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Battle of Pleasant Hill
Union Naval Official Records

Letter from Brigadier-General Stone, U. S. Army, to Rear-Admiral Porter, U. S. Navy,

referring to the battle of Pleasant Hill, April 8-9,

and proposing to communicate with the gunboats at Springfield Landing.


PLEASANT HILL, [LA.], April 9, 1864.


          ADMIRAL: The major-general commanding directs me to inform you that the advance of his forces reached a point about 5 miles this side of Mansfield about noon yesterday. There the advance became engaged with a force of the enemy, which proved to be the combined forces of Green and Price. After hard fighting until sunset with largely superior numbers the advance party had to fall back, with considerable loss in men, artillery, and transportation, under cover of the Nineteenth Army Corps, which managed to hold its ground through the night and fall back to form a junction with General Smith's forces here this morning. I intend to return this evening on the same road with General Franklin's and General A. J. Smith's commands, and to be in communication with the transports of General Kilby Smith and the gunboats at Springfield Landing on Sunday evening or Monday forenoon. The major-general commanding has ordered General Groper to join his forces to those of General Kilby Smith as soon as practicable.

          Very respectfully, admiral, your most obedient servant,


Brigadier-General and Chief of Staff.


Rear-Admiral D. D. PORTER,
Comdg. Miss. Squadron, off Grand Ecore.






Report of Rear-Admiral Porter, U. S. Navy,

stating the difficulties existing after the battle of Pleasant Hill, April 8-9,

in view of the proposed withdrawal of army forces.


Grand Ecore, La., April 14, 1864.


          SIR: Accompanying this is a report of my expedition up Red River. In that report I touched lightly upon army affairs from prudential motives, not deeming it prudent to give to the public all the facts connected with the case. Still, I deem it my duty to state to the department all the difficulties now existing. I have done all I could to cooperate with the army and make the move a successful one, and the cooperation has been carried on most harmoniously. I saw the orders of General Halleck to Generals Sherman, Steele, and Banks to undertake this campaign, indicating in a precise manner how it was to be done. The plan has been carried out to the letter, except gaining a victory, and the cooperation of the gunboats was deemed essential to success. At the beginning, while we cooperated with General A. J. Smith, of General Sherman's command, we carried everything before us, and if we have not met with continued success, it is owing to the delay of General Banks' army, who were ten days behindhand, an important period in a campaign.

          The army here has met with a great defeat, no matter what the generals try to make of it. With the defeat has come demoralization, and it will take some time to reorganize and make up the deficiencies in killed and prisoners. The whole affair has been seriously mismanaged. Finding the enemy retreating before them with 25,000 men yet unscattered, our troops moved on with a certainty of meeting with no serious opposition. It was known, however, at headquarters that the enemy were posted at Mansfield, and talked of giving us battle, notwithstanding which 6,000 raw cavalry were placed in advance with a large baggage train close after them, and only supported by 2,500 infantry under General Ransom, who protested strongly, but in vain, against the arrangement. The enemy, numbering 15,000, took advantage of this state of things and attacked the head of the cavalry column with their whole force. Of course they were routed in a short time, fell back, running over the infantry, made a stampede among the wagons, and the whole mass was mixed up in inextricable confusion.

          The action took place 4 miles this side of Mansfield and it was a disorderly rout as far as Pleasant Hill, 15 miles, where a stand was made. The enemy followed, doubtless much surprised with their easy victory, until checked by the Nineteenth Army Corps, under General Franklin, which opened its ranks and let the flying multitude pass to their rear. In their turn the Nineteenth Corps attacked the enemy and repulsed them in a very short time, but not in time to save the cavalry train, all of which fell into the hands of the rebels, and 18 pieces of artillery. Had Franklin's corps been in front a complete victory would have been ours. It was the worst managed affair that I ever heard of. I can not ascertain where the fault was.





            It was determined, I believe, to retreat that night or next morning, but the enemy attacked the next day (the 9th) and our army had to act on the defensive. The enemy came on with a boldness <nor26_46>and desperation seldom met with during this war. Their canteens were found to be filled with Louisiana rum, which accounts for it. They were mowed down by our fire, and though at first they broke one of our wings, they had to stop when General A. J. Smith with 8,000 of the Seventeenth Corps charging through the Nineteenth Corps, met them with the bayonet, and the other troops rallying, poured in a destructive fire. The rebels fled in wild contusion, leaving their killed and wounded on the field and two of the guns captured from us the day before. General A. J. Smith chased them for 2 miles, when they disappeared, and did not stop until they had retreated 6 miles. This time we really gained the victory, though we came near losing it. Notwithstanding our success, it was decided to fall back to Grand Ecore, which was done. The rebels sent in a flag of truce, asking permission to bury their dead. They were, doubtless, much astonished to find no one there to receive it. This is one of those instances when two armies ran away from each other.

          When I arrived here I found a bad state of affairs, the army much demoralized, and the men talking loudly of the mismanagement which thinned their numbers. General Sherman had sent a bearer of dispatches to recall General Smith's division, and I was waited for to decide what course to take. I raised my voice against its departure, on the ground that they had been victorious, were animated with a desire to go ahead, and had full confidence in their general. In the next place I felt assured that if General Smith should leave, it would be construed into a defeat by the rebels, and would result in the remainder of the army retreating with great loss of material.

          The most important consideration, however, is that General Steele is now within striking distance of Shreveport, waiting for our troops to advance. If this army were to withdraw, the enemy would turn upon Steele with their whole force and crush him. He, not anticipating any of the unfortunate events which have occurred here, would probably come up with a very strong force in his front, while an equal one would be thrown in his rear. I wrote to General Sherman, explaining the reasons of retaining his men, which deficiency he can easily make up by taking from the large force in Arkansas (now not wanted), an equal number of men.

I was also influenced in my decision by a desire to save my squadron, which, if left here in falling water without a land force, the gunboats aground could do nothing, and this is a case of mutual protection. When I left here, I placed the vessels remaining behind in charge of Lieutenant-Commander Phelps, with orders to look out for them and watch the falling water. He had dropped some of them below the bar. When our army came in retreating, he ordered up four of the boats again to take position to cover our troops. That was all well and proper, but he should have dropped them down when he saw there was no danger of an attack, and I could then have easily got them to Alexandria. As it is, the thing is uncertain without a rise in the river. Now is the time of full river, the snows melting and the rains commencing, but we have nothing of the kind, the water falling steadily 3 inches a day. The moment I came down, I ordered the boats below the bar, but a pontoon bridge obstructs the way and detains us in getting along. I shall know in an hour what success to expect. I shall then go to work lightening the vessels. In all my operations I have an eye to the water. As long as I have plenty of meat, I fear no other obstacles. In this instance I was governed by the reports made by Red River pilots that we would have plenty of water until June and a high rise at that time. General Banks was so impatient to move that all I could get him to say was, "There will be plenty of water," and dwelling much on the importance of the gunboats. It was well we came up, for I am convinced the rebels would have attacked this broken army at Grand Ecore had we not been here to cover them. I do not think our army would be in a condition to meet them. I can get away from here without trouble now by taking out my guns, and can lie below the town in 3 fathoms water for a long time to come, holding a position that would completely cover the army; but if I was to leave altogether, it would be a stain upon the Navy for all time to come, and would be followed by a disastrous retreat of the army with much loss of men. Under these circumstances I have determined to hold on to as many of the vessels as I can, hoping that the usual rise will come; we only want a foot more to go up and down as we please. I have light-draft vessels that will take the place of the heavy vessels in case I can take these below, but if the rebels bring in heavy guns, the ironclads will be the only ones to be depended on.

          Now, sir, so far we have met with not the loss of a rope yarn. I even stopped to bring down a steamboat that the army had ordered to be burned, not wishing the rebels to say that we had to burn her.

I do not wish to lose anything, and want to understand at once whether the army is to leave us here in case they go away, or retreat while the water is falling. If so, I will lighten the gunboats of guns and everything else and work them over the bars.

          I do not see why a fleet should not have the protection of an army as well as an army have the protection of a fleet. If we are left here aground, our communications will be cut off and we will have to destroy the vessels. I do not intend to destroy a rowboat if it can be helped, and if the proper course is pursued we will lose nothing. The army should hold this place until the last man can stand. If they leave we lose Steele's army and a portion (perhaps) of the gunboats. We will have spent all this time and treasure in an expedition that promised so much to our cause; we will lose the finest portion of Louisiana, where people are anxious to have the war ended, and where many of them have taken up arms in defense of the Union. Now, we can claim to have whipped the rebels in the last day's fighting, which partly wiped out the first day's disgrace, which was not the fault of our troops, but owing to a blind security and mismanagement and a contempt of the enemy--three things that should always be avoided by a good general.

          I wish the department would give me its views without delay and direct Captain Pennock to send me the answer by a dispatch vessel. I must confess that I feel a little uncertain how to act. I could not leave this army now without disgracing myself forever, and when running a risk in their cause, I do not want to be deserted. One of my officers has already been asked if "we would not burn our gunboats as soon as the army left," speaking as if a gunboat was a very ordinary affair and could be burned with indifference.

I enclose two notes I received from Generals Banks and Stone. There is a faint attempt to make a victory out of this, but two or three such victories would cost us our existence.

          I shall await your answer with anxiety, and remain,

          Very respectfully, your obedient servant,



Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C.



Pleasant Hill, April 9, 1864.


          The land column that was intended for the movement against Shreveport encountered a superior force 4 miles this side of Mansfield, and, being unable to communicate with the forces from the river, has been compelled to retreat. It is now our expectation to fall back to Grand Ecore.

You will make your dispositions accordingly. The fighting very sharp, but, from the situation of the country, it has been impossible to bring but a portion of our forces against the entire strength of the enemy.

The loss of the enemy has been very severe; ours serious. General Ransom has been wounded. If possible send a communication to General Steele.

I am, etc.,

Major-General, Commanding.


Rear-Admiral D. D. PORTER,
Commanding Mississippi Squadron.


Pleasant Hill, April 9, 9:30 p.m.


ADMIRAL: By direction of the major-general commanding I have the honor to inform you that about noon yesterday the advance of his forces reached a point this side of Mansfield about 4 miles.

There the advance became engaged with a force of the enemy which proved to be largely superior, being the combined forces of Taylor, Green, and Price. After hard fighting until sunset with these superior forces, the advance party had to fall back with considerable loss in men, artillery, and transportation, under cover of the Nineteenth Army Corps, which managed to hold its ground through the night, and to fall back to form a junction with General A. J. Smith's forces, here this morning. This afternoon nearly at sunset the enemy attacked our forces here, with the command of yesterday strengthened by two divisions of General Price's army, which had not arrived in time to take part yesterday.

          The enemy was driven at all points in the most brilliant manner by charges, and were utterly discomfited. We recaptured two guns taken from us yesterday, and captured caissons and other materials of great value to the rebels. The victory is a complete one, and, <nor26_49>together with the loss of morale, which is its natural consequence, will contribute greatly to the object in view in the expedition.

Very respectfully, I am, admiral, your obedient servant,


Brigadier-General, and Chief of Staff.


Rear-Admiral D. D. PORTER,
Commanding Mississippi Squadron.

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