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Iuka and Corinth.

Operations in North Alabama.

by don Carlos Buell, Major-General, U. S. V.
The instructions1 which I left behind for the regulation of affairs in Tennessee, when I started from Nashville for Savannah prior to the battle of Shiloh, constituted an important part in the plan of campaign, but could not be made absolute with reference to military operations which depended so much on undetermined conditions. For East Tennessee, General George W. Morgan, the officer assigned to the command of a column operating in that direction from Kentucky, was instructed, as a first step, to take Cumberland Gap if practicable, or to hold the enemy in check on that line if his force should prove insufficient to advance. The force left in Middle Tennessee was to preserve internal order there, keep open the communications of the army, repel invasion, and occupy the Memphis and Charleston railroad when the opportunity offered. The two latter objects were chiefly intrusted to General O. M. Mitchel. Only the instructions to him,2 and his action under them, can here be remarked upon.

These instructions placed General Mitchel, in the beginning, mainly at Fayetteville, Tennessee, twenty-eight miles north of Huntsville, Alabama, and explained to him how his position was to be used according to circumstances; among other things to concentrate his force at Huntsville or Decatur — the occupation of the Memphis and Charleston railroad through those points having been all the time distinctly understood as a standing object, and discussed in the conversations referred to in the instructions.3 One division, with, three field-batteries (18 pieces) of artillery, a regiment of cavalry, and two companies of engineer troops, in all about 8000 effective men, constituted his command; and he was told that in case of necessity the remainder of the force in Middle Tennessee would be placed under his orders. The general dispositions included a few regiments for the immediate protection of Nashville, under the command of General Ebenezer Dumont, who besides was charged with the communications of the army, in certain respects. A regiment was also designated as a provost-guard for Nashville, with orders to answer the demands of the military governor, Andrew Johnson, for the enforcement of his authority. The fine regiment (51st Ohio) of Colonel Stanley Matthews, now a justice of the United States Supreme Court, was selected for that position, on account of the efficient and judicious character of its commander. Governor Johnson was not pleased with the limited power thus arranged for himself. He wanted a much larger force under his control, and the records exhibit earnest protests from him to the President and Secretary of War against the defenseless condition in which he considered that I had left him.

Under the instructions given to Mitchel, that officer, after hearing of the victory at Shiloh (April 7th, 1862), marched from Fayetteville at noon on the 10th of April, and reached Huntsville at 6 A. M. on the 11th, capturing, as he reports, about 200 prisoners, 15 locomotives, and other rolling-stock and [702]

Map of Kentucky and Tennessee.

public property. On the 12th, expeditions were sent eastward to within four miles of the bridge over the Tennessee River at Bridgeport, destroying bridges in that direction and capturing five more locomotives; and westward to the Decatur bridge, twenty miles from Huntsville. Reporting these last movements on the 12th, General Mitchel says: “We have nothing more to do in this region, having fully accomplished all that was ordered.”

These operations of course stopped the enemy's railroad communications through North Alabama. On the 13th a brigade under Colonel John B. Turchin was started to Tuscumbia (thirty miles west of Decatur), where it arrived about the 17th, and where I furnished it with supplies by water. It encountered no enemy, and was recalled by Mitchel on the 24th, upon a rumor that it was threatened from Corinth. As soon as it crossed again to the north side of the Tennessee the Decatur bridge was burned. As a reconnoitering measure, this expedition was well enough. The evil of it, as it turned out, was in the injury which resulted to the line of railroad — the destruction of the Decatur bridge by Mitchel himself, and other bridges by the enemy. Nothing could be more unwise than Mitchel's idea that the brigade should be reinforced from the main army so as to hold Tuscumbia, while Beauregard was at Corinth, fifty miles distant, with railroad communication, and Halleck not yet prepared to march against him from Pittsburg Landing.

On the 1st of May Mitchel reports from Huntsville to the Secretary of War, with whom he had established a correspondence: “On yesterday (properly the 29th of April), the enemy having cut our wires and attacked during the night one of our brigades, I deemed it my duty to head in person the expedition against Bridgeport,” and he describes what was done. The expedition was under the command of Colonel Joshua W. Sill, a capable young [703] officer, afterward killed at Stone's River. Mitchel represents the force of the enemy, by report, at 5000 infantry and one regiment of cavalry; and again at five regiments of infantry and 1800 cavalry. The enemy reports 450 raw infantry, 150 cavalry, and two old iron field-pieces drawn by hand. There was virtually no resistance. Sill had one man killed, and the enemy reports two men slightly wounded in retiring. The Confederates withdrew as the Federals advanced. The 50 men that remained a moment at the bridge-head retreated rapidly across at the first shot, and the whole force, after burning 450 feet at the east end of the bridge, continued the retreat, leaving behind the two iron guns. The blast which the enemy had prepared for blowing up a span at the west end failed to do its work. Mitchel reports the following incident in this affair: “A body of 40 or 50 cavalry came dashing through a wheat-field in full sight just below the bridge, supposing our troops to be theirs, and advanced to within 400 yards. Our cavalry dashed after them, while our artillery opened fire. How many escaped I do not know.” The enemy reports “10 or 1.2” of his cavalry scouts in that position, probably afraid to venture on the bridge, which was about to be destroyed. As neither the enemy nor Mitchel reports any of them killed or captured, the presumption is that all escaped. Mitchel at Huntsville, on M:ay 1st, closes his report of this affair as follows: “This campaign is ended, and I can now occupy Huntsville in perfect security, while all of Alabama north of the Tennessee floats no flag but that of the Union.” Thus far no resistance had been encountered, but Mitchel's movements had been well conceived and vigorous, and made a good appearance. Stanton answered his glowing dispatches naturally: “Your spirited operations afford great satisfaction to the President.”

Three days after Mitchel's dispatch as quoted, he telegraphed Stanton, May 4th, in explanation of some unexpected developments of the enemy, and says:

I shall soon have watchful guards among the slaves on the plantations from Bridgeport to Florence, and all who communicate to me valuable information I have promised the protection of my government. Should my course in this particular be disapproved, it would be impossible for me to hold my position. I must abandon the line of railway, and Northern Alabama falls back into the hands of the enemy. No reenforeements have been sent to me, and I am promised none except a regiment of cavalry and a company of scouts, neither of which have reached me. I should esteem it a great military and political misfortune to be compelled to yield up one inch of the territory we have conquered. “[And again the same day, May 4th] :” I have promised protection to the slaves who have given me valuable assistance and information. If the government disapproves of what I have done, I must receive heavy reinforcements or abandon my position.

The only visible or actual ground for this sudden change from easy assurance to anxious uncertainty, was the appearance of the

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