Chickasaw Bayou (11)

December 29 – Lake House Road

Sherman was determined to force a crossing of the bayou before the Confederates could further reinforce their position. He envisioned a simultaneous attack across the entire front by all his forces. Once again Morgan’s Third Division would spearhead the attack on the Lake House Road supported by Blair’s brigade on his left. The main attack would be aimed at the corduroyed northern crossing. Stacked behind Morgan were Steele’s remaining two brigades. In the center Lindsey would use the bridge to support the attack.

On the left Blair prepared for his part in the assault by sending a battalion of the 13th Illinois on a reconnaissance patrol to get a look at what they faced on the axis of the attack. The patrol reported that to execute their portion of the plan the brigade would have to pass through an abatis, move down an incline, cross a stream, and scale a ten foot embankment just to reach the first line of enemy rifle pits. During the entire movement the line would be enfiladed on both flanks. Unknown to Morgan or Blair the Confederate command had accurately anticipated the point of attack and concentrated their defense directly in the path of the planned assault.

At this point the Union command disagrees on exactly how the decision making process agreed to proceed with the attack. Morgan, years later, claimed he argued with Sherman that the attack was doomed. Sherman claimed that Morgan assured him that they would be on the heights behind the bayou within ten minutes after the attack began. Whatever the truth of the case, DeCourcy and Blair were ordered to prepare for the attack. To support the attack Morgan massed the 7th Michigan, 4th Ohio, and 1st Wisconsin artillery in a field south of the Lake house protected by the 30th and 32nd Missouri. A preparatory bombardment to silence the enemy guns lasted two and a half hours.

By noon 3rd Division and Blair’s brigade were ready. Blair’s line was fronted by the 13th Illinois on the right and the 31st Missouri on the left. The second line featured the 29th Missouri and 58th Ohio. On the other side of the bayou DeCourcy led with the 54th Indiana and 22nd Kentucky backed by the 16th and 42nd Ohio. Morgan initiated the attack with another artillery barrage which did little but confirm where the main effort would come. Reacting to the increased activity Withers sent the 17th and 26th Louisiana to the crossing. Despite the reinforcement and the obstacles Blair’s brigade managed to carry the first and second line of Confederate rifle pits.

DeCourcy’s advance immediately ran into trouble when the main body of the 22nd Kentucky and the 42nd Ohio found the bayou too deep to be waded. On the left the 54th Indiana, 16th Ohio and a portion of the 22nd Kentucky managed to carry the first line of enemy pits. Seeing a measure of success there DeCourcy ordered the right to shift down and follow the easier route. The movement took too long and the lead regiments could not sustain the grievous losses that accompanied their advance. DeCourcy ordered a retreat with the 42nd Ohio covering the battered remains of the lead elements as they crossed the bayou.

In yet another Union command error Thayer’s brigade which was intended to support the attack was ordered off to the right. Only the 4th Iowa contributed to the effort. The Hawkeyes crossed in the wake of DeCourcy’s brigade while the remainder of the brigade marched off under mistaken orders from Morgan to support Lindsey at the bridge. Thayer, leading from the front, accompanied the 4th across the bayou only to find they had advanced alone. He re-crossed the bayou in search of the rest of his regiments. Instead he found the 42nd Ohio on the banks of the bayou and knowing nothing of their orders to cover the retreat begged their assistance. When he could not convince them to cross he went in search of help after ordering the 4th Iowa to hold. The fruitless half hour search cost the isolated Iowans 111 casualties before they followed DeCourcy’s men back. Blair, after initial success, ran into the 30th Tennessee in the last line of entrenchments. Casualties mounted at a fearful pace until a third of the brigade was lost. Blair simply could not continue the effort or even hold his position in light of the growing losses. Although they had been badly pummeled the brigade retreated in good order.

The failure of the bridge left the Confederates capable of shifting assets to other threatened areas. Lindsey, who was ordered to force a crossing, with or without the bridge, did little more than stack his brigade behind the 62nd Indiana skirmishers at the bayou. Free to operate without this threat Lee turned the left of his line on the unfortunate soldiers of the 4th Iowa. He also seized the initiative by counter attacking DeCourcy’s retreating brigade with the 26th and 17th Louisiana. The aggressive move netted 332 prisoners. At 3:30 p.m. Morgan consulted with Sherman and operations were suspended. As Blair and DeCourcy had predicted the attack gained nothing at the price of 1439 casualties (154K, 757w, and 528m).

Chickasaw Bayou (Campaign Series)





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