Lieutenant Colonel Frank S. Hesseltine, USV,

13th ME Infantry, Awarded the Medal of Honor


HESSELTINE, FRANCIS S. - Col, 13th Maine Inf.
Action: At Matagorda Bay, Tex, 29-30 Dec 1863.
Entered service: Maine
¹.
Born: 10 Dec 1833, Bangor, Maine.
Issued: 2 March 1895.

Colonel Hesseltine is a Colby College alumnus, Class of 1863. See Colby to Colonel by Osborne Ellis which appeared in the Colby Magazine, Summer 2000. COL Hesseltine is buried in Wyoming cemetary in Melrose, Massachusetts.


Citation:

In command of a detachment of 100 men, conducted a reconnaissance for 2 days, baffling and beating back an attacking force of more than a thousand Confederate cavalry, and regained his transport without loss.



Excerpt from The History of the Thirteenth Maine Infantry Regiment by Edwin Lufkin

Some reinforcements arrived after the capture of Fort Esperanza, and were mostly placed on De Crow's Point; but no further movement of importance was made. Much time was spent in drill, and there were several reconnaissance's in which the Thirteenth took part. One of these, which occurred in the last days of the year 1863, can perhaps be best described by giving in full Lieut. Col. Hesseltine's official report. The reconnaissance was made by the available men of companies C, H and K, and was conducted by the Lieutenant Colonel. The following is his official report:

LIEUT. COL. HESSELTINE'S OFFICIAL REPORT.


Headquarters Thirteenth Maine Regiment,
Fort Esperanza, Texas, Jan. 1, 1864.

General: - I have the honor to report that in accordance with instructions received through you from the Major General commanding Coast Expedition, I embarked on the evening of the 28th ult. with one hundred men of my regiment, on the gunboat Granite City, and proceeded that night outside up Matagorda Peninsula, to a point seven miles from the head of it. In the morning we landed in small boats through the surf on a reconnaissance, intending to return on board when our object was attained; but shortly after our debarkation, the surf was so increased by a strong southerly wind, as to cut off all communication with the gunboat.

A detachment under Lieut. Ham, having returned from a scout up the Peninsula, I deployed a line of skirmishers nearly across and moved down under convoy of the Granite City, driving back the rebel skirmishers cut off by our line. Our progress was so impeded in the night (on the right?) by bayous from the lake that by two o'clock P. M. we had advanced only seven miles and were obliged to shorten the line of skirmishers.

At this time I was warned by the whistle of our convoy, and the shells from the 36-pounder Parrott, of an enemy in the rear. Soon, by aid of my glass, I was able to discern the head of a body of cavalry moving down the Peninsula under a heavy fire from the gunboat. Their line stretched steadily towards us, and without seeing the last of it, I made out a force of from eight hundred to a thousand cavalry. Throwing the reserve in advance of the skirmishers, we moved forward as before. In a half hour their skirmishers were swarming close up to mine, slightly heeding the shell and shrapnel, which, by reason of the heavy sea, only now and then emptied a saddle for them.

Having drawn them to within good rifle shot, by allowing them to pepper away at us liberally, at command, half the skirmishers faced about and gave them a volley with apparently good effect, as it sent them, some hugging their horses, others being supported, out of range. They all hastily chose the other side. Having reached a narrow neck some two hundred yards wide, made by a bayou from the lake, as the boys were anxious to see the parade, I assembled the skirmishers, and counter-marching so that they could face the foe, formed line of battle across the neck. I knew my men; they were cool; and determined rather than the rebels should meet the first encouragement of this campaign, that they would die there, with as many of their foes lying about them.

They would not meet us in front. They were fording the bayou and gaining our rear. I gave orders to move back, quick time, and rode ahead to select another spot for a stand. They were closing around us. Hastily communicating to the officers my plan to throw up from the drift, branches, logs and stumps - a barricade - first a face to the enemy, then on each flank, I wheeled the men in on the beach. As if by magic, and while the men were forming their line for attack, there arose, with knarled roots and branches projecting, a rough redan, its pan coupe on a sand ridge, its gorge out in the surf. They formed, advanced, hesitated, halted; a party rode up to reconnoitre and rode back with minie balls to report. They moved stronger to the right to charge obliquely the left face, which speedily looked too bad for them.

While they deliberated, darkness came with a heavy mist. For a ruse, or a threat, we rung out three hearty cheers and a tiger. Two fires on each flank gave our position to the gunboat Sciota which came in from a reconnaissance up the coast. The Granite City goes to send reinforcements. With the expectation of an attack, the men were kept at the barricade all night. Their scouts approached to learn from our rifles that we were awake. Soon after midnight, the picket fired and ran in to report a strong body moving to the left onto the beach. This force came up, but a sharp fire sent them to the rear as the gunboat Sciota, which had slipped her anchor, ran round and poured in a broad-side. They retired for the night.

The morning was very foggy. Bodies of cavalry were occasionally seen, and about ten o'clock A. M., a considerable force was seen on the right, but made no demonstration. As it was uncertain what more the enemy might bring, the work was further strengthened by digging pits with bayonets and wooden spades and filling the barricade. Blankets were used for sand-bags. By noon it cleared away, and the rebel gunboat J.G. Cass ran down inside opposite our work and commenced shelling it with her 20-pounder Parret, making some very good shots, but injuring no one.

At three o'clock P. M., the men being without food and water, the gunboats expected to our relief having failed by reason of the fog, to find us, and concluding that the enemy had driven back our reinforcements, after some hesitation we moved secretly out to cut our way down the Peninsula. The rebel boat shelled the abandoned work, and, as they report from the Sciota, kept back a body of their own cavalry. Our advanced skirmishers drove before us a few of the enemy's scouts. Night came with a heavy fog, and we advanced cautiously. At ten P. M., the severest norther of the winter struck us. At one A. M., we bivouacked for the rest of the night. The next day, at two P.M., twenty miles below our work, we were discovered from the Sciota, and with great difficulty taken aboard. On the march the sick and exhausted soldiers had been nobly aided by their comrades, so that not a man, musket or equipment, was left for the enemy.

The rebel gunboat J.G. Cass was driven ashore in the norther; and Capt. Strong, of the Monongahela, who came to relieve us, reports that she was abandoned and destroyed. The loss of this boat, the information secured concerning the enemy and Peninsula, already given you verbally, with the lesson taught our enemies, make the reconnaissance not altogether valueless. To the officers with me, First Lieut. J. S. P. Ham, commanding Company C; Second Lieut. Robbins B. Grover, commanding Company H; Second Lieut. John D. Felton, Company K; and Second Lieut. Augustus C. Myrick, Company C, the highest credit is due for the energy and pluck they manifested, aiding and arousing their men to endure and die sooner than surrender. I would respectfully suggest that they are worthy of notice, as a mark that the country honors those of her sons who are valiant in upholding her honor.

Capt. Perkins of the Sciota excited my admiration by the daring manner in which he exposed his ship through the night in the surf till it broke all about him, that he might, close to us, lend the moral force of his 11-inch gun and howitzers, and by his gallantry in bringing us off through the gale.

To Capt. Lamson of the Granite City, great credit is due for his exertions to retard and drive back the enemy. By the loss he inflicted upon them, it is clear, but for the heavy sea, he would free us from any exertion. Information comes in that the attacking force was Green's cavalry, from twelve to fifteen hundred strong.

I have allowed myself to be too minute in this report that you may know how one hundred of your "Yankees" baffled, beat back, and eluded so large a body of rebels, and the rebel gunboat, without loss.
I have the honor to be,
Very Respectfully, your Obedient Servant,
FRANK S. HESSELTINE
Lieut. Col. Commanding.
Brig. Gen. T. E. G. Ransom,
Commanding 3rd Brig., 2nd Div. Army Corps,
Fort Esperanza, Texas.


Lufkin Continues:


The foregoing shows signs of having been written in great haste, but is substantially correct. Even the Confederate Official Reports agree with it very closely, except in two particulars, viz: First, they do not admit the loss of a gunboat, but report the driving ashore and burning of a schooner. Second, they estimate the numbers concerned in the affair very differently, calling our force three hundred, and their own the same. Now, as to our force, it was but little, if any, over one hundred men; while theirs, according to their own reports, consisted of the whole of Brown's, and half of Buchel's regiments of cavalry, and, therefore, Col. Hesseltine's estimate of their number is probably very nearly correct.

The enemy admit a loss of two men, and two horses wounded, and several men and horses missing; but, as our men took no prisoners, the question of what became of their missing, is one which the Thirteenth boys would like to have correctly answered. Probably they were killed or wounded. Col. Hesseltine, the officers and the men were all highly praised for their conduct by Gen. Washburn, who was then commanding the Thirteenth Corps.

On the 10th of January, 1864, Col. Rust, who had been relieved from duty in Louisiana a few days before, arrived at Fort Esperanza. As he was the senior colonel in the brigade, he became brigade commander, leaving Lieut. Col. Hesseltine still in command of the regiment.


Note 1: Lufkin in his History lists Hesseltine's place of residence at the time of his induction as Waterville, ME.
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The Matagorda Affair from the Texan side

Honoring Maine Heroes

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