TO THE RED RIVER CAMPAIGN, 1864,
FROM NATCHITOCHES TO MANSFIELD, LOUISIANA
by Vicki Betts
Elizabeth Greening DuBois, wife of Capt. S.P. DuBois, Consolidated Crescent Rgmt., one of many Mansfield residents whose home was opened to wounded soldiers on the night of April 8, 1864
On April 2, 1864, the first of 36,000 federal troops under General Nathaniel Banks entered Natchitoches, Louisiana, "with music and unfurled colors" as they marched from occupied Alexandria toward certain victory in Shreveport and East Texas. At that time Natchitoches boasted a population of about 2,000 persons, over half of them of French descent. Harris Beecher, of the 114th New York described the town as "a quiet resort of wealth and refinement. With the exception of Franklin, Natchitoches probably is the most beautiful inland town of the State. Although its buildings are of an antique architecture, yet they bear an air of neatness and elegance. Unlike most southern villages, the houses are all painted, and have green blinds. Most of the people live in second stories, from which are constructed airy balconies and bow windows. . . . The inhabitants were well dressed and intelligent, very sociable with the Yankee invaders, and apparently not at all terrified or dissatisfied with the occupation of the town by northern 'mudsills.' Among young soldiers, the most observable feature of the place was the beauty of its women." Orton S. Clark of the 116th New York reported that "Among the inhabitants, most of whom were French, there seemed less of that antipathy which we had always seen manifested in other places, and the women, we were foolish enough to think, showed evident signs of pleasure at our arrival. All later was explained as only their joy that we were being so easily led on to certain disaster." The Natchitoches Union, whose presses were immediately seized by the 13th Corps, printed at least three issues (April 1, 2, 4). In one of these they offered an amusing article in which the "thawing" of the local population was described, from the first hour, when nothing but closed shutters greeted the invaders, to a few hours later when young ladies would stand at their gates and talk to the troops as they passed.1
Despite orders to the contrary, some of the federals "foraged considerably" in the area. Perhaps as an example, the provost marshal picked up six of the offenders, punished them "severely," and "turned them over to Col. [George L.] Beal for court martial, which was done." However, on at least one occasion, it was the local citizenry who disciplined the bluecoats. On Saturday, April 2nd, three men of Co. I, 24th Iowa Infantry went out foraging at a nearby plantation. Three armed men (no uniforms mentioned) demanded that they surrender. The federals were taken two miles away and tied up. One escaped, the second was shot and killed, and the third was knocked in the head with the butt of a gun but later made it back into camp and reported the incident. General Thomas E. G. Ransom sent the rest of Co. I out the next day with orders to burn everything at the plantation which was of no use to the quartermaster department, and those orders were carried out "with exceeding cheerfulness." This was one of only two accounts of the federals burning civilian property before the retreat following the battles of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill--all burning prior to this point was conducted by Confederate troops destroying cotton sheds to deprive the federals of one of the supposed main objectives of the military campaign.2
The old stage road from Natchitoches to Pleasant
Hill lead through "piney woods", forests of huge original pines and a "thick,
matted growth of underbrush." The land was described as "sandy, clayey,
deserted," "this land of gloom," and "little more than a great masked battery."
Everything that the federal army needed had to be brought with them.
As one Yankee officer put it, "Such a thing as subsisting an army in a
country like this could only be achieved when men and horses
could be induced to live on pine trees and rosin." The men passed only a few small clearings in which they found "the meanest construction of log and mud houses," houses "merely built in clearings, of pine logs thatched and plastered with mud." "The
houses are very poor, much like our barns and hog pens. The chimnies [sic] are built of sticks and wood. Indians seem to form quiet [sic] a proportion of the settlers", according to Elias Pellet of the 114th New York. The men also found a Confederate camp of instruction consisting of about six rough barracks over which hung a sign proclaiming it "CamP Bou re gard." The name "soon disappeared, as did also a good portion of the buildings."3
A mile and a quarter to two miles before the troops reached Pleasant Hill, they came across an old camp meeting ground, probably Methodist, which was situated in a clearing between the Old Natchitoches Road and the road to Grand Ecore. A spring provided the local water source and a number of crude sheds had been constructed to shelter worshippers who might spend a week or more at the site each year. A cemetery lay adjacent.4
Pleasant Hill, established in the early 1850's, had a population of about 100 to 200, and was located in a clearing in the woods on the edge of an old field at the intersection of the road between Mansfield and Grand Ecore, and one from Texas and Fort Jessup to Blairs Landing on the Red River. It had about twelve or fifteen houses, a Methodist Church, possibly a Baptist Church a short distance away, a post office, a hotel, three storehouses, a school building for girls, and the as yet uncompleted Pearce Payne Methodist College for boys. One federal declared that it showed "more than the common degree of enterprise and taste" and another described it as "intended in its inception as a place where the families of those cultivating plantations on the low lands might more safely reside during certain seasons." A New Yorker wrote:
There are some delightful residences here. This is one of the favorite summer resorts of the wealthy. It is a charming place and must be almost a paradise, as a protection against the excessive heat of the lower country. We are told that in 'peace-times' it was the scene of luxury and fashion, and that the woods were made to ring with music and dancing. There is something romantic in penetrating a dense forest hundreds of miles, and almost beyond the pale of civilization, and establishing for a time, as it were, a little world of fashionable revelries. The back woodsman andhalf-breed settlers must have gazed with astonishment on the seeming frivolities of these aristocratic visitors. Appearances indicated that for long years to come there would not be heard at Pleasant Hill, the sound of mirth or the soft music of its former days.5
Pleasant Hill had two points of special pride--Pearce Payne College and the Childers mansion. Pearce Payne consisted of two unfinished brick buildings designed to be wings of an as yet unconstructed grander central building. Each structure was about 40 by 80 feet, two stories, with rough floors. The John S. Childers mansion had been constructed about four years before for the not inconsiderable sum of $10,000, which did not include the cost of the slave labor. It was a fine wood frame structure, with two stories, eight large rooms, a spacious hall in front and a very large dining room and kitchen in the back. A balcony supported by four rounded pillars with Doric pediments stretched over a broad porch across the front. According to one grandson living in the house at the time of the 1864 battle, "this house was known all over northwest Louisiana as being the finest." The fifty-six year old widow Mrs. Maria Childers lived there without any "male protector"--only her daughters, possibly daughters-in-law, and some of her grandchildren. At least one son was serving in the Confederate army at the time.6
Other community members living in Pleasant
Hill in the spring of 1864 included Mrs. William Hampton and her daughters
Mary, Sarah, and Emma; Mrs. Pullen; the Davises; the Harrells; the Coles;
Mrs. Jack Sleet and her three young daughters; and Mrs. Rebecca Jordan.
Stephen Decatur Chapman, Maria Childers' younger brother, had taken a wagon
load of area slaves to Texas, leaving behind his wife, Caroline, and their
children, including seventeen year old Sallie. Homes in Pleasant
Hill ranged from the Childers Mansion to a "large double frame house" boasting
a large double parlor with two fireplaces to "small
Confederate troops, particularly cavalry, had operated in and around Pleasant Hill for some time, and passers-by brought news of Banks' progress up the Red River. On April 1, Walker's Texas Division arrived in town after a fast march from Marksville via Fort Jessup. J. P. Blessington reported that "The whole country, far and wide, was aroused to the highest pitch of excitement by the retreat of our army. The inhabitants, all along the route of our retreat, were hurriedly quitting their homes, and flying before the approach of the invader. Consternation and alarm everywhere prevailed among the citizens. Old men shouldered their muskets and came to our assistance, to help drive back the invader." On April 2nd Walker's men marched five miles down the Natchitoches/Grand Ecore road and then hightailed it back as the federals advanced. The next day the Confederate infantry retreated in the direction of Mansfield, leaving Pleasant Hill, consisting entirely of women, children, and slaves, to face the Yankees alone. Every white man in town except for Dr. Beal and the Sleet's elderly overseer had either joined the army or taken their slaves and stock to Texas. Soon even Dr. Beal left.8
Henry H. Childers, grandson of Maria Childers,
recalled that soon the blue uniforms of Yankee officers appeared in our
little back yard under the China trees, on horseback. The exercise
these officers had taken that morning had given them an appetite and they
demanded victuals. My grandmother, at first, did not think that she
could afford to furnish food energy to the enemy but a certain wise discretion
accompanied with some premonition, persuaded her that she had better feed
these men. After eating, they proceeded to inquire for money and
valuables and received unsatisfactory answers. The silverware and
valuable articles were then in the bottom of a six-hundred barrel oblong cistern under the house. . . . Soon after they had left the house, the soldiery began to pass on their way to Mansfield. When General N. P. Banks arrived it came as no surprise that he chose the Childers mansion as his personal headquarters.9
Nearby, Mrs. Phillip J. "Jack" Sleet had barely
said goodbye to her husband, a scout with the 2nd Louisiana Cavalry, Company
B, when thousands and thousands of Yankees appeared near her home.
Two lines of soldiers took up residence between her house and her front
fence. They began coming to her holding their caps and asking that they
be filled with meal and other food. Her husband's English plantation
manager advised her to comply, "so he took the key to the meat house, gave
food to these, then they came in droves and stripped it completely. The
whole top was hung with hams, bacon, etc., and in a very short while it
was empty except for a hogshead of molasses for the negroes." They
took that, too, and others killed cows,
calves, and all fowls. "Little chickens too small to eat were stepped on and killed; setting hens were killed and the eggs destroyed." Some of the soldiers asked the family's slaves if they were treated well, "to say the word and they would burn their mistress and her children up in the house." The slaves protested that they had a good master and mistress, but Mrs.
Sleet still asked for and received a guard to protect her home. She had tubs and other vessels filled with water and then the family shut themselves up in the house for safety.10
Soldiers also stripped out Caroline Chapman's food supply--again, everything except a barrel of molasses. The thirty-eight year old wife and mother sat on that and refused to budge. The federals "after wrangling a little over the matter," agreed to let her keep it, and even agreed to roll it into her house to keep others from confiscating it. Unfortunately, in doing so they found out that the contents were not molasses but the family wine supply, which prompted a fight among the men. Evidently some of the wine survived the fisticuffs, because after the battle at Pleasant Hill a canteen of it was offered by a member of the 15th Maine to a wounded man of the 14th Iowa.11
Young Sallie Chapman called it "a day of terror for the women and children." Houses were ransacked by soldiers. All cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys were killed and turned into food. Pantrys were raided and food taken. Stores were broken into and the goods taken off. Several stores were full of meal for the Confederate Soldiers and that was taken. They took clothes or anything they wanted. The girls school building was burned. ... Yards and gardens and all fences were torn down and used for fuel to cook their food. In some houses almost everything was destroyed. The women and children were almost wild with fear among thousands of Yankees. For two nights they did not undress for bed.12
By March 29, rumors began to circulate in Mansfield
that the federals were advancing and on April 1, twenty-two year old refugee
Sidney Harding wrote in her diary that the Confederates had retreated as
far as Pleasant Hill, "Yankees not far behind." On Saturday, April
2, she and three others left their temporary home near Keatchie and went
They started to church the next day. "[W]hat was our surprise to see the road strewn with wagons--the army retreating But we went on not knowing the extent of it when Aaron Prescott met us and asked us to return. Our army was really retreating. ... We returned--had difficulty in passing train. We got ready to come home immediately. ... We started [,] hard to pass all the trains--gave up--here safely--saw Lt. Winchister said he wanted to send his servant up to give us warning in time to leave." Sidney decided to stay in town, and as late as the 7th recklessly went down to Carrol's mill to visit her beloved 2nd Louisiana Cavalry. Soon the sight of wounded men convinced her to return to Mansfield.13
As the fighting got closer,
many of the citizens decided to take whatever they could save and evacuate
the town. Many moved to the Dollette (sometimes spelled Dolet) Hills
a short distance away to the east-southeast and waited to see what the
impending battle would bring. Samuel Foster Smith wrapped up the
DeSoto Parish record books in oil cloth and took them to the Dollette canebreaks
for safety. His wife remained in their home and sent him food by
one of their slaves. John Patterson Finch and his family, who lived
four miles southeast of Mansfield, hurriedly buried some of their possessions
and put the
rest in their wagon and left. Others, including twenty-two year old Eliza Crosby Fields, stayed in Mansfield. She held her baby daughter, Roberta, in her arms and stood at the gate of her father's house, watching as the Confederate army, including the Crescent Regiment, retreated through the town.
Captain [Robert Seth] Fields stepped out of the ranks, and gave his wife and baby a fond embrace, said a few words, and took his place again at the head of his company. What the thoughts of this gallant soldier were, no one can tell, for he was apparently leaving all that was near and dear to him in the hands of the enemy. This brave wife stood without a tear in her eye, evidently striving to make the shock of the separation as light as possible on the sorely stricken soldier. As soon as he was out of sight, she rushed to her room with her baby and closed the door.14
One little boy remembered:
That day was the saddest we ever beheld, for the Confederate army passed through Mansfield on its retreat, and there was none left here but the women and children, for every boy and man that was able to do so had a gun in his hand and was in the ranks. There were two or three decrepit old men left, and as many disabled soldiers who could not be moved and everything was as quiet as death, all awaiting for the 'Yankees to come.' The negroes had practically all been carried to Texas, and the town was forsaken.15
Brig. Gen. James P. Major, with Lane's Cavalry Brigade and three regiments of Bagby's Brigade, engaged a larger federal cavalry force at Wilson's Farm, three miles north of Pleasant Hill on April 7 in what could be described as a severe skirmish. The Confederates continued their strategic retreat. The next morning, on a Confederate national day of prayer and fasting, Walker's Texans were ordered to move their camp to just behind Mansfield, where they were formed into the line of battle. At 11 a.m. Taylor ordered them to advance, and they stepped off with the bands playing "Dixie." T. R. Bonner recalled:
The sun of the 8th as it rose majestically in a cloudless sky, presented to the viewSidney Harding was "was waked up early by shouts, our reinforcements. We dressed in a hurry to see them. Nearly all of our army passed down. ... We saw nearly every one we knew. All Walker's division, Mouton and Polignac's brigade and a great deal of artillery. The Lt. and galant Col. Armant at their head how handsome he looked. All of our brave soldiers How
of the astonished inhabitants of Mansfield, the divisions of Walker and Mouton marching
proudly back to meet that foe before whom they had so long retreated. As we passed through
the streets of the beautiful town, they were thronged with fair ladies--misses and matrons--
who threw their bright garlands at our feet, and bade us, in God's name, drive back the
Yankees, and save their cherished homes. As their cheerful songs of the Sunny South fell in
accents of sweetest melody upon our ears, we felt that we were indeed "thrice armed," and through
greatly outnumbered, would drive back the foe.16
Eliza Fields and her father's family joined the others along Polk Street, watching the army and the bands march by. As his regiment again passed the Crosby home, the captain kissed his hand at his wife and baby, and made some remark, but as a soldier could not leave his command when a battle was about to commence, he could not stop. However, the wife never flinched, and with her baby in her arms rushed out and took her position beside her husband in the ranks and the soldiers roused a tremendous rebel yell, for the captain's wife and child. The writer [a small boy at the time] not knowing what to do followed her, and with Mrs. Fields marched to the spot where the K. C. S. depot now stands, where the soldiers were halted and the cartridge boxes filled with buck and ball. Everything was in a rush and we remember that a staff officer and Colonel Beard of the Crescent regiment were rushing the work, as it was important that the troops move rapidly. Under the circumstances, Captain Fields could pay no attention to his wife and baby, but several times as he passed, he stopped, and hurriedly kissed them, and with a "God bless you," he marched away. The people of Mansfield then turned their attention toward caring for the anticipated casualties. "The women and older men began to gather all available mattresses, bed clothes, straw, cloth for bandages and other necessities, and readied the courthouse, churches, Mansfield Female College and their homes to care for the Confederate wounded."18
The armies met and fought that late Thursday afternoon and evening, with the federals losing over 2,000 killed, wounded, and captured, and the Confederates losing just under half that number. The sound of the battle carried for miles. Lafayette Price, a fourteen year old slave later told interviewers:
Mr. Carroll [his master] say that at Mansfield where they was shooting the big guns, the ladies was crying. He told 'em they needn't to cry now; when they was shooting the big guns they wasn't killing men, but when they hear the little guns shoot, then they could start crying, 'cause that mean that men was gitting kill. I dunno if you ever parch popcorn. That the way the little guns sound. He say that then they could begin crying.
At the first cannon volley, little Richard Shackleford Fortson in the Naborton area east of Mansfield, ran into his house and found his mother hiding her silverware and other valuables. he children and slave women of Miles Walton Goldsby, left alone when he joined the army at Mansfield, took refuge under the beds for hours until the battle was over. Mary Ann
Owens Mixon simply mounted her mule and rode away, leaving all behind her.19
William Newton Whitton, seventeen years old, heard the battle from near the Sabine River. He had joined the Home Guard in San Augustine, Texas, the year before, along with "old men with long beards of various colors and boys too young to shave." The Guard had been ordered out "to take a stand and use guerrilla war tactics in case General Taylor and General Walker were not able to defeat the Federal forces at Mansfield or other places in that vicinity." They could hear the sound of cannon and massed rifles, "but they could not get any information for several hours from couriers to determine which side was winning the battle. They waited and watched many hours for the Yankees to spring upon them, but they never came. However, hundreds of scared white people and Negroes were fleeing from Louisiana to Texas in front of the Union soldiers. All persons were stopped and investigated. Some were sent home, and some were held for further investigation."20
The doctors and chaplains spent the night going
over the Mansfield battlefield with their lamps, serving the dying and
attending those who might recover. Local women joined them, searching
for their husbands and sons. Eliza Fields found her husband's body
"riddled with bullets." He had been "one of seven men killed carrying
the colors" in a Crescent Regiment charge which helped save Mansfield.
"As soon as she had seen him buried, she did not succumb to grief, but
threw herself with unselfish devotion into the work of caring for the Confederate
wounded and the Crosby home was full of them, and she found herself to
be just as great a hero as was her martyred husband, who carried the flag
to the cannon's mouth." Twenty-eight year old Martha Howell Lord emerged
from a cave in the Dollette Hills where she had hidden her children, and
she and her nine year old son William rode horseback to the battlefield.
They discovered the body of her husband, Seth Lord, also of the Crescent
Regiment, recognizable only by the socks she had made for him. She
returned home, hitched up her wagon, drove it back herself, retrieved
her husband's body and took it to Grove Hill Cemetery for burial.
To add to her troubles, when she got home, she found that "Union troops
had destroyed everything; bedding, carried off all meat, syrup and lard;
all chickens but
one blue hen that was on a nest in an ash barrel." A federal straggler appeared at her house and asked for a drink of water from the well. When she told him that she had no cups or vessels of any kind to offer him, he became angry and shot her puppy which was near her at the time.21
By the next morning, all of the nearby farm
houses had been converted to hospitals, and then the wounded of both sides
were carried on to Mansfield and to Keatchie. In Mansfield, the town
hall, the Methodist Church and the Mansfield Female College were converted
to Confederate hospitals. When these filled, nearly every private
home became a hospital,
including those of Dr. James William Fair, and nearby Roseneath, Walnut Hill, and Land's End plantation homes. Everywhere was the sight and smell of "seared flesh, clotted blood, splintered limbs, and dismembered corpses." Wounded and dazed soldiers wandered the streets.22
In 1910, Louis Hall, formerly of the Crescent
Regiment, wrote to the editor of the Mansfield Enterprise of his experience
after the battle. He was first taken to the Mansfield Female College
where he was laid on the floor, "every space was occupied by our wounded
soldiers and some of Banks's men. We were all treated alike.
I was soon attended to, wound bandaged etc., while others were put upon
the table, arms and limbs amputated." Numerous ladies came to the makeshift
hospital, asking to take soldiers home. Alice, Hattie, Florence,
and Helen Parker approached Hall to see if he would like to go with them.
"I gladly accepted their kind invitation, was put on a stretcher, and brought
to their home, where I found every space, even the dining room and parlor
occupied by wounded soldiers." Hall noted others who nursed the wounded--the
Dr. Gibb's family, the Howards, the Winbushes, Laura and Susie Crosby,
as well as Eliza Crosby Fields, already mentioned. Felix Pierre Poche,
volunteer aide-de-camp to Col. Henr y Gray, mourned the wounded and the dead of Mansfield, adding in his diary "But on the other hand the sight of the ladies who rushed on all sides bringing food and comfort to the suffering of their country was a spectacle upon which the patriotic eye feasted."23
Sidney Harding reluctantly accompanied a cousin
and others to see the battlefield. "I had rather gone to the hospital
as it was Sunday ... As we passed the hospital the gallery was full
of our dead. Oh how sick it made me. It was a dreadful ride
to me, very sad." Seeing only an open field, she returned to Mansfield
to the home of Mrs. Gibbs. "All busy picking lint. Mrs. Prescott,
Cus. A., Mrs. King and others there. Ma and Mrs. Pitts went to hospital.
I went after dinner. Oh what a dreadful sight. Our poor men
just lying on the floor in cotton. And such an odor. And they
bore it so bravely. Not a groan was heard,
all so cheerful. I only went to one church. There are more than a thousand wounded. Every house in town like a public building and every private house full." She visited one of the hospitals again the next day, and sought out the Missouri wounded at the request of one of the soldiers. "They like so for the ladies to visit them. Oh the sickening sights. Some shot in face, both eyes out, head bent, arms, legs, everywhere." By Tuesday she had returned to her home near Keatchie, where the family took in the wounded. When one man, "a handsome boy," died, they attended the funeral. "Poor soldier, thy warfare is over."24
Surgeons cared for wounded Federal soldiers at the Campbellite [Christian or Disciples of Christ] Church and most of the storehouses. The most severe cases of both sides were taken to the Baptist Church. John E. Hewett recalled that
"At dark on the eve of the tenth, one of the nurses lighted a candle and holding it
in one hand attended the patient with the other, but the delirious patient struck down the
candle and the light, catching the loose cotton used as bedding, set it on fire, and in a
moment the flames filled the building. To save the wounded from death by burning, the men
who were in Mansfield rushed in and carrying the patients through the fire or casting them
out of the windows saved about 200 soldiers from a horrible death. As the rescuers were
about to abandon the work, a young Creole Confederate soldier suffering from slight wounds
and a young Union soldier arrived upon the scene and answered the wild calls for help from
within. The fatigued rescuers joined them and another dozen of the men were saved from the
flames." The Baptist Church burned to the ground.25
Federal and Confederate wounded later recalled the kindness of the women of Mansfield. Major John B. Reid wrote his family in Illinois that "I had the very kindest of treatment from the very nice family in which it was my good fortune to fall, were it not for this attention, I fear my chances of life would have been poor. . . . So far the Confederates have given us as good as they have themselves, so we have no reason to complain." Many of the Southern wounded who had been nursed in the Jacob Wemple mansion wrote back both during and after the war to let the family know how they were doing, and to thank them for the care that they had received in their home.26
Between Mansfield and Pleasant Hill but east
of the main stage road, Mary Higgenbotham had decided not to abandon her
home. At about 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, she and her children "heard
the low rumble of drums in the direction of Grove Hill and in a few minutes
the sound of marching feet." Soon Walker's Texas Division came around
the bend in the road a column
of ragged, weary, gray-clad men marching in columns of fours. . . . They halted in front of our house, then stacked arms in the road and were told to 'fall out' for a fifteen minute rest. Some had blood-stained bandages on their heads--some had an arm suspended in a bloody bandage or wore bandages on their necks or shoulders. Others staggered toward the house to
beg for a bite to eat.
The yard and house were soon full of tired and haggard men--some with the most haunted
look in their eyes I have ever seen. She (my mother) gave them all the leftovers from dinner
(in fact we had been too excited to eat any dinner at all) but still they kept begging, 'Mom,
save some for me. I haven't had a bite since Thursday evening. Please, just one bite.'
Next, Ma went out to the backyard followed by dozens of ragged, bearded men. Our big old
washpot (probably a hundred years old) was full of freshly cooked lye hominy, warm and ready
to eat. So she began issuing it out with a large wooden cooking spoonful to each man. Some of
them took it in the crown of their dirty hats, some in their bare, dirty hands, some in cups
or on pieces of boards they had picked up. All of them ate it right there like a pack of hungry
wolves. When the hominy was gone she next went to the smokehouse, which contained the
family's meager supply of bacon for the coming months. There she began cutting up sides of
bacon into portions half as large as your hand, handing a piece to each man as with tears in
their eyes they begged for it. An officer on horseback at the road sent his orderly to the house
to beg for a piece of bacon for him and the man begged Ma to 'please give him some bacon for his
captain.' Before the man reached the gate on his way back with the precious morsel the officer
galloped up to the fence and was leaning far over into the yard when the orderly reached him.
The look of hunger and despair in his face and eyes was something that has haunted me ever
since that day. Grabbing the piece of meat he tore into it with his teeth at once. Soon the
smokehouse as well as the washpot was empty. But the men seemed reluctant to leave, crowding
around Ma to thank her again and again and to invoke the blessings of Heaven upon her. Some
handed her a dollar bill, some two or even five (Confederate money) and others hugged her as
they left the yard. They had marched all night Thursday night, marched and fought all day
Friday, then buried their dead at Moss' Lane during the night--all with only a few hours sleep
and without a bite to eat since Thursday. A blast of the bugle soon brought the men back to
the road where they secured their rifles and quickly lined up. Then the order rang out sharp
and clear, 'Attention! F-o-h-r-w-a-r-d--M-a-r-c-h' Then the order, 'Double quick!-- M-a-r-c-h!'
Soon they disappeared in a cloud of dust in the direction of Pleasant Hill."27
Meanwhile, the Federals were pulling back into the town of Pleasant Hill. Sallie Chapman recalled that "they were whooping, hollering and cursing shamefully, which caused great excitement among the women and children. . . . One officer told Mrs. Rembert's [nee Sallie Chapman] mother, 'Your folks sure did give us a licking at Mansfield.'" Some of the officers
demanded food and beds, while others prepared for the pursuing Confederates. The women and children of Pleasant Hill at first took shelter inside their homes, but before long the Sleet family heard "the bullets raining on our house . . . worse than any hail storm." After the battle had started, the residents were advised to leave the area, but to not go between the
two main roads. According to Lillie Sleet,
In haste to join the other families that were leaving too, no time to pack and toosorely distressed and frightened to think, she [Lillie's mother] gave her oldest daughter, a child of seven years, a double handful of jewelry loose in her hands, put the teaspoons in her own stockings, and left everything else. It was a pitiful sight, this evacuation of women and children and the children's nurses. Our family had no sooner crossed the street, to join my aunt's family, before the soldiers in the yard dropped their muskets and ran into the house,greedy for plunder. While at my aunt's, waiting for them to join in the exodus, some Yankee officers came on the porch. One had our forks and tablespoons in his coat pocket; her second daughter saw and recognized them and started to pull them out. This scared her nearly to death as she thought he'd kill the child, so she pulled the little thing away quickly and he never knew they were seen. Our little band wandered all day in the woods, got lost and went into that section between the two main roads where we were warned not to go. Bullets rained down on us but fortunately their force was rather well spent and no one was hurt. At nightfall we stumbled upon a Yankee camp. The officers were very much surprised, saying, "Why, ladies, where are you going with these little children?" She told them we were seeking safety from the battle, so one of the officers said, "You can't go farther, you will kill the children. You are safe here." They spread blankets down for the children and made coffee for the ladies and they spent the night sitting on logs around the big camp fire."
Sallie Chapman also remembered taking refuge in the woods east of town where they could hear the battle's roar. During the worst of the fighting, Mrs. Hampton was dismayed to hear her children laughing, and she scolded them that they should be praying instead. Her daughter Emma replied "O Laudy, mamma! it's no use praying now, the Yankees have got us."28
Little Henry Childers, his family and their servants took refuge in the cellar at the rear of the Childers mansion. The two armies met in the old Jordan field to the west of his house, immediately in front of the "flower yard." He did not stick his head out of the cellar door, but Henry Taylor, one of the slaves, did venture to the front of the house and reported that "a bombshell had hit the house. This caused great alarm, as we thought it meant an explosion and burning down of the house. . . . However, an examination after the battle, showed that a ten-pound round bomb had struck the house and passed through several walls, shattering several pieces of furniture and lodging itself between the ceiling, without the more serious damage of explosion." This shell cut the pillow on which, according to one account, the head of Gen. Banks had lain the night before. Many bullets struck the house, but no member of the family was hurt. The Childers even managed to save one sick Confederate who had been left or who managed to find his way to the house, and "old Aunt Sally," the cook from the tavern who was trying to make her way to the woods during the battle.29
Two young boys, Richard Joshua Wilson and his brother Bob, were thinning corn near Pleasant Hill when the battle opened. Richard told his grandson, Waylon Maroney, that "It sounded like fire coming through a canebreak; cannons roared like thunder. We heard mama call us on the horn for dinner, but we had to find out what was going on." When they reached the battlefield men were lying everywhere, and smoke and dust were hanging over the area. Confederates and federals were mixed up "like salt and pepper, horses were spinning like windmills, some without eyes, some looking like shells had gone clear through them. Men were crying for water." The two boys helped an unidentified doctor by carrying water from a spring three-quarters of a mile down the hill to give drinks to the wounded and the dying.30
The next morning Mary Hampton also went out across the old Jordan field to help however she could, "while the dead were yet unburied, the wounded not all gathered in, and the debris of the great conflict scattered everywhere. Especially touching to the feminine heart were the boyish red uniforms of the Zouaves, 162nd New York [actually, the 165th], whose dead, like sacred roses, dotted all the long slope from the great ditch where Benedict fell, up to the crest of the hill on which stood the village of Pleasant Hill." Solon Benson, of the 32nd Iowa, called her "the heroine of the battle-field."31
Confederate soldiers and others traveling between Mansfield and Pleasant Hill the next day commented about the aftereffects of the running fight between the two towns. H. C. Medford estimated that dead men and horses were scattered over an area of at least nine square miles--J. M. Foster thought that he could have walked on dead federals for a full five miles. Cannonballs and shrapnel had shattered trees to the point that one cavalryman thought "we were more in danger from falling timber than from bullets or cannon balls." The Federals had attempted to burn all wagons that they could not save, but some were captured fully loaded, their sheets painted with mottoes such as "Texas or Hell." Gus Hall later wrote the St. Louis Republican: "Ruin was on every side. Helpless women and hungry children stood tearfully by desolated homes. The naked chimnies showed where houses had been. Not even a bird was to be seen, nor any living thing that could get away. The wells were polluted; dead horses and broken vehicles lined the road."32
Joseph Blessington of Walker's Texas Division
particularly sympathized with the wounded horses, "some still plunging
and endeavoring to drag their broken limbs after them. The
poor animals look at you most reproachfully, as much as to say, I had nothing
to do with all this carnage. I was brought here against my will,
and why should I suffer?" Lafayette Price was also impressed with the horses.
"Next day, coming home, I want to tell you the hosses didn't lay on this
side nor on that side. They just squat down, they was dead."
John Howard King of the 23rd Texas Cavalry reported that at Pleasant Hill
horses were killed that "the citizens piled them and burned them."33
As soon as the battle ended, Pleasant Hill, like Mansfield, became one large hospital and morgue. Every house and building, including many with cannon ball and bullet holes in them, filled with the wounded, both Confederate and Yankee. All that Saturday night "the surgeons labored with the wounded, and when the bright Sabbath sun rose on the morning of the 10th, the [federal] army had disappeared, and that little town of less than one hundred souls found itself oppressed with seven times its number of wounded belonging to both armies. And in their haste the army had taken away everything needed for the comfort of the men. There were neither provisions nor medical supplies." Only five federal surgeons and a few attendants remained behind with approximately four hundred federal wounded.34
At the Childers mansion, all the halls and rooms filled with the wounded, except for two bedrooms, the dining room, and the kitchen. Henry Childers vividly remembered "one soldier who was brought in shot through the head. He seemed to be aware that his end was near and begged that he be put out of his misery. He died very soon afterwards." When one federal soldier recalled the kind treatment his men received from the "noble" Pleasant Hill ladies, he named Maria Childers "very chief among them all."35
Mrs. Sleet and her daughters returned to find
their house had been used as a hospital, and the dead and wounded were
strewn in the "commons" in front. Moreover, the building had been
stripped--everything in it was stolen or ruined; what the Yankees could
not use or send home was destroyed; our old family Bibles and records were
burned, mirrors put on the floor
and stepped on, ink poured on them and the floor; mahogany bureau drawers taken to feed horses in, away off in different places in woods and fields. Absolutely nothing but the shell of the house left. The Sleet family was not the only one left with almost nothing. W. F. Mills wrote home that "It was hard to see the poor women and children standing around crying
over their losses. They had nothing to sleep on and nothing to wear."36
For the first few days the Confederate and federal wounded were not divided but lay side by side. Henry Childers later commented "it was both beautiful and sad to see the soldiers and nurses of the two contending armies in pleasant conversation together, exchanging ministrations and offering up prayers together." Not so beautiful was how numbed the children came to be at the sight of the dead soldiers, so much so that some were caught jumping from body to body and crowing like roosters. Maria Childers soon requested that her home be used solely as a Confederate hospital, so the federal wounded were moved to the Pearce-Payne College buildings, and the Confederate wounded were concentrated in the homes and buildings along the main street. One physician and "one sound Yankee" established an overflow federal hospital to handle one hundred casualties at the camp meeting ground just east of town. The next day Confederate surgeons reached that site and "they were amputating arms and legs, almost by the wagon load."37
One of the first problems was the lack of food--for
three days after the battle Mrs. Sleet and her family had nothing to eat
except pickled beef scavenged from the battlefield. On the 11th the
Confederates sent a relief party from Mansfield which brought provisions
and other assistance, and on the 12th or 13th the federals sent Dr. Sanger,
medical director of the 19th
Army Corps, and two big army wagons loaded with empty ticks for cots and other supplies. At the campground hospital, rations were very short "and we had so few cooking vessels that we were compelled to keep them going nearly all day and night."38
The wounded federals later wrote movingly about the care they received in Pleasant Hill. Rations were meager and simple, provided by an Irish cook, and consisted mostly of meal and coffee. Solon Benson, of the 32nd Iowa, remembered the kind-hearted southern ladies, who remained at home with their little ones, were frequent visitors at the hospitals, and generously supplemented the bill of fare with such delicacies as their slender larders afforded, for they, too, had been plundered by both armies, and were almost constrained to part with the widow's last mite. . . . the coming among them of these gentle messengers of sympathy and mercy, was especially beneficent; and all the more so when it is remembered that all of them were true southern people, and in full sympathy with the southern cause, while we were in their eyes, their "Yankee invaders."
Michael Ackerman, also of the 32nd Iowa, later mentioned "the ministrations
of the wife of a rebel officer who lived in the neighborhood, a Mrs. Cole,
who came every week with such supplies as her home afforded, the tears
running down her cheeks as she looked upon the starving men she could not
feed!" One dying officer handed his gold watch to Mrs. William
Hampton to repay her for her "constant kindness" but she promptly refused the generous gift. Sally Hampton, recalled as the "curly headed flower girl," usually brought a bouquet when she accompanied her mother who often provided soup to the wounded lying on pallets on the school's floor. Mrs. Bullen, who made frequent visits to the hospital from her country home on muleback, fell from the mule at one point and her fractured "limb" was tended by the federal Dr. J. E. Armstrong. Lillie Sleet recalled that "all the ladies in our little town nursed the wounded, Yankees and Confederates alike, and did all that could be done with so little to do with."39
The Confederates who died on the battlefields
were the first to be buried. The army sextons took some of the Mansfield
casualties in that city's cemetery. On the crest of the hill were
buried Genl. Alfred Mouton, Col. Leopold L. Armant, Maj. Mercer Canfield,
Capt. Arthur H. Martin, and Adam Beatty, volunteer aide to Col. Henry Gray.
By April 14 the "gentle
ladies of the village" had covered these graves with flowers and bouquets. Other Confederate casualties of the fight at Mansfield were buried near where they fell. A member of Terrell's Brigade saw them "in trenches with their hats and clothes on" although H. C. Medford had also seen "hundreds of negroes and straggling soldiers ... plundering the battle field--robbing the pockets of the dead and stripping them of their best clothing." Lafayette Price said "they just dig a big hole and put 'em in and threw dirt on 'em. I went back after two or three days, and the bodies done swell and crack the ground." Richard and Bob Wilson, the boys who had helped take water to the wounded after the battle of Pleasant Hill, watched the next day as the
ground was opened up with turning plows, and the dead of both armies were laid head to foot all the way around the south side of the Wilson place, and the whole hillside was "wrapped up with soldiers and the unburied dead." When the earth began to warm later in the season, huge cracks appeared in the ground. It swelled up in ridges, like a big mole run, and the entire
hillside turned green with flies.
By Sunday, April 10, H. C. Medford reported that all of the Confederate dead from Mansfield had been buried, but on Tuesday near Pleasant Hill he still saw bodies including "a great quanty [sic] of dead men piled up in the head of a deep hollow and brush only thrown over them. Whatever officer is in charge of this ought to be cashiered." Many of the Pleasant Hill Confederate dead found unmarked places on the edge of that town's cemetery as well as at the Old Campground cemetery nearby. Some bodies were sent home, wherever that was.40
Of the four hundred wounded federals left in Pleasant Hill, over half died, and they were buried in a makeshift graveyard behind Pearce-Payne College, either individually or in pits. The plots were "rudely marked, with name and regiment of the deceased." Five years later, after the war had ended, the War Department visited Pleasant Hill to disinter the bodies and take them to the national cemetery at Pineville, Louisiana, opposite Alexandria. By then, only seventy could be recovered, and none could be identified. Preliminary research indicates that those who survived the makeshift hospitals of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill were exchanged directly during the summer, without joining their captured comrades at Camp Ford near Tyler, Texas.41
Solon Benson, who lost his arm at Pleasant Hill, returned to Louisiana sometime before his 1906 article in the Annals of Iowa appeared. He reported the relocation of the town of Pleasant Hill and the shifting of fields, forests, streets, and buildings. Despite these changes the community remained "rich in treasured memories of 1864." He also visited Mansfield, where he noted Memorial Day was still celebrated every year on the anniversary of the battle of Mansfield, April 8th, and where "the event is emphasized by the long rows of buried dead from the battle-field, which their local cemetery contains."42
[See also: "Civilian/Forage
Food Availability, Western Louisiana, Early April 1864",
another article by Ms. Betts.]
1 Harris H. Beecher, Record of the 114th Regiment, N.Y.S.V. Where It Went, What It Saw, and What It Did (Norwich, NY: J. F. Hubbard, Jr., 1866), 306 (first and second quotations); Orton S. Clark, The One Hundred and Sixteenth Regiment of New York State Volunteers (Buffalo: Matthews & Warren, 1868), 151 (third quotation); John Mead Gould, History of the First--Tenth--Twenty-ninth Maine Regiment (Portland: S. Berry, 1871), 410; Thomas B. Marshall, History of the Eighty-Third Ohio Volunteer Infantry, the Greyhound Regiment (Cincinnati: The Eighty-Third Ohio Volunteer Infantry Association, 1912), 125; John M. Stanyan, A History of the Eighth Regiment of the New Hampshire Volunteers (Concord: I. C. Evans, 1892), 383; Natchitoches Union, April 1, 2, 4, 1864.
2 Gould, 410 (first and second quotations); Florison
D. Pitts, "The Civil War Diary of Florison D. Pitts" ed. Leo M. Kaiser
Mid-America 40 (January, 1958): 56; Alfred A. Rigby, Union Soldier's
Diary (N.p.: Tortoise Press, n.d.), unpaged--entries for April 2-3;
Marshall, 124 (third quotation); Beecher, 304.
3 Gould, 411; Marshall, 125; Beecher, 307 (first
and third quotations); John Scott, comp., Story of the Thirty Second
Iowa Infantry Volunteers (Nevada, Iowa: by the author, 1896), 135
(second quotation); J. T. Woods, Services of the Ninety-Sixth Ohio Volunteers
(Toledo: Blade Printing and Paper Co.), 1874, 53 (fourth quotation);
Frank M. Flinn,
Campaigning with Banks in Louisiana, '63 and '64, and with Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley in '64 and '65 (Lynn, Mass.: Thos. P. Nichols, 1887), 99 (fifth and sixth quotations), 98 (eighth quotation); Beecher, 307 (seventh and tenth quotations); Elias P. Pellet, History of the 114th Regiment, New York State Volunteers (Norwich, NY: Telegraph & Chronicle Power
Press Print, 1866), 193; Scott, 135; Clark, 152 (eleventh quotation).
4 H. C. Medford, "The Diary of H. C. Medford,
Confederate Soldier, 1864," ed. by Rebecca W. Smith and Marion Mullins
Southwestern Historical Quarterly 34 (Oct. 1930): 224; Scott, 135,
map at end of volume; S. F. Benson, "The Battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana"
Annals of Iowa 7 (October 1906): 490;
5 Henry H. Childers, "Reminiscences of the Battle of Pleasant Hill" Annals of Iowa 7 (October 1906): 516; Benson, map after page 490; Beecher, 308; J. P. Blessington, The Campaigns of Walker's Texas Division (New York: Lange, Little & Co., 1875): 194; Scott, map; Flinn, 99 (first quotation); Scott, 201 (second quotation); Amos J. Barron, A History of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana ... (N. p.: n.p.), 1969, 3; Pellet, 193-4 (third quotation).
6 Benson, 500; Childers, 514-5; DeSoto Parish History: Sesquicentennial Edition, 1843-1993 (Mansfield, La.: DeSoto Historical and Genealogical Society, 1995), 104.
7 Benson, 502; DeSoto Parish History, 105; Scott, 152; Childers, 516; William H. Heath, "Battle of Pleasant Hill, Louisiana" Annals of Iowa 7 (October 1906): 517.
8 Childers, 506; Blessington, 178, 179 (quotation), 180; Barron, 3.
9 Childers, 506 (quotation); DeSoto Parish History, 104.
10 Lillie Dandridge Sleet Stinson, "Reminiscences of the Battle of Pleasant Hill," typescript. Mansfield State Commemorative Area, Mansfield, La.
11 Ben Van Dyke, "Ben Van Dyke's Escape from the Hospital at Pleasant Hill Louisiana," revised by S. F. Benson Annals of Iowa 7 (October 1906): 523.
12 Barron, 3 (both quotations).
13 Harding (Miss Sidney) Diaries, 1863-1864, 1865, Manuscript Group #721, Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, Hill Memorial Library, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, La. in Records of Ante-Bellum Southern Plantations from the Revolution Through the Civil War, Series I, Selections from the Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collection, Louisiana State University Libraries, Part I, Louisiana Sugar Plantations. (Frederick, Md.: University Publications of America, 1988), typescript, 10, 11 (first quotation), 12 (second quotation), 13-14.
14 "Three Women of DeSoto Parish, Who Helped the Cause of the Confederacy, and the Battle of Mansfield, April 8th, 1864," in DeSoto Plume (Mansfield, La.: DeSoto Historical Society, 1980), 137; DeSoto Parish History, 326, 141; "The Last of the Mohicans" in DeSoto Plume (Mansfield, La.: DeSoto Historical Society, 1980), 106,107 (quotation).
15 "The Last of the Mohicans," 106.
16 Blessington, 182-3; T. R. Bonner, "Sketches of the Campaign of 1864" Land We Love 5 (Oct. 1868): 462 (quotation).
17 Harding, 14 (quotation).
18 "The Last of the Mohicans," 107 (quotation); "Mansfield 'Battle Plan," Typescript. Mansfield State Commemorative Area, Mansfield, La.
19 B. A. Botkin, ed. Lay My Burden Down: A Folk History of Slavery (Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1945), 196; DeSoto Parish History, 150-1, 167, 240.
20 (p.171) "Walter Bailey Townsend" by Nannie Townsend Walters, Father Wore Gray ed. Lela Whitton Hegarty (San Antonio: Naylor, 1963), 149, 168 (first quotation), 171 (second quotation).
21 Blessington, 191; "The Last of the Mohicans," 107 (first, second and third quotations); DeSoto Parish History, 226; "Three Women of DeSoto Parish," 137 (fourth quotation).
22 "Keatchie College Organized" in DeSoto Plume
(Mansfield, La.: DeSoto Parish Historical Society, 1980), 176; Benson,
501; W. H. Lewis, "Mansfield's Newspaper Story" in DeSoto Plume (Mansfield,
La.: DeSoto Historical Society, 1980), 158; DeSoto Parish History,
137, 232, 242, 367; William Riley Brooksher, War Along the Bayous:
Red River Campaign in Louisiana (Washington: Brassey's, 1998), 140 (first, second, and third quotations).
23 Louis Hall, "The Battle of Mansfield:
The Experience of a Veteran," Typescript. Mansfield Public Library,
Mansfield, La. (first and second quotations); Felix Pierre Poche, "Excerpt
from Poche Diary" in DeSoto Plume (Mansfield, La.: DeSoto
Historical Society, n.d.), 2: 1.
24 Harding, 16-17 (first quotation), 17 (second quotation), 18, 19 (third quotation).
25 Lewis, 158 (quotation); Benson, 501, John B. Reid, The Civil War Letters of John B. Reid (Greenville, Ill.: Bond County Genealogical Society, 1991), 87.
26 Reid, 89 (quotation); Mrs. Mary Porter Goss, "Information on Big Battle Recalled," Typescript. Mansfield State Commemorative Area, Mansfield, La.
27 Clarence Poe, ed. True Tales of the South at War: How Soldiers Fought and Families Lived, 1861-1865 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1961), 90-92 (all quotations).
28 Barron, 3-4 (first quotation); Stinson, "Reminiscences of the Battle of Pleasant Hill," (second and third quotations); Benson, 495, 502 (fourth quotation).
29 Childers, 507-8.
30 Liz Chrysler, "The Battle of Pleasant Hill--From a Boy's Viewpoint" Mansfield Enterprise, May 17, 1977, 15.
31 Benson, 502.
32 Medford, 220-1; Mamie Yeary, Reminiscences of the Boys in Gray, 1861-1865 (Dayton, Ohio: Morningside House, 1986), 239, 406, 458; Scott, 197 (quotation).
33 Blessington, 201 (first quotation); Botkin, 197 (second quotation); Yeary, 406 (third quotation).
34 Benson, 499, 500 (quotation); Medford, 224; Grisamore, 151.
35 Childers, 507-8 (first quotation); Benson, 502 (second quotation).
36 Stinson (first quotation); "Battle of Mansfield Was Horror to Soldier from Area." DeSoto Plume (Mansfield, La.: DeSoto Historical Society, 1980), 55 (second quotation).
37 Childers, 514 (first quotation); Stinson; Benson, 499-500; Ben Van Dyke, "Ben Van Dyke's Escape from the Hospital at Pleasant Hill, Louisiana." Revised by S. F. Benson. Annals of Iowa 7 (Oct. 1906): 524 (second quotation); Medford, 224-5.
38 Stinson; Henry A. Shorey, The Story of the Maine Fifteenth... (Bridgton, Maine: Press of the Bridgton News, 1890), 105; Benson, 501; Van Dyke, 524.
39 Benson, 501 (first and third quotation), 502 (fourth quotation); Scott, 152 (second quotation); Barron, 4; Stinson.
40 Silas T. Grisamore, The Civil War Reminiscences of Major Silas T. Grisamore, C.S.A. Edited by Arthur W. Bergeron, Jr. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1993), 151 (first quotation); Yeary, 28 (second quotation); 3Medford, 220 (third quotation), 223, 224 (sixth quotation); Botkin, 197 (fourth quotation); Liz Chrysler, "The Battle of Pleasant Hill--From a Boy's Viewpoint." Mansfield Enterprise, May 17, 1977 (fifth quotation); Barron, 4.
41 Shorey, 107 (quotation); Benson, 503; Barron, 4.
42 Benson, 504.
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