Operations of the Fifteenth army corps.
Nashville, Tenn., Feb. 12, 1864.on the twenty-fifth of last month, the pontoons which had been in Mud Creek were ferried down the Tennessee, to Larkins Ferry, by the Eighth Missouri. The construction of a pontoon-bridge was at once commenced under the superintendence of Captain Jenny, Engineer of General Sherman's staff. By nine o'clock of the twenty-sixth the bridge was completed, the work having been done during the night by the pioneer corps of the First and Second divisions. General Logan had intended to take the personal command of the expedition, but on the eve of its departure was taken suddenly ill, and the command devolved upon Brigadier-General Morgan L. Smith. Twelve miles south of the Tennessee, at this point, is a ridge of mountains running nearly parallel to the river, and known as Sand Mountain. Between it and the Tennessee is a low quicksand bottom, that in rainy weather becomes very muddy. This valley was heretofore pretty thickly settled, and at the time I speak of had a considerable population. Since the commencement of the rebel conscription, a number of rebel officers with small squads of troops have been in the valley for the purpose of conscripting the inhabitants liable to military duty. Considerable numbers have been hurried away from their homes to the army, and others have been compelled to hide in the mountains to avoid a compulsory service in a cause they disliked. Since the occupation of the line between Stevenson and Huntsville, these squads have been doing picket-duty in our front. General Smith, as soon as the bridge was constructed, crossed with six regiments of his division, and made dispositions to capture these officers and their squads. Two regiments, under the command of Colonel A. D. Parry, of the Forty-seventh Ohio, were despatched to the junction of Santa Rosa and Town Creeks. A second force of two regiments, under Colonel Theodore Jones, of the Thirtieth Ohio, were sent to Gourd Neck; while two regiments, under Major Froman, of the One Hundred and Sixteenth Illinois, made a forced march of twelve miles to Smith's Gap, in Sand Mountain. General Smith accompanied the force under Major Froman. The different  movements were made in excellent order and time, and the result was the capture of a number of commissioned officers and men. While this movement was taking place, the remainder of the troops composing the expeditionary corps moved across the river. The force consisted of a brigade and two regiments of infantry from each of the five divisions of the corps: battery A, Captain Wood; battery H, Lieutenant De Grass; First Illinois artillery; the Fifteenth Michigan mounted infantry; a detachment of the Fifth Ohio cavalry, and a detachment of the First Alabama cavalry under Captain Allen; the whole cavalry being under the command of Colonel Oliver. On Monday the column moved at daylight, with ten days rations. During the night a severe rainstorm set in, and the men, without tents or cover of any kind, were drenched. After a hasty breakfast, such as soldiers generally make in a storm, of hard bread, uncooked bacon, and poorly cooked coffee, the bugle sounded and they fell in with a shout and filed out from their bivouac as complaisantly as if the sun shone and the roads were paved. The storm continued all day, the water falling in such quantities as to make the bottom a vast mud-hole. Upon reaching Sand Mountain, the mud was so deep as to render the movement of the artillery and transportation almost impossible. There being no indications of a cessation of the storm, General Smith was obliged to send back all of his artillery, transportation, and ambulances. The troops received six days rations, which were disposed of in their haversacks and knapsacks, as best they could. On Thursday morning the command moved toward Lebanon, the county-seat of De Kalb County, the cavalry moving toward Guntersville in Marshall County, on a line west of Lebanon. The advance was skirmishing nearly all day, the enemy appearing in squads of mounted men, but on no occasion making a stand for battle. Lebanon and Guntersville were both reached on Thursday, a number of rebel officers and men having been captured on the march. At Town Creek a lieutenant and two courier stations and five thousand seven hundred dollars in confederate money were captured. This money, it was ascertained, had been sent there for the relief of the families of soldiers. Immediately after the return of the cavalry from Guntersville to Lebanon, General Smith sent the Fifteenth Michigan, mounted infantry, to Rawlinsville, a place fourteen miles to his left, to connect with a force under General Stanley, sent out by General Thomas. Colonel Oliver reached the place without difficulty, but could learn nothing of Stanley's command, and returned. That night it was ascertained from different sources of information — deserters, prisoners, and refugees — that the enemy was preparing to attack him with a superior force. Two regiments of mounted infantry with two field-batteries, which were already moving from Kingston, a large cavalry force under Wheeler and Roddy, estimated at four thousand five hundred, together with the force which had fallen back before his advance, were to concentrate the next day at Town Creek, at an admirable place for offensive operations, and which he was obliged to pass on his return. Smith had nothing but infantry and cavalry; no artillery and no wagons in which to bring off his wounded in case of an engagement. He was then forty-two miles from the Tennessee, and from any reenforcements, and the enemy were in double his numbers. The object of the expedition was not to bring on or risk a general engagement. Its legitimate purpose, under the orders of General Logan, had been fully accomplished. But just at that point the General found himself confronted by a superior force threatening an attack at Lebanon, but really moving to cut off his return — as a captured officer boasted, “sure to bag the whole Yankee concern.” It has been your correspondent's fortune to accompany the army in one capacity and another upon all the campaigns in which General Smith had a command, up to the time that he was wounded before Vicksburgh. He has had no severer test of his abilities as a general officer, than this expedition. The command left Lebanon on Wednesday, and reached and crossed Town Creek with no opposition. Here they halted for several hours. But the enemy refused to attack — positions were precisely the reverse of their well-laid plans. They expected to occupy the position so that Smith could not escape. Smith occupied it, and they dare not cross. On Thursday the expedition returned to Larkin's Ferry. In the mean time, General Logan had been informed of the intentions of the rebel commanders, and had sent up a cavalry force, to move out from Larkin's Ferry to Smith's support, coming up himself to that point. The facts established by the expedition are of great importance. Almost the entire population of that section of Alabama through which it passed, and for miles about it, is honestly, intensely loyal. Officers who were in East-Tennessee, state that the loyalty of that part of Alabama is as genuine and reliable as any they obtained knowledge of in East-Tennessee. There is no whining about slavery and abolitionists, such as one hears in Nashville; no ifs or buts; they are for the old Union. Men who had lived in the mountains two years to avoid rebel service, came in and asked to be mustered as soldiers in the Federal army. One Alabamian, McCurdy, during the expedition, made up a company, enrolled their names on a piece of brown paper with a pencil, borrowed arms, and actually went out with his men and captured a company of bushwhackers, called home-guards, and brought them into our camp. Information was obtained of a regiment, stationed in that part of the country, which has determined to a man to march into our lines at the first good opportunity. Deserters come in daily, both at Huntsville and Larkinsville. The result of all their reports is that, although the rebel army is being largely reenforced by conscription,  desertions are quite equal to the increase. Soon after the battle of Mission Ridge, an order was issued offering to every enlisted man who produced a recruit a furlough of forty days. That order has been revoked, for the reason that the furloughed men seldom returned, and the recruits frequently deserted. Among the recent desertions is that of O. Montcalm, formerly of Louisville, a Chief-Commissary of Subsistence in the confederate army. He came into General Logan's headquarters at Huntsville, and took the amnesty oath.