Doc. 63.-fight near Coffeeville, Miss.
Chicago Tribune account.
in camp north of the Taconapatafa, seventeen miles South of Oxford, Miss., December 6, 1862.when I penned my last letter, we were hotly pressing the rear of Gen. Van Dorn's retreating column, and fully expected to encamp to-day at Coffeeville. From here to Grenada is but eleven miles, and here we thought to spend the Sabbath. We did propose to capture Coffeeville, but just as the hand was outstretched which was to inclose them within its grasp, they managed to escape, and came near inclosing us within their grip. Not to put too fine a point upon it, they came very near capturing our whole command, and making a muss of the expedition. My narrative left us at Water Valley, with the following order of march for the morrow: Col. Mizener with the Third brigade in the advance; Col. Lee with the First brigade in the centre, and Col. Hatch with the Second brigade in the rear. This order was changed in the morning by Col. Mizener taking a road running parallel with the Coffeeville road, which brought him to the rear of Col. Lee's column when he reached it. The column was thus led by Colonel Lee. At seven o'clock Friday morning, the column started in the order indicated above. At a proper distance from the river, a large advance-guard was sent forward, and a company of mounted men deployed to the right and left of the road as skirmishers. At this point the skirmishing became heavy, and the enemy holding their ground, Colonel Lee brought forward a ten-pounder James rifled gun, and unlimbered the piece. Hardly had our gun opened before a full rebel battery replied, and dropped solid shot, grape, and canister, in rapid succession, before, behind, and all about us. At least a hundred shots were fired before there was any cessation. While this cannonading was going on, in front were heard rapid, heavy, and continuous volleys of musketry. It proved that our dismounted skirmishers, moving slowly over a low piece of ground, driving those of the enemy, were suddenly confronted by long double lines of infantry, which rose from the ground where they had been concealed, and poured volley after volley of musketry into our ranks. Our skirmishers, of course, fell back precipitately, save those whose dead and wounded bodies lay before this fearful fire. Meantime the enemy's battery was sending its fiery messengers into our midst, two shells bursting within ten feet of our gun. The rebels had our range exactly, and served their battery admirably.
The retrograde movement.At once Colonels Dickey and Lee discovered that the position was untenable, and that a force far different in character and strength from any they had anticipated was attacking us, and that a retrograde movement must be executed and speedily. Flanking parties and skirmishers were at once called in and sent back, and slowly the gun with its support of dismounted rifles moved backward. Two squadrons of the Fourth Illinois cavalry, under Capt. Townsend, were left in front to delay the advance of the army. Hardly had our gun crossed the valley and reached the position from which we had first fired, when our advance and protecting squadrons followed us, driven before the enemy's infantry, who were charging forward with cheers and yells. On our right advanced two regiments of rebel infantry with their colors; on our centre another, while two more regiments were marching in column toward our left flank, endeavoring to attack  that exposed point; simultaneously with our gun opened the deadly revolving rifles of our dismounted cavalry. The enemy fell in heaps; but for every one killed two stepped forward to take his place. Their impetuous charge could not be stopped, and when they were within four rods of the mouth of our cannon Colonel Lee ordered the piece limbered up and moved to the rear. All behind us now was woods, hills, and deep ravines. For a moment covering the retreat of the gun, our riflemen held the enemy in check, and then slowly retired up the hill, halting every few rods to throw a volley on the advancing lines now immediately on their rear. Thus did they march for a quarter of a mile — a march through a continued storm of leaden rain. Arriving at the top of the hill, the eyes of our brave boys were gladdened by the sight of two long extended lines of kneeling riflemen flanking each side of the road. As I have before indicated, two regiments of rebel infantry--one in line, the other in column — were advancing on double-quick, cheering like madmen. Hatch reserved his fire until the enemy was within twenty yards, and now up rose our gallant cavalry and forth rolled the volleys like echoing thunder. Five rapid discharges from three hundred rifles would check a stronger than this rebel force. They halted, wavered, and fell back; but new accessions being received, the enemy advanced upon our left and right flanks. To avoid being cut off, our boys fell back through the dense timber, contesting every inch of the ground as they retired. Meantime new lines were formed, fresh troops were brought up from the rear, and wearied ones marched back. But as fast as those orders could be executed, fresh troops were brought against them. The great danger was from flanking movements, which the enemy's great numbers allowed him easily to make, and a hasty retreat was ordered. So went the battle for two long hours. Up and down the wooded hills till night fell, and the moon shone out bright and clear to light the work of death, continued the struggle. Officers and men did nobly. Colonels Dickey, Lee, and Mizener, Lieut.-Colonels Prince and McCullough, Majors Coon, Love, and Rickards, and those under them, were everywhere exposed to the most galling fire, and personally directed the movements of their commands. One of Col. Lee's best officers was killed, and five of Col. Hatch's were wounded. Lieut.-Col. McCullough, of the Fourth Illinois cavalry, fell bravely at the head of his column, shot in the breast. He is doubtless dead, or, if alive, a prisoner. Col. Hatch's horse was killed under him, and Colonel Lee's disabled by a Minie bullet. At length, having continued this expensive pursuit for three miles, the enemy desisted and drew off his forces. Our column formed again and again, but backward we passed over the road of the morning, having by the sacrifice of precious blood demonstrated the proposition that two thousand cavalry, in a country where they cannot act as such, cannot cope successfully with five thousand infantry. We reached our camping ground at nine o'clock in the evening, and after a feed and rest for our horses, at two o'clock in the morning we were in the saddle, and headed for our present camp, where we arrived at eight o'clock this morning. We have had a toilsome and exhausting march, and both men and horses need to recuperate. I do not know in what direction will be our next movement. And now comes my saddest duty — to record the list of killed, wounded and missing.