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Source: Newspaper article from Shreveport Times Sunday
Magazine (April 5, 1964):
"The Battles of 1864 - A Soldier's Story" by Henry A. Berry, Jr.
(Thanks to Jack Poché for providing transcript of original article)
BATTLES OF 1864
A SOLDIERS STORY By HENRY A. BERRY JR.
Times Assistant State Editor
Capt. Felix Pierre Poché must have been one of those Army rarities who could almost invariably separate a few real facts from a multitude of rumors when almost all communication was by word of mouth.
The young Confederate Army officer, 27 at the time of the 1864 Civil War campaigns in Louisiana, did not believe in slavery, though his family owned some slaves, did not approve of secession, but became fiercely patriotic to the Confederacy; at first would not join the Confederate Army, but later won citations for bravery in battle; was instilled with the love of the Napoleonic-type of massed infantry, cavalry and artillery tactics, but was deeply moved by the suffering of both friendly and enemy soldiers who fell on the battlefield.
He was also devoutly religious, and devoted to his young wife and his 2-year old daughter. He was one of those fourth generation South Louisiana French-Acadian aristocrats-son, grandson and great-grandson of planters-whose loyalty to his relatives friends and neighbors knew no bounds.
Capt. Poché was truly an officer and a gentleman. But to those who would remember him 100 years later, the most important characteristic of this young Confederate Army officer who would someday become an associate justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court was his obsession for keeping a diary.
Poché (who signed his name with a French accent over the last letter) apparently missed only two days of making entries in his diary in some three years in the Confederate Army. Otherwise, he let no obstacle interfere with his self-imposed duty of making daily entries, always rising at 5:30 a.m. to "work on my journal," and sometimes laboring for hours on one entry.
When he ran out of ink while campaigning in North Louisiana's forest wilderness, the ingenious captain manufactured his own ink by burning sweet potatoes and mixing the residue with .water. He slept in the open in raging storms, crossed swollen rivers, and fought in bloody battles, but he always kept his diary in perfect condition.
To the credit of his descendants-particularly Mrs. Eugenie Somdal of 801 Monrovia St., wife of architect Dewey A. Somdal and a granddaughter of Poché, the diary has been kept in almost perfect condition all these 100 years.
During the early part of his Army career, while in South Louisiana, Capt. Poché wrote his diary in English. When he moved into North Louisiana, he switched to French, apparently because he felt that if he was captured the enemy would be less likely to be able to read the French. It later fell to Mrs. Somdal to translate the several volumes written in very fine French script.
Poché wrote vivid eyewitness descriptions of the Battle of Mansfield and of the battleground immediately after the Battle of Pleasant Hill.
The accounts - which were written on the battlefield with the stench of death in his nostrils and the screams of the dying ringing in his ears - have remained tucked away in an old trunk at the Somdals' home. They have never before been published.
Born at Convent, La., on May 18, 1836, Felix Pierre Poché appeared to be destined for a brilliant future from his childhood when his parents noticed that he was quick to learn and had a phenomenal memory.
He visited the courthouse in his native St. James Parish for the first time at the age of 7, and decided then and there that he would become a lawyer although most of his ancestors had been noted planters. (Poché's great-grandfather on his mothers side was Pierre Chenet, a native of Nova Scotia who was nick-named "Perique" - a name he gave to the now celebrated species of tobacco grown nowhere else in the world but St. James Parish, but used in almost all expensive tobacco blends.)
He attended public schools in St. James Parish, and then entered St. Joseph's College at Bardstown, Ky., an association with the Roman Catholic Jesuit fathers which would last, in one form or another, the rest of his life. Many years later, one of his sons, Oscar Poché, joined the Jesuit order, became a priest and was pastor of St. John's Catholic Church in Shreveport when the present church was built. And incidentally, Mrs. Somdal's husband was the architect.
While in college at Bardstown, former Kentucky Gov. Charles A. Wickliffe heard young Poché give an oration on John Calhoun and was so impressed he invited the Louisiana law student to study in his offices. Three years later, in 1858, Poché was admitted to the Kentucky bar and continued to practice law with Gov. Wickliffe.
However, the following year, as threats of conflict between the North and South rumbled louder, Poché returned to Louisiana and began practicing law with Judge J. J. Romain at Thibodeauville, now Thibodaux. He also taught school on a part-time basis at Thibodeaux College.
In 1860 he established his own law office in St. James Parish and was a candidate for the Louisiana Legislature. How- ever, he failed to gain the House seat by just 9 votes.
In June of 1862, he entered the Confederate Army as captain of a company under Col. Louis Bush, and in November was placed on the staff of Gen. Alfred Mouton as commissary subsistence officer.
Capt. Poché was first camped at a sugar mill in South Louisiana near New Iberia for a few months, but as the Yankee Army began to move in he was moved northward with Gen. Dick Taylor's Army. His first action was at Yellow Bayou in South Louisiana where he won citations for gallantry in leading the 18th Louisiana Regiment, which was lost inside enemy lines, to safety.
He then moved north to 0pelousas, was involved in the battles of Simmesport and Mansura, then spent several weeks at the home of his uncle, Louis Poché at Cloutierville. During this period, he traveled back and forth between Alexandria and Point Coupée Parish and Alexandria and Monroe several times on Army business, and visited Natchitoches with his uncle before Taylor's army began moving toward Shreveport for the expected engagement with the United States Army commanded by Gen. Nathaniel Banks - the encounter which occurred at Mansfield and Pleasant Hill. (As it happened, Capt. Poché, in his travels, never reached Shreveport.)
After the battles at Mansfield and Pleasant Hill, Capt. Poché returned to South Louisiana - he never was able to understand why Gen. Taylor "abandoned" beautiful South Louisiana to the Yankees to fight in the "abominable pine forests" of North Louisiana-and was comparatively inactive until the end of the war.
Returning to St. James Parish after hostilities ended, Poché demonstrated his genius for the legal profession by earning the handsome sum. of $15,000 - in United States money in his first year out of the army. And he did it under the handicap of the hated carpetbag rule which he was fighting.
In January, he was elected to Louisiana State Senate, getting all the votes in his district except about 40 in spite of the fact that carpetbaggers had overrun his parish and the district was predominantly Negro. While in the Senate, he devoted his time and energies to the elimination of carpetbagger control of state offices.
A Democrat, he attended the national conventions in Baltimore in 1872 which nominated Horace Greeley and in St. Louis in 1876 which nominated Samuel Tilden. He was a Tilden elector.
Poché was also an active leader in Louisiana constitution work and at one time was president of the State Constitution Convention. He was one of the founders and a charter member of the American Bar Association.
In 1880 Poché, at the age of 44, became an associate justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court. He moved his family to New Orleans where he lived the rest of his life. However he maintained his home in St. James Parish and the family spent its summers there.
He was married to Selima. Marie Deslattes whose ancestors were also planters of French-Acadian descent. They had a 2-year-old child, Marguerite Marie, called Maggie, at the time he left home with the army. However, shortly after he left home, his wife wrote him a letter telling him a second child was expected, but mail moved so slowly that he did not receive the letter until about the time the child was born even though he some-times was no more than about 50 miles from home. The second child, also a girl, was named Selicie Marie.
After he returned home, seven other children were born to the Pochés over the years. They were, in order, twins Louis and Joseph: twins Oscar and Emilie Marie, the girl dying as an infant; another girl whom he named Emilie Marie; Henry, and finally Eugenie Marie, Mrs. Somdal's mother.
Judge Poché died June 16, 1895, at the age of 59, and his wife died in 1925 at the age of 88. All of their children are also now dead.
It is said of the former Confederate soldier who became one of Louisiana's great legal minds that even on his death-bed someone asked him where a particular legal decision could be found and, with that phenomenal photographic memory, he gave the correct volume number and page number in the Statutes of Louisiana.
Excerpts from Poché's remarkable diaries, recounting the events of 100 years ago, are printed below
These selected portions of Captain Felix Poché's voluminous journals begin on a date about two weeks before the Battle of Mansfield. The principal figures referred to in the diary include Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks, commanding the Union forces; Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor, leading the Confederate forces in the North Louisiana campaign, and some of Taylor's key officers. These include Brig. Gen. John G. Walker and his Division, made up of William Scurry's, Thomas Waul's and Horace Randal's Texas Brigades; Brig. Gen. Alfred Mouton and his Division made up of his own brigade and those of Henry Gray and Camille Polignac, a French prince who joined the Confederate Army and was a hero at Mansfield; and Brig. Gen. Thomas Green, who was killed a few days after the Battle of Mansfield while leading cavalry forces against Federal gunboats on the Red River. Mouton was killed in the Mansfield fight.
Poché a commissary subsistence officer, volunteered to serve as Aide de Camp to Gray at the Battle of Mansfield.
As these diary entries were written, Rebel forces had been retreating from South and East Louisiana in the face of a superior enemy until Gen. Taylor decided to make a stand at Mansfield.
MARCH 26: The enemy is not advancing today. General (Thomas) Green didn't arrive today and everyone is greatly disappointed, as with him we are strong and without him very weak as we haven't enough cavalry. Gen. Taylor is much too prudent abandoning all of beautiful Louisiana to the enemy and accumulating his armies in these sad and monotonous pine forests
MARCH 29: I left Natchitoches and descended the river and arrived at Mr. T. Chalus' We heard tonight that the enemy had positively crossed at Monette .and that our cavalry was burning all the cotton as they retreated . . . I saw the planters getting their cotton out of their mills and other buildings, preparing to sacrifice it. The wind was very strong and the cotton that was not baled was scattered in all directions and caught in the little branches of the trees and reminded one of a snow scene in a cold country.
MARCH 30: . . . At three o'clock the road was covered with a cloud of dust from the wagons and men of the cavalry going in great haste, Which gave proof that the enemy advancing in great numbers had made a forceful attack on our cavalry, and that those remaining were retreating in haste with the enemy pursuing them closely . . . I left and followed the hurried retreat of our cavalry. The cotton spoilers were very busy at their task and the quantity of cotton victim to their flames was unbelievable . . . The road all the way to Natchitoches, a distance of 18 miles, was, one could say, a solid flame and the air was permeated with the smell of burning cotton. My heart was filled with sadness at the sight of those lonely plantations obscured by flames and to see the work of an honest industry followed by those good old Creole planters destroyed in the twinkling of an eye. I hope later I shall understand the advantage which the Confederacy hopes to obtain by destroying the very element of their might, as at this time I cannot see the wisdom of it . . . Tonight the enemy is encamped 15 miles from Natchitoches and not knowing whether the enemy would come tonight, I went to bed "tout rond" (completely dressed) . . .
MARCH 31: This morning Natchitoches was completely evacuated by our authorities and I set out this morning going toward Pleasant Hill and traveled through interminable pine forests . . . Our company did not arrive at Pleasant Hill. Tonight the enemy arrived at Natchitoches at five o'clock after a serious skirmish with our cavalry. ..
APRIL 1: . . . I forgot to make a note yesterday that two of Green's regiments had arrived and left immediately for the front, accompanied by the famous Battery of Valverde, and had taken part in yesterday's skirmishes. Our company had almost reached Pleasant Hill, but were stopped . . . I went to spend the night at the camp. (Gen. J. G.) Walker's division camped close to Pleasant Hill. Its the general opinion that our generals will join in combat around these parts.
APRIL 2: This morning our army went in toward Pleasant Hill and camped on the Natchitoches Road . . . Our generals were prepared to put up a fight. Tonight our company . . . retreated ten miles higher toward Mansfield. Leaving at 11:30, we marched all night and pitched camp this morning at sunup. The army has been on horseback all night I spent a miserable and terrible night . . .
APRIL 3: We heard this morning that yesterday Gen. Taylor had tried to engage the enemy in combat but they had absolutely refused to advance . . . I was not at all well today, with an upset stomach.
APRIL 4: The army began their march early this morning toward Shreveport and passing through Mansfield camped five miles further on the road to Kingston and Shreveport. Mansfield is the county seat for DeSoto Parish and is an ugly little town situated in the pine forests on a rather high hill. The countryside of that parish, even though it is pine country, is better than the pine country north of Red River, and the farms seem a little better.
APRIL 5.: Today the army remained stationary and the troops were given a much-needed rest after marching more than 200 miles, overwhelmed with unheard of fatigue and privations without parallel in history, and especially humiliated by having to flee before an implacable enemy and -leaving their homes and lands for them to pillage and their women and children to their insulting violence . . .
APRIL 6: Today we did not budge. The camp is full of rumors more or less contradictory. However, it would seem that the enemy advances and . . . we will have a fight shortly.
APRIL 7: Our army remained in camp again today . . . After dinner we heard a great deal of cannonading toward Pleasant Hill . . . Our enforcements have all arrived and are a short distance from us. We are filled with hope that we will repulse the enemy.
APRIL 8: This morning at two we received orders to send our troops on the road ahead to Pleasant Hill .... Being very anxious to see the battle, I went to Col. Grey (Henry Gray) at an early hour and offered him my services as aide de camp and my services were accepted. Mouton's division started their march at 6:30 a.m. and passing through Mansfield arrived at the Morse plantation where they arranged themselves in battle formation 21/2 miles below Mansfield. Polignac's brigade formed at our right and Green's division, placed on foot for action, formed the extreme left. Four or five batteries were placed from distance to distance at the most advantageous points
Our position was on a rather high hill at the edge of a forest behind a fence with a large field before us which ended in a forest on a very high hill opposite us. In that position we awaited the enemy, whose cavalry made its appearance about midday on our left at the very moment when our brigade was marching by the left flank to spread more to the left.
The Yankee cavalry, numbering about 500, silently emerging from the woods and coming very bravely toward our line, were at first mistaken for our own men until our generals suddenly recognized them only after they were about 200 feet from our line. General Mouton then ordered the 18th Louisiana to open fire on them, which orders were promptly obeyed, and with the second discharge the enemy's cavalry broke and fled in great disorder, leaving about a tenth wounded and as many prisoners were taken as horses were killed.
The sight of that cavalry advancing so fearlessly, thinking they would meet only a few cavalry men of the rear guard and receiving a heavy volley of musketry and fleeing in disorder, followed by our own cavalry, inspired much enthusiasm among our troops and at General Mouton's request, our company gave three cheers for Louisiana whose sons had let the first blood of the day. General Taylor passed in front of our lines and informed. us that it had been his wish and that we had acquitted ourselves nobly. A second later, the infantry and cavalry of the enemy arrived and arranged themselves in battle formation facing us at the edge of the woods at the extreme edge of -the field which separates us by a half mile distance. Immediately three or four companies of our brigade were placed forward as sharpshooters and boldly exchanged shots with the enemy until 2:30. The enemy's shots fell all around us and wounded quite a number. The Yankee artillery shot at us but with no effect.
At 2:30 General Mouton ordered Col. Grey to increase his sharpshooters and to follow the enemy. Immediately after that we were ordered to leap over the fence and began running and with resounding yells we stormed the enemy. At a distance of 150 feet the enemy opened fire and we were severely battered with musket and cannon shell. The balls and grape shot crashing about us whistled terribly . . .
It was there that Col. Armant and Beard, Lt. Col. Walker and Clack, Major Canfield, Captain Martin of the staff, Capts. Field, Fuller Moore, Poché, Hyatt, Hardenburg and others, a multitude of officers and soldiers, fell, dead or mortally wounded, forming a total of at least 200 out of 1,500. At this point, Adjutant Blackman, seeing the effect the firing was having on the troops, rushed to the front and seizing the standard of the 28th, led that regiment up to the Yankees' line; the latter fled into the forest which was very thick and served as a great protection. The 18th and the Crescent were not as fortunate. They stopped to return the Yankees' firing and suffered a great deal more - the Crescent, especially, was literally shot to pieces.
We passed the thick woods in a continuous terrific shower of shots and arriving at the fence of the next field we received a concentrated shelling which killed a great number of men. It was there where our well-loved general fell dead, the faultlessly brave General Mouton, whose loss will be keenly felt by the Confederate Army. He fell, pierced by five shots, while he alone was routing some 15 Yankees.
There also fell mortally wounded my good friend and companion, Adam Beatty, to whose help I immediately rushed. There also the brave old General Lewis was wounded in the head, although it did not stop him. Polignacs brigade, breaking through the enemy's line then came to our help on the left and in those woods we took almost a thousand prisoners, and two of the enemy's batteries coming up from a third position hastily fled, throwing their arms and equipment on the ground and abandoning their artillery. To the right they still held their position, but Walker's division soon arrived and after a mutual terrific bombardment the Yankees were routed and all their army fled, hotly pursued by our men killing at every step and continuing the chase until nightfall, a distance of several miles.
Thus the day of the 8th ended in a brilliant and complete victory and particularly, rich in results, as the following fell into our hands: 1,500 prisoners, 22 pieces of artillery, 250 wagons filled with provisions left behind in their haste, ammunition, tents, clothes and medicine.
Tonight we slept so near the enemy that we could hear their drums and the roll call.
About 9 o'clock they fired a charge of musketry which made us all lie flat on the ground.
Under the circumstances it is easily understood that we didn't get much sleep, but at two o'clock I set out toward our brigade which I had left five miles further down, but I did not find them as all the army had gone further down in pursuit of the enemy.
I arrived at Pleasant Hill at eight oclock, immediately following a battle which the army had with the enemy. The victory over our enemy, who abandoned their dead and wounded.
APRIL 9: This morning at Col. Grey's request, I returned to camp to order rations for our men, a distance of about ten miles. Both going and returning, I passed, through Mansfield where I stopped to visit the hospitals which were filled with the wounded and dying. I could not find my friend Beatty for quite awhile, and he was already dead, as also was Capt. Martin. I saw my friends Alex Poché, September Weber, Lt. Ganier and Louis Becent, who had been brought to a private home. What a pitiable sight were those hospitals crowded with the wounded, the dying and the dead, friends and enemies, side by side, some calling for help, others groaning so pitifully that I left with a heavy heart.
But on the other hand, the ladies running on all sides bringing meat and sweets, food and drink, amid the suffering of their country was a spectacle upon which the patriotic eye feasted . . .
I left Mansfield at three and passed by the battlefield on the way to meet my brigade which I had left five miles further south, but I didn't find them as the entire army was pursuing the enemy.
Because of a slight confusion in our ranks, our victory today was not as brilliant as yesterday and certainly not as rich in results, as night fell at the moment of victory and we could not pursue them and only captured several hundred prisoners.
As yesterday, the enemy had the choice and therefore the advantageous position, the troops having been place in a very thick forest at the summit of a rambling hill. Likewise, they far outnumbered the Confederates. They numbered more than 20,000, of which one whole company was composed of fresh troops. While we, though we had been reinforced by Churchill's division and Price's army, numbered barely 12,000. Despite all their advantages, the enemy was beaten and lost more men than yesterday. It is estimated that their dead and wounded number between 800 and 1,000.
Due to the thickness of the forest, and the approaching night, a part of our troops, especially Mouton's brigade and that of Polignac at one end of the line and Scurry's brigade and Churchill's division in the right, did not recognize one another and exchanged shots for quite awhile, fortunately without much damage.
The same confusion was in the enemy's ranks and General Taylor verified it that several minutes after he removed his troops the Yankees fought boldly amongst themselves.
Today our losses were much less than yesterday.
APRIL 10: This morning the entire army fell back several miles in a creek,. the only place where water could be procured, and we spent the day resting. However, the cavalry was ordered to advances and about 7,000 strong they began their pursuit of the fleeing enemy. The large numbers of prisoners which passed by us today attested that our cavalry were not amusing themselves.
After dinner, I visited the battlefield of Pleasant Hill and we saw countless numbers of dead, dying and wounded. The field presented a very mournful and touching sight with its dead, the greater number of which were mutilated, some
[Missing two pages from original article.- Jack Poche]
|For a summary and more information on the Felix Pierre Poché Diary