Battle of Pea
Report of Col. Henry Little, commanding First Brigade Missouri Volunteers (Confederate).
HDQRS. FIRST BRIGADE, MO. VOLS., C. S.,
CAPTAIN: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of the First Brigade on the 6th, 7th, and 8th of the present month:
The brigade, composed of the [First] Regiment of Cavalry, Col. E. Gates commanding; the First [Second] Regiment of Infantry, Col. J. Q. Burbridge; the Second [Third] Regiment of Infantry, Col. B. A. Rives, and Captains Wade's and Clark's batteries marched from the bivouac at Elm Springs early on the morning of March 6, and proceeded on the road to Bentonville.
In compliance with orders issued from headquarters on the previous evening, Colonel Gates' regiment of cavalry led the advance of the whole army. On reaching Bentonville the smoke of burning stores and dwellings indicated the presence of the enemy, whose rear guard abandoned the town as Colonel Gates' cavalry entered. From information subsequently received it is believed that this body of troops was General Sigel's division, numbering from 5,000 to 7,000 men. Colonel Gates, pressing upon the retreating enemy, engaged their rear guard at a short distance beyond the town, on the Springfield road. Here, besides the capture of several prisoners and a baggage wagon laden with arms and ammunition, our cavalry killed and wounded several of the enemy and compelled the main body of the enemy to continue their retreat, pursuing them until dark.
The other regiments of the brigade, occupying their respective positions in the line, came into camp late in the afternoon and proceeded immediately to prepare supper, having received orders to resume the line of march at 8 o'clock on the same evening. Colonel Gates' cavalry having rejoined the brigade, the First [Second] Regiment, under Colonel Burbridge, was detailed for the advance.
At 8 o'clock our line of march was resumed and continued all night. Once about midnight and again towards morning our progress was checked by an ex tempore blockade of the road, the enemy having felled the timber behind him as he retreated.
By 6 a.m. on the 7th we had cleared the road of every impediment, and by 8 o'clock we reached and secured possession of the Telegraph road at a point about half a mile to the north of the enemy's position, thereby cutting off his retreat.
The First [Second] Infantry, being at the head of our column, was now ordered to advance in line by the hill-side to the right of the road, the Second Brigade, under General Slack, following; Gates' cavalry next defiled by the left up the face of the hill afterwards occupied by our artillery. Here the cavalry made a prize of several forage wagons, returning laden to the camp of the enemy. In compliance with orders I then advanced by the same road with the remaining portion of my command. The Second [Third] Infantry I placed in position as reserve on the hill to the left of the road, and shortly afterwards summoned up the two batteries, under command of Captains Wade and Clark, which were immediately placed in position, with some other batteries already engaged in replying to the heavy fire directed from the enemy's artillery, along the line of the Telegraph road. For more than an hour our guns played upon the enemy's batteries with such spirit and effectiveness as to silence their fire. Colonel Gates, with his cavalry, then charged the heights, supported by Rives regiment of infantry.
On reaching the ground our cavalry received a heavy discharge of small-arms from three regiments of the enemy's infantry in position. Returning the fire, our cavalry prudently fell back before superior numbers, and, dismounting, they formed on the left of Colonel Rives' regiment. The enemy, in turn, advanced against our lines, but were received by Colonel Rives' regiment with a heavy fire and repulsed with considerable loss. A second time the enemy charged our lines only to be repulsed with greater spirit, Colonel Rives sternly holding his position, from which his men did not yield an inch of ground.
After an interval of thirty minutes the enemy, with two pieces of artillery, were observed advancing against our right, occupied by Colonel Burbridge and General Slack. Major Lindsay, of the Sixth Division, arriving on the ground with a small body of infantry, I directed him to the support of Colonel Burbridge's position, on the left. Thus supported, Colonel Burbridge advanced, driving the enemy before him. This movement was supported on the left by the simultaneous advance of Colonel Rives' and Gates' regiments, which speedily occupied the heights lately crowned by the enemy's batteries. Here we found a broken caisson and a quantity of ammunition and several dead and wounded horses, showing the destructive effects of our batteries on the enemy's position.
After a considerable interval the batteries of the enemy renewed the fight by a heavy fire directed against our lines from the road in front of the Elkhorn Tavern. A brisk reply from Guibor's battery, which I had placed in position on the road to the left of Rives' infantry, very speedily checked the bold assault of our opponents, who, gradually slackening their fire, answered only by an occasional round from their guns. Meantime our ambulances were summoned to the field. After our wounded had been removed, the wounded of the enemy, who thickly strewed the ground, were removed to our hospitals in the rear.
Colonel Burbridge's command having been much weakened by their prominent position during the action of the day, now called for re-enforcements. General Frost, whose brigade had been ordered up to my support in compliance with my request, advanced his command to Colonel Burbridge's support, taking position to the left of Lindsay's battalion, on the slope of the ridge to his rear, with the ravine intervening.
About this time I received instructions from General Van Dorn to the effect that General Price was about to make an assault on the extreme left of the enemy's line. With this information was coupled an order for me to advance my whole line so soon as the heavy firing on our left should give the signal of the attack under General Price. Colonel Burbridge's regiment having been pressed forward somewhat in advance of Colonel Rives' regiment, I ordered Colonel Burbridge to fall back, and forming my command into line, awaited the expected signal.
It was very late in the day when the sharp battle of small-arms in the direction of our extreme left announced the moment for action. I ordered the charge. My men advanced in one unbroken line. We met the foe. For a few seconds he resisted, and then fell back before our lines, as with a shout of triumph Rives' and Gates' regiments dashed onward past the Elkhorn Tavern, and we stood on the ground where the enemy had formed in the morning. Here, too, Burbridge's command halted after forcing the enemy's position on the right, and came into line, having Lindsay's battalion and a portion of Frost's division, under Colonels Colton Greene and Shaler, on his left and resting on the Elkhorn buildings. Two pieces of the enemy's cannon, with an artillery camp, commissary and sutler's stores, fell into our hands, captured by the assault of Gates' and Rives' regiments.
A renewal of the enemy's fire by a battery placed in position on the road was answered by Guibor's battery, of Frost's brigade. For more than thirty minutes we contested the position against a brisk fire of artillery, when, General Price having forced the left wing of the enemy from the ground he had occupied by General Van Dorn's orders, my command again charged the enemy's lines, driving them from the woods beyond the tavern, and compelling them to seek refuge in the obscurity of the forest, which skirted the opposite side of all open field, over which they had passed in their retreat.
In this last charge Lieut. Col. J. A. Pritchard, who commanded on the left of Colonel Rives' regiment, made prisoners Lieutenant-Colonel Chandler and 5 other officers, with 40 men, of the enemy's line.
For some twenty minutes the enemy's artillery continued a desultory fire along the line of the road, which was answered by MacDonald's battery, of Frost's brigade, and a section of Wade's battery, under Lieutenant Farrington.
Our men, exhausted by the exertions of the day, after a fast of thirty-six hours, were now relieved by the descent of night, and under favor of the obscurity rested upon their arms on the field whence they had driven an obstinate and stubborn foe.
During the night great commotion was audible in the camp of the enemy. Their artillery and baggage wagons seemed to be continually moving. The officers of my command preserved their lines unbroken, in readiness for any emergency.
About midnight the sound of wheels approached. We opened our lines and admitted a caisson with ammunition, which, through mistake of the driver, came to seek one of the divisions of the Federal army in the ranks of his adversaries. Until morning no other incident occurred to disturb the ominous silence of the battle-field.
Early on the morning of the 8th our line was formed on the verge of the timber according to the following order: Colonel Burbridge's regiment took position immediately to the right, his left resting on the edge of the road. Immediately on the left and next the road Wade's battery was placed in mask. Next to the left of the battery Colonel Rives' regiment formed in line, and farther to their left was stationed a portion of Frost's brigade, under Colonels Greene and Shaler, our front being completed by Colonel Hill's Arkansas regiment deployed in line. In the rear of Colonel Rives' regiment was placed Major Whitfield's battalion of dismounted cavalry. To the right and about three hundred yards to the rear of Colonel Burbridge's command were stationed three regiments of Arkansas troops, under Colonel Churchill.
The full light of morning revealed to us a caisson, with 5 horses attached, which had been abandoned by the enemy the previous night. It lay in the space between the opposing armies. A detachment from Wade's battery led it into our lines.
Until near 7 o'clock no gun had been fired. Each army was engaged deploying its columns for a decisive contest. A battery of the enemy now advanced into the open field and took position in front of their line and in full view of our men. During this operation they received no molestation; but no sooner had they opened fire upon our line than they were answered by Tull's battery, which, having come up, was assigned a position between Rives' regiment and General [Martin E.] Green's command. Few shots had been interchanged until Wade's battery entered the list.
The enemy, not counting on such odds, limbered up and hastily left the field. For a short interval the report of an occasional shot from our batteries was the only sound that broke the calm stillness of the morning. After a short time the appearance of the enemy's batteries moving into position over against our right proved they had not been loitering, and when they opened fire on our lines from their new stand-point the explosion of their shells above the ground occupied by Burbridge's regiment proved that they had not been posted so far from our position as that we might consider ourselves out of range, as I had at first supposed.
Captain Good's battery, now coming up, was placed to the right of Burbridge's regiment, and opened fire upon the enemy's battery from its position. The enemy, having got the range of our lines, threw in the shells with great precision and rapidity, concentrating their fire on one point. Wade's battery was ordered up to Good's support, but had scarcely unlimbered when Good's battery retired from the ground. Hart's battery was now ordered to take the place evacuated by Good. Hart's battery did not prove more steady than its predecessor under the enemy's fire, and immediately left the field. Wade's battery, having exhausted its ammunition and several horses, was now ordered to retire to the rear and replenish the caissons. Wade's battery and position was supplied by Captain Clark's battery, which continued to answer the enemy's fire until, by slacking his previous impetuosity, it became evident that a new maneuver was contemplated by the enemy.
From close observation I concluded that we might expect momentarily to be assailed by a charge of infantry. The enemy's line extended for nearly a mile and was supported by heavy reserves. Having ordered the left of my line to move close to the fence on the left of the woods and Whitfield's battalion to the support of Burbridge's regiment, on the right, I reported the expected advance of the enemy's infantry to General Van Dorn, who, in reply, ordered me to hold my position as long as possible.
The enemy advanced. On, on they came, in overwhelming numbers, line after line; but they were met with the same determined courage which this protracted contest had taught them to appreciate. For more than half an hour our greatly diminished and exhausted troops held their hosts in check. Their intention of turning our flanks by their widely-extended line becoming now clearly evident, we slowly fell back from our advanced position, disputing every inch of ground which we relinquished.
It was at this critical juncture that the gallant Rives fell mortally wounded, and, as though fortune sought to dispossess our resolutions by multiplying disasters, within a few minutes after the fall of Rives we suffered an irreparable loss in the fall of the young and chivalrous Clark, whose battery kept up a galling fire on the advancing foe as our lines retired; and as we had now fallen back on a line with his position, being ordered to withdraw his guns, he fell, decapitated by a round shot while executing this maneuver; the last battery in action. Captain MacDonald, was now compelled to retire by the intervention of our retiring line between him and the enemy, and it was with regret the order was issued for him to cease firing, so gallant was the conduct of the commander and his men, so terrible was the effect of every round which he delivered into the advancing lines of the enemy with a coolness and courage unsurpassed.
Our latest order from General Van Dorn directed our line to retire by the Huntsville road. To accomplish this movement with safety and success it was first necessary to withdraw Burbridge's and Whitfield's commands from our right wing across the main road, on which their left rested. This movement was successfully effected by their respective commanders after they had retained the enemy in check a sufficiently long time for Captain MacDonald's battery to limber up and retire.
During this movement three companies of Burbridge's regiment became detached from their command, and most happily effected their retreat under direction of their captains, P.S. Senteny, George Butler, and Thomas M. Carter, following the artillery, which had retreated up the Telegraph road. Being here threatened by a charge of the enemy's cavalry, now in pursuit, these three companies formed into line and delivered so severe a fire into the advancing squadron as to effectively repulse their charge and leave the artillery force to pursue its march.
For their gallant conduct on this occasion too much praise cannot be bestowed on Captains Senteny, Butler, and Carter.
Our line, having fallen back on the Huntsville road, continued its retreat in good order.
In the fall of Colonel Rives the brigade sustained a severe loss, such a one as the Army of the Missouri could not many times encounter and yet preserve its prestige as a band of gallant and devoted patriots; for true as may be the courage of the individual soldiers who fill our ranks, yet of a truth we have but few such officers as was our late brother in arms. A brave and gallant soldier; a prudent and accomplished officer, and, as every man of his command knows from experience, a dear, kind friend, ever solicitous for their comfort, ever interested in their well-being. Peace to his ashes, and may his name be held in veneration. Our exalted respect for this gallant soldier and Christian gentleman was second only to the deep affection with which we cherish the memory and virtues of that youthful martyr to the cause of liberty S. Churchill Clark; a child in simplicity and purity of character, a boy in years, but a soldier in spirit and a hero in action, his character at the age of nineteen years was obnoxious to no imputation of enemies or frivolities which, alas, but too frequently characterize youths who have not attained more than half his years. His life was useful to him only so far as it might be useful to his country, and to her liberation and the defense of her constitutional rights were all his energies consecrated. Had he lived, who can estimate the height of rank he would have attained and the elevation of the niche of fame in which a grateful people would have enshrined his memory? But mayhap it is better as Heaven ordained. He has passed away before corruption had beguiled his heart or the whisperings of malice detracted from his fair repute. Were it not a crime against God's Providence our hearts would envy the rest of the silent but honored grave.
Of the officers of the First Brigade, my companions in arms and sharers in the responsible duties which associate us in command of them, I fain would speak, and by name commend them for their courage and fidelity, were it not that such a catalogue would necessarily embrace the whole roster of command. To each and all I am indebted for whatever merit may accrue to the honor of the First Brigade or the success of its achievements.
To Colonels Gates and Burbridge; Lieutenant-Colonels Chiles, Hull, and Pritchard; Majors Lawther, Dwyer, and Hubbell; Captain Wade, and Lieutenant Farrington great praise is due for their prudence and fidelity on the march and energy and gallantry on the field. Colonels Hill, Shaler, Colton Greene, and Major Whitfield have my warmest thanks for the manner in which, with their commands, they supported my movements in the field. Lieutenant Farris, who succeeded to the command of the battery after the fall of Clark, behaved with much gallantry, succeeding in bringing off his guns without loss under a heavy fire from the enemy. Sergeant Nelson, of the same battery, was conspicuous for his coolness and courage in covering with his gun the movement of the battery when ordered to retire, keeping up a repeated fire on the enemy's line until the last of the battery had limbered up and moved away.
To my personal staff, Wright C. Schaumberg, my acting assistant adjutant-general, and Capt. Francis Von Phul, my acting aide, my thanks are particularly due for their promptness in carrying my orders to different parts of the field under the heaviest fire. Captain Schaumberg rendered me the greatest assistance in keeping the line in order while retiring before the enemy. Maj. Clark Kennerly, acting ordnance officer, rendered efficient service in carrying orders and supplying the troops with ammunition on the field. Mr. Charles Byser, who on the first day acted as volunteer aide, also has my thanks.
I am, captain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Colonel, Commanding First Brigade.
Capt. W. H. BRAND,
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