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[184] penetrate further south than West Point, Miss., by the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, it seemed to be the purpose now to send a force sufficiently strong to overcome all the Confederate forces in Mississippi, even if they should be concentrated against either of the three columns moving.

General A. J. Smith, with three divisions of infantry and thirty-eight pieces of artillery, numbering all told little more than 20,000 men, besides a brigade of cavalry 3,700 strong, after repairing the old Mississipi Central Railroad from Grand Junction to the Tallahatchie river, moved to that point, near the little town of Waterford, which is some fifteen miles north of Oxford. General Chalmers was instructed to impress every able-bodied negro in the country, fortify the south bank of the river and make the best possible defense against the enemy's effort to cross, but, if forced back, to destroy the bridges along the railroad as he retired.

The situation was desperate; there seemed to be no hope of defeating the superb army of General Smith. Forrest wrote to Governor Clark, of Mississippi, expressing the opinion that the enemy intended to follow the Central Railroad and that the Confederate force was inadequate to meet him, and stated that unless all Mississippians should come to the defense of their homes, the State would be devastated.

The Eighteenth Mississippi Cavalry, not over 300 strong, commanded by that brilliant young Colonel Alexander H. Chalmers, was holding the line of the Tallahatchie in front of Abbeville. His position was a very unfavorable one. The south bank of the river was much lower than the north bank, and furthermore the timber had been cut from the south bank for a distance of half a mile, while the north bank was thickly wooded to the river. The enemy forced the pickets from the river bank with his big guns, but Colonel Chalmers formed a line on a ride in the edge of the woods, about half a mile back, and soon got together rails and timbers which he used as breast-works. The enemy threw several regiments across the river and moved against the Mississippians, but were driven back. Colonel Chalmers held his position until late in the evening of August 9, and then retired to Abbeville, where he was re-enforced by General Chalmers with McCulloch's brigade.

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