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Doc. 202.-the fight near Austin, Miss.

M. M. Brigade, off Helena, Ark., May 25, 1863.
Editors Missouri Democrat:
I send you an account of an engagement which was had by us with the rebels near Austin, Mississippi, thirty-five miles above this place.

On the evening of the twenty-third the commissary and quartermaster boat, Fairchild, which happened to be at the time some distance in rear of the fleet, was fired into by a party from shore, who had one field-piece, and were armed with rifles, etc. Fortunately no damage was done. On her arrival and reporting the facts, General Ellet determined to return and punish the “rebs” for their temerity in thus wantonly attack a transport-boat. The fleet had come to anchor at dark, at this place on its way below, and now orders were immediately signalled to the boats carrying troops to be prepared to leave at two o'clock next morning. Accordingly at that hour we quietly raised our anchors and ran up, reaching the town of Austin, which is just above the foot of Grand Cut Off, at sunrise. The only road from the river back near that place is one running some four miles due east from Austin, where it forks, one road then running south-ward along a lake known as Beaver Dam, and the other continuing eastward to the Coldwater. Our cavalry force under the old rebel-hunter of Missouri, Major Hubbard, at once pushed out on this road, turning downward along the lake.

The infantry followed about a half-hour later. When some two miles out, the General and staff were riding along some distance ahead of the infantry, and intending to overtake the cavalry, when suddenly they were opened upon by a party of rebels not fifty yards distant, drawn up by the roadside, and till that moment concealed by a slight bend in the road. Wonderful to say, not a man was touched. The infantry was at once disposed for a cavalry charge, but none was made. We now became aware of the rather unpleasant fact that the rebels, eight hundred strong, had been encamped four miles above, and on the arrival of the fleet at Austin, had come down and taken the road for the interior, just behind our cavalry, and so near before us, that we had stumbled upon their rear-guard, posted at the intersection of the roads, to notice our approach. Could Major Hubbard but become aware of the number and immediate presence of the enemy in his rear, and give them battle, while the infantry were in supporting distance, the enemy's chances of escape would be small, and the capture of his two pieces of artillery almost certain; but should they delay their attack upon him till he was beyond our help, his little battalion, only numbering some one hundred and seventy-five men, would be almost sure to be overwhelmed and cut to pieces or captured. The chances for a successful retreat, except directly out on the road, were indeed few. On one hand was an impassable bayou, and on the other an interminable canebrake. With great difficulty, we ascertained [635] at the forks of the road I have mentioned, that both forces had taken the Beaver Dam road. It was then evident that the rebels intended not only to avoid our main force, but if possible, to attack and annihilate our little cavalry force, which, as their numbers were four to one, and the knowledge of the roads, swamps, etc., almost wholly theirs, seemed quite probable indeed almost certain. Our skirmishers were constantly driving their rear-guard, which was kept purposely close upon our front to delay our advance.

I have forgotten to mention that on our arrival in the morning, we had learned that a trading boat had been taken and burned the night previous by the gang stationed in the town, and that her crew were prisoners with the rebel force. The road over which we were now passing was crooked and almost impassable, filled with deep ruts and miry places. Presently the skirmishers overtook an ox-team loaded with the plunder of the trading boat, and drove off its guard. As the darkey teamsters had fled, and an attempt to extricate the mired conveyance became impracticable, as the main force was halted for a rest two and a half miles in rear, a picket was posted over it. Presently a party of rebels dashed back and drove our men away, and started the team ahead again. As soon as this was known, a company of infantry was despatched ahead to press the retreat, and the body again put in motion. A woman who was taken from the burned boat with the prisoners, was on the wagon, and when first retaken by us made good her escape to the rear. Soon the exciting pursuit was greeted by the exchange of shots ahead again, and the discomfited rebs were again obliged to abandon the wagon, which was soon sent to the rear.

We pushed on, warned by the sound of artillery far ahead, that our little force was contending with the enemy

An hour's quick march brought us suddenly upon our friends, snugly ensconced just over the slope at the edge of the bayou, in a deep bend.

They greeted us with three hearty cheers, and our joy at finding them escaped from the hands of an overwhelming enemy, was only turned to sadness by the sight of dead and wounded men and horses.

Two brave boys had fallen, killed instantly. One was lying mortally wounded, and about twenty more or less wounded by buckshot, as well as rifle and pistol-balls. This band of heroes had here for nearly two hours, bravely fought those yelling demons, who ever and anon, retiring to the cover of the cane-brake, would concert an attack upon all sides but the immediate rear, and come out like grasshoppers from the forest in the front and on both flanks, shouting, and cursing, and threatening with instant butchery, if not at once surrendered; but with the brave Major Hubbard our gallant boys felt confident, and at his command rushed to the brow of the slope, and crouched beneath its shelter, and poured upon their foes such terrific showers of carbine and pistol shots as to throw them into confusion, and force them to retire again.

Once a large body rushed down the slope on the left, and had almost succeeded in dislodging our men there, but a lucky shot from a sergeant's pistol killed the rebel lieutenant who was leading them, and they fell back also. Their wounded must have been numerous.

The rebels, in their charge, came on foot. Our horses being much exposed, were badly cut up.

Finally, our approach had made it prudent for them to retire, and Hubbard's battalion was saved. Five dead and dying rebels were found lingering on the field. How many were carried off, or how many were wounded, we have no means of knowing. They must have been considerable, as the supply of ammunition of our men was nearly exhausted, and much of the fighting was within close pistol-range.

The prompt services of the surgeon were rendered the suffering, and our dead and wounded were taken to the fleet. The enemy were in full retreat several miles away, mounted; so further pursuit was impossible, and we returned.

It was next determined to destroy the town, which has long been known as a bitter rebel place.

The following order was issued and executed:

Headquarters M. brigade, flag-ship Autocrat, Austin, Miss., May 24, 1863.
Special order No. 52.

Whereas, The citizens of the town of Austin, Mississippi, did permit and sanction the attack upon one transport vessel yesterday, and the capturing of one trading vessel last night by a band of men acting against the authority of the United States, both these acts at or near this place, and did not only fail to give voluntarily any information concerning the whereabouts of said party, on the arrival of the United States forces here, but are known to have conveyed instant information of said arrival to the enemies of the United States, therefore, in just retaliation for this open aid and counsel afforded the enemies of the United States, be it ordered, as a warning to all citizens of other towns that may hereafter by armed bodies of men, hostile to the United States, be placed in similar circumstances, that every dwelling, outhouse or other structure in the said town of Austin (save three to be left as a protection to the women and children) be burned to the ground.

Provost-Marshal will take possession of the town and see to the prompt execution of this order, and that no marauding be permitted nor personal injury be sustained by any citizen of said town. Personal effects he will allow owners to remove.

Though the place was thoroughly searched for arms or other articles contraband of war, while the place was burning, the rapid and frequent discharge of secreted arms in two buildings took place, and at length an explosion of powder in the basement of the jail “shook the firm earth” [636] and made the distant hills resound. Surely this is a dire punishment, but such is the result of war. This people must be made to feel that to harbor and encourage the enemies of the Government is a terrible crime, and if their pseudo government is to afford them protection against such a punishment, it must control and prevent such outrages as are constantly committed by bands of men said to be acting under its authority.

From three prisoners who fell into our hands we learned that the force we were fighting were part of the command of Brigadier-General Chalmers, (who with the remainder of the command of Colonel McCullough's Second Missouri cavalry, were back on the Coldwater,) consisting of Colonel Blye's Second Mississippi cavalry and Colonel Slemmer's Second Arkansas cavalry. (One informant says they were all present.) From a source we consider reliable, we learn that this force was to effect a passage of the Mississippi by means of captured transports and join Price in an attack on New-Madrid. This design has been most effectually thwarted. General Chalmers has for some time had this force down near the Coldwater, at a place called Panola. An expedition from Memphis has, no doubt, ere this, satisfied his desire for active service at that place. When occasion offers, you shall hear again from your correspondent.


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