about 300 yards in front of the rifle-pits a copse of wood extended from the road to the river.
Our line was manned on the right by the gallant Cockrell's Missouri brigade, the extreme left by Brigadier-General Green's Missouri and Arkansas men (both of Bowen's DIVISION), and the center by Brigadier-General Vaughn's brigade of East Tennesseeans, in all about 4,000 men-as many as could be advantageously employed in defending the line-with about twenty pieces of field artillery. So strong was the position, that my greatest, almost only, apprehension was a flank movement by Bridgeport or Baldwin's Ferry, which would have endangered my communications with Vicksburg. Yet this position was abandoned by our troops almost without a struggle and with the loss of nearly all our artillery.
I speak not now of the propriety nor of the necessity of holding this position. I had, as heretofore noticed, my object in doing so. I considered that object sufficient, and I also deemed the force employed for the purpose ample. Brigadier-General Vaughn's brigade had not been engaged at Baker's Creek; his men were fresh, and I believed were not demoralized. I knew that the Missouri troops, under their gallant leaders, could be depended upon.
By whose order the battery horses were so far removed from their guns as not to be available I do not know; it certainly was not by mine. General Bowen, with whom I had a personal interview in his tent on the night of the 16th, and who received his instructions from my own lips (Lieutenant-Colonel [L. M.] Montgomery, of Lieutenant General E. Kirby Smith's staff, being then present and acting as my aide-de-camp), I do not believe to be responsible for it. He was too old and too good a soldier. Enough, however, will, I think, be developed in a few words to cover the whole case.
Early on the morning of the 17th, the enemy opened his artillery at long range, and very soon pressed forward with infantry into the copse of wood north of the railroad. About the same time he opened on Colonel Cockrell's position with two batteries, and advanced a line of skirmishers, throwing forward a column of infantry, which was quickly driven back by our batteries. Pretty heavy skirmishing was for a while kept up along our whole line, but presently the enemy, who had massed a large force in the woods immediately north of the railroad, advanced at a run with loud cheers. Our troops in their front did not remain to receive them, but broke and fled precipitately. One portion of the line being broken, it very soon became a matter of sauve qui peut.
I shall only add with reference to the affair of Big Black, that a strong position, with an ample force of infantry and artillery to hold it, was shamefully abandoned almost without resistance.
The troops occupying the center did not do their duty. With an almost impassable bayou between themselves and the enemy, they fled before the enemy had reached that obstacle.
I have received no report from Brigadier-General Vaughn of the operations of his brigade on this occasion.
Colonel Cockrell says in his official report:
After a lively skirmish fire had been kept up for some time along our whole front, I saw the line between the railroad and first skirt of timber north of the railroad beginning to give way and then running in disorder. I watched this disorderly falling back a few minutes, when I saw that the enemy had possession of the trenches north of the railroad and were rapidly advancing toward the bridge-our only crossing and way of escape-the enemy now being nearer this crossing than my line. I therefore ordered the brigade to fall back, and, moving rapidly, gained the bridge, crossed over, and reformed on the WEST bank of the river north of the railroad.