Web Truman Memoir



CHAPTER 5, ELKHORN TAVERN, first day - posted 4/7/2001

Yesterday we received orders to cook rations and prepare to march, left this morning and by a rapid march crossed the mountains and through Fayetteville today.

March 5th. Continued our march north. Gen. Vandorn has been appointed to command the Trans-Mississippi Department. He was born near Port Gibson, Miss., graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1842, became Captain in 1855, but resigned his commission on the out-break of the war, and in 1861 he joined the Confederate army. He is cordially welcomed among us, as we want a leader who can unite McCullough's and Price's forces, and can go back into Missouri and redeem our beloved state. We are moving in that direction, and we are happy.

Mar. 6th. Gen. Price is seperated from McCullough and is marching on Bentonville to attack Gen. Siegle who has part of the Northern army at this place. About 3 o'clock P.M., we formed a line of battle, but only had a skirmish. Seigle, the wily fox, got away from us with small loss. I noticed one Northern soldier that was killed by our men, he was lying close to the road in the woods. His shirt bosom was pulled open, showing that the ball had passed through his body near his heart. He had red complection, sandy hair and mustache, was not more than five feet and two inches high, and was rather heavy. I took him to be of foreign birth. It made me feel sad to look upon him, as he lay there, he was the first Northern soldier I ever saw dead.

Seigle retreated in the direction of Elkhorn, about seven miles off. We followed as my battery and the First Mo. Brigade, were in the advance, and within two miles of the enemies headquarters, at Elkhorn Tavern. The road passes for the distance of one mile between rocky cliffs and the enemy had cut down trees and threw them across the road to impede our persuit. While our infantry passed over them our battery had to wait until they were cut and rolled out of the way. The road being between two cliffs there was no way of getting around. This work of getting the trees out of our way was kept up the whole night and until sunrise the next day. A detail of our men from the infantry did the chopping, we battery boys were present looking on and moving up a little every once in a while, we got no sleep during the night.

After getting out of the fallen timber we did not travel far, before we were warned of the close proximity of the enemy, by the roar of their guns just ahead, but not in view, and the unearthly screeching shells, as they passed above us and bursted amidst the trees and rocks. An order came soon, for us to scale the high bluffs to our left with our guns. It seemed impossible to do such a thing as this, for it was two hundred yards to the summit and very steep. Several of our teams were balky, one on my gun would balk at every hard pull. But the order was given and we made the attempt under fire, as the enemy's shells were coming fast, and as the drivers called upon their teams to do their best, and put the whip on them, and the noble horses seemed to know what we wanted them to do, and to my wonder and astonishment, they scaled the mountain in a gallop. I then and there learned that a baulky horse would never baulk under fire in battle. The battery was waiting for we cannoneers, when we got up there, out of breath and hardly able to walk. The horses had their heads up and were prancing and looking so proud of their performance.

We found our infantry already in line of battle, and the enemy were shooting at them. We were ordered to take a position to the left of our line of battle and in the advance, and to silence that battery of the enemy. As soon as we came in full view, they gave their whole attention to us. We took position, under a heavy fire and soon had our six guns playing upon them, and the old mountain surely trembled. I noticed that our little Captain Wm. Wade's steel blue eyes were aglow with the fire of battle, as his dapple grey horse pranced about in the rear of our guns. Gen Maury say of Capt. Wade, at this battle, from Col. Bevier's History of the First and Second Mo. Brigade, page 101; "I have never known a more gallant battery commander than he was. He was always cheerful and alert and never grumbled, kept his men horses, guns and equipage in the best possible trim, always looked after the comfort of his command, and knew how to find ... something to eat and drink when nobody else could. His cheerful voice on the eve of battle and his bright face, had a mesmeric effect on all about him. His very spectacles seemed to shine with extra lustre.... I do not think any man in the army, up to the last, was more respected than Wade." See Note 1

It took about ten rounds from each of our guns to put the Yanks out of business at this place. They left for a more quiet place, leaving one gun behind. Our infantry soon advanced and became hotly engaged. The fighting was done in the timber, and was quite furious, each on a ridge about one hundred and fifty yards apart, and they kept up the roar of musketry for more than thirty minutes, until Col. Reeves' Reg. came forward and took up a position on the left of the line of fire, and opened fire. See Note 2 The enemy gave way and our line advanced to the opposite ridge, then the fighting ceased for a while on our front.

We have attacked the enemy on the north, their line of retreat. We can hear fighting in our front, about a mile south of us, so it appears to me; can also hear the Rebel yell given by Gen. McCullough's men, as they charge. So we have the Northern army commanded by Gens. Curtis and Siegle between us, and it looks as if there is no way for them to get by, unless they whip "old Pap," and they have made a bad start.

At 11 o'clock A.M. we are still in our same position. Old Pap and Gen Vandorn, have just passed us, going to the left as there is fighting in that direction. Pap has his arm in a sling, he is wounded, bu t refuses to leave the field. We have heard no firing on the McCullough side since 9 o'clock this morning.

We noticed in the hollow below our battery several large piles of knapsacks where the Northern men had stripped themselves for the fight. As we were at leasure waiting for orders, we just ran down and helped ourselves, dragging one or two apiece up the hill, and went through them, as they were legal spoils of war. Their contents were mostly blue clothing, which we left where we found them.
We enjoyed the letters, which we found, as they were from girls. They were all from Mass. and what astonishes me, nine out of ten were badly written, with poor english. I had always heard that Mass. was noted for its learning.

While reading the sweetheart throbs of an enemy to an enemy, orders came to move on to the left, where the fighting was heavy. This we did in a trot, leaving knapsacks, clothing and letters. We soon came to an old field about five acres wide, the outer edge was lined with a thick under-brush, in which the enemy were concealed. We entered by a road at the west end, and immediately unlimbered, and went into battle by rolling our guns into the open by hand, and began to load with cannister; in the middle of the field, to our left was a slight hollow, in which our infantry were lying in line of battle. They had advanced through the field, crossed the hollow, and had gone nearly to the undergrowth under a heavy fire, but were driven back. They had reformed and were lying down in the hollow.

As soon as our battery became exposed in the open, the minie balls began to whistle around us and we were ordered to commence firing, our six bronze dogs of war, belched forth their cannister into the brush and woods in our front, and at the same time we were ordered by Capt. Wade to advance by hand and fire. Our infantry seeing the bold move of our battery, rushed forward again at the concealed foe in the bushes at the other edge of the old field; again they were driven back and took shelter under the hill, reformed and loaded their guns. Our battery had gotten nearly on a parallel line with the hollow, and we were very much exposed, but continued to rake the undergrowth with a hail-storm of cannister, in front, right and left. Our line of battle in less than two minutes sprang forward for the third time, with the rebel yell, notwithstanding the brave and determined stand of the enemy, went into the brush and routed the foe and drive them about one mile; capturing their headquarters, with commissary stores, wagons, prisoners, and hospital with wounded. The men that did this hard fighting belong to the Mo. State Guards.

We were ordered to limber up and follow in a trot; we cannoneers had to do good running to keep up. I was called by a comrade, who was sitting on the roadside with the head of a dying Northern soldier in his lap, and asked if I had any water in my canteen, as he wanted some for the man. I stopped and placed my canteen to his mouth, but he took one or two swallows only, and laid his head back in the Confederate's lap, then with a bright peaceful smile upon his face, reached his hand and patted me on the cheek and tried so hard to tell me something, but he could only move his lips. He was thanking me and saying "God bless you."

My battery had left me and I could not tarry to learn his name, but he was from Ill. He was a handsome, blue eyed young man. I wish I could have learned more of him, for he was such a gentleman in his manners, and I might say Christlike, by blessing his enemy in his last concious moments. We are not enemies in the true sense of the word, but only differ in opinion on a great and vital question. Farewell my sainted opponent, until we meet again before the Great White Throne, and praise our God together for ever more.

When I caught up with my battery, it had taken up another position and was ready for action; firing commenced immediately and was kept up until after dark. Our position was within a few yards of a large barn full of all kinds of provisions, and quite a number of sutler wagons were parked close to us, we went for such things as we needed and for many things we did not need. The wagons contained candies, jellies, fruits of all kinds, oysters, sardines, knives, razors, gloves, underwear, et. Besides the good things to eat, I had gotten hold of two boxes full of buckskin gloves and gauntlets. I did not know what I had until I got back to our guns and opened them. I gave each of my mess-mates a pair, put on another pair myself, and placed another pair in my pocket, then put the balance in the limber of my gun. Large sacks of sugar and parched coffee, were tied on behind our caissons, for future use; our commissary was not giving any rations of this kind.

We were well pleased with our days work; we had steadily driven the enemy from every position they had held during the day, and had full position of all the battlefield, with commissary stores, several cannons, many small arms, and the hospital with many wounded and some other prisoners. Our loss of brave Missourians was small. No fighting from Gen. McCullough's army since 9 o'clock this morning. It is rumored that Gen. McCullough and McIntoch, were killed this morning, and that the others cannot agree upon a man to lead them. They have done nothing all day or since their leaders fell, which saved the Northern army from capture; I cannot see how it could have been otherwise, if McCullough's army had been lead against the enemy.

    1. Quote verified in 1985 reprint, pp101-102 and minor corrections made.

    2. This is Col. B.A. Rives.

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