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Courage is like love: it must have hope for nourishment
-- Napoleon Bonaparte
On the 18th of Jan. 1863, we found ourselves encamped upon the old battle ground below New Orleans, where Jackson informed John Bull that his visit was neither welcome nor for the good for the people who had left home to avoid him and his mode of government.
We were soon drinking the inspirations of that heroic day so reminiscent of sturdy heroism and the first planting of civil liberty on the shores of the new world, and we did not fail to remember that our own cause had to trace its misfortunes to the seed this same John Bull had planted there when we were too young to resist or know.
Soon we were ordered to New Orleans to organize for Port Hudson. Then from there to Donaldsonville, 80 miles up the River. There was but a short stay there. Demonstrations on Fort Pickens & Pensacola caused the ordering of our Regiment and the 38th Conn. there to check the enemy. Here we had desultory firing on the picket lines for a few days, when the enemy withdrew. After a few weeks of watching, and after reconnaisances far up the railway into the rebel country, we became sure that the enemy had left our front and we were soon ordered back to Louisiana. At New Orleans my Co. G, Co. C. & Co. F. were detached from the Reg. for active service up the River, at Donaldsonville, Plaquemine and other points, while the remainder of the Regiment awaited orders as an emergency force at Bonnet Carre.
With headquarters, or base of supplies at Donaldsonville for months, our almost constant service was scouting, which to make easier and more efficient, we declared the horses and mules of that vicinity contraband of war, and consequently, liable to seizure by the invaders for utilitarian purposes. There were lots of little contests that could not be dignified as battles, or of sufficient importance to go to the record. The Johnnies said we disturbed the peace of the community & they proposed to treat us as a nuisance. In June/63, Johnson had come out of Alabama with 6000 men, and Taylor from Texas with 4000, and they effected a junction near Brashear City for the purpose of taking possession of some yankee rations stored there. They were large enough and sly enough to do it. Gen. Banks was besieging Port Hudson, and every effort was to be made to cut his communications with New Orleans and compel him to weaken his force there to protect his base. Johnson, with a full stomach fed from our kitchen, and a lunch in his basket, left Dick Taylor on our front with 4000 men, and on the 21st of June/63, made a forced march with 6000 men to attack Gen. Banks' rear and compel him to retire from Port Hudson, to the protection of the fleet. Couriers from our little squad were at Port Hudson twenty four hours ahead of him. When he got there, he found our rear bristleing with cannon and live yankees. He was disgusted. Meantime, Taylor made a demonstration on New Orleans with 1000 men, and with the other 3150, he proposed to obliterate us, - little us, 187 men and 34 sick and convalescents, seize the little earthwork at Donaldsonville - turn that battery on the river, sink Gen. Bank's transports - cut his communications with New Orleans and assist Johnson in raising the siege of Port Hudson. Of Gen. Banks 34,000 men at Port Hudson, more than half were sick, and unfit for duty. Only the most careful sanitary measures and feeding could keep a man on his feet. It is a climate only fit for snakes. It could reduce a sturdy New England yankee to half a man inside of three weeks.
At noon, on the 27th on June, we were driven into our works at Donaldsonville and peremptorily ordered to surrender. Then a sense of responsibility dawned upon the little squad of 187 men detailed to keep open 135 miles of communications with our base and Port Hudson in spite of 3150 Texans on our front, who were aided by every means a hostile people can give to their own, and likely to be joined by another thousand at any moment. The situation was not encouraging - Our strait was a desperate one. There were 6500 confederates at Port Hudson, and 10,000 rebels outside. Gen. Banks between them with only 14,000 men fit for duty, but well entrenched and assisted by the fleet. That was the situation on the 27th of June/63. Every man in our little force were made of New England material and consequently fit for a commission. Their educated intelligence took in every prospect before them. We had never had men enough for that Dept. The exigencies of the east prevented. Every man gave his voice for a fight, though such a thing as success found no place to put up in a reasonable conclusion. There were 187 well men and 34 sick and convalescents. When the facts became noised about in our little hospital, sick and well put on their cartridge boxes and seized the old Enfield for a chance in the glory to come. What shall I say of my own men? Sixty six and three officers in the aggregate, sick and fit for duty, together. Sailors and granite cutters from Rockland - Vinalhaven and South Thomaston. My 66 said that they were good for their part of that crowd. I proudly patted their ambition, knowing that two thirds of them were more than my equal. Ah - what a citizen soldiery was that! For defense, no regular army will ever be necessary in this country. Fighting a brother, that liberty might be universal, and that no dishonor should cling to the flag.
The demand for surrender was accompanied with a threat, that if not complied with, they would not be answerable for the consequences, if an assault was made necessary. That his name was Gen. Green, sir!! Green was always a name not to be trifled with. I had known a pedagogue of that name in my youthful days, and the repetition of the name begat a thrilling sensation down my spine that could only originate from an indelible memory of days that could only write their history in such a manner as never to be forgotten, but the threat - by implication - was pregnant with such bluff, that could only give birth to an excessive amount of unpleasantness and incisive repartee, which, though exessively redolent with insult in its hatching, was unproductive of physical consequences, but when our answer was all in, I noticed that the General's "lese majaestie" was in trouble, and he was too full for utterance. He was not as much swelled in the morning. There was a far away, reflective look in his enquiring, shriveled, disappointed face, that told us on the picket line that he was not so sure as he had been - that one confederate could lick five yankees. Thirty one hundred and fifty had failed to drive 187 vigorous and 34 sick men out of the place where they wanted to stay, and they had left 128 healthy hostages, including 18 Commissioned officers, with that yankee squad, as a quarranty that they would keep off their grass. The night set in cloudy and dark. A magnificent opportunity for a night assault. So thought we and we prepared accordingly. Buildings were fixed to be set on fire on our front, when our pickets should be compelled to fall back. Our guns were loaded with double headed canister. The sickest man was to pull the lanyard. The convalescents were to pass ammunition, if not able to back a bayonet. Capt. Neil, Co. F - Capt. Johnson, Co. C, covered the gateway and battery. My Co. G covered the right and river approaches. Our artillerymen had been educated on fourth of July cannon, and knew none of the methodical embarrassments of the regulars.
A little past midnight, the pickets advised us from their two miles away on the front, that there was a prospect for business. As they fell back, they set fire to the buildings, & Gen. Green sir! found that the midnight darkness of Louisiana was totally unreliable as an auxilliary. By the aid of these incendiary torches, we were able to locate the enemy, and we were sure they knew it, after running on to Co. C. and F. and our battery on the front, when they put for the woods and prepared for another means of approach, out of reach of our artillery. The Princess Royal, Gunboat, was in the river, but the water had fallen off 35 feet and they could only get over the levee with an elevation of 4 1/2 degrees, but their lookout at the masthead discovered a chance for business in that woods, and a few eleven inch shells told Johnny to go home and behave himself. There was a lull in the fight, that, comparatively, had hardly begun. There was to be three points of attack. From the roofs of the buildings in Donaldsonville, not 400 feet away, they could open a plunging fire from sharpshooters on Capt. Neil's Co. F. on the left. They did. On the centre front, with the artillery, Capt. Johnson with his Co. C., held the main body of the enemy in check. On the right, under the levee, in the thick darkness, - for most of our fires had burned out - 300 picked Texans were creeping stealthily upon my own men. Maj. Bullen was sick in the quarters. Each Co. Commander had to look out for his own point of defence In the thickest part of the fight, Maj. Bullen left his sick quarters and encouraged the men in the most gallant manner. He escaped the bullet then, to meet death two days later in a quarrel at the hand of a union scout, a native of New Orleans. We buried him with military honors, in the parapet of the fort.
I append a plan of the fight, which lasted four hours and a half.
The Texans drove back our precautionary pickets that had been thrown out to follow the enemy soon after their first repulse. The Texan 300 attacked the river stockade in front of my position & swarmed down the levee under cover of the darkness. Our men, one half at the stockade, opened a rapid fire upon them, while the other half drove them to shelter close under the stockade, where our fire could not reach them. They cut through with axes. Knowing they would be overpowered there, with no shelter for defence, I ordered my men to fall back behind the levee and fix bayonets. After having put up a gallant fight at the stockade, where Lieut. John F. Perry was severly wounded and specially distinguished himself, they sought the cover of the levee and awaited the charge of the enemy, who were not 20 feet away, on the other side of the levee, lying down for a momentary rest - to get breath for the coming struggle. Only a moment, when Charge! rang out from the confederate commander, and they were upon us like devils. Each man, in single line for defence, caught his man with a bullet and then caught another on his bayonet and pushed him and all behind him down the bank again. The enemy had counted upon an easy prey. They had been told that a yankee was a swindleing shop-keeper and a greater coward than the almond eyed oriental, whose courage was a woman's. They seemed to be astonished, and then they were roused to another rush. We had not time to load and it was the bayonet again. Did you ever examine the muscle of a sailor and the granite cutters on the islands of the shore? But there was ugly talk and fury in that fight. The blue and grey were devils then. Some of our men were wounded at the stockade, but they were still fighting. A big wound was a scratch. Their hands were untouched. Within an hour, Lieut. Perry, the gallant fellow, was frightfully wounded. Lieut. Murch fell dead on the parapet, beating back a flank movement with eight men and his revolver, that threatened to enfilade our line from the right. He was a man fit for heaven, and the admiration of his countrymen. Here, too, Henry Morse, my first Sargeant fell. Brave and fearless. But the living could not stop to remove the dead. The fight became furious. Meantime Capts. Neil and Johnson were fighting like Tigers. The enemy on their front were hid in the weeds, and on the roofs of buildings. I soon had the enemy on my front unwilling to attempt another assault, and I spared a few men to work the Bayou gun, and grape shot the roofs of the buildings in Donaldsonville, while Capts. Neil and Johnson spared a few rifles to cover their work, for day was breaking.
Unsuccessful on our front, the enemy were beginning to sneak out through the hole in the stockade. The Gunboat could not help us, from fear of hitting out own men. The enemy were crouching under the bank. Corp. Edgar O. Ulmer at my suggestion, stopped their escape through the stockade by a few well directed shots from the squad with him. I then instructed my men to spring up and direct a plunging fire into the enemy as fast as they could load. The rebel commander could anticipate nothing from this rapid desultory fire, and ordered another charge, but there was a memory of yankee muscle and a bayonet that took an objection, and it didn't go. I called upon the Rebs to throw down their arms and surrender. They did. When they marched inside I had but 31 men fit to fight. There was 128 of the confederates. Fine, gallant, stalwart fellows, and such fighters! I looked upon them with such admiration, and then I was afraid they would over power us without arms. So thought Capts. Johnson and Neil. They had beat the enemy on their front and were now able to rush to our relief. The confederate prisoners were driven into a back corner of the earthwork and compelled to lie down and not speak to each other. A strong guard with cocked rifles, covered them every minute. Under the shelling of the Princess Royal, the enemy were getting out of reach as fast as possible. Nearly all of their wounded were helped or crawled away.
We were then obliged to care for our own wounded. We made rude boxes for the dead. What shall I say of those who lived? The dead were immortal, already. We could add nothing but our tears of admiration. We buried them at sunset. Admiral Faragut had arrived with four gunboats, and was shelling the woods, firing from so low a point, that the shells passed less than 30 feet above our heads. It was a wild magnificent scene I shall never forget. It was a golden sunset, and the eastern shadows coming from our own houses were spreading a twilight over the scene. The deafening roar of the heavy guns; the shrieking, hissing shells above us; the solemn voice of the Chaplain, as he gave our heroes back to God. - It was such a burial service as the soldier's ambition craves, and so fitting. Not a bit less glorious was the record of the other two companies who defended the front and gateway.
What can I say of the men I had the honor to help that day for they were as intelligent as myself. They needed no word of command from anybody. They had told me what a citizen soldiery could do in defence of the only flag that had ever sent the "defi." of civil liberty out into the world, and now from their strong arms, slavery in the republic was dying. There was to be universal liberty, and the smirch on the flag was gone. How can I distinguish between the honors due to these men, where all did equally well, better than I did, who was trying to direct, when no direction was necessary. There were no cowards there. They had fought the best troops the confederacy had ever put into the field, 14 to one, and preserved the road to the sea. It was a matter of great moment to Gen. Banks and the army at Port Hudson, which was never done with cheering after the news came. Admiral Faragut told our men it was the best fight he had ever known. That every man deserved a commission. Do you wonder that I was proud of them? Do you wonder that Capts. Neil and Johnson were proud of theirs? Men should be proud of them. They will be when they know it all, for I am going to ask you to spread their names on the history you compile, appended to this. Capts. Neil and Johnson will give you theirs. I have mislaid my rolls, and I am unable to give you a list of our killed and wounded. The living wrecks that went home, nearly all returned to the front again, in other regiments, when strong enough to go. We were mustered out at Augusta in August 1863. Knowing what space means in a history, I have written this as concisely as possible. I regret that I cannot do it better.
Note: by Captain Augustine Thompson, Company G, 28th Maine
This Day in History
France and Spain sign the Treaty of Madrid.
Congress authorizes the construction of 6 frigates, including the USS Constitution
"to provide a naval armament".
The Treaty of Amiens is signed, ending the French Revolutionary War.
The French Revolutionary War ends with the signing of the Treaty of Amiens.
U.S. troops under Gen. Andrew Jackson inflict a crushing defeat on the Creek Indians at Horshoe Bend in Northern Alabama.
The Mexican army massacres Texan rebels at Gohad.
The USS Constellation
departs New York with food for famine victims in Ireland.
Japan leaves the League of Nations.
Tokeo Yoshikawa arrives in Oahu, Hawaii, to begin spying for Japan on the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor.
Britain leases defense bases in Trinidad to the United States for 99 years.