Gray's 'Rag Tag 28th' turned tide at Mansfield

The following is Part 3 of a series on the Civil War act of the 28th Louisiana Regiment, led by Col. Henry Gray.

By Murphy J. Barr
Journal Historian

On April 8, 1864, Lieutenant Colonel William Walker began rousting the men of the 28th Regiment from their tents at six o-clock Friday morning, instructing the captain, north of Mansfield enjoying the hospitality of local residents. The men saw mounted officers begin to gather near Mansfield road. They were about to find out if they were in for a fight or another long march. If the officers beside the road went south it was fight, to the north is was more marching.

Grays's brigade moved out first with William Walker and the 28th in the lead.

Colonel Leopold Amour's 18th and James Beard's Consolidated Crescent followed. The three regiments made up Gray's Brigade there were only about eleven hundred men in the ranks falling behind them was Polignac with five regiments of dismounted Texas Cavalry numbering twelve hundred. These units made up General Mouton 2nd division. Behind Polinac came General John G. Walker with his thirty eight hundred-man Texas Division. Ambulances stood waiting in rows. Women carried bundles of sheets that would be stripped into bandages.

The medical staff, the women and old men carried cots and blankets. They prepared the churches and larger downtown buildings to receive the wounded. The wagon traffic, heading north out of harms way was heavy and delayed the Rebel troops, they did not arrive in Mansfield until mid-morning.

Three miles beyond Mansfield several mounted officers were seen. General Taylor in his dark green coat stood out as did Henry Gray mounted on his massive horse Caesar, Gray's brigade moved out first with William Walker and the 28th in the lead; Grays brigade made up of three regiments of only eleven hundred men in the ranks, falling behind were Polignac's brigade and the Texas calvary, then came Mouton's 2nd division.

The boys of the 28th were directed off the road and Colonel Walker led them behind a rail fence. Beyond the fence that ran along the edge of the road, a field stretched to a distant tree line on their left to a swamp on the right. The open field stretched upward beyond a gully to a tree line a half mile away. Somewhere on the other side of those trees the new Yankee army was marching toward them.

Shortly before noon there was gunfire beyond the trees. The Texas cavalry had engaged the enemy, the fighting was going on when fifty Yankee riders broke out of the tree line and came down the hill at a gallop. At first the men behind the rail fence thought it was the confederate calvary but soon realized they were Federal.

The 18th Rebel Regiment opened fire sending several riders crashing to the ground. The others wheeled their mounts around and raced across the field in a hail of rife balls. The Rebels watched the Yankee infantry deploy at the top of the hill. Union cannons opened up. The Rebel batteries responded and a artillery was under way. The men of the 28th Regiment crouched behind the fence as bullets struck the rails and chipped twigs around. The Rebel officers did not know that Banks had brought up seventy nine hundred men to the front.

The Rebel officers Gray, Mouton, Polignac and Taylor met. "What shall we do Sir? Taylor's reply, "Fight Banks if he has a million men." The order went down the line. "Colors in the front, Companies forward." There was a roar as the men came forward and the wooden rails were tossed aside. The rapid advance of the 28th Regiment startled the officers, who had to wheel their horses around and catch up with them. Other regiments followed. Four Union Artillery batteries and rifles infantry regiment opened up on the irregular rebel line.

Lieutenant Colonel William Walker was riding at the head of the 28th Regiment when a minnie ball struck him in the stomach. Sliding from the saddle he fell upon the ground. The former sheriff of Winn Parish knew immediately that he had sustained a mortal wound. Although in agony, he propped himself painfully on his elbow so that he could see the battle. The men of the 28th sustained remarkably few casualties. To reach the enemy the rebels had to cross an open field for more that a quarter of a mile before going down an incline in the ravine. Coming out of the ravine, they had to charge up an exposed slope for some three hundred yards to get to the enemy behind a rail fence.

With the 18th regiment under heavy fire, Colonel Gray realized they must have relief or be destroyed. He rode into the midst of the 28th regiment. In his report he wrote "I immediately gave the order to the 28th Regiment to charge over the fence upon the enemy's line." This was done instantly and in good order. The men responded to Gray's order with a loud rebel yell that could be heard down the line by the enemy. They charged out of the ravine and up the slope, screaming wildy, bayonets leveled. They were no more than two hundred feet from the rail fence when it seemed to explode into a sheet of flame from the firing from the Union army. It staggered the line and brought it to a halt. In a matter of seconds, more than 200 men were cut down. An estimated 55 were killed, 150 were wounded. General Polignac arrived at the fence with his Texas regiments. This caused the Union troops to fall back in retreat, only to find scattered elements of the 28th regiment already there. They were taking Yankee prisoners. The courageous fighting of rebel troops helped win the battle.

With three regiment routed the Union defense came apart. The Rebel troops were fighting from one end of the field to the other. They continued pushing the Union troops back toward the Pleasant Hill road. The unlikely hero of the charge was a small town store clerk from Vernon, Louisiana. Edward Kidd of Company C of the 28th Regiment, seeing confusion in the ranks, looked around for a superior officer to give orders. Informed that he was the only officer left, Kidd rallied elements of the 18th and 28th and led a desperate charge into the line. In bloody hand-to-hand fighting the rebels caused the collapse of another Union regiments line setting off another rout. General Banks rode forward shouting "Form a line here men. I know that you will not desert me." But the Union troops ran past him, leaving guns and knapsacks in the road. Members of Banks' staff had to hustle the general to the rear as he barely avoided being over run by the on rushing rebels. The fight continued and the rebels continued to drive the Union troops back. At about ten o'clock in the night. Banks reluctantly gave orders to retreat.

Under cover of the night the men stumbled with Banks through the forest made their way to the road, walked the sixteen miles to Pleasant Hill. The Battle of Mansfield was over. Confederate success came at a great price--100 casualties suffered by rebel army that afternoon, more than 800 were among 2,300 men of Mouton's division. Gray's brigade suffered an estimated 410 casualties among its 1100 men. On Gray's staff two volunteer aides were killed and Colonel William Walker was found still alive that afternoon and taken to Mansfield. He died the following morning.

The 28th Grays "Rag Tag" regiment from the Pine Hills of North Central Louisiana, trained with fence pickets for rifles, not given uniforms with a leader who did not wear a uniform and were issued shot guns instead of rifles in the beginning of the what. Later they were given rifles and played an important part in win the Battle of Mansfield against a much larger Union Army. They were Heros.