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ral Sigel with two battalions of Missouri infantry and a squadron of cavalry formed the rear guard of his division, and were delayed by the train which moved slowly along the rough roads. He determined not to desert a single wagon to the rebels, although by so doing, he could have easily reached the main body of the Union forces.
The enemy made his appearance with 4,000 cavalry, at about 10 o'clock in the morning, a few miles out of Bentonville, and immediately oommenced the attack by a desperate charge. Sigel had with him nearly 1,000 men. He sent forward two hundred infantry to prevent the enemy cutting him off, and with the remainder he received the whole of the vast army. He ordered his men to stand firm and take good aim. The teams were put upon good pace, and the enemy came rushing on in several lines. The horsemen on the flanks and infantry in the rear awaited their- approach until within about 200 yards, when they delivered a terrible volley of Minie balls into the rebel ranks, which had the effect of throwing them into temporary confusion. In a few minutes the leaders succeeded in getting them into something like order. This time they came up to close quarters. The same volley, succeeded by a second and a third, greeted them. The enemy came on in crowds, and their cavalry closed all around the little band, notwithstanding horses and riders were falling thick and fast before its steady fire. General Sigel rode undismayed along the whole line, inspiring his men. Some of the cavalry on the flank had succeeded in getting across the road so cutting the train in two. Here the enemy set up a shout of triumph.
It was short lived. In a minute more the bayonets of the Union men had done their work, leaving hundreds of dead and wounded in their tracks. The enemy was driven off, broken and dismayed. Galled and maddened at the repulse, his scattered ranks could be seen re-forming to renew the attack.
The column was yet seven miles from the encampment. A dispatch had been sent forward to General Curtis, explaining the position and asking for assistance. It was hardly possible that the messenger could have been captured. The enemy was advancing on the road and along the ridges enclosing the stream. At about two o'clock a second attack was made and desperately carried forward. The rebel cavalry spurred their horses right on to the irresistible bayonets, delivering their load of buckshot from their miscellaneous guns, and then brandishing huge knives, which every one of them carried in place of sabres. »
They surrounded the rear guard a second time, and for a few minutes friend could hardly be distinguished from foe. The dense smoke enveloped the whole of the combatants, and for some time it was doubtful whether any of the Union band survived. The faithful Germans never faltered for a moment. Their gallant leader struck down a dozen who clamored for his life, and hewed his way through a line of enemies to rejoin his command. The bayonets proved the invincibility of the Union infantry against horsemen. The foe retired a second time, and for an hour could not be induced to return. By this time the advance, which had been constantly skirmishing with the rebel cavalry, announced reinforcements in sight, and a faint cheer went up, which was re-echoed by the troops from the camp. A third and last attempt was made to capture the train. It failed, and the enemy withdrew about o'clock.
General Sigel readied camp at 4^ o'clock, to receive the congratulations of the whole army. His loss in the entire march was estimated at 00 killed and 200 wounded, many of whom fell into the hands of the rebels, it being impossible to bring them off.
The night of the Gth of March was passed in a state of suspense. The houses in the valley had been appropriated as hospitals, and a strong force posted on the hill on the south bank of the creek under Colonel Carr, with General Sigel occupying the ridge on the north side, while Colonel Davis occupied the centre, near the crossing. The enemy, it was supposed, would naturally make the attack from the Fayetteville road, and the baggage trains and hospitals had been placed to the rear of the lines. During the night the manifestations showed conclusively that he was approaching in great strength by the road leading from Bentonville to Keatsville, thus getting to the flank and rear. This road lies, after crossing Sugar creek, over a high table land, called Pea Ridge. It extends from the stage road westwardly some eight miles along the right bank of Sugar creek.
The ridge is covered with a growth of stunted oaks, and a sprinkling of larger growth, called post-oaks. Three or four farms were located upon the ridge two miles west of the road, to which the name of Leetown has been given. It was near these farms that the principal part of the fighting took place.
Thursday night, March 6th, was clear and cold; the reflection of the enemy's camp tires could be seen stretching along for miles to the right. On the Fayetteville road the Union pickets reported nothing unusual. Several Union field pieces had been placed in position, sweeping that road. The men slept on their arms, that is each man lay on the ground in line of battle with his musket by him, ready for action at a moment's notice. A strong picket guard was extended for a quarter of a mile bfyond the lines, and the Federal soldiers awaited the break of day with premonitions that the morrow's sun would be the last which would rise for many of them.
The evidences were very clear on the morning, that a strong force had been posted on the Fayetteville road, thus standing directly between the Union forces and their next line at Cassville, completely cutting off communication with the outer world. The line of battle was changed. Colonel Carr was sent back along the Fayetteville road, two miles, with his right resting on Cross Timber Hollows at the head of Beaver Creek, a tributary of Big Sugar Creek, immediately facing the rebel batteries on the side of Elkhorn tavern. General Davis, with the central division, was posted on the top of Pea Ridge, leaving Sigel to cover the camp with his left wing resting on Sugar Creek. In this position things stood when the rebels opened the fight with artillery on the extreme right, from a very advantageous position at the distance of a mile. The Federal batteries soon replied. The fight raged in front of Colonel Carr's division from 10 to 11 o'clock, when another battery was ordered up to his support, for he was hotly pressed. The left, as yet, had not been menaced. General Sigel felt confident that the enemy might be expected to make a descent from the south side, and it was deemed indispensable to keep the men ready for action in that direction.
Colonel Osterhaus was sent with his brigade in the morning along the high land in the direction of Leestown, where he intercepted the reinforcements of the enemy. This was one of the most spirited and suecessful attacks of the battle, and resulted in a complete diversion of the enemy from the overpowered forces of Colonel Carr, on the Fayetteville road.
The Union cavalry penetrated along the main ridge beyond the road by which the enemy had advanced, and were on the point of seizing some of his wagons when a brigade of rebel cavalry and infantry attacked them. Then followed one of the most sanguinary contests that ever has been recorded between cavalry. Most of the fighting was done at close quarters. Pistols and carbines having been exhausted, sabres . were brought into requisition. The rattle of steel against steel, sabres against muskets and cutlasses, was terrific. The rebels were Texas Rangers, and fought like demons. The slaughter was awful. The Missouri cavalry cleaving right and left, left winrows of dead and wounded in front of their horses. The enemy fell back in dismay, the valorous Federals pursued them along the road for a mile, when they opened a battery upon the mass of friends and foes, plowing through them with solid shot and shell. Colonel Osterhaus had succeeded in his attempt, and retired, bringing off his dead and wounded in safety.
Meantime the contest was raging furiously on the extreme right on both sides of the Fayetteville road. The First and Second Iowa batteries, planted at an eminence overlooking the declivity in the road, were plying shrapnel and canister into the ranks of the enemy, who appeared in immense numbers on all sides, as if to surround the right of the Union line, and thus completely environ them. In order to defeat this object, a severe struggle took place for the occupancy of a rising knoll on the east side of the road. The enemy gained upon the Federals, and it was not until the men were half stricken down that they yielded the pointWord had been passed back to General Curtis that the enemy was pressing severely on the right flank, and the Union forces were sent back. The section of a battery had been left on the hill, and the enemy was now turning it upon the Union lines. Colonel Carr, fearing that no reinforcements would arrive, collected his strength, and mustered his entire force for a last desperate charge, resolved to retake the position or perish in the attempt. A heavy firing on the centre, and a cheer from the advancing division of General Davis favored the effort. The troops marched up to the battery amid a storm of shot from their own guns, and, after a desperate hand-to-hand struggle, finally drove the enemy down the ravine, in hopeless confusion. Colonel Carr received a wound in the arm, but remained on the field.
During the night a sharp fire of artillery had been kept up upon the left, and from two Missouri batteries on the centre, under Colonels Patterson and Fiala. The enemy had made frequent attempts to gain a position nearer the Union lines, and succeeded in getting so near that the balls from their guns would strike near the tents and baggage wagons. Towards night the enemy made an attempt to break the Federal centre, but the timely support of a brigade of General Sigel and a section of artillery promptly repulsed them. The night closed with skirmishing and sharpshooting.
Occasionally the report of a musket could be heard during the night, then a second, and an interval of silence. But few of the soldiers slept. The communication with Springfield was cut off, and Union messengers were falling into the enemy's hands. As yet the Federals had gained little advantage, and with desperate fighting had only succeeded in repelling equally desperate attacks. Nothing but hard fighting could avail them. Filled with these thoughts, the soldiers solemnly gave their wives and children into each others' charge, no one being aware who the survivor would be. Young men talked in low voices of the loved ones at home, fathers, mothers, sisters, sweethearts—and messages full of tender pathos were left to be given after death. It was indeed, an anxious, mournful night.
The fight on the morning of the 8th, commenced by a salute from the Union batteries on the extreme right. General Asboth, with a regiment of infantry and a battalion of cavalry, had been sent to the support of Colonel Carr, while General Sigel was moving up to a fresh position on the ridge near Leestown. The enemy was unprepared for this sudden and vigorous assault, and fled after a short and spiritless resistance. They ran, leaving four pieces of artillery behind them, and a fifth was afterwards taken in the pursuit. The enemy was being turned by the left flank, General Sigel pushing boldly after him. An hour or more was spent in contesting the possession of a spot on Cox's farm, when the rebels fell back to the hollow.
A pause ensued, when the right, under General Davis, moved along, and after a sharp contest of half an hour, in which the rebel General McIntosh, was killed, the enemy began to retreat to Cross Timber Hollow. The whole line was then ordered forward. The rebels attempted to make a stand on the next hill, but the Union artillery played upon them with disastrous effect. The enemy on the road near the tavern Tefused to be moved. General Asboth, with a large column of cavalry, was sent round to outflank them, when another desperate conflict ensued between the Union cavalry and the Texas and Louisiana troops. The Indians also took part in it, but beyond shrieks and yells their influence was not felt. The batteries of the enemy fired chains, spikes, pieces of bar-iron, and solid shot. It was evident that his canister and shell were exhausted. Now the Federal batteries on the right were ordered to the front. Taking a position within five hundred yards, they poured in an incessant shower of grape, canister and shell for twenty