Report of Lieutenant Colonel Robert Cowden, FIFTY-ninth U. S. Colored Infantry, of expedition from Memphis, Tenn., into Mississippi, June 1-13, 1864. *
SIR: I have the honor to report that Friday, the 10th instant, [in] the advance of the U. S. forces, under General Sturgis, against the enemy near Guntown, Miss., the FIFTY-ninth U. S. Colored Infantry, which I had the honor to command, was ordered to march in rear of the entire infantry column and of the general supply train. The march from our encampment was not commenced until 10. 30 a. m., and for two hours was slow and irregular, owing to the difficulty in crossing the Hatchie bottom, which was very deep and miry. Once across this, and on good roads, the train, which had been lengthened out, closed up, necessitating me to move my command very rapidly and without rest. Soon after crossing the Hatchie bottom heavy artillery firing was heard in front, and about 2 p. m. I received orders to keep well closed up to the train, as an attack on its was feared. Upon receiving this order the rate of speed was increased to double-quick time. Arriving at the front the supply train and cavalry, artillery, and infantry were moving to the rear in confusion, and through this column and through a dense wood, covered with thick undergrowth and vines, I moved my command and formed in line on a ridge on the right of the road where the wood was more open, with my left resting about 150 yards from the road and any my line forming with the road and angle of about sixty degrees, my right being thrown forward, conforming with the ridge. My instructions were to hold this position until the entire column had passed securely to the rear, then to retire to another position pointed out. This I did, first ordering Captain James C. Foster, acting field officer, to cause Captain Albert O. Marsh's company (F) to be deployed as skirmishers on the ridge to cover my retreat, then retiring by the right of companies across a large open field, through which ran a creek about fifteen feet wide, with very steep banks about six feet high, bordered by a dense growth of underbrush, which completely concealed it from view until I reached its banks. I experienced considerably delay in passing this creek, but succeeded in doing so in good order, and took my second position just behind the crest of another ridge, still in the open field, about 600 yards in the rear of my first, my line being perpendicular to the road, from which it was separated by a belt of timber completely obstructing from my view all objects on my left. In this position my left rested about 200 yards from the road, opposite an old house near which a battery had ceased to fire. Here Lieutenant Boatman, aide-de-camp, ride [up], and told me the FIFTY- fifth U. S. Colored Infantry was not on my left, and connecting between my command and the white troops, as I expected it to be. I immediately moved by the left flank, hoping to join my command on the right of the white troops, but just as the head of my column emerged from the bush into the open wood I discovered a rebel battle-flag occupying the place our troops had just left, seeing which,
* See p. 84.