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|Resurrecting a crown jewel -- Fort Beauregard|
(Ninth in a Series)
At Pine Point, the Ouachita River Expedition found a beautiful hill country that would one day become known as Harrisonburg. Unpopulated in 1804, Harrisonburg is now home to 746 people and the area remains almost as beautiful today as it did two centuries ago when William Dunbar and Dr. George Hunter came up the river on their exploration of the valley following the Louisiana Purchase.
Harrisonburg takes its name from John Harrison, who operated a ferry at Pine Point a few years after Dunbar and Hunter's trip. When a settlement began to form, it took on Harrison's name.
As local governments were established along the Louisiana frontier in the early 19th Century, a courthouse for Catahoula Parish was built in Harrisonburg in 1807 constructed with pine and cypress. By 1842, the parish's Police Jury erected a new courthouse, a two-story building that survived the Civil War and stood until the depression years.
But Harrisonburg's crown jewel rises above the back of the town -- a long, high ridge known to the locals as Fort Hill, but known to historians as Fort Beauregard, built by the Confederates in 1862 to halt Union gunboats from advancing up the Ouachita. The fort was named after Confederate Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard, the Louisianian who commanded the Rebels at Charleston where the first guns of the Civil War were fired.
In 1862, after New Orleans fell to Union forces, the Confederates realized that the federal fleet of gunboats would eventually move inland into the waters of Louisiana. The construction of Fort Beauregard was important. The hill offered a commanding and key defensive point along the Ouachita where heavy artillery was placed to keep Union gunboats from advancing to Monroe. From the highest point where the fort was built, a point now 20 feet lower than its original height, you could see Bushley Bayou's juncture with the Ouachita to the south.
By May 1863, Gen. U.S. Grant's troops were all over northeastern Louisiana during the Vicksburg campaign. To support the effort, the Union Navy sought to protect Grant's rear by sending gunboats up the Ouachita. Earlier, on Saturday, May 10, 1862, at 2 p.m. (145 years ago next week), four gunboats, commanded by Commodore Woodworth, stopped south of the fort.
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.
A federal officer asked that Logan surrender the fort. He refused. The gunboats were out of range, but still fired 150 shells, knocked down some parapet and wounded one officer. By 6:15 p.m. -- four hours and 15 minutes later -- Woodworth backed off. But he made an important observation -- Fort Beauregard would be hard to take by river.
Sixteen months later, the federal calvary and infantry came calling. By this time, Vicksburg had fallen, and the Mississippi River belonged to the Union. In August 1863, at Natchez, the Yankees organized an expedition with one purpose -- take Fort Beauregard.
Brigadier General Marcellus M. Crocker, a lawyer from Iowa who Grant said was one of the top division commanders in the Union army, was in charge. At his disposal were the Second and Third Brigades of the 4th Division, 17th Corps.
His top officers included Col. Cyrus Hall, 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 nationally 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 first 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. 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 federal troops 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 over rivers on pontoons or flatboats -- first the Mississippi, then 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." 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 probably 4,000 to 5,000, 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.
At Fort Beauregard, Logan could count on a number of fine, big guns, some that had a range of a mile. The guns and the men were well protected by breast works that were from eight to 10 feet high, But Logan felt that he had only about 40 men "fit for duty." Others were sick, and some had deserted.
On September 3, Logan wrote his superiors that "The Yankees in very heavy force crossed the river at Trinity, and engaged all of the cavalry (under Captain McCall), some 80 in number, which I had taken away from the Tensas River lines and kept ready for the purpose of dissipating their advance. They fell back slowly before the overwhelming force of the enemy advancing by the Upper Trinity, or otherwise called the Hawthorn road."
This road ran from Trinity to the Catahoula hills. The present day Sandy Lake Road (Hwy. 126) follows the basic same path. This road intersected with the Harrisonburg to Alexandria road (in the present day Manifest area), a wagon road that went north of Catahoula Lake. Malloy said the initial fight with McCall's calvary covered nine miles.
Col. Horace Randal, the 30-year-old commander of the 28th Texas Cavalry, raced from Alexandria with 1,100 men to help Logan, but, he was overwhelmed about 12 miles west of Harrisonburg. At one point, before Randal retreated, both federal brigades were aligned in battle positions along the Harrisonburg-Alexandria Road. Randal reported that on September 3rd his advanced pickets were within 400 yards of federal lines and that "the opposing forces passed the night within 800 yards of each other, the enemy outnumbering me five to one, with the additional advantage of artillery and calvary."
A West Point graduate, Randal, who would die nine months later from wounds received during the Battle of Jenkins' Ferry, Arkansas, also encountered three companies of Malloy's 17th Wisconsin Mounted Infantry led by Maj. D.D. Scott. Scott's men raced through what had been Randal's main camp just moments earlier. He chased the Rebels for a mile and half. As the Yankee calvary moved through the camp, they found a "a large number of fires, amounting to fifty or more," still burning. Satisfied that no other Confederate troops were advancing in the relief of Harrisonburg, Crocker ordered the main body of the federal force to move toward the little town.
At Fort Beauregard, Logan knew what was coming and he previously advised Randal by courier that "1,100 muskets" would do him little good. By then, all of Logan's pickets had been driven back to the fort by advancing federal troops who, said Randal, controlled "the approaches to Harrisonburg." Logan said his men were "much disheartened under the strain." He called "a council of commissioned officers of the fort" and in a unanimous vote, taken secretly, they agreed to evacuate.
In his rush, Logan failed to retreat with all of his big guns. "I determined to evacuate," wrote Logan, "save as many of the guns as possible, and, by rapid march, attempt a junction with Colonel Randal, as suggested by him the previous day." Logan had initially prepared for a siege, and sent all of his horses 20 miles away except enough to transport four pieces of artillery. Now he realized that he had "too few men to lift the 30-pound Parrot rifle out of position into a wagon which I had kept prepared for it." Additionally, he "was unable to save anything more than all the Government horses, mules, and wagons, and the 3-inch rifle guns and 1 howitzer (12-pounder)."
At 1 a.m. on September 4, the evacuation began. Along with his lieutenants --- Moore, Parker, Nichols and others -- Logan remained at Fort Beauregard until 4:15 a.m. "when I superintended personally the destruction of the casemates, commissary, guns...by fire and explosion." He escaped the Yankees on a northern route out of town.
FORT ON FIRE
A little more than four hours later -- at 10:30 in the morning -- the federal army moved into Harrisonburg, led by Malloy's mounted infantry. Atop the hill at the back of town, the fort was in flames.
Wrote Crocker, the expedition leader for the Union: "The enemy had burned all his commissary stores, and the fire was burning in all the casemates and over the magazines, and a very large amount of ammunition had been destroyed. They had left eight guns in the works, four 32-pounders, and four 6-pounder brass pieces. The 32-pounders were spiked and disabled as much as possible, and left them in the burning casemates. One of the 6-pounder brass guns was in a casemate that had been fired and caved in so that it could not be gotten out; another was in a detached work, so that it could not be gotten out without great labor, which we had not the tools to perform. Both these pieces were rendered useless."
Two remaining pieces were placed on a flatboat and sent to Trinity where they were incorporated into the federal artillery. Crocker reported that the Confederates also burned "a large quantity of small arms."
The federals completed the destruction of the fort, and in town "destroyed a large quantity of ammunition stored in the jail and courthouse; also some corn and provisions stored in the town; and at 4 p.m. started back toward Trinity..." Not far from Harrisonburg, Malloy's men, who had slept little in four days, "destroyed a grist-mill that had been used in grinding meal for the fort, with a quantity of commissary stores that had been removed from town." He also burned 57 bales of Confederate cotton, and captured 25 prisoners during the entire expedition. But the big prize for his men was a souvenir taken from the fort -- a large Rebel flag.
In the end, this was a relatively bloodless expedition considering that thousands of men were involved. Malloy's mounted infantry suffered three wounded and one killed from Confederate fire at Trinity and one more man killed as they backed up McCall's calvary toward Harrisonburg. Along the Alexandria Road, Randall reported that his Rebels killed three Yankees, but Malloy made no report of this loss.
The two Union brigades walked about 100 miles in five days. Malloy and his horsemen logged many more miles. By September 7, the bulk of the federal army was back in Natchez.
From Alexandria, the headquarters for the Confederacy's District of Western Louisiana, Major-General Richard Taylor wasn't happy. He wrote: "The fact of the horses having been sent from the fort in anticipating of a siege appears to have been the cause of so little public property being saved." With the fort abandoned, Taylor had no immediate duties for Logan and ordered him "to report to the lieutenant-general commanding."
Back in Catahoula, the presence of the federal army was devastating. Fort Beauregard was destroyed and disarmed, food supplies and cotton burned, a mill disabled and the defending Rebel army moving westward on the run. Undefended and without resources, Catahoula was in a state somewhere between panic and absolute despair.
A year later in 1864, Union gunboats moved up the Ouachita with only pockets of minor resistance. There were no cannons to fire from atop Fort Beauregard. The end was near. Harrisonburg was soon back in the Union.
SINCE THE WAR
During The Great Depression, more than four times the men who served the Confederacy at Fort Beauregard amassed on top of the hill under the employ of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a government agency formed to put men to work during those hard economic times. More than 150 lived there in temporary living quarters. The men did basic work, such as build roads, and drainage ditches.
On the north side of the fort, a depression in the earth was found. Inside the big hole, which was supported by timber, they found some of the supplies Col. Logan's Confederates had hidden when evacuating the fort, including ammunition and petrified peas and corn.
In 1930, the Village of Harrisonburg bought the fort property, 30 acres in all. For years, Catahoula Parish elementary school children had a spring day at the fort, where they picnicked and slid down the hillsides on cardboard.
The fort was dedicated to war veterans from Catahoula, and the town, with its meager funds, has done a pretty good job during the past decades of keeping the grounds mowed and clean. An amphitheater was built, and for decades state Masonic conventions were held atop Fort Beauregard. More recently, with the help of local organizations, Civil War reenactments were held, but that, too, has gone by the wayside.
THE FORT'S FUTURE
But Harrisonburg officials haven't forgotten the fort. They've obtained a $25,000 grant and want to spruce up the hill, including rebuilding the lookout tower, replacing the entrance sign, sprucing up the amphitheater, and repairing drainage and water lines. Volunteers, city maintenance workers and prison labor will be called on to help with the work. Also included on the town's wish list is a revival of the reenactments.
The Louisiana Department of Agriculture & Forestry has recommended that "small pulpwood size trees growing toward the bottom of the hill are obstructing the view from the top of the hill" and should be removed. We agree. The fabulous view available from atop Fort Beauregard just 30 years ago is no longer there. The strategic removal of just a few trees would reclaim it.
Harrisonburg's town clerk tells us that at least three weddings have been held atop Fort Beauregard in the past months. Visit the fort and you'll see why. It's a place of great natural beauty, one of the best kept secrets in this region of the state.
When Hunter and Dunbar passed by Pine Point more than 202 years ago, they found the countryside empty. The town that sprung up has grown at a manageable rate -- about four people per year over the last two centuries, and that's a good thing.
But Dunbar and Hunter didn't tarry, they were in a rush to reach the hot springs. Just north of Pine Point they faced a delay that wasn't totally unexpected.
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