Recounting the Brookhaven Raid of 1864
information provided by Sam King and THE AMITE COUNTY HISTORICAL AND GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY
“It seemed like riding into outer darkness. And then the headlong speed, not stopping for anything, caused many a horse to stumble and many a horse to fall, and his rider to breathe a short prayer calling down blessings on the poor brute’s head. For hours the pace was kept up with but short intervals for rest, and it seemed as if we were riding into Hades. Not a ray of light from moon or star, with made the darkness Cimmerian,” recounted Union Sergt. Morris about the Brookhaven Raid in 1864.
Nov 18 will mark the 150th anniversary of the Brookhaven Raid during the Civil War. Union Brigadier General Albert Lindley Lee, commanding the Calvary division at Baton Rouge, Louisiana, marched troops through the city in a expedition against the rebel camps near his district destroying, looting and burning railroads, confederate supplies and any industry they could that would cripple the southern troops. Their main purpose was trying to capture the Confederate Brigadier General George B. Hodge who was stationed in Liberty, MS
Morris wrote the men hurried to Brookhaven in the hopes of catching Hodge and his soldiers off guard. Morris said they charged through the center of town at 4 a.m. before the rebels were full awake.
“We charged into town shortly after daylight, scattering a force of infantry that made feeble opposition and capturing two pieces of artillery and fifty prisoners” wrote one union solider.
When the troops arrived in the town they destroyed the railroads, engines, cars, bridges, water, etc. throughout the morning. They stole what they wanted and threw the rest of the goods into the street to destroy or for the freed black slaves to take. Brookhaven had become a depot for confederate supplies so the men were ordered to destroy all government property and ammunition storehouses. The troops also destroyed factories that were supplying the confederacy with clothes.
“Thousands of pounds of tobacco were thrown out and the men had more than they could use or carry. Large quantities of sugar, bacon and other stores found in the warehouses were destroyed,” wrote the union solider.
The troop raided the town throughout the afternoon, even though they heard reports of a large group of rebels were close. The soldiers took prisoners and guns in Brookhaven and continued their move back toward other Union troops holding Liberty.
“At this place (south of Brookhaven) we lost a redoubtable, if somewhat foolhardy rebel major whom we had captured at Brookhaven after he had fired the arsenal, and had defied the men who burst open the door, and, single-handed, fought them until laid low by a blow from Sergt. Coonrod’s saber,” wrote the solider.
After being captured the union solider wrote that in the middle of the night the foolhardy rebel put on a Yankee coat, slipped away from the other prisoners, stole a horse and pretended to be an officer. The rebel told the troops he heard a noise and would ride out ahead of the group to see what it was; the rebel was then able to escape.
The group continued a tiring journey south with forty-eight hours of no food or rest when they hit a storm south of the city. The roads had become a muddy mess that was hard for the horses to traverse. The union solders were forced to burn much of their loot in order to continue and four of their captured rebel officers escaped during the night. They continued their ride to Liberty.
“On our arrival at Liberty, we were at first rather astonished at the warm reception accorded us by the citizens of the town, who seemed to have turned out in force to greet us; but we soon found that they had mistaken us for their own friends, who they expected would come from the direction from which we were coming. On discovering their error they were a very much disgusted lot of citizens, and slunk away in the darkness with many imprecations,” wrote Morris.
At the same time as raids were happening in Brookhaven, fighting was taking place in Liberty, a Union strong hold.
After leaving Liberty for Brookhaven, Morris was asked to take men back to Liberty.
“I did not relish going back more than twenty miles, and so few men, through a country filled with rebels. However, there was nothing to do but obey orders and ask no questions,” wrote Morris. “I made up my mind that I wouldn’t camp if I could possibly get along without it, for my men could hardly keep awake while on the march and nearly all were asleep on their horses while waiting there, and the only way I kept myself awake was by rubbing tobacco juice on my eyes.”
The crew continued their march to Liberty to meet up with Lee. After entering the town, they were immediately attacked.
“I believe if we hadn’t got back to Liberty before the fight commenced the rebel cavalry would have captured our wagon-trail and would have released the many prisoners we had in the court house by this rear attack, for the rest of the men had all they could do to defeat the enemy in their front; and if this rear attack had not been met there is no telling what the result might have been. However, our men drove the rebs away, and killed and captured a good many,” wrote Heartwell.
The troops in Liberty continued to fight for their hold in Liberty as well as for the bridge over the Amite River, which they had previously. Lee could not defend both, so he left Liberty and waited for troops to return from their raids in Brookhaven and Summit. Reunited the next evening they left for the south for Baton Rouge.
Liberty, Brookhaven and Summit were easily captured, but Hodge escaped capture. About two-dozen men were wounded and three killed on the confederate side before they ran low on ammunition and had to retreat. The plunder they could carry from the three towns on the muddy roads were taken back to Baton Rouge along with over 1,000 freed slaves.
Heartwell wrote, “It was the most successful raid we ever made, and considering the number of fights we were in, our losses, fortunately, were trifling.”