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, November 7, 2010

No New Orleans, NOW WHAT? Thomas O. Moore

“How much longer is Louisiana to be considered without the protection or beneath the consideration of the Confederate Government?”

Governor Thomas O. Moore

Letter to Jefferson Davis (July 8, 1862)

In our last post on "No New Orleans, Now What?" we took a look at how the commander of Department No. 1, Mansfield Lovell, rebounded from the devastating loss of New Orleans. To Lovell's credit, he is responsible for saving Vicksburg from capture in May of 1862 and thus postponing Union control of the river for over a year. A glaring hole in Lovell's rebound and move to redemption was the total neglect he exhibited toward southwestern Louisiana. Camp Moore became the rally point from New Orleans and Lovell quickly organized a small but respectable force. This force, though, was put to defending the Mississippi at Vicksburg. For Governor Thomas O. Moore, 2/3 of his state lay west of the river and the burden of defending this region fell on his shoulders.

Once New Orleans fell, Moore removed himself and the government temporarily to Camp Moore. On May 1st, he officially named Opelousas as the new state capital. While preparations were being made to move the government body to that town, Moore decided to remain at Camp Moore until he was able to get a clear definition of the President's goal for the Trans-Mississippi, and hope to influence that decision as well. Moore pushed for President Davis to create an independent department west of the Mississippi River-in contrast to Department No. 1 which had encompassed both sides of the river. Moore cited the impossibility of commands on either side of the river, soon to be controlled by enemy boats, to coordinate any coherent strategy. The defense of western Louisiana was not a priority to the Confederate war effort. Thus, the appointment of an officer to command it was not forthcoming. On May 5th, President Davis explained the situation to Moore: "I had previously concluded to form a department west of the Mississippi. It is now a necessity, but we must further delay action, because the troops and higher officers are concentrated for a battle in Tennessee." Following the Battle of Shiloh (April 6-7, 1862), Beauregard's Army of the Mississippi was besieged at Corinth, Mississippi. If Corinth fell, then Memphis and the entire Upper Mississippi Valley would fall. Louisiana would have to wait until the fate of Corinth was decided.

As Moore waited for western Louisiana to be organized into its own department with its own commanding officer, he wrangled with the president over the issues of conscripts. With President Davis' blessing, two conscription camps were set up west of the river at Monroe and Opelousas (The third site was east of the river at Camp Moore). Moore argued for two camps citing the geographic impossibility of men from the two regions meeting at either point, "and its peculiar population require" different camps.

The issue of where conscript camps would be located was solved by May 10th. What was not solved was what to do with the men when they got to the camps! There were two MAJOR issues: There were no supplies, tents, weapons or even commandants for these conscription camps. Also, Under the Conscript Act, conscripts were to be collected and forwarded to units in the field. The problem with this, Moore argued, was that western Louisiana was void of ANY organized regiments - they all being in the field. He pushed for conscripts to be collected into new units (in direct violation of the law) in order to defend western Louisiana.

As Moore was struggling with these issues, he was learning, with much apprehension, of Lovell's exodus of units from Camp Moore to Vicksburg. Lovell's reasoning was sound judgment to save the Mississippi and ultimately the success at Vicksburg would keep the rest of Louisiana connected to the rest of the Confederacy. What Moore struggled with was that while units were leaving the states, next to no preparations were made by Lovell (whose Department No. 1 encompassed all of Louisiana) to defend Louisiana west of the Mississippi. Lovell defended himself in a letter to Moore dated May 17th, in which Lovell pointed out he had dispatched a company with Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Shields to Thibodeaux. From there he was to meet up with some 400 or 500 men under the command of a "Mr. Goode" who had left Camp Moore earlier to, "raise a company of rangers." In all honesty, Lovell's attention was absorbed on defending the Mississippi. Also he held south Louisiana in total disdain:

"The fact is that part of the country is inhabited by two classes of people-the rich, fearful of their property and not anxious to resist unless supported by an army in every parish; and the poor, miserable mixed breed commonly called Dagos or Acadians, on whom there is not the slightest dependence to be placed."

Lovell argued that the "prominent citizens" objected to him organizing Partisan Rangers in area without a major force present. They feared retaliation on their lucrative plantations. Despite Moore's criticism, Lovell's assessment of the situation was very accurate.

The war of words between Moore and Lovell over the defense of south Louisiana died out when that officer removed himself to defend Vicksburg in May. Moore's attention focused on what to do with conscripts that were soon to report to Monroe and Opelousas. During the months of May – July, culminating in a blistering telegram on July 8th, Moore and the Confederate government exchanged several telegrams over the dire situation facing western Louisiana. Some of these major telegrams are outlined below:

May 9: Moore wired Davis or the complete lack of material needed to organize conscripts:

"Please supply the camps with tents, provisions, and a commandant. I am without a gun, without a tent, and all my stores wasted by the disorganized troops or in possession of the Confederate quartermaster."

May 21: Moore wired Davis over the lack of any provisions or supplies for conscripts once they arrived at Monroe and Opelousas: " I have already informed you, there will be no tents or provisions at either of them until you send them." Moore went on to warn, "Should any conscripts reach the campus before these things are provided they will have to return home. I am stripped over everything I have - guns, munitions, forces and commissary stores." Moore then put forth his case for an officer to be put in command to defend south Louisiana:

"I have sent more than 30,000 men into the field, every one fully armed and equipped, besides emptying the arsenal I seized for the benefit of the neighboring States with my own ; have clothed them since they have been there; have given all the arms I bought to Confederate troops, and have now, in this our calamity, not an officer to advise with or a man to execute an order. I beg that a general may be assigned to whatever department Louisiana may be placed in very soon."

June 11: When General Beauregard began requesting conscripts from Moore to be sent to the Louisiana units in the Army of the Mississippi, he unleashed a response similar to one sent to Davis on May 21st. In the telegram, Moore warned Beauregard that he could not withhold men over the age of 35 regardless if conscripts were ready for the July 16th deadline for their release from service or not. Moore suggested that if Beauregard wanted his conscripts he supply the necessary supplies to supply and equip the conscript camps at Monroe and Opelousas.

June 26: Davis wired Moore to ease his concern over the issues of a Trans-Mississippi commander and conscripts. Davis stressed that, "With respect to conscripts, the law of Congress does not allow new regiments to be formed from their number," but did say that these men could be, "...formed into a temporary organization, which may be available to some extent for purposes of defense." Davis went a step further and said, "It is my send the now greatly depleted regiments of Louisiana to be filled up from these camps and thus furnish upon the spot completely organized corps ready for service." In regards to a commander, Davis promised that an officer had been belatedly assigned and would soon depart for the department (this was reaffirmed in a telegram from the Secretary of War the next day).

July 8th: A parallel debate was also raging between Moore and the government in regards to the total lack of weapons Louisiana faced. Moore made sure that Davis and the Secretary of War knew that his state had drained itself in equipping thousands of soldiers to be sent to other theaters and that other states as well were fed guns and accoutrements from Louisiana. In return, though, Louisiana was left out on its on in its darkest time. A batch of weapons that were on its way to Moore were actually confiscated on two different occasions: First by General Forney at Mobile and Earl Van Dorn in Mississippi. On July 8th, after informing the Secretary of War George Randolph of the progress in forming Partisan Rangers for defense, Moore moved into a candid letter. He began by bluntly stating, “I have not received one of my guns yet.” The frustrated Governor continued, “I do not wish to complain unnecessarily, but it does appear to me that while the Confederate Government have withdrawn every one of their officers and sol

diers from this State, and have never yet sent a musket or rifle to us, it is the smallest justice they can do to permit me to use what my own State money has bought and what the Confederate Government has not in any manner helped me to get. How much longer is Louisiana to be considered without the protection or beneath the consideration of the Confederate Government?” Moore next attempted to add weight to his argument by throwing in the need to maintain passage of the Mississippi to secure supplies for the Army of the Mississippi. Despite this observation being accurate in its entirety that supplies from the Trans-Mississippi was needed for the western army, it was an obvious move to add extra importance to the peril of backwoods Louisiana, which seemed completely unimportant to the administration.

Exemplifying the problem facing Moore was the mustering in of Gray’s 28th Louisiana in July of 1862. Randolph was notified on July 28th of its organization at Monroe “without a single gun” because the guns were being retained “at Vicksburg by order of General Van Dorn…”.

The Turning Point: Late July

Eventually, guns did arrive as did a commander for the department! Late July proved to be the turning point for Moore. It took the Louisiana governor three months to get decisions on the conscript issue, the lack of and confiscation of guns/equipment, organizing Louisiana into a department for more efficient command and the appointment of an officer. Three months of anxiety and battling telegrams with Confederate authorities was paying off.

Moore’s incessant demand for an officer to command Louisiana west of the Mississippi was finally achieved in late July. On July 28th, Richard Taylor, who commanded the Louisiana Brigade of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s Valley Army, was promoted to Major General and ordered to proceed to Opelousas, “for the purpose of carrying out the enrolling act in Western Louisiana..”. Two days later, Taylor’s purpose of going to Louisiana was carefully outlined by President Davis: He was assigned to commanded the District of Western Louisiana, “From the men enrolled you will select those who can be most advantageously sent to the Louisiana regiments serving in Virginia,” and basically harass the enemy’s ability to use and travel the rivers and bayous of south Louisiana.

Major General Richard Taylor

Taylor proceeded to Louisiana, reaching there in early August. Taylor crossed the Mississippi near the mouth of the Red River and proceeded to Opelousas to meet with Governor Moore. Along the way, Taylor made a purposeful visit to the little town of Washington, on the Courtableau Bayou. His family had sought residence here and having not seen them since the previous June, it was a welcome long over due. After his reunion with his family, Taylor moved down the road to Opelousas where he met with the Governor. For two days Taylor and Moore met and discussed the situation. The task before Taylor was overwhelming and his first impressions echoed everything Moore stringently argued to the President the previous three months. “Melancholy” was Taylor’s word for western Louisiana. He continued:

“Confederate authority had virtually ceased with the fall of New Orleans…The Confederate Government had no soldiers, no arms or munitions, and no money, within the limits of the district…Without hope of aid from abroad, I addressed myself to the heavy task of arousing public sentiment, apathetic if not hostile from disaster and neglect…Such was the military destitution that a regiment of cavalry could have ridden over the State.”

Regardless of these conditions, Taylor immediately planned on testing the enemy in southern Louisiana. In a letter to Major General Daniel Ruggles, commanding the post of Camp Moore, on August 20th, he told the old general “I am about to undertake an expedition which I anticipate will place me in possession of the Opelousas Railroad up to the vicinity of Algiers.” A VERY ambitious and aggressive plan from the very beginning with nothing but conscripts and Partisan Rangers. From Taylor’s own description there was but five companies in New Iberia, one or two mounted companies in southeast Louisiana with “fowling-pieces” and Waller’s Texas Cavalry Battalion. It was a style of command Taylor learned, like and adopted from “Stonewall” himself. Taylor was the right man to take Louisiana back and restore Confederate authority.

From a monthly report dated October 1st, Taylor listed his total number of “Aggregate present” as 4,697 men. The breakdown was 2,676 infantry; 1,775 cavalry and 246 artillerist. A vast improvement from early August when Taylor took command of the district.

Included in this force were the 18th and 24th Louisiana Regiments, Clack’s Battalion, Semmes’ and Ralston’s Batteries (all from east of the Mississippi River). Davis had hinted to Moore back in late June that he might send Louisiana units to Louisiana to fill its ranks from the conscripts at Monroe and Opelousas. A move to send Louisiana units back to Louisiana was not initiated until September 1st, when Randolph asked Brigadier General John Forney to dispatch the 18th and 19th Louisiana Regiments from the Mobile garrison. These two units were detached from the Army of the Mississippi in August when that army made its circular move from Tupelo to Chattanooga. Forney retained the 19th but dispatched the 18th to return to Louisiana.

Included in the 18th Regiment were the disbanded remnants of the 24th Louisiana Regiment, or Crescent Regiment. The Crescent Regiment was originally a 90 days organization called up in March of 1862. After fighting at Shiloh and Corinth, the regiment was disbanded at the end of its 90 days in June. On September 17th, the regiment was ordered to be reformed and the men were ordered to meet in New Iberia for that reorganization to take place. On October 16th, the regiment was reformed in New Iberia around the men pulled from the 18th Louisiana. The 18th Louisiana departed Mobile on October 2nd and reached New Iberia by the 12th. These two regiments soon formed the basis of the Alfred Mouton Louisiana Brigade that would serve in Louisiana for the remainder of the war.

Clack’s 12th Louisiana Battalion was another 90 Days organization that formed to fight for Corinth Mississippi back in March of 1862. It was reorganized at New Iberia in August and a third company was added to beef up its strength.

By mid-October, Taylor was able to push a small force into the LaFourche Region and reestablish Confederate control. Put in command of this fore was Brigadier General Alfred Mouton (former Colonel of the 18th Louisiana.) Mouton was in the LaFourche region for only a few weeks before it provoked a reaction of Union held New Orleans and soon resulted in the Battle of Labadieville (or Georgia Landing) on October 27, 1862. There was little Union intervention with the LaFourche region following the fall of New Orleans in April-there was no need to. As Lovell and Taylor both observed, the general population was indifferent and going about their business and presented no threat to the Union army in New Orleans. By October, that situation changed.

Moore’s relentless badgering of the Confederate government for help and Taylor’s aggressive style finally paid off.

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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