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Doc. 79.-attack on “Freeman's band.”

Lieutenant-Colonel Stephens's report.

headquarters detachment Eleventh cavalry, Missouri volunteers, Batesville, Arkansas, February 10, 1864.
Captain: I have the honor to report that, in obedience to a special order issued from the Headquarters District of East-Arkansas, dated February seventh, 1864, I moved the same day with a detachment of the Eleventh Missouri cavalry and First Nebraska cavalry, consisting of four officers and sixty-four men, of the Eleventh Missouri cavalry, and Captain T. J. Majors and forty men, of the First Nebraska cavalry, together with eight men of the Fourth Arkansas infantry, to attack the camp of Colonel Freeman, then supposed to be encamped on the Smithville road, about twenty-five miles from this point. On my arrival at the point designated, I found that the camp had broken up, and that Colonel Freeman had moved with his command northwardly. I then, upon consultation with Captain Majors, determined to follow him, and attack him wherever I might find him. In accordance with this determination, I moved the command through Smithville to a point on Spring River, known as the Widow Marshall's, where I received the first definite information of the whereabouts of the enemy's forces, he having left that point the same day, and moved up Spring River, westwardly, to a point known as Morgan's Mill, near the mouth of Martin's Creek.

Finding that the men were fatigued, and that my horses were not in a condition to attack his camp that night, I halted the command and encamped. Early the next morning, the command took up its line of march up both sides of Spring River, the detachment of the First Nebraska cavalry, under Captain Majors, moving up the south side of the river to a point known as the farm of the Widow Crawford's; with the remaining portion of the command, consisting of the Fourth Arkansas infantry and Eleventh Missouri cavalry, [381] I moved cautiously up the north side of the river, crossing at Marshall's Ford, Captain Majors being ordered, in case of an attack either by me upon the enemy, or any attack by them upon me, to cross the river at the nearest point, and effect a junction as rapidly as possible. About seven miles from the point at which I started, I encountered the enemy's pickets, and immediately drove them in. My information, previous to this time, had led me to believe that the enemy did not number over two hundred effective men; but, as it was afterward ascertained, he had been reinforced during the night by about three hundred men, under Lieutenant-Colonel Coleman and Colonel Lovell, making his entire effective force in the neighborhood of four hundred and fifty men. As soon as I ascertained this fact, I halted my command, consisting in all of seventy-two officers and men, and determined to attack the enemy previous to his forming his line-of-battle. To accomplish this object, I ordered the command to take position on a hill which fronted the creek, from which I expected the enemy to debouch; he, however, had anticipated my movements, and had already taken a position on a hill still higher up, and immediately in my rear, his front occupying a narrow ridge on both sides of the Salem road, with his flanks extending down the sloping ravines on my right and left. Observing this disposition of the enemy, and during my temporary absence in another part of the field, Lieutenant Warrington, my acting adjutant, acting under previously expressed instructions from me, formed the battalion into column of fours by the right, and charged the front of the enemy. Under a heavy fire, the column moved to a position in front of the line formed by the enemy, and opened fire with considerable effect. Part of the men were still in the rear, and efforts were made to bring them up. At this juncture, I reached the scene of action, and assumed command. For the space of ten minutes, under a terrific fire from the enemy's works, this little band of about twenty-five men, forming my advance, stood their ground, keeping the enemy at bay, and at one time breaking the centre of their front line of battle. This advantage I was unable to improve for want of a force with which to charge the enemy, the men still in the rear not coming up as promptly as I had expected and ordered. In the mean time my flanks were turned, and in order to prevent my being entirely surrounded, I gave the order to retreat to a new position in a dense thicket, on the opposite side of Martin's Creek. Over-whelmed by numbers, I was forced to abandon this position; and as rapidly as possible, and the nature of the ground would permit, I again retreated in the direction of Captain Majors's command, which I supposed by this time had reached the mill. In this I was prevented by the enemy, who appeared in force on the hill commanding the mill road. But one chance remained for me to escape from the overwhelming force with which I was contending, and that was to follow an old road which led up the hills, and take possession of the ridge. I did so immediately, closely pursued by the enemy. Forming my men on the ridge, I made a stand and opened fire. This held them in check; but I was again flanked, and forced to retreat along the ridge to another point, which gave me a favorable position with which to retard their pursuit. In this manner, for nearly eight miles, I kept up a running fight, until the enemy ceased pursuing us, and gave my now exhausted men and horses a chance to recover their energies. Still retreating, I crossed the river at Walker's Ford, twelve miles west of the scene of action, unmolested by the enemy, and hearing nothing of Captain Majors, took up my line of march for Batesville, where I arrived without further loss. For an account of the part taken by Captain Majors in this action, [ beg leave to respectfully refer to his report, but must state that hut for the gallant charge made by him on the enemy in their rear, and whilst I was fighting them on the hills, I must have inevitably been surrounded, and my entire command captured. By the truly gallant and efficient manner in which the task assigned him was performed, fearlessly charging a largely superior force of the enemy, who possessed every advantage of position, he demonstrated what has already been shown, that “courage and determination will overcome greatly superior numbers.” Captain Rouch, of the Eleventh cavalry, who was, toward the last of the engagement, unfortunately taken prisoner by the enemy, by reason of his horse being shot from under him, displayed great coolness, decision, and promptness in obeying all orders given by me.

To Lieutenants Warrington and Harris great praise is due for the gallantry and determination displayed by them during the entire fight, always in the front, encouraging the men under their command, and by their personal efforts in retarding the pursuit, and in rallying and forming the men in line on each successive stand made by us, contributed largely to the safety of the remaining portion of my command.

My loss, I regret to state, is severe; nearly one half of the portion of the command engaged in the action being killed, wounded, or missing. The following is the recapitulation, as near as could be ascertained, from the sources of information left open to me after the fight:

Killed, Private Dean, company F, Eleventh cavalry, Missouri volunteers; wounded, four; missing, twenty-three.

Of these, twenty are from the Eleventh Missouri cavalry, and three from the Fourth Arkansas infantry.

My thanks are due to the men under my command, with a few cowardly exceptions, for the courage displayed on this occasion. I am unable to state the exact loss of the enemy, but am fully satisfied that it will amount to an aggregate of sixty-five killed, wounded, and missing, including the prisoners taken by Captain Majors. In conclusion, I would respectfully recommend Lieutenant John A. Warrington to the favorable [382] consideration of the commanding officer of the district, in order that he may receive the promotion due him for his gallant services during this action.

I am, Captain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

John W. Stephens, Lieut.-Colonel Eleventh Cavalry, Commanding Detachment. Captain H. C. Fillebrown, Assistant Adjutant-General, Batesville, Arkansas.

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John A. Warrington (3)
Martin Freeman (3)
John W. Stephens (2)
Rouch (1)
T. J. Majors (1)
Lovell (1)
Thomas H. Harris (1)
H. C. Fillebrown (1)
Doc (1)
Thomas F. C. Dean (1)
Denny Coleman (1)
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February 10th, 1864 AD (1)
February 7th, 1864 AD (1)
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