Part 8 — Red River to Mobile

By Larry Lowenthal

A period of quiet, undoubtedly welcome, descended after the Red River campaign expired. Both sides were exhausted and nursed their injuries, and the destitute countryside could not support being further devoured by ravenous armies. Richard Taylor was preoccupied with his feud with Kirby Smith and after a time found himself without a command. Banks seemed to be stunned by the disastrous outcome of his expedition, while Canby was still finding his way around his new assignment. Gen. William T. Sherman, heavily engaged in the Atlanta campaign, agreed with Canby that “you can attempt nothing offensive in West Louisiana this year.” [OR: Ser. I, v. XXXIV, Part IV, 212] Banks, in addition to his military responsibilities, had worked hard to set up a Unionist government in Louisiana. Lincoln and other Republican strategists supported this, fearing that they might need these electoral votes, however tainted, in the 1864 election. The loyal government flourished in a sheltered environment, like a hothouse plant; but when it sent representatives to Congress, that body refused to seat them, an ominous portent of the trouble over Reconstruction that would arise while Lincoln was still in office.

The 31st Mass. passed a few quiet days at Morganza until June 29, when the men turned in their horses and cavalry equipment and prepared to head off on their promised furlough. [This was directed by Dept. of the Gulf Special Order No. 168, June 26, 1864 (OR: Ser. I, v. XXXIV, Part IV, 559).] Probably they were fortunate to leave when they did, as conditions in the camp at Morganza deteriorated, bringing an alarming increase in illness. “Epidemics of scurvy, chronic diarrhea, swamp fever, and smallpox began to take an appalling toll.” [Winters, 391] The regiment reoccupied its old campground at Algiers until it finally departed for Massachusetts on July 21.

Soon after returning to New Orleans on July 2, Fairbank went up to Carrollton and renewed acquaintance with Leana. During these easygoing days, memories of the Red River campaign and its hardships melted away. As if to highlight the contrast, Fairbank reported that “Some of the boys, just for amusement, go over to the city and play checkers with their nose all night and in the morning take a ride in the Star line coach.” [diary, July 14, 1864] It is difficult to know whether he meant this literally, or whether it was an ephemeral slang expression. Fairbank, who had been ill at intervals since the campaign, seemingly found energy when it was needed (perhaps he was afflicted with malaria). Boldly he entered in his diary one day: “The girls, thinking we were to leave soon, have been over to see their fellows and we have had some fun criticizing their beauty. One was what I should call a mul­atto, but her fellow calls her a creole, but the one that takes the shine off of all is a Spanish girl.” He then added “Madam Wallace is all the go now,” leaving us to speculate on the kind of establishment she was running. [Sat., July 16, 1864]

Fittingly, the men headed home by journeying up the Mississippi River they had helped to liberate, rather than returning by sea as they had come. We can hardly begin to unravel the complex emotions they must have felt as their boat, the Pauline Carroll, steamed upriver. There would have been pride and relief simply at having survived when so many others in the original contingent had fallen away; this might have been accompanied by annoyance that the war was not over, perhaps coupled with anger at the poor leadership they had witnessed. Above all, like a bright banner in the breeze, floated the sweet vision of home that had been the guiding star through their fearful service in an alien country. Some may have wondered if they or their homes had changed so much that they would no longer blend in as effortlessly, but Civil War soldiers rarely recorded that kind of introspection.

On the second day out, July 22, Col. Gooding came on board for the trip north. Two days later the characteristic luck of the 31st Mass. reasserted itself and Pauline struck a snag about 30 miles below Vicksburg. The port wheel was disabled, making progress against the current still slower, and they labored into Vicksburg on July 24. As some of the men had supplied themselves with whiskey, the cruise upriver could have had a holiday aspect, but still the war intruded. At a temporary landing on the 25th they encountered a portion of the 6th Mich., a regiment they had become acquainted with long before on Ship Island, whose boats had been grounded and burnt by Confederates on the west bank of the river. [Barber diary] The steamer Leviathan helped them pass some rebel batteries below Memphis, but even with this kind of assistance, the ship did not reach Cairo, IL, until July 30. [Rust diary; Rich diary, July 24, 1864] At several points they were fired on from the shore. They had left their weapons behind in New Orleans, but there were several cases of muskets on board, though no ammunition. The boat landed and the men formed up on shore. Although unable to fire, their numbers frightened off the rebels. At Cairo they transferred to a slow Illinois Central train for Chicago and along the route encountered a heartwarming sight that confirmed they were in friendly territory at last:

As we passed one of the little stations we saw standing in front of a small but neat farm house a sight that called forth innumerable cheers from our men. A little girl some five or six years old waving a large American flag, on one side of her was her mother dressed in mourning (the significance of which we knew pretty well) and waving her white pocket handkerchief; on the other side of the little girl was a boy looking two or three years older, dressed in soldier’s clothes having a wooden gun which he was holding as well as he could in the position of Present Arms. Behind them all and sitting on a tree that looked as if it had just been hauled up from the timber was a grey haired old sire waving his straw hat with both hands, and we could very well imagine him to be saying—God bless all of you. After we had passed them a lot of the fellows voted to drink their health, which I believe they did in corn whiskey . . . . This duty being done I presume a good many of the men never thought of it after, but it is a picture that often comes up before my memory after all the years that have passed since that time. [Young Recollections, 79-80. Howell wrote a letter while on this steamer (July 20, 1864) but did not mention these encounters, and while Rich seems to allude to some of these occurrences, he does not relate them with such color.]

Later, the train was moving so slowly on a long upgrade that the men were able to get off and collect apples while the train crawled ahead. They reached Chicago at last at 5 p.m. on August 1. The train through Illinois was made up of “emigrant” cars, with only long, hard benches for seating, but from Chicago to Boston the troops traveled first class. [Young Recollections, 80-82] They arrived in Boston on the evening of August 4, after brief stops at Pittsfield and Springfield, and were received by state and city authorities. Rich was pleased to report that “there were tables set with plenty of not ‘hard tack’ but biscuit, cake and cream.” The mayor made a welcoming speech, to which Col. Gooding responded. Lt. Col. Nettleton and Maj. Fordham also spoke briefly. In this way the atrocious failure of their predecessors was glossed over and for those who didn’t know better, the regiment presented an undisturbed countenance. Next morning the men started on their furlough, a solid stream gradually dispersing into rivulets until individuals trickled home to their families.

To their credit, the authorities gave the regiment a full month’s furlough, not counting the time spent travelling. Fairbank reached his home in Ware on August 7 and, according to his summary, remained true to character for the duration of his leave: “We had a party at Enfield, a dance at Greenwich and two at Pierce’s Hall and a shin dig somewhere every night. I got a certificate of marriage and left the folks in a stew. The last night the town of Ware got up a supper. We did not attend but broke in the door of John Grant’s and then each one took to his hole to finish up our thirty days’ furlough.” [diary Aug. 7, 1864]

At the end of the allotted time, most assembled at Pittsfield on September 7, 1864 (some, such as Sgt. Rich and Fairbank, missed connections and had to catch up later). From Pittsfield the regiment travelled to New York City by the Housatonic Railroad, rather than returning to Boston. They spent one night in barracks at the Battery, then boarded the steam transport Victor. Surely on this sea voyage those who had been present from the beginning could not help thinking of their adventures two-and-a-half years earlier, when Butler was in command and every military experience was novel and thrilling. As if some stage manager was heightening the contrast, this voyage seemed to be uneventful except for the drowning of a man from Company G, John Burton, or Bunton, of North Adams during a stop at Tortugas, FL. After ten days at sea, the ship reached New Orleans on September 19, and so the 31st Mass. entered the final phase of its odyssey.

The veteran contingent was approaching the end of the initial three-year enlistment, beyond which they had signed up for three more years of service; but no one could guess how much longer the war would last. The Confederacy, though severely depleted—certainly more than it dared acknowledge—was still full of fight. A presidential election was approaching, and in the absence of a decisive military event it was entirely possible that Lincoln would be defeated and the Democratic candidate, none other than General McClellan, would make a peace that recognized southern independence. For the returned veterans of the 31st Mass., the seeming interminability of the war must have added to the sinking gloom that settles in at the end of any vacation. Capt. Howell was only being more open than most in conceding “I feel more lonesome than I did before I had been home.” [Letter to his brother, Oct. 6, 1864]  Unknown to one another, Sgt. Rich had expressed similar melancholy before departing New York: “I am lonesome as the d___l, wish I was back to old Pittsfield and a free man.” [diary, Sep. 10, 1864]  The authorities had taken a calculated, or unavoidable, risk in releasing these men to taste the simple pleasures of home and make the inevitable contrasts with military life.

Having missed the regiment at Pittsfield, Fairbank had to stay there overnight. After spending time at a horse show in Springfield, he again missed connections in New York City, thereby demonstrating why he never advanced in rank (or evinced any interest in doing so). In the city with Capt. Bond, who was in charge of the stragglers, he succumbed to the same sadness that weighed on his comrades: “It grows worse and worse. I feel as bad about leaving home this time as the first.” [diary, Sep. 11, 1864]  Preparing to ship out on the next steamer, the Merrimac, he wrote sardonically “We are to leave this low, ill begotten hole tomorrow and start for the land of sugar, hurrah, boys hurrah.” [ibid., Sep. 13]  After a relatively smooth journey of only eight days, he disembarked at New Orleans on the 22nd.

For a surprisingly large number in the 31st Mass. the thought of returning to army life in the Deep South proved unbearable, and they responded by deserting. A justifiable war-weariness had spread throughout the North, and thousands of Union soldiers had deserted and somehow hid themselves in the general population. Probably this was less common among the older volunteer regiments than among the later draftees, who were not as committed to the cause nor as bound by ties of locality and personal acquaintance; but in the 31st something approaching mass desertion took place. At least 12 men were recorded as having deserted at Pittsfield, five from Company K and the remainder from four other companies. At least for the group from Company K it had the appearance of being an organized plan. Initially one might suspect that some of these men were merely delayed temporarily, but the records do not indicate that any of them ever returned to the regiment.

Norris took sick while on leave and spent time at an army hospital in Readville, MA. He did not leave Boston until January 3, 1865, taking an Old Colony train to Newport, RI and then the Sound steamer Empire State to New York. They departed from there on the 5th, and the voyage took a full two weeks, due in part to making stops at Key West, Pensacola, and Fort Morgan in Mobile Bay. This Winter voyage on the transport Empire City was not only longer but considerably more stressful than the one experienced by the bulk of the 31st Mass. On the second day out Norris felt slightly dizzy and went up on deck. There he encountered “a sight for an artist. Here were several of the boys arranged along the rail feeding the fishes with the food they had demolished the two or three previous days. I very soon joined them and oh heavens, if I ever felt seasick and homesick it was then.” After a relatively pleasant afternoon watching porpoises, a violent gale set in off Cape Hatteras, which inevitably recalled the ordeal the Mississippi had passed through nearly three years before:

The sea ran terrible high all night. The waves broke over the deck of the old craft. The water rushed down the hatches into the hold where we were quartered, soaking every one of us to the skin and nearly drowning us all out. At one particular time a very heavy wave struck the ship with an awful crash. It sounded just as if the old hulk had struck a rock and was coming to pieces. There was then a continued rush of water down on us. We all gave ourselves up as lost. Some were praying, others cursing, and all running about making all sorts of noises. As for myself I felt just as if I wanted to go down. [letter, Jan. 25, 1865]

As with the Mississippi, the remainder of the voyage was relatively uneventful. Norris compensated for his lost meals, and the ship reached New Orleans January 20, 1865.

While the veterans were enjoying their well-deserved furlough, men who were not eligible for the furlough were assigned to guard Confederate prisoners in a cotton warehouse in New Orleans. After the regiment was reunited, it was initially ordered to draw Springfield muskets and return to infantry duty. This was in response to an order dated July 25, 1864, which revoked the order that had converted the regiment to cavalry. [Special Order No. 197, Dept. of the Gulf; OR: Ser. I, v. XLI, Part II, 381.] The record does not offer any clues as to why this action was taken. It is probably not so much a reflection on the performance of the 31st Mass. as a general desire to reduce the cost of maintaining mounted troops now that their primary advocate, Banks, was no longer in a position to support them. Moreover, although the congressional hearings on the Red River Expedition had not yet started, officers like Gen. Dwight had almost certainly expressed their opinions about the cavalry in general. Canby soon thought better and restored the unit to cavalry duty (technically they were mounted infantry). As Lt. Howell explained to his sister, “This is the next best thing to being made cavalry & the only real difference is that we shall carry long guns instead of short ones [carbines] as we did before.” [Sep. 26, 1864]  This proved to be a wise decision in view of the action it saw during its remaining months in Louisiana. The men took up quarters in Fassman’s Cotton Press, which Fairbank described as “bully quarters, everything handy.” [ibid., Sep. 28, 1864]  Being Fairbank, the items he included under “handy” were probably not limited to military needs.

Fairbank’s advances against the local females seem not to have resulted in as many conquests, and by February he was forced to concede mournfully “After traveling Carrollton all over to find some woman who would share her bed with me, without success, I returned to the camp to sleep in wet blankets.” [diary, Feb. 14, 1865]  He compensated in part with frequent visits to the theater, indicating that New Orleans’s lively cultural life had recovered. Christmas was a pleasant occasion, as Fairbank feasted on “a great dinner of pies, chicken, etc. brought in by our friends the citizens.” He had ample reason to exclaim “Hurrah for Christmas!”[diary, Dec. 25, 1864]  On New Year’s Day 1865, which fell on a Sunday, Fairbank enjoyed “a nice pair of ducks given by Mr. Seales, a planter living five miles below here.” [diary, Jan. 1, 1865]  The donors of these lavish repasts were probably Unionist planters who lived within the narrow zone of protection provided by federal troops. Even when fully mobilized, the reach of federal arms was limited across the vast expanse of the South, and this foreshadowed the problems of Reconstruction.

Edward Payson Nettleton

Edward Payson Nettleton

In formation on September 28, Lt. Col. Nettleton presented the regiment with two flags on behalf of the State of Massachusetts. Probably they had been promised during the recent furlough; unfortunately, the account does not specify whether they were national, state, or regimental banners. The intent was undoubtedly to pull the troops out of the inevitable doldrums occasioned by the return to oppressive military life after a tantalizingly brief re-acquaintance with the delights of home. Nettleton was keen to establish his authority and, from his perspective, repair the damage done by the former regimental senior officers. Sgt. Rich reported that “he is very particular” with the manual of arms. [diary, Oct. 10, 1864]  After an inspection, Fairbank observed dryly that “Everything passed off well as could be expected considering the military man we have for a commander.” [diary, Oct. 23, 1864]  Nettleton’s sternness on the drill field gave no clue as to other events in his life, but Howell recorded that “Col. Nettleton and Miss Benjamin are in the last stages of a heavy fever. They only wait for the close of the war to claim the kettle according to agreement.” [letter, Nov. 10, 1864] (Some of the officers must have had a wager as to who would get married first; however Nettleton’s obituary states that he married Mary E. Tucker. [Boston Journal, Apr. 18, 1889])

To complete their reinstatement as mounted infantry, the 31st Mass. had to be issued horses and accoutrements, which took place in December. Capt. Allen informed Col. Nettleton, who was away on detached duty, that Gen. T. W. Sherman “urges us to improve every moment in camp for drill and instruction, but there is hardly a moment when the men and horses are not resting from labor or doing work.” [Dec. 28, 1864; Nettleton Papers, vol. I, (Box II, f5)]  This contrasts noticeably with Fairbank’s depiction of a rather leisurely existence; each was probably seeing or reporting what suited him. By the end of the month, Allen was able to report “. . . the horses are improving rapidly. We have got all our stables comfortably arranged now, and are fully settled and running. The men are behaving splendidly, and win already the good opinion of the people, who have been accustomed to the depredations of such men as the 14th N.Y. and Scott’s 900.” [ibid., emphasis in original]  Matching men and horses must have been an ongoing process, and two months later Fairbank reported that “after having some six or eight different ones, I have one that suits me.” [diary, Feb. 26, 1865]  This expression of satisfaction proved to be premature, as a few days later he fumed “After getting the bloody horse clean, he will lay down and roll, making himself look as bad as ever, and you must go to work again, or get scolded for having him so dirty.” [diary, Mar. 1, 1865]

Soldiers followed the critical 1864 election campaign with understandably intense interest. Just as there was no precedent for a conflict of the magnitude of the Civil War, there was no precedent for conducting a presidential election in the midst of one. On November 7, Fairbank reported “Great discussions tonight. Some are for old Abe, others for little Mac, and each party is praising their candidate.” [diary]  On election day the men used the occasion to indulge in the kind of military satire that might have delighted Ernie Pyle 80 years later: “Votes were cast for more rations and company cooks, ‘more bread’ and one was cast for Old Abe on conditions that he gave us more rations and better officers.” [ibid., Nov. 8, 1864]  On that day, Rich recorded a sham election in which a significant proportion of the regiment participated: of 252 votes cast, McClellan received 132, Lincoln 114, Ben Butler 3, and 3 were scattered. This was a surprising outcome, since the overall soldier vote was overwhelmingly Republican. [McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, 804]  Butler’s intention of forming a regiment of Democratic Unionists apparently had persisted to some degree. The soldiers who cast votes for Butler may not have realized that Lincoln had toyed with the idea of making “the Beast” his running mate; and Butler, after his military aspirations were humiliated, came to regret refusing the offer. None of the soldier accounts speak of actually voting, although Massachusetts was one of the states that permitted soldier voting and, as a Republican stronghold, had an interest in encouraging such votes. By then there were probably only a few hundred Massachusetts soldiers in Louisiana, so no one may have made the effort to set up voting facilities.

When the 31st Mass. returned to duty in Louisiana, the time for grand movements had passed. Confederate forces still occupied Shreveport and the Teche country, while federals controlled New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and the line of the Mississippi, with a number of free-labor plantations. Neither side had the strength to undertake a major campaign; besides, the depleted countryside could not have supported one. The only major plan afoot was to capture Mobile, which had been high on the agenda since 1862 but had been deferred repeatedly. It might have been undertaken in September 1864, but an outbreak of yellow fever at New Orleans caused another delay. [Winters, 391]  Union victories, notably Sherman’s taking of Atlanta, had persuaded the North to continue the war and ensured Lincoln’s re-election, so the importance of the president’s experiment with the Unionist Louisiana government diminished.

The state became the scene of small, though often vicious, clashes. On November 27, 1864, the 31st, under Capt. Allen, was ordered to occupy the eastern shore of the Mississippi opposite Donaldsonville, a territory extending as far as the Amite River, some ten or 15 miles, to conduct these minor but dangerous operations. [An order to the quartermaster to transfer these companies was issued Nov. 28 (OR: Ser. I, v. XLI, Part IV, 703)] Later, Gen. Thomas W. Sherman, in charge of the Defenses of New Orleans, issued detailed instructions to Allen:

 . . . keep your force . . . as much concentrated when in camp as possible. All that is necessary above the telegraph station on the levee plantations and roads are outposts furnishing the necessary pickets and vedettes. Keep an active system of instruction the whole time your men are in camp—that is, off the outside duties, so that they may become perfect in all duties connected with their arm. [Dec. 22, 1864; OR: Ser. I, v. XLI, Part IV, 384]

The phrasing suggests that Sherman did not feel fully confident in entrusting a challenging command to a captain, or in the level of competence the regiment had achieved.

The unit set up operations at Hermitage Plantation (which still exists). Fairbank says that they took up quarters “in a shed adjoining the sugar mill” on the plantation. [diary, Nov. 29, 1864]  It is not clear whether any Union officers or men occupied the mansion. This was territory with which the 31st was quite familiar, perhaps more than they wished. Within it lay several government plantations, a freedman’s school, a telegraph station, and a settlement of loyal refugees. Once again the 31st entered the area of responsibility of Richard Taylor, who had been assigned to the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana after his violent dispute with Kirby Smith, but it does not appear that the Massachusetts men encountered the few regular troops remaining under Taylor’s command.

Earlier, in late October, Companies F and H, under Captains Rice and Bond respectively, had been issued the first horses that the regiment acquired and sent further upriver to Plaquemine. Elbert H. Fordham, promoted to major after having performed admirably the duties of a colonel, was detailed to become inspector of cavalry for the division. It is possible that the regiment was being kept fairly inactive while awaiting more extensive reorganization. During November and December the companies one-by-one reached the end of their first enlistment, and those men who had not re-enlisted were discharged. Since a large portion of Company D had been mustered November 20, 1861, there was a surge of discharges on November 19, 1864. In sharp contrast to their attitude toward some of the nine-month troops, none of the “veterans” begrudged the well-earned departure of their former comrades. Fairbank, who had shared three years’ of adventures with them, extended a heartfelt farewell: “they have done their duty and may they arrive safe home.” [diary, Nov. 26, 1864]  The pending departure of these men put him in a nostalgic mood, and he reflected on the third anniversary of their going off to camp in Pittsfield: “Of the six that bunked together, Lamberton, Warburton, Marsh, Bennett, Lashua and myself, two last are left. Bennett found a grave in southern soil.” [diary, Nov. 9, 1864]

Department headquarters decided to consolidate the remaining troops into a battalion of five companies. The companies went through a series of reorganizations, which made it seem that the men were constantly being shuffled around. In fact, they stayed together; it was only the company designations that were altered. It was not until February 1865 that the battalion took on its final organizational form. At that time interim Company K, made up of original Companies A and B, became Company A; Company I, made up of original Companies I and K, became B; Company G, made up of original C and G, became C; Company H, made up of original F and H, became D; and Company F, made up of original D and E, became E.

The reduction of the regiment created a surplus of officers, so several were mustered out in November 1864. This group included 1st Lt. Fordyce A. Rust (originally Co. B); Capt. Horace F. Morse (originally Co. B); 1st Lt. Emory P. Andrews (originally Co. C); Capt. John W. Lee (originally Co. C); Capt. Lester M. Hayden (originally Co. E); and Capt. Orrin S. Hopkins (originally Co. H). Although Howell opined that “The officers to go are the poorer ones & most of them want to go,” [Letters, Nov. 24, 1864] some of the choices seem surprising, as Col. Gooding and Maj. Fordham were among those discharged. Both had served effectively at critical moments, and it would seem that the army could have found other uses for their abilities. Apparently the policy was not to reduce active officers, so it became necessary to commission two NCOs as second lieutenants: Patrick J. Dinan and Charles I. Wade, both originally in Company I. Dinan, it may be recalled, had won the prize for best drilling at the July 4 festivities at Fort Pike in 1863, so this promotion at least appeared to be based on merit. The departing men, despite the privileges accorded to officers, must have concluded that they had had enough of military service, or that there were better opportunities as a civilian. Hawkes had opined that Capt. Lee, having been seriously ill, would not return from the furlough he began in July 1863. [letter, July 18, 1863]  He was mistaken in that prediction, but during the major shakeup in November 1864, Lee was either bumped aside or chose to leave the service.

Washington Irving Allen

Washington Irving Allen

In the early part of 1865 Capt. W. Irving Allen and Lt. Col. Nettleton, who was detached to court-martial duty in New Orleans, conducted a detailed and highly personal correspondence concerning officer placements in the regiment. They attempted to assign lieutenants to captains who requested them, or to achieve, in their judgment, the most compatible combination of officers. It does not seem that they were authorized to determine which officers would be eliminated, but they made a concerted effort, by manipulating the number of men in companies, to push out Capt. Darling. [Allen to Nettleton, Feb. 6, 1865; Nettleton Papers, vol. I (Box 2, f5)] Darling had been detached on provost duty since 1863 and thereafter had little contact with the rest of the regiment, not participating in either the Teche or Red River campaigns. Nevertheless, it appears that Allen and Nettleton considered this still a temporary assignment, so that he might return at any time and displace another officer by reason of seniority. Within the diminished scope of the 31st Mass. these were understandably sensitive topics. Allen feared that Sagendorph might have to be made a “scapegoat” in the process of pushing out Darling, and he felt that Howell held an unspecified grievance against him, probably relating to the assignment of subordinate officers. [ibid.]

In what appears to be merely a startling coincidence, Capt. Darling was captured by the enemy soon after. According to recollections provided much later by his wife Sarah, they were living on the Deslonde plantation in La Place, home of Gen. Beauregard’s father-in-law, Andre Deslonde. (The general’s wife, Caroline Deslonde, had died in March 1864.) A Confederate raiding party eluded the ineffectual picket guard and broke into the house. Sarah believed it was for the purpose of seizing papers that would show a list of men who were slated to be drafted, presumably into the Union Army. At that moment the whistle of a boat that was bringing Capt. Darling back from a trip to New Orleans sounded. The raiders waited and captured him when he came up to the house. He was carried off to a location deep in Mississippi but soon exchanged for a major held by Union forces. Sarah Darling testified that the major had been captured after her husband, but he may have been taken earlier, so that the seizure of Capt. Darling was really more of a kidnapping for the purpose of exchange. There seems to be a stagy aspect to the whole affair. Sarah was interviewed by L. Frederick Rice in 1905, but her memory of events 40 years earlier was fuzzy. She was no longer able to recall the precise date of the incident, but military records show that it was March 25, 1865. [Sarah Darling recollection] The captain himself had died in 1878 and does not seem to have left any recollections.

The seizure of Darling was not reported for four hours, and by then the raiders had a considerable start. Over the next two days, parties of federal troops ranged into the countryside searching for him, but without success. It may be that Sarah gave them confusing or misleading information as to the direction the raiders had taken. The searches were under the control of Maj. Edward Byrne of the 18th N.Y. Cavalry, but although it was a cavalry outfit, it appears that the parties traveled on foot or in small boats. On March 28 the last party returned with the report that “further pursuit is useless, as the rebels are too far away.” [Byrne reports; OR: Ser. I, v. XLVIII, Part I, 154-55, 1263, 1283.]

Capt. Felix P. Poche, C.S.A.

Capt. Felix P. Poche, C.S.A.

The Darlings were well treated by the courtly leader of the Confederate band, Capt. Felix P. Poche. As depicted by Sarah, we see in his behavior the fading echo of the code of the planter aristocracy, now on the brink of catastrophic defeat. After the war, Poche became a judge and socialized amiably with the Darlings. Capt. Darling was released on parole and allowed to go to New Orleans to arrange the release of the major held by the Union. He succeeded in this, but then, for reasons that are not clear, was imprisoned by his own army. Finally Gen. Banks intervened with an order stating “There are no charges against Capt. Darling in this office and never have been. Release him immediately.” [Sarah Darling recollection. No confirmation of this has been found, but Banks was still nominally in command of the Department of the Gulf, so it remains possible.] Col. Nettleton’s papers contain an order from headquarters, Department of Mississippi, at Vicksburg, stating that Darling had been released by the Confederate Agent of Exchange on May 2, 1865 and “will proceed to New Orleans and report to Capt. W.H. Sterling, Commissioner of Exchange.” A report from the War Department in Washington included Darling’s name on a list of officers who had been mustered out effective May 15 “on account of their service being no longer required, and physical disability.” By a convoluted and unpredictable sequence of events, Nettleton and Allen had succeeded in disposing of the unintentionally troublesome captain.

Colonel Oliver P. Gooding

Colonel Oliver P. Gooding

Before the war the regular army, with its glacially slow advancement, was notorious for infighting and political rivalries. Bringing state authorities into the mix added another element to the intrigue. The maneuvers that led to the replacement of generals are often well documented, but the undercurrents that affected colonels and majors are usually obscure at this distance. On several occasions Gooding could have been given his star, and there was some expectation among the officers that this would happen; but the fact that it never did is significant. (In a letter back in February, Howell observed “Gooding is back—did not get his star.” [Feb. 24, 1864])  Upon resuming cavalry duties, the 31st Mass. had been assigned to the 5th Cavalry Brigade, of which Col. Gooding was in command. Gooding entertained hopes of recruiting the regiment to full strength locally so that he could remain, but, as Howell accurately predicted, “I doubt it.” [Letter, Nov. 24, 1864]  In the course of lubricating his superior, Nettleton, Allen passed on a report that “there is some chance of Gooding’s being retained as substitute for you. Do not, for Heaven’s sake, allow it. Give us timely notice of any movement of the enemy in that direction, and we will try to counteract it.” [Allen to Nettleton, Feb. 6, 1865; Nettleton Papers, vol. I (Box 2, f5)]  Whether due to a stout defense put up by Allen and Nettleton or other causes, Gooding did not resume command of the 31st. After the regiment was reduced to battalion size, it may be that higher authority did not consider it justifiable to assign a full colonel to command it.

When Thomas Norris returned to New Orleans some four months after the rest of his regiment, he was severely dismayed by what he found. By then the consolidation had been completed, and his former company K had been merged into B, commanded by an officer who Norris, for unexplained reasons, said he had always “despised.” This was Capt. Howell, who Norris said “I hoped I should never have anything to do with, let alone being under him.” Meanwhile, to make matters worse, the men were “quartered in a small cabin of their own construction and rather rough at that. It was ventilated first rate, for the roof resembled a sieve.” [letter, Feb. 21, 1865; emphasis in original]  It is not surprising that he told his mother “had I known the situation of our company while at home as I do now, I should never have shown my face in the Regt. again.” In this letter, Norris informed his mother that, in what he termed “a curious accident,” one of his “chums,” Cpl. Ken Sturtevant, after “a very few words” with a young lady, had gotten married while on furlough. [The roster lists a Cpl. Sturtevant in Co. K with a first name given as either Alonzo or Lorenzo.]

On a couple of occasions, the 31st received groups of recruits, but not enough to fill up a regiment. Rich reported that 60 new men arrived on October 1, (though Fairbank reported only seven) and Norris recorded that about 30 more arrived from Boston in March after a voyage of only nine days. [Rich and Fairbank diaries; Norris letter, Mar. 7, 1865] One of these late recruits must have possessed great natural military aptitude: George Lingenfelter, a 30 year-old blacksmith from Berkshire County, enlisted in August 1864 and was mustered out in July 1865, having attained the rank of first sergeant. Because it was so far from home, it was more difficult for this regiment to recruit in Massachusetts than for regiments in the eastern theater. After July 1864, it had the unexpected distinction of being the last Massachusetts regiment assigned to the Department of the Gulf. The sister regiment, the 30th Mass., had remained in the Gulf until then, when it was shipped East to help defend Washington against a raid by Jubal Early. Later it was active in the final Shenandoah campaign.

 *  *  *  *  *

The repeated passage of armies had thoroughly shattered the firm prewar social structure. In the resulting chaos, an element bubbled to the surface that had previously been unable or unwilling to show itself. These men, known variously as guerrillas, jayhawkers, bushwhackers, and renegades, were by-products of social disintegration, emboldened by the breakdown of order. Drawn mostly from the lowest strata of society, they were coarse, uneducated, violent, and unprincipled. At first, many were guerrillas authorized by the Confederate government as recognized auxiliaries to the regular army. Later, as the pressure of Confederate draft enforcement tightened, many Louisianans took to the swamps and canebrakes to escape. These men nursed a fierce hatred of the Confederate government and often aided Union forces as scouts and spies. As the war and its resulting devastation continued, a large proportion of the irregulars were simply bandits, preying on anyone weaker without regard to their political sympathies. They had little concern with the causes or outcome of the war that had opened the country to their brigandage. Thus the two regular armies were each engaged in two simultaneous wars; there were even examples where they cooperated to allow the suppression of brigands.

Accounts of this social breakdown are customarily told from the perspective of cultured planters, who lost their idyllic way of life as well as their property, but it may be the blacks who suffered most. If Union forces appeared, the blacks were liberated, but often mobilized for forced labor; then if the Confederates regained control, the blacks might be returned to their masters. Either way, they were abused and plundered of what little they had. Some, however, were able to attach themselves to the tail of the Union army and participate in looting and destruction.

It is an important historical question, deserving further investigation, as to whether the experience with irregulars in Louisiana influenced Confederate generals to reject a resort to guerrilla warfare, despite President Davis’s recommendation, when the Confederacy was approaching collapse in April 1865. In fact, the Confederacy already employed guerrilla warfare; the question was really whether to disband the organized field armies and use guerrilla tactics exclusively, no longer bound to defend territory. Victory in this case would not come on any battlefield, but from wearing out the North so that it no longer believed that conquering the South would be worth the effort (nor might there be much of value left to conquer). Beginning with Robert E. Lee, no general seemed willing to become a guerrilla chieftain. Even men like Forrest and Richard Taylor, who had engaged in countless small actions that often resembled guerrilla warfare, demurred.

Louisiana illustrates starkly the class aspect of the question. The South entered the war guided by an established code of honor, of which the highest expression was the Confederate officer in dress uniform. This code, practiced by the aristocracy and those who, if not born to the aristocracy, accepted its values, did not countenance intentionally making war on civilians. This is why Sherman’s tactics were so angrily deplored in Dixie, but that was only part of the story. A resort to guerrilla warfare over an extended period, with no central authority or command structure, would cause massive social upheaval. As was seen in Louisiana, this turmoil could allow the dregs of society to gain prominence, with unpredictable results. For southern aristocrats, this outcome might be worse than honorably losing a war, gallantly-fought.

It was into this physical and human swamp that the men of the 31st, mostly the descendants of Puritans, were thrust. By now familiar with Louisiana and accustomed to the saddle, they performed effectively in an assignment that demanded constant alertness. The tone and strategic rationale for this kind of warfare had been set forth previously by Gen. T. W. Sherman. Writing on November 1, 1864, before the 31st had been re-equipped as mounted infantry, he requested that

. . . the Thirty-first Massachusetts, as soon as mounted, be placed at my disposal in the La Fourche District. It is my desire to more effectually close that country from raids. No fears are entertained of any regular attack upon any portion of the La Fourche line, but it is important to wholly prevent the enemy from indulging in the only thing they appear to be now capable of doing. They are intent upon getting possession of all the horses, mules, &c., in the hands of loyal citizens, and that country is so difficult and routes of travel so uncertain that they occasionally succeed in their purposes, and get away without molestation. [to Asst. Adj. Gen., Dept. of the Gulf; OR: Ser. I, v. XLI, Part IV, 624]

Previous federal detachments in the area had frequently been surprised, absorbing embarrassing losses of personnel and equipment; and initially the 31st blundered into this pattern. A rebel attack on November 21 captured five men from the companies that had been sent to Plaquemine, one of whom, Pvt. William C. Pomeroy of Agawam, was killed trying to escape. Pomeroy had earlier been captured at Sabine Crossroads and apparently did not want to repeat the experience. Another member of this company who was taken prisoner that day, Truman Munsell of Belchertown, was released May 27, 1865, only to die of disability a week later. Although not listed as killed in action, and perhaps not shown as a military fatality at all, he was surely a casualty of the war. Cases like his illustrate why many believe that official figures on military losses are understated. In this same company (old Company F), 1st Sgt. Charles H. Horr of Pelham was accidentally shot by one of his men on December 7. He was one who had not re-enlisted and was scheduled to be discharged two weeks later, along with Corp. Harrison Z. Horr, probably his brother.

The mishap at Plaquemine evidently proved instructive to the regiment, and thereafter its raids regularly captured renegades, including some notorious individuals. One or more companies were sent regularly out on “scouts” into the countryside, sometimes overnight. Company I, for example, went out on December 1, 17, and 19, and on the second venture brought back seven presumed enemies. [Rich diary]  In late December Capt. Howell was sent with a detachment aboard the steamer Thomas to set up a post opposite Plaquemine. [Rust diary, Dec. 26, 1864]  Their main purpose was to guard a telegraph station. Howell’s force included 25 “colored” troops, who Rich identified as members of the 11th Rhode Island Colored Artillery. [Howell letters, Jan. 8, 1865; Rich diary, Dec. 27, 29, 1864]  In his letter to Nettleton on personnel affairs, Capt. Allen fretted that Howell’s transfer “removes him from our command almost entirely, making him report to the C.O. at Plaquemine as much as Rice.” [Allen to Nettleton, Feb. 6, 1865; Nettleton Papers, vol. I (Box 2, f5)]

As a result of these moves, the 31st was scattered at several points along the river, from which refugees guided them on surprise raids, often at night, against renegade camps. [Col. Nettleton’s historical summary (21) elaborates that old companies I and K, under Capt. Howell and Lt. Bond, were posted at Doyal’s plantation; Co. G under Lt. Sagendorph at Manning’s; Co. E under Lt. Lee and battalion headquarters at the “Hermitage” between the first two; with Cos. F and H under Capt. Rice still at Plaquemine. Subsequently the post at Doyal’s was considered too exposed, and the men were moved closer to the telegraph station.] These attacks brought in a motley haul of irregulars, and a party under Lt. Bond killed one McRory, leader of a band that had long been a terror to Union men. A larger push across the Amite on January 30, 1865, captured 17 prisoners, with the loss of one man drowned. Outstanding among the prisoners was the notorious guerrilla leader Samuel King, who had tormented Union forces for more than two years. Capt. Allen recounted this triumph with great delight:

Bond had the distinguished honor of charging into that settlement [the so-called French Settlement] and capturing the most prisoners, while Sagendorph immortalized himself by running old King down and capturing him with his own hand. . . . Sag emptied his revolver at the old scoundrel, and deserves to be scolded, as we all told him, for not killing him then. But when we took him out in the woods, and stood around him, 12 men with loaded muskets and 5 officers, and listened to his appeal for life, we were not bloodthirsty enough to kill him outright.

And, by the way, his first appeal was by a Masonic sign. I did not acknowledge it then, but afterwards tried him and found him quite bright, says he is a Royal Arch. [Allen to Nettleton, Feb. 6, 1865; Nettleton Papers, vol. I (Box 2, f5)]

Coming late in the war, this action, though of only local importance, was perhaps the most satisfying and unalloyed success the 31st Mass. had achieved. No wonder that Allen crowed “we have been treading on air ever since.”

While being transported to prison in New Orleans, King tried to escape and was shot by a guard, Pvt. John White of Company E, 31st Mass. White was one of the men recruited locally after the seizure of New Orleans. The steamer Ohio Belle had landed at Hermitage Plantation, where it had picked up the batch of prisoners and their 31st Mass. guards. “The corporal in command of the Guards had particular orders to watch closely the motions of King, as he was known to be a desperate character.” Due to fog, the ship had to lay over that night, and shortly after midnight King “attempted to wrest the gun from the hands of a sentinel.” White’s shot killed him almost instantly. The Ohio Belle proceeded to sink during the night, but the corporal, William H. Exford of Pownal, VT, kept the prisoners under control and loaded them on the next boat. King was buried at a place called Twelve Mile Point, probably long since effaced by changes in the river’s course. Pvt. White was temporarily arrested by the captain of the ship but quickly released and commended by the officer who reported the incident. [William Brough, Capt., Co. C, 1st Indiana Heavy Artillery, to Capt. F. Speed, A.I. General, New Orleans, Feb. 9, 1865; Nettleton Papers, vol. I (Box 2, f5)].  These successes were much appreciated by Brig. Gen. T. W. Sherman,  who issued a testimonial to the 31st:

HDQRS. DEFENSES OF NEW ORLEANS               New Orleans, February 16, 1865

(General Orders, No. 6)

            The general commanding tenders his thanks to Captain W.I. Allen, 31st Massachusetts Volunteers, and the battalion of mounted infantry under his command, for their uniform good conduct since occupying their present position, and particularly for the unusual success which has thus far attended their operations in capturing the noted guerilla leader and desperado, King, and at various times large numbers of guerilla bands infesting that region, thus promoting security and good order upon that frontier, with the exercise of a good judgment that led to no unnecessary bloodshed. [OR: Ser. I, v. XLVIII, Part I, 802]

Lewis Frederick Rice

Lewis Frederick Rice

Meanwhile, the two companies stationed at Plaquemine, under command of Capt. Rice, functioned as mounted pickets. At first relatively small parties went out, and then only infrequently and not usually for long distances. On the last day of 1864, one of these forays, led by the provost marshal, Lt. Jules Masicot, “returned, minus three of their number, and the Pro­vost Marshall” in Rice’s account. “Verdict: whiskey did it”. At Indian Village they ran into a larger party of rebels, numbering 30 or 40. As Rice described: “The P. M. walked directly into the hands of the rebs and two of the men were probably taken while trying to gratify an illegitimate appetite for poultry. How the third man was taken we don’t know.” The three captured were Corp. John L. Hall of Great Barrington and two privates, all from Co. H. [Rich diary]  As a result of having his men “gobbled” in this way, Rice decided “never to willingly send out any more of my men under charge of any officers than those of our own Reg’t.” [letter, Plaquemine, LA, Jan. 8, 1865 In May a man named Guedry, who was accused of facilitating the capture of Lt. Masicot was himself captured, and there was discussion of bringing him to trial. (Report of Brig. Gen. Robert A. Cameron, commanding district of La Fourche, May 6, 1865; OR: Ser. I, v. XLVIII, Part I, 239)]

In the latter part of January the commander at Plaquemine, Major R. G. Shaw of the 11th U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, picked up the pace of activity, so that the two companies of the 31st were out almost constantly. The weather resembled what the men had experienced during the previous January, with frequent cold snaps punctuated by rain and resultant mud. On the 26th Lt. Barber with 70 men was ordered to proceed to Indian Village and “to remain in that vicinity, guarding the roads leading to or from Bayou Goula.” [Plaquemine Detachment diary]  Their purpose was to cut off a party of rebels commanded by a Capt. Williams. Even Rice had to admit that this foe was “very enterprising, and has thus far been a very successful leader.” His forte, as Rice explained, “has been to intercept and capture the couriers running between Donaldsonville and Plaquemine.” After losing nearly 20 men in this way, and “the patience of our military authorities being somewhat tired by such unwarrantable proceedings on his part, an expedition was sent from the vicinity of Donaldsonville to clear him out.” The plan was to have Barber’s force, which might have mustered half the available manpower of the two Plaquemine companies, intercept Williams if the main body drove him in that direction. Williams, however, was able to slip away, and Barber’s men caught only a brief glimpse of three members of his advance guard. [Rice letter, Feb. 2, 1865]

Frequent contact allowed the guerrillas to form a pretty precise idea of Union troop dispositions and led them to think that by massing their strength they might be able to bag entire small garrisons. Late at night on February 3rd, Rice was “awakened by one of the men rapping on the door and calling out “Captain, the rebs are charging in upon us.” As the captain said, “This was rather a startling announcement with which to disturb ones peaceful slumbers, but there was no time to stretch or rub my eyes.” Hurriedly he formed his men up outside, where they could “plainly hear the rebs coming thro’ the water, (for the roads and fields below us are all over-flowed at intervals for miles) and yelling like fiends. From the splashing they made, we thought they were on horseback, and the shouting convinced us that we were outnumbered.” Rice was determined not to have his detachment “gobbled” without a fight, and as soon as the enemy drew close enough to be seen in the darkness, his men commenced firing. “It was so dark that a man could not be distinguished at more than four or five rods distance.”

A rebel who approached too close was wounded and captured. He informed Rice that the attackers had 160 men. Against this Rice opposed only 31 men besides himself, but the enemy may not have been fully aware of this discrepancy. Moreover, Rice’s men by then were veteran soldiers, accustomed to working together. Many of the guerrillas were experienced fighters, but not in organized combat; and in order to amass so large a force they must have included many inexperienced “citizens of a jayhawking turn of mind,” as Rice phrased it. Still, the odds were daunting, and Rice sent for Lieuts. Bond and Barber, who had the rest of the company at Indian Village.

At a critical moment, when the rebels could be heard shifting men to Rice’s rear, “the welcome sound of galloping broke upon our ears.” The volume of hoofbeats and cheering made it seem that the entire relief force had arrived, but in reality it was only Bond’s squad of eight men. Five or ten minutes later, Barber came up with 13 or 14 more reinforcements. Immediately after, the attackers blew a horn signaling retreat and melted back into the swamp. Barber recalled that his men spent the rest of the night in water nearly waist deep, firing in the direction of any noises they detected. [“The Indian Village Fight”]  It proved to be a highly satisfactory encounter for the Plaquemine detachment, as they had beaten off an enemy force whose numbers were given at anywhere from 100 to 160. Rice believed that the attackers were commanded by King, not knowing that that notorious renegade was already dead. On the following day, the 31st Mass. brought in two mortally wounded rebels, while five others came out of the swamp and gave themselves up. Only one man of Rice’s force was killed, Michael Haggerty of Adams, “who had the top of his head blown off, killing him instantly. He was one of the recruits that have joined since our return from furlough, and this was his first experience under fire, and, poor fellow, his last, too.” [Rice letter, Feb. 7 addition to letter of Feb. 2, 1865. Rice wrote an official report of the encounter, which has much the same content but lacks some of the personal embellishments (Feb. 5, 1865; OR: Ser. I, v. XLVIII, Part I, 67-68.]  This constituted the battalion’s last major clash in Louisiana, after which it soon went off on its final adventure.

Initial reports of Rice’s engagement indicated that he had faced a force of 500. When General T.W. Sherman was informed, he wrote “If the enemy is as numerous as represented, Captain Rice should have fallen back. But it is presumed that the number is much exaggerated.” [to Commanding Officer Plaquemine, Feb. 4, 1865; OR: Ser. I, v. XLVIII, 740] The general’s surmise was correct, and subsequent reports amended the number to about 150. Sherman’s frustration with this kind of fighting, what the French call petite guerre, was amply displayed when he wrote “Let all these scoundrels be either captured or driven well back into rebeldom.” [Ibid. (separate message, same date)]

Capt. Rice’s personal adventures were not at an end, however. As he readily admitted, “my tongue had got me into a scrape.” Three days after the nighttime battle, he went up to Plaquemine and called on Major Shaw:

I tried to get the Company ordered back to town, as I could see no use in keeping us there any longer and the men were getting used up. I told him that the men had been ten days constantly on duty (wet through on six of them) without a chance to change their clothes and without a whole night’s sleep. He replied that if I had used my men so, I had not managed my Company properly. I didn’t enjoy having such a remark as that made in the hearing of half a dozen officers and citizens, and consequently rejoined in my peculiarly mild and polite way, “If you think so, you ought to Court Martial me, and put some one in command of the Company who can properly manage it.” The upshot of the matter was that I was ordered into Arrest and didn’t return to where the Company was. [Rice letter, Carrollton, LA, Mar. 4, 1865.]

This outcome is recorded laconically in “The Diary of the Plaquemine Detachment,” almost certainly written by Rice: “Capt. Rice having returned to Plaquemine to endeavor to get his company relieved from such incessant duty, succeeded only so far as he was personally concerned. He was placed in close arrest by order of Maj. Shaw.” [Feb. 6, 1865]

When the regiment moved out, Rice remained under arrest. He was released early in March on orders of Gen. T. W. Sherman, who ordered “that no further proceedings be had in the case.” Rice was generally pleased by this outcome:

In view of the whole matter, I cannot help thinking that my way of mismanaging my Comp’y was not displeasing to Gen. Sherman, who is an old regular officer, whose Battery gained distinction in the Mexican War, and who lost a leg at Port Hudson. On the whole, I believe I may without egotism, claim as fair a record as Maj. Shaw, concerning whom I heard the Colonel of his own Reg’t say not three days since, “Whiskey commands the Post of Plaquemine.” Still the three weeks in durance vile have been tedious ones, and I’m glad they’re over. [ibid.]

Rice’s pen, as well as his tongue, was capable of getting him in trouble. A few weeks earlier Lt. James M. Stewart, the regimental adjutant, wrote asking for a list of men being mustered out. Rice responded that he had not received the request and then gratuitously added “that a less overbearing tone in your communications would be quite as likely to ensure prompt and satisfactory replies to them.” [Plaquemine, LA, Jan. 11, 1865; Nettleton “Index”]  Writing on order of Capt. W. I. Allen, then in command of the regiment, Stewart replied that “The language used in the fore­going instrument is considered disrespectful to Regimental Headqrs.” [Jan. 18; ibid.]  In his response a few days later, Rice concluded “I stand ready at all times to defend myself against charges of conduct discreditable or unbecoming to me either as a soldier, officer, or gentleman.” [Jan. 24; ibid.]  Rice seems to have possessed the overly developed sense of honor that was prevalent in that age. It is also possible that he was reacting to some personal stress.

Elbert H. Fordham (Image courtesy Special Collections & Archives, Frost Library, Amherst College)

Elbert H. Fordham
(Image courtesy Special Collections & Archives, Frost Library, Amherst College)

Former Major Fordham decided to set up a store inside the Union lines across from Plaquemine, and men of the 31st helped him build it. [Rich diary, Feb. 9, 15, 1865]  Allen told Nettleton that “Hopkins” had obtained a permit for a store where the main part of the regiment was stationed, in the vicinity of The Hermitage. The reference is probably not to former Lt. Col. W.S.B. Hopkins but to Capt. Orrin S. Hopkins who had, like Fordham, been mustered out in November 1864. Allen said he had approved the application grudgingly “because there was no decent ground for refusal, but hadn’t the least idea he could get it through.” Conversely, he expressed the wish that Fordham could have gotten his permit “here,” instead of upriver near Plaquemine. [Allen to Nettleton, Feb. 6, 1865; Nettleton Papers, vol. I (Box 2, f5)]  Even if these officers really had no prospect of remaining in the service, it seems puzzling that they chose the uncertain future of keeping store for soldiers whose location was subject to the whims of higher command.

Their timing proved unfortunate, as they evidently did not suspect that the stay of the 31st Mass. in Louisiana was coming to a close. If officers with presumably good connections were unaware that time was growing short, there was even less likelihood that the knowledge would filter down to lower levels. Thus, almost as soon as the detachment arrived at the telegraph station opposite Plaquemine, they began building quarters and shelters for horses. Since it was midwinter, this was entirely understandable, but they included touches such as fireplaces at each end of the barracks that would not have been necessary if they thought their tenure would be brief. [Rich diary, Jan. 2, 6, 18, 1865]

Only days after the former officers were granted permission to set up their stores the 31st Mass. received its marching orders. (Under Special Orders No. 42, Dept. of New Orleans, Feb. 10, 1865, the regiment was directed to “immediately concentrate at Carrollton.” OR: Ser. I, v. XLVIII, Part I, 804.]) Although the orders were in hand by February 11, much time elapsed before a boat became available. Meanwhile, an officer and 12 men from the 3rd Rhode Island Cavalry came over from Plaquemine to relieve the force at the telegraph station. Sgt. Rich, highly unimpressed, described them as “a pretty rough and dirty looking lot of soldiers,” whose appearance was not enhanced by their “very poor horses.” [diary, Feb. 12, 13, 1865] Their shabby condition was probably explainable by the fact that they had been out almost constantly pursuing guerillas in semi-liquefied land. Other elements of the 3rd RI Cavalry relieved the remaining outlying detachments of the 31st Mass., whose long wait ended on February 23, when the steamer Chouteau docked to load Company H. There was a further delay, as the boat had to tie up overnight because of fog. At last on the afternoon of the 24th they reached Carrollton, where they joined the rest of the regiment “encamped in a perfect mudhole.” [ibid., Feb. 23, 24, 1865]  After enduring this for about ten days, the entire brigade was collected at the old campground above Carrollton. While there, another 33 recruits arrived from Massachusetts to share in the last adventure. [ibid., Mar. 6, 1865]

One thought on “Part 8 — Red River to Mobile

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