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Doc. 105.-fight at Black Jack Forest, Tenn.

Report of Major Sunger.

camp Shiloh, headquarters First division, U. S.A., West-Tennessee, March 28, 1862.
sir: The expedition set on foot for the purpose of intercepting communication on the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, started about six o'clock, on the evening of the sixteenth, and proceeded from Pittsburgh Landing, on the road toward Corinth, in the following order:

Major S. M. Bowman having the right in command of a detachment of the Fourth Illinois cavalry, eighty-six men, company M, Captain George Dodge, at the head of the column, followed by company I, Lieut. Hopeman commanding, and a part of company L, Lieut. Merriman commanding; and all followed by a detachment of the Fifth Ohio cavalry, three hundred and fifty men, in regimental order, commanded by Lieut.-Col. Thomas T. Heath; Lieut. Charles Chapin, with a platoon of company L, of the Fourth Illinois, preceded the column as advance-guards.

Col. Johnson, of the Twenty-eighth Illinois, and the undersigned, accompanied the expedition, Lieut.-Colonel Heath having the chief command.

The march was conducted with the utmost caution, to guard against surprise, and had proceeded without interruption a distance of about five miles, when at a place known as Black Jack Forest, about nine o'clock, the presence of the enemy was discovered by Lieut. Chapin, across and near the road, with their pieces ready to fire on the advance-guard. Lieut. Chapin, with great presence of mind, instantly discharged his pistol, and was immediately seconded by the discharge of a carbine by one of the men, which had the effect to frighten the horses of the enemy and disconcert his fire, and thereby save the advance-guard from the raking fire of buckshot and balls prepared for them.

Major Bowman, with the utmost promptitude, deployed his entire command into line, and advanced rapidly on the enemy, driving him as far as he could be seen.

After retreating a short distance into the forest the enemy made a stand, partly in front and partly on our right flank. Thus far the only force engaged was company M, commanded by Capt. Dodge, and it is but just to say that this officer, aided by Lieut. Allshouse, conducted this advance upon the enemy amidst all the difficulties of the night-time, and through the forest in a most fearless and gallant style, and that his men behaved with all the coolness and bravery of veterans.

By this time company I, and the remainder of company L, came up in perfect order, ranging in front of that part of the enemy's force which had formed on our right, and within thirty yards of his line. But it was impossible to tell, even at that distance, whether we might not be looking at our friends instead of the enemy, and our fire was reserved for that reason.

We were not, however, long kept in doubt on that subject, for very soon the enemy poured his fire into our ranks and over our heads, making the woods luminous along the whole line, to which a response was made by our carbines, such as caused him to break and run in every direction, leaving us in possession of the field.

Company I received the heaviest part of this fire, and in reply delivered their charge, which first broke the enemy's line.

If it is difficult to conduct an action by night, on horseback, and in a forest, it is much more hazardous to pursue, under like difficulties, an unrelenting foe in his own country and on his own ground. It was therefore deemed prudent not to pursue. We took two prisoners on the spot. Four of our men were wounded — none severely — and none killed. Two of our horses were killed and several wounded. Our guide, upon whose knowledge of the country we were wholly dependent, was wounded at the first fire, and rendered incapable of going on. The Fifth Ohio cavalry, being in the rear, had no good opportunity of engaging in the action, and were not employed.

We had no means of knowing the amount of the enemy's force, or the full result of the action, until the next day, when it was ascertained, from the concurrent testimony of the inhabitants on the road over which the enemy had passed, and from the prisoners taken, that his force was five hundred strong. It was also ascertained that he imagined himself met by a large force of cavalry, infantry, and artillery; that he fled with the utmost precipitation, without any regard to roads, leaving the evidences of his flight scattered for miles around.

It was further ascertained that he contemplated a night attack on our encampment at Pittsburgh Landing, which design was thus completely frustrated.

We recovered several horses at least four miles from the battle-ground, which had been mired down in a swamp, and abandoned by their riders, in their extraordinary flight.

We could not ascertain the number of the enemy killed and wounded. Nor is it important. The great moral fact is palpable, that a small force of eighty — six cavalry met, on his own [348] ground, five hundred of the enemy's cavalry, and put him to rout.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

W. D. Sunger, Major Fifty-fifth Illinois. Aid-de-Camp to Gen. W. T. Sherman. To Brig.-Gen. S. A. Hurlbut, Commanding, etc.

A correspondent writing from Pittsburgh Landing, Tenn, March twenty-first, gives the following account of this affair:

On Sunday last Major Bowman, with about seventy of his battalion, reconnoitred westward, on the road to Purdy, and when about six miles out overhauled and chased a force of the enemy's cavalry, about one hundred strong, killing an officer by the name of W. R. Roper, and wounding several others. Roper is believed to have been a native of South-Carolina, and was in the rebel service at Pensacola, as shown by papers found upon his person. He was shot through the head, and died instantly. In this little encounter the rebels fled without firing a shot; consequently nobody was hurt on our side.

The following night an expedition was started, for the purpose of destroying a portion of the Charleston and Memphis Railroad, in the vicinity of Juca, distant from this point some twenty-three miles, and thus cut off communication between Memphis and the East. Our force consisted of three hundred and fifty cavalry and a part of Major Bowman's battalion, eighty — six men, the whole under the command of Lieut.-Col. Heath. The expedition was started at seven o'clock in the evening, and intended making the whole journey before daylight the next morning. It appeared that the enemy was at the same time organizing a night attack against our encampment and the transports, which were then disembarking troops at this place, and, as the sequel shows, but for the most unexpected meeting of forces which ensued, there is no telling the injury we might have sustained; for our forces at the boats were in a disorganized state at the time, and were scattered about in a manner quite inviting to the enemy; and had the enemy, with his large force of cavalry, rushed in upon us in the night, the consequence might have been a disastrous stampede of our troops.

The rebel forces, as learned from some prisoners taken, consisted of five hundred cavalry. They rendezvoused at Pea Ridge, and advanced on us over the Corinth road, the same road taken by our expedition, and when out about six miles from here the heads of the columns met. It is evident, however, that the enemy had the first notice of the approach of the crisis; for they had halted, were prepared to receive us, and delivered the first fire. The collision occurred at Black Jack Forest, five miles this side of the Mississippi line. The first intimation our forces had that the enemy were upon us, was from a fierce fire into our advance-guard, which wounded the guide and several horses. The advance-guard, however, stood firm and returned the fire immediately. Major Bowman instantly threw his command into line of battle, and advanced rapidly, the enemy falling back, firing as he went, while our forces returned the fire with the greatest promptitude. They fell back farther and farther into the forest, and finally seemed to make a stand; and when they discharged their double-barrelled shot-guns, loaded with buckshot and balls, they revealed, by the glare of their fire, a long line immediately in front, and not exceeding sixty yards from us. Their fire was on every occasion returned with the carbines of our cavalry — that is, Bowman's portion of it — which threw their lines into confusion, and they retreated apparently in great disorder, making the wood fairly ring from the clatter of their sabres and trappings as they plunged through the thickets, followed by a continuous fire from the carbines of our men. Major Bowman maintained his ground, thinking the enemy might return; but he gave no signs of it, as the clatter of sabres and pattering of their horses grew fainter and fainter until they died entirely away.

The damage on our side was one guide and four soldiers wounded — none seriously--two horses killed and several wounded. Of course we could not tell what loss the enemy had sustained; but it must have been considerable. We took two prisoners, who stated that they saw quite a number of their side fall; but whether they were killed or only dismounted they did not know.

It was finally agreed upon by our force to return with the wounded, as we were then without a guide, and, our plan of advancing upon the railroad being discovered, it might result in our loss, if our men were to advance.

The following day a small body of cavalry and a force of infantry marched over the same road close to Pea Ridge, where the enemy had kept a considerable force. Upon examining the battle-ground in the afternoon, it was discovered that the rebels had left the field in extraordinary haste, leaving their hats, guns, pistols, sabres, saddles, and horses scattered in every direction for six miles beyond; that in some cases the brave cavaliers had dashed their steeds down steep precipices, against the roots of upturned trees, and into swamps, where they remained until extricated by order of the General. In short, it appeared, by the evidence palpable by daylight, and by the concurrent testimony of all the inhabitants in the vicinity of Pea Ridge, that the rout was the most extraordinary ever heard of. The brave, chivalrous, daring rebel cavalry, who never asked anything better than to be pitted against the cowardly Northerners in the proportion of one to five, (being, in fact, more than five to one,) were driven back and frightened out of their wits, and actually destroyed themselves, like the herd of swine who ran down into the sea, “being possessed of the devil.”

There is something in the battle of Black Jack Forest, calculated to attract the attention of the reader. In the first place, the meeting of the two forces was wholly accidental; in the second [349] place, it was at night — and who ever heard of a night action between two bodies of cavalry? In the third place, the enemy was on his own ground, having selected his own position to begin the fight. Again, the action was a spirited one, carried on for half an hour in the woods, by the light of the moon: and, finally, the enemy, five hundred strong, as confessed by themselves, were whipped and put to rout by less than one hundred of our troopers — the balance of our force being out of sight and taking no part in the action.

Major Bowman, the hero of Black Jack Forest, is a New-Yorker, a lawyer by profession, and recently practised in New-York City.

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S. M. Bowman (8)
Thomas T. Heath (3)
Charles Chapin (3)
W. D. Sunger (2)
W. R. Roper (2)
George Dodge (2)
W. T. Sherman (1)
Merriman (1)
Cave Johnson (1)
Stephen A. Hurlbut (1)
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