Battle at Bayou Cache

Semi-centennial History of the Illinois State Normal University, 1857-1907, “THE
SCHOOL AND THE WAR,” BY JOHN H. BURNHAM, CLASS OF l861, (1907).

John A. Burnham, who was a member of the 33rd Illinois from Normal, provides an interesting account of the Battle of Bayou Cache, also known as “Cotton Plant.” As most of you know, I have written extensively on this battle in both my book, and an article that I have submitted to the Arkansas Historical Quarterly. This particular account popped up just recently on google books.

If you wish to see the background info on the fight, please refer to the above links:

The Normal regiment found itself at Pilot Knob, Mo.,
September 20, 1861. Here and near here its officers and soldiers
were taught many of the important first lessons in soldiery
and military tactics.

Although the Normal contingent formed the nucleus of
the 33rd regiment, yet it contained more than nine hundred
other members who sometimes felt the Normalites were a little
too much inclined to over-rate themselves, and considerable
jealousy was early aroused, disappearing, however, as soon as
it was seen that we were always ready to prove by acts and
not by words that we were in the war for the good of the
cause, and not to promote our own selfish interests. It was
not long before we were proud of our comrades, and our comrades
were proud to be associated with those who had originated
the idea of the schoolmaster’s regiment.

Its first baptism of fire was at Fredericktown, Mo., October
21, 1861, just enough like war to give us a slight zest for
more, not a man killed, not a drop of the Regiment’s blood
spilled, and the victory was important.

In camp at Ironton, Mo., during the winter of 1861 and
1862, our regiment suffered from sickness but gradually improved
itself in military drill, and perfected itself in hard
marching during the following spring and summer.
Colonel Hovey won his promotion on this march, which is
the main reason for the insertion of a brief account of the battle
of Bayou Cache, July 7, 1862.
hovey.jpg
Our regiment formed a part of the advance guard of General Curtis’ army of 15,000 men, marching thru Missouri and Arkansas on the way to Little Rock. The Rebels, for several days, obstructed our march by felling trees in the roads and in other ways, without giving us fight. On the morning of July 7, four companies of the 33rd regiment, with as many more from the 11th Wisconsin regiment, were reconnoitering in advance, removing the blockades, when we fell into an ambush of Texan rangers.

We were driven back at first with severe loss, although
not until Company A in charge of a smallcannon belonging
to an Indiana battery had resisted a savage attempt to
capture the gun. First Sergeant Edward M. Pike,
a Normal student now living at Chenoa, Ill., aided by one
other man, coupled the cannon by main strength to its foremost
wheels, barely saving it from capture, just as the rebels
were on the point of reaching for the artillery horses’ bridles.
He received a bullet through his cap and for his muscular activity,
daring and bravery, was a few years ago given, by the
Secretary of War, a medal of honor, which is the only medal
granted to a member of the 33rd regiment, to my knowledge.
Captain Potter, in command of our company, was severely
wounded, with several others. Just as we started to the rear
he gave me the command of the company and told me to take
it back to the rear. As a matter of fact the company or something
else was taking me rapidly back to the rear without orders,
and I shall never forget my satisfaction at being under
orders to do what was so remarkably agreeable as was that
retreat, and feeling that of all that rushing throng pushing our
way to the rear amidst the crashing bullets and falling
branches, I was perhaps the only one fortunate enough to be
acting under orders.

Colonel Hovey was in the rear with the main army, but
fortunately was mounted and on his way to join us when he
heard the sound of battle and rode like the wind to our assistance.
He met our retreating forces, about five hundred in all,
and instantly attempted with great success to halt the troops at
a good point for resistance. I shall never forget his courageous
and desperate attempts to rally the troops. I was very near
to his person when some rebel buckshot passed through his
clothing and cut the skin of the upper part of his breast. The
pain was intense as the first sensation was like being shot thru
the lungs. He turned pale and staggered, and just as I was
almost near enuf for assistance, I saw him tear open the clothing
and feel of his wound. In an instant his countenance
brightened as he drew forth his hand containing two or three
buckshot which had merely penetrated the skin. He said immediately, “It is nothing but a flesh wound and some buckshot. I am not hurt,” and immediately proceeded more vigorously than before to arrange the disorganized soldiers for desperate defense. The rally was successful, other troops arrived, the force of Texans was soon driven back and we were grandly victorious.

His descriptions offers some detail that other reports did not provide, though he essentially, as has been the case, follows only the exploits of the 33rd Illinois Regiment at the expense of the 11th. Now, this, of course, is not unusual.

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6 Responses to Battle at Bayou Cache

  1. Jim schmidt says:

    Chris,

    Great post! My interest was actually less in the battle itself than in the “Normalites.” One of my interests is in the role of the University of Notre Dame in the war (the chaplains and sister-nurses have garnered attention, but the student-soldiers, happenings at the school, etc, have received less attention). As an extension of that research, I am also interested in how other colleges and universities ‘prepared for war” (school-based militia companies, etc.) or volunteered en masse. This story certainly adds to my knowledge.

    Thanks,

    Jim schmidt

  2. Chris says:

    Jim, good to hear it let me know if you ever have any additional info!

  3. Bob Schultz says:

    Have you seen the Bayou Cache battle description in “Army Life” by Albert O. Marshall from U. of Arkansas Press (that I edited)?

  4. Chris says:

    Bob, I have Albert O. Marshall’s book, not the version you edited , why?

  5. Bob Schultz says:

    Univ. of Arkansas Press produced it about two months ago, but I’ve seen little advertisements for it as yet. I know of your interest in cotton confiscation and in it I placed a multipage appendix on the subject. One of the problems of editing a book is that when you start a footnote, and it grows and grows, what do you do with it? My answer was to create an appendix. I found a couple of letters on the subject, along with the material in the Official Records – Navy.

  6. Chris says:

    Bob please contact me I would love to know what you found?? admin [at] blog 4 history dot come.

    Chris

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