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Doc. 186.-Clayton's raid in Arkansas.

A National account.

Helena, Arkansas, May 15, 1863.
Having been along with the expedition that has just returned from White River, Bayou de Vieu, and Saint Francis, I will endeavor to give you a slight sketch of the most important incidents, and of the battle at Mount Vernon, Saint Francis County, between Colonel Carter's Texas Rangers and the Fifth Kansas cavalry, under Lieutenant-Colonel Jenkins.

On the morning of the sixth ultimo, an expedition left this point, having for its object the thorough scouring of the country lying west, to the White River, north to Bayou de Vieu, and east to the Saint Francis, the destruction of all forage likely to subsist the enemy, and ascertaining the whereabouts of General Price's forces, who were reported as marching upon this place from Little Rock.

The troops comprising this expedition were the Fifth Illinois cavalry, four hundred men; the Fifth Kansas cavalry, three hundred and twenty-five men; First Indiana cavalry, two hundred and fifty men, and one section of the Dubuque battery; all under command of Colonel Powell Clayton, Fifth Kansas cavalry, at present commanding the Second brigade, Second cavalry division, army of Tennessee.

They all left on the Little Rock road; but about six miles out, the infantry took the Moreau and Cotton Plant road, expecting to meet Coleman at Switzer's, on the prairie, seven miles from Cotton Plant. The cavalry marched to the crossing of Big Creek the first day, and proceeded to build a pontoon-bridge, the rebels having burned the old bridge early last fall. That night, by midnight, the bridge was completed, and by noon the next day the whole command was safely over. We then marched to within eight miles of Clarendon, and encamped upon a plantation where the rebels kept a picket-post. Our men fired upon their pickets, killing one and taking one prisoner. They also got a fine Sharpe's target rifle and uniform coat — confederate, of course.

On the morning of the eighth the Colonel sent Lieutenant-Colonel Jenkins, with the Fifth Kansas, off the road about eight miles, for the purpose of getting a camp of negroes, who were sent there by their masters to keep them out of our way.

Taking a guide, they made their way through almost impassable “bayous” and “soughs” until they reached the island. Here they met the “darkies,” men, women, and children, mounted on mules, ponies, and horses. They immediately turned and fled; and now commenced a scene which baffles description. The boys after them, and the Colonel foremost, shouting at the top of their voices for them to stop, that no harm was meant them. After an exciting chase of half an hour, they were all overtaken except three. They gave as their reason for running that they had been told we would take and put them in our front in battle, and thus they would all be killed. We found at a house on this island, canister shot for six-pounder guns, and a large amount of powder and lead, all of which we destroyed. We reached Switzer's that night, and found infantry and all there. We had met no enemy so far, except an occasional guerrilla squad. After grazing our jaded horses, (for there was no corn,) we started next morning for Madison, on the Saint Francis, and Wittsburgh, fifteen or twenty miles above, while the infantry returned to Helena by way of Moreau, Marianna, and Lagrange.

The road from Switzer's to the l'anguille River is known as the Military road, and goes to Memphis. For about six miles it leads through a level prairie, and then striking the timber, it is a corduroy or causeway, not wide enough to turn a wagon on, and a deep ditch on either side, until it strikes the l'anguille at a point known as the Bridge, some twenty or twenty-five miles from Switzer's, and twenty miles west and north of Madison.

About one mile west of the bridge is where the Fourth Iowa cavalry was surprised and defeated last fall by the Texans. Colonel Clayton stopped here with the First Indiana and the artillery, sending Colonel Jenkins forward to Taylor's Creek, five miles distant, with the Fifth Kansas and Fifth Illinois.

We camped that night (the tenth) at Dr. Cobb's, one of the murderers of Lipps, a Union man. This Cobb, with his brother and twenty-five other miscreants, went to Lipp's house, knocked his wife down with a revolver, and murdered Lipps in cold blood, and all this for his outspoken and determined Unionism. Dozens of persons will testify to this to the very letter. [602] Cobb had taken the precaution to leave, and is safe at Little Rock. Let him beware, should ever the Fifth Kansas get him; a short shrift and a long rope will be his reward.

The next morning, about two P. M., a despatch came, ordering the Colonel (as we understood) to proceed to Hugh's Ferry, via Mount Vernon, and ascertain the whereabouts of Dobbins's regiment of guerrillas, as well as the practicability of crossing the whole command at that place, and report to Colonel Clayton by message that afternoon. At six A. M. of the eleventh we started, and after going over the hills of Crowley's ridge, about fifteen miles, we came down into the l'anguille bottom. We followed the base of the ridge down to McDaniel's Mills, seven miles from the ferry, taking its owner prisoner. We burned the mill, which had been grinding for the rebels all winter, and in this bottom alone we destroyed by fire about fifty thousand or sixty thousand bushels of corn.

A negro here came into camp, stating that General Marmaduke had six thousand men up at Wittsburgh, and that there was a plan laid to cut us off, as follows: Dobbins was to be at the ferry with five hundred men, while a column was to attack us from above. A consultation was held, and then the Fifth Illinois started for the Widow Hinton's, four miles above, at the foot of the ridge, to feed; and as soon as our regiment had fed, the bugle sounded to horse, and we started for Taylor's Creek, where Colonel Clayton was to meet us, or remain to hear from us. Passing the Fifth Illinois about four P. M., we proceeded to a point about five miles beyond; and when nearing Mount Vernon, the quick, sharp report of the rifles of the advanced guard notified us of the proximity of the enemy; a loud and more sonorous volley informed us that they had replied with their double-barrelled shot-guns.

Colonel Jenkins immediately rode to the front, and the regiment came up at a sharp gallop. They found the enemy drawn up in a line across the ridge, about one hundred yards in advance. The Colonel now ordered the regiment to dismount, keeping about eight or ten men to hold every forty horses; and company A was deployed to the right, and another company to the left, and ordered to move forward as skirmishers, other companies covering the centre.

And now commenced an engagement, lasting about three quarters of an hour, our men driving the rebels before them with loud cheers; breaking their line three different times, and punishing them severely.

At length they appeared in such force that it was deemed advisable to choose a favorable position and make a stand. We were on a wide oak ridge, and had forced the enemy back about one third of a mile.

A large oak tree had been thrown nearly across the road by a storm, and the road had to bend a little to get around it; having no branches, it afforded an excellent cover for about forty men. Here we were ordered to halt. The centre was now strengthened, the flanks and rear well guarded; and though the rebels kept up an almost continuous volley, it seemed to be felt by both officers and men that their real force was yet to come.

The rebels were about eighty yards from us, in line across the road, when they poured in a heavy volley, and parted to the right and left, making way for those from behind.

And now a sight met our eyes well calculated to make the sternest heart quail. A regiment or column of cavalry was seen coming down upon us at full speed — the officers waving their sabres, encouraging their men. When within sixty yards, the whole column broke out into a mad yell, such as might have come from ten thousand Camanche Indians.

Then it was that our Lieutenant-Colonel showed of what stuff he was made. Sitting calmly and bravely on his horse, right amidst his men, he encouraged them both by orders and example. “Reserve your fire, men, until they are close on you, and then let every shot tell.” And how they obeyed, the sequel but too well showed. When within thirty or forty yards, they were met by such a storm of balls as made many a gallant rider bite the dust; and though the weight and impetus of the column carried them almost to us, the fire was so severe and concentrated they broke right and left and retreated, leaving several dead and wounded behind. In the course of fifteen minutes, or perhaps thirty, during which time they kept up a constant firing, the same thing was repeated again.

This time a large and fine-looking officer was at their very head, while a little on one side rode a richly dressed field-officer, whom our men recognized immediately as Colonel Carter, he having been in our camp three days last fall when here with a flag of truce.

On they came, with that same wild yell, more desperate from their first repulse; and now their confederate flag was seen waving close to the front. When they are close up, “Give it to them, boys, and fire low!” was the Colonel's orders, as he sat watching the coming shock, while the lead was whistling all around him; and well they obeyed the order. The Captain leading the column fell, shot through and through, within striking distance of our men. Colonel Carter here went down, whilst the color-sergeant tumbled headlong from his saddle close to us. And here a piece of bravery and gallantry was performed. worthy of the far-famed ranger. After a more terrible punishment than before, they broke in the same way, and just as the last of the column wheeled off to the right, a ranger noticed his colors, and swinging himself clear over to one side, gathered them up and rode off.

And now a piteous scene presented itself — the ground was strewn with dead and wounded rebels, the wounding asking beseechingly for water. “For God's sake, water!” and though the fight was not over, our men procured a little in a ravine near by, and gave it to them.

The Captain proved to be Captain McKee, company [603] B, Twenty-first Texas, a large man weighing about two hundred and twenty-five pounds. He informed us it was Colonel Carter's brigade, and that his regiment had never before been repulsed in a charge. Upon questioning him, we also learned that Colonel Clayton had fell back west of the bridge, and that there were two brigades between us; also that they intended to cut us off from the crossing at Hugh's Ferry. In a few minutes they attempted a third charge, but only came part way, gave a faint cheer and fell back once more.

They now opened on us with artillery, and it was deemed prudent to withdraw. Their loss in killed was nearly thirty, and wounded about three times as many. Our own loss was only one killed and fourteen wounded. We attribute the large disproportion of wounded to their shot-guns.

Our men took from the dead several trophies in the way of revolvers, shot-guns, etc.

The Fifth Illinois now came up, the recall was sounded, and we retired in perfect order.

We reached the ferry about midnight. At day-light on the morning of the twelfth, we commenced crossing our horses, and by noon we had swam seven hundred and twenty-five horses over a deep river one hundred yards wide, and crossed all the men without a single accident. The infantry returning to Marianna, caused Dobbins to change camp.

The Fifth Kansas will now bet their bottom dollar on their Lieutenant-Colonel, as well as their Majors, Sam Walker and T. W. Scudder.

Col. Clayton arrived at Helena on the morning of the thirteenth, and the Fifth came in that night.

Colonel Clayton drove the rebels back at Taylor's Creek and made good his retreat to Helena.

Altogether this is the most important scout ever made from Helena — so says General Prentiss. Marmaduke has been again repulsed with loss, and General Prentiss has received certain information of his whereabouts. He destroyed over one hundred thousand bushels of corn for the enemy, and brought a good many negroes out of slavery. Excuse the length of this letter; but as this has made quite a stir, I thought you would like some items.

P. S.--Our surgeon, who was left with two wounded men, we having no ambulances, has just returned, and reports that he saw two captains and two lieutenants who were killed, and two lieutenants severely wounded. Also, eighteen privates so severely wounded as to have beds; they admit they were beaten. Colonel Clayton defeated them at Taylor's Creek, with the First Indiana, and Colonel Jenkins at Mt. Vernon with the Fifth Kansas--a punishment they will not soon forget.

O. S.

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Powell Clayton (9)
Charles Jenkins (5)
Switzer (4)
G. W. Carter (4)
Dobbins (3)
Prentiss (2)
J. Marmaduke (2)
Madison (2)
Lipps (2)
Thomas R. R. Cobb (2)
Sam Walker (1)
Sharpe (1)
Sergeant (1)
T. W. Scudder (1)
Sterling Price (1)
A. McKee (1)
Lagrange (1)
Camanche Indians (1)
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Crowley (1)
Coleman (1)
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May 15th, 1863 AD (1)
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6th (1)
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