Report of Lieut. Col. Robert Cowden
Fifty-ninth U. S. Colored Infantry, of expedition from Memphis, Tenn., into Mississippi, June 1-13, 1864. *
MEMPHIS, TENN., June 24,1864.
SIR: I have the honor to report that Friday, the 10th instant, fin) the advance of the U. S. forces, under General Sturgis, against the enemy near Guntown, Miss., the Fifty-ninth U. S. Colored Infantry, which I had the honor to command, was ordered to march in rear of the entire infantry column and of the general supply train. The march from our encampment was not commenced until 10.30 a.m., and for two hours was slow and irregular, owing to the difficulty in crossing the Hatchie bottom, which was very deep and miry. Once across this, and on good roads, the train, which had been lengthened out, closed up, necessitating me to move my command very rapidly and without rest. Soon after crossing the Hatchie bottom heavy artillery firing was heard in front, and about 2 p.m. I received orders to keep well closed up to the train, as an attack on it was feared. Upon receiving this order the rate of speed was increased to double-quick time. Arriving at the front the supply train and cavalry, artillery, and infantry were moving to the rear in confusion, and through this column and through a dense wood, covered with thick undergrowth and vines, I moved my command and formed in line on a ridge on the right of the road where the wood was more open, with my left resting about 150 yards from the road and my line forming with the road an angle of about sixty degrees, my right being thrown forward, conforming with the ridge. My instructions were to hold position until the entire column had passed securely to the rear, then to retire to another position pointed out. This I did, first ordering Capt. James C. Foster, acting field officer, to cause Capt. Albert O. Marsh's company (f) to be deployed as skirmishers on the ridge to cover my retreat, then retiring by the right of companies across a large open, through which ran a creek about fifteen feet wide, with very steep banks about six feet high, bordered by a dense growth of underbrush, which completely concealed if from view until I reached its banks. I experienced considerable delay in passing this creek, but succeeded in doing so in good order, and took my second position just behind the crest of another ridge, still in the open field, about 600 yards in the rear of my first, my line being perpendicular to the road, from which it was separated by a belt of timber completely obstructing from my view all objects on my left. In this position my left rested about 200 yards from the road, opposite an old house near which a battery had ceased to fire. Here Lieutenant Boatman, aide-de-camp, rode [up], and told me the Fifty-fifth U. S. Colored Infantry was not on my left, and connecting between, my command and the white troops, as I expected it to be. I immediately moved by the left flank, hoping to join my command on the right of the white troops, but just as the head of my column emerged from the bush into the open wood I discovered a rebel battle-flag occupying the place our troops had just left, seeing which, I changed my course and moved again by the left flank across another open valley, through the center of which was a deep ditch. I ordered my left wing to occupy this ditch as a cover, and hold the enemy at bay until the right wing could form in the edge of the wood, still on the right of the road and perpendicular to it, and my left about 150 yards from it. This, my fourth position, I held I held until 6 p.m., it being the first opportunity I had of doing any execution. Finding that all the other forces had retired sometime, and the enemy were pressing my right and left flanks, I retired in good order to a position still in the open wood and opposite a large white house, near which were a number of negro quarters. This position was about 200 yards in rear of my last. I saw no other troops near me, but determined on holding this point as long as possible, and ordered Capt. Henry W. Johnson to occupy with his company (B) the negro quarters just mentioned, which he did most gallantly. lmmediately after taking this position I discovered the enemy's cavalry charged on me, attempting to break my left, when I immediately faced about and drove them back in disorder to their former position, about 400 yards. I then retired about 500 yards, and formed again on a ridge on which stood an old cotton-gin and gin-house. Three companies were formed on the right and four on the left and one occupied the said gin-house, while First Lieut. John M. Hensley, with Company A, was ordered to occupy and hold a position behind an old hedge about 100 yards to the right and rear, and prevent a flanking movement in that direction. Having made these dispositions, and being faint from a severe wound in the hip received about 5 o'clock, I here gave up the command to Captain Johnson and retired to the rear. About 200 yards in the rear of my regiment I met Colonel Wilkin, commanding the First Brigade of infantry, who was trying once more to form a line. This was the nearest support I had during the entire engagement. Captain Johnson withdrew the regiment and formed on the right of Colonel Wilkin's command, but it was now 7:30, and darkness threw her mantle over the scene, and we retired to the rear. The regiment left the field in good order, but without ammunition. Company F, in retiring from the first position, inclined too much to the right, and became separated from the regiment and did not join it until after dark, but did good work and nobly contested every step as they retreated. Captain Foster, having now come up with Company F, took command of the regiment, and the retreated was continued all night, during which the men of my command picked up ammunition thrown away by the troops in their advance, so that on arriving at Ripley, early the morning of the 11th, they were found to have about twenty-five rounds per man. Up to this time the regiment was still in good order, a distinct organization, and with the Fifty-fifth was formed in line and held the closely pursing enemy in check until all the infantry had succeeded in getting out of town; but here, unfortunately, the enemy's cavalry getting in their rear, they became separated, some getting out on the Salem road, but the greater part, under Captain Foster, taking the road to Saulsbury, Colonel Wilkin commanded the infantry column that took this road, numbering in all about 1,800 men, of which number about 250 were of my command and 200 were of the Fifty-fifth U. S. Colored Infantry. The colored troops marched in the rear the entire distance to Collierville, manfully defending the rear of the column, which during all the afternoon of Sunday, the 12th, from La Grange to near La Fayette, was closely pursued and constantly engaged by the enemy's cavalry. Saturday we stopped eighteen miles from Ripley; Sunday night about three miles east of La Fayette, and Monday, about 3 p.m., met the train about four miles west of Collierville, and reached this place Monday evening. Of the column that took the Salem road at Ripley eleven officers and fifty-six men reached this place Sunday evening.
I went into engagement with 27 commissioned officers and 577 men. My loss in killed, wounded, and missing is, up to the present, 3 commissioned officers and 143 enlisted men. The officers missing are, First Lieut. Timothy H. Ward and Second Lieut. Seth Wheaton, both known to be prisoners, and First Lieut. William Herring not heard from.
Where every man did his his whole duty it was impossible to discriminate, but Captain Foster requests special mention be made of First Lieut. Andrew J. Henderson and Second Lieut. Jacob K. Kleinknecht, who commanded the rear guard on Sunday, for their coolness and courage in successfully and continually beating back the insolent foe for more than twenty miles of the march.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Lieutenant-Colonel, Comdg. Fifty-ninth U. S. Colored Infantry.
Lieut. A. F. AVERY
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General
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