July 24, 2015
Fort Hill Bloody in Civil War Battles - 1958 Account
The following article appeared in the August 3, 1958 edition of the Monroe Morning World:
Transcription below picture:
Judge McGee--Judge Jesse McGee, amateur historian, is shown in his office in the Harrisonburg Courthouse. It was through his help that the information in this article was brought to light. (Staff photo by Sam Hanna)
Transcription of accompanying article:
By Lynn Garrett
Happy shouts of playing children, the occasional rumble of a truck and the barking of a dog are all that break the silence in the small town.
The river is placid in the summer sunshine. The streets look calm.
It was not always so, for the children's playground is Ft. Beauregard, the river is the Ouachita, and the streets are of the town of Harrisonburg.
Nearly a century ago, Ft. Beauregard, also known as Ft. Hill, and three other Confederate forts at Harrisonburg were the last stronghold to stop Yankee gunboats from plying their way on up the river to the Monroe area.
Bloody battles were fought here and many houses in the town were burned.
Harrisonburg would have been completely destroyed, if the Yankees had not halted their burning spree when they realized the town was filled with women and children.
And a mere quirk of nature kept Monroe from being the next target of the gunboats. Fast-dropping water on the Ouachita changed the minds of the Yankees and they headed for Mississippi after the Harrisonburg siege.
The very name of the Fort itself was in tribute to Gen. P. G. T. Beauregard, who resigned his commission in the U. S. Army in 1861 and was in command of Confederate forces at Charleston, S. C. By his order the first shot of the Civil War was fired at 4:30 a.m. April 12, 1861.
"We'll hold the fort forever."
That was the reply Confederate Col. George W. Logan hurled in answer to the Federal Commodore who demanded unconditional surrender of Fort Beauregard during the third year of the Civil War.
Ft. Beauregard was one of four forts set high on a hill overlooking Harrisonburg. The network commanded a good view of the Ouachita River and any Federal gunboats which might be approaching.
In May, 1863, Commodore S. E. Woodworth was commanding Federal gunboats which were slipping up the river. They anchored a short distance from the fort and demanded surrender.
Logan, with about 400 men under his command, was relentless. The gunboats broke into four hours of steady shelling, but no harm was done except slight damage to the parapet at the fort, and destruction of one house in the town.
Woodworth withdrew his boats and they wound their way on up the Ouachita. A second effort of the fleet that same summer also met with failure.
But the Confederate forts fell on Sept. 4, the same year, when Gen. M. M. Crocker marched a land expedition of Yankees over from Natchez, Miss. Logan, with only 40 able-bodied men remaining, evacuated the fort. Yankees took the town.
Several stores were burned in the skirmish, large amounts of ammunition which had been stored in the warehouses were destroyed, and corn and cotton were confiscated. The Federalists also destroyed the grist mill, and captured 20 prisoners from among the town folk. Crocker then led his troops back to Mississippi.
During the time Logan was evacuating the fort, another Confederate Colonel, Horace Randal, moved in his troops from northern Louisiana to draw attention away from Logan and his men. Randal's troops left by way of the Alexandria Road, to prevent any flank movement from the rear.
Randal, in a letter to Maj. E. Surget on Sept. 5, reported that the Confederates were outnumbered five to one. He added that he and his troops were heading for a Federal camp near Trinity, now were reported to be 16,000 strong, and would go from there to Alexandria.
Logan, his 40 men, and a few wagons, horses, mules and four pieces of artillery, had rendezvous with Randal at the Confederate camp in Alexandria on Sept. 10.
Harrisonburg was a town long before Catahoula was formed as a parish in 1808. The first white man to settle on the present town site was Jacob Simmons. The land was later acquired by a John Hamberlin, who eventually sold it to a John Harrison. It was Harrison who had Edward Dorsey survey and make a plat of the town site in 1818.
The Harrisonburg forts again enter the war picture in 1864. On March 2 of that year Capt. T. A. Faries, stationed in a field near the forts, wrote Maj. O. Voorhies of the Louisiana Infantry about another fleet of federal gunboats.
"We took position at daylight today on an Indian mound in an old field," Faries wrote. "The federal gunboat Osage appeared at 10 a.m., followed by five stern-wheelers. We fired and I could tell we did considerable damage. We had no injuries but one of our horses was killed."
The day before, on March 1, the same boats had shelled the Trinity area. Gen. C. J. Polignac wrote Maj. L. Bush that "six gunboats had appeared off Beard's Point on Black River." He said after the attack on Trinity the boats left.
"We decided," Polignac wrote, "that they were intending to attack Harrisonburg, so we ferried across Bushley Bayou on our way to the forts."
Polignac's troops joined Faries' men and they opened on the Yankee boats. The boats kept moving slowly up the river, firing as they went. Polignac records that the Yankees riddled "several houses containing women and children." One boat was damaged and dropped back, with the others proceeding on up the Ouachita. About an hour later, the gunboats returned and thew incendiary bombs at several homes.
"We helped put out the fires," Polignac wrote. All the boats, including the crippled one, went back downriver and spent the night near Trinity. "We had 3 killed, 13 wounded." Polignac recorded.
On March 4, Polignac wrote Bush that he was moving two regiments back to Trinity. He said the distance and bad roads between Harrisonburg and Trinity made it difficult to cover both points. He said his troops were running short of food, and he asked for some incendiary bombs to throw at the Federal fleet.
Apparently he never got a chance to use the bombs for on March 5, Federal Commander F. M. Ramsey aboard the Choctaw gunboat wrote Rear Adm. D. D. Porter that after his fleet had burned the Harrisonburg houses they headed toward Meridian, Miss.
Of the forts he wrote, "They are high on hills and command a view of the river for over three miles." He termed 'very formidable.' He told his admiral that the boats burned some houses, and would have burned the whole town, except there were so many women and children in the area. The gunboat crews suffered 2 dead and 12 wounded, he added.
"After this battle we would have gone on up the Ouachita to Monroe," he said, "but the water was falling so fast we deemed it best not to attempt it."
On March 6, Porter wrote the Hon. Gideon Welles, Secretary of the Navy in Washington D. C., that the expedition up the Black and Ouachita was "perfectly successful."
"The Rebels were driven from point to point, he said, "and we destroyed the entire works." He said the federals took all the cotton they could find, and destroyed a bridge to cut the Rebels off from Alexandria.
He added that a number of houses were destroyed, but as the "community is all Rebel it is not to be regretted." "We are well pleased with the results of the expedition."
Mute evidence of this "expedition" can still be seen today--the trenches in which the Confederates huddled during the battles. This land of the Old Spanish Trail has other testimony to the gallant fight also--a Veteran's Memorial Park.
It is established on the site of Ft. Beauregard and was set up in 1954 by the Catahoula Parish Police Jury. It honors the war dead, including those of World War I, World War II and the Korean War.
Tables under shady pine trees make an ideal picnic spot. A large amphitheater has also been built on the site, and Masons of the area hold a conclave here early each summer.
A marker posted on the roadway says of Ft. Beauregard: "This is one of four forts built by the Confederates in May, 1863, to prevent the ascent of Federal gunboats on the Ouachita at Harrisonburg. Abandoned in 1863 and re-occupied in 1864."