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CONFEDERATE ARTILLERY IN WESTERN LOUISIANA, 1862-1863 Alwyn Barr On April 24, 1862, a Union fleet ran past Forts Jackson and St. Philip near the mouth of the Mississippi. That same night the Federal warships destroyed the Confederate river defense fleet of "cottonclads" and rams above the forts, and Union troops soon thereafter occupied New Orleans. To oppose the wedge suddenly driven through the Confederacy's back door, the Richmond government sent Major General Richard Taylor, son of former President Zachary Taylor, to command the remote District of Western Louisiana. From Virginia Taylor brought with him Major Joseph L. Brent as chief of artillery and ordnance for the district. Major Brent, the son of a former United States senator from Louisiana, had practiced law in his home state and also in California before the war. In Virginia he served on the staff of Major General John B. Magruder until the fall of 1862. A far greater challenge of his talents lay just ahead. When Taylor and Brent arrived, the District of Western Louisiana contained no Confederate troops except a single cavalry battalion, but men were quickly raised and forces were brought in from the garrison at Port Hudson across the Mississippi.1 Among these reinforcements were two field artillery batteries, the only such units transferred into the Trans-Mississippi during the war. Oliver Joseph Semmes, son of the famous commander of the Sumter and the Alabama, led the 1st Confederate Regular Battery, which had been raised in Louisiana in 1861. A slight, pale, rather emotional young man, Semmes had Alwyn Barr is a social science research associate at the University of Texas and a member of the editorialstaffs of the Southwest Historical Quarterly and Texas Military History. 1 "General Joseph Lancaster Brent," MS, Confederate Collection, Archives, University of Texas Library; Richard Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction: Personal Experiences of the Late War (New York, 1879), p. 117; "Career of Gen. Joseph Lancaster Brent," Confederate Veteran, XVII (1909), 345-347. 74 resigned from West Point to serve the Southern cause.* Also from Port Hudson came Company H of the Mississippi Light Artillery, known as the "Connor Battery," commanded by Captain George Ralston . Organized in Natchez, Mississippi, on April 30, 1862, Ralston's men were armed with two six-pounders and two twelve-pounder howitzers, one of them a piece captured from the Federals.3 Both batteries were attached to Brigadier General Alfred Mouton's newly-organized infantry brigade, and soon nearly lost to the enemy. On October 27, 1862, Mouton sent the batteries to support portions of his command which engaged a Union advance under Brigadier General Godfrey Weitzel on both sides of Bayou Lafourche at Labadieville . Union strength converged on the west bank opposite Ralston, whose gunners, their ammunition exhausted, were badly mauled by Federal batteries. In the somewhat hurried retreat Ralston was captured , but Mouton fortunately succeeded in extracting his small force by falling back across the Atchafalaya River.4 In the same month, Major Brent turned vigorously to the most important task at hand. Assuming responsibility for a makeshift state arsenal and ordnance depot at New Iberia on Bayou Teche, he in turn placed Captain A. J. Lindsay in command of the arsenal shops. These began improvising harness, wagons, traveling forges, gun carriages, caissons, artillery ammunition, friction primers, powder, and cartridges made from newspapers and wallpaper. Repairs were effected on all artdlery equipment which still appeared to be serviceable. A stickler for efficiency, Brent set up strict regulations for the operation of the arsenal and the distribution of supplies, enforced regular compliance with reporting procedures, and required invoices for all ordnance issues . Looking ahead to die spring campaign, he also ordered Lindsay to store a large portion of his supplies at Vermdionville (modern Lafayette), rather than stockpile the entire amount close to the fighting 2 U.S. War Dept. (comp.), The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, 1880-1901), Ser. I, XV, 804 (hereafter cited as OR, with all references to Ser. I); W. Adolphe Roberts, Semmes of the Alabama (New York, 1938), p. 35; George Canady Harding , MisceUaneous Writings (Indianapolis, 1882), p. 321; List of Artillery Officers...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 74-85
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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