Colonel [Elijah] Gates, commanding SECOND Brigade, Bowen's DIVISION, says in his official report:
They (the enemy) formed their men on river in the timber, where we could not see them. They brought their men out by the right flank in column of fours, about 140 yards in front of my regiment, at a double-quick. I then opened a most terrific fire upon them and kept it up until the brigade had passed out of my sight behind a grove of timber immediately upon my right. They moved so as to strike the trenches occupied by General Vaughn's brigade, so I am informed. I do not know whose troops were there, but it was immediately on the right of Green's brigade. After they had passed me, I listened for our men to open a heavy volley on my right and drive the enemy back. Upon not hearing any firing on the right, I directed Lieutenant-Colonel [George W.] Law to mount his horse and go to General Green, and know whether the center was holding their position or not. Colonel Law returned in a few minutes and said that General Green ordered me to fall back. I did so at once. After I had got back below the bend of the river, I discovered that they had crossed the ditches and were between me and the bridge.
In this precipitate retreat but little order was observed, the object with all being to reach the bridge as rapidly as possible. Many were unable to do so, but effected their escape by swimming the river. Some were drowned in the attempt; a considerable number, unable to swim, and others too timid to expose themselves to the fire of the enemy by an effort to escape, remained in the trenches and were made prisoners.
In this connection I deem it my duty to make the following extract from the report of Colonel Cockrell:
Captain Thomas B. Wilson, of the SECOND Infantry, Company G, claiming to have been exhausted, did not go with his company into the battle of Baker's Creek, and having made his way to Big Black, joined his company in the rifle-pits early on the morning off the 17th instant, and, when his company was ordered to fall back, abandoned his company and remained lying in the rifle-pits, and was captured by the enemy, and, while a prisoner, stated to Colonel Elijah Gates, of the First Missouri Cavalry, who was also a prisoner, that he (Captain Wilson) intended to take the oath and then go to fighting the enemy as a guerrilla. Such conduct merits a dismissal in disgrace, and such an officer should not remain in the way of gallant and efficient officers now commanding his company.
In this opinion I fully concur.
Neither Brigadier-Generals Bowen nor Green had furnished reports of the action of Big Black previous to their death; to the former had been intrusted the defense of the tete-de-pont, and he had received my instructions in person; the latter had been SECOND in command. Brigadier-General Vaughn having failed to render his report, I am dependent for the particulars of the action upon those of Colonels Gates and Cockrell, which are respectfully forwarded herewith.
Major Lockett, chief engineer, was instructed to fire both bridges after seeing that all the troops had crossed. This was effectually accomplished under his personal supervision. The guns in position were ample for the defense, but the infantry failing to support them, they were abandoned. Such as were not in position were safely brought from the field, placed in battery on the bluff on the WEST bank, and, with others already established and a sufficient force of infantry, held the advancing columns of the enemy effectually in check.
It had become painfully apparent to me that the morale of my army was not such as to justify an attempt to hold the line of the Big Black River. Not only was it greatly weakened by the absence of General Loring's DIVISION, but also by the large number of stragglers, who having abandoned their commands, were already making their way into Vicksburg.
The enemy, by flank movements on my left by Bridgeport and on my right by Baldwin's or other ferries, might reach Vicksburg almost simul-