Saturday, October 26, 2013


The Battle of Buzzard's Prairie, Louisiana. The Chretien Point plantation
can be seen in the distance. (Frank Leslie's Illustrated News)

By Mike Jones
          The Battle of Buzzard's Prairie occurred on October 15, 1863 on the grounds  of Chretien Point Plantation near modern day Sunset, Louisiana. It was part of the Great Texas Overland Expedition in the fall of that year when the occupying Federal Army in New Orleans was trying to invade Texas across the Cajun prairies and bayous of Southwest Louisiana.
          The expedition force in this battle was made up of part of Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Bank's Army of the Gulf and led in the field by Maj. Gen. William B. Franklin. Opposing the invaders was the Confederate cavalry division of Brig. Gen. Thomas Green. The three Federal divisions in the battle were those of Brig. Gen. Stephen Burbridge's 4th Division, 13th Corps, men from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Wisconsin and Kentucky; Brig. Gen. Godfrey Weitzel's 1st Division, 19th Corps, men from New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut  and Vermont; and Brig. Gen. Cuvier Grover's 3rd Division, 19th Corps, men from New York, Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire.
          The Confederate force was made up of Green's Cavalry Division, including the 1st Cavalry Brigade of Col. Arthur P. Bagby, including the 4th, 5th and 7th Texas Cavalry regiments; 2nd Cavalry Regiment (Arizona brigade); 13th Texas "Horse" Battalion; 2nd Louisiana Cavalry and the Valverde Battery. Also in the division was the 2nd Cavalry Brigade of Col. John P. Major, made up of the  1st Regiment (Lane's) Partisan Rangers; 3rd Regiment (Arizona brigade) Partisan Rangers; 6th Regiment (Stone's) Partisan Rangers; and Capt. Oliver Semmes' 1st Confederate Battery.
         The battlefield was an open prairie in front of the Chretien plantation, near Bayou Bourbeau, and the road from Opelousas to Vermilionville (modern day Lafayette). The Federals had been camped the previous night, stretched across the road and along Bayou Carencro. Green had moved up the previous day and camped his division behind Bayou Bourbeau and along the plantation road.

Col. W.P. Hardeman
4th Texas Cavalry
(Photographic History
of the Civil War)
      Early in the morning of the 15th of October, Green advanced the 4th, 5th and 7th Texas cavalry regiments to a plantation fence bordering the prairie. He placed Semmes' Battery on the left and the Valverde Battery on the right. Col. William Polk "Gotch" Hardeman of the 4th Texas, led a contingent of skirmisher, made up of one company from each regiment, out onto the prairie the lure the Federals into attacking the strong Confederate position. General Franklin took the bait and ordered out Weitzel's Division to attack across the open prairie, supported by artillery batteries. Advancing in full battle order with flags flying, the Federals crossed the prairie and easily pushed the Confederate skirmishers back to the fence line.
       The horse soldiers of the 4th, 5th and 7th Texas cavalry regiments then made a wild dash and full-throated "Rebel Yell" on the right of Weitzel's line.  The soldiers from New York and Massachusetts became panic-stricken and the  Yankee right collapsed. Coming to the rescue for the Federals was Lt. William Marland of Nim's Battery who stopped the rout and drove the Confederates back with grape and cannister, as well as exploding an ammunition chest of Semmes' Battery.
       The battle then settled into an exchange of musket and cannon fire that lasted several hours. While the Federals had overwhelming numbers, Franklin didn't order another full strength attack until about 10 o'clock that morning, led by the Mid-Westerners of Burbridge's Brigade. The Confederates withdrew behind Bayou Bourbeau while Hardeman had the 7th Texas Cavalry slow down the Yankees from concealed positions, around the Chretien Plantation. The 7th then wirthdrew across the bayou and the 4th and 5th Texas began skirmishing with the Mid-Westerners to slow their advance. Green's men were driven off, but he accomplished his goal of taking the measure of the Federal Army's strength. 

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