George Goodwin — Part 6, Red River Campaign, Cavalry Horses

I had a horse on the Campaign that I think deserves some mention in the history of the Regiment. Just before leaving New Orleans, my horse was condemned and I was given two spare ones in place of him. One of them, a big ungainly iron grey, had thrown several men that had tried to ride him. I took him and led the other. I got along with him without any trouble, for awhile. He would go all right when in the ranks, but out of them I could make no impression on him with the reins. He would go wherever his fancy took him. He could not bear solitude and when on picket, he would keep up a continual neighing and pawing, then would start to find company. I would hold him in and he would generally rear and fall backwards, sometimes upon me. I got so used to it that, though I did not really enjoy it, I expected it every time I went on picket. He made life a burden for me on the advance.

The day we went into Grand Ecore, a squad of us including myself, were sent through the town apiece to secure the road. I was suffering from a terrible headache that day. We were relieved in about an hour by a N. Y. Cavalry Regiment. I had taken my overcoat from the saddle and, stopping to replace it, did not start as soon as the others. The N. Y. Regiment stood in column of fours in the road. I started to pass them, but my horse thought he belonged somewhere in the column, and in spite of my frantic efforts to prevent it, he went back
and forth through the Regiment a dozen times. A Rebel charge would not have demoralized them more. I received many compliments upon my skillful riding from members of the Regiment. It seemed a long time before we reached the rear of the Regiment, but we finally did, and at the rear was an ambulance with two led mules in the rear. When we reached
them, my playful steed reared and came down upon the back of one of them. I guess he was astonished, for in all of my mulish experience I never heard such an unearthly noise as he made. I think I made an impression on that Regiment, but perhaps not altogether favorable.

The morning before we made that heroic charge with our baggage train on the Enemy at Sabine Cross Roads, our horses were inspected by the Colonel. Mine had a sore back. The Colonel looked at him and said, “He will carry you to Shreveport, then you can exchange.” I noticed that he fell short by a few miles. We were dismounted to meet the Rebel charge, and I was a number 4 man and staid [sic] with the horses. We were ordered back with them soon, and the road being so blocked, had to go through the woods. I could not induce them all to go the same side of a tree, and had to keep dismounting to untangle them. Many men of our Regiment, in passing, advised me to let my extra horses go, but I thought we would be captured in a body, if at all. I finally came into the road near the house used as a hospital, feeling very thirsty. I dismounted and drew a pail of water, drank, and thought I would fill my canteen, but several balls striking the well-pole, I concluded I could get along with my canteen half-full. I found owners for two of my horses and resumed my retreat. [I] soon found a man for the other horse and felt relieved.

One man of our Company — he is dead now — never did much duty with the Company. [He] was always lucky enough to get detailed on hospital duty, but on this Campaign [he] was returned to the Company for duty. No one saw him after the action commenced until the next morning about nine o’clock when we were falling into line. He appeared puffing and blowing (he was fat) without carbine, horse, or sidearms. Someone says “Where have you been?” “Oh, boys! I was right in the thick of it, the Rebs came right up and took hold of me, but I got away, and I was not a bit scared and I a’int ashamed to own it either.” It was touching and exalted heroism, but to the great loss of the Company. Before we met the Enemy again, he was on the hospital boat. When we reached Alexandria, my horse with many other was condemned and shot and for awhile I was dismounted. Where [sic] there, the mounted men of the Company took part in the only battle they were ever engaged in when I was not with them — the Battle of Gov. Moore’s Plantation. They captured some mules, and I secured one and Richard was himself again. The mule proved very docile and gentle and, after my former tribulations, I appreciated him and almost cherished a brotherly feeling for him. I could lay my carbine between his ears and fire without disturbing him, but that hot day at Yellow Bayou, he got a spent ball in the nose and after that the cocking of a gun on his back would set him crazy. He would bolt to the rear, or failing in that, would lay down.

You cannot have a good Cavalry man on a poor horse and our horses were a poor lot. With better steeds we might have written our names on top of the scroll of fame.

In the retreat from Sabine Cross Roads — our miniature Bull Run — when I reached the line formed by the 19th Corps (I am not sure of the Corps or the General), but they formed across the road, and were ordered to stop all the fugitives that were not wounded or did not have led horses. I had one of my led horses that I had not yet found the owner for. As I remember it was about sun down when I reached this line. The General in command of it, a venerable gray-haired old man, stood with the flag in his hand bareheaded, making a speech to the men, nerving them to meet the shock that was close at hand. It was a dramatic scene and stirred all my patriotic impulses. I stayed in spite of many orders to get out of the way with my horses. The Rebel line received a check. I contributed the contents of my revolver to their entertainment, then the line slowly fell back again.

I found the man that belonged to my extra horse, or he found me, I could not say which. There were about a dozen of our Company got together, some wanted to camp and others wanted more space between them and the Rebels. I went with the campers. I was tired and hungry. So was my horse. I found a place where horses had been fed oats on the ground. They did not eat them all, and although it was dark, the oats made a light spot on the ground. I took off my feed bag and carefully gathered them in, getting quite a feed. But I found one too many light spots, for the last one I thought from the feeling, was meal. Thinking that a variety would not he bad for the horse, I scooped it up by the handfuls, adding it to the oats…until I stuck my hand into a bed of hot coals. I concluded that I had got variety enough. That light spot was caused by someone’s making a fire to boil their coffee, probably.

We camped, but hardly had Nature’s sweet restorer visited my eyes when we were rudely aroused by the rear guard, and ordered on. We went through the same performance several times, each time we lost some of our number. The last time, we were routed and made to join the fleeting throng. There were three of us. I must have slept by the way for when I came to myself my horse was quietly grazing by the roadside. I felt like a stranger in strange land. The road was full of troops marching to the rear, but none of them looked familiar. I waited sometime straining my eyes hoping to see some remnant of the 31st in the black moving mass. They came not, and in my sleepy state I did not suppose I could hold the field alone against Dick Taylor’s forces. I withdrew in good order towards Pleasant Hill, not feeling extra pleasant either. I reached Pleasant Hill as the first faint streak of the coming day illumined the horizon. Seeing a big fire I went for it, and tying the bridle rein about my wrist, I laid down without feeling responsible for the streaked horizon. I had an hour or so of solid slumber as profound as the seven sleepers ever enjoyed. When I awoke the sun was shining brightly and I soon found my comrades and we were soon bravely falling back on Grand Ecore. Here our Commander more fully developed that grand strategy that never proved very successful in any war. With an army victorious in every field except the first, the retreat of the enemy was always quickly followed by a like movement of his own troops. It was said that the Commander had no confidence in his troops, what a splendid foundation they had for confidence in him. What army would have showed a more determined front to the enemy knowing from experience that which ever side gained the victory their fate was but to die, or escaping that, to retreat. A competent Commander, with that army would have gone to Shrevesport, navy or no navy, and held it too, against any rebel force they could have brought against us.

It’s the privilege and amusement of old soldiers to find fault and grumble at the ill conducted Campaigns they took part in, its a harmless pastime and some satisfaction for the hardships they endured. It is much pleasanter to carry on a war by the light of our firesides than in the old style. We can sleep as calmly as we could in old days of Army Life, when I can remember of sleeping in a cornfield, taking a hill for my pillow, waking in the night in a violent storm, to find myself undermined by a raging, muddy stream of water.

 

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