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No. 57.

Report of Brig. Gen. St. John R. Liddell, C.S. Army, Commanding First Brigade, Third Division.

OR, Vol. 16, Pt. 1, p. 1157 - 1160

 

HEADQUARTERS FIRST BRIGADE, THIRD DIVISION
Knoxville, Tenn., October 24, 1862.

 

     COLONEL: In obedience to the order of Major-General Hardee, on the morning of the 7th instant, I placed my brigade 1 mile in advance of our lines, on the right of the Springfield road leading from Perryville, on the crest of a hill, covered with some open woods, with ground rapidly sloping to the front and facing a skirt of woods on the opposite hill, beyond which the enemy were actively engaged with Colonel Wheeler's cavalry, and at the same time taking position. The interval between the woodlands of these hills was hardly exceeding 200 yards, with a small corn-field next to the road opposite my left and open ground on my right. At the base of the hills was a dry bed of a branch of Doctor's Fork. During the day the cavalry were skirmishing with the enemy, and the shells fell constantly within and beyond my lines.  Perceiving the necessity of holding the woodland in front, to make my own position tenable, I threw forward, as skirmishers, the Seventh Arkansas Regiment, then under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel [Peter] Snyder, who occupied the position in my advance with but little interruption for the rest of the day and the night following. At nightfall Colonel Wheeler fell back on the road past my lines, after contesting his ground most obstinately until dusk. As my left flank rested on the Springfield road, all on that side, having no support, was exposed to a flank movement of the enemy; but feeling satisfied that he must be in need of water, and that he would push for that point whence it could be obtained from pools lower down on Doctor's Fork, on my right, I separated my battery, and placed one section on a high hill on my right, commanding the woods opposite and open valley below. The other section I retained in advance of my left, as it commanded the field before us, and, to some extent, the fields to the left of the Springfield road.  Early on the following morning (8th instant), the enemy began a brisk fire upon my advanced line of skirmishers, and with superior numbers drove them from the woods. Colonel [D.A.] Gillespie having assumed command of his regiment, the Seventh Arkansas, I directed him to try to regain the position; and for that purpose I ordered forward the second line of skirmishers, Fifth Arkansas Regiment, Colonel [L.] Featherston commanding, with Lieutenant-Colonel [John E.] Murray and Major [P.V.] Green, of the same, gallantly assisting. The attempt was promptly and cheerfully made, but the force of the enemy had been increased so largely and suddenly as to force back both lines, the officers and men contesting the ground with resolute determination, unwilling to yield it to even the great odds against them. Whilst this was going on, the enemy pushed a regiment of cavalry around the point of woods and down the valley of Doctor's Fork in front of my right, against which I had directed a few shots from the section of artillery on the hill, causing it to retire under cover of the woods in great confusion. Both sections of artillery now began firing upon the moving lines in the woods from which my skirmishers had been driven, whilst, with rapidly increasing numbers, the enemy was fast nearing my line of battle.  All this time his artillery was assuming new positions, and throwing grape and shell among us from many points. Fearing the effect upon my artillery, the sharpshooters now getting in close proximity, I ordered both sections to withdraw from their advanced position, and to unite upon the right of my line of battle. This was done with the loss of but one horse, and I now became interested in getting in my skirmishers, when an order came to me from Major-General Buckner to withdraw my brigade in good order to the rear. This was done without confusion across the Chaplin Fork, about 11 a.m. In this morning occurred my principal loss, being chiefly confined to the lines of skirmishers, of which the Fifth Arkansas suffered most. In this action Captain [H.W.] Robinson, of the Fifth, fell, bravely doing his duty. The gallantry of officers and men was conspicuous, rendering comment superfluous. The loss of the enemy must have been great, as they were exposed in double lines to a well-directed fire from both sections of artillery at short range, as well as the heavy firing of the Seventh and Fifth Regiments as skirmishers. I was now ordered to hold my command in reserve, and for that purpose was directed by Major-General Buckner to re-cross the Chaplin Fork at a point some half a mile lower down, and take position on an eminence about 1 mile from the field of battle and nearly in rear of the center. Whilst in this place a shell from the enemy's extreme left fatally wounded Adjutant [S.] Harris and a private of the Sixth Arkansas. The fight was going on vigorously in our front and on the right of the advanced position I held in the morning, and almost at right angles to it. About 5 p.m. I received an order from Major-General Hardee to move forward to the crest of the hills surrounding, amphitheater-like, the field of battle, where the action was progressing in full view in the valley and on the lower ranges of hills below us. While here, a shell fell in the ranks of the Second and Eighth Arkansas Regiments, disabling 6 privates in the former and killing 1 in the latter. About 5:30 p.m., Colonel [S.H.] Perkins, of General Hardee's staff, directed me to follow him with my brigade to the valley, and after reaching Doctor's Fork said to me, "General Hardee wishes you now to move upon the enemy where the firing is hottest." Some latitude being here given me, which was fully appreciated, I thought proper to continue my movement toward the enemy's extreme left, as indicated by the heavy firing apparently moving in that direction on the Nashville road. As soon as I had reached the place where I desired to form my line of battle, I moved forward at once. Here I met with Major-General Cheatham, who urged me anxiously to push on and relieve his troops from the heavy pressure upon them. In pressing on, I caused the battery to open fire from high points upon the enemy beyond our lines as chance offered. After passing through and overlapping the right of Major-General Cheatham's lines, I soon found myself in the immediate presence of the enemy. I commenced firing. It being twilight, however, with a bright full moon shining, and dress not clearly distinguishable, my men mistook the enemy for friends; at the same time the cry came from the enemy's lines, "You are killing your friends," which serving to strengthen the impression, I gave the signal to cease firing, intending to push up the line; but at this moment Major-General Polk, who had joined me a few moments before, ordered the ranks to be opened for him to pass, and riding hastily up to the lines in front of us, distant not more than 25 paces, quickly returned, exclaiming, "They are enemies; fire upon them."  Heavy volleys were at once rapidly poured into this mass of men, and after the lapse of some ten minutes I again ordered the firing to cease, and when the smoke had cleared away nothing was visible of the enemy but their wounded, dying, and dead. It was at this place that the brave young Captain [W. H.] Grissom, of the Second Arkansas, fell, regretted by all the command.  I now forthwith ordered my battery to the top of the hill, in advance of our forces, and placed it in position to fire upon the woods, some 200 yards distant and directly opposite. When I felt satisfied that the enemy had hastily retired in confusion, I was about to recommence firing, fully intending to follow up without delay our success, when General Polk ordered me to desist, and to keep my command near by to await further instructions. Meanwhile some skirmishers, pushing forward to the edge of these woods, reported a battery of the enemy there, under protection of some cavalry; but my orders to remain stationary being imperative, I could do nothing toward its capture, and in a short time it was heard rapidly moving away. My time was now taken up in receiving and disposing of the prisoners who were being constantly brought in. Two fine ambulances, now in possession of General Bragg, were captured by the Second Arkansas Regiment and by the battery, one of which contained the personal baggage of General McCook; the other was supposed to belong to General Rosecrans, both of which officers were reported by the prisoners to have been near by at the close of the action. Two flags are now in my possession, taken by the Second Arkansas Regiment.  Two others were taken by this regiment and one by the Sixth, but, not being valued by the captors, were torn to pieces, and the fragments retained as trophies of the day's work. The fields and woods in front and around us on every side were strewn with the enemy's dead and wounded; their loss could hardly have been less than 500 killed and wounded in the space of four to five acres. My own wounded having been cared for, I directed a detail to assist the infirmary corps in removing the wounded of the enemy to a white house not far off on our left, which was soon filled with them, leaving large numbers unprovided for. Though this occupied our attention up to the moment of leaving, I also ordered the arms to be collected; but after attempting to get together those immediately around the position occupied by my battery, and finding the task greater than I expected, I ordered the men to desist, and to take some rest.  There must have been several thousand stand lying closely around us. This place seemed to have been selected by the commanding general of the enemy, as it overlooked the field from his side, and was easily accessible to his reserves from the Springfield and Mackville roads, to be thrown on any desired part during the action. This, possibly, may account for the accumulation of the dead and arms at this place. I held my place here, as ordered by General Polk, until about midnight, when I withdrew my command, by order of Major-General Buckner, beyond the Chaplin Fork, in our rear. This was done in silence, with manifest surprise and regret by the whole command. Colonel [John H.] Kelly, of the Sixth [Eighth] Arkansas, personally captured Colonel Goode, of the Twenty-third Indiana [Colonel Gooding, Twenty-second Indiana], commanding brigade. This regiment was said to have caused great havoc in Arkansas, and it seems as if retributive justice had at last been meted out to it by the very men most injured by it. I take the greatest pleasure in stating that not a single instance of lack of gallantry amongst officers or privates came under my personal observation throughout the day; on the contrary, all were fearless in doing their duty, and obeyed orders with alacrity. Captain [George A.] Williams, adjutant-general; Lieutenant [J.L.] Bostick, aide-de-camp, and Lieutenant [J. M.] Dulin, brigade inspector, cheerfully and fearlessly assisted me in the conveyance of all necessary instructions, regardless of all exposure. In forming my line of battle, just before passing through General Cheatham's lines, I discovered that Colonel Kelly's regiment, Sixth [Eighth] Arkansas, which held the left wing, was not in its place.  I forthwith sent my aide-de-camp, Lieutenant Bostick, to look after it, and in his absence the adjutant of his regiment reported to me, by order of his colonel, that Major [W. K.] Beard, of General Bragg's staff, some distance back, had ordered the regiment detached, and moved directly forward. Having no time to lose, I moved on in line of battle without it, and, on reaching the front of the enemy, I was gratified to find that the colonel had, by a rapid right-oblique movement, rejoined the brigade at the very time needed. I afterward, understood that the order was intended for the whole brigade, but luckily it did not reach me, as its execution would not have enabled me to flank the enemy, and results not so fortunate might have followed. In the entire day's work, the total loss of my brigade, in killed, wounded, and missing, was 71.

For names and particulars, I refer to adjutant-general's report.

     I humbly thank God for our preservation, and that we have been the means in His hands of destroying so many of the enemies of our country with so little fatality to ourselves.

     I am, colonel, respectfully, your obedient,

ST. JOHN R. LIDDELL,
Brigadier-General.

 

Col. W. D. PICKETT,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Hardee's Corps.

 

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