Tuesday, April 8, 2014

150-years-ago -- RED RIVER CAMPAIGN -- The Battle of Mansfield, La., April 8, 1864.

[Excerpted from Destruction and Reconstruction by Richard Taylor, pages 161-165]
(Official Records)

        General Churchill, commanding the Missouri-Arkansas troops at Keachi, was ordered to march for Mansfield at dawn of the 8th, and advised that a battle was impending. My medical director was instructed to prepare houses in the village for hospitals, and quartermasters were told to collect supplies and park surplus wagons. An officer with a small guard was selected to preserve order in the town, and especially among the wagoners, always disposed to "stampede." Walker and Mouton were ordered to move their divisions in the morning, ready for action, to the position selected; and a staff officer was sent to Green, with instructions to leave a small force in front of the enemy, and before dawn withdraw to the appointed ground. These arrangements made, a dispatch was sent to General Kirby Smith at Shreveport, informing him that I had returned from the front, found the enemy advancing in force, and would give battle on the following day, April 8, 1864, unless positive orders to the contrary were sent to me. This was about 9 P.M. of the 7th.
              My confidence of success in the impending engagement was inspired by accurate knowledge of the Federal movements, as well as the character of their commander, General Banks, whose measure had been taken in the Virginia campaigns of 1862 and since.
        On the morning of the 7th of April Admiral Porter left Grand Ecore with six gunboats and twenty transports, on which last were embarked some twenty-five hundred troops. The progress of these vessels up the river was closely watched by an officer of my staff, who was also in communication with General Liddell on the north side. Banks began his movement from Grand Ecore to Pleasant Hill on the 6th, with an estimated force of twenty-five thousand. Though lateral roads existed, his column marched by the main one, and in the following order: Five thousand mounted men led the advance, followed by a large wagon train and much artillery. Infantry succeeded, then more wagons and artillery, then infantry again. In the afternoon of the 7th I knew that the front and rear of his column were separated by a distance of twenty miles.
Sgt. Paul Thibodaux, Co. F,
18th Louisiana Infantry, Mouton's
Brigade and Division. He is seen
here on the cover of General
Mouton's Regiment: The 18th
Louisiana Infantry by Michael
Jones (Courtesy of C.J. Knobloch,
        My troops reached the position in front of Sabine cross-road at an early hour on the 8th, and were disposed as follows: On the right of the road to Pleasant Hill, Walker's infantry division of three brigades, with two batteries; on the left, Mouton's, of two brigades and two batteries. As Green's men came in from the front, they took position, dismounted, on Mouton's left. A regiment of horse was posted on each of the parallel roads mentioned, and De Bray's cavalry, with McMahon's battery, held in reserve on the main road. Dense forest prevented the employment of much artillery, and, with the exception of McMahon's, which rendered excellent service, none was used in the action.
         I had on the field fifty-three hundred infantry; three thousand horse, and five hundred artillerymen—in all, eight thousand eight hundred men, a very full estimate. But the vicious dispositions of the enemy made me confident of beating all the force he could concentrate during the day; and on the morrow Churchill, with forty-four hundred muskets, would be up.
          The forenoon of the 8th wore on as the troops got into position. Riding along the line, I stopped in front of the Louisiana brigade of Mouton's division, and made what proved to be an unfortunate remark to the men: "As they were fighting in defense of their own soil I wished the Louisiana troops to draw the first blood." But they were already inflamed by many outrages on their homes, as well as by camp rumors that it was intended to abandon their State without a fight. At this moment our advanced horse came rushing in, hard followed by the enemy. A shower of bullets reached Mouton's line, one of which struck my horse, and a body of mounted men charged up to the front of the 18th Louisiana. A volley from this regiment sent them back with heavy loss. Infantry was reported in the wood opposite my left. This was a new disposition of the enemy, for on the 6th and 7th his advance consisted of horse alone; and to meet it, Mouton was strengthened by moving Randall's brigade of Walker's from the right to the left of the road. To cover this change, skirmishers were thrown forward and De Bray's regiment deployed in the field.
           The enemy showing no disposition to advance, at 4 P.M. I ordered a forward movement of my
Brig. Gen. Alfred Mouton,
killed at Mansfield.
(Photographic History
of the Civil War)
whole line. The ardor of Mouton's troops, especially the Louisianians, could not be restrained by their officers. Crossing the field under a heavy fire of artillery and small arms, the division reached the fence, paused for a moment to draw breath, then rushed into the wood on the enemy. Here our loss was severe. General Mouton was killed, as were Colonels Armand, Beard, and Walker, commanding the 18th, Crescent, and 28th Louisiana regiments of Gray's brigade. Major Canfield of the Crescent also fell, and Lieutenant-Colonel Clack of the same regiment was mortally wounded. As these officers went down, others, among whom Adjutant Blackman was conspicuous, seized the colors and led on the men.
           Polignac's brigade, on the left of Gray's, also suffered heavily. Colonel Noble, 17th Texas, with many others, was killed. Polignac, left in command by the death of Mouton, displayed ability and pressed the shattered division steadily forward. Randall, with his fine brigade, supported him on the right; while Major's dismounted men, retarded by dense wood, much to the impatience of General Green, gradually turned the enemy's right, which was forced back with loss of prisoners and guns.
       On the right of the main road General Walker, with Waul's and Scurry's brigades, encountered but little resistance until he had crossed the open field and entered the wood. Finding that he outflanked the enemy's left, he kept his right brigade, Scurry's, advanced, and swept everything before him.
           The first Federal line, consisting of all the mounted force and one division of the 13th army corps, was in full flight, leaving prisoners, guns, and wagons in our hands. Two miles to the rear of the first position, the 2d division of the 13th corps brought up, but was speedily routed, losing guns and prisoners; and our advance continued. Near sunset, four miles from our original position, the 19th army corps was found, drawn up on a ridge overlooking a small stream. Fatigued, and disordered by their long advance through dense wood, my men made no impression for a time on this fresh body of troops; but possession of the water was all-important, for there was none other between this and Mansfield. Walker, Green, and Polignac led on their weary men, and I rode down to the stream. There was some sharp work, but we persisted, the enemy fell back, and the stream was held, just as twilight faded into darkness.
      Twenty-five hundred prisoners, twenty pieces of artillery, several stands of colors, many thousands of small arms, and two hundred and fifty wagons were the fruits of victory in the battle of Mansfield. Eight thousand of the enemy, his horse and two divisions of infantry, had been utterly routed, and over five thousand of the 19th corps driven back at sunset. With a much smaller force on the field, we invariably outnumbered the enemy at the fighting point; and foreseeing the possibility of this, I was justified in my confidence of success. The defeat of the Federal army was largely due to the ignorance and arrogance of its commander, General Banks, who attributed my long retreat to his own wonderful strategy.
             Night put an end to the struggle along the little stream, and my troops camped by the water.

A dispatch was sent to General Kirby Smith, at Shreveport, to inform him of the result of the day's fighting, and of my intention to push the enemy on the following morning. Leaving instructions for Green, with all the mounted force, to pursue at dawn, I rode to Mansfield to look after our wounded and meet Churchill. The precautions taken had preserved order in the village throughout the day. Hospitals had been prepared, the wounded brought in and cared for, prisoners and captured property disposed of. Churchill came and reported his command in camp, four miles from Mansfield, on the Keachi road; and he was directed to prepare two days' rations, and march toward Pleasant Hill at 3 A.M.

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