Report of Col. Abel D. Streight, August 22, 1864
Report of Col. Abel D. Streight, Fifty-First Indiana Infantry, commanding expedition.
Headquarters Fifty-First Indiana Volunteers, Chattanooga, Tenn., August 22, 1864.
SIR: I have the honor to report that since my return to duty, June 1 last, I have been endeavoring to obtain the necessary information, from the several regiments that composed my command, to enable me to render you an accurate report of my expedition in April, 1863; but, owing to the absence of most of my officers (who are still confined as prisoners of war) and the scattered condition of the men, I have been unable to collect as many of the particulars as I had intended. On April 7, 1863, I received orders from General Rosecrans to proceed with the Provisional Brigade - about 1,700 officers and men, composed of my regiment (the Fifty-first Indiana), Seventy-third Indiana, Colonel Hathaway; Third Ohio, Colonel Lawson; Eightieth Illinois, Lieutenant-Colonel Rodgers, and two companies of the First Middle Tennessee Cavalry, Capt. D.D. Smith - to Nashville, and to fit out as speedily as possible for an expedition to the interior of Alabama and Georgia, for the purpose of destroying the railroads and other rebel property in that country. I was instructed to draw about half the number of mules necessary to mount my command, at Nashville, and to seize in the country through which I passed a sufficient number of animals to mount the balance. On arriving at Nashville, I organized the following staff, to wit: Capt. D.L. Wright, Fifty-first Indiana Volunteers, to be acting assistant adjutant-general; Maj. W.L. Peck, Third Ohio, to be brigade surgeon; Lieut. J.G. Doughty, regimental quartermaster Fifty-first Indiana Volunteers, to be acting assistant quartermaster; Captain Driscoll, Third Ohio, to be acting assistant inspector-general; Lieut. J.W. Pavey, Eightieth Illinois Volunteer, to be ordnance officer, and Lieut. A.C. Roach, Fifty-first Indiana Volunteers, to be aide-de-camp. As soon as possible all hands were at work to supply the command with the necessary clothing, ordnance, and equipments for an expedition of this kind, and on the afternoon of the 10th I received orders from General Garfield, chief of staff, to embark at once on steamers then at the landing and proceed down the river to Palmyra, land my command there, and march across the country to Fort Henry, and to seize all the horses and mules I could find in the country. Everything was speedily put on board, although it was late in the evening before the mules were brought to the landing for shipment. I was temporarily absent at the time, attending to some business affairs preparatory to starting; consequently did not see them. As soon as everything was ready we proceeded down the river to Palmyra, where we arrived on the evening of the 11th, and disembarked at once. I sent the fleet, consisting of eight steamers, around to Fort Henry, under the command of Colonel Lawson, Third Ohio, and furnished him with four companies of the Fifty-first Indiana Volunteers as guard. He had orders to stop at Smithland and take on a quantity of rations and forage for General Dodge's command. As soon as it was light the next morning, all hands were set at work to catch and saddle the mules. I then for the first time discovered that the mules were nothing but poor, wild, and unbroken colts, many of them but two years old, and that a large number of them had the horse distemper; some 40 or 50 of the lot were too near dead to travel, and had to be left at the landing; 10 or 12 died before we started, and such of them as could be rode at all were so wild and unmanageable that it took us all that day and a part of the next to catch and break them before we could move out across the country; but in the mean time I had sent out several parties to gather in horses and mules, and they had been successful in getting about 150 very good animals, but mostly barefooted. On the 13th, the command left Palmyra and marched about 15 miles in a southwesterly direction, and encamped on Yellow Creek. My scouting parties did not succeed in finding many horses or mules. The people had got warning of our movements, and the stock was mostly run off. Early the next morning we resumed our march, and arrived at Fort Henry about noon on the 15th. We had scoured the country as far south as it was safe, on account of the proximity of a large force of the enemy, under [T.G.] Woodward, and although about 100 of the mules gave out and had to be left behind on our march, yet when we reached Fort Henry our animals numbered about 1,250. Those that we had collected in the country were mostly in good condition, but were nearly all barefooted. Contrary to my expectations the boats had not arrived, nor did they reach there until the evening of the 16th, having been delayed in getting the rations and forage above referred. General Ellet's Marine Brigade and two gunboats accompanied the fleet to Fort Henry, and informed me that they were ordered to proceed with me as far as Eastport, Miss. General Ellet assumed command of the fleet, and we embarked as soon as possible; but the pilots declared that at the existing low stage of water it would be unsafe to run at nights; hence we did not start until the morning of the 17th, when we steamed up the river, but, despite all my efforts to urge the fleet ahead as fast as possible, we did not reach Eastport until the afternoon of the 19th. As soon as we arrived at Eastport, I left Colonel Lawson in command, with orders to disembark and prepare to march, while I went to see General Dodge, who, with his command (some 8,000 strong), was awaiting my arrival 12 miles up Bear River. After my interview with General Dodge, I returned to Eastport about midnight, and was informed that a stampede had occurred among the animals, and that some of them had got away. Daylight the next morning revealed to me the fact that nearly 400 of our best animals were gone. All that day and part of the next was spent in scouring the country to recover them, but only about 200 of the lost number were recovered; the remainder fell into the hands of the enemy. The loss of these animals was a heavy blow to my command, for besides detaining us nearly two days at Eastport and running down our stock in searching the country to recover them, it caused still further delay at Tuscumbia to supply their places. Quite a number of the mules drawn at Nashville had to be left at Eastport, on account of the distemper before mentioned; several died before we left. We left Eastport on the afternoon of April 21, and reached General Dodge's headquarters the following morning about 8 o'clock. We then proceeded in rear of General Dodge's forces, which were continually skirmishing with the enemy as they advanced as far as Tuscumbia, Ala., scouring the country to the river on the left and to the mountains on our right, and collected all the horses and mules that could be found.
We arrived at Tuscumbia about 5 p.m. on April 24. Here General Dodge furnished me some 200 mules and 6 wagons to haul ammunition and rations. I ordered my surgeon to carefully examine my command, and send back to Corinth with General Dodge all men who were not fit for the arduous duties before us. This reduced my command to 1,500 men. General Dodge informed me that there was no doubt but Forrest had crossed the Tennessee River, and was in the vicinity of Town Creek; hence he agreed to advance as far as Courtland , on the Decatur road, and, if possible, drive the enemy in that direction, but if they (the enemy) turned toward Moulton, our cavalry, under General Dodge, was to be sent in pursuit. With this understanding, I marched from Tuscumbia at 11 p.m. on the night of the 26th instant in the direction of Moulton via Russellville. It was raining very hard, and the mud and darkness of the night made our progress very slow. One hundred and fifty of my men had neither horses nor mules, and fully as many more had such as were unable to carry more than the saddles; hence fully 300 of the men were on foot. It was expected when I left General Dodge that the greater part of my command would be able to reach Moulton, some 40 miles distant, by the next night, but, owing to the heavy rains and consequent bad condition of the roads, it was impossible; consequently I dispatched a messenger to General Dodge, stating that I would halt at Mount Hope and wait for the portion of my command who were on foot to come up. We continued to scour the country for horses and mules, but so many of those drawn at Nashville were continually failing,that, although we were successful in collecting a large number, still, many of the men were without anything to ride. On the night of the 27th, at Mount Hope, I received word from General Dodge, stating that he had driven the enemy, and that I should push on. My command had not all come up yet, nor did they until about 10 s.m. the next day, when we proceeded to Moulton, where we arrived about dark. Up to this time we had been skirmishing occasionally with small squads of the enemy, but I could hear of no force of consequence in the country. All of the command but about 40 men were now mounted. We started from Moulton, in the direction of Blountsville, via Day's Gap, about midnight on April 28. The two previous days it had been raining most of the time, and the roads were terrible, though on the evening of the 28th it bid fair for dry weather, which gave us strong hopes of better times.
We marched the next day (the 29th) to Day's Gap, about 35 miles, and bivouacked for the night. Every man now was mounted, and although many of the animals were very poor, nevertheless we had strong hopes that we could easily supply all future demands. We destroyed during the day a large number of wagons belonging to the enemy, laden with provisions, arms, tents, &c., which had been sent to the mountains to avoid us, but, luckily, they fell into our hands. We were now in the midst of devoted Union people. Many of Captain Smith's men (Alabamians) were recruited near this place, and many were the happy greetings between them and their friends and relations. I could learn nothing of the enemy in the country, with the exception of small squads of scouting parties, who were hunting conscripts. We moved out the next morning before daylight. I will here remark that my men had been worked very hard in scouring so much of the country, and unaccustomed as they were to riding, made it still worse; consequently, they were illy prepared for the trying ordeal through which they were to pass. I had not proceeded more than 2 miles, at the head of the column, before I was informed that the rear guard had been attached, and just at that moment I heard the boom of artillery in the rear of the column. I had previously learned that the gap through which we were passing was easily flanked by gaps through the mountains, both above and below; consequently I sent orders to the rear to hod the enemy in check until we could prepare for action. The head of the column was at the time on the top of the mountain. The column was moving through the gap; consequently the enemy was easily held in check. I soon learned that the enemy had moved through the gaps on my right and left, and were endeavoring to form a junction in my advance; consequently I moved ahead rapidly until we passed the intersecting roads on either flank with the one we occupied. The country was open, sand ridges, very thinly wooded, and afforded fine defensive positions. As soon as we passed the point above designated (about 3 miles from the top of the mountains), we dismounted and formed a line of battle on a ridge circling to the rear. Our right rested on a precipitous ravine and the left was protected by a marshy run that was easily held against the enemy. The mules were sent into a ravine to the rear of our right, where they were protected from the enemy's bullets. I also deployed a line of skirmishers, resting on our right and left flanks encircling our rear, in order to prevent a surprise from any detached force of the enemy that might approach us from that direction and to prevent any straggling of either stray animals or cowardly men. In the mean time I had instructed Captain Smith, who had command of our rear guard (now changed to our front), to hold his position until the enemy pressed him closely, when he should retreat rapidly, and, if possible, draw them on to our lines, which were concealed by the men lying down immediately back of the top of the ridge. The lines were left sufficiently open to permit Captain Smith's command to pass through near the center. I had two 12 pounder mountain howitzers, which were stationed near the road (the center). They were also concealed. We had hardly completed our arrangements when the enemy charged Captain Smith in large force, following him closely, and no sooner had he passed our lines than our whole line rose up and delivered a volley at short range. We continued to pour a rapid fire into their ranks, which soon caused them to give way in confusion; but their re-enforcements soon came up, when they dismounted, formed, and made a determined and vigorous attack. Our skirmishers were soon driven in, and about the same time the enemy opened upon us with a battery off artillery. The enemy soon attempted to carry our lines, but were handsomely repulsed. During their advance they had run their artillery to within 300 yards of our lines, and as soon as they began to waver I prepared for a charge. I ordered Colonel Hathaway, Seventy-third Indiana, and Lieutenant Colonel Sheets, Fifty-first Indiana, on the left, to make a charge, in order to draw the attention of the battery, and immediately threw the Third Ohio, Colonel Lawson, and the Eightieth Illinois, Lieutenant-Colonel Rodgers, forward rapidly, hoping to capture the battery. The enemy, after a short but stubborn resistance, fled in confusion, leaving two pieces of artillery, two caissons, and about 40 prisoners, representing seven regiments, a large number of wounded, and about 30 dead on the field. Among the former was Captain [William H.] Forrest, a brother General Forrest. Our loss was about 30 killed and wounded, among the latter Lieutenant-Colonel Sheets, Fifty-first Indiana (mortally), a brave and gallant officer, and one that we were illy prepared to lose, and Lieutenant Pavey, Eightieth Illinois (on my staff), severely. It was now about 11 o'clock, fighting having continued since about 6 o'clock in the morning. I had learned, in the mean time, that the enemy were in heavy force, fully three times our number, with twelve pieces of artillery, under General Forrest in person; consequently I was fearful that they were making an effort to get around us and attack in the rear of our position; hence I decided to resume the march. Everything was soon in readiness, and we moved out, leaving a strong guard (dismounted) in the rear, to check any immediate advance the enemy might make previous to the column getting in motion. We were not too soon in our movements, for the column had hardly passed a cross-road, some 6 miles from our first battle-ground, when the enemy were discovered advancing on our left. Sharp skirmishing commenced at Crooked Creek, which is about 10 miles south of Day's Gap, and finally the enemy pressed our rear so hard that I was compelled to prepare for battle. I selected a strong position, about 1 mile south of the crossing of the creek, on a ridge called Hog Mountain. The whole force soon became engaged (about one hour before dark). The enemy strove first to carry our right; then charged the left; but with the help of the two pieces of artillery captured in the morning and the two mountain howitzers, all of which were handled with good effect by Major Vananda, of the Third Ohio, we were able to repulse them. Fighting continued until about 10 p.m., when the enemy were driven from our front, leaving a large number of killed and wounded on the field. I determined at once to resume our march, and as soon as possible we moved out. The ammunition which we had captured with the two guns was exhausted, and being very short of horses, I ordered the guns spiked and the carriages destroyed. I had ordered the Seventy-third Indiana (Colonel Hathaway) to act as rear guard, and I remained in the rear in person, for the purpose of being at hand in case the enemy should attempt to press us as we were moving out. We had but fairly got under way when I received information of the enemy's advance. The moon shone very brightly, and the country was an open woodland, with an occasional spot of thick undergrowth. In one of these thickets I placed the Seventy-third Indian, lying down, and not more than 20 paces from the road, which was in plain view. The enemy approached. The head of his column passed without discovering our position. At this moment the whole regiment opened a most destructive fire, causing a complete stampede of the enemy. I will here remark that the country from Day's Gap to Blountsville (about 40 miles) is mostly uninhabited; consequently there is nothing in the country for man or beast. I had hopes that by pushing ahead we could reach a place where we could feed before the enemy would come up with us, and, by holding him back where there was no feed, compel him to lay over a day at least to recuperate. I had learned that they had been on a forced march from Town Creek, Ala., a day and two nights previous to their attacking us. We were not again disturbed until we had marched several miles, when they attacked our rear guard vigorously. I again succeeded in ambuscading them, which caused them to give up the pursuit for the night. We continued our march, and reached Blountsville about 10 o'clock in the morning. Many of our mules had given out, leaving their riders on foot, but there was very little straggling behind the rear guard.
At Blountsville we found sufficient corn to feed our tired and hungry animals. Ammunition and rations were hastily distributed to the men, and the remaining ammunition was put on pack mules and the wagons burned, as it was now understood that it would be impossible to take them over the roads before us. After resting about two hours, we resumed our march in the direction of Gadsden. The column had not got fairly under motion before our pickets were driven in, and a sharp skirmish ensued between Forrest's advance and our rear guard, under Captain Smith, in the town of Blountsville. The enemy followed closely for several miles, continually skirmishing with the rear guard, but were badly handled by small parties of our men stopping in the thick bushes by the side of the road and firing at them at short range, and when we reached the East Branch of the Black Warrior River the ford was very deep and the enemy pressed so closely that I was compelled to halt and offer him battle before we could cross. After some maneuvering, I advanced a heavy line of skirmishers, who drove the enemy out of sight of my main line, when I ordered the troops, except the skirmishers, to cross the river as rapidly as possible. After all had crossed, except the skirmishers, they were rapidly withdrawn, under cover of our artillery, and a heavy line of skirmishers thrown out on the opposite bank for that purpose. It was about 5 p.m. when the last of the command crossed the East Branch of the Black Warrior. We proceeded in the direction of Gadsden without further interruption, with the exception of small parties who were continually harassing the rear of the column, until about 9 o'clock the next morning, May 2, when the rear guard was fiercely attacked at the crossing of Black Creek, near Gadsden. After a sharp fight the enemy was repulsed.
I had learned in the mean time, through my scouts, that a large column of the enemy was moving on our left, parallel with our route, evidently with the intention of getting in our front, which made it necessary for us to march all night, though the command was in no condition to do so, and,, to add still more to my embarrassment, a portion of our ammunition had become damaged in crossing Will's Creek, which, at the time, was very deep fording. I only halted at Gadsden sufficiently long to destroy a quantity of arms and commissary stores found there, and proceeded on. many of our animals and men were entirely worn out and unable to keep up with the column; consequently they fell behind the rear guard and were captured. It now became evident to me that our only hope was in crossing the river at Rome and destroying the bridge, which would delay Forrest a day or two and give us time to collect horses and mules, and allow the command a little time to sleep, without which it was impossible to proceed. The enemy followed closely, and kept up a continuous skirmish with the rear of the column until about 4 p.m., at which time we reached Blount's plantation, about 15 miles from Gadsden, where we could procure forage for our animals. Here I decided to halt, as it was impossible to continue the march through the night without feeding and resting, although to do so was to bring on a general engagement. Accordingly, the command was dismounted, and a detail made to feed the horses, and mules, while the balance of the command formed in line of battle on a ridge southwest of the plantation. Meanwhile the rear guard, in holding the enemy in check, had become severely engaged and was driven in. The enemy at once attacked our main line, and tried hard to carry the center, but were gallantly met and repulsed by the Fifty-first and Seventy-third Indiana, assisted by Major Vananda, with two mountain howitzers. They then made a determined effort to turn our right, but were met by the gallant Eightieth Illinois, assisted by two companies of the Third Ohio. The enemy, with the exception of a few skirmishers, then fell back to a ridge some half a mile distant, and commenced massing his force, as if preparing for a more determined attack. It was becoming dark, and I decided to withdraw unobserved, if possible, and conceal my command in a thicket some half a mile to our rear, there to lie in ambush and await his advance. In the mean time I had ordered Capt. Milton Russell (Fifty-first Indiana) to take 200 of the best mounted men, selected from the whole command, and proceed to Rome, and hold the bridge until the main command could come up. The engagement at Blount's plantation revealed the fact that nearly all of our remaining ammunition was worthless, on account of having been wet. Much of that carried by the men had become useless by the paper wearing out and the powder sifting away. It was in this engagement that the gallant Colonel Hathaway (Seventy-third Indiana) fell, mortally wounded, and in a few moments expired. Our country has seldom been called upon to mourn the loss of so brave and valuable an officer. His loss to me was irreparable. His men had almost worshipped him, and when he fell it cast a deep gloom of despondency over his regiment which was hard to overcome.
We remained in ambush but a short time when the enemy, who by some means had learned of our whereabouts, commenced a flank movement, which we discovered in time to check. I then decided to withdraw as silently as possible, and push on in the direction of Rome, but as a large number of the men were ismounted, their animals having given out, and the remainder of the stock was so jaded, tender-footed, and worn down, our progress was necessarily slow; yet, as everything depended on our reaching Rome before the enemy could throw a sufficient force there to prevent our crossing the bridge, every possible effort was made to urge the command forward. We proceeded without interruption until we reached the vicinity of Centre, when one of my scouts informed me that a force of the enemy was posted in ambush but a short distance in our front. I immediately threw forward a line of skirmishers, with orders to proceed until they were fired upon, when they should open a brisk fire on the enemy, and hold their position until the command had time to pass. The plan worked admirably, for, while my skirmishers were amusing the enemy, the main column made a detour to the right, and struck the main road some 3 miles to the rear of the enemy. As soon as our main force had passed, the skirmishers withdrew and fell in the rear of the column. I was then hopeful that we could reach Rome before the enemy could overtake us. My principal guide had thus far proved reliable, and I had made particular inquiries of him as to the character of the road and the country the evening before, and he assured me that there were no difficult streams to cross and that the road was good; hence we approached the Chattooga River at the ferry without any information as to the real condition of things. Captain Russell had managed to ferry the last of his command across about one hour previous to my arrival, but the enemy had seized and run off the boat before we reached there.
I then ascertained that there was a bridge some 7 or 8 miles up the river, near Gaylesville, and procured new guides and pushed on as rapidly as possible in order to reach the bridge before the enemy should take possession of it. We had to pass over an old coal chopping for several miles, where the timber had been cut and hauled off for charcoal, leaving innumerable wagon roads running in every direction, and the command was so worn out and exhausted that many were asleep, ad in spite of every exertion I could make, with the aid of such of my officers as were able for duty, the command became separated and scattered into several squads, traveling in different directions, and it was not until near daylight that the last of the command had crossed the river. The bridge was burned, and we proceeded on and passed Cedar Bluff just after daylight. It now became evident that the horses and mules could not reach Rome without halting to rest and feed. Large numbers of the mules were continually giving out. In fact, I do not think that at that time we had a score of the mules drawn at Nashville left, and nearly all of those taken in the country were barefooted, and many of them had such sore backs and tender feet that it was impossible to ride them; but, in order to get as near as possible to the force I had sent ahead, we struggled on until about 9 a.m., when we halted and fed our animals. The men, being unaccustomed to riding, had become so exhausted from fatigue and loss of sleep that it was almost impossible to keep them awake long enough to feed. We had halted but a short time, when I was informed that a heavy force of the enemy was moving on our left, on a route parallel with the one we were marching, and was then nearer Rome than we were. About the same time I received this information our pickets were driven in. The command was immediately ordered into line, and every effort made to rally the men for action, but nature was exhausted, and a large portion of my best troops actually went to sleep while lying in line of battle under a sever skirmish fire. After some maneuvering, Forrest sent in a flag of truce, demanding the surrender of my forces. Most of my regimental commanders had already expressed the opinion that, unless we could reach Rome and cross the river before the enemy came up with us again, we should be compelled to surrender. Consequently I called a council of war. I had learned, however, in the mean time, that Captain Russell had been unable to take the bridge at Rome. Our condition was fully canvassed. As I have remarked before, our ammunition was worthless, our horses and mules in a desperate condition, the men were overcome with fatigue and loss of sleep, and we were confronted by fully three times our number,(actually the opposite is true, Col Streight outnumbered Gen. Forrest by 3:1, Forrest had manuvered his men and artillery back and forth and bluffed Streight into thinking he had more men with him than he did. On learning of the ruse Col Streight demanded his weapons back and that he be allowed to fight it out, to which Forrest replied "All is fair in love and war." in the heart of the enemy's country, and although personally opposed to surrender, and so expressed myself at the time, yet I yielded to the unanimous voice of my regimental commanders, and at once entered into negotiations with Forrest to obtain the best possible terms I could for my command, and at about noon, May 3, we surrendered as prisoners of war. We were taken to Richmond, Va. The men were soon sent through the lines and exchanged. My officers and myself were confined in Libby Prison, where we remained until the night of February 9 last, when four of my officers and myself, together with several other prisoners, succeeded in making our escape, and reached Washington in safety about March 1. The balance of my officers, or nearly all of them, are still confined as prisoners or have died of disease, the result of long confinement, insufficient food, and cruel treatment at the hands of the enemy.
I am unable to report the exact number of casualties in the command, but from the best information I have been able to obtain, there were 15 officers and about 130 enlisted men killed and wounded. It was a matter of astonishment to all that so much fighting should occur with so few casualties on our side; but we acted purely on the defensive, and took advantage of the nature of the country as best we could. From actual personal observation where we had driven the enemy from the field, and from what my surgeons, left with our wounded, learned in relation to the loss of the enemy, I am convinced that we killed more of his men than we lost in both killed and wounded. Previous to the surrender,we had captured and paroled about 200 prisoners, and had lost about the same number in consequence of the animals giving out, and the men, unable to keep up, broke down from exhaustion, and were necessarily picked up by the enemy; but in no case was the enemy able to capture a single man in any skirmish or battle within my knowledge. I deem it proper to mention the barbarous treatment my wounded received at the hands of the enemy. Owing to the nature of the service we were performing, we were compelled to leave our wounded behind. I provided for them as best I could by leaving them blankets and such rations as we had, and two of my surgeons remained behind to attend them; but no sooner did the enemy get possession of our hospitals than they robbed both officers and men of their blankets, coats, hats, boots, shoes, rations, and money. The medical stores and instruments were taken from the surgeons, and my wounded left in a semi-naked and starving condition, in some instances many miles from any inhabitants, to perish. Many thanks to the Union ladies of that country, for they saved many a brave soldier from a horrible death.
In reviewing the history of this ill-fated expedition, I am convinced that had we been furnished at Nashville with 800 good horses, instead of poor, young mules, we would have been successful, in spite of all other drawbacks; or if General Dodge had succeeded in detaining Forrest one day longer, we would have been successful, even with our poor outfit. In conclusion, I will bear testimony to the bravery and uncomplaining endurance of both officers and men of my command during those trying days and nights. To my staff I owe much for their good example and constant labors.
I have the honor, sir, to be, your obedient servant, A.D Streight, Colonel Fifty-first Indiana Veteran Volunteer Infantry. Brig. Gen. William D. Whipple, Chief of Staff, Department of the Cumberland.
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