Recollection of Richard Taylor, Battle of Pleasant Hill, April 9, 1864

Source citation
Richard Taylor, Destruction and Reconstruction: Personal Experiences of the Late War (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1879), 165-166, 171.
Date Certainty
Transcription adapted from Destruction and Reconstruction: Personal Experiences of the Late War (1879), by Richard Taylor
Adapted by Don Sailer, Dickinson College
The following transcript has been adapted from Destruction and Reconstruction: Personal Experiences of the Late War (1879).

The village of Pleasant Hill occupies part of a plateau, a mile wide from east to west, along the Mansfield and Fort Jesup road. The highest ground, called College Hill, is on the west, and here enters a road from the Sabine, which, sixteen miles to the east, strikes the Red River at Blair's Landing; while, from the necessity of turning Spanish Lake, the distance to Natchitoches and Grand Ecore is thirty-six miles. The Federal fleet, with accompanying troops, was now many miles above Blair's, which by river is forty-five miles above Grand Ecore. Driven from Pleasant Hill to the latter place, the Federal forces would be widely separated, and might be destroyed in detail. Though it appeared to be the enemy's intention to continue his retreat, as he was known to be moving back his trains, yet if undisturbed he might find courage to attempt a junction with his fleet at Blair's Landing; and I did not wish to lose the advantage of the morale gained by success on the previous day.

Our reconnaissance showed that the Federal lines extended across the open plateau, from College Hill on their left to a wooded height on the right of the road to Mansfield. Winding along in front of this position was a gully cut by winter rains, but now dry, and bordered by a thick growth of young pines, with fallen timber interspersed. This was held by the enemy's advanced infantry, with his main line and guns on the plateau. Separating the gully and thicket from the forest toward Mansfield was an open field, several hundred yards wide near the road, but diminishing in width toward the west. Here the Federal commander had concentrated some eighteen thousand, including A. J. Smith's force, not engaged on the previous day.

My plan of attack was speedily determined. Orders were sent to the infantry to fill canteens at the mill stream, and to the trains to park there. Shortly after midday the infantry appeared, Churchill in advance; but a glance showed that his men were too much exhausted to attack. They had marched forty-five miles, and were thoroughly jaded. Walker's and Polignac's divisions had been heavily engaged on the previous day, and all were suffering from heat and thirst. Accordingly, two hours were given to the troops to lie down and rest……

In the two actions of Mansfield and Pleasant Hill my loss in killed and wounded was twenty-two hundred. At Pleasant Hill we lost three guns and four hundred and twenty-six prisoners, one hundred and seventy-nine from Churchill's, and two hundred and forty-seven from Scurry's brigade at the time it was so nearly overwhelmed. The Federal loss in killed and wounded exceeded mine, and we captured twenty guns and twenty-eight hundred prisoners, not including stragglers picked up after the battle. The enemy's campaign for conquest was defeated by an inferior force, and it was doubtful if his army and fleet could escape destruction.

These were creditable results, yet of much less importance than those that would have been accomplished but for my blunder at Pleasant Hill. Instead of intrusting the important attack by my right to a subordinate, I should have conducted it myself and taken Polignac's division to sustain it. True, this would have removed my reserve from the center and line of retreat, and placed it on a flank; but I was confident that the enemy had no intention of resuming the offensive, and should have acted on that conviction. All this flashed upon me the instant I learned of the disorder of my right. Herein lies the vast difference between genius and commonplace: one anticipates errors, the other discovers them too late.

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