Battle of Pea Ridge
MARCH 6-8, 1862
Report of Col. William N. Coler, Twenty.fifth Illinois Infantry, First Brigade.
TWENTY-FIFTH REGIMENT ILLINOIS VOLUNTEERS,
COLONEL: At 2 o'clock on the morning of the 6th instant six companies of the Twenty-fifth Regiment of Illinois Volunteers marched with the main body of the First and Second Divisions from camp near Bentonville to Sugar Creek Hollow. Scarcely had we reached the latter place, a distance of 16 miles, when he received a dispatch saying that General Sigel with our rear guard, was surrounded and engaged by a vastly superior force of the enemy; that unless re-enforced quickly he would certainly be cut off and defeated. Without waiting for orders I ordered an about face, and retraced our steps on a double-quick a distance of about 5 miles, where we met the brave Sigel, who had most gallantly cut his way through the enemy's lines. Here the four companies which had been detached on the day previous to take possession of some flouting mills rejoined the regiment. Night approaching and the enemy not appearing in any considerable force, I was ordered to return and take position on the heights overlooking the valley of Sugar Creek, put out pickets, rest upon our arms, and await further orders.
The morning of the 7th came, and with it the intelligence that the enemy in full force had succeeded in gaining our rear and were drawn up in line of battle. Soon was heard the booming of cannon, announcing that the batteries of both armies were engaged. Every officer and man stood to his place in ranks and awaited impatiently, anxiously expecting every moment to be ordered forward to take part in the deadly strife. Thus we stood until 4 o'clock p.m., under the most painful suspense, all confident of victory, but fearful we would not be allowed to take a part in achieving it. A stern joy was felt when General Sigel rode up in person and ordered the regiment, together with the Forty-fourth Illinois Volunteers, to move forward to the support of the left wing of our line of battle. On our arrival at the scene of action it was ascertained that the enemy had retired, leaving that part of the field to our troops.
At this time heavy firing was heard far to our right, where a doubtful contest seemed to be raging between the troops under command of Colonel Carr and those comprising the left wing of the enemy's line. General Sigel being called upon for help, I, by his order, dispatched the five companies comprising the left wing of the regiment to re-enforce Colonel Carr, while the right wing moved forward in the line of battle, supporting two pieces of ---- battery. After moving forward from 1,000 to 1,500 yards without meeting the enemy, it became apparent that for the time he declined further battle. As darkness gathered over the field of blood our moving columns were brought to a halt to lay down and rest upon their arms, and the firing ceased throughout the entire length of the line, not to be renewed until the coming day.
Early on the morning of the 8th the two wings of the regiment were again united, and I was ordered to take a position in an open field, under cover of a fence and log barn, about 100 yards in front of Welfley's battery, and not over 900 yards from the batteries of the enemy. This point was gained in excellent order, although to reach it we were compelled to pass through a shower of shot and shell over an open field, in full view of the enemy's batteries. Arrived in position, I ordered the men to drop flat upon the ground, in which manner they remained for one hour and thirty minutes, exposed to a terrible fire from the enemy's guns, aimed principally at our batteries on the rising ground in our rear, which were returning the fire with deadly precision.
As the fire from the enemy's batteries began to slacken, the able and ever-ready tactician General Sigel ordered the batteries to advance, and at the same time ordered me to proceed under cover of a thick underwood to a point within 400 yards of the enemy’s line. My left flank opposite the left of the enemy's batteries, and resting upon the Cassville and Fayetteville road, I approached this new position unobserved, moving at a double-quick over the open ground, but at a slow and cautious step through the underwood, keeping well covered, so is not to attract the attention of the enemy's batteries. In our front was an open field, about 400 yards across, immediately beyond which was woodland covered with trees, logs, and an uncommonly thick growth of oak underbrush, from which the leaves had not yet fallen. Here the enemy was posted in strong force a few rods from the fence, so as not to attract the fire of our batteries.
By this time several regiments on my left were closely engaging the enemy. The thunders of the artillery and the incessant volleys of musketry from both our own and the enemy's lines argued to me that victory was trembling in the balance.
At this seemingly critical moment General Curtis rode up and ordered me to gain the fence on the opposite side of the field, and at the same time ordered forward the several regiments on my right. We dashed across the field, and reached the place in good order before the enemy could bring his pieces to bear on our line. When I reached the fence I found that the ever-gallant Twelfth Missouri Volunteers were close upon my left, but that I was without immediate support upon my right. I halted for a moment, and sent forward a few resolute skirmishers to find the precise position of the foe. They soon returned, and reported them in large force about 75 yards distant. During this short interval of time the men disencumbered themselves of blankets and knapsacks, saying they would conquer or never leave the brush. My right being now supported, I ordered a movement forward into the brush. We had not advanced over 50 yards when a loud, clear voice was heard to cry out, "Ready." I instantly gave the command, "Cover."
The men had scarcely dropped upon the ground when the enemy from his coverts let loose a terrific volley of musketry, which was promptly returned by our ranks with deadly effect. At the same time Welfley's battery belched forth death into their thinning ranks, yet the greater number stood their ground and fought bravely until about the sixth round, when they all gave way in the wildest disorder. After giving them a few parting rounds to increase the velocity of their speed I ordered the fire to cease. The victory was with the Stars and Stripes.
The regiment entered the action 400 strong. Early on the morning of the 8th Company A, in command of Lieutenant Mitchell, was detached to support two pieces of Captain Welfley's battery--a duty which he gallantly performed. I am proud to report that in every position in which they were placed officers and privates showed the coolest courage and most determined bravery. They obeyed every order and performed their duty well.
Where all did so well it would be invidious to make distinctions, but I cannot close this report without making mention of the gallant conduct of First Lieut. John F. Isom, of Company G, who by the bursting of a shell received a severe and painful wound in the hand and was otherwise injured; yet he refused to leave the field, and remained in command of his company until the close of the action.
The following officers took part in the action: Maj. R. H. Nodine; Adjt. George W. Flynn; Captains Clark, Boyden, Wall, Taggart, Osborn, Summers, and Andrews; First Lieutenants Hall, Skeels, Isom, Buckner, and Brown; Second Lieutenants Mitchell, Lake, Brazelton, Vanderen, Knapp, and Richards. I append a list of our killed, wounded, and missing.
I have the honor to be, my dear general, your obedient servant,
W. N. COLER,
Colonel Twenty-fifth Regiment Illinois Vols, Commanding.
Col. Peter J. OSTERHAUS,
Commanding First Division.
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