Sunday, November 3, 2013


The Battle of Bayou Bourbeau (Grand Coteau), Louisiana, Nov. 3, 1863
(Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper)

The Battle of Bayou Bourbeau

November 3, 1863
near Opelousas, Louisiana

(Excerpted from The Campaigns of Walker’s Texas Division by J.P. Blessington, 1875)

On the evening of the 2d November, Colonel Roberts re-
ceived orders from General Green to report with his brigade
at his headquarters, near Opelousas, on the following morning.
After a tiresome and laborious tramp, they marched through
the town of Opelousas to the tune of " Dixie," as daylight was
dawning, on the morning of the 3d. They halted near Gen-
eral Green's headquarters to cook breakfast. After breakfast,
a general advance of the cavalry and infantry forces was or-
dered by General Green. On arriving within three miles of
the enemy's camp they halted to rest. While the troops were
Brig. Gen. Tom Green
resting, General Green held a consultation with his field-
officers, after informing them that General Dick Taylor had
ordered him to attack the enemy's rearguard, then encamped
on the west bank of Bayou Bourbeaux (Boggy Creek), eight
miles south of Opelousas. Close by the enemy's camp was a
skirt of timber, about six hundred yards wide, running
through the prairie. A large body of the enemy, consisting
of part of the 13th Army Corps, under command of General
Burbridge, were encamped : their forces consisted of about
five or six thousand veteran troops of the Northwest. They
were the rearguard of Franklin's army, who were encamped
four miles further south, on Carrion-Crow Bayou. The road
from Opelousas to the enemy's camp led southward, along the
western side of the skirt of timber, for a mile or more, and
then turned abruptly eastward through the skirt of timber
and across the bayou, where there were several bridges, and
then on southward, through the prairie, to Carrion-Crow Bayou.
The Federal rearguard camps were situated about two or
three hundred yards south from the point where the road
turned eastward to cross the bayou.

The plan of the battle adopted by General Green and his
officers was as follows : Colonel O. M. Roberts, with his in-
fantry brigade, was to move southward upon the enemy,
under shelter of the timber, between the bayou and the road,
driving back the pickets and outposts. The brigade of Par-
tisan Rangers, under command of Colonel Majors, were to
exhibit themselves in line of battle on the prairie eastward, in
sight of the enemy, so as to attract their attention in that
direction. Colonel Bagby's brigade of cavalry, accompanied
by the Valverde Battery (I believe) and General Green, was
 to advance from the northwest, towards the enemy's camp ;
dismount, give the signal, by filing cannon, for the fight to
commence, and, as soon as practicable, form a line on the
right of the infantry. Colonel Majors' rangers were to
advance upon the enemy, so as to fall in on the right of
Bagby's brigade, and to act in conjunction with or in support
of the dismounted cavalry and infantry, in what was intended
to be an almost simultaneous concentration and dash of all
of Green's forces upon the enemy's camp. The plan was
then and there formed impromptu by General Green, who,
when asked by one of his field-officers, "How many of the
enemy do we attack to-day?" replied, "I do not know the
number, but I do know that there are not too many for us to
attack." (We had no reserve force.) The officers having been
informed of their respective duties, and having made the
arrangements and preparations for a battle which was then
certain to come off, each brigade moved off to assume the
position and perform the part assigned to it. The infantry
brigade was formed in line of battle, in the following manner :
The 15th T. V Infantry, commanded by Colonel James H.
Harrison, took their position on the right of the brigade ;
the 18th T. V Infantry, commanded by Colonel King, was
assigned the center, and the 11th T. Y Infantry, commanded
by Lieutenant-Colonel James H. Jones, took their position
Col. O.M. Roberts led his
Infantry Brigade into the
Battle. (Texas Preservation
on the left of the brigade. Very soon our infantry skirmish-
ers came upon our cavalry pickets, who were amusing them-
selves, as it were, in shooting down a wide lane, one and a
half miles long, at the enemy's pickets, who were filing back
in return. The infantry skirmishers continued to advance,
followed by the brigade. Majors' cavalry had already gone on
towards their position, and here Bagby's cavalry turned off
obliquely to the right. General Green and staff followed
after. General Green, beholding his cavalry pickets wasting
their ammunition without any effect, at once ordered Colonel
Roberts to clear the lane. That heroic and indefatiga-
ble officer, who was on his way home to recover his
broken health, hearing that his regiment was ordered to the
front, hurriedly returned to lead his gallant men to victory.
Though very pale and feeble, his dark eye was lit up by mar-
tial music; his frail form appeared full of vigor and vitality.
Imagine the old veteran colonel of Walker's Division at the
head of his column, with his sword drawn, gallantly leading
his men to victory ! Soon the lane was cleared of the enemy,
driving them before him. After getting through the lane, he
formed his men in line of battle, in the edge of the timber,
and moved steadily forward, driving the enemy's outposts into
their camp. Seeing some trees cut down near the camp, he
anticipated that probably the enemy might have some
masked batteries behind the trees; he halted his brigade a
few moments, until he could learn the facts. Hearing from
his sharpshooters, who were some distance in advance of his
brigade, that no artillery was placed behind the trees, he
ordered his brigade to advance in the direction of the enemy's
camp. Nearing the enemy's camp, he beheld them in line of
battle, ready to give the Texans a warm reception on their
arrival. Nearer his brigade advances, showing a bold and
solid front to the enemy. His sharpshooters fire, and stop
to reload again; then moving forward, nearing their camp,
they meet with a large body of the enemy. Upon which
they fall back gradually, and rejoin their command. Soon
the war-worn old veteran gave the command, in his
sonorous voice, ''Charge them, boys!" which was quickly
done, notwithstanding the enemy was formed in a ravine, an-
ticipating a charge from the Texans. They placed their ar-
tillery so as to bear on our troops, from the edge of their
camp. Fortunately, their shots passed over our men, doing
no harm. In the meantime a large body of the enemy's cav-
alry had been forming to charge our infantry in their rear, by
forcing the passage of the bridges, in opposition to a force
under Major Carroway, of the 11th T. V Infantry, who had
been sent there by Colonel Roberts, aided by a cavalry com-
pany, under Captain Jack Waterhouse. Now the battle raged
in all its fury. All of the field-officers, except Colonel Rob-
erts dismounted and led their commands with undaunted
firmness. The voices of the brave officers, encouraging
their men, could be heard, loud and distinct, amidst the crash
and roar of a continued fire of small arms and artillery. Men
fell thick and fast on both sides. Here it was that the gal-
lant Captain Stillwell, of the 11th T. V Infantry, fell mortally
wounded, and Captain Richard Coke, the "nonpareil" officer
of the 15th T. Y Infantry, while in the act of leading his
men, was seriously wounded. The dashing Captain Christian,
Adjutant of the 11th T. V Infantry, was also seriously wounded;
and the old veteran commander, Colonel Roberts, had his horse
shot while cheering on his troops. The same misfortune
happened to two of his acting aid-de-camps. Captain J. E.
Hart, of General Green's Staff, and Major Carroway, who had
just arrived from the bridge they were ordered to defend, in-
formed Colonel Roberts, personally, that unless they got rein-
forcements immediately it would be doubtful whether they
would be able to hold the bridge longer than fifteen minutes,
as the enemy's cavalry was preparing to carry it by storm.
Colonel Roberts informed them that, under the circumstances,
he could not withdraw any of his forces then engaged with
the enemy, to aid or assist them; he would communicate
the facts to General Green as soon as possible; in the mean-
time giving them to understand that the bridge must be held
by them at all hazards, and that he was then fighting the
enemy under great disadvantage. Colonel Roberts expected
that all of General Green's troops would attack the enemy
about the same time. From some cause the cavalry did not
arrive until about fifteen minutes after the infantry was
engaged. Those two heroic officers returned to their com-
mand, determined to hold the bridge at any sacrifice. It was
certain that unless Colonel Roberts should be reinforced, his
brigade would be lost ; but, as the column of cavalry dashed
madly forward, led by the heroic Majors and Bagby, and
came in range of the enemy, their guns vomited among them
a storm of bullets. The infantry firing ceases a few minutes.
The command is given : " Fix bayonets ! forward ! double-
quick ! " when the whole line, in perfect order, as if on parade,
responded by a simultaneous shout, and rushed upon the enemy,
driving them "pell-mell" over their camp-ground. "With their
lines broken, and they fleeing in disorder, the cavalry sweeps
down upon their flanks, giving time for the infantry to breathe
a few moments. But the ever-keen eye of the infantry brig-
ade beheld part of the enemy's cavalry still in his rear, and
still held in check by Major Carroway and Captain Hart. He
gave the command, " Right-about face ; forward march !" Few
of the officers or men anticipating any further danger from
the enemy, they kept talking at the top of their voices, as they
advanced over the ground they had previously charged over.
Soon they came upon the enemy's cavalry, who were killed or
taken prisoners in a few minutes' time. So sanguine were
the enemy of success that they formed a line covering the
entire length of our rear, and were busily engaged in running
off stragglers and wounded men that had fallen out of our
lines, and were quietly awaiting our defeat, to capture our
forces in their retreat. Just at that point of time General
Green appeared on the field, much surprised in seeing the
position of our infantry, until it was explained to him why
the infantry brigade was turned in that direction. Our artil-
lery did good service across the bayou, in firing upon the
scattered troops of the enemy, as they were retreating south-
ward across the prairie. All this time, however, the arms of
Col. James Patrick Major
Majors' and Bagby's brigades were resounding in the dis-
tance, as they pursued the retreating foe. Some of the ene-
my's artillery that escaped returned the fire, and an artillery
duel ensued, which effected but little on either side, and
ceased in an hour, when our forces were ordered back to
camp, near Opelousas. The enemy came out in force, and
their cavalry followed our forces several miles towards our

This battle, from the first to the last firing, lasted fully
three hours. It is impossible, in a short sketch of this kind,
to do justice to the gallant conduct of the officers and men.
It would afford the writer great pleasure to do so. Our forces
lost, in the infantry brigade, twenty-one killed; wounded,
eighty-two; taken prisoners, thirty eight. Our cavalry and
artillery lost in killed, three ; wounded, twenty. We cap-
tured about six hundred prisoners, and killed and wounded
about two hundred. Most of the prisoners were captured by
the cavalry, and, doubtless, many feats of bravery were per-
formed by them on that occasion, which would deserve a com-
mendable notice if they could be detailed.

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