previous next

Doc. 100. the battle of Fredericktown, Mo.

Official report of Colonel Plummer.

Headquarters camp Fremont, Cape Girardeau, Mo., Oct. 26, 1861.
General: Pursuant to your order of the 16th, I left this post on the 18th instant, with about fifteen hundred men, and marched upon Fredericktown via Jackson and Dallas, where I arrived at twelve o'clock on Monday, the 21st instant; finding there Colonel Carlin with about three thousand men who had arrived at nine o'clock that morning. He gave me a portion of his command, which I united with my own, and immediately started in pursuit of Thompson, who was reported to have evacuated the town the day before and retreated toward Greenville. I found him, however, occupying a position about one mile out of town, on the Greenville road, which he has held since about nine o'clock A. M., and immediately attacked him. The battle lasted about two hours and a half, and resulted in the total defeat of Thompson, and rout of all his forces, consisting of about three thousand five hundred men. Their loss was severe, ours very light. Among their killed was Lowe. On the following day I pursued Thompson twenty-two miles on the Greenville road, for the purpose of capturing his train, but finding further pursuit useless, and believing Pilot Knob secure and the object of the expedition accomplished, I returned to this post, where I arrived last evening, having been absent seven days and a half.

I brought with me forty-two prisoners, one iron twelve-pounder field-piece, a number of small-arms and horses, taken upon the field.

I will forward a detailed report of the battle as soon as reports from colonels of regiments and commanders of corps are received. am, very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

J. B. Plummer, Colonel Eleventh Missouri Volunteers Commanding. to Assistant Adjutant-General, Headquarters District Southeast Missouri, Cairo, Illinois.


General Grant to Colonel Plummer.

Headquarters District southeast Missouri, Cairo, October 21, 1861.
Colonel J. B. Plummer, commanding United States Forces, Cape Girardeau, Mo.:
Colonel: Your report of the expedition under your command is received. I congratulate you, and the officers and soldiers of the expedition, upon the result.

But little doubt can be entertained of the success of our arms, when not opposed by superior numbers; and in the action of Fredericktown they have given proof of courage and determination which shows that they would undergo any fatigue or hardships to meet our rebellious brethren, even at great odds.

Our loss, small as it was, is to be regretted; but the friends and relatives of those who fell can congratulate themselves in the midst of their affliction, that they fell in maintaining the cause of constitutional freedom and the integrity of a flag erected in the first instance at a sacrifice of many of the noblest lives that ever graced a nation.

In conclusion, say to your troops they have done nobly. It goes to prove that much more may be expected of them when the country and our great cause calls upon them.

Yours, &c.,

U. S. Grant. Brigadier-General Commanding.

The report.

Headquarters, camp Fremont, Cape Girardeau, Mo., October 31, 1861.
sir: I have the honor to submit the following report of my recent expedition to Fredericktown:

I received the order on the 17th instant, and on the following morning marched with about fifteen hundred men, composed of the Seventeenth and Twentieth regiments of Illinois Volunteers, commanded by Colonels Ross and Marsh, the Eleventh Missouri under the immediate command of Lieutenant-Colonel Pennabaker, Lieut. White's section of Taylor's battery, and Captains Steward and Lansden's companies of cavalry, under the command of the former, with rations for twelve days.

Learning that Thompson and his forces were at Fredericktown instead of Farmington, I took the road from Jackson to Dallas for the purpose of cutting off their retreat south, should they attempt it. From my camp at Dallas, on Saturday night I despatched a messenger with a communication for the commanding officer at Pilot Knob, requesting his cooperation, which unfortunately fell into the hands of the enemy, and gave them information of my intention to attack them on Monday morning. On my arrival at Fredericktown at twelve o'clock on Monday, the 21st, I found the town had been occupied since eight o'clock that morning by Colonel Carlin with about three thousand men from Pilot Knob. The townspeople stated that Thompson had evacuated the town the evening before, and was en route for Greenville.

Being determined to pursue the enemy, Co. Carlin consented to reinforce me with the Twenty-first and Thirty-third regiments of Illinois Volunteers, commanded by Colonels Alexander and Hovey, six companies of the first Indiana Cavalry, commanded by Col. Baker, and one section of Major Schofield's battery, under Lieut. Hascock. The column, thus reinforced, was put in motion about one oa clock P. M., and had not proceeded over half a mile on the Greenville road, when the enemy was discovered in front of us by Capt. Stewart, whose vigilance and untiring energy during the whole march were conspicuous.

Col. Ross, whose regiment was the leading one of the column, immediately deployed it to the left into a lane, and threw forward two companies as skirmishers, to feel the enemy, whose exact position and strength it was difficult to determine. As soon as 1 arrived at the front, I directed Col. Ross to move forward his regiment into the cornfield in support of his skirmishers, and ordered up Lieut. White's section of Taylor's battery, which immediately opened fire, and by its effectiveness soon caused the the enemy to respond. Their artillery consisted of four pieces, masked, upon the slope of a lill about six hundred yards distant. The principal body of their infantry, under Col. Lowe, was posted in the cornfield to the left of the road. With them the Seventeenth Illinois was soon engaged. The other regiments of the column were deployed to the right and left of the road as they came up. I then ordered forward the Thirty-eighth Illinois from the town, which promptly came upon the field under one of its field officers, leaving there the Eighth Wisconsin, under Col. Murphy, and one section of Major Schofield's battery in reserve — a post of honor, though one disagreeable to them, as all were eager to participate in the engagement.

As soon as it was practicable, Major Schofield, of the First Missouri Volunteer Light Artillery, brought upon the field two sections of his battery under Captain Matter and Lieutenant Hascock, which Were placed in position, and did efficient service. At my request, he then aided me in bringing the regiments on the right of the road into line of battle, and during the remainder of the day he rendered valuable service in directing their movements.

In the mean time the enemy were falling back before the steady advance and deadly fire of the Seventeenth and Twentieth Illinois, and a portion of the Eleventh Missouri. Their retreat soon became a rout, and they fled in every direction, pursued by our troops.

It was at this time that the enemy's infantry on our right, where Thompson commanded in person, being also in retreat, I ordered the Indiana Cavalry to charge and pursue them. Thompson, however, had rallied a portion of his troops, about half a mile in the rear of his first position, and brought one gun into battery on the road, supported by infantry on either side. The cavalry charged and took the gun, [222] and were exposed at the same time to a deadly fire from the enemy's infantry; but as the column I had ordered forward to their support, did not reach the point in time, the enemy were enabled to carry the piece from the field. It was here that fell two of Indiana's noblest and bravest sons--Major Gavitt and Captain Highman.

The rout now became general, and the enemy were pursued by our troops for several miles, until the approach of night induced me to recall them to town. Capt. Stewart, however, with his squadron of cavalry followed them until late in the night, and brought in several prisoners. One field-piece was taken by the Seventeenth Illinois, under Col. Ross, whose gallantry during the action, as well as his promptness at the commencement, are indications of the true soldier. I would remark that Col. Carlin, though exhausted by a long night's march, and claiming to rank me. came upon the field during the engagement, and reported to me in person for orders, remarking that as I had commenced the battle he would not interfere; and he obeyed my instructions during the remainder of the day.

It is with pleasure that I bear testimony to the good conduct of all the troops under my command, and to the promptness with which every order was obeyed.

Capt. George P. Edgar, who was my assistant adjutant-general, deserves special notice for the valuable service he rendered throughout the day, as also Capt. Taggart, Commissary of Subsistence, Lient. Mitchell, of Capt. Campbell's battery of light artillery, and Lieut. Henry, of the Eleventh Missouri, who acted as my aids.

On the following morning, with the greater portion of the force, I pursued the enemy for ten miles on the Greenville road, and sent forward a reconnoitring party of cavalry twelve miles beyond. Finding further pursuit would be useless, and having but four days rations for my command, I returned to Fredericktown the next day, and on the morning of the 24th inst. commenced my march for this place, where I arrived the following evening.

There were taken upon the field eighty prisoners, of whom thirty-eight were wounded, and left at Fredericktown. Our loss consisted of six killed and sixty wounded.

The enemy's force was about four thousand men, though some of the wounded stated it was six thousand. Their loss was very great. One hundred and fifty-eight of their dead were buried by our troops before my departure from Fredericktown, and many other bodies had been found.

I herewith append the reports of Cols. Ross, Marsh, Hovey, Baker, Lieut.-Col. Pennabaker, Maj. Schofield, Capt. Stewart, and Lieut. White, to which I would respectfully refer you for the operations of their respective commands.

Before closing this report, I feel it but proper to revert to some events which followed the victory, for the purpose of explanation, and to correct misrepresentations in regard to them.

I learned from Doctors Golden and Lamden, who came into Fredericktown after the battle, with a flag of truce, for the purpose of obtaining the body of Col. Lowe and burying their dead, that Thompson left the town with his forces the evening previous, and marched about ten miles toward Greenville, where he left his train. He then proceeded by another road to the point where he expected to find me encamped, intending to attack me at daylight in the morning; but finding I had taken a different route, he returned without passing through the town, and assumed the position he occupied at nine o'clock A. M.

The soldiers, after their return to town, believing the citizens, who nearly all sympathized with the enemy, had cooperated with them in their endeavor to lead us into an ambuscade, became exasperated, and some few acts of violence ensued. Six or seven buildings were burned. I exerted myself with many of the officers to put a stop to the incendiarism, and finally succeeded. I will not attempt to justify such acts of violence; but if any thing could palliate them, it would be the deserted homes and desolated fields of our Union friends, which I witnessed upon the march.

I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

J. B. Plummer, Col. Eleventh Mo. Vols. Com. To Capt. J. A. Rawlings, A. A.-G., Dist. S. E. Mo., Cairo, Ill.

Official report of Col. Marsh.

Headquarters Twentieth regiment Ill. Vols. Cape Girardeau, October 26, 1861.
sir: In accordance with your request, I have the honor to submit my official report of the action of the 21st:

On Monday, the 21st inst., the regiment marched twelve miles from camp to Fredericktown, where a halt was ordered. After resting about an hour and a half, I was ordered, with the rest of the brigade, to march toward Greenville, and took my place in line in rear of the Seventeenth Illinois--being third in position, Capt. Stewart's squadron of cavalry leading the march. The march had continued scarcely a mile when the column was halted and information passed along the line that the enemy were in position directly in front.

A moment afterward, Col. Plummer, commanding the brigade, came up, ordered forward Taylor's section of artillery, and ordered me to take position on the extreme right. While moving to my place, the battle was commenced by our battery, which opened on the enemy, and was immediately replied to. I had just formed in line of battle when I was ordered to move to the left and support the Seventeenth Illinois, who were already engaged with the enemy concealed in the cornfield on the left. Assuming the position ordered, I directed the third division of my regiment to act as a reserve, [223] and deploying the remainder as skirmishers, advanced and engaged the enemy

Shortly after I came into action, the infantry of Col. Lowe commenced retreating from the cornfield and the shelter of the fences which concealed them; they then exposed themselves to a raking fire from my left wing, which was poured in with terrible effect. At this point I sent four prisoners and six of the enemy's wounded to the rear.

While in line of battle and in deploying as skirmishers, we were exposed to the enemy's batteries, which kept up a constant discharge of grape and round shot, which flew thickly around; but, owing to the poor manner in which they handled their guns, we fortunately escaped uninjured. Two grape-shot passed through the colors, as did several rifle-balls.

Shortly after the retreat of Col. Lowe, firing ceased from the enemy's batteries, and I pushed on as rapidly as possible in pursuit of the force opposed, who appeared to be retreating en masse, Lieut.-Col. Irwin, with the right wing, being on the right side of the Greenville road, and Major Goodwin, with the left wing, on the left side of the same road, my colors in the centre of the road.

While moving forward in this manner, many of the enemy were killed or wounded as they retreated. Shortly after passing the place where the enemy's batteries had been, Col. Baker, with the Indiana cavalry, passed me in pursuit of the retreating forces. I immediately pushed forward to support him. The cavalry had passed me but a few moments, when I heard a discharge of artillery and a volley of musketry in front, and almost immediately after Col. Baker, with a portion of his cavalry, returned, requesting me to hurry forward, and stating that the enemy had planted their batteries in front of him, and that the infantry were behind fences in such a position that he could not charge on them. I at once moved on at a double-quick, passing Col. Baker's cavalry, who were drawn up on each side of the road. At this time Lieut.-Col. Irwin discovered from the right a battery, a short distance in advance, with the Union flag flying. As he had been concealed from the road for some distance by the timber through which he passed, he supposed them to be some of our own forces who had passed while he was out of sight, and, fearful of injuring friends, he withheld his fire. While still approaching them, they limbered up and moved off at a run.

At this point several of the retreating forces were killed and wounded. About this time Col. Carlin, of the Thirty-eighth Illinois, at the head of not more than two companies, came up the road. I pushed on ahead of him, pursuing the enemy. When about two miles and a half from our starting point, my left wing emerged from the timber into an open field. At this instant I discovered a short distance ahead a number of cavalry, whom I supposed from their dress to be Union troops. I rode up to a house a short distance in front, and was informed that they were Union men. I immediately ordered my left wing, who were firing into them, to cease firing, fearful that they would kill our own forces. On riding up to the spot, we ascertained from a wounded man that they were the rear-guard of the enemy, and that Jeff. Thompson in person was with them. Pursuing them at a double-quick, I succeeded in getting within long range of them at a turn of the road, and fired, killing one. At this time I was about three miles and a half from our original position, and received an order to halt and return to Fredericktown, which I did.

During the engagement and pursuit my command behaved with coolness, and my orders were obeyed with a readiness truly commendable, taking into consideration the fact that it was the first time they were ever under fire.

When all do well, the mention of individual names is unnecessary.

My field and staff were in their proper positions, and afforded me efficient aid in the discharge of my duties. Rev. Charles Button, Chaplain of my regiment, was on the field, and was untiring in his efforts to aid the wounded and dying.

I am happy to report only three wounded and none killed, which, considering the long time we were under fire, is truly remarkable.

Herewith I send a list of the wounded, and a report of Dr. Goodbrake, surgeon of the regiment.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, Your obedient servant,

C. C. Marsh, Colonel Twentieth Illinois Volunteers To Col. J. B. Plummer, Commanding.

Colonel Carlin's report.

Headquarters 38TH Illinois Volunteers, Fredericktown, Mo., Oct. 23, 1861.
His Excellency Gov. Yates, Springfield, Ill.:
I have the honor to report to you that this regiment was engaged in the battle at this place on the 21st instant, and, like all our troops, displayed the greatest enthusiasm in our cause. The enemy retreated so fast that but three of our companies, Capt. Alden's, Capt. Rodrig's, and Capt. Young's, (commanded by Lient. H. Tyner,) came in close conflict with them. These three companies were detached as skirmishers, and were in advance of the regiment. We pursued the enemy three miles from the first position occupied by him, when night put a stop to our pursuit. All the officers present and all the men did their whole duty, and were only disappointed at not having a harder contest. My Adjutant, Lieutenant Bailhache, was acting as my Adjutant-General on the field, and deserves great praise for his useful services. Major D. H. Gilmer commanded the main body of the regiment, the three companies above specified being under my own direction. We, fortunately, [224] have no killed or wounded in the regiment to report. I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

W. P. Carlin, Colonel 38th Illinois Volunteers.

An eye-witness gives the following details of the engagement:--

Fredericktown, Mo., Oct. 22, 1861.
We have met the enemy and they are ours.” Illinois has made another impression upon the rebels of Missouri; her gallant sons have fully sustained her reputation of former years, and given the lie to any slanderous imputations that may have been preferred against her; her blood has flowed freely in the defence of her country's honor, and nobly has she vindicated it.

Last Sunday the order was issued for the troops stationed at Pilot Knob to march on Fredericktown, the rebels supposed to be intrenched at that place four thousand strong, under command of Jeff. Thompson. At three o'clock in the afternoon they took up their line of march in the following order:

The Indiana Cavalry in the lead, under command of Colonel Baker, between four and five hundred. Then came the Twenty-first Illinois, Colonel Alexander commanding. Next came a battery of six pieces, under command of Major Schofield. Then followed the Thirty-eighth and Thirty-third Illinois, and the Eighth Wisconsin; making in all a force of three thousand five hundred men. At St. Francis Bridge we made a halt of about two hours, and then continued on toward Fredericktown, where we arrived at eight o'clock on the 21st, only to find that the enemy had evacuated the place the day before. The men were very much disappointed, and very anxious to give pursuit, although we had made a march of twenty-five miles since three o'clock of the day before, and were nearly exhausted.

At twelve o'clock of the same day a force of about three thousand arrived from Cape Girardeau, consisting of the Seventeenth Illinois, the Twentieth Illinois, and two companies of Illinois Cavalry, and a battery of two guns. They were sent to cooperate with Colonel Carlin, in capturing the rebels. Colonel Carlin concluded to pursue the enemy, and sent this body of troops in the direction which the enemy was supposed to have taken.

They took up their line of march immediately on the road leading to Greenville, where it was supposed the enemy would make a stand; the artillery was in advance, and had not proceeded more than three-quarters of a mile before they discovered a large body of the rebels a mile in advance of them, just on the edge of the timber that skirts the town on the south. They immediately opened their battery on them, which was replied to by the rebels with some warmth. While the cannonading was going on, the Seventeenth Illinois advanced to within about one hundred and fifty yards of the enemy's battery, and gave them a volley. The left company of the Seventeenth then charged upon the battery, drove the Confederates back, captured one gun, and took several prisoners. The Twenty-first and Thirty-eighth had taken position in the rear of the artillery. Three companies of the Thirty-eighth, A, B, and C, were then ordered forward, which they did, the rebels keeping about three hundred yards in advance all the time, and a running fight was thus kept up for four hours, the rebels stopping frequently and discharging their artillery at us, which did not do much execution.

The right wing of the Thirty-eighth had advanced about two miles, when they discovered a body of the rebels, with two field-pieces, about two hundred and fifty yards in advance. They immediately prepared to advance on them. At this time, the Indiana cavalry, under Major Gavitt, were advancing toward the rebels in the road, when the latter opened on them with their musketry, killing Major Gavitt, Capt. Highman, and one private, and wounding several men, and horses. While this was transpiring, the right wing of the Thirty-eighth delivered their fire, scattering death and destruction among the rebels, killing about ten or twelve and wounding several. The rebels immediately turned their guns on us, as we pushed ahead with shouts of vengeance, and gave us three volleys of grape and canister, and commenced a precipitate retreat, leaving their dead and wounded. Company A pushed on through the field to the right to gain the road on which the artillery had retreated; in doing so they left the remainder of the regiment to the left. They arrived at the road in the lead of every thing; the men were very nearly exhausted, but still anxious to push forward. They started down the hill, when they received orders to halt. Having advanced about four miles into the woods, and fearing an attack from masked batteries, company A was ordered forward as skirmishers to cover the right wing of the advancing column, which was promptly done; the line of skirmishers advancing steadily.

The Thirty-third regiment was then ordered forward, also a large body of cavalry in pursuit. They continued the pursuit about two miles further, when, being convinced that there was no infantry within eight or ten miles of us, we abandoned the pursuit. It was now about five o'clock, and the order was given to return to the town, which was accordingly done, and we arrived at about seven o'clock. The sum total of the battle was as follows:

The force of the enemy engaged could not exceed two thousand; what reserve they may have had, we cannot say, although we pursued them seven miles and did not see any large body of infantry. Our force engaged was about three thousand five hundred, and a reserve of three thousand.

Our loss is as follows: seven killed, and about sixty wounded, some of them mortally. We captured two of the enemy's field pieces, six-pounders, took sixty prisoners. Their loss of killed we cannot correctly estimate. Among [225] their killed is Colonel Lowe, the second in command of the rebel forces. Their loss was not less than a hundred, and reports from their surgeons would indicate a much larger loss.

The troops all acted bravely and nobly. The Seventeenth Illinois did good execution at the commencement of the fight; they advanced to within about one hundred and fifty yards of the enemy's line, and poured in several well-directed volleys that told fearfully in the ranks of the rebels. After the first charge made by the Seventeenth, the right wing of the Thirty-eighth took the lead and continued to press for-ward for about four miles. The men were very much fatigued, but their ardor was not in the least cooled. A most important service was rendered by the three right companies of the Thirty-eighth in drawing the enemy's fire from the cavalry, as one discharge from their battery would have undoubtedly cut them to pieces.

Great credit is due to Col. Carlin for the prompt and efficient manner in which he conducted the pursuit. He did not give the rebels time to unlimber their batteries before he was upon them, pouring in his volleys of musketry. He was almost continually in the lead, apparently unconscious of any danger; his eye brightening at every indication of a skirmish or engagement. He was very cautious in regard to firing upon small bodies of them, and would not permit us to fire until he was fully convinced that they were rebels. Our flanking parties continued to pour in right and left. It was very difficult to discriminate.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Dates (automatically extracted)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: