Lest We Forget - African American Military History by Researcher, 
				Author and Veteran Bennie McRae, Jr.


MARCH 10-MAY 22, 1864.--The Red River (Louisiana) Campaign.
Report of Col. George D. Robinson Troops, commanding Engineer Brigade. Ninety-seventh U. S. Colored Infantry Regiment

NEW ORLEANS, LA., June 13, 1864.

MAJOR: In compliance with your request, I have the honor to make the following report of the engineer operations of my command during the late Red River campaign: On the morning of March 10, 1864, I started from Berwick Bay to join General Franklin's command, then stationed at Franklin, La. My command then consisted of the Third and Fifth Engineers, Corps d'Afrique, with seventeen wagons loaded with engineer tools. I reported for duty to Major-General Franklin on the 11th of March, and was ordered by him to go into camp and await further orders. On the 15th of March I received orders to be ready to march with the Nineteenth Army Corps on the following morning. Before starting upon the march the regiments (Third and Fifth Engineers) were reviewed by you. We found nothing to do in the way of building bridges or repairing roads until the army arrived at Vermillion Bayou on or about the 18th of March. Here we found that the bridge across the bayou, built by the Third Engineers in October, 1863, had been destroyed by the enemy, and it was necessary to construct another before our troops could cross. Notwithstanding my command had marched 18 miles that day, I set a portion of them at work as soon as we arrived at the bayou (about 5 p.m.), and at 9 p.m. I had a bridge constructed of sufficient strength to pass the whole army, with all the trains, and without causing any delay whatever. The position assigned to me in the order of march was near the center of the column, and so I found it necessary to make a detail of 1 officer and 30 privates, with two wagons of assorted tools, to accompany the advance brigade and repair the roads and bridges, in order that there might be no delay in passing the trains. By this plan the trains were always kept well closed up. Upon our arrival at Washington, La., March 20, I obtained two extra wagons from Lieutenant-Colonel Chandler, chief quartermaster Nineteenth Army Corps. These wagons I sent forward with assorted tools and with 20 privates (carpenters), under command of First Lieutenant Bushnell, of the Third Engineers, and Second Lieutenant Bon, of the Fifth Engineers, with orders to accompany General Lee's cavalry and repair all the bridges between Washington and Alexandria. This work was performed by them in a manner highly satisfactory. From Washington to Alexandria my command performed a great amount of hard labor corduroying the roads, which had become terribly muddy and almost impassable, owing to recent heavy rains. I arrived at Alexandria on the 25th of March, and on the following morning I took the Third Engineers and proceeded to Bayou --------, on the Red River road, 7 miles above Alexandria, and rebuilt the bridge across that stream, which had been destroyed by the enemy two or three days before.

The pontoon bridge, in charge of Capt. John J. Smith, arrived at Alexandria on the 27th, having been about two days' march behind the army, owing to difficulty in procuring the necessary transportation at Berwick Bay and to the fact that many of his mules died on the road from distemper. At this place I detailed First Lieutenant Bushnell, of the Third Engineers, and Second Lieutenant Bon, of the Fifth Engineers, to report to Captain Smith to assist him in the management of the bridge, and in this capacity they both rendered signal and important service throughout the whole campaign. On the morning of March 29, I left Alexandria at 6 a.m., with the two regiments and the pontoon train, with orders from Major-General Franklin (who left on the day before) to join him as soon as possible. I marched to Henderson's Hill, 18 miles, and encamped at 6 p.m., and shortly afterward received orders from General Franklin, who was then at Cane River, 15 miles distant, to move forward with the pontoon train through the pine woods that night, and report to him as soon as possible on the next morning. Accordingly at 8 p.m. I took the pontoon train, with the Fifth Engineers, and started through the pine woods for Cane River. The task seemed almost a hopeless one, as the night was intensely dark and the road crooked, and rendered almost impassable on account of the mud. In many places the road had to be corduroyed with brush and logs before the train could pass at all. It was also necessary to build fires all along the road at intervals of 50 or 60 yards in order to see the road. At 10 a.m. on the 30th March I reported to General Franklin, and he immediately ordered a detail from the Nineteenth Army Corps to help lay the bridge, as my own men were nearly worn out with the fatigue of marching. At 1 p.m. the bridge was ready to cross the trains. In laying the bridge we used nine bateaus, making a bridge 200 feet in length. This was the first time that this bridge had been laid, and it worked admirably. For strength and durability I regard it as the best pontoon bridge in use. The only objection to it is the difficulty in transportation. On the 31st, General Franklin ordered me to send forward the Third Engineers with the advance of the Nineteenth Army Corps, and to remain behind myself with the Fifth Engineers to take up the pontoon bridge as soon as all the troops and trains were crossed, and then report to him as soon as possible. The trains did not all get over until 10 p.m. of the 31st. As soon as all the trains had crossed I ordered the bridge to be taken up, and at 12 p.m. the bridge was all loaded and on the march. At 6 a.m. on the 1st of April I reported to Major-General Franklin at the upper crossing of Cane River, having marched nearly all night. At this place the river was fordable, and it was not necessary to lay the bridge. Here I found the Third Engineers awaiting my arrival. From this point to Natchitoches the road and bridges were in good order. My command arrived at Natchitoches on the 2d of April, and remained there in camp until the 6th, when I was ordered by General Franklin to march, with the Thirteenth Army Corps, on the road to Shreveport.

I arrived at Pleasant Hill on the 8th of April, after a very fatiguing march of three days. The roads were very bad, owing to the heavy rains, and had to be corduroyed in many places. At Pleasant Hill I received an order, at 3 p.m., from General Franklin to go into camp and move forward with my command on the following morning at 6 a.m., and report to him as soon as possible. At 12 p.m. I received orders from him to remain at Pleasant Hill until further orders; also heard of the disaster to our troops at Sabine Cross-Roads, and ordered my command to form in line of battle, and remained so until 12 m., April 9, when I received orders from General Franklin to move my command and train to Grand Ecore (35 miles back) without delay. I started immediately, marching all night, and arrived at Grand Ecore on the 10th of April, at 12 m., and went into camp. On the 12th, I was ordered by Major-General Banks to have the pontoon bridge laid across Red River. There was not bridge enough to reach across the river, so I obtained a flat-boat, and, by cutting down the ends to a level with the pontoons and building a false bottom in it, made a bridge of sufficient length to reach across. This bridge was very useful to the army, as they were short of forage, and but little could be obtained from below, while on the north bank of the river there was corn in abundance, as that country had not been overrun by either our own troops or those of the enemy. On the 16th of April the transport steamer Black Hawk, through the carelessness or maliciousness of her pilot, ran through the bridge, completely destroying three of the pontoon boats. This damage, however, was repaired by the use of two Birago trestles and a small flat-boat The bridge was kept down until the 21st of April, when it was taken up to move with the army to Alexandria. During this time I kept one company upon the bridge, day and night, to guard and keep it in repair, relieving them every six hours. On the 13th of April I was ordered by General Banks to take all my available force and construct an abatis and rifle-pits around Grand Ecore. I was engaged on this work until the 19th. On the 20th, I received orders from General Franklin to repair the road from Grand Ecore to Cane River, and to construct a crossing over the river at the nearest practicable point. I reconnoitered the road, which had never been much used, and found a good crossing about 2� miles from Grand Ecore. I immediately ordered out 200 men, under Lieutenant-Colonel Pearsall, of the Fifth Engineers, to build a bridge, and make approaches on both sides. This was all finished at 12 p.m. on the night of April 20.

On the 21st, I was ordered by General Franklin to take up the pontoon bridge and be ready to march at 5 p.m., immediately in rear of the advance brigade (General Birge's). I marched all that night and the following day, when we reached Cloutierville, only halting long enough to give the men time to make coffee, making about 35 miles in twenty-four hours. On the following morning (April 23) the enemy was found to be strongly posted in our front, at the lower crossing of Cane River, with a large force threatening our rear. General Franklin ordered me to place my troops in such a position as to be able to protect the trains of the army, in case the enemy attempted a flank movement on our left. This position I held until the crossing at Cane River had been secured by our troops, when I was immediately ordered forward to lay the bridge. At 7 p.m. the bridge was ready to pass the trains. The approaches to the bridge being very steep and difficult, I ordered three details, of 100 men each, to help the trains across the bridge. In this way all the trains were crossed before 12 m. on the following day (April 24). As soon as all the troops and trains had crossed I took up the bridge and resumed the march toward Alexandria, where I arrived on the night of April 25. On the following morning I received orders from Captain Palfrey, U.S. Engineers, and acting chief engineer Department of the Gulf, to remove all the barricades that had been erected in the streets of Alexandria, and to cut down all the timber within 1,200 yards of the city, and also to construct a battery for six guns on the Bayou Rapides road. This work was all accomplished on the 28th of April, and on the 29th I received orders from General Banks to report to Lieut. Col. Joseph Bailey, acting military engineer Nineteenth  Army Corps, for the purpose of building a dam across Red River, to bring down the gun-boats, which were held above the rapids by reason of the low stage of water. At the request of Lieutenant Colonel Bailey, Lieutenant-Colonel Pearsall, of the Fifth Engineers, and myself went with him to examine the rapids and fix upon a plan for a dam. Both Lieutenant-Colonel Pearsall and myself advised that two dams should be built, one at the upper and one at the lower falls, fearing that one dam would not stand the pressure. Lieutenant-Colonel Bailey, however, decided to build only one dam, and accordingly the dam was commenced on the morning of the 30th of April. The Third Engineers were employed in collecting and hauling the necessary material, and the Fifth Engineers in constructing the dam. The regiments were divided into two reliefs, which relieved each other every six hours, working day and night. Both officers and men worked with untiring zeal and energy. On the morning of the 9th of May, when the dam was nearly completed, the center portion gave way, owing to the enormous pressure of the water. There was, however, water enough still left on the lower rapids to admit the passage of the gun-boats. Lieutenant-Colonel Bailey then decided to adopt the plan originally recommended by Lieutenant-Colonel Pearsall and myself of building a dam at the upper rapids. This was commenced on the afternoon of May 9, and on the 12th the water was raised sufficiently to admit the passage of all the gun-boats across the upper rapids, after which there was no further difficulty, and on the 13th the gun-boats were all below the lower rapids. I received orders May 13 from General Banks to march with the Nineteenth Army Corps on the Red River road.

On the 14th I was ordered to report with my command and the pontoon bridge to Brigadier-General Grover. I reported to him at 10 p.m., near Scraggy Point, on Red River, about 24 miles below Alexandria. From this point there had formerly been a road leading to Marksville, but it had not been used for a long time as a wagon road. I was ordered by General Grover to move forward on the following morning with a sufficient force to repair the road to Bayou Choctaw (4 miles distant), and to lay the pontoon bridge across the bayou. Upon examination I found that the road was not practicable for the trains of the army until repaired. I therefore ordered the Third Engineers, under Lieutenant-Colonel Harmount, to repair this road without delay, which was fully accomplished by 12 m. In the mean time I went forward to Bayou Choctaw with the pontoon bridge, in charge of Captain Smith, and two companies of the Fifth Engineers, in charge of Captain Morrison This stream is narrow but deep, with very high banks. The bridge was laid and the approaches completed at 10 a.m., though the train did not arrive until 12 m. I left one company of the Third Engineers, under Captain Chamberlain, with orders to remain at the bridge until all the troops and trains had crossed, and then to take up the bridge and join me as soon as possible, which he did on the following morning at 4 a.m., having marched all night.

On arriving at Marksville (May 16) the enemy was found to be in force in our front, and indicating a desire to give battle. I formed my command in line of battle about 7 a.m., and took a position on the left of General Grover's command, and marched in this way until about 11 a.m., when the enemy was repulsed. The fighting was all done by the cavalry and artillery, so my troops were not engaged. Upon my arrival at Bayou De Glaize (about 10 p.m.) I received orders from General Banks to move forward that night to Yellow Bush Bayou, 3 miles from Simsport, and lay the bridge across that stream. I arrived at the bayou at 4 a.m., May 17, where I found Colonel Lucas, commanding the advance guard, crossing his cavalry on a flat-boat. I immediately ordered a detail from the Third Engineers to lay the bridge, and at 6 a.m. everything was in readiness to cross the troops. I immediately ordered my command to move across and encamp near the end of the bridge, on the east bank of Yellow Bush Bayou. On the west bank of the bayou the enemy had constructed two formidable earth-works, designed to prevent the advance of our army from Simsport. About noon, May 17, I received orders from General Emory to reverse these works and make a t�te-de-pont of them, and on the following day received orders from him to destroy the works entirely. At about 7 p.m., May 19, I received orders to take up the bridge as soon as General A. J. Smith's command had crossed, and at 2 a.m. the following morning I was informed by a staff officer from General Smith that his command had all crossed, and I ordered the bridge to be immediately taken up. At 4 a.m. the bridge was all loaded and the command ready to march. Crossed the Atchafalaya at about 8 a.m. and halted about 4 miles from Simsport, where I remained until 7 p.m., when I received orders from General Emory to resume the march on the road leading to Morganza. Marched all that night, and on the following morning (May 21) had to cut a road for about a mile through the woods at Tunica Bend, in order to allow the trains to pass. The old road, which was on the top of the levee, had been previously destroyed by the enemy in constructing a water battery at this point. After completing this road and giving the men time to make coffee, I again resumed the march and encamped that night at 10 p.m., with the Nineteenth Army Corps, about 6 miles from Morganza. I arrived at Morganza and went into camp on the 22d of May. On the following day I received orders from General Emory to furnish 100 men daily to do picket duty, and to take the rest of my command and construct embrasures and platforms along the levee for the artillery. These details I continued to furnish until the 30th, when I received orders from General Emory to report with my command to Captain Hains, U.S. Engineers, for the purpose of constructing a fort at Morganza. This work was laid out by Captain Hains, assisted by Captain Cannon, of the Third Engineers, and on the 31st the work was begun, in which my command is still engaged.

It is just that I should make some allusion to the services of officers during the campaign, and accordingly I mention the following as worthy of particular notice: Lieut. Col. U. B. Pearsall, commanding Fifth Engineers, for his untiring zeal and energy, and for the skill displayed by him in all the engineer operations of the command; Maj. Samuel Pollock and Capt. William H. Morrison, Fifth Engineers, for their skill and energy in constructing roads and bridges; Capts. Arnout Cannon and M. W. Morton, Third Engineers, for able and efficient services in reconnoitering and repairing roads and bridges; Capt. John J. Smith and First Lieut. A. F. Bushnell, of Third Engineers, for their skill and perseverance in the management of the pontoon train; First Lieut. J. William Haight, jr., adjutant of Third Engineers, for the able and efficient manner in which he performed his duties as acting assistant adjutant-general; First Lieut. and Quartermaster J. N. Knight, Third Engineers, for efficiency in the management of the engineer train. He died June 3, from disease contracted during the campaign.

Where all do well it is difficult to specify individual cases, but I think I should not be doing justice to a worthy and deserving officer if I did not make further mention of the services of Lieut. Col. U. B. Pearsall, of the Fifth Engineers, Corps d'Afrique. Throughout the whole campaign he labored with unceasing toil and devotion. The plan for building two dams across Red River, which from necessity was finally adopted, was originally proposed by him, and the success of the dam was, in my opinion, mainly due to his efforts. He labored day and night, almost without rest, and seeming to know nothing of fatigue. If the thanks of Congress are due to any one for the final success of this dam I believe they are due to him as much as to any one else. In conclusion, I would say that the organization of colored engineers is regarded as a complete success by all who have witnessed their operations. The credit of this is due to yourself, who have labored hard to bring them into their present state of efficiency, and I hope that Congress will soon make some substantial acknowledgment of your services in this department.

Respectfully submitted.


 Colonel Third Engs., Corps d'Afrique, Comdg. Eng. Brig.


Chief Engineer, Department of the Gulf




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Category: Civil War | Subcategory: Reports | Tags: Louisiana , Washington
Related Topics / Keywords / Phrases: 1863, 1864, 25th, 27th, 28th, 30th, Alexandria, Ark, Army, Assistant Adjutant-General, Bailey, Cavalry, Civil War, DE, Duro, John, Louisiana, Maine, New Orleans (Louisiana), Ohio, Robert E. Lee, Shreveport (Louisiana), Ward, Washington,