George Goodwin — Part 5, Red River Campaign, 1864

Almost twenty-six years ago we left our quarters in the New Orleans Cotton Press, crossed the river to Algiers bound for Texas. Our Co. numbered, after being consolidated with Co. G., about 40 men. The first incident that made a lasting impression on my mind was the day we crossed the bay at Brashear City. There was a long steep bank from the boat landing up to the road, and whether it was to spare the mules, or they were unable to drag the wagons up the steep incline I never knew, but I did know that there was a detail of men made from our Reg’t to pull them up, and barrels of stores besides that came by water. As usual, I was one of that detail. In fact our Orderly’s first words generally were, when he got orders to furnish men for any nice job, “Where’s Goodwin”, and if Goodwin want [weren’t] on duty, he had to go. Well, it did rain that day, and if Noah had been there he would thought it high time he was getting the timber together for an ark. The bank was slippery as Louisiana mud could be, and many times our feet would slip when partly up the hill with a barrel of beef or pork, there would be a sudden drop in provisions and the man was lucky if the barrel did not roll over him. I was ready to resign before I got my day’s work done, but on mature reflection concluded that I should always feel ashamed to have it known that I was defeated by a few barrels of provisions, and I did not think it would be treating Gen. Nat. [Nathaniel Banks] right to desert him at the beginning of the Campaign. I stayed and survived it.

Our first thought, when we had fairly got into the Enemy’s country after a day’s march, was to forage for something to splice out our rations. Some of the men were peculiarly gifted in that direction and would be too sick to march with the Reg’t, and at night would come into camp loaded down with delicacies. My early Christian training proved a serious disadvantage to me in that respect, at first. We camped one night near a house where there were numerous bee-hives in the yard. One of the enterprising boys of Co. F. created quite a stir among us by coming into camp double-quick with one of those bee-hives. Some of the bees got there about the same time that TOT did, and there was a long string of them close behind him. There was a “hurrying to and fro” for a few minutes, and some lively gymnastics equal to the bayonet drill that we used to indulge in on Ship Island, but we got the honey.

Pig was our favorite meat, and woe betide the squealer whose curiosity led him near a Yankee camp. Nothing but a miracle could save him, and miracles were not very plenty on the [Bayou] Teche. One night we camped on a bayou a few days before reaching Alexandria, on the advance. No friendly pig appeared but on the opposite side of the bayou were some buildings. Several of us thought it would be very impolite, seeing we were so near, and not knowing when we should have another opportunity to call on them. The bayou was narrow, but deep. An old flat boat partly filled with water,we utilized to make the friendly call. We bailed the boat out, and started, four of us, with pieces of boards for paddles. I had an idea that the boat leaked when we started, and the idea became a settled conviction, when in mid-stream we were up to our arm pits. I recalled to my comrades the heroic resolution of Nelson or [John] Paul Jones, (I’ve forgotten which), under similar circumstances never to give up the ship, and we reached the shore while the boat sank to a watery grave. We found the proprietor at home, and also two fine pigs in a pen. It was a short job to kill and skin them, and as the owner kindly assisted us, we presented him with the head and hide, convincing proof to him, I think, that the Yankees were not without some manly, generous impulses. He was so favorably impressed that he brought forth his Perioge [pirogue], one of those boats that to ride in safely you had to part your hair in the middle. One by one, pigs and all, he paddled us to the other shore.

ForagingThe morning before the battle of Sabine Cross Roads I went in company with our Com. Sergt. and several others to a deserted plantation looking for meat. All we could find was a flock of goats, we killed and dressed a number. On our way back we captured a prisoner, a member of a Texas Reg’t. He told us we were going to get whipped. We took prisoner and goat meat into camp arriving just as the orders came for us to advance. We turned the prisoner over to Gen. Dudley and the meat to the Co. cook, and I never saw either of them again. I feasted in imagination on the goats all day, but consoled myself finally by reflecting that goats’ meats was generally dry and tough. After we had entered the trap set for us, and carefully blocked the only door of retreat, with Artillery and baggage train, I thought perhaps the gent from Texas knew what he was talking about.

Gen. Banks had the reputation he earned in Virginia as “Rebel Commissary” to sustain, and did nobly. It was rumored that in our captured train there was one wagon loaded with paper collars, a very essential appendage to to an invading army. The Rebel Gen. was a good deal puzzled to know what use to make of them, and it was said sent a Flag of Truce to Gen. Banks asking him how to cook them, as he had tried frying, boiling and a variety of ways,and there did not seem to be much nourishment in the blamed things. Rumor did not give Gen Banks’ reply for which failure I felt sorry. I often think (suppose I have no business to) how differently the campaign might have terminated had we had Sherman, Sheridan, or some General that understood the art of war, in command. It seemed that our dead gave their lives to little purpose; but we did get some cotton and [the] dammed Red River, as well as the rest of that section of the country.

Our Capt. with a squad was sent in advance, on the retreat to Alexandria with despatches [sic] to the Com. Gen. there. I went. A cavalry force that came by boat was doing picket duty just outside, their neat uniforms, and fat horses were quite a contrast to our rags and skeleton steeds, they were quite frightened at our appearance and beat a hasty retreat. They came back when they found that we were not the whole Reb. army. We camped just inside their reserve post that night while our Capt. went into town with the despatches [sic]. During the night, they got alarmed at something and without disturbing us, the reserve and all, folded their tents like the Arabs, and silently stole away, leaving us out in the cold. Nothing between us and Dick Taylor’s bloodthirsty hordes. We had been broken of our rest some and slept calmly and serenely until morning unaware of the perils that menaced us. The guard came back after it got to be daylight. I regret that I do not remember what regiment it was. If that was a sample of its material, it must have covered itself with glory in its future operations.

The retreat from Alexandria, until we crossed Yellow Bayou, was a busy time for us. As rear guard and flankers we found out what cross-country riding was. Most of the sleep we got, we took in the saddle. The Enemy seldom allowed us fifteen minutes for refreshments. During our short halts, the pigs suffered when we could find them, each man skinning out what he could use and laying it on the fat pine fire, before it had done quivering, to cook a little and smoke a good deal. I remember being lucky enough to get a ham from a good sized pig one day and it lasted all day. The Enemy seemed determined that we should eat our meat rare that day, and although I improved every halt to toast it, and between halts I would gnaw it till it bled, still I had enough left for supper. It tasted pretty good, but a little salt would have improved it. I imagined I knew something how it would seem to be a Cannibal. I do not remember of going hungry much on the retreat, but I did often get terribly thirsty, sleepy and tired. I thought before we got through that a slight wound, enough to consign me to the hospital boat, long enough to get a good nap, would be very acceptable, but fortune did not favor me with a scratch. All I could show was a bullet hole in my mule’s nose, one through my pistol cartridge box, and one through my overcoat rolled on the saddle in front of me. I could not convince my Co. officers that any of my wounds were dangerous. They did not even let me ride in the ambulance. War makes one callous to suffering.

The water was often too rich for a steady drink, I have drank the dead water where I had to skim off the frog scum with my hands where the horses would not drink. I did not drink real hearty. One thing I never approved of in our dept., we would go out on a scout with quite a force. Once, I remember from Morganza with our whole Brigade commanded by a N. [ILLEGIBLE], Col. Lucas, I think, and we let half a dozen Jayhawkers follow us most back to camp popping at us. There was a good chance to have ambushed them and taught them better manners towards strangers, but I was not in command.

The war is over and we can only fight imaginary battles now, and to me they are fully as enjoyable, though I did like it after I got warmed up, but as a general thing I did not have much craving for military glory, as the Irishman said, he would rather be a coward all his life than a dead hero an hour. We are fast being mustered out; every year now will thin our ranks. Soon “Butler’s Pets” will be among the things that were. May we fall in, in the better land, and be all present or accounted for.

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