon was to come for the game. We found cattle, but they were wild, and very soon the Company B squad found itself alone and out of sight or hearing of the others. Along in the afternoon we started to find our way back to camp and soon after came upon and shot a two-year-old steer. We fired our guns several times and then went to work and dressed the animal as well as we could with only our knives. We got the backbone apart and strung the hindquarters on a stake. Giving the drummer the liver and tongue, we started, hoping the wagon would pick us up on its way back. The country seemed new to us and we soon made up our minds we were lost, as likely to be going away from Port Hudson as towards it. Just about sundown we came in sight of a house, and before we got to it saw General Dow and George Story ride up. They dismounted, and the General went into the house, leaving George to put up the horses. George had pulled the saddle from his horse when we came up and hailed him. He was as glad to see us as we were to see him. He said the General was stopping there and his foot was getting well fast. He told us to take a path through the bushes and we would soon come to a negro shanty, where he thought we could trade some beef for an old mule the darkey had and so get the rest of the meat into camp. Just then we heard the clank of sabres coming, and fearing it might be some hungry cavalry squad who would want us to divide, we got into the bushes as fast as we could. We were just nicely hidden when they dashed up. We heard them talking with Story and soon after heard them ride on down the road in the direction from which we had come. Why the general left the good quarters inside the lines for this out-of-the-way place is a query we don't understand. We soon reached a clearing and were able to trade a chunk of beef for an old gray mule. It was then dark, but with directions from the darkey we were able to strike the road to camp. Smith rode the mule with the beef strung across in front, and the drummer and I followed on with the liver and tongue. When we were within a couple of miles of home a shower came upon us and soon soaked us through. The thunder and lightning was something awful, but except for the lightning I don't know how we would have kept the road. We reached camp at 10 o'clock, wet, tired and hungry enough to eat raw beef. The team with the rest of the foraging party had got in about dark, and until we came in, it was supposed some wandering squad of rebel cavalry had bagged us. Altogether we had a sufficient supply of beef to last us for some days.

June 25,

Thursday. We have been listening and expecting to hear the beginning of the third attempt to take Port Hudson by storm. But the day has passed without any great excitement. Five deserters came in this morning, and said there was others that would come if they were sure of good, fair treatment. They had agreed upon a signal, which was to be a green bush fastened upon the end of an old building close by. If the bush was put up it would mean they were well treated, otherwise they were to say nothing about the signal, and it would be a warning to their comrades to stay where they are.

A letter from Jane to-day. They have just heard where we are, and are very anxious. The newspapers have Banks' army all cut to pieces.

June 26, 1863.

Friday. Lieutenant Pierce is half sick yet, and ought not to be here. He wished this morning he had some blackberries, so three of us got permission to go for some. So many pickers have cleaned them up, so we found only a few here and there. We went a long way out, and made a thorough search. A shower overtook us and gave us a fine washing. Just after noon we heard the ball open again. It seemed to be all along the line from right to left. One said it was General Banks' notice to the Rebs to get ready to whip him again. We hurried back with what berries we had. The shot and shells were flying both ways. Company B was out on the skirmish line, and did not get in until morning. The firing stopped about dark, and so far as I can find out no one has been killed or wounded.

June 27, 1863.

Saturday. Too many blackberries yesterday have made me sick to-day. I certainly feel slim. I don't care who has Port Hudson; I don't want it. I wouldn't turn my hand over for the whole Confederacy.

Later. Am feeling better, but don't hanker after blackberries yet. Company B turned up four men short but they came in later. They got so close they had to crawl on their bellies for a long ways before they dare stand up.

June 28, 1863.

Sunday. Am all right again. To-day has been a busy one. A big gun, the biggest I ever saw, "Old Abe" it is called, was dragged here last night and got up on the point opposite the Rebels' water battery. To-day the gun has been got into position. Being so near, and having so little to do, I put in the day with them, helping in any way I could. The fort is made of cotton bales, backed up by bags of earth too thick to be shot through. When all was ready it was most sundown. A limb with thick leaves hung over one side, and under this I got to see what happened. When "Old Abe" finally did speak, the shell went into the ground way under the rebel gun, and after what seemed a long time exploded. The whole thing went up in the air, and when the dust settled, the muzzle of the gun lay sticking over the bank, pointed up toward the moon. So ended the famous "water battery" that we have heard so much about. "Billy Wilson's" Zouave regiment, our left-hand neighbor, then came up the ravine dragging a long rope they had got from the gunboats, and slipped it over the muzzle of the gun, intending to drag it over. But they couldn't budge it, and finally gave it up. Next they came back with hand grenades which they fired and tossed over. They had cut the fuses too long and they had no more than landed on the other side when the Rebs threw them back. That made the red legs skedaddle, and all that saved them was the fact that in coming up they had come on a slant, while the grenades rolled directly down. As it was, a piece hit a drummer boy, and he lies here on the ground apparently breathing his last. The top of his head has a large piece chipped off. There has been a good deal of powder burned to-day. What has been done besides tearing up the water battery I don't know. To-night the mortar boats have been throwing shells into the works. They pass directly over us. We are so near, the report is almost stunning. The fuse is cut long enough to last until they drop. I hope none of them may go off while over our quarters.

June 29, 1863.

Monday. The Rebs shelled our quarters last night, and kept us huddled in the ravine until some were asleep. The weather grows hotter every day. Many give out in the rifle pits, though they contrive every way to get in the shade of something.

June 30, 1863.

Tuesday. Last night the Zouaves made another try to get the guns from the water battery. Two of them came back on stretchers, and the guns are still there. A man was killed to-day while lying on the ground right among us. He was resting his head on one hand, when a shell burst and a piece as large as my hand came down and passed through his shoulder and so on through his body, coming out near his hip. He merely sank down and did not stir. An order has just come from General Dwight for every man to sleep with his accoutrements on, ready to move at a minute's notice.

July 1, 1863.

Wednesday. Nothing happened at our house last night, although we were ready for visitors or to go visiting at the shortest possible notice. It is reported that a part of the Sixth Michigan got into the water battery last night and brought out a rebel captain with them, and without loss on their part. The enemy are reported gathering in our rear. They captured General Dow and George Story yesterday. We are sorry about George, but no one feels very sorry about the general. A man from the right says General Banks made a speech to the storming party last night, and promised them thatPort Hudson would be taken inside of the next three days.

July 2, 1863.

Thursday. Last night the shot and shells flew thicker than at any time. The Rebs seem to be getting madder all the time. I got my closest call, too. I was sitting on a plankj laid across the ravine when a shell burst in front of me. I don't know how I knew, but I did know a hunk of it was coming straight for me, and I dove off into the weeds just as it struck and tore up the ground behind me. It must have gone within an inch or less of the plank, and right where I sat. It is reported that General Dow and Story were recaptured last night by our cavalry. We hope for Story's sake it is true. An orderly rode in a few minutes ago with an order for troops, saying the Rebels had attacked Springfield Landing. The Zouaves and the 162d New York have started, and probably others from farther up the line. All our stores of supplies are there. The Essex has up with her anchor and gone down there and if there is any righting we shall hear it soon. If our supplies are captured we will have to fight on empty stomachs or be captured ourselves. How the Rebs would laugh at us if such a thing should happen, and who could blame them!

July 3, 1863.

Friday. It was only a scare. The troops came back before midnight. A guerrilla squad attacked a wagon train and were fought off by the guards. But it gave us something new to think and to talk about at any rate. If General Banks hoists the stars and stripes in Port Hudson to-morrow, he will probably begin getting ready to-day. No doubt for some of us it will be our last celebration. Who will be taken and who will be left none of us know, and what a blessed thing it is we don't! Now we can each think it will be the other fellow. We have never had any great love for our head surgeon, Dr. Cole, and to-night we hate him more than ever. Yesterday Corporal Blunt of Company K went to him for an excuse from duty, as he was sick. He told him he was able for duty and he went back into the rifle pit and died. How we wish it had been the doctor instead. Just at night a pair of oxen were discovered in the bushes near by and Smith Darling and I were sent out to capture them. We got near enough for a shot without being discovered, and each got his ox at the first shot. The mules came and dragged them out where they are handy and to-morrow we expect a beef stew. The officers will have beefsteak, of course, but we are not particular about the part so long as we get some. Three of the Zouaves, who were captured during the fight on May 27, made their escape and came in to-night. They had got into the river and swam down, coming in as naked as they were born, and almost starved.

July 4, 1863.

Saturday. Company K lost another man by sickness to-day. There are a good many sick. The health of the I28th has, up to a very recent time, been good. We have had hard usage but seemed to thrive under it until this terrible hot weather came on. Two of Company B go to the hospital to-day, and several others are grunting. Out of the eleven hundred we set out with we have only three hundred and fifty now, and the other regiments can tell the same sort of a story, and some of them even a worse one.

Being a sort of jack-at-all-trades, I help out in any way I can, for so many being laid off, makes double duty for some others. I have been filling out the last two months' pay and muster rolls to-day and that gives me a chance to know about my own company and regiment. So far as we know, General Banks did not take Port Hudson to-day. If I were he I wouldn't set any more dates. It has been a very quiet Fourth of July. Have heard a bigger noise at the "City" many a time.

July 5, 1863.

Sunday. Something wrong with the pay rolls, and I have been all day trying to find out what it is.

Captain Giffbrd, of Company A, who was captured when the Slaughter buildings were burned, came in to-day. He escaped last night, swimming the river and getting here about naked. He says from all he was able to discover, the bulk of the enemy's forces are in front of us, here on the left. Where is that storming party? Somewhere on the right, I suppose, unwinding red tape. I'll bet, if every officer in Banks' army, and General Banks with them, was tied up in a bag and dumped in the river, the privates could take Port Hudson in the next twenty-four hours.

July 6, 1863.

Monday. Another hitch in the pay rolls, though made out as they always have been since I had anything to do with them. The figures are right, but the form is not. This time they are according to the new form and I suppose will stay put. The Rebs are getting real saucy again. They have taken to shooting at the men who carry rations to the men in the rifle pits. Last night a darkey was carrying a kettle of coffee to Company E and a ball struck the rim of the kettle, knocking one side against the other, and also knocking down the darkey and spilling the coffee all over him. Narrow escapes are an every-day occurrence. To-day a man took off his hat to scratch his head. That brought the hat up in sight and a rebel bullet went through his fingers, crippling his hand. Four men died from sunstroke to-day. The weather is very warm though we have no way to tell just how warm.

July 7, 1863.

Tuesday. Hip, hip, hurrah! Vicksburg has surrendered. The news has just reached us, although the place surrendered on Saturday at 10 o'clock. The gunboats got the news some way. The first thing was three cheers from the men, and then three broadside salutes. Next, we have shouted ourselves hoarse, and the news is passing along up the line to the extreme right. The Rebs sent out a flag, to know what ailed us, and were told the joyful news. Someway they didn't seem as glad as we are.

Afternoon. Our regiment and the Sixth Michigan have got marching orders. I wonder what is up now.

Later. The Rebs have again threatened Springfield Landing and the I28th New York, the Sixth Michigan, and the Gray Horse Battery have gone off on the double quick. We hear that 27,000 men and over 200 guns were surrendered at Vicksburg. There is no doubt about it now. Details are coming in all the time, and a whole lot of powder has been burned celebrating. The Rebs on our front seem as glad as we, for they know Port Hudson must surrender or be smashed between the forces of Banks and Grant. The detail sent out towards Springfield Landing has come in and reports the trouble all got along with. They didn't fire a gun. We are happy to-night, about as happy as if Port Hudson was ours. In fact it is ours, for they must give up now or catch it from front and rear at the same time.

July 8, 1863.

Wednesday. A flag of truce came out this morning, and after a short council went back. We don't know what it means, but can guess it is the beginning of the end of the siege of Port Hudson.

Later. The flag was to ask for twenty-four hours cessation of hostilities, looking to a surrender. A few hours were given them to think it over, and we put in the time comparing notes with the Johnnies on our front. They are hard up for tobacco, and for bread. They have plenty of corn meal and molasses, but very little else. I have given away and swapped off everything eatable I have, and am going to make a johnnycake, for a change. The meal is as much of a treat for us as our hard-tack is for them.

Afternoon. Port Hudson has surrendered and possession is to be given at once. The story goes that only a few regiments will go in with the staff officers to receive the surrender. We are so in hopes our regiment will be one of that few. I am dying with curiosity to know what the ceremony of a surrender is like, and I also want to see what the inside of Port Hudson is like. The outside I know all I care to know of, but to go away and not see or know how the place looks after the banging it has had, is too bad. But there is no use thinking about it. Some higher power will decide, and we have only to put up with it.

July 9, 1863.

Thursday. In Port Hudson. Just as I was wondering what regiments would be taken in to receive the surrender, and was worrying for fear ours would not be one, the order came to pack up and go. We marched up to General Auger's headquarters, and slept in the road last night. There was a drizzling rain most all night, but this morning was bright and we soon dried off.

We marched on towards the right until we came to a road that entered the fort, but which did not show signs of recent usage. Here we formed in the order we were to go in, the storming party at the head, then came the n6th and 75th New York, and then the I28th New York. After us were several regiments, about six I think, for I have seen members of that many regiments here to-day. At eight o'clock we marched in, and I should say went three-quarters of a mile, when we found the Rebs in line. We marched along their front and halted, faced to the left, and stood facing each other, some twenty feet apart. Both lines were at "order arms." The officers held a short confab, and then took their respective places, as if on parade. Our regiment was directly opposite "Miles' Legion," or what is left of it. The commanding general then gave the order, "ground arms." This was repeated by the company commanders, and then for the first time I felt sorry for the brave fellows. If their cause is not just, they have been true to it, and it must be like death itself for a brave fighter to lay his arms down before his enemy. However, I did not see any signs of tears. A detail was made to collect and take care of the guns and ammunition, and the order came from both sides to break ranks. In a twinkling we were together. I met the man I had the com meal from, and we put in some time together. The Rebs are mostly large, fine-looking men. They are about as hard up for clothes as we are. What clothing they have on is gray, while ours is what has been a sickly blue, but is now nearly the color of the ground on which we have slept so long. Some of them are glad the fight is over, and others are sorry, at least that is the way they talk. They are asking all sorts of questions about the thousand men who were to storm their works. They think it the biggest kind of a joke. They have known all along much more about what went on outside than we did about the inside. Their scouts have been right among us, wearing the clothes of those they captured on May 27. The officers, without an exception, appear like gentlemen, in spite of the ragged clothes they wear. They have treated the prisoners as well as they could, giving them the same sort of food they ate themselves. Provisions are very scarce, and the men say they have had no meat but mule beef for some time. A whole wagon-train loaded with provisions has come in and they eat as if famished. There are acres of fresh looking graves, showing that they have suffered as well as we. They say, however, that few have been killed, considering the many efforts made to kill them, but there has been a great deal of sickness, which has caused the greatest destruction among them. There are about 500 in the hospital, sick and wounded together. They have suffered for medicines. The wounded had to be operated on without chloroform, and many died while being operated on.

The rebel soldiers are to be paroled, but what will be done with the officers I have not learned. Some of the men say they will fight again as soon as they have a chance, and others say they have had enough. The majority of them that I have talked with feel that their cause will finally lose, and they are for ending it now. There is a large space covered with barrels of sugar and molasses and there is quite a quantity of corn left. They have a curious mill for grinding the corn. A locomotive stands on the track with the drivers jacked up clear from the track. On the driver is a belt which turns a small mill and it looks as if it would grind a grist as quick as any other mill. I have been hunting about the place all day, and have seen many curiosities, or at least things strange to me. The earth is honeycombed with cellars and tunnels where the men hid themselves from our shot and shells. Along the bluff facing the river are several savage-looking guns, made of logs, smoothed off and painted so as to look exactly like cannon. The real guns were all needed for use against the besieging army. We are looking for a good night's sleep to-night. The guns that have made our nights so miserable are all under guard. Things are settling down for the night and I must stop writing. I have written every minute I could get and the half is not told yet. If all goes well I will try again to-morrow.

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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