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.

Monday, January 12, 2015

91st New York in the Teche Campaign

In March of 1863, Nathaniel Banks began moving the balance of his army toward Brashear City (modern day Morgan City) to march through the Teche-Opelousas region. The goal of this movement was to flank the Confederate bastion of Port Hudson which sat just north of Baton Rouge. Below is the account of the 91st New York Infantry Regiment from April 7 - May 1, 1863. This accounts for the regiments movements from Bayou Boeuf to the town of Washington, just  a few miles north of Opelousas.

Itinerary of the 91st New York March-May 1, 1863:

Duty at Baton Rouge, La., until March, 1863.
Operations against Port Hudson March 7-27. 
Moved to Donaldsonville March 26, thence to Brashear City.
Operations in Western Louisiana April 9-May 14
Teche Campaign - Fort Bisland April 11-20 
Madam Porter's and McWilliams' Plantations at Indian Bend April 13 
Irish Bend April 14 
Vermillion Bayou April 17 
Opelousas April 20

Letter from the 91st New York Infantry Regiment

Graphic Account of an Expedition in which the 91st (Albany) Regiment took part.

Saturday, May 2d, 1863.
My Dear Mother—
Our regiment left Bayou Boeuf about the 7th or 8th of April, for Brashear City, some 10 miles, on foot, arriving about 3 o'clock in the afternoon. The city, so called, is about as large as our Greenbush; but the amount of business in peaceable times is immense. It is situated on Berwick Bay, capable of floating the largest vessels, and also connects with New Orleans by railroad, and a railroad graded to Opelousas. 
On the afternoon of Saturday, April 11th, our division were put aboard gunboats, steamboats, and steamers of various kinds—the 91st Regiment taking the steamer "John C. Calhoun," a vessel taken from the rebels. The vessel had on board three of the heaviest guns, besides a crew that were willing to do duty in any case. On Sunday morning [April 12th], being all ready, we steamed up Grand Lake, somewhat cautious, and came opposite Indian Landing, where we laid-to until morning, when all hands landed as orderly as possible.
The 6th Regiment and 1st Louisiana went on shore, and were met by some rebel cavalry, but finally drove them into a sugar house, where our artillery gave them some shells, which sent them on a "right smart" run into the woods, where we left them for the night.

The 91st were stationed at the road, and opposite the residence of Madam Porter, an old secession lady, but as we were not on women, we left her to her own fate, taking, however, a considerable number of wagons and mules, and all the negroes disposed to go.

I will mention that when the "rebs" left, they undertook to burn the bridge, and the "darks," for once, done us good service by putting it out. The 91st laid here till dark, when they were ordered to cross the bridge, which was done in good order; and all hands took a sleep for the night.

Tuesday morning, April 14th, the troops were again on the march, shortly after daylight, without even coffee or crackers, and marched up the road, opposite to a sugar-cane brake, where the artillery and 13th Conn. were engaged with the enemy on one end of the field on the edge of the woods, and the 26th Maine and 159th New York more in the centre and on the right. These two last regiments were getting cut to pieces terribly. The 159th had their Colonel wounded and Lieut. Colonel killed, and the men being thrown into confusion, were firing too high or too low; and the Maine regiment taking themselves to the drains to avoid the fire of the enemy, were of no service.

Then came our turn. Gen. Grover rode up and ordered these regiments to retreat; and I heard him say, "Send the 91st." We got the order "right flank" into the field, and then the order "front," and went up in line of battle, so that we could cover the retreating regiments, and within about forty rods of the enemy, who were perched in trees, behind fences, and in the cane brake, sending their leaden messengers at us in good style—whistling over our heads and dropping at our feet. Our whole regiment gave them two rounds of balls, which staggered them considerably. We then dropped on the ground and fired several rounds in that situation, when we up and ran for the woods, and drove them completely out, picking up their wounded and taking some prisoners. We kept the woods until the afternoon—the rebels with their gunboat "Diana" shelling us—while they retreated over the bayou, and set fire to their gunboat and let her drift down the bayou. We then started out after them again, and came to a sugar house on a large plantation, the owner of which had left with his rebel friends, and here we went in for sugar, chickens, sheep, and everything that would satisfy the cravings of hunger.

The troops, after getting a sufficient supply, and supposing to have a good meal, were ordered back some two miles, where we started from in the morning, being obliged to leave their food behind. We encamped that night in a corn field, hungry, tired, foot-sore and reckless in regard to ourselves. About 9 o'clock we got some coffee and crackers, the first we tasted since the night, before. This was on Tuesday, April 14th.
On the morning of the 15th we were off again, and passed some of the most splendid residences to be met with anywhere; as rich a soil as I ever saw North. On each side of the road were thousands of blackberries, pears, onions and vegetables of every description. The 16th and 17th we still marched on—resting at night—and arrived on Friday evening at the Vermillion Bayou, where we had the rebels almost in our reach. Here they burnt another bridge, which stopped our further progress. They held up and gave us a slight skirmish, to make their work sure of burning the bridge.

We camped here until Sunday afternoon, the 19th. The 91st Regiment being located near a farm house, we had plenty of good water, sweet potatoes and fresh meat—one blessing, thank God. We rested here until Sunday afternoon 4 o'clock, when, the 91st being the rear guard, and the baggage crossing over, we then proceeded at almost "double quick," only resting once in 13 miles, part of the way over a prairie some eight miles in width, and at night it was almost impossible to keep the right road. 

I will mention that, Sunday afternoon, we went through a small village called Vermillion, where white flags were as thick as snow flakes, the owners of which no doubt were firing at us on Friday night. That's my belief in their friendship. All along our march we get the curses of the whites and the prayers of the blacks. I may be somewhat mistaken in regard to the whites, but I think not. The negroes are sincere. 

Monday, April 20th, we started again, chasing the "rebs" pretty close, and at 5 o'clock came within a mile of Opelousas, the capital of the "rebs" in Louisiana, where we heard that they had surrendered, and the Legislature broke up. Here we took a rest until Wednesday morning, the 22d, when we again started for Washington, passed through, and came to another bridge which they had burned; this delayed us till morning, when we were off again  at daylight—all the time at their heels; but they being better runners, kept ahead. 

Thursday night [April 23rd] we put up at a large plantation, which we took possession of, and helped ourselves to cotton, sugar, chickens, sweet potatoes and beef, and all the young "darks." 
Friday afternoon we went into another plantation, and laid up until Tuesday morning, living very well.

On Saturday [April 25th], between daylight and dark, I witnessed a sad sight—the shooting of one of the 131st Regiment for stealing from loyal citizens. 

On Tuesday morning [April 28th] we started again for Washington, and came within four miles, where we encamped until Friday morning, the 1st May, and as we were about breaking up camp, the rebels gave our cavalry some trouble, but three or four shells sent them back in the woods. The cavalry being reinforced, drove them some 11 miles back. We have traveled some 300 miles taken some 2,000 prisoners, as much as a million dollars worth of cotton, any quantity of sugar, lots of horses, mules and "darks." The army and the expedition has been as successful as possible in a strange country.

With the bright side of our doings comes the dark. Our regiment lost some three men killed and eleven wounded. Other regiments were more unfortunate, which you will see by the papers. I think after these trials no man need be ashamed of belonging to the 91st Regiment.

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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