The Rebels made a fierce attack upon the garrison at Milliken’s Bend. For a few moments during the fight the prospects of their success were very good. The negroes composing the garrison had not been long under arms, and their discipline was far from perfect. The Rebels obtained possession of a part of our works, but were held at bay by the garrison, until the arrival of a gun-boat turned the scale in our favor. The odds were against us at the outset, but we succeeded in putting the enemy to flight.
In this attack the Rebels made use of a movable breast-work, consisting of a large drove of mules, which they kept in their front as they advanced upon the fort. This breast-work served very well at first, but grew unmanageable as our fire became severe. It finally broke and fled to the rear, throwing the Rebel lines into confusion. I believe it was the first instance on record where the defenses ran away, leaving the defenders uncovered. It marked a new, but unsuccessful, phase of war. An officer who was present at the defense of Milliken’s Bend vouches for the truth of the story.
The Rebels captured a portion of the garrison, including some of the white officers holding commissions in negro regiments. The negro prisoners were variously disposed of. Some were butchered on the spot while pleading for quarter; others were taken a few miles on the retreat, and then shot by the wayside. A few were driven away by their masters, who formed a part of the raiding force, but they soon escaped and returned to our lines. Of the officers who surrendered as prisoners of war, some were shot or hanged within a short distance of their place of capture. Two were taken to Shreveport and lodged in jail with one of the captured lessees. One night these officers were taken from the jail by order of General Kirby Smith, and delivered into the hands of the provost-marshal, to be shot for the crime of accepting commissions in negro regiments. Before morning they were dead.
Similar raids were made at other points along the river, where plantations were being cultivated under the new system. At all these places the mules were stolen and the negroes either frightened or driven away. Work was suspended until the plantations could be newly stocked and equipped. This suspension occurred at the busiest time in the season. The production of the cotton was, consequently, greatly retarded. On some plantations the weeds grew faster than the cotton, and refused to be put down. On others, the excellent progress the weeds had made, during the period of idleness, rendered the yield of the cotton-plant very small. Some of the plantations were not restocked after the raid, and speedily ran to waste.
In 1863, no lessee made more than half an ordinary crop of cotton, and very few secured even this return. Some obtained a quarter or an eighth of a bale to the acre, and some gathered only one bale where they should have gathered twelve or twenty. A few lost money in the speculation. Some made a fair profit on their investment, and others realized their expectations of an enormous reward. Several parties united their interest on three or four plantations in different localities, so that a failure in one quarter was offset by success in another.