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“the battle of the cane-brake.”

Report of General Daniel bugles.

First Military District, Dept. of Mississippi and East Louisiana, Headquarters in the Field. Okalona, Miss., June 25, 1863.
Colonel B. S. Ewell, Assistant Adjutant-General, Jackson, Miss.:
Colonel:--I have the honor to state for the information of the general commanding the department, (General J. E. Johnston), that on the 4th instant, I received official notice that Governor Pettus had ordered Colonel J. F. Smith's regiment and Major T. W. Harris' battalion, Mississippi State troops, to be turned over to the Confederate authorities, and an inspector was immediately ordered to inspect them preparatory to their reception. Only thirty-five of Harris' battalion could be assembled, and Smith's entire regiment, which had been stationed near New Albany, disbanded on the 9th and 10th before any inspection could be made.

To cover the country and reassure the people, on the 13th instant, I marched a portion of my troops with two sections of Owens' Light Battery and your prairie pieces, to the locality previously occupied by Smith's State troops. Arriving at Pontotoc myself after dark of that [530] day, I very soon had information that the enemy with a force variously estimated from five to fifteen hundred men, with artillery, had advanced to New Albany, nineteen miles distant, and burned all the business houses, church, and some private dwellings, late in the evening of the same day. At midnight I left for New Albany, reaching the place about nine o'clock the next morning, with the force brought from near Okalona except Owens' artillery, which had not come up.

Ascertaining that the enemy numbered only some five hundred men with two guns, I sent Colonel Boyle with four hundred men, and Colonel Faulkner, of General Chalmers' command, who had for sometime been near, and who joined me at New Albany, with some two hundred men in pursuit, accompanied by Colonel John M. Sandige, one of my staff officers, with instructions to press the enemy. and attack him wherever found. The enemy having retreated in the direction of Ripley, the troops of Colonels Boyle and Faulkner pursued by different routes to that place, as instructed, with the hope of overtaking him there. Arriving at two o'clock P. M. the 14th, Colonel Boyle found the enemy had left at nine A. M., going in the direction of Pochahontas. Colonel Boyle immedately continued the pursuit, leaving a message for Colonel Faulkner (who had not arrived) to join him at a feeding place twelve miles out, intending, if he could not overtake the enemy during the night, to attack him at Pocahontas at daylight the next morning. At eleven o'clock in the night, being informed that Colonel Faulkner could not, for some reason proceed beyond Ripley, and that the enemy was already at Pocahontas, Colonel Boyle reluctantly, and with the concurrence of my staff officer, abandoned the pursuit and the purpose of attacking Pocahontas, returning to New Albany the next day. It is believed that, with the co-operation of Colonel Faulkner, the expedition would have resulted most successfully. Remaining at and near New Albany until the 17th, Captain Thomas Puryear, of Colonel Bartean's Second Tennessee regiment, with a detachment of twelve selected men, accompanied by the staff officer, already mentioned, was instructed to penetrate the enemy's lines, if practicable, near Chewalla, and, passing north of the Mississippi and Chattanooga railroad, break up the enemy's communications and the railroads in that section.

As the success of this expedition depended greatly, if not entirely, upon its passing some distance beyond the enemy's lines without being observed, during the night of the 17th, it was found that after a march of forty-two miles during the day, there was still twenty miles to be passed over before reaching Chewalla. Heavy rains late in the evening and at night, with total darkness, made it impossible to accomplish [531] the desired object, and the troops were halted about midnight, and the next morning, the 18th, turned eastwardly to scour the country in front of the enemy's lines, so as to unite with the main body of my force, which had been marched the day before from New Albany in the direction of Guntown, to watch and harass the threatened raid on Atlanta, if made.

After a short march, Captain Puryear got into the rear of a party of the enemy's cavalry moving from the east, westwardly, in the direction of Ripley, and I was informed that Captain Puryear having failed in his first object would follow after the enemy, then three hours in advance. At two o'clock P. M., when within four miles of Ripley, Captain Puryear ascertained that the enemy he had been pursuing had united with a much larger force at Ripley, who came out from Chewalla and Pocahontas, with artillery. Manoeuvring upon two or three roads near Ripley in such manner as to induce the enemy to believe a large force was approaching against him, he retreated from the place and Captain Puryear's command encamped for the night six miles distant on the road leading to New Albany. Ascertaining, as is supposed, the real strength of our weak force which had deluded him, the enemy moved forward the next morning (the 19th) and at two o'clock P. M., a lively skirmish commenced at New Albany. Captain Puryear's rear guard, in command of Lieutenant H. H. French, with twenty men, holding them in check for three hours, killing and wounding several as was subsequently ascertained. The conspicuous gallantry of this lieutenant as well on this as on the succeeding day, when he was wounded, entitles him to special commendation. Sergeant J. D. Carr, of company D, and private W. W. Thurmond, of company G, Second Tennessee regiment, also deserve special praise for gallant conduct at New Albany.

On the reception of the information, communicated on the morning of the 18th by my staff officer with Captain Puryear, that they were in pursuit of an enemy moving towards Ripley, I retraced my steps from near Guntown, sending the Second Alabama regiment, under Captain Earle to New Albany, and with the remainder of my troops and guns took the road to Plenitude, to be in position to meet the enemy and cover Pontotoc, should he advance in force. Near Plenitude, Captain Puryear's detachment rejoined the command, and ascertaining that the enemy, leaving New Albany at six o'clock P. M., were encamped on the Pontotoc road, five miles from the latter and three miles from the former place, my troops were moved to the right during the night, to be in communication with the Second Alabama, and in the enemy's [532] rear, proposing to strike him at daylight. The enemy, it seems, ascertaining in some way the proximity of a larger force than he expected to encounter, left his camp during the night (not withdrawing his pickets), taking the direction of Rockyford, on the Tallahatchie river. He was overtaken by the advance of my troops under Colonel Bartean and Captain Earle (who marched all night), and attacked in the cane-brake swamp of the “Atchchubby-paliah,” before reaching the Tallahatchie. Arriving on the field with the main body, and after a conflict of three hours, the enemy was entirely routed and driven from an exceedingly strong position, in dense swamps, and behind almost impassable creeks. Near fifty of his killed have been found in these thickets, a few are prisoners, the remainder fled in confusion, barely saving his artillery, losing caissons, and nearly all of his baggage and ammunition train. The pursuit was continued to the Tallahatchie, at Rockyford.

Colonel Phillips, in command of the enemy's troops, had with him the Ninth Illinois, Tenth and Eleventh Missouri, and Fifth Ohio regiments, with two companies of Tories, mounted infantry and cavalry, numbering over a thousand men, one Parrott gun and one twelve-pounder howitzer, and had moved out to co-operate with other forces of the enemy near the Central railroad.1

I was much gratified with the conduct of officers and men who engaged the enemy with vigor and determination, and after final dispositions were made, gave evidence of their ability to drive greater numbers than were then opposed to them from the field.

Colonel Bartean's Second Tennessee, Colonel Boyle's First Alabama, and Captain Earle's Second Alabama regiments of cavalry vied with each other in pressing the enemy home, while Captain Owen's light battery and First Lieutenant Holt's Williams guns2 swept the cane brakes and jungles with marked effect.

But for the difficulty in obtaining guides in the dense thickets, extending some miles, a flank movement would have been made to the right, by which the enemy's rear might have been gained, resulting unquestionably in the destruction or capture of his entire force.3 [533]

We have to regret the loss of two killed and seventeen wounded in this day's conflict.

As I approached the cane-brake the conflict had already begun, and I made prompt inquiry among the nearest residents about the locality, who represented it as almost impenetrable and quite impassable.

I desired to turn the left flank of the enemy with an effective force and gain his rear, and thus corrall him and hold him in conflict until he would have been glad to surrender.

On this point I could obtain no specific information respecting the practicability of crossing the cane-brake and muddy creek for some distance on my right, and the strength of my force, deficient in discipline, brought together promiscuously for the first time, did not warrant venturing on a movement somewhat hazardous even when the conditions attending it are clearly defined.

On this occasion it proved from subsequent information, as I had anticipated, that such a flank movement with the view to attack the enemy in his rear, and thus entrap him and enforce his full surrender, would have been entirely practicable; but the persons from whom information was sought under the impending emergency either failed to give the specific information sought or evaded the closest questioning. It only remained to accept battle in the midst of an extensive, dense cane-brake and impenetrable thicket, covering both banks of a deep, muddy stream, on the enemy's own terms.

In this crisis I relied with entire confidence on that undaunted bravery of those chivalric sons of the South, which, when skilfully directed, no enemy could resist.4

Your dispatch of the 19th from Canton, notifying me that three thousand of the enemy's mounted troops were moving against General Chalmers, was received on the battle-ground at half-past 1 P. M. the 20th, and I immediately sent off scouts to report the actual positions, &c., of the enemy, with the view of assisting in his expulsion; but the defeat of one of their columns by the troops of General Chalmers and the retreat of the other, as was subsequently ascertained, made it inexpedient [534] to march my troops westwardly from the base line of operations.5

It was then, I repeat, at this critical period, while General Johnston was manoeuvering with both General Grant and Lieutenant-General Pemberton, and apparently at a notable disadvantage, with the odds much against him, that the enemy's cavalry disclosed new signs of life along the northern Mississippi border, and made constantly recurring incursions within the then Confederate lines, with the apparent intent of impeding the concentration of Confederate troops in any attempt to relieve Vicksburg.

During this period, after having repelled the enemy along my northern line of defence, not having sufficient force to reciprocate the courtesy of the enemy's attempted invasion, and while indulging in the strategy of “masterly inactivity,” one of my spies informed me, on or about the 22d day of June, that General Pemberton would “surrender Vicksburg on the 4th day of July,” then near at hand. I assured him that such a rumor must be entirely groundless, that General Pemberton was not the man to surrender, and that he well knew that there were three hundred and sixty-four other days in the year, on any one of which he might surrender; and, furthermore, that the 4th of July had been sufficiently signalized already — that the rumor was incredible! The spy then said that “General Dodge,” the Federal commander at Corinth, “had stated in his presence that Vicksburg was to be surrendered to the Federal army on the 4th of July proximo.”

Before leaving the neighborhood of Guntown, on the 18th, Major W M. Inge was ordered from Tupelo with one hundred and twenty-five select men, to be joined by Captain Warren, who had been sent with an equal number to scout along the enemy's lines eastwardly from Camp Davis, with instructions to repel a small raid of the enemy reported moving towards Fulton, which was done by him after some slight skirmishing, capturing two wagons, an ambulance, and eight [535] horses, the enemy destroying another wagon in which was forty or fifty long-range guns and three thousand rounds of ammunition, taken out by them to arm some tories.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Daniel Ruggles, Brigadier General Commanding District. Fredericksburg, Va., September 12, 1879.
A true copy of the original report, with the addition of explanatory notes.

Daniel Ruggles. Brigadier General late Confederate States Army.

1 From subsequent representations, deemed authentic, Colonel Phillips' Federal force numbered between sixteen hundred and two thousand well appointed veteran troops on the field.

2 Four prairie guns, from which the Gatling gun partially springs, apparently, by Darwinian derivation, designed for cavalry service in the field.

3 It has been stated that Colonel Phillips had two companies of Tories, and the fact is noteworthy, that in the extended field of our operations there were many disaffected people, as well as many practicing neutrality, impeding, when not absolutely obstructing Confederate operations in the field.

4 My thanks are especially due to Major F. P. Beck, chief quartermaster; Captain L. D. Sandige, district inspector and acting assistant adjutant-general; Major Beverly Matthews, inspector of cavalry; Colonel John M. Sandige, volunteer aid-de-camp; Second Lieutenant A. B. de Saurres, engineer Confederate States army; and First Lieutenant M. B. Ruggles, aid-de-camp, for services most promptly and gallantly rendered on the field of battle.

5 It is to be observed that this was during a critical period of the war in the Valley of the Mississippi. Vicksburg was then, and had been for some time, besieged by General Grant with a powerful land and naval, or gunboat force, and that General J. E. Johnston had been sent by the Confederate Executive to redeem, so far as might still be practicable, the effects of accumulated blunders, and especially in the assignment, at an earlier period, of Major-General Lovell, that “brilliant” commander, who had already ignobly sacrificed Louisiana to the “water-gods!” and also Lieutenant-General Pemberton, who had been promoted from the defence of Charleston, bearing a diploma as lieutenant-general, even to the banks of the Mississippi, who embraced the anniversary of a signal event to commemorate the surrender of his army!

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