HEADQUARTERS DISTRICT OF WEST LOUISIANA,
Alexandria, February 8, 1864.
Brigadier General C. J. POLIGNAC,
GENERAL: I am directed by the major-general commanding the district to say to you that he has positive information that Major General W. T. Sherman, U. S. Army, has reached Vicksburg with his corps d'armee, and that Brigadier-General Gresham has left Natchez with two regiments of white troops for the same point. The probable design is a demonstration against Jackson, Miss. The above depletion of the garrison at Natchez leaves only two regiments of white troops and some negro organizations at that the negro soldiers are discontented and prone to desertion, but are deterred from the latter course by fear of the consequences of falling into our hands. In view of this facts, sound policy dictates that any such troops falling into our hands, either by desertion or capture, even with arms in their hands, should be treated with all the leniency proper under the circumstances. You will impress this upon your subordinate officers, and especially upon those in command of outposts. The negroes themselves will be sent to these headquarters, where their services are required as laborers, and hire for their services will be paid to the owners in all cases when they can be discovered.
The major-general commanding further directs that you use all vigilance in arresting all persons passing in or out of our lines without proper passes. Passes from headquarters Department Trans-Mississippi at Shreveport will not be respected unless vised at these headquarters, and persons traveling with such passes will be sent here through General Walker. The same rule will be observed in regard to persons coming out of the enemy's lines, unless you have good reason to exercise your discretion in the matter. You will also be extremely careful that no cotton is taken through your lines to the enemy except by express permission from district headquarters.
The major-general commanding suggests that the small number of the garrison at Natchez would justify you in throwing a body of light troops across the river in the direction of Vidalia; that some might possibly be surprised and some captures made;but apart from the moral effect of such a demonstration the accomplishment of the following renders it desirable: It is desirable that all the ablebodied negro men and mules, horses, and transportation beyond the Ouachita and in the country bordering on the Tensas Rive, Concordia Lake, Bayou Concordia, and other settlements exposed to the continual ravages of the enemy or within his lines, be secured for our own use. The negro men will be sent here, as in the case of negro troops, as will also the horses and mules. You will exercise great caution in preventing pillaging by your men or wanton destruction.
In cases where plantations in the situation mentioned above are found by our own people you will be careful to leave sufficient labor and teams on the plantations to raise supplies of grain, but in no case will a sufficiency be left for the culture of cotton. You will use precaution in attempting any operation of the kind indicated not to involve your troops in a campaign which would delay their withdrawal at any time it might become necessary.
The country between lower Little River and Red River is infested