Affair at Des Sair [Desert] Station — Jeremiah McGraith

Companies H & K, 31st Reg. Mass. Vols. were detached from from the Reg. and were quartered in a place called Kennerville, about seven miles above New Orleans on the banks of the Mississippi River, on Dec. 8th., 1862. We broke camp and were ordered to Bonnie Cary [Bonnet Carre] Point on the banks of said river. On the first day’s march we reached Rossa’s Plantation which was confiscated by General Butler. On the 9th, we arrived at Bonnie Cary [Bonnet Carre] Point and were quartered in a sugar house. On the morning of the 10th, 23 men of Co. K., under command of Lieut. Nelson F. Bond, were detailed to go to relieve a company of a Maine Regiment stationed at a place called Des Sair Station on the Jackson and Mississippi R. R., about ten miles from said point. We went through a plantation and about two miles of woods and got out on said railroad where we met the Maine Co.

Received orders and started up the track about six miles. We arrived at the Post about 3 p.m. Lieut. Bond addressed us and said as we were tired and hungry he would put out no pickets until we had something to eat. We broke ranks and went into Quarters which consisted of a house with bunks three tiers high. We took off our equipments and went looking around the premises, as it was strange to us. Comrade Croiser [James J. Croshier] had been detailed as cook. I went with him to the cookhouse, which was in the rear of the Quarters. We had just got to said cookhouse when we heard the alarm, “get your guns boys”. I went back as soon as possible to see what was up and as I got to the front I saw the Rebels coning up the same track that we had travelled twenty minutes. I think there were about seventy-five of them [with] fixed bayonets.

I put on my equipments as quickly as possible and fell into line. Just as the Rebels fired into us, they aimed too high and all went over our heads with the exception of one buckshot that D. O’Brien got in the muscles of his arm. We gave them the next round and they ran into the woods which were on each side of the track. We kept peppering them from the track while they were behind trees. Sergt. Wade and John McCarthy were wounded and were helped into the house. As Comrade Drach was returning, he was shot in the forehead and died on the piazza. Lieut. Bond, seeing another party of Rebels coming up on the edge of the woods, swung his sword and said, “every man for himself”. We all ran into the woods and I was about the last man that got in and I could not find any of our men, but D. O’Brien who was wounded. We thought we could get out on to a plantation, but at dusk we came to a break in the woods where we saw the Rebs in front of us, and if they had looked in our direction, they would have seen us. That night we heard horns blowing and loud talking as if they were fighting over our knapsacks, they having taken all of them. I had a very nice one which was sent me in a box from home. That night we had to sit up against a tree with our feet in the water.

We travelled all the next day and towards evening we came to the same spot that we had left in the morning. We heard some hammering in the woods and went toward it and came upon two men of French descent. They could not speak much English. We told them that we were running and had lost our way in the woods and asked them to show us the way out on to some plantation. They told us we could not get out unless we went down about six miles to the R. R. track. They told us that they would take us to the Yankee pickets. I also found out that they had taken the Oath of Allegiance. I asked them what the name of the place was and they told us Venere Station [sic: Frenier Station]. We understood that the name of the place where the fight occurred was Pass Manshack [sic: Pass Manchac] and they said they got their water and crackers from there.  They made staves in the woods and took them in flat boats down the bayou to the lake when they were taken by a schooner to New Orleans. I gave them what money I had which was about three dollars. For this they gave us something to eat and took us down the bayou in their boats. We got out on the track above the house where we had the fight and as I thought the Rebs would hold the place, I made them take us back again to stay with them over night, as I had told them all about ourselves. They told us that the Gorillas [guerillas] used to visit them very often and that it would not be safe for us to stop with them. They gave us some bread and meat, tobacco, pipe and matches, and told us how to get out on to the plantation.

We started and looked around to see if we could find a dry place to stay, as it had commenced to rain. We came to a big tree without limbs and seeing a hole in it saw that it was hollow on the inside and open on the top like a chimney. We broke a hole large enough to allow us to get inside. We found it to be damp on the bottom and got some bushes and spread around. The tree was about six feet in diameter and we could lie lengthwise. We sat up against the sides of the tree and made a fire at our feet and took off our stockings to dry them. We ate our lunch, smoked, and made ourselves as comfortable as possible. We went to sleep. How long I slept, I do not know, until a piece of fire fell on my face and woke me up. The tree was on fire and full of smoke. It did not blaze, but smouldered as though it was rotten. I woke O’Brien up as we had to leave it and we sat on a stump the remainder of the night with our feet in water and we had to keep going to the tree to get warm.

At daylight, we started and in about two hours we came in sight of the house where we had the fight. We stayed in the woods and kept in sight of the railroad. We went about one half a mile and came out on the track as we could make more progress. We had not gone far, however, when we saw two objects before us. We took them to be rebels and thought it was one of the picket posts, so we went back into the woods. When I thought it about time to be near the place, we went out onto the track again and kept going until we saw a party of soldiers. We took them for Rebels dressed in our uniforms that we had in our knapsacks and went back into the woods again. Got out on the plantation and went to the negro quarters where we were treated well. We started for camp about 11 o’clock p.m.  When within one-half mile of the camp, we were challenged and made ourselves known and went to report to Capt. Paige of Co. H. We gave him all the details that we knew of and went to our Quarters where we found only two men before us of our party.

Next day, Lieut. Bond and Hogan came in. Lieut. Bond was bare-footed, as at the time of the surprise he had on slippers. The following day, Capt. Allen came in with the rest of the men that he could find.  They got the alarm in camp the first night from one of the Maine boys who had to go after his cap box, he having left it behind, and his comrade went with him. It was dark when they got there, and seeing the Rebels on the railroad took them for our men. They said “Good evening” and they answered back saying “You are our prisoners”. Our boys started and ran when a Reb hit one of them with his gun and left him on the track. The other made his escape to camp and reported, but they did not believe him until the next evening [when] Allenburgh came in. There were re-enforcements sent up from New Orleans and Capt. Allen took his men to look for us and they were the men that we saw whom we took to be Rebs.

Our total was: killed, Amile Drake [Emil Drach]; wounded, Sergt. Wade, who died a few days after, John McCarthy and Daniel O’Brien. Prisoners, James Croiser [Croshier], P. McCarthy, S. Remington, L. O’Brien and C. Murphy who brought me back my son’s picture and a prayer book that the Rebs gave him. They kept my wife’s and daughter’s picture. The prisoners were paroled and sent to Washington. They joined the Regiment as we were going to Port Hudson. We had the honor to take some of the same men prisoners and our men knew them. They said they were well pleased to drive our men into the woods, as they thought they would never come out alive. I lay the blame on the Maine Company. If they had stayed at their post until relieved all would have been well, but they met us six miles from the Post. The Rebs knew it and came across the lake on a schooner, 275 strong and laid in ambush for us. Seeing so small a party they laid in ambush for us as they took us for the Advance Guard. Seeing no more coming they divided into three parts to surround us. The party on the track came up too fast for those in the woods and if we had not seen them we all would have been prisoners.         — Jeremiah McGraith, Co. K., 31st. Reg. Mass. Vols.

One thought on “Affair at Des Sair [Desert] Station — Jeremiah McGraith

  1. From Dr. Gerald Keller, of Bonnet Carre Reserve, Louisiana:
    “Just a little Cajun editing: Letter from Jeremiah McGraith, 2nd Page–second paragraph

    Venere Station is Frenier Station
    Pass Manshack is Pass Manchac — ever come to Louisiana, thin catfish is excellent at the Manchac restaurant.

    Frenier Station is unique — three Confederate cannons were in position to counter Union entry from Lake Pontchartrain. One cannon was retrieved from the lake and now in front of St. John the Baptist Parish annex building.”

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