Monday, March 21, 2011

Attack of the City Belle - Military Monday

The 120th Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Infantry had been in Louisiana for ten months before they received orders in May 1864 to join Major General Nathaniel Banks in Alexandria, Louisiana. The regiment boarded the transport City Belle in Baton Rouge in May 1864 to begin the journey towards Alexandria to take part in the Red River Campaign.

On May 8th, 1864 the City Belle came upon a surprise attack at Snaggy Point, Louisiana by Confederate cannons hidden behind the levee along the river. The first shells were directed at the wheel house and the boiler, the steam of which killing many of the animals on board.  Muskets balls tore through the ship "as if it were paper." The 120th O.V.I. had 425 men on board the vessel, 200 escaped and the rest were either killed or captured. The following is an account of the attack by Philip Reymer Kuhn written in a letter from Camp Ford Confederate prison near Tyler, Texas to his wife, Bertha. Spelling and syntax errors are the author's own.
"Well I will try and tell you this time how we liv and how we where captured. We had orders to go to Alexandra and our Colonel would obey orders no difference what came in the way so we went up Red River till we got captured and lost our Colonel and everything we had and the 120st to. We had warning by some of the citizens along the river to not go any further or we would be fired in to and shure enough we was in less than an hour. The second shot from the rebs killed the pilot and the boat swung around and the bow of the boat struck the shore and the boys commenced jumping off but the boat floted toward the middle of the river and they still kep jumping in the river throughing there arms in with them and I thought it was the best thing could do to for the rebs was firing the shell and canister into us as fast as they could so I jumped over bord and swam ashore and was soone a prisoner. The where too other colonels killed besides our. They where seven killed out of our regiment besides several that belonged to the other regt and some wouned. I lost everything I had and my likenessess too for I had them in my knapsack and it was burnt with the boat. The rebs did not take much of the boat after it surrendered for they were afraid of the gunboats coming so they mad short work of it."

Dr. John C. Gill, assistant surgeon for the 120th O.V.I. wrote the following in a letter to his friend Dr. Capener, as printed in the June 30, 1864 Ohio Plain-Dealer:

"They [Confederates] allowed us to pass one battery and to approach to about 100 yards of another one that was planted nearly half a mile above, when it opened on us with shell, and at the same time, volley after volley of musketry was poured upon us like hail. The first shell was directed at the wheel house. It carried away a portion of the roof. The second shot was at the boiler. This shot was effectual, having struck the boiler and allowing the steam to escape, killing many horses, mules, and I have no doubt, several men, as many jumped into the river at that time. Now both batteries opened on us, and a constant fire of musketry. The scene on the boat was terrible, the balls passing through the boat as if it were paper. The wheel was shattered to pieces while the pilot was at it. He, poor man, was shot three times, once with shell and twice with minnie balls, which caused mortal wounds. I was standing by my state-room door when we were first fired into; a shell came through the cabin and passed through my state-room about a foot over my head, completely covering me with feathers and bedding; the only injury it did me was a slight scare."

Captured soldiers from the City Belle attack were marched to Camp Ford near Tyler, Texas, where most remained until the close of the war. General William Tecumseh Sherman would later call the Red River Campaign "one damn blunder from beginning to end." Philip Kuhn was a principal musician for the 120th and my 3rd great-grandfather.

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