of Turrell E. Harriman
Part II - The Western Campaign
The first land we saw after leaving Sandy Hook was the Florida coast, and after twenty-seven days, we reached Ship Island, our sister vessel arriving a few hours after us. Ship Island is a bar in nearly the same latitude as New Orleans. It is about seven miles in length and will average about a half mile in width. The surface is low, and during severe and protracted storms the entire island has been inundated.
On the Island, were an old lighthouse and a fort, and one or two other old buildings. Clear but brackish water was obtained by sinking a barrel in the sand.
Eighteen thousand troops assembled here. The sojourn was monotonous. The only other land in sight was the Mississippi coast upon which we could distinguish the town of Biloxi.
Drill was resumed, which was almost unendurable with the blazing sun beating down upon the glistening white sand.
On the eighteenth day, we heard the sound of Commodore Farragut's guns to the westward in his bombardment of Fort Jackson. It continued for three days. On the twenty fourth the forts were passed by the fleet which reached New Orleans on the 1st day of May.
Once more we were crowded with our baggage on board the James Hovey and we started for the mouth of the Mississippi. Our passage up the river was full of excitement and delight. We passed the scene of Farragut's stubborn battle, and the rich landscape of Lower Louisiana opened to view. To us Vermonters, the lower Mississippi with its tropical vegetation at this time so gay in its spring colors seems a fairy-land.
My sixteenth birthday occurred on the passage. I shall never forget it, May 9th, 1862. As we drew near to New Orleans, the view was even more enchanting, near us the extensive old plantations with their orange groves and magnolia trees, beyond, forests of live oak with their long beards of gray moss.
We passed Chalmette, General Jackson's old battle ground, and reached the wharves of New Orleans on the twelfth, late in the afternoon. Here we disembarked and loaded our muskets for the first time for business.
The sentiment of the people naturally was intensely bitter, and defiant hatred was expressed on every hand.
Our first night in the city we spend in the old Union Cotton Press. We were then given quarters in the famous Mechanics Institute building.
From the first, General Butler was the commanding general of our regiment, which with the 7th Vermont regiment and the 1st & 2nd Vermont batteries were raised especially for his expedition.
At New Orleans, we began a novel experience. The city police were removed, and our regiment detailed in their place, with headquarters at the Institute, and detachments in every station in the city. Our duties were varied, for, besides patrolling the streets, we had to protect public and private property, seize concealed arms, arrest suspected and disorderly persons, and preserve order in all public places. How the women hated us, and hat abuse they heaped upon us!
All we could do was to smile or raise our caps and pass on. We spend a month in New Orleans, when we received orders to cross the river to Algiers, the southern terminus of the New Orleans & Opelousas R.R. which, up to the opening of the war, had been completed to Brasher City on Berwick Bay. We were quartered in the large depot and were the only troops on that side of the river. Our first duty here was to reconstruct the railroad which the Confederates had destroyed in their retreat. Our further duty consisted in guarding against guerrillas and outlaws.
On the line of this railroad were located some of the most magnificent sugar plantations of Louisiana. The slaves were mostly upon them, and the crops growing. We could see hundreds of acres in cane. At close range, we learned what the institution of slavery meant.
Algiers at this time was a small place consisting of one main street running parallel to the Mississippi river, with a few scattering houses in the background. The depot, where we were quartered, was about eight rods from the levee on which were seven large iron warehouses and a large wharf. I mention these warehouses for purposes later on.
During the summer of 1862, we were occupied in various pleasant duties, making raids into the country to capture smugglers and Confederate recruits, guarding plantation property, and foraging for sweet potatoes, oranges, and watermelons.
Our regiment had on guard called the watermelon guard, upon which we all liked to be detailed. It was on a seventy-five acres plantation of muskmelons and watermelons. The guard changed at 4 P.M., and the relief had to watch through the night for marauders.
It was while on this melon guard duty that I contracted the only sickness of my service. It was the last of June. One night a drenching rain set in and continued all the next day.
We had no shelter except a little shack put up to protect the plantation overseer from the sun. At the appointed hour of four, no relief guard arrived. About midnight, we heard voices calling us. It was our own comrades who had not been ordered out until nearly dark and had gotten lost on the way.
We gathered up our water-soaked blankets and set out for camp. We, too, lost our bearings in the Egyptian darkness and waded through ponds and ditches until nearly daylight.
I was so completely worn out that I lay down in my wet clothing and immediately went to sleep. Not being answerable at roll-call the next morning, the boys let me sleep.
When dress parade came, I was too sick to arise. I had been seized with a terrible swamp fever. The captain sent me to the regimental hospital which was in the old foundry of the Belleville irons works, where I remained fix or six weeks, delirious most of the time.
Soon after I returned for duty, a plan was formed to enter upon a campaign to reclaim the Opelousas R.R. to Brasher City, 92 miles away.
The Confederates had a force at the City and had come down to Bayou des Allemands where our outpost had been stationed near a bridge 475 feet long, across the Bayou. Companies E & G had been re-inforced there by Company K. The enemy had managed to cross the Bayou somewhere between us and the river and, on Sept. fourth, had compelled our men to surrender.
The 25th of October, we stared on our campaign, accompanied by the first negro regiment ever raised, composed mostly of free negroes. We stared in the afternoon, marched seven miles the first day and bivouacked at night on the side of the track. The next twenty miles we had to stop at every length of the column and pull the tall grass from the track, repair culverts, and replace rails. The second day we reached Bontle Station, where the Confederates had tried in vain to intercept 2 trains when they captured Companies E, G, & K. It was about 8 mi. from Des Allemands, where we were informed, the Confederates were fortified under Gen. Dick Taylor. We pressed on cautiously, found the enemy gone and the bridge burned. Inside of one week from the time we left Algiers, we had pulled the grass from 20 miles of track, built 18 culverts from 10 to 20 feet long, rebuilt what was estimated 4 miles of track, rebuilt the bridge 475 ft. long, driven the enemy from the road, and captured 7 cannon.
After a few days, we were ordered to continue our reconstruction march from Bayou La Tourche to Bayou Boeuf. At the former place was another long bridge which the enemy had been prevented from burning. At Bayou Boeuf we found they had succeeded in burning a bridge 675 ft. long. In 5 days we rebuilt it, actually cutting down the timber from the adjacent woods. We reached Brasher city the 8th of December, finding it in possession of our navy under Com. Buchanan who had gone round through the Gulf and up Berwick Bay.
Still weak from my sickness of the summer, and from the exposure of sleeping in the swamps and from drinking stagnant swamp water, I fell a victim, with many others, to fever and ague, but I kept on duty rather than return to New Orleans.
The 8th day of January, 1863, we were ordered back to a place called Thibodaux, where we were brigaded for the first time. Two days later, the regiment was ordered back to Brasher City with three days cooked rations. General Banks who had superseded Gen. Butler had learned that the Confederates under Gen. Taylor had a formidable gunboat in the Bayou Teche which empties into Berwick Bay.
Our regiment was taken on transports, and with the 21st Indiana, the 6th Michigan, the 12th Conn., the 160th N.Y., and Carruth's Battery, landed on both sides of the Bayou and advanced.
The gunboat was destroyed without the loss of a man, and our regiment returned to Thibodaux where we enjoyed several weeks rest.
On the 2nd of April, we received orders to go to Brasher City where we joined Weitzel's Reserve Brigade, consisting of the 8th Vermont (Father's regiment), the 12th Conn., the 75th, 114th, & 160th N.Y. regiment. This organization served together till the close of the war, with the exception that during the last of our service, the 47th Penn. Regt. was substituted for the 75th New York.
During the winter, with the exception of the fight with the "Cotton", the gunboat which I have said before we destroyed, we enjoyed life fairly well, notwithstanding a shake with the ague every other day.
Being near the Gulf, it was not very cold. We had plenty of oysters brought in by our railroad from the Gulf, and plenty of wild ducks brought in by the natives. We foraged the country and lived in clover, having many interesting experiences inseparable from camp life.
From Brasher City, began the great Port Hudson campaign, which together with the siege of Vicksburg was really the braking of the backbone of the rebellion by splitting the Confederacy in two and opening the great Mississippi waterway from the Gulf to "God's Country", as we used to call the loyal states.
Historian swill tell you that Gettysburg was the turning-point of the war. But Lee escaped with his army intact after that battle, while we of Vicksburg and Port Hudson "came bringing our sheaves with us" in prisoners and armament, divided the enemy's country, gave the nation a Grant, released large armies to concentrate and confine the fighting in Virginia, while Serham, who had also operated with Grant at Vicksburg, by his operations and triumphant march, kept Confederate forces of the farther West and South from re-inforcing Lee. You will see before I am through how, in my opinion, history ought to be.
One more item regarding those iron warehouses on the river at Algiers. Long before we left that city, the negroes began to learn that the Yankees did not favor slavery, and that, if they once got into our lines, they would not have to go back to "Old Marse." The result was they began to gather at Algiers and our officers were in a quandary what to do with them.
Those seven great warehouses were thrown open, one by one, until they were all full. We had nearly 4000 of them inside our camp guard at one time. At night they held religious meetings, praising God for deliverance, and praying for help for the Yankees.
After the Emancipation Proclamation, the government began to enlist them as soldiers and put them at work on confiscated plantations for wages or keeping.
In their primitive condition, they were a queer race much unlike the common type seen in our large cities today. The negro of today does not have the honor & integrity of the old race. Trained under the courteous, dignified, and honorable old families of the south, I doubt that, as a general thing, they are as well off as when in slavery.
In the late autumn of 1862, we went into winter-quarters at Brasher City, first in buildings which we soon exchanged for our tents. Our duty during most of the winter consisted in guarding the entrance to Berwick Bay from the Gulf and the entrance of the Bayou Teche into the bay. We maintained strong picket posts six & fifteen miles down towards the Gulf, with signals for day and night should a Confederate gunboat attempt to enter the Bay.
This picket was relieved once in six days. The lower post consisted of six men and a corporal, and the upper one of three men and a corporal.
I must tell you a little experience I once had at the fifteen mile post. We embarked for it on the gunboat with six days rations to relieve the pickets. The six mile post was relieved on the way down and their rations put ashore, ours with them by mistake. The boat landed us at the power post, took the old guard and departed.
Were we not in a disagreeable predicament, separated from our rations, out of communication with camp, prisoners on an island inhabited as we had been told, by one poor, old fisherman? We had no fishing tackle and did not know upon what part of the island the fisherman lived. We soon came near the end of all possible supplies. To add to our discomfort, a hard rain set in, and we had only temporary shelter. One day, three of us set out to find some game and to try to discover the habitation of the native resident. The island was thickly wooded. We traveled for a long time without finding any game but ran across an old sow with five pigs about two weeks old. We concluded that the hut of the native must be near, so we proceeded with renewed hope.
He proved to be very poor and had taken up his present above to escape conscription in the Confederate army. He said that former pickets had taken his poultry and his cow and had left him almost destitute with quite a family. We stared back across the trial of the old sow and her pigs. We drove them far enough away from the house, so that the old man could not hear us and held a council of war whether or not we should make reprisal. We argued pro & con, but finally decided to leave all unharmed in the interest of mercy.
Before long the question arose, "What are we going to eat for the next four days? So we had to reconsider, and shoot one of the pigs. We soon regretted the sacrifice, for we found the meat quite unpalatable on account of its extreme youth. The next day we took our row-boat and went around the Bayou to the other side of the island, hoping to get some young alligators, the tails of which we had heard were sometimes eaten by the negroes. We found the desired game plentiful. I was chosen gunner. I hit seven before we succeeded in getting one in town.
He was about eight feet long. We towed him around to the Post, chopped off his tail with a hatchet, made a stew of part of it, fried some with a little salt pork which we still had, but found the results of our cooking fully as unpalatable as the pig had been. But it was this or nothing, and we toughed it out till relief came, (perhaps you do not know that alligator meat is flavored with musk.)
During the winter, supplies began to be concentrated in the big depot at Brasher in enormous quantities. Troops, also, were mobilized, indicating an important an extensive operation. We had two improvised gunboats with us. One of these we lost in a reconnaissance up Bayou Teche during the winter. It was surprised and taken by a masked Confederate battery without much of a fight.
Gen. N. P. Banks, having superseded Gen. Butler, arrived at Brasher on April 11th. My brigade had crossed the Bay and had moved a little ways in the direction of Pattersonville. There we remained until all the troops had crossed. About noon of the 13th an advance was ordered. We soon encountered the pickets of the enemy under Gen. Taylor. We pushed them along for some time. The first intimation we had of any resistance was the appearance of a piece of railroad iron about three feet long, fired from some large gun. It struck the ground a rod or two to the left of the column, and went end over end for some way down the line.
It only excited a great laugh, as we had to conclude the enemy was short on ammunition. We continued to receive a solid shot or two, when a couple of our cavalry came along, each holding the hand of a drunken Confederate artilleryman, who wanted to go back to his battery. We soon drew fire from the "Diana, " the gunboat they had taken from us in the winter. After we had advanced a short distance, they opened on us about thirty pieces o artillery from behind heavy works. The open field through which we were moving was narrow, flanked on our right by Bayou Teche, and on our left by an almost impassable swamp. We were formed in five lines of battle, our regiment and the 12th Conn. being the front line. We soon received orders to lie down in line, which we were mighty quick to obey. They shelled us till nearly dark, I wish I could describe to you my feelings and thoughts during this shell fire, I might say Hell fire. It seemed truly as if Hell had broken loose. Every second, seemingly, a shell was bursting in the air, or passing over our heads. Very few burst in front of our line, so they did not do us much damage. The poor fellows in the 2nd & 3rd lines suffered terribly. The front line was too near for their range. At dusk we fell back out of range, lay down on our arms and slept for the night, knowing too well what was in store for us in the morning. It was to be an artillery duel first, and perhaps an assault following. I said we slept. We did not sleep much, for we brought up our siege train of 32 pound rifles, and got them into concealed position.
In the morning, we had not fairly finished our breakfast when the "Diana" came steaming down the Bayou and gave us a morning salute with her ninety pound pivot rifle. She fired two shells, but before she could fire another, one of our masked thirty-two pound siege guns opened on her, the first shot disabling her wheel. She swung around, giving us a parting shot, and withdrew as fast as she could up the Bayou.
This incident opened the exercises of the day. We were soon ordered to advance in line. We came under fire of the enemy's guns, and Hell was loose again. However our field artillery, in much larger force than on the day before, demanded the most of their attention, and drew nearly all the fire from their infantry batteries. All day long we lay on the ground , part of the time in a ditch, shells passing both ways over our heads continually. No one can imagine the effect of an artillery battle till one had experience it. Towards night, we began to see signs of a break in the enemy's fire and indications of a back down. Near nightfall, a flanking party was sent into the swamp to turn their right flank. They fell back. We did the same for the night, but the battle of Bisland, so called, was won. It was thought imprudent to follow the enemy in the darkness.
In the morning, without waiting for breakfast, we started in pursuit.
They marched all night as we found out afterwards. Our general Grover had been sent up the Atchafalaya, through Grand Lake, with the intention of cutting them off. He had had some difficulty in making a landing. The enemy, being informed of his approach escaped by marching all night. We overtook their rear guard ruing the day, and occasionally a straggler, fell into our hands. We drove them beyond Franklin, a town on Bayou Teche.
Until reading Franklin, we were ignorant of the magnitude of the contemplated movement of our brigade. We had, by general order, left behind everything except what constitutes light marching order, viz., one change of under-clothes, woolen and rubber blanket, canteen, haversack and ammunition. Our knapsacks, which contained our dress suites, shaving tools, needle-cases and all cherished presents from loved ones at home were stacked in the big depot, and fell an easy prey to Gen. Taylor's men, as you will see later. We remained at Franklin long enough to get coffee and to rest a bit; then we started in pursuit of the routed enemy.
We proceeded for several days, passing through New Iberia and Vemrillionville, averaging about 20 mi. per day, resting without shelter wherever night overtook us. The sun was fearfully hot, and the dust almost unendurable. At night, one would hardly be able to recognize ones file leader or the dirt on his face. We usually camped near water at night, and would try to wash off the dust the best we could, sometimes washing out our stockings and shirts, handing them on a gun-stack to dry over night. Sometimes we strung them on our guns to dry in the sun while we marched. It was a comical sight to see the moving line of shirts and socks handing from bayonets. As the march continued from day to day, the weary men began to throw away everything that could possibly be dispensed with.
April 20th, we reached Opelousas, having passed through the beautiful Teche country, the garden of Louisiana, described by Longfellow in Evangeline, and of which Gen. Dick Taylor says, 'In all my wanderings, and they have been many and wide, I cannot recall so fair, so beautiful, so happy a land."
After a sojourn of two weeks at Opelousas on May 5th, a call to advance was sounded and the march was resumed. Nothing of special interest occurred until within seven miles of Alexandria, Louisiana. We were footsore and weary, having advanced 28 miles that day. While we were consoling ourselves that we should soon go into camp for the night, one of Gen. Banks' aides came riding down through the lines which was, then at rest. He was accompanied by an orderly carrying a large Confederate flag.
He stated that Com. Farragut had the town of Alexandria under his guns, and asked the army to join him that night, if possible. It was a most stunning proposition. The 8th Vermont was in the lead, and the old Colonel asked us if we would go. We sprang to the ranks and shouted, "Yes." At the command we started with a yell. The bank struck up a lively march, and soon we had covered two miles. Then we struck a good plank road for five miles, and on this, we went at almost a double quick.
At the edge of the town, we filed off into an old cane field, stacked arms, and almost dropped in our tracks, having covered 35 miles that day. A mail of two months accumulation arrived that night, and a ration of whiskey was issued. Hardly a man cared to get up to receive either his mail or his whiskey.
General Taylor had switched off toward Pine Woods on the Texas border, and the surprise to the citizens was so sudden & complete, that in a printing office, a compositor's stick was found containing this unfinished paragraph, "News has been received that Bisland has been evacuated, and that Dick Taylor is marching toward Alexandria---."
On May 11th came the report that Taylor's forces were making a stand near Pine Woods. We made a thirty five mile march, and having found them on the retreat, returned to Alexandria.
Here we remained until May 17th, when we marched again to Simsport, La., where the sick were transferred to boats to be taken to New Orleans. All Superfluous baggage was again sent away, and we were told that we were going to Port Hudson, to unite with the forces at Baton Rouge in the reduction of that stronghold of the Mississippi.
We reached Simsport on the 24th, and at once embarked on transports and were conveyed via Atchafalaya and Red Rivers to Bayou Sara on the Mississippi about five miles above Port Hudson on the east side of the river. We disembarked about midnight of the 25th and about 2 A.M. started under hurry orders for the rear of the Post, for it was reared that the Confederate garrison might attempt to evacuate and escape.
I must tell you of a touching incident which occurred about daylight. We were passing a house, and just as our regimental colors came up to the door, a very aged and silver haired lady appeared. She raised her hand in the attitude of supplication and said "God bless the Stars & Stripes. May the angels of Heaven hover over the protect you!" We raised our caps, gave her a cheer and passed on, grateful for her blessing. The picture of the beautiful old woman will never fade from my memory.
Before we reached our appointed position in the line of attack, we could see shells in the air above the confederate works on the bank of the river, ominous of what was coming in the near future.
Port Hudson occupied the summit of a bluff on the east bank of the Mississippi, forming almost a semicircle about a bend in the river. Long stretches of ground broken with hills, woods, and ravines made it difficult of access from the surrounding country. The enemy had constructed around the place works of remarkable strength. A heavy well mounted battery commanded the bluff on the water side, at an elevation of about eighty feet.
A continuous line of parapet encircled the place from the Baton Rouge side south, and the river again north. Every hill was a redoubt, and guns covered all approaches.
The assault was to be made on the 27th. The evening of the 26th was a time for serious meditation for us, wondering what the morrow would bring forth. We arose with calm determination in the early morn and partook of hastily prepared coffee, and with guns in hand, awaited events. My brigade, for once, was in reserve, for how lone we shall soon see. The fleet opened fire, followed by the land batteries, and soon the earth trembled with the noise of battle. The first line moved forward through a piece of woods where they encountered the enemy's infantry. The musket fire became heavy and incessant. The advance line soon became exposed to a raking fire through an opening in the woods and began to fall rapidly. It became so badly broken that our brigade was ordered forward. We started with a rush, passed the broken first line, fell upon the enemy, drove them from their position, capturing many prisoners. In disorder, the enemy yielded position after position and retreated behind their fortifications. We took the cover of a ravine and spent the entire day sharp shooting. The loss to our army for this day in killed and wounded was about two thousand. The 8th Vermont lost eighty eight.
At night we began intrenching, anticipating a protracted siege. Our works were strengthened every day, as were the Confederates'. The trenches were manned each day with sharp shooters, whose only business was to watch for heads. The strain of this long siege of forty two days I cannot describe. Our clothing had become filthy and worn out. We were in the woods, which swarmed with wood ticks, and we became alive with lice. There was only one lace nearly a quarter of a mile back where water could be had. I recall one mud-hole containing a small amount of water to which we used to repair when not on duty in the trenches to try to bathe. It was so incessantly occupied that it was only thin mud.
Our rations were prepared a mile in our rear, and were brought into the trenches with much difficulty, and were sometimes delayed for hours when firing was brisk on the line. Firing of one sort and another was nearly continuous day and night. The mortar boats on the river threw their ponderous shells at intervals all night, and a heavy siege battery directly in the rear of our regiment sent shells now and then. You would think that sleep would be impossible under these conditions. Necessity will compel men to become accustomed to even worse conditions. I have experienced as sweet slumber and as pleasant dreams on the firing line as in my bed at home.
But those lonely, long nights in the trenches with no sound but he scream and the whiz of the messengers of death and the mournful notes of a whip-poor-Will in the neighboring swamp I can never forget. I could relate many sad incidents of which I was an eye-witness while on trench duty. I saw many of my comrades fall victims to the bullets of the sharp shooters of the enemy, and did what I could to avenge them.
Although a boy, I divided the honors with a comrade named Hardy as the crack shot of the company, having acquired my skill by constant target practice. Often when not no duty I have gone into the trenches to pass the time away sharp-shooting. Many a trick we resorted to in order to draw the Johnnie's fire. One was to raise a hat or cap just above the log top of the breastworks on a ramrod, then to return fire at the porthole from which the smoke came. One day an Irish boy without thinking raised his hat by pushing it up with his fingers. At once he received a bullet through his wrist.
The night of the 9th of June a feint was made in our front by the 12th Conn. Regiment to enable some other part of the line to gain a point. By reason of some mistake, they were kept outside the works until daylight, and lost some poor fellows needlessly. hen ordered in, strange to say, they did not lose a man. The two contending lines in our front were about 12 rods apart. That night, the enemy thought we were making an attacking force, and opened upon us with a concealed gun intended for a raking fire. The first shot, a solid one, went through a tree about eight inches in diameter, nearly cutting it off, passed over a pit in which the relieved trench guard had lain down to rest, myself among the number. Just before daylight, there came a hard thunder storm and broke off the tree. Down it came crashing upon us in the pit. We escaped with only a few bruises, but slept no more that night.
The 13th of June, there was a furious bombardment along the whole line.
Several Confederate guns were finally dismounted, and when the firing began to lull, Gen. Banks sent a flag of truce demanding the surrender of the garrison which was promptly refused. The next day was one never to be forgotten. It was a Sunday. Gen. Banks gave orders for another general assault. On a portion of the line to the left of the center, had been selected a so-called covered way in order that a column of troops in two ranks might work up by a succession of knolls running parallel with the enemy's works. Behind the last of these, a line could be formed for an assault on the enemy's works which were not more than four or five rods distant, across a little hollow or ravine. Someone made a blunder here as you will see.
It was designed first to send in and mass two regiments, one armed with hand-grenades (a shall thrown by hand and exploded by percussion) the other with bags of cotton to fill the ditch outside the works. These were to be followed by an assaulting line massed behind them. Our regiment was chosen to make the assault. The grenadiers and cotton men got into position before light, but before we could arrive attempted their scheme which proved a failure. They came stringing back and impeded our passage in the covered way. When the right wing had arrived in the appointed position, they were ordered to charge which they did, losing heavily. Before the left wing, in which was our company, could get into position, scores of the right wing were coming out wounded in all possible ways. The left wing formed hurriedly and obeyed orders to charge. Passing over the top of the knoll we received a volley which took down about half of our company. We were ordered to lie down or get behind the knoll. Without thinking I dropped where I was and soon discovered that I was on the very top of the knoll in plain sight of the enemy which was sending lead to us in showers. Don't forget I thought of home and Mother and hugged the ground.
Let me say that this was the only time in my army service in which I had any realization of danger. On the knoll were clumps of small bushes such as usually follow the clearing of trees.
Every now and then some of the branches of these would be clipped off by a bullet, so that I could estimate pretty closely how much exposed I was. About three feet from my head, lay a poor fellow mortally wounded, one of the grenadiers who had gone in first. He was moaning pitifully. I could see the terrible wound in his head. From the ravine in front, I could hear the mortally wounded begging the Confederates not to fire at them any more. Frequently, I could hear the agonized cry of those who were wounded anew. How long I lay there I do not know. It seemed like ages. When the firing lulled a bit I carefully crawled back behind the knoll to the place where the rest of the company was. We remained in that hollow until dark. When safely back, I had a curiosity to know how those poor fellows were, being wounded repeatedly over the knoll. I found that the Confederate works made an angle, and from the other leg of this angle their sharp shooters were firing up the ravine on everything that moved. One man of our company who was first wounded in the shoulder succeeded in getting back to us, but received nine wounds in so doing. He went back to the surgeons alone refusing any assistance and recovered.
During the day a an attempt was made by gathering cotton bags and piling them on top of the knoll, to drive the Confederates from their works. To add to the horrors, these cotton bags caught fire from our guns and were pushed over among the wounded.
Under a flag of truce the next day, many a poor fellow was found badly burned. That same day, two different lines were formed behind the knoll just back of us, and by some blunder they charged over on us. As they came over the knoll, we could see them fall from the murderous fire of the enemy. Before dark, our ravine was full of men from different regiments. The sun was broiling hot and we could get no water. At dark we withdrew and our regiment returned to its old quarters at the center of the line.
Two days after this terrible Sunday fight, General Banks published an order calling for a volunteer storming party of one thousand men to lead another assault, a "forlorn hope, " so called in war vernacular. The number was raised, five men, including myself, volunteering from our company.
We were taken a little to the rear and organized into a battalion, and began drilling specially for the job! In the meantime, the usual routine was continued in the trenches. The morning of the 4th of July a national salute was fired with shotted guns all along the line and from the fleet.
Three days later, when we were nearly ready to begin our assault we heard great cheering in the trenches and the bands playing all along the line. The news had come that Vicksburg had surrendered to Gen. Grant.
Early the next morning, the 8th, white flags went up from the enemy's works asking for terms of capitulation. Thus was dashed to the ground the glory of our forlorn hope, but we were accorded the honor of entering the citadel first, and from the point where we were to have made the assault. When I came to see the ground and works and the preparations which the Johnnies had made to receive us, I had no further regrets.
Just another word concerning the surrender of Port Hudson. By its fall, the last Confederate defense on the Mississippi was removed, a free water-way was opened from Cairo to the Gulf, and the Confederacy was divided, as I have said before. It was cut off from their armies on the East, the supplies from the West, the most severe blow which the enemy had suffered.
The successive victories of Mead at Gettysburg, Grant at Vicksburg and Banks at Port Hudson were the death-knell to secession.
On the day of the surrender of Port Hudson, Gen. Banks had ten thousand and four hundred men for duty to guard and fight over a line nearly eight miles in extent, besides guarding his rear.
Our forces had lost about 4, 000 killed and wounded during the siege, and nearly as many more rendered unserviceable by sickness. The surrender included between six and seven thousand men with their arms and armaments. During the siege, Gen. Dick Taylor had come down the Teche country again, had captured a garrison of sick and disabled men of our army at Brasher City, together with all the knapsacks and camp equipage which we had left behind, and had proceeded to Donaldsonville on the Mississippi.
So on the evening of the formal surrender of Port Hudson, General Weitzel's division, including our regiment, proceeded by boat down the river arriving at Donaldsonville on the morning of the 10th. General Taylor had attacked a little fort called Fort Butler, manned by invalids, and had been repulsed, losing more prisoners than the number of men in the fort. As we passed, his men first with musketry from behind the levee on our crowded boat, but wounded only one. The next day, we had a brush with his forces. On learning that Port Hudson had surrendered, they retreated to Brasher City and crossed the Bay before our gunboats could intercept them.
Our regiment then marched to Thibodeaux, La., and went into camp for the first time since April 9th.
We found our ranks sadly deflated by death, wounds and sickness. Every man, including officers, was swarming with body lice, and many had a touch of scurvy. Aside from the officers, I suppose a full uniform could not have been found in the regiment. We now began a general cleaning up, having only the duties of roll-call, picket and guard. As soon as supplies could be obtained, we drew new clothing.
A detail was made to go to Vermont for recruits to fill the ranks. We rested thus until Sept. 1st when we were ordered to Algiers to join an expedition under Gen. Franklin against Sabine Pass on the Texas coast.
Five regiments of us (the regiments being very small of course), the old Weitzel's Brigade, were ordered on board an ocean steamer with rations for five days in our haversacks. We proceeded down the Mississippi into the Gulf and around to the Pass. Our passage was so stormy and the vessel so crowded that no coffee could be made. Anchoring at our destination, we awaited the action of the gunboats. The Pass was fortified on either bank of the Sabine river at its outlet. Our gunboats shelled the works for a long time, drawing forth no reply. Then preparations were made to land a force in small boats from ships anchored nearest the shore while one of the gunboats moved slowly up the Pass. When she reached a certain point, she ran aground. Both forts opened a heavy cross fire on her and soon sent a shot into the steam-chest of one engine, disabling her completely.
The captain turned his large bow gun around, sent a shot through her machinery and ran up a white flag. The game was up. We received orders to weigh anchor and put to sea. On the afternoon of the 10th we found ourselves once more in the Mississippi River.
We arrived at Algiers on the 11th, having been on board since the 3rd with five days rations. We were living on raw pork and vinegar and hard tack. There were three hundred sick in the lower hold with ship fever.
Our next move was soon decided upon. We were to go to Brasher City and to cross the Bay once more in pursuit of Gen. Taylor who lingered in force in the Teche country. Sept. 17th we led the brigade along a familiar route through Franklin, New Iberia and Opelousas to "Carrion Crow" Bayou, a corruption of Corron Cro, the name of a former resident of its banks.
Here the Confederates made a stand in some force. On the 7th of November, a sharp skirmish took place and they withdrew. On the 16th, we fell back to New Iberia to a position on the roll of an immense prairie, strong for defence. Here I suffered from the cold as I never did in old Vermont with all its ice and snow. We had no shelter except our little dog tents, which had been issued to us on starting on this campaign. We could get scarcely wood enough for cooking purposes, to say nothing of fuel for campfires. The weather was growing cold with piercing north winds, almost continuous rain and sleet, and with an occasional flurry of snow. Picket duty was arduous and necessary. This camp was maintained until January.
However, the cold and the discomforts of an active winter did not chill the patriotism of Vermonters. On the 2nd day of January, by an order issued by the War Department on June 25th previous, the regiment was given an opportunity to re-enlist for three years more or during the war. Listen to loyalty's response. On the 4th day of January with our camp flooded on the parade ground nearly ankle deep from almost continuous rain, the regiment was ordered to fall in line to vote on re-enlistment.
When the order was read, and the request made for those who would re-enlist to step forward, 320 of the battered and war-scarred boys stepped forward out of about 450 present for duty. There was neither sentimentality, novelty, nor romance to lure them on. They understood the conditions, and had every reason to believe that the future struggle would be more severe and sanguinary than the past. They knew, too, that their foemen were worthy of their steel.
On the 6th of January the camp was moved to Franklin, Louisiana, where we remained for two months. Here our recruiting detail arrived with 300 new men. The camp routine of drill, parade, and inspection was renewed for the benefit of the recruits. The weather was growing continually more balmy. "The winter of our discontent" had passed. About March 1st, our regiment was ordered to Algiers, a furlough of 30 days having been granted to the re-enlisted men. We marched to Brasher, and went by rail the remainder of the way. The regiment was divided into 2 battalions, re-enlisted veterans in one, and non-re-enlisted men and recruits in the other. We were paid off, and every man bought for himself a fine new uniform from measure, and we began a special drill for home exhibition. On April 7th we boarded the steamer Constitution together with another re-enlisted regiment, the 9th Connecticut, and after a pleasant voyage of nine days, landed in New York. From here we went by a Sound Steamer to New Haven, where we were to be the guests of the accompanying regiment.
The people of New Haven gave us an ovations. Here I was first an eyewitness of one of the saddest phases of cruel war. At the dock were waiting crowds, among whom were many little family groups who had come to greet the comrades of those dear ones "whose children could never run to lisp their sire's return, nor climb his knee, the envied kiss to share."
It was sad indeed to see those poor widows and orphans weeping for husband and father, yet with loyal hearts greeting those who had touched elbows with their dear ones.
By special train from New Haven, we reached Montpelier, Vermont on the 16th of April. It was late Saturday evening when we arrived, but the citizens gave us a most royal welcome and a banquet. Our festivities lasted nearly all night.
Sunday morning brought us out in our new uniforms for company inspection. We paraded the streets, going through many evolutions, including street firing, used to clear the streets of mobs, which greatly astonished the natives.
On Monday we stored our arms and other equipment and received our furloughs for thirty days, with the order to be ready to respond at a moment's notice to the call of Gen. Grant who was then in the heat of his campaign in the Wilderness. The joy of reaching home I cannot describe. Mother, the children, many kindred and friends met me at the station. How soon thirty days slipped by! On May 19th our furloughs expired. We reported at Brattleboro, Vermont, and proceeded at once to New Orleans by boat from New York, arriving June 3, 1864.
On the 6th, the men who had not re-enlisted started for home, their time of service having expired.
While we had been on our furlough, Gen. Banks had attempted what is known as the Red River campaign, which proved disastrous, June 11, we were ordered to Morganzie Bend, La., less than a hundred miles from New Orleans, on the Mississippi where the troops of Gen. Banks were concentrated. Here we suffered as we never had before from the heat.
We were reviewed by Gen. Dan Sickles who was then on crutches, having lost a leg at Gettysburg. At midnight on the 19th, we were sent by transports, escorted by a gunboat to Tunica Bend, to be a false report, and the next day we returned. During the last days of June, rumors spread abroad of an important movement. Three days cooked rations were ordered on July 2, and we boarded waiting transports. The next day we disembarked at Algiers.
July 5th, we were ordered aboard the steamer, St. Mary, and sent down the Mississippi under sealed orders.
On opening the orders, we found we were saying goodbye to Louisiana, for our destination was Fortress Monroe, Va., At this point we received orders to continue to Washington to report to the secretary of war.
Contributed by Gerald J. Rice
See also, Turrell Harriman's obituary.