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Doc. 146.-expedition to white River, Ark.

A correspondent of the St. Louis Democrat gives the following account of this affair:

West-plains, April 30.
On the sixteenth instant, Col. McCrellis, of the Third Illinois cavalry, was sent by Gen. Curtis with a detachment to the southward, to take possession of certain mills and ferries. One or two slight skirmishes took place, and the expedition proved successful, having, among other things, accomplished the destruction of the confederate saltpetre works below Talbott's Ferry. The force consisted of two battalions of the Illinois Third cavalry, under Majors Ruggles and Hubbard; Lieut. Heacock, with a detachment of fifty-five men from company F; Lieut. Perkins, with a detachment of forty-five men from company E, and Capt. Drummond, with a detail of fifty men from the Fourth Iowa cavalry; and the following details from Bowen's battalion: Lieut. Dickinson and Lieut. Curry, of company B, and Lieutenant Crabtree, of company A, with one mountain howitzer.

The command moved over the Little North Fork of White River to Bratton's Store, directly east of Forsyth. The country, during the first day's march, was sparsely settled, not a house being seen for thirty-five miles. Several houses were passed on Big Creek, which were formerly occupied by Union men who were driven from home. The command encamped the first night near the homestead of a Mr. Fisher, who was killed a few months since by Bray's desperadoes. The ridges were followed as much as possible, to avoid the muddy bottoms. Encamped the second night between Spring Creek and the Little North Fork. There information was received that the confederates had extensive works in operation for the manufacture of saltpetre from a nitre cave, [508] located eight miles below the Little North Fork, south side of White River. It was said that these works were protected by a rebel guard of fifty men. Col. McCrellis sent Capt. Drummond, with a detachment of twenty men, to reconnoitre and, if possible, destroy the works. The Captain started at three P. M., the distance to the cave being eighteen miles. After the expedition started it commenced raining and poured down in torrents, with peals of thunder and lightning. The road led through a very rough country. Capt. Drummond arrived in the vicinity of the cave and soon after daybreak sent Sergeant Smith with four men three miles above to press some canoes and their owners to row the party across the river to the cave. The night previous Captain Drummond's men started two of Price's men out of the widow McCracken's house, who made their escape, but the horses, saddles, and guns were captured. We also captured four mounted men and their arms. The guns were broken up. One secesh was fired upon, but made his escape in the brush. The canoes were rowed down opposite the cave by the sulky owners, and preparations made to cross over the river. The entrance to the cave was seen half-way up the sides of a steep bluff on the opposite side. The structures for manufacturing the saltpetre were erected below on the bottom, next the river, and shutes extended from the cave to the “works,” for sliding down the dirt. There was an island in the river between our party and the works, but voices could be distinctly heard from the opposite side. Eight men, with Mr. Doyle, the guide, were rowed across the river above the island, and the remainder of the party staid on this side to cover the movements of those opposite. Both parties, on either side of the river, marched down simultaneously.

The rebels were seen to make their appearance on the top of the bluff, and were fired upon. They were seen running about in great commotion. The buildings were reached by our men, and the work of destruction commenced. The structures, sheds, and vats were set on fire, the steam-engine was broken up and pitched into the river, and about ten thousand pounds of saltpetre, nearly prepared for transportation, were destroyed. The latter article was contained in large reservoirs, placed under a long shed in four tiers. Our men did the business up in short order, protected by the. rifles from the opposite shore. As often as a head made its appearance above the bluff, its owner was popped over. Having accomplished the destruction of these contraband works, the party recrossed the river in safety. An accident occurred to one of the party, Corporal Mason, of company G, Fourth Iowa, who was severely wounded in the thigh by the accidental discharge of a Starr revolver. After our party recrossed the river, a dozen rebels were seen on the opposite side, concealed in the brush. From the efforts made by the secesh to get at the mouth of the cave, it was supposed they had arms concealed therein. It was learned that one shipment of saltpetre had been made this spring. The works happened to be poorly guarded, it being subsequently ascertained that Col. Colman was at Yellville, twelve miles distant, with three hundred men, and had a company on the march for the protection of the saltpetre.

Capt. Drummond and party then returned to the main command at “Talbott's Barrens,” the point where Col. McCrellis had moved in order to support the former if necessary.

On the same day that Capt. Drummond returned (nineteenth) Lieut. Wm. M. Heacock, of company F, Fourth Iowa cavalry, was despatched with forty mounted men to take possession of Talbott's Ferry, an important crossing, nine miles distant on the Jacksonport and Yellville road. The party stopped at Mooney's, three miles from the river, who was owner of the Ferry. He was absent on the opposite side in command of a rebel company. His house was numbered “Station number four,” the express to Price's army having made this one of the stopping-places. When near the Ferry Lieut. Talbott placed his men in concealment, and went alone to the brink of the river to parley with the rebels on the opposite shore. He hailed to the men who were coming down with the oars to bring over the boat. They answered: “Go to hell.” A number of armed men made their appearance at this among the scattering houses on the hill. The Lieutenant then brought his men forward in three platoons and ordered them to fire. The rebels returned the fire from the loopholes of a house. One of the balls struck Lieut. Heacock in the centre of his forehead, entering his skull. A ball also grazed the cheek of one of our men. The Lieutenant was conveyed to a house in the rear, and survived a few hours, expiring at eleven o'clock that evening. Our men continued firing until their ammunition was expended, Sergeant Chaney taking command. Three of the rebels were seen to fall, and great commotion was exhibited on their side of the river, the men yelling and rushing to and fro. A messenger was sent to Col. McCrellis for reinforcements, when Capt. Drummond with sixty men, Capt. McFall and Lieut. Crabtree, with one of the howitzers, were sent down to the Ferry. Our party fell back to Mooney's, and, when reinforced, went next morning to the Ferry. Capt. McFall moved up the river to deceive the enemy, and Captain Drummond's men were concealed behind the boards. The howitzer was planted in position, masked from the view of the enemy, and a few scouts were sent forward in order to induce the enemy to come out of their hiding-places. It was known that they were sheltered in the house. Our dispositions failing to call them out, a shell was sent by Lieut. Crabtree in one of the houses, and the rebels in considerable numbers were speedily observed shelling out head over heels. The remaining houses were shelled, and they were made to scamper in all directions. A crowd of insolent fellows were observed below, on a point of rocks, sheltered behind a clump of trees. They would hallo: “Come over, you Black Republicans, if you [509] dare.” Our boys answered: “Bring your boat across and we'll go over.” Lieut. Crabtree got his eye on these rascals, and sent a shell right into their midst. Men without heads and arms were seen tossing about for some time, others with whole hides skedaddled beautifully. Groans were heard, and the voice of a person in distress: “O boys!” One fellow would occasionally leave his shelter behind a tree, and make an effort to obtain his horse, which was hitched near the river. The boys would send the bullets whizzing in his ears, when he would repair to his tree. At length he made a desperate effort to reach his horse, when a shell was sent to attend to his case. He was the last fellow seen about the premises that day. The river being too much swollen to effect a crossing, our party returned to the common road. Col. McCrellis then struck across the country to the vicinity of Rockbridge, having been absent on his expedition seven or eight days. The death of Lieut. Heacock was deeply lamented. He was a brave man and true soldier. His remains were immersed in charcoal and brought to Vera Cruz, in Douglas County, Mo., where they were buried on a high ridge, and the place of interment marked. Lieut. Heacock was from Eddyville, Iowa.

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