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Hold them at Groveton

Posted on Friday, April 29, 2016 at 10:16 am

GrovetonUnion General Banks had been ordered to move on Ft. Worth the year before so as to cut the rail lines between there and Shreveport, Louisiana.  Miraculously the home guard had turned them back at Jefferson just across the Texas and Louisiana line.  In perhaps one of the most lop sided Confederate victories in northern Texas 1,500 home guard troops had thwarted the advance of 8,500 Yankees and pushed them back into Louisiana, harassing them all the way back to Shreveport using superior knowledge of the land, faster horses and well just plane hutzpah.

It had been a humiliating defeat and General Banks, having now refitted and reinforced he was ready to move on Texas again.  This time he decided to move along the Sabine River southward then inland toward Houston. His plan was to move much as Sherman had, in a 50-60-mile wide swath burning and destroying anything of economic value that might aid the cause.  By the 8th of February they had managed to burn and pillage their way to within a few miles of Groveton, Texas with the intent of freeing the Yankee prisoners held in Huntsville some miles to the south.

The western division of the CSA War Department had ordered reinforcements to concentrate to the west of Groveton and to hold the Yankees there until troops could be shifted north out of Beaumont and Houston to put up a proper fight.  This was an impossible task.  These damnable Yankees had already denuded the land of everything eatable as they foraged and burned anything that might be of value between the Louisiana Border and Groveton. However now foraging had become a bit thin for the Yankees as they were now moving into Pine Woods Country where plantations did not prosper.  All that was to be found here were small truck farms where only a few cattle and meager plots of vegetables could be had.  This was lumber country and the thick forest made for slow going.  But also made it for an easy defense as the home guard did their best to slow the Yankee advance at every crossroad.

This day the Federals had decided to move on Groveton in force, as it was the Trinity county seat and there was a large saw mill along Dean creek which they intended to burn (along with any cut wood that might be found.)  By sun up they were firmly in place at the court house steps with the intent to destroy it as well as the bank, flower mill and the telegraph office.  Unknown to them telegraph messages had raised the alarm and the local Confederate units were on the move intent on stopping the Federals from burning any more of their county.  Not soon after the Federals rolled a 12 pound howitzer into the town square, turned it to set the court house alight they were attacked by a small contingent of Confederate dismounted cavalry.  Surprised, they quickly turned their gun in an effort to quell this unexpected challenge.

Col. Fred Anthamatten, with the 1st Texas Federal Infantry of the Army of the West was in command.  He ordered the infantry into line of battle as they wheeled to meet assault by the 34th and 37th Texas Dismounted under the overall command of Capt. Meyers.  Upon seeing the gun wheel the good captain ordered volley down as his men quickly lay prone on the ground.  Nearly at the same time the Sgt. Angelo Piazza, commander of the Kings Battery let loose with the 12 pound field howitzer filled with canister.  All hell broke loose in the town square as chards of hot metal scattered across the pavement, bounced into adjacent buildings and across the top of the prone dismounted.  As soon as the echo of the roar subsided the order was given to take a knee and to volley fire into the cannon.  Only one Yankee remained after the volley had taken its toll and the gun was silenced.

Col. Anthamatten seeing the developing situation on his right had deteriorated ordered Federal dismounted pickets to the front to gauge the enemy’s disposition.  Captain Ron Payntor deployed the 15th dismounted cavalry in rapid succession.  But it was not fast enough as the Confederate cavalry broke into the square at a fast trot.  They proceeded to run down the Federal skirmishers who had barely a moment to set and fire.  Upon sending them skedaddling they dismounted, picked their horses and pressed into the Federals right causing the Federals to quickly lose ground as they reeled back in disorder.  Fortunately this sharp action was not costly for the Confederates as there were only 6 dead and 15 wounded.  One grave loss was the be-loved Sgt. Oatmeal who was unhorsed as he dismounted by a 58 caliber Federal mini-ball.  He fell dead being struck in the head.  The unit’s corporal quickly moved into his position so as to prosecute the battle without delay.

The Federals had no choice but to withdraw as their right was no longer anchored and should they fail to reform quickly they would have been infalated by the 15th Texas infantry Company D as Lt. Charles Brown had expertly maneuvered them into position when the Confederate cavalry pressed forward.  By the end of the engagement the Federals were pushed out of town leaving 29 dead and 35 wounded on the court house steps and in the town square.  It was everything that the Federals could do to withdraw in good order less this skirmish turn into a disaster.  They did so by abandoning their gun just as Robinsons Battery set their piece and SSgt William Talton and his crew shelled the disorganized Federal ranks without mercy.

Col. Strybose, being the ranking Confederate on the field ordered a halt to the advance at the edge of town knowing that he was greatly outnumbered and without the tight confines of the square and the blocking of the buildings he could be easily flanked and analiated.  He ordered pickets to the north and to the east to ensure that the Federals continued their retreat and did not regroup for a counterattack.  Our gallant men of the flying artillery did their best to encourage them to continue to retreat back the way from which they had come with several more well-placed barrages of hot iron.  By this time dusk was upon us.  This sharp short clash had succeeded in saving the court house and the better part of the town from the Federal torches.  Unfortunately as night fell it could be seen that the saw mill on Dean Creek was ablaze as Lincoln’s boys had done their work during the night.  An uneasy peace settled on the evening as both sides’ prepared defensive breastworks.  Only the occasional crack of a sharpshooter would be heard through the night.

All the evening both sides gathered strength as Federals arrive from the north and Confederates moved along the Hoke Road from the south.  This was thicket country and movements were slow as well as confined to only a few narrow roads.  The Confederate home guard, knowing every deer and rabbit trail in the county did their best to deprive the Federal of sleep and to slow their defensive preparations.  Granted little was accomplished by either side that evening other than to delay preparations for the morning assault.  That is except for the capture of 5 Federal supply wagons whom had gotten lost on the Bennie Hudson Road and inadvertently wandered through the Confederate lines near the Glennwood Cemetery.  They were filled with much needed ball and powder as well as hard tack.  Both were welcomed additions to the merger rations that our gallant Confederate troops had at hand.  They eagerly ate the hard tac although it was said that it was so hard that several men threatened to use it instead of mini balls in the fight with the Yankees that we knew for sure was to come tomorrow.

News had spread quickly after the battle that raiding Federals were about.  Nearly every civilian within 55 miles of the skirmish had decided to make for the safety of Huntsville.  This had the result of clogging the narrow dirt roads and delaying the arrival of Confederate reinforcements.  Further contraband had decided to move toward the Federal camp which had the same effect upon the Federal movements.  It was discovered after the scrap that Malakai Jackson and Josiah Boyce had run away from their masters and joined the fight with the Federals.  Both were welcomed by the artillery and assigned duties as powder monkeys.  Unfortunately neither was to survive the battle that was to follow the next day.

Just before dawn the right reverend Jack Prawell of the Methodist Independent Church arrive from town to offer a prayer for our cause and thanks for the salvation of the town.  He spoke eloquently quoting from the favorite prayer book used by Gen Lee himself saying with great passion, “We must all pray for guidance and courage to defend our homes and our sacred state.”  He speechified for nearly an hour and a half.   This had great effect upon the men who were steeled with courage to defend their homes and their families from the accursed scallywags.

The morning of the second day of battle broke brilliant and cool.  The sky was dotted with intermittent puffy clouds and there was gentle breeze blowing from the southwest.  By this time the Federal Calvary under the command of Maj. Nichols had arrived during the night and were sent by the overall Federal Commander Col Anthanmatten to reconnoiter a way around the town.  It had become abundantly clear that to fight through the narrow streets of the town was going to be costly and that a wider access or a way around it was preferred to street fighting.  There would be little room to maneuver Shey’s Battery who’s commander Maj. Jim Lyon made it abundantly clear if they were to move on the town that he would be able to offer only token support should a fight ensue.

Col. Strybose had anticipated such a move and knowing that there was only one large open field to the northwest of the town decided to set a trap for the Federals.  He ordered the infantry and artillery hidden behind a slight rise anchored on the right by a deep pond and the thicket on the left.  Col. Yorbus the Federal commander suspected that there would be an uneven welcome as he ordered his Calvary to reconnoiter the field with caution.  There was only one road to enter this broad 25 acre expanse and that was from the northeast corner downhill from where our gallant Confederate troops lay hidden.  Yielding the high ground to the enemy was a dangerous move for the Federals but there was little choice as the only other entry was to march down Kenley Street in full view of the enemy.  This was quickly dismissed as near suicidal as well prepared defenses were already in place and waiting for the foolish to attempt of a frontal assault.

So there was little for the Federals to do but to march up Bennie Thomas Road and to enter with caution onto the field.  The battle field was to favor the Confederates who had the high ground to the northwest.  The western end of the field was bordered by the Glennwood Cemetery which was likely a hornet’s nest of Confederate sharp shooters.  To the north, west and south there were impenetrable pine forest and Yaupon thicket.  Nothing could move through them without the liberal use of axe and the great expenditure of time, neither of which was not to be had.

Col Yorbus moved his troops cautiously into the field, reluctant to advance toward the high ground.  They followed the fence line on the east of the field arraying their artillery with its back to the cemetery and aiming up hill to the west.  Carefully Capt. Les Pettigrew and the TVMI Federal infantry entered and the 36th Calvary made a tepid attempt to screen their movements as they filtered almost randomly toward the center of the field.  Unknown to them Kings Battery of the Texas Army of the West lay just across the field hidden with brush.  Their commander Angelo Piazza hunkered down with his men waiting the order to engage the unsuspecting Federals.

For nearly two hours the Federals worked their way down Dean Road and the slightly longer roughly parallel S. Thornton Road further to the north and into the open field.  Col Strybose could see that at this rate the light would be lost before battel could be engaged.  He ordered the 34th Texas Dismounted and the 37th Texas Dismounted to advance in skirmish order so as to intrigue the Federals to attack.  This they did not do until the dismounted were close enough to pick of several of the Federal cannoniers.  And thus being threatened the Federal Calvary under Maj Nickle’s command they charged the dismounted making the serious mistake as to cross the axis of fire so that every dismounted troop got an easy shot from a kneeling position at the men on horse.  This was enough to get the Col Yorubus the Federal commander’s anger up.  He ordered a full cannonade and general advance upon the Confederate lines.

The signal was then given and Robinsons Battery sprang to life.  With the expert gunnery of Sgt. William Talton the first shell was landed squarely upon the first Federal gun on the right.  This dismounted the barrel and unceremoniously threw the number 4 man into a full cart wheel over the barrel and send the number three man sprawling across the hissing hot barrel.  This gun was out of action.  After several rounds of counter fire the battle was commenced in earnest.  Shey’s Battery, flying artillery went into action as they rode with the line and anchored the Confederate right.  LTC Lyons expertly maneuvered his gun with the dismounted causing great damage to the Federals who could not re-aim their gun fast enough to do much damage.  Shortly it was an uneasy fight between the artillery units as the Confederates had the Federals range and managed to eliminate their powder stores with a half a dozen well place shots.  The resulting smoke and confusion rendered the Federal batteries silent.

Having quieted the Federal guns Col Strybose ordered a general attack along the entire line.  Much to the displeasure of the Federals the bulk of the Confederate infantry and additional cannon rolled into view from the high ground to the NW pouring fire upon the as yet not fully arrayed Federal army.  Pressing hard Company I, 31st Louisiana Infantry under the command of Capt. Kevin Adkins forced the Federal right to contract southward along the fence at the cemetery.  At this time the sharps shooters in the cemetery opened up with deadly effect eliminating much of the Federal senior staff in less than half an hour.

Just as the last of the Federals had advanced into the field the Confederate infantry closed the road to additional reinforcements and pressed Federals toward the southeast.  Col Yorbus did his best to wheel his unit to face both attacks but little could be done except to consolidate as they withdrew.  After 15 minutes of hard fighting the Federal line on the right broke and the troops skedaddled southeast toward the now silenced Federal guns.  This allowed the Confederate infantry to infilate what remained of the Federal line which was being squeezed into a tighter and tighter pocket at the SE end of the field.

To their credit two of the Federal guns put up a magnificent fight as they made a firing retreat which cut two great swathes into the Confederate infantry lines.  In the process our boys now sensing victory made an enthusiastic unordered charge into the consolidating Federal line.  This proved to be desasteriouse for the 34th Texas Dismounted as the ran up on Robinsons Battery just as SSgt William Talton ordered their 1841 Mt. Howitzer discharged.  The resulting canister completely wiped out the remainder of the unit.

Seeing this and having their blood up, the rest of the Confederate line rushed forward upon the now panicking Federals and pushed them past their own guns and into the cemetery as they scattered in complete confusion.  It must be said however, that despite their reputation for uncivioriouse behavior in the past that Lt. Ben Lee handled the 5th Kansas Redlegs with élan as they fought a holding action to the last man.  Shortly thereafter a white flag was seen to arise at the end of a saber as the remaining Federal commander had no choice but to end the battle.  Most of his troops were either wounded, dead on the field or retreating at a fast run to the NW beyond his ability to command them.  After a short parley the battle was concluded honorably as the commanders saber was offered and accepted by Col Strybose.

The Federals had come to Trinity County so as to advance upon and burn Huntsville and eventually Houston.  They had ravaged the land to the north.  They had burned Trinity Town, Onalaska, part of Lufkin and wrecked the better part of Corrigan.  They had fired every home, farm, the salt works near Lufkin and the Groveton saw mill in order to deprive our gallant army of substance.  In order to stop the destruction we were ordered to hold them at Groveton and so it was done.

This field report is written at my hand.

-By Corporal Michael Bunch
34th Texas Dismounted

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