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 Captain 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 west. 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 dismounted, 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 pre