train or party before reaching Irwinville, where we arrived about 1 o'clock on the morning of May 10, and were surprised to find no traces of either Colonel Harnden or the rebels.
The roads were first closely examined in all directions, but no traces of the passage of a train or a mounted force could be discovered; after which I resorted to inquiry, passing to the opposite side of the town from which we had arrived, so that the presence of my command might not be known, and representing ourselves as Confederates, it was readily learned from the inhabitants that a party had encamped at sunset that night from one to one mile and a half out on the Abbeville road, and that some of the men had come into the town during the evening. At first I thought that it must be the First Wisconsin, but upon further inquiry learned that the party had tents and wagons, which I knew was not the case with the First Wisconsin, but thinking that there might still be some mistake regarding the character of the party I gave my officers strict orders with reference to learning the character of all parties before firing upon them; after which I moved the command out to within half a mile of the encampment, impressing a negro for a guide, where I halted the command under cover of a small eminence and dismounted twenty-five men and sent them under command of Lieutenant Purinton to make the circuit of the camp and gain a position in the rear for the purpose of cutting off all possibility of escape in that direction, with orders to make the circuit of the camp undiscovered if possible, but if discovered and an alarm was raised to operate upon the camp from any point he might then occupy. My orders we also very special and strict with regard to ascertaining definitely the character of any men whom might meet before firing upon them, and which orders I feel confident he made his best endeavors to carry out, for he not only made the circuit of the camp as directed, but sent one of his men close to the enemy's camp for the purpose of espying their exact locality and character. I had directed Lieutenant Puninton after gaining the position indicated to remain perfectly quiet until I should commence the attack from the front, as I had not then determined whether I would charge the camp at once or wait until daylight should appear, but finally decided upon the latter course, as the moon was getting low and it would be easy for persons to escape to the woods and swamps in the darkness. It was about 2 o'clock in the morning when all dispositions for the attack were completed. After waiting I should say fully one hour and a half, and until the appearance of earliest dawn, I put the column in motion and the advance was enabled to arrive within four or five rods of the tents before discovery, when a dash was made, and in an instant the whole camp was in our possession without firing a shot. We had held possession of the camp but a few minutes, I should say from five to ten, when sharp commenced down the Abbeville road in the direction of my dismounted force, and, supposing that Lieutenant Purinton in advancing upon the camp had fallen the enemy's guard posted in that direction, I immediately ordered forward all my forces excepting sufficient to guard the train and prisoners. The firing was across a narrow swamp and from 80 to 100 rods from the camp. When I arrived on the ground I found my men engaging a dismounted force concealed behind trees. I at once formed my men in line and dismounted them, throwing forward a line of skirmishers. The firing was now becoming very sharp on both sides, but from the report of the fire-arms and the persistence on their part I became suspicious of the character of our adversaries, as did some of my men, which called forth remarks to that effect. I immediately ordered my men to cease firing, and rode forward toward our