General Albert Lee's Liberty Raid
Article originally authored by Edwin C. Bearss
(The original of this article may be found at this link)
This was originally submitted to the ACHGS by member John Westbrook in postings to the ACHGS Forum. To facilitate reading, the multipart postings have been combined into one article and moved here by the site manager.
Baton Rouge, Louisiana, November 12, 1864 - Planning a Raid
Sometime during the second week of November 1864, an important meeting took place in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Among the participants were two Union brigadier generals, William P. Benton and Albert L. Lee. The first commanded the District of Baton Rouge and Port Hudson, the second was in charge of all Union cavalry stationed in the vast Department of the Gulf.1 Between them, the generals hatched an ambitious plan aimed at destruction of the Confederate forces operating the approaches to Baton Rouge. The Rebel troops in this area were led by Brigadier General George B. Hodge.2
When finalized the plan worked out by Benton and Lee called for organization of a small combat patrol (one officer and 16 enlisted men). Dressed in the promiscuous garb effected by the greyclads, the Federals were to leave Baton Rouge at daybreak on November 12. A 250-man escort would ride with the patrol as far as Davidson's Ford on the Amite. As soon as the patrol had crossed the river, the escort would return to the Baton Rouge perimeter.
Traveling by night and utilizing little-frequented byways, the raiders were to strike for Liberty, Mississippi, where General Hodge had his headquarters. Liberty would be entered under the cover of darkness on the 14th. The raiders would try to capture the general. If successful, they were to return down the east bank of the Amite. At 9 a. m. on the following morning, the patrol was to rendezvous with a column of blueclad troopers, 20 miles south of Liberty.
Most of the cavalrymen, scheduled to be waiting for the raiders, were slated to leave Baton Rouge on the 14th. At Davidson's Ford, they were to be joined by 150 bluecoats. This second column would come from Point Houmas, opposite Donaldsonville. Coincidentally, another Union mounted striking force, 500 strong, would be transferred from Baton Rouge to Port Hudson. The officers concerned were to try to keep news of this movement from reaching the Confederates. Under cover of darkness on the 14th, this column would ride out of the Port Hudson perimeter, marching northward through Jackson (Louisiana). At daybreak, the Yankees were to attack Camp Beauregard, a small cantonment occupied by one of Hodge's detachments, near Clinton.
Taking advantage of the confusion resulting from the capture of Hodge and the attack on Camp Beauregard, the two bluecoated columns would converge on Liberty. After the town had been occupied, the Federals would raid the New Orleans, Jackson & Great Northern Railroad.3
Since this ambitious plan would tie down all Union cavalry based in that part of Louisiana east of the Mississippi River for at least a week, Benton thought it best to secure the approval of the Department Commander, Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut. On November 11, details of the projected raid were telegraphed to General Hurlbut's New Orleans headquarters.4 The next day, Benton and Lee received the welcomed news that their plan for destroying Hodge's command had been approved.5
The Federals Take the Field
Because of the delay involved in securing Hurlbut's approval, Benton and Lee had to change their timetable. As it was now the 12th, it would be impossible for the combat patrol to leave Baton Rouge as scheduled. Telegrams were sent to the various officers involved in the undertaking, notifying them that there would be a slight delay.
It was noon on November 12, seven hours later than intended, before the butternut-clad raiders rode out of Baton Rouge. Accompanied by their escort, they took the road for Davidson's Ford. While en route to the Amite, the raiders reflected on the desperate nature of their venture. They knew that if they were captured in Confederate uniforms, it would be the same as placing a noose around their necks. By the time the column had reached the ford, the lieutenant and nine of the men had decided to withdraw from the patrol. The nine, who were determined to press on, crossed the Amite and disappeared into the woods on the opposite side. After waiting a few minutes, the escort, accompanied by the ten men who had "bugged out," returned to Baton Rouge.6
Despite the disappointment caused by the news that the party sent to capture General Hodge had been cut in half, Generals Benton and Lee saw that the other units carried out their assignments. On the evening of the 14th, a column of 500 men led by Colonel John G. Fonda rode out of Baton Rouge and marched to Port Hudson. There, the bluecoats rested until the next evening. They then formed and mustered. After Colonel Fonda had inspected his command, the troopers swung into their saddles. Within a few minutes, the bluecoated horsemen had passed beyond the outposts covering the approaches to this former Confederate stronghold. The night of November 15 was dark, and the column moved slowly. The men were warned not to talk.
One or two brief stops were made at settlements where the guides told Colonel Fonda he might find Rebels. On one of these occasions, the Federals caught a Confederate officer in bed. A 13-mile ride brought Fonda's column to Jackson. The Federals passed through the sleeping town without causing any disturbance. Fonda now increased the pace as the troopers drove on through the darkness toward Camp Beauregard, 15 miles to the east. As the miles slipped by, many of the horse soldiers dozed in their saddles.7
On the afternoon of November 15, six hours before Fonda departed from Port Hudson, Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin F. Marsh left Baton Rouge at the head of 500 hard-riding horsemen. Traveling via the Greensburg road, Marsh's column crossed the Amite at Davidson's Ford. It was dark before the last of the Yanks reached the east bank. As soon as he had forded the river, Marsh turned his men into the Liberty road.8
Three hours after Marsh's bluecoats had taken the field, General Lee rode out of the Baton Rouge perimeter at the head of Colonel Abraham Bassford's Brigade. Two guns manned by the 1st Battery, Wisconsin Light Artillery, rumbled along behind the column. Lee's command took the Clinton plank road.9
General Hodge has Problems
For several weeks previous to the raid, General Hodge had been working hard to suppress a highly profitable but illegal cotton trade between the, planters of the district and the Federals. The general's vigor had earned him "a host of bitter enemies." Several of Hodge's friends warned him that this hatred was so bitter, it might lead to his betrayal. Hodge was distressed to learn that one of his officers was in contact with the Yankees. This man was supposed to have told the bluecoats that it would be possible for them to slip a patrol through the Rebel lines and capture Hodge.
To guard against such a daring coup, Hodge deployed his troops with care. Colonel Frank Powers' Mississippi and Louisiana Cavalry Regiment was stationed at Woodville, Mississippi. To guard against the Federals sending a raiding column out from Natchez, Powers picketed the Homochitto fords. The 1st and 3d Louisiana Cavalry, along with Ogden's Louisiana Cavalry Battalion, were based at Camp Beauregard. Colonel John S. Scott, the officer in charge, was directed to establish a strong line of outposts covering the roads leading to Bayou Sara and Baton Rouge. Colonel Daniel Gober's 16th Louisiana Mounted Infantry was camped on the east bank of the Amite near Williams' bridge. Vedettes from Gober's unit pushed across the river and patrolled the Baton Rouge road.10
If the Federals struck toward Clinton, Hodge was satisfied that the Confederate units stationed at Williams' bridge and Woodville ought to reach the point of danger in a maximum of eight hours.11
On October 27, General Hodge detached the company commanded by Captain John C. McKowen from Gober's regiment. McKowen and his troopers were to watch the approaches to the Baton Rouge perimeter.12 Three days later, Hodge received instructions from Major General Franklin Gardner (the departmental commander) directing him to send his crack combat unit—the 1st Louisiana Cavalry—to central Mississippi. Before leaving for Mississippi, Regimental Commander Scott prevailed upon Hodge to grant his men short furloughs to visit their homes.
Thus, at a critical period, Hodge's effective force was slashed. Following the transfer of the 1st Louisiana, Lieutenant Colonel Frederick N. Ogden, as senior officer present, took charge at Camp Beauregard.13 On October 31, shortly after Ogden had taken command of the advance camp, General Hodge sent him an important dispatch. Because the Federals had stepped up their scouting and patrolling, Ogden was warned to be on the lookout for trouble.14 Messages received from Captain McKowen, whose scouts were watching the roads leading into Baton Rouge, were couched in a similar tenor.
On November 3, General Hodge left his Liberty headquarters to tour his district. Before doing so, he reiterated his instructions for Ogden to be on the alert.15
The Yanks Surprise the Liberty Confederates
The afternoon of the 15th found Hodge back in Liberty. During his absence, the general had warned his subordinates that the Federals were up to no good. Soon after the general returned to his Headquarters, a picket posted on a road, several miles south of Liberty, challenged nine suspicious looking characters clad in Confederate uniforms. When these men were unable to give the countersign, the sentry called for the sergeant-of-the-guard. Realizing they had been foiled in their attempt to slip through the Rebel lines and capture General Hodge, the nine butternut scouts opened fire. They then beat a hasty retreat, followed by a score of yelling greyclads. In the running gun battle the Yanks unhorsed three of their pursuers before making their getaway. Traveling along little frequented byways, the Federals fled across the Amite. Shortly after fording the river, the raiders were sighted by a Rebel patrol. The Confederates gave chase. It was "root hog or die," as the Yankees scattered. Five of them succeeded in escaping. Reaching Baton Rouge on the 17th, they reported to General Benton that they had been intercepted and had failed to capture General Hodge.16
About the time that the scouts were being unmasked, Colonel Scott and his staff left Woodville en route to Camp Beauregard. Scott wanted to see if his rear echelon had finished packing the regiment's gear, preparatory to the movement into central Mississippi. At midnight, as the colonel approached Dubois Cross-Road, ten miles north of Clinton, he received startling information. Several villagers told Scott that a column of bluecoats, 300 to 400 strong, had recently passed through Jackson. Putting their spurs to their horse's, Scott's party galloped into Clinton. There, they warned Colonel Ogden to momentarily expect a visit from the blueclads. As soon as Ogden had been alerted, Scott hastened to the camp occupied by his rear echelon, three miles northeast of town.
Evidently, Colonel Ogden did not put much faith in Scott's warning. When Fonda's troopers swept into Clinton at 3 a. m., they surprised the rebels. The only serious trouble the Federals encountered was when several of the lead riders' horses fell in crossing a bridge from which several planks had been removed. Troopers from the 11th New York surrounded the encampment of the 3d Louisiana, before Rebel sentries could sound the alarm. Little resistance was encountered. Most of the Louisianians leaped out of their bunks and fled for the woods clad in little beyond their red underwear.
Fonda's troopers captured a number of prisoners at this camp. In the tents and huts candles had been lighted and left burning. Rifles, carbines, swords, sabers, and pistols were found in abundance, and were gathered together and cast into fires. The quartermaster and commissary stores were destroyed, and the prisoners were placed in wagons and taken with the Federals when the march resumed.
Colonel Scott, upon hearing the sound of heavy firing from Clinton, knew that his 60 men would be unable to turn the tide. Nevertheless, Scott determined to save his train. As soon as the teams were hitched to the wagons, Scott started his small force for McAdams' bridge which spanned the Amite, ten miles east of Clinton. After reaching the bridge, Scott sent a scout to observe the Federals' movements.17
In the days immediately before Marsh's bluecoats reached Davidson's Ford, there had been frequent brushes between Federal and Confederate outposts along the Amite. Shortly after dark on the 12th, there had been an alarm when a greyclad patrol narrowly missed bagging the butternut scouts as they slipped across the river. The following night, a Union patrol forded the river at Stony Point. At daybreak, these Yanks tried to surprise and capture the Rebel pickets guarding the road leading to Colonel Gober's encampment. The alarm was sounded, and the bluecoats, foiled in their attempt to surprise the Louisianians' encampment, retired across the Amite. Alarmed by these actions, Gober, on the 14th, issued instructions to his subordinates. They were to exercise utmost vigilance. Lieutenant N. J. Naul, the officer in command of the pickets stationed west of the Amite, was directed to destroy the Sandy Creek bridge. In case of a Union advance, Naul was to defend his position to the bitter end.
In spite of Gober's warnings, Marsh's advance guard surprised and scattered Naul's men before they could destroy the Sandy Creek bridge. This attack occurred at 9 p. m. on the 15th. Pressing rapidly on, the Federals routed a small Confederate patrol and crossed the Amite at Davidson's Ford.
It was after midnight before news of the Federals' success reached Gober's Williams' bridge headquarters. Gober, satisfied that the Federals' object was to surprise and shoot up his camp, determined to prepare an ambush. If all went according to plan, Gober might turn the tables on the Yankees. Captain T. W. Brown formed his 40 men in the underbrush on either side of the road leading to the Confederates' encampment. The remainder of the regiment dismounted and deployed in line of battle. Fires were kindled 300 yards in advance of this line. This stratagem was designed to deceive the Northerners as to the location of Gober's camp.
Until daybreak, the Rebels lay in wait for Marsh's troopers. A heavy rain made the vigil even more trying. About 5 a. m., just as the downpour was ceasing, Gober received bad news. Several of his scouts came in and reported that the Federals had halted and were preparing breakfast. Furthermore, the scouts continued, the Yankees had from 700 to 800 men, supported by two pieces of artillery. Gober decided it would be unwise to engage such a powerful column. Consequently, he determined to cross to the west side of the Amite in hopes of drawing reinforcements from Colonel Ogden's command at Clinton.
About 7:30 a. m., after Gober's troopers had crossed the river and taken position at Price's blacksmith shop, a courier arrived from Clinton. This man told Gober that the Yanks had surprised and routed Colonel Ogden's force. It now dawned on Gober that his regiment was practically isolated. Gober, hoping that he might yet have time to rendezvous with another of Hodge's units, ordered his troopers to remount. Moving out, Gober's column headed for Liberty, taking the road leading up the west side of the Amite.18
General Lee's column had been sighted by McKowen's scouts almost as soon as it left the Baton Rouge perimeter. McKowen rushed a courier to alert Colonel Ogden. Realizing that he would be courting disaster if his small command tried to stop Lee's horse soldiers, McKowen withdrew behind the Comite. McKowen's warning was in vain, because Ogden chose to ignore it.
The recall of McKowen's scouts to the east side of the Comite, left Lee's powerful column unopposed as it thundered up the plank road. Lee's troopers entered Clinton to find that Fonda's men had arrived ahead of them. At this very moment, Fonda's troopers were busy destroying the public property captured at nearby Camp Beauregard. About noon, after the two commands had rested, the march was resumed. The Federals camped on the night of the 16th on Big Beaver Creek, 13 miles southwest of Liberty.19
It was mid-afternoon when news of the bluecoats' departure from Clinton reached Colonel Scott at McAdams' bridge. Informed by his scout that Lee had about 1,200 men, Scott knew it would be suicidal for his small force to oppose the Union advance. While awaiting reinforcements, Scott sought to save his wagon train. Crossing to the east side of the Amite, Scott's command took the road to Osyka. Nightfall on the 16th found Scott's men camped, 16 miles southeast of Liberty.
As Colonel Gober rode northward up the west bank of the Amite, he picked up additional information from the planters. This news enabled him to scale down the strength of the Union column that had forced its way across the Amite at Davidson's Ford. Gober accordingly sent a courier racing ahead to warn General Hodge that between 300 and 400 Yankees were heading for Liberty. The messenger was compelled to follow a circuitous route to avoid the two Union columns (Lee's and Marsh's). He found it impossible to reach Liberty. Instead, he blundered into Scott's encampment. From this man, Scott received his first tiding that a second Union column (Marsh's) was at large in the district.20 Colonel Scott unknowingly had a narrow escape on the afternoon of November 16. As soon as Marsh's troopers had rested and ate, they struck northward. Riding parallel to, but on the opposite side of the Amite from Gober's butternuts, Marsh's Federals gained the Greensburg-Liberty road. Marsh's column thus passed within a few miles of Scott's camp. Nightfall on the 16th saw Marsh's bluecoats rapidly closing in on Liberty from the south. So far, not an inkling of their presence had reached General Hodge. Since leaving Baton Rouge, 30 hours before, Marsh's horsemen had ridden 80 miles.
A short distance outside Liberty, Marsh's vanguard surprised and captured a Confederate outpost manned by a lieutenant and ten men from Lay's Mississippi Cavalry Battalion. At 8 p. m., Marsh gave the signal. Surging forward in column by platoons, the Federal horsemen thundered into Liberty. The Confederates were taken by surprise and 60 of them captured. Among the prisoners were four members of Hodge's staff. Amid the confusion, the general barely escaped, fleeing on foot into the darkness. While the Unionists spent the night in Liberty celebrating their easy victory, General Hodge struck out for Osyka. It was 24 long, hard miles, but the general reached his destination by daybreak.21
Colonel Fonda Visits Brookhaven
"On the morning of the 17th, Lee's cavalrymen ate a hurried breakfast and again swung into their saddles. At Liberty, they rendezvoused with Marsh's command. Until mid-afternoon, the troopers were allowed to swap yarns, square away their gear, and exchange congratulations. Coincidentally, the ranking officers met with General Lee to map new blows against Hodge's disorganized command. Before the meeting broke up, Lee explained his next move. Colonel Fonda and 500 men would raid Brookhaven; a second force (250-strong) led by Colonel Bassford would visit Summit. The remainder of the command would remain at Liberty pending the raiders' return.22
Sharply and smartly at 5 p. m., the bugles sounded. The horses of the men in Colonels Fonda's and Bassford's commands were carefully examined. Those that appeared in no condition to undergo a long, hard march were winnowed out.
About dark, the troopers again fell into line, and were told they were going on a difficult and dangerous mission. All men whose horses were in poor condition were told to fall out. No one left the ranks. Many whose horses had been rejected asked permission to go. While admiring the men's spirit, Fonda and Bassford were forced to say no.
The troopers selected to participate in the strikes against Brookhaven and Summit rode out of Liberty in columns of fours. They were cheered on their way by the good natured guying of their comrades. As soon as the raiders had cleared the area, the two columns parted-Fonda's heading for Brookhaven and Bassford's for summit.
Many years later, the historian of the 11th New York vividly recalled the night march:
The night was cloudy and intensely dark and for several miles the column proceeded at a walk; then the command, "trot" and "gallop," were given and for a dozen miles or more we proceeded at a rapid pace. Some of the men had great difficulty in keeping up with the column, but with spur and voice they urged on their weary horses until they fell from exhaustion and the men had to make their way back as best they could. Fortunately they all returned to Liberty in safety.
The column halted a few minutes to let the horses rest and to close up the column, and again proceeded at a gallop. I was riding around a hill on the left of a set of fours, when by some accident my horse fell over the bank and rolled several feet down a hill. I was stunned for a moment and was lying on the ground when my horse regained his footing and stood waiting for me. John Briggs [of Company F], who saw me go over the bank, fell out to help me, and while I was lying on the ground the rear guard went thundering by. Briggs helped me to my feet and I found I was not badly hurt and that my horse was uninjured; but the saddle had slipped over the horse's side and some straps were broken and by the time we had fixed the equipment and regained the road the column was far away.
We followed at a rapid gait until we didn't know which way to go; in the intense darkness we could not tell which road to take. We dismounted and felt along the road for fresh tracks; we lit matches and found evidence of recent travel on the road to the right; then we hurriedly mounted and followed our comrades and overtook them where the column had stopped to rest and secure some prisoners that had been picked up along the road.
The march was then resumed; the advance guard was said to have the rebel countersign; be that as it may, they captured several pickets and reserve posts without firing a shot, and we had quite a number of prisoners on our hands. Sgt. Melvin Hartwell, of Co. B, who commanded the rear guard reported to Fonda that many men were unable to keep up with the column and that the rear guard was compelled to keep a long way behind so as not to leave these men.
The colonel told Hartwell to take the men with "played out" horses and the prisoners and a few men with good horses and make his way back to Liberty, which he did after numerous adventures that ended by charging through the rebel cavalry near Liberty, with his prisoners in a lopsided wagon which he had captured, arriving in town in time to take part in the engagement with the other men of the regiment who had been left behind.
When our column got near Brookhaven, On the morning of the 18th, we found an abandoned caisson on the road and knew there must be artillery near.23
As he prepared to attack the Brookhaven Confederates, Colonel Fonda expressed himself as well satisfied with the way his men had held up on the march. Since leaving Liberty, they had covered 46 miles. Fonda, in hopes of surprising the garrison, decided to strike immediately. As soon as the buglers sounded the charge, the bluecoats thundered forward in column by fours. Taken by surprise, the small detachment from Lay's Mississippi Cavalry Battalion that constituted the Brookhaven garrison took to its heels. Not all the Confederates fled, however. Cannoneers manning a section of rifles (one 3-inch Rodman and a 3-inch Sawyer) bravely sought to get there pieces in to action. Seeing what the artillerists were up to, the boys in blue concentrated their fire upon them. Before the butternuts got off a single round, a number of them were cut down by the Yankees' point-blank fire. The remainder faced with annihilation surrendered. Following the capitulation of the cannoneers, organized resistance in Brookhaven all but ceased.
A Confederate major, however, defied the Yankees and set fire to the arsenal. When the bluecoats broke down the door, he fought on single-handed. A blow from Sergeant David Croonrod's saber laid the Rebel low and he was disarmed.
Besides the section of artillery, with its well stocked caissons, the Federals bagged about 50 Rebel prisoners. While the provost marshal questioned the captives, Fonda sent teams to inventory and mark for destruction the captured public property. The work of destroying the railroad, a locomotive, cars, bridges, and water tanks commenced and was continued throughout the day. Hungry troopers broke into stores helping themselves to anything that suited their fancy and throwing the other goods into the streets. There, they were destroyed or carried off by the black population. A thousand pounds of tobacco in boxes and in chests was dumped into the streets. Still the men had more than they could use or carry. Large quantities of sugar, bacon, and other commissary stores found in the warehouses were destroyed.
In the town there were several factories that made cotton and woolen goods, and boots and shoes for the Confederate army. These, along with a large building filled with ammunition, were burned. By nightfall on the 18th, the officers in charge of the demolition teams reported their work completed.24
During the afternoon it started to drizzle. By the time the Federals left Brookhaven with their prisoners and captured guns, a cold rain was beating down. According to one of the participants:
The men were nigh worn out from the long night ride and the continuous work of the day. They had had no rest for 36 hours and no food but hardtack. The storm increased in violence, the roads became muddy and it was with great difficulty that the captured cannon could be dragged along. Late in the night the weary column could go no further and halted to rest. The men were told to stand "to horse," and remained in this position for awhile, but as there seemed to be no prospect of an advance the men went to the side of the road and sat down to rest. I remembered standing by my horse until nearly exhausted, then slipping my arm through the reins I sat down on a log by the roadside and fell asleep in the pitiless storm. I was rudely awakened by some one, heard the report of musketry and was told the rebels were firing into us; but there wasn't so much as a lighted pipe in our command, and they couldn't see where to shoot and the firing soon ceased. I groped my way into a barnyard and found a bundle of cornstalks, which I gave my horse to eat, and then went into a little log shed where some others had preceded me and waited until daylight, when the weary column again moved on.25
When they prepared to remount, the Federals discovered that they had lost one of their prisoners, the Confederate major. Unnoticed by his guards, the major had slipped away. After taking Sergeant Thurman R. Ellis' horse, he made for the Brookhaven road. Challenged by the men manning the picket, the major told them he was a Union officer, sent to investigate some strange noises. Without bothering to check, the sentries let him pass, and that was the last the Yankees saw of the major.
Throughout the 19th, Fonda's column drove ahead. The rain continued to beat down; the roads were turned into ribbons of mud. To make matters worse, the cannon slowed the Federals. On several occasions, the bluecoats were fired on by Rebel partisans. Evidently, the Confederates were poor shots, because they missed their marks. It was starting to get dark by the time Fonda's command reentered Liberty.26
Bassford's raiders had entered Summit about the same hour as Fonda's swept into Brookhaven. Encountering no organized opposition, the bluecoats quickly occupied the town. After rounding up about 20 Confederate stragglers and destroying several thousand dollars worth of commissary stores, Bassford's detachment turned around. Nightfall on the 18th found Bassford's column back at Liberty.27
Outnumbered Rebels Seek to Recover Liberty
By daybreak on November 17, 1864, Colonel Ogden had rounded up between 60 and 70 of his men. Accompanied by them, Ogden reported to Colonel Scott. In the meantime, the size of Scott's striking force had been increased by the arrival of Gober's regiment. After crossing the Amite at McAdams' bridge on the previous afternoon, Gober's troopers had joined Scott.
Gober and Ogden urged Scott to take command. At first, Scott refused, pending receipt of orders from General Hodge. Subsequently, reports filtered into camp telling of the Union attack on Liberty. Scott now had a change of heart. In view of the critical state of affairs, Scott took charge.
Leaving the wagon train protected by a small detachment, Scott rode off in search of the foe. Under the cover of darkness, the butternuts crossed to the west side of the Amite. Patrols then felt their way up the Liberty road.28
It was 4 a. m. on the 17th, before Colonel Powers learned that Federals in force had invaded the district. This is a good example of the confusion caused by Lee's attack, and the deplorable liaison existing between the units belonging to Hodge's command. When word of the Yankee incursion finally reached Powers, he was ordered to proceed to Liberty. It took Powers' troopers ten hours to march from Woodville to a point six miles west of Liberty. Here, the colonel was flagged by several scouts. They excitedly told Powers not to go any farther, because the Yankees had been in Liberty since the previous evening.
Mistakenly believing that General Hodge had retired and established a roadblock on the Gallatin road, Powers determined to join his superior. Gaining the Gallatin road at a point 12 miles north of Liberty, the colonel received more bad news. From several planters, he learned that Hodge had been surprised. A large part of the general's command was said to have been capture and the remainder scattered.
While Powers reflected on what to do next, he learned from his scouts that a brigade of Federal cavalry (Fonda's) was en route to Brookhaven. A second column (Bassford's) was reportedly striking toward Summit. Concluding that the two raiding parties would probably rendezvous at Summit, before returning to Liberty, Powers determined to beat them to the punch. He would attack before they joined forces.
Powers' troopers accordingly set off at rapid gait for Summit. Indeed, the march was so rapid that the teams pulling the section of 12-pounder Napoleons broke down; the guns had to be left behind. At 2 p. m. on the 18th, three hours after Bassford's bluecoats had evacuated Summit, Powers' exhausted Confederates straggled intotown.29
Scott had timed his march so that his column reached the Liberty area shortly after daybreak on the 18th. At this hour, the bluecoats could be expected to be preparing breakfast. Although Scott did not know it, Lee's strength had been slashed by the departure of Fonda's and Bassford's raiders.
Two miles south of Liberty, the Rebels' advance guard encountered and drove in the Union pickets. Underestimating the strength of the attacking greyclads, Lee rushed a regiment to bolster his outposts. Before the reinforcements arrival, Scott, in anticipation of such a move by the Federals, dismounted and deployed his command into line of battle—Gober to the right of the road and Ogden to the left. Catching the yankees in a crossfire, the butternuts compelled them to beat a hasty retreat. Encouraged by their success, the Southerners let go a wild cheer and pressed rapidly forward. Upon being notified of this setback, Lee had the "long roll" beaten.
As soon as his officers had mustered and formed their units, Lee had them dismount and deploy their men. Many of the Federals took cover in the buildings that flanked the Clinton road on the southern edge of the town. The artillerists of the 1st Wisconsin Battery unlimbered their two guns. Almost as soon as the trails struck the ground, the cannoneers were blasting advancing Rebels with canister.
Not realizing that they were outnumbered about four to one (1,200 opposed to 300), Scott's Confederates surged out of the woods fronting the Union position. Several abortive attempts were made by the Southerners to fight their way across the 100 yards of open ground that separated them from the houses which sheltered the Yanks. Unable to breast the foe's fire, the Rebels sought cover in the edge of the timber.
For the better part of the next one-half hour, a brisk but harmless skirmish ensued. The men in blue and in grey banged away at one another. Scott now learned from his subordinates that his men were running short of ammunition, and he decided to break off the engagement.
Scott's reckless attack caused the Union leaders to magnify his numbers. Consequently, the Federals made no attempt to harass the greyclads when they broke contact. Falling back four miles to the covered bridge across the Amite, Scott called a halt. Here, the colonel totaled his losses and took stock of the situation. After his officers had checked their rolls and submitted their reports, Scott found that the attack on Liberty had cost him 3 killed and 10 wounded.
In repulsing the butternuts' attack, the Yankees lost a dozen men—all wounded. Beyond sending out a number of reconnaissance patrols, one of which discovered and brought into Liberty one of the 12-pounder Napoleons abandoned by Colonel Powers, General Lee made no effort to pursue.30
About noon, a messenger mounted on a sweat-lathered horse rode into Colonel Scott's encampment on the Amite. He informed Scott that Captain McKowen with 25 men was en route from Clinton to join him. Scott glanced at his maps, and decided that when the Federals commenced their return march to Baton Rouge, they would probably pass through Clinton. A staff officer raced off, with instructions for McKowen to destroy the bridge across Big Beaver Creek. If this were done, Scott reasoned, the Yankees' march would be delayed, while their pioneers rebuilt the bridge. Upon receipt of these orders, McKowen had his men torch the bridge.
After an inspection revealed to Scott that his men, on the average had only three rounds of ammunition, he determined to bypass Liberty to the northwest. He would seek to re-establish contact with General Hodge and the Confederate magazines along the New Orleans, Jackson & Great Northern Railroad. A long, hard ride placed Scott's men in the vicinity of the Gallatin road on the afternoon of the 19th. Here, his scouts spotted Fonda's men as they returned from the Brookhaven raid. Badly outnumbered and confronted by an ammunition shortage, Scott decided against attacking. Instead, he ordered his men to camp for the night.31
Yankee Horsemen Evacuate Liberty
On November 16, the day after the raiders left Baton Rouge, General Benton received a telegram from General Hurlbut. Benton was directed to have Lee return to his base immediately. The Federal leaders had determined to send Lee's division on a dash across south Mississippi, aimed at cutting the Mobile & Ohio Railroad. Before this information could be forwarded to Lee, his troopers had occupied Liberty, and raiding parties had been dispatched to Brookhaven and Summit. Lee was unable to comply with Hurlbut's instructions until Fonda's and Bassford's columns returned from their missions.32
As soon as Fonda's Brookhaven raiders
re-entered Liberty on the evening of the 19th, Lee turned out his troopers.
When the general gave the word, the Federals rode out. The column was slowed by
a large train. Besides a great amount of captured booty, 203 Confederate
prisoners rode in the wagons which rolled along in the middle of the column. A
horde of blacks trailed along behind the main body. A regimental historian
recalled that the blacks were:
. . . slaves of both sexes and all ages from the white haired old "uncles" and "mommies" to the pickaninnies in arms. These black people fleeing from slavery had appropriated the vehicles of their owners and harnessed them to any kind of animal that they could find; there were stately old family coaches, farm wagons, carts, light and heavy carriages, handcarts and wheelbarrows; some drawn by horses, others by mules, donkeys, oxen and even cows; and some were pulled or pushed by men or women. In these vehicles were all kinds of household goods, on top of which were perched colored people of all conditions and all shades of complexion from the ebon- hued, flat-nosed Ethiopian to the Caucasian-featured Octoroon. Men, women and children were mounted on the backs of horses and mules and all rode astride; hundreds trotted along on foot, some with bundles, others carrying nothing for worldly goods hurried along seemingly only anxious to be inside the Union lines and witness the dawn of their "day of jubilee." Behind this heterogeneous mass came a strong rear guard which was taxed to its utmost ability to keep the column closed up. 33
After crossing the west fork of the Amite, six miles southwest of Liberty, Lee's troopers halted for the night. The rain that continued to beat down had turned the road into a quagmire. Lee, fearful that the Confederates would overtake his command, issued orders to destroy the captured wagons. The Rebel prisoners would be mounted on horses when the column resumed the march. Having learned that McKowen's scouts had burned the bridge across Big Beaver Creek, Lee sent Fonda's brigade ahead with instructions to rebuild that vital structure.
The capable Fonda had his men in the saddle
by 1 a. m. By mid-morning on the 20th, a temporary bridge had been thrown
across the creek. Lee with the remainder of his command hit the road at dawn.
In spite of the terrible condition of the road and the harassing activities of
Rebel snipers, the Union column was safely across Big Beaver Creek by noon.
After the last of the bluecoats and blacks had crossed, Lee had the bridge
destroyed. The Federals bivouacked on the evening of November 20 near Jackson.
Since the cold, wet weather continued to plague the column, the captured
Confederate officers were allowed to spend the night in a room in Mrs. G. A.
Scott's house. Before doing so, they gave their paroles orders not to attempt
to escape. In the morning, Lee, to his disgust, learned that four of the
officers had escaped. Leaving Jackson at an early hour on the 21st, the
Unionists resumed their march toward Baton Rouge.34
According to one of the participants:
Throughout the day of the 21st the march was rapidly continued, no event of interest happening. The number of colored people in the column was increased and the men entered the march with song and shout. Every milepost was greeted with yells and cheers; "When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again" was sung with all sorts of variations. "Foottall, say I" and "Saw my leg off" were shouted with loud if not melodious voice, and the Rebel yells and the Yankee cheers were alternatively given. The men were in good spirits, for they had accomplished one of the most successful expeditions of the war, when the numbers engaged, the great loss inflicted upon the Confederates and the slight loss to the Unionists are considered.35
The Federals Return to Baton Rouge
Confederate Colonel Scott had received two reports from his scouts on the night of the 19th, one good and one bad. Besides learning that Federals were evacuating Liberty, he was told that General Hodge's ordnance train had been captured in the surprise attack on the town. He knew that if he waited for Hodge to show up, it would be too late for any pursuit. Scott accordingly determined to give chase.
By daybreak, a grim Confederate force moved
out in pursuit of the Yankees. Scott's troopers rode for Big Beaver Creek.
There, they discovered that the bluecoats had already crossed, destroying the
temporary bridge they had built to replace the one destroyed by McKowen. This
compelled Scott to detour to the west about 12 miles, before he found a
feasible crossing. The circuitous ride, taken in conjunction with the constant
rain, slowed the gait of the greyclads' march.
It was the morning of the 21st, before Scott's troopers overtook Lee's rear guard at Keller's Cross-Roads. Attacking, the Rebels surged forward. The bluecoats' rear guard scattered, a lieutenant, four privates, a wagon, and about 100 blacks were captured.
Taking cognizance of the Federals' rapid pace and not having enough ammunition to fight a major engagement, Scott told his officers to have the troopers turn over all their cartridges to the ordnance officer.
The ammunition was then reissued to 75 volunteers who would accompany Major S. W. Campbell on a dash after the retreating Yanks. Following the departure of Campbell's "flying column," the rest of Scott's exhausted command returned to Clinton.
Campbell's combat patrol hounded Lee's rear guard until it reached the Baton Rouge perimeter at dusk on November 21. The Federals, however, were alert and Campbell's troopers were unable to cut off and capture any stragglers.36
It would be several months before the Confederate military and economy in Hodge's district recovered from the fearful blows delivered by Lee's grim raiders. General Hodge was so chagrined that he asked for a Court of Inquiry. His request was granted. The court which met at Meridian filed its report on March 9, 1865, exonerating General Hodge. In its report the Court of Inquiry noted, " There is nothing in the evidence adduced before this court reflecting in the slightest degree upon . . . [Hodge's] energy, capacity, or courage"
Coincidentally, the court castigated Colonel Ogden and Lieutenant Naul. According to the court, the surprise attack on Camp Beauregard was "occasioned by negligence" on Ogden's part and his "palpable disregard of precautionary instructions of Brigadier-General Hodge, given fifteen or twenty days previous." Lieutenant Naul was cited for failure to carry out Colonel Gober's instructions to see that the Stony Point bridge was destroyed. This dereliction, it was charged, had enabled Colonel Marsh's column to cross the Amite and "to proceed almost unmolested on the Greensburg road" to within striking distance of Liberty.37
1. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, 1880-1901), Series I, Vol. XLI, pt. IV, p. 518; cited hereinafter as Official Records. General Benton had entered Federal service as colonel of the 8th Indiana Regiment. At the battle of Pea Ridge, Benton rendered valuable service. He was promoted brigadier general on April 28, 1862. Lee, a native of New York and a resident of Kansas, had entered Federal service as major of the 7th Kansas Cavalry in October 1861. The following year, Lee was promoted to colonel and then brigadier general. During the Union May 19, 1863 assault on Vicksburg, Lee had been badly wounded. Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders (Baton Rouge, 1964), pp. 30-1, 278.
2. Hodge, a native of Fleming County, Kentucky, had graduated from the Naval Academy in 1845. Resigning from the navy in 1851, Hodge had taken up law. He was admitted to the bar at Newport, Kentucky. Entering the Confederate army, Hodge (after considerable service in the Army of Tennessee) was nominated as a brigadier general and placed in command of the District of Southwest Mississippi and East Louisiana. Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders (Baton Rouge, 1959), pp. 138-39.
3. Official Records, Series I, Vol. XLI, pt.IV, p. 519.
5. Ibid., p. 529.
6. Ibid., p. 595.
7. Official Records, Series I, Vol. XLV, pt. I, p. 2; Thomas W. Smith, The Story of a Cavalry Regiment—"Scott's 900," Eleventh New York Cavalry—From the St. Lawrence to the Gulf of Mexico—1861-1865 (Chicago, 1897), p. 179. Colonel Fonda's command consisted of the 11th New York Cavalry and the 4th Wisconsin Cavalry.
8. Official Records, Series I, Vol. XLV, pt. I, p. 2. Marsh's command was composed of the 2d and 12th Illinois Cavalry.
9. Ibid. The 118th Illinois Mounted Infantry, the 6th Missouri Cavalry, and the 14th New York Cavalry constituted Bassford's brigade.
10. Ibid., pp. 10-11. In addition to the enumerated commands, the following units were stationed in Hodge's district: Lay's Mississippi Cavalry Battalion, a Battalion of Louisiana State Guard, Doyal's Company of Louisiana Cavalry, and Companies A and F, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery.
11. Ibid., p. 11.
13. Ibid., pp. 11-12. General Gardner maintained his headquarters at Jackson, Mississippi.
14. Ibid., p. 12.
16. Official Records, Series I, Vol. XLI, pt. IV, p. 595.
17. Official Records, Series I, Vol. XLV, pt. I, pp. 2, 13; Smith, Story of a Cavalry Regiment, pp. 179-180.
18. Official Records, Series I, Vol. XLV, pt. I, pp. 2, 15-16.
19. Ibid., p. 2.
20. Ibid., pp. 13, 17.
21. Ibid., pp. 2, 9. Members of Hodge's staff captured by the Federals at Liberty were: Major W. H. Hurd, Captain N. T. N. Roberson, and Lieutenants H. C. Wood and C. L. Comfort.
22. Ibid., pp. 2-4. Fonda's detachment included the 11th New York Cavalry and the 4th Wisconsin Cavalry; Bassford's was composed of picked men from the 118th Illinois Mounted Infantry, the 6th Missouri, and the 14th New York Cavalry.
23. Smith, Story of a Cavalry Regiment, pp. 180-81.
24. Ibid., pp. 181-82; Official Records, Series I, Vol. XLV, pt. I, pp. 2-4.
25. Smith, Story of a Cavalry Regiment, pp. 181-82.
26. Ibid., p. 182; Official Records, Series I, Vol. XLV, pt. I. pp. 2-4.
27. Official Records, Series I, Vol. XLV, pt. I, pp. 2-4.
28. Ibid., pp. 13, 17.
29. Ibid., pp. 18-19.
30. Ibid., pp. 3, 13-14, 17; Howell Carter, A Cavalryman's Reminiscences of the Civil War (New Orleans, 1894), pp. 119-120. General Lee estimated the strength of Scott's force at 800 rank and file.
31. Official Records, Series I, Vol. XLV, pt. I, pp. 14, 17.
32. Official Records, Series I, Vol. XLI, pt. IV, pp. 582, 602, 611, 625, 638.
33. Smith, Story of a Cavalry Regiment, p. 183.
34. Official Records, Series I, Vol. XLV, pt. I, pp. 3, 5. The officers who escaped during the night of the 21st were: Captain W. M. Chamberlain, commandant of the post at Brookhaven; Lt. F. C. Skehan, adjutant of the post at Brookhaven; Lt. T. W. Younkin, inspector of conscripts at Brookhaven; and Lt. T. B. Melton, Company E, 5th Louisiana Cavalry.
35. Smith, Story of a Cavalry Regiment, p. 185.
36. Official Records, Series I, Vol. XLV, pt. I, pp. 7, 14, 17.
37. Ibid pp. 20-21.