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[140]

When the rebels demonstrated three weeks ago on Bloomfield, Fredericktown, and Centreville, General Ewing inferred that their intention was to move upon St. Louis, destroy its military stores, release the prisoners, and inflict whatever carnage they could, making just such a dash as they did at Memphis. General Rosecrans held the same opinion, and he ordered Ewing to Pilot Knob, with a brigade of A. J. Smith's command, but for some reason not apparent now, these troops were detained at Mineral Point on the Iron Mountain railroad, and Ewing pushed on to the Knob with a hundred and thirty men. When he got there he found his entire command to number very little over a thousand men, viz.: Captain Montgomery's battery--six Rodman ten-pounders--one company of the First Missouri State Militia infantry, three companies Fourteenth Iow infantry, six companies Third Missouri cavalry, and six companies Forty-seventh Missouri (St. Louis Guards, raw), and commanded by the Union candidate for Governor, Colonel Tom Fletcher, a brave man, good soldier, and true patriot. In a previous letter, you were acquainted with the operations up to the time Ewing was compelled to defend himself at Fort Davidson. That affair was one of those desperate ventures which a brave man only will make rather than surrender. During the reconnoissance towards the Knob on Sunday, and the skirmishes of Monday and Tuesday, prisoners and rebel wounded all spoke of Price being in command, and told wonderful stories of his strength and numbers. This determined General Ewing to hold his advance in check to the last possible moment, and made him defend the Valley of Arcadia, which lies between Shepherd's, Iron, and three other mountains, which rise abruptly to elevations of from four hundred to five hundred and fifty feet. Fort Davidson lies in the centre of the valley, which is longitudinal east and west. It has a range of one thousand yards only on the only practicable ground for the enemy except he reached the apex of the mountains, which he did not, in the haste of his advance, either think of or attempt until too late. Ewing contended every inch of the valley before entering the fort, and he was reduced to the last extremity before adopting that plan. The rebels pressed him closely from the east inlet to the valley, but when at last lie gathered up his little army and took them inside the fort, he gave the rebel advance such a salute as drove them back flying. This was on Tuesday, the twenty-seventh of September. The assault was kept up all day — Fagan's forces operating on Iron Mountain, and Marmaduke's on Shepherd Mountain. The former is east of the fort, the latter south of it. On the afternoon of Wednesday the enemy was seen in force immediately west of the fort, having got around Shepherd Mountain, and they commenced a simultaneous attack on the three sides named. Ewing changed his guns and his men, and gave the rebels the best he had. They yielded first on the west, and he followed up his advantage by turning all his guns in that direction for a short time. The rebels did not try their luck in the west again. Towards nightfall they succeeded in planting two guns on the east face of Shepherd Mountain, and they had just got the most admirable range on the fort when night saved it from being made a perfect slaughter-pen. Ewing is in a dilemma. It is unmilitary to evacuate — to retreat; but better take any risk than remain there to either surrender or be annihilated. He decided upon retreat; but as the devil would have it, the rebels set fire to the iron furnace on Iron Mountain, and one may readily imagine the pyrotechnic effect of one hundred thousand bushels of coal a-fire. The valley and mountains were lit up as at full noon — magnificent — beautiful to behold, but terrible to contemplate; for the flames flickered and flashed and cast their blood-red light upon the writhing forms of the wounded and the rigid ones of the rebel dead lying in full sight of the fort.

General Ewing held a council with his officers, but Colonel Tom Fletcher alone decided with him to take the terrible chances of retreat. The rebels were swarming, literally, on three sides of the fort, and they had already discovered that its drawbridge was down and could be crossed by the sacrifice of a hundred men. They had full command at musket range of the little garrison with whatever artillery they had, and nothing was left but to run over in the morning and put it to the sword. General Ewing commenced his preparations at midnight; he filled his limbers with ammunition, piled his caissons on the magazine, laid a train to it, threw down an enormous pile of tents on the drawbridge to muffle the sound of his artillery, and causing his men to glide over the sides of the fort to the west side found himself at the head of his little column safely in the shadowy west outlet of the valley. Then Tom Fletcher and he looked back at Fort Davidson and — laughed. The column headed for Potosi, confident that the force of A. J. Smith was still at Mineral Point, but this turned out incorrect, for as soon as Ewing reached Caledonia he encountered Shelby's advance, and a little fight ensued, in which the rebels were driven back and Ewing concluded that the road above must be in the hands of the rebels. This was correct, and he struck for Rolla.

Previous to the evacuation of Fort Davidson, Mrs. Marion, a Union lady of Pilot Knob, whom Colonel Slayback of Price's staff, released on condition that she would communicate with General Ewing, arrived bearing a message to the latter from General Price, that if he would surrender the fort and garrison, the latter would be permitted to go unmolested, officers would be permitted to carry side-arms, and all the personal property of the command would be unmolested, but if he persistently held out, and fired upon flags of truce as he had been doing, an overwhelming force would be sent to carry the work, and every inmate be put to the sword. This proposition and bloody threat was alike unheeded


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