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, February 10, 2012

Fenner's Louisiana Battery

Lieutenant Colonel Charles D. Dreux's 1st Louisiana Battalion was originally part of the 1st Louisiana Regulars. In May of 1861, Dreux's five company battalion was ordered to Virginia. The battalion served on the James River Peninsular in Virginia until May 1862. On May 1, 1862, the battalion was disbanded (its term of service expired). When this battalion disbanded Captain Charles E. Fenner of Company A "Louisiana Guards" organized a large portion of the men into a battery.

Fenner's Battery held elections on May 4th at Jackson, Mississippi and were accepted in service on May 16, 1862. Here's an account by Mrs. Fannie A. Beers of Fenner's Battery.

Fannie A. Beers, Memories: A Record of Personal Experiences and Adventure During Four Years of War (1889), 227-243

Dear friends, when you read the caption of this page in my book of "Memories," do not accuse me in your hearts of favoritism. Of all soldiers who wore the gray, only one was nearer than others to my heart. I took no special pride in one organization above others, save in the command to which my husband belonged. Surely this is quite natural.

Who does not remember the epidemic of blue cockades which broke out in New Orleans during the winter of 1860 and 1861, and raged violently throughout the whole city? The little blue cockade, with its pelican button in the centre and its two small streamers, was the distinguishing mark of the "Secessionist."
By none was it more universally and proudly worn than by the youth and young men, who, in April, 1861, discarded it with their citizen's dress and began "the wearing of the gray," which they have helped to make a garb of honor and a glory forever.

When the Dreaux Battalion embarked for Pensacola, it was with a definite purpose in view, and a certain conviction that they would at once meet and vanquish the enemy. Their prowess was to teach the Yankee a lesson and to settle matters inside of sixty days. They fully expected to fight, and were eager to begin. Day after day, night after night, they momentarily expected an assault upon Fort Pickens. But they did not expect to be set at the hard duty of digging and wheeling sand hour after hour, and throwing up intrenchments under a burning sun.

Then the irksomeness of being under military discipline, which at first was frequently infringed. For instance, a party of Orleans Cadets overstayed their leave of absence an hour or two; "upon our return we found ourselves locked up in the guard-house for four hours and a half."

Here is an account of one of the monotonous days, transcribed from a letter of one of the Orleans Cadets, a boy who had been used at home to take his coffee before rising, a late, comfortable breakfast, and to walk down-town at his leisure on the shady side of the street, clad in the cool, white linen suit then so universally worn: "Wo get up at five o'clock to attend roll-call; at 6.30 get our coffee and our breakfast, which consists of crackers and salt pork; at 7.30, back to our tents and pack our knapsack, rub our guns, and get ready for parade at nine o'clock.

"We are now drilling at light infantry tactics (Hardee's), which occupies until eleven. We then wash our clothes, bring wood for the cook, also water and various other things; dine at two, and again drill at four until dark ; get our supper at seven; lie around until roll-call at nine; afterward go to bed to dream of home.
"General Bragg has just sent us word that we are to be exempt from hard labor at present."

It is not to be supposed that the men were confined to the rations here mentioned. All had money and could buy additional food; most of the messes had negro servants, who were excellent cooks, and boxes of goodies arrived continually from home. But, as I said before, the strict discipline, combined with deprivation of the glorious fighting in which they had expected to participate, was terribly irksome.

It was a most welcome order which transferred them to Virginia, and to the shady and delightful camping ground which I have described in a former article (Introductory). An order to join the forces about to engage in the battle of Manassas was countermanded on account of a movement of the enemy which resulted in the "affair" at "Bethel Church." They remained upon the Peninsula under General McGruder, who was successfully holding McClellan in check by appearing at every point assailed by the Federals.

"The forces under General McGruder were the only obstacle in McClellan's road to Richmond.

"Under these circumstances, McGruder, with superb rashness, threw out his whole force as skirmishers, along a line of nine or ten miles.

"The Dreaux Battalion bore a conspicuous part in all the operations of this campaign." Later, the battalion went into winter quarters.

Because I wish to contrast the condition of these men during the first part of their service and when, later, they encountered inconceivable hardships and deprivations, I will here give entire a letter from one of the battalion, kindly placed at my disposal, describing the " house-warming" which was given when they moved into winter quarters on the Peninsula:

"Camp Rightor, November 29, 1861. "I received yours of the 14th a few days since, and the 20th yesterday, both of which I will answer in one. The half-barrel of sugar was received long since, as you will see by looking over my letter to you about three weeks ago. The sugar came through in good order, also the white sugar, medicine, and coffee; the latter we use sparingly, mixing it with wheat,—one-third coffee and two-thirds wheat. The wheat does not seem to change the flavor in the least. Sweet potatoes are also used in camp in place of coffee,—you dry it, then parch and grind it; we have not tried that method yet on account of the scarcity of potatoes. All our cabins are finished at last; the tents are used no more to sleep in. Our house-warming has taken place. We made about ten gallons of egg-nog for the occasion; we used about six dozen eggs. Walton's mess was over, and a good many from the rifles; various members from both companies of the guards. Also the major, doctor, adjutant, and Lieutenant Dunn, Grevot Guards. They say it was the best nog they ever drank; the house was crowded. The nog gave out, and we had to produce the jug. If we had had our sick messmate from Williamsburg, we would have had noise (Noyes) all night, but as it was it only lasted until one o'clock. Everybody in camp seemed to be trying to make more noise than his neighbor. Beard told us next day that it was a very well conducted affair, that everything passed off so quietly with so much nog as that. He evidently went to bed early after ho left us. 1 saw Posey yesterday, he was looking badly, seeming to have been troubled with the chills for some time. Since it has become so cold we have had to take the cook in the house, which makes eleven. This boy out snores creation, beating anything you ever heard ; he woke me up last night, and I thought it was the dog Cadet barking outside at the door.

"If you get this before ma sends off the expected-to-besent package, and if there is some room, you might put in one blanket. Since we sleep two in a bunk, we spread our blankets across the hunk. Brunet has three, and I have three, which makes it equal to six apiece. Send the blanket; it shall do its share of warming, I assure you. I suppose what ma sends will be my share of Christmas in New Orleans. Our turkeys look droopy, and there is no telling when they will peg out. We keep the gobbler's spirits up by making him fight. The camp is full of turkeys, and we make ours fight every day. I have plenty of clothes and socks: I Have over half a dozen of woollen socks.

"The Gopher Mess send their best regards.
"Yours affectionately,
"Co. A, Orleans Cadets, "Louisiana Battalion, Williamsburg, Virginia."

The formation of Fenner's Louisiana Battery was attended by tremendous difficulties and discouragements, patiently met, nobly overcome, by the gallant officer who found himself at last at the head of a company composed of men who, whether considered in the aggregate, or as individuals, had not their superiors in the Confederate armies,—intelligently brave, enthusiastic, patriotic, gentlemen by birth, breeding, and education, whom chivalrous devotion to duty forbade to murmur at any hardship which fell to their lot. As officers or private soldiers, looking to the future of the Confederacy as to something assured; never despairing, ready to follow wherever and whenever a " hope" was led, no matter how "forlorn."

The record of this little band of devoted patriots has never been thoroughly known or understood as it deserves to be. Only once has its history appeared in print,—upon the occasion of a reunion of the command held in New Orleans, May 12, 1884. With great pride I transfer to these pages part of an article which then appeared in the Times-Democrat of that date:

"As the term of service (twelve months) of the corps began to approach its end, Captain Charles B. Fenner, commanding the company of Louisiana Guards, conceived the idea of raising a battery of artillery. He had no difficulty in getting the men, a sufficient number volunteering at once from the battalion, but he encountered other most disheartening obstacles. The War Department-had not the means of equipping the artillery companies already in service, and authorized to be raised, and he could only obtain the authority to raise this battery on condition of furnishing his own armament of guns. He succeeded, however, in making arrangements with his friends in New Orleans to furnish the guns, and the battery bad been made and was ready for him in New Orleans, when the city fell, and it was captured.

"Upon the discharge of the battalion, however, he changed his rendezvous to Jackson, Mississippi, and proceeded there to try and accomplish his object. Many of those who intended to join him looked upon his enterprise as so hopeless that they abandoned it and joined other commands. A sufficient number, however, rallied around him at Jackson, Mississippi, and, on the 4th of May, 1862, his company was organized by the election of officers, and on the 16th was mustered into service. Meantime, the chance of getting an armament was hopeless indeed. At last, however, Captain Fenner found, lying abandoned by the railroad, the ruins of a battery, which had been destroyed on the eve of evacuating New Orleans, under the apprehension that it would have to be left, but was subsequently brought off. The guns were spiked and rammed with wads and balls, the spokes and felloes of the wheels were cut, the trails hacked to pieces, and all the ordinary means of disabling a battery had been resorted to. The task of reconstructing this ruined battery was undertaken, and, after much difficulty, successfully accomplished.

"Then came the trouble of obtaining horses, harness, and other equipments, which had to be wrested from reluctant and ill-supplied quartermasters and ordnance officers. At last, however, all difficulties were overcome. A few weeks of active drilling, and Fenner's Battery was ready for the field. On August 20, 1862, it received marching-orders for Port Hudson. Arrived there just after the evacuation of Baton Rouge by the Federal forces. Ordered on to Baton Rouge. Remained there a few days, when the battery returned to Port Hudson with the exception of one section, which was left with one regiment of infantry to occupy the city. Held it till retaken by the Federals in December, when our small force successfully evacuated it under the fire of the enemy's gunboats, and before the advance of their infantry, which had landed. The battery remained at Port Hudson, participating in all the operations of the forces there till May 1, 1863, when it was ordered to Williams's Bridge to intercept Grierson's raid, arriving there a few hours after the raid had passed.

"May 7. Ordered to Jackson, Mississippi, with Marcy's Brigade.

"Participated in the Big Black campaign of General Johnston.

"In position at Jackson, and engaged in the fighting around that place from 10th to 16th of July, losing several men killed and wounded.

"After the evacuation of Jackson, retreated with Johnston's army to Forrest and Morton. Thence to Enterprise, and from there to Mobile, and remained there till November 21, 1863, when ordered to the Army of Tennessee.

"Reached Dalton November 27, just after the defeat at Missionary Ridge.

"Spent the winter in building winter-quarters successively at Dalton and Kingston, which were evacuated before occupied.

"On the 1st of May, 1864, General Sherman advanced from Chattanooga toward Dalton, and the great Georgia campaign commenced. From that time till the 1st of September following, the Army of Tennessee was almost constantly engaged with the enemy.

"May 8 to 12. Battery in position at Mill Creek Gap, near Dalton, and engaged with the enemy. They fell back to Resaca. Engaged on the 14th of May in supporting charge by Stewart's Division upon tho enemy.

"On tho 15th, battle of Oostenaula. The battery was divided, one section on each side of a battery in a fortified work. The charge of the enemy was most desperate, and they captured and held the fortification, but were repulsed from the front of each section of Fenner's Batter}', which held their positions till night, and then evacuated. Retreat of the army was continued to Calhoun, Adairsville, Cassville, Centerville; engaged more or less at each of those points.

"On the 25th of May occurred the battle of Now Hope Church, one of the finest fights of the war. It was an assault of the whole of Hooker's Corps on Stewart's Division. The attack was almost a complete surprise. Fenner's Battery went into position at a gallop, had several horses killed while unlimbering, and fired canister at the first discharge. The engagement was continuous for two hours, during the whole of which time, owing to the thickness of the woods, the enemy's skirmishers were enabled to maintain their position within from fifty to one hundred yards, but their repeated charges were well repulsed. The enemy's loss was terrific, admitted to be over two thousand, far exceeding the number of our men engaged. Fenner's Battery lost twenty-three men killed and wounded, and nearly all of its horses, and was specially complimented in orders for gallantry and efficiency.

"From this point, in continual conflict with the enemy, the army gradually fell back till it reached Atlanta, around which continuous fighting was kept up, until its evacuation on the 2d of September.

"1st September. Battle of Jonesboro', in which the battery was engaged.

"This may be considered the end of the Georgia campaign.

"After brief rest at Lovejoy's Station, the army commenced its long march to Tennessee by Centre, Jacksonville, Gadsden, and Florence.

"Left Florence November 20; arrived at Columbia, Tennessee, and struck the enemy there November 26. Enemy evacuate on the 28th.

"November 30. Battle of Franklin.

"December 2. Reached Nashville.

"December 6. Fenner's Battery was ordered to join General Forrest's command at Murfreesboro'; participated in the battle of Murfreesboro' on the 8th, and was still with Forrest when the battles of Nashville were fought, on the 15th and 16th, and the great retreat commenced.

"In this fight, which is called the second of Murfreesboro', it will be remembered that Bates's Infantry Division was stampeded early in the action, causing the loss of several guns of the Fifth Company, Washington Artillery. On this occasion (one of the few instances, if not the only one during the war) six pieces of field artillery, being four Napoleons of Fenner's Battery and two rifled pieces of Missouri Battery, placed in position by General Forrest,—their horses having been sent to the rear across Stone River,—held the lino for three-quarters of an hour against the enemy's entire force until the infantry and wagons had safely crossed the river on the only bridge half a mile in the rear.

"As soon as the news reached Forrest, his command started across from Murfreesboro' to join the main column at Columbia. There was no turnpike, the roads were in awful condition, the horses reduced and broken down, and a continuous rain pouring down. Two of the guns reached Columbia in safety; the other two would have been brought through but for the swelling of a creek by the rain, which it was impossible to cross,—the only guns the battery ever lost. The men remained by them alone till Columbia was evacuated by our forces and the enemy within a mile of them, when they destroyed their pieces, swam Duck River, and started after the army. The terrors of the retreat from Tennessee in midwinter, the men shoeless, without blankets, and almost without clothes, need not be recounted here.

"January 10. The battery reached Columbus, Mississippi.

"January 31. Ordered to Mobile. Remained there as heavy artillery till 11th of April, when it was evacuated; go up the river to Demopolis; from there to Cuba Station, Meridian, where, on the 10th of May, arms are laid down and the battery with the rest of General Taylor's army."
A member of the battery, who was an exceptional soldier, and who still cherishes and venerates everything that reminds him of the glorious past, has kindly placed in my hands some letters which I am permitted to copy and here subjoin, feeling sure that they will prove quite as interesting as the numerous documents of the kind published in the "lives" of those high in authority, although they contain only the experience of a young private soldier, conveyed in dutiful letters to his mother. Some of these will suggest the changes which befell the soldiers who gave the house-warming in Virginia, and the difference between the first and last years of the war.

"Near New Hope Church, Georgia, "
May 26, 1864.
"Mr Dear,—Knowing that you will be anxious to hear from me and the company after the late fight, I avail myself of the first opportunity to write. Stewart's Division of Hood's Corps arrived in the vicinity of the Church yesterday morning. Soon after skirmishes commenced, moving a mile off, and gradually approached us. By 3 P.m. it commenced to near us, and 5 P.m. found us galloping into position. Clayton's Brigade supported us behind log works, which served as an excellent shelter for us from the minies. The Yankees approached under cover of the woods to within two or three hundred yards, where they made their lines. As soon as we could see where they were we commenced firing into them, and kept it up until the ammunition of the limber was expended. They made several charges, but were repulsed by the infantry and artillerj' each time. Our loss was heavy (artilleiy), the infantry not being as much exposed as we were; their casualties were slight. At our howitzer Willie Brunet was killed after firing some fifteen rounds. He was killed in the act of giving the command to fire, the ball piercing him above the left eye. Early had four wounded,—viz., Vaudry, painfully in the breast; J. T. Pecot, painfully in the back; Eaton, in the wrist; Corporal J , ball
in the side. At Carly's piece none were killed, but McGrath and Joe Murphy were shot through the arm,— the latter it is thought will lose his arm,—and young Ford. At Woester's piece, R. A. Bridges was killed, Joe Bridges was shot in the leg; McCarty, in the foot; Dunbar, in the thigh; Lieutenant Cluverius, wounded in the side; Joe Reeves, through the leg; St. Germain, foot. The loss in horses was heavy. Woester had all eight horses of his piece killed, and his riding-horse. Lieutenant Cluverius lost his horse 'Rebel,' who was shot in the head, and died. Our detachment had three wounded; the horses saved themselves by running away. In all, we lost twenty-three, and perhaps more. Stanford was on our left, they lost about fifteen killed and wounded; Oliver, sixteen. John Cooper has a welt on his shin from a spent ball; John was driving and lost both horses. I was number six at the limber until Willie was killed, when I acted as gunner. McGregor ranks me, and hereafter I expect to be caisson-corporal. General Clayton paid us the very highest compliment upon the manner in which the guns were managed; 'too flattering to be repeated,' as Captain Fenner remarked. 'Owing to the loss in horses, men, and ammunition expended,' we were relieved and sent to the rear to replenish. A couple of days may right us, when we will again be in the front. Stewart did the fighting yesterday; I don't believe any other division was engaged. A part of Polk's (if not all) arrived about midnight. Since Polk's Corps joined us, I have found several acquaintances, among whom are John Butler, lieutenant of engineers; the two Spencer boys, in Cowan's Battery; and Ed. Hoops, in Tenth Mississippi. They were all apparently well when I saw them last, and inquired particularly of you.

Respectfully Yours,

I enclose a letter that we received from General Clayton on a copy of the letter to the captain, with an oxtract from the general's report of the battle of New Hope Church:

"Headquarters, Clayton's Brigade, "
June 7, 1864.
"Captain,—I take pleasure in making for you the following extract from my report of the battle of New Hope Church. 'With renewed expression of the profoundest acknowledgments for the signal service you did the country, and particularly my brigade, of which every officer and man speak in the highest terms, "Believe me, dear captain,
"Yours always,
"A. D. Clayton,
(" Extract.")
"For its conduct in the engagement too much praise cannot be awarded to Fenner's Louisiana Battery, which occupied a position along my line. Although the enemy came within fifty or sixty yards of the guns, every officer and man stood bravely to his post."

The following letter describing a Christmas dinner in 1864 presents so true a picture of the situation, and at the same time so well illustrates the soldierly spirit of the battery, that I publish it in full:
"Rienza, Mississippi, January 4, 1866.

"My Dear Mother,—An opportunity of writing now offers,—the first since our leaving Florence, before going on our Tennessee campaign, which has finally terminated so disastrously for us. Had orders been obeyed and carried out at Spring Hill, there never would" have been a fight at Nashville. By some misunderstanding, the Yankee army was allowed to cross at the above-named place without being attacked. We followed on their tracks to Franklin, picking up stragglers and prisoners all along the way, to the amount of several hundred.

"We left Columbia at daylight, marched twenty-three miles, and fought the battle of Franklin before dark. Our battery did not take part in the battle: we were in position, but, owing to the close proximity of the two armies, could not fire,—we were under fire, but no one was hurt. Stewart's and Cheatam's Corps with one division from our corps, fought the battle. I passed over the field next morning and saw enough for never wanting to see another such field. The men were actually lying in some portions of the trenches three deep. Ours being the attacking party suffered severely,—almost an equal loss to the Yankees. Our loss was about forty-five hundred, and theirs five thousand, including prisoners. Next day we started for Nashville, eighteen miles distant. Our battery remained there till the 5th, when we were ordered to Murfreesboro' to aid General Forrest in reducing that place. On the 6th we arrived there, took position, and built works. Next day, on account of a flank movement by the enemy, we had to move our position back a mile. Soon the enemy appeared in our front, and skirmishing commenced. The infantry fell back, leaving the artillery to do the fighting without one musket to protect us. We stayed as long as we could, when we finally had to follow the footsteps of the infantrymen. The fight—there was none—nothing but a big scare and run. General Forrest sent General Bateman with his division to Nashville, but kept our battery with him. We lost one man at Murfreesboro', I. T. Preston, brother of the Prestons of Carrollton. We stayed in camp for seven days when General Forrest determined to attack again and took one section of the battery with him,—the other section, the one I belong to, was sent to protect his wagon-train. Two days afterwards the army commenced its retreat from Nashville (the particulars of which no doubt you have already learned). Our march was over a muddy and rugged road for fifty miles to Columbia. It was the severest march I ever undertook: we pushed and worked at the wheels all the time. The horses finally broke down, and we had to take oxen and yoke them in and drive them. Can you imagine me up to my knees in mud, barefooted and muddy, with a long pole, driving oxen. It was a very picturesque scene, and no doubt the 'Yankee Illustrators' would pay a good price for such a picture. I was about on a par with two-thirds of the others, and we made as merry as possible under the circumstances. We had no rations, and lived entirely on the people: they treated us splendidly, gave us more than we could eat, and left us duly indebted to them for their many kindnesses. I for one will never forget the hospitality received in Tennessee. We recrossed the Tennessee on the 26th of December. Christmas day was quite an event to us. We were then out of Tennessee, in a poor country, and could get very little to eat. All day myself and mess were without food; late in the evening we saw a butcher-pen and made for it; all we could get was oxtails and a little tallow procured by a good deal of industry from certain portions of the beef. One of the boys procured a lot of bran and unbolted flour and at twelve o'clock at night we sat down at our Christmas dinner (oxtail soup and biscuit), and if I ever enjoyed a meal I enjoyed that one. The army is retiring to Okolona and the artillery to Columbus, Mississippi. The barefooted men were left here to go by rail. When we get away I cannot say. We had to leave two of our pieces stuck in the mud, the other side of Columbus; the third piece was thrown in the river; the fourth piece, the one I am interested in, was saved and represents the battery."

And here is the last, written from Demopolis, Alabama, April 15, 1865:
"Dear Mother,—You have heard ere this of the evacuation of Mobile, which happened on the day of the eleventh. After the fall of Spanish Fort and Blakely, all hope of holding Mobile was given up. The works around the city were made to be manned by eight thousand, but, after the capture of the garrison at Blakely, our forces were too much reduced to hold the place. When evacuated, the place was not threatened, but might have been completely invested in a week's time. All the heavy guns were destroyed: we destroyed seven twenty-four pounders. The total loss of guns must have amounted to three hundred. We left Mobile by boat, and each man with a musket. It is a heavy fall for us who have been in artillery for three years, and now find ourselves as infantrymen, much to our displeasure. As much as I dislike it, I shall keep my musket until something better turns up. ..."

The history of the battery, from first to last, is that of thorough soldiers, brave in battle, uncomplaining, cheerful, even jolly, under the most trying circumstances, bearing with equanimity the lesser ills of a soldier's life, with unshaken fortitude and undiminished devotion to " The Cause," indescribable hardships and discouragements.

No comments:

Post a Comment

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