Elbert H. Fordham — The Red River Campaign

The Red River Campaign
By Major E. H. Fordham, Broadway, New York, April 8th, 1889

Elbert H. Fordham Res.: Pittsfield Occ.: clerk  (Image courtesy Special Collections & Archives, Frost Library, Amherst College)

Elbert H. Fordham
Res.: Pittsfield
Occ.: clerk
(Image courtesy Special Collections & Archives, Frost Library, Amherst College)

Today marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads (or Mansfield), fought in Louisiana, in 1864, by the U. S. forces of the Dept. of the Gulf, under command of Maj. Gen. N. P. Banks, against those of the Rebels under Lieut. Gen. Kirby Smith, and in which my Regiment, the 31st. Mass. Vols, then mounted and equipped and styled the 6th Mass. Cavalry, took a prominent part. Ours was one of four Regiments which made up the 4th Cavalry Brigade under command of Col. N. A. M. Dudley of the 30th Mass. Vols; the others being the 2nd. Illinois Cavalry, the 41st Mass., called 3rd. Mass. Cav., and the 8th New Hampshire, called 2nd N.H. Cav. General Albert L. Lee commanded the Cavalry Division.

Our army had left its winter quarters at New Orleans and thereabouts, in the first days of March, destined for Shrevesport, in the north-western part of Louisiana, with the view to capture that point (which I believe, was the Headquarters and depot of supplies of the Confederate Army in the south-west), and to hold that section of country in possession. We had marched up over much of the same ground we did in 1863, through Franklin, New Iberia, Centrevllle, Opelousas, and Alexandria, and so on, by and across Cane River, to Natchitoches, Grand Ecore and Pleasant Hill, reaching the latter place and passing beyond it on April 7th. The advance guard of our forces [had] occasional skirmishes with the Enemy, but not meeting them in any force, until this Thursday, April 7th. On the afternoon of [that] day, it was evident the Enemy were gathering force and meant to contest our advance, as they did all that afternoon most stubbornly. The 1st Brigade of Cavalry, under command of Col. Lucas, which led our column, [had] no little difficulty in pushing the enemy from his front.

This 7th of April was a raw, chilly day — just one of the sort to make one long for “a little something” to warm one’s self up — and it most unfortunately happened that our Regimental Commander was overcome, resulting in his being placed in arrest, and of course, deprived of his command, which then fell to Maj. Robert Bache. We bivouacked in partial order of battle during the night, and the following day, Friday, April 8th, made ready for that which seemed to the Commanding General inevitable: a serious battle ‘ere the day should end. With this view, carbines and pistols were overhauled and freshly charged. Cartridge boxes were replenished, with an extra supply in our saddlebags. In some pockets, little packages of lint and linen were placed in the event of need, while upon my own part withal, apprehending of what value it might be to some poor fellow, I placed a pint flask of whiskey in one of the holsters of my saddle; and besides the lint and linen, I also placed in my saddlebags all the handkerchiefs I had, a couple of pairs of socks, tooth brush and a few other essentials, in case it chanced I were taken a prisoner.

About 9 a.m., our Brigade marched out and took position next in rear of that of Col. Lucas, which was still in front, and the advance was resumed. At all points, the Enemy contested our advance most stubbornly, until the early afternoon, when we came to an extensive clearing, surrounded on all four sides by thick woods. And in this clearing, line of battle was formed diagonally from the right hand lower corner across to very nearly the left hand upper corner, somewhat as follows:

Lucas’ Cavalry Brigade was on the right, ours next on his left, while our own Regiment was on the extreme left, in the woods beyond the clearing. Directly in rear of the Cavalry, were some five or six batteries of light artillery under General Arnold. I remember Nimm’s and the 18th N.Y.

In the woods behind the Artillery, were a portion of the 13th Army Corps under command of General Ransome. Some six or eight miles in rear of all these, were the 19th Army Corps, Brig. Gen. William H. Emery, and on the road between them and us the Cavalry train of 125 wagons or more.

Robert Bache Res.: Pittsfield Occ.: manufacturer  (Image courtesy Special Collections & Archives, Frost Library, Amherst College)

Robert Bache
Res.: Pittsfield
Occ.: manufacturer
(Image courtesy Special Collections & Archives, Frost Library, Amherst College)

The disposition of our forces at the front had barely been effected, when it was evident the enemy designed giving us immediate battle. By order of Maj. Bache, our Regiment had been dismounted, and we were formed in two lines of single rank, of which lines Capt. Edward P. Nettleton of Co. E. commanded the front, while I commanded the rear one, while yet a small detachment was sent further into the woods on our left and rear to protect our left flank, and guard against the Enemy’s getting in our rear. Looking out of the woods and across the upper left hand corner of the clearing, Maj. Bache, Nettleton, and I could see the enemy marching through the woods to come around the clearing and descend upon us, with the view to turn the left flank of our line.

The suspense, ‘ere the battle opened was certainly appalling, and I regret to say that in the case of our Regimental Commander it made him seek courage in drink. And I very well remember how, as we field officers sat upon our horses awaiting the onslaught of the Enemy, Maj. Bache rode towards me, and tipping me a wink, invited me to join him in a tipple. And I very well remember how I said to him, “Maj. Bache, not a drop for me at such a time and place as this in the very face of the enemy, and I advise you not to let a drop pass your lips.” In that old jolly, easy way of his, he answered, “Well! I’m going to take a little, all the same” and he did, with the result of his fleeing the field like a coward at the very first shot of the Enemy.

At about [   ] p.m. and almost immediately after my parting with the Major, the battle began, first by the Enemy’s left upon the extreme right of our line, quickly followed by a general engagement along the whole line… An entire Brigade of the Enemy, ample to annihilate us, came down in splendid form upon our little Regiment, and sent a volley into us which killed and wounded many in both Nettleton’s line and my own, and so far shook and broke us up that it was impossible to maintain the two lines. Looking around for our Regimental Commander, he was no where to be seen, and I shall never forget the look of supreme contempt on Nettleton’s face as he rode up to me shouting, “Capt. Fordham! Maj. Bache has fled the field like a coward. I assume command of this Regiment and wish you to assist me in the command.” After a hurried council, we decided to form the Regiment into single line and did so. The Enemy were pressing us hard, but the nearer they came the more effective our short range Carbines became… These being breechloaders, we could load and fire much more rapidly than the Enemy, no doubt giving them the impression of our being in larger force than we actually were, and that was only some 210 Officers and men all told.

Edward Payson Nettleton Residence Chicopee Falls MA; a 27 year-old Teacher. Enlisted on 10/30/1861 as a Captain. On 10/30/1861 he was commissioned into "E" Co. MA 31st Infantry  He was Mustered Out on 9/9/1865 at Mobile, AL He was listed as: * Wounded 5/1/1864 Alexandria, LA Promotions: * Lt Colonel 4/15/1864  * Colonel 3/13/1865 by Brevet  * Colonel 6/7/1865 (Not Mustered)

Edward Payson Nettleton
Residence Chicopee Falls MA; a 27 year-old Teacher.
Enlisted on 10/30/1861 as a Captain.
On 10/30/1861 he was commissioned into “E” Co. MA 31st Infantry
He was Mustered Out on 9/9/1865 at Mobile, AL
He was listed as:
* Wounded 5/1/1864 Alexandria, LA
Promotions:
* Lt Colonel 4/15/1864
* Colonel 3/13/1865 by Brevet
* Colonel 6/7/1865 (Not Mustered)

For every volley the Enemy gave us from their larger force, we returned them two or three from our little number, holding them in check until a moment when Nettleton and I saw the line of battle of our forces on the right giving way before an onslaught of a vastly superior number of the rebels… For our own safety and because of the uselessness of an attempt to hold our position, we gave directions for our Regiment to retire, through the woods, as slowly as possible, keeping on a line with the troops on our right, as they were forced to yield ground; in the meantime, taking advantage of all possible cover of trees, stumps and logs to shield our men and check the speed of the Enemy’s advance. This order of things, our gradual losing, the Enemy’s gradual gaining ground, continued for an hour or so until we had been forced back through the woods to the lower edge of the clearing, abreast the remnant of the 13th Army Corps. At this point, Nettleton, from whom with a part of the command I had become temporarily separated, came upon a small body of our Regt. who were holding the horses, some 30 or 40, of those who had been fighting dismounted. Nettleton immediately ordered these horses remounted, and himself at the head, made a charge upon our pursuers, with Capt. N. F. Bond, Lieuts. Sagendorph and Pelton at his side. This charge, I doubt not, was one of the most daring and brilliant ever attempted — a little troop of 40 into the ranks of perhaps twenty times that number.

For a moment, it looked as if it might break the Enemy’s line, but only for a moment, for seeing the insignificance of Nettleton’s little force, the Rebs gathered themselves and poured volley after volley into them, compelling their retreat, which retreat was done in good order. As memory serves me, in that charge every officer’s horse was killed while each officer escaped unharmed.

The Enemy now renewed their advance, which our troops were doing their utmost to check, when all of a sudden one of those unaccountable things occurred as if by a common impulse — a possible fear or dread of being overwhelmed, took possession of our army, and in an instant Cavalry, Infantry, and Artillery were in a mad, wild race to the rear. At this moment, Nettleton rode up to me to council and, seeing the futility of any attempt to stay the tide, we decided to order a retreat, as we then did… I remember that at just the instant of our turning our backs finally upon the Enemy, Pete McCrory of Co. G., who was mounted, was struck in the back by a bullet, the thud of which I can hear even at this late day, as well as McCrory’s cry of, “My God! I’m shot.” A couple of our men lifted him from his horse and laid him down to die. Again at this same moment, I remember seeing Lieut. Sagendorph sitting under cover of a tree, with a wound in the top of his head, evidently stunned, and wholly indifferent to the fact of his probable capture by the Enemy; and how others with myself, lifted him from the ground into his own or another’s saddle and helped him on to the rear.

Battle of Sabine Cross Roads (from the official report)

Battle of Sabine Cross Roads (from the official report)

The hour was now about six o’clock. Our troops were in full retreat, the Enemy pursuing and close upon us, which continued until about 7 p.m., when we came upon Gen. William K. Emery’s Division, 19th Army Corps, some four miles back, formed in line to meet the Enemy, and through whose lines we passed a short distance in the rear. As I rode along, I saw Gen. Banks riding up and down in front of the 19th A[rmy] C[orps], charging them to hold steadfast the line against the on-coming Rebels. On these came in multitudes, screaming and yelling with such fiendish yells as fairly made the woods ring; on, on, exultant, sure of still larger victory, when all at once some 5000 of the bravest of brave boys in blue rose to their feet… At the word of command, from 5000 rifles and half a dozen cannon belched forth a volley of Union shot and shell which made the wood tremble and which sent such havoc into the Rebel ranks that, in the next instant of perfect stillness, one could almost have heard a pin drop.

Thus ended the battle of Sabine Cross Roads.

During the night our forces worked back to Pleasant Hill, some eight or ten miles to the rear, to unite with the troops there under command of Major General A. J. Smith, a part of the 16th and 17th Army Corps and our own Colonel O. P. Gooding’s Brigade of Calvalry. So far as the various Companies and Regiments were concerned during this night’s march, there was but the slightest order of formation observed; Companies and Regiments being so mixed up.

As for myself, personally, when the signal of retreat was given, Nettleton and I rode to the rear with but some ten or twelve of our men, who were near us, and in doing this, Nettleton became separate from me with part of these, owing to the heavy growth of timber through which we passed and the inability of us all to cross the little bayous or go through the various ravines at the same time and at the same point. After our separation, as I moved along with the fragment of the Regt., here and there I picked up, one after another, some of these wounded, until I finally had collected some forty or more, representing about every Company in our Regiment, and I had also gathered together perhaps thirty others representing about every Reg’t in the Command. I have said that on the morning of this day, I put a pint flask of whiskey in one of the holsters of my saddle. During this night’s march, that same whiskey served the purpose for which it had been put there — contributing to the relief of the wounded whom I had picked up, and in sustaining others who had become all but prostrated by the severity of the day’s work coupled with lack of food and drink. Upon our reaching Pleasant Hill at about 3 a.m. of the 9th., Col. Gooding — whose Brlgade of Cavalry was there despatched and ordered to hunt us up — had ordered out all the cooks of his headquarters command to make coffee and cook rations for the famished officers and men of both our own Reg’t and others, and as far as possible, provide us with blankets.

At about [   ] a.m., I remember I laid down to sleep, under the shadow of Pleasant Hill, having seen my men made as comfortable as I could, my feet toward a big log fire, and for a pillow a long log, which was shared by two or three other officers. Aroused about 8 a.m. by the bang! bang! bang! of a skirmish line, I rose to find the enemy again close at hand and being engaged by Col. Gooding’s Cavalry… Within an hour, the “Battle of Pleasant Hill” was in full progress, resulting in the complete victory of our forces, the capture of quite a number of the Enemy as prisoners, and the recovery of some stands of arms and pieces of artillery, lost by us the day before. In this battle, Col. Gooding had one of the rebel bullets pass through his hat close to his head. The result of the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads, so far as our own Regiment was concerned, was a loss of some sixty (60) killed and wounded, but the names of these I cannot now recall, save those of Pete McCrory, Co. G. , killed as I have mentioned, and Lieut. Sagendorph wounded.

It was on the afternoon of April 9th, that we began our march back to Grand Ecore on the Red River, which march, so far as related to our Regiment, was without incident, save in that we were very short of rations, and from this cause there was much suffering in our command. For the first and only time in my life, I ate raw pork, being part of a bone which Lieut. Sagendorph had procured somewhere, and came to share it with one or two other officers and myself. Besides this, I feasted (?) upon some leaf tobacco which our soldiers had scooped from a deserted tobacco warehouse along our route, by chewing which and drinking water, I managed to exist until we reached Grand Ecore, and that was, I think, on the night of the 12th about [   ] o’clock. Starved though we then were, we were so completely worn out with our trying march, we laid right down to sleep, from which I did not awake until about 8 a.m. next morning, when I was aroused by some of the soldiers of my own Co. B. shoving a frying pan of freshly cooked mutton under my nose. That I was immediately wide awake, needs no saying and I enjoyed a hearty breakfast. During this last march, I begot the greatest craving for some pork and beans and felt that if I might only have my fill of these, I would gladly part with all my earthly possessions. So… immediately after breakfasting I directed my colored servant to saddle our horses and we rode to the Commissary’s, where I laid in a stock of pork and beans and all other necessary stores, and sent him back to camp to get up a dinner to be ready at 2 p.m., to which I invited several other officers: Sagendorph, Adjutant Stewart, and Lieut. F. A. Rust being among these. I don’t know how it was with them, but for myself, suffice to say, I ate so hearty of the pork and beans, it was two or three weeks before I could endure the taste of them.

While en route to the Commissary’s,  I fell in with Capt. Peter French, A. I. G., on the Staff of General Emery, who was one of my own townsmen (from Sag Harbor, N. Y.), who knowing my destitute condition in the matter of clothing etc., because of the loss of all our effects in the capture of our wagon train by the Enemy at Sabine Cross Roads, kindly provided me with such as he could spare in the way of shirts, socks etc., for which I felt more than grateful to him. While at Grand Ecore, Lieut. Col. Hopkins and Maj. Bache tendered their resignations, which were duly accepted, whereupon all the officers present with the Regiment united in a request to Gov. Andrew of Mass. to Commission Capt. Nettleton as Lieut. Colonel, and myself as Major… These Commissions came duly to us bearing date of April 15th, 1864. How we both appreciated them, coming as they did by the unanimous desire of our fellow officers. I could not find words to tell. In all my army experience I recall nothing which touched me so profoundly as this assurance of the regard and confidence of my Command.

Our army remained at Grand Ecore until April 22nd, when we took up the march back to Alexandria. On the morning of the 21st, I was detailed as Commander of a portion of the Cavalry pickets, continuing on this duty until called in at 2 p.m. of the 22nd. At about 10 a.m. of the 22nd, having my headquarters in the yard of a planter’s house, and there being no enemy near, I had a bath in one of the outbuildings, and while stepping out of the tub I stepped on a nail, which ran into my left foot to the depth of fully an inch. Though it pained me considerably, I took no serious note of it until 7 o’clock that night, when our Regiment moved out to join the column. I found myself so lame that it was with only the greatest difficulty I could get into my saddle. By advice of Capt. Luther C. Howell of Co. I., I dismounted and applied to the wound a piece of raw pork dipped in the ashes of his wood fire, and by direction of the surgeon, got into an ambulance, in which I rode all night, sleeping well, though in such a cramped position that my knees were bent up nearly to my face, in the meantime, my horse remaining saddled and leading behind the ambulance.

On the following morning, 23rd, I was awakened at an early hour by the bang! bang! of a skirmish line. Jumping out of the ambulance, I found that the raw pork and wood ashes had done their work and all the soreness was gone from my foot, and leaping into my saddle, I spurred to the front, to find a part of our Cavalry Brigade in the midst of a severe engagement with the Enemy in the vicinity of Cane River — my own Regiment taking an active part. I remember very well, as I rode up to my Regiment, how I was received with cheers by both officers and men, they meanwhile shouting “we knew you’d be here”. The Enemy contested our advance throughout the entire day, during which, several of our Reg’t were killed and wounded. On the field in the afternoon I picked up a cavalry sabre, which I believe I now have among my effects, and of which I had need, for the scabbard of my own, (a shin plaster one which had been presented to me by Lieut. E. P. Andrews of Co. C.) had been pierced by a bullet at Sabine Cross Roads, and breaking off, had left the point of my sabre exposed when sheathed, as well as being liable to injure my horse by its sharp point.

During the succeeding days of our march to Alexandria,we had constant skirmishing with the Enemy; who followed us at close quarters until we entered the city about April 25th or 26th and where our Regiment went into camp on the very same spot we occupied as Infantry in May 1863, about a mile down the Red River from the City, where we remained stationed until about May 8th, when we moved out to Moore’s Plantation some nine miles to the south east of Alexandria.

E. H. Fordham

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Room 5, 176 Broadway, N. Y., May 3rd, 1890

Twenty-six years ago today (May 3rd, 1864), I, Elbert H. Fordham, for the first time commanded my Regiment, the 31st Mass. Vols., for the time being designated the 6th Mass. Cavalry, in an engagement; I say the Regiment, I should say a part thereof, for I had but about 130 to 140 officers and men with me, being parts of, I believe, seven Companies. Of the Officers present, I recall Capts. H. P. Morse, L. Frederick Rice, Nelson P. Bond, and 1st Lieut. S. B. Bond. On April 30th, our 4th Brigade of Cavalry, or a part of it under command of Col. Edwin J. Davis, went on a scout from Alexandria, La., across the Red River at the point, to the northward and westward, a place named “Bynam’s Mills.” On the afternoon of that day, it was evident a force of the Enemy’s Cavalry was but a short distance in front of us, and Col. Davis ordered an appropriate disposition of our force to make or meet an attack, in which our Regiment had the advance, under command of Capt. Edward P. Nettleton of Co. E, with whom I was appointed as Acting Field Officer. Also, and by virtue of the rank, he entrusted to me the command of the immediate advance, the skirmish line. One French (of my own Co. B.) a boy of only some sixteen years was my bugler at the time, and a brave little fellow he was, not only upon that but several subsequent occasions, as I was witness to with my own eyes. The Enemy kept out of our sight until about 3 or 4 o’clock p.m., when they made a stand upon the brow of a knoll or low hill in our front, and banged away in a lively way at my skirmishers for some minutes. I recall that at the moment of their opening fire, I was in the act of lighting a cigar, and I lighted it. In a few further moments, the firing from the Enemy’s rear and my advance skirmish lines, as well as from my left and right flankers, were quite general. I called to my side, bugler French, told him to be prepared to sound the “charge” and at the same time sent word by an orderly to Capt. Nettleton to be ready to follow, for I was going to charge the Enemy. Upon this orderly’s return, but a moment or two, for Nettleton was close at hand with his support column, I ordered the “charge”, and away we went, helter-skelter, lick-a-ti-split, blazing away with our carbines and pistols, yelling like good fellows, in a charge which nothing could withstand… and the rebels fairly flew to get out of our way. We followed them for half a mile or more, halting only till the balance of our column joined us, when we again resumed the advance, exchanging an occasional shot with the rebel rear until 8 p.m., when we went into bivouack [sic]  for the night near Bynam’s Mills. I remember that that night I drank a full quart of coffee, and when soon thereafter I laid down to sleep (and that in the rain), I lighted my pipe for a smoke. At 4 o’clock the next morning I awoke, with my pipe still in my mouth.

On this morning, May 1st, we were up before daybreak, to find the enemy close at hand within a quarter of a mile, directly in our front. Our troops were in the woods on top of a low hill. Over this hill, there was a road leading to the northwest. At the foot of the hill to the NW, was an open field, alongside which the road ran, and next beyond this,  a belt of woods. In this belt, the Enemy were gathering in force. Col. Davis ordered up a battery of Napoleon guns we had with us and began shelling them, while some of our force was dismounted and sent down to the foot of the hill as sharpshooters… At the same time Capt. Nettleton, with the right wing of our Regiment, mounted, was ordered down the road to drive off a body of rebel cavalry which was gathered thereon and which had been annoying our out-posts. This rebel cavalry made such a stubborn resistance that Nettleton commanded a “charge”, and a most gallant one it was, officers and men alike vieing [sic] with each other in the race to the front, the result being that the rebel column broke and fled. Nettleton pursued some distance, until the Rebels were reinforced, when he withdrew to rejoin the left wing of the Regiment under my command, which during this period had occupied a position on the brow of the before-mentioned hill, and on the extreme left of the line of our troops. While thus retiring, the Rebels made a little dash upon the rear of Nettleton’s Command, which availed nothing for Nettleton faced his men to the rear and held the Enemy in check. It was in this dash of the Enemy that Nettleton was wounded seriously by a bullet in the thigh, and I shall never forget him as I saw him after his column had rejoined mine on the hill, sitting straight upon his horse as he was, the fire of battle still in his eye, but pale as a ghost and all but ready to fall from his saddle from loss of blood. I had ridden up to him to congratulate him upon the gallantry of his “charge” upon the Rebs, and upon his safe return, when I noticed the pallor upon his face…. I said “My God! Nettleton, what’s the matter?” And he answered, “I’m wounded, Fordham.” Asking him where,”In the leg,” he replied. I bade him to dismount at once, but he was loth to do so, wishing still to remain with his command. But I insisted upon it, in the meantime despatching an orderly for a surgeon and an ambulance, both of which were close at hand. I assisted him from his saddle and aided the surgeon in getting him into an ambulance, and then returned to my command.

We and the Enemy retained our relative positions, engaging each other in a spirited affair, which continued until somewhat after noon, when we started upon our return to Alexandria, arriving there about 5 p.m. the following day, May 2nd. If my memory serves me correctly, Adjutant James M. Stewart was also wounded May 1st. After so long and hot a tramp, we were all dusty and dirty and tired. At 9 o’clock that night, my servant having procured a tub, which really was one-half of an old pork barrel (sawed in two and cleaned out and filled with water from the bayou close by), I proceeded to take a thorough scrub, and was but partially under way, when I heard in the darkness the clatter of hoofs and the clanging of a sabre and an Orderly rode up asking if I could tell him where the Headquarters of the 6th Mass. Cavalry were. I answered, “Here they are, right in this pork barrel.” Then he handed me an order to report with my Regiment at 4 o’clock the following morning, at Department Headquarters, as escort to a wagon train going into the country for forage. I at once sent Serg’t Major H. D. Barber to notify Company Commanders of the intended move, and to prepare two days’ rations.

We were in the saddle at Dept. Headquarters at 4 o’clock next morning, May 3rd, and escorted a long wagon train some nine miles out to Moore’s Plantation, where, according to orders, I reported with my command to Brig. Gen. Joseph A. Mower, who, with parts of the 16th and 17th Corps, occupied the adjacent territory. It was now about 12:30 p.m. As I reported to him, the General said, “I am glad to see you, Captain; I have no Cavalry with me, and the Rebel Cavalry have been annoying my pickets badly. You are come just in good time… Pointing to some trees and a row of low houses (negro quarters) about half a mile away, [he] called my attention to a body of horsemen riding about there, and which were part of the Rebel Cavalry he had referred to. Asking him in what force they probably were, he answered “500 or 600.” I responded that I had but about 140 officers and men with me; when he said, “Oh, well, I guess there are not more than 300 or 400 and I want you to take your Regiment and rout them.” I told him we would do it, but desired a few moments to unsaddle and cool off my hot and tired horses, as well as refresh my men a trifle. In the meantime, [I] called my officers together, instructing them upon the disposition of our force, for the approach to, and attack upon the Enemy — the advance line of two companies to be deployed as skirmishers, I assigned to the command of Capt. L. Frederick Rice of Co. F; with two Companies under command of Capt. H. F. Morse immediately following to support Rice; while I brought up the rear, with the remaining three companies. The left one [was] my own Co. B, commanded by Lieut. Sylvester B. Bond, to whom I had given instructions that when the skirmish line came within fair gunshot of the Enemy, he should proceed with his Company, in a left oblique direction to the front, to a line not beyond the left of Rice’s skirmishers, and take care of our left flank; the right flank being protected by a bayou which the Enemy could not cross.

At a given moment, about 1:15 p.m., the movement was begun. The Enemy was evidently in notable force about those negro quarters. To reach them, we had to cross several plantations, in columns of twos and fours, by the bridges over the ditches, until reaching that upon which the Enemy was gathered. When Rice deployed his two Companies, Morse and I formed ours into line, as pre-arranged. Skirmishing began at once, and became hotter and hotter as we advanced at a rapid gait, until, when within about 250 yards of the Enemy, I commanded the “Charge,” and a more gallant charge was never made into the ranks of an enemy, whom we found to outnumber us three to one, and they fled like sheep before us. Right up to the negro quarters we rode like the wind, driving the Rebs therefrom and pursuing them far beyond, until they had fallen back upon their reserves, in a belt of woods at the far side of that particular “Moore’s Plantation”. I found this reserve consisted of probably some 400 or 500 men, giving them a force opposed to us all told, some 700 men, which it would be folly for us to attempt to dislodge.

I at once sent a despatch to General Mower to this effect, and requested him to send up more Infantry and a section of Artillery to support me, in case of need. General Mower responded to this by ordering up two small Regiments of Infantry and a section of Artillery, and by coming to me, in person, with two or three of his Staff Officers. One of the latter [was] a young Aide, who, when we had started to rout the Rebs, said to his fellows, and within the hearing of Sergt. Major Barber, “You’ll see those fellows coming back soon, with their tails between their legs,” meaning my Regiment. At the moment of the General’s coming up to me, I was out in the field beyond the negro quarters, with my Regiment, looking over the ground we held. I pointed out to him the position of the enemy and their evident strength, and suggested it was my purpose to retire to the line of those negro quarters and hold them, if possible, until his further orders, but advising him that, should the Enemy come with their entire force to dislodge me, it was reasonable that, with my small body, I might he unable to withstand it. I requested that he should post the Infantry and Artillery behind the hedge at my right and rear (which hedge divided the plantations), so that in case I had to give way, I should fall back to the left and rear, thus uncovering the Infantry and Artillery; all of which the General approved, and gave the requisite instructions. Right here, I might mention that as we were there in conference out in the field, sitting upon our horses, the Rebs began to send the bullets around our heads pretty lively… Our young friend, the Aide above referred to, was very uneasy and trying to dodge the bullets and got behind some of the rest of us for shelter… If I mistake not, Sergt. Major Barber, who that day and for a long time thereafter was acting as my Adjutant, rode up to him and twitted him about it, making the inquiry if he had yet “seen those fellows coming back with their tails between their legs,” and “who was acting the coward now?” Our young Aide kept his mouth shut.

I brought my Command back to the negro quarters, and three times thereafter the Enemy attempted to charge across the field in our front and drive us from our position, and three times they failed, so stubborn was our resistance. Many of my men I had dismounted, and I had given instructions to keep up a furious fire along our whole line, that the Enemy might believe we were stronger than we really were. With the failure of their third attempt to oust us, they made no further effort, though they maintained a fire upon us at long range with their small arms and with a section of Artillery they had brought into action. We continued to hold our line until about 7 p.m., when I received instructions from General Mower to fall back gradually upon his lines, and two hours later we were in the vicinity of his Headquarters, where, as directed, I reported to him with my Command. As I did this, he came towards me, took my right hand in both of his, and said to me, “Captain, I have never seen Cavalry do better than your Regiment had done today, and seldom as well. They have done nobly. Go and tell them I say so and I shall not forget you in my Reports”; and then he called his Quartermaster and Commissary and instructed them to “go and give the 6th Mass. Cavalry all the forage and rations they want and render them any service Capt. Fordham desires,” and these officers personally saw to our wants. At about
11 o’clock that night, we started upon our return to Alexandria, reaching our camp there at one or two a.m. next day.

Our loss in the day’s engagement was fortunately but slight, perhaps two or three killed, and double that number wounded. Of the killed, I remember particularly Pete (or Pat) Devine of Co. E, whom I shall never forget, for he was always most tidy and cleanly in his dress and person, by reason of which I had, when Adutant, frequently detailed him as Orderly at Headquarters. I remember that when we left the negro quarters, and the largest part of my line had taken position behind the first hedge next in our rear, Capt. N. F. Bond rode up to me and told me that Devine’s body was yet lying on the field where he had fallen. I at once sent a small body of skirmishers back toward the Enemy, while Bond and I, with one or two of Devine’s comrades, rode back to where Devine laid, placed his body upon the Comrade’s saddle and
brought it within the lines. I could not speak in too high praise of all the officers and soldiers under my command that day, when never one failed to do his utmost.

Upon this day, twenty-six years thereafter, I can plainly see Rice, as he rode deploying his skirmish line and then charging them right into the teeth of the Enemy. And I can plainly see Capt. N. F. Bond, as when we had established our line at the negro quarters, he rode along his line, which was the extreme right, cautioning his men in their firing, and encouraging them to stand and hold fast their exact line, though greatly exposed to the Enemy’s severe and rapid sharp shooting. And I can plainly see Lieut. S. B. Bond, with the fire of battle in his eye, cheering his men on, keeping them up to the work in hand, and holding on like grim death to the line of fence railing on the extreme left, which the Enemy were trying hard to drive him from. Other officers and men are before me, though less distinctly than these.

On the 3rd of May, I rode a grey mare “Dolly”, of whom I was very fond. For a few days previously, I had let Lynes of my Co. B. use her, his horse being disabled, and he too was greatly attached to her, so that when I rode away from camp with her that morning, as he told me afterwards, he feared disaster would befall her, probably because of her color if in an engagement. A spherical-case shot from the Enemy’s battery exploded right in front of my Dolly and broke her right hind leg, so that she fell to the ground with me, right in the hottest part of the fight.

A late Corporal of Co. H. (whose name I cannot remember, but whose face and appearance are perfectly familiar to me even at this late day) who was in my Reserves to the rear, seeing me fall, rode right up and gave me a horse he was riding, and which was one we had captured. Dolly… regained her feet, and with tears in my eyes, I rode up, put my pistol to her head, shot her through the brain, putting her out of her misery.

E. H. Fordham
Late Major 31st Reg’t Mass. Vols.

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Room, 176, Broadway, N. Y. April 8th, 1891

Again it is the anniversary of the battle of Sabine [Cross] Roads, and again in memory I have lived that fateful day over, from its earliest morn to the latest night. I see as plainly as though it were but yesterday the twenty-four or more pieces of artillery that our army had to leave on the field to the victorious Rebs and the hundred and twenty wagons of our train on the road filled with stores of all sorts which fell into their hands, and my memory serves me well as to how sad I was as we rode that night to Pleasant Hill. “My heart was in my boots” but I have this consoling reflection that that day was the only one in which our Regiment ever experienced actual defeat.

E. H. F.

——————————–

Room 5, 176 Broadway, New York, April 8, 1891

My dear Rice,

This is a good day in which to say I am still in the land of the living, and hanging out at the same old spot — in usual health and all things going along after the customary fashion. The accompanying enclosure may have some small value for you, and I shall try to let further ones follow it ‘ere long. My business is one of so much detail, I find I cannot easily settle down to anything else, however so far as our old Army life is concerned, I live it over every day of the present. I hope you are well and making a fortune. I manage to secure good bread and salt and feel grateful for that. Drop me a line to say this reached you, and if you meet any of our old fellows, Bond, Jones, Coney and others, remember me to them most affectionately, and with the same to yourself.

Sincerely yours,

E. H. Fordham

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