November 28, Engagement
at Cane Hill, or Boston Mountains, Ark,
Report of Col. Joseph O. Shelby, commanding Fourth Missouri Cavalry Brigade (Confederate).
CAMP DRIPPING SPRINGS, ARK., December 1, 1862.
CAPTAIN: Being called upon for a report of the action of this brigade in the Cane Hill fight, I inclose the same, as follows:
My brigade consisted of the following regiments: First, commanded by [B. F.] Gordon; Second, by [B. G.] Jeans; Third, by [G. W.] Thompson; also Elliott's scouts and Quantrill's famous company, in command of First Lieutenant Gregg. Having had due notice (eighteen hours previous) by the general commanding that the enemy were advancing, we endeavored to be on the alert, but I must confess (though it may reflect somewhat upon myself) that the enemy, by his skillful management, fell upon me sooner than I would have desired, considering that a portion of our division was encamped some distance in my rear and I had but little time to give them the notice required; yet I had sufficient time to place my men in their proper positions and await the coming of the hated foe.
Between the hours of 9 and 10 a.m., Friday, November 28, he rapidly advanced and unlimbered his guns, and sent his iron missiles in search of the "rebels." We had expected him (the enemy) to advance either on the Cincinnati or Fayetteville road, our position covering both. Bledsoe, in command of the artillery, consisting of two iron 6-pounders, had his guns so arranged as to cover each road; that is, one piece bearing on the Cincinnati road and the other covering the Fayetteville road. Having notice of the approach of the enemy on the Fayetteville road, I ordered all the regiments to mount and form, knowing that their advance on that route gave them an advantage over my position which could not be overlooked. If they forced a passage down the main road, we would be cut off from assistance in the rear and be deprived of the Cane Hill and Cove Creek road, thereby preventing our passage over the mountain, the route our train had taken. The gun covering the Fayetteville road occupied an elevated position, the hill descending to its foot about 300 yards. Here, waiting for the enemy to advance, I took my position at the gun, which was so masked as not to be seen by him. Thus waiting, and in no little suspense, he (the enemy) soon showed himself with a four- gun battery, supported by infantry close up. He opened rapidly, but the smoke of his guns had not cleared away before Bledsoe's gun responded and continued to respond, showing to the naked eye that it was sending death in every shot to our heartless invaders. I soon discovered that they were not disposed to flank us on our right, and for the protection of our batteries I ordered all the regiments to dismount, placing Gordon on our right, Jeans in the center, and Thompson on our extreme left. By this time I had received satisfactory information from the Cincinnati road, which convinced me that there was no move by the enemy on that route, and I immediately ordered Captain Bledsoe to move the gun that covered the Cincinnati road to a point which secured a cross-fire on the batteries playing upon us. I should mention here that by this time they had at least twelve guns bearing upon our position, and then the artillery fight commenced in earnest, lasting at this point about one hour and a half.
During this time Gordon, Jeans, and Thompson lay close up to the guns, anxiously awaiting the charge of the invader, while [Maj. B.] Elliott's scouts and Quantrill's company sat quietly on their steeds awaiting his further coming; but as long as the enemy could confine himself to the artillery fight at long range he was content, but in the mean time General Marmaduke, after surveying the position, and I having notified him that a heavy body of infantry was endeavoring to flank me on the left, I received orders to fall back, which I did, by ordering Colonel Jeans to mount his men and directing Bledsoe to withdraw his piece, at the same time ordering Lieutenant [R. A.] Collins, who was in charge of the piece that commanded the Fayetteville road, to keep a steady fire on the enemy until I could mount and form all my regiments, which he did, pouring a murderous fire upon them, driving them at one time back from their guns. I will here mention that no man ever evinced more courage or executed his orders more cheerfully or promptly than Lieutenant Collins on that occasion. Captain Bledsoe, Sergeant Bledsoe, Lieutenants Connor and Anson, and, in fact, all of this battery, have the thanks of the entire brigade for their gallant conduct upon this trying occasion. I then ordered Colonel Thompson to mount his regiment, which was done in the best order, moving the piece under Bledsoe by the right to the rear; Thompson's regiment followed, after which came Jeans, the Collins gun following, covered by Gordon's regiment. I could not, if disposed, speak too highly of the conduct of the officers and men of this brigade in making the above move, it being executed under a terrible fire; but others witnessed it, and say men never gave way in better order. After falling back about half a mile, we found the remainder of this division formed and ready to protect us. By order of the general we took position on the hill, bringing our guns in battery back of the village of Newburg, there, awaiting and expecting to witness brilliant charges from the foe; but, as before, he depended on dislodging us with his long-range guns. Here the naked eye could see General Blunt's columns of cavalry and infantry pouring over the hills in our front, and advancing slowly and cautiously to the attack. It was a splendid sight – flaunting banners, serried ranks, as the long lines came gleaming on;
Ere yet the life-blood, warm and wet,
Had dimmed a glistening bayonet!
Being satisfied that with our small force and short-range guns we could not cope with him, we withdrew to the Boston Mountains, where we placed one of Bledsoe's guns in position, and there awaited his advance. We were not allowed to tarry long, for they soon reached the foot of the mountain, commenced placing their batteries in position, and opened fire. Our gunners were eager and ready. The work again commenced, and at short range. We then exhausted all of our artillery ammunition, and from that cause had to push our guns ahead, which we did, and did safely. I had ordered Lieutenant Gregg at that point over to the right, but finding the enemy were making a move still to his right, I withdrew him, and had him to form back on the main road to await further orders. Immediately on top of the mountain I had a part of Colonel Thompson's command, under Major [M. W.] Smith, formed to receive the enemy, and a little to the rear of Smith, on the right, I had one company of Elliott's scouts, commanded by Captain Martin. Smith and Martin calmly awaited the coming of the enemy, and as they came charging up the hill in solid columns, they poured a deadly fire on them, which sent them staggering down the mountain. By this time I had other detachments formed but a short distance in the rear (Smith and Martin falling back and loading), who fired on them with much effect, being in easy gun-shot. Martin, having his men ready and formed, delivered once more a terrible fire, but in so doing this brigade suffered a terrible loss in the death of the gallant and heroic Martin He fell, as he lived, fighting for his home and fireside, "with his back to the field and his feet to the foe."
Ah! soldier, to your honored rest,
Your truth and valor bearing;
The bravest are the tenderest,
The loving are the daring!
The enemy pushing us about this time with all the force he could urge on, and the ground being of such a nature as not to allow us to form by regiments or squadrons, I was compelled to detach companies and form them on both sides of the road, receive and fire on the enemy, load, form, and reform, using in that manner every company in the regiments of this brigade. We fought them in this manner about three hours, never once allowing them to reach our rear in sufficient numbers to capture any of the men.
I will likewise mention that [Col. Emmett] MacDonald's men were at the same time equally as active in their efforts to retard the movements of the enemy. I noticed also with much pleasure the gallant conduct of Captain Shoup, who commanded his little howitzer well and delivered his fire with great coolness, effect, and precision. With this battery was a brave and fighting driver, who was conspicuous for his daring and the readiness with which he obeyed all orders.
Captains Webb and Snook, of Colonel Jeans' regiment, were both wounded while gallantly leading their men on the enemy.
I cannot close this report without speaking in high terms of the coolness and daring of Lieutenant McCoy, of your escort, and Lieutenant Conkling, of Thompson's regiment. They, with the prestige and glory of Shiloh still hanging to their garments, were in the thickest of the fight.
Our men fought them well, and while the enemy evinced great desperation, our command showed a determination and coolness that their officers have reason to be proud of, contending, as they were, with vastly superior numbers, the sight of which did not in the least discourage them.
About sunset the enemy made the last and desperate charge, led by Colonel [L. R.] Jewell, in person. Colonels Thompson's and Jeans' men received him with a fire the effect of which will ever be remembered by Jewell's regiment. In that charge Jewell fell, mortally wounded. Upon the fall of Jewell, Colonel Gordon, with a portion of his regiment and a portion of Colonel Jeans', under Captain Jarrett, charged the Federals hotly and fiercely, sending them back in perfect confusion, and thus ending a hard day's fight.
It is not necessary for me to state the casualties of this brigade, as they have already been reported to you; but I will here mention that the officers and men of this brigade executed promptly, cheerfully, and willingly every order that was given; were easily rallied; held all positions assigned them, and fell back when ordered, only to form and reform and fire again. Elliott and his scouts were to be seen performing their duty on all occasions.
Lieutenant Gregg, of Quantrill's command, and his company had been held in reserve by me during the greater part of the fight, so that when suitable ground was obtained a grand charge might be made. The position was taken, this stone-wall company formed, Gregg at its head, the light of the battle on his face, but, fortunately or unfortunately, the enemy checked pursuit just before coming to where they crouched like lions in their lairs.
I will also here speak favorably of Captains Brewster (my adjutant), Nichols, Edwards, St. Clair, and Page, for the service they performed relative to their various duties.
Many others I could call your attention to for their gallant conduct, among whom are Philip Wilder, of your own escort; Lieutenants Moorman and Buffington, of Gordon's; but as the general commanding was everywhere upon the field, he saw as much, perhaps more than myself. I close this report with the proud satisfaction of knowing that we did our duty, and are anxious once more to meet the enemy in a fair field and an open fight.
JO. O. SHELBY,
Colonel, Commanding Missouri Cavalry Brigade.
Capt. E.G. WILLIAMS,
Asst. Adjt. Gen., Fourth Division, First Army Corps.
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