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General Chalmers' report of operations of cavalry division on line of Memphis and Charleston R. R., from 5th to 18th October, 1863.

headquarters cavalry in North Mississippi, Oxford, Mississippi, October 20, 1863.
Colonel B. S. Ewell, Assistant Adjutant-General:
Colonel — I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of the forces under my command, from the 5th to the 13th instant:

On the afternoon of the 3d instant, I received orders from General Johnston, through Major-General Lee, commanding cavalry in Mississippi, to move my whole command against the enemy on the line of the Memphis and Charleston railroad within four days; the principal object of the movement being explained to be to divert the attention of the enemy from a movement which General Lee was about to make in person in a different direction.

To effect this object, and at the same time to annoy the enemy as much as possible, I determined to concentrate my force — consisting of my own brigade and that commanded by Colonel R. V. Richardson, which was then stationed at New Albany — at Salem, as if with the intention of attacking La Grange or some point further east, and thus, while the attention of the enemy was drawn in that direction, to make a rapid movement towards Colliersville, in the hope of surprising it before information of my movement could be received. With the view of still further misleading them, I caused it to be reported, when I knew it would reach the enemy, that we were concentrating a large force for an attack on Corinth.

Finding it impossible to put Colonel Richardson's brigade (which had been transferred to my command on the 2d) in readiness to move before the 6th, I ordered my whole command to move on the morning of that day, directing Richardson's brigade, the First Mississippi partisans and Second Mississippi cavalry, which were on outpost duty, to join me at Salem; but hearing on the evening of the 4th that the enemy intended to disturb the election which was to be held in Holly Springs on the 5th, I left the new regiment, commanded by Colonel George, which was not fully organized, to picket the river, and moved at daylight the next morning with the other troops under my immediate command, consisting of the Seventh Tennessee, Third Mississippi (State), Eighteenth Mississippi battalion and one rifle gun, the whole amounting to about eight. [223] hundred and fifty men, on Holly Springs, and threw out pickets to protect the place.

During the day, as I afterwards learned, the enemy came within a few miles of the town, with a force of eight hundred men (Eighth and Ninth Illinois and Sixth Tennessee regiments cavalry) and three pieces artillery, but hearing of our presence there, they felt back to Lockard Mills, on Cold Water, eight miles from town, where they encamped for the night, and sent couriers to the Sixth and Seventh Illinois cavalry, which were camped at Quinn's and Jackson's mill, twelve miles below on the same stream.

As soon as I was informed of their position, I determined to attack the command nearest to me before the others could form a junction with it. The Eighteenth Mississippi battalion (Major Alexander H. Chalmers) was ordered to move at midnight, and, crossing Cold Water some distance above Lockard Mills, to get in the rear of the force at that point and attack them at daylight the next morning. The Ninth Tennessee (Lieutenant-Colonel Duckworth) and Third Mississippi State cavalry (Colonel McQuirk) and the rifled gun, under command of Lieutenant Richards, of McLenden's battery, were ordered to attack the enemy in front at the same time. These dispositions were well carried out by the different commanders.

The Eighteenth Mississippi battalion, which had succeeded in reaching the enemy's rear, charged gallantly upon them, driving them from their camp and across the creek, but unfortunately a premature shot of our piece of artillery, which was mistaken by Major Chalmers for the signal for attack, and induced him to commence it before the other troops could be brought into action, also. gave the enemy notice of our position and enabled them to effect their escape. Our loss in this skirmish was one man slightly wounded. That of the enemy was three wounded.

Finding that pursuit could not be successful, I moved towards Salem, in accordance with my original plan, and encamped near that place. While on the march I was joined by the Second Mississippi cavalry (Lieutenant-Colonel R. A. McCullock) and the First Mississippi partisans (Lieutenant-Colonel Hovas).

On the morning of the 8th, the enemy, supposing that we would move further east, sent Colonel McCrellis from La Grange with the Third and Ninth Illinois cavalry and Sixth Tennessee cavalry, with three pieces of artillery, to McDonald's store, ten miles east of Salem, where they were joined by the Ninth Kansas, Hawkins' [224] Tennessee cavalry and Ninth regiment Illinois mounted infantry, and three pieces of artillery, who were then returning from New Albany, near which place they had been repulsed by Colonel Richardson on the 15th instant. After waiting several hours in Salem on the morning of the 8th to ascertain the position and movements of the enemy, and thinking it probable from the best information I could obtain that he would await our coming in his chosen position on the Ripley road, I moved off with the main body of my command toward Colliersville, leaving Lieutenant-Colonel Slovis, with the First regiment Mississippi partisans, to watch the movements of the enemy, with instructions to fall back and join me. That night we had proceeded about ten miles when I was informed by Colonel Slovis that the enemy had driven him out of the town and were then pursuing him on the road upon which we were moving.

I immediately ordered the Third Mississippi State cavalry to return and reinforce Colonel Slovis, and hold the enemy in check, while I with the remainder of the command could return by a parallel road and gain their rear. On approaching Salem, however, I found that the main body of the enemy had not pursued Colonel Slovis, but was drawn up in line of battle in a strong position immediately east of the town, with a line of skirmishers in the town itself. They were protected by the houses and the rugged nature of the ground, which rendered all approaches difficult.

We were thus compelled to attack them in front, which we did at once, and after three hours hard fighting drove them from their position. They retreated in disorder to La Grange, but the darkness of the night which came on before the fighting had entirely ceased prevented an active pursuit. In this affair the Second Mississippi cavalry (Lieutenant-Colonel McCulloch), Third regiment Mississippi State cavalry (Colonel McQuirk) and the Eighteenth Mississippi battalion (Major Chalmers) bore the brunt of the conflict, and although the last two were composed almost entirely of untried men, they behaved with a gallantry equal to that which has ever distinguished the veterans of the Mississippi cavalry. The First Mississippi partisans was placed on our right flank and the Ninth Tennessee was held in reserve until late in the day, when both regiments were ordered to support the Second Mississippi, which they did bravely and successfully.

Our entire force did not exceed twelve hundred men, with one piece of artillery, which broke its trail at the third fire and became [225] disabled and was drawn off; that of the enemy was not less than two thousand men, with six pieces of artillery. Our loss was one killed and twenty-seven wounded; that of the enemy could not accurately be ascertained, as they removed many of their dead and wounded from the field while the fight was going on, but it is reported by reliable persons, who had an opportunity of knowing, to have been forty-seven killed and one hundred and three wounded, besides five prisoners, whom we brought off.

Colonel Richardson joined me on the night of the 8th instant with his brigade, consisting of the Twelfth Mississippi cavalry (Colonel Inge), Twelfth Tennessee cavalry (Lieutenant-Colonel Green), Thirteenth Tennessee cavalry (Colonel Neely), Fourteenth Tennessee cavalry (Colonel Stuart), the Reneau battery of two six-pounders (Captain Palmer), and the Buckner battery of four steel breech-loading two-pounders (Lieutenant Holt), the whole amounting to about nine hundred and fifty men. The enemy were reinforced at La Grange by the Sixth and Ninth Illinois and Third Michigan cavalry, and on the following evening (9th) the whole force, amounting to nine regiments of mounted men and nine pieces of artillery, under the command of Captain Hatch, moved out against us. At the same time a force of infantry and artillery was sent to Davis' mill on Wolf river, which was between our position and La Grange, and within supporting distance of their cavalry.

During the greater part of the day we remained drawn up in line of battle at Harnan's house, two miles from Salem, and there was some slight skirmishing between the advancing parties, but the enemy did not make their appearance in any force. Late in the afternoon, the enemy having entirely disappeared, we moved ten miles towards Holly Springs, in order to obtain forage and water, and on the next day we moved into that place, where we remained during the day to obtain a supply of ammunition and rations, of both of which we were in much need. While there four detachments of one hundred men each — commanded respectively by Major Mitchell, Eighteenth Mississippi battalion; Major Cozzins, Second Mississippi; Major Burrows, Twelfth Tennessee; Lieutenant-Colonel Marshal, Fourteenth Tennessee--were sent out with instructions to tear up the Memphis and Charleston railroad and destroy the telegraph wire so as to prevent the passage of troops or intelligence. Mitchell and Cozzens were ordered to cut the road east of Colliersville, Burrows and Marshall west of it. The first two were [226] successful in tearing up the track in several places before daylight the next morning, but the others, owing to the greater distance they had to travel, were not able to damage the road so as to prevent the passage of the trains on the next morning. After dark the whole command moved out twelve miles towards Byhalia, and halted for a few hours. I ordered Colonel Richardson to move at 4 A. M. the next day with his brigade and the First and Third Mississippi regiments to attack Colliersville, while the other command would follow and support him, but for some reasons he did not move until two hours later than the time ordered.

When once in motion, however, our advance was pushed forward so rapidly by Colonel Richardson that they completely surprised the enemy's pickets, capturing the officers in command and almost the entire picket. The alarm, however, had reached the garrison, and when we arrived in sight of the place we found them under arms and in the trenches. The garrison proper was composed of the Sixty-sixth Indiana infantry and detachments of the Sixth and Ninth Illinois cavalry, but they had been unexpectedly reinforced a few moments before our arrival by a train from Memphis containing Major-General Sherman and Brigadier-General Smith, with their staffs, escorts and the Thirteenth regiment United States regulars, on their way to Corinth, who were compelled to stop by the injuries to the road. There were also a few men from other regiments there who served to strengthen the garrison.

The place was protected by a strong earth-work near the railroad depot, which is itself of brick-work loopholed, and by a line of rifle-pits which cover all approaches.

East and west of the fort there are open woods which offered some protection to an attacking party. On the east and south of it, and not more than six hundred yards distant, is a ridge which overlooks it, while upon the north the hill upon which the town stands also overlooks it, and the houses afforded a protection from its fire.

The Ninth and Thirteenth Tennessee and Second Mississippi regiments were ordered to attack on the left (or west), Colonel Richardson's brigade on the right (or east), and the artillery, supported by the Eighteenth Mississippi battalion, was placed on the ridge in the centre and within six hundred (600) yards of the fort and depot, and Colonel McQuirk, with his own and First Mississippi partisans, was sent to gain possession of the town and attack the fort from the rear. [227]

The movements on the right and left were soon successful in driving the enemy to the protection of their rifle-pits, and in dislodging them from a portion of them, and forcing them to take refuge in the fort; and the troops on the right were twice pushed so far forward as to take possession of the train of cars which had been stopped at the depot, and under the protection of the fire from it and the fort, but the movement to reach the rear of the fort was not so successful.

In moving towards the position assigned him, Colonel McQuirk ran into the cavalry camp which lay northwest of the town. A force of cavalry found in it, and the infantry thrown out for its protection, were soon driven back; but the delay occasioned by the pursuit of the cavalry, who fled to the swamp, and in collecting the stragglers, who were led from the ranks by the rich booty of the camp, was so great that the opportunity to take the town was lost. Our artillery, which was principally directed against the fort and depot, was badly served and failed to do them any material injury. But notwithstanding this, and the arrival of reinforcements, if the movement to the rear had been successful, the place would probably have been captured.

After fighting for four hours and finding the place could not be taken without undue loss of life, and learning that heavy reinforcements for the enemy were close at hand, I withdrew my forces in good order and without molestation to Byhalia creek, where we encamped for the night. We brought off all our wounded who could bear transportation, one hundred and thirty-five prisoners, including four officers, thirteen wagons and teams, one ambulance, a number of horses and mules and a small quantity of ammunition and other captured property. In order to prevent the demoralization of his men, Colonel McQuirk was compelled to burn the greater part of the property found in the captured camp, consisting in part of two hundred tents, thirty wagons and a considerable quantity of quartermaster's and other stores. Our loss was three killed and forty-eight wounded. That of the enemy could not be accurately ascertained, but it is reported by citizens who visited the place soon after the engagement as having been one hundred and nineteen killed, of whom thirty-nine were negroes, and one hundred and seventy wounded. The locomotive and train were damaged, and a house said to contain commissary stores was damaged by our artillery. The horses of General Sherman and Smith and their staff officers were on the train and many of them were killed. [228]

On the following morning (12th), having heard nothing of any movement of the enemy, my own brigade was moved back to Pigeon Roost creek, and Colonel Richardson's was about to follow some hours later, when information was received that the enemy was advancing in force.

Colonel Richardson took position on a hill near Ingram's house, immediately south of Byhalia creek, his artillery being in the road in the centre and the line extending on either hand; the skirmishers in front of the centre having possession of some log-building. Here he was attacked by the enemy, who continued their efforts to drive them back for more than three hours without success, until finding that they were extending their lines to the left, with the intention of flanking him, and that another column was moving to attack him on the right and cut off his retreat, he fell back to Ingram's mill, where our whole force encamped for the night. Our force in this affair did not exceed eight hundred men, with two (2) six-pounders; that of the enemy consisted of the Ninth Illinois mounted infantry, Sixth, Seventh and Ninth Illinois cavalry, Seventh Kansas and Third Michigan cavalry, and eight pieces of artillery. Our loss was one severely and one slightly wounded, and two horses killed; their's was severe--nine killed and thirteen wounded, and in addition the citizens of Byhalia report that during the fight several ambulances loaded with dead and wounded passed through that place to the rear.

On the 13th, our ammunition being almost exhausted, our forces fell back to Wyatt, where we arrived about two (2) P. M.; the enemy following and skirmishing with our rear guard during the day. As our troops arrived they were crossed to the south side of the river, where their horses were left, and the men brought back to the north side and drawn up with either flank resting on the river; the centre being strengthened by the houses of the village. They had not reached their allotted position when the attack was commenced by the enemy, who, having been reinforced by the Sixth Tennessee and Third Illinois cavalry and four pieces of artillery, now numbered twenty-five hundred men, with twelve pieces of artillery. Our force, even after being reinforced by the part of Colonel George's regiment then at Wyatt, had been reduced by straggling and other causes to not more than sixteen hundred men. Our ammunition was almost exhausted. Of the artillery only three pieces, one six and two two-pounders, could be brought into action, and they had but a few rounds left. The men were greatly wearied, and a heavy rain, which continued throughout the [229] whole engagement, added greatly to their discomfort and rendered many of their guns useless; but notwithstanding these disadvantages they held their position firmly for more than three hours, and until night put an end to the firing, when they were withdrawn quietly across the river without loss, partially destroying the bridge behind them. No movements on either side were made during the night.

On the next day our troops were drawn up in the entrenchments on the south side of the river to resist any attempt by the enemy to cross, but after waiting some hours they burned the village of Wyatt and retired without making any effort to follow us. A small force was sent to watch their movements, but both men and horses were too much exhausted to make any pursuit in force practicable.

Our loss at Wyatt was nine killed and twenty-eight (28) wounded. The enemy admit their's to have been six killed and twenty wounded, and one prisoner, Captain Hodgman, of the Seventh Kansas, who was wounded and has since died.

A force of five regiments of infantry and some artillery, under the command of Captain Sweeney, which left La Grange on the 11th, came as far as Chalahoma with the intention of cutting off our retreat to Wyatt, but finding that we had passed returned from that place.

Both the infantry and cavalry command of the enemy were guilty of many outrages in the destruction of houses and other private property, and in some instances in acts of robbery and cruel personal violence towards infirm and defenceless citizens.

The conduct of the officers and men of my command, with a few exceptions, was worthy of much praise.

A part of them had just been armed with long range guns. It was the first time that they had been able to meet the enemy on anything like equal terms, and their conduct gives evidence of what might be expected if the remainder of the command was as well equipped.

A list of the killed and wounded in the different engagements, and the reports of the subordinate commanders, including Colonel Richardson's report of the affair near New Albany on the 5th, are herewith forwarded.

I have the honor to remain, Colonel, very respectfully,

Your obedient servant,

James R. Chalmers, Brigadier-General Commanding.

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