No 5. Report of Colonel
Forty-third Illinois Infantry, of engagement near Jackson.
HDQRS. FORTY-THIRD REGIMENT
Bolivar, Tenn., December 29, 1862.
SIR: I beg leave to report that on December 18, at 9 p. m., under orders of General Sullivan, I proceeded with the Forty-third and Sixty-first Regiments Illinois Volunteers from Jackson out on the Lexington road, with instructions to join and take command of all the United States Cavalry that I might find, and to feel the enemy. Only 3 1\2 miles out I came upon our cavalry, consisting of parts of the Eleventh Illinois, Fifth Ohio, and one company of the Second West Tennessee Regiment. One and a half miles farther out the camp-fires of the enemy could be seen burning cheerfully, while I deemed it prudent to prohibit the kindling of any fire by my command. The night was extremely cold, and I felt mortified at my men having to suffer from its inclemencies, while the enemy were resting by large and comfortable fires. I consulted with Lieutenant-Colonel Dengler on the advisability of attacking the enemy by his camp-fires. But that officer suggested that night attacks, always hazardous, could only be attempted where the attacking parties are perfectly acquainted with the country. These suggestions being only too true, and myself and all of my officers and men being ignorant of the country, I had to abandon the project. On mature deliberation with Lieutenant-Colonel Meek, of the Eleventh Illinois; Major Ohr, of the Sixty-first, and Lieutenant-Colonel Dengler, of the Forty-third, it was considered most advisable to take position with the infantry half a mile back toward Jackson, in the outskirts of the timber, at Salem Cemetery. The Sixty-first was assigned to the left and the Forty-third to the right of the road. The Fifth Ohio Cavalry was posted on the extreme left, with instructions to send patrols to the Spring Creek road. One battalion of the Eleventh Illinois and the Second West Tennessee Cavalry were assigned to the right flank, with orders to send patrols to the old Lexington road, while the balance of the Eleventh was to show itself in the front and center, and, without exposing its men to any loss, should attempt to provoke the enemy to an attack, by means of which it might be got under the fire of the infantry.
At daybreak the enemy advanced, with heavy columns of cavalry on either flank, in advance of the main body in the road. Our cavalry retired slowly before the enemy, and took position at the point marked A on the accompanying plat, it being on the western bluff of the branch passing through the Brooks farm. It was the intention of Major Funke, commanding this portion of the Eleventh Illinois, to await the enemy in this position, give it an effective volley from the carbines of his men, and then fall back to the place marked B, where he could again rally his men, under the cover of the ridge, near the center of the open fields, between the Brooks farm and Salem Cemetery, where he proposed giving them a second fire. The enemy, however, very leisurely reconnoitered the position of our cavalry, rarely exposing itself to a long-range shot from our carbines, and only firing occasional rifle-shots at us, with the evident intention of provoking our fire, the better to be able to ascertain our position. Having succeeded to his satisfaction, the enemy brought batteries into position. Having succeeded to his satisfaction, the enemy brought batteries into position, from one-fourth to one-third of a mile, to both sides of the road, on the high ground opposite our cavalry, and opened a well-directed cross-fire upon it. The position at A became untenable and Major Funke fell back to B. It was, however, not long before the enemy's artillery also got range of this position, and his cavalry showing itself at the same time at A, our own again fell back, partly to the left of our lines and partly to our center, where it exhibited itself to the enemy, while the infantry was well concealed. The enemy's artillery now changed position, some occupying the road in front of Brooks' house; another piece was planted on the high ground to the north and on this side of the branch, while one piece still occupied the rise beyond and to the south. The latter piece continued its fire with but little intermission, while the other pieces, as soon as they attained their new position, opened a well-directed fire toward our center and flanks, where portions of our cavalry were in view. At this time information was received that a large body of the enemy's cavalry was passing at the distance of a mile to the south around my right flank. A messenger was dispatched to General Sullivan, requesting that some troops might be sent to oppose the enemy on my right flank and that others be sent to my rear as a reserve. At this time the cavalry, both on my right and left flanks, weary from the hardships to which they had been exposed during the two preceding days, and now under fire from the enemy's batteries, fell back about 1 mile toward Jackson without having first obtained any orders from me to that effect. Soon a heavy column of the enemy advanced slowly down the road, over the high point at B, first at a trot walk, then at a trot, and then at full speed. With loud cheers they charged upon my center. As they approached they were received by a well-directed fire, some of the foremost horses falling and obstructing the road, those immediately behind came to a halt, while half a dozen riderless horses rushed madly through our lines. The enemy's cavalry farther to the rear still rode forward and got jammed up with those in front. This solid body of the enemy afforded a splendid opportunity to the infantry. It was, however, but a moment, when the fence to the right and left was broken through, and empty horses and reeling riders could be seen rushing in headlong flight across the fields.
The enemy having now ascertained the position of the infantry immediately brought his artillery to bear, while demonstrations were made by his cavalry on both flanks, however keeping out of range of the rifles of the infantry. I now received repeated messages from Lieutenant-Colonel Meek that the enemy were passing my flanks and about to surround me and urging me to fall back. I, however, considered the infantry quite able to maintain itself against the enemy's cavalry in its choice position at Salem Cemetery, hoping that the latter would again attempt our overthrow, and thus give us again an opportunity of punishing them for their daring. I, however, sent skirmishers out on the flanks and ordered two companies of the right wing of the Forty-third to take position several hundred yards to the rear, where they could overlook and command the bottom and bluffs of the small creek running between the cemetery and Jackson. After waiting in this manner for about half an hour, and the enemy making no attempt to come within range of our rifles, while its artillery commenced to tell among my men, I determined to fall back out of range of its shells. The Sixty-first was first called in and sent to the rear with instructions to take position in the timber, where General Brayman subsequently found them; the Forty-third following slowly, retiring in close column, doubled on the center, while falling back over the open fields so as to be able to meet, by forming columns against cavalry, any sudden attack the enemy might be tempted to make. That regiment was then also placed in the position where the general assumed command.
I am greatly indebted to Lieutenant-Colonels Meek and Dengler and to Major Ohr for the valuable assistance given me, while I cannot speak too highly of the coolness and bravery of the officers and men of the Forty-third and Sixty-first Regiments.
The loss in the Sixty-first was 1 man killed and 3 wounded; in the Forty-third but 1 man was wounded so as to disqualify him for duty, and in the Eleventh Illinois 1 man and 2 horses were killed as they were falling back in the road toward Jackson beyond the creek, west of the cemetery, by shells that were fired from the cannon in the road at Brooks', and passed high over the heads of the infantry.
The loss of the enemy must have been severe. According to the best information I can receive his loss was 60 killed and wounded and 3 taken prisoners, including 1 lieutenant. The latter were immediately sent to General Sullivan's headquarters.
For the better elucidation of the foregoing I beg leave to submit the annexed plat,* kindly furnished me by Lieutenant-Colonel Dengler. I also beg leave to submit herewith the report made to me by Lieutenant-Colonel Dengler.
I have the honor to be, with high regard, your most obedient servant,
Colonel Forty-third Illinois.
Aide-de-Camp and Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.