HEADQUARTERS CAVALRY FORCES
HEADQUARTERS CAVALRY FORCES,
Vicksburg, Miss., December 4, 1864.
CAPTAIN: I have the honor to report that, pursuant to the orders of the major-general commanding, I moved with my command to Big Black railroad bridge on the morning of the 23d of November. Desiring to make a feint of attack on Jackson, Miss., the pontoon bridge was laid on the morning of the 24th, and a scout of two regiments was sent out under Maj. N.H. Dale, Second Wisconsin Cavalry Volunteers, who proceeded to Baker's Creek, meeting no force of the enemy. On the 25th of November, leaving the pontoon bridge in charge of the Fifth U.S. Colored Artillery (heavy), the command moved toward Benton and camped at Wesley Chapel, moving, on the 26th of November, to within three miles of Benton, and still found no enemy. On the morning of the 27th of November we marched at daylight, and the advance of a column, under Maj. J. B. Cook, Third U.S. Colored Cavalry, cut the telegraph on the railroad beyond Deasonville, and in sight of Vaughn Station, at 12.30 p.m. The railroad bridge across Big Black lay four miles below, without any approach save the railroad track, and artillery could not be taken to it. Other expeditions had attempted to burn it, and failed. Since the attempt of General McArthur last May it had been strengthened by a stockade this side the river, the approach to which was over the railroad trestle-work twenty-five feet high. I sent the Third U.S. Colored Cavalry, Maj. J. B. Cook commanding, to burn it. He advanced his men, dismounted, down the track, with one company preceding him on each flank in the swamp below. When some distance from the bridge the skirmishing became warm, and the bank of the river and the recently erected stockade were carried with some difficulty. Repeated volleys at thirty yards' range failing to dislodge them from the stockade on the other side of the river, Major Cook formed three companies on the trestle-work, and, with only the railroad ties for a path, charged and carried the stockade under a heavy fire, the enemy only retiring when his advance was literally inside the stockade. Being heavily re-enforced from Ways' Bluff Station, one mile distant, the Confederates attempted to regain their lost ground, and failed. When brush and dry trees had been gathered sufficient to burn the heavy timbers, the long trestle-work beyond the bridge, and the half mile on this side, were fired, the wind favoring, the whole of the trestle-work and the major part of the bridge were consumed, repeated volleys from our men keeping the rebels from interference. The rebels left three dead; our loss, three wounded. This gallant affair reflects great credit upon Major Cook and the officers and men under his command.
In the meantime the balance of the men had not been idle. The Fifth Illinois Cavalry, Col. John McConnell commanding, tore up and burned one mile of track, bending every rail and throwing away the chairs. The Eleventh Illinois Cavalry, Major Burbridge commanding, tore one mile and a half of track, burning and bending every rail. They also burned railroad buildings at Vaughn Station, $166,000 worth of railroad supplies (as per bill), 100 bales C. S. A. cotton, 20 barrels salt, 4 stage coaches, large piles of grain, &c. On Monday, the 29th, Major Burbridge proceeded to Pickett Station, burning all trestle-work, railroad buildings, 1,200 bales C. S. A. cotton, together with large amounts of wheat and corn. The command moved toward Goodman, burning long lines of high and important trestle-work. When two miles from Goodman, I sent forward the Eleventh Illinois Cavalry and Fifth Illinois Cavalry, under Col. John McConnell, to burn railroad there. One battalion Fifth Illinois Cavalry, under Colonel McConnell's orders, proceeded to wagon road bridge over Big Black, and although meeting fully their number of Confederates, drove them across the bridge and burned it. Colonel McConnell burnt railroad buildings at Goodman, 1,300 bales C. S. A. cotton, large amounts of corn and wheat, 2 engines and 4 cars. The railroad is destroyed for thirty miles and cannot be repaired by the Confederates in two months with any force at their command. The importance of this must be apparent. The Black River Valley groans with its weight of corn, wheat, cattle, and hogs. The railroad was finished to Jackson, Tenn., and supplies were being hurried to Hood's army. Three trains of infantry were sent to the relief of Jackson the night preceding the one in which the bridge was burnt, who will now be compelled either to walk back or wait. On the 29th of November, retracing our steps, we occupied Yazoo City at 1 p.m., our pickets being strongly attacked a few hours later. It is probable that the city would have been occupied by the enemy had we not taken possession as we did. The 30th was given to resting our tired horses.
Rumors coming of an advance of the enemy, our lines were strengthened. So numerous became these rumors that the order to march out at daylight of the 1st of December was countermanded, and instead scouting parties sent out on all the roads for information. The enemy were found on each road in more or less force, but strongest on the Vicksburg road, on which I had sent Maj. N.H. Dale with 250 men of the Second Wisconsin Cavalry. He moved at daylight, and driving before him a few of the enemy passed the junction of the Yazoo City and Benton roads. Here, at some negro quarters, some strength was shown by the enemy, and two companies were dismounted to dislodge them. Finding these about to be flanked, two other companies were dismounted and sent to their assistance. Just beyond these quarters a dense undergrowth of scrub oak commenced, and when the enemy were driven back to this, they appeared in great numbers, and suddenly charging our men, drove them, capturing a part of Company enemy Second Wisconsin Cavalry. Major Dale being previously wounded the ankle, fainted from loss of blood and pain, but despite this, the detachment reformed and twice repulsed the charges made upon them, with loss to the enemy. The command was withdrawn without confusion. Careful officers estimate the number of the enemy at from 1,500 to 3,000 men, and their loss at 75 men killed and wounded. Our loss was 5 enlisted men killed, 1 commissioned officer wounded, 8 enlisted men wounded, 1 commissioned officer missing, 24 enlisted men missing. From the fact that a portion of this force was infantry, that they occupied a very strong position, that lay directly in my road, and that I could not flank because they used no artillery, although having plenty, I determined I ought not to risk defeat without a base to fall back upon, or supplies of any kind in case delayed, and therefore commenced crossing the Yazoo River with my command at 4 p.m. At 8 a.m. of the 2d we finished crossing, in safety, and moved to the mouth of the Big Sunflower, where they now await transportation to this city. The Shenango was fired into at Short Creek, and one enlisted man of the Fifth Illinois Cavalry severely wounded.
I desire to return my thanks to Captain Gorringe, of the Vindicator; Captain Burns, of the Prairie Bird, and each commanding officer of each regiment and battery, for their full co-operation and cheerful and prompt obedience to all orders issued.
During the entire march the most perfect order has been maintained, winning even from the Confederate citizens encomiums on our discipline. The men returned in excellent health, but many valuable horses are broken down. The loss of hay for three months past is painfully apparent, and many valuable animals have been lost on account of their diseased condition caused by lack of hay. Hay at any price is economy to the Government, and adds to our efficiency fully one.third to one-half.
I am, captain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
E. D. OSBAND,
Colonel Third [U. S. Colored Cavalry,
Commanding Cavalry Forces, District of Vicksburg.
Capt. F. W. Fox,