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[234]

Heavy skirmishing commenced at New Madrid about the first of March, and continued daily up to the 13th. The enemy had brought across with him a large train of artillery, including a number of 32-pounders, with which he made frequent attacks on the forts. These attacks were handsomely met; our gunboats participating in the conflict. The enemy established himself on the river below New Madrid, at Point Pleasant and other places, for the purpose of annoying our transports, and cutting off communication between New Madrid and Memphis.

During these thirteen days Gen. McCown was most active in his movements-passing from one point to the other, as he deemed his presence necessary-superintending the erection of batteries at the Island, and directing operations at New Madrid. Up to the 12th of March, the lines of the enemy had been gradually approaching our works at the latter place. The skirmishing and artillery conflicts had been continual and severe.

At midnight on the 12th, the enemy opened a fierce bombardment. The scene was terribly grand. A large number of the enemy's batteries were in full play, and were fiercely replied to, by all the guns from our forts and boats. The darkness, the hoarse voice of the wind, the rush of the waters, the roar and flash of the guns from the shore and from the river, made a scene exceeding all description. This bombardment continued but a short time, and soon the echoes of the last gun had died upon the waves; and the winds, and the sullen tones of the Mississippi were the only sounds that disturbed the silence of the night.

About daylight on the morning of the 13th the enemy again opened with their 24-pounders and an 8-inch howitzer. The principal point of attack was Fort Thompson, under the command of acting Brig.-Gen. E. W. Gantt, of Arkansas. This officer conducted the defence with skill and spirit, replying to the enemy so effectually as to dismount several of his guns.

The firing continued at intervals during the afternoon, but entirely ceased about sunset. The result of these bombardments determined Gen. McCown upon the evacuation of New Madrid. Our wooden gunboats had suffered severely under the enemy's fire; the garrison of New Madrid was small; and Pope's batteries were in a position which prevented reinforcements from being brought up the river.

On the night of the 13th March there was a heavy storm of rain and thunder, and under cover of the darkness the Confederate garrison evacuated New Madrid, and sought shelter either with that of Island 10, or in the works on the left bank. Thus Pope obtained possession of New Madrid, was able to isolate Island 10 from the Lower Mississippi, and eagerly expected the surrender of the other defences.

The evacuation was accomplished without any very serious loss. In

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