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Doc. 35. General Dennis' expedition.

headquarters Seventy-Sixth Illinois Volunteer infantry, Vicksburg, Miss., July 13.
I send a brief description of the expedition to Jackson, Mississippi, which left this city on the morning of the first instant, and returned on the evening of the ninth instant, under command of Brigadier-General E. S. Dennis, commander of the First division of the Seventeenth Army Corps, and a complete list of the losses in diffierent companies during the engagement on the morning of the seventh instant, at a point some three miles west of Jackson, known as “Cross-roads,” or rather where the Canton road intersects the main Jackson road.

On the evening of June thirtieth, orders were received at the headquarters of the different regiments composing the force to make the necessary arrangements for a move the next morning at two o'clock; and when the specified time arrived, everything was in readiness, and a start effected. Although the day was exceedingly warm and dusty, we marched to Big Black river, where we went in camp for the night, with the expectation of resuming our journey at an early hour next morning; but not so.

Morning came, but no orders, in consequence of which we lay in camp all day and the second night, our delay being to await the construction [189] of the pontoon bridge over the river, and to attend to the drawing of rations and forage; but early on the morning of the third instant we took our position in ranks, and “marched, slowly on” until we arrived at Champion Hills, a place which will long be remembered by friends of many brave men who now lie in sweet repose, filling the graves of true soldiers, who have fallen battling for their country's rights and the protection of their old emblem and protector, the Stars and Stripes, under which they have won many hard-fought battles. Here we went into camp, to spend another night under the grand canopy of Heaven.

Next morning we moved by the “break of day,” and made fine progress, it having rained the night previous, which tended to recreate and enliven our little army, as it had been very warm and dusty the preceding three days; and at two o'clock P. M. we were encamped in the suburbs of Clinton, a small town on the Vicksburg and Jackson railroad. Here we had made ample arrangements for doing our rations justice, when the advance, a detachment of cavalry, was attacked, and a general move was the result. Eatables of every description, which had been served in the most luxuriant style, were put aside, and a line of battle formed, but to no avail, as the enemy retreated upon our making arrangements to meet them; consequently we retired, spending the balance of our hours of rest in peace.

Morning came, and we advanced as per orders, at seven o'clock, but proceeded only a short distance when this regiment was ordered to the rear, the train having been attacked by a squad of rebel cavalry, and for the remainder of the day we acted in the capacity of rear guard, but did not encounter any enemy, they having gone to their advance to support a battery which was operating against our front. After one o'clock the enemy fell back in the direction of Canton, learning that Colonel Coates' Second brigade, First division, would effect a flank movement on them.

Previous to our entering Jackson a flag of truce was sent out by the citizens with a request that we should not shell the city, reporting no enemy there, so we marched through their once prosperous but now desolate capital, with banners flying, filling the air with the melodious sounds of martial music, amidst the prolonged cheers of the men, and arrived at the river on the southeast of the city, where we went in camp.

Here we remained until four o'clock next day, when the bugle was sounded to depart, the direction or destination being unknown to any but the commanders, and in a few moments all were on the move in the direction of what was termed “home,” but alas I we proceeded but a short distance, the Seventy-sixth infantry, being in the advance, when we came to a “halt.” Artillery was now put in position, cavalry thrown out as skirmishers, and the lines established by the infantry — everything in position, and the ball opened. Heavy firing from both sides was kept up until the shades of darkness set in, when both armies retired, our men taking position and lying on their arms until the coming morn, and long ere the sun ascended from behind the hills of the far distant east, the skirmishing commenced. Heavy firing, both from artillery and musketry, was kept up continually until seven o'clock, neither party seeming to gain any advantage, until finally the Second brigade, of the gallant old Fourth division were ordered to advance, the Seventy-sixth Illinois infantry in front as skirmishers, and the Forty-sixth Illinois infantry as a support. And advance they did until the entire line was within some seventy-five yards from the enemy, who lay in one position, which they had established the previous evening, under cover, lying in the edge of a body of heavy timber, while, on the contrary, our lines were exposed to their whole fire, being in an open field which inclined toward them. In this position these two regiments lay for five hours, until the entire train had passed, without the loss of a wagon, and it has been ascertained that this command saved all from destruction by their gallantry and desperate fighting. Too much credit and praise cannot be attributed to the officers and men, and permit us to say that no braver ever entered the field of battle. Strange as it may seem, the Seventy-ninth did not lose an officer, and had twenty-one on the field, but lost about one hundred men out of three hundred and seventy-five. Lieutenant-Colonel C. C. Jones had his horse shot four times while riding along the lines, the last shot proving fatal, but he never retired from the field, although his leg was somewhat fractured by the falling of his horse.

After continued fighting for five hours, orders came to fall back, and it was with the greatest difficulty that this regiment escaped capture, as they were compelled to leave all the dead and seriously wounded on the field, being obliged to crawl some two hundred yards under a heavy and galling fire, after which they re-formed the line and crossed a large opening some two miles in width, under a constant fire of grape, canister, and musketry, when we rejoined our command in good order, receiving the compliments of the General and his staff, who had given us up as lost.

After leaving the field of action we moved in the direction of the train, but were harassed in the rear by the cavalry of the enemy, who made three unsuccessful charges on a section of Bolton's Chicago battery, but were successfully repulsed on each occasion, with a comparatively small loss on our side, but heavy on the enemy's, the battery pouring a murderous fire of grape, canister, and shell into their ranks as they advanced, with the Eleventh Illinois infantry as a support, who at no time were idle. After this repulse we had no more serious trouble, but still an attack was hourly expected on the train, which at this time was perfectly safe. [190]

In this manner we reached Baker's Creek, about one and a half miles east of Champion Hills, where we camped for the night, after a hard day's work, the men and animals being completely fatigued and worn out, having been destitute of any food of importance for the past day, and the heat being very oppressive, in consequence of which there were several cases of sunstroke, one of which proved fatal. Time rolled on, and by four o'clock the next morning our noble little band could be seen wending their way in the direction of Black River, where we arrived in the evening, after a long and arduous march, at which place we lay until four o'clock on the afternoon of the ninth instant when our last day's march began, and by the dead hour of midnight we were once more within the walls of this ill-fated city.

Suffice it to say, that it is thought by all parties interested, that we achieved everything anticipated, having drawn forces from an important point of the enemy's, thereby gaining advantages in other sources and by destroying a bridge over Pearl River, at Jackson, which was partially completed. Still, the general supposition is that it was not the intention of General Dennis to engage the enemy as he did, knowing their forces outnumbered ours, having some three thousand five hundred cavalry and mounted infantry, while our entire force of effective men did not exceed two thousand, but to attract their attention so that our train could be put past danger.

I must not close without speaking of our noble brigade commander, Colonel Dorublazer, Forty-sixth Illinois infantry, his staff, Colonel Busey, commanding seventy-sixth, and Lieutenant-Colonel Jones, commanding forty-sixth, who at all times were to be found with their commands in the discharge of their duties. Also to the minor officers of the brigade, who can be numbered only among the best, and as an honor to the service of the United States. Long may they survive among the “roaring cannon and clashing of arms,” is the prayer of many a noble heart under their commands, and may their heads be crowned with laurels ere this “cruel war is over.”


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