George Goodwin — Part 7, Red River Campaign, Yellow Bayou

At Yellow Bayou where we fired out our parting salute at the enemy, we took the right of the skirmish line in the morning, our right resting on the Bayou, with a road running parallel to the stream. We numbered, I think, but fifteen men for duty that morning besides the Capt. We formed near some buildings from which the enemy tried to dislodge us. Charging with a superior force we fell back in something of a hurry. A Cavalry regiment stood in line at our rear, but retreated in disorder, as soon as we did. In our rear from the buildings was a large, open field. I retreated as fast as any of the rest at first, but looking back I saw our Capt., almost alone, had stopped and faced them with his revolver in lively operation. I rallied myself and half a dozen others, reforming our line within pistol shot of the buildings, that were swarming with the Johnnies. I rode up to an old section of a smoke stack discarded from the sugar house, it stood on end and came up breast high to my mule. I thought it might be some protection to him, but it did not stop the balls, and I remember thinking a ball would make a much more ragged wound after passing through that, and as I did not want any second-hand wounds, I took the open field. Our Infantry coming up, and being reinforced by a Lieut. and several men of the 3rd Mass. Cavalry, we charged on the buildings, the enemy retiring, we losing in the charge one of the brave volunteers from the 3rd Mass. We followed the retreating rebel line in the road until they opened upon us withe several pieces of Artillery, and our Infantry favored us with a few volleys from the rear. We took shelter under the high banks of the Bayou, the shot and shell passing over our heads. While the Reb Battery was sweeping the road clean a cook from some Infantry Reg’t in the rear, who had procured a horse and joined us on the charge, rode up and down the road defying the enemy with a little revolver. We soon tired of our inaction and were in danger of being cut off if our forces fell back, so we led our steeds up the steep bank to cross the road where the enemy’s Battery were still sending their balls full as frequent as was agreeable to us. I had the only mule in our command, the horses led readily across the road, but my mule balked in the middle of the road. What an embarrassing position for a modest man. I always shrank from occupying a prominent position especially when four big guns were playing on it, all alone, like the boy on the “burning deck” the mule and I stood. I was more than willing to move, but the mule proposed to fight it out on that line. I used up all the adjectives in common use in our Co. and invented some for that special occasion. I thought, what if a shell should explode and blow us both into fragments, and when they came to gather me up out of the confused mixture they might get the ears wrong. The thought nearly drove me frantic and as a last resort I got into the saddle and the mule moved.

I rejoined the Co. who were still dismounted sheltering themselves behind fallen trees. Soon after we mounted and went into the woods between our forces and the enemy where the main battle was fought. We had not gone far before we met the enemy’s advancing line and opened fire upon them. At first they took no notice of us, but soon they sent us all the ammunition we wanted from that direction. We thought the shade of a good big tree was conducive to health at that time.

We acted part of the day as Provost Guard, picking up stragglers and returning them to their Regts. At the rear of our line was a wide dry ditch with a rough bridge. The stragglers had crawled under there until it was more than full, some of the last ones left their legs sticking out. I forget how many there were there, but they were packed like sardines. They would take a load of canteens and get permission to go for water. On their return they would be completely exhausted by the time they reached the bridge, having just strength enough to crawl under.

During the retreat from Alexandria our Co. were detached from the Regt. for some reason, or at least we did not go into action with them, but went on our own hook. I presume our losses were smaller than they would have been had we remained with the Regt. for we were so few that we generally kept the open order of the skirmish line and did not stop all the bullets that by right belonged to us. Bonaparte said he had “rather have an army of deer led by a lion than an army of lions led by a deer.” I do not claim our Red River Army were all lions, but they were not all deers and had they been handled as Bonaparte handled his armies, they would [have] accomplished something. Our Reg. was well-officered; our Co. notably so. They would not send us where they were not willing to lead. I had a good deal of confidence in our Officers. I could always trust them, even in places too dangerous for me to stay in. During the retreat, we had a good deal of picket duty to do and we knew the enemy’s pickets were close by. We had some timid men in our Co. that were always seeing or hearing something alarming when on post at night, keeping the reserve in the saddle, sometimes most of the night, cheating us out of the rest we needed badly. I remember one night before we reached Alexandria on the retreat, we camped near a bayou. Our Co. went on picket, half a dozen men were posted, afoot, across the bayou which was crossed by a foot bridge. In the early part of the night, two of our men came in from their posts saying the Rebs were crossing the bayou in force. They could hear them plainly. We mounted, and awaited the attack. It did not come, and our Capt. reconnoitered beyond where the men had been posted, and finding nothing alarming sent the men back to their posts. After that one of the pickets fired at a negro that was coming in to our lines, keeping us in suspense most of the night. I went on post that night at midnight. My post was the extreme right of the line of pickets under an old shed, open at the sides. It was dark as Egypt, or as dark as it was the last time I visited it. The only way I could see anything was by getting down near the ground and looking skyward. I had been there about an hour when I heard the tramp of an approaching squadron and they were coming fast, too. I did not know, but it would be good military strategy to fall back and hold the bridge before they cut off my retreat, but it was part of my religion to know what scared me before I run and I knew that they could not see me any quicker than I could them, so I laid close to Mother Earth with cocked carbine and pistol holster unbuttoned, heart throbbing a trifle faster than common. On they came, passing my shed within a rod, going to the bayou. The glimpse I got as they passed showed me they were riderless. It was only a drove of mules going down to the bayou to drink, but they made noise enough and I was just as much frightened as though it had been what I supposed it to be, a charge of Reb. Cavalry. My heart soon resumed its wonted tick and kept it.

I never fired in the night on picket, but once while in service. That was at Morganza. We picketed the road quite a distance down the river, the vidette a long ways from the reserve. I went on at 11 o’clock, a bright moonlight night. A few rods to my right were the buildings with the usual Negro quarters. There was a jog in the fence that I rode into, hiding me from any one coming up the road. Soon after going on, a Negro, mounted, that had a wife in our lines and a pass, came up and I let him in. After awhile, I heard another horse coming. I said to myself, “another nigger going to see his wife.” I halted him at proper distance with carbine ready. When I ordered him to advance, he commenced turning, I pulled the trigger feeling as sure of him as I did of my supper I had eaten a few hours before. My carbine hung fire, I recapped it and fired, but my Reb was gone, the Lord knows where. I expected my firing would cause a general alarm, but it seemed the other “feller” and I had the alarm all to ourselves, for the corporal [of] one of our Regiments, but not our Co., coming with the relief half an hour later asked me if I heard a gun fired. My impression was that I did. The Lieut, of the guard, fresh in the service, heard my report with an incredulous smile. It was tough after holding my fire most three years, then not being able to convince him I had seen anything. A little sandy Irishman, on the reserve, after listening to the thrilling recital of my adventure, sang out “why didn’t you shase [chase] him?” I revenged myself on the corporal in the morning by taking him down to the negro quarters. My Reb had stopped there having lost his way and they sent him towards our lines. I hope he made use of the life I did not take. Am glad now I did not kill him, somebody would have mourned for him, and it would not have ended the war.

In addition to being averse to false alarms, I was opposed to going to the surgeons’ calls as long as I could avoid it, and except a touch of fever that kept me in the St. James hospital a month in ’62, I did avoid it. After we found how kindly the Rebs treated prisoners, I resolved that they would never get me alive, if I could help it. I really believe I should have showed fight before surrendering.

On the advance up Red River, before reaching Alexandria, my file leader, Avery Ward, in the next set of fours, had a horse that would kick and bolt if anything touched him on his back. I was wicked enough, when other amusement failed on the march to get a long stick and stir up that horse. The man was no rider and as soon as his horse started he would drop the reins and clutch the mane with both hands and cry “Whoa! Whoa!” My stick would disappear as soon as the horse commenced his an­tics. It was shameful for me to do it but rather comical, and on that long, tiresome, dusty march we needed diversion. We most of us got out of tobacco and were most all smokers. When reduced to extremities a pipe would be lighted on the right of the Co. and pass in regular order to the left, giving each man a few whiffs, inspiriting us on to still braver deeds. Some of the men picked up queer head gear on the march. Our saddler got a fur cap or chapeau, of prodigious length. I think it must have been a real comfort to him with the thermometer at 120. It went all right till the donkey he rode happened to look back one day, and a more frightened donkey never brayed since the days of Ba­laam. He could not be induced to carry that load again.

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