THREE YEARS IN THE CONFEDERATE SERVICE: Chapter V
Col. Steadman at once began a strict system of discipline and drill. The following was the order of the day: Reveille at daybreak with roll-call, inspection of arms and policing of camps; 6 a. m., drill in the school of the soldier; 7 A. M., breakfast; 8.30 a. m., guard mounting; 9 A. m., non-commissioned officers’ drill; 10 a. m., drill in the school of the company; 12 m., dinner; 1 p. m., skirmish drill; 3 p. m., battalion drill; 5 p. m., dress parade; sunset, retreat; 9 P.M., taps. Companies assigned to batteries drilled at the guns at the hours for the company drill. Strict regimental guard was kept up, all the requirements of the army regulations being enforced.
The first call to action was on Sunday, November 16th, 1862, when the Federal fleet appeared at the head of Prophet’s Island, below Port Hudson. The regiment was ordered to strike tents and pack knapsacks; while the left wing, including Co. K, was deployed along the bank as sharp-shooters. In a short time the fleet retired and the troops were ordered back to camp.
On the evening of December 13, 1862, Capt. Boone’s company of Light Artillery, supported by Co’s D and F of the First Alabama, crossed the river and after dark moved down opposite the anchorage of the iron clad Essex and a wooden vessel. The guns, consisting of two smooth-bore 6-pounders and one 12-pound howitzer were planted behind the levee, and at daylight the next morning fire was opened on the wooden vessel. The fire was so effective that the Essex had to steam up and interpose her iron sides for the protection of her consort. Both vessels then retired down the river. Although the Federal vessels kept up a heavy fire our loss was but one man wounded.
During the early part of December the regiment was busy constructing barracks of willow logs, the roofs covered with cypress boards. Co. K built two cabins, which were completed about the last of the month. They were 18 by 22 feet, with a large fireplace at each end. The chimneys were built of sticks daubed with clay. An open door way furnished entrance and light, while ventilation was secured by leaving the upper cracks between the logs un-chinked; bunks were built in tiers along the walls, and the men were very comfortably quartered for the winter.
A PARROTT FOR CO. K
On December 31st Capt. Whitfield received the promise of a one gun battery—a 30-pound Parrott gun— on the condition that his company build the battery and magazine. The battery was laid off above the redan, then known as Battery No. I, but separated from it by a deep ravine. Co. K worked alone on their battery till January 8th, when details were made from the infantry companies of the regiment to assist them. By the 18th of January the work was so nearly completed that the gun was brought up from Battery No. 11 and put into position. The magazine was not completed till the last of February, the powder being stored in it on March 2, 1863. The gun was christened the “ Lady Whitfield.”
On December 26th, Lieut. Tuttle and Corp. John Hearn left for Alabama to secure recruits for Co. K. They returned in February having secured 45, as follows:—
Adams, Jesse, Alexander, J. L., Boggan, Jno., Boggan, T. M., Boone,- Byrd, J. H., Callens, R. H., Clark,- Deno, M., Douglass, Wm., Dubose, Wm., Durden, G. W., Glenn, Simeon, Golsan, P. G., Gorman, John, Haley,- Hamilton, John, Hern, M., Hays, J., Jenkins, E., . Kirkpatrick, V., Lamar, M. D., Leysath, E., Lewis, J., Mobile Co.
Autauga Co. Wilcox Co. Autauga Co. Butler Co. Mobile Co. Pike Co. Autauga Co.
Butler Co. Autauga Co. Butler Co. Montgomery Co.
Martin, G. F.,Merritt,-Mills,McCarty, J., . McDonald,- Autauga Co.
Owens, J.,Autauga Co.
Scott, B. L., .Scott, C, H.,Shaver, J. H., Conecuh Co.
Simpson, J. L., Butler Co.
Shoals, J., Schein, J., Montgomery Co.
Smyth, A. C. Smith, Henry, Butler Co.
Stuart, J. J., Wilcox Co.
Tarleton, M.,Tharp, J. P.,Vaughn, Wm, Lowndes Co.
White, A. J., Wilson, T. A., Winslett,- . Autauga Co.
In addition to these Henry Fralick, of Autauga Co., joined the company in September, 1862.
Second Lieut. Dixon S. Hall having resigned from ill health, Junior Second Lieut. Tuttle was promoted, and an election was held March 4, 1863, for Junior Second Lieutenant, resulting as follows: John Frank, Jr., 35; Norman Cameron, 20; N. K. Adams, 8 ; John Frank, Jr., was thereupon duly commissioned.
On March 12, 1863, Moses Tarleton, of Lowndes Co., one of the recruits, died, and was buried with military honors. This was the only one of the company, owing in other cases of death to lack of opportunity, to whom these honors were paid.
Company K, having a full complement of men, and having but one gun in its battery, was divided as to duty. One portion was drilled as heavy artillery, another portion as infantry, while Lieut. Tuttle with the remainder was detailed to act with a detachment of the regiment under command of Major Knox as river police. The company was jocularly known, in consequence of this division, as “ Whitfield’s Legion.”
On the afternoon of March 13, 1863, several of Admiral Farragut’s vessels appeared in sight below Port Hudson, anchoring near the head of Prophets Island, and when the fog lifted on the morning of the 14th, his whole fleet lay at anchor just out of range of our guns. There were eight magnificent war steamers, one iron clad and six mortar boats.
The flag ship was the steam-frigate “ Hartford,” with an armament of 26 eight and nine-inch Paixhan guns. The “ Richmond,” a ship of the same class, was armed with 26 eight and nine-inch Columbiads ; the side-wheel steam-frigate “ Mississippi ” had 19 eight- inch guns, 1 ten-inch, 1 twenty-pound Parrott and 2 howitzers in her tops; the Monongahela, steam-sloop of war, carried 16 heavy guns; the gun-boats “ Kineo,” “Albatross,” “Sachem,” and “Genesee” each carried 3 heavy Columbiads and 2 six-inch rifles. All of these but the “ Mississippi ” were screw propellers. In addition to the above vessels all of which, except the “ Sachem,” were to attempt to run the batteries, there was the iron clad “Essex” carrying 10 heavy guns and also six mortar boats, each carrying 1 thirteen-inch mortar. These last were to cover the advance of the fleet by fiercely shelling the Confederate batteries. The mortar-boats were moored close under the river bank at the head of Prophets Island, and were protected from the Confederate batteries by the bluff which at that point curved almost at a right angle. The “ Essex ” was anchored in the stream opposite the mortar-boats, and the other vessels some distance lower down but in sight.
On the afternoon of the 14th, the fleet opened fire apparently to get the range of our batteries. About seventy – five shot and shell were thrown, but the batteries made no response. All the batteries were manned as night approached, while the infantry were at the fortifications on the land side, prepared to resist any attack by Gen. Banks’ forces. Until 9.30 p. m. all was quiet, then a red light was displayed from the mast-head of the “ Hartford,” the signal for the fleet to prepare for action. As the vessels passed his station, about 11 p. m., Capt. Youngblood, of the Confederate signal corps, sent up a rocket and the sentinels on the batteries fired their muskets, conveying the alarm from the lower to the upper works. In a few minutes the eighteen guns in position along the bluff were ready for action. At the wharf lay two Red River transports unloading; on board all was confusion, the shrieks of the women, the shouts of the officers to their crews, the glare of light from the cabins and furnaces, contrasted strangely with the death-like stillness and darkness of the batteries on the bluff. Just as the transports steamed away from the wharf on their way to Thompson’s Creek, up which they sought safety, Gen. Gardner came dashing up to Battery No. 1, and seeing the lights on these vessels and mistaking them for the gun-boats called out to Capt. Whitfield, “
Why don’t you fire on those boats?” John Hearn, not recognizing the General, replied, “ They are our transports, you infernal thief.” The commandant, either not hearing or concluding that under some circumstances deafness was commendable, made no response.
So soon as the alarm was given, the Federal fleet began firing; the mortar-boats—the “ Essex ” and the “ Sachem ” — moored to the bank or lying at anchor, with guns trained during the preceding day, had quite accurate range; but the practice of the moving vessels was somewhat wild till they were at close quarters. Orders had been issued to permit the enemy to get well in range before opening fire, and it was not until the leading vessel was nearly opposite Battery No. 11 that the first gun was discharged from the bluff. Instantly flash after flash revealed the positions of the Confederate artillery. The “ Hartford,” with the “Albatross” lashed to her larboard side, was in the advance; the “Richmond” and “Genesee,” the “ Monongahela ” and “ Kineo ” followed, and the “ Mississippi ” brought up the rear.
At Battery No. 1 the upward passage of the fleet could only be traced by the flashes of its guns. Huge bonfires had been built under the bluff to illuminate the river, but the smoke of the pine wood only served to render impenetrable the darkness of the night, and they were immediately extinguished. Later in the battle, the signal corps, on the other side of the river, fired an old building, and the flames from this in a measure revealed the position of the vessels as they passed between it and the batteries. So soon as the Confederates opened, the fire of the fleet, no longer directed at random, was redoubled, and the roar of its hundred heavy guns and mortars, added to that of the rapidly-served artillery of the garrison, was fearful. Howitzers in the tops of the steamers swept the bluffs and gave some annoyance to the gunners. Leaving the rest of the ships to follow as best they could, the “ Hartford” and her consort moved steadily on past the fortifications, rounded the point, and, pouring a farewell broadside of grape and shrapnel into Batteries Nos. 1, 2, and 3, steamed out of range up the river.
The “ Richmond ” and “ Genesee ” followed close in the wake of the “ Hartford” till opposite Batteries Nos. 4 and 5, when a rifle-shell piercing the steam-drum of the former disabled her, and another shot passing through the smokestack mortally wounded Lieut. Boyd Cummings, her commander. A dozen other wounds in hull and rigging attested the accurate gunnery of the Confederates. Turning, by aid of her consort, both steamers came close under the bluff, where, for a few minutes, they were protected, and some one on board yelled out, with an oath, “ Now let us see you hit us ! ” A moment later, as they ran out into the channel, both were raked. A shell exploding in the ward-room of the “ Genesee ” set the vessel on fire, but the flames were speedily extinguished, and after running the gauntlet a second time, the crippled ships got back to their anchorage.
The “ Monongahela”*and “ Kineo” met with but little better fortune. A 32-pound cannon-ball cut the tiller- ropes of the former, another shot demolished the bridge and seriously wounded Capt. McKinistry, her commander, while her decks were strewed with dead and wounded. About the time the tiller-ropes of the “ Monongahela” were shot away, a 32-pound ball struck the rudder-post of the “ Kineo.” Both thus disabled, the “ Monongahela” ran into the bank, and the hawsers which lashed the ships together parting, the “ Kineo ” shot ahead and also ran into the bank. Backing off, the “Kineo” dragged with her the “Monongahela”; but the propeller fouled in the parted hawser, and the two vessels drifted helplessly down the river, letting go their anchors when out of range.
BURNING OF THE “MISSISSIPPI”
The pilot of the steamship “ Mississippi,” confused by the smoke of the battle, ran that vessel ashore at the point directly opposite Batteries Nos. 3, 4 and 5. Her commander, Capt. Melancthon Smith, used every endeavor to get his vessel off, but in vain. In the meantime her guns poured forth an almost continuous sheet of flame. Deserted by all her consorts she received the concentrated fire of the batteries. A rifle shot, probably from Battery No. 1, knocked a howitzer from her maintop clear of the vessel into the water. One after another her heavy guns had been disabled, and thirty of her crew had fallen, when her commander gave the order to abandon her. The dead were left on the decks, four of the wounded were taken ashore, others leaped into the river; those who were unhurt got to shore some by swimming and others in the boats. Before all had left the doomed vessel flames burst forth, by whom set is a disputed question. Capt. Smith’ reported that he fired the vessel, while the men in the hot-shot battery as strenuously insisted that she was fired by them, another report stated that a shell exploded in some combustibles arranged on her deck for the purpose of firing her. Some of those who escaped to shore made their way down the river bank to the fleet, swimming the crevasses ; 62, including two officers, were taken prisoners the next morning. The flames spread rapidly, soon enveloping the hull and shrouds. As the flames reached the larboard guns, they were discharged one after another towards the vessels which had gone up the river, while shells on her decks kept up a constant fusilade. From the time that efforts had been given up to get her off, there had been a constant shriek of escaping steam from her safety valve. Lightened by the flames she floated off the bar and drifted, a huge pyramid of fire, down the river illuminating its broad expanse till all was bright as day, and revealing the shattered vessels of the fleet as they hastily steamed out of the way of their dangerous consort. Long after she had passed around the bend the light of the flames reflected on the sky marked her progress. About 5 a. m., when at almost the identical spot where the Confederate ram “ Arkansas ” was blown up, the fire reached the magazine and the “ Mississippi ” existed only in story. The shock of the explosion was felt at Port Hudson, twenty miles distant.
The battle lasted from about 11 p. m. to 2 A. m. Co. K fired their one gun 32 times. Lieut. Pratt had immediate charge of the gun, Capt. Whitfield being also present. Sergeants Ellis and Royals were the gunners and Wm. H. Fay the ordnance sergeant. Lieut. Tuttle was on duty with the river patrol. The eighteen Confederate guns fired altogether about six hundred shot and shell. Of which, according to Federal reports, at least one hundred struck the attacking vessels, as the “ Hartford ” alone was struck over thirty times. The loss of the First Alabama was three men slightly wounded. One man was killed at the land fortifications, and one man wounded in one of the lower batteries. Not a gun was injured.
The enemy’s losses may be summed up as follows: the “ Mississippi,” burned; the “ Richmond,” completely disabled and obliged to return to New Orleans for repairs; the “Genesee,” slightly damaged by fire; the “ Monongahela,” bridge shot away and tiller ropes cut; the “ Kineo,” rudder disabled and rigging badly cut up. Casualties, “ Hartford,” 3 killed and 2 wounded; “ Albatross,” 3 killed and 2 wounded; “ Richmond,” 4 killed and 7 wounded; “ Monongahela,” 7 killed and 21 wound¬ ed ; “ Mississippi,” 22 killed and 8 wounded; and 62 prisoners : total 39 killed, 40 wounded and 62 prisoners, including 2 commissioned officers. One of the latter, Midshipman Francis, was paroled in consideration of his gallant efforts to save the lives of some Confederate prisoners, who fell overboard from the flag of truce steamer “ Frolic,” at Baton Rouge, a few weeks before, while en route to be exchanged. The other prisoners were sent to Richmond. Federal accounts of the battle state that the fire of the batteries was so accurate as to threaten the destruction of every vessel exposed. The gunners of Battery No. 1 labored under a disadvantage, as the smoke settled in a dense bank in front of the battery, but there was reason to believe that their gun did good execution.
THE LAND ATTACK
Gen. Banks with 25,000 men was to have attacked by land, while Farragut assailed the river defences. On the evening of the 13th the divisions of Gens. Grover and Emory left Baton Rouge and were followed the next morning by Gen. Augur’s division. Gen. Banks establishing his headquarters at the crossing of the Springfield road, seven miles below Port Hudson. Friday afternoon the enemy’s advance guard encountered the Confederate pickets and a sharp skirmish followed, in which several men were killed and wounded. The following day there was another skirmish in which the Federals were worsted, losing a number of officers, killed, wounded and prisoners. They made no further demonstration till Monday when Gen. Rust’s brigade attacked their rear guard as they were retiring and drove them six miles. The main body made no offer of battle, and the rear guard burned the bridges to prevent further pursuit. Thus ingloriously ended this attempt to capture Port Hudson by a force many times that of the garrison.
The mortar fleet, “Essex,” and one or two other vessels, remained until March 28th, shelling the batteries, camps and transports at the wharves nearly every day, without, however, coming within range of the Confederate guns. On the 18th, the enemy landed a force of infantry and artillery on the west bank and burned the residence of Capt. Hines, the lower batteries shelling the raiders that night.
The “ Hartford ” and “ Albatross ” having gone up to Grand Gulf leaving the Red River open, several transports with supplies came down. On the 21st, while these were unloading, just above Battery No. 1,the fleet opened fire forcing them to steam up Thompson’s Creek. The rifle shells fell around our battery and camp. On the 24th, the enemy fired a sugar mill opposite Port Hudson our batteries shelling them as they retired. A battery of light artillery planted by the enemy behind the levee shelled our lower batteries on the 25th but without effect. On the 28th the fleet steamed down the river. Admiral Farragut with the “ Hartford,” “Albatross ”
and ram “Switzerland,” the last named having run the Vicksburg batteries, appeared above Port Hudson on April 6th, and on the 7th several vessels came up from below and exercised their guns for a while. There was a false alarm on the night of April 9th, caused by a raft with a fire on it floating down the river; it was boarded by the river patrol and the fire extinguished.
Rev. Mr. Baldwin, who had been appointed Chaplain of the regiment, preached his first sermon on Sunday, April 12th. Nothing of special interest beyond an occasional visit from the gun-boats occurred until May 5th, when the fleet above Port Hudson fired the “ Hermitage ” and another building. On May 6th Co. K received another gun, a rifled brass piece, 4 inches calibre, captured on Amite river. It was clumsily mounted on a 24-pounder siege carriage, and christened “ The Baby.” In anticipation of receiving this gun a battery had already been prepared for it beside the old one.
A SABBATH MORNING AT TROTH’S LANDING
The mortar fleet, the “ Essex ” and the “ Richmond,” having appeared again below Port Hudson, orders were received on May 9th for a detachment of Co. K to take “ The Baby ” to Troth’s landing and at daylight on the 10th open fire on the fleet. The entire expedition under command of Lieut. Col. DeGournay consisted of one 24-pounder rifled, with a detachment from DeGournay’s battalion; one 4 t 6 q 2 ^ inch brass rifle, detachments from Co. K, First Alabama Regiment; one 20-pounder and one 12-pounder Parrott guns, with detachments from Miles’ Legion.
Of Co. K there were 17 men, Sergeants Ellis and Royals, gunners, under command of Lieut. Tuttle. Soon after dark on the evening of the 9th a fatigue party began work, and during the night constructed a rude redoubt 12 by 24 feet, sinking it eighteen inches in the ground and throwing the earth to the front, thus forming an open earthwork with a parapet just high enough for the muzzles of the guns to project over. In this were placed the two larger guns, while the two Parrotts were placed in an old battery a few hundred yards lower down. From 11 p. m. till I A. m. the mortars shelled the batteries, but did not discover the working party. Shortly after 4 a. m. the earthwork was completed and the guns were put in position. While the fatigue party were still standing around, the flash and roar of the mortars caused a stampede of the non-combatants. As before, the shells were thrown at the batteries above, showing that the expedition was still undiscovered. The guns were loaded and so soon as it was sufficiently light were aimed at the “ Essex;” then the command rang out “Fire!” The percussion shell from “ The Baby ” striking on the projecting point of land between us and the ‘‘Essex” exploded, the fragments rattling on the iron sides of that vessel. The guns were now loaded and fired as rapidly as possible, being directed at the “ Essex ” and mortar – boats. The latter were, however, moored close under the bluff and were secure except from fragments of bursting shells. As we afterwards learned the surprise of the enemy was complete; it took them but a few minutes, however, to recover, and shells from the mortars soon transcribed a shorter curve, exploding over our guns or burying themselves in the earth around them. Next the eight and nine-inch guns of the “ Essex ” opened, and a few minutes later a 100-pound rifle missile from the “ Richmond ” burst just as it passed the battery. The earth fairly shook as mortars, Columbiads, rifles and bursting shells joined in one continuous roar on that pleasant Sabbath morning. At the twenty-eighth shot, owing to the breaking of a chin-bolt holding on the trunnion-cap, “ The Baby ” was disabled. A few minutes before this the “ Richmond ” moved from her anchorage, and steamed towards the batteries; the last shot from the brass gun went hurtling through her rigging, and the last shot left in the locker of the 24-pounder struck her under the quarter; the Parrotts, from lack of ammunition, or some other cause, had ceased firing, so the batteries were silent. The “ Richmond ” came steadily on until within about 400 yards firing rapidly, then turning and giving in succession both broadsides she steamed back to her anchorage. The fleet now ceased firing and a death-like stillness followed the terrific roar of the battle.
Co. K had one man, Clark, wounded, a fragment of a shell cutting off two of his fingers. One man was mortally wounded and a Lieutenant severely wounded at the Parrott guns. There was also one or two casualties in the infantry support, and a man was killed in one of the regular batteries. The damage to the enemy was trifling; the “Essex” was struck about a dozen times by fragments of shell and once fairly by a solid shot. Four shot hit or passed through the rigging of the “ Richmond.” One of the mortar-boats was struck in the bow and another on the deck by fragments of shells, and it was reported that several of the crews were wounded.
As soon as the firing ceased ropes were attached to the trails of the guns, and they were drawn out of battery, limbered up and taken back to camp. The enemy, curiously, did not re-open fire during the removal, thus showing that they were very willing to have the guns taken away. When the “ Richmond ” was seen to leave her anchorage, Lieut. Pratt with the 30-pounder Parrott started for Battery No. 11, but before he could get there the steamer was out of range.
CLOSE QUARTERS SKIRMISHING
On May 12th and 14th the infantry companies of the regiment were sent to the breastworks in anticipation of an attack, a body of the enemy having cut the railroad between Port Hudson and Clinton.
On the 14th there was a skirmish at Plain’s store, six and a half miles from Port Hudson. Communication with Clinton was reopened on the 15th, and the accumulated mails of several weeks arrived, some 1,500 pounds of letters, greatly rejoicing the whole garrison. On Saturday, the 16th, there was another alarm, and a detachment of Co. K, with the brass rifle, was sent to the breastworks, remaining till Monday night, when they returned to camp. On the 18th a cavalry force under Col. Grierson made a raid on a small Confederate detachment guarding cattle, captur¬ ing the beeves and about 40 men. The same day four or five officers and privates of the First Alabama, who were fishing west of the river were captured. It was reported , that Simpson of Co. K was among those picked up, but he came in the next day. On the 19th the infantry companies of the First Alabama were sent across the river and had a skirmish. Several of the enemy were killed, but our regiment suffered no loss. There was also skirmishing in the direction of Plain’s store on the 19th and 20th. The fleet below had for some days been regularly shell¬ ing the batteries but without effect. On the 17th the “Genesee” came up within range of Battery No. 11 and was fired upon with a 20-pound Parrott. An Admiral’s salute of seventeen guns was fired at noon on the 18th by the “ Richmond,” announcing, it was supposed, the return of Admiral Farragut. This brings us to the memorable siege of Port Hudson.