Friday, May 11, 2012

The Civil War Reminiscences Of General Basil W. Duke, C.S.A.: Part Six

The Levee at New Orleans (Harper's Weekly, March 30, 1861)

We started on April 6th and proceeded via Cairo to Memphis, thence via Chattanooga to Montgomery.  I remember that as we stood on the platform at Corinth, where our train had stopped for a few minutes, and gazed on the dense forest and thick undergrowth which fringed the railroad-it has since been almost entirely cleared away-I remarked, "If we ever get the Yankees down here, we'll pepper them."  "If the Yankees ever get this far down," responded Greene, "we may as well quit.".  Neither of us had the faintest premonition of the future.  In less than one year from that date I passed in the immediate vicinity of Corinth, en route to the field of Shiloh, and the war lasted three years longer. 
When we reached Montgomery we sent our credentials to President Davis and he received us at a meeting of his cabinet.  We were questioned very closely about the conditions in St. Louis and Missouri, but only Mr. Benjamin, who, if I remember correctly, was then secretary of war, seemed to consider the matter serious or at all difficult.  The others were inclined to entertain a roseate view of the situation, not only in our region, but everywhere else.  The President very cheerfully granted Governor Jackson's request, and gave us an order on the commandant of the arsenal at Baton Rouge for the guns specified in the list prepared by General Frost.  We proceeded immediately to New Orleans and then to Baton Rouge.  I shall never forget the scenes I witnessed in Louisiana while on that mission.  Every one anticipated war but believed it would be brief, and there seemed to be a universal feeling of confidence and elation.  A great number of military companies had been recruited, but regimental and brigade organizations not yet been completed, and each company wore its own peculiar garb.  The streets of New Orleans were thronged during the day and the theatres crowded at night with a multitude of young fellows clad in an infinite variety of brilliant uniforms; and as we ascended the river to Baton Rouge we could see everywhere along the coast squads of volunteers drilling among the orange trees.  The first sight that met our eyes, when we landed at Baton Rouge, was a company of "chasseurs" habited in vivid green, no member of which spoke English or appeared to care a continental what was going to happen. 
Having procured, on our order to the commandant of the arsenal, two twelve-pound howitzers, two thirty-two pound siege guns, some five hundred muskets, and a quantity of ammunition, we returned to New Orleans to make arrangements for their transportation to St. Louis, and for that purpose chartered the steam-boat Swan.  The guns and ammunition, packed in such wise as to conceal, as much as possible their real character, were taken on at Baton Rouge.  Greene took charge of the boat, while I went in advance by rail to Cairo, which in the meantime had been occupied by Federal troops, to reconnoitre and ascertain what would be the danger of detection or delay.  I found a large force of soldiers at Cairo; but they were not so vigilant or suspicious of visitors within their lines as the troops on both sides became at a later period.
-The Civil War Reminiscences of General Basil W. Duke, C.S.A.

Getting the guns was the easy part.  Getting them back to St. Louis was a bit trickier, as Duke was about to find out.

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