HEADQUARTERS DISTRICT OF WEST TENNESSEE
Major General C. C. Washburn
HEADQUARTERS DISTRICT OF WEST TENNESSEE,
Memphis, Tenn., July 20, 1864.
COLONEL: I have the honor to inclose herewith the report of Brig. Gen. S. D. Sturgis, of the conduct and results of the recent expedition into the State of Mississippi, commanded by him, and also the reports of subordinate commanders. This expedition was fitted out pursuant to orders from Major-General McPherson. The fact having become known that Major-General Forrest, of the Confederate army, was at Tupelo with quite a large mounted force, preparing for some expedition, it was regarded as of the first importance to engage him, and if possible to whip and disperse his forces, as also to destroy the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, which had been placed in complete running order from Corinth to Mobile. My orders to make the movement were received two weeks before it was commenced, but from information I had as to the strength of the enemy I was compelled to await the arrival of other troops. On the 30th day of May Brig. Gen. T. Kilby Smith arrived from Red River with 1,800 men, but in such condition that only about 800 could be put into the field. Feeling that prompt action was important, and that a longer delay would probably allow General Forrest to carry out his plans, which were supposed to be to operate on General Sherman's communications (a supposition since confirmed by reliable intelligence), I ordered out on the morning of the 1st of June my entire effective force here, consisting of 3,300 cavalry, 5,000 infantry, and 16 pieces of artillery. The infantry force was all moved by rail on the 1st of June to a point between Collierville and La Fayette, where a bridge was destroyed. The cavalry, artillery, and wagon train moved on the same day. The force sent out was in complete order, slid consisted of some of our best troops. They were ordered to go in the lightest possible marching order, and to take only wagons for commissary stores and ammunition. They had a supply for twenty days. I saw to it personally that they lacked nothing to insure a successful campaign. The number of troops deemed necessary by General Sherman, as he telegraphed me, was 6,000, but I sent 8,000. Brigadier-General Sturgis was assigned to the command of the expedition. By the order of Major-General Sherman, General Sturgis had commanded an expedition in pursuit of Forrest one month previously. When that expedition was over I ordered him to report back to General Sherman, which he did, and was ordered back to report to me, simultaneously with my preparations for the second expedition. As he was the ranking general here, I regarded his having been ordered back to me at the time of my fitting out an expedition under orders as equivalent to an order to give him the command to which his rank entitled him, and felt that I had no alternative but to do so. He reported to me about three days before the expedition left, and was notified at once that he would command the expedition. The order for him to take command was dated May 31, a copy of which is submitted herewith as an inclosure.(*) His order of march, and the incidents of the march engagement, and retreat will appear in the accompanying reports. The troops were ordered to strike the Mobile and Ohio Railroad near Corinth, for the reason that on the previous expedition the route, via Ripley, had been taken, and on their return General Sturgis reported that they could proceed no farther by that route on account of want of forage for animals. Having information entirely reliable that at Corinth there were several thousand bushels of corn that had been sent up on the railroad, I regarded it as important that it should be captured and that what could not be consumed by our animals should be destroyed. This accomplished, I ordered the column to pass south and destroy the railroad as it went. I was satisfied that after our troops struck the railroad near Corinth General Forrest, if he intended to fight at all, would come north to save the road from destruction. I also believed that if the column first struck out for Corinth it would lead General Forrest to believe that the move was one intended to re-enforce General Sherman, and that he would therefore endeavor to interrupt it, thus enabling us to fight the enemy without traveling a long distance to find them. The line of march indicated by me was not taken by General Sturgis, but he took instead the line which he had before abandoned as impracticable. His reasons for the change will appear in his report. The result of the expedition was a serious disaster. The first information I had of this result was by a dispatch I received at 1 o'clock on the morning of the 12th of June, sent to me from Ripley on the morning of the 11th. I immediately sent out by rail, at daylight on the morning of the 12th, 2,000 infantry of General A. J. Smith's command, which had just arrived from below, with instructions to march from the railroad terminus as rapidly as possible to relieve the retreating forces. On arriving at the railroad terminus they found General Sturgis there, with what he supposed to be the entire force that had effected their escape. On the second day after I was advised that Colonel Wilkin, of the Ninth Minnesota Infantry, commanding a brigade, had arrived at Collierville, having fought his way back in good order. I immediately sent out a train to bring in his command, numbering about 1,600. The expedition left the railroad terminus on the 2d of June and reached Brice's Cross-Roads, a distance of sixty miles, on the 10th. The force that escaped from Brice's CrossRoads returned to the railroad terminus in one day and two nights, with the exception of that portion brought in by Colonel Wilkin. The facts attending the disaster are now undergoing an investigation, which will doubtless exhibit fully the causes of our failure, and I do not desire to express my opinion as to those causes, further than to call attention to the fact, which appears in General Sturgis' report, that he expected to be defeated, and had no confidence in the success of the expedition, a feeling which could not fail to have an important bearing upon the actual results.
Of the conduct of the troops on this occasion I can only say that from all I can learn it is deserving of the highest praise. Oppressed by the intense heat, and completely exhausted physically, they went into action, as I learn, in the highest and most soldierly spirit possible. The enemy was met under circumstances not unfavorable to us, the troops fought well, and inflicted upon the enemy a loss equal to if not greatly exceeding our own, and had they been properly brought into action I am confident the result would have been a most triumphant success. The colored troops made for themselves on this occasion a brilliant record. Their gallant and soldierly bearing, and the zeal and persistence with which they fought, elicited the warmest encomiums from all officers of the command. Their claims to be considered as among the very best soldiers of our army can no longer, in my opinion, be seriously questioned.
I have the honor to be, colonel, your obedient servant,
C. C. WASHBURN,
Lieut. Col. WILLIAM T. CLAUS,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Department of the Tennessee.
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