The Battle of Pleasant Hill

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series The Red River Campaign
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The Battle of Pleasant Hill was a continuation of the fighting at Mansfield the day before. The two sides were essentially composed of the same forces and the same leadership as there was at Mansfield with Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks leading the Union forces and Lt. Gen. Richard Taylor leading the Confederates. Pleasant Hill was located about 16 miles southeast of Sabine Cross Roads, the scene of the previous day’s fighting.

During the overnight period the Union forces were reinforced, giving them a total of about 12,000 men while the Confederates slightly outnumbered them with about 12,100. Union reinforcements included Maj. Gen. Andrew J. Smith, commanding detachments of XVI and XVII Corps. They arrived from Grand Ecore late on the April 8, around nightfall, and encamped about 2 miles from Pleasant Hill.

Map of the Battle of Pleasant HillConfederate reinforcements had arrived late on the April 8. Churchill’s Arkansas Division arrived at Mansfield at 3.30 PM and Parson’s Missouri Division (numbering 2,200 men) arrived at Mansfield at 6 PM. Neither of these Divisions participated in the Battle of Mansfield. However, both would play a major role during the Battle of Pleasant Hill.

Click map to enlarge

Historian John D. Winters of Louisiana Tech University in his The Civil War in Louisiana described the scene along the road from Mansfield to Pleasant Hill as being “littered by burning wagons, abandoned knapsacks, arms, and cooking utensils. Federal stragglers and wounded were met by the hundreds and were quickly rounded up and sent to the rear. 

On the morning of the April 9, Maj. Gen. William Franklin ordered the baggage train to proceed to Grand Ecore. It left Pleasant Hill at 11:00 AM, and included many pieces of artillery. Most of Franklin’s Cavalry (commanded by Brig. Gen. Albert Lindley Lee) and the XIII Corps left with it. This included the Corps D’Afrique commanded by Colonel William H. Dickey (wounded on April 8) and Brig. Gen. Thomas E. G. Ransom‘s detachment of the XIII Corps, now under the command of Brig. Gen. Robert A. Cameron. Ransom had been wounded on the April 8.

The baggage train made slow progress and was still only a few miles from Pleasant Hill when the major fighting began later that day. Brig. Gen. Charles P. Stone, Chief of Staff, and others, attempted to get Cameron to return to Pleasant Hill throughout the day, but he failed to do so. Cameron stated that he never received any written orders to return. Banks didn’t appear to have been fully aware of the exact orders Cameron had received from Franklin.

The Union side lost 18 pieces of artillery at the Battle of Mansfield. These were now turned on the Union forces the next day at Pleasant Hill. Confederate Brig. Gen. Jean Jacque Alexandre Alfred Mouton was killed during the Battle of Mansfield and was replaced by Brig. Gen. Camille J. de Polignac.

Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department commander Lt. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, who was at Shreveport, received a dispatch from Taylor that reached him at 4:00 AM, April 9. It informed him of the Battle of Mansfield. Smith then rode 45 miles to Pleasant Hill, but did not reach there in time for the battle, arriving around nightfall.

Dr. Harris H. Beecher, Assistant-Surgeon, 114th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, present at the battle, described the village of Pleasant Hill as “a town of about twelve or fifteen houses, situated on a clearing in the woods, of a mile or so in extent, and elevated a trifle above the general level of the surrounding country.”

In 1864, the countryside in this part of Louisiana mostly consisted of pine forests and scrub oaks. According to Banks, “The shortest and only practicable road from Natchitoches to Shreveport was the stage road through Pleasant Hill and Mansfield (distance 100 miles), through a barren, sandy country, with less water and less forage, the greater portion an unbroken pine forest.”

According to Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks’ Report of the Battle, “The enemy began to reconnoiter the new position we had assumed at 11 o’clock on the morning of the 9th, and as early as 1 or 2 o’clock opened a sharp fire of skirmishers, which was kept up at intervals during the afternoon.”

At about 5:00 PM, the Confederates attacked along the entire Union line. The Confederates had little success on the Union right but did push the Union defenders back in the center and on the left. The defenders succeeded in halting their retreat and in turn regained their former positions. They were able to stabilize their lines and then drive the Confederates from the field. The entire battle lasted about two hours with heavy casualties on both sides.

The experience of Confederate Brig. Gen. Hamilton P. Bee illustrates the heavy fighting. Bee advanced with  two regiments in columns of four riding swiftly down the Pleasant Hill road toward the enemy lines. The Confederate forces were suddenly attacked at close range by Federals concealed behind a fence. Winters describes the scene, accordingly: “Men toppled from their saddles, wounded horses screamed in anguish, and for a moment pandemonium reigned.”

Bee’s men took temporary shelter . . . in a series of small ravines studded with young pines until they recovered from the shock of the unexpected attack. Bee rallied his men but in the process had two horses shot from under him. Colonel [Xavier B.] Debray was injured when he fell from the saddle of his dead horse. . . . Debray was able to withdraw his men safely to the rear leaving, however, about a third of them killed or wounded on the front.

Banks ordered a withdrawal from Pleasant Hill at about 1:00 AM on April 10th. Bee reported that he was in possession of the field the following morning. “The day has been passed in burying the dead of both armies and caring for the Federal wounded, our own wounded having been cared for the night before.” After the Battle of Pleasant Hill, Banks and his Union forces retreated to Grand Ecore and abandoned plans to capture Shreveport, by then the Louisiana state capital.

Pleasant Hill was an exceedingly bloody affair with the Union forces sustaining 1,369 casualties (150 killed, 844 wounded, 375 missing or captured). The Confederates lost 1,629 including 1,200 killed or wounded and 429 missing or captured.

Series Navigation<< Up The Red River: The Initial Union ManeuversThe Battle of Mansfield >>

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