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Doc. 141.-battle of Vaught's Hill.1

Cincinnati Gazette account.

Murfreesboro, March 24.
it was on Wednesday, the eighteenth day of March, that Col. A. S. Hall, of the One Hundred and Fifth Ohio, commanding a brigade in General J. J. Reynolds's division, marched forth from Murfreesboro with a band of chosen men, to beat up the quarters of the rebels, who, for some days past had been making impudent demonstrations in Wilson County, and all along the left of our lines. His force consisted of two hundred and twenty-five men from his own regiment, under the immediate command of Licut.-Colonel Tolles; three hundred and sixty from the One Hundred and First Indiana, Lieut.-Colonel Thomas Doan; three hundred and thirty from the Eightieth Illinois, Colonel Allen; three hundred and fifteen from the One Hundred and Twenty-third Illinois, Colonel James Monroe; forty-three horsemen (company A, Captain Blackburn) from the First Middle Tennessee cavalry; and two pieces (twelve-pound Napoleons) and fifty men from the Nineteenth Indiana battery, Capt. Harris--in all, one thousand three hundred and twenty-three men and two pieces of cannon.

The expedition reached Cainsville on Wednesday, failing to surprise a rebel camp in that vicinity, through the mistake of a guide, who led them a mile or two out of the way. They, however, picked up a couple of stragglers from this camp, and took up lodgings in the great palace of nature for the night.

On Thursday morning they moved to Statesville, another of the insignificant towns which are found in this part of Tennessee. Here they encountered a body of Phillips's rebel cavalry, and defeated them after a short contest, killing one, wounding another, and capturing three.

From Statesville they moved along a small stream called Smith's Fork, to the Liberty pike, upon reaching which they encountered another minor body of the enemy, who took to flight after one had been wounded and two captured. At some distance, a regiment of rebel cavalry could be seen drawn up across the pike; but Col. Hall did not offer battle, because he now became convinced that he was followed by the enemy, and wished to draw him on to a more advantageous position. He moved on, therefore, without attacking, to the town of Auburn, and encamped near it for the night, the rebel force moving up also, and encamping within two miles of him.

On Friday morning, Col. Hall had fully made up his mind to give battle, and therefore proposed to return toward Murfreesboro, or march to Liberty, according as either course should seem most likely to bring him in contact with the enemy. Knowing by this time, however, that the rebels were much superior in numbers to himself, and that they were actually seeking a battle, he judged it most prudent to retire toward Murfreesboro, draw them after him, take up an advantageous position, and await their attack.

Early on the morning of the twentieth, therefore, he ascended a ridge to the rear of Auburn, and waited there for some time upon the highest ground, to reconnoitre. He did not wait long before he perceived the rebel advance moving cautiously after him, while he could also catch glimpses occasionally of their main body gliding amongst the trees.

Moving down the ridge, Colonel Hall rapidly crossed a plain three miles in extent, toward the town of Milton, determining to reach Vaught's Hill. an eminence one mile south-west of that town, and there await the enemy. His rear-guard had just passed fairly through the town, when the rebel advance was perceived coming over a slight eminence on the other side. Our troops were now moving in a south-westerly direction toward Murfreesboro, along what is called Las Casas pike. A slight elevation of ground just below Milton, tempted Captain Harris to test the courage of the enemy. Unlimbering one of his pieces, he threw a shell or two entirely over the town and plump among the advance of the rebels. They immediately fell back upon the main body, which could now plainly be seen coming up on the other side of the town in gallant array.

On our part preparations were instantly made for battle.

The One Hundred and First Indiana were formed in line on the left of the road, to check the advance of the rebels in that direction, and support the gun which had already commenced to fire. The One Hundred and Twenty-third Illinois was formed at the foot of the elevation upon which the piece of cannon was placed, across the pike, and extending into woods and cleared fields on the right. The Eightieth Illinois was still further to the right and somewhat retired, while the One Hundred and Fifth Ohio was held exclusively in reserve.

There were cleared fields to the left of the road as well as to the right, but between these and Vaught's Hill, which Col. Hall intended to be his real battle-ground, there was upon the left a dense growth of cedars, along the cast edge of which [466] ran a narrow lane to the left of the pike. There was also a cedar thicket near the town and upon the left of the town, through which the rebels would be obliged to pass before they could reach the open field where the One Hundred and First Indiana and the One Hundred and Twenty-third Illinois were drawn up to receive them.

At the edge of this thicket the rebel skirmishers first appeared, and company B of the One Hundred and Twenty-third were immediately deployed as skirmishers, and sent forward to oppose them. A scattering fire of musketry was soon succeeded by several volleys, and it becoming evident that the enemy were hotly pursuing our skirmishers, Colonel Monroe sent forward two more companies, C and D, of the One Hundred and Twenty-third, to their support. Skirmishers from the One Hundred and First Indiana were at the same time pushed forward, and for half an hour a sharp but irregular firing was kept up in the thicket and in the streets of the town.

By this time the stealthy cats, Wheeler and Morgan, thought they had played long enough with the poor little mouse before them. They had not the slightest doubt of their ability to pick up Col. Hall whenever it should suit their convenience. Why not? The redoubtable Morgan himself was here with the brigade which had first frightened almost to death and then captured poor Col. Moore at Hartville. And Colonel Hall had fewer men than Col. Moore had on that disgracefully famous occasion. In addition to Morgan's force here was the redoubtable “Major-GeneralWheeler, with a brigade from his division — Wheeler, entirely recovered from the effects of the thrashing which Dan McCook gave him in January, and flush from the big haul which he and Van Dorn made at Thompson's Station. Still more, these worthies had three regiments of Tennessee mounted infantry to assist them. And here were “ColonelW. C. P. Breckinridge, and Duke, and Gano, and Grigsby, and heaven knows how many rebel heroes besides. Would A. S. Hall, a mere “political Colonel,” as some of our regular friends would say, attempt to make battle against “Major-GeneralWheeler and “Brigadier-GeneralJohn Morgan, the two most notorious bandits on the continent, with eleven rebel regiments at their heels? Oh! impossible, the thing was simply impossible. And, accordingly, John Morgan made a speech to his men.

“Behold before you,” said he, “the same Yankees whom you have so often chased helter-skelter over hill and dale, the same breed of low-spirited cowards whom you have sometimes almost disdained to kill, as being unworthy opponents of your prowess. Remember how ignominiously they bowed their heads at Hartville, and like lusty bull-calves, roared for mercy almost before you could get your muskets trained upon them. Do you think they will stand against you now? No! they will break and run at the first fire, and your only difficulty will be in outrunning and picking them up before they can get back to their den at Murfreesboro.”

Col. James Monroe also made a speech to his men, briefer and more to the point.

“Boys! you have followed John Morgan for more than a thousand miles, in a vain effort to get a fight out of him. You have often said you would like no better sport than to meet him. Your wishes are gratified at last. Here he is. Now give him----!”

Scarcely were these speeches ended when a column of the enemy's cavalry was seen marching by the flank, along the base of a range of hills to the east of the town, evidently intending to turn our right. At the same moment another column emerged from the thicket on the west, and advanced through the open fields toward the One Hundred and First Indiana. Simultaneously with the advance of both these columns, the rebel infantry marched on in battle array through the town, while their artillery, from two or three different positions, opened upon our lines.

Our skirmishers immediately fell back toward their regiments upon the double-quick, and at the same time a retrograde movement was commenced by our entire line, in order to gain the position upon Vaught's Hill, which was the battle-ground originally decided upon.

The dense cedar thickets upon the left of the pike, through which the One Hundred and First Indiana had to retire, made their progress exceedingly difficult; and not only did the skirmishers of this regiment receive a terrible volley from the enemy, before they could rejoin their comrades, but the entire One Hundred and First became to some extent separated from the rest of the brigade, and for a considerable time Lieut.-Col. Doan was thrown upon his own resources. Disentangling himself to some extent from the cedars, he was moving along the lane I have before mentioned, when he was suddenly set upon by Duke's and Breckinridge's regiments. He immediately formed his men in line along the lane, and met the rebel onset with determined courage.

In the mean time, the Eightieth Illinois had moved backward, and taken position along Vaught's Hill, facing nearly to the east; while the One Hundred and Twenty-third Illinois had also retrograded, and taken up a position along a line of fence at about two thirds the distance from the foot of the hill to its summit, their right resting upon the pike, their skirmishers extending across and connecting them with the left of the Eightieth Illinois, while their left was endeavoring to communicate with the right of the One Hundred and First Indiana. It will be observed that in making this retrograde movement, the One Hundred and Twenty-third had almost entirely crossed to the left of the road from the right, where it was originally formed. This was in consequence of the fact that Vaught's Hill, our chosen position, was mainly on the left of the pike. The One Hundred and Fifth Ohio was still held in reserve, and was moved to the south side of the hill. Upon the summit was one of the “Napoleons,” immediately under command of Capt. Harris, while the other was planted further [467] to the right, just in the road, and was put in charge of Lieut. Stackhouse. None of these movements were child's play, and all took place under fire, although as yet at long-range.

After the attack was made upon the One Hundred and First Indiana, Lieut.-Col. Doan gradually extended and retired the right of his line, until he came in communication with the left of the One Hundred and Twenty-third Illinois, so that now both regiments could be made available for supporting the piece of artillery commanded by Capt. Harris, which was doing terrible execution on the rebel ranks, and which from the first they manifested an ardent desire to capture. In order the better to effect this, they now made a desperate effort to turn the left flank of the One Hundred and First Indiana, and were partially successful. Major Steele, of that regiment, immediately applied to Col. Hall for assistance, as his men were now in imminent danger of being assailed in the rear, as well as upon the front and flank. The application was instantly attended to, and a part of the Eightieth Illinois was hurried around the southern base of the hill, to meet and drive back the enemy.

During this time a desperate contest was taking place upon the extreme left, where Col. Doan was gallantly contending with the Second and Fourth Kentucky, (the regiments of Duke and Breckinridge,) and was momentarily in danger of being overwhelmed. Redoubling his fire for a few minutes, and seeing the enemy temporarily repulsed, he instantly ordered the left of his regiment to fall back, so that he could form a new line, facing to the west, and at right angles to the One Hundred and Twenty-third Illinois. This movement being made hastily and in the face of the enemy, was necessarily attended with some confusion, and caused the right wing of the regiment to be somewhat withdrawn, so as to leave a considerable gap between it and the left of the One Hundred and Twenty-third. This breach was promptly repaired by Col. Monroe, who extended his right, and moved over several companies to the left.

Both regiments were more fully prepared for any effort of the enemy, and resolved at all hazards to prevent Captain Harris's piece of cannon from falling into their hands.

Previous to this, however, Col. Allen, with the Eightieth Illinois, had encountered that column of the rebel cavalry which had passed around to our right, and as soon as it left the foot of the range of hills on that side, and emerged into the open fields, had poured into it a most deadly volley of musket-balls, which had driven it back in utter confusion, with the exception of a small body that galloped past our left flank, passed entirely round the southern base of the hill, and actually joined the column under Breckinridge which was assailing our left. The left of the Eightieth, the extreme right of the One Hundred and Twenty-third, and our other “Napoleon” under Lieut. Stackhouse, had all this time fully held their own against rebel infantry in the centre.

Our line of battle now extended almost entirely around the hill, the One Hundred and Fifth Ohio holding the southern face, in reserve, and behaving with great coolness, although shot and shell from the enemy's cannon frequently came whizzing over the summit of the hill and dropped among them.

It was perhaps two o'clock, when the rebels, enraged beyond bounds at the havoc made among them by Captain Harris's twelve-pound “Napoleon,” determined to capture it, if possible. Concentrating nearly the whole of Morgan's brigade, they rushed forward and made a desperate assault upon the right of the One Hundred and First Indiana and left of the One Hundred and Twenty-third Illinois. Our boys, now advantageously posted, suffered them to come within thirty or forty yards of our line, when they opened upon them with so destructive a fire that in a few minutes the victors of Hartville were retreating in the wildest confusion, leaving many a rebel, rampant and exulting but a moment before, dead, dying, bleeding, upon the ground.

It was the last effort of the enemy. His troops could no more be brought to the charge. On every side a storm of bullets greeted them. It was death all around the hill!

Sullenly withdrawing to the edge of the woods, upon the ground where our troops had first formed in line of battle, they planted three pieces of artillery, and opened a despairing, scattering, and ineffective fire, which did no damage whatever to the brave men who held Vaught's Hill. Nevertheless, Capt. Harris trained his piece upon one of their guns, disabled it after a round or two, and compelled the others to draw off. One of the gunners of the disabled piece was afterward found blown into fragments, with one of his arms hanging to the limb of a tree.

No reenforcements had as yet come up to Col. Hall's assistance; he did not know the extent of the terrible loss he had inflicted upon the enemy, and supposed that they might be preparing to again attack him. To create an impression upon the minds of tlie rebels that his reenforcements had arrived, he ordered his men to raise a shout. This they were in a good humor to do anyhow; and a lusty cheer made Vaught's Hill and all the forests round it fairly ring. At the same time, skirmishers were pushed out right and left. The fire from the rebel artillery redoubled for a moment, and then entirely ceased.

But all this cannonading on the enemy's part, after their terrible repulse upon the left, was only for the purpose of concealing and covering their retract; and when our skirmishers advanced to the town, not a rebel was to be found, except some who were so badly wounded that they could not be carried off.

As the rebels passed through Milton, they told such of the inhabitants as had not run away, that they had entirely beaten Col. Hall, but that the arrival of reenforcements, ten thousand strong, to his assistance, had compelled them to retire. It was, in fact, two hours from the time the last rebel disappeared, until the head of the reenforceing column came in sight of Vaught's Hill. [468]

The material results of the battle have been already stated. Twenty prisoners were left in our hands, besides the wounded. Seven rebels were killed, and a proportionate number wounded, by the single volley with which the Eightieth Illinois repelled the column of cavalry which assailed our right. Twenty-five of them were killed outright in their final grand attack upon our left, and were buried where they fell. Dr. Keller, Surgeon of Morgan's brigade, estimates the entire rebel loss at not less than four hundred killed and wounded.

Our own loss was six killed, one at least mortally injured, and thirty-three others wounded.

John Morgan is said to have been exceedingly chary about exposing his own person, and to have remained in the thicket just to the left of the town, during the whole course of the fight.

I can only remind the public that the field-officers of the One Hundred and First Indiana, engaged in this fight were Lieut.-Col. Doan and Major Steele; and those of the One Hundred and Twenty-third Illinois, Col. James Monroe, Lieut.-Col. Bigge and Major Connolly. That reminder is sufficient praise.

The Eightieth Illinois, Col. Allen, although it lost no men, is not to blame for that. The enemy opposed to it fled at a single volley.

The One Hundred and Fifth Ohio had to play, during the whole battle, the trying role of the reserves, and sustained it creditably to themselves and their State.

The brave Capt. Abram C. Van Buskirk, company H, One Hundred and Twenty-third Illinois, was killed while the enemy was making his grand assault upon the left. Van Buskirk was shot through the cheek, the ball passing out at the back of his head, and died without a struggle or a groan.

Thus are two of the mock heroes of the rebellion, Morgan and Wheeler, for the present effectually “played out.” Pretty well done for one thousand three hundred green boys from the West, commanded by a “political” colonel.

Y. S.

1 this battle is also known as the battle of Milton, Tenn.

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