DE ARAGON, The Chronicle of a Confederate Surgeon – Part 15

by Robert M. Webb on July 26, 2012 · 1 comment

Author’s note: Part of the remnants of the Army of Tennessee were sent to North Carolina to join Joe Johnston’s force there. The rest, including French’s Division is sent South to defend Spanish Fort in Mobile Bay.


Mobile Bay

The Battle of Spanish Fort


A report on the organization of the Army of Tennessee by Colonel A. P. Mason, Assistant Adjutant General of Hood’s staff dated January 20, 1865, tells of an army badly decimated after its flight from Tennessee. About thirty-five hundred who still had homes in the vicinity of had been given furloughs, leaving fifteen thousand infantry and artillery, and twenty-three hundred cavalry. Of this number, there were only fourteen surgeons left.

On January 19, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman gave the order to his army to begin a movement into South Carolina from their winter camp at Savannah, Georgia. Confederate General Richard Taylor suggested to Robert E. Lee, who had been placed in overall command of all Confederate forces, that the Army of Tennessee leave Tupelo and join Lieutenant General William Hardee in South Carolina to oppose Sherman’s advance. The forces assembled there were placed once again under the command of General Joseph E. Johnston.

Major De Aragon’s division was camped at Verona, Mississippi, just south of Tupelo, and did not go to the east coast with the rest of the army. Major General French was still absent on medical leave and on February 1 command of the division was assumed by Brigadier General Cockrell of the Missouri Brigade, who had just returned to duty after recovering from wounds received during the battle at Franklin. The three brigades of the division, along with the brigades of Brigadier Generals James T. Holtzclaw and Randall L. Gibson, both of Major General Henry D. Clayton’s Division, were ordered to Mobile, Alabama to aid Major General Dabney H. Maury, commander of the District of the Gulf,  in that city’s defense.

Southern Alabama had been spared the worst of the war’s devastation, but the port of Mobile Bay and a large munitions center at Selma, which was very near Major De Aragon’s family at Summerfield, became the focus of a spring campaign planned by Union General U. S. Grant.

Siege Operations At Spanish Fort

Grant placed Major General Edward R. S. Canby in charge of a force to take Mobile itself. His orders to Canby were:

     “Take Mobile and hold it, and push your forces to the interior to Montgomery and Selma. Destroy railroads, rolling stock and everything useful for carrying on war.”

Canby was delayed by bad weather, but finally began his move toward Mobile in March with a total force of forty-five thousand in three corps. His intent was to move up the eastern shore of the bay with the Federal fleet following in support. On reaching the north end Canby planned to use the fleet to move his troops up the rivers that emptied into the bay and take Mobile from the north. Major General Gordon Grainger’s Corps of thirteen thousand and Major General Andrew J. Smith’s Corps of sixteen thousand infantry and three thousand cavalry and artillery left Dauphine Island with Canby on March 17. Major General Frederick Steele’s Corps of thirteen thousand came from Pensacola, Florida on March 20 in a false move toward Montgomery. He was to destroy railroad track before changing course to assist in the assault on Mobile. In conjunction with Canby’s movements, Federal General James Wilson headed toward Selma with 3 cavalry divisions, all armed with Spencer repeating rifles.     Taylor and Maury agreed that a force of ten thousand at Mobile would compel the Federals to lay siege to the place and tie up a sizable number of their troops for some time. Meanwhile, if Maury could hold out for just a week,  Lieutenant General Forrest, with his cavalrymen would defeat Wilson, and come to Maury’s aid.

The east side of Mobile bay was defended on the shore by two strongholds, each made up of a chain of artillery redoubts connected by towering earthworks. On the south end, situated between Bay Minette and D’ Olive’s Bay, was a stronghold named Spanish Fort. Four and one-half miles to the North, where the Tensas River branched off from the Blakely River, stood Fort Blakely. Two artillery redoubts guarded the mouths of the Apalachee and Blakely Rivers. Battery Huger was located on an island across the Apalachee from Spanish Fort, and Battery Tracy stood on the opposite shore of the Blakely. Ten rows of pilings in the Apalachee and seven rows in the Blakely provided further obstacles to Union boats while the river channels themselves were thick with torpedoes.

To oppose the Yankee hordes converging on Mobile was Major General Maury’s little army of defiant veterans. These were men who had endured four years of war, survived the devastation of disease and starvation, and suffered through winters of bitter cold while lacking sufficient clothing or shelter. There was hardly a man among them who had not been wounded at least once, and many, such as Brigadier General Cockrell, had suffered numerous injuries, only to rejoin his comrades again and again to continue the fight for the cause. By his own count, Maury’s forces included:

     “7,700 excellent infantry and artillery, 1,500 cavalry and about 300 field and siege guns. A naval force of four small gunboats cooperated with my troops”

March 3 found Major De Aragon’s division camped five miles from Mobile. Ector’s Brigade was still commanded by Colonel Coleman, but with Cockrell leading the division, command of the Missouri Brigade had passed to Colonel James McCown of the 3rd/5th Missouri Infantry. Brigadier General Claudius Sears had been wounded at Nashville, so his Mississippians were now in the charge of Colonel Thomas Adair of the 4th Mississippi Infantry. The entire division  mustered only sixteen hundred ninety-two officers and men present for duty, a number smaller than that of a single brigade at the beginning of the war.

Rebel cavalry brought word of the Federal advance on March 24, but Maury was led to believe it was a column of only twelve thousand. Leaving some three thousand men, mostly artillerymen, in the works around Mobile, he went out to meet them at D’ Olive Creek, some two miles from Spanish Fort, with a force of forty-five hundred men and ten cannon. This group consisted of Cockrell’s, Gibson’s, and Ector’s Brigades, Thomas’ Brigade of Alabama Boy Reserves, Lieutenant Thomas B. Catron’s 3rd Missouri Battery (St. Louis Artillery), and Culpepper’s South Carolina Battery. Cockrell was informed of this move on the morning of March 24, when he was ordered to have his men cook three days’ rations and be ready to move out. At 3:00 p. m. boats took the troops to Fort Blakely and from there Maury’s whole force moved down the road toward Pensacola to do battle with the enemy.

Brigadier General Gibson was ordered to deploy his brigade along with two regiments of Holtzclaw’s Brigade and Spence’s cavalry toward Deer Park near Fish River. The enemy moved down Durant Road toward Sibley’s Mill, two miles to the east beyond Spanish Fort and in the direction of Fort Blakely.

Maury then came forward with the rest of his troops. He was informed of the real numbers of Canby’s forces, he immediately moved his men into the two forts, placing Major General St. John Liddell in command of Blakely, and Brigadier General Gibson in command of Spanish Fort. The men of French’s Division were engaged in a brief skirmish on March 25, before Cockrell withdrew them across Bayou Minette, which lay between the two forts.

As the two Union columns converged on Spanish Fort on March 26, Gibson ordered extra campfires lit to give the illusion of larger numbers of troops within the fort. The Yankees began their approach the following day. For the first few days, a bridge across Bayou Minette remained open. The troops in Spanish Fort consisted of Gibson’s Brigade, a brigade of Alabama Boy Reserves, a part of the 22nd Louisiana Heavy Artillery, Slocumb’s Light Artillery, and Mussenburg’s Light Artillery. On March 29, the Alabama Boy Reserves crossed the bridge to Fort Blakely and were replaced by Holtzclaw’s and Ector’s Brigades, giving Gibson a total of nineteen hundred men.

Spanish Fort’s battery of six heavy guns were perched on a high bluff overlooking the bay from the eastern shore of the Apalachee River about three thousand yards below Battery Huger. About five hundred yards behind these guns were artillery redoubts connected by a horseshoe shaped line of rifle pits twenty-five hundred yards in length. The right flank began on the bank of the Apalachee River and the left ended in the marshes of Bayou Minette. Gibson’s Brigade was on the right, with Holtzclaw to his immediate right, then Ector’s Brigade on the left. The two North Carolina regiments were on the right and the four Texas regiments, now consolidated, were the left flank of the Confederate line. Holtzclaw was placed in command of both his and Ector’s Brigades. The man Maury had placed in charge of the defense of Spanish Fort, Brigadier General Randall Gibson, was 32 years of age and a native of Kentucky. After graduating from Yale in 1853, he served as a military attaché for the American Embassy in Madrid, Spain. He was elected Colonel of the 13th Louisiana Infantry in August, 1861 and was promoted to Brigadier General in July 1862.

That part of Canby’s army investing Spanish Fort, the twenty-six thousand men of the XIII and XVI Corps, consisted of the divisions of Brigadier Generals Eugene A. Carr, Kenner Garrard, John McArthur, James Veatch, William P. Benton, and the brigade of Colonel Henry Bertram. As they advanced, Federal ironclads pounded the fort from the bay. The Federals lost two ironclads and one gunboat to Confederate torpedoes before deciding it would require too great a sacrifice to proceed further. Gibson had his artillery within the fort hold their fire till, on the afternoon of March 27, the Yankees came within one-half mile of the Confederate position. Then, the big guns of the Louisiana Washington Artillery roared their opening salvo and the cheering Federal troops fell silent, humbled by the sheer enormity of the destructive power which awaited them.

Both the Confederate and Union leaders had learned much during the campaigns of 1864 about attacking an enemy who was well protected by earthworks and entrenchments. Canby decided it would not be prudent to order a direct assault against Spanish Fort, but instead elected to lay siege to the place. The Yankee troops began construction of an arrangement of trenches, described by Gibson as “a system of regular approaches by parallels,” that would bring them gradually closer to the Confederate works.

In the center of the line stood Redoubt Blair and on the right atop a high bluff was the larger Fort McDermott. The Federal units were deployed with Bertram’s Brigade up in front of Fort McDermott, Benton’s Division in the center, and Carr’s Division facing the Confederate left flank.

The Yankees worked their trenches closer and closer with each passing day of the siege and the Rebel troops dealt them heavy casualties as they made them pay for every inch they advanced. Finally on the afternoon of April 8, the thirteenth day of the siege, Canby ordered an artillery barrage with all his guns. There had been a lull in the fighting the previous three days as his gunners were low on ammunition, but his engineers had brought the trenches within one hundred yards of the fort’s ramparts in some places and the Yankee commander was ready for an all-out assault.

By an odd quirk of fate, Gibson had also decided on a general bombardment with his guns to generate a reaction from the enemy and possibly reveal his intentions. Thus, when Gibson’s artillery began to fire at 5:30 p. m., Canby’s fifty-three siege guns and mortars, along with his thirty-seven field pieces immediately opened on the Southern positions.

Union Brigadier General Carr, commanding the division facing the Confederate left, took this opportunity to acquire a piece of high ground in his front. To this end, he delegated the task to Lieutenant Colonel William Bell of the 8th Iowa Infantry. At 6:10 p. m., shortly before dark, Bell sent forward two companies of his regiment across one hundred yards of marshy ground strewn with fallen timber and as they advanced they were met by a deadly hail of musket fire from the men of Ector’s Brigade. Bell saw that his troops were in danger of being annihilated, so he brought forward the rest of his regiment. Upon gaining the crest that was his original objective, he ordered a charge and the 8th Iowa drove through the rifle pits and continued on sweeping to the left over three hundred yards of the Confederate’s battlements. Gibson responded by sending forward the one hundred men of the provost guard in a counterattack at 7:00 p. m. just as the Yankees were coming up to reinforce Bell. The provost guard was repulsed, but for the moment stopped the Union advance. The 8th Iowa lost six men killed and forty-four wounded, while capturing over two hundred prisoners, mostly of Ector’s Brigade.

Gibson’s orders from Maury were to hold out as long as he could. Now the enemy’s vast superiority in numbers could not be denied, and his men were beyond their limit of endurance, for nearly two weeks not a man had any unbroken rest, for when they weren’t fighting, they were digging to build up the breastworks. His guns silenced by those of the enemy, Gibson decided it was time to leave and later described the event, including the status of those men in Major De Aragon’s care:

“The guns were ordered to be spiked, and time was allowed for this purpose; the few remaining stores were issued; the sick and wounded were carefully removed – the infirmary corps and several hundred negroes who arrived that evening to be employed in the defense; and finally, in good order, the whole garrison was withdrawn. The retreat was along a narrow tread way, about eighteen inches wide, which ran from a small peninsula from the left flank across the river, and over a broad marsh to a deep channel opposite Battery Huger. It was about twelve hundred yards long and was commanded throughout by the enemy’s heavy batteries in front of our left flank.”

Two thousand men pulled off their shoes and silently went single file across the walkway,  which was partially submerged in some places. Once they reached Battery Huger, a Colonel Bushrod Jones led a group through the swamp toward Fort Blakely. The rest were carried by boat across the bay to Mobile.

The Federal troops advanced from the captured section of the works at 10:00 p. m. and again at 11:00 p. m. They captured a number of pickets who had by some error been left in the rifle pits. From one of these men they learned of the escape route but by then it was too late – the bulk of the Confederate garrison had made good their escape. By Gibson’s own count, their losses were ninety-three killed, three hundred ninety-five wounded, and two hundred fifty missing.

Fort Blakely had been under siege from April 1. When Spanish Fort was taken, Canby transferred most of his troops to concentrate at that place. Maury elected not to give up this fort without a fight as the defensive works were of better construction. Major General Liddell had under his command thirty-five hundred men – Sears’ and Cockrell’s Brigades and the Alabama Boy Reserves. On April 9, as Robert E. Lee surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Courthouse in Virginia, Canby attacked the center of the Confederate line with over twenty thousand. All within the fort were captured, with the exception of one hundred fifty to two hundred who made their escape through the swamps and were picked up by the steamship “Nashville.” Batteries Huger and Tracy held out two more days before being taken.

Maury’s force now totaled about five thousand. His ammunition was nearly depleted. He ordered the evacuation of Mobile on April 11. Gibson remained behind in order to supervise the spiking of the cannon, burning of a number of cotton bales, and the withdrawal of the pickets. The troops left by the Mobile & Ohio Railroad and went on to Meridian, Mississippi without incident. Six thousand Federal cavalry had been dispatched from Pensacola to intercept them, but were unable to cross the flooded Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers.

Following instructions received from General Taylor, Maury took his men  to Cuba Station where they reorganized and made ready to join Joe Johnston in North Carolina. Meanwhile, word came of Lee’s surrender and of Lincoln’s assassination on April 14, so they were ordered to stay put to await further developments. Taylor sent a communiqué’ to Canby suggesting a conference and on April 30 they met at Citronelle, Alabama, forty miles north of Mobile. They arranged a forty-eight hour truce till better information on the state of affairs in the East could be obtained. They learned that Sherman and Johnston had drawn up an agreement at Durham Station, North Carolina which reached past terms of surrender of military troops and included guarantees of general amnesty for all Southerners and recognition of the Southern states on the signature of the oath of allegiance to the United States by the respective state officials. On the heels of that announcement came the news that the United States government had rejected this agreement. Finally came news of Johnston’s formal surrender to Sherman. Taylor signed a surrender, under basically the same terms offered Lee and Johnston, on May 4.

The following is Major General Maury’s farewell to the troops:

“Headquarters Maury’s Division

Camp six miles east of Meridian, Mississippi, May 7,1865.

     Soldiers – Our last march is almost ended. To-morrow we shall lay down the arms we have borne for four years to defend our rights, to win our liberties.

We know that we have borne them with honor; and we only now surrender to the overwhelming power of the enemy, which has rendered further resistance hopeless and mischievous to our own people and cause. But we shall never forget the noble comrades who have stood shoulder to shoulder with us until now; the noble dead who have been martyred; the noble Southern women who have been wronged and are unavenged; or the noble principles for which we have fought. Conscious that we have played our part like men, confident of the righteousness of our cause, without regret for our past action, and without despair of the future, let us to-morrow, with the dignity of the veterans who are the last to surrender, perform the sad duty which has been assigned to us.

          Your friend and comrade,

Dabney H. Maury,

Major – General Confederate Army.”

Maury took his men back to Meridian on May 8 where they were joined by Forrest and his cavalry. Federal staff officers arrived at Meridian the following day to receive the formal surrender of the troops. That day, Major De Aragon stood in line with his comrades and signed the Parole of Honor, ending four long years of loyal service to the Confederate States of America.


“No. 173


     I, the undersigned prisoner of war belonging to the Department of Alabama, Mississippi and East Louisiana, having been surrendered by Lieutenant General R. Taylor, C. S. A., Commanding Army and Division of West Mississippi, do hereby give my solemn Parole of Honor that I will not hereafter serve in the Armies of the Confederate States or in any military capacity whatever against the United States of America, or render aid to the enemies of the latter until properly exchanged in such manner as shall be mutually approved by the respective authorities.


Done at    Meridian, Mississippi  }

this9 day of May, 1865.      }                                   R. T. De Aragon

            }                                       Surgeon, 9th Tex. Infy.

Approved:          R. L. Gibson, Brig. Gen’l, C. S. A. }


            S. L. Andrews, Brig. Gen’l, U. S. A.}


     The above named officer will not be disturbed by United States authorities, as long as he observes his parole, and the laws in force where he resides.

S. L. Andrews


Brig. Gen. U. S. Vols. and Pro. Mar. Gen.”


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

P. Brueske June 7, 2017 at 9:18 pm

A few points

– The CSS Nashville was actually considered an ironclad.

– The armistice cease-fire took place at Kushla, Alabama on April 29, 1865z The actual Surrender took place at Citronelle on May 4, 1865.


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