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Doc. 76.-fight at Vidalia, La.

Natchez, Miss., February 16, 1864.
Since my last communication, nothing noteworthy has occurred here, except the capture of Captain Call and twenty-six of the Twenty-ninth Illinois infantry, of which you have probably heard before the present time.

Captain Call was guarding a cotton-train; his men, strung along the length of it, were attacked by a large force of rebel cavalry, part of an escort to a supply-train on its way from above Mobile to Jackson or Brandon, it is reported, and after a sharp fight the Captain, the Quartermaster's Sergeant of the regiment, and twenty-six men were gobbled up. So much for guarding cotton for Jews. Who ordered the Captain out? is now the question.

But on Sunday, the seventh instant, the monotony of garrison-duty was very summarily broken in upon. Opposite Natchez, in Louisiana, is the town of Vidalia, where a force of — men, under command of Colonel B. G. Farrar, Second Mississippi artillery of A. D. is stationed. On the evening of the fifth, the Colonel received reliable information that a large force of the enemy from Harrisonburgh, distant thirty-five miles, was advancing to attack him. They were then reported at Crosse Bayou, seventeen miles out. Sending notice to Captain Grier, of the gunboat Benton, that the enemy was approaching, the Colonel brought over a twelve-pounder howitzer attached to his regiment, and throwing up a breastwork of cotton-bales, made ready for a sharp fight. Cavalry were sent out to watch the enemy, and hovering around his advance gradually fell back toward Vidalia. On the morning of the seventh, messengers brought in word of their steady advance, and at two P. M. they were seen moving out of the woods two miles from our advance, in line of battle, a heavy force of skirmishers being within seven hundred yards of us. From the wood to the river an unbroken flat offered a magnificent field of battle. Over a thousand strong, with three battle-flags in their advance, their flanks covered with cavalry, on they came in gallant style. But suddenly the howitzer opened on them, the gunboats obtained the range, and the bursting shell throwing their ranks into confusion, they withdrew to the shelter of the friendly timber.

In the mean time, two battalions of the Second Mississippi artillery, of African descent, Lieutenant-Colonel H. A. McCaleb commanding, had been brought over from Natchez, (the other battalion having been left to serve the heavy guns in the fort.) Taking post across the field, in rear of a narrow ditch which crossed it, they awaited the attack. To prevent a flank movement, the Thirtieth Missouri, company A, Second Mississippi artillery A. D., and one company of the Seventh Louisiana A. D., were drawn up on the left, near the river, and one battalion of the Second artillery was changed from the first position to prevent a similar movement on the right. Rendered more cautious by this check, the enemy came on more steadily, marching directly against our centre, where one battalion of the Second artillery A. D., under Lieutenant-Colonel McCaleb, held position. Having lost the use of our howitzer from the breaking of its carriage, the advance of the enemy was unchecked; their men, with arms at a support, seemed to expect an easy victory. Allowing them to approach within six hundred yards of our line, Colonel Farrar ordered the centre battalion of the Second Mississippi artillery A. D. to advance. This they did in splendid style, and in unbroken line the black soldiers, yelling as they advanced, took up their new position at the double-quick; when within three hundred yards of the enemy, they were halted, and pouring a tremendous volley among them, checked their advance. Halting, wavering, despite the efforts of their officers, who could be seen in front endeavoring to raliy and encourage their men, as volley after volley was poured into them, the enemy turned, and taking [378] with them the most of their wounded, commenced a rapid retreat. The Twenty-ninth Illinois, Colonel L. Kent, now came up on the double-quick, not being able to cross the river sooner. They were ordered forward in pursuit, trying, if possible, to cut off retreat by the Trinity road. Darkness and an intervening gully prevented this.

Colonel Farrar having been peremptorily ordered to act strictly on the defensive, called off his troops from the pursuit, and the Twenty-ninth recrossed the river the same night.

Sending out a reconnoissance the next morning, under Lieutenant-Colonel Schadt, of the Thirtieth Missouri, it was found that the enemy had never halted in his flight until ten miles from the field of battle, and that they were then in full and rapid retreat toward Trinity or Harrisonburgh.

The forces of the enemy were Texan troops, General (or Prince) Polignac's brigade, consisting of the Seventeenth consolidated Texas, Colonel Taylor, three Texan regiments, Colonels Alexander, Stephens, and Hopp, and one battalion Louisiana cavalry, Major Caldwell. The fight was plainly visible from the bluffs of Natchez — every movement of the enemy, every change of our men could be distinctly seen, and the male and female citizens of this loyal city, who had lined the banks to see “their brave boys drive the Yankees and niggers into the river,” had the satisfaction of seeing one thousand “Southrons,” with a reserve of five hundred more to fall back on, foiled, whipped, and driven by about one hundred and fifty Yankees and four hundred and fifty negroes, for but five companies of the Second Mississippi artillery of A. D. , one hundred and fifty of the Thirtieth Missouri, and one company of the Seventh Louisiana A. D. were engaged, the other companies being held in reserve, and the Twenty-ninth Illinois coming on the field after the enemy had started in retreat.

Too much praise cannot be given to Colonel Farrar, who contended so successfully against overwhelming numbers, personally directing his gun and leading the men in every advance. Lieutenant-Colonel McCaleb, mounted on a large gray horse, was a mark for all the enemy's sharp-shooters, but as cool as on parade, he directed the movements of his men. This is the first action the Second Mississippi artillery has been in, the regiment only being mustered on the twentieth of January; but veterans could not have acted better, and the only trouble the officers had was to keep the men back. It is useless to speak of the Thirtieth Missouri; the bloody fields of Chickasaw, Arkansas Post, and Vicksburgh are their guarantees. If the Twenty-ninth Illinois was not in the fight, it certainly was not their fault, for men never showed more eagerness to be engaged.

Strange as it may seem, incredible as it appears to those who witnessed the rapid and incessant firing, not a man on our side was touched.

The enemy lost six killed, ten wounded in our hands, and eight prisoners, and how many wounded were taken off in their ambulances it is impossible to say.

A negro at whose house General Polignac staid, represents him as saying, that he was very much disappointed at the failure of the rebels on this side to cooperate with him; that the plan had been well laid, and all means taken to insure an attack on both Natchez and Vidalia at once; that he considered himself fortunate in coming off so easily, and that he fully expected to capture or drive into the river every Yankee at Vidalia. If the attack had been simultaneous, they would have “caught a tartar,” for Colonel Johnson, commanding here, contemplating such a move, had made all arrangements to meet it.

Thus again has the black soldier of the Republic vindicated his manhood and added new glory to our flag. He has proved his value as one of our nation's defenders, and developed a new element of strength. Will not his slanderers soon acknowledge that “a nigger will fight” ?


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