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Story Archives: Harrisonburg fort destroyed during 1863 Union expedition
|Harrisonburg fort destroyed during 1863 Union expedition|
(26th in a series)
In early September 1863, the largest army ever to amass in this region of the world -- about 4,000 men -- was transported across the Mississippi River from Natchez to Vidalia. From there, the soldiers marched across Concordia Parish and into Catahoula in route to Harrisonburg, La.
The two Yankee brigades were populated by seasoned troops, most having seen action during the siege of Vicksburg which had ended in a Union victory just two months earlier. The commander of the Army of Tennessee, General U.S. Grant, ordered the march to Harrisonburg to take out Fort Beauregard on the Ouachita River, an artillery stronghold that Union gunboats were unable to pass in May 1863.
The Confederate commander at Fort Beauregard was 37-year-old Lt.-Col. George Logan, a South Carolina native. A businessman in New Orleans, he operated a brokerage and exporting firm. After joining the Confederacy, he was made a commander of heavy artillery, leading a regiment from Chalmette.
In command of the Yankee brigades was 33-year-old Brigadier General Marcellus M. Crocker, a lawyer from Iowa who Grant said was one of the top division commanders in the Union army. At Crocker's disposal were the Second and Third Brigades of the 4th Division, 17th Corps.
Civil War historian Ed Bearrs described Crocker at the time of the Harrisonburg march: "Young, handsome Crocker was always at the front of his troops. Already, however, his face was pale and he was wracked by the cough of 'consumption' which killed him shortly after the close of the war. In spite of his illness, Crocker was known to his men as a 'hard-fighting, hard-cussing general,' since almost every sentence he said was interspersed with profanity."
Crocker's top officers included Col. Cyrus Hall of Illinois, who commanded the Second Brigade, and Gen. Walter Q. Gresham, who commanded the Third. A lawyer and congressman from Indiana, Gresham, after the Civil War, went on to serve as U.S. Postmaster General, U.S. Secretary of Treasury, and U.S. Secretary of State. The soldiers and artillery in these two brigades came from Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Ohio.
Col. A.G. Malloy led the 17th Wisconsin Mounted Infantry to round out the federal contingency formed at Natchez. He and his horsemen, about 300 strong, moved out at dawn on Tuesday, Sept. 1, 1863, and arrived at the Black River across from Trinity (across Little River from present day Jonesville) at day's end after minor skirmishes and a general surveillance of the country.
Later in the night his force sunk the Rinaldo, a Confederate steamer loaded with supplies at Trinity. Malloy and his men, armed with rapid-fire, breach-loading carbines, ran out of ammunition after expending 3,000 rounds by daylight on September 2. Following Malloy were two waves of Yanks separated in movement by several hours -- Gresham's Third Brigade, and then Hall's Second Brigade. Their departures were timed to allow for crossing the army by steamers across the Mississippi. They used pontoons and flatboats to Cross Bayou in Concordia and finally Black River at Trinity. The troop train stretched over much of Concordia, with the ammunition, ambulance and supply wagons at the rear of each brigade.
Crocker said it took an entire day on September 3 to transport the bulk of the federal army across the 800-ft. wide Black River "by making flats of the pontoons." Plans to have Union transports move up the Black River to ferry Crocker's men across fell through because the Red River, which connected the Black to the Mississippi, was too low.
Before the crossing of the Black at Trinity, Crocker "ordered the troops to take two day's rations in haversacks, and that transportation sufficient only to carry the ammunition should cross." He left "two regiments of Colonel Hall's command to guard the crossing and the train left there."
All told, the Confederates thought Crocker may have had as many as 16,000 men. Although the actual number was 4,000, neither Concordia nor Catahoula has ever witnessed such a massive military force. In the heat of early September, a cloud of dust rose over the countryside.
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