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The Battles of 1861,

Official reports.

Official report of the engagement at Piketon, John S. Williams, Colonel C. S. A., Commanding.

Camp Near Pound Gap, November. 13th, 1861.
General Since my last report to you, I have been compelled to abandon Piketon by an overwhelming force that advanced upon me in two columns--one directly up the river from Prestonsburg, sixteen hundred strong, with a battery of six pieces, and the other from Louisa, up Johns's Creek, a branch of the Sandy, numbering eighteen hundred men, with a battery of field-pieces. Both of these columns convinced upon Piketon. My whole force consisted of 1,010 men, including sick, teamsters and men on extra duty. I did not believe that the advance of the enemy would be so rapid, and hoped that the artillery and reinforcements promised would arrive before they could disturb me at Piketon.

Under this confident hope, I commenced gathering supplies, explored the leather resources of the country; found them abundant, and organized a corps of shoemakers and had them at work. Major Hawes had purchased a thousand fat hogs and a number of beef cattle, and was making preparation to salt them. My men were badly clad and badly armed, with not a knapsack, haversack, or canteen; they carried their powder in horns gourds, and bottles. This was our condition when the enemy commenced the advance upon us. Retreat was evitable; but there was too much public property to be abandoned without an effort to save it.

I at once ordered all the transportation possible to be collected, and sent the sick, the wounded, and the live stock, to the rear, on the Pound Gap road, for the Tazewell route was no longer safe. I sent a small armed force immediately on the Tazewell route with written orders to turn back the artillery and all public wagons to a point of safety in Virginia.

I then sent Captain Holliday with a small mounted party on the Johns's Creek road, and Captains Thomas and Clay on the river road to Prestensburg, to observe the movements of the enemy. This was on the night of the 8th. Captain Thomas discovered the advanced guard of the enemy about 15 miles from Piketon. I went in person with Capts. May and Hawkins, with their companies of infantry, and Lieut. Van Hoor, with 20 mounted men, to the position of Captain Thomas, near Joy Creek. I found that Captain Thomas had burned the bridge there men were allowed to refresh themselves, and the horses secured in a deep mountain cave, and the whole party of 250 men moved on foot to a strong position half a mile in front of the burnt bridge, here to await what we supposed to be the advanced guard of the enemy's force.

I returned to our camp at daylight and met the report of Capt Holliday, who had been fired upon by an advanced guard of the enemy of about 150 men. He gave them a gallant fight, killed eight of them, having only one of his number wounded and one horse killed.

I dispatched Capt. Shawhan with his own and Capt. Cameron's companies, to observe the movements of the enemy on Johne's creek, with instructions to engage any party not more than twice his number, but not to attack the enemy's full force.

At half-past 1 o'clock, on the 9th inst., the enemy moved up to Capt May's position with a force of sixteen hundred men and a battery of six pieces; and were received by 250 rifles and shot guns, in point blank ranges, every one of which took effect. Their column wavered and fell back; but returned in good order, and attempt to carry the pass by assault under cover of their cannon, but were repulsed again with terrine slaughter. They then withdrew beyond the range of our shotguns, and threw their infantry up the hill, soon outflanking our little band and compelling them to all back behind the burnt bridge, Here our force made a stand; but the enemy advanced no farther. I then ordered three more companies of infantry to sustain Captain May's command, or to cover his retreat if necessary. At twelve o'clock at night Captain Shawhan reported to me that the enemy were advancing in full force on the Johns's Creek road with great rapidity, I then ordered Captains May and Shawhan and all the outposts in, I made a display of the forces in Piketon, sent the exhausted infantry in the direction of our retreat, and waited with the balance of the command the arrival of the enemy. They came up slowly and cautiously, but were detained for an hour by Captain Thomas's company of sharp- shooters, stationed near the ford, which prevented heir artillery from getting into position to rake the town. As they approached, I moved the rear guard of 400 men off in good order. They opened upon us a tremendous fire of artillery and musketry, and were replied to by our sharp-shooters. We had one killed and three wounded, while the enemy had six killed. In the Joy fight our loss was ten in killed, fifteen wounded, and forty missing--some of the missing men have gone back to their homes, and other join us daily. We lost Lieut. Rust, who fell gallantly in the discharge of his duty. My first belief was that the enemy had lost but one hundred and fifty men; but from subsequent information received from spies, Union men, escaped prisoners who have joined us, and others who have examined their burial ground, I am satisfied the enemy lost over three hundred in killed, with the usual proportion of wounded.

I cannot speak in terms of commendation too high of the gallantry of Captains May, Thomas, Hawkins, and Clay, and Lieut. Van Hook and Sam. Clay — indeed, the officers and men behaved with so much courage and coolness that to discriminate at all would be invidious. If we had have had one thousand men more, and a battery of six pieces, we could have whipped and destroyed both columns; but with the small force I had, It was impossible to fight both at once, and to have opposed my whole force to one would have exposed my rear to the other. Our cartridge boxes arrived the day after the fight. We had powder and lead, and made our own cartridges and moulded our own bullets, The enemy have six thousand troops near. Piketon--one thousand of them advanced ten miles this side of that place. They have not more than 1,500 at Prestonsburg; what they have below, as reserves, I know but little of, for all communication is cut off and the whole country is frightened out of its wits, and but few men will act as soon's or guides. I am satisfied that this large force was not moved up the Sandy merely for the purpose of dispersing the unorganized and half-armed, bare-footed squad under my command.

They intended to move upon the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, I think, by way of Tag well Court-House They fortify their positions and have a large number of wagons. The Sandy is now navigable for steamboats to a point above Piketon.

We want good rifles, clothes, great coats, knapsacks, haversacks, and canteens — indeed everything, almost, except a willingness to fight. Many of our men are barefooted, and I have seen the blood in their tracks, as they marched from Joy to this place. You know what we want, General; send such articles as we need to Abingdon. There is little subsistence here, and I fear I shall be compelled to fail back to a point where I can subsist until our organisation is perfected, We have been so constantly fighting that we have not had time to complete our muster rolls — I have now over twelve hundred men. If I could make a forward movement, the effect would be good upon the country.

Mr. Thomas has just received, from the Governor of Florida, a commission as ‘"Aide-de-camp,"’ with rank of Colonel. I cannot insist on retaining him from such increased rank. Send somebody else. If the enemy should move by way of the Pound, I have not a sufficient force to resist them — no artillery — no entrenching tools, nor exes, speeds, nor picks, If they come we will give them a fight; but this will do us no good but to destroy a few of them. I have just learned from a any that a steamboat arrived at Piketon yesterday with supplies to the enemy. Major Howes wants more money; he has bought hogs, horses, wagons, &c, &c.

Your obed't serv't
Jno, S. Williams, Colonel, C. S. A.
[Official.] H. W. Chilton. A, A, Gen.

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