whole line; but presently the enemy, who had massed a large force in the woods immediately north of the railroad, advanced at a run, with loud cheers. Our troops in their front did not remain to receive them, but broke and fled precipitately. One portion of the line being broken, it very soon became a matter of sauve qui peut. I shall only add, with reference to the affair of Big Black, that a strong position with an ample force of infantry and artillery to hold it, was shamefully abandoned almost without resistance. The troops occupying the centre did not do their duty; with an almost impassable bayou between themselves and the enemy, they fled before the enemy had reached that obstacle. I have received no report from Brigadier-General Vaughn of the operations of his brigade on this occasion. Colonel Cockrell says, in his official report: “After a lively skirmish-fire had been kept up for some time along our whole front, I saw the line between the railroad and first skirt of timber, north of the railroad, beginning to give way, and then running in disorder. I watched this disorderly falling back a few minutes, when I saw that the enemy had possession of the trenches north of the railroad, and were rapidly advancing towards the bridge, our only crossing and way of escape; the enemy now being nearer this crossing than my line, I therefore ordered the brigade to fall back, and, moving rapidly, gained the bridge, crossed over, and re-formed on the west bank of the river, north of the railroad.” Colonel Gates, commanding Second brigade, Bowen's division, says, in his official report: “They (the enemy) formed their men on the river, in the timber, where we could not see them. They brought their men out by the right flank, in column of four, about one hundred and forty yards in front of my regiment at a double-quick. I then opened a most terrific fire upon them and kept it up until the brigade had passed out of my sight behind a grove of timber, immediately upon my right; they moved so as to strike the trenches occupied by Brigadier-General Vaughn's brigade — so I am informed. I do not know whose troops were there, but it was immediately on the right of Green's brigade. After they had passed me I listened for our men to open a heavy volley on my right and drive the enemy back; upon not hearing any firing on the right, I directed Lieutenant-Colonel Law to mount his horse and go to General Green and know whether the centre was holding their position or not. Colonel Law returned in a few minutes and said that General Green ordered me to fall back. I did so at once. After I had got back below the bend of the river I discovered that they had crossed the ditches and were between me and the bridge.” In this precipitate retreat but little order was observed, the object of all being to reach the bridge as rapidly as possible; many were unable to do so, but effected their escape by swimming the river; some were drowned in the attempt; a considerable number unable to swim, and others too timid to expose themselves to the fire of the enemy by an effort to escape, remained in the trenches and were made prisoners. In this connection, I deem it my duty to make the following extract from the report of Colonel Cockrell: “Captain T. B. Wilson, of the Second infantry, Company G, claiming to have been exhausted, did not go with his company into the battle of Baker's Creek, and having made his way to Big Black, joined his company in the rifle-pits early on the morning of the seventeenth instant, and when his company was ordered to fall back, abandoned his company and remained lying in the rifle-pits and was captured by the enemy, and whilst a prisoner stated to Colonel Elijah Gates, of the First Missouri cavalry, who was also a prisoner, that he, Captain Wilson, intended to take the oath and then go to fighting the enemy as a guerilla. Such conduct merits a dismissal in disgrace, and such an officer should not remain in the way of gallant and efficient officers, now commanding his company.” In this opinion I fully concur. Neither Brigadier-General Bowen nor Green had furnished reports of the action on Big Black previous to their death. To the former had been.intrusted the defence of the tete de pont, and he had received my instructions in person. The latter had been second in command. Brigadier-General Vaughn having failed to render his report, I am dependent for the particulars of the action upon those of Colonels Gates and Cockrell, which are respectfully forwarded herewith. Major Lockett, Chief Engineer, was instructed to fire both bridges after seeing that all the troops had crossed. This was effectually accomplished under his personal supervision. The guns in position were ample for the defence, but the infantry failing to support them, they were abandoned; such as were not in position were safely brought from the field, placed in battery on the bluff on the west bank, and with others already established, and a sufficient force of infantry, held the advancing columns of the enemy effectually in check. It had become painfully apparent to me that the morale of my army was not such as to justify an attempt to hold the line of the Big Black River. Not only was it greatly weakened by the absence of General Loring's division, but also by the large number of stragglers, who, having abandoned their commands, were already making their way into Vicksburg. The enemy, by flank movements on my left, by Bridgeport, and on my right by Baldwin's or other ferries, might reach Vicksburg almost simultaneously with myself, or perhaps interpose a heavy force between me and that city. Under these circumstances nothing remained but to retire the army within the defences of Vicksburg, and to endeavor as speedily as possible to re-organize the depressed and discomfited troops. Orders were accordingly
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Doc . 62 .-Hoisting the Black flag — official correspondence and reports.
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