The pieces were brought up and placed in battery under a heavy fire from the fort, fortunately not very accurate, and we soon had the pleasure of seeing our shells dropping in the enemy's stronghold, and driving them from their guns. Colonel Loppincott had very judiciously disposed of the two regiments, and had, previously to the arrival of the artillery, advanced several companies into the sand hills in our front, driving back the enemy nearer his main work. I also ordered possession to be taken of an old work several hundred yards in our front, and to the left and rear of the fort, which was gallantly done by Captain McCallister, Eighth Indiana, with his company. This enabled us to move our advance on the right nearer the fort. In the meantime I had ordered Lieutenant-Colonel Charles, Eighteenth Indiana, to move his regiment to the support of the Eighth, and Thirty-third, in doing which he passed under a heavy fire of the fort, but fortunately for him the enemy threw nothing but solid shot, which, from their size, were easily avoided, and he gained his position with the loss of but 1 man.
Night coming on, found four companies of the Eighth Indiana and five companies of the Thirty-third Illinois in the sand hills near the fort (725 yards, as shown by measurement). Two companies of the Eighth Indiana held the old work to our front. The balance of three regiments held the outside of the new work. The men, although the night was raw and cold, remained upon the field and in their position. A fatigue party was detailed from the reserve regiments, and proceeded to move the four pieces of the Seventh Michigan Battery to the work occupied by our troops, and, by filling the ditch, placed them in a fine position. I also ordered a portion of the Eighteenth Indiana, under Captain Lowes, to re-enforce Captain McCallister, as I beleived that to be an important point. The Ninety-ninth Illinois and Twenty-third Iowa, who were held in reserve, were to move at daylight to our position, while a general advance of the whole brigade was to take place. These arrangements were hardly completed when, about 12.30 o'clock, an explosion of gun-powder in the fort warned us that the enemy were on the move. I immediately ordered an advance of the skirmishers, and found that the enemy had fled, leaving behind him his stores and ammunition and the personal baggage of the officers. They had, however, piled a large quantity of cotton around the different magazines, after having scattered gunpowder around in different places.
The advance pushed on to the ferry, but were too late; the enemy had cut the rope, allowing the floating bridge to swing around upon the shore. They had also attempted to destroy it by piling cotton upon it and firing it, but our men were too close, and put out the fire. Six of the 8 men left by the enemy to fire the trains were captured.
At daylight I moved a small force across to McHenry Island, and took possession of a small earthwork containing one 24-pounder gun, considerable ammunition, and some garrison equipage. In Fort Esperanza we found one 128-pounder columbiad and seven 24-pounder siege guns. Two of the magazines were saved. Considerable camp and garrison equipage was in the fort, but, owing to the danger from the explosion, we failed to save it.
My total loss was 1 man killed and 10 wounded, among the latter Lieutenant George H. Fifer, acting aide-de-camp, a gallant and brave officer, who fell, severely wounded, during our first reconnaissance. My officers and men behaved gallantly, showing that they had lost none of that coolness and bravery evinced by them upon the battle-fields of Pea Ridge, Fredericktown, Port Gibson, Champion's Hill, Black River Bridge, Vicksburg, and Jackson.