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Battle of Ponchatoula
Part of the American Civil War
Date March 24–26, 1863
Location Ponchatoula, Louisiana
Result Confederate victory
Belligerents
United States United States (Union) Confederate States of America Confederate States
Commanders and leaders
Political leaders:

Military commander:

  • Thomas S. Clark
Political leaders:

Military commander:

  • Horace H. Miller
Units involved
6th Michigan Infantry
9th Connecticut
14th Maine
24 Maine
165th New York Infantry
177th New York
1st Choctaw Battalion
1st Mississippi Cavalry
14th Mississippi Cavalry
14th Mississippi Regiment Infantry
20th Mississippi Regiment Infantry
Strength
900 (estimated) 350 (estimated)
Casualties and losses
9 wounded 3 killed; 11 wounded

The Battle of Ponchatoula was fought between March 24–26, 1863 in Ponchatoula, Louisiana and Ponchatoula Creek during the onset of the Vicksburg Campaign. It was an offensive campaign waged by the Union's 6th Michigan, 9th Connecticut, 14th Maine, 24th Maine, 165th New York Zouaves, and 177th New York against the Confederate troops in order to rid the town of Confederate troops and to destroy the town's railroad bridge.[1]

BackgroundEdit

Several battles were conducted in the Ponchatoula area.

In September 1862, the 26th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment conducted an expedition to Manchac Pass and Ponchatoula. It was a devastating defeat for the Union. Private Elmore Dane of Company F wrote,

"Out of 125 men 40 were killed, wounded and missing, almost 50 percent of our number. We were kept as a reserved corps, and came up just in time to save the rest of the party from all being taken prisoners. We kept the enemy from out flanking them and covered their retreat. The fight took place at Paschola [Ponchatoula, La.] We went up the Maunshag river to the Jackson and New Orleans railroad and marched up the road. It was a bad defeat for us we had no artillery and the rebels were 1500 strong with 5 pieces of artillery. We were obliged to leave our dead on the field and the wounded in the hospital with the Doct. and assistants as prisoners in the Rebels hands as prisoners it was a hard jaunt and well nigh cost us all imprisonment...many more die of sickness then of bullets from the enemy ..."

In the early part of 1863, a new expedition was sent once again sent to Ponchatoula.

Union headquarters at New Orleans were alarmed by an improbable invasion by "Stonewall" Jackson with 40,000 men.[2] The Union officers considered the swamps as the most likely approach.[3]

A reconnaissance was ordered of Manchac Pass on the New Orleans, Jackson, & Greater Northern Railroad where it crossed at Jones Island. Union Officer Col. Langdon[2] conducted a reconnaissance and found Confederates and "negroes"[3] working on the north side of Manchac Pass, but he found no evidence for an approaching invasion.

Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks issued orders to Col. Thomas S. Clark of the 6th Michigan to proceed to Manchac Pass.

On March 21, 1863, Clark's 6th Michigan expedition left Camp Parapet and proceeded along the New Orleans, Jackson, and Greater Northern Railroad.[4] His orders were to proceed to South Manchac Pass, a journey of about 30 miles. An advanced detachment, led by Clark, proceeded ahead of the main body of troops.

Around noon of the 22nd, Clark's main body had arrived at South Manchac Pass. There they waited for ships carrying the 165th New York. The steamships Savary and the Barrataria, an iron-clad gunboat, with three schooners in tow arrived on in the evening.[5]

The next day, Clark's 6th Michigan was embarked on the steamships and schooners, and Lt. Col. Abel Smith's 165 New York Zouaves proceeded north along the railroad. The 6th Michigan were to flank Ponchatoula as the 165 New York were to attack the town via railroad. As the troops began their movement, a storm gave way to a hurricane.[6] The hurricane soon dissipated as the steamships moved northwest on the Lake Maurepas.

By evening, the steamships ceased all movement. The Savary ran aground before twilight, and the Barrataria continued up the Tickfaw River.

The Confederates at Ponchatoula were alarmed by Union movements. Col. Horace H. Miller of the 20th Mississippi had been at Ponchatoula since 1862. Miller retreated and telegraphed Lt. Gen. Pemberton several times in which Miller requested reinforcements. Companies H & K of the 1st Mississippi Cavalry had been detached to Ponchatoula in December 1862. They were under the command of Miller and participated in the battle.

Troops came from the 1st Choctaw Battalion, 14th Mississippi, and the 14th Mississippi Cavalry. The 1st Choctaw Battalion was organized in February at Newton Station, Mississippi. They were still electing officers and procuring material needs under the leadership of Maj. John W. Pierce. The 14th Mississippi Infantry Regiment was on guard duty at Jackson, Mississippi. The men were scattered about Jackson doing various tasks. The 14th Mississippi Cavalry was detached to both Osyka, Mississippi and Camp Moore near Tangipahoa, Louisiana.

The 1st Choctaw Battalion and the 14th Mississippi Infantry Regiment were delayed by a down bridge at Brookhaven, Mississippi. The bridge was likely destroyed due to flooding by the recent hurricane.

Opposing forcesEdit

UnionEdit

  • Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks, at New Orleans.
  • Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Sherman, 2nd Division, at New Orleans.
  • Brig. Gen. Neal Dow, 1st Brigade, at New Orleans.
  • Col. Ira W. Ainsworth, of the 177th New York at New Orleans.
  • Col. George M. Atwood, of the 24th Maine at New Orleans.
  • Col. Thomas S. Clark, of the 6th Michigan at New Orleans.
  • Lt. Col. Edward Bacon, of the 6th Michigan at New Orleans.
  • Lt. Col. Abel Smith, Jr., of the 165th New York (Zouaves) at New Orleans.
  • Maj. Fredrick Frye, of the 9th Connecticut at New Orleans and Jones Island.
  • Capt. Orlando W. Trask, of the 14th Maine at New Orleans.

ConfederateEdit

  • Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton, at Vicksburg, Mississippi.
  • Lt. Col. Horace H. Miller, of the 20th Mississippi Infantry at Ponchatoula, Louisiana.
  • Maj. Felix Dumonteil, Assistant Adjutant-General, of the 14th Mississippi Cavalry, at Camp Moore near Tangipahoa, Louisiana.
  • Maj. Robert J. Lawrence, three companies of the 14th Mississippi Infantry Regiment at Jackson, Mississippi.
  • Maj. John W. Pierce, Companies A & B of the 1st Choctaw Battalion at Newton Station, Mississippi.
  • Capt. Gadi Herren, Company H of the 1st Mississippi Cavalry at Ponchatoula, Louisiana.
  • Capt. William V. Lester, Company K of the 1st Mississippi Cavalry at Ponchatoula, Louisiana.
  • Capt. Thomas C. Rhodes, of the 14th Mississippi Cavalry at Osyka, Mississippi.

First day of battleEdit

Ponchatoula Creek, Louisiana

Ponchatoula Creek where the bridge skirmishes took place. Image taken on March 26, 2016 by Robert Bruce Ferguson.

On March 24, 1863, the Savary and its schooners in tow was set free and proceeded north on the Tickfaw River. The steamships arrived at Wadesborough, Louisiana, and the 6th Michigan disembarked.[7] Clark's men then proceeded east thru the piney woods toward Ponchatoula.

The 6th Michigan arrived at Ponchatoula a few moments before the 165th New York Zouaves. Ponchatoula was ransacked by the Union troops. Lt. Col. Edward Bacon of the 6th Michigan wrote, "Blue-coated soldiers are running here and there, far and near, singly and by dozens, some with their arms and some without, bringing all sorts of bundles, and eagerly dividing the spoils."[8]

Second day of battleEdit

Early morning on March 25, Pemberton notified Miller that a bridge near Brookhaven was down and told Miller that reinforcements will be delayed until the 26th. Miller acknowledged, at 5 a.m., Pemberton's letter.

Citizens, who freely pass between the battle lines, brought reports that Confederate trains are bringing troops to Hammond, Louisiana.

Clark ordered the main body of troops to a point three miles south of Ponchatoula along the railroad, and he left a body of 300 men as pickets in the town. A smaller picket was left at Ponchatoula Creek.

Third day of battleEdit

At 3 p.m., Miller's Confederates begin their assault to re-take Ponchatoula. The main thrust of the attack was along the railroad. The 1st Choctaw Battalion, 1st Mississippi Cavalry Detachments, and the 14th Mississippi Cavalry Detachment led the assault. A skirmish continued at the burned out railroad bridge over the Ponchatoula Creek for an hour.

At 4 p.m., Confederate troops flanked Union soldiers. The flanking troops may have been done by Indian scouts from the 1st Choctaw Battalion. The union troop picket retreated from Ponchatoula Creek as they are being chased by the Confederates.

By 4:30 p.m. the Confederates have re-gained Ponchatoula.

At sunset (c. 7 p.m.), the Confederate offensive ends. Ponchatoula was again in the hand of the Confederates.

AftermathEdit

The followings days saw the retreat of Clark's expedition back to Manchac Pass. Bacon wrote, "We were able to ascertain that the long time we had spent about Pontchitoula had not been unimproved by the enemy. They had gathered a force greatly outnumbering ours. They had artillery and cavalry, and a large band of Indians for swamp fighting."[9]

On March 27, Miller praised his troops. He wrote to Pemberton, "I cannot speak too highly of conduct of officers and men of this command."

Southern newspapers (The Memphis Daily Appeal, The True Delta, New Orleans Bee, and the Mobile News) reported that "We have learned that on Wednesday about 1500 Yankees made an incursion upon Ponchatoula, which was guarded by only 150 cavalry, so sudden was their advent that our men were obliged to run without their horses. They retreated about 30 miles, telegraphing at an intermediate station for reinforcements, which came the next day in the form of 1,200 of our Indian troops and run the Yankees back ..."[10]

On March 31, Col. Smith with a flag of truce met with Col. Miller regarding the return of stolen objects. Bacon wrote, "They are advancing. Col. Miller was there, and another colonel. They would hardly treat me civilly; they are terribly enraged against us."[11]

The number of Union troops included 400 of the 6th Michigan, 40 from the 14th Maine, 20 from the 24th Maine, 306 from the 165th New York Zouaves, 100 from the 177th New York, and 26 from the 9th Connecticut. The rebels had, in approximation, 120 of the 1st Choctaw Battalion, 40 of the 20th Mississippi, 60 of the 1st Mississippi Cavalry, 50 from the 14th Mississippi Cavalry (from Camp Moore, Louisiana and Osyka, Mississippi), and 100 from the 14th Mississippi.

A large number of Indian soldiers deserted the 1st Choctaw Battalion when they were not paid for their services.

Ponchatoula would be held by the Confederates until it was recaptured by Union forces in May 1863. Three companies from Texas, two companies from New York, and a company from Massachusetts made their way thru the forest and swamps toward Hammond, Louisiana during the night of May 11–12 of 1863.[12] Colonel Edmund J. Davis of the Texas cavalry commanded the Union companies.[12] Davis' advance was under the command of Captain Samuel T. Read of the 3rd Massachusetts Cavalry.[12] On the morning of May 12, 1863, Read's men captured a number of prisoners, including some members from the disbanded 1st Choctaw Battalion.[12] Davis' expedition was a success as the Confederacy would not be a major presence for the remainder of the war.

War CasualtiesEdit

Capt. Gadi Herren of Company H of the 1st Mississippi Cavalry would die in the Battle of Dallas (Georgia) on May 28, 1864.[13]

ReferencesEdit

  1. http://www.myneworleans.com/Louisiana-Life/March-April-2013/The-Battle-of-Ponchatoula/
  2. 2.0 2.1 Bacon, Edward (1867). Among the Cotton Thieves. The Free Press Steam Book and Job Printing House. p. 50.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Bacon, Edward (1867). Among the Cotton Thieves. The Free Press Steam Book and Job Printing House. p. 51.
  4. Bacon, Edward (1867). Among the Cotton Thieves. The Free Press Steam Book and Job Printing House. p. 52.
  5. Bacon, Edward (1867). Among the Cotton Thieves. The Free Press Steam Book and Job Printing House. p. 55.
  6. Bacon, Edward (1867). Among the Cotton Thieves. The Free Press Steam Book and Job Printing House. p. 56.
  7. Bacon, Edward (1867). Among the Cotton Thieves. The Free Press Steam Book and Job Printing House. p. 60.
  8. Bacon, Edward (1867). Among the Cotton Thieves. The Free Press Steam Book and Job Printing House. p. 65.
  9. Bacon, Edward (1867). Among the Cotton Thieves. The Free Press Steam Book and Job Printing House. p. 82.
  10. New Orleans Bee, New Orleans, Tuesday, April 7, 1863, Vol. XVII, Whole No. 12,655, "Additional from Southern Sources."
  11. Bacon, Edward (1867). Among the Cotton Thieves. The Free Press Steam Book and Job Printing House. p. 84.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 Ewer, James K. (1903). "History of Read's Company Mounted Rifle Rangers. By Lieut. Henry D. Pope.". The Third Massachusetts Cavalry in the War for the Union. Historical Committee of the Regimental Association. pp. 195–196. 
  13. The Memphis Daily Appeal, Atlanta, Ga, Thursday, June 2, 1864, Vol. XV, No. 123, "List of Casualties."

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