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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

Union Failures in Louisiana included Grand Coteau, Nov. 3, 1863

by Gordon Thorsby

Pvt. Edwin Erath, 15th Texas Infantry


It's names included Bayou Bourbeax, Grand Coteau, Carrion Crow Bayou, and Boggy Creek. The battle had too many names and so the fight can be easily overlooked.


Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks was beat once again, this time at the Second Battle of Sabine Pass Texas in September. Maj. Gen. William Franklin now attempted a land campaign

going western Louisiana (Banks commanded the campaign from the comfort of New Orleans.) with 19500 men in October against a force half that size under Maj. Gen Richard Taylor. However, Franklin ran into a force he didn’t anticipate, the Louisiana bayous. The local bayous were too dangerous to cross for a force of Franklin’s size, too difficult for his troops to forage, and roads too muddy to travel. By the 26th of October, any offensive was done and Franklin began a sloppy withdrawal with exposed troops and little concern for Taylor attacking his much larger two corps. The corps marched and camped apart, unsupported by either and Franklin was about to be punished for his carelessness.

On November 3, 1863, the rearguard force under command of Brig. Gen. Stephan Burbridge(right) with 1625 men including a couple of batteries of artillery camps about two or three hundred yards south from the point where the road turned eastward to cross the bayou near Grand Coteau . Burbridge’s rearguard stuck out and fully exposed awaiting to be hit and indeed it was.


Taylor sent Brig. Gen. Tom Green three additional infantry regiments and ordered him to attack and Green did not hesitate. Green led his force of 6000 men including three Texas Infantry regiments but Green was not a Texas man. He was actually born in Amelia County, Virginia. Green was also not a newbie to fighting in 1863. He was a veteran of Texas Independence with Mexico, the Mexican War, fighting Commanches, and fighting in this war.


Green’s plan was to lead with Colonel O. M. Roberts with his brigade, and attack south into the enemy under shelter of the timber. He would funnel his infantry between the bayou and the road, and drive back the Union pickets. The infantry was formed as follows; the 15th Texas on the right, the 18th Texas commanded by Colonel King, in the center, and the 11th Texas on the left. Colonel Majors was to take his brigade of Partisan rangers and demonstrate eastward, in sight of the enemy, to freeze troops and their attention. Colonel Bagby's brigade of cavalry, accompanied by the Valverde Battery and General Green would advance from the northwest, hit the enemy's camp, dismount, and attack.

Before noon, Green (right) launched his attack with his two divisions of cavalry and 3 infantry regiments to within a short distance of the camp. Roberts' infantry advanced on the enemy camp driving in drowsy Union picket posts but Burbridge managed to form up anyway. As the Texas brigade advanced near the camp, the enemy was seen ready to fire. Surprise was gone. Roberts, already committed to the attack yelled, ''Charge them, boys!"


The Texas men charged out of a ravine and into Burbridge's front and flanks. The Seventeenth Ohio Battery’s fire tore into the Gray line and it was supported by the Eighty-third Ohio, and the Sixtieth Indiana watching the flank. Burbridge was distracted by the cavalry demonstration while the infantry assailed its front. Burbridge left his other flank to Lt. Col. Theodore Buehler, the commander of his 67th Indiana who was threatened by the rest of Green's cavalry. Buehler completely failed in his one duty, and the 67th was surrounded and the regiment surrendered en masse. The lines became intermingled Yankee and Rebel. The Sixtieth Indiana, the Ninety-sixth Ohio, and the Twenty-third Wisconsin, momentarily stabilized the line but for a moment only. Destruction seemed assured. Burbridge tried to hold off the charges with a section of the Seventeenth Ohio Battery, but the Confederates closed around them and his force was done. His left now "totally gone", Burbridge ordered a retreat as men were already running. They retreated three miles as fast as possible where they met up with McGinnis’ Union division. Reinforcements had arrived.



Green having obtained the objectives needed withdrew inflicting 30 dead, 129 wounded, 562 men and officers and one 10lb. Parrott gun from the 17th Ohio Light Artillery captured. Confederate losses vary, were about 30-50 killed, 200 wounded and 65 captured. The battle, from start to end lasted three hours.


The battlefield location is in current day southwestern Louisiana west of Grand Coteau, in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. On a marker near the intersection of LA 754 and LA 182 just west of Sunset Louisiana, it reads,


"While Texas will mourn the loss of her brave sons, she will treasure the memory as the glorious martyrs of our common country's independence." The above words echo from the report of Colonel O. M. Roberts regarding men of the 11th, 15th & 18th Tx. Inf. buried in a grave near here. The men died in the Battle of Bayou Bourbeux in 1863.”




Sources:


"Near Grand Coteau, Louisiana, Confederate forces defeat Union infantry in the battle of Bayou Bourbeau," The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College. https://hd.housedivided.dickinson.edu/node/26661.


http://www.americancivilwar101.com/battles/631103-bayou-bourbeau.html.


The Campaigns of Walker’s Texas Division by J.P. Blessington, 1875, The Battle of Bayou Bourbeau, November 3, 1863,


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