HDQRS. DEPT. OF THE GULF, NINETEENTH ARMY CORPS,
New Orleans, La., March 21, 1863.
In pursuance of the plan suggested in my last dispatches the fleet under the command of Rear-Admiral Farragut made the contemplated effort for the successful passage of the river batteries at Port Hudson on Saturday evening, the 14th instant. The fleet consisted of the flagship Hartford, Monongahela, Richmond, and Mississippi, with a gunboat lashed upon the port side of the first three named vessels. The Essex (iron-clad), Sachem, and six mortar-boats held position below the forts, enfilading by their fire the lower batteries.
The fleet moved from Baton Rouge on Friday evening at 4 o'clock, and anchored below Port Hudson until 8 o'clock on Saturday evening, when it commenced the contemplated movement, and at 11.30 o'clock the rebel batteries opened fire upon the leading ship, which was returned by the fleet with terrific and successful energy until 1 o'clock in the morning. The passage was only partially successful. The Hartford, with the Albatross, ran the gauntlet successfully. The Monongahela reached the center batteries, when she was disabled by all accident to her machinery and fell back to her former position. The Richmond was disabled by a shot through her steam-drum, and followed the Monongahela. The Mississippi, having passed the center batteries, ran aground, and, after sustaining the concentrated fire of the batteries for half an hour and removing the sick and wounded, she was fired and blown up by order of her commander, Smith. Nothing was saved from the ship but officers and crew and nothing was left to the enemy.
Admiral Farragut, with the Hartford and Albatross, was reported at Waterloo on Sunday. The Richmond, Monongahela, and the gunboats Essex (iron-clad), Sachem, Genesee, and Kineo, with the six mortars, reached Profit's Island, 3 miles below Port Hudson.
The loss of life was chiefly sustained by the Mississippi. It is believed that the killed, wounded, and prisoners will not exceed 70. The loss on the other vessels was comparatively light, but including among the wounded the inestimable officers Commander McKinstry, of the Monongahela, who was injured by a fall from the bridge, which was shot away, and Lieutenant Cummings, of the Richmond, who has since died.
The land force under my command, at the suggestion of Admiral Farragut, moved to Baton Rouge on the 7th instant, with the exception of such detachments as were necessary to hold the several positions occupied by our army on the lower river. The effective force thus concentrated at Baton Rouge was less than 17,000 effective men. The non-arrival of the fleet remaining at New Orleans for repairing machinery detained us at Baton Rouge until Friday, the 13th instant, when General Grover's division moved for Port Hudson. General Emory's division followed at daybreak on the 14th instant, and Major-General Augur's, the reserve, at the same hour. General Grover encamped near the church, at the intersection of the Bayou Sara road leading to the plains in the rear of Port Hudson and the road to Springfield Landing, where communication was established with the fleet on Saturday, the 14th instant, at 2 p.m. General Emory moved a brigade on the same road at the point of intersection with the direct road to Port Hudson and the road to Ross Landing, touching the lower line of batteries, and another force was posted near Springfield Landing, to maintain connection with the river and fleet, the position being 3 miles in rear of land fortifications and on the flank of the lower rebel batteries. The object of the movement was to make a diversion during the passage of the fleet, and not to make an attack with the expectation of carrying the works. The assistance of the fleet would be indispensable in any determined attack, and the hope of the naval and land officers was that it might run the batteries with as little firing as possible. No decisive encounter with the enemy was anticipated therefrom, unless, as was hoped, they should come out of the works.
These positions were assumed at 2 p.m. on Saturday, the 14th instant. My intention was to move the batteries, with a protecting force, upon the Ross Landing road, which terminated on the bank of the river on the line of the lower batteries. This would give us a flank fire, in line with that of the Essex and Sachem and the mortars directly into the land and water fortifications. A part of General Emory's division and the whole of Grover's forces, posted near the junction of the road to Ross Landing and the direct road to Port Hudson, would be ready to advance upon the rear of the works if opportunity offered, or to repel, by a flank attack, any force debouching upon the road to attack the batteries. The remaining brigades of General Emory and the division of General Augur held in reserve 2 miles in the rear upon the Bayou Sara road. Such was the disposition of the main force at 2 p.m. on Saturday, the 14th instant.
While waiting the movements of the fleet the minor dispositions, covering the position we held, were as follows:
The roads leading from Baton Rouge are six in number:
First. The Highland road, crossing the Bayou Manchac and leading to the Pass of that name.
Second. The Clay Cut road, with two intersecting roads crossing the Comite and Amite Rivers.
Third. The Greenwell Springs road, leading direct to Camp Moore. Fourth. The Clinton road, leading direct to Clinton.
Fifth. The Bayou Sara road, upon which our march was made.
Sixth. The road to Springfield Landing, which was on line of communication with the river.
We had information, which could not be disregarded, that a supporting force, in the event of an attack upon Port Hudson, was at an intermediate point between Port Hudson and Vicksburg, and that a cavalry force of 1,200 men was on the Clinton road, with rumors of a force on the other side of the Amite, from Mobile and Camp Moore. The bridges on these roads were destroyed by my order on the day preceding our march, and each intersecting road was covered by a small force by the Highland road to that of Springfield Landing. Our cavalry being weak in numbers, the deficiency was supplied by infantry. In addition to these detachments two regiments, under command of Colonel Chickering, of the Forty-first Massachusetts, were left at Baton Rouge to protect the camp against the threatened cavalry raids of the enemy. The force with which I was enabled to move against Port Hudson did not exceed 12,000 infantry-- a force, at the best, far inferior in numbers to that of the enemy.
The enemy's pickets appeared on all these roads, but were promptly driven in as we approached the works, without serious loss or contest on our part. It was my intention to open fire upon the lower works from the Ross Landing road. We had relied for this movement upon the maps prepared for this occasion, with great industry and ability, from local county maps and general information obtained from the people. The reconnaissances of the afternoon, however, developed the fact that the Ross Landing road did not exist, and we necessarily were forced to change the direction of our operations to the rear of the enemy's works by the Port Hudson road, and to enter upon new reconnaissances with that view. These were pushed with vigor until dark to within 600 yards of the enemy's works and preparations made for moving our artillery upon that road. Up to this moment it had been understood that the passage of the fleet was to be made in the gray of the morning and not at night; but at 5 o'clock I received a dispatch from the admiral stating that he should commence his movement at 8 o'clock in the evening. It was impossible for me to construct bridges and repair the almost impassable roads for artillery in season to co-operate with the fleet by a concentrated artillery fire. I had just left the rear of the enemy's works in company with General Grover, in conclusion of the reconnaissances of the enemy, when the fleet and batteries opened their fire at 11.30 p.m. Had the original purpose been carried out my batteries would have been in position before morning.
We had waited nearly ten days for the fleet, detained by the breakage of machinery, and lost the opportunity of crossing its fire with that of our artillery in the premature commencement of the action by as many hours.
The reconnaissances were pushed with vigor from 2 o'clock until the opening of the fire at 11 p.m. Whenever the enemy's pickets appeared they were driven in, cavalry or infantry, until it was manifest that they were determined not to venture out of the works to give or receive battle.
In the early part of these movements Col. John S. Clark, of my staff, who was near the enemy's lines, was seriously wounded, his horse being killed, by the same shot, under him. A captain of cavalry was also wounded and captured. Several dead bodies were left upon the ground by the rebels and some of the wounded brought into our camp. The entire command was under arms during the night, but no general action occurred.
Information having been received from the signal corps that the Hartford and Albatross had safely passed at Springfield Landing, and the balance of the fleet, with exception of the Mississippi, was in safety on this side, the troops rested upon their arms until Sunday evening, when they fell back near Bayou Montesano, and encamped from 5 to 8 miles from Baton Rouge.
On Tuesday the troops again advanced upon the Clinton and Bayou Sara roads, the enemy's pickets retiring before them, but offering no serious resistance, returning to camp during the night.
It had been understood, in the event of the passage of any portion of the fleet, that communication with the river above Port Hudson should be made by the Army. Accordingly two regiments, with a section of artillery and a company of cavalry, under Colonel Parmele, of New York, were sent on Monday, the 16th instant, to force a passage from opposite Profit's Island, under protection of the fleet, to some point above Port Hudson.
The rebels having cut the State levee opposite Port Hudson, with a view to prevent the passage of the troops by the flood, I sent forward on Wednesday a brigade, under command of Colonel Dudley, of the Thirtieth Massachusetts, with instructions to make a passage by the bed of False River, if necessary, or to ascertain and report definitely the obstructions which should make it impracticable. I accompanied this expedition with several of my staff officers, moving up the river opposite the batteries within range of the enemy's guns. A full view of the batteries was obtained, of which complete sketches were made by the topographical and engineer officers, who advanced to the cut. The crevasse, occasioned by the cutting of the State levee, is about 60 yards wide and had obtained a depth of 2½ feet. This was easily forded by the cavalry and infantry, but the rise of water having swept away the bridges, it was impossible to distinguish the course of the bayous, making the passage impracticable, except for horsemen. Subsequently Colonel Paine, of the Second Louisiana Infantry, with a detachment of his command, crossed to the river, about 3 miles above Port Hudson, commanding a view of the river, but failed to obtain any information of the fleet above. Colonel Dudley to-day makes an effort to reach Waterloo, 6 miles above the forts, after which he will return with his command to Baton Rouge.
Thursday evening three small river steamers came down the river and rested under the batteries. They appeared to me to have come from Thompson's Creek, 2 miles above Port Hudson, and to be intended for the transport of troops across the river to meet our troops. No resistance has been offered to them, however, except from the batteries at the fort. To-day I expect a report of the final result of this reconnaissance.
The force of the enemy on the river front is not less than thirty or forty guns, in strong works and position. The land fortifications extend from near Ross Landing to the creek, above the river batteries, encompassed by strong field works and defended at intervals with field artillery and a garrison of not less than 20,000 men. Its strength is, however, in the power of concentrating troops at this point. The utmost force I can bring to its assault or investment will not exceed 17,000 men, without abandoning to the enemy vital points on the Lower Mississippi. My conviction is now more firm than before this reconnaissance, that it is not in the power of the troops under my command to carry this position by assault or siege without re-enforcements. It is universally represented by the enemy to be stronger than Vicksburg. I cannot doubt that, in itself, it is so. My command is ready to make the assault, but my conviction is strong that it would end in the useless sacrifice of my men. We are now in the best possible position to make a successful attack, if in sufficient force. The Hartford and Albatross can enfilade the works from above; the balance of the fleet from below. A heavy battery could now be easily planted on the opposite side in front of these works. The river batteries could not resist the concentrated fire. A land force moving at the same time upon the rear equal to the garrison, and capable of meeting promptly any re-enforcements, would complete the certain reduction or evacuation of the post. This requires re-enforcements here and the co-operation of the forces near Vicksburg, which I hope may be secured. This is worth an earnest effort.
I can but repeat the opinion expressed in previous dispatches, that the freedom of the Mississippi is the suppression of this rebellion. The objects expected to be obtained by running the batteries were: First, communication with the land and naval forces at Vicksburg; second, defeating the construction of new batteries between Port Hudson and Vicksburg; third, cutting off supplies by the Red River; fourth, obtaining an opportunity to enfilade the Red River batteries from above; and, fifth, the destruction of the rebel steamers in the river.
All these objects have been successfully accomplished except the last, and, with exception of the loss of the Mississippi, none of the anticipated injuries have been sustained. The complete success of the expedition may be thus justly assumed.
General Weitzel informs me that the Queen of the West and the Webb are at Butte----la-Rose, on the Atchafalaya, threatening an attack upon his position (the inclosed dispatches show the position he occupies).
It is impossible to send the gunboats he desires immediately, but in all other respects he will be strengthened at once. It is my purpose to commence without delay military movements upon the Atchafalaya or the Teehe, which were interrupted by the naval and land expeditious to Port Hudson. I beg leave to assure you that no time will be lost hereafter in action. My troops are in good health and in the best spirits and condition. Insufficient land and water transportation and the weakness of the cavalry are the only obstacles that we shall now encounter, and these are being strengthened every day.
In our movements beyond the lines of the army I have appropriated all the products of the country to the use of the Government, not allowing speculators to follow us and buy and sell under cover of our forces. In the recent expedition to Port Hudson not less than $300,000 worth of cotton and sugar, seized by the officers of the Government, have been turned over to the chief quartermaster of the department. Receipts have been given therefor to the parties from which the property has been taken, stating fully the circumstances under which the seizure is made. I shall pursue this course hereafter unless otherwise directed by the Government, and entertain no doubt the Department expenses can in a great degree be defrayed.
I returned to New Orleans from Port Hudson last evening, and shall to.day go to the headquarters of General Weitzel. I have ordered General Grover's division to move from Baton Rouge to his support immediately.
I cannot close this dispatch without again referring to the total insufficiency of the forces and material within my reach for the work that is expected of me in this department.
I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
N. P. BANKS,
General. in. Chief U. S. Army, Washington, D.C.
P. S.-- During the operations on the 14th the following detachments were thrown out from Grover's division: The One hundred and fifty-ninth New York, Col. E. L. Molineux; a section of artillery, and Company E, First Louisiana Cavalry, moving on the Clinton plank road parallel to the march of the main body of the division, and taking post at the intersection of that road and the cross-road leading from Springfield Landing. This crossword, like most of the others, differed essentially from what it was represented on the map, being for a considerable part of the distance a mere by-path.
From Emory's division the One hundred and sixty-second New York, Lieutenant-Colonel Blanchard, a section of artillery, and a squad of cavalry moving on the same road up to the point held by the above-named detachment. Three companies of the One hundred and sixty-second New York, under Major Bogart, with a few mounted men, were detached to destroy by fire the Strickland Bridge over the Comite, which the expedition previously sent out under Colonel Chickering, Forty-first Massachusetts, could not reach. Captain Dunham, assistant adjutant-general, who was ordered to superintend the execution of this duty, rejoined headquarters during the afternoon, reporting the work effectually done, but that there was a ford just above passable for cavalry and infantry. These three companies remained at the junction of the Clinton road and the cross-road to watch the latter.
The Forty-eighth Massachusetts, Col. E. F. Stone; a section of Arnold's battery (G), Fifth Artillery, and Company A, Second Rhode Island Cavalry, formed a guard to the train.
The troops left in Baton Rouge consisted of the Forty-first Massachusetts, Col. Thomas E. Chickering; One hundred and seventy-third New York, Col. C. B. Morton; One hundred and seventy-fifth New York, Col. M. K. Bryan; Third Louisiana Native Guards (colored), Col. John A. Nelson; Eighteenth New York Battery, Captain Mack, and company F, of the Second Rhode Island Cavalry. The post was placed under the command of Colonel Chickering.
Besides this force the siege guns, manned by the Twenty-first Indiana Artillery, Col. J. W. McMillan, were placed in position on the river front to guard against any contingency which might arise in the event of disaster to the fleet. One company of the One hundred and thirty-third New York was at Plaquemine, and one company of the One hundred and seventy-third New York was near Lobdell's Store, on the right bank, to break up the enemy's signal communication.
N. P. BANKS,
[Index - Louisiana Native Guards]
Researched and Compiled by
Bennie J. McRae