Charles H. Lewis Letter March 17, 1864
27th Iowa Top Banner

History of Buchanan County, Iowa 1842 to 1881
Transcribed by Tommy Joe Fulton and Peggy Hoehne

Pages 197-198



FRIEND RICH: -You have heard much of the Red River expedition of late. It is the fortune of the Twenty-seventh to be one of the regiments comprising it. The expedition was organized immediately after our return from the march eastward to Meridian, Mississippi. It was composed of some ten thousand infantry, and one or two companies of Maine cavalry, and when embarked made a fleet of twenty-two gun-boats, commanded by Admiral Porter. The expedition is commanded by Brigadier General A. J. Smith. Brigadier General Morrer commands the First and Third divisions of the Sixteenth army Corps.

On the ninth of March we embarked on the steamer Diadem, one of the nineteen transports which constituted the fleet for the transportation of the infantry and artillery. At 2 o'clock P. M. an order was received for one company to report as guard for Brigadier General Smith, on board the steamer Clara Bell. Company C, Lieutenant Sill, was sent. Our boat dropped down the river alongside the Clara Bell, and company C reported at once. At sunset we moved down the river. On the eleventh of March we passed Natchez at sunrise, but made no stop till we reached the mouth of Red river, when we halted and the men went on shore, which gave an opportunity for cleaning the boat. The next morning we discovered that what we had supposed was the mouth of Red river, was, in fact, the confluence of Old river, the former bed or main channel, with the Mississippi. The water has a very reddish appearance, and the scenery along either side is truly beautiful. Having sailed a few miles further, we passed the mouth of the Red, and at 2 o'clock P. M. entered the Atchafalaya river, when we found ourselves still sailing down stream. At 5 P. M. the gun-boats and transports were anchored, and all await orders from expedition commanders. It was an exceeding fine country on either side of the river; and, as the boats, one by one, passed down the placid waters of the stream, and moved in toward the shore the sight was really charming. Never before, in the history of the Nation have the waters of the Atchafalaya bore so magnificent a prize, or these shores witnessed so magnificent a scene. First the daring gun-boats, then the transports, each clad in blue, and then the small, swift dispatch boats; all have found their way into the forests of Louisiana, upon these waters unknown to fame.

Three miles back from the river, at Bayou Blaize, the enemy had constructed strong fortifications, which, if filled with guns and men, would have commanded the broad and level tract of country between them and the river. Large trees had been felled on either side of this broad clearing, which formed an excellent abattis. On our way out to the fortifications we saw much of southern vegetation that was new to us. The tall, spreading evergreen, the large sycamore, and the oak, were all clad in drooping festoons of Spanish moss, which hangs in endless quantities from almost every tree, giving to the grove a funereal aspect. A large bridge, which spanned a stream fifty feet in width, directly in front of the earthworks, had been burned.

The boats were at once unloaded of wagons, rations, and every-thing indispensable to our march, and eighty rounds of ammunition were distributed. At dark we were called into line, and after a delay of an hour or two, which soldiers must learn to expect, a force of ten thousand, under General A. J. Smith, marched for the interior. We marched about six miles and encamped on the bank of Bayou Blaize, at 2 o'clock A. M. At early daybreak we moved along the bayou, passing large sugar plantations, all having excellent sugarcane mills. Bayou Blaize, though narrow, is quite deep even at this dry season, as I can attest after having tried to ford it in pursuit of rebels. At 10 A. M. we passed the little town of Boroughsville, at which point we crossed the bayou - our regiment on a little flat-boat, and the rest of the troops on a bridge hastily constructed for that purpose. Here we came in sight of several of the enemy, who beat a hasty retreat. As soon as the troops were crossed, our regiment, Colonel Gilbert commanding, advanced rapidly, and when we had marched two hundred yards a shot was fired from a hill in our front. As soon as another bridge was repaired, we started in hot haste, expecting a fight immediately. We came soon to an open prairie country, settled wholly by French people. The plantations were large, the houses were neat and commodious. Large herds of cattle, horses, and sheep roamed over the most exquisitely beautiful prairies, dotted here and there with miniature lakes of clear water.

Mansura, a fine little town of four hundred inhabitants, all French, was passed, and three miles beyond, over the prettiest country we had seen in the South, we reached Marksville, another French village. The people received us with great joy. The men are not in the army, but at home; and every house is to-day as undisturbed as are the houses of the north, and everything betokens a peaceful and prosperous community.

Our advance had by this time reached near Red river, at Fort De Russay. Our gun-boats were in the river below and had opened the battle. Our brigade was in the advance, but a whole division which had passed us while we were on guard in Markaville, were between us and the rest of the brigade. Colonel Gilbert at this point sent Lieutenant Peck, acting adjutant, petitioning Colonel Shaw, commanding brigade, that we might be ordered to rejoin the brigade. The request was granted and regiment was ordered forward. We wound our way down through the woods, the enemy having got good range of the road that ran direct to the fort. When we were within several hundred yards of the fort, in the woods, the shells from the enemy's guns flying thick and fast about us, we were ordered to lie down and wait orders. Our brigade battery was in the meantime pouring a constant fire into the fort. Sharpshooters were ordered forward to pick off the enemy's gunners. Only a moment passed, it seemed to us, when we were ordered forward, and alongside of a fence, where we again lay down. Again we were ordered forward. A charge was to be made on the fort from two points simultaneously. Our regiment was on the south side and we were ordered forward, double quick. Then, for the first time in our soldier history, was our courage, as a regiment in action put to the test; and glad I am to send the record to Iowa, that no regiment ever went bolder into a fight than did the Twenty-seventh Iowa at Fort De Russay March 14, 1864. Their double quick was a double jump. The Third brigade were the only soldiers in the charge. The rebels saw that it was useless to fight and quickly ran up the white flag. Then the soldiers of the brigade broke into one wild, ringing, vociferous yell of joy. The rattle of musketry, expressive of joy, for a time was incessant. The fort was ours, two hundred and fifty rebels, two twenty-four pounders, two six-punders, with small arms, ammunition and supplies, together with one of the strongest works I have seen in the South. The whole commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Bird, was unconditionally surrendered. Long might the rebels have held out if they had had a large force. When the cheering was over we returned to the prairie near the hospital building and encamped.

To-day we have marched thirty miles, built a bridge across Bayou Blaize, and captured Fort De Russay. The number of wounded in the hospital is twenty-two. Only three or four were killed. On the fifteenth we reembarked on board the Diadem, which lay close to the fort. At sunset we steamed up the river ten miles and laid up for the night. One brigade was left at Fort De Russay, and we started up the river for Alexandria, expecting to find strong works and have a sharp fight. Sailed through the same beautiful country, la belle France. The French are at every bend in the river, and the French flags are flying from the houses. [The "White flags thrown out" at Mansura must be intended. - E. P.] Laid up at Alexandria without opposition. The rebels under Dick Taylor were here yesterday, but they are gone to-day, it is said to reenforce Fort De Russay. We remained all day at Alexandria. The town is quite a fine one, and it is claimed that it had formerly fifteen hundred inhabitants. Our regiment was ordered ashore yesterday and is in camp just on the bank. We sent out a foraging party to-day, which obtained three hogsheads and two barrels of sugar, large quantities of shoulders and hams, and a great number of cattle, mules and horses.

Governor Moore's plantation is within six miles of this place; and the very spot where Solomon Northrup, who was kidnapped in Washington and sold into slavery, lived, is only a few miles distant. Some of the most thrilling scenes in "Uncle Tom's Cabin" are laid in the Red River country. Another foraging party, under the command of Colonel Gilbert, brought in large quantities of sugar, potatoes, etc. There are thousands of hogsheads of sugar in this country. During the past three years there has been but a small amount of sugar or cotton shipped, and vast quantities of both have accumulated. Many Unionists are reported throughout the country - one came through our lines to-day, an old man, ninety years of age, who had been stripped of all his property. A man of Union sentiments, in his neighborhood, had been made to dig his own grave, and then, standing by its side, he had been shot and buried by traitors.

Later, from Grand Ecore. - Fort De Russay was destroyed by the brigade left for that purpose. Thirty barrels of powder were used to blow up the magazines. It is reported that some of the men, anxious to see everything that was going on, rushed up too near, and met a sad fate. Five were killed, and as many more shockingly wounded. Jacob Beck, of company G, who was wounded at the capture of the fort, died on the twenty-fourth. On the twenty-sixth of March, the troops left the boats, and marched fifteen miles towards Shreveport, along Bayou rapids. We moved through an exceedingly fine country, on the day following, to Ceolile Landing, on Red river. Our boats arrived, during the night, with the exception of the large and commodious hospital boat, Woodford, which is reported a total wreck on the rapids below; having foundered upon an old wreck that had lain there for years. A large number of our men are taking the small-pox. Men with this disease are taken to a house near the landing, but it is in the regiment, and will appear again. April 2d, all our troops were ordered aboard the boats, and at 12 o'clock M., we moved up the Red river with the entire fleet of transports and gun-boats. As we pass along, we see hundreds of negroes on the river side, hailing the advent of "Massa Linkum." General Banks' forces are on the march up the south side of the river, and have captured, after a little fight, the small town of Natchitoches. At 4 P. M., we reached Grand Cove, and the signal of one gun announced the enemy in sight. We debarked at once, taking knapsacks, baggage, camp and garrison equippage. Our camp is an exceedingly fine one among the trees. It will do our men good to wander through the forests again. We did not receive orders to move on the following morning, as expected. Our boat, Diadem, and the Southwester and Sioux, went up the river two miles to wood. A foraging party was sent out, and returned with some excellent beef.

A large cavalry force, supported by the Thirty-fifth Iowa, moved up the north side of the river, a short distance above Caurdea, distant from this point three or four miles. The commander of the troops moved his whole force carelessly ahead, without any advance guard, it is reported, down to a bridge, which was torn up by the enemy. As soon as they had all crowded down at the bridge, the enemy in ambush fired upon them. The adjutant of the New York veteran cavalry fell with five enlisted men, and forty men wounded. As soon as our troops recovered from the shock, they rallied and drove the enemy from the field. It is a disaster for which some one is responsible, and it is high time that all officers, who do not properly regard the interests and safety of their men, were relieved from their command by better men.

What will be our next move I am unable to tell, farther than that it will be up the river. There are probably about fifteen thousand rebels in arms above here to meet us. Dick Taylor, Walker, Kirby Smith and Daddy Price are said to be in command.

C. H. L.