JUNE 1-13, 1864.--Expedition from Memphis, Tenn., into Mississippi.
Report of Col. Edward Bouton, Fifty-ninth U.S. Colored Infantry, commanding Third Brigade.
HDQRS. FIRST BRIGADE, U.S. COLORED TROOPS,
Memphis, Tenn., June 17, 1864.
SIR: I have the honor to report that in compliance with orders I moved my command from Memphis June 1, 1864, consisting of the Fifty-fifth and Fifty-ninth Regiments U.S. Colored Infantry, and one section of Battery F, Second U.S. Artillery (colored), which troops constituted the Third Brigade of Infantry Division, under command of Col. W. L. McMillen.
The strength of my brigade was as follows: Fifty-fifth U.S. Colored Infantry, Maj. E. M. Lowe commanding---commissioned officers, 19; enlisted men, 685. Fifty-ninth U.S. Colored Infantry, Lieut. Col. Robert Cowden commanding--commissioned officers, 27; enlisted men, 580. Battery F, Second U.S. Artillery (colored), Capt. Carl A. Lamberg commanding--commissioned officers, 2; enlisted men, 37. Total, commissioned officers, 48; enlisted men, 1,302. Total aggregate, exclusive of staff, 1,350.
On leaving camp, some thirteen miles from Ripley, the morning of June 10, I had the Fifty-fifth U.S. Colored Infantry, Maj. E. M. Lowe commanding, distributed through the supply train, some three or four men to each wagon; the train followed by Battery F, Second U.S. Artillery (colored), Capt. C. A. Lamberg commanding; Fifty-ninth U. S. Colored Infantry, Lieut. Col. Robert Cowden commanding, in rear. I had marched my brigade in this way less than two miles, when I discovered a column of the enemy's cavalry moving parallel with my right flank on a ridge road, bearing, generally, three-quarters to one mile and a half from the one on which I was moving. I moved with the utmost caution and vigilance, guarding every avenue of approach to the column from that flank. I heard artillery firing in front at about 11 a.m., but continued moving in the order above described till the head of the column reached the old house near the field, in which the officers in charge just commenced corraling the train. I had at this time just sent back orders to close up the troops and bring them forward at double-quick to this point. Many of them double-quicked two or three miles. I had as yet, received no orders, but getting a partial view of the field, and seeing our cavalry falling back, soon followed by infantry and artillery, and judging somewhat of the enemy's strength and position by the fire he was delivering, I saw that my brigade must be thrown forward into action at once to save a total defeat. I immediately gathered two companies from the head of the column, under Captain Ewing, of the Fifty-fifth, and threw them forward into what seemed to be a gap in the First Brigade, near the right and rear of what seemed to be the left battalion. These two companies held this position with great firmness until they were much reduced by loss and virtually crushed back by overwhelming numbers. I next threw forward seven companies of the Fifty-fifth Regiment, under Major Lowe, which I put into position a little to the rear and to the right of the first two companies, so as to cover as well as possible the retreat of the brigade on left of the road. This line gave way to allow the troops in front to pass through to the rear, when they immediately closed up and opened a steady and well-directed fire on the enemy, which for a time seemed to hold in check his right and center. Major Lowe being severely wounded in the left arm early in the engagement, Captain Reeve assumed the command of this regiment, and handled these troops with great coolness and bravery, holding his position against fearful odds, until he was ordered to fall back to a new position, which he did in good order. I then formed as much of a general line as was possible with the balance of the brigade, placing the two guns of Lamberg's battery in position on the rise of ground by the old house, instructing him to throw 2 � and 3 second fuse-shells over our retreating men into the woods, through which the enemy were advancing in great numbers, until our forces had passed him, then to depress his pieces and cover the open ground in front with canister; which order he obeyed as well as possible until he was forced to retire, leaving one caisson on the ground, which he was compelled to do on account of its horses being many of them killed. The remaining company of the Fifty-fifth I formed on the right of the battery on a ridge, the Fifty-ninth, still on their right, forming on the same ridge; my line thus formed being somewhat in the form of a scroll, conforming to the ridge on which it was formed, the left on the road and thrown back oblique with it, the center on right angles with the road, and the right thrown forward. I then ordered the balance of the Fifty-fifth to be brought back and formed on the left. At this time the enemy came forward in great numbers, engaging my entire line, and moving forward on the road in solid column under the fire of the battery. One or two companies near the road reserved their fire until this column was within less than 100 yards, when they delivered their fire obliquely, enfilading the head of the column, doing terrible execution, and for a time checking the entire column. My line had then become closely engaged; my right was forced back and flanked, which soon caused us to fall back gradually and in good order some 200 yards, the men facing about and firing as they retired. We fought and retired in this manner for about 800 yards, forming and holding our position at every ditch, ridge, or skirt of timber of which we could take advantage, until just at sundown we were formed on high ground, with timber in our rear and an open field in front, through which the enemy were advancing. The right and center of our line, embracing most of the Fify-ninth Regiment, here rallied and charged, driving the enemy back with bayonets and clubbed muskets nearly 400 yards, leaving great numbers of his dead on the ground. Up to the time of making this charge Colonel Wilkin, of the Ninth Minnesota, had conformed somewhat to our movements on our left, but, as well as I could judge, his men retreated about the time my right charged. It now being quite dark, my left cut off, flanked and broken, my right flanked by great numbers and in danger of being entirely surrounded, my remaining forces retreated in good order, nine companies of the Fifty-ninth Regiment preserving their company organization. At the time of retreating, being on the extreme right with a few skirmishers endeavoring to keep the enemy on our flank from closing in our rear as my column moved out, I was left entirely cut off and surrounded by several hundred of the enemy. My men, gathering around me, fought with terrible desperation. Some of them, having broken up their guns in hand-to-hand conflict, unyielding, died at my feet, without a thing in their hands for defense. I escaped from this Unpleasant position about 9 p.m., and by making a large circuit through the woods joined the retreating column on the Ripley road about 11 p.m.
My men being in rear of the column were attacked at early dawn on the morning of June 11, some five miles from Ripley, where they formed and fought, using ammunition that had been thrown away by the troops in advance and picked up in the dark. They repulsed the enemy and fell back, fighting in this way for an hour, and falling back a mile until relieved by cavalry, when they moved on to Ripley, picking up every round of ammunition they could get. At Ripley I attempted to fully reorganize my brigade, but had hardly commenced when the enemy charged into the lower end of the town, breaking the line of cavalry formed to hold them in check, when my men were immediately formed and thrown forward against the enemy, almost without a round of ammunition. By using our ammunition sparingly and using bayonets and clubbed muskets at every opportunity, we succeeded in holding in check and forcing back those in our front until two heavy columns were thrown into our rear and a strong line of Grierson's cavalry still in rear of them. From this desperate situation we succeeded in breaking out to the right and left. I succeeded in bringing off about 170 on the Salem road, most of them being disarmed, and many severely wounded, with whom I reached Collierville, Tenn., June 12. The larger portion of my command made their way out to the left through a pine grove and out on the Lamar and old Corinth roads; the larger portion under Captain Foster, commanding Fifty-ninth, took the Lamar road, coming through, in company with a large force of infantry under command of Colonel Wilkin, acting as rear guard, and defending them with guns and ammunition thrown away by the retreating column in advance. Moving and fighting in this manner they reached Collierville, Tenn., June 13. Still another portion under Captain Reeve, commanding Fifty-fifth, being much harassed by overwhelming numbers of apparently fresh-mounted cavalry, were compelled to divide and scatter considerably, but finally fought their way through, reaching Collierville June 15.
Lieut. Col. Robert Cowden, commanding Fifty-ninth Regiment, was severely wounded in right hip about 4.30 p.m. June 10, at the fifth position in which he formed his regiment, and was with difficulty brought off and saved from falling into the hands of the enemy. Capt. Henry W. Johnson took command of this regiment, displaying great coolness and bravery until relieved by Capt. James C. Foster, who was at the time in charge of a line of skirmishers. Captain Foster handled his men with great coolness and bravery, holding every foot of ground possible, hoping only to detain the enemy from pursuing our retreating column.
The officers and men of my entire command are deserving of great credit for the bravery with which they fought in the main engagement, considering the unfavorable circumstances under which they were thrown into action and the overwhelming numbers against whom they contended. I could not censure a single officer, or even suggest where they might have done more. I can scarce give the credit due to individual officers where all are so deserving of praise.
Our losses in commissioned officers are: Killed, 1, Lieutenant Price, Fifty-fifth Regiment; wounded, 4, Lieut. Col. Robert Cowden, Fifty-ninth, right hip; Maj. E. M. Lowe, Fifty-fifth Regiment, left arm; Captain Ewing, Fifty-fifth, left leg; Lieutenant Lewis, Fifty-fifth Regiment, thigh; missing, 11; total loss in commissioned officers, 16. Some 8 other officers were slightly wounded, but not so as to disable them from duty more than a few days.
Our loss in enlisted men, at present, is: Killed, 109; wounded severely, 243; missing, 160; total, 512. Full 300 more were slightly wounded, but not sufficiently to keep them from duty but a few days.
In a few days I shall be able to give more accurate and detailed report of casualties.
Respectfully, your obedient servant,
Colonel Fifty-ninth U.S. Infantry (Colored), Comdg. Brigade.
[Capt. C. W. DUSTAN,
Assistant Adjutant-General, District of Memphis.]
Return to Index Battle of Brice's Crossroads
[Index Page - Union Reports]