A national account.
Memphis, January 15, 1864.I have to-day had a conversation with a man from the interior, who accompanied General Forrest on his late expedition to Jackson, Tenn., and back again. He was conscripted by Forrest, near Medon, about fifteen miles south of Jackson, and deserted with several others at the crossing of the Tallahatchie on the enemy's return trip to Mississippi. Forrest crossed the M. and C. Railroad at Saulsbury early in the second week of December, going north into Tennessee, and having in command less than four thousand men. His motions were conducted with great despatch and all possible secrecy; and to conceal his intentions from the Unionists, demonstrations were made on the railroad at Collierville and other points by Generals Chalmers, Lee, and Richardson. This last attack on Collierville, it will be remembered by the readers of this correspondence, was energetically made by the rebels, and most gallantly repulsed by our troops. But although Forrest succeeded in making his crossing at the place named, their efforts to conceal the movement were ineffective, and his arrival at Jackson, and the fact that he was using nearly every muscle in his army to get himself speedily fortified, were known in Memphis in fifteen hours after their occurrence. The old earth-works that were thrown up at that place during its former successive occupation by the rebels and Unionists were repaired and new ones built, so as to cover an attack from any direction. While this work was being done, and after its completion, heavy scouting-parties were kept constantly in the saddle, patrolling the country for twenty miles around, and daily bringing in hundreds of conscripts and deserters, droves of cattle, and large quantities of forage. It seems that he was in no instances disturbed in these proceedings before Christmas-eve. A junction with Forrest was not made at any time by either Chalmers, Lee, or Richardson, nor was it either attempted or desired by them. They remained south of and threatening the railroad, so as to take advantage of any offensive movement on our part against Jackson; and although forces other than Forrest's individual command were constantly arriving and departing, the rebel strength at that place never exceeded six thousand or seven thousand--not twelve thousand or fifteen thousand, as reported at the time by your correspondent. On the twenty-fourth, a movement from the direction of Columbus, Ky., was discovered by a rebel scouting-party near Union City; and now we come to the explanation of the dispositions made by General Hurlbut to capture the rebel force at Jackson. Brigadier-General A. L. Smith, with six thousand men, one third of whom were cavalry or mounted infantry, was ordered to proceed eastward from Columbus, and then to take a position south-east of Jackson. This was the demonstration mentioned above as having been discovered by the rebels. General Smith succeeded in getting nearly to the point at which he would have had to turn south, when the roads were found to be impassable for either man, beast, or vehicle. After several ineffectual attempts to proceed further, he was forced to relinquish the trip and return to Columbus. Five days after the order was given for General Smith's advance, one brigade of infantry, under Brigadier-General Mower, and the First brigade of the cavalry division, under Colonel Mizener, were ordered to proceed north from Corinth and cooperate with General Smith. This time was allowed to elapse so that the cooperating forces might arrive at the desired points at or near the same time. Colonel Hatch's cavalry brigade was, by orders of the same date, moved eastward from Collierville to La Grange, to operate either west, east, or north from that point. The Seventh Illinois cavalry, five hundred strong, under Colonel Prince, had previously been moved to Bolivar, and, on the twenty-fourth, a portion of his regiment became engaged with one thousand of Richardson's troops. Finding his force overpowered, Colonel Prince fell back to Summerville, where they remained for the night. Next morning, (twenty-fifth,) he again moved forward, and finding his advance opposed, made a precipitous attack, but in a moment found himself to be entirely surrounded. Fortunately the rebel forces were so situated that their lines could not be concentrated, and our little band, consequently, had double chances for cutting their way through. This they did in gallant style, but not in a body. Every man took his chance; and when, after an hour's fighting, all but the dead, wounded, and captured had succeeded in getting through, of five hundred who went into the fight, not more than two hundred are with the regiment. This great disparity was not caused, however, by either death, wounds, or capture. The men had got scattered, and for four or five days after the fight, kept coming in in squads, until the actual loss of the regiment turns out to be less than forty. Of the individual experiences of several of this regiment more will be said after a while. We lost in this engagement four wagons loaded with provisions and a few horses. Most of the led horses, however, and those of the killed and wounded, made a gallant charge upon their own account, broke through the enemy's line, and reported in a body  and in good order at La Grange for further duty. These horses should be promoted and have an extra pad in their saddles. Had it not been for this stampede, many more men would have been killed or captured. Taking advantage of the confusion caused by this unexpected onset, the larger portion of the regiment dashed forward, and succeeded in getting through with but little fighting and few accidents. As soon as Forrest discovered, from the disposition made of our troops, that he was about to be caught in a trap, he set himself to work to effect his escape. Abandoning the works at Jackson, he sent a part of his command in a south-east direction to work out their own salvation. With two thousand five hundred men and two thousand conscripts, he moved down toward Bolivar, the point at which the railroad to Jackson crosses the Hatchie River, and, while Richardson's men were engaging the Seventh Illinois cavalry, he was making all speed in crossing over. Once across the Hatchie River, his way was unobstructed until he approached the line of the M. and C. Railroad. Passing near Middleburgh, he turned westward, and, moving so as to avoid too close contact with La Grange, took a course leading to Moscow. But on leaving Bolivar, a small force was sent in advance to find a safe crossing on Wolf River. This party came within eight miles of Memphis, but finding the river too wide for their pontoons, proceeded eastward along that river to test the crossings at other places. Detecting these movements on the part of the enemy, General Hurlbut ordered all the bridges and trestle-work to be destroyed. This was done except in one case. The officer in command at Lafayette failed to execute the order for some unknown reason, the result of which disobedience of orders will be seen directly. It may be worth while to state that the highlands, which start from the Mississippi River at Randolph, stretch out toward the north boundary of the State of Mississippi, and passing down near the centre of that State, do not touch the river again until they reach Vicksburgh. All the land between these highlands and the river is very swampy and liable to overflow, except the bluffs at Memphis and a few unimportant points below. The reader will now understand why we have so many bridges and so much trestle-work to take care of. When within a mile of Lafayette, the party alluded to discovered five or six cavalry near a farm-house. Their horses were hitched to the fence, and the cavalry were lounging about unconscious of the nearness of the enemy. Leaving a score of men to watch this outpost, the rebels took a roundabout course, and found that the crossing at this place was vulnerable. Forrest was immediately notified, and the main body made for that point, after throwing out a picket near Moscow to contest our advance from La Grange. They arrived, and commenced crossing at about two P. M., and by sunset they were all over — rebels, conscripts, beef cattle, and all. A part of Richardson's force took a position near Moscow to cover the rear of the retreating army, and Forrest proceeded toward Collierville. General Grierson was still at La Grange. As soon as he was notified of the fact that the rebels were crossing at La Fayette, the Third brigade, cavalry division, was ordered to the cars to proceed to that point. The order was promptly executed, and as soon as possible the brigade was transferred to a point about two miles west of Moscow. It was now dark. A line of battle was immediately formed, and moved forward through the swamps and undergrowth with difficulty. Heavy firing was heard in advance, and the boys pushed anxiously ahead. Upon nearing La Fayette, which was aglow with the light of burning houses, it was found that a part of the Ninth Illinois cavalry was already there, and had been skirmishing with Forrest's rear-guard. He, with his conscripts and plunder, was going west on the line of the railroad, and was supposed to be already at Collierville. It was now near midnight, and every thing seemed to indicate a fight at that place in the morning. At two o'clock our column was pushed forward, and by daylight reached Collierville. But the enemy was gone. The place had been attacked on the previous afternoon, and had been ably defended by about one hundred convalescents. The rebels had then retreated southward without any effort in force to take the place, and the trifling demonstration which was repulsed by a handful of sick men was all that occurred. But it turns out that it was Richardson's force that made the attack on Collierville, for the purpose of drawing our attention in that direction, while the main body of Forrest's army vent south from La Fayette with their conscripts, cattle, etc., and got safely across the Tallahatchie. It was at this crossing that my informant and his companions deserted. Colonel Mizener, with a brigade of cavalry, attempted to intercept the enemy, between La Fayette and Holly Springs, but they had too much start, and the attempt failed. At this date, Forrest, Lee, Chalmers, and Richardson are in North-Mississippi, and our forces are encamped at their former positions on the railroad. The failure to capture Forrest, and his whole command, was owing solely to the bridge not having been destroyed in compliance with General Hurlbut's orders. On the first instant, at ten o'clock in the forenoon, the force sent from Collierville to intercept the enemy before he could reach Holly Springs, arrived at Mount Pleasant, where it was learned that the rear-guard of the rebels had, a few hours before, passed south. Pushing ahead vigorously, our troops followed them to Hudsonville, twenty miles further. By this time it had been discovered that Chalmers had moved north from Panola, and formed a junction with Forrest, whose force was thus augmented to six thousand. Our single brigade had consequently to hold its ground and await reenforcements. These arrived next day, Colonel Mizener's brigade having been sent down from Collierville. For two days  the pursuit was continued, but necessarily with caution, as Forrest's force was known to be yet superior to ours. When near Holly Springs, reliable information was brought in that the enemy's main column, reenforced by Ferguson's division, had left the Taylor plantation, twelve miles west from Holly Springs, and were yet moving south, having ten hours start of us. The pursuit was here abandoned, and our column, tired out by nearly two weeks of unceasing active service, turned back, and moved by easy stages toward Collierville and Memphis. It is known that, on the seventh instant, the entire rebel force was near Camden, Miss. It is likely they will remain there until they eat up the two hundred beeves they stole in this raid. There can be no doubt that if General Hurlbut's orders had been properly executed at La Fayette, Forrest and his whole force would now have been our prisoners. During the fight at Summerville, between the Seventh Illinois cavalry and a part of Richardson's troops, Colonel Prince, in trying to rally his men, became separated from the main body, and, after the regiment had cut its way out, managed to pass through the enemy's lines and escape alone to Summerville. At that place he was concealed by a Union citizen, and at night was guided between the rebel pickets, and arrived safely at La Grange. A number of his men were also concealed and fed for two or three days by citizens of the same town, and were assisted in making their way through the rebel pickets by the same true-hearted patriots. Lieutenant McIntire, of the Ninth Illinois cavalry, relates that just as the fight near Summerville commenced he arrived on the ground with a despatch from General Grierson to Colonel Prince. Finding himself surrounded and unable to escape, he sprang from his horse and crawled under a house; but fearing that this might not be a safe place, he crept to a cottongin, a short distance off. In the gin he found a large heap of cotton-seed. Jumping into the heap, he covered himself with the seed, so as to have only his head out, over which he pulled a basket. Here the lieutenant was feeling comparatively safe, when an officer of the Seventh bulged in the door, with a dozen rebels at his heels. The officer ran up-stairs and hid under some loose boards in the floor. The rebels put a guard around the house, and began a vigorous search. Up-stairs and down they went several times, and every hiding-place but the right one was examined. They knew that the officer was there some place, and they were determined to have him. Presently, the heap of cotton-seed caught their attention, and forthwith they began plunging their sabres into it. The heap was probed in all directions, but providentially without touching the Lieutenant's body. At last, one of them, exasperated beyond endurance at their ill-success, vented his anger on the basket over the Lieutenant's head, by striking it a furious blow with the sword. Had the latter not kept a vigorous hold to the handle, it would have been knocked a rod. Just then some occurrence outside caused them to hurry away, and both officers escaped. In the great hurry in which the rebels made their crossing at La Fayette, there was necessarily much confusion and straggling. By some means an officer of Forrest's staff became separated from the main column, and after our occupation of the place he came riding up in the dark and inquired for headquarters. The sentinel pointed out the house just occupied by General Grierson. Starting in the direction indicated, he was encountered by Major Starr of the Seventh Illinois, to whom he repeated the inquiry. “What headquarters?” asked the Major. “Why, d — n it, General Forrest's, of course,” replied the rebel. “This way, then,” said the Major, and to his unspeakable surprise he was escorted to the presence of General Grierson.