By prisoners, with forage wagons, whom our cavalry pickets brought in, we were assured that we were not expected in that quarter, and that the promise was fair for a complete surprise.
I at once made disposition for attack, and directing General Price to move forward cautiously, soon drew the fire of a few skirmishers, who were rapidly re-enforced, so that before 11 o'clock we were fairly engaged, the enemy holding very good positions and maintaining a heavy fire of artillery and small-arms upon the constantly-advancing columns which were being pressed upon him.
I had directed General McCulloch to attack with his forces the enemy's left, and before 2 o'clock it was evident that if his division could advance or even maintain its ground, I could at once throw forward Price's left, advance his whole line, and end the battle. I sent him a dispatch to this effect, but it was never received by him. Before it was penned his brave spirit had winged its flight, and one of the most gallant leaders of the Confederacy had fought his last battle.
About 3 p.m. I received, by aides-de-camp, the information that Generals McCulloch and McIntosh and Colonel Hebert were killed, and that the division was without any head. I nevertheless pressed forward with the attack, and at sunset the enemy was fleeing before our victorious troops at every point in our front, and when night fell we had driven him entirely from the field of battle.
Our troops slept upon their arms nearly a mile beyond the point at which he made his last stand, and my headquarters for the night were at the Elkhorn Tavern. We had taken during the day seven cannon and about 200 prisoners.
In the course of the night I ascertained that the ammunition was almost exhausted, and that the officer in charge of the ordnance supplies could not find his wagons, which, with the subsistence train, had been sent to Bentonville. Most of the troops had been without any food since the morning of the 6th and the artillery horses were beaten out. It was therefore with no little anxiety that I awaited the dawn of day. When it came it revealed to me the enemy in a new and strong position, offering battle. I made my dispositions at once to accept the gage, and by 7 o'clock the cannonading was as heavy us that of the previous day.
On the side of the enemy the fire was much better sustained, for, being freed from the attack of my right wing, he could now concentrate his whole artillery force. Finding that my right wing was much disorganized, and that the batteries were one after the other retiring from the field with every shot expended, I resolved to withdraw the army, and at once placed the ambulances, with all the wounded they could bear, upon the Huntsville road, and a portion of McCulloch's division, which had joined me during the night, in position to follow, while I so disposed of my remaining forces as best to deceive the enemy as to my intention, and to hold him in check while executing it.
About 10 o'clock I gave the order for the column to march and soon afterwards for the troops engaged to fall back and cover the rear of the army. This was done very steadily; no attempt was made by the enemy to follow us, and we encamped about 3 p.m. about 10 miles from the field of battle. Some demonstrations were made by his cavalry upon my baggage train and the batteries of artillery, which returned by different routes from that taken by the army, but they were instantly checked, and thanks to the skill and courage of Colonel Stone and Major Wade, all of the baggage and artillery joined the army in safety.