Louisiana History

 

Published quarterly by the

 

Louisiana Historical Association

 

In cooperation with

 

The Center for Louisiana Studies

 

Of

 

The University of Southwestern Louisiana

 

(The following article is reprinted by the Young-Sanders Center with

Permission granted by the Louisiana Historical Association and

The Center for Louisiana Studies)

 

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Volume XLII, No. 2

Spring 2001

Pages 193-207

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“The Carnival of Death:”

The Cavalry Battle at

Cheneyville, Louisiana,

May 20, 1863

 

By: Donald S. Frazier*

 

          During the Civil War, regiments from opposing armies frequently faced each other on numerous battlefields, the encounters oftentimes engendering a sense of deadly rivalry. Soldiers in the ranks guarded regimental reputations jealously, and fought for the integrity and honor of their units as strenuously as for country and cause. Two such rival units squared off against each other in Central Louisiana in late spring, 1863.

          In August 1862, Maj. Gen. Benjamin F. Butler ordered Union officers under his command to collect several companies of cavalry from among white Unionists and other pro-Northern refugees in New Orleans and the surrounding region. In desperate need of horse soldiers for scouting and courier duty in the Louisiana lowlands, Butler took applications from junior officers eager to raise these units, endeavors for which they would possibly earn promotions in rank. Capt. John Franklin Godfrey, formerly a second lieutenant with a Maine artillery battery, went into the Crescent City, opened a storefront recruiting office, and began assembling his command. “The recruits are mostly foreigners, or men of Northern birth,” he wrote home about his enlistees. They will fight as well for one side as another.” By October, four companies of New Orleans recruits took the field. “I recruited my

 

 

* The author is chair of the History Department at McMurry University of Abilene, Texas, and executive director of the McWhiney Foundation.

 

 

 

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 company in a little over three weeks,” Godfrey noted. “The men are nearly all Germans, a few Irish, and some Americans.”1

          This odd assortment of troops learned the art of war in the fall of 1862. Armed with Sharp’s carbines, revolvers, and sabers, these independent cavalry companies saw their first action in Brig. Gen. Godfrey Weitzel’s Lafourche campaign. When Nathaniel P. Banks arrived in December and replaced General Butler, part of his reorganization plan included ordering Maj. Harai Robinson, described by one Confederate as a “renegade Texan,” to assemble these independent companies, raise additional scouting units, and create the 1st Louisiana Cavalry. Captain Godfrey, irritated at no longer being free of higher authority, described Robinson as “a petty, small sort of man” as well as “a cowardly, bragging, and ignorant major.” Irrespective of Godfrey’s grousing, the need for mounted troops often kept Bank’s proposed regiment divided. As the men gained battlefield experience against their mostly mounted opponents, they became a valuable tool for Federal operations in Southwestern Louisiana.2

          Of the company commanders in the 1st Louisiana, Capt. Richard Barrett of Company B had risen to the fore as an active and aggressive officer. His specialty was picket skirmishing, and he and his men were proud of their ability to best Rebel horsemen and to bring in prisoners for interrogation. Weitzel had leaned heavily on the services of the independent Louisiana cavalry companies, and after their consolidation Major Robinson would rely strongly on Barrett. “This officer and his company” a Confederate officer noted, “were the especial boast and pride of the enemy.”3

          Opposing these blue-clad Louisianans on many fields were the troopers of Lieut. Col. Edward Waller’s 13th Texas Cavalry Battalion, raised at almost the same time as their nemesis. Recruited from counties in southern and western Texas, these men

 

1 John Franklin Godfrey, The Civil War Letters of Captain John Franklin Godfrey (South Portland, Me., 1993), 14, 16.

2 Godfrey, The Civil War Letters of Captain John Franklin Godfrey, 46; “Maj. Boone’s Report,” H. H. Boone, In camp, Col. Norwood’s Plantation, to Richard Taylor, May 26, 1863, as printed in The Bellville Countryman, August 8, 1863, p. 2; there are a number of reports dealing with the activities of the 1st Louisiana Cavalry (U.S.) during Brigadier General Godfrey Weitzel’s Lafourche Campaign in The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 vols. (Gettysburg, 1972), Series I, Vol. 15; Hereafter cited as OR, will all references to Series I.

3 Boone, “Maj. Boone’s Report,” 2.

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were experienced horsemen but unseasoned soldiers. On September 8, 1862, when Waller’s troops had fought the Federals for the first time at Bonnet Carre, near St. Charles Parish Courthouse along the Mississippi River, the Texans had suffered a disastrous defeat, in part, at the hands of the independent companies that became the 1st Louisiana. The Texans lost most of their mounts and a good deal of their arms and equipment as they fled into the chackbay swamp to escape a superior force of cavalry and infantry supported by gunboats. Effectively neutralized as a military force, the regiment was removed from the Lafourche region until they could reorganize. The retreat took them to Lake Charles and Petit Anse Island, Louisiana Traveling to the rear in improvised transportation, the once proud Texans horsemen and cowboys suffered humiliation at the hands of Brig. Gen. Jean Jacques Alfred Mouton’s Louisiana infantry, who dubbed their Lone Star allies the “cane cart cavalry.”4

          Half a year passed before the Texans recovered from their drubbing at Bonnet Carre. During Waller’s frequent absences, Maj. Hannibal Honestus Boone led the battalion, and by late March, the 13th Texas Calvary Battalion had taken its place with Maj. Gen. Richard Taylor’s forces then concentrating along the lower Bayou Teche. On March 28, 1863, Bonne led his men in an ambush in which the U. S. S. Diana was captured. The rehabilitation of the battalion’s reputation had begun.5

          Two weeks later, the 13th Texas Cavalry Battalion again met elements of the 1st Louisiana Cavalry. In early April, Major General Banks and an army of 30,000 men including Robinson and two companies of the 1st Louisiana pushed up the Teche, encountering Taylor’s army at Pattersonville and Bisland. In both of these engagements, Boone’s men skirmished with Robinson’s

 

4 The best primary source for information on these incidents is Charles Spurlin, West of the Mississippi with Waller’s 13th Texas Cavalry Battalion, CSA (Hillsboro, Tex., 1971).

5 C. C. Cox, “Reminiscences of C. C. Cox,” Southwestern Historical Quarterly, 6 (January, 1903): 225; H. H. Boone, twenty-nine-years-old at the time of the Cheneyville fight, was a native of Tennessee, but a Texas resident for nine years at the time of the Civil War. He was a lawyer at Hempstead when he enlisted in the 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles in 1861. After his initial one-year enlistment, he joined Waller’s Battalion as a second lieutenant, and rose through the ranks to major and second in command. He was seriously wounded at the battle of the Fordoche (Sterling’s Plantation) on September 29, 1863, forcing his return to Texas as a semi-invalid. In 1876, the citizens of Texas elected Boone as attorney general, a position he held for one term. See “Hannibal Honestus Boone” in Ron Taylor et. al., The New Handbook of Texas, 6 vols. (Austin, 1996), 1:640.

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troopers. On April 14, Bank’s army pushed Taylor’s Confederates out of their earthworks at Bisland but failed to trap them at Franklin with a surprise flanking maneuver at Irish Bend. Banks then tried to destroy Taylor’s army by means of an aggressive pursuit.6

          Between Banks and victory, however, was Texan Col. Tom Green, now leading the rear-guard, including the 5th Texas Mounted Volunteers and the 13th Texas Cavalry Battalion. On three separate occasions—at Centerville, Jeanerette, and New Iberia—Green led ambushes against Robinson’s pursuing Federal cavalry. “[Robinson] went with General Banks and made himself a great name,” wrote Captain Godfrey contemptuously, “by running away at a cavalry charge at New Iberia.”7

          In most of these encounters, Boone’s men were closely engaged. “We did some fighting before we started to retreat,” wrote Sgt. Keet McDade to his wife, adding that once under fire, the Texans “fought them wherever a chance presented itself.” After a fourth battle at Bayou Vermilion in present-day Lafayette, the Texans stalled the pursuit long enough to convince Banks to continue the advance at a slower place. On May 6, Union troops entered Alexandria, with Robinson’s squadron in the vanguard.8

          From Alexandria, Banks changed directions and descended the Red River toward Port Hudson, ordering the hard-fighting veterans of Weitzel’s command to guard the column’s rear. To aid in this effort, Weitzel mounted the 4th Wisconsin Infantry on captured mules and brigaded them with Robinson’s two companies of the 1st Louisiana Cavalry. Slowly and carefully, the Union troops headed southeast, while a growing force of Texas horsemen hovered behind.

          Several mounted Confederate regiments had recently arrived from Texas, and each tried their hand against Robinson’s so-called Louisianians. South of Alexandria, Robinson reported that he had driven in some Texans who had gotten too close. At Cheneyville, a few miles distant, the Federal horsemen fought

 

6 For a history of the role of the Texans at the battles of Bisland and Irish Bend, see Donald S. Frazier, “Texans on the Teche: The Texas Brigade at the Battles of Bisland and Irish Bend, April 12-14, 1863,” Louisiana History, 23 (1991): 417-35.

7 Godfrey, The Civil War Letters of Captain John Franklin Godfrey, 68.

8 Keet McDade, on Red River near Natchitoches, to Ann Cochran, May 9, 1863, Keet McDade letters, typescript in possession of Veron Williams, Abilene Christian University; Richard B. Irwin, History of the Nineteenth Army Corps (1892; reprint ed., s.l., 1985), 152-55.

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new arrivals, Col. Walter P. Lane’s 1st Texas Partisan Rangers. Passing through that town and crossing Bayou Beouf, the Union troops encamped several miles down Tanner’s Lane at Murdock’s Plantation. Posting Robinson’s men as a rear-guard, Weitzel awaited word that he could proceed in the direction of Simmsport and rejoin the rest of army marching on Port Hudson.9

          While the Federals waited, Major Boone and his command arrived at Cheneyville from Natchitoches, surprised that Banks had not headed for Shreveport. Learning that Port Hudson was the campaign’s objective, Boone moved to strike the enemy. He soon discovered that he knew the men down Tanner’s Lane, and his troopers had seen the faces of these Federals through the sights of their colt revolvers. “This regiment [the 1st Louisiana Cavalry]…and our battalion…frequently exchanged very warm compliments,” remembered one Texan. “The frequency of these collisions had raised a spirit of rivalry among them, as to which were the better troops, and they were anxious to try each other on.”10

          Gathering what troops he could on the morning of May 20, 1863, Boone decided that he would attempt a final assault against Robinson’s 1st Louisiana before it moved out of range. “From Cheneyville [toward the] Mississippi is a long lane, some four or five miles long,” remembered one Texan trooper. “In this lane occurred the most desperate fight of this, or any other, which for bravery, endurance, and tenacity of purpose, eclipses all other engagements.”11

          Boone’s plan was simple. He would draw out the enemy by pressuring the picket line, then ambush the Federals from concealed positions. Capt. Alfred Sturgis Thurmond and his veterans in Company A of the 7th Texas Mounted volunteers would move down Bayou Beouf’s west bank to engage the Union pickets there and to keep them out of the fight across the stream. With Thurmond, Boone sent Lieut. J. R. Morris and Company B of the

 

9 Godfrey Weitzel, Murdock’s Plantation, to Richard B. Irwin, May 19, 1863, “Report of Brigadier General Godfrey Weitzel, Affair near Cheneyville, Louisiana, May 18, 1863,” OR, 26, Part 1:38.

10 The Overton Sharpshooter, June 28, 1888.

11 Ibid.

 

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Map

 

13th Texas Cavalry Battalion and a squad from Company D. This hundred-man force would serve as a diversion.12

          East of the bayou, Boone settled on a more elaborate plan. A few hundred and eleven men from Company C watched their Union counterparts amid the Louisiana hardwoods. Boone sent Capt. C. C. Cox with thirty men of Company E from Refugio, Calhoun, and San Patricio counties to reinforce the Rebel picket line, with orders to press the enemy troops back into their camps. “It was my appointment,” recalled Captain Cox, “to bring on quite a serious fight.” Meanwhile, the remaining battalion members in Companies A, D, and F, took positions south of Tanner’s Lane, concealed by a high hedge and fence as well as an orchard and buildings on

 

12 Boone, “Maj. Boone’s Report,” 2. Alfred Sturgis Thurmond was one of the most experienced of Tom Green’s captains, and was fifty-three years old at the time of the fight at Cheneyville. He had arrived in Texas In 1836, but had missed any fighting in the revolution. During the Republic of Texas, however, he served in numerous campaigns with Ewen Cameron against the Mexicans. He was captured at Mier and imprisoned at Perote Castle, where his knowledge of Spanish made him a useful interpreter. When released, he learned that he had been elected Marshall of Victoria, Texas. He served in that capacity, and as sheriff of Victoria County, until the early 1850s. He read law and passed the bar by 1860, at which time he was ranching in Refugio County. Ironically, his younger brother, Zip Thurmond, was an ardent Unionist. See “Thurmond, Alfred Sturgis,” in The new Handbook of Texas, 6:489. Company B, 13th Texas Cavalry Battalion hailed from Falls County, Company D came from Goliad County.

 

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The Tanner Plantation. Behind the Tanner sugar house nearby, Capt. Billy McDade, younger brother of the lieutenant on the picket line, kept the balance of Company C, twenty men, in reserve.13

          The Texans relied on their understanding of their foe for the ambush to work. Boone reasoned that Robinson would not ignore Captain Cox’s and Lieutenant McDade’s attacks on his camps. Boone also suspected that Barrett and his company would probably take the lead in any Union counterattack to drive away the raiders. Boone also suspected that, in the event of a closely fought battle, Barrett would probably outpace any supporting troops in his effort to pursue the Rebel attackers. Boone therefore instructed Cox and Tom McDade to ride as though in a panic until reaching the Cheneyville Bridge. There, the horsemen would find Lane’s 1st Texas Partisan Rangers in prepared positions on the opposite bank. To ensure that the quarry rode into the snare, Billy McDade was to gallop out from behind the sugar house with his command and fall in behind the Union troopers, cutting off their retreat by filling the gap between Barrett’s men and the other company under Robinson’s command. Boone would then personally lead the 100 men in his three remaining companies in a charge that would stun Robinson long enough for Cox and the McDade brothers to destroy Barrett’s force. Boone understood that any number of things could go wrong, but if these Union officers played their role as scripted, the two companies of the 1st Louisiana Cavalry would be decimated in detail.14

          In mid-morning, Boone’s men could hear firing from the west bank, alerting both armies that Thurmond’s command had initiated the attack. Captain Cox and his men rode down Tanner’s Lane toward the enemy camps where, before long, the deep crack of Enfields and the shallow popping of pistols announced that his men had also engaged the enemy. “After firing at the enemy some little time,” Captain Cox recalled, “I heard the blue call to Boots and Saddles.” Inside the Union camp, troops were mounting their horses and forming up to respond to the raid.15

 

13 C. C. Cox, “Reminiscences of C. C. Cox,” 225; “Maj. Boone’s Report,” 2; Company A came from Victoria County, C came from Austin County, and F had been raised in Fort Worth.

14 Boone, “Maj. Boone’s Report,” 2.

15 Cox, “Reminiscences of C. C. Cox,” 225; Boone, “Maj. Boone’s Report,” 2.

 

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Map

 

“The Plan was a success,” Cox continued. All too soon the Texan fire slackened, replaced by the yelps and hollers of men mounted on good horses being closely pursued. “A company of cavalry…marched out in our direction and when their purpose became sufficiently manifest,” Cox wrote, “and they had gotten sufficiently near—we began to fall back.” The Rebel withdrawal encouraged the bluecoats, who spurred their mounts to a full gallop. “The enemy immediately brought out his force of cavalry.” Boone reported, “and, as I expected he would do, made a rapid charge.”16

          Captain Cox’s and Lieutenant McDade’s troops fled pell mell up the lane, cutting through trees, their panic more genuine than feigned as they padded Tanner’s Plantation. “We of course regulated our gait by that of the pursuers,” Cox remembered. As the Texans passed the ambush point, one of their numbers fell from his saddle, killed by a carbine bullet. The Confederates concealed at the Tanner Plantation then saw approximately four dozen Union cavalrymen, horses straining at the bits, rumble down the road in good order. At the head of this force was Capt.

 

16 Cox, “Reminiscences of C. C. Cox,” 226; Boone, “Maj. Boone’s Report,” 2; Godfrey Weitzel, Murdock’s Plantation, to Richard Irwin, May 20, 1863, “Report of Brigadier General Godfrey Weitzel, Skirmish near Cheneyville, May 20, 1863, OR, 26, part 1:39.

 

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Richard Barrett, recognizable to many of the Texans from weeks of close encounters. Captain McDade then ordered his men to pursue the bluecoats. After an initial volley from rifles and pistols, the Rebels men moved into the gap between the impetuous Barrett and the rest of the 1st Louisiana. Despite the smoke and dust, Robinson’s remaining troopers were visible now some 200 yards behind the Union vanguard and advancing cautiously on Tanner’s Lane.17

          Once Captain McDade’s force had initiated its operation, the Texas ambushers knew that the hour of reckoning had come. “Boone took off his hat, ran his fingers through his hair, straightened himself in his stirrups, and turned to the battalion,” a Texan remembered. Boone then addressed his command. “All who are afraid to die now, drop out; the rest follow me!” The major then spurred his horse, and his battalion surged after him, filing through the Tanner’s gate and, turning right onto the lane, trotted toward their blue clad enemy. The Union force, visibly stunned, reigned in and spread out right and left to form a line of battle. Revolvers began snapping as the Union troopers began to fire at the onrushing Rebels, who steadily gathered momentum. “The enemy…halted and…stood their ground firmly, firing upon the head of my column,” Boone reported. Lieut. Reed

 

17 Cox, “Reminiscences of C. C. Cox,” 225; Boone, “Maj. Boone’s Report,” 2.

 

 

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Weisinger, of Victoria, charging his mount at the head of the Confederate column, felt his horse’s legs suddenly buckle and man and animal tumbled into a great heap of blood and dust. His troops galloped around the wreck and on toward the Federal ranks. The enemy gave way. “We had gotten within 30 feet of them,” Boone added, “when they broke and fled in the utmost confusion.”18

          The 1st Louisiana detachment had not turned soon enough, and the impact of Boone’s charge scattered both commands. “It was like the meeting of two mighty engines, and the very earth trembled from the shock,” a Texan wrote. “The front companies on each side were interlocked and entwined with each other, and the carnival of death commenced, each party determined to win or die.”19 Lieutenant Weisinger, struggling to his feet after his spectacular fall, scooped his pistol out of the dust and, running into the melee, drew down on three mounted Federals, who quickly raised their hands in surrender.20

          Both sides broke into individual duels as the Texans rolled the Louisiana Yankees back down Tanner’s Lane. The battalion adjutant, D. C. Proctor, riding near Major Boone, threw his hands to his neck in shock after being struck by a bullet. “Major Boone, who was always as kind as he was brave, ran to his assistance,” a Texan private remembered. “[S]aid he, ‘Proctor, are you badly hurt?” The stricken officer, the shock of the impact wearing off, began to probe the wound until his fingers emerged with a gory, flattened chunk of lead. “Major Boone, there are three kinds of wounds,” the wounded man replied. “The legislative, the judicial, and the executive wounds. I think that my wound will make me county judge of Calhoun County.”21

          After driving Robinson’s troops back for almost half a mile, Boone and his Texans soon discovered that they were now surrounded. “When still hearing firing in my rear, I ordered a halt and turned back to the assistance of McDade and Cox,” Boone wrote. Captain Barrett’s Yankees had sniffed out the trap laid by Cox and the McDade brothers and reversed directions a few hundred yards short of the Cheneyville Bridge. As the Yankees

 

18 Boone, “Maj. Boone’s Report,” 2; Overton Sharpshooter, June 28, 1888.

19 Overton Sharpshooter, June 28, 1888.

20 Boone, “Maj. Boone’s Report,” 2.

21 Overton Sharpshooter, June 7, 28, 1888.

 

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Turned to face their pursuers, Captain McDade’s men found themselves turning their mounts left and right as the lathered horses of Barrett and his men sped by in a desperate attempt to reach safety. “Captain McDade, with his company armed with Enfield rifles, not more than one forth of his men having pistols and none having sabers, successfully engaged a superior number of the enemy armed with Sharps rifles, six shooters, and sabers,” Boone reported. Barrett and his men nevertheless cut their way past their erstwhile pursuers and then fell upon the rear of Boone’s column. Meanwhile, the troops commanded by Cox and the McDade brothers regrouped at the Cheneyville bridge and then turned to pursue their escaping quarry.22

          Boone’s surprised Texans, surprised by this unexpected development, turned and desperately fired their rifles from horseback in unsteady, ineffective close-range volleys. “Several of the enemy had succeeded in cutting their way through,” Boone wrote, “and were handling my rear very roughly with their sabers.” The flashes of Union blades stroked the air. “When my men had discharged their rifles, those who were without pistols clubbed their guns and used them against the sabers of the enemy,” Boone reported proudly. Capt. Joseph C. Terrell watched in horror as three of his Fort Worth boys fell beneath the Union swords.

 

22 Boone, “Maj. Boone’s Report,” 2; Cox, “Reminiscences of C. C. Cox,” 225.

 

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Pvt. Sam Jefferson took a blade through the neck, Pvt. H. G. Jennings fell from a blow to the head, while another Federal skewered Dave Thomas through a lung. Writing after the war, this Rebel veteran of a dozen battles remarked that “this is the only hand to hand fight I ever saw.”23

          In this mounted melee, there was no longer a front, rear, or flank, just individual combats with dusty phantoms. “It looked for a minute like pandemonium reigned in that road,” reported Cox. The swirling maelstrom of Federal and Confederate riders, astride their spinning mounts, raised clouds of dust and smoke. Bullets and sabers seemed to strike randomly amid the chaos. “The Federals exhausted their pistols, took to their swords, and cut many of our men down, while our boys continued the fight with their six shooters,” a Rebel participant wrote. In the midst of battle, one Confederate, George Rose, fell from his mount into the dirt, dodging the thudding hooves of dozens of horses. Lieut. Pat Hughes, a Texan officer, called out to another dismounted

 

23 Boone, “Maj. Boone’s Report,” 2; Joseph C. Terrell, “Descriptive History Record, January 20, 1897” in Dora Davenport Jones, ed., “History of Julia Jackson Chapter #141, United Daughters of the Confederacy, Fort Worth, Texas, A Bicentennial City, 1897-1976,” Tms (copy), Fort Worth Public Library; J. C. Terrell, 40 miles on R. R. between New Orleans and Berwick Bay, Louisiana, to “Ma” (Susan Kennerly Terrell), June 28, 1863, typescript in the genealogy and local history section, Fort Worth Public Library.

 

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Rebel, whom he described as a big fellow, to pull the stunned Rose out of the fray, so he would not be trampled. The big soldier, however, was a Federal. “instead of obeying the order, he attempted to amputate Pat’s head with his sword, but missed him,” a Texan wrote. “Before Pat could shoot him, he made another lunge at him with his sword, striking him near the backbone and coming out at the point of his shoulder, making a terrible wound.”24

          A half dozen Texans, after witnessing the wounding of the lieutenant, focused their attention on this ferocious Yankee. “This fellow was a fighter from fighterville,” a Texan recalled. “After wounding Hughes he cut down several men, splitting the skull of one to the brain.” The Texans, mostly armed with rifles with a scattering of pistols, had no effective way to parry the soldier’s saber. “He became such a fighter, that Boone concluded that to save his men from destruction, he must go down. So he worked his way towards him, until they met, and the big Federal went down.”25

          The death of the big Federal created a pause in the fight, which allowed both sides to break contact. The attention paid to the

 

24 Cox, “Reminiscences of C. C. Cox,” 225; Overton Sharpshooter, June 28, 1888.

25 Overton Sharpshooter, June 28, 1888.

 

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Fallen enemy had inadvertently caused Boone to regroup his command. The individual duels that had been occurring in the smoke and dust were now abandoned, and the Union cavalry continued to retreat to its camp. In the distance, the mule-borne 4th Wisconsin was lumbering forward to their comrade’s assistance. Boone prudently ordered his men back toward Cheneyville.

          General Weitzel, in his report to Bank’s headquarters that evening, did not acknowledge that Boone had bushwhacked his rearguard. Instead, he simply dismissed the cavalry duel as a picket skirmish, a simple affair of outposts: “Colonel Bean [of the 4th Wisconsin], in command of the advance guard, repulsed the enemy, and pursued him with his whole force, consisting of the cavalry (1st Louisiana), mounted infantry (4th Wisconsin), and the Twelfth Connecticut Volunteers.” Weitzel also failed to mention the 1st Louisiana Cavalry’s embarrassment. “When within about 1 ½ miles of Cheneyville, Major [Harai] Robinson, in command of the rest of the cavalry, halted the column. Captain Barrett, rather too daringly, still continued to advance, and, after passing a sugar house, a force of about 150 Rebel cavalry jumped out, and cut him off from the rest of the command.” Weitzel went on to inform Banks erroneously that Barrett and his entire command had been killed or captured.26

          The Rebel officers were equally uncertain of the outcome. The Texans captured thirteen Federal troops, while killing or wounding another seventeen, accounting for nearly half of the 1st Louisiana Cavalry engaged. Most of the enemy casualties had come from Barrett’s company, and one of his better sergeants lay dead in the dust of Tanner’s Lane. Despite  Weitzel’s report, Captain Barrett was not among the slain or prisoners. In springing the ambush, Boone’s command had also suffered casualties, with one Texan dead and eight others wounded, while two others from the battalion remained missing. Even so, many nursed nasty slashes and deep cuts from the enemy blades. One Texan, confused about the battle’s outcome, wrote “Which whipped, you ask?”27

          With only 10 percent casualties, Boone claimed victory, although lamenting that he had missed Barrett. “I am sorry to say that this officer escaped,” he wrote General Taylor, “but his

 

26 Godfrey Weitzel, Murdock’s Plantation, to Richard Irwin, May 20, 1863, “Report of Brigadier General Godfrey Weitzel, Skirmish near Cheneyville, May 20, 1863, OR, 26, part 1:39.

27 Overton Sharpshooter, June 28, 1888; Boone, “Maj. Bonne’s Report,” 2.

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Escape was an ignominious one; he deserted his men in the dust and confusion, abandoned his arms and horse harness, leaped the fence and took refuge in the Bayou.” Indeed, the next morning Weitzel awoke to learn that he had misled Banks as to the fate of the veteran cavalryman. Having spent the day and night dodging Texans, Barrett returned to in camp at midnight, “sans hat, sans coat, sans boots and dripping wet.”28

          For Texan Bill Davidson, the fight at Cheneyville had been much more than just a failed ambush. “This struggle, too, is remarkable for the fact that it was not southern blood against northern blood, but the only blood shed there was southern,” he romantically wrote in his post war memoirs, not realizing the foreign Yankee composition of 1st Louisiana Cavalry. “Those northern people…should remember that some of the best troops they had on their side were from southern states, who were abandoning home, kindred, and friends to fight under their flag, because they believed in right.”29

 

 

 

28 Boone, “Maj. Boone’s Report,” 2.

29 Overton Sharpshooter, June 28, 1888.

 

 

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