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[419] force upon either one, and fighting one part of our army under circumstances preventing all support from the other. The plan was a bold one--a desperate one--such as only the peculiar necessities of General Steele's position would have permitted. But it was the only one promising success, and General Davidson readily accepted the part assigned him, although sensible of the probability of meeting the whole of Price's army in his front, with the necessity of giving battle with cavalry in a dense forest, instead of an open plain, where alone it had heretofore been considered effective, while an impassable river destroyed the most remote possibility of receiving the support of infantry, even in the most desperate emergency.

There may be those who cannot see why Steele, instead of moving to an assault of the rebel position with an inferior force, under such marked disadvantages, did not remain in his position at Brownsville until properly reenforced. To such I would say, that when General Steele left Helena on the fifteenth of August, he did not have in his command a single sick man. When he left Duvall's Bluffs on the first of September, he left one thousand four hundred sick behind him, and a week later he left seven hundred more behind him, in advancing from Brownsville, besides a large number taken in moving by Davidson's cavalry. At this rate General Steele would soon have no army at all, and been driven ingloriously from the State by the foe he came to vanquish. Steele had loudly called for reenforcements, but some one had seen proper not to provide him with an army adequate to the accomplishment, under ordinary circumstances, of the enterprise confided to him. The instinct of self-preservation demanded that Steele should at least offer battle, and quickly, and in doing so he selected the only plan promising success in any event.

The plan was determined upon on the afternoon of the ninth, and the morning of the tenth selected as the time when it should be carried into execution. Generals Steele and Davidson reconnoitred the ground in person, and selected the point for the pontoon-bridge, and Captain Gerster, Chief-Engineer on General Davidson's staff, was instructed to construct it in time for the forces to cross at six o'clock on the following morning. Work was commenced immediately in cutting a road through the timber, but, through the imprudence of some of the working party in exposing themselves to the view of the enemy, it became necessary to select another point, in order to enable our men to dig down a bank thirty feet high during the night. This new point was some distance above the other one. The pontoon was to be thrown across in a bend of the river.

At this point there is a sand-bar varying in width from eight hundred to one thousand yards, across which the enemy's sharp-shooters could not advance to pick off the workmen,without exposing themselves to a murderous fire from our infantry. Beyond this sand-bar are the woods, with which this whole region is overgrown. Around this bend were stationed batteries, from which twenty-four guns, placed in position during the night, and concealed from the enemy, could pour a crosland enfilading fire into all parts of the timber opposite the bridge. The plan was for General Davidson, with Glover's and Merrill's brigades, Hadley's battery, and Stange's and Lovejoy's howitzers, to cross at the bridge, Colonel Ritter, with his brigade, and Clarkson's battery, to make a feint, at the same time, at the fort two miles below, and, if found practicable, to cross, and bring the forces of the enemy, known to be between the two points, between Davidson and Ritter, where their escape would be impossible. In the event of his crossing being seriously resisted, Ritter and his batteries were to hurry to the bridge, and, crossing behind the brigades of Merrill and Glover, take position n their rear as a reserve.

As soon as it was dark, on the night of the ninth, Captain Gerster, with a strong working party, commenced digging down the bank, in order to enable the artillery and cavalry to reach the level of the bridge. The enemy's pickets could approach within three hundred feet of the party, and strict silence was enjoined upon them. All commands were given in a whisper, and cigars and pipes, as well as camp-fires, tabooed.

Daylight did not see the work of digging down the bank completed, although as many men as could work to advantage had been busily engaged all night, with reliefs every half an hour. The work had progressed so far, however, as to enable Captain Gerster to get his pontoons down with considerable difficulty, and the work of constructing the bridge was soon after commenced. The rebels, in constantly increasing numbers, were soon visible in the woods opposite the bridge, and officers came boldly out upon the bank and examined our operations with their glasses. No interruption was made until about half-past 8 o'clock, when a battery of four guns, posted a short distance back in the timber, suddenly opened with solid shot upon the bridge, and the troops massed behind it; and at the same moment a large body of sharp-shooters manifested an intention of occupying a line of drift-wood running diagonally across the bar, midway between the bridge and the timber. Our twenty-four guns, masked for this very purpose, at once opened upon the timber, filling every part of it with bursting shells, the fragments of which were flying in all directions, and soon rendering the position untenable for the enemy, who wisely abandoned it. An occasional shell was thrown in the same direction by our guns, in order to satisfy the rebels that they were still in position. About nine o'clock Clarkson's battery, occupying a position with Ritter's brigade, two miles below the bridge, opened upon the woods opposite the lower ford, with a view of ascertaining what opposition our cavalry would meet with in crossing. Clarkson was replied to vigorously from a rebel battery planted inside of a fort made of cotton bales. The enemy's battery was served with great accuracy, and a half-hour's brisk firing demonstrated that it could not be silenced, although

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