were not arranged, to the best of my recollection, in the council of February 14. The decision of the council was in general terms, and, as I have already stated, to attack the enemy, secure a retreat towards Charlotte, and if circumstances justified it, to follow up all advantages, and hurl the invaders back to their transports.
As decided in council, the attack on the right of the enemy was made next morning by the forces under General Pillow, and, after a hot and long-continued contest, the besiegers fell back, disputing obstinately each foot of ground. General Buckner's division was brought up in front of their right center, and a part of his force, after he had prepared the way by his artillery, was advanced to the attack. For some time the result of the day appeared doubtful and but little advantage was gained in the center. The enemy was hotly engaged for hours on his right by Pillow's division, and forced to yield point after point until he was thrown back on his right center, when the advance of Buckner's forces united our strength, and for the moment gave promise of a brilliant victory. The forces by which we were first opposed were in full retreat and our men were eager in the pursuit, fatigued as they were by the long continued struggle of the day; but this bright picture was suddenly chanced. Large masses of fresh troops were brought up by the besiegers, the contest was fast becoming unequal, and our men were well-night exhausted, having been under arms or on fatigue duty almost constantly for the four preceding days and nights, some of them for even a longer time. What was the strength of the re-enforcements brought forward to cover the retreat of the enemy and check our advance I am unable to state with any accuracy. It was very great, however, as was evident by the heavy masses (distant about 3 miles), and by the extent of the fire as they advanced to the contest.
It was now about 1 o'clock; the battle had been waged for about seven hours; the ground was covered with snow; the troops were hungry and fatigued, their ammunition falling short, and the besiegers largely re-enforced.
To commence a retreat at this time would have been hazardous, and must have resulted in great suffering, as a large part of the men were without their blankets, rations, or other preparations for a march. It was a choice of evils. Prompt decision and action were imperative. The commanding general must at once decide as to the practicability of making the commenced from the battle-field would have, in my opinion, resulted in the deliverance of a large part of the army, but much brooked and demoralized.
Under these circumstances an order was given by General Pillow, and approved afterwards, as I understood, by General Floyd, to withdraw our forces and place them back to former positions within the lines. This was done as promptly as possible, but the enemy, by a quick advance of fresh troops against the extreme right of our lines, effected a lodgment within them before the returning troops could arrive for their defense. He afterwards reoccupied the ground from which he had been driven in the morning, and the sad sequel has been long since reported to the Government by the commanding generals.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. F. GILMER,
Colonel of Engineers and Chief of Bureau.
Honorable JAMES A. SEDDON,
Secretary of War.