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[508] plied their rammers with accelerated rapidity and hurled destruction through the advancing lines. As soon as they came within good rifle-range, a terribly destructive fire was opened upon them, and men toppled, reeled, and fell to the ground by scores. Although the overwhelming force continued to close upon the Fort, it was now evident that there was much disorder among them, and. presently a portion of the line gave way, when the whole force broke in confusion and retreated precipitately, leaving the ground strewn with not less than two hundred killed and wounded. The discomfited rebels were then re-formed upon their original line.

As the smoke began to clear up, it was discovered that the city was on fire in several places. The railroad depot was already completely wrapped in flames, having been fired by the rebels. The shelling of the gunboats had dislodged the sharp-shooters from the buildings nearest the Fort, and their fire was just being directed toward: other portions of the town, when a flag of truce was observed coming from the enemy's lines.

The flag of truce was borne by Lieutenant McKnight, aid to Forrest, and was met by the Post Adjutant. McKnight presented a note from Forrest to Colonel Hicks, demanding the immediate and unconditional surrender of the Fort and garrison, and saying that in the event of a refusal to accede to the demand, he would take the Fort by storm and grant no quarter. Colonel Hicks promptly replied that he was sent there with orders to defend the post, and intended to obey, as any honorable officer should. An hour was consumed during this parley, immediately after which the enemy advanced.

The houses near the Fort were again occupied by sharp-shooters, and the rebels moved rapidly up with increased numbers and apparently a full determination to succeed. They dashed forward from behind buildings and such other objects as served to cover their advance, while the main column rushed upon the Fort despite the murderous fire that opposed them. But their efforts were futile. The indomitable “six hundred” had no idea. of being overpowered, and amid the answering thunders from Fort and gunboats, and the unbroken rattle of small-arms, the enemy was again repulsed, and fled from the field disordered and whipped. Not less than five hundred men, dead or wounded, covered the field within rifle-range of the Fort. A more gallant defence was never made. But the fighting did not cease with this repulse. The rebels swarmed thicker and thicker in the buildings, and an unintermitting storm of lead was poured from roofs and windows, notwithstanding the houses were being perforated by shot and shell from all our guns.

Every gun in the Fort was now turned upon the town, while the gunboats took an active part in sweeping the streets and shelling the houses. The enemy, finding that our force was not strong enough to risk leaving the works, did not re-form his whole line again, but sent his men by detachments, several hundred strong, into the city, some to burn and pillage, and others to reinforce those who were yet firing upon the garrison. Now was the hardest trial our brave fellows had to bear. In spite of the shells that were sent crashing through the buildings, the sharp-shooters, who by this time must have numbered nearly one thousand, held their positions, or else falling back for a few minutes, again came forward and delivered their fire.

It was now nearly night. The battle had continued from ten o'clock to after five, and yet the fate of the day remained undecided. The heroic garrison, headed by their resolute commander, still stood unfalteringly to their posts, while the enemy, conscious of the strength of his over whelming numbers, seemed loth, although signally repulsed, to yield to the fact of his undeniable defeat.

Four hours had passed, during three of which there was an almost unbroken roar of artillery and small arms. In the mean time, the rebels had occupied every part of the town. The Headquarters and quartermaster's buildings, which were in the most compactly built part of the city, bad been sacked and fired. The marine ways had also been fired, and the steamer Dacotah, which was on the stocks for repairs, was boarded, the crew robbed of every thing, and the boat burned. Almost every store in the place was broken open and its contents damaged, destroyed, or carried off. Clothing, and especially boots and shoes, seemed to have been chiefly sought for, although an exceedingly large quantity of all styles and qualities of dry goods, groceries, and provisions was carried off. Every horse that could be found was taken, and in fact nothing that could suit taste or convenience was overlooked.

As the sun began to sink, the slackened fire from the buildings told that our shelling had not been without effect, and the rebels could be seen from the Fort as they left the houses by hundreds and moved back toward the upper end of the town, bearing — their dead and wounded. Many, however, remained behind, and although the firing was now light, it was continuous.

By this time the ammunition in the Fort was well-nigh exhausted, and it was barely possible that if the enemy had again attempted to storm the works, the small garrison might have been overpowered by sheer stress of overwhelming numbers. But his disastrous experience of that day deterred him, and his offensive operations were confined to sharp-shooting from the buildings. This was kept up until nearly midnight, when the firing ceased entirely, and the rebels left the town. Colonel Hicks's announcement to the garrison that their ammunition had almost given out, but that they would defend themselves with the bayonet, was received with loud cheers, and showed a determination to fight to the last. That was an anxious night to the occupants of the Fort. The knowledge that their means of defence would not, if attacked, last much longer, that the enemy was still within gun-shot of them


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S. G. Hicks (3)
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