Oliver P. Semmes — Confederate officer

“The [following] … extracts from the “Diary of Capt. Semmes” ([Oliver P.] son of the Capt. [Raphael] Semmes of “Alabama notoriety”) were supposed to have been dropped on the prison floor by the Capt. as he was leaving with his baggage, in company with other prisoners, for an exchange, as the papers were found there by the present owner (Private James M. Allen, Co. C, 31st Mass. Vols., detailed for guard duty with Lt. Andrews, Provost Sheriff) on making an inspection of the premises after the prisoner had left for Dixie. Capt. Semmes was a full-blooded rebel — a powerfully built man — and said to be a hard fighter; [he] had great confidence in the success of the “Cause” — now “Lost” — and much bitterness and contempt for the “Yanks”, and while a prisoner in New Orleans was frequently visited by the “high-toned” lady rebels, who always sought every opportunity to display their rebelious [sic] spirit, especially in the presence of the rebel officers, and to furnish them abundantly with both material and moral support.”

[– from the transcript, author unknown]

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April 10, 1863. My battery was ordered to take position behind the breastworks on the right bank of the Bayou Teche, extending from the Bayou to the centre of the line. The 24 pounder in the redoubt was put under my command. No alarm during the night.

April 11. The morning broke clear and pleasant. Went below to about 800 yds. of the enemy’s skirmishers. About 3’o’cl’k their pickets came in sight of our trenches. Shortly after their line of battle became visible, extending from the bayou to the woods, with a battery on their right, another in the centre and still another on the left. At half past four I opened with the 24 pounder on a battery stationed in Perkins’ yard, at 900 yds. distance. Immediately the whole line of artillery became engaged. The firing lasted about an hour, when the enemy retired. No loss on our side with the exception of a few horses. My 24 pounder was struck by a 12 pound ball whilst I was sighting it, shocking me considerably.

Apr. 12. Was ordered to take command of the gunboat Diana. Opened fire on the enemy at 7 o’cl’k with the two 52 p’d’rs. Fired about half an hour, when a battery of 50 p’d Parrott guns opened on my boat at long range. I immediately directed all my guns on this battery. After firing some 20 minutes a 50 p’d Parrott shell struck the iron plating of the boat, penetrated, exploding in the engine room, killing an Ass’t Engineer and one soldier, mortally wounding two, severely wounding five others, and damaging the starboard engine to such an extent that the boat became unmanageable. I was forced to retire that I might repair damages. I did so slowly, firing my Parrott gun rapidly. Whilst retiring the boat was struck by three other shells, one of which shattered both legs of my first Lieut. and knocked a negro overboard. The fire of the enemy’s batteries was directed at my boat for some 40 minutes — in fact, until I turned the point and got out of range — when an artillery duel commenced along the whole line. I never witnessed a more terrific cannonade. The enemy had some 35 pieces and we   x x x x x x x [X’s are from the transcript].  This lasted with slight intermissions throughout the entire day. Whilst the workmen were repairing, I went to the lines and once more paid my respects to the advancing enemy. Their infantry made a charge on the extreme left, but were repulsed. They made charge after charge, yet gained no material advantage.  The sun set amid the deafening roar and incessant flashing of over 60 pieces of artillery and innumerable small arms.  About 10 o’clock in the evening, a council of war was called, which was composed of Maj. Gen. Taylor, Brig. Gens. Sibley and Mouton, with myself — I having been paid the high compliment of a summons to attend.  The decision x x x x x x x x [X’s are from the transcript].

April 13, /63.  Our baggage wagons took up their line of march (to the rear) at 12:30 a.m., immediately followed by our whole force.  The enemy, having landed at Charington in our rear, I was to remain at Camp Bisland until all the forces had withdrawn from the breastworks. At 6 o’cl’k, I fired one shot, (the last fire on the Battlefield of the Teche) and moved my boat up the Bayou, slowly, to Franklin. Immediately after arriving at this place, I was sent above to engage the enemy which were in our rear. I saw a mass of their forces in some houses at the distance of some 900 yards. I opened on them with 5 guns, and after firing some 6 or 8 shots from each gun, succeeded in driving them back in fine style. The enemy’s infantry advanced to the same position several times, but were unable to stand the shower of shell with which my men welcomed them. At 11 o’cl’k, I was informed by Maj. Bush that our army had effected its escape with the exception of one Reg’t of Cavalry, and instructed me to fire till the last moment, then burn the boat and be captured with my crew, as we had no horses to effect an escape. We fired the last gun that was discharged in Franklin, and fired the boat. I was on the stern at the moment of firing, watching the enemy, so that the fire had made so much progress when I discovered it, that I was obliged to jump overboard from the hurricane deck, and swim ashore. We attempted to escape, but were picked up by the enemy’s cavalry ‘ere we had gone 500 yards, I was carried to Gen. Weitzel’s H’d Q’rs and reported, where I met several officers who had been at West Point with me. (During the fight I fired over 500 shells, and many of them with signal effect, lost 4 men killed, 2 mortally wounded, and 6 others severely.)….. … I was confined in the Court House, and was treated with as much attention as could be expected under the circumstances.

April 14. This a.m. it became known in Franklin that I was a prisoner, and I rec’d many attentions from the ladies of the place. During the day, the enemy’s Scouts brought in quite a number of stragglers. Nothing worth noticing took place.

April 15. Nothing whatever occurred during the day, with the exception of quite a commotion among the Federals on the wharf. The cause of it is unknown to me, rumor says that Gen. Taylor has made a stand.

April 16. Rec’d orders from the Federal Provost Marshal to hold myself in readiness to proceed to Berwick Bay. Left for said place about 11 o’cl’k, on the Gunboat Kinsman, Capt. Cook, of the old Navy, Com’d’g. Was treated with much kindness by him and his officers, drank some good whiskey, on board, the first I had tasted for more than 18 months.  Arrived at Berwick about 8 p.m. Was turned over to the Provost Marshal by Capt. of the boat.  The former treated us with great kindness, giving us the limits of the town, on our pledging ourselves that we would not attempt to escape. Met a jolly doctor, who furnished liquor and a lunch. Got in quite a frolic for prisoners. Went to bed at 2 o’cl’k — slept well.

April 17 /63. Left Berwick Bay at 7 a.m., for New Orleans, in comp’y with 6 other officers and about 250 enlisted men, all prisoners. Arrived in New Orleans at 3 o’cl’k. A great number of persons were on the levee to see us. We were taken to the Custom House and turned over to the Provost Sheriff, Lt. Andrew at 8 o’cl’k, we were brought to 54 Baronne St., where 4 or 5 officers were already confined, among them Capt. Youngblood of the Signal Corps at Port Hudson and Capt. McGane, the officer in charge of Confederate pickets just above Baton Rouge.

April 18, Was surprised to find that so fine a breakfast had been furnished us; learned afterward that it came from Mrs. Brooks(?). When I arrived I was entirely without clothing, having lost all on the Gunboat Diana, being obliged to jump overboard from the top of the wheel-house to save my life. Immediately on this becoming known, I was furnished with everything necessary to be presentable. Heard many rumors regarding our army, but none of them were to be relied upon. I find our guard very kind and even attentive. Was introduced to a number of Federal officers, who expressed a desire to know the son of the “Pirate” Semmes of Alabama Notoriety. None of the members of my Battery have been captured as yet.

April 19, All goes quietly on, there are many little incidents which tend to make the hours of my prison life fly more swiftly than they otherwise would. This day saw some of my lady friends.

April 20, Nothing whatever occurred during the day, save an occasional scene on the street, such as “Old Wormwood” kicking some poor devil off of the banquet, or the capture of some fair young lady’s pocket-handkerchief.

April 21, Saw Mrs. McCall this a.m. She looked well — informed me that the majority of her negroes had voluntarily returned to the plantation. Bought a pair of high boots for 18 dollars.

April 22, This a.m., whilst the Capt. of the French ship of war was passing quietly along the street, he had the foot of a Fed. sentinel applied to his subsequent parts, in a manner little calculated to engender a train of placid thoughts.

April 23, Saw Mrs. Burks’ daughters & Mrs. Henning.  Mrs. Burks’ youngest daughter is quite pretty.  These ladies have been quite attentive to the prisoners.

April 24, Nothing of interest.

April 25, /63, Heard various rumors relating to our forces at Alexandria. Some say that we have made a stand. Others that Gen. Banks is still pushing on and will not stop until he has eaten up the vast praries [sic] of Texas. I hope that it will not affect his digestion. Let him look that he swallows not a little lead.

April 28, The day broke clear and warm, indicating that “Old Sol” would welcome us with more warmth than is usually considered comfortable, about Meridian.

April 27, Rec’d a letter from Miss Hunter, informing me of the safety of my Battery and all the officers. Have heard nothing since, although this letter was written many days prior to its delivery.

April 23, Was introduced to the Misses Henning. Found them very pretty, at the same time quite interesting.

April 29, This is a day set apart by Old Abe as a day of fasting and prayer, and was quite a solemn day in New Orleans, as the people were forced to observe the day. It is useless for me to remark that many more Fast Days will take place ere the war ends.

April 30, This is the last day of April. Tomorrow will be the first day of May. Have a fine supply of cake and pies for the occasion.

x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x x xx x x

 

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