Battle of Pea
Report of Col. Cyrus Bussey, Third Iowa Cavalry.
HEADQUARTERS THIRD IOWA CAVALRY,
SIR: I have to report that, in compliance with orders received from you, I, on the morning of the 7th instant, proceeded with Companies A, B, C, D, and M, of the Third Iowa Cavalry, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Trimble, numbering 235 men and officers; the Benton Hussars, under command of Colonel Nemett; four companies of the First Missouri Cavalry, under command of Colonel Ellis; two companies of the Fremont Hussars, under command of Lieutenant Howe, and three guns of Captain Elbert's battery, from your camp, towards Leetown, to attack the advancing column of the enemy, myself and the force under my command acting in connection with the infantry and artillery of General Osterhaus' brigade, and subject to his command. My column left camp in advance of the other force of General Osterhaus at about 9.30 o'clock a.m., and proceeded cautiously west about a mile and a half to a large open field beyond Leetown, and which was about a quarter of a mile wide from east to west and running south about 2 miles, but which was intersected by fences, dividing it into smaller fields. The field first entered by my force was surrounded on the east, north, and west by a thick wood of small oaks and underbrush. Here I sent two companies of the First Missouri Cavalry to reconnoiter the woods surrounding this field. At the same time, about 2 miles to the south, the wagon train of the enemy could be seen moving in the direction of Bentonville. As my immediate command was proceeding across this field in a westerly course General Osterhaus in person overtook us, and immediately ordered the three guns to the front, they having up to this time been in rear of the First Missouri and Third Iowa Cavalry.
We advanced in this new order across the field and entered the woods on the west side by a narrow road going west. Following this road about a quarter of a mile we came upon a small prairie extending 300 yards west and about 150 yards wide to the north. On the south open fields under fence extended for a quarter of a mile to the west. This prairie was surrounded on the north and west by timber and low brush.
At this point we came in full view of the enemy's cavalry passing along about a half mile distant to the north. No other force being discovered, the three guns were immediately advanced by General Osterhaus, who was present and in command, about 200 yards, and immediately opened fire on the cavalry of the enemy on the road to the northwest. One company of the First Missouri Cavalry was in line of battle on the left of the guns and one company of the same troops on the right.
The companies of the Third Iowa Cavalry were formed in line of battle in rear of the guns, parallel with the road and facing to the north. While forming the Benton Hussars in line on the right of the Third Iowa Cavalry and facing the west, I was ordered by General Osterhaus to send two companies of the Third Iowa Cavalry down the road to the west, to charge the enemy' line at a point supposed to be about a half mile distant. This order was communicated by me to Lieutenant-Colonel Trimble, who immediately advanced with columns of fours, which was necessary, the road leading along a fence on the south and thick brush and woods being on the north. The Benton Hussars were now in line about 100 yards to the right and rear of the battery of three guns, and the Fremont Hussars were yet in column of fours at the edge of the prairie, having just arrived on the ground. The Third Iowa Cavalry galloped down the road, and going beyond the edge of the woods or timber on the west side of the prairie they unexpectedly found themselves in front of several lines of infantry heretofore unseen, and who were drawn up in line to the front and right of our men, at short musket range. This large force I afterwards learned from rebel officers who were taken prisoners was the divisions of McCulloch, McIntosh, and Pike, and consisted of several regiments of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas troops, who were concentrating there, evidently intending to attack your camp from the direction of Leetown.
The companies of the Third Iowa Cavalry were immediately wheeled into line facing the enemy, it being impossible for them to advance in column farther, when they at once received a deadly fire from the near and overwhelming numbers of the foe, who were also partly concealed and protected by the woods and brush. A large number of my men and horses were here killed and wounded, and Lieutenant-Colonel Trimble, at the head of the column, was severely wounded in the head. This fire was returned by the Third Iowa Cavalry from their revolvers with considerable effect.
Just at this moment a large force of the enemy' cavalry charged from the north upon different portions of our cavalry line, and, passing through the lines, went into the fields in our rear. The Third Iowa Cavalry companies now charged this cavalry force, and an exciting running cavalry fight ensued between these forces, the enemy fleeing and being pursued by my men to the south. The enemy was followed in this direction by the Third Iowa Cavalry alone to the brush on the other side of the large open fields. The loss of the enemy in this running fight was very heavy, and estimated by me, from the most reliable information I have been able to obtain, at 82.
In this same charge of the enemy's cavalry a portion of them came in the direction of the three guns, and the companies of the First Missouri Cavalry being compelled to give way, I ordered the Benton Hussars to charge, which they failed to do, but fell back. The Fremont Hussars being in rear and not in position, were compelled to give way. The guns were thus left unsupported, and were taken by the enemy and burned. These cavalry forces, failing to rally, fell back through the woods to the large open fields through which we had first marched, when they met the infantry and artillery of General Osterhaus in line of battle. Being left on the field of the first action without any force (the cavalry in reserve having failed to obey my orders), I followed to the open field, where I found two companies of the First Missouri Cavalry being formed in line by Major Hubbard. After seeing the cavalry mentioned in line, I sent Adjutant Noble, who had remained with me on the field during the whole time, to bring up the companies of the Third Iowa Cavalry to our new position, they having pursued the enemy through the fields as above stated and not yet made their appearance. He soon returned with all the companies, having met them coming in perfect order to the place desired, the companies having returned towards the camping ground, Major Perry being in command (Lieutenant-Colonel Trimble having been wounded early in the engagement, as heretofore mentioned). The enemy immediately advanced to the western edge of the field in which our new position was taken, when a general engagement ensued. At this time I ordered the First Missouri Cavalry to take position on the extreme left in the woods, which was on the east of our main position. A force of the enemy made their appearance here, evidently attempting to turn our left flank. I sent the Third Iowa Cavalry to support Colonel Ellis. When our force appeared the enemy withdrew, were followed by Colonel Ellis about 2 miles and did not again show themselves in this quarter. The Benton Hussars and Fremont Hussars, having reformed, remained on the field to the left of the batteries until the close of the engagement, having, however, been several times sent to ascertain the position of the enemy. This duty they performed satisfactorily. The Third Iowa Cavalry were then formed in line of battle immediately in rear of the artillery, and maintained this position until the close of the action, when they were ordered to conduct a battery to re-enforce General Carr, who was still engaged on the right. I went with them, leaving the remainder of the cavalry force under command of General Osterhaus. This was at 5 o'clock p.m.
The accompanying report of the killed, missing, and wounded of the Third Iowa Cavalry is hereby referred to as a part of this report. The loss of the other forces will be reported to you by their immediate commanders. The three guns, after falling into the hands of the enemy, were not spiked nor taken from the field, and have been recovered, except the carriages, which had been burned, as heretofore mentioned. On reporting to General Carr, in pursuance of the order requiring me to do so, my companies took position on the right in rear of our batteries, where we remained until after the darkness of night closed the action of the 7th.
On the morning of the 8th, pursuant to order, I went with my command, now being the five companies of the Third Iowa Cavalry, into the field on the road leading to the Elkhorn Tavern, and was then ordered to take position on the right flank, where the enemy was expected to attack. This position was held by my command, with other cavalry forces, until the retreat of the enemy after the middle of the day.
In pursuance of your direct order, my command, at 2 o'clock p.m., started in pursuit of the enemy towards Keetsville, on the road leading east, and continued to be thus engaged until night. I took 59 prisoners, with some horses and arms, on this expedition. Among the prisoners was Major Rucker, First Missouri Volunteers, who was slightly wounded.
On the morning of the 9th I proceeded, in command of the Third Iowa Cavalry companies, Bowen's cavalry, with four pieces of mountain howitzers, and one battalion of First Missouri Cavalry, under command of Major Hubbard, on the road to Bentonville. After advancing on the Bentonville road about 6 miles I found where the enemy had encamped the night before in large force. We followed on until I reached Bentonville, near which place we overtook a party of the cavalry of the enemy, who fired upon us and fled. My advance guard pursued, killing 1 man. We reached Bentonville at 2 o'clock p.m., and entered the town. Seeing a small party of cavalry at some distance beyond the town in the brush, I ordered Major Bowen to fire on them with the howitzers. Two shots were fired, the enemy retreating in great haste. Here we learned the enemy in force had left the town a few hours before our arrival, taking the road leading to Elm Springs. The horses of my command having been for three days without anything to eat, it was not possible to pursue the enemy farther. Therefore, having seen to the wounded who had been left in the town, I returned to camp. There were taken on this expedition about 50 prisoners, with some horses and arms. This march, close upon the heels of a force largely superior in numbers to our own, was not unattended with great risk, and I have to express my admiration for the promptness with which my commands were obeyed by all the troops and for their general good soldierly conduct.
In conclusion, I beg leave to express my satisfaction with the conduct of my own men, who, in their first action, having been the first and most directly of the cavalry forces engaged with the enemy, and suffered a severe loss from a near and unexpected fire, yet evinced great coolness and courage in their attack upon the foe; and although the loss of my command is greater in proportion to my force than perhaps any other engaged, being 24 killed, 17 wounded, and 9 missing out of 235 men and officers, yet it was retaliated upon the rebels by a loss to them of double the number. You will perceive that 8 of my men were scalped. That their brave comrades, fighting in support of our national banner, the emblem of all that is good and great in the present civilization of the world, should thus be butchered and mangled by rebel savages has excited among my men an indignation that will, I assure you, exhibit itself on every field where they may in future be allowed to engage the enemy, in a relentless determination to put down the flag that calls to its support bands of rapacious and murdering Indian mercenaries.
I have to acknowledge valuable assistance rendered me on the 7th by Adjt. John W. Noble, who acted that day as my aide, and of the officers who came under my notice I mention Capt. T. I. McKenny, assistant adjutant-general, of your staff, whose conduct was that of a general, and a brave one, and whose valuable service contributed, in my opinion, much to the success of our arms at the battle of Leetown.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Colonel, Third Iowa Cavalry.
Maj. Gen. SAMUEL R. CURTIS,
Commanding Army of the Southwest
The killed were buried on Saturday, after the battle was over after the pursuit ended. Hearing it reported by my men that several of the killed had been found scalped, I had the dead exhumed, and on personal examination I found that it was a fact beyond dispute that 8 of the killed of my command had been scalped. The bodies of many of them showed unmistakable evidence that the men had been murdered after they were wounded; that first having fallen in the charge from bullet wounds, they were afterwards pierced through the heart and neck with knives by a savage and relentless foe. I then had the bodies returned, each in a separate grave, properly marked.
By order of Col. Cyrus Bussey:
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