Colonel G. W. Thompson
Sixth Missouri Cavalry (Confederate), commanding Shelby's brigade
MARMADUKE'S EXPEDITION INTO MISSOURI
Page 289 Chapter XXXIV.
Report of Colonel G. W. Thompson, Sixth Missouri Cavalry (Confederate), commanding Shelby's brigade.
HEADQUARTERS SHELBY'S BRIGADE,
May 15, 1863.
SIR: On the morning of April 18, last, while General Marmaduke's cavalry division of the army was en route for Missouri, I received orders from Colonel Joseph O. Shelby to take command of the brigade formerly commanded by himself, and, in obedience to said orders, did take command. I now have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by it on the made into Missouri:
The troops composing this brigade are Lieutenant-Colonel [B. F.] Gordon's, Colonel [Beal G.] Jeans', and my own regiment, with Major Shanks' battalion, and Captain [R. A.] Collins' battery of four guns (two Parrott guns, one brass and one iron 6-pounder), the effective force numbering about 1,250 men.
Our route lay over a very barren country, almost destitute of provisions and forage, and save the arresting of a number of the enrolled militia, nothing of importance occurred until the morning of the 20th, when, after a forced march and to within some 8 miles of the village of Patterson, in [Wayne] County, Missouri, Major D. Shanks, with his battalion, forming the advance guard, surprised, and after exchanging a few shots, captured the enemy's entire picket guard of 8 men, together with their arms and horses. Here Captain Reck Johnson, a good and gallant man, was severely wounded. Learning there was but one picket stand between us and the town, and having so completely surprised their pickets, and, in fact, the entire country through which we passed, a complete surprise and capture of the Federal fort and forces was deemed certain. So elated were the troops of my command with the bright prospects before them, they moved with renewed energy and determination.
At 3 p. m. my advance arrived to within 3 miles of town, and to our chagrin and supreme annoyance we learned the enemy, having taken fright from some cause or other, had set fire to the town, and in terror fled in the direction of Ironton. Before reaching the town the dense columns of smoke but too plainly told the information received to be correct. On my arrival, I found General Marmaduke and the division under Colonel Carter occupying the place.
On the following morning, with my brigade in the rear, we crossed the Saint Francis River, en route for Fredericktown, Mo., which place we arrived at on the evening of the 22nd, surprising the place, capturing the bogus "Gamble sheriff," telegraph operator, and a number of the enrolled tory militia.
On the night of the 23rd, a detachment of 90 men, under Lieutenant [J. L.] Bledsoe, of Gordon's regiment, and Lieutenant [J. M.] Wills, of my own regiment (now commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel [J. C.] Hooper), all under command of the gallant Captain [J. M.] Muse, of the First Regiment Missouri Infantry, with instructions from Colonel Shelby, were sent on an expedition to the Iron Mountain Railroad for the purpose of destroying certain bridges over which said road passed. This I considered truly a hazardous enterprise, and one fraught with much peril and hardship, as the country through which they would have to pass filled with bodies of tory militia, and all the bridges guarded by large bodies of infantry. However, after an absence of
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several days the command returned and reported having burned the extensive bridge over Mill Creek after a spirited fight, in which the frightened enemy were scattered in wild confusion. Our loss during this expedition was I killed and several wounded; that of the enemy several killed and many wounded. This I consider a most daring adventure, reflecting great credit upon both officers and men.
While encamped here and in the vicinity, quite a number of men were recruited for the service, and our scouts continued to bring in squads of the tory militia, who were generally paroled and set at liberty.
On the evening of the 25th, we again took up the line of march, which was continued throughout the entire night, and, as red-eyed morning peeped out of the cloud-curtained window of the east, our advance, under Major Shanks, entered the sleeping village of Old Jackson. Pushing on to a point 4 miles from town, the command was halted, where both men and horses partook of a hasty meal, during which time a heavy fall of rain drenched to the skin my weary men.
At about 8 o'clock, I received orders from Colonel Shelby to move my command, which was immediately executed, and, when arriving within 3 miles of Cape Girardeau, my advance, yet under command of Major Shanks, encountered and drove in, at a rapid force, the enemy's pickets, nor gave up the chase until the enemy opened upon them with shot and shell from the commanding heights encircling and overlooking the town. At the base of this chain of hills, the sloping sides of which were open fields, over which ran the main road, I formed my command in line of battle in the following order, viz: Forming Major Shanks' battalion to the left of the road, and on the extreme left of the line, with his left resting upon the woods; upon his right rested my own regiment, while Captain Collins' battery wheeled into line, with one gun in the road and with his regiment dismounted, formed in the woods, with his left resting upon the battery, while Colonel Gordon, with his regiment also dismounted, formed the extreme right of my lines. Captain Collins' battery, although greatly exposed to a cross-fire from the enemy's heavy guns, gallantly maintained its position and thundered forth a reply searchingly inquisitive. The roar of artillery now became constant. The enemy's heavy guns from the forts on the apex of the hill overlooking our extreme left hurled their heavy shot and screaming shell furiously at our little battery, but with no other effect than slightly wounding 3 men and killing 3 battery horses. The enemy's skirmishers, occupying the woods in front of Colonels Jeans' and Gordon's regiments, opened upon them a brisk fire, but were almost instantly dislodged by the two regiments advancing at a charge, driving them, in wild disorder, across the open field and behind the crest of the hill. Here we captured several prisoners. My own regiment, having been dismounted, I now ordered around into position on Colonel Gordon's right, and moved the battery to a position in the corner of the woods and to the right of my regiment, it being supported on the right by Colonel [J. Q.] Burbridge's brigade. Again the firing became constant and terrific, as if the momentary lull only gave strength and vigor to the contest. The enemy's forts and batteries continued to play upon our battery for more than one hour without intermission, and now and then swept the woods with shell and shot, canister and grape, while the Minie balls came hissing a treble to the music of the roar.
During this severe contest, Major [Y. H.] Blackwell, Adjutant [John N.] Edwards, and Lieutenant [William H.] Ferrell, of Colonel Gordon's regiment, and Captain [H. M] Woodsmall, of Colonel Jeans' regiment,
fell, severely wounded, while gallantly leading and encouraging their men upon the field. My loss here was 3 killed and 35 wounded, the engagement lasting about two and one-half hours, when I received orders from Colonel Shelby to withdraw my forces, which was done quietly and in perfect order. I may be permitted to remark here, in my judgment it would have been impossible to have the place charging it in force and to have done this, under circumstances, would have been wanton butchery and slaughter. And here would I say, with a few exceptions, no body of men ever acted with more coolness or bravery than did the officers and men on this occasion. Every movement was skillfully executed and order promptly obeyed.
Falling back without annoyance, my command encamped for the night near Old Jackson, and on the following morning resumed our march, taking the Bloomfield road.
On the evening of the 28th, my command, forming the rear guard, crossed the Castor River by fording, it being very deep and rising from the heavy rains of the day. Here we found a large new bridge being constructed and an old pontoon floating moored to the bank, both of which we completely destroyed; and leaving Captains [D. A.] Williams and [W. P.] Norman, of my regiment, and Captain [G. B.] Webb, of Jeans' regiment, with their companies, under command of Major [M. W.] Smith, of my regiment, to guard the crossing, we encamped for the night 2 miles beyond.
Early the next morning, learning the enemy were following in force, I determined to contest their passage at the ford, and therefore took with me, to re-enforce the guards, the companies of my regiment commanded by Captains [John C.] Toney, [Isham J.] West, and [John T.] Crisp, and placed them at such points as I deemed the most advantageous. Before reaching the river, however, the advance of the enemy had approached and opened a brisk fire upon the guards, which was promptly returned, when heavy skirmishing became general along the lines, which continued about one hour, when the enemy opened upon us with two pieces of artillery, which was soon increased to four, and with which the woods skirting the bank of the stream in which my men lay concealed were raked by showers of grape and canister. Major [M. W.] Smith, having formed Captain Toney's company up the river and above the upper ford, and Captain [D. A.] Williams at the lower ford, with Captain [G. B.] Webb in the center, held Captain [W. P.] Norman's company mounted as a reserve, yet warmly engaged during most of the time. In this position we continued to hold our ground under a most galling fire, repeatedly driving the enemy beyond the range of our murderous fire during the time. The enemy, seemingly in a fit of desperation, ran their battery upon the high bank overlooking the stream, when a well-directed fire from Captain Toney's sharpshooters drove them in dismay out of sight, leaving several of their battery horses dead upon the ground. For three hours the contest continued, the chivalrous Major Smith, with the gallant officers and men under him, continuing to hold the fords, when I received an order from General Marmaduke to withdraw my forces and abandon it, which was done, losing only 1 man, dangerously wounded in the engagement. Loss of the enemy not known.
Moving quietly on, I continued with the rear until we crossed the bridge near Bloomfield, which I caused to be torn down and destroyed. On my arrival at Bloomfield, it having been determined to give them battle, a line was accordingly formed, my brigade dismounted and occu-
pying the central and front positions on the sloping ridge adjacent to the house of Mr. -, in the suburbs of the town, and commanding the main road, or entrance thereto. After putting out flankers to the right and left, and skirmishers and sharpshooters well to the front under the command of Captain [John] Thraikill, of the First Missouri Cavalry, First Brigade, and near the bridge just destroyed, we patiently awaited the approach of the enemy, determined to win a victory upon the grounds so recently deserted by the criminal outlaw and tory leaded, General McNeil. Thus we remained until late in the evening, when a body of the enemy's advance cavalry, reconnoitering, received a well-directed fire from our sharpshooters, emptying several saddles and sending off their horses riderless. A recall from their bugles relieved our lines from further annoyance during the night. My command lay in line of battle and upon their arms during the night, and until 10 o'clock the next day, when, the enemy studiously avoiding any further demonstration, and in obedience to orders, I directed my brigade to mount their horses, and once more took up the line of march. After withdrawing my skirmishers and sharpshooters, the enemy furiously shelled the woods recently occupied by them, but made no further demonstrations until the morning of May 2, when a courier brought the intelligence that the enemy was annoying the rear guard of the army. Coming to a broken section of country, it was determined once more to offer them battle, but therefore the line of battle was completed it was determined to move on to a more eligible position, as being nearer and more convenient to the crossing of the Saint Francis River. My command having moved out, and just as the rear of Colonel Gordon's regiment was passing into the road, a body of the enemy's cavalry dashed into Colonel Carter's command, driving his rear guard before them and firing recklessly as they came. This created some confusion, which was soon allayed, and the enemy, with considerable loss, driven back by Carter's command. Halting the three rear companies of Colonel Gordon's regiment, commanded, respectively, by Captains [W. S.] Bullard and [W. R.] Edwards, and Lieutenant Bledsoe, I formed and held them as a reserve until the entire army had passed, when the enemy again advanced, and after exchanging a heavy fire the enemy fell back; nor did they attempt the experiment again. My loss here was 3 wounded, 2 severely.
Continuing our march to within 3 miles of the river, I again received orders to form my command in line of battle, which was promptly done, they being dismounted and the horses sent to the river by the unarmed men, to be crossed over, the ordnance and baggage wagons having gone on in front of the army. Placing out skirmishers and sharpshooters, we again awaited their coming. Noon passed and the evening wore on to near its wane, when a few random shots in the distance told of their cautious approach. Soon, however, the firing increased in the advance of my center, and as it advanced became more constantly and determined, until within about 300 yards of my lines, when it became severe and obstinate. Masking Captain Collins' battery being a small body of cavalry formed across the road, I anxiously awaited a dash of their cavalry; but finding the enemy more tender-footed than in the morning, gave up the hope of a charge by them. Here Captain Collins opened a scathing fire upon heavy body of skirmishers and sharpshooters, completely routing and scattering them. They now opened upon as with a few pieces of artillery, but none of my command being in the tree-tops no damage was done. Captain Collins sending a few whistling shots from his rifled guns and shells from his iron a brass 6s in close proximity
to their battery, they withdrew, it is supposed, in supreme disgust, as nothing further was heard from them during the night. With nothing to eat since early morning, we remained in line of battle until night, when the stillness became almost oppressive. About midnight the guns from our battery, one by one, silently withdrew; then regiment after regiment followed so silently the drowsy ear of night was scarcely disturbed. Upon arriving at the river, my command marched over upon a floating raft or pontoon which had been improvised for the occasion, and by 3 a. m. my entire command was safely over.
At about 10 o'clock, our battery firing them a farewell shot, my command moved, off, leaving them alone in their glory. They did not pursue us with the spirit and determination of brave men fighting in a just cause, but prowled in the rear of our army like a band of wolves and jackals.
Nothing further of importance occurred until the morning of the 6th, when my command entered the almost impenetrable swamps through which the Cache River winds its devious, sluggish, sickly way. Day after day, in mud and water, with artillery, baggage, and ammunition wagons mired down, and horses and mules floundering in exhaustion, did my men and animals toil and struggle, when, after three days of untold trials and hardships, the entire command emerged from this wilderness of mud and disease-generating miasma more like an army of denizens of a semi-amphibio subterranean world than one of men and animals.
As nothing further of importance occurred on our march to the present encampment, and this report having assumed a frightful length, I will close it by respectfully referring you to the inclosed reports from the several commands composing my brigade for a more detailed account of the parts taken by them.
It affords me great pleasure to bear testimony to the noble, self-sacrificing, and chivalrous conduct of the officers and men of this command, and, with a few exceptions of wanton cowardice, which you will find reported in the inclosed reports, no body of men ever acted more gallantly.
All of which is respectfully submitted.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
G. W. THOMPSON,
Colonel, Commanding Brigade.
Captain [J. W.] McARTHUR,