CHAPTER 4 – RETREAT FROM MISSOURI – posted 4/6/2001
Feb. 12th, 1862. This is a clear warm beautiful day, and the army has a dress parade, and review at two o’clock. At three o’clock, it is rumored that our pickets have been driven in by the Yanks and they are advancing on us with a large force. Four o’clock P.M., have orders to strike tents and prepare to march in two hours. Can’t say whether we will advance or retreat. Every man is busy and keeping a close watch over his little community property, to see that all is properly loaded in the wagons. At the appointed time, just about dark the whole of Gen. Price’s command, was on the move and as we moved south we soon learned that we were on the retreat. Gen. Price is not the man to be caught napping. Although the Federal or more strickly speaking the Northern army were within five miles of Springfield, when he was notified of the fact, within two hours his army was on the move south, as he was too weak to offer successful battle. The roads are dry and dusty, and the nights clear and cool. The retreat was kept up without intermission, through out the night and until nine o’clock the next morning, when a halt was ordered for one hour, to feed the teams and for the men to cook breakfast. We moved promptly when the time expired; the horses were fed standing in harness, without being unhitched from the guns. My battery marched in the rear of our 1st Mo. Brigade of Infantry. Col Gates Reg. of Cavalry, brought up the rear.
Feb. 13th. Continued to move south or southwest, into Lawrence county. Traveling is fine, country rolling, no steep hills and we are moving without haste. Stopped about 12 o’clock tonight, fed teams, cooked what we could get to eat, and rested about two hours. All of us are tired and sleepy, and are falling asleep around the fires while trying to cook. Many failed to cook and had to move without getting anything to eat. By three o’clock this morning Feb. 14th, we were on the move and kept it up all day. Passed through Cassville, county seat of Barry county, late tonight and went into camp south of town and had a rest of six or seven hours. It is reported that one part of the Northern army were trying to cut us off at this place, but have failed by a few hours. We slept while walking and riding, I slept much at night, while walking and holding on to the trace of the wheel horse. The rear guard would go to every fire they saw during the night. These fires were built along the road to warm, when the column would hault for a few minutes.
Feb. 15th. Broke camp after daylight and resumed our march. Men and beast were much refreshed by the few hours rest last night, and a moderate meal. Rations have been short on this trip, as our commissary wagons are in advance. Our infantry are suffering with sore feet, and many are marching with only socks on their feet. Many can be seen bathing their feet in the creeks, in cold icy water, to get the fever and swelling out of them. There is no grumbling though, all are cherrful and happy.
We had gotten but a little ways this morning before our pickets were driven in by the enemies cavalry. This is the first time they have attacked our rear guard and they seem to have a heavy body of cavalry following us. Gen. Little formed a line of battle on a double quick. The enemy are in sight and made a dash at a small squad of our cavalry about twelve or fifteen, and after our boys gave them a round they retreated, under a rain of bullets and each one tried the speed of his horse and got all out that was in him. They were on an opposite hill from our line of battle, and as they came up the hill, where my battery was stationed, it seemed as if they were going to run over everything. We battery boys gave them the right of way and they passed without accident.
They claimed that they could not hold their horses. It was indeed a ludicrous affair and I think Col. Gates must have severely repremanded them for their conduct, as he is a brave officer and a hard fighter. As soon as the squad of cavalry passed through, Capt. Wade rode up on his large iron grey horse and commanded in a very load voice, “Attention Battery, load with cannister and prepare for action.” We were all excitement and enthusiasm, had never fired our guns and of course wanted to hear them roar and see the execution. I was number four, and had to pull the lanyard. The word “Ready, Fire,” was given by the Captain, and all six of our brass six-pounders belched forth a hailstorm of cannister; and then another round was fired, and then the order came to cease firing. No harm was done, and but few balls, if any, reached the enemy. Several holes were made in a vacant house and one struck the stone chimney and came near knocking it down. How often have I laughed over this rear guard skirmish. The first time that I and most of the battery men had ever fired a shot at the enemy. Men and officers were all new and inexperienced. The Capt. ordered cannister, when he should have fired shells, as the enemy were eight or ten hundred yards distant, and cannister does but little execution over one hundred and fifty or two hundred yards, as we afterwards learned from actual experience. But we had burned some powder and heard our bull-dogs bark, and felt as if we were soldiers indeed.
Our battery was on the left of our line of battle, on a hill and our right extended some distance into a field, on level land in plain view of the enemy. After waiting some twenty minutes and no advance by the enemy, we resumed our march. Our cavalry had further fighting during the day. We continued our retreat until late at night, rested a few hours and continued our march until about 9 o’clock A.M. We were so hard pressed in the rear, that a line of battle was again formed. An officer of the Northern army made himself quite conspicuous by riding some distance in front of his men, and then turned to his left and rode in a parallel line to our whole line of battle and reviewed our whole line. He was in range of our infantry, but no order was given to fire upon him. They threw a few shells our way, without effect; we replied with a like greeting. As the enemy made no further advance, we again resumed our march. Twice today we formed a line of battle, to hold in check our pressing enemy. Their cavalry force is much superior in numbers to ours, and they have a dashing officer leading them. He generally rides a white or a chestnut sorrel horse; he is the same man I saw reviewing our line of battle. We marched until midnight, camped a little while and then moved on. Men and beast are worn out for sleep and rest.
Feb. 16th. About 10 o’clock this morning we were haulted to feed our teams and eat breakfast, a heavy attack was made on our cavalry in the rear, and a close contest was maintained for several minutes. The roar of small arms was fearful, but the enemy were beaten back, with considerable loss. The brave colonel on the white horse was among the slain. We proved to the enemy, that it did not pay to mix up with our boys. They were easily held in check by our cavalry after this, without calling upon the infantry to stop and form a line of battle to assist them.
Feb. 17th. We continued our retreat nearly the whole of last night, and after another days march reached Cross Hollow, Ark. Cross Hollows is in Benton county; it was here that we met Gen. McCullough with his soldiers See Note 1. This place was our objective point, it is an impregnable fortress of itself. One hundred men can hold the position against five thousand. We know what “Cross Roads” means, it is the same as “Cross Hollows.” Two hollows, with steep cliffy sides, almost perpendicular in places, with barely room at their base, for a wagon and team to pass, cross each other in the midst of a rough hilly, wooded section of country. In each of these hollows runs the public roads. One of the roads run east and west and the other north and south. The latter, on which we were traveling, being the stage route from Rolla, Mo. to Van Buren, Ark. on the Arkansas river. We moved through this steep gorge, and after getting to the top of the ridge, we formed a line of battle. Our guns were placed in position to command the hollow, and then we unharnessed the teams, pitched tents and had a rest. This was the first time our teams had been unharnessed since we left Springfield on the 12th. We have good weather, and have made good time. Have traveled without haste, but steady, day and night. We have not lost a single wagon, but a few men fell asleep in secluded places and were overlooked by the rear guard. They awoke to find themselves in the hands of the enemy.
We find the ground here in the vicinity of Cross Hollow, covered with sleet and snow. We had to take a hoe and clean away the ice, so as to spread our blankets on the cold wet ground to sleep. I am wonderfully blessed above thousands of my fellow soldiers to have a messmate and “bunk fellow”, by the name of William Young, he is owner of a Buffalo robe, a wonderful treasure to a soldier. We spread the robe with the long black hairy side next to the ground and then the blankets. We sleep warm and dry, and when on the march get up in the morning, make our bed by spreading our blankets and quilts smoothly, then commence a roll at one side and roll the whole bed into one roll, with the hairy side out, tie this well with a rope and then we have our bed safe and dry, and ready for night.
I have not seen Capt. Clark’s Battery, since we left Springfield, nor any other troops, besides Little’s Brigade. They have brought up the rear day and night since we left Springfield. Although the Brigade had to form a line of battle, four or five times at a double-quick, they never got to fire a shot. The enemy drove Col. Gates pickets in several times, with a rush, following close on their heels, but when they struck the regiment, they returned as quickly as they came. We checked their advance twice, with a few rounds from the battery.
Feb. 18, 1862. We remained in camp all day and enjoyed a good rest, but will, to our surprise, continue our retreat tomorrow, although our unified strength seems sufficient to at least act on the defensive with success. It is rumored that Gen. McCullough will not work with “old Pap” unless he has full command, and “Pap” can hardly afford to trust him; hence we move further south for some purpose.
Feb. 19th. Moved out early and made a good days march. Country rough and rolling, with now and then a good farm. People in this section have but little if any school or church privileges, so far as I can see. We are traveling on the main public road.
Feb. 21st. We passed through Fayetteville this evening. This is a nice town, the county seat of Washington county. We have a pork packing establishment here to furnish supplies for our army, while operating north of here. It is now doomed to destruction, as well as this rich country, by our retreat. If Gen. McCullough would just say to “old Pap”, take the command of my troops, and with yours hold this country, he would do it. This evening about one hour before sundown, the First Missouri Brigade and my battery left the town. The infantry had from one to four days rations, of choice pieces of dry salt pork, on their bayonets. Some few carried small hams, but few cared to carry more than four pounds. When our cavalry, the extreme rear guard, comes through, they will burn up the packing house with the remainder of the meat. How sad.
We marched about two miles from town, through beautiful woods to the foot of the range of Boston mountains and camped quite high on the mountainside. Tomorrow we are to cross over this range. We have heard nothing of the enemy for several days. It would seem that he tried to force Gen. Price into a general engagement before he joined forces with McCullough; when he failed he stopped the pursuit, but as we are giving up the country of course he will follow.
Feb. 20th. Soon after sunrise we began to ascend first to the right and then to the left, after traveling several times the real distance on a straight line. We reached the top of the range about 12 o’clock, and then it was dangerous to descend, so we had to travel slowly. The whole mountain range is covered with timber. The scene from the top is beautiful and grand, we could look down upon Fayetteville and the country around. We saw the burning of the pork packing house,by our cavalry men, from the summit. Reached the valley below early and went into camp, as the horses were tired.
Feb. 22nd. Moved a little distance towards Van Buren and went into camp on Cove Creek. We remained here until Mar. 4th, and rested and had a good time. The only man that is doing anything is Mike Doling, our bugler. He is rather a sorry one. The Capt. makes him go off on the woods and toot several hours morning and evening, but he does not seem to improve much.
- 1. Truman consistently spells Gen. Ben McCulloch’s name this way.