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.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

4th Wisconsin from Opelousas to Port Hudson

From the Fourth Wisconsin

Campaign on the Red River

The Assault on Port Hudson

Correspondence of the Sheboygan Times

Port Hudson, La. May 25, 1863

My last communication was from Opelousas, since which time, we have eaten, drank, and slept in the saddle. We have performed some wonderful equestrian feats, some matchless tumbling, and kept in a perfect whirl of excitement night and day. We have roamed the extensive prairies, forded bayous, lassooed horses, chased Rebs., and other acts too numerous to mention. While at Opelousas we were transferred into Dwight’s brigade, Grovers division, went down to Washington and had a running fight of six miles with the enemy, then commenced our march to Alexandria on River river eighty miles distant; our advance was in sight of the rear of the enemy nearly all the time. On this march Gen. Dwights’ brother was shot by a guerilla; the assassin was caught, tried and shot. We made a grand cavalry dash into Alexandria, coming in on the dead run, hooting and yelling like so many savages, and what a notable figure we did cut; rough, ragged and dirty are feeble words to express our conditions; we found that Commodore Davis had beaten us, having reached there, the night before, took possession of the town and hoisted the stars and stripes, in the center of the town; we stopped and gave three rousing cheers for the flag, three for the navy, three for Commodore Davis and cheered for everybody and with a will too, such as the 4th Wis. had not evinced since the first three or four months in the service. - We had been on a long march and endured much hardship and we fancied that we were going to have a season of rest, but in this we were deceived.
            We started the next day in pursuit of the enemy, and overtook him at Cane river, 45 miles from Alexandria, completely surprising him, taking about forty five prisoners and scattering the rest; we captured about 1,000 horses and mules. Co. C was detailed to guard the baggage train back to Alexandria, since which time we have been detached from the Regt. Immediately upon reaching Alexandria, the company was detailed to guard Gen. Bank’s headquarters baggage train; we proceeded to Simmsport, 80 miles distant on the Atchafalaya, twelve miles from the month of Red river, crossed as expeditiously as possible, on a flat boat, rowed by six negroes; you may guess how fast that was, over a river a mile wide and very rapid. Gen. Grover’s division arrived while we were crossing; next morning Co. C, 4th Wisconsin, and Co. F, 1st La. cavalry, started on a reconnoitering expedition; we were joined by three companies of New York cavalry, all under the command of Major ---. We proceeded down the Red river to its mouth, where we saw the steamship Hatfield, watching for rebel prey. We then descended the Mississippi, going through the towns of Williamsport, St. Coupee and a couple of other little places sporting no name, and stopped opposite Port Hudson, while the chief engineer on Gen. Grover’s staff made observations and gained the desired information. We had a splendid view of the fortifications, and the examination was highly satisfactory. We took a prisoner who informed us there was a rebel force on that side the river on the point opposite Port Hudson, which point was separated from us by a small bayou. Of the strength of the force we knew nothing, but it was determined that we should find out something about them; so we proceeded about three miles down the bayou, and we crossed a little neck of land connecting with the point, we then proceeded up the point, thinking to bag them. Co. F being the only ones that were fully armed, we sent out as skirmishers. Co. C had no sabres, nothing but our long muskets which were useless on a horse; the New York boys had no carbines, nothing but sabres and revolvers, good enough on a charge, but worthless as skirmishers, so we only had eighteen men fully armed; we had not proceeded far, when the skirmishers were attacked by the enemy in the edge of a piece of woods, they held their ground bravely, returning the fire with surprising rapidity.
            Co. C, under Lieut. Brooks, immediately dashed forward to their support, but the N.Y. cavalry hung back; Lieut. Mack of Co. F rode back urging them to come forward and make a charge and we could take them prisoners; but they refused. He came back swearing horribly, and addressing us said: “Come on Wisconsin, we can do it alone, such cavalry as that ought to be in h-ll.” We joined his company, Co. C, numbering 37 and Co. F numbering 18. The enemy retired farther into the woods, we followed and deployed. Co. F, with the first platoon of Co. C, under Lieut. Mack, deployed to the right of the road, while the 2nd platoon of Co. C, 15 men, under Lieut. Brooks, deployed to the left extending from the road to the Bayou. Thus forty-five men began a fight with an unknown force of the enemy right under the guns of Port Hudson, that famous stronghold of the Southwest, frowning down upon us, the garrison viewing the contest, and we being 57 miles from reinforcements.
            The attempt was hazardous in the extreme; the major in command was five miles behind, drunk! [bully for the Major!] Abandoned by our comrades, each Lieutenant had to fight on his own hook; but we had found the enemy and was bound to fight him. Lieut. Brooks advanced through the woods about forty rods, when he struck the levee road, and the advance of the rebels being in sight, we commenced firing briskly, the enemy again retreating, we chased them about forty rods further to a turn in the road and levee, Lieut. Brooks and Serg’t O’Conner taking the lead. The Lieutenant becoming convinced that the enemy were endeavoring to draw us into an ambuscade, gave orders to halt. We were now in rather a nice position. Our horses were untrained and would become unmanageable, if we went to firing guns about their ears, and having only fifteen men we could not afford to dismount and let a part hold horses while the rest fought. - Several of the boys dismounted and holding their own horses fired whenever they saw a reb. The enemy waited some time in silence, hoping that we would advance into their snare, but Lieut. Brooks was not to be caught in that way. Sergeant O’Conner went over the levee and advanced alone into the woods to within ten rods of the ambuscade, and finding that they were discovered, they opened a tremendous fire of musketry upon us, to which we replied with some effect, for we saw some fall; but the overwhelming numbers of the enemy convinced us that we could do nothing there, with no force to fall back to, so be were ordered to retreat. About this time, Wm. Sager, of Lima, was shot through the hand. He had just charged cartridge and was drawing rammer, when the shot took him in the right hand, but he succeeded in loading his piece and fired. By this time we had returned some distance; he then mounted his horse and fled, the bullets coming after him like hailstones, but he was true blue. He went a short distance to the rear, where one of the boys tied up his hand the best he could, and he rejoined the company and remained through the action.
            A bullet went through the stock of E. Estry’s gun, between the barrel and rammer, the splinters skinning his knuckles. We retreated about forty rods and halted, when Sergeant O’Conner came trotting up leading his horse, which was so badly frightened he could not mount him. The rebels then sent up a yell of exultation which made us feel wolfish, but could not resent it, so we fell back into the clearing behind the levee, so if they came out in sight we could pepper them. Sergeant O’Conner was dispatched to inform Lieut. Mack that we had retired, so that the enemy should not flank him and cut him off, but the Sergeant could not find him. Meantime Lieut. Mack with his men had advanced rapidly, not meeting any opposition, and the New Yorkers were advancing along the road at a respectful distance behind. Upon hearing that loud firing upon his left, he ordered his men to about face and come to the support of Lieut. Brooks. Before he could get his men together in the road and get back, however, the firing ceased, and he supposing that we were all prisoners ordered a retreat, the New Yorkers, being behind, now became the advance, next Co. F, then the first platoon of Co. C. The rebels had stationed themselves in the woods by the roadside, and now poured in a terrible fire upon them as they passed by. Here occurred a striking instance of the heroic daring that characterized our boys and made them conspicuous. One of the New York cavalry was killed, and his comrades rode on and left him, not a man paying any regard to it. When Co. C came strong, Wm. S. Buzzell stopped and ordered two negroes, that rode in the rear, to dismount and lift the body on his horse. They did so, and he took that dead body across the neck of his horse and carried it five miles, when it seemed like certain death to stop. It won for him the encomiums of the whole party, and too much cannot be said in his praise. It was a noble act, prompted only by the determination that the enemy should not obtain it as a trophy. Wisconson should be proud of such a noble son.
            We learned next morning from the citizens that the enemy had two regiments of infantry, two companies of cavalry, and a section of artillery on that point, and had we advanced fifteen rods further we should have been annihilated. 

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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