In the course of a notice of Capt. C. C. Spiller, the following particulars of the rebel retreat from Mill Spring occur:
The Noble Ellis was at Gainsboro'; three ineffectual attempts had been made to take her up the river to where our army was. Finally Capt. Spiller was ordered to bring the boat; it was executed. Before the fight, he asked permission to lead his company; but Gen. Zollicoffer ordered him to remain at the river, in charge of operations there. The battle was fought, and our army driven back to the river, where a successful and skilful crossing alone could have saved it from utter ruin. Spiller was the man for the post —the world could not have furnished a better. The crossing began at three o'clock P.M. One of the enemy's batteries opened on the boat, and the fire was incessant until dark. The steamer was run all night. At four o'clock in the morning, when two thousand five hundred men were yet to cross, the captain and pilot left. It was understood that the engineer would leave her the next trip, and Spiller sent for Dick Fields, then one of his cavalry company, but formerly an engineer on one of his Tennessee river boats. Spiller knew Dick —together they had braved danger before that on the water. Sure enough, the engineer and deck-hands quit the boat, Dick took his place, and the boat was manned from the company. At daylight the work was done, and the last man was over. During the night the enemy had placed a Parrott gun in position, and at the earliest dawn the firing began. The first shell fell short but a few yards; the third passed through the chimney, and exploded over the wheel, scattering its fragments in every direction. Now that the troops were over, and all the horses that could be saved were saved, the torch was applied to the Noble Ellis. Spiller's company were near by; they had been ordered to fall back out of range of the enemy's fire, but they would not; their captain, whom they loved, was at his post, and they would not leave him. As the flames spread over the boat, and told that the army had crossed, and that all chance of pursuit was gone, the gallant Spiller, at the head of his troops, moved away to aid the retreating forces. But three of his men left him.
From the Official Records:
JANUARY 19, 1862.--Engagement at Logan's Cross-Roads, on Fishing Creek, near
Mill Springs, Ky.
No. 17. -- Reports of Maj. Gen. George B. Crittenden, C. S. Army, commanding division. (an excerpt)
On the evening of the 19th I called in consultation General Carroll, Colonel Cummings, engineers, artillery, and other officers, and it was considered best by all to retire from Beech Grove.
I directed at once that the crossing should be effected during the night, with every effort and artifice to insure perfect concealment from the enemy and the success of the movement. Great difficulty attended the movement from the high and muddy banks and the width and heavy current of the river, the limited means of transportation (the small steamboat and two small flats) and the immediate presence of the enemy in overwhelming force. I ordered the men to be crossed over--first, by commands, in designated order; then the artillery to be crossed over; then what could be crossed of baggage and mules, horses, wagons, &c. I directed the cavalry to swim their horses over. Time only permitted to cross the infantry under arms, the sick and wounded, one company of cavalry mounted, the rest of the cavalry dismounted, the artillery-men, and some horses. Many cavalry horses, artillery horses, mules, wagons, and eleven pieces of artillery, with baggage and camp and garrison equipage were left behind.
Much is due to the energy, skill, and courage of Captain Spiller, of the cavalry, who commanded the boat, and continued crossing over with it until fired upon by the enemy in the morning, when he burned it, by my directions.
On the morning of the 20th I had my command--nine regiments of infantry, parts of four battalions and two companies of cavalry (dismounted), my sick and wounded, parts of two artillery companies, (without guns or horses), and six pieces of artillery (manned)--on the south side of the Cumberland River, at Mill Springs. On the other side, at Beech Grove (without any means of crossing), were twenty-seven regiments of infantry, with cavalry and artillery, of the enemy.
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