Published quarterly by the
Louisiana Historical Association
In cooperation with
The Center for Louisiana Studies
The University of Southwestern Louisiana
Volume XXXV, No. 4
(Reprint of this article by the Young-Sanders Center is done with permission granted by the Louisiana Historical Association)
Surprise at Brashear City
Sherod Hunter’s Sugar Cooler Cavalry
By: L. Boyd Finch
At sunrise June 23, 1863, after more than eight hours at their oars, some 250 bone-weary Confederates abandoned a strange flotilla of skiffs, rafts, and sugar coolers, shoved them toward deeper water, and began slogging single file through swamp and palmetto thicket. Their goal was enemy-held Brashear City, the fulcrum for Union operations in southern Louisiana. 1
Now it was not possible to return to their lines. They must attack a major Union base defended by the guns of two forts and one of Admiral Farragut’s gunboats. They would be outnumbered two- or three-to-one. 2 They must attack and win, or be captured, or die.
This venture by ill-fed, ill-clad cavalrymen who left their horses behind was a Confederate general’s gamble that might save besieged Port Hudson, key to the lower Mississippi. Most of the band was Texans and, with the exception of a few who arrived in Louisiana the previous summer, they had known this bayou and swamp country only a few weeks. 3 The remainder were Louisianians, possibly more acquainted with the territory. 4 Their leader was from—of all unlikely places—the desert southwest. Now he was a man without
1 U. S. War Department, the War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 70 Vols. In 128 parts (Washington, 1880-1901), Series I, XXVI, Part 1, 223-224; hereafter cited as O. R. (Unless otherwise indicated, all citation are to Series I.)
3 Richard Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction: Personal Experiences of the Late War (New York, 1879), p. 110; Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers from the State of Texas, Baylor’s Cavalry (Second Regiment, Arizona Brigade), Microcopy 323, Rolls 182 and 183, National Archives (hereafter cited as Compiled Service Records); Charles Spurlin, comp. and ed., West of the Mississippi with Waller’s 13th Texas Cavalry Battalion, CSA (Hillsboro, Tex., 1971), pp. 37 ff.
4 O. R., XXVI, pt. 1, 224; Houston Tri-weekly telegraph, July 6, 1863, hereafter cited as Telegraph.
a home. Insofar as is known, he had never seen Louisiana’s Gulf Coast before.
Their leader’s record as Confederate officer is unique, distinguished by initiative and bravery, yet he is little known. He sinks from view in Tennessee in 1866 leaving no photograph, no physical description, no obituary, no known survivors. His name: Sherod Hunter.
Major Hunter and his ragged cavalrymen embarked from the banks of the lower Bayou Teche the evening before. 5 As the flotilla crossed the black water of the Atchafalaya basin, Major Hunter may have had time to consider the web of destiny that had drawn him to this swamp on a muggy summer night in the midst of a war.
Hunter was a native of Tennessee’s hilly Lincoln Country, bordering Alabama. In the mid-fifties he became a partner in a general store on the courthouse square in Fayetteville. 6 There, in November, 1855, he married Mary Goodrich, 17, daughter of his partner. 7 On Friday, March 13, 1857, Mary died at her father’s home, ten days after giving birth to Thomas Sherod. 8 The baby lived until July 6. After the infant’s burial beside his mother in the First Presbyterian cemetery, Sherod Hunter sold his interest in the store and left Fayetteville for the West. 9
A few months later Hunter turned up in Mesilla, “Arizona”, in the Gadsden Purchase. 10 Though Mesilla was in New Mexico Territory, (there was no separate Arizona Territory yet), in local usage all of southern New Mexico Territory was called Arizona.
By 1860 Hunter was living at Mowry City, an outpost at the Overland Mail crossing of the slender Mimbres River (about 25 miles north of present-day Deming, N. M.). According to the U. S. census report he was a farmer, living alone. His age: either 36 or 30. 11
5 O.R., XXVI, pt. 1, 215.
6 Fayetteville (Tenn.) Observer, October 15, 1855; hereafter cited as Observer.
7 Lincoln County, Tenn., Marriage Records, Book A, 292.
8 Observer, March 19, 1857.
9 Cemetery records in possession of Mrs. Charles W. Morgan, Route 5, Fayetteville, Tenn.; Observer, July 16, 1857.
10 James H. Tevis, Arizona in the ‘50’s (Albuquerque, N. M., 1957), p. 18.
11 eighth decennial census of the United States, 1860, Population schedules, Dona Ana County, New Mexico Territory, 1860. Although Hunter’s age on the faded census return appears to be 36, several items of circumstantial evidence suggest that 30 was his correct age in 1860. No other record of his age has been found.
If the young widower had fled to the wilderness in grief, he found little peace. Though 1858 and 1859 were relatively free of Indian danger, all began to change even before 1861 when the U. S. Regulars were withdrawn to battle the seceding South. Apaches escalated attacks on travelers and lonely mines and ranches. Residents of Arizona’s two larger settlements, Mesilla (near Las Cruces, N. M.) and Tucson, 300 miles to the west, losing U. S. protection, swung toward allegiance to the South. 12
In July, 1861, Lieutenant Colonel John R. Baylor rode into Mesilla with the 2nd Texas Mounted Rifles, 300 “long-eared, ragged Texans.” 13 There was a skirmish outside the town, then two days later more than 500 retreating U. S. troops were captured by Baylor’s Texans in a nearby mountain pass. 14
Sherod Hunter, driven back to Mesilla by the Apache danger along the Mimbres, joined Baylor that day as a civilian. Soon he was first lieutenant of a new Confederate scouting company. 15
Confederate Brigadier General Henry Hopkins Sibley arrived in Mesilla in January, 1862, with three regiments of Texans, expecting to seize New Mexico. 16 To hold western Arizona and to encourage Californians to cross the deserts and join the Rebellion, Sibley ordered a company west to Tucson while he directed his army’s march up the Rio Grande to Santa Fe and beyond. 17
For the Tucson expedition a new company of “picked men, inured to the hardships of frontier life” was formed, with Hunter as its captain. The Mesilla Times editor wrote that he did not know “of a single officer under whom we would rather serve, nor one who has more completely [sic] the confidence and respect of his men…” 18
12 L. Boyd Finch, “Sherod Hunter and the Confederates in Arizona,” Journal of Arizona History, X (1969), 140-148; Constance Wynn Altshuler, Latest from Arizona! (Tucson, Ariz., 1969), pp. 217-219; Mesilla (New Mexico) Times, June 8, 1861 (hereafter cited as Times).
13 Martin H. Hall, Sibley’s New Mexico Campaign (Austin, Tex., 1960), p. 26; Enrique B. D’Hamel, The Adventures of a Tenderfoot: History of 2nd Regt. Mounted Rifles…(1914); reprinted., Waco, Tex., 1965, p. 11.
14 George Wythe Baylor, “Historical Stories of the Southwest,” type-script at El Paso, Texas, Public Library from editions of the El Paso Herald, 1899-1906. The original of G. W. Baylor’s “The Surrender of Major Lynde’s Force at Mesilla,” appeared in the Herald of November 15, 1901.
15 ibid.; Sherod Hunter jacket, Compiled Service Records, Microcopy 323, Roll 182.
16 Hall, New Mexico Campaign, pp. 51-53.
17 Finch, “Sherod Hunter,” 158.
18Times, January 8, 1862.
Hunter’s Calvary entered Tucson on February 28, 1862, raised the Stars and Bars in the plaza, and created all the military bustle possible. 19 The company rode on to the Gila River where they destroyed a trading post and flour mill that could supply California Union regiments expected there soon en route to New Mexico. 20 The Confederates continued across the Gila desert to within 80 miles of California, burning abandoned stage stations and firing at pickets of the Union advance. 21
The San Francisco Evening Bulletin advised, “The Secesh are bringing the war pretty close.” 22
Hunter returned to Tucson, posting a sergeant and nine privates at Picacho Pass, 40 miles northwest on the California road. There on April 15, 1862, occurred “the westernmost battle of the Civil War,” between Hunter’s pickets and fourteen California cavalry, the vanguard of fifteen hundred Union troops. A Union Lieutenant and two privates were killed and three others wounded. Hunter’s sergeant and two privates were captured. 23
Although the affair threw the Union advance off stride, Hunter could not remain in Tucson; soon his company would be greatly outnumbered. In May he abandoned Tucson, fought a battle with Apaches in southeast Arizona in which he lost four men and many horses and mules, and led his command back to Mesilla. There he found Sibley’s regiments in pell-mell retreat, having lost their supply train in battle beyond Santa Fe. Sibley was leaving for San Antonio Texas, to be followed by the remnant of his army. 24 Hunter’s company formed the rear guard that left in mid-July, 1862, for the populated area of Texas. 25
That fall, at Columbus, Texas, Hunter was promoted to major in a new regiment, Colonel George W. Baylor’s 2nd Texas Cavalry (Arizona Brigade). 26 The 2nd Texas-Arizona was ordered to Louisiana
19 Finch, “Sherod Hunter,” 170-199.
20 Ibid., 174.
21 Sherod Hunter jacket, Compiled Service Records, Microcopy 323, Roll 182.
22 San Francisco Daily Evening Bulletin, April 28, 1862.
23 Finch, “Sherod Hunter,” 183-185.
24 Hall, New Mexico Campaign, p 209.
25 Finch, “Sherod Hunter,” 199.
26 Sherod Hunter Jacket, Compiled Service Records, Microcopy 323, Roll 182. George W. Baylor had served as adjutant for his older brother John R. Baylor, in the early stages of the New Mexico-Arizona campaign.
In the spring of 1863 to reinforce Major General Richard “Dick” Taylor. 27
Through the previous winter, Taylor and Union Major General Nathaniel P. Banks—both new to their Louisiana commands—had engaged in thrust and parry along the Bayou Teche in southwestern Louisiana. Earlier, the Union seized Baton Rouge and then abandoned it when an attack on New Orleans was feared. New Orleans, the Confederacy’s largest city, had fallen early in 1862, and Union generals developed a phobia about losing their prize. After their nerves settled, the Yankees reoccupied the state capital. Meanwhile, Confederate heavy guns were mounted at Port Hudson, creating a second river stronghold, supplementing Vicksburg. 28
West of New Orleans, Brigadier General Alfred Mouton’s handful of Confederates evacuated the Bayou Lafourche farming area and released their hold on the New Orleans, Opelousas and Great Western Railroad which ran 80 miles to Brashear City (now Morgan City), a “city” of 30 or 40 buildings on the east shore of Berwick Bay, a deep, broad portion of the Atchafalya River which flows to the gulf. 29
The Union army occupied Brashear City, erected fortifications, and soon had the railroad and telegraph operating and the community converted into a convalescent camp and supply base for operations toward Texas. 30
Beyond Berwick Bay, Taylor ordered earthworks thrown up in the cane fields flanking the Bayou Teche near Pattersonville (now Patterson). 31 Banks attacked in April, 1863. Taylor’s outnumbered Texans and Louisianians fought fiercely and then began a 150-mile retreat. 32
27 O. R., XV, 1053-1054.
28 John D. Winters, the Civil War in Louisiana (Baton Rouge, 1963), pp. 102-220.
29 Ibid., pp. 159-162; Andrew M. Sherman, In the Lowlands of Louisiana in 1863 (Bridgeport, Conn., 1908, p. 11; Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, p. 104.
30 John William De Forest, A Volunteer’s Adventures: A Union Captain’s Record of the Civil War, ed. And annot. By James H. Croushore (New Haven, Conn., 1946), p. 73; Morgan City Historical Society, A History of Morgan City, Louisiana (Morgan City, 1960), pp. 19-20, hereafter cited as Morgan City; O. R., XXVI, pt. 1, 540 (Emory to Irwin, June 7, 1863, reporting 1,500 convalescents at Brashear City); Winters, Civil War, p. 162; David C. Edmonds, Yankee Autumn in Acadiana: A Narrative of the Great Texas Overland Expedition through Southwestern Louisiana, October-December, 1863 (Lafayette, LA., 1979) pp. 10-11.
31 Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, p. 120; Winters, Civil War, p. 223.
32 Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, pp. 129-137; Winters, Civil War, pp. 223-235.
Though Banks evicted organized Rebel forces from the region, after he reached Alexandria his troops turned back to surround the citadel at Port Hudson. Some returned to the defenses of Brashear City, followed by Confederates who reoccupied the Teche district. 33
Brashear City was essential for operations in southern Louisiana. As a New York Soldier declared:
“Well, I just believe that Brashear City is the centre [sic] of gravity in this department. If we get away from it a little ways, why the whole d-----d concern would lose its balance.” 34
Rebel scouts returned to the west bank of Berwick Bay, opposite Brashear City, but there appeared to be no way that Taylor could attack across the Channel. Further, Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby-Smith, commanding the Confederacy’s Trans-Mississippi Department, believed that one more effort must be made to disrupt Major General U. S. Grant’s siege of Vicksburg. Taylor made a reluctant try, but failed to break through. 35
There were two feasible routes to the lower Mississippi: from the Teche district across Berwick Bay by boat and then down the railroad to New Orleans, or by an often submerged trace from Opelousas and Washington toward Baton Rouge. Taylor would use both.
In early June, 1863, Taylor ordered Colonel James P. Major to push three understrength regiments of mounted Texans east from Washington across the braided waterways of the Atchafalaya Basin and south into the Lafourche district. Without the success of Major’s 650 Texans, a seizure of Brashear City by a small band of daredevil troops could be crushed quickly by reinforcements sent by rail from New Orleans. To succeed, Major’s “long, lank, dirty mosstroopers”
33 Winters, Civil War, p. 240; Morris Raphael, The Battle in the Bayou Country (Detroit, Mich., 1976), pp. 165-166.
34 Edmonds, Yankee Autumn in Acadiana, p. 6, quoting from Harris H. Beecher, Record of the 114th Regiment, N. Y. S. V… (Norwich, NY., 1866), p. 253-254.
35 Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, pp. 137-139.
36 Ibid., p. 138.
were to ride 150 miles into territory that had been within the Union sphere since autumn. 37
Taylor, a Louisiana planter, provided “minute instructions” and lectured Major on “the necessity of punctuality… Indeed, their own safety depended on promptness.” 38
The general then hustled to the lower Teche where he ordered Brigadier Generals Mouton and Tom Green, the latter recently promoted to command the Texas cavalry brigade, “to collect small boats, skiffs, flats, even sugar-coolers… and the importance of secrecy was impressed upon them. Pickets were doubled to prevent communication with the enemy…” 39
Colonel Major left Washington on June 10, nearly two weeks ahead of the critical date for the Brashear City attack. Taylor rejoined him for a few days, gave final orders, and then started back to the Teche. 40
After crossing the Atchafalaya, Major’s Texans struck the village of Plaquemine, sank three docked steamboats, burned cotton bales on the levee, and dumped hogsheads of molasses into the Mississippi. 41 With that, their presence became known to the Federals.
The Texans skirted Donaldsonville where gunboats and a Union fort could be a tough nut for Major’s small force. Thibodaux and the railroad lay ahead us, unopposed, Major swept down Bayou Lafourche. 42
Taylor’s plan required that on the morning of Tuesday, June 23, Major be astride the railroad at the Bayou Boeuf bridge, about nine miles east of Brashear City, while Sherod Hunter would seize the Union “centre of gravity.” 43
Little Brashear City occupied ground only a few feet higher than
37 Ibid., pp. 139-141; Charles P. Roland, Louisiana Sugar Plantations during the American Civil War (Leiden, the Netherlands, 1957), p. 58.
38 Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, p. 141.
39 Ibid., p. 140.
40 O. R., XXVI, pt 1, 217; Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, p. 141.
41 Morgan W. Merrick, “Notes and Sketches of Campaigns in New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas by a Participant, Dr. M. W. Merrick, from Feb. 16, 1861, to May 26, 1865: Actual Service, in the Field” (Unpublished journal), used with permission of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas at the Alamo, San Antonio, no pagination, cited hereafter as Merrick, “Notes and Sketches.”
42 Ibid.; O. R. XXVI, Pt. 1, 217-218; Merrick, “Notes and Sketches.”
43 Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, pp. 140-141.
the maze of rivers, lakes, and swamps that stretched for miles in all direction. To the east the single-track rail line offered a tenuous link to New Orleans. To the west, Berwick Bay created a formidable barrier. With the arrival of the U. S. Army in late 1862, many rows of tents were set out for the garrison and hundreds of convalescing soldiers. Two dirt forts were thrown up: Fort Buchanan on the north opposite the entrance of the Atchafalaya into the bay, and a “Star Fort” south of the rail depot near the juncture of navigable Bayou Boeuf and the bay. By late May, 1863, the base was awash with the spoils of war from Banks’ Teche campaign, plus arms, ammunition, uniforms, medical supplies, and many other military necessities.44
With Banks squeezing Port Hudson, the Union forces at the supply base and in New Orleans were stretched thin, and Taylor had some idea of the relative weakness. 45 Also aware was Union Brigadier General William H. Emory in New Orleans, who started to bolster the defenses.
To support the Union army, Rear Admiral David G. Farragut dispatched to Brashear City the U. S. S. Hollyhock, a shallow draft gunboat converted from a tug and armed with two 12-pound howitzers.46 With the gunboat there it seemed impossible that the Confederates, with no boat its equal, could cross Berwick Bay.
On June 7 Emory sent “a very intelligent and spirited young officer,” Lieutenant Colonel Albert Stickney of the 47th Massachusetts Infantry, to take command of Brashear City and the railroad. 47
“I have a mob, officered by fools.” Stickney reported soon after his arrival. 48 In another dispatch, “I found things in a very disorganized condition, and immediately proceed to put the place in the best state for defense that I could…” 49 An enlisted man of the 23d
44 [Sidney Mixon el al.], “Morgan City—Past and Present,” Morgan City, Louisiana: Bicentennial Showcase, 1776-1976 (Morgan City, LA., 1976), n.p.; hereafter cited as “Morgan City—Past and Present,” Sherman, Lowlands of Louisiana, p. 11; Charles P. Bosson, History of the Forty-Second Regiment Infantry, Massachusetts Volunteers, 1862, 1863, 1864 (Boston, 1886) p. 282; Raphael, Battle, p. 166.
45 Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, 140.
46 Richard B. Irwin, History of the Nineteenth Army Corps (New York, 1892), P. 237; U. S. Navy, Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in the War of the Rebellion, 27 vols. (Washington, 1894-1922), Series I, XX, 325; hereafter cited as O. R. N. (unless otherwise indicated, all citations are to Series I.)
47 Irwin, Nineteenth Army Corps, p. 238.
48 O. R., XXVI, Pt. 1, 544.
49 Ibid., p. 192.
Connecticut, Andrew M. Sherman, wrote that Stickney so pushed the garrison that “our regiment knew no rest.” 50 Sergeant Major Charles P. Bosson of Massachusetts reported, however, that the post was lazy and unorganized, and as for Stickney, “He did nothing.” 51
In a diatribe published at war’s end Lieutenant Colonel Augustine J. H. Duganne of the 176th New York at Brashear City indicted both Stickney and Emory:
General Emory, without apparently troubling himself to inquire concerning the real necessities of Brashear City, deputes a Napoleonic young Lieutenant colonel, who has been doing display duty at New Orleans during the season, to take command of our beleaguered [sic] outpost… [Thus] relieved from the duty of attending public school festivals, in full dress, with the band of his regiment… he comes down to assume command of the Bay…52
Whatever Stickney’s abilities, he had a diverse command: no one of his own regiment but several companies each of the 176th New York, 23d Connecticut and 42d Massachusetts, an Indiana heavy artillery battery, on company of Louisiana’s black Corps d’Afrique, and small units of cavalry for provost marshal duty—in all perhaps 600 “effectives.” In addition, the tent city housed several hundred convalescent soldiers, many of whom were mobile.53
When Banks learned that Major was pressing down the Lafourche, he ordered Emory to “leave a guard of two companies at Brashear City, and at once concentrate the whole of the remainder of the force on the Opelousas Railway at Lafourche Crossing…54
At 2 a.m., Saturday, June 20, Emory’s headquarters passed the orders on, telegraphing Stickney: “…leave the gunboat to guard Brashear City.” 55
Stickney’s busy day began at 4 a.m. when the message was brought
50 Andrew W. Sherman, “Civil War Reminiscences,” American, IV, (1909), 879-880.
51 Bosson, Forty-Second Regiment, pp. 235-236.
52 Augustine J. H. Duganne, Camps and Prisons: Twenty Months in the Department of the Gulf (New York, 1865) pp., 110-111. On page 114, Duganne discloses that his commission as lieutenant colonel was one month junior to that of Stickney.
53 Bosson, Forty-Second Regiment, p. 254.
54 O. R., XXVI, pt. 574.
55 Ibid., p. 575.
to him. Hurriedly he had 238 men, a 6-pounder gun, and a 12-pound howitzer loaded on a train and moved to Lafourche Crossing, 30 miles east of Brashear City and 50 miles west of New Orleans. 56 Despite Bank’s Orders, more than two companies remained at Brashear City.
“Judging that there was no danger of any attack on Brashear City, for a day or two, at least, and thinking that affairs at Lafourche required my presence there,” Stickney explained later, “I left Major [Robert C.] Anthony, 2d Rhode Island Cavalry, in command of Brashear City…”57 Lieutenant Colonel Duganne, passed over for the base command, muttered about Anthony, “a cavalry officer, sojourning temporarily at Brashear City.” 58
Shortly after Stickney and his reinforcements passed Terrebonne Station (now Schriever) en route to Lafourche Crossing, the Texas cavalry cut the railroad there. Fighting in rain, mist, and smoke, an advance body of Major’s Rebels was surprised by a lull in the Union fire, followed by a “rumbling of cars” as the Union guards departed. The hungry-Texans—“We didn’t see a supply wagon for a month”—happily raided cars of provisions on a sidetrack.59
The main portion of Major’s command arrived at Thibodaux a few hours later. According to trooper M. W. Merrick, the small Union garrison outside Thibodaux surrendered in the wee hours of the morning, and the Texans entered town before daybreak. In darkness and drizzle they were astonished to find woman “lined the sidewalks…waving us welcome.” Servants offered baskets of drinks and eatables. Overwhelmed, Merrick rejoiced: “What patriotism… a royal reception… What a feast!” 60
The Union supply depot in town evidently housed a stock of “commissary.” The Texans helped themselves. A Yankee declared that half the force got staggering drunk and the other half waited for a chance to do the same.61 (Remarkable self-control for half the force.)
Hunkered down behind the railroad and in shallow earthworks, Stickney’s defenders awaited the Texas attack at Lafourche Crossing. To New Orleans Stickney telegraphed assurances that “Major
56 Irwin, Nineteenth Army Corps, p. 238; O. R. XXVI, pt. 1, 193.
57 O. R. XXVI, pt. 1, 193.
58 Duganne, Camps and Prisons, p. 116.
59 Merrick, “Notes and Sketches.”
61 Ibid.; Duganne, Camps and Prisons, p. 124.
Anthony… is a good officer…” and with the remaining garrison could hold Brashear City “as long as their rations last.” 62
From New Orleans on Sunday, June 21, Emory dispatched a message to Anthony via the transport St. Mary’s: “The communication being cut at Terre Bonne [sic] by the enemy, I send round to you by sea, to direct you to hold on till the last extremity…” 63
About 4 p.m. that Sunday, after a day of celebration in Thibodaux, the Texans were ordered to advance on the Crossing. Colonel Major ordered the thin regiment of C. L. Pyron to attack Stickney’s defenders at the railroad bridge. 64 It was an attack “under the most distressing circumstances, rain pouring down and mud half a leg deep.” Major called it “one of the heaviest rains that I ever saw fall.” 65
Three times Pyron’s men rushed the Union line, and three times they failed to take and hold the bridge. 66 Something was wrong. Merrick, who was in Colonel Joseph Phillips’ regiment, wrote later that Colonel B. W. Stone’s regiment was ordered to assist Pyron but failed to do so. Phillips, meanwhile, could not get permission for his command to enter the fray. “Darkness put an end to this hand to hand combat.” 67
Pyron’s headlong rushes into the Union position (“utterly regardless of life,” a Yankee wrote) cost the regiment as many as one hundred dead and wounded. 68 After the battle Union soldiers sampled the canteens of the Texans casualties, discovering the mixture of liquor and gunpowder that fueled the Southern attack. 69
Although Colonel Major ordered his men to fall back (stagger back?) to Thibodaux, the Yankees spent a restless night worrying about the safety of New Orleans. A force of bloodied Texans at large just west of the city could be as dangerous as a loose cannon on the deck of a man-of-war. For the Yankees it was only the beginning; they were to suffer three uneasy weeks.
Farragut rushed the U. S. S. Kineo to a point 30 miles above New
62 O. R. XXVI, pt. 1, 580; Winters, Civil War, p. 286.
63 O. R. XXVI, pt. 1, 581.
64 Merrick, “Notes and Sketches.”
65 Ibid.; O. R. XXVI, pt. 1, 218.
66 Winters, Civil War, pp. 286-287.
67 Merrick, “Notes and Sketches.”
68 Sherman, “Civil War Reminiscences,” 882.
Orleans where it could cover Stickney if he retreated along the railroad. 70 Emory scraped the bottom of the barrel, sending two regiments and a battery by train toward Lafourche. 71 In the conquered city of 169, 000 population only 400 Union soldiers remained. 72 On Monday Major led his cavalry west toward the Bayou Boeuf, avoiding any renewal of heavy fighting. 73
Taylor’s audacious plan might have been in jeopardy following the defeat at the Crossing, but the Confederates were in luck. Stickney missed his opportunity. Instead of attacking, his troops destroyed the railroad bridge they had defended and retreated toward New Orleans. 74
The storm that turned the Lafourche battleground into a bloody mire on June 21 was more than local. Rains also struck the camp of the remainder of Taylor’s army on the Bayou Teche, 45 miles to the west.
That Sunday night, not far from the town of Pattersonville, a soaked group of Louisiana and Texas horseman left their horses and trudged through the downpour to the headquarters of Major Sherod Hunter. Now, officially, these Confederates were about to learn what was going on—why flatboats, skiffs, bateaux, dugouts, even sugar coolers, had been collected from all over the district. 75
The men were not new to the business of soldiering. When told to provide themselves three days’ rations of flour and bacon before reporting to Hunter they knew that “there was fun ahead, though having no correct idea of where we were going, how long we were going to stay, or when we would return.” They also drew good arms, something they did not always possess, plus 40 rounds of cartridges and one blanket each. It all was a “sure sign of a fight…” 76
Taylor, who had been with Colonel Major near the Mississippi a few days earlier, arrived at the Camp on Monday afternoon. He learned of the enthusiasm of the troops when, on Sunday, 250 volunteers
70 O. R. N., XX, 312, 325.
71 O. R., XXVI, pt. 1, 580.
72 Ibid., p. 578.
73 Ibid., p. 219; Irwin, Nineteenth Army Corps, p. 239.
74 Duganne, Camps and Prisons, p. 143; Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, p. 142.
75 Theophilus Noel, A Campaign from Santa Fe to the Mississippi, Being a History of the Old Sibley Brigade…(1865; reprinted ed., Raleigh, N. C., 1961), p. 53; Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, p. 140.
76 Noel, Campaign, p. 53.
Were sought for a special mission; more than 325 stepped forward. 77 These were the men who endured the stormy night near Hunter’s headquarters.
On Monday there was time for the volunteers to stroll to the Teche nearby, to inspect what Green was calling “The Mosquito Fleet.” 78 The men of Colonel William G. Vincent’s 2d Louisiana Cavalry may have been busy explaining the sugar coolers to the Texans. One of Hunter’s curious cavalrymen described the sugar coolers as flat-bottomed wooden troughs two feet deep, six feet wide, and eight feet long, used at plantation sugar houses for cooling the cooked can molasses which would settle and granulate. 79 The sugar coolers were not made for water travel, but they would float.
In addition to some of Vincent’s Louisianians, the volunteers were three companies of the 2d Texas-Arizona (the companies of Captains James H. Price, D. C. Carrington, and R. P. Boyce), Captain J. P. “Phil” Clough’s Company C of the 5th Texas Mounted Volunteers, and possibly others from that regiment, and Captain J. T. Hamilton’s company of Major L. C. Rountree’s Battalion. Also, Captain W. A. McDade was there with fifty volunteers from the 13th Texas Cavalry Battalion of Major Edwin Waller, Jr. 80
As word spread as to their mission, the Rebel non-coms and privates could be certain of one thing: For the generals and colonels relief of Port Hudson might be the goal, but for those in the ranks the prize would be the supplies at the Union base. One Rebel explained that they were “getting very hungry. The Federals had an immense supply depot on their side of Bayou Atachafalia [sic]…We actually and absolutely needed those supplies.” 81
Near nightfall the activity at the edge of the Teche attracted a crowd of soldiers who watched as the volunteers clambered into, or onto, their strange steeds. More than one called the forthcoming night’s venture a “forlorn hope.” 82
About sundown on June 22, 1863, possibly somewhat earlier in
77 Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, p. 141; O. R. XXVI, pt. 1, 223; Raphael, Battle, p. 168.
78 O. R., XXVI, pt. 1, 225.
79 Theophilus Noel, Autobiography and Reminiscences of Theophilus Noel (Chicago, 1904), p. 149.
80 Noel, Campaign, p. 53; Telegraph, July 6, 1863; Spurlin, comp. and ed., West of the Mississippi, p. 5.
81 Noel, Autobiography, pp. 148-149.
82 Noel, Campaign, p. 53; Telegraph, July 6, 1863; Duganne, Camps and Prisons, p. 143
the day (accounts differ), more than three hundred Texas and Louisiana cavalrymen shoved an assortment of small water craft into the slow, winding water of the Bayou Teche and began paddling down steam. 83 Some of their “frail barks” held only two men; the average was six per boat. One skiff was crowded with fifteen and was informally christened the Tom Green in honor of the commander of the Texas Cavalry Brigade. Reports vary on the number of “their crazy water-craft,” ranging from thirty-seven to fifty-three. 84
In the fleet headed for Louisiana’s big Union base, Brashear City, were Major Sherod Hunter, the Confederate frontiersman from the desert Southwest, and Major James D. Blair of the 2d Louisiana Cavalry, Hunter’s second-in-command for the night’s expedition. 85 The Southerners had twelve miles of water to row across before sunup. 86
Major Hunter was lucky, the night was calm. None of the reports mentions rain. General Richard Taylor, who conceived the attack, wrote of Hunter that, “fortunately, there was no wind; for the slightest disturbance of the lake would have swamped his fleet.” 87
Not all the fresh-water sailors saw it that way. One recalled that, although no boat was swamped, it seemed windy to him. They tried to maintain a buddy system, the craft traveling in pairs. Some became lost. Whether cloudy or not, June 22-23 was a dark night; not until June 24 would the slender moon attain first-quarter stage. 88
One participant, Private W. Randolph Howell of Company C, 5th T. M. V., contributed his account in a book published early in 1865: A Campaign from Santa Fe to the Mississippi…, compiled by Theo. (Theophilus) Noel, a private in the 4th T. M. V. Much of the book was provided by Howell, including his report of the Brashear City attack which occurred while Noel was a Union prisoner. 89
83 Noel, Campaign, p. 53; Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, p. 141; O. R., XXVI, pt. 1, 223; Telegraph, July 6, 1863.
84 Duganne, Camps and Prisons, p. 144; Noel, Campaign, p. 53; O. R., XXVI, pt. 1, 223; Irwin, Nineteenth Army Corps, p. 241.
85 Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, p. 141.
88 Noel, Campaign, p. 54; P. K. Seidelmann, Director, Nautical Almanac Office, U. S. Naval Observatory, Washington, D. C., 28 September 1982, to author.
89 Noel, Campaign, p. 51.
Truly it was a noel scene. Fifty-three skiffs, &c., all crowded and loaded down to “the guards,” and marching first by twos and then promiscuously down the beautiful Teche to the junction, thence up the Atchafalaya into and across Grand Lake, thence through passes in the timber and over two or three other lakes, (the names of which I have long forgotten)… Flat Lake, the water of which was so shallow that the boats frequently touched bottom.
The boys had by this time become weary of rowing, though the occupants of each boat took it by reliefs. The Tom Green was the largest of the fleet, and carried fifteen of us. She had double oars, and with three reliefs of four men each, and a steersman for each relief, it will be seen that every man did his duty. The labor of some of the crews of the smaller craft was much heavier. I remember seeing frequently during the voyage two of Waller’s Battalion, who embarked in a dug-out, and consequently were compelled to pull at the oars all the while, and when out of sight of land and the wind rather high, they were often asked “when the next relief cam on?” But there was no relief for those two until land was reached.
The night being very dark and the boats, on account of the wind, being difficult to control, and especially as our boys knew little of naval affairs, a portion of the fleet with nearly 100 men were [sic] lost and did not arrive in time to participate in the storming of the city…
At daybreak on the morning of June 23d, we landed on the eastern shore of Flat Lake, dried gun tubes, loaded pieces, and set off for [the] scene of action by single file, through mud, water, and the tall palmetto…
After marching four miles in that swamp, we suddenly emerged from it into a large field, where we came “front into line” in full view of the city and the booming cannon…90
Sober second thoughts developed immediately. Ahead were earthworks and row after row of white tents “pitched thickly for the space of half a mile…” 91 Was Banks’ army lying in wait? The tents were those left behind by the hurried departure three mornings earlier of the New York and Connecticut companies that Lieutenant Colonel Stickney took to Lafourche Crossing, and those of the remaining
90 Ibid., pp. 53-54.
91 Duganne, Camps and Prisons, p. 119.
garrison and the several hundred convalescents. Many tents were empty, for the walking convalescents and the garrison had hurried toward the action at the Bay where at daybreak Confederate artillery had opened fire. 92
Later a captured Union sergeant reported that the Rebels told him that, when they first saw the mass of tents, they “fancied a large army was before them, and fled back to the swamps from whence they came, but Hunter succeeded in rallying them in season to make the attack…” He added, “Major Hunter does not mention this fact in his official reports… his men did so, however, and it is in the enlisted men who state facts seldom found in official reports.” 93
Corroboration comes from a captured Union officer who heard that Hunter “made use of some tolerably big oaths” in dressing-down his troopers. The Yankee’s expurgated version:
“We may all be shot… Not one of us may get back to the brigade; but, gentlemen, we’d better just fall down in our tracks than go back disgraced, and have old Tom Green tell us so!” 94
Major Hunter’s “gentlemen” shaped up and moved ahead, their faces pale in anticipation of battle. 95
Brashear City’s defenders could have been ready for Hunter. During the night a scout reported to Lieutenant colonel Duganne, who had moved to command the entrenched troops at the Bayou Boeuf bridge nine miles east, that boats were crossing Lake Palourde behind Brashear City. Duganne sent First Lieutenant J. P. Robens to advise Major Anthony at Brashear City. There is no evidence that Anthony paid heed. 96
That same night somewhere in the swamps to the east between Thibodaux and Bayou Boeuf were Major’s few hundred hungover, saddle-weary troopers. Taylor did not know where they were.
In the darkness Mouton and Green were busy on the west shore
92 Sherman, “Civil War Reminiscences.” 998; Irwin, Nineteenth Army Corps, p. 241.
93 Bosson, Forty-Second Regiment, p. 268.
94 Duganne, Camps and Prisons, p. 145.
95 Walter Prescott Webb, The Texas Rangers: A Century of Frontier Defense (1935, reprint, Austin, 1977), p. 164. quoting Ranger Capt. Leander H. McNelly: “In the Confederate army I noticed that just before battle all men get pale.” McNelly, then a young Cavalrymen, participated in the Brashear City action, June 23-24, 1863.
96 Duganne, Camps and Prisons, p. 135; Bosson, Forty-Second Regiment, p. 266.
of Berwick Bay. They moved five hundred Confederates into the woods and deserted buildings along the shore opposite Brashear City. Horses were left in camp while brute manpower silently moved the four-gun Valverde battery to the waterfront. 97
Tuesday, June 23, 1863, dawned for the Union garrison with the rude impact of Confederate shells. The Yankees were totally surprised: “…the reveille was sounded for them by the guns of the Valverde battery. Thus sharply aroused…the garrison gave its whole attention to returning, with the heavy guns, the fire of Green’s field-pieces across Berwick Bay.” 98
Green’s light artillery could be no match for the northern heavy guns on the shore and those of the U. S. S. Hollyhock, but forty or fifty rounds were fired by the Southerners before there was an answer from the Union cannon. Rebel solid shot crashed through the depot and other balls struck the wharf and landed in the convalescent camp. 99 The Union gunboat and a nearby transport, the Kepper, offered choice targets: there is no report that either was hit. 100 The Confederate barrage did what was desired—all Yankee attention was directed toward the Bay.
A Union private reported, “It was great sport…for the boys, few of whom had ever witnessed such a sight, to watch the shells in their encircling aerial flight across the bay and as they exploded in our rear.” 101
A 24-pounder was moved from Fort Buchanan to near the depot, opposite the Rebel Cannon. When it was into action the Rebels across the channel were forced to shift their battery. 102
Other Northerners rushed to the waterfront and opened fire with smooth-bore muskets. At 800 yards their accuracy could be none too good, but this, too, was great sport. 103 No one bothered to watch the swamp at the rear. Thus, “the alert enemy, taking advantage of our neglect, got into our rear ‘as slick as a pin’.” 104
97 Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, p. 141.
98 Irwin, Nineteenth Army Corps, p. 241.
99 O. R. N., XX, 834; Bosson, Forty-Second Regiment, p. 266.
100 O. R. N., XX, 312.
101 Sherman, Lowlands of Louisiana, p. 27.
102 Bosson, Forty-Second Regiment, p. 267.
103 Ibid., p. 266; Sherman, “Civil War Reminiscences,” 998.
104 Sherman, “Civil War Reminiscences,” 997.
The ships got up steam and raised anchor. The U. S. S. Hollyhock opened fire as she moved toward the Rebel battery, then reversed course and backed down the bay about a mile. From there her howitzers kept firing, with little effect. 105
While Yankee attention continued to be turned toward the bay, behind the base Major Hunter led his men through woods about 400 yards from the rail depot, flanking the road between it and Fort Buchanan. Hunter ordered his comrades of the 2d Texas-Arizona to follow him in a bayonet charge across open ground to the right, toward the fort, while Major Blair led the Louisianians and the other Texans past an orange grove and across the tracks toward the star fort on their far left. It successful, the two columns were then to close on the rail facilities in the village center. 106
From roofs across the bay, Green and other Confederates waited, watching to see if Hunter’s attack would succeed. Despite the half mile range, their exposed position was somewhat dangerous. A Yankee recalled, “I saw several heads duck after the discharge of our muskets, among them being General Green’s, as I was informed by a Confederate soldier after the close of the fight.” 107
It was an agonizing wait. A Houston newspaper correspondent with Green reported that the cannonade went on for an hour and a half before “the long looked-for forlorn hope made the appearance in the edge of the words. With a real Texas yell they at once dashed with bayonets fixed, and pistols drawn…” 108
A Northern soldier remembered, “With a yell that made one’s hair stand on end ‘like quills upon the fretful porcupine’ [they] came rushing in from a piece of woods just back of the village upon a thoroughly surprised Union camp.” 109 The impact was exactly what the Confederates wanted—the Yankees thought there were “about 800 men” in Hunter’s attacking columns. 110
Major Anthony and Captain F. W. Noblet of the artillery were at
105 Bosson, Forty-Second Regiment, p. 266; Irwin, Nineteenth Army Corps, p. 241; O. R., XXVI, pt. 1, 225.
106 O. R., XXVI, pt. 1, 224; Bosson, Forty-Second Regiment, p. 267; Duganne, Camps and Prisons, p. 148.
107 Sherman, “Civil War Reminiscences,” 997.
108 Telegraph, July 6, 1863.
109 Sherman, “Civil War Reminiscences,” 997.
the depot when Hunter’s charge began. Both mounted to ride to Fort Buchanan. Noblet’s horse was shot from under him and he took refuge in the post hospital. Anthony galloped two miles to the fort. 111
Astonished, unorganized, the several hundred Northern troops rallied here and there and attempted to fight back. The gun at the waterfront was leveled on Hunter’s column, but to no avail. 112
Within twenty minutes, according to the Texas newsman, Hunter’s men had seized the fort, “dispersed the garrison, torn down the stars and stripes and hoisted the bonnie blue flag on the ramparts.” 113
In the village and in the convalescent camp the attackers paid little attention as to whether or not their enemy was armed. The convalescents, scattering in all directions, were targets along with those Union troops who were armed and attempting a defense. The confusion was compounded by the gunpowder smoke that hung like a low fog. Unarmed men were shot down. 114 Some clusters of Federals raised white handkerchiefs while others continued firing. A Texas lieutenant with about twenty men rushed a Massachusetts sergeant whose arm wound was being bandaged by a private. The Rebel officer ordered the Yankees shot “because there was a flag of truce having been raised, and informed the major that he did not raise one. This was settled satisfactorily…” 115
Predictably, Lieutenant Colonel Duganne later uttered sarcastic words about the captain of the U. S. S. Hollyhock, “a person named Ryder…The naval hero…shamefully abandoning Brashear City at the very outset of rebel assault upon it.” 116
According to Duganne, when Major Hunter asked Major Anthony to surrender the post he asked also for the surrender of “the
111 Bosson, Forty-Second Regiment, p. 269.
112 Ibid; O. R., XXVI, pt. 1, 914.
113 Telegraph, July 6, 1863.
114 Sherman, “Civil War Reminiscences,” 998; Bosson, Forty-Second Regiment, pp. 269-271; Winters, Civil War, p. 288.
115 Bosson, Forty-Second Regiment, p. 271.
116 Duganne, Camps and Prisons, pp. 120, 147; Michael E. Pilgrim, Military Service Branch, National Archives, Washington D. C., to the author, January 13, 1983: “We have… been unable to determine the name of the commanding officer of the U. S. S. Hollyhock on June 23, 1863… Acting Master Meltiah Jordan assumed command… on July 15, 1863.”
fleet.” Anthony, seeing the gunboat steaming backward “with all speed…remarks forcibly to the Texan Major, that he wishes the recreant gun-boat could be caught by him, with the wretched poltroon who commands her.” 117 Confederates shared the low opinion of the gunboat Captain. General Mouton called the Hollyhock’s retreat “shameful.” 118
Not all resistance ended quickly. At the depot and in some of the cars other Union soldiers held out amidst the smoke and confusion. Yankee Andy Sherman recalled:
When I first saw the Confederates they were rushing in squads of fifteen or twenty men through the streets of the village, yelling and firing as they came…
I ran down the railroad track a short distance and climbed into an open freight car…from this car I fired for a few minutes at the onrushing Confederates. It was a strange sight to a boy of nineteen to see the enemy rushing furiously around the corners of the adjacent buildings, yelling as they came. Each one seemed bent on business…
In the car, when I reached it, were a few Union soldiers and also a few negroes. I do not recollect whether these negroes were armed or not, but I do distinctly recollect that the Confederate fire was soon concentrated upon this car…evidently because of the presence of the negroes. 119
Sherman slipped out the other side, briefly joined a squad attempting a defense, used up his ammunition, threw his musket and empty cartridge box into a water-filled ditch, and started toward his camp.
I was soon accosted by a Confederate major, who personally demanded my surrender; and as this seemed the only sensible thing to do under my circumstances, I readily acceded to the demand.
Seeing that I was without a musket, the officer inquired of me what had become of it, and upon being informed that I had thrown it into the water, he manifested his appreciation of my thoughtfulness for Uncle Sam by a broad, good-natured smile. 120
117 Duganne, Camps and Prisons, p. 153.
118 O. R., XXVI, pt. 1, 215.
119 Sherman, “Civil War Reminiscences,” 999-1000.
120 Ibid., 1000-1001.
Is trying to blow us up! I seen the triggers a-working, but I busted ‘em.’ Mouton now crossed with some infantry, and order was restored…126
One Union prisoner described as captors as “the most ragged, dirty-looking set of rascals I ever seen. There was plenty of pluck and spirit among them, but a great want of order and discipline. The only think uniform about them was dirt—shirt, pants, and skin being all of fine mud color…” 127 He went on to note that the “officers had little or nothing to distinguish them from the privates, though sometimes a suit of gray made its appearance.” 128
“An officer who has seen rough service on the western frontiers of Texas,” was the way Lieutenant Colonel Duganne later described Sherod Hunter. He observed that neither Hunter nor any of his “forlorn hope” had known the feeble condition of Brashear City’s defenses and thus, “they never expected to return alive, unless as paroled prisoners-of-war.” Duganne admitted, moreover, that the “ragged desperadoes” obeyed orders that day in attempting “what they deem[ed] a desperate enterprise.” 129
The renown of Texans as fierce fighters led the Yankees to believe that all of their attackers were from that state; the Louisiana cavalry simply did not have the reputation that seemingly was a part of the Texan heritage. Union Colonel Charles C. Nott, recovering from illness and not on duty when taken prisoner, declared that he had “a wholesome respect for the wild Texans…” 130
Taylor, 37, educated at Yale, son of President Zachary Taylor and brother of Jefferson Davis’s deceased first wife, was the owner of a plantation in St. Charles Parish, upriver from New Orleans, He was not a career soldier, but he proved to be a better-than-average general. His aplomb frequently was shaken by the behavior of the “wild Texans” under his command, but he could not fault their performance at Brashear City. As Taylor described them:
126 Ibid., pp. 141-142.
127 Edmonds, Yankee Autumn, p. 151.
129 Duganne, Camps and Prisons, pp. 143-144, 148.
130 Charles Cooper Nott, Sketches in Prison Camps: A Continuation of Sketches of the War (New York, 1865).
The men were hardy and many of the officers brave and zealous, but the value of these qualities was lessened by lack of discipline…Their experience in war was limited to hunting down Comanches and Lipans, and, as in all new societies, distinctions of rank were unknown. Officers and men addressed each other as Tom, Dick, or Harry, and had no more conception of military gradations that of the celestial hierarchy of the poets.131
Another wild bunch of Texans under Colonel Major was advancing through the swamps toward Bayou Boeuf that June day. Despite Taylor’s orders, they were not on time, but they came close. They reached the east bank of the bayou near the railroad bridge about 4 p.m., cutting off a possible retreat of the Federals entrenched on the west bank, and also reducing the possibility that a counterattack could be mounted against Hunter.132
In lower Berwick Bay, meanwhile, the Hollyhock steamed out to the gulf, there to intercept the incoming St. Mary’s bearing General Emory’s orders to the commanding officer at Brashear City: “Hold on till the last extremity.”133 The U. S. S. Hollyhock continued out to sea.
During the morning’s fighting, young Sherman observed that blacks in Union uniforms seemed to draw particularly heavy fire. He had an opinion: “The Confederates cherished a special dislike for negroes in any way affiliated with Yankee soldiers.” 134 What happened to the blacks when the fighting ceased? The answer is uncertain. Sergeant Major Bosson reported that after a half hour of fighting from the railroad car, the black soldiers “suddenly stampeded to the woods…”135 He added:
A curious feature in regard to prisoners taken at Brashear is that no negro soldiers were among them. As no one saw or heard of any cut-throat actions towards colored Federal soldiers, the supposition would seem to be well founded that they all escaped capture in some way through the wooded swamps.136
131 Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, p. 126.
132 O. R., XXVI, pt. 1, 219.
133 O. R. N., XX, 312.
134 Sherman, “Civil War Reminiscences,” 880.
135 Bosson, Forty-Second Regiment, p. 269.
136 Ibid, p. 279.
In the North, however, another report soon circulated. It was published by John Russell Bartlett, Rhode Island author and former chief of the U. S. portion of the Mexican boundary survey. Bartlett fought the war with his pen, using as his Nom de guerre, “Col. Percy Howard, late of the Royal Horse Guards.” Later in 1863, under that name, he issued a pamphlet which bore a title out of all proportion to its 40 pages: The Barbarities of The Rebels, as Shown in their Cruelty to the Federal Wounded and Prisoners; in Their Outrages upon Union Men; in the Murder of Negroes, and in Their Unmanly Conduct Throughout the Rebellion.
Among his tales, under the heading, “Murder of Two Thousand Negroes by Texans, at Brashear City,” Bartlett included what he described as a letter from New Orleans published in the New York Tribune of June 30, 1863.137 His attribution was somewhat in error, latter portion of a June 30 dispatch “From Our Special Correspondent” in New Orleans. It appeared in the New York Daily Tribune on July 8, and was buried on Page 4; page 1 on that day was taken over by the news (via Cairo, III.) of the fall of Vicksburg.138
The essentials of the story:
…a week ago, Brashear City was surprised and captured, with all the troops, numbering about 1,000 men…Before I come to my story of cruelties, I express what is every day being repeated by all hands, that the surprise was the most disgraceful and inexcusable of almost any in the history of the war…
I learn that the great contraband camp [of blacks] near Brashear City was dashed upon by the furious Texans. When in the camp a few weeks previous, I found there as many as 6,000 old men, women, and children. Of these 2,000 or 3,000 were removed before the attack. Those who remained were slaughtered by the Texan cavalry in the most shocking manner. The cry of the suckling babe, the prayer of the aged, the shrieks of the mother, had no effect. The slaughter was terrible…
One incident about a few black soldiers at the surprise at Brashear Capt. [Albert] Allen, one of Gen. [Daniel] Ullman[n]’s recruiting officers, had about 150 recruits, with a couple of recruiting
137 John Russell Bartlett [Col. Percy Howard, pseud.], the Barbarities of the Rebels… (Providence, R. I., 1863), pp. 6-7.
138 New York Daily Tribune, July8, 1863.
sergeants. They were all armed, and on board a car, waiting patiently to start for New Orleans in a few moments. The attack was made. The captain was not surprised. He and his men made a breastwork of the car, and there they fought the rebels alone, till nearly every one died. Those who survived were instantly slain by the ruffians, who hungered for their blood as a lion for his prey… Whether the captain survived is a mystery…139
The white officer, Captain Allen, survived. As for the black troops, Sergeant Bosson’s supposition that they escaped through the swamp may be closer to the truth.
Captain Allen was among more than forty Union commissioned officers captured. 140 Within a few days all the able-bodied officers began a long march to Shreveport and ultimately to the large prison camp near Tyler, Texas (Camp Ford). 141
Not all the prisoners were taken in the morning assault on Brashear City, for there still was a strong force nine miles to the east at the Bayou Boeuf railroad bridge. Lieutenant Colonel Duganne and some of his New York regiment had moved there from Brashear City two days earlier to reinforce the Union defenders on the west bank of the bayou, awaiting attack from Major’s Texans who were advancing from Thibodaux. That force reached the bridge Tuesday afternoon but did not attempt a crossing of the bayou.142
At daybreak Wednesday, June 24, Duganne raised a while flag, but he did not surrender to Major. Instead he offered his sword to “a dirty and dilapidated” Texas youth who approached from Brashear City: Leander H. McNelly, still in his teens, commander of a free-roaming scout company for Green. With about two dozen men and a large measure of Texan impudence, McNelly captured 400 Yankees that morning.143
In all, more than 1,200 Union soldiers were captured at Brashear City and Bayou Boeuf. For two or three days many were confined to Fort Buchanan, the fortification north of Brashear City that
137 Bartlett. Barbarities, pp. 6-7.
140 Bosson, Forty-Second Regiment, p. 275; J. P. Robens, The Old Flag (New York, n. d.), appendix (this is a reproduction, nearly contemporary, of the Camp Ford, Texas, prison camp newspaper.)
141 Sherman, “Civil War Reminiscences,” 1001-1002.
142 Duganne, Camps and Prisons, p. 131.
143 Ibid., p. 171; O. R. XXVI, pt. 1, 216, 226.
Hunter and his companies captured in their first rush. In his honor, the Confederates renamed the earthwork “Fort Hunter.”144
The enlisted prisoners were paroled later in the week and marched on the railroad to Algiers, opposite New Orleans. Nearly all, including the convalescents, were able to make the 80-mile journey afoot.145
Yankees Bosson and Sherman described the march.
Sherman: “So far as I was bale to observe, the Confederate guards were very considerate in their treatment of the prisoners…”146
Bosson: “At first the Confederate guard was a Company of Louisiana Infantry, soon relieved by a cavalry company of Colonel Baylor’s Rangers, because the infantry could not keep up with the impatient prisoners. The guard was kind in their treatment of this charge, while under strict orders to shoot down any man attempting to straggle or forage without permission. As to rations, they faced no better than their prisoners…”147
Major Hunter found time on June 26 to report in writing to General Mouton. He described the “steady pull of about eight hours,” with muffled oars, to the rear of Brashear City. There, about sunrise [I] commenced to disembark my troops, the men wading out in water from 2 to 3 feet deep… shoving their boats into deep water… Thus cutting off all means of retreat, we could only fight and win…
Finding myself discovered by the enemy, I determined to charge at once, and, dividing my command into two columns, ordered the left…to charge the fort and camp below and to the left of the depot, and the right… to charge the fort and sugar-house above and on the right of the depot; both columns to concentrate at the railroad buildings…[T]he troops moved on with a yell. Being in full view, we were subjected to a heavy fire from the forts above and below, the gun at the sugar-house, and gunboats [sic] below town, but, owing to the rapidity of our movements, it had but little effect… At the depot the fighting was severe, but of short duration, the enemy surrendering the town.
144 Diary, Duncan C. Carothers Collection, Texas State Library and Archives, Austin, entry for June 27, 1863, cited hereafter as Carothers, “Diary.”
145 Irwin, Nineteenth Army Corps, p. 241; Sherman, “Civil War Reminiscences,” 1001-1002.
146 Sherman, “Civil War Reminiscences,” 1002.
147 Bosson, Forty-Second Regiment, pp. 279-280.
My loss is 3 killed and 18 wounded; that of the enemy, 46 killed, 40 wounded, and about 1, 300 prisoners. We have captured eleven 24 and 32 pounder siege guns; 2, 500 stand of small-arms (Enfield and Burnside rifles), and immense quantities of quartermaster’s commissary, and ordnance stores, some 2,000 negroes and between 200 and 300 wagons and tents.
I cannot speak too highly of the gallantry and good conduct of the officers and men under my command. All did their whole duty, and deserve alike equal credit from our country for our glorious and signal victory…
Major, Baylor’s (Texas) Cavalry,
Commanding Mosquito Fleet. 148
Mouton, in turn, praised “the gallant Maj. Sherod Hunter, declaring, “The conduct of General Green, Colonel Major, Major Hunter, and the officers and men under them, is beyond all praise…” 149
Taylor joined in, sending a message to Kirby-Smith:
I would respectfully call the attention of the lieutenant-general commanding the gallantry and meritorious services of Major Hunter and the officers commanding the detachments which composed his expedition, and earnestly suggest that they may be brought to the notice of the Government.150
In his memoirs, Taylor recalled with pleasure the capture of Brashear City’s immense supplies, Which he valued at more than $2,000,000: “For the first time since I reached western Louisiana I had supplies, and in such abundance as to serve for the Red River campaign of 1864.”151
He indulged in reasonably humble self-congratulation: “Although every precaution had been taken to exclude mistakes and insure cooperation, such complete success is not often attained in combined military movements; and I felt that sacrifices were due to Fortune.”152
148 O. R., XXVI, pt. 1, 223-224.
149 Ibid, pp. 215-216.
150 Ibid, pp. 224-225.
151 Ibid., p. 212; Taylor Destruction and Reconstruction, pp. 142-143.
152 Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, p. 142.
Taylor’s gamble won its first payoff, but the prime object was the relief of Port Hudson. To that end, Confederate cavalry, infantry, and artillery began crossing Berwick Bay, headed east. Would Banks now remove troops from the siege to defend New Orleans?
Outside Port Hudson the bad news reached General Banks. He assured Emory, “It is incredible that the gunboats should have allowed such a force as you described to cross without notice, that the Hollyhock should have left without taking off the garrison.”154 From New Orleans, Emory wired back a sharp reply, “You need no longer be incredulous.”155
The New Orleans commandant had few troops, many worries. Where would the Rebels Strike next?
He warned Forts Jackson and St. Philip, guarding the gulf approaches fully seventy miles downstream from New Orleans:
You must be on the alert, and keep your posterns closed. It is rumored here that there is to be an attempt to surprise and capture you, as Brashear City has been, and by the same party…156
Had he known, Major Hunter would have been pleased by this compliment to the abilities of his sugar cooler cavalry.
To a naval colleague, Admiral Farragut admitted:
They are now marching upon this city and we are expecting a lively time… The idea is that the moment the rebel army arrives opposite New Orleans the rebels in the city will rise and seize the arms and public stores… We will forget our humanity in such a case, and therefore I trust it will not occur. I am disposing of everything now for the attack.157
The Confederates, however, were concentrating eighty miles
153 O. R. N., XX, 313.
155 Ibid., p. 593.
156 O. R., XXVI, pt. 1, 599.
157 O. R. N., XX, 315.
above. On Saturday afternoon, June 27, Green asked that all women and children be evacuated from Donaldsonville; the Texans intended to attack. Attack they did, beginning between 1 and 2 a.m. the next day. They failed to take the Union fort—something went awry in the Southern plans. One of the Texas regiments that was to attack never did so; they did not have a guide and got lost in the dark.158
The Southern threat remained, however. Twelve Confederate artillery pieces soon overlooked the Mississippi a few miles to the south, and Rebel scouts crossed the river to cut the telegraph line linking Baton Rouge and New Orleans.159
By June 30, Sherod Hunter and 100 men of Baylor’s 2d Texas-Arizona were scouting east of Thibodaux. Southern troops were “in force” on the road between Thibodaux and Algiers via Vacherie; by July 2 they were at Des Allemands Bayou on the railroad; Taylor reported his horsemen were opposite Kenner, only 16 miles from Jackson square. 160
“Emory was marching troops out of the city at night and in by day to simulate re-enforcements,” a union officer wrote.161
Time was running out for the Confederates, however. Although the news took several days to travel downstream, Vicksburg surrendered on July 4.
South of Donaldsonville on the Mississippi, Southern artillery fire halted Union transports for three days. Supplies to the besiegers at Port Hudson were interrupted and Northern horses and mules “went upon half, or quarter rations of grain, with little hay or none.”162
On July 8, Confederate Colonel John L. Logan of the 11th Arkansas Infantry, commanding a small force in the Florida Parishes of Louisiana, east of the river, reported receiving a dispatch from General Green. Despite Green’s success in halting the passage of U. S. transports, Federal gunboats still were shooting their way
158 Ibid., p. 325; O. R., XXVI, pt. 1, 213, 216, 219; Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, p. 144; Winters, Civil War, p. 291; Noel, Campaign, pp. 56-57.
159 Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, p. 144; O. R., XXVI, pt. 1, 213
160 Carothers, “Diary,” entry of June 30, 1863; O. R., XXVI, pt. 1, 213, 613, 639.
161 De Forest, Volunteer’s Adventures, p. 146.
162 Irwin, Nineteenth Army Corps, p. 218; Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, p. 145.
through, hugging the east bank. Green asked if Colonel Logan’s east bank Rebels could lend a hand.163
Logan responded, urging the Texan general to hold the riverbank and communicate with Port Hudson’s defenders: “…provision the garrison…by swimming beeves across the river.”164
But, July 8 was the last day of the siege. Port Hudson had fallen.
Quickly Banks shipped reinforcements to Donaldsonville, seeking to cut off the Rebels on the river below. Hunter was with his regiment on the west bank of the Mississippi when Green ordered a pullback to defenses along the levees on both sides of the Bayou Lafourche. Baylor’s troops and most of the Texans who had ridden with Colonel Major on his sweep through the Lafourche district in June moved into position on the east side of the bayou.165
The last battle on the Lafourche was fought the morning of July 13, chiefly on the west side plantation of Charles Kock, a short distance below Donaldsonville. The result was a Rebel victory, but, like the skirmish that Hunter’s men fought in the Arizona desert fifteen months earlier, turning back the enemy and disrupting their plans could provide only temporary gain.166
With fewer than 3,000 troops, Taylor could not risk remaining east of the Atchafalaya now that Banks had thousands available. The Rebels pulled out of Thibodaux on July 19. Once again Hunter was with the rear guard. They traveled all night, retreating west along the rail line and burning the bridges as they passed.167
At Brashear City the four weeks following June 23 had been busy ones. Nearly everything movable was shipped across the Bay into the Teche district.168 Low water protected the Rebels; off lower Berwick Bay U. S. ships were powerless to interfere. Banks had to
163 O. R., XXVI, pt. 1, 182-183.
165 Ibid., pp. 215, 222-223, 230-232; Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, p. 145; Federal Writers Program, W. P. A., Louisiana—A guide to the State, American Guide Series (New York, 1941), p. 574; Lewis P. Hale, “The Military Activities of the State of Texas in the American Civil War, 1861-1865” (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of California, Berkely, 1935), p. 161.
166 O. R., XXVI, pt. 1, 230-232.
167 Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, p. 146; Carothers, “Diary,” entries of July 19 and 20, 1863; Edwin C. Bearss, ed., A Louisiana Confederate: Diary of Felix Pierre Poche, trans. By Eugene W. Somdal (Natchitoches, La. 1972), p. 6.
168 Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, pp. 145-146; Bearss, ed., Louisiana Confederate, p. 249.
report: “We have but four boats that can cross the bar at the present low stage of water, and these were so much out of repair, after long service, that they could not be at once moved.”169
On July 21 the Confederates again abandoned Brashear City.170 After the Union reoccupation an Illinois soldier was amused by a twice-amended sign on the Brashear City warehouse that he occupied. Originally the sign read, “Ordnance Stores.” Rebels altered this to read, “Ordnance Stores Captured from the Yankee Army, June 27 [sic], 1863.” Beneath this some recent arrival added, “Avaunt, Old Jeff, Louisiana is redeemed.”171
Taylor had not succeeded; Port Hudson was not saved. The Mississippi now was securely in Union Control. But Taylor’s army had captured supplies sufficient for months to come, and the surprising victory at Brashear City—though overshadowed by July’s losses at Vicksburg, Port Hudson, and Gettysburg—temporarily boosted the morale of civilians and soldiers in the region. 172
In the North the greater victories of July erased the sting of the loss of Brashear City; Hunter’s expedition was soon forgotten.
As the memory faded, there remained the captured supplies, balm to Taylor. There were more goods recovered than even his army could use. Along the Teche two great auctions were held, the first on July 24. About that sale a Louisiana Rebel complained, “soldiers and families were most entirely debarred from buying as the lots were too large to allow their buying anything.”173
That may have been remedied in the second sale, announced in the Opelousas Courier:
There will be auction of Government goods, captured from the Yankees when we retook the Bay, which will take place on the 3rd of August at New Iberia. The goods comprise principally 1500 dress patterns of calicoes, fancy muslin, delaines, poplins, enberage mantillas, ladies’ & children’s shoes, spool cotton, &c. Ladies will be in attendance, and no doubt there will be pretty serious skirmishes between purses.174
169 O. R., XXVI, pt. 1, 646.
170 Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction, p. 146.
171 Albert O. Marshall, Army Life: From a Soldier’s Journal… (Joliet, III., 1883), p. 288.
172 Charles L. Dufour, Ten Flags in the Wind: The Story of Louisiana (New York, 1967), p. 170.
173 Bearss, ed., Louisiana Confederate, p. 8.
174 Opelousas Courier, July 25, 1863.
For Sherod Hunter destiny continued to weave an uncertain course. By now the Arizona frontiersman had gained an intimate knowledge of Gulf Coast swamps and Bayous and, amid truly bloody skirmishes and battles, the one-time merchant in a small Tennessee town had become partially responsible for a feminine “skirmish” over the sale of dry goods in a village in southwestern Louisiana.175
175 In January, 1865, Hunter was authorized to raise a regiment in New Mexico and Arizona. At war’s end he probably went to Monterrey and Mexico city, definitely passed through the ex-confederates’ “colony” at Carlota near Vera Cruz, and returned to Tennessee as a visitor in 1866. The he dropped from sight. Anyone having any information regarding Hunter’s later life and/or death is asked to correspond with the author, L. Boyd Finch, 1734 South Regina Cleri Drive, Tucson, AZ 85710.