Military Adventures Beyond the Mississippi
Marchings and Battles
Such was the condition of affairs when General Banks undertook a second expedition up the Bayou Teche. Early in April he rendezvoused his forces at Brashear City. They were organized in two divisions, one under the command of General Emory, the other commanded by General Grover. General Banks accompanied the expedition in person. The rebels had already provided a strong line of intrenchments near Franklin. A palisade of piles and earth, three feet high, protected by a natural ditch or bayou, extended for several miles from the lake on the east, across the Teche River, to impassable swampy woods on the west. The passage of the river itself was most effectually obstructed by the rebels; while the lake and swamp prevented any flank movement. The position was a strong one, and easily defended by a small number against a vastly superior force. General Banks sent General Grover with his division to effect a landing on the shore of the lake in the rear of these works, while he advanced upon them in front with General Emory’s division. The movement proved successful. General Grover’s landing was in vain resisted. After a brief engagement the enemy were routed and compelled to take refuge in the woods and canes. Advancing upon them, General Grover drove them before him until he had nearly reached the hank of the river. Meanwhile Generals Banks and Emory advanced directly upon the rebels by land from Brashear City. Their advance was hotly but vainly contested by the rebels, who gradually fell hack to their breast-works. The successes of General Grover had rendered these untenable, and at length, on the 14th of April, after three days of fighting, the enemy abandoned their position altogether, and beat a hasty retreat. Two of their gun-boats and three transports they destroyed to prevent their falling into the Federal hands. One other was destroyed by the Union gun-boats after a hot engagement on the lake.
In this battle General Banks shared all the dangers of the front in common with his soldiers. At one time he and his staff became a mark for the guns of a rebel gun-boat. One or two shells having struck near them, General Banks ordered them to disperse, and rode slowly away himself toward another part of the field. A correspondent present felt inclined to condemn his bravado.
“I expected to see them gallop off at double-quick,” said he; “but what was my surprise when I saw them walking their horses as if they were going to a funeral !“
The result proved the superior judgment of the General. In a few minutes a shell from the boat, well-aimed, struck the ground half a mile distant, just about where he would have been had he galloped instead of walking away from the scene of danger.
Curiosity is sometimes stronger than fear. At one period in the engagement a part of the infantry lay concealed upon the ground while a skirmish line was thrown out in advance. The shot and shell were whistling over their heads. Any head exposed became straightway a target for the enemy’s batteries. But it was impossible to lie still, ignorant of the events which were transpiring. All along the line heads were raised, one after another, to reconnoiter the field. Some even, in their eagerness, stood upright. The most positive command from the superior officer passed unnoticed. Nor was he able to secure their concealment, till he had threatened to arrest the first man. who showed himself to the enemy. The fear of arrest was greater than the fear of shot and shell. The true soldier dreads dishonor more than death.
General Banks left the rebels no time to recover from the effects of their disastrous defeat. Reveille at four, breakfast at five, march at six, was the order given the morning after the battle. First Franklin, then Iberia were taken possession of by the Federal forces. In both places were large foundries. So precipitate was the rebel retreat that they had no time to destroy them. Pushing rapidly forward, meeting the enemy again at Bayou Vermilion, and compelling them to fly, passing the vicinity of Grand Coteau, on the 20th of April, eight days after leaving Brashear City. General Banks entered in triumph the city of Opelousas.
Last updated 10/11/2009.