The Battle of Oakland
December 3, 1862
Cavalry clash on the Memphis-Grenada Railroad
The skirmish at Oakland played a key role in the railroad campaign because it prevented a Union flanking of Pemberton’s forces in their Retreat from Abbeville. While the Confederates were in Abbeville, Grant began pressing south toward their position. He then ordered Federal troops under General C. C. Washburn and General Alvin Hovey to cross the Mississippi River at Helena, Arkansas and move in the direction of Grenada. They crossed and moved to the Panola area, which is about 25 miles west of Abbeville, and 40 miles south. They planned to enter Oakland, which is 12-15 miles due west of Coffeeville and 10 miles north of Grenada. By moving from Oakland to Coffeeville they could have effectively cut off the Confederate Retreat From Abbeville – having a Union force under Washburn to the south and Grant to the north, with the Confederates trapped in between. This Union flanking was the reason the Confederates began their Retreat from Abbeville – they could not defend themselves in the swamps around Abbeville, so they rushed to reach the safety of Grenada and Pemberton on the bluffs of the Yalobusha River.
With Washburn and Hovey moving near Oakland, CSA Col. Griffith made a cavalry attack to stop the Union flanking, and was successful. Washburn soon learned of the heavy Confederate build up in Coffeeville and did not pursue this plan after the encounter with Griffith. In fact, following the cavalry skirmish, Washburn retired from the immediate area now fearing that his troops would be flanked.
“Concluding that they (Confederates in Abbeville) would all fall back on Coffeeville, and being satisfied that more or less force from Price's army was at Coffeeville, I deemed it highly imprudent to proceed farther, as my whole force of infantry and cavalry did not exceed 2,500 men. I bivouacked for the night on the public square at Oakland.”
Colonel Dickey, Grant’s chief of cavalry, was aware that Washburn had plans to move from Oakland to Coffeeville, but was not aware of the cavalry skirmish with Griffith. Dickey had wanted to press the Confederate rear guard one more day from Water Valley in order to rendezvous with Washburn, thinking it would be a morale boost to his men. For some odd reason, none of the Federal commanders seemed to comprehend or expect such a large Confederate force in Coffeeville that was growing stronger by the hour as more and more units funneled into town on the way to Grenada.
The significance of the Oakland skirmish is that it effectively prevented further Union movement south of the Confederate rear guard, and allowed Pemberton’s men to re-enforce Grenada. There most likely would have still been a Battle of Coffeeville, with Washburn and Hovey to the west and Dickey to the north. The battle would have been much larger and fought in a broader area. It would have been a sizeable engagement, and not a surprise ambush that led to a battle, as it eventually did happen. And with all of the available CSA forces in the area the Federals would have met a more overwhelming force, since most of the Rebel troops were held in reserve during the Coffeeville fight. If attacked by Union forces on two sides, several thousand more Confederates would have been brought into play.
Interestingly, Union General Alvin Hovey’s great grandson, Dave Hovey, lives in Coffeeville today.
A Civil War Experience in Oakland
Oakland Citizen Describes the War
An article written by Miss Emma G. Moore, Oakland, Miss., a descendant of one of the oldest and most prominent families in this county, for the "Progressive Farmer Magazine" issue of November, 1936:
"It was a cool pleasant day in early December. To be exact, it was Thursday - the 3rd day of the month, in 1862. News had been received that the Yankees were on their way south from Memphis, making their way to Vicksburg via Grenada, Miss. Oakland was a small town eighty miles south of Memphis, and twenty miles north of Grenada, with the Miss. and Tenn. railroad, now the L. C. railroad, running north and south through the center of the town. That morning my father had hurried to his plantation, two miles south of town, and with his manager (overseer he was then called) and a few trusted Negroes, was rapidly rolling cotton bales from the gin, and hiding them in ravines and gullies, covering them with leaves and brush, and making preparation for the passing of the Yankees, for their route would be right through his plantation. Our house was about one half mile east of the railroad, a large one-story house with rooms 18 x 18 and 20 x 20 and halls correspondingly long and wide, with a long gallery in front extending the front of the house, with spacious grounds in back and front. The house was in the center of a long lawn, each end of which was planted in flowers, shrubs and ornamental trees.
Such a beautiful front yard, the pride of my father's heart - also of Jimmie Garvin's, the Scotch gardener; and you never saw Jimmie without his wheelbarrow and spade, for he kept this yard in excellent condition. In front of the house grew eight large silver poplar trees, giving such beautiful shade, and also a name to the home, for it was called "The Poplars". Back of the house was a large smokehouse built of logs; also the kitchen was a large log room, with immense brick hearth and fireplace, in which hung a crane with numerous and different sized pots. A brick walk led from the dining room to this kitchen, over which Chaney, the fat cook, had for many years reigned supreme. It was nearly noon, and my mother had given orders to Chaney to have the noon meal ready and waiting for the three older school children, and their Connecticut School teacher, on their arrival from school. So Chaney had called Sally Ann, whose duty it was to transport the meals from the kitchen to the dining room (when she wasn't attending the baby). At the door of the dining room, Maria Thomas, dining room maid, would receive the dishes and place them in proper order on the table. She would then take her place, standing back of my mother's chair. In the summer she usually wielded a long brush made from a peafowl's tail, to scare away any misguided fly that might have found his way into the dining room. These peafowl brushes were really beautiful, with their lovely chameleon change of bright color, and long handles finished in white or colored kid, matching the feathers. They were made in New York or some northern city, but nearly every southern family used them.
After attending to this midday duty, Sally Ann wended her way back beside the crib, and found the baby had not yet awakened from her morning nap. My mother, seated in her rocker by the fire, was putting the finishing touches to a little flannel for the baby, when without any warning, the quiet noonday stillness was broken with rapid gun firing, a silence, then more firing; and then the heavy boom of artillery. Pandemonium seemed to reign outside the home; and within, things began to stir. The baby awoke crying, the school teacher, the children, and neighbors with their children, rushed in. And then a town officer came, ordering all inmates of this part of town to seek refuge in an old gin house situated under the brow of a hill. It was regarded as a safer place for the women and children, for a fight was beginning to take place on the western edge of the town, and bullets were flying in every direction. The battle of Oakland had commenced. Gen. Washburn had left Helena, Ark., and a section of the Confederate army, under the command of Gen. Sterling Price, had been sent forward to intercept the Federals here at Oakland. These Confederate troops had thrown up temporary breastworks just northwest of the town. The Confederates were driven from behind these works, and for a short time there was brisk fighting, with the Federals eventually driving the Confederates from the field of conflict.
A number of horses were killed, and some prisoners were taken, and men wounded, but if any were killed it was not reported. My mother hastily gathered together her children, some Negroes, and different articles of value that could be carried, (the dinner was forgotten) and all hurried to the old ginhouse, under the brow of the hill; and there they remained for nearly two hours.
The gun-firing having ceased, they anxiously returned home, when within sight of the house they were dismayed to find the road, yards and house filled with soldiers in blue coats, but they pushed their way through. And on entering her room, my mother found a badly wounded Confederate prisoner on her bed. A doctor and guard were with him, and my mother, aunt and the Connecticut school teacher quickly got busy tearing old sheets, and rolling bandages, helping to make the prisoner more comfortable; but in a very short time the soldiers hurriedly left. News had come of the rapid approach of more Confederate troops, and the Yankees quickly retreated to Helena, Ark. They carried with them several prisoners, but left with us the wounded Confederate Captain, and it was not until the following April that he was well enough to leave for his home in Texas. My father came home about the middle of the afternoon. He had not lost a bale of cotton, but they found and appropriated several horses, and a few of the Negroes followed the Yankee army. After my father came, he and my mother went over the house and yards to see what damage had been done. They found every crumb of the dinner had been eaten, dishes broken, and the table and floor stuck up with peach, quince, and plum preserves; for the soldiers had invaded the pantry and helped themselves to every jar of preserves. They had broken into the smokehouse but found nothing of value, for Brister and John, two faithful servants, had on the previous night transferred the bacon, the shoulders and hams to the dark loft above the back gallery. They had placed back the transom, covering edges with the wall paper, thereby leaving no trace of their entrance to a loft. The soldiers had gone to every room searching the beds and closets for the Confederate Captain's pistols, but they did not look in a clothes basket on the back gallery, where they had been placed by the Connecticut school teacher, who was loyal to this southern household, in which he had made his home for several years. When the Captain left for his Texas home, he carried his pistols with him. The yards did not escape so lightly, and Jimmie the gardener was completely overcome, for the fences were broken down and his lovely flower beds had been trampled. The scrubs and trees had been bitten off by the soldiers horses, but in this raid we escaped lightly, for with a few weeks work, the yard was restored to its former beauty. And even now several of the rose bushes and trees are living; among them a beautiful pink crape myrtle.
About two weeks after this, the family had assembled for the noon meal, when a soldier in the uniform of a Confederate major rode up the gate and asked if he could get dinner. He was courteously invited into the room, and ate most heartily. After eating, he thanked my mother "for the best dinner I have eaten in weeks" and hurriedly left. My mother at once said that, notwithstanding the Confederate uniform, she felt sure he was a Yankee - for she had detected the accent. And then too, he did not touch a dish of lovely sweet potatoes. Her suspicions proved correct, for a mile or two further he stopped at a blacksmith shop. The blacksmith also suspected him, and with the aid of a Confederate soldier who just happened in, arrested him and took away his arms; but he escaped, riding off in a shower of bullets. In a subsequent raid, they visited the plantation and carried off ten or more mules, and more Negroes followed them. But a majority of the Negroes came back home, and lived here until they died of old age."
Report of Lieutenant Colonel John S. Griffith, Sixth Texas Cavalry, commanding Cavalry Brigade, of skirmish at Oakland, Miss., December 3.
Texas Lt. Col. John S. Griffith
Griffith stopped the Union flank in Oakland and also presented Pemberton with the idea of raiding Holly Springs, which Van Dorn later did successfully. From that point, Confederate cavalry was employed more and more to make quick strikes against Federal installations.
HEADQUARTERS FIRST TEXAS CAVALRY BRIGADE, Yalabusha County, Miss., December 5, 1862.
GENERAL: In obedience to your order I left Tobytubbyville on the 29th ultimo with the First Texas Legion, numbering 458 men, under command of Lieutenant Colonel [E. R.] Hawkins; the Third Texas Regiment (437 men), commanded by Lieutenant Colonel [J. S.] Boggess; the Sixth Texas Regiment (369 men), commanded by Captain Jack Wharton, and Captain Francis McNally's battery of four guns, under command of Lieutenant David W. Hudgens.
On the 30th I arrived, after a forced march, at Oakland, and hearing that a body of 2,000 of the enemy's cavalry had crossed the Memphis and Grenada Railroad 5 or 6 miles south of this point en route for Coffeeville, and to destroy the Central Railroad between this place and Grenada, I gave pursuit. The enemy hearing of my approach fled back to Charleston and Mitchell's Cross-Roads, near to Bird's Ferry, on the Yocknapatalfa.
On the 1st instant I went down on the west side of the Central Railroad to Grenada, restored confidence there, causing several trains to be sent up to the army then retreating. Called on General Winter, who was then in command at this point, and by whom I was informed that the enemy were in Preston in strong force. I determined to go to Preston at once, attack and harass them, and, if possible, keep them off our train then coming down the Central road to Grenada, knowing that if they proved too heavy for me I could show them that Texans could retreat when necessary as well as fight. The rain pouring down in torrents making the roads heavy, I left my battery with a small detachment of men whose horses had already given out by the continued forced marches I had made from pillar to post in order to both find the enemy and create an impression upon them that there was a large force in this section.
On the 2nd instant I dashed into Preston and found the enemy had fallen back to Mitchell's Cross-Roads for re-enforcements upon hearing I had arrived at Grenada.
On the morning of the 3rd I moved up toward Oakland. Arriving there I learned that a body of the enemy under General [C. C.] Washburn, of 7,000 or 8,000 strong, consisting of infantry, artillery, and cavalry, were moving upon Oakland from Mitchell's Cross Roads. I determined to fight him at the junction of the road upon which he was traveling with the Charleston road and half a mile beyond Oakland. I ordered Colonel Boggess to make a demonstration on the enemy's left flank and rear, Captain Wharton on the left on the Charleston road, and Colonel Hawkins and Major [John H.] Broocks, who was in command of the advance guard, composed of three companies, to the center. Major Broocks, being in advance, engaged the enemy. Colonel Hawkins, dismounting his Legion under cover of a small hill, moved up to his assistance. General Washburn moved up through a long lane, and when he arrived within 200 yards of us opened his batteries upon us, pouring in grape and canister at a fearful rate and with a rapidity that excelled anything I ever saw before. I ordered the charge, and with a wild, defiant shout the two commands double-quicked it, took the battery, drove back its support, and still pressed on. While this battery was being taken the enemy planted another on their right and commenced cross-firing upon me. I immediately ordered Captain Wharton to dismount his regiment and take that battery. He dismounted his men with the usual eagerness he evinces to discharge his duties in times of danger. At this particular juncture I was informed that the enemy was flanking me on my left. Having fought them a spirited battle of some fifty minutes, I ordered my command "To horse." The safety of the command demanded an immediate withdrawal, which was done in good order to Oakland, where I again formed.
My loss was only 8 wounded (all brought off the field), 2 of whom (severely) were taken to a private house and left in charge of one of my surgeons and a nurse. The enemy lost several killed and, I have learned since, 18 wounded. Some of the horses belonging to the battery having been killed, I could bring away but one of the pieces of artillery and 4 prisoners. Six-shooters, coats, blankets, hats, &c., dropped in such rich profusion by General Washburn's body guard, were picked up and borne away in triumph by my boys.
I remained at this place some half an hour. Finding the enemy had concentrated his strength I fell back 2 miles and selected a place to give him battle. He however showed no disposition to follow me, and toward night I fell back 8 miles to a place of safety that my men might rest, as they had had but little sleep or rest for five days and nights in succession.
On the following morning I moved up to fight him again and found he had gone back to the cross-roads. I occupied the place until night and fell back 4 miles and went into camp.
To Colonel Boggess and Captain Wharton I am obliged for the promptness with which they obeyed my orders during the engagement of the 3d. It was their misfortune and not their fault that they were not under fire.
To Colonel Hawkins, for his skill as well as gallantry, and to Major Broocks, who displayed in an eminent degree those two traits of character so absolutely necessary in a military commander-prudence combined with desperate courage-I am especially indebted for the success attending my efforts.
I would not forget my other officers and men, but to mention the names of some where all did so well would be an injustice, when each, in the face of terrible volleys of musketry, canister, and grape-shot from the artillery, charged to the cannon's mouth and sent back in dismay the invaders of our soil, beaten and fleeing as chaff before the wind; nor would I forget Providence, to whom all the praise is due.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
JOHN S. GRIFFITH,
Lieutenant Colonel [Sixth Texas Cav.], Commanding First Texas Cav. Brigadier , Maury's Division, Army of West Tennessee.
Major General EARL VAN DORN.
P. S.-General Van Dorn will pardon me for sending a report with so many interlineation, &c. It is all the paper I have, and cannot therefore copy it.
General Washburn & Staff
Washburn was also a US congressman and later the Republican governor of Wisconsin from 1872-74.
He also formed Washburn, Crosby, & Company. Today it is known as General Mills.
HEADQUARTERS CAVALRY DIVISION, Mouth of Coldwater River, Miss., December 4, 1862.
CAPTAIN: I have the honor to report in regard to the operations of the forces placed under my command in connection with the expedition into Mississippi that the force was embarked and sailed from Helena at about 2 p. m. on Thursday, November 27. The embarkation was delayed several hours in consequence of insufficient transportation and negligence on the part of the quartermaster in not having the boats, which had been long in port, properly called and in readiness. In consequence I was not able to make my landing at Delta and disembark the cavalry forces which composed my command until after dark. The force I had with me was 1,925 strong and consisted of detachments from the following regiments, viz: First Indiana Cavalry, 300, commanded by Captain Walker; Ninth Illinois Cavalry, 150, commanded by Major Burgh; Third Iowa Cavalry, 188, commanded by Major Scott; Fourth Iowa Cavalry, 200, commanded by Captain Perkins; Fifth Illinois Cavalry, 212, commanded by Major Seley. Total, 1,050.
The above I formed into one brigade under the command of Colonel Hall Wilson, of the Fifth Illinois Cavalry.
Sixth Missouri Cavalry, 150, commanded by Major Hawkins; Fifth Kansas Cavalry, 208, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Jenkins; Tenth Illinois Cavalry, 92, commanded by Captain Anderson; Third Illinois Cavalry, 200, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Ruggles; Second Wisconsin Cavalry, 225, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Sterling. Total, 875.
The last named were placed under command of Colonel Thomas Stephens, Second Wisconsin Cavalry.
As soon as possible after landing I took up my line of march for the interior and bivouacked for the night about 8 miles from the Mississippi River. I took no tents or baggage of any kind, and about three days' rations. I broke camp at daylight on Friday and marched 35 miles on that day to the west bank of Tallahatchie River, just below its junction with the Coldwater.
During this day's march we captured several pickets and conriers. We found that reports of our landing had preceded us, and the impression prevailed that we were approaching in great force. From negroes that we met we learned that there was a force of rebel cavalry encamped at the mouth of Coldwater, and that a large party of negroes had been collected near there to blockade the road and throw up fortifications. Wishing to surprise them, if possible, I delayed the column slightly, so as not to arrive at the river until after night-fall. As we approached the ferry where they were supposed to be encamped I ordered Captain Walker, who commanded the detachment of First Indiana Cavalry, to dismount a party of his men and throw them forward as quietly as possible to the bank of the river, and at the same time to detach his horses from his small guns and have his men run them quietly forward by hand. He soon came in sight of their camp fires on the east bank of the river, and could distinctly see large numbers of soldiers moving around them. They were laughing, talking, singing, and enjoying themselves quiet merrily. Captain Walker immediately brought his guns to bear at a distance of about 300 yards and opened out with all four at once, while the dismounted men poured a volley into them from the river bank. The enemy fled with the utmost precipitation, leaving many horses and arms upon the ground. The next day 5 of them, very severely wounded, were found in houses by the road-side, and the negroes reported that they had 3 killed in the engagement.
I encamped for the night on the banks of the Tallahatchie River. The river at this point is deep and sluggish, and is about 120 yards across. We here found a ferry with one ferry-boat, 40 or 50 feet in length. It was my intention to bridge the river during the night, and for that purpose I took along with me 5,000 feet of inch pine lumber and five small boats, sent from Memphis; but an examination of the boats proved them to be leaky and worthless, and we had to delay operations until morning. Being convinced that the means furnished for bridging were wholly inadequate, I dispatched parties up the Coldwater and down the Tallahatchie to hunt for boats. They found two large flats up the Coldwater, but they found the river full of snags, and it was not until nearly 4 p. m. that they succeeded in getting them down. By 4.30 p. m. I had the bridge completed, and by 6 p. m. I had my entire force of cavalry on the eastern bank of the river. My orders were to march my force as rapidly as possible to the rear of the rebel army and destroy his telegraphic and railway communications. To do the latter the most effectively I thought it best to march directly on Grenada, knowing that there were there two important railroad bridges across the Yalabusha River-the one on the Mississippi Central Railroad and the other on the Mississippi and Tennessee Railroad. The distance to make to reach Grenada was 56 miles, but by pushing hard I deemed it possible to reach there by daylight next morning. After proceeding nearly east, along the Yocknapatalfa River (commonly called the Yockna), about 11 miles, the roads fork, one road going to Panola, the other to Charleston and Grenada. A few yards from the forks of the road, on the Panola road, is a ferry across the Yockna, and the head of my column turned down the Panola road to the ferry to water their horses. They were at once fired upon by a heavy rebel picket. Major Hawkins, of the Sixth Missouri, immediately brought his small howitzers to bear, and we soon silenced the enemy and drove him away. We afterward learned that they were the pickets of a cavalry force of 3,000, who were encamped 6 miles up the Panola road, who on hearing our guns supposed we were bound for Panola, and they retreated to that point. After leaving this point we were several times fired upon by the pickets of the enemy, which compelled us to feel our way during the night.
At daylight I found myself at Preston, a little town 16 miles from Grenada. When I arrived here I found it would be impossible for me to reach Hardy Station, the first station above Grenada, on the Mississippi and Tennessee Railroad, in time to intercept the up train, which I ascertained usually left at 8 a. m. I detached Captain A. M. Sherman, Second Wisconsin Cavalry, with 200 men of the Second Wisconsin and Fifth Illinois, to cross over to the Mississippi and Tennessee Railroad, at Garner Station, which was only 4 miles distant, and destroy the telegraph and such bridges as he could find, and if possible to capture the train. He burned one bridge over 100 feet long and cut the telegraph. He was also instructed on leaving Garner Station to cross through the woods to the Mississippi Central, a distance of 9 miles, in an air line, and hunt for and destroy bridges and cut the telegraph. This last, from the character of the country to be passed over, be found would be impracticable. The train from Grenada did not come up. With the remainder of the column I passed on down toward Grenada. About 9 a. m., my horses being thoroughly jaded, I found it necessary to stop and feed and rest them, which I did for about two hours. I then passed on to Hardy Station. About half a mile below the station I found a bridge about 100 feet in length, which I burned, and also destroyed several hundred yards of telegraph wire, and one passenger, one box, and ten platform cars. We here learned that our coming had preceded us by several hours, and that the evening previous 1,100 infantry had come down the road from Panola to Grenada.
At Hardy Station the road we traveled crossed the railroad and passed down between the Mississippi and Tennessee and Mississippi Central. Passing down the road toward Grenada for about 2 miles, and hearing from the negroes that trains of cars were running all night down the Central Railroad toward Grenada, loaded with soldiers, being in a perfect trap between the two railroads, in a low and densely wooded bottom, with no knowledge in regard to roads, and knowing that they had had time to send ample force from Abbeville, I deemed it too hazardous to proceed farther in that direction. I here detached Major Burgh, of the Ninth Illinois Cavalry, with 100 men, armed with carbines, crow-bars, and axes, and directed them to cross the country, through the woods and canebrakes, until they should strike the Central Mississippi Railroad, and then destroy the telegraph and all the bridges they could find. They successfully performed the service, destroying the telegraph, tearing up the railroad track, and burning one small bridge, being the only one they could find, they having an uninterrupted view of the track for a long distance each way. White thus employed a train of cars loaded with soldiers came slowly up the track from toward Grenada, apparently feeling their way to find out where we were. They fell back on discovering Major Burgh and party. Major Burgh, having done all the damage to the railroad he could, fell back to the main column.
By this time it was nearly night; my horses and men were too thoroughly tired out and my knowledge of the country was too limited to justify me in periling my whole force by venturing farther, and I accordingly fell back about 15 miles and encamped for the night. Before doing so I hesitated as to the route I should take on my return. I was at the point where the main road from Abbeville and Coffeeville intersected the road I passed down upon, about 5 miles from Grenada. I felt the importance of striking Coffeeville and destroying some bridges that I heard of there, and from there fall back via Oakland, on the Mississippi and Tennessee road. Coffeeville was 13 miles off and Oakland 30; but on reflection I determined not to do so. Had I taken the other road the result might have proved disastrous.
Sunday night a force of 5,000 rebel cavalry came into Oakland in pursuit of me with two field pieces. After feeding and resting for a short time they proceeded on to Grenada via Coffeeville. Had I taken the other road via Coffeeville, and the only other one by which we could return, we should have encountered this force. As we should have been compelled to go into camp from sheer exhaustion soon after leaving Coffeeville they would no doubt have come upon us in camp, and with more than double our numbers and a perfect knowledge of the country they would have had us at great disadvantage.
On Monday morning I broke camp, 4 miles beyond Charleston, and marched to Mitchell's Cross-Roads, 12 miles from the mouth of Coldwater, where we found that General Hovey had sent forward to that point about 1,200 infantry and four field pieces. I had scarcely arrived at Mitchell's Cross-Roads when word came into camp that two companies of infantry, sent out by Colonel Spicely on the Panola road as a picket, were fighting and in danger of being cut off. Without waiting an instant I threw my force forward, Captain Walker, of the First Indiana, with his little howitzers in front, and Major Burgh, of the Ninth Illinois Cavalry, immediately following. As soon as we came in sight of the enemy Captain Walker and Major Burgh brought their guns into position, and a few well-directed shots sent the enemy flying. The enemy was posted on the north side of the Yockna, a deep stream about 125 feet wide, crossed by a ferry. I immediately threw a portion of Captain Walker's command across the stream, who pursued them lively for a few miles, until farther pursuit was useless. This force was part of Starke's cavalry.
Being now entirely out of rations I sent into the mouth of Coldwater, where the supply train was, for two days' rations to be sent out during the night, intending to march early next morning and endeavor to reach Coffeeville. My men had their horses saddled up and in readiness at daylight, but no rations came. Owing to the breaking down of wagons they did not come up so that the rations could be distributed before 2 p. m.
This day, Tuesday, December 2, it rained incessantly all day. Not being able to march on Coffeeville, owing to the want of rations, and knowing that the enemy were in considerable force at Panola, on the Tallahatchie, 14 miles from my camp, where they had fortified to defend the crossing, and also at Belmont, 7 miles farther up the river, I concluded that I would go up there and reconnoiter and if possible drive these forces away, so as to have no force in my rear when I should move toward Coffeeville the following day.
I left camp about 2 p. m. and rode rapidly to Panola. About 1 1/2 miles before reaching the town we came upon their camp (apparently a very large one), but we found nobody to receive us, they having fled the night before. I sent Major Burgh with the Ninth Illinois Cavalry forward, who took possession of the town and captured a few prisoners. We also ascertained from negroes who had been at work on the fortifications at Belmont that they abandoned their works there and fled in great precipitation when they heard of our approach. After occupying Panola we returned same night to our camp near Mitchell's Cross-Roads. I did not disturb the railroad at Panola or burn any bridge, having already rendered it useless to the rebels and knowing we should want to use it very shortly.
The next morning early I took up my line of march for Coffeeville via Oakland. I ordered Colonel Spicely, who was in command of the advance infantry and artillery force, to throw forward for my support as far as Oakland 600 infantry and two field pieces, which he did, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Torrence, Thirtieth Iowa Infantry. The roads were very heavy and the march was tedious. As we approached Oakland our information was that there was no enemy there and had been none since Sunday night; but about 1 mile before reaching town the advance guard from the First Indiana came in sight of 2 or 3 rebel pickets. Each party fired, and the pickets fled, hotly pursued. The road here was narrow and the ground on both sides lined with a dense growth of small saplings, with a fence on each side. The advance immediately formed in line so far as the nature of the ground would admit. They found the rebels dismounted and drawn up in line in large force in a most advantageous position. The advance stood their ground manfully and delivered their fire with great coolness and precision. After delivering their fire the enemy charged upon them in great force, and the ground being such as to render it impossible for them to reform, they were compelled to fall back about 200 yards to an opening, where I was able to deploy to the right and left of the road. Supposing that the force was the large cavalry force that occupied Oakland on Sunday night I felt impelled to move with much caution and beat up the woods as I proceeded. This occupied some little time, we in the mean time having got our howitzers in position and shelled the woods in all directions where an enemy seemed probable. Advancing with our lines extended we entered the town just in time to get sight of the enemy. Colonel Stephens, commanding the Second Brigade, having deployed on the left, was first to enter the town, and as soon as he came in sight of the enemy charged upon them and drove them with great rapidity through the town and down the road to Coffeeville. We captured a number of prisoners, horses, arms, and 5,000 rounds of Minie-rifle cartridges, and we found at different houses in town about a dozen so badly wounded that they could not be taken away, among them Captain Griffin, of the First Texas Legion, whose arm was shattered by a pistol ball; also a chaplain, surgeon, and 2 lieutenants of a Texas regiment. Some of their wounded were fatally so.
I have to report no loss of men during the engagement, but about 10 men wounded, only 1 of them seriously. The First Indiana lost 8 or 10 horses, which were killed during the engagement, and my body guard had 6 horses killed, and Lieutenant Meyers, commanding the body guard, had his horse shot under him and a bullet shot through his coat. I regret to have to report that during the confusion that ensued when the enemy charged on the head of our column, and before the First Indiana could get their guns in position, one of them, which had been too far advanced to the front, was captured and borne off by the enemy. This is the only event of the expedition that I have cause to regret; and yet knowing as I do from personal observation the determined character of the first onset of the enemy I do not regard the event as surprising, or one for which the company to which the gun belonged is censurable. The conduct of Captain Walker throughout is worthy of all praise.
When at Oakland I was 15 miles from Coffeeville. From prisoners captured and from citizens I learned that the rebel army had fled from Abbeville and were falling back rapidly via Water Valley and Coffeeville. I also learned that the cavalry force which we encountered at Oakland were Texas troops and about 1,500 strong, and were part of a force which left Coffeeville that morning in pursuit of me; that it was divided into three different parties, each of about that number, and left on as many different routes. Concluding that they would all fall back on Coffeeville, and being satisfied that more or less force from Price's army was at Coffeeville, I deemed it highly imprudent to proceed farther, as my whole force of infantry and cavalry did not exceed 2,500 men. I bivouacked for the night on the public square at Oakland. Though near the enemy in large force, with the precautions I had taken I felt perfectly secure. I knew that the enemy was retreating on the road not 10 miles in an air line from me, but I felt confident that he was in too great a hurry to turn aside to fight me, particularly as they had received such exaggerated reports of the forces under General Hovey's command. I determined to remain here and send back for a portion of the remaining infantry to be sent up to my support, that I might proceed on to their line of retreat and harass them as they passed; but about 12 o'clock at night I received a dispatch from General Hovey transmitting a dispatch from General Steele stating that the object of the expedition had been fully accomplished and ordering the entire force to return to Helena immediately. I allowed my men to rest quietly at Oakland until morning, when I quietly and deliberately, but reluctantly, returned.
The day I returned from Oakland it rained hard all day, and with the previous rains was calculated to excite just apprehensions that we could not get back with our artillery to the Mississippi across the low alluvial bottom which we had passed over in going out. No person that has not passed over this road can have a just estimate of it in a wet time. For 50 miles from the Mississippi or 10 miles beyond the Tallahatchie the land is an alluvial formation filled with ponds, sloughs, and bayous, and subject to annual overflow, and the roads are impassable as soon as the fall rains begin.
In conclusion I beg to say that the result of the expedition has on the whole been eminently successful. Had I possessed in advance the knowledge I now have I could have done some things I left undone; but my main object, which was to stampede the rebel army, could not have been more effectually accomplished. At no time, except at Oakland, had I over 1,925 men, and then I had 600 infantry and two field pieces, which came up just at night. The impression prevailed wherever we went that we were the advance of a force of 30,000 that was to cut off Price. The infantry sent forward to my support at Mitchell's Cross Roads consisted of the Eleventh Indiana, Colonel Macauley, 400; Twenty-fourth Indiana, Lieutenant-Colonel Barter, 370; Twenty-eighth and Thirtieth Iowa, Lieutenant-Colonel Torrence, 600, and an Iowa battery, Captain Griffiths, all under the command of Colonel Spicely, of Indiana, an able and efficient officer.
Of the temper of both officers and men under my command I cannot speak in too high terms of praise. From the time of my landing at Delta to this time my command has marched over 200 miles. The weather for two days out of six has been most inclement, raining incessantly. Without tents of any kind and not a too plentiful supply of rations, I have never heard a word of complaint or dissatisfaction. The health of the command has continued excellent.
To my personal staff, who accompanied me on the expedition, Captain W. H. Morgan, assistant adjutant-general; Capts. John Whytock and G. W. Ring, I am under many obligations for efficient services.
C. C. WASHBURN,
Captain JOHN E. PHILLIPS,
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