Doc. 77.-expedition of Colonel Dickey to the Mobile and Ohio Railroad.
headquarters cavalry division, U. S. Forces, Thirteenth army corps, in the field, near Oxford, Miss., December 20, 1862.Colonel: I beg leave to report to Major-Gen. U. S. Grant, commanding the department, that his order commanding me to take a part of my division of cavalry and strike the Mobile and Ohio Railroad as far south as practicable, and destroy it as much as possible, was received about eleven o'clock on the night of the thirteenth instant, a few miles east of Walter Valley. Col. Hatch, commanding the Second brigade, was ordered to report to me at half-past 8 A. M., of the fourteenth, with eight hundred picked men from his command, properly officered, well mounted, well armed, and with fifty rounds of ammunition, with rations of hard bread and salt, and ready for six days scout, with no more wagons than necessary to haul the rations. Major Ricker, with a battalion of the Fifth Ohio cavalry, was sent to the south from Paris to make a demonstration toward Grenada, and the residue of the Second brigade was sent with the train to the rear, to camp upon the Yockna River. Colonel Mizener was ordered to take command of the First and Third brigades, to guard the crossings of the Osuckalofa River, and to make a strong cavalry reconnoissance toward Grenada on the Coffeeville route, reporting directly to Major-General U. S. Grant. At nine A. M., on Sunday, the fourteenth, with a small escort from company F, Fourth Illinois cavalry, under Lieut. Carter, and Colonel Hatch's detachment of eight hundred men from the Second Iowa cavalry, and the Seventh Illinois cavalry, I took the road for Okolona, and reached Pontotoc, forty-five miles march, at half-past 9 on Monday morning. On the way we fell in with small scouting-parties of the enemy and captured several prisoners, by some of whom we were informed that a body of rebel infantry from Bragg's army were encamped five miles east of Pontotoc, on the road to Tupelo, and another near Tupelo; and by others just returned from Columbus, that there was a strong rebel force at Okolona. A  small party dashed off on the Tupelo road five or six miles, but found no enemy, At Pontotoc, the gentle rain through which we had marched, changed to a violent storm, and the roads were heavy. All our ambulance and prisoners were sent back from Pontotoc, with two wagon-loads of leather, and the Government surveys and township maps of the State of Mississippi, (found at Pontotoc,) under an escort of one hundred men. Major Coon, of the Second Iowa cavalry, with about one hundred men, was sent rapidly forward to strike the railroad at Coonawa station, north of Colona, with orders to destroy the telegraph line and railroad, and especially the railroad bridge north of Okolona. At one P. M. on Monday, with the rest of my command, I took the road for Tupelo, through a terrific rain-storm, and, moving steadily forward, night came upon us about six miles from Tupelo. The approach was on a zig-zag road, with vexing intersecting roads, through low, muddy ground, much of it heavily timbered, and intersected by small sluggish streams, passable only on small, frail bridges in bad condition. A little after dark the light of a considerable fire was observed some miles distant to the south, and a less bright but broader light could be seen some miles to the north. An officer sent to a dwelling not far from our road was told by the occupants that these fires were rebel camp-fires. Pushing cautiously forward, at within two miles of Tupelo, we learned from the occupant of a house near by, (who mistook us for rebel cavalry,) that Federal troops from Corinth had that day been at Saltillo, eight miles north of Tupelo and that the rebels had fled south, abandoning Tupelo. Fearing that Major Coon might encounter too strong a foe, Lieut.-Col. Prince, Seventh Illinois cavalry, with about a hundred men, was sent promptly into Tupelo, and the rest of the force was moved back seven miles to a point where the Aberdeen road broke off to the south-cast, and on which it was ascertained that Major Coon had advanced, with a view of affording him support if needed. It was found that Major Coon had dashed into Coonawa in the afternoon, stampeded a small party of rebel cavalry, took a few prisoners, and made a strenuous but unsuccessful effort to capture a railroad train passing that station south. The train was tired upon by his advance on the full gallop, and one trooper, leaping from his horse, pistol in hand, mounted the side of the tender under way, but was compelled as promptly to jump off to avoid a leaning-post standing close to the track and just ahead of him. The depot, containing commissary stores and corn, was burned, and small brides and trestle-work on the road near Coonawa were destroyed. Lieutenant-Col. Prince returned about three o'clock A. M., Tuesday, to our camp, having found no enemy in Tupelo, and having destroyed some trestle-work north of the town. The supposed rebel camp-fires, seen the night before, proved to be the light of the depot burning at Coonawa and the camp-fires of Union troops from Corinth, near Saltillo, who left next morning before we reached their camp. Tuesday and Wednesday were spent in hard labor, by which all the trestle-work and bridges from Saltillo to Okolona, a distance of thirty-four miles, and a large bridge south of Okolona, across a branch of the Tombigbee River, were thoroughly destroyed, as well as large quantities of timber lying along the railroad side for repairing purposes. The enemy was seen in Verona and Okolona, but fled — returning however, in some force to Okolona as our troopers were leaving that place on Wednesday afternoon. Lieut.-Col. Prince, with a party at Verona, on Tuesday, captured eighteen large boxes of infantry equipments, complete, some of them marked, “Col. S. D. Roddy;” several boxes of canteens; a quantity of confederate army clothing; over one hundred new wall-tents, with flies, etc., complete; some commissary stores, (embracing several barrels of sugar,) small arms, and ammunition. Eight wagons, pressed for the purpose, were loaded and brought away, and the rest of the spoils destroyed at the spot. On our march, returning, a bridge gave way in the night, and the loads were burned, and the wagons abandoned. Wednesday night, December seventeenth, our whole party camped at Harrisburgh, a deserted town, about two miles north-west of Tupelo. Thursday morning, the eighteenth, before day, we took up the line of march on our return, and halted the forenoon to feed, about nine miles east of Pontotoc. At about noon, at a point about six miles east of Pontotoc, riding in advance with my escort, I learned that a large rebel cavalry force, said to be six thousand or seven thousand, were in Pontotoc. Thinking that this force was sent to cut off my small command, I looked for them to advance on the road eastward toward Tupelo. Closing up my column, it was quickly thrown off the road to the north, and moved by neighboring roads to the north-west, with a view of passing some four miles north of Pontotoc. Approaching the road from Pontotoc to Tuscumbia, (which leads east of north from Pontotoc,) we fell in with rebel flankers or stragglers, about three miles from Pontotoc captured three and wounded one, while others escaped. It was here ascertained that the rebel column was moving out from Pontotoc on the Ripley road, directly to the north, and passing across our front about a mile distant; that the head of their column was feeding on that road, about a mile and a half distant to the north-west, the smoke of their camp-fires being plainly in sight, and that about four hundred of their force were still in Pontotoc. My horses were so worn down from hard and long marching that it was deemed imprudent to encounter an enemy so superior in numbers, and mounted on fresh horses. My object was to avoid him if possible; if not, to fight at his rear. Throwing out a small guard at a strong position to guard our right flank, the column was promptly moved toward Pontotoc, on the Tuscumbia road, capturing  several stragglers from the rebel force by the wayside. Passing down this road, the rebel column was, for the space of a mile, in full view, moving north on the Ripley road, and about three fourths of a mile to the west of us. Arriving at Pontotoc, it was found that the rear of the enemy had left town, but could still be seen in the distance moving north. Couriers were here detailed, and a despatch put into their hands to advise the general commanding that this force was moving north, and an escort ordered to conduct the couriers eight miles on the Oxford road. My command left Pontotoc at once, about sundown, on the Rocky Ford road, bearing a little west of north, and running near the Ripley road, making a demonstration of attack on the enemy's left flank. Following this road about three miles, when daylight was disappearing, we turned south-west and passed on by-ways through the country across to the road from Pontotoc to Oxford, and, following this a few miles, we turned again south, and crossed the Yockna, on a bridge, where we camped for the night. I here found, to my surprise, that the escort and couriers, by a fatal misapprehension of my orders, had not left the column. Other couriers were at once sent forward for Oxford, but lost their way in the Yockna bottom, and, travelling all night, found themselves farther from Oxford than when they left camp, and did not arrive until this morning. Early yesterday morning, the nineteenth, we took up the line of march, and Colonel Hatch was sent with the command to the cavalry camp on the Yockna River, and with my escort, after a long day's march, I reached Oxford at half-past 5 P. M. last evening, and reported to you the fact that on the evening of the eighteenth a large rebel cavalry force passed from Pontotoc north on the Ripley road, and notice was at once telegraphed to every point on the railroad north of this. The expedition to Okolona has been most laborious, and the men and horses are completely worn down, and wholly unfit for service for a few days. Men and horses were subsisted upon the country through which we passed. The day's march usually began before day and closed after night, halting to feed but once a day, usually from ten A. M. to one P. M. The men lived chiefly on fresh meat, sweet potatoes, and corn bread roasted in corn husks, and often without salt. Men and officers, however, were cheerful and prompt in every duty. In six days we marched about two hundred miles, worked two days at the railroad, captured about one hundred and fifty prisoners, destroyed thirty-four miles of important railroad and a large amount of public stores of the enemy, and returned, passing round an enemy of nine to our one, and reached camp without having a man killed, wounded, or captured. Col. Hatch, of the Second Iowa, commanding the Second brigade, Lieut. Cregs, Acting Assistant Adjutant-General of my division, and Lieut. Davis, my Division Quartermaster, deserve special notice for their untiring and effective aid in accomplishing the results attained. Mr. Toffing, Topographical Engineer, accompanied the expedition, and collected matters for a very correct map of the roads over which we passed.
Lieut.-Colonel John A. Rawlins, A. A. General:
Lieut.-Colonel John A. Rawlins, A. A. General:
T. Lyle Dickey, Colonel and Chief of Cavalry, Commanding Division.