Chapter 3 © 2018 Steven D. Shepard
Captain Douglas Ivey hung around his mama's house for as long as he thought he could. While he washed dishes and did a few chores, the strangers in the front and back yards started setting up camp and tents and trying to make a place to sleep for the night. Ivey thought seriously about taking out his gun and running them off, but that would have been cruel and probably wouldn't work anyway. Unless he shot'em. He gazed at them out the back door and the thought crossed his mind these suffering bastards might be keeping his mom company in her grave out there. Something about that idea settled his heart and mind. It had crossed his mind to go check on Betty and make sure she was alright, but he was still mad at her about her recent behavior. With this mess in town there wasn't much he could do about it but be mad.
The streets were still crowded with refugees, but it had thinned out enough so the bulk of them could get out of the street and crowd the wooden docks and walks that lined most of the downtown. Many of them hunted and found nooks and crannies where they could hide and park for while and feel like they had some place to go. Some of them even laid underneath the wooden boardwalks. Just to get some rest. After the sun cleared the towering pines the day warmed up enough to almost be comfortable. But those same towering trees blocked any available breeze and the warming carried the overbearing smell of strangers and their stock. Horses and cows dropped their waste right into the city streets and it started to pile up. Already it was hard to cross any street without stepping into something. The poor city maintenance crew reported for duty but was far outnumbered and the rank smell started to simmer, becoming more than the natives could stand. Doug Ivey winced at the smell while taking boards, hammer and nails and sealing up the few windows and the doors of his mom's house. It was all he knew to do to keep the place somewhat secure. But he knew that in the end, all a lock did was keep an honest man honest.
Before he mounted to go back to work, he offered one of the strangers money to watch the place. He gave the man half now and told him he would get the second half later if the house stayed in good shape. The man acted like he was grateful and agreed. So Doug started his ride back to work. The second ride back to work was a lot less stressful than his first. The River Road was still lined with people. But now they were a people trying to get their breath and some order back into their disrupted lives. The sense of panic that polluted the road early that morning was gone. Doug decided to try and avoid all of it. He remember an old trail through Silver Lake he used when he was a boy and thought he would try it. The trail could only be used when conditions were dry like they were now and had been most of the Winter. The southern bend in the Red still dumped moisture into the Silver Lake swamp, but if he was lucky and smart he could take the old trail and get back to the Fort quicker. As he approached the trail entry, trees laden heavy with Spanish Moss brushed his head and shoulders. The brush was so thick it blocked out the sun and it was like riding in a gloomy cave. He lost sight of the sky several times. The shade was so cool and dark, it was still cold. That was good. No mosquitoes. There was some log and limb debris on the trail, but he remembered it like it was yesterday. He made good time up to Stoner Road. But when he rode the bluff up to Fort Turnbull, he could sense a tension in the fort that must have drifted in from the road. Trotting his horse through the open gates he dismounted right in front of the old shack they gave him and the logistics staff for an office. An orderly came out to him and said, “General Taylor's been asking for you Captain.” “Yeah, I know. “ Doug replied. “He's in your office. He has been on a tear this morning.”
Doug walked the plain dirt parade ground into the entry of the building. The duty clerk saw him coming through the window and snapped to attention on his entrance. Doug told him, “Cut it out Russell. It's just me.” Staff Sergeant Jimmy Russell smiled back at him and mimed a cutting motion across his own throat. Doug knew what that meant. He was probably going to get it. He knocked on the door and went on in without be told too. After all, it was his office. He marched smartly to the front of his desk that Lieutenant General Richard Taylor was now occupying, snapped to his best attention and saluted. “Captain Ivey reporting as ordered, Sir.” The seated General Taylor shot back a quick salute in return saying, “At ease Captain. Take a seat please.” This response caught Ivey by surprise. He was fully expecting to get dressed down and his butt chewed for leaving the Fort without authorization and notice. He was pretty sure the General would come to accept and understand why he did it, but the obligatory butt kicking was business as usual. Not today.
“Hell of mess in town.” the general offered. “Yes Sir.” Ivey responded. The General continued saying, “I don't know what the city is going to do with all of them. I got them out of Alexandria just in time but just the same, I'm glad it's not my problem.” As he finished this comment Taylor turned his chair slowly away from Ivey and gazed out the window at the river behind him. Something was going on and Ivey knew it, as he waited for the other shoe to drop.
Lieutenant General Richard Taylor was a Louisiana native son. He was the only son of a former President of the United States, but he was mostly raised and schooled in the northeast. His mother was a relation to Robert E. Lee. Taylor grew up Army brat following his father around the country. He knew military life and routine only too well. He was a well educated man and after he graduated from Yale he moved back to Louisiana to take over his father's business and lands. His dad went into business down in the Plaquemines, farming cotton and sugar cane on one of the original land deeds forged by Jim Bowie. He was doing very well for himself. Compared to most, his farm was making him rich. He had the good sense to go into business not far from both the state capital Baton Rouge and the port of New Orleans. This strategic location allowed him to have his crop tended, harvested and to market sooner than most of the farmers and ranchers in the state. It also allowed him and wife to go into Red Stick on special occasions to lobby and socialize with the powers that be in state politics that could help him and his operations. They did this often. Until the war.
After Louisiana seceded and war was declared, it seemed to Richard Taylor the right and smart thing to do was to stay loyal to the Pelican State. He never had much love for the Union anyway. Called into active service, Taylor was dispatched to serve on battlefields in the east under General Stonewall Jackson until serious health issues with chronic Rheumatoid Arthritis sent Taylor back home. Once home, he was quickly recommended to command. Establishing his headquarters in Alexandria, he set about trying to gain control of the Mississippi River and New Orleans. It was an impossible task. The Governor of Louisiana could only commit several hundred men to Taylor full time. Because that was all he had. The Confederate Department of Louisiana (Regular Army) only had about four thousand men in the entire state. Every other fighting man worth a damn had already marched east. It was about that same time Captain Douglas Ivey got assigned quartermaster duties in Shreveport. General Taylor went about organizing an army and a defense according to how he was able and told by applying a harsh discipline to the raw, rugged, sparse recruits they sent him. This was more than necessary.
Taylor's army, (if you wanted to call it that) was mostly made up of a rag tag assembly of white militia, unreliable Cajuns, conscripted slaves and senior, part-time old soldiers. Most of the men had to use their own weapons and there were far too many small arms and shotguns. Their shotguns made a poor stand against the well armed Union force that plowed into Louisiana. General Taylor figured out pretty quick that his farm boys were outgunned and out manned. They knew it too. As a result, many of them had to be bribed or shamed to come wield arms in a conflict. Since most of them lived in and around the local fortifications that required their defense, many of these “soldiers” felt free to come and go as they pleased. And go home when it pleased them. Their absence was most keenly felt when the Yankee bullets started flying.
These men weren't much, but they were General Taylor's only choice. Almost all the proper uniformed soldiers had marched east to fight on battlefields the other side of the Mississippi River. Reports of their losses were mounting each and every day. That news was no help for morale. Taylor took the numbers he could assemble and stumbled into the defense and battle for the largest port city in the South. When the Yankee invasion came to New Orleans, the Army of Western Louisiana found itself ill prepared and poorly equipped to offer much of a defense. Taylor's defense was mostly a stubborn attitude. That defense quickly became a hasty retreat. By the time his army got run out of New Orleans, Baton Rouge, New Iberia and Alexandria, Richard Taylor was the most battle hardened Confederate officer west of the Mississippi. At each step he had been out numbered, out gunned and overwhelmed but he kept up and maintained a bloody struggle by cleverly fighting and retreating just like Washington and Houston had done before him. This fight and retreat strategy allowed him to keep up a fluctuating line of defense that the Yankees often had trouble even finding. Tracking this stubborn Rebel force through the thick jungles, mud, cane fields and the swamps of South Louisiana was nearly impossible for the Union Army not trained in guerrilla warfare. With this strategy, Taylor kept his army from being totally destroyed. Quickly his tactics turned into a deadly guerrilla war that relied on a line of Rebel sharp shooting snipers to keep the Yankees at bay. Dreaded sniper fire and the dense jungle of Louisiana discouraged the Union army from coming any further north than they had already. But the Yankees remembered history also. And they learned fast.
If hard fighting made General Taylor the most experienced battle officer in the state, he still was not the commander of his own forces. His boss was Commanding General Kirby Smith at Headquarters in Shreveport. General Smith was a career officer who trained with the United States Army. With bone-fide military credentials Smith had served the Confederacy with distinction at the Battle of Bull Run. He was seriously wounded there. The wound almost severed his spine, got him transferred to the rear and troubled him the rest of his life. Smith was in command of the Trans-Mississippi only because he was an influential man and a personal friend to President Jefferson Davis. In that regard, he had President Davis' ear on most things. And ole Jeff Davis tried to take care of his friends. After the Union Army took New Orleans and the Mississippi River, General Smith and the Trans-Mississippi Army were nearly cut off from his Presidential friend and isolated from the rest of the Confederacy. This isolation was only broken when the Trans-Mississippi was able to successfully ship material east to support the legions of the Confederate Army. The isolation made Smith fearful. His lack of courage, morphine and his wound made his judgment questionable.
Despite the glaring evidence, reports, rumors and thousands of refugees at his doorstep indicating the likelihood of a Yankee invasion coming up from the south, General Kirby Smith maintained an irrational conviction that the Yankees would invade from the north through Arkansas. The only person in the world this obsessive fantasy made any sense, was Kirby Smith. Smith reasoned to himself, that because the Yankees were from the north, northerners would come from the north. In fact, Smith was so fearfully obsessed with this idea that he felt all his forces should be assembled and marched north as soon as possible to intercept the northern invasion he felt was imminent from Arkansas. On this point he and General Richard Taylor were in angry disagreement. Lately this disagreement kept the two officers estranged and not speaking to one another. In fact, most of the time they avoided each other. Smith headquartered in Shreveport and coped with isolation from his own command and the Confederacy by operating the region like a commander of a feudal fiefdom. The locals smirked and called it Smithdom. So from his lonely throne each and every day General Smith issued copious and questionable edicts and orders that were published daily on the front page of the Shreveport News.
General Smith's edict of this day concerned itself with the treatment of deserters. The edict declared deserters were to be hunted down and brought in for military justice. It also offered a bounty of $20.00 per deserter. Where the $20.00 would come from was never quite explained and a bit of a mystery. If the deserters resisted arrest they were to be shot in the field and the bodies returned to any family that claimed them for burial. Smith's edict also declared that all men of Louisiana should be proud to go into military service and do their duty for their families, home and their state. Commanding General Smith's last orders for General Taylor were, if Taylor could prove the Yankees were gathering and coming from the south, then Smith would consider revising his battle plans north. But Kirby Smith was so sure Taylor was wrong, he almost forgot this edict entirely.
When General Richard Taylor accepted command in Louisiana his first headquarters was in Alexandria. When it became obvious he was not going to be able to keep or save New Orleans or Baton Rouge or his headquarters in Alexandria, he moved his headquarters northwest where he set up headquarters in Natchitoches. In order to avoid General Kirby Smith.
This divided and fractured command condition left Shreveport's Fort Turnbull ignored for the most part. Fort Turnbull was Headquarters for the Army of the Trans-Mississippi but sometimes it was hard to tell. The men there led lazy almost idyllic days of dull duties and stupid routines. Separated by space and time and by the Silver Lake swamp Turnbull lay three miles south of Shreveport standing on one of the few high dirt bluffs that looked down and east on the Red River. The Fort was unique to say the least. Unapproachable from Silver Lake on the north side this swamp provided an excellent defense. The western wall was a traditional military fort with tall line of logs mounted vertically as fifteen foot tall rough pickets. The west wall held the high ground over a deep brush and tree grown gully the river had washed out eons ago. This wooded landscape gave the Fort a huge advantage in the event of a ground attack from the south or west. But the east side was a marvel of southern ingenuity. It was with some wisdom that the Fort was built on rare high ground that was hard to find in the Red River delta. It was from this high ground Fort Turnbull's personnel enjoyed a long view with a unique defense strategy over any threat that might come from the river. While the Fort only had two cannons that even worked at any given time these two good cannons were installed in a line with clever fakes. These real and fake cannons were installed into the cavities of an earthen berm on the river side of the fort. The fake, black mouths of these cannons peered through the red clay berm and were trained on the open expanse of the sand barred river bed. The cannons were made to be seen and were very visible from the water. The berm itself was over fifteen feet wide at the base and nearly ten feet in height. It was flat on top to host snipers should they be needed. It was thick enough, heavy enough and packed with enough red buckshot clay that it would take any kind of cannon shot that might come from a gunboat in the water and hold fast.
From the river it appeared Fort Turnbull had to have at least ten or fifteen cannons. In fact, the other thirteen cannons were just black painted logs mounted on wagon wheel axles. Turnbull was a bluff and first class humbug that worked. The final card in Turnbull's deck of cards was that in the event it ever got over run and defeated from any side, there were secret dirt tunnels under the Fort and through the clay bluff that provided escape routes to the river, to the Silver Lake swamp and back to Shreveport. For its primitive and nearly useless location, the engineering and trickery the Fort provided was clever and incredible. It would only be put to the test once.
Fort Turnbull was manned twenty-four seven by enlisted men and an Officer of the Day. Almost all the other command officers from the region didn't even bother to conduct business, lodge or post at the fort. They stayed at their own homes in and around town. General Kirby Smith had a fine house in Shreveport provided to him by the City. Captain Douglas Ivey still stayed at his house out on the west side of town on the road to Greenwood. General Richard Taylor stayed in Natchitoches and probably spent fewer nights at Fort Turnbull than any other officer. No one knew what his accommodations were like there.
General Taylor sat in Captain Ivey's office now looking out the window considering the poor conditions under which he had to serve his country. It was his duty and responsibility to preserve some measure of defense for his command and Shreveport. Taylor knew if the Yankees took Shreveport then nothing would prevent or stop them from invading Texas. Since Texas was nearly the South's last reliable source of material and weapons he couldn't allow that to happen. And he knew it. As he mulled all this over in his head he drummed his fingers on the arms of Doug's chair. He was also trying to think what he was going to say to the Captain.
“Doug, how long you been in my command?” Taylor asked. “General I got the call right after secession.” the Captain replied. “How is it you managed to stay out of battle? Didn't you go to military school?” Taylor turned his chair back to Ivey. “Yes Sir. Just lucky I guess. You sent me to ride with Mouton over near Monroe for a while. But hell, if we even smelled Yankees we came riding back west. I want to think that it was because I was a good supply officer. But probably it was because I had family down in San Antonio and they helped me set up the supply line we got going now. I guess General Smith decided he didn't want to mess with that connection. But that would be conjecture on my part Sir.” Doug finished.
“Well Doug” Taylor sighed. “I'm afraid your war is going to start today.” Taylor offered solemnly. When he head this, Ivey tilted his head back and looked at the ceiling. He pinched his lips tight together and didn't even want to hear what was coming next. Taylor noticed the body language and went back to being a General. “Captain, I am volunteering you for a secret mission to the south. I need you to round up a detachment and ride down the Red River Road to Alexandria on a recon mission. The purpose of this mission is, I need you to find out where the Yankees are precisely. I need to know their numbers, I need to know which way they're coming, when they may get here and I need to know how many we can expect. I need that information as soon as possible. Your orders are to leave just as soon as you can assemble a squad and get underway. You are not tell anyone what your mission is and what you're doing. You're free to inform your detachment after you get in the field. After you recon the enemy, I need either you or your messenger to report back to me on the double with regular reports. You and your detachment are to maintain this recon and report from the field until otherwise relieved. Do I make myself clear Captain?” Taylor finished.
“Why me?” Ivey blurted out improperly. The missing 'Sir' on the end that question did not go unnoticed. “Come to attention Captain!” General Taylor ordered. Ivey snapped out of his chair forcing the legs to scrape across the wooden floor loudly. As he drew to attention the General barked “Captain, as you know, when a soldier receives his orders he is to follow those orders and do his duty to the best of his abilities. Are we in agreement on that point?” “Yes Sir!” was all Ivey could reply. “Listen to me Doug, I know it's dirty work but I need it done. You know I don't have a lot to choose from here and I trust you. You're the only one I can think of right now of who won't go out in the field and stab me in the back with command. General Smith still doesn't even believe we are facing a threat from the south when we have several thousand souls in town RIGHT NOW who would argue otherwise. We're going to have to stop those Yankee bastards somewhere or they are going to be right on top of us. And I'm not gonna have it. Now can I rely on you?” Taylor finished with a question. Ivey stood silently for moment until the silence between the two men became uncomfortable. Then he replied in a low growl, “I'll do my best Sir.” “Good Doug, that's all I ask for.” Taylor returned.
“Begging the General's pardon?” Ivey asked dryly. “But what the hell am I supposed to choose for troops? Most of the boys in this garrison are too young, too old, too stupid or they don't have weapons and a uniform. Hell, some of them are barefoot. You know as well as I do if the Yankees catch'em out of uniform they'll hang'em for sure as spies. And there won't be no mercy.” he finished. Taylor pondered the question briefly, put his hand to his bearded jaw and scratched. “Now Doug, you know as well as I do that you've been keeping a secret stash of materials and weapons. You done this just in case a situation come up. Every logistics officer worth his salt does this. Well, the situation just came up. It's time to use those materials. Now as far as manpower goes, you are free to choose from the wealth of talent we have on hand. I won't limit you in that regard. But I will leave it up to you to make those decisions. Now we have already discussed this matter more than I care to. I need you to follow your orders. Dismissed Captain.” Taylor finished pointing at the door. Doug returned his best salute, turned smartly and marched angrily out of his own office to the door slamming it shut. He stood momentarily outside his own office door with his head down breathing hard. Sergeant Russell the orderly just looking at him. When Ivey looked back up at the orderly, Russell shook his head from side to side as if to say “Noooooo.” He heard what happened in there and he understood the terrible commission Ivey had just received. Captain Ivey looked angrily at Sergeant Russell for a brief second letting him stir for a bit. Then he angrily pulled his hat on and marched hard out the crude building door.
Ivey could have taken Jimmy Russell if he had wanted. The General's commission would've covered it and Taylor would have said, OK. But Russell wasn't worth a shit. No better than some and worse than others. Sergeant Russell was a paper shuffler just like Ivey. Except he was a balding, fat annoying version of it with no military training. All Russell had done the entire war was the same thing Ivey had done. Follow General Taylor around and try to keep him supplied. Doug Ivey knew where his recruiting had to start. He knew and he didn't look forward to it. There wasn't but one or two men left in north Louisiana that Ivey even considered warriors. And warriors were precisely what he needed now. He needed a unit of men who could fight, shoot and watch his back. Because there was a real risk he could get his ass shot off. He had one in mind. He wasn't sure where the others were going to come from yet. But one of the few luxuries of command are, you get to delegate difficult tasks. He had to find Sergeant Buck Hartley.