Doc. 70.-Captain Birch's expedition
Into Marion County, Ark., Dec. 12.
Ozark, Mo., Dec. 18, 1862.sir: I have the honor of reporting to you for the information of the Commanding General the result of a scout commanded by me in Marion County, Arkansas. By permission from Captain Flagg, commanding this post, I took command of forty men composed of detachments from companies D, F, G, and H, Second battalion, Fourteenth regiment cavalry Missouri State militia, and on the morning of the ninth instant marched for Lawrence's Mill, a distance of thirty-five miles. I arrived at the mill early in the night, and remained there till noon of the tenth, waiting for forage. During this time I held a consultation with the officers of my command and those of the enrolled militia stationed at the mill, in regard to the direction we should take. It had been my intention to make an expedition into the White River country below Dubuque, where it is said a band of marauders have a considerable number of horses. These marauders I wished to destroy or drive out, and to capture their horses; but having received information that a rebel captain by the name of Mooney, with seventy-five men, were encamped on Tolbert's Ferry on White River, sixty miles from us, I resolved, with the advice of the other officers, to go and capture them. I received a reenforcement of sixty men from the enrolled militia at the mill, and marched twenty miles in the direction of Tolbert's Ferry. The march was continued on the morning of the eleventh, but instead of keeping the road, I bore to the eastward and marched through the woods under the guidance of an excellent woodsman, by the name of Willoughby Hall. I arrived within eight miles of the Ferry by dusk, and stopped to feed and rest in the dense forest near an out of the way corn-field. During the time of our stay at this place I sent Lieut. John R. Kelso with eight men to capture some rebel pickets that I supposed would be at the house of a rebel by the name of Brixy. Lieut. Kelso soon returned, having found and captured two rebels with their guns and one horse; from the prisoners I learned that Captain Mooney's men had temporarily disbanded, and were not to assemble again for two days. I felt a little disappointed upon the reception of this intelligence, but I determined to proceed and make a dash upon a band of armed rebels that, I learned, were at the Saltpetre Cave, on the other side of White River, seven miles from Captain Mooney's house. At midnight my little band emerged from the dark woods where we had been resting, and silently wound among the hills in the direction of Captain Mooney's. Lieut. Kelso led the advance, and by the most excellent management succeeded in capturing seven or eight rebels who lived near the road, without giving any alarm to the country around. Just before day we captured a rebel recruiting officer by the name of Mings, formerly a Lieutenant-Colonel. At the break of day we reached Capt. Mooney's residence; we took him with one other man, together with fifteen stand of small arms, most of which we destroyed, not being able to carry them. We also recaptured eight horses which had been taken from the enrolled militia, stationed at Lawrence's  Mill. I remained here to feed and to await the arrival of a party that I had sent out with orders to meet me at this point; they soon came in bringing several prisoners. I then sent Captain Green of the enrolled militia back with the prisoners, seventeen in number, and twenty-five men as an escort. I then divided the rest of my command into two divisions, sending one under command of Captain Salee, accompanied by Lieut. Bates, formerly of the Sixty-fourth Illinois, to march up the river on this side, and to await in concealment till I began the attack with the other division, which was to cross and approach from the other side. It was just noon when we arrived at the cave. The rebels were at their dinner, all unconscious of our approach. When at last they discovered us, they mistook us for a company of their own men, whom they were expecting, and they did not discover their error until we were in half-pistol shot of them. I ordered them to surrender, which they did without firing a gun. They numbered twenty-three, of whom three were left, being unable to travel. Their guns were mostly shot-guns and rifles, which I ordered to be destroyed. We also captured four mules and two wagons; the wagons, however, we could not bring away. Also, three horses were taken. I then ordered the saltpetre works to be destroyed, which was effectually done. These are gigantic works, having cost the rebel government thirty thousand dollars. Capt. McNamar, who was in command, stated that in three days they could have had six thousand dollars' worth of saltpetre ready for use. These works, though reported as destroyed at the time of the burning of Yellville, had been unmolested since early last spring when they were slightly injured by a detachment from General Curtis's army. The works being destroyed, and learning that a party of Burris's command were hourly expected, I thought better to retire, as I was already encumbered with prisoners. I marched nearly all night through the dark woods, the rain pouring down upon us in torrents. On the next day we advanced as far as Little North Fork, which is not fordable. Here we remained till the morning of the thirteenth, when we crossed and reached Lawrence Mill. On the fifteenth we reached this place, having been absent seven days, travelled two hundred and twenty-five miles, captured forty-two prisoners, destroyed forty stand of small arms, also captured twelve horses and four mules, and destroyed thirty thousand dollars' worth of machinery, etc., and all without any loss whatever on my side. In conclusion, I must say a word in praise of the brave men under my command. Often without any food except parched corn, and no shelter from the chilling rains, deprived of sleep, and weary from long night-marches, not a murmur was heard; every hardship was borne with cheerfulness, and every danger met with the utmost coolness. The enrolled militia officers, Captains Salee, Green, and Huffman, all did their duty well. Lieut. Bates, of the Sixty-fourth Illinois, showed himself a brave soldier. Lieut. Warren, of company F, also deserves favorable notice. As to Lieut. Kelso, his reputation as an intrepid soldier and skilful officer is too well known to require any comment at this time. These, Major, I think, are all the facts worthy of notice. I am, very respectfully, your ob't servant,
Major James H. Steger, A. A. General.
Major James H. Steger, A. A. General.
Milton Birch, Captain Commanding Expedition.
St. Louis, Dec. 25, 1862.The conduct of the officers and soldiers who conducted and bore the privations of this expedition deserve my special commendation. This report will be entered fully on my “battle-book,” and furnished the press for publicity, with this indorsement.
S. R. Curtis, Major-General.