Sunday, August 5, 2012

Battle of Baton Rouge

Union troop encampments in Baton Rouge
After they lost New Orleans in April of 1862, the Confederates decided to also abandon Baton Rouge, just up the Mississippi River. On May 9th the USS Iroquois landed at the town and was able to take possession without encountering any resistance. As the Union noose grew tighter around the stronghold of Vicksburg, the southerners were looking for a way to resist the siege. Major General Earl Ban Dorn decided to try to recapture Baton Rouge, and from there he could launch attacks along the Red River, and threaten New Orleans. For this task he had several thousand men men under the command of John C. Breckinridge, as well as the ironclad Arkansas which had humiliated the Federals by running through their fleet, and then beating off attempts to sink her. Van Dorn hoped the cooperation of these two elements would allow for a successful attack on the Federal forces in the town.
Map of the battle

Breckinridge set out on July 27th, 1862. The Union commander in Baton Rouge, General Thomas Williams soon heard of the expedition. He moved his troops a mile out of town and prepared to meet the attack. His men were inexperienced, as they had trained for only two weeks before being sent out, and it was not known how they would stand in battle. Breckinridge continued to move forward, and arrived just outside the city on the night of August 4th. However, the element of surprise was lost when Union sentries spotted the advance. Nevertheless, Breckinridge determined to continue on with the attack at daybreak.
The Federals charge

Early in the morning the Confederates set out towards the Union troops. “It was difficult,” said a Confederate Colonel, “to distinguish any object in the thick white mist, or to know friend from foe.” The southern forces encountered the enemy, and with fierce fighting pushed them across the town. Leading a charge at the head of his troops, General Williams was killed, hit in the breast by a bullet. The bitter fighting continued, and the Yankee troops fell back into a prepared position in the town, within range of the river. The Confederates expected to be aided in their attack by the Arkansas’s shells thrown from the river. However, as they attacked the Union troops, it was they who were hit by a navy bombardment. The Arkansas did not make it to the battlefield. Their engines engines failed just four miles above the city. Instead the Federal troops were protected by the guns of their boats in the river. Under this bombardment and meeting fierce resistance from the Federal troops, Breckenridge realized the attack was useless and withdrew. He wrote in his report:
We had listened in vain for the guns of the Arkansas; I saw around me not more than 1,000 exhausted men … The enemy had several batteries commanding the approaches to the arsenals and barracks, and the gunboats had already reopened upon us with a direct fire. Under the circumstances I did not deem it prudent to pursue the victory further.
In this fierce fight the Union lost 383 in killed, wounded and missing, the Confederates, 456.
The USS Essex fires into the CSS Arkansas

The Arkansas, still unable to move, could not escape from the Federla ships, or fight them to advantage. When they sailed up the next day, her commander, Lieutenant Stevens, knew it would be hopeless to resist. Therefore he ordered her to be abandoned and blown up. The Arkansas, which it had seemed could fight with the best the Federals had to offer, had ended in a burning wreck.

The Federals did not long remain in Baton Rouge. Although they had beaten off the attack, they fell back to New Orleans, concerned for its safety. However, they would return that autumn. The Confederate forces occupied Port Hudson a few miles north, which they would hold for many months.

Damage to the town of Baton Rouge


Wolfshield said...

Union centuries? I presume you mean sentries. Are you dictating to someone?

Joshua Horn said...

Thanks for pointing that out. I'm not dictating, I don't have anyone to blame except myself for typing and proof-reading too fast.


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