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[420] Clarkson had succeeded in setting the cotton-bales on fire on two different occasions. Clarkson's battery was stationed in a corn-field where there was not a breath of air stirring, and when General Davidson sent an order for it and Ritter's brigade to move up the bridge, it found almost every one in this battery utterly exhausted from over-exertion and the heat.

About this time a slight smoke was seen rising from two steamboats — the Arkansas and Thalequah — which were lying upon the opposite shore about two miles above us. At first it was supposed that they were getting up steam to move further up the river, but the increasing density of the smoke, through which the flames were soon visible, showed that they had been fired by the rebels. It was a grand sight, even in the bright clear sunlight, though night would have rendered it more magnificent, to see the flames curling and mounting upward through a black column of smoke which towered far above the tallest trees of the forest. It was an omen of good fortune to us, showing the rebels had abandoned all hopes of preventing our crossing, and deploying upon the Little Rock road beyond the woods.

As soon as Colonel Ritter moved off with his brigade and battery from the lower ford, and taking the road toward the bridge, the rebel battery and a regiment of cavalry which had been dismounted and acting as sharp-shooters, abandoned their position and galloped up the road toward Little Rock. They were in danger of being cut off by Davidson, of whose intended crossing they had been apprised, and they lost no time in getting beyond the point at which his advance would reach the road. The precipitancy of their flight was shown by the handspikes, buckets, and other articles belonging to the guns, and the hats of the men left behind them on the road. When they came abreast of the burning steamboats, where the road approaches close to the river, the cloud of dust rising from the road revealed their locality. Our longrange guns in Engleman's batteries opened upon them with shell, and kept up a vigorous fire as long as they were in range. The firing at that time appeared to be very accurate, as many of the shells were seen to explode in the midst of the dust. Afterward, when our forces came into possession of the road along which this body of the enemy had passed, two of our shells, which did not explode, were found on the road, and the fences and trees were much torn by fragments. Blood was found in several places upon the grass at the edge of the road, and marching in close column the rebels must have suffered a severe loss in running the gauntlet of our batteries. Some of them could not endure the fire and turned back, as was shown by the tracks in the road, and went up by an almost impassable road running through a swamp.

At ten o'clock the bridge was completed and in readiness for crossing. Captain Gerster, the engineer who had worked so faithfully in its construction, had become literally exhausted by his labors, and, pronouncing his work finished, sank to the ground with a sun-stroke induced by overexertion. He was borne to the shade, and proper restoratives immediately applied. He is now almost entirely recovered. To his promptness and skill is largely due the success of General Davidson's movements.

Crossing a river under fire is a difficult undertaking, and none but men of undoubted bravery will attempt it. Ready to cross, General Davidson signaled the batteries, and every gun again opened with shell upon the woods, which were believed to contain a large number of sharp-shooters. After a few minutes' brisk firing, the Fortieth Iowa and Twenty-seventh Wisconsin, of Colonel Wood's brigade, Engleman's infantry division, rushed across the bridge, formed in line of battle upon the sand-bar, and swept forward upon the double-quick to the woods, which were reached and occupied without opposition. Stange's and Lovejoy's howitzers followed on the gallop, and took position in the rear, ready for action in case their services were found necessary. Under cover of this advance, Glover's brigade of cavalry were crossed, and then Merrill's, and then Ritter's, the batteries of each brigade keeping their proper place in column. Part of the cavalry crossed at a few hundred yards above the bridge. Steele was already upon the move, and Davidson, pushing past the infantry, which was immediately recrossed to its proper division, galloped through the woods to the main road, no enemy being found. There the column was properly formed, and skirmishers deployed to the right and left, and pushed forward to discover the positions of the enemy.

The head of the column having reached a point on the road opposite the burning steamboats, the Tenth Illinois, with Stange's and Lovejoy's howitzers, was sent forward upon the gallop to the mouth of Fourche Bayou, some two miles ahead. This bayou had been turned from its original course into a swamp by a levee, over which the road crossed a mile and a half from its mouth. This levee was supposed to be immediately at the mouth, and General Davidson was fearful that it might be cut by the rebels and the crossing rendered difficult. When near the mouth of the bayou the rebels were encountered posted in thick woods, and opened a heavy fire of artillery and musketry. Hadley's battery was brought up from the rear of Merrill's brigade to the front, and the whole column placed in rapid motion for the point at which Stange's howitzers were at work. By the time the column came in sight the rebels had been driven from their position, and the firing altogether subsided. The mouth of the bayou was found perfectly dry, though a few yards above a deep, impassable pool commenced, which continued the entire distance to the levee. The road at this point turned to the left, following near the bank of the bayou to the levee. Opposite the mouth was a sand-bar seven or eight hundred yards in width, which stretched two miles above and about half that distance below. The Sixteenth Illinois, leaving the road

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Hunter Davidson (6)
Stange (3)
Ritter (3)
William E. Merrill (2)
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Engleman (2)
Clarkson (2)
A. G. H. Wood (1)
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J. M. Glover (1)
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