Disaster at Snaggy Point with the 120th Ohio
On May 3, 1864, the steamboat City Belle was puffing against the strong Red River current to deliver about 500 Federal soldiers to reinforce General Nathaniel Banks’ army located at Alexandria, Louisiana. The senior officer on board was Colonel Marcus Spiegel of the 120th Ohio, and the good colonel’s mind was preoccupied with home matters. In a recent letter from his wife, Colonel Spiegel had learned that his eldest son had lost a forefinger in a printing press accident. “I am not doing justice to my family,” Colonel Spiegel commented to one of his officers. “I ought to be at home but I cannot leave the boys. I fear this regiment will be the death of me yet.”
Little did Colonel Spiegel know how right he was. As the steamboat rounded a bend in the river, a hidden force of dismounted Confederate cavalry armed with four cannon opened fire on the nearly defenseless vessel. “a shell was fired from the south bank which passed through the cabin. Immediately after a second shot cut the steam pipe near the boiler and a third bursting near the pilot house killed the pilot. At the same time, a force posted behind the levee opened upon us with musketry. Our men briskly returned the fire but with great disadvantage owing to the meager protection offered by the boat and their crowded condition on the side where their fire could be delivered with effect,” remembered Captain James Taylor of the 120th Ohio.
The disabled ship drifted with the current until it crashed into the opposite shore where roughly 150 men jumped on the bank and scattered into the woods. The remaining troops, battered by a heavy fire, soon displayed a white flag, and surrendered. Colonel Spiegel was struck in the abdomen by a musket ball and died the next day of his wounds. The disaster at Snaggy Point, Louisiana cost his regiment 246 casualties out of the roughly 400 men (28 killed, 97 wounded, 121 captured) who were aboard the City Belle, more casualties than it had sustained in any battlefield engagement. The losses so devastated the regiment that within a few months it was consolidated with the 114th Ohio.
This account of the Snaggy Point disaster was penned by Captain James Taylor of Co. H, one of the lucky survivors who got off the boat and escaped into the woods. It was originally published in the June 9, 1864, edition of the Wooster Republican.
Headquarters, 120th Regt., O.V.I., Alexandria, Louisiana
May 6, 1864
Ere this communication reaches you, you will have heard through the account telegraphed to the associated press the sad and lamentable calamity which befell our regiment while ascending the Red River en route for this place on board the steamer City Belle. We had on board our own regiment numbering about 400, 26 men of the 22nd Kentucky, Colonel John J. Mudd of the 2nd Illinois Cavalry, Colonel Bassett, and their line officers, and 35 men of the 2nd Louisiana (colored) and about 30 men of different regiments not mentioned. On the 3rd of May at 3:30 p.m. when five miles above Snaggy Point and 30 miles below this place, we were attacked by a heavy guerilla force of at least 500 men with a battery of four guns. As the boat was rounding a bend, a shell was fired from the south bank which passed through the cabin. Immediately after a second shot cut the steam pipe near the boiler and a third bursting near the pilot house killed the pilot. At the same time, a force posted behind the levee opened upon us with musketry.
|Colonel John J. Mudd, 2nd Illinois Volunteer Cavalry|
Killed in action May 3, 1864 at Snaggy Point, Louisiana
Our men briskly returned the fire but with great disadvantage owing to the meager protection offered by the boat and their crowded condition on the side where their fire could be delivered with effect. The steam pipe being cut, the boat became unmanageable and was borne with the current. Because of the steam and boiling water, many were forced to leap into the river and swim to the nearest shore which was the one occupied by the enemy. Soon after the attack, Colonel Marcus Speigel was mortally wounded by a Minie ball in the abdomen (he was dying when we left the boat) and about the same time Colonel Mudd was shot in the forehead and instantly killed.
"The Rebel infantry gained the bank and were pouring volleys of musketry upon us. Our men kept up a constant fire. When the boiler was struck, the hot water and steam drive into the river many of our boys who were either shot in the water or drowned. Word reached us that Colonel Spiegel was killed so I went below and found him unable to speak. Colonel Mudd of the 2nd Illinois Cavalry lay nearby him with his head shattered and brains commingling with the blood of others." Lieutenant Colonel Willard Slocum, 120th Ohio Volunteer Infantry
A quartermaster’s clerk from Illinois named Bates volunteered to swim to the opposite shore with a headline. He was assisted by Lieutenant John M. Baer of my company and Sergeant William Van Ostern. After reaching the shore, Lieutenant Baer received a flesh wound in the hip. The boat was landed alongside the north bank, thus offering cover to those who could get off while passing up the bank to the timber above. The men continued to leave the boat till the enemy had secured a position from which they could enfilade the bank to the rear of the boat, this cutting off any further attempt at retreat. Of our regiment, eight officers and 168 men reached the shore; of these, Lieutenant Baer and three others were left at Grimes’ plantation, four miles this side of the scene of disaster.
|Private Josiah Martin|
Co. I, 120th O.V.I.
Captured May 3, 1864
After as many as could have reached the shore, the steamer with those on board was surrendered, the enemy coming over in skiffs and taking possession. The ammunition of those on shore being almost exhausted, we formed the men in line and marched four miles to Grimes’ plantation where we obtained a Negro guide who safely conducted us through the pine woods to Smith’s plantation 20 miles distant from the steamer where we arrived at midnight. The men being completely exhausted by the fatiguing march, we resolved to throw out pickets and remain at Smith’s until morning. Captain William Harvey (Co. C) and Quartermaster Sergeant Emanuel H. Bixler volunteered to cross the river to the south bank and proceed to Alexandria with the tidings of the disaster.
We expected a boat to return for us, but at daylight no boat having arrived, we marched up the river one mile where we found a small skiff and with this, we crossed the river and at 11 a.m. marched to this place, arriving at 2 p.m. Here we found that a transport had been ordered to our aid but was refused permission to pass the gunboat on duty below the city. Our men were without knapsacks, haversacks, or canteens and had been without provisions for 24 hours. We reported to General Nathaniel Banks who treated us with great kindness. We soon secured rations, shoes, and caps for our men from the proper departments. The Sanitary Commission sent us cotton shirts and socks and assigned us a large room in which our men were soon comfortably quartered.
We have no means of estimating the number of killed and wounded as the firing on the boat was continued after we had gained the shore. Colonel Bassett was killed after escaping from the boat. A transport with the 56th Ohio (returning home as veterans) and two tin clads were sent down on the 4th, all three of which were captured and destroyed. We have obtained no news from the City Belle since we left her in the possession of the enemy.
I attach a list of casualties with such information as we have been able to obtain. We secured nothing but what we had on our persons at the time of the attack. The casualty is most lamentable and has cast gloom over the regiment. The loss of Colonel Speigel and many brave boys will be severely felt. Too much praise cannot be bestowed on those who swam ashore and thus landed the steamer, nor on Corporal William H. Jones of Co. E who safely brought off the colors of the regiment.
Letter from Captain James B. Taylor, Co. H, 120th Ohio Volunteer Infantry, Wooster Republican (Ohio), June 9, 1864, pg. 3
Soman, Jean Powers and Frank L. Byrne, editors. A Jewish Colonel in the Civil War: Marcus M. Spiegel of the Ohio Volunteers. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985, pg. 335
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