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Story Archives: Rebels thwart May 1863 gunboat attack on Fort Beauregard
|Rebels thwart May 1863 gunboat attack on Fort Beauregard|
(14th in a series)
During the Civil War in May 1863, the Union Navy targeted the destruction of Fort Beauregard at Harrisonburg on the Ouachita as part of its offensive to take control of the Mississippi River and her tributaries.
Only two locations along the Mississippi River remained in Confederate hands at that time -- Vicksburg and Port Hudson, both heavily fortified and located on the east bank. Once the Union Navy cleared out the Red River in Louisiana, a squadron of four gunboats was sent up the Black and the Ouachita to take out Fort Beaurgeard, the only fortress on the river protecting the railroad town and Rebel staging center of Monroe upriver.
Sir Arthur Lyon Fremantle, a 27-year-old Englishman was on the Ouachita when the Union Navy attacked Fort Beauregard. A career military man himself, Fremantle had come to the South to observe the Civil War on a journey from Brownsville, Texas, to New York City. Along the way he watched Southern civilians fleeing the invading federal armies, met Confederate generals and witnessed some of the major campaigns of the war from Vicksburg to Gettysburg.
Finding a route to cross the Mississippi River was difficult. His first choice was Vicksburg, but by May 1863 the Yankees were on the Louisiana shore of the river opposite that city. His only route remaining was to try to make his way down the Ouachita, journey across Concordia to Vidalia and then cross the Mississippi to Natchez, which was then just weeks away from being occupied by the Union army.
As he journeyed south, four Union Navy gunboats were heading north for Harrisonburg and Fremantle prayed that he could get past the gunboats and safely cross the Mississippi River. In Monroe, Confederates seemed to think that the small force at Fort Beauregard led by Col. George Logan would be unable to stop passage of the gunboats.
Logan was a South Carolina native who turned 35 in 1863. A cotton broker and exporter in New Orleans when the war broke out, he had arrived at Harrisonburg prior to May 1863. At his disposal were four 32-pounders, four 6-pound brass cannons, three 3-inch rifled cannons and one 12-pound howitzer. He had 40 men in the garrison, including artillerists and the riflemen who protected them. Additionally, he had a calvary force of 80 that covered the rivers and worked with an array of scouts and couriers.
Commander of the federal expedition was Selim E. Woodworth, a 47-year-old New York native, the son of a poet, who joined the Navy at age 23 and sailed the world before settling in San Francisco where he became a prominent land investor and businessman.
In 1847, he was the leader of an expedition to provide supplies and provisions to the Donner Party, a group of emigrants in route west before being stranded in the Sierra Nevada during a deadly winter of frigid temperatures and blizzards. The supplies never arrived and surviving members of the Donner Party never forgave Woodworth.
A longtime abolitionist, Woodworth rejoined the Navy at the outbreak of the Civil War and assisted in the capture of New Orleans. He was involved in the Vicksburg Campaign when sent up the Black and Ouachita rivers by Rear Admiral David Porter to destroy Fort Beauregard.
Woodworth commanded the General Price, which cruised at a top speed of 12 miles per hour upriver. Also in the flotilla were the ram Switzerland, the ironclad Pittsburgh and the gunboat Arizona. Additionally, Woodworth was to locate Gen. John G. Walker's Texas division, which had left Monroe on 12 transports down the Ouachita in route to Alexandria.
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