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The Third Day at Gettysburg
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Stanley at Shiloh: A Improbable 'Indiana Jones'
Ringgold Cavalry in Alleghenies
Special Order 191: Ruse of War?
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15th Illinois Infantry
8th New Hampshire Infantry

Recommended Reading


The Port Hudson Campaign, 1862-1863


Port Hudson, Confederate Bastion on the Mississippi

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The Eighth New Hampshire Infantry
The Eighth New Hampshire Infantry 
by Mark Hudziak

It was snowing in Manchester, New Hampshire on January 24th, 1862 as the men of the Eighth New Hampshire Infantry boarded a southbound train and left the Granite State. Organized in the fall of 1861, the regiment was mustered into federal service on December 23rd with Colonel Hawkes Fearing, Jr. in command. Fearing was a Manchester businessman who had served in a militia unit in his native Massachusetts. He had also served as Lieutenant Colonel of the 4th Massachusetts Infantry, a three months unit, prior to his appointment as Colonel of the Eighth New Hampshire.[1] Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Lull was second in command. Lull was a lawyer from Milford, New Hampshire and had previously been a member of a New Hampshire militia unit. Both men would make the most of their limited military backgrounds and prove to be capable leaders.[2]

The train arrived in Boston, Massachusetts in mid afternoon. The regiment was supposed to go to Fort Independence in Boston Harbor, but due to the heavy snowstorm, the men were quartered at historic Faneuil Hall for the night. A few of the New Hampshire men acquired some of Boston's alcoholic beverage offerings and had a raucous celebration of their arrival in the city. The celebrants were "conveniently quieted in a room guarded for their especial benefit" remembered Lieutenant D. W. King.[3] The next day the regiment was moved to Fort Independence, where it spent the next three weeks drilling and waiting for transportation south.[4]

In mid February, six companies under the command of Col. Fearing boarded the sailing ship E. Wilder Farley and set sail for Ship Island, Mississippi arriving there on March 15th. The remaining 4 companies under Lt. Col. Lull embarked on the Eliza and Ella a few days later and sailed for the same destination. Eliza and Ella had a traumatic, storm filled voyage. The ship's captain died en route; his body was sewn in canvas and stowed for later burial on land. This presented an obvious problem. "The captain's body being offensive, it was hoisted into the ‘mizzen top', and in that shape we entered port" Lt. King recalled.[5]

The Eighth New Hampshire was assigned to the First Brigade of Major General Benjamin Butler's three brigade Department of the Gulf.[6] In April and early May, the Union Army and Navy were in the process of capturing New Orleans, and 4 companies of the regiment were sent with a detachment of troops from the Seventh Vermont Infantry to occupy former Confederate Forts Pike and Wood on Lake Ponchartrain. The remainder of the regiment was sent to Camp Parapet just outside New Orleans, and the detached companies joined them in July.[7]

The Eighth spent a miserable summer at Camp Parapet. The regiment drilled up to five hours a day in 100-degree heat. [8] Commissary Sergeant Tyler Shattuck had difficulties obtaining provisions. "The authorities are not capable of taking charge of a corn crib" he fumed. [9] Men understandably complained about the drinking water obtained from the Mississippi River. Diseases including dysentery, typhoid fever, and malaria were rampant in the camp. Some of those who managed to survive these illnesses were so incapacitated that were discharged and sent home. [10]

Because of the extensive disease, the regiment was less than half strength with about 400 men fit for duty when it saw its first serious action in late October. [11] The Eighth was part of Brigadier General Godfrey Weitzel's expedition to drive Confederate forces out of the La Fourche District of Louisiana west of New Orleans. [12]

On October 27th, Weitzel's command advanced south along both sides of Bayou La Fourche, with the Eighth New Hampshire and Perkins' Company of Massachusetts Cavalry on the west side, or the Union right. Three infantry regiments and two batteries of artillery were on the east side. [13] Confederate Brigadier General Alfred Mouton deployed his Louisiana regiments and batteries and prepared to meet them. [14] Weitzel expected the heaviest concentration of enemy forces on the east side, but when he met lighter than expected opposition, he ordered reinforcements to the west side to avoid a possible trap. [15] Meanwhile, a squad from Perkins' Cavalry had discovered the enemy lying in ambush ahead and reported back. Perkins deployed his men as skirmishers, advanced, and fired. Confederate infantry and artillery returned fire, and Companies E and F of the Eighth New Hampshire were sent out in support of the cavalry. [16]

The two companies drew immediate enemy fire and dropped back. The entire regiment then formed in line of battle and advanced. [17] The well-concealed defenders drove back the advancing regiment with intense musket and artillery fire. [18]

As the Eighth fell back, Weitzel himself arrived on the scene. He ordered the regiment to reform in line of battle across a road next to the bayou with two other regiments to their right. "The line thus formed advanced steadily at my command forward" Weitzel reported. [19] The three regiments crept forward under fire from the still unseen enemy and closed in, finally driving the rebel defenders out. The Eighth was then sent to the rear to protect the baggage train, and arrived in time to drive off the Second Louisiana Cavalry before it could do any damage. [20]

The Eighth New Hampshire suffered 48 total casualties, including 12 killed, in the Battle of Georgia Landing, or Labadieville as it was also called. This was about half the total union casualties for the battle. [21]

In January 1863, the War Department combined all the forces in the Department of the Gulf and created the Nineteenth Army Corps, with Major General Nathaniel Banks as corps commander. The Eighth New Hampshire was assigned to the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Division of the Nineteenth Corps. [22] The regiment's first action in the Nineteenth Corps was at Fort Bisland on Bayou Teche in mid April, with the 2nd Brigade commander himself placing the Eighth's flag on the captured Confederate earthworks. [23]

While Union forces under Major General Ulysses S. Grant were moving on Vicksburg, Mississippi in May, Banks assembled his command near the Confederate garrison at Port Hudson, Louisiana 110 miles to the south. The capture of these two strongholds would secure control of the Mississippi River for the Union. By May 26th, Banks had surrounded Port Hudson on land on the north, east, and south while the Union Navy had control of the river on the west. With 14,000 Federals facing about 7000 Confederate defenders, both the Union command and the men in the ranks were confident the garrison could be taken. Banks planned a general assault for the next day. [24]

Brigadier General Halbert Paine's 3rd Division was located on the northeast side of the Confederate garrison and formed the left edge of the Union right wing. Colonel Fearing had assumed command of the 2nd Brigade, and Lieutenant Colonel Lull was in command of the regiment. At daylight on the 27th, as the Eighth New Hampshire formed in line of battle and waited for the order to proceed, Lull wrote two notes. "The Eighth New Hampshire greets the Fourth Wisconsin, and will march with you into Port Hudson to-day or die", he wrote to the commander of the regiment lining up with the Eighth. "This morning we storm Port Hudson, many of us will never see another day; if I am one, I shall have done my duty" he wrote to his family. [25]

Fearing ordered two of his regiments forward, but their line was broken up by heavy Confederate fire from the Tenth Arkansas Infantry. The Eighth New Hampshire and Fourth Wisconsin were then ordered in. Lt. Col. Lull positioned himself in front of the regimental colors and ordered "Eighth New Hampshire, forward, smartly, and steadily, and follow me." The regiment proceeded under fire and Lull was shot in the thigh. "When he was shot, he dropped on his sword and tried to steady himself" recalled Lieutenant John J. Nolan. Lull was taken off the field and died that evening. [26]

The men of the Eighth pressed forward with many reaching the ditch in front of the Confederate works. The two sides exchanged intense fire at close range, with heavy casualties. But no reinforcements were sent to support the Eighth, and the men were forced to pull back and find cover. They continued to fire from these more sheltered positions for the rest of the day, but despite suffering 80 total casualties, the Tenth Arkansas held on. [27]

The assault of May 27th failed. The Eighth New Hampshire took 298 into battle that day, and suffered 124 killed and wounded. A quarter of the total union casualties for that day occurred in the Eighth New Hampshire and Fourth Wisconsin. The two sides prepared for a siege. [28]

In mid June, Banks was ready to try to take the garrison again. His main assault was to be at a position called the Priest Cap, with the Eighth New Hampshire (now commanded by Captain William M. Barrett) and Fourth Wisconsin deployed as skirmishers at the head of the attacking federal column. Additional attacks were to be made simultaneously elsewhere along the line to keep the defenders from reinforcing the Priest Cap and stopping the main assault. [29]

Before dawn on June 14th, "the most terrific cannonading commenced along the whole line afloat and ashore" one witness recalled. "Dense clouds of smoke, which hung heavily over the whole expanse, gave the place the appearance of a vast volcano in violent eruption." [30] The assault columns had assembled at 2 A.M. about 800 yards from the Confederate works. At about 4 A.M., the columns were ordered forward, and the men quickly advanced across an open field offering little cover. When they closed to within 80 to 100 yards, rebel muskets and artillery opened fire, cutting down many of the advancing Federals. Some of the men of the Eighth New Hampshire, Fourth Wisconsin, and a few others reached the parapet. [31]

The hard charging infantrymen began to climb the parapet. Many were shot down and fell back into the ditch below, but some managed to enter the Rebel works through a gap in the defenses. "They all fought gallantly" wrote one Confederate witness "but the main body in the rear evidently could not be induced to come up to their support". [32] The supporting Union regiments had stopped and hit the ground due to the heavy fire and pulled back rather than press the attack. [33] The defenders closed the gap and killed or captured the Federals that had made it inside the works. Those outside were forced to take cover where they could in ditches and ravines, with many having to stay there under the broiling sun until nightfall. All attacks against other points in the Confederate line were driven back, and this second attempt to take Port Hudson by storm was another disastrous failure. [34]

The Eighth New Hampshire had gone into action with 217 officers and men and lost 29 killed and 93 wounded, or 56 per cent casualties. [35] Total Federal casualties were approximately 1800 killed, wounded, and missing while the Confederates lost only 22 killed and 25 wounded. This was the Union's most lopsided defeat of the war when casualties are compared. [36]

No truce was called to collect the dead and wounded until June 17th, when the stench of decomposing bodies became unbearable. Confederate troops returned the bodies of the dead to the Federals along with one wounded survivor, Corporal Charles Conant of the Eighth's Company F. Conant had been wounded in both legs, but despite lying on the field for three days, his legs were saved and he survived the war. [37] "I saw 114 dead soldiers buried in one long grave", the Regimental Chaplain wrote in his diary. I have…papers, and pictures to send to the friends…How sad a task it is to tell of death and suffering to those at home. I cannot get the scenes out of my mind". [38]

Banks resumed siege tactics after the June 14th debacle. The Eighth New Hampshire would not have been able to contribute much if he had tried another attack. "The situation is that we are badly used up", wrote Lieutenant D.W. King on June 19th. "Only ninety-seven men and two officers report for service, and some of those are wounded." [39] When word arrived of the July 4th surrender of Southern forces at Vicksburg, Major General Franklin Gardner realized that further resistance by his Confederate troops was useless. He surrendered the Port Hudson garrison on July 8th, and the Union forces marched in the next morning. [40] "No regiment at Port Hudson approached the 8th New Hampshire in the number and severity of its losses," wrote Nineteenth Corps Assistant Adjutant General Richard Irwin. The regiment suffered 258 total casualties for the period of May 23rd through July 8th including 30 killed, 198 wounded and 30 missing. This total was the highest of all the Union regiments engaged at Port Hudson. [41]

On September 4th, the Eighth New Hampshire and other units from the Nineteenth Corps were loaded on transport vessels and set out from New Orleans accompanied by Navy gunboats. Their objective was Sabine Pass and the mouth of the Sabine River on the border of Texas and Louisiana. The Administration in Washington was concerned that the presence of the French in Mexico might lead to intervention on the side of the Confederate States, so it wanted to establish a U.S. foothold in Texas to prevent that from happening. It was thought that a landing at Sabine Pass would be a good starting point for capturing Houston and Galveston. But the Navy lost two gunboats to the Confederate defenses, and the transports returned to New Orleans without having unloaded the ground troops. The only action seen by the Eighth was when its transport collided with another vessel. [42] In December of 1863, General Banks requested additional cavalry regiments but was told none were available. "My only recourse was to form troops of that arm," he wrote. "I immediately commenced by mounting infantry…The Eighth New Hampshire Infantry was one of the regiments mounted." [43] The regiment reported to Franklin, Louisiana, where, according to the regimental historian it was "mounted, armed with sabers, carbines, and revolvers, and constantly drilled in the evolutions of the cavalry tactics." [44] The regiment was renamed the Second New Hampshire Cavalry (though it was often referred to as mounted infantry) and assigned to the 4th Brigade of the Cavalry Division of the Nineteenth Corps. [45]

Colonel Fearing, who had been sent back to New Hampshire to enlist more men for the regiment, returned in December with 350 new recruits. And on January 4th, 1864, 219 veterans with a year left on their enlistments signed up for three more years. They did not receive the thirty-day furlough usually granted for re-enlistment, but instead stayed in the field. [46]

On March 7th, 1864 the Cavalry Division of the Nineteenth Corps under the command of Brigadier General Albert Lee set out from Franklin, Louisiana as the lead element in the Red River Campaign. This campaign was a combined army-navy operation. In addition to the Nineteenth Corps, detachments from the Union's Thirteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Corps participated, along with a naval fleet totaling 90 vessels of all types. Washington wanted to capture Shreveport, Louisiana and place Federal forces in position for a possible invasion of Texas. A side benefit of the campaign was to be the capture of thousands of bales of cotton in the region for use by New England textile mills. [47]

Albert Lee's command entered Alexandria, Louisiana on March 20th. Departing that city on March 28th, the cavalry proceeded up the Red River and skirmished with small Confederate forces at Monet's Ferry and Cloutierville, before entering Natchitoches on March 30th. Along the way, the "enemy were busy burning forage and cotton" noted Regimental Adjutant Thomas C. Prescott. [48]

Lee left Natchitoches on the road to Shreveport on April 6th and moved through the town of Pleasant Hill the next day. About 3 miles north of Pleasant Hill, Confederate cavalry charged the Federals at Wilson's Farm and a sharp fight ensued, before the Rebels pulled back. [49] Lee's cavalry was on the move again early in the morning on April 8th, and quickly encountered resistance. [50] The Federals pushed the Rebels back about 6 miles until they reached a ridge called Honeycutt Hill in the early afternoon. On the other side of the ridge, Lee found a large Confederate army under the command of Lieutenant General Richard Taylor waiting. [51]

The Union forces began to form a line with infantry and artillery in the middle and Lee's cavalry on the right and left. More federals were arriving, but the Rebels still had superior numbers. About 4 o'clock, Taylor launched an assault on the Union lines. [52] "Masses of rebels, no less than four lines in depth, emerged from the woods and charged with impetuous force, while yelling like crazed demons" Adjutant Prescott remembered. [53] The attack quickly overwhelmed the Union line, pushing the Federals back about 3 miles until reinforcements and darkness stopped the Confederate advance. "The men of the Fourth Brigade fell back in good order, and, according to directions, kept well on the flanks, repelling the enemy in their attempts to press to our rear" Lee wrote in his report. [54]

The Battle of Sabine Crossroads, or Mansfield as it was called by the Confederates, ended the Union drive to Shreveport. On the retreat down river, the New Hampshire men frequently skirmished with the pursuing enemy. The regiment suffered 96 killed, wounded and missing during the Red River Campaign. [55]

The close of the Red River expedition essentially ended the regiment's active campaigning. In July, the regiment was returned to infantry status, and those men that had reenlisted in January were finally granted their 30-day furloughs. When they returned, they joined the rest of the regiment back at Camp Parapet. [56] The Eighth was then ordered to Natchez, Mississippi for garrison duty. [57]

The three year enlistments of those original members of the regiment that had not reenlisted expired in December, leaving 305 reenlisted veterans and recruits. They were organized into three companies and designated the Eighth New Hampshire Veteran Battalion. [58] The battalion was engaged in garrison duty at Natchez and across the Mississippi River at Vidalia, Louisiana for the remainder of the war. This last remnant of the Eighth New Hampshire Infantry was mustered out of Federal service at Vicksburg, Mississippi on October 29th, 1865 and the men returned home to New Hampshire, leaving behind 102 comrades who had died in combat and another 258 lost to disease in the hot, humid bayou country of Louisiana. [59]

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Show Footnotes and Bibliography

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Copyright © 2008 Mark Hudziak.

Written by Mark Hudziak. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Mark Hudziak at:
iammarkh@gmail.com.

About the author:
Mark Hudziak has a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Wisconsin--Whitewater and is employed as an analytical chemist in Wisconsin, where he lives with his family. He also enjoys history and visiting historic sites including battlefields and has had articles published in a Civil War magazine.

Published online: 07/27/2008.
© 2014 MilitaryHistoryOnline.com, LLC Contact Brian Williams at: militaryhistoryonline@hotmail.com