brigade of infantry, temporarily assigned to my command, rapidly toward Panola, from Memphis, moving this brigade on the 8th day of February, and on the 11th ordered it to move toward Wyatt, toward which point I directed the march of my whole cavalry force, until the impression was made that I intended forcing a crossing at that point, which I attacked with the brigade of infantry and attacked the attention and forces of the enemy there while I threw my whole cavalry force around by way of New Albany, where I crossed the Tallahatchie without firing a shot, although we were delayed a whole day at the crossing of Tippah Creek, that was swollen by a freshest. We then moved rapidly on Pontotoc and Houston.
When within 10 miles of Houston we encountered an outpost of the enemy, consisting of State troops, under General Gholson. These stampeded and ran away, leaving a portion of their arms behind them. We continued to advance until we encountered the enemy in strong force guarding the crossing of a swamp, which could only be passed by a corduroy road, that was narrow and about 1 mile in length. This we carried after some sharp, fighting and our advance pressed on to the crossing of the Houlka Swamp, 3 miles north of Houston [this swamp extends from a point 10 miles west of Houston to the*], at the junction of the Houlka with the Oktibbeha, near West Point, and can only be crossed at a few points over narrow roads.
These roads were held by the enemy in force, and while our advance was directed to make a determined attack on the force holding the direct road to Houston, the main body was moved rapidly to the eastward on Okolona, where it arrived so unexpectedly as to capture a number of rebel officers and men on furlough.
From this point a regiment was thrown forward by a forced march to Aberdeen to endeavor to seize ferry-boats to effect a crossing of the Tombigbee if this should prove desirable, but no ferry-boats were found.
The following morning one brigade was moved to the support of this regiment and to threaten Columbus, while two brigades moved down the railroad toward West Point, throwing out strong detachments to make feints and watch the crossings of the Sakatonchee, on our right, and destroy the road as they went, together with vast amounts of corn that was collected in cribs near the railroad. They also destroyed all the Confederate cotton that was found. The brigade that went to Aberdeen did the same, and also destroyed a very extensive tannery, together with about 2,000 hides.
Hearing that the enemy was concentrating in heavy force at West Point, I concentrated my command at Prairie Station, 15 miles north of West Point, and moved on that place on the 20th day of February. About 1 mile north of the town we encountered a rebel brigade, which we drove after a short, sharp fight. The whole command arrived near West Point at about 3 p.m., and careful reconnaissances were made of the Sakatonchee Swamp on our right, the Oktibbeha on our front, and the Tombigbee on our left. They were all found strongly held by the enemy, present in four brigades and to the number of about 6,000 or 7,000, according to the best information that could be obtained.
Exaggerated reports of Forrest's strength reached me constantly, and it was reported that Lee was about to re-enforce him with a portion
* According to report of April 3.