Page images
PDF
EPUB

306

RED RIVER EXPEDITION.

installed into office amid the firing of cannon, the playing of patriotic airs, and the huzzas of the multitude.

The political machinery having been put in working order, Banks could turn his attention to affairs in the field, and in this month a combined naval and land expedition was fitted out destined to become famous as the “Red River Cotton Expedition."

Porter, with a large fleet of gunboats and transports carrying a portion of Sherman's army under A. J. Smith, left Vicksburg early in March, and proceeded towards Alexandria, where the main army, únder Banks, was to meet hiin, after having marched across the country. The objective point in the expedition was Shreveport, in Caddo Parish, on the Red River, some six hundred and seventy miles by water from New Orleans, and a great depot for commissary stores of the rebel army. On the passage up the river, Fort DeRussey, a formidable work, was captured by a rapid land march of Smith, together with ten guns and three hundred prisoners. Alexandria surrendered to Porter without a battle, and here, on the 17th, the land force joined him, having marched a hundred and seventy miles in five days. The army by land, and the gunboats by water, now moved forward toward Shreveport, some three hundred miles distant. It was a long and weary march for the troops, and almost equally arduous work for the gunboats to make their way up the shallow, tortuous stream. Steele, commanding in Arkansas, was to co-operate with this force, moving on Shreveport from Little Rock-having these two objects in view-to keep Price, in Arkansas from joining the rebel force under Kirby Smith in Louisiana, and to take Shreveport in rear while Banks advanced against it in front. At Mansfield, forty-five miles from it, the rebels made a stand, where our cavalry came up with them on the 8th of April. The army was scattered over the country far back in the

DEFEAT OF BANKS,

807

rear, which Kirby Smith seemed fully aware of. At first, on the 7th, the cavalry, commanded by Colonel Robinson, drove the enemy before it, and pursued him some fourteen miles, when the column came upon a body of infantry which, after a sharp contest, was also forced back. Colonel Landrum's brigade of infantry, and Colonel Lucas' of cavalry, coming up that night, the whole advanced in the morning, but on arriving near Sabine Cross-Roads, they found themselves suddenly confronted by fifteen or twenty thousand men.

In the meantime General Ransom with his troops arrived, accompanied by General Banks. The latter immediately dispatched a courier to Franklin, in the rear, to hasten

up with his Corps, but Kirby Smith saw his advantage, and pressed it vigorously. The cavalry in front were turned back in terrible rout, and the troops though struggling bravely to bear up against the disorder, were also at length overborne and their artillery captured-their ranks being broken by the fleeing wagon train which somehow had got in advance. But at this critical moment, when every thing seemed lost, Franklin arrived with his Corps, and waving his hat above fris head fell furiously upon the exulting, shouting rebels. Two horses were successively shot under him, but leaping to the saddle of a third, he still led on his men. By his gal#antry he succeeded in checking the victorious progress of the rebels for a time, but he also was at last borne back in the refluent tide. Fortunately, the Nineteenth Army Corps under General Emory, had been advised of tine rout, and stood drawn up in line of battle as the fileeing army came in sight. Allowing the shattered, broken columns to pass to the rear, it closed sternly up and bravery breasted the storm till darkness put an end to the conflict.

In the meantime Smith, with the Sixteenth and Seven. teenth Army Corps, had reached Pleasant Hill, and drawn up his forces behind a low ridge. The next day the rebels

[blocks in formation]

ter.

advanced, confident of success, and Emory, whose line of battle had been formed in front of Smith, and masked him, after dealing the enemy a heavy, blow, fell back, according to pre-arrangement, when the confident, shquțing foe dashed forward in pursuit. Smith’s troops lay flat on the ground until the first rebel line was well yp the slope, when seven thousand muskets suddenly blazed in its front, and the artillery swept the crowding columns with terrible slaugh

The rebels, stunned at the suddenness and awfulness of the blow, stopped and staggered back, and before they could recover their senses, Smith gave the order to charge, when his brave troops swept the field with a shout.

But nothing now could change the defeat into a victory, and next morning the retreat was continued. Banks sent word to Porter, acquainting him with his disaster, and directed him to fall back to Grand Ecore, whither he was retreating. From this point the retreat was continued to Alexandria without serious molestation, except at Monet's Bluff, where the rebels made an attack on him, þut were repulsed with heavy loss. Here he halted to saye the gunboats

, which could not get over the falls above the place, on account of low water.

In the meantime Steele had advanced, from Little Rock, but yhen near Camden his wagon train was cut off and destroyed. Marmaduke with a heavy force now confronted him, and Banks having retreated, the whole rebel force was îree to operate against him, and he was compelled to fall back. At Saline Falls, however, Price pressed him so hard that he was forced to turn and give battle, and fell with such fury on his pursuers, that they let him alone

that they let him alone during the rest of his retreat, and he reached Little Rock again in safety.

In the meantime the rebels were swarming along the shores of the Red River, both above and below Alexandria. Åbove, Porter was dreadfully harassed from the shores, and

[ocr errors]

A GREAT ENGINEER

309

things began to wear a gloomy aspect. There was no appearance of a rise in the river, and without one, Porter's entire ficet must be destroyed, to prevent its falling into the hands of the enemy-for forage was getting short, and the protecting army would soon have to move. With its departure all attempts to save the boats would be abandoned. In this painful dilemma Licutenant-Colonel Bailey, acting engineer of the Nineteenth Army Corps, proposed to build a series of dams across the rocks at the lower falls, and raise the water sulliciently to let the boats pass over the upper ones. His plan was ridiculed by the best engineers, but Bailey had tried it before, in floating logs down the western rivers, and was so sanguine of success, promising to complete the work in ten days, that Banks was requested to let him attempt it. Three thousand men, and two or three hundred wagons were put at his disposal, and the work commenced. Those quiet shores at once became a human hive, and the sound of the axe, the crash of falling trees and shouts of men, made the forests echo. The army and fleet looked on in astonishment at this new system of engineering adopted by this bold western man. On the left bank of the river, a dam, made of fallen trees, was run out some three hundred feet, and then four coal barges filled with brick were sunk at the end. From the other shore, cribs filled with stone to meet the barges, were built. The work was successfully accomplished, and the water rapidly rose. In one day more it would have been high enough to let the boats above the upper falls pass over; when, unfortunately, on the 9th of May, the pressure became so great that two of the coal barges were forced downward from their position, and swung round at right angles to the dam. The water immediately began to pour through like a cataract. Porter saw with a sinking heart the catastrophe, for he feared the men would have no heart to rebuild the dam. Determined if possible

310

PASSAGE OF THE BOATS.

to save some of his vessels, he jumped upon a horse and galloping up stream, ordered the Lexington to try to pass the falls. She succeeded, and then headed straight for the fearful shute in the dam. Tens of thousands lined the shores, watching with breathless interest the perilous movement. Not a sound but the low steady rush of the torrent broke the stillness as she neared the boiling mælstrom. Crowding on all steam, her gallant Commander stood and calmly watched the approaching crisis. The vessel, impelled by a full head of steam, and the swiftly descending, sloping hill of water, rushed like a mad thing toward what scemed certain destruction. Leaping into the boiling cauldron, she settled heavily in the surge, and, for å moment, sccmed going to the bottom. Rolling heavily from side to side, she at length caught on a rock, and hung for an instant súspended in the torrent, then, rising slowly, swept off into deep water, and rounded quietly to: The watching, excited multitude that had not uttered a word while the fate of the vessel was held in a fearful crisis, now rent the heavens with deafening shouts. From shore to shore the wild checrs echoed, and again and again were taken up and 'sent in thunder toward the sky. The Neosho nov tried it, but the pilot becoming frightened as the vessel approached the abyss, stopped her engine. Porter saw the fatal mistake, aird watched to see her disappear in the tumultuous waters. Her hull went out of sight, and she seemed lost, but slowly lifting herself again, she heaved forward and passed through, though with a hole in her bottom. The partial success of the experiment encouraged the men to rebuild the dam; though they had been working for eight days and nights up to their necks in water, they cheerfully entered on the herculean task. Bailey now left a gap of fifty feet in the 'dam, to avoid the tremendous pressure of the water, and built wing dams on the falls above, so as to make a deep channel for the

« PreviousContinue »