Posted 7-18-01
Engagement at Bayou Teche

The Destruction of the Gunboat J.A. Cotton

The start of the second week of January 1863, Major General Nathaniel Banks, commanding the Department of the Gulf had ordered the brigade under Brigadier General Godfrey Weitzel on an expedition to destroy the Confederate Gunboat J.A. Cotton as it was presently being refitted as a more dangerous war vessel.

She was under the command of Captain Fuller, and happened to be a large river steamer. It was Fullerís idea to convert her to gunboat and succeeded in this mission with the help of Major Brent, who provided two twenty four pounders and a field piece to arm her.

Godfrey Weitzel had been hearing rumors that the rebels had plans on destroying his forces now at Berwick Bay, about 4,500 strong and the Gunboat Cotton was going to be used in accomplishing this mission. He coordinated a joint force operation with the United States Navyís fleet under Lieutenant Commander T. McK. Buchanan.

The force Weitzel would take with him would consist of seven infantry regiments along with two sections of the of Battery A, First Artillery, one section (two guns) of the Fourth Massachusetts Battery, the First Maine Battery, Sixth Massachusetts Battery. He posted Company B Louisiana Cavalry, and Company B, Eighth New Hampshire Infantry acting as the provost guard at Brashear City.

General Weitzel began crossing his forces in the wee hours of the morning, Tuesday 13 January 1863, however all was across the by late morning and line of battle formed at Pattersonville. The Navy, under Lieutenant Commander Buchanan, now made a reconnaissance. As all was reported clear the entire force was advanced to Lynchís Point and bivouacked for the night.

The following morning the operation began in earnest. General Weitzel had deployed the Eight Vermont to the east bank of the bayou with the intent of clearing out any and all of the enemy forces posted there. He then advanced the remainder of his line to the west bank in full view of the gunboat J. A. Cotton.

With sixty volunteers from both the Eighth Vermont and the Seventy Fifth New York, these one hundred and twenty men were directed to shoot down the Cottonís gunners. The 75th New York deployed on the west bank, the 8th Vermont on the east.

This line of Federal Infantry, the Seventy-Five New York, had been so accurate that while it advanced shot down everyone in sight and completely silenced the gunboat. To further add to the Cottonís headache, the Fourth and Sixth Massachusetts Batteries along with the First Maine Battery began hammering away at the vessel. The Fourth Massachusetts Battery having been unlimbered on the main road began a destructive enfilade fire, while the Lieutenant Bradbury of the First Maine Battery, and Captain Carruth of the Sixth Massachusetts Battery hit her at broadside on plantation roads running parallel to the main road.

The Eighth Vermont continued to advance from the east bank of Bayou Teche and drove the Confederates out of the rifle pits along with the cavalry that was supporting them. Forty-One prisoners were taken along with one officer (lieutenant).

The Navyís gunboats began to belch forth fire on J. A. Cotton, and she took this pounding well for some time. She withdrew slowly reaching a point of safety, but made another attempt at engaging the forces Weitzel had mounted against her. It was too much, for the Cotton as she withdrew to reduce the fight to only minor skirmishing between the land forces.

Once again, to avoid the vessel falling into Federal hands, the Confederates had swung the gunboat across the bayou and burned hoping to add yet another obstruction to the Federal Forces.

The Expedition returned on Friday the 17th of January 1863, having captured more than 50 prisoners and several horses. Weitzelís losses were 1 officer and 5 privates killed, 2 non commissioned officers officers and 25 privates wounded.

The Brigadier General commanding this expedition had commended the fleet the United States Navy provided in covering Weitzelís advance on Bayou Teche. The gunboat Calhoun had been in command by Lieutenant Commander Buchanan up until the time of his death. His successor was Acting Master M. Jordan. The gunboat Estrella, Lieutenant Commander A. P. Cooke, commanding; the gunboat Kinsman, Acting Volunteer Lieutenant George Wiggins, and the gunboat Diana, Acting Master E. S. Goodwin, commanding.

The Eighth Vermont, commanded by Colonel Thomas, had marched into combat for the first time. These men reflected great credit upon themselves having driven the Confederates from the east bank of the bayou and capturing the greater portion of prisoners. For itís first time in combat the Eighth had not lost one man. Their flanking maneuver was so successful they had completely surprised the Confederate battle line in that sector.

The Seventy Fifth New York Infantry, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Babcock, also went into combat for the first time. They had marched straight on the J. A. Cotton from the west side of the bayou. It was these men that had silenced the resistance on the Cotton itself as well as drove off a Confederate Battery on shore. The Seventy Five wasnít as lucky to walk off the field of honor with no casualties however. For their bravery and gallantry under fire, they suffered 1 lieutenant and 3 privates killed, 2 non commissioned officers and 18 privates wounded. The lieutenant this regiment lost was that of Lieutenant Whiteside. He led his men bravely to the banks along the gunboat J. A. Cotton demanding that it strike itís colors and surrender. He was shot dead for such an act.

Brigadier General Weitzel had never committed the 12th Connecticut, 21st Indiana, and 6th Michigan Infantries to battle. More than likely there was no need to. These regiments made up Weitzelís reserve, and having all been battle hardened veterans their reputations had already been well established to require no justification for their part in the rear of hostilities.

In the assault of the J. A. Cotton on Bayou Teche, General Weitzelís force had killed the gunboat pilots and succeeded in breaking the arm of Captain Fuller. It was Fuller who back the boat out of harmís way by the steering the boat with his feet.

© Dan Moran, 2001 (Aldie)