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.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Battle of Ponchatoula

The account below is of Colonel Edward Bacon of the 6th Michigan Infantry at the Battle of Ponchatoula (March 24-26, 1863). This article was written by N. Wayne Cosby - thanks a lot Wayne for the piece on Ponchatoula!

The Battle of Ponchatoula, La.

                With Ponchatoula on my mind for some time now, I decided to revisit an old writing about some action that took place there.  Edward Bacon was a soldier in the Sixth Michigan Infantry.  He was its original Major and was later promoted to Lt. Colonel and then Colonel of the Regiment.  He wrote, in 1867, one of my favorite books on the war, Among the Cotton Thieves.  Bacon, by today’s standards, was a no-nonsense Unionist and a person that could be counted on tell it like it was.  He reveals in his book his displeasure with many officers above him (ie.  William Dwight) and the very title of the book says much about his thoughts on the war, that many of the Union officers were in this for the booty.
                At any rate, he gives the best account we have of an action that took place in the little railroad stop of Ponchatoula in early 1863.  Federal forces sailed across Lake Maurepas to flank the small village as well as marching straight up the railroad from New Orleans.  I apologize to those that have read this account but we have many readers who might not have seen this account by any other source as the book has been out of print for quite a few years.  We hope our readership will enjoy this unique Federal account of the ravaging of a Louisiana town.

“At night, an old light draught steamer, the Savary, and a little iron-clad gunboat, the Barataria, with several schooners in tow, arrive, loaded with red-legged Zouaves, of the One Hundred and Sixty-fifth New York.  Nothing can be done until morning.  A chilly drizzling rain begins.  The men pile up ties and pieces of plank for walls, and with their oil-cloths make roofs for shelter.  Officers can do no better.  We huddle together along the scanty and muddy embankment which fills the trestle work, and pass a miserable night.  I am long kept awake by some of the most talkative of the company negroes, who are telling each other long stories of the old plantation life of their youth.  My thoughts wander far back to my own home and youth, and then I think of the affairs which my colonel has laid before me during the afternoon.  He showed me his instructions in writing from General Sherman, that he should send the Zouaaves up the railroad, to advance directly on Ponchitoula, while the rest of his command should go in sufficient vessels across Lake Maurepas, up the Tickfaw river, and landing at or near Wadesborough, about twelve miles up the stream, should proceed three miles through open pine woods, and make a flank attack on Ponchitoula, while the Zouaves attacked in front.  A detachment of the Ninth Connecticut, with two field pieces, were to be left on Jones’ Island, to guard the base of operations.  A detachment was also to be left at De Sair station, to guard against having our retreat cut off by any of the enemy, who might cross Lake Maurepas, and, in small boats, ascend a certain crooked bayou which extended through the swamp up to within about half a mile of that station. Ponchitoula being captured, we were to hold it until further orders.
                My colonel had heard something of the Tickfaw river.  It was a deep, sluggish stream, so narrow that the enemy could fell trees before us or behind us, so as to form the best of obstructions.  Every man who showed himself while we were on the river might consider himself a target for the rifles of guerillas, securely sheltered by trees and logs; and that the three miles we had to go over in order to take Ponchitoula in the flank, might be a hard road to travel.
                My colonel seemed to be somewhat the worse on account of his potations when he showed me his instructions, and told me that I was to command that part of the expedition which was to go up the Tickfaw, and that he would go with those who were to proceed up the railroad.
                During the forenoon of the 23rd day of March, we are making the embarkation.  The Zouaves are carried around the end of the island and landed, to advance up the railroad, on the main land.  The rain has given place to a southern hurricane.  The difficulty of bringing any vessels near to our camp makes it necessary to carry the men in small boats across to the opposite side of the pass, where the vessels lie, protected by the island from the wind.  Torrents of rain drench us.  We all have to go, one at a time, over a long timber, extending about ten feet above the water to a point where the boats can come.  Some men have to be steadied by their companions reaching out their rifles for them to take hold of.  At times the rain and wind compel all to stop.  I find it difficult to keep my place on one of the bridge timbers, with the surging waves below me,  and the storm driving against me.  My oil-cloth and coat save me from being as completely wet as are most of the men about me, but after going bounding over the waves, and finding myself in the cabin of the Savary, I find a fire almost as comfortable as if I had been exposed to one of the March rains of my own country.  The sky suddenly changes, and lets down hot sunshine by intervals.  The wind has fallen.  While we are disentangling a schooner’s yard arm from a steamer’s smoke stack, partly overturned in the storm, Sergeant Yaw, of Co. B, who was once a justice of the peace in the county where I lived, is accidentally injured n the head.  The old gentleman is carried bleeding past me.
                The expedition is on Lake Maurepas.  The storm has gone.  The ring of dense cypress trees around the little lake shuts off the breeze.  A long thick black cloud of coal smoke is continually rolling out of the smoke stack, leaving in sight parts of the white sails, while points of yard arms and masts stick out of the smoke. 
                Tuesday, March 24, 1863 – Our vessels have, during the night, got clear of the snags, and as daylight appears we enter the Tickfaw, which for two miles appears to be the only one of the well known family of bayous.  We see one place where there happens to be dry footing for a few men among the moss-hung trees and rotten logs.  Here are the remains of confederate picket fires, abandoned, apparently, for a long time by the guards, who have been driven away by the dismalness of the place.
                The tall and heavy trees lean over us from both sides.  A few hours of labor by a few guerillas, with axes, ought to have stopped us for days.  Everywhere is the most perfect cover for sharpshooters.  Not a tree has been fallen into the stream, and now not a rifle shot is fired nor a guerilla yell heard.   We hurry from our schooner over the decks of the rickety old Savary, and spring upon the shore, man after man, till the companies are formed, and then moved up to their places in the regimental line.  News from the Zouaves is eagerly sought, for in any natural course of events they ought to have taken Ponchitoula or to have been beaten back by noon yesterday.  We know that they have had a fight..  We are moving four abreast up the road, Companies A and B advancing into the pine woods before us, and out on our flanks, scattering themselves among the trees to protect our march.
                One rifle shot is heard in front – another, and another.  Are we to have a fight, or is this firing on account of some fugitive making off through the woods?  But a dozen rifles are fired in quick succession, and seem to be answered by a dozen more further off.  We go along by the flank.  Our skirmishers seem willing that we should get closer to them.  Firing breaks out from twenty rifles in a volley, and runs along most of the skirmish line in front and on our right. 
                We file right, halt, face to the front.  About two companies of the Eastern troops have been left at Wadesborough to guard all our water craft that lies in the Tickfaw, waiting for the cotton; two more eastern companies are with us.  “Battalion – forward march!” and I move my line forward, finding it no easy matter to march a line of battle through woods as open as these.  The firing is incessant, a thousand echoes adding to the sound.  An officer from the skirmishers returns to us.  “What have you seen of the enemy?” is asked of him.  “Nothing but rebel cavalrymen,” is his answer.  “How many do there seem to be of them?”  “There are a good many,” he says.  Company E is sent to reinforce our advance, and as we move along the whiz of bullets is heard above our heads, and a hostile line of skirmishers are firing as briskly as our own.
                I see many serious faces.  I get the line in as good order as possible, for the report comes from the front that the enemy are growing more numerous and obstinate, especially on our left, and that part of our line slackens pace, so as to change front gradually that way.  We may, for aught we know, behold a rebel line of infantry rise up on our front, or on our left flank, not far from which runs a highway from Ponchitoula to Springfield.  I order patrols of three men each to scout on the flanks.  Our advance are at a stand, firing angrily, until we are almost upon them.  Suddenly the well known yells of a charge are heard.  We fix bayonets, but our skirmishers are going forward rapidly instead of being charged upon.  We are soon informed of the truth.  At a little bayou, having thickets of young pines beyond it, the rebels made quite a stand.  Company A raised a yell and charged forward, the bugles sounding the signal “double quick,” and the rebels ran farther off than ever.  In getting over the little bayou, our line is necessarily much broken. 
                The firing ceases; the coast is clear.  We are within a mile and a half of our destination, but we march cautiously, keeping in line of battle in spite of fences or ravines, and keeping our skirmishers and patrols for fear of an ambush or surprise.  At a distance, we see white buildings.  That is Ponchitoula.  We enter the panic-stricken little town, our line of battle sweeping destructively through garden fences and door yards, terrified children running into hiding places in the houses, while frightened women, cheaply clad and ill-looking, try to beg for protection.  We cannot stop to hear them, and do not halt until we come to the railroad, across which we form a line, sheltering our flanks by buildings, which afford good cover for riflemen, our front being partly covered by fences, the scantiness of the town leaving before us a good field of fire up the railroad.  No enemy is to be seen or heard of.  From the time we entered the town sounds and sights at every house tell that the work of making the enemy feel the significance of our confiscation laws, has been going on.  It now becomes apparent that our colonel finds the temptation more than he can bear.  He can hardly wait to make an inquiry concerning the Zouaves, and on hearing that the enemy have until this morning prevented our friends from getting across a great marsh two miles from town, a sergeant and eight men, with a white flag, are sent down the railroad in search of them.  And now it seems the main intention is to secure the plunder before the Zouaves get here.  I see what an opportunity is given to the enemy.  One well-handled company of horsemen might take advantage of our confusion, excitement and plundering, and rout us.  I endeavor to place men of Co. G at the windows of a large tavern building, where our right rests, so as to make this building a sort of fortification, but an order comes from my colonel for this regiment to go out as pickets.  Nearly half the regiment are sent as pickets to the open woods surrounding the unprotected town.  Two companies of eastern men are sent up the railroad to find and burn the first large bridge, and now the work in Ponchitoula goes bravely on.
                All appearance of a battle line is gone.  I can hardly keep enough arms stacked to indicate the rallying place of companies.  My last effort to keep a few men together is a distribution of a large quantity of excellent tobacco, but while this is going on a demijohn of Louisiana rum is brought.  The demijohn is smashed, but as our commander has abandoned himself to plunder with patriotism equal to that of the worst soldier, every man follows suit.  There is a large wooden depot, with its offices.  The sounds of axes resounds within, and blue-coated soldiers are seen coming out with bundles and boxes.   There are two country stores in the village.  Our colonel is just coming out of one store, where he has set some of his attendants to work.  He appears not to have found what he thought good enough for him.  He has a wild and uncommonly thievish expression of face as he hastens toward the remaining store, followed by several of his favorites.  The store door is fastened strongly.  He makes a furious kick, throwing the weight of his corpulence against the door.  It does not yield.  A beam is brought in haste, and the colonel and his lackeys break in together.  They greedily search for such things they think most valuable.   Then the crowd is let in.  No man confiscates the rebel liquors faster than our commander.  It is told openly that a purse of a hundred dollars in gold has been found in a private house.  Soon the few women and children that remain in the town are seen running in confusion, or imploring protection, while at windows and doors soldiers are seen, offering no violence to anyone, but searching for plunder and questioning negroes, who willingly submit to be compelled to act as guides.  The post office is now sacked.  Letters and torn envelopes of miserable rebel paper, and newspapers from all parts of the confederacy, are scattered along the streets.  Just as the red-legged Zouaves arrive, marching in order worthy of their character for discipline, some enterprising patriots are breaking into a well-furnished Masonic lodge.  The contagion of plundering a town is rather too much for discipline, and the Zouaves suddenly begin to show their New York education.  Silver squares, compasses, suns, stars, crescents and other Masonic emblems, that would value most at a New York pawnbroker’s, fall to our disciplined friends in what our men seem to think unfair proportions.  One of their most severe sargeants has secured the tyler’s sword, which he puts on in place of his own.”

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Train Wreck at Company Canal

From the New York Times, November 14 1863:

The New-Orleans papers give an account of a shocking accident, resulting in great loss of life, which occurred on Sunday morning about daylight, on the Opelousas Railroad, in the vicinity of Company Canal, eight miles from Algiers, caused by an up train loaded with troops, dashing headlong into another up train which was standing on the track disabled, and the cars of which were also loaded with troops, crashing the cars together and making of both trains a heap of ruins.
The casualties, so far as could be ascertained, were eleven killed and sixty-five wounded, many of the latter very severely. The following is a list of their names:
Killed -- Belonging to the 97th Illinois: Lieut. Martin, Richard Smith, Geo. Polk, (drummer,) Geo. Draper, John Corbitt, Wm. Reed, Martin Woods, Frank Akeman, C.W. Osborn, John Miller, T.B. Smith.
Wounded -- In the 97th Illinois regiment: Aleck Chaput, Sunderland, M. Woods, Powers, Oglesby, James and D.F. Wicker, F. Brooks, J. Curry, Sam Girard, J.E. Hagy, J.H. McGee, Hickman, Bethards, James and John Cloud, M. Sigler, E. White, Halliday, Sargeant Slaten, J. Francis, E. Lowe, J. Ryan, Isaac Giberron, S. Massey, J. Huffine, R.S. Giberron, J.G. White, J. Globe, H. Palmer, Asa Barnes, Wm.H. Medlin, Lewis Woods, T. Smith, J. Kilgore, P. Huffman, Nicholas, Campbell, Berry, Pace, Zeits, Jeremiah, Dwyer, White, Knowlton, Woodrow, Pennington, Herod, Salers, Davisson, Rice, Kilborn, Stanton, Wyant, Sillwell, Matheny.
In the 54th Indiana regiment: E.J. Treat, (hospital steward,) Lafayette Martindale, James Pierce.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Fontenots of the 8th Louisiana Infantry

Fontenot Brothers of Co. F, 8th Louisiana

The above photo shows four brothers of Company F "Opelousas Guards" of the 8th Louisiana Infantry. The brothers are Hypolite, Denis, Alexander and Horthere Fontenot. The Opelousas Guards were raised in May of 1861 in Opelousas. Men from Opelousas, Grand Coteau, Washington and Ville Platte filled the roster of the company. Captain James C. Pratt was elected its captain and fielded 90 men. In this original muster Alexander was the only one of the above four Fontenot brothers that enlisted in May. The the remaining three brothers all enlisted in March of 1862. To read more about the war experiences of the brothers please visit Cowan's Auctions - they have provided a nice write up about these Louisiana soldiers.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Captain V.J. St. Martin, 8th Louisiana

At Antietam on the Web (AotW) they have highlighted a Louisiana soldier in the 8th Louisiana Infantry - Captain V.J. St. Martin of Company K "Phoenix Rifles." Please visit their website to read additional information on Captain St. Martin.

Captain St. Martin, Co. K, 8th Louisiana Infantry
(Image located at AotW Website)

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