Major Bradford Hancock’s Report on His Brigade’s Action at the Battle of Sabine Crossroads, or Mansfield, Louisiana, April 8, 1864

In March and April 1864, a combined U.S. Army and Navy expedition up the Red River of Louisiana had successfully advanced about 150 miles and was closing in on Shreveport. Confederate

Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks

Major General Richard Taylor decided to make an attempt to stop the Federal advance. On April 8th he deployed his troops in a defensive position near a road junction called Sabine Cross Roads, which was near the town of Mansfield. Taylor waited for the U.S. troops, under Major General Nathaniel Banks, to attack.

Banks’ army included parts of the 13th, 16th, 17th, and 19th Corps. After approaching the Confederate line, the Fourth Division of the 13th Corps went into defensive positions while the 19th Corps’ Cavalry Division took up position on the two flanks of the infantry.

By 4:00, Taylor was convinced that Banks would not attack, and the Confederate general seized the initiative and attacked the Union flanks with his Texans and Louisianans. The fighting was intense, and the U.S. forces were compelled to pull back and try to assume a new position. Reinforcements had a hard time arriving due to heavy wagon traffic on the road, but the 3rd Division of 13th Corps, came on the scene and began to form a line just as the Fourth Division and Cavalry were overwhelmed and retreated in disorder. Adding to the chaos were all the supply wagons blocking the road.

Brigadier General Robert A. Cameron

Brigadier General Robert A. Cameron, commanding the 3rd Division of the 13th Corps, had the unenviable task of slowing down the Confederates. His division included just two infantry brigades. The 2nd Brigade had three regiments present for duty, but the 1st Brigade had three regiments absent on furlough, leaving just two present, the 46th Indiana and 29th Wisconsin. The 29th Wisconsin had only five of its 10 companies present while the other five were detached to guard the supply train. Cameron placed the 2nd Brigade on the left of the road and the 1st Brigade on the right.

Major Bradford Hancock of the 20th Wisconsin assumed command of the 1st Brigade after the wounding and capture of Lieutenant Colonel Aaron M. Flory. His after action report on the Battle of Sabine Crossroads, or Mansfield, details the intense fighting his brigade endured to delay the enemy before being forced to retreat.

Hdqrs. 20th Regt. Wisconsin Vol. Infy.,
Grand Ecore, La., April 12, 1864.

Sir: I have the honor to report the part taken by the First Brigade, Third Division, Thirteenth Army Corps, in the campaign from Natchitoches to Sabine Cross-Roads, La., as follows: The brigade ,composed of the Forty-sixth Indiana Volunteer Infantry, Twenty-ninth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, and First Missouri Battery [A, First Missouri Artillery], commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Flory, Forty-sixth Indiana Infantry, commenced the march from Natchitoches in its proper place in column at 7.45 a. m., April 6, marching about 16 miles, and going into camp about 5 p. m. Commenced march on the 7th, marching about 20 miles, going into camp at Pleasant Hill about 1 p. m. Commenced march April 8 at 5.45 a. m., five companies, Twenty-ninth Wisconsin, having been detailed to guard train, marching about 12 miles, going into camp about 1 p. m. In about one hour orders for the division to march immediately to the front were received and promptly obeyed, the artillery being left behind. Marched about 5 miles, and arrived in good order on the field of battle.

Gen. Richard Taylor CSA

The First Brigade was immediately thrown into line on the right of the road, and charged forward at quick and double-quick time through thick underbrush, woods, and fallen timber, meeting the broken troops of the Fourth Division, Thirteenth Army Corps, and the pursuing enemy, driving them back about one-half mile, until reaching the edge of a large open field over which the enemy was advancing in heavy force. The brigade halted and commenced a heavy fire, driving the enemy entirely from the field, and forcing him to abandon some pieces of artillery. The enemy soon charged again into the field, attempting to gain possession of the artillery, but reserving the fire of the Twenty-ninth Wisconsin until the enemy was well advanced they opened a severe fire, driving him again in disorder from the field. Meanwhile the enemy fired upon us with artillery from the opposite side and moved several regiments of infantry around the right of the field, and around the right and almost to the rear of our line, and again charged our direct front with a force far outnumbering ours, but were repulsed with severe loss.

Information was sent to the commanding general that we were being flanked on our right by a heavy force. Mean time the second regiment had been driven back so that the enemy had passed some distance to the rear on our left. Lieutenant-Colonel Flory, in order to meet the flank movement on our right, changed the front of the Forty-sixth Indiana, moving it about 100 yards to the rear, so as to meet the enemy, who charged immediately in overwhelming numbers, forcing that regiment back, Lieutenant-Colonel Flory falling wounded into the hands of the enemy; but the Forty -sixth Indiana again formed line in a road nearly parallel with the first line of battle, and the enemy in heavy numbers pursuing again forced them to fall back. The Twenty-ninth Wisconsin, which had already suffered severely from the fire of the enemy advancing through the field, fell back in good order about 50 yards in order to clear its flanks from the enemy, changing front slightly toward the enemy on the right, who now advanced slowly but firing rapidly, they supposing, I think, that the Twenty-ninth formed part of a fresh line, as it was impossible to see but a short distance through the thicket. The enemy which had advanced across the open field now arrived close upon our left flank, delivering a heavy fire, driving back the skirmishers, which had been left along the fence to hinder their progress. The few troops now left, numbering not more than 100 men, fell back in tolerably order to get out of the terrible cross-fire they were receiving.

Battle of Sabine Crossroads, or Mansfield, from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper

Many of our men had expended their ammunition, and it appeared as though we were completely surrounded and cut off. We, however, succeeded again in forming a line with about 40 men in the road near where the first line of battle was formed, fronted slightly to the right, the flanks resting in the brush on either side, intending (although many of our guns were empty and ammunition gone) to deceive the enemy with the idea that the long-expected re-enforcements had arrived. To this end the skeleton regiment gave three cheers for Vicksburg, immediately delivering its fire upon the enemy, whose line was advanced within a few yards. We were, however, immediately attacked on our left flank by a portion of the enemy, which we had mistaken through the smoke of some burning logs for our own troops. Many of our men fell, either killed or wounded, and were immediately driven back. As from the general confusion now prevailing, the enemy having attacked the flank of the trains and the cavalry support having fled, it became impossible to make longer head against the enemy, our scattered forces fell back to the rear of the Nineteenth Army Corps, which was forming line, and we gathered our scattered men, with the aid of the five companies of the Twenty-ninth Wisconsin, which had now arrived from guarding trains. Procuring ammunition and rations we commenced the retreat about 10 p. m., arriving at Pleasant Hill, 16 miles distant, early next morning.

The brigade numbered on going into battle as follows: Forty-sixth Indiana Infantry, 253 enlisted men, 13 officers; five companies Twenty-ninth Wisconsin, 183 enlisted men, 5 officers. The brigade lost in the battle as follows: Forty-sixth Indiana, 8 killed, 98 wounded and missing; five companies Twenty-ninth Wisconsin, 5 killed, 55 wounded and missing; total number engaged, 435 enlisted men and 18 officers; total loss, 13 killed, 153 wounded and missing. Among the killed is Lieut. J. McClung, Forty-sixth Indiana. Among the missing are Lieutenant-Colonel Flory, Forty-sixth Indiana, commanding brigade; Chaplain H. Robb, Capt. W. M. De Hart, Lieut. Jacob Hudlow, all of the Forty-sixth Indiana. Among the wounded who escaped are Capt. F. Swigart, Forty-sixth Indiana; Capt. G. H. Bryant, Twenty-ninth Wisconsin.

Soon after the breaking of our last line Captain Blake, of the Twenty-ninth Wisconsin, was captured by the enemy, but succeeded almost immediately in making his escape.

I would add that the men were not disheartened, but are as ready as ever to meet the enemy, feeling that they were driven from the field by force of overwhelming numbers. The conduct of officers and men during the engagement was most satisfactory, all conducting themselves bravely.

Most respectfully,
Major Twenty-ninth Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry.

Capt. Henry E. Jones,
Actg. Asst. Adjt. Gen., 1st Brig., 3d Div., 13th Corps.

The Confederate advance was finally stopped by Brigadier General William Emory’s 1st division of the 19th Corps.

Banks retreated to the small hamlet of Pleasant Hill, where the two sides again fought again the next day. This time the Federals held against Taylor’s Confederates. Unlike Sabine Cross Roads, Pleasant Hill was a Union victory, but Banks retreated back down the river, and the Red River Campaign ended in failure for the Union.


The Civil War in Louisiana by John D. Winters

Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume 34, Part 1

One Damn Blunder from Beginning to End: The Red River Campaign of 1864 by Gary Dillard Joiner

The Military History of Wisconsin: A Record of the Civil and Military Patriotism of the State in the War for the Union by E.B. Quiner

“The Red River Campaign” by Richard B. Irwin. In Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume IV, edited by Robert U. Johnson and Clarence C. Buel

Red River Campaign: Politics and Cotton in the Civil War by Ludwell H. Johnson

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