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.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

14th Louisiana Goes to War Pt. IV

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. The piece covers from Sharpsburg through Chancellorsville.

Pope retreated toward Washington, but was harassed by our cavalry who kept attacking his rear and hindering his advance. As the sun was setting, we fell into line again and marched after Pope. We marched late into the night and started again early in the morning. This was Monday (September 1st). In the evening we caught up again with him near Germantown. The enemy called it Chantilly. We engaged them again and drove them onward. When this battle was raging, it rained hard and rained nearly all night afterward. We stayed in the field all night, to be ready should they attack our line during the night. Our picket line killed their General Phillip Kearny during the night and we got his body and sent it across the line to them in the morning. The General rode out from his troops, it was supposed to reconnoiter, and got too close to our line: and when the pickets halted him, turned his horse's head toward his lines and ran, lying down on his horse, and was shot off in front of our Brigade pickets. During the battle, I met with two experiences, that very few, if any, soldier did. I had shot all the cartridges in the top of my cartridge box away, numbering 20, and was kneeling down, and taking the packages from the bottom, breaking them open, and placing them in the top, when Col. Zable asked who those two men were lying down behind a large stump covered with a blanket. I said I did not know. He says: "See who they are." I got up and pulled the blanket off of them and saw that they were of the Virginia Brigade, skulking, not wounded. I got them up in a rather rough way, when their Lieut. got after me with his sword. Col. Zable drew his sword and got between us to engage him, himself telling me to go on, that he would attend to him. That was a fight in a battle. The other was, during a lull in the firing. The line was moved to the right for some distance. My gun had become very hot, so hot that I was afraid to load it again. In moving to the right, I looked for another, found one and threw mine away. I tried to load the one I had picked up and found it was clogged with a ball half way down and could not load.

While trying to drive the ball down, we turned back and I soon picked up another and loaded it and used it for the rest of the fight. After the battle I was looking at the gun and found that I had picked up my old gun, although there must have been many lying around. We stayed on that field the next day and part of the next, which was Wednesday, Sept. the 3rd, and as Pope had got into the defences of Washington, we moved in the direction of the Potomac River and forced (on the 5th) near Leesburg, Va., at Falling Waters. When we crossed the River, we were in Maryland for the first time and moved toward Frederick City. We camped on the side of the River about three miles from Frederick City, the bridge over the River was a fine steel structure supported with stone pillars and it took some time to destroy it, but we finally did so by blowing it up. Two or three men were killed when it was blown up. That campground was the hardest bed we ever had to lie on. The ground was full of rocks the size of hen's eggs with not enough ground to hold them firm. We could clean off a place to lie on and scratch holes to fit our bones, but every time we moved the least bit, those rocks were certain to roll under us as they would break loose from the ground. Several of us swam the River and went to the city. We found a great many friends among the ladies, but they were afraid to show it, or let us have any food openly but many prepared food and as we would pass their windows, would make some sign to attract our attention and get us there some way so that we could get some of their good victuals, such as milk and butter. Some, bolder than others, would display a Confederate flag but numbers would have the stars and stripes hung out. We stayed in this camp three or four days and then the enemy had shown intention and we moved again. The Federals had displaced Gen'l Pope and again called Gen'l McClellan to lead them and take command of their army again. We left Gen'l Longstreet, both Hill's divisions and Smith's Corps in Maryland to occupy the heights about Harper's Ferry, on the Maryland side, and our Corps (Jackson's) were marched by forced marches for the front of Harper's Ferry, 33 miles away, going by way of Martinsburg, where a number of enemy were. Harper's Ferry was only fifteen miles Frederick City in a direct line. We recrossed the Potomac (on the 11th) at Williamsport into Virginia and drove all of the enemy before us into Harper's Ferry and on the hills around there. When we came in sight in front of them and found that Longstreet's and other corps had cut their way off, they commenced fighting with cannon. In the meantime, McClellan, finding that Harper's Ferry Troops were penned up, we pushed the fight so hard on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, the 13th, 14th and 15 Sept. 1862, that they surrendered, both his troops and everything at Harper's Ferry. There we caught 11,000 Yankees, 5000 runaway negroes and numbers of horses, wagons, seventy-six large cannon, thousands of small arms, besides the gun factories machine shops and arsenals in Harper's Ferry. We lay on that field all that day "Monday", paroling the prisoners and moving off what was captured, and that night again started for the Potomac River and Tuesday morning crossed into Maryland at Shepherdstown Ford. While the officer in command at Harper's Ferry was in the act of sending up the White Flag on the Staff, both of his legs were cut off by a shell which killed him. While we were hard at work reducing the strong position "Bolivar Heights", McClellan had come up on the rear of Longstreet's corps in Maryland, was fighting him and the Hills. So Jackson had to go back to help them fight McClellan's troops which was the battle of Sharpsburg or Antietam, fought Wednesday, Sept. 17th, 1862. We lay in the woods on Tuesday all day after crossing the Potomac near the rest of Lee's army, who were fighting some, and that night moved up into line of battle, so as to be in the front line next morning. That night we lay in line of battle behind a small brick church called the Dunkard Church, situated on the Hagerstown Turnpike, with arms, and ready to move any moment. Now I must write another strange occurrence to me. That night I had a notion in my head, that the next day I should be wounded. I never thought once that I would be killed or fatally wounded, but was afraid that I might have to be cut into to get the ball and did not know how much or where I was going to get it. I wanted to go to Col. Zable and tell him to look out for me and not to let me lay on the field, if I was wounded, but was fearful that he would think I wanted him to send me off on some detail to get out of the fight, so I would not go to him, and made up my mind to say nothing and to fix for it. I tore up all my letters and threw them away and everything else that I could spare and unrolled my blanket that I had carried all summer in a small roll, spread it out and lay down. Just before the day of the 17th of Sept., I heard gunfire and knew that it was a signal gun. I got up, threw a small tent away that I also carried, rolled the blanket the long way hard, then doubled and tied the ends together, making as a horse collar and placed it on my left shoulder, across my breast as best I could. I then set down in ranks and ate up all my rations. About light we were ordered to fall in and marched to the turnpike, across the road in front of the church into a plowed field and faced the enemy who were in the edge of a heavy woods and ordered to lie down. We lay thus under a heavy cannonading from South Mountain, which killed many of our men, also wounding many. One shell burst and wounded three men at my side and another killed and wounded thirteen on my left, some of whom I went to school with a few years before.

After lying there sometime, Col. Henry Forno, who was in command of the Brigade (Gen'l Starke having already been killed) gave the command: "Up 8th Brigade. Forward." We got up and went forward and charged with a yell over one line of battle toward the enemy who were in the woods. They gave way. I had fired one shot at them and was loading my gun and had force the ball one-half way down when I felt something burn me and seemed to paralyze me on the left side. I stood still trying to think of the matter, not knowing I was wounded and put my right hand to my left side of waist and pulled my clothes away from my body, when everything seemed to turn green to me and I staggered for 20 feet and fell. I kept my senses and hollered for one of the boys, Pat Hughes, but Private Mike Clark heard me, got me on my feet and helped me off the field and then found that I had been hit three times, one ball through the folds of my blanket on right side, one striking my left hand and one through my body on left side. Before I got out of the field, I thought of the cutting and asked if the ball had gone through. Some of the boys looked and said "No" and I did not know any better for half an hour after. I was at the field hospital, waiting for the doctor to take the ball when someone said it had gone through. There I found Col. Zable, who was wounded, also Capt. Verlander, Sergeant Ed Clay and others. Clay died the next day. It was a very hard fight and many thousands were wounded and killed. Lee's army stayed on the field all next day, waiting for the enemy to renew the battle, but he was as badly whipped as we were. On Thursday night the army moved back across the Potomac River into Virginia. I was hauled back in an ambulance about light Friday morning and was taken to Winchester and left in the hospital. I have said, and I believe it, that in the battle of Sharpsburg, the bullets were flying so thick in the air, that if a person could hold up an iron pot with safety, that it would soon fill. The army fell back to Bunker Hill and went into camp to rest. We had been marching and fighting all the summer and all were nearly worn out. I stayed in the hospital in Winchester three weeks and then was taken to Staunton, Va., and stayed there in the hospital two weeks more, then as I could walk some, gave a furlough. From there I went to Richmond and in a few days I went down into North Carolina; and as I could not get home as it was in the hands of the Yankees, I stayed there. I was absent from the Company until about the 4th day of March, 1863, so I missed the Battle of Fredericksburg, fought Dec. 13th and 14th, 1862. My Company lost several in that fight. One was Private Jake Seither who lost a leg and died. Another one was Private Pat Thomas, shot in the forehead and died. My Lieut. Jno. Mooney, was also shot in the leg, and on account of the wound, crippled for life, was retired from the service. I saw Pat Thomas and Mooney in the hospital in Richmond when I was going back to the army. Pat Thomas' wound was the depth of a ball in the forehead and injured his brain. He lingered until late in March, 1863. He did not know me.

Gen. Ambrose Everett Burnside was the General who commanded the enemy at the Battle of Fredericksburg. The Federal authorities putting him in charge in place of McClellan after the Battle of Sharpsburg, Md. When I got back to my Company on March 4th, 1863, they were camped near Guiney's Station and not far from the Rappahannock River. We used to do picket duty on the banks of the River, and while we were not doing active campaign duty did not fire on each other. This seemed to be a general rule in winter when in quarters and the pickets used to have long talks with each other and always in good spirits. We used to change tobacco, which was scarce with them, for coffee, which was very scarce with us. We even swam in the same water or bathed in spring, if not too cold; and if either side got orders to fire on the pickets, we generally gave each other notice to go in their holes. I think this as a general understanding with the private soldier. I have talked for an hour at a time with them, each on our own side of the river, which was not a wide stream - we could easily throw a square of tobacco across and they could sling a pound of coffee across by fastening a string or strap to the package. During the last of April, 1863, both armies made preparation to move again. The enemy had again changed their commander-in-chief. They did away with Burnside and placd Gen'l Joe Hooker in his place and he started his army to Richmond by trying to fool Gen. Lee a bit. Gen. Lee let him cross and then sent Stonewall to take care of him.

Gen. Hooker's army had all crossed and fixed themselves as they wanted to and were so well satisfied that they went to killing cattle and cooking their meals. Stonewall's (foot) cavalry were put in motion early that morning (May 2) and marched all day until about four in the evening, got in on Hooker's flank and rear, while his army were cooking, and while Hooker no doubt thought that he was in the swamp near Fredericksburg.

The first intimation that the enemy had was when we advanced on a charge and a yell and fired into them. Many of them never got their guns and ran like sheep and we after them until dusk. They were kind enough in their hurry to leave us all of their provision, partly cooked only, but we did not then have time to stop to eat any. This battle was Chancellorsville and was fought May 3rd and 4th, Saturday and Sunday. That was a severe battle for us. Gen. Jackson was wounded about dusk and from the loss of exposure for several days had taken cold which developed into pneumonia and caused his death, which happened on the 10th of May, 1863 at Guiney Station. We also lost our Gen'l. Francis Redding Tillou Nicholls of the Brigade and Corporal John Hale and Sergeant Major Michael Urban of our Company.

On the next day (Sunday) we fought nearly all day and finally drove Hooker back across the River badly whipped. In that battle I saw a battery of 50 cannon placed in a half circle and masked by having pine boughs put up in front of them to hide them from the enemy and men kept around them, waiting for the enemy to charge us. They finally did so and the boughs were thrown down and the guns fired into their ranks, such things as grape and canister shot, and tore them all to pieces. I was close to the battery when they fired the first volley and it was deafening.

A great many men on both sides were wounded and killed. The guns set the straw and leaves in the woods on fire and burned up a great many wounded men. I saw some of them on Monday after the battle. After we had whipped back Hooker, we again went back to our old camp near Hanover Crossing and rested there until early in June. We used to hear how Stonewall was getting on every day, but finally heard that he was worse, that he had pneumonia and was very weak on account of the loss of blood cause by his wounds.

On Sunday, the 10th, I went to church at his headquarters to hear of him. There I saw Gen'l Lee, A.P. Hill, D. H. Hill, Longstreet, James Ewell Brown Stuart and others, all come to hear of Jackson; and while there, word came that he was dead.

- to be continued

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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