James Harvey Armstrong in the Civil War

Excerpted from the book Bound for the Promised Land by Joan Cervenka Cobb
Copies may be ordered from: Mrs. Joan Cobb; 5505 Los Patios; Midland, TX  79707

James H. Armstrong was not a young man during the Civil War, but he enlisted at Pittsburg, Texas on 18 September 1863 at the age of 42 years. He served for 3 years in Company F. 14th Texas Infantry as a private (Reference Services Branch (NNIR), National Archives & Records Administration, Card No. 50654286). He was in Clark’s Regiment, Randal’s Brigade which was in General John G. Walker’s Division.

Edward Clark was elected lieutenant Governor of Texas in 1859. When Sam Houston refused to take the oath of allegiance to the Confederacy in 1861, the Secession Convention declared the governorship vacant and elevated Clark to Governor. He ran for re-election in 1861, hut was defeated by Francis R. Lubbock. Then Edward Clark raised the 14th Infantry Regiment and became a colonel in the Confederate Army. He was wounded in the leg at the Battle of Pleasant Hill, but did not leave the service because of his wound. He later became a brigadier general. After the war, Clark fled to Mexico, but returned to Marshall, Texas to practice law. He died in Marshall on 4 May 1880 (Webb, Vol.1, 354). Edward Clark is quoted as saying, “The duty of a private soldier was to obey orders, whether right or wrong. A little rest was more preferable” (Blessington, 301). Since his Regiment was a part of Walker’s Greyhounds, noted for much marching, he would know about the desire for rest. James H. Armstrong mentions in his letter after the Battle of Mansfield that he sold an article of some sort to Col. Clark that he had found on an abandoned Yankee ambulance.

The organization of the 14th Infantry Regiment was completed early in the summer of 1862. James Watson (J.W.) Armstrong, James Harvey’s son, joined this Regiment on 1 March 1862. Members were recruited at Gilmer, Marshall and  Livingston and in Upshur and Smith Counties of Texas. The 14th was assigned to Randal’s and Maclay’s Brigade, Trans- Mississippi Department. The commanders were Col. Edward Clark, Lt. Col. William Byrd and Maj. Augustus H. Rogers (Crute, 332-333). The officers in charge of Company F were Captain E.B. Gassaway, 1st Lt. G. W. Davis, 2nd Lt. W. H. Farris and 2nd Lt. William Davis. The Texas Division operated along the Texas-Louisiana border and also in Arkansas. They were active in the fight at the Battle of  Mansfield near Shreveport, Louisiana, at Pleasant Hill, Louisiana and Jenkin’s Ferry in Arkansas.

Horace Randal in whose Brigade James Harvey served, was born in McNairy County, Tennessee and was a graduate of West Point. He served on the frontier in New Mexico in the U. S. Army. On 27 February 1861, he resigned from the U. S. Army and became a colonel in the Confederate Army. He led his Brigade during the Red River Campaign. On 8 April 1864, in the Battle of Mansfield, he earned promotion to brigadier general. He never learned of his promotion as he was killed at Jenkin’s Ferry in Arkansas on 30 April 1864. He is buried at Marshall, Texas where a monument was erected over his grave (Webb, Vol. II, 436).
James Harvey did not join the 14th until September 1863, some time after its original organization. According to one of his letters, he joined them at Simsport, Louisiana, not far from the mouth of the Red River. His son, J.W., enlisted in 1862 in the 14th Infantry and according to his pension application papers, took part in all their battles.

The Regiment became a second home to the men in the Civil War. Usually, the men were from the same area and knew one another while they were civilians. James Harvey mentions many of his friends and neighbors who were in his regiment in the letters that he wrote home during the war. As in no other war, the regiment was the true “spirit” of the men in the Civil War (Long, 716).

James Harvey was a diligent letter writer and a number of his letters written during the time he was in the Confederate Army have been saved. Mentioned in J. H. Armstrong’s letters is his son by his first marriage, J.W. (Jimmy) Armstrong. He was also in the 14th Texas Infantry, being first assigned to Company I under Captain J.M. Spratt and later transferred to Company F. Jimmy is referred to several times in the letters written by his father.

Also mentioned in the letters is Daniel. He was a slave who was with James H. Armstrong. He did laundry for James and other chores. From time to time, James hired him out to other men for extra money when he did their chores. Daniel evidently had a crooked leg, as James H. mentions that one leg of his pants wore out more quickly than the other. James H. also relates that Daniel had swapped off his pony for a first rate blind horse and paid $20 to boot. He then had to sell it for $5. James said if they went to Brownsville, he would have to send Daniel home because he had no horse.

The 14th Texas Infantry took part in the following battles as well as many other skirmishes: Milliken’s Bend--7 June 1863 in Louisiana; Mansfield--8 April 1864 in Louisiana; Pleasant Hill--9 April 1864 in Louisiana; Marks Mills--25 April 1864 in Arkansas; and Jenkin’s Ferry--30 April 1864 in Arkansas.
The battle of Milliken’s Bend took place on 7 June 1863 near the town of Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana, on the Mississippi River above Vicksburg. This battle took place before James Harvey joined the 14th Infantry, but J. W. Armstrong, his son, was present. Although present at the sight, the Texas Infantry only acted as a back-up unit for this battle. The Confederate Army decided to attack Milliken’s Bend; then having taken it to attack Young’s Point in order to cover Pemberton s army should he decide to abandon Vicksburg where Pemberton s Confederates were under siege. The Federal camp was immediately above Milliken’s Bend, 15 feet above the right bank of the Mississippi River. The camp was 150 yards wide and sheltered by two levees, one on the riverbank and the other on the land side. In front of the forward levee was a long hedge row some 15 feet high and so thick that a man could hardly get through it. The camp was protected by mostly ex-slaves who had been mustered into the Federal army on May 22, the African Brigade. Also defending was the Federal 23rd Iowa Infantry, while gunboats supported the Yanks in the rear on the Mississippi River.

Taking a roundabout route, Walker’s Division, nicknamed Walker’s Greyhounds because of their rapid and frequent marching, arrived on 6 June in the vicinity of Richmond, Louisiana. Horace Randal’s Brigade remained in reserve for this battle. The Confederates under the command of General McCulloch were aided in scouting by Cal. Harrison’s Louisiana Cavalry. These scouts were suddenly fired on from behind a hedge; they broke and fled to the rear, rendering the cavalry of no use to McCulloch at the moment. Three Brigades of McCulloch’s Rebels fought from hedge to hedge andiditch to ditch until they broke across the first levee on the land side which was 10 feet high and crowned with cotton bales. The Rebels cried “no quarter” and attacked with bayonets and clubbed muskets. The Fede-ral troops retreated to the second line of defense which was also fortified with cotton bales. The negro troops had had little experience in loading their guns and most of the casualties were shot in the top of the head as they cowered behind the cotton bales or were later bayoneted. The Federals were driven into the open space between the levees and through their camp to the river bank. Many were killed here. Walker hurried forward after noon with Randal’s Brigade, but the Confederate troops under McCulloch had already been withdrawn out of range of the gunboats, the “Lexington” and “Choctaw”. The Federals suffered 652 casualties and the Confederates 185 in this battle (Long, 363). Walker withdrew his men toward Richmond, Louisiana to prepare for later fighting.

James Harvey and his son J.W. were in the Battle of Mansfield (Sahine Crossroads) on 8 April 1864 which took place near Mansfield, Louisiana. President Lincoln and the Federal leaders were influenced by two pressure groups to mount a campaign along the Texas border. One group wanted an expedition sent into Texas to settle the cotton lands with free labor to supply the idle cotton mills in the North and the other group wanted the Mississippi River to be immediately opened to trade. Shreveport commanded the northern approaches to the Red River and held large depots of supplies, while the town of Marshall commanded the entrance to Texas. The result of these pressure groups was the Red River Campaign and the Battle of Mansfield was a part of this endeavor by General Banks, the Union General, who was  stationed at New Orleans. Union General Steele, in Arkansas, was to attack Shreveport from the north also. ‘The campaign was planned in late March when the Red River would be high enough to float the Union gunboats. Even at that, low water Forced seven gunboats and the larger transports to stay behind at Natchitoches. When the joint navy-army force of  the Federals arrived at Natchitoches and Grand Ecore on 30-31, March 1864, General Banks chose to take the post road through Pleasant Hill and Mansfield to reach Shreveport, then the capitol of Louisiana. He expected no opposition before reaching Shreveport and took the better road although it took him away from the protection of his gun boats on the Red River. This led to his defeat in the Battle of Mansfield (Plummer, 6).

General E. Kirby Smith was the Rebel commander in charge of Confederate operations west of the Mississippi. Lt. General Richard Taylor was in charge of Rebel troops in Louisiana. Taylor fell back before Bank’s Union advance while Kirby decided how to deal with Gen. Steele descending from the north. Some 40 miles south of Shreveport, at Mansfield, three roads led to Shreveport. Here Taylor stopped his retreat and prepared to make a stand. Taylor had his troops concentrated and waiting while the Yankee force was stretched out over twelve miles along a country road with wagons filled with supplies interspersed with the marching soldiers.

Position was important in the Battle of Mansfield. There was an open field about 1000 yards across and a mile long, surrounded by a pine forest. The wagon road ran through this field (now Highway 175). Facing the enemy, Taylor stationed Walker’s Texas Division on the right of the road with a regiment of cavalry on Walker’s right. Gen.Mouton’s Division was stationed to the left of the road with cavalry brigades on his left. Randal’s Brigade, of which James Harvey Armstrong and J. W. Armstrong were a part, was stationed first to the right of the road. Before the battle began, Taylor moved Randal immediately to the left of the road between Walker’s Division (Waul’s Brigade) and Mouton’s Division. At 4 o’clock, the Yanks began to advance slowly and after some skirmishing, the Rebels attacked with terrible ferocity. Taylor struck the tip of the Union line, causing them to spin back. The retreating troops caused panic among the teamsters of the long wagon train. Mass disorder ruled the area.

Mouton led the Rebel charge across the field. Randal supported Mouton’s attack by advancing his regiments in echelon from the left. The slaughter was terrible on both sides, but suddenly the Federals turned and began to retreat. The Rebels, yelling wildly, pursued them, fighting for their home soil. Gen. Banks narrowly escaped capture in the retreat. At dark the battle came to a standstill and only the stand of the XIX Corps of the Federal army to cover the retreat saved the Yankee Army. James H. Armstrong tells in one of his letters of being detailed to get supplies from some ambulances abandoned in the woods during the battle. One Yankee called this battle “our skedaddle fromithe Rebs.” The Union had 2,800 soldiers killed, missing or wounded while the Rebel casualties totaled 2,200. Just as the Union soldiers had begun their flight, a courier from Gen. Kirby arrived with orders for Gen. Taylor to continue his retreat to Shreveport and not to fight. Gen. Taylor told the courier, ’You are too late, the battle is won.”

General Banks ordered a general retreat and fell back to Pleasant Hill. Taylor struck at Pleasant Hill on 9 April 1864, Taylor having about 12,500 men and Banks about 12,000. However, the Federals held good ground here and checked the Rebel drive. One account states that the Federals lost from their 12,000 men, 150 killed, 844 wounded, and 375 missing for a total of 1369 lost at Pleasant Hill. The Rebels had from their 12,500 engaged, about 1200 killed and wounded and 426 missing (Long, 483). His associates persuaded Banks to continue his withdrawal from the area and the Union army retreated down the Red River. This ended the attempt to invade Texas.

After Pleasant Hill, Walker’s Division was ordered back to Mansfield. On 15 April 1864, they crossed the Red River at Shreveport on a pontoon bridge and marched by way of Minden toward Camden, Arkansas in pursuit of the Yankee General Steele. They took part in a skirmish at Mark’s Mills on 25 April. They arrived near Camden on 26 April and discovered that Gen. Steele had started toward Little Rock. The Federals were overtaken on 30 April while they were crossing the Saline River at Jenkin s Ferry. Here, in a sea of mud, the battle was fought. \The Federals had strong breastworks from fallen timber, with Toxie Creek on their left and an impenetrable swamp on their right. The Confederates of Churchill’s Arkansians and Parson’s Missiourians had been turned back when Walker arrived at 9 a.m. after a rapid march. The Texans attacked furiously, but did no better than the other Confederates had.. Randal and Scurry of Walker’s Division were mortally wounded and Waul, another Brigade commander in Walker’s command, was injured. Gen. Waul was weak from loss of blood, but did recover from his wounds. Gen. Scurry refused to be moved from the battlefield when he was wounded. His brigade was pushed back by the Federals and Scurry lay for two hours in the midst of the battle. When his men finally pushed the Yanks back, his first question to his men was, “Have we whipped them?” When answered in the affirmative, he replied, “Now take me to a house where I can be made comfortable and die easy.” Randal was promoted to the rank of brigadier general after the Battle of Mansfield, but he never received word of his promotion before he died at Jenkin’s Ferry. The loss of these commanders, Randal, Scurry and Waul, caused a delay in time and confusion in determining who was commanding, so the Rebels did not fare well in the battle. The Federal army crossed the Saline River and returned to Little Rock with no molestation. It was a bloody fight with nothing accomplished by the Rebels. The Rebels had been marching for days in the rain before the battle and had to march rapidly to the front on the day of battle. Walker’s Division lost 74 killed, 266 wounded, and 1 missing for a total of 341.
The 14th Infantry continued to operate in Arkansas and was later moved to Shreveport, then to Hempstead, Texas where it was disbanded before the surrender in June, 1865. When news reached Gen. Walker’s men that Lee had surrendered, they no longer had a heart to continue fighting. The “breakup” began with soldiers taking horses and supplies and starting for home. After the breakup began not a man could be found in some encampments within an hour s time. By May 19, most of the men in Walker’s Division had left for home or were preparing to go. The parting between many of the men was very touching. “Many put their arms around each other’s necks, and sobbed like children; others gave the strong grasp of the hand, and silently went away with hearts too full for utterance while still others would mutter a huskily-voiced ‘Good-bye; or deep oath” (Blessington, 307). The men sadly left their comrades, but hopefully headed back to their homes and loved ones—the war was over—this was good—even though they had lost.

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