or the whole of his command. Columbus had been evacuated, and all the State troops that could be assembled from every quarter were drawn together at my front to hold the Oktibbeha against me, while a heavy force was seen moving to my rear.
About 3,000 able-bodied negroes had taken refuge with us, mounted on as many horses and mules that they had brought in with them. We had in addition to this about 700 pack-mules, and all these encumbrances had to be strongly guarded against the flank attacks that were constantly threatened. This absorbed about 2,000 of my available force. There remained a little less than 5,000 men who could be thrown into action.
The enemy was in a position in my front and on my flanks which afforded him every advantage. The ground was so obstructed as to make it absolutely necessary that we should fight dismounted, and for this kind of fighting the enemy, armed with Enfield and Austrian rifles, was better prepared than our force, armed mainly with carbines. There was but one of my brigades that I could rely upon with full confidence. The conduct of the other two on the march had been such as to indicate such a lack of discipline as to create in my mind the most serious apprehension as to what would be their conduct in action. Any reverse to my command, situated as it was, would have been fatal.
I was ten days late with my movement owing to the delay of Waring's brigade in arriving from Columbus, and had every reason to believe that General Sherman, having accomplished the purposes of his expedition, had returned to Vicksburg. Under the circumstances I determined not to move my encumbered command into the trap set for me by the rebels.
We had destroyed 2,000,000 bushels of corn, 2,000 bales of Confederate cotton, and 30 miles of railroad. We had captured about 200 prisoners, and 3,000 horses and mules, and rescued as many negroes, well fitted for our service. I therefore determined to move back and draw the enemy after me, that I might select my own positions and fight with the advantages in our favor.
In this I succeeded perfectly, disposing my forces behind every crest of a hill and in every skirt of timber that furnished us cover, and receiving the enemy by well-directed volley's at short range we inflicted, heavy losses upon him at every attack, while our own casualties, were uniformly light, until we reached Okolona, where, after the Fourth Regulars had driven one entire rebel brigade out of the town three times, a portion of McCrillis' brigade, sent to the support of the Fourth, stampeded at the yells of our own men charging, and galloped back through and over everything, spreading confusion wherever they went and driving Perkins' battery of six small mountain howitzers off the road into a ditch, where the imperfect carriages they were mounted upon were all so broken that we could not get the battery along and had to abandon it after spiking the guns, chopping the carriages to pieces, and destroying the ammunition. Organized force were immediately thrown to the rear and the enemy handsomely repulsed.
Skirmishing continued about 10 miles, when we reached a fine position at Ivey's farm. Here the ridge spread out into a wide, open field, along the northern margin of which I deployed a line of dismounted men consisting of four regiments. A battery was placed in position near the road, from which it could enfilade the column as
17 R R-VOL XXXII, PT I