Page images
PDF
EPUB

ORGANIZATION OF NEGRO TROOPS.

249

1862.

ments around them, hired a room and began to drill, thinking their services might be wanted. The Superintendent of Police found it necessary, because of threats made by sympathizers with the insurgents, to order the colored people to desist, lest their patriotism should cause a breach of the public peace. So they waited until called for. More than a year later, General Hunter, as we have seen,' directed the organization of negro regiments in his Department of the South. It raised a storm of indignation in Congress, and Wickliffe, of Kentucky, asked the Secretary of War, through a resolution of the House of Representatives, several questions touching such a measure, and, among others, whether Hunter had organized a regiment composed of fugitive slaves, and whether he was authorized to do so by the Government. The Secretary answered that he was not authorized to do so, and allowed General Hunter to make explicit answers. Yet a few weeks later Secretary Stanton, by special order, directed General Rufus

Aug. 25, Saxton, Military Governor of the sea-coast islands, to “arm, uniform, equip, and receive into the service of the United States, such number of volunteers of African descent, not exceeding five thousand," as he might deem expedient to guard that region and the inhabitants from injury by the public enemy

Then followed a proposition from General G. W. Phelps to General Butler, his chief, to organize negro regiments in Louisiana, to be composed of the fugitive slaves who were flocking to his camp at Carrollton, near New Orleans. Receiving no reply, he made a requisition for arms and clothing for “three regiments of Africans,” to be employed in defending his post. Butler had no authority to comply, and told Phelps to employ them in cutting trees and constructing abatis. “I am not willing to become the mere slave-driver you propose, having no qualifications that way,” Phelps replied, and, throwing up his commission, returned to Vermont. Not long afterward, General Butler, impressed with the perils of his isolated situation, called for volunteers from the free colored men in New Orleans, and within a fortnight a full regiment was organized. A second was soon in arms, and very speedily a third; and these were the colored troops whom Butler turned over to his successor, General Banks, as we have observed on page 352, volume II.

Another year passed by, and yet few of the thousands of negroes freed by the President's Proclamation were found in arms. There was a universal prejudice against them. Yet, as the war was assuming vaster proportions, and a draft was found to be inevitable, that prejudice, which had been growing weaker for a long time, gave way entirely, and, when Lee invaded Pennsylvania, the Government authorized the enlistment of colored troops in the Free-labor States, as we have observed. Congress speedily authorized“ the President to accept them as volunteers, and prescribed that “the enrollment of the militia shall in all cases include all

• July 16, able-bodied male citizens,” &c., without distinction of color. Yet

• July 80.

1863.

I Page 185.

? General Hunter said: “To the first question, I reply, that no regiment of fugitive slaves' has been or is being organized in this Department. There is, however, a fine regiment of persons whose late masters are fugilire rebela-men who everywhere fly before the appearance of the National flag, leaving their servants bebind them to shift as best they can for themselves."

· See note 1, page 91.

250

NEGROES EMPLOYED IN THE WAR.

opposition to the enlistment of negro soldiers was very strong. It was illustrated by the fact that, when,' in May, 1863, the Fifty-fourth (colored) Massachusetts, which performed such gallant acts at Fort Wagner under Colonel Shaw,' was ready to start for South Carolina, the Superintendent of the Police of New York declared, in answer to a question, that they could not be protected from insult in that city, if they should attempt to pass through it. So they sailed directly from Boston for Port Royal. But there was soon a change of public sentiment on the subject there, a few months later, as we have observed," when a regiment of colored troops, bearing a flag presented by the women of the city and cheered by thousands, marched through its streets for the battle-field. From that time such troops were freely enlisted everywhere, and as freely used; and the universal testimony of experts is, that as soldiers they were equal to the white men. Nearly two hundred thousand of them fought for the preservation of our free institutions, in which their own race was deeply involved. Their brethren in bondage had been freely used by the Confederates from the beginning of the war, not as soldiers, but as laborers, as we have observed. We frequently saw notices of their enrollment into the military service of the Conspirators, but arms were never put into their hands. It would have been a fatal experiment, and the Oligarchy knew it. They were organized into companies, under white leaders, but were always “armed and equipped with shovels, axes, spades, pickaxes, and blankets.” Such employment of the colored race by the Confederates, in carrying on the war, was well known, yet the Opposition in Congress and elsewhere most strenuously opposed their enlistment as soldiers; but the Government went steadily forward in the path of prescribed duty, and in March, 1863, Adjutant-General Thomas was sent to the Mississippi Valley for the express purpose of promoting the enlistment of colored troops. In that work he labored zealously. He visited Memphis, Helena, Vicksburg, and other places where large numbers of colored people were gathered, and he addressed them on the subject of emancipation, their duties as citizens, and the importance of their doing all in their power to assist the Government in its struggle for life against the common enemy

of both. He also addressed the National officers and sol. diers in favor of the employment of colored troops, reminding them that the strength of the Confederate cause lay, in a large measure, in the employment of negroes in the cultivation of the soil while the white people were in the army, and showing that it was policy in every way, either by enlisting the negroes in our armies, or otherwise employing them, to deprive the enemies of the Government of the labor of these men. “All of you,” he said, “ will some day be on picket-duty, and I charge you all, if any of this unfortunate race come within your lines, that you do not turn them away, but receive them kindly and cordially. They are to be encouraged to come to us; they are to be received with open arms; they are to be fed and clothed; they are to be armed.”

1 See page 204

See page 92

THE RED RIVER EXPEDITION.

251

CHAPTER IX.

THE RED RIVER EXPEDITION.

[graphic]

1864.

ET us now look across the Mississippi River and see what was occurring there in 1864.

We left General Banks at New Orleans, after his failure to “ repossess” Texas in the autumn and early winter of 1863, engaged in planning another expedition to that State, the first important work to be the capture of Galveston. While so engaged he

Jan. 23, received a dispatch from General Halleck, dated the 4th of January, informing him that it was proposed to operate against Texas by the line of the Red River, that route having “the favor of the best military opinions of the generals of the West.” Halleck proposed to have the expedition to consist of the forces of Banks and Steele, and such troops as Grant might spare for the winter, to act in combination or in co-operation, together with gun-boats. He informed Banks that both Grant and Steele had been written to, and instructed him to communicate with them upon the subject. The grand object was the capture of Shreveport, on the Red River, near the boundary between Louisiana and Texas; the capture or dispersion of the Confederates in that region, then under General E. Kirby Smith,' as commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department, and then the recovery of Texas and the opening of the way for trade in the immense supplies of cotton in the latter State.

The objections to this route, which Banks had hitherto urged, still existed, and he had apprehensions of disastrous results in a campaign without a unity of command and purpose. But so often had this inland route been urged upon him by Halleck, as the most feasible way for winning a conquest of Texas, that he did not feel at liberty to offer serious opposition again; so he promptly replied, on the day when he received Halleck’s dispatch, that with the forces proposed the expedition might be successful and important, and that he should cordially co-operate in the movement. He thought it proper, however, to send to the General-in-Chief a memorial prepared by his chief engineer (Major D. C. Houston), on the proposed expedition, in which was explicitly stated the obstructions to be encountered and the measures necessary to accomplish the objects in view. It recommended as indispensable to success: (1.) Such complete preliminary organization as would avoid the least delay in movements after the campaign had opened; (2.) That a line of supply be established from the Mississippi, independent of water-courses, because these would become unmanageable at certain seasons of the year;

· See page 501, volume IL

252

PLAN OF THE RED RIVER EXPEDITION.

1

(3.) The concentration of the forces west of the Mississippi, and such other force as should be assigned to this duty from General Sherman's command, in such a manner as to expel the enemy from Northern Louisiana and Arkansas; (4.) Such preparation and concert of action among the different corps engaged as to prevent the enemy, by keeping him constantly employed, from operating against our positions or forces elsewhere; and (5.) That the entire force should be placed under the command of a single general. Preparations for a long campaign was also advised, and the month of May was indicated as the point of time when the occupation of Shreveport might be anticipated.' “Not one of these suggestions," said General Banks, in his report, “ so necessary in conquering the inherent difficulties of the expedition, was carried into execution, nor was it in my power to establish them."

The general plan laid out was for Admiral Porter to move from Vicksburg with a powerful fleet of armored gun-boats and transports, carrying ten thousand men of Sherman's old army, under General A. J. Smith, and, passing up the Red River, capture Fort de Russy, and join Banks at Alexandria. The latter was to march overland from the Atchafalaya to Alexandria with his disposable force, say sixteen thousand men, while General Steele, with about fifteen thousand men, operating independently, should

move directly on Shreveport from Little Rock. The Confederates in that region, according to the most reliable reports, were disposed as follows: Magruder, with about fifteen thousand effective men, was in Texas, his main body covering Galveston and Houston; Walker's division, about seven thousand strong, was on the Atchafalaya and Red River, from Opelousas to Fort de Russy; Mouton's division, numbering about six thousand men, was between the Black and Washita rivers, from Red River to Monroe; and Price, with a force of infantry

estimated at five thousand, and of cavalry from seven to ten thousand, held the road from Monroe to Camden and Arkadelphia, in front of Steele. Magruder could spare ten thousand of his force to resist an attack from the east, leaving his fortifications on the coast well garrisoned, while Price could furnish at least an additional five thousand from the north, making, with those in the vicinity of the Red River, an army of from twenty-five to thirty thousand men—a force equal to any that could be brought against them, even with the most perfect unity and co-operation of commands. Considering this disposition of the Confederate forces, we perceive that the problem was presented by authority for solution, How shall the National forces achieve a victory in the campaign by threatening Shreveport with forty thousand men, so disposed in parts

[graphic]

FREDERICK STEELE.

| General Banks's Report to the Secretary of War.

? General Banks's Report to the Secretary of War.

TROOPS 1T SIMMS' PORT.

253

that a solid and easily movable body of twenty-five thousand men may quickly strike each separate portion of the divided forty thousand in turn, with superior numbers ? To the practical solution of this problem the Nationals now addressed themselves.

Being charged with other important duties at this time which required his presence in New Orleans, General Banks intrusted the arrangement of his portion of the expedition to General Franklin, who was to move on the 7th of March, and reach Alexandria on the 17th. Meanwhile, Admiral Porter, who had agreed to meet Banks there on that day, was promptly at the mouth of the Red River on the 7th, with his powerful fleet of fifteen iron-clads and four light steamers,' and there he was joined on the 11th by the transports, with four divisions of Sherman's army, under General A. J. Smith, and the Marine Brigade, under General Alfred Ellet, three thousand strong. There was just water enough for the larger gun-boats to pass; and on the morning of the 12th they moved up the river, led by the Eastport. That vessel, with others that might follow, was charged with the duty of removing obstructions in the river, and to amuse Fort de Russy by a feigned attack until the army should land at Simms' Port, on the Atchafalaya, and get in the rear of that post, to attack it.

To cover the landing of the troops on the site of Simms' Port (the town had been destroyed), nine of the gun-boats turned into the Atchafalaya, fol. lowed by the transports. The crew of the Benton landed, and drove back Confederate pickets upon their main body, three miles in the rear; and when the divisions of Generals Mower and T. Kilby Smith landed, the entire opposing force fell back toward Fort de Russy. Mower, with a brigade, then reconnoitered toward Yellow Bayou, when he found that the Confederates had fled from a post there, burning the bridge behind them.

It was now decided to land the whole column, and march it overland to Fort de Russy, a distance of about thirty miles; and at daybreak on the morning of the 14th it moved, in light marching order, Mower in the advance. Very soon the Nationals began to feel their foe, and they were compelled to skirmish with the Confederate cavalry, in front and rear, nearly all the way, until they approached the fort in the afternoon. They had marched, fought, and built a bridge over the Yellow Bayou (which consumed two hours), since dawn, and now, without rest, attacked the fort, which was armed with eight siege-guns and two field-pieces, two of the former in'position to command the river.

In the mean time the gun-boats had removed the obstructions in the

• March 13,

1864.

· Porter's fleet consisted of the following vessels: Essex, Commander Robert Townsend; Benton, Lieutenant-Commander James A. Green; Lafayette, Lieutenant-Commander J. P. Foster; Choctau, Lieutenant-Commander F. M. Ramsey; Chillicothe, Acting Volunteer Lieutenant S. P. Couthony; Ozark, Acting Vol. unteer Lieutenant George W. Browne; Louisville, Lieutenant-Commander E. K. Owen; Carondelet, Lieutenant-Commander J. G. Mitchell; Eastport, Lieutenant-Commander S. L. Phelps; Pittsburg, Acting Volunteer Lieutenant W. R. Hoel; Mound City, Acting Volunteer Lieutenant A. R. Langthorne; Osage, Lier tenant-Commander T. O. Selfridge ; Neosho, Acting Volunteer Lieutenant Samuel Howard; Ouachita, Lieutenant-Commander Byron Wilson; and Fort Hindman, Acting Volunteer Lieutenant John Pearce. These wen the armored vessels. The lighter boats consisted of the Lexington, Lieutenant George M. Bache; Cricket Acting Master H. H. Gorringe; Gazelle, Acting Master Charles Thatcher; Black Hawk, Lieutenant-Com. mar.der K, R. Breese.

* The First and Third Divisions of the Sixteenth Army Corps, and First and Fourth Divisions of tho Seventeenth Army Corps.

« PreviousContinue »