JUNE 1-13, 1864.--Expedition from Memphis, Tenn., into Mississippi.
Report of Col. Alexander Wilkin, Ninth Minnesota Infantry, commanding First Brigade.
SIR: I have the honor to report, for the information of the colonel commanding, the part taken by the First Brigade, Infantry Division, commanded by myself in the recent engagement at Brice's Cross-Roads, near Guntown, Miss., on the 10th instant:
My brigade on that day marched in the rear of the Second Brigade, commanded by Colonel Hoge, the Third (colored) Brigade, commanded by Colonel Bouton, being in the rear of the First. About 11 o'clock on the morning of the 10th firing was heard in front, and I was shortly after informed that our cavalry had engaged that of the enemy and been driven back from Brice's Cross-Roads about six miles in advance. Soon after the Second Brigade was ordered to advance at double-quick, and I received orders to march my command as rapidly as I could do without leaving the supply train. Soon after, hearing that the Second Brigade was being severely pressed, I sent for permission to advance more rapidly, leaving the train to be protected by the Third Brigade. Permission having been obtained I moved on the double-quick for about one mile, and reached Brice's house about 1.30 o'clock, when the brigade was halted. Colonel McMillen then led the Ninety-fifth Ohio, Lieutenant-Colonel Brumback commanding, down the road leading past Brice's house, toward Baldwyn, and posted it on the left of the road and on the left of the [One hundred and thirteenth?] Illinois, about one-quarter of a mile beyond Brice's house. I then returned with him to the brigade, and was directed to repair, with the Seventy-second Ohio and the section of Captain Mueller's Sixth Indiana Battery, to the knoll, on which stood a log-house, about 800 yards in rear of Brice's house and on the right as you go to Ripley. After the guns had been placed in position and Captain ------'s company of the Seventy-second Ohio had been thrown forward toward the woods in front, the balance of the regiment having formed in line on its left for support, understanding that the enemy were endeavoring to get around our left in order to reach the train on the Ripley road, I directed Captain Mueller to throw a few shells into the timber, which was done with great precision and effect, and which evidently checked their progress. Soon after I was joined by about seventy-five dismounted cavalry, under command of an officer whose name I have not been able to learn, who formed line and kept up a spirited fire upon the enemy advancing from the direction of the crossroads. Shortly after this a small body of the enemy, evidently skirmishers, were seen crossing the open field in our rear and toward the Ripley road. Lieutenant-Colonel Eaton, commanding the Seventy-second Ohio, in connection with the dismounted cavalry, opened fire upon them and drove them back in confusion to the woods.
About this time I was directed by a staff officer of the colonel commanding to advance with the Seventy-second Ohio across the open fields in our front and to the right of the road, and take a position in the edge of the woods. After proceeding a short distance, orders were given to return to the first position, which was done. Upon my return I found Captain Mueller had left with his guns, as I presume with orders given during my absence, his support having been removed. About this time Captain [Ewing] of the [Fifty-fifth U.S. Colored] Regiment, African descent, reported to me with his company, and although wounded in the leg and the only officer with the company, expressed his readiness to be of service. I directed him to send a few skirmishers in front of the log-house into the ravine, and to form the remainder of his command behind the fences and log buildings near by, which was done. Soon after the enemy's shell and canister were falling thick and fast around us. The remainder of our forces had passed us and we were left alone. Turning, I observed my command moving by the flank to the rear across the creek and bottom, having, as I understood, been ordered to fall back in order to form a new line. Having proceeded about half a mile, Brigadier-General Grierson rode up and directed Lieutenant-Colonel Eaton to form his regiment behind the fences on the right of the road, in rear of open fields, and resist the advance of the enemy as long as practicable. I then rode on to overtake the balance of the brigade. At the White house, about a mile in the rear and in the road, I found the Ninety-fifth Ohio, Ninety-third Indiana, One hundred and fourteenth Illinois, and Ninth Minnesota. I was then directed by the colonel commanding division to form my brigade in line on the right of the road (as you go toward Ripley), and to contest the ground if possible until night set in. I was informed that the Second Brigade, Colonel Hoge commanding, and the Third (colored) Brigade, Colonel Bouton commanding, were on our right, and that Colonel McMillen had himself placed the Ninety-third Indiana and Ninety-fifth Ohio on the left of the Second Brigade. I was instructed that when they should be obliged to retire through my line my command should remain, the brigades relieving each other as they retired. I formed the Ninth Minnesota and One hundred and fourteenth Illinois respectively on the right of the road, as you go toward Ripley, and sent out skirmishers, who soon found the enemy in front. Lieutenant-Colonel King having informed me that his ammunition was almost exhausted, I directed Lieutenant Couse, Ninth Minnesota Volunteers, acting assistant adjutant-general, to proceed to the rear to procure a supply, but finding no means of transportation he brought back one box on his horse.
The fighting at this time was severe, continuing for over half an hour and until sundown, with considerable loss, when, being informed that we had no support on right or left, and that the enemy were about to move around our flank, I ordered the command to fall back, which they did in good order, frequent facing to the rear and firing upon the enemy. We shortly after received an enfilading fire as we moved down the road, when I placed the command among the trees on one side. We soon arrived at the slope where part of the train had been abandoned and a portion being burned. Shortly after passing the creek I observed the skirmishers of the Third Brigade in the open fields on our left. Perceiving an officer with them, I directed him to have the men form on the right of the Ninth Minnesota in a thicket in front of which were large open fields, over which the enemy must pass. He informed me that he was not in command, but pointed out to me Lieutenant-Colonel Cowden, who was severely wounded. The Ninth Minnesota formed, the One hundred and fourteenth Illinois being on the right, as I am informed by Lieutenant-Colonel King. The enemy soon appeared in large numbers but not in line, when a heavy fire was opened upon them from the thicket, which was kept up for about twenty minutes, and large numbers fell. They retired in confusion. This was between sundown and dark, and the enemy did not again appear in force. About 8 o'clock in the evening I halted the command in order to give them rest. At this point an officer in command of a squadron of cavalry reported to me that the camp-fires in front were built by him under orders from the general commanding, in order to deceive the enemy, and that he was directed to remain until we had passed, and then proceed to the front. I then moved forward the command until I joined the colored brigade. The progress was slow, and I was informed that we were delayed by the train which was slowly passing the bottom land and creek some distance ahead. About midnight I was informed that the portion of the train in front had been abandoned, its farther progress being impossible. Finding this to be the case, I directed the animals remaining with the rear of the train to be taken out and the wagons abandoned. The train was not burned, as I thought it probable that our line of battle had been reformed beyond, and that it might yet be saved. Moreover, I feared the conflagration might lead the enemy to believe that we were in full retreat and lead to their immediate advance in force.
About daylight the Fourth Iowa Cavalry passed us going to the front. Shortly after our rear was fired upon by small parties of guerrillas. At the Llewellen Church we found Colonel Winslow's brigade of cavalry formed in echelon by squadrons, who were skirmishing sharply with the enemy on the opposite side of the stream. Arriving at Ripley at 7.30 a.m., I waited for orders, but receiving none, and perceiving other troops continue to pass on the road to the front, the cavalry remaining to protect our rear, I again took up the line of march. Hearing at the cross-roads, where I halted for an hour, that the enemy in force were falling upon a large detachment of our rear on the Salem road, and that a large cavalry force was about three miles in our rear, and being almost out of ammunition, I concluded to follow the Saulsbury road, and toward evening was joined by Captain Foster, Fifty-ninth Regiment, African descent, with about 600 of his own and the Fifty-fifth Regiment, African descent, he having crossed over from the Salem road, which he considered unsafe. That night we bivouacked near Brooks', about five miles from Saulsbury.
The next morning at daylight we resumed the march, and after proceeding about three miles turned to the left, taking a settlement road leading to Davis' Mills. Upon arriving at Davis' I found the bridge partially destroyed, and upon halting to repair it we were fired upon by a considerable number of the enemy, who were soon driven back, after wounding two of our men on the hill and one of the flankers of the One hundred and fourteenth Illinois, and hitting the horse of LieutenantColonel King while passing the swamp beyond the bridge. Soon after we were again attacked in front, but owing to the vigilance of the half-breed scouts of Company H, Ninth Minnesota, and the handsome conduct of the advanced guard of the Ninety-fifth Ohio, under command of Captain ------, they were unable to do much execution. At one time our rear was charged upon by about 150 of Buford's cavalry, but they were repulsed by the negro troops and a few of the half-breeds. Our rear was, however, occasionally fired upon until long after dark, but the imperturbable coolness and steadiness of the colored troops, under command of Captain Foster, kept them in check and prevented confusion.
At 12 o'clock on the night of the 12th the command bivouacked four miles east of Collierville, which place was reached about 9 a.m. next day. We found here neither cars, rations, nor re-enforcements. The command rested until noon. In the :heart time, Lieutenant Hesmer, of the One hundred and thirteenth Illinois, brigade inspector, volunteered to proceed to some point on the railroad from which information could be communicated of our approach. He was joined by Captain ------, of the One hundred and eighth Illinois, Sergeant ------, and two privates. Within three miles of Collierville they were attacked by a party numbering about fifteen, who ordered them to halt. Their horses, already jaded, were put to their speed. Although frequently fired upon and closely followed, no one of the party was killed or wounded. I regret to say, however, that the gallant captain and the sergeant were captured. The lieutenant and the two privates arrived in safety at White's Station at 10 a.m. As the command approached the vicinity where the party referred to was attacked, the column was halted and the scouts sent in advance, who soon discovered a party of the enemy. Skirmishing continued until the whistle of the train which brought re-enforcements was heard. Hard bread was here issued to the men, while the infantry re-enforcements, and the cavalry command under Major Malone, formed line of battle in front of the train in time to meet the attack of a regiment of the enemy's cavalry. The command, numbering about 1,600 of the different brigades, arrived in Memphis on the same evening, 13th instant, in a pitiable condition. Nearly all were barefooted, their feet badly blistered and swollen, and in some cases poisoned. Most of them had eaten nothing for three days and all had suffered for want of food.
Colonel Thomas, commanding the Ninety-third Indiana; Lieutenant-Colonel King, commanding One hundred and fourteenth Illinois; Lieutenant-Colonel Brumback, commanding Ninety-fifth Ohio; Lieutenant-Colonel Eaton, commanding Seventy-second Ohio; Lieutenant-Colonel Marsh, commanding Ninth Minnesota; Captain Fitch, commanding Light Battery E, [First Illinois,] and Captain Mueller, commanding section of Sixth Indiana Battery, deserve special mention for the judicious and gallant manner in which they handled their respective commands. I am much indebted to Lieutenant-Colonels King, Bruinback, and Eaton, and Lieutenant-Colonel Floyd, of the One hundred and twentieth Illinois, and other officers, for information in regard to the roads over which we passed in the retreat.
I cannot speak too highly of the conduct of each member of my staff. The duties imposed upon them were onerous in the extreme, owing to their limited number. Lieutenant Couse, adjutant of the Ninth Minnesota, acting assistant adjutant-general, although under fire for the first time, conducted himself with all the coolness of a veteran. Lieutenant Hosmer, One hundred and thirteenth Illinois, inspector of the brigade, rendered me great service as an aide. His gallant conduct deserves great praise. I am also greatly indebted to Lieutenant Bailey, of the Nineteenth Pennsylvania Cavalry, who volunteered his services as an aide early in the action, and remained with me, rendering valuable service, until obliged to rejoin his regiment. Acting Brigade Surgeon R. H. Bingham, and acting brigade quartermaster, Lieutenant Mourer, of One hundred and fourteenth Illinois Infantry, performed with credit their respective duties.
I transmit herewith the reports of the regimental and battery commanders, with the list of casualties accompanying the same. I would here remark that I had no opportunity of seeing the Ninety-fifth Ohio while engaged with the enemy. Its severe loss attests its gallant conduct and great exposure.
I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,
Colonel Ninth Minnesota Infty. Vols., late Comdg. First Brig., &c.
Lieut. O. H. ABEL,
Actg. Asst. Adjt. Gen., Infantry Division, U.S. Forces, &c.
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