This letter was written by the commander of USS Black Hawk, Commander Kidder Randolph Breese (1831-1881). Breese began his naval career as a midshipman in 1846 aboard the US Sloop of War Saratoga during the War with Mexico. He participated in Admiral Perry’s expedition to Japan and then several trips to other foreign ports. When the Civil War began, he was serving aboard the San Jacinto, the ship that stopped the British steamship carrying Mason and Slidell (see Trent Affair). He then helped capture New Orleans and served with Rear Admiral David Porter on the Mississippi River and the Atlantic Coast.
Commander Breese wrote this letter from Alexandria, Louisiana, while on the Red River Expedition. That expedition was a failure as the annual rise in the Red River failed to materialize that year making it impossible for the Union’s heavy gunboats to pass over the rapids in the river. Breese’s letter refers to the battles of Sabine Crossroads and Pleasant Hill which were fought on 8 and 9 April 1864. The battles convinced Banks that his campaign against Shreveport should be abandoned. Though the battle of Pleasant Hill may have been a Northern victory, the retreat to Grand Ecore was a strategic defeat. In less than a week, the USS Black Hawk would be ordered to “Get out of the [Red] River whilst there is a chance.”
U. S. Ship Black Hawk
April 10, 1864
General [Carvier] Grover has received instructions tonight to take his whole force to Loggy Bayou leaving here only enough force for police but as he is to move by transports and they now are not to be had, I can’t tell when he will start. Phelps gave me the news of the defeat of the Army. General Stone’s two dispatches to General Grover say 1st, the enemy attacked us at Pleasant Hill and were signally repulsed with loss of many killed and prisoners. This is all he knows about it. 2nd. Bring up immediately all your force to Loggy Bayou. I told him all the rumors &c. and I judge he is about of the same opinion of General Banks as the rest of us.
Nothing new here. No signs of the [pump-boat] Champion yet. River falling slowly. The Mississippi has fallen eight feet but is now rising again which I hope will check the fall in this. I shall send up the Champion immediately on her arrival; if you do not want her, please inform me as Mr. Tennyson thinks there is no doubt but what she can raise the Woodford in a very short time. Shall I keep a barge of coal here all the time—that is, when the one here is gone? Shall I send the Price for another? I wrote to [ ] that he must hurry coal down here—that there were but six barges at the mouth and if the river should rise suddenly that won’t last long. I also told him that he wouldn’t see any of the town boats except the Ike Hammett & Wilson and that he might make his arrangements accordingly and also begged him not to send any more provisions down for at least a month.
Give my kindest regards to all with you and believe me respectfully yours, — K. R. Breese, In command.