for the Confederates to do one of two things: the first was, to seize the golden moment and, adhering to the original purpose and plan of the sortie, move off rapidly by the route laid open by such strenuous efforts and so much bloodshed; the other depended on the inspiration of a master mind equal to the effort of grasping every element of the combat, and which should complete the partial victory by the utter route and destruction of the enemy.
While one or the other alternative seems to have been the only possible safe solution, [says the author of The Life of General Albert Sidney Johnston] the Confederate commander tried neither. A fatal middle policy was suddenly but dubiously adopted, and not carried out. The spirit of vacillation and divided counsels prevented that unity of action which is essential to success. For seven hours the Confederate battalions had been pushing over rough ground and through thick timber, at each step meeting fresh troops massed, where the discomfited regiments rallied. Hence the vigor of assault slackened, though the wearied troops were still ready and competent to continue their onward movement. Ten fresh regiments, over three thousand men, had not fired a musket. But in the turmoil of battle no one knew the relations of any command to the next, or indeed whether his neighbor was friend or foe. General Buckner had halted, according to the preconcerted plan, to allow the army to pass out by the opened road and to cover their retreat. At this point of the fight, Pillow, finding himself at Hindman's position, heard of (or saw) preparations by General C. F. Smith for an assault on the Confederate right; but, whether he understood this to be the purpose or construed the movement as the signs of a flight, was left uncertain by his language at the time. . . . He ordered the regiments which had been engaged to return to the trenches, and instructed Buckner to hasten to defend the imperiled point. Buckner, not recognizing him as a superior authorized to change the plan of battle, or the propriety of such change, refused to obey, and, after receiving reiterated orders, started to find Floyd, who at that moment joined him. He urged upon Floyd the necessity of carrying out the original plan of evacuation. Floyd assented to this view, and told Buckner to stand fast until he could see Pillow. He then rode back and saw Pillow, and, hearing his arguments, yielded to them. Floyd simply says that he found the movements so nearly executed that it was necessary to complete it. Accordingly, Buckner was recalled. In the mean time, Pillow's right brigades were retiring to their places in the trenches, under orders from the commanders.The conflict on the left soon ended. Three hundred prisoners, five thousand stand of small arms, six guns, and other spoils of victory, had been won by our forces. But the enemy, cautiously advancing, gradually recovered most of his lost ground. It was about 4 P. M. when the assault on the right was made by General C. F. Smith. The enemy succeeded in carrying the advanced work, which General Buckner considered the key to his position. The loss of the enemy during the siege was four hundred killed, seventeen hundred eighty-five wounded, and three hundred prisoners. Our losses were about three hundred twenty-five killed and