Friday, November 18, 2016

Diary of Sergeant George G. Smith: June 28, 1863

First Louisiana ordered to Donaldsonville. Went in wagons by way of Springfield Landing, 18 miles below Port Hudson, where we went on board the Iberville at 10 p. m. Next morning, at daylight, arrived at Fort Butler. Rumor of a fight here had reached us, but we were not fully aware of the magnitude of the conflict until now. Port Barro, a little cluster of houses on the same side of the bayou with the fort, had been nearly all burned, and some of the houses in Donaldson were burning. The First Louisiana disembarked and went into the fort. New made graves were seen along the levee and the slope of the parapet towards the river was completely covered with a gore of blood.

We learned that at 2 o'clock on the morning of the 28th, a force of Texas rebels under General Morton, 5,000 strong, had attacked the fort. The garrison in the fort consisted of a detachment from the 28th Maine, commanded by Major Bullen and a few convalescents from the hospital, belonging to the First Louisiana; in all about 183 efficient men. Six heavy 24-pound siege guns were mounted on the parapet, and the Essex lay in the river. This was our force and armament. The plan of attack was this: A force was to make a feint upon the main entrance by the side of the bayou, while a storming party of 500 picked men were to steal down behind the levee, under cover of darkness, wade around the stockade in the river, and scale the parapet on the river side, where there was no moat. By some mistake the storming party arrived first, and while some were wading around the stockade, others tried to cut an opening in it with axes. This alarmed the garrison, and in an instant the parapet was bristling with bayonets. Then commenced “some savage biting.” For three long mortal hours did this little heroic band withstand the assault of three times their number in a hand-to-hand conflict with only a bank of earth six feet wide and as high as a man's breast to separate them. Charge after charge was made by the rebels, yelling as only Texans know how to yell, but each was met by a volley that sent the maddened desperate adventurers hurling back down the parapet with mortal wounds. Some tried to creep over, but these were met by the bayonets. They then resorted to throwing bricks, but all of no avail. _ One desperate fellow mounted the gate in the stockade with a lantern, and tried to open it inside. He fell pierced with many bullets. In the meantime, while this was going on, the main force had arrived and the fort was besieged on all sides. The heavy guns then opened their black throats and vomited forth death and swift destruction, while two gunboats, lying up the river, hearing the conflict, rushed to the scene of action under full steam, and rounding the bend above the fort, opened broadside after broadside, of shot and shell, in the midst of the enemy. It was then that death and destruction reigned supreme, and the Death Angel flapped her broad wings amid the glare of bursting bombs and the terrible flashes of the deep-mouthed cannon. The horrified rebels retreated in dismay and confusion, while the death-dealing missiles pursued them for miles, and strewed the country with the slain.

The story of that terrible night is now soon told. At early dawn the Essex spied the few hundred rebels who had crept behind the stockade between the parapet and the river. They immediately opened a broadside of grape and canister. A flag of truce was raised, and they were prisoners of war.

This ended one of the most bloody conflicts of the war, according to numbers. But the loss was nearly all on one side. The enemy lost 1,000 men in killed and taken prisoners. Our loss was six killed and 11 wounded.

It was my original intention not to relate anything but what I saw with my own eyes or participated in personally. I have, however, departed somewhat from that purpose, but not without the best of evidence either from eye-witnesses or participants themselves. In relating the foregoing account of the attack on Fort Butler, the language may seem overdrawn, but if it is, it was not my intention to have it so. I had the best of opportunities to obtain the facts, and I can conscientiously say that I have related them truly and faithfully as they were told me.

Companies F, C and E of the First Louisiana remained at the fort, and the remainder of the regiment was ordered back to Port Hudson. At night I was detailed as officer of the picket guard. Houses were burning all night, but all was quiet so far as the enemy was concerned. But at noon of the next day the advanced mounted videttes came rushing in seemingly in a terrible fright, reporting that a large force of rebel cavalry was close at hand and approaching rapidly. At the time I was with the reserve at the post on the river road above the fort. There was a bend in the levee and the road above this station, which shut out from view everything beyond. Consequently the cavalry would be upon us before we could see them. So, of course, we must retreat or be captured I chose the former. An orderly met us with a message from the commander of the fort, ordering us to hasten so the guns could sweep the road. When we came in sight, the men were at the guns and the garrison was ready to fight. No enemy appeared however, and we returned to our positions. At about 4 o'clock p. m. a mulatto girl came down from a plantation above and stated that a large force of cavalry came there at about noon to see how many gun boats were at the fort, stating that they intended to attack us again at night. Relieved at sundown.

SOURCE: Abstracted from George G. Smith, Leaves from a Soldier's Diary, p. 80-5

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