LOUISIANA IN THE CIVIL WAR

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The goal of Louisiana in the Civil War is to provide an online resource of information and links to our great state's involvement in the war. Topics expected to be commonly covered are: Battles fought in Louisiana, battles that Louisianians participated in, unit histories, rosters, uniforms and equipment of Louisiana soldiers, personalities to include not only the leadership of the state and armies but the common soldier, flags and resources to research/read on the state's role in the war.



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Bourbeaux

Bourbeaux
Skirmish at Buzzard's Prairie (Chretien Point Plantation), October 15, 1863

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Monday, March 30, 2015

Captain James Franklin Fitts on Port Hudson


Captain Franklin Fitts, 114th New York Infantry

Captain Fitts wrote an article titled "A June Day at Port Hudson" in The Galaxy: A Magazine of Entertaining Reading, Volume 2, p. 121-131. Here is most of Fitts' article on the 114th New York at Port Hudson.





A JUNE DAY AT PORT HUDSON
...Between the spot where the One Hundred and Fourteenth New York lay and the Rebel works was a great ravine, or gulf—the latter word best describes it. In some places upon either side the hills projected out prominently into this pit; at others, the descent was gradual and easy. The crests of the hills bounding the gulf upon both sides were fortified and held by the opposing armies, lying within easy rifle-shot of each other; between lay the debatable ground, over which balls, shells, and bullets were hurled back and forth. The slopes of the hills, and the narrow intervening level at their bases, were thickly grown with brambles and thorny briers, tangled with felled timber, and abounding in precipitous and difficult descents. They were all that lay between us and the prize, but they were for many days neutral ground. By daylight no man set foot in it; hundreds of eyes were watching it for a mark, and no one transgressed the limits of his own works without instantly becoming a target. The two sides of the ridge which our sharpshooters occupied were strikingly contrasted. That which lay beneath the Rebel guns was as bare of life and motion as though a pestilence had swept it; the other, although quite as rough in its character, teemed with animation. The nature of the ground was such that the companies were somewhat detached from each other, a felled tree serving as a means of communication. The men lay well down from the top of the ridge to avoid the flying balls, when not on duty in the rifle-pits. Many, for greater security, burrowed for shelter in the side of the bank. At the bottom of this bank ran a stream of water, much too small for the wants of the numbers that crowded it. The heat was well-nigh insufferable, though shade was abundant. The flies came in swarms to annoy us. All the cooking was done a mile to the rear, as the smoke would have betrayed our exact position. And here in this wide wilderness we lay, stifled by the sultry atmosphere, and sometimes drenched by rains. Back of us, at eligible points, were brigade and division headquarters, and field hospitals, enclosed in a paling of leafy branches, and protected at exposed points by cotton bales. Still further back were the supply depots, from which the army was fed, and the reserve artillery; and to and fro between Springfield Landing and the front, six-mule teams were constantly passing, laden or empty as they came or went.
From right to left of our line siege guns and mortars were in position at easy intervals. The guns were artfully concealed with branches, so that their position could be seen only at each discharge. The gunners were protected within an outwork of cotton bales, seven feet high, which effectually sheltered them from bullets.
Our rifle-pits were mere excavations of earth near the crest of the ridge, hollowed out square, so as to entirely conceal a man standing upright. An open way of the same depth led down to the middle part of the hill, so that we could pass to and fro without exposure. They were dug large enough to contain half-a-dozen men, with elbow-room sufficient to admit of the ordinary motions of loading and firing. Each company furnished a detail for one or more of these pits, the details being generally relieved every twelve hours. Their business was to stand, rifle in hand, scrutinizing sharply the Rebel position; to give warning of anything suspicious or unusual, and to send a bullet after any Rebel who might be incautious enough to show his head. The rifle-pits were completed by heavy loop-holed logs laid flat upon the top of the ridge. Through this narrow opening, three inches square, the rifleman surveyed the situation, giving emphasis to his vigilance by the occasional bark of his "Springfield." What could be actually seen of Port Hudson from these loop-holes (and there was no other safe point of observation) was very little. Heaps of earth surmounting the ridge upon the Rebel front indicated where their defences lay, but the trees in the background stood so thick that it was often impossible to define the shape of the works. There was a forest with a Rebel flag waving from the summit of the tallest tree; there were two or three dilapidated old buildings; and there was a desperate and stubborn enemy, invisible to our eyes. Between him and us was "a great gulf fixed," with boundaries of fire and lead, which, for the present, were respected.
Sometimes, after orders to cease firing, a silence like that of the tombs would brood over both the lines, and anon the crash of musketry from every rifle-pit, quickly and furiously answered by the enemy, and the thunderous roar of heavy ordnance, flinging death and destruction, pealed up in a wild tumult of discord. The sharpshooters were sometimes instructed to keep up an uninterrupted fire, and again to wait for a mark. Deserters occasionally found their way into our linos at night, and, to distinguish thein from enemies, particular orders were sent to the rifle-pits to allow single men to come in who appeared outside without arms. At times the batteries fired in regular alternation from right to left, with an impressive effect upon the listener. At night, when the darkness was a sufficient shelter from the Rebel riflemen, it was interesting to mount above the rifle-pits and watch the flashes from the heavy guns, and the flaming shells from the mortars, hissing and gyrating in a wide sweep far overhead, and sinking out of sight behind the trees. There was always, at night, a rumbling noise from the old buildings opposite, which was suspected to be occasioned by the grinding of corn. They were swept from the ground by our shells before the siege had terminated. Many artifices were used in the rifle-pits to delude the enemy, and draw his fire. A favorite ruse was the exposure of a cap above the loop-holes, on a stick. Small puffs of smoke would instantly break out from the Rebel works, and bullets whistle overhead and sink into the embankment; and, at the same instant, a dozen rifles would ring out from our pits, and as many balls speed over toward the little smoke-puffs. A shovel was observed one morning to rise and fall regularly over the edge of the works directly opposite us, as if throwing earth upon an unfinished part. Several marksmen upon our side immediately engaged in the work of slopping that shovel. The dirt flew in clouds from the embankment as their balls perforated it, several striking near the top, where the earth was supposed to lie thinner, and where a ball might find a head. Some Rebel may or may not have fallen beneath the persistent hail of lead that was poured upon this spot for half an hour; but the audacious shovel continued to rise and fall, depositing the earth as nonchalantly as if there were sense in it to appreciate the hazard. Suspicious noises, such as the barking of dogs and rumbling of wagons, would quickly draw a heavy fire. Clumps of bushes, half-way down the opposite bank, which looked like inviting spots for the concealment of a lookout, were subjected to the same searching inquiry.

The casualties upon our side during this desultory warfare were not numerous, although they occurred daily at different points along the lines. Stray bullets sometimes entered the loop-holes, killing or wounding the men on duty behind them. There were places where our paths ran over ground so high as to be in range of the Rebel rifles, and at these places men were frequently hit. The stream of bullets passing overhead was enormous; it is no exaggeration to say that tons of lead were thrown away for every life taken. Leaves, twigs and bark dropped from the trees, severed by passing balls, and the men often exhibited their clothing torn by the flying missiles. One instance occurs to me of a round hole perforated in the middle of a newspaper, in the hands of its reader. The Rebels readily admitted, upon the termination of the siege, that our sharpshooters had done remarkable execution. Many of their large guns were dismounted by our artillerists; my attention was afterward called to one from which the trunnion had been shaved as cleanly as if with a chisel.
Thus the siege "dragged its slow length." No nearer approaches had been made by engineering; Banks had thus far trusted to the weight of his metal, and the hope of starving out the enemy, for final success. One day there came an order to suspend all firing, and a party of officers with a white flag went over into the debatable ground, where they were met by another party from the opposite lines. The rifle-pits were speedily relinquished, arms laid aside, and the combatants crowded the parapets, eyeing the proceedings with the curiosity of deep interest. Something unusual was evidently going forward. Presently the grotesque side of the soldier's nature came uppermost, and colloquies like the following were exchanged all along the line:

Blues—Halloa, there, you Rebels! Wouldn't you like a trip to Mississippi, for your health?
Grays—We're very well off here. How's Banks? And when are you coming over here?
Blues—Sooner than you'll want to see us. Wouldn't you like some coffee? —(an article unknown in their Commissary Department.)
Grays—Coffee be !How's Joe Hooker since Chancellorsville?
Blues—Much better than Dick Taylor was after Bisland and Irish Bend. Do you get your mail regular?
The truce lasted two hours; and then the rifle-pits were repopulated, and the work of war resumed. But there was a meaning in that flag, which some of us conjectured before night. It was discussed in the pits, between the strokes of the ramrod, and officers lying beneath shady trees in the blistering heat of that afternoon speculated upon it. By and by somebody came to tell us of -whispers that had been overheard at Division Headquarters, or what had been confided to somebody by the clerks that copied the orders. The night came—the still, solemn night, with its blazonry of stars, shining as they only do in the low latitudes; and with it the Sergeant-Major, to inform the officers that the Colonel desired to see them all, immediately. We gathered before his tent-fly, stretched under the trees, and listened breathlessly to the intelligence which he gave us, emphasized now and then by the sullen roar of one of the Indiana thirty-twos from the hill above. We learned that the flag that morning had covered a demand from Banks to Gardner, for the immediate surrender of Port Hudson, and that the latter had responded that he considered it his duty to hold the place to the last extremity. An assault had been determined upon for the next day, Sunday, June 14th, before daylight. The blow was to be struck neir the northeastern angle, where our artillerists had dismounted every Rebel gun. Weitzel's division was to lead, with the old brigade, the General's first command, in advance. Our Colonel had been over to reconnoitre the ground, and he described it minutely. A sheltered road had been cut around the base of the hill upon which the angle we were to assault was built, and we should be able to rush from shelter directly upon the works. The Seventy-fifth Now York were to advance as skirmishers; the Ninety-first New York Were to close in rapidly with hand-grenades, and drive the Rebels back from the angle; the Twenty-fourth Connecticut were next to rush forward and fill up the ditch with cotton bags; and then the balance of Weitzel's old brigade—the Eighth Vermont, the One Hundred and Fourteenth and One Hundred and Sixtieth New York, must scale the works, attack with the bayonet, and fight vigorously till the whole division could be poured in. A foothold inside was all that was required; there was to be a simultaneous attack at another point close by, and the weight of the attack was to be concentrated at whichever should be found most vulnerable; while Dwight and Augur were to distract the attention of the enemy from the real attack, ty continuous feinting on the right. Such, in brief, was the plan; and the General was confident of success. He had told our Colonel that he should attend church in Port Hudson the next day.

The breathless interest of the school-boy hangs with an imaginative rapture over the night before a battle. Make a soldier of your school-boy, with a soldier's training, and he will find that the reality is a stern, simple one, divested of all romance. In the silence of the next hour I called my company together, and told them that on the morrow we were to be called upon for the soldier's gravest duty; that I knew they would perform it well, at whatever cost, and that they must endeavor to sleep in the few hours which would intervene. They heard me very quietly, and went back to their rest upon breaking ranks. They were all young, some quite boyish, and most of them had left pleasant homes among the hills of Central New York to fight for the flag. God only knows the emotions that thronged upon the hearts of the thousands within our lines that night who knew what their part must be in the bloody work of the morrow; the Omniscient alone can tell what tender faces flitted across their slumbers, or what memories of a happy past flooded them. I noticed that many left pictures and letters with those whose duty was to detain them in the rifle-pits; and here and there was a small group whispering in subdued tones. Yet soldiers are more than any other men creatures of habit, and even the shadow of a coming battle cannot deprive them of sleep. We slept that night peacefully and sweetly; but we are told that travellers have lain down by the crater of an uneasy volcano, and slept while the earth beneath them was heaving and shaking with the throes of the coming eruption.
The sleepers were quietly aroused at one o'clock; there was neither reveille nor any unnecessary noise to break the stillness of that early Sabbath morning. Coffee had been prepared, and was taken; belts were buckled, cartridgeboxes settled into place, canteens slung, and the companies formed at shouldered arms. The stars were still in the sky, but there were also clouds, and the faces of the men were distinguishable from each other only upon close inspection. The roll-call was not loud, but under the breath, and what little conversation was necessary was spoken in a low tone. Heavy details had been made to man the rifle-pits, and they had already moved into them. The companies filed into a ravine near regimental headquarters, one by one; the battalion was formed, the field officers joined it, dismounted, and the column moved out. The brigade was in motion by two o'clock, as a unit, the regiments promptly falling into column. Then there was a halt of half an hour or more near division headquarters, and there the whole attacking column was organized. A few lights shone faintly through the leafy screen, and I fancied that final words were being spoken, and cautious advice was repeated. The word "Forward!" was spoken from mouth to mouth, and the column took the route-step, marching by fours. The step was not hurried; there was ample time to reach the scene of operations before daylight, and there were occasional halts to be made, to allow troops collected ahead of us to clear the road. Most of the way was through thick woods, with gullies and ravines now and then to be crossed. There was not light enough to reveal the depth of the column; but muffled footfalls could be heard far back to the rear, and we could distinguish a mass of dimly-defined figures filling the road in front, all moving on with a steady tramp toward the scene of the approaching conflict. In many places arms were stacked among the trees, and the soldiers who bore them, probably the reserves, lined the road, and peered curiously into the faces of the passing column. They well knew whither we were bound; and sometimes the sympathetic question greeted us, " what regiment, boys—what regiment?" A slight wind stirred as the morning advanced, just enough to move the branches overhead, and the air was cool and pleasant. There was little noise to break the stillness of those most silent hours; the joke and laugh of the long march had no place here; we moved on steadily, silently, almost funereally; and a curious observer might have fancied that he beheld a phantom host sweeping through the forest. "No cymbal clashed, no clarion rung, Still wore the fife and drum." The distance marched that morning was several miles, by a sinuous path which skirted our position toward the left, and then opened into the Bayou Sara road, leading directly into Port Hudson. The column filed to the right upon reaching this road, and advanced a short distance directly to the front. A thick growth of timber bordered it upon the right, and more reserves were crowded by it. It had grown less dark within half an hour, although there was some little time yet before the first light of morning, and two hours intervened before sunrise. A thin, almost transparent mist from the river filled the air, as if to keep back still longer the light that must look upon human bloodshed. By the side of the road some of us distinguished Generals Grover and Weitzel talking earnestly together, with frequent gestures toward the front. A little further on, a wide ravine intersected the road, which had been hastily bridged over for the more expeditious passage of the troops; and very few eyes failed to observe that the planking had been thickly lined with cotton, which entirely deadened the noise of our feet. It was a significant sign of the immediate vicinity of the enemy; and from this point the excitement of the morning fairly begun. Filing sharp to the right after crossing the bridge, the column plunged into a thick wood—traversed it—and emerged upon the other side in view of the Rebel position. Daylight was hardly with us yet: but there was a translucent gray in the atmosphere which was the prelude of dawn, and which obscured objects without concealing them. A musket-shot, a single report from far up the road, sent a thrill through the ranks, and the whispered comment, "The Seventy-fifth are in !" passed from lip to lip. I consulted my watch: the hour was just five o'clock. A series of low, irregular hills was before us, almost above us, covered with earthworks, within which still slumbered the unsuspicious enemy, not yet aware of our presence. Far over to the right the hills were higher, and were partially vailed in the exhalations of the morning; our own position which we had left three hours before. As we looked, another musket-shot sounded above us, apparently from the other side of the nearest hill, and immediately followed the sharp, irregular crack and clatter of the skirmishers' rifles. They seemed to be the preconcerted signal for the unleashing of all the furies of battle. The hills on our right, far as we could see, suddenly glowed with flame, and the uproar of fifty guns burst upon us, while shells and grape flew over the Rebel works with a combination of such devilish noises as are only heard in the infernal regions, or in a battle. Every discharge rent the misty cloak which shrouded the hills, and long, bright tongues of flame devoured the obscurity with an effect that instantly suggested that remarkable line of Campbell's " Hohenlinden :"

"Far flashed the red artillery." The echoes of the cannonade rolled in endless reverberations through the ravines, and the unremitting crashing of musketry from the rifle-pits filled up every pause in this fearful chorus. The sunken road referred to in a previous paragraph was cut closely around the hill whose base we had reached, and wound in a semicircle up toward the summit. It must have been two hundred yards in length, and was excavated to a depth of seven feet. There had been a brief halt at the edge of the wood for some purpose; but the column now moved rapidly forward, and as my regiment entered the shelter of the road, I heard the clear voice of the General shouting the order,
"Fix bayonets!"
There was no halt made for this purpose; the order had hardly been executed before another came.
"Forward—double-quick—march 1"
The murmur which precedes a cheer was running through the column, when it was suddenly brought to a stand-still, and at the same instant a clamor of shouts and cries burst forth from the hill overhead, mingled with an incessant rattle of small-arms. And now commenced one of those sickening, disheartening delays, which are, if possible, more painful to bear than the horrors of the fight itself. The road was quite narrow; a group of fours filled it from side to side. Struggling to urge forward the men in front of us, we tried in vain to press on. Shouts came from the rear, " For God's sake, don't stop now; go on, and let us get through with it!" and the invariable answer was returned: "We can't; the fighting up in front has choked up the road." In a few moments an impulse was given, and the column slowly moved on again. A few rods more brought us to the deepest part of the road, so that all view of the scene of the conflict was shut out from us. As we progressed with fettered feet and swelling hearts, we could still see the flash of the guns along our lines, and their shells went low over our heads, in several cases inflicting wounds in the assaulting column. Every gun, great and small, around Port Hudson, united in this tumult of destruction, and the blended sounds of the strife were indescribable. Whoever attempts to portray a scene like this will be painfully reminded of the utter inadequacy of mere words and phrases to do it justice. Of all discords that ever violated the repose of nature, that of a battle is the worst. It is simply a hell on earth. And what Victor Hugo calls the quid obscurum of battles, seems to me to be the whole of a battle. It is all doubtful—all rush, and roar, and tumult, until the decisive point is turned by one side or the other; except perhaps that it may be clear enough to the Napoleonic genius that can "ride the whirlwind and direct the storm."
Step by step, little by little, the column struggled upward. The crash of musketry overhead was redoubled, and the bullets now and then buried themselves deep in the face of the cutting, or whistled sharply overhead. Shells from our batteries were bursting painfully near us, and flying fragments passed through the ranks. The wounded began to stream down from the front; the faces of friends whom we knew in other regiments flitted by like phantom visions in a dream—all white and contorted with the agony of wounds, and some covered with blood.
"Heavy work for you, boys, up yonder!" I heard a familiar voice say. The speaker was Captain S——, of the Seventy-fifth. He recognized us as he went by, and tried hard to smile; but his right hand was grasping his left arm, which a bullet had shattered, and pain was written in every lineament of his face. There was no way for the wounded to leave the field other than by this same road, and they hurried past us with dripping wounds, some able to walk, and others supported by their friends, with many of whom, no doubt, anxiety for their own personal safety was quite as strong a motive as humanity. No artist has ever yet placed, upon canvas a battle-picture so suggestive, so absolutely startling, as that narrow cut just then presented. It was the ebb and flow of battle compressed into a space of six feet in width; two human currents were setting past each other—one strong and vigorous, making all haste to reach the scene of action, the other feeble and halting, limping back to the rear in a ghastly procession, which warned us of the reception which we were to meet.

And still the column pressed upward, while every eye was bent anxiously forward to catch the first view of the position. It was no time for the exhibition of enthusiasm; nobody failed to understand that the assault was being furiously pressed, without an inch of advantage to us thus far. I looked at the faces of those about me, and saw that they perfectly understood it. There were some boyish faces there that were quite pale, and the bearded ones wore a look which was almost one of suffering; but one and all were silently nerving their hearts for the torment, and they kept right on. Piling to the left, we passed under the prostrate trunk of a tree, lying across the cut, the way narrowing here so that the files were undoubled, and the men were obliged to stoop half way to the earth to pass the obstacle. General Weitzel's Aides were endeavoring to make their way on foot through the dense mass, cow up toward the front, and again back to the rear. And during all this time the crash of small-arms in advance grew sharper, and the yells of the combatants were louder and more startling.
It must have been more than half an hour from the time that my regiment entered the sunken road until it emerged from the other extremity under fire.
The sound of the strife rolled down from above in an increasing tumult; the bullets fell thicker into the road; the air was mingled with noises of battle. The sides of the cut began to slope toward the level of our feet; two rods more, and we were out of the covered way. There was an abrupt ucent, then a small area of rough, uneven ground, then a ditch, seven feet deep, and quite as wide, while beyond all rose a perpendicular earthwork, not less than twelve feet above the ditch, built in the form of a retreating angle. Here was the point chosen for the assault, and before it was being enacted a scene of slaughter replete with all the horrors of a close and desperate fight. There was not. sufficient ground to allow a regiment to deploy to advantage; as fast as they were unmasked from the cut, the companies rushed with a shout up the ascent, across the intervening ground, and into the ditch. From the parapet of the Rebel work came a continual flash of rifles—not in volleys, but in an irregular burst which never ceased while the attack lasted. The Rebels were entirely sheltered behind their defences; hardly a head was to be seen above the parapet. The open space before the work was strewn with soldiers in blue, dead, dying, and severely wounded; they lay among the bushes, on the hillside, and covered the bottom of that awful ditch, yawning like a grave, at the foot of the work. For a whole hour there waa a continued repetition of this scene; a yell, a rush, shouts, musket shots, cries and groans. The ditch was at last filled with the living and the dead; the former striving, within six yards of the muzzles of the Rebel rifles, to climb the face of the earthwork, and continually dropping back, with bullet-holes perforated clear through their bodies. The cotton bags, which were intended to fill up the ditch, were scattered over the ground before it, with their bearers, in some cases, crouching for shelter behind them. The hand-grenades, upon which much reliance had been placed, exploded harmlessly against the face of the work. Wounded men were killed while trying to crawl beyond the range of the fire, or lay helpless under it, unable to hazard the attempt. The contracted space before the ditch was swept with rifle balls and buckshot; every repetition of the assault was met by the same murderous discharge, covering the ground thickly with its victims, and adding to the horrors of the scene. The air rang with shouts, groans and imprecations; there was a Babel of noise, an Aceldama of destruction.

The close of the first hour, when the east was reddening with sunrise, found the regiments scattered and broken up in hopeless confusion. All that desperate courage could do had been essayed to no purpose, except to show that the assault could not succeed. Charge after charge had been made and repulsed; the ditch was an obstacle which could not be overcome, and most of those who reached it unhurt were shot down in the attempt to return. Of my own regiment, one-third was placed hors du combat; three officers, including the Colonel, were mortally, and four others severely hurt; and other regiments suffered proportionately. The day was virtually decided against us by sunrise, although the troops were not withdrawn for some hours afterward, but lay prone to the earth, behind logs, stumps and ridges, discharging their rifles over the top of the work, and occasionally picking off an exposed head. Even dead bodies were made shelters for the living, and soldiers fired from behind their slain comrades. As the troops crowded up from the rear, they were sent forward to join in this bush-fighting; but there was no serious demonstration made after the sun was an hour high. The battle was lost and the blood shed before sunrise; but while it lasted there were deeds of conspicuous bravery exhibited which the annals of the war can hardly surpass. Upon the first charge of my own regiment, .the color-guard was almost destroyed; the color-bearer was killed, and but two or three of the nine escaped with slight wounds. As the regiment fell back to reform, the flag was left, in the confusion of the moment, on the top of a ridge, exposed to the enemy's fire. It was saved by the gallantry of Private George Collins, of Company D, who crept to the spot and brought it away under a shower of balls. One year later, the same brave fellow fell at Winchester, faithful to his duty to the last. There was no lack of daring, and the long columns of the dead list showed how lavishly some of the best blood of the North was expended in that fruitless attack.
There was no bravery more conspicuous, nor were any sufferings more fearful, or any endurance stouter, during, and after, this assault, than those of Brigadier-General Halbert E. Paine,* who led his brigade in a charge across a field at another point of attack. Struck down by a Mini6 ball which shattered his leg, he lay on the field after his command was compelled to fall back, for fourteen hours, in the blistering sun, exposed to a continual fire from the works, and enduring such torments from thirst, heat, and swarms of insects, as can scarcely be comprehended. A full dozen of the brave fellows of this brigade were killed and wounded while trying to bring him water; and, finally, after nightfall, he was carried from the field more dead than alive. His leg was afterward amputated. It would be hard to conceive of more acute tortures than the wounded in this assault endured, who were compelled to lie where they fell until darkness shielded the succoring parties sent from
•Representative in the present Congress from the Milwaukee District of Wisconsin.

our lines. Death on the battle-field in such a situation is sternly stripped of all its romantic glories, and tenfold horrors superadded.
All the morning, while there was work to do, stretchers and ambulances were busy bearing back the wounded to the field-hospital, a mile to the rear. The sights and sounds of that place will scarcely bear description. A large enclosure of bare ground, surrounded with branches, was crowded in every part with the victims of the fight, the number constantly increasing. The surgeons were busy at their sickening work, and a chaplain was also there, striving to soothe the sufferers. Some were quiet, as if unconscious of the approach of death; some were writhing with pain, but laboring hard to suppress any audible tokens of it; others, entirely unnerved with pain and apprehension, shouted, blasphemed,or prayed in frantic tones. Some expired under the knife; some died before the surgeon could reach them, and others were carried from the table, groaning with their agony, to make room for new arrivals from the front. It was a scene too painful in its details to be dwelt upon.
The assault failed at all points; there was the same story throughout of desperate, reckless daring, and unavailing slaughter. Our losses in killed and wounded were not less than twelve hundred; those of the Rebels were slight, owing to their protected situation, and it is supposed that less than one hundred fell inside their works. On the second day after the fight, a truce was agreed upon for the purpose of burying the dead. Several hundreds were buried where they fell, many of them so blackened by exposure as to be past recognition.
The end came at last—but not then. It came twenty-five days later, after patient endurance, and saps, and mines, and starvation had accomplished the work that mere bravery could not—after Vicksburg had gone down before the genius of Grant, and Port Hudson was driven to sullen capitulation. It came on the 9th of July, when, with drums beating and banners flying, our victorious soldiers marched unchallenged into the enemy's works, and the long line of Rebel muskets were grounded before them. It came to us who did not witness the glory of that closing scene—to us who wrestled with death in the crowded wards of the Baton Rouge and New Orleans hospitals, steeling our hearts to the agony of terrible wounds as we lay on beds of suffering. There were dying eyes which grew brighter, and cheeks, white with the pallor of dissolution, into which the blood leaped once more as the cry ran through the ward, "Port Hudson has fallen!" And we who finally rose from the hospital pallets, whole of our hurts and preserved for still graver fortunes of the war—we, too, rejoiced to know that our toils, our perils, and our sufferings had not been in vain.
James Franklin Fitts.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Colonel Charles Cooper Nott, 176th New York "First Impression"


Image of Colonel Charles Cooper Nott, 176th New York


Colonel Charles Cooper Nott of the 176th New York wrote an account of his experience in Louisiana and Texas in 1863 titled Sketches in Prison Camps: A Continuation of Sketches of the War.




An interesting angle to the war are Yankees' first impression of Louisiana. Nott provides a detailed account of South Louisiana in 1863 on pages 25-28 of his Sketches in Prison Camps:


WESTWARD from New Orleans stretches the Opelousas railroad, and along this road we are now doing guard duty. Guarding a railroad is the most unwelcome task that can be thrust on the Colonel of a new regimentscattering the companies, demoralizing the men, destroying the regiment, and therefore a Colonel, under such circumstances, has a right to be a little discontented, and very cross...Up the neighboring bayou of La Fourche, too, come miniature canalboats, tugged along by little creole ponies, and laden with fish and oysters, which the swarthy French fishermen catch in the not distant Gulf. The surrounding woods are filled with game that finds its way constantly to camp, and from every one of the large plantations
Page  26that abound here, are brought vegetables, eggs and poultry. Yet I do not relish this ease and indolencethe rough cavalry service suits me better, and I wish a hundred times a day that I were back in Tennessee. It is the spring-time of the year, yet there is but little of the reality of spring to us. The grass has long been green, the flowers are plentiful, the sun is hot and burning, but the leaves come leisurely along, and for a fortnight have only moved. These flowers, too, have generally no fragrance, though now and then there is one that overpowers us with its sweet, sickening odor, and the birds that fill the trees are songless, save the "merry mocking-bird," who, like the perfume-giving flowers, has more than his share of noise and song. There is, therefore, none of the glad bursting forth that makes so brief and beautiful our northern spring. This is a muster-day in the army, and it is the forerunner of the Pay-MIaster. I have been busy since daybreak calling the rolls of the companies along the railroad, and I have now to ride twelve miles and muster one that is doing Provost guard duty in the village of Houma. It is not a pleasant ride to Houma; the road runs along a bayou, as straight and stagnant as a canal. Occasionally there comes a boat, freighted with a dozen barrels of molasses or a few hogsheads of sugar, furrowing its way through the green scum that covers the water, and breaking down the rank-growing weeds that choke the channel. The vagabond-looking ponies that drag it along, travel on the "levee," which has the
Page  27appearance of a tow-path, and makes the bayou look more than ever like a canal. This bayou, is a hideous frog-pond, long drawn out, filled with black, slimy mud, and teeming with hideous reptiles. My horse starts as I ride beside it, and snuffs the tainted air nervously, for two turkey-buzzards fly up from the huge carcass of an alligator, and alight close beside me on the fence. Two more remain on the alligator, gorged so that they cannot rise. Their rough, dirty feathers remind one of the uncombed locks of a city scavenger. No one ever shoots them, but draws back and says, with unconcealed disgust. " What a foul bird that is." Yet on the other side of the road, spreading back to the poisonous swamps in the rear, lie some of the rich plantations of Louisiana. There are the sugar-houses, with their heavy brick chimneys, as large and clumsy as those of a foundry; and near by stand the planter's house, the overseer's house, the engineer's house, and a little village of contraband cabins. The vast fields are cut up into square blocks by ditches, sometimes ten feet deep, reminding one of the graded lots in the outskirts of a city. On one side of each range of these blocks is a raised plantation road, which crosses the ditches on substantial bridges, and runs, perhaps for miles, arrow-like, as a railroad. It is probable that the plantation is surrounded by a levee, to keep the water out. The large ditches then empty into a canal, and at the end of this canal will be found a " pumping machine," driven by a steam engine. which pumps the plantation dry and keeps
Page  28it above water. Such wealthful agriculture we have nowhere in the North. The broad, dull thoroughfare on which I ride is an unpleasant contrast to the shaded bridle-roads of Tennessee. Yet it furnishes our only ride, and for twelve miles there is but one turn-off, or intersecting road, and not one hill or hollow. So far as the eye can reach in all directions-so far as one call ride on any road he may choose to take, is one weary, continuing, unbroken flatness. I feel a constant longing to mount a hill, and often have to repress an impulse to climb a tree, where I can look around and breathe a little freer air. Houma looks somewhat like a deserted village. The shops are shut, many of the houses empty, and the scowling people wear an idle, listless air. The:re is no love lost between them and the troops. Some months ago a few sick soldiers of the Twenty-First Indiana were massacred not far from the village, and it was done by some of the most "' respectable " planters. I believe all of the guilty parties escaped to the enemy's lines, except one, and he, poor wretch, lived for months in the gloomy swamps near us, a fiightened maniac. His body was lately found, showing that he had lain down, worn out and sick, and died alone in the dreary solitude. In one of these deserted houses I find my officers established, and after finishing the muster of their company, I spend with them a pleasant evening and quiet night. Another dull and solitary ride carries me back to my headquarters...

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