Southern Historical Society Papers/Volume 03/February/Battle of Atchafalaya River—Letter from General Thomas Green

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Battle of Atchafalaya River—Letter from General Thomas Green.

[The following letter, from one of the most gallant and successful Generals of the Trans-Mississippi Department, gives, with all the freedom of private correspondence, a vivid description of a hotly contested fight. We are anxious to obtain more material from the Trans-Mississippi Department, and are taking steps to secure it.]

Headquarters Forces on Atchafalaya,
October 1, 1863.

My Dear Wife:
I am yet in the land of the living, after another brilliant victory near the banks of the Mississippi. I crossed the Atchafalaya during the night of the 28th September, and moved upon the enemy on the 29th in three columns—one column of infantry, 1,400 strong, consisting of Mouton's and Speight's brigades. I moved on a trail through the swamps and took position behind the enemy. My own brigade, dismounted, with Wallen's and Rountree's battalions of cavalry, moved upon the enemy in front. I sent one of Majou's regiments of cavalry upon the left flank of the enemy, crossing the Atchafalaya twenty miles below my position. At about twelve o'clock M. I closed in upon the enemy on all sides. Speight's brigade of 600 men and Major Boon's cavalry of 200 were the only troops closely engaged. The fight was a very hot one for a half or three-quarters of an hour. Boon charged the enemy's cavalry and dispersed them. Colonel Harrison of Speight's brigade charged the enemy's infantry in rear during the very heat of the action. Major Boon having dispersed the cavalry of the enemy, I ordered him to go to the assistance of Harrison, and charge the enemy in front, which he did in the most dashing and gallant manner. Nothing could be imagined more terrible on the same scale. Boon dashed through and through the entire encampment of the enemy, sabering[1] and shooting, and trampling the living, wounded and dead under the feet of his horses. The whole affair was a most brilliant success, and has added another victory to our long list. It has cheered the hearts of our soldiers, and cast a gloom over the enemy. I have five hundred prisoners, many of whom are officers (say thirty or forty), two colonels, and many captains and lieutenants.

We have again given the enemy a wholesome lesson, and I have so far been exceedingly fortunate as commander, beginning with Val Verde. The last four battles fought in Louisiana have been under my command, three of which are splendid victories, and the other one of the most desperate fights on record, for the numbers engaged, and one where there was more fruitless courage displayed than any other, perhaps, during the war. We did not achieve this last victory without loss. About thirty of Speight's brigade were killed dead, and sixty or seventy wounded. My own brigade suffered in the death of Lieutenant Spivey and three or four others of my cavalry; but the loss which was greater to me than all the others put together, was the desperate wounding of the best cavalry officer in the army—Major Boon of my brigade. The Major's right arm was torn to atoms, and amputated in the socket of the shoulder. His left hand was also torn up and two-thirds of it amputated, leaving him only his little finger and one next to it, having lost the thumb and two fingers of that hand and over half the hand itself. I am again encamped at my old headquarters, Morgan's ferry, on Atchafalaya. The Yankees are to-day making demonstrations as though they intended to advance upon us; but if they do, it will be after very heavy reinforcement, as we gave those now here such a terrible basting day before yesterday that they will not again voluntarily engage us.

There has been a torrent of rain. It poured down all day the day we were fighting, and rained without intermission twenty-four hours after that day. The mud in these swamps is over the tops of our highest boots—in fact, the roads now are next to impassable. I have had a dumb chill to-day—the first one I have had in Louisiana. I fear we will have serious sickness as the winter approaches. There have been very few deaths so far. If I had a little good brandy or whisky, or even (Louisiana lightning) rum I could break my dumb chill in a minute; but there is nothing of that kind in the wilderness of the Atchafalaya. I will try very hard to get a furlough, unless I find that active operations are again close at hand. Major and Leigh were with me in the fight on the 29th, and are well.

The messenger is waiting for this.

Yours devotedly,

Thomas Green.
  1. Major Boon, mentioned in the foregoing letter, informs me that the writer erred in this statement, and that the sabre was not used in the engagement by the combatants on either side.
    Austin, Texas, October 6, 1876.
    V. O. King.