O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XVII/1 [S# 24]
DECEMBER 15, 1862-JANUARY 3, 1863.
Forrest's Expedition into West Tennessee.
NO. 20.--Reports of Brig. Gen. Nathan B. Forrest,
C. S. Army, commanding Expedition, of operations,
December 11, 1862-January 3, 1863.
Near Union City, Tenn., December 24, 1862.
accordance with your order I moved with my command
from Columbia on the 11th instant, reached the river at Clifton on Sunday,
the 13th, and after much difficulty, working night and day, finished
crossing on the 15th, encamping that night 8 miles west of the river.
On the 16th [18th] we met the pickets of the enemy near Lexington and attacked
their forces at Lexington, consisting of one section of artillery and 800
cavalry. We routed them completely, capturing the two guns and 148 prisoners
including Col [R. G.] Ingersoll and Maj [L. H.] Kerr, of the Eleventh Illinois
Cavalry. We also captured about 70 horses, which were badly needed and
immediately put in service in our batteries. The balance of the Federal
cavalry fled in the direction of Trenton and Jackson. We pushed on rapidly to
Jackson, and on the evening of the 18th drove in their pickets on all the
roads leading out of Jackson. On the same night I sent Col. [G. G.] Dibrell on
the right of Jackson to tear up the railroad track and destroy the telegraph
wires. He captured at Webb's Station 101 Federals, destroying their stockade,
and tore up the road, switch, &c., at the turn-out. At the same time that
Dibrell was sent on the right Col. [A. A.] Russell. [Fourth Alabama Cavalry],
and Maj. [N. N.] Cox, [Second Battalion Tennessee Cavalry], with their
commands were sent out on the left to destroy bridges and culverts on the
railroads from Jackson to Corinth and Bolivar.
The next morning [December 19] I advanced on Jackson with Colonel [T. G.]
Woodward's two companies and Col. [J. B.] Biffle's battalion of about 400 men,
with two pieces of artillery from Freeman's battery. About 4 miles from
Jackson skirmishing began with the skirmishers, and the enemy was reported
advancing with two regiments of infantry and a battalion of cavalry. We opened
on them with the guns, and after a running fight of about an hour drove them
into their fortifications. The enemy had heavily re-enforced at Jackson from
Corinth, Bolivar, and La Grange, and numbered, from the best information I
could obtain, about 9,000 men. I withdrew my forces that evening and moved
rapidly on Trenton and Humboldt. Colonel Dibrell's command was sent to destroy
the bridge over the Forked Deer River between Humboldt and Jackson. Col. [J.
W.] Starnes was sent to attack Humboldt. Colonel Biffle was sent so as to get
in the rear of Trenton, while with Major Cox's command and my body guard,
commanded by Capt [M.] Little, and [S. L.] Freeman's Tennessee battery I
dashed into town and attacked the enemy at Trenton. They were fortified at the
depot, but were without artillery. After a short engagement between their
sharpshooters and our cavalry our battery opened on them, and on the third
fire from the battery they surrendered.
We lost 2 men killed and 7 wounded; the enemy 2 killed and over 700 prisoners,
with a large quantity of stores, arms, ammunition, and provisions, which for
want of transportation we were compelled to destroy. We captured several
hundred horses, but few of them were of any value; those that were of service
we took, and the balance I handed over to the citizens, from whom many of them
had been pressed or stolen. Colonel Russell, who was protecting our rear at
Spring Creek, found the enemy advancing and following us with 3,000 infantry,
two batteries, and several hundred cavalry. He skirmished with them during the
evening and the next morning before daylight dismounted half of his command
and succeeded in getting within 60 yards of their encampment. They discovered
him and formed in line of battle. He delivered a volley as soon as their line was
formed and the balance of the regiment charged on horseback. The enemy |
became panic-stricken and retreated hastily across Spring Creek, burning the
bridge after them. We have heard nothing from them since in that direction.
Col. [James W.] Starnes took Humboldt, capturing over 100 prisoners. He destroyed
the stockade, railroad depot, and burned up a trestle bridge near that point.
Colonel Dibrell's command failed to destroy the bridge over the Forked Deer
River, as the enemy were strongly fortified and protected by two creeks on one
side of the railroad and a wide, swampy bottom on the other, which rendered
the approach of cavalry impossible. He dismounted his men, and while
approaching their fort a train arrived from Jackson with a regiment of
infantry. Lieutenant [John W., jr.,] Morton with two guns opened on the train,
when it retired, the troops on it gaining the stockade. Owing to the situation
of the stockade and the density of the timber and the wet, miry condition of
the bottom, the guns could not be brought to bear on it. Night coming on
Colonel Dibrell withdrew and rejoined my command. We remained in
Trenton during the night of the 20th, paroling all the prisoners and selecting
from the stores at the depot such as were needed by the command.
On the morning of the 21st I fired the depot, burning up the remaining
supplies, with about 600 bales of cotton, 200 barrels of pork, and a large lot
of tobacco in hogsheads, used by the enemy for breastworks. After seeing
everything destroyed I moved on in the direction of Union City, capturing at
Rutherford Station two companies of Federals and destroying the railroad from
Trenton to Kenton Station, at which place we captured Col. [Thomas J.] Kinney,
of the One hundred and twenty-second [One hundred and nineteenth] Illinois
Regiment, and 22 men left sick in the hospital. I took a portion of the
command and pushed ahead to Union City, capturing 106 Federals without firing
a gun. I destroyed the railroad bridge over the bayou near Moscow and am
completing the destruction of the bridges over the North and South Fork of
Obion River, with nearly 4 miles of trestling in the bottom between them. We
have made a clean sweep of the Federals and roads north of Jackson, and know
of no Federals except at Fort Heiman, Paducah, and Columbus, north of Jackson
and west of the Tennessee River. Reports that are reliable show that the
Federals are rapidly sending up troops from Memphis. One hundred and twenty-
five transports passed down a few days ago within ten hours, and daily they
are passing up loaded with troops. General Grant must either be in a very
critical condition or else affairs in Kentucky require the movement. In closing
my report, general, allow me to say that great credit is due to the officers of
my command. They have exhibited great zeal, energy, endurance, and gallantry.
Colonel Russell and his command deserve especial notice for their gallantry in
the fight at Lexington and Spring Creek.
Capt. [F. B.] Gurley, [Fourth Alabama Cavalry], with 12 men charged a gun at
Lexington supported by over 100 Federal cavalry. He captured the
gun, losing his orderly-sergeant by the fire of the gun when within 15 feet of
its muzzle. My men have all behaved well in action, and as soon as rested a
little you will hear from me in another quarter.
Our loss so far is 8 killed, 12 wounded, and 2 missing. The enemy's killed and
wounded over 100 men; prisoners over 1,200, including colonels, 4 majors, 10
captains, and 23 lieutenants. We have been so busy and kept so constantly
moving that we have not had time to make out a report of our strength, and ask
to be excused until the next courier comes over. We send by courier a list of
General, I am, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
N. B. FORREST,
Brigadier-General, Commanding in West Tennessee.
General BRAXTON BRAGG,
Commanding Army of Tennessee.
Clifton, Tenn., January 3, 1863.
GENERAL: I forwarded you from Middleburg, per Lieutenant Martin, a detailed
report of my operations up to the 25th ultimo, which I hope reached you safely.
I left Middleburg on the 25th, proceeding via the Northwestern Railroad to
McKenzie's Station, destroying all the bridges and trestles on that road from
Union City to McKenzie's Station. From McKenzie's Station we were compelled to
move southward in the direction of Lexington, as the enemy in force occupied
Trenton, Humboldt, Huntingdon, and Lexington. After my command left Trenton
they commenced re-enforcing and moving to the points named with a view of
cutting off my command and prevent us recrossing the Tennessee. Understanding
a force was moving on me from Trenton in the direction of Dresden, I sent Col.
[J. B.] Biffle, [Nineteenth Tennessee Cavalry], in that direction to protect
our movements toward Lexington, intending if possible to avoid the enemy and
go on and attack the enemy at Bethel Station, on the Mobile and Ohio road,
south of Jackson.
We left McKenzie's Station on the morning of December 28, but in crossing the
bottom had great difficulty in crossing our artillery and wagons; the bridges
proved to be much decayed and gave way, forcing us to drag our artillery and
wagons through the bottom and the creeks. It was with great difficulty we got
through by working the entire night, and our men and horses were so much
fatigued that I was compelled to encamp at Flake's Store, about 16 miles north
of Lexington, when under ordinary circumstances and good roads we ought to
have reached Lexington that night, which place had been evacuated by the
enemy, believing that I would either cross the Tennessee at Huntingdon or else
that I would move northward.
On the morning of the 31st we moved off in the direction of Lexington, but had
not gone more than 4 miles before we met the skirmishers of the enemy. We
engaged and fought six regiments for five hours, driving them back until 3
o'clock in the evening, [when] they took shelter in a grove of timber of about
60 acres inclosed by a fence and surrounded by open fields. I had sent four
companies to Clarksburg to protect and advise me of any advance from
Huntingdon, and finding that we were able to whip the enemy, dismounted a
portion of my cavalry to support my artillery and attack in front while I
could flank them on each side and get Col. [A. A.] Russell's regiment, [Fourth
Alabama Cavalry], in their rear. We drove them through the woods
with great slaughter and several white flags were raised in various portions
of the woods and the killed and wounded were strewn over the ground. Thirty
minutes more would have given us the day, when to my surprise and astonishment
a fire was opened on us in our rear and the enemy in heavy force under General
[J. C.] Sullivan advanced on us. Knowing that I had four companies at
Clarksburg, 7 miles from us on the Huntingdon road, I could not believe that
they were Federals until I rode up myself into their lines. The heavy fire of
their infantry unexpected and unlooked for by all caused a stampede of horses
belonging to my dismounted men, who were following up and driving the enemy
before them. They also killed and crippled many of the horses attached to our
caissons and reserved guns.
I had sent back 2 miles for more ammunition. My men had been fighting for five
hours, and both artillery and small-arm ammunition were well-nigh exhausted.
We occupied the battle-field, were in possession of the enemy's dead and
wounded and their three pieces of artillery, and had demanded a surrender of
the brigade, which would doubtless have been forced or accepted in half an
hour, the colonel commanding proposing to leave the field entirely and
withdraw his force provided we would allow him to bury his dead; but believing
I could force, and that in a short time, the demand, the fighting continued,
the Federals scattering in every direction. The stampede of horses and horse-
holders announced that help was at hand, and finding my command now exposed to
fire from both front and rear I was compelled to withdraw, which I did in good
order, leaving behind our dead and wounded. We were able to bring off six
pieces of artillery and two caissons, the balance, with the three guns we
captured, we were compelled to leave, as most of the horses were killed or
crippled and the drivers in the same condition, which rendered it impossible
to get them out raider the heavy fire of the enemy from both front and rear.
Our loss in artillery is three guns and eight caissons and one piece which
burst during the action.
The enemy's loss was very heavy in killed and wounded, and as we had the field
and saw them piled up and around the fences had a good opportunity of judging
their loss. We gave them grape and canister from our guns at 300 yards, and as
they fell back through the timber their loss was terrible. The prisoners say
that at least one-third of the command was killed or wounded. From all I could
see and learn from my aides and officers they must have lost in killed and
wounded from 800 to 1,000 men. The fire of our artillery for accuracy and
rapidity was scarcely, if ever, excelled, and their position in the fence
corners proved to the enemy, instead of a protection, a source of great loss,
as our shot and shell scattered them to the winds, and many were killed by
rails that were untouched by balls.
Captain Freeman and Lieut. [J. W.] Morton of our batteries, with all of their
men, deserve special mention, keeping up, as they did, a constant fire from
their pieces, notwithstanding the enemy made every effort at silencing their
pieces by shooting down the artillerists at the guns. The whole command fought
well. We had about 1,800 men in the engagement., and fought six regiments of
infantry, with three pieces of artillery, which we charged and took, but were
compelled to leave them as the horses were all killed or crippled. We brought
off 83 prisoners, and they report their respective regiments as badly cut up.
They lost 3 colonels and many company officers.
We have on our side to deplore the death of Col. [T.] Alonzo Napier,
[Tenth Tennessee Cavalry], who was killed while leading his men in a
charge on foot. He was a gallant officer, and after he fell his command
continued to drive the enemy from their position on the right bank, strewing
their path with dead and wounded Federals.
I cannot speak in too high terms of all my commanding officers; and the men,
considering they were mostly raw recruits, fought well. I have not been able
as yet to ascertain our exact loss, but am of the opinion that 60 killed and
wounded and 100 captured or missing will cover it.
I saved all my wagons except my ammunition wagons, which, by a mistake of
orders, were driven right into the enemy's line. This is seriously to be
regretted, as we had captured six wagon loads of it; and when I ordered up one
wagon of ammunition and two ambulances, the wagon-master and ordnance officer
not knowing exactly what kind was wanted, or misunderstanding the order,
brought up all the ammunition, and by the time he reached the point with them
where the battle begun that portion of the ground was in possession of the
enemy, and the guards, &c., were forced to abandon them.
We have always been short of shot-gun caps, and as we captured nothing but
musket-caps, all the men using shot-guns were out, or nearly so, of caps after
the action was over. Considering our want of ammunition for small-arms and
artillery and the worn-down condition of our men and horses I determined at
once to recross the Tennessee River and fit up for a return. Had we been
entirely successful in the battle of the 31st I should have attacked Bethel
Station on the 2d instant; had already sent a company to cut wires and
bridges, and had forage prepared 12 miles south of Lexington for my entire
command; but after the fight, and knowing we were followed by Federals in
heavy force from Trenton and Huntingdon, and that a force would also move on
us from Jackson as soon as they learned I had pushed south of Lexington, I
deemed it advisable to cross the Tennessee, which I accomplished yesterday and
last night in safety.
Colonel Biffle, who I before mentioned as having been sent to Trenton, or in
that direction, returned in time to take part in the battle at Parker's Cross-
Roads. He captured and paroled 150 Federals within 6 miles of Trenton.
The captains of the four companies sent to Clarksburg have not yet reached
here with their commands. Had they done their duty by advising me of the
approach of the enemy I could have terminated the fight by making it short and
decisive, when without such advice 1 was whipping them badly with my
artillery, and unless absolutely necessary was not pressing them with my
cavalry. I had them entirely surrounded and was driving them before me, and
was taking it leisurely and trying as much as possible to save my men. The
four companies on the approach of the enemy left for Tennessee River and have
not yet reported here.
I do not design this, general, as a regular report, but will make one as soon
as I can do so. We crossed the river at three points, and the brigade is not
yet together, or reports front the different commands have not come in. We
have worked, rode, and fought hard, and I hope accomplished to a considerable
extent, if not entirely, the object of our campaign, as we drew from Corinth,
Grand Junction, and La Grange about 20,000 Federals. Will send you an
additional list of paroles, &c., by next courier.
I am, general, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
N. B. FORREST,
Brigadier-General, Commanding Brigade
Lieut. Co. GEORGE WILLIAM BRENT,