Preface to report of Brig. Gen. John Pope of operations which resulted in the capture of New Madrid
At this time the rebel armies in the West occupied a line of fortified positions from Bowling Green to Columbus, Ky. This line was broken by General Grant at Forts Henry and Donelson by the 16th of February, 1862. His operations compelled the evacuation of Columbus, on the east bank of the Mississippi River, which place, though strongly fortified, was turned by the advance of Grant up the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. This result had been for some time foreseen by the rebel generals, and General Beauregard, who had been assigned to command, selected Island No. 10, 60 miles below Columbus, as the strong place where the possession of the Mississippi River was first to be contested. The place was strongly fortified, mounted with 150 pieces of heavy artillery, and garrisoned by about 9,000 men. I do not mean that the island itself contained this garrison and these guns, but that they were disposed in the system of defenses for the island, on and around it, on both banks of the Mississippi River.
New Madrid was manifestly the weak point of this system, and against that place our first operations were to be directed.
I was recalled to Saint Louis from Central Missouri on the 14th of February, 1862, and on the 18th General Halleck pointed out to me the situation at New Madrid and Island No. 10, and directed me to organize and command a force for their reduction.
On the 19th I left Saint Louis for Cairo, Ill., which was then believed to be threatened from Columbus, with orders to assume command at that place in case any movement against it was made by the enemy, but as soon as apprehension of such a movement was at an end to proceed with my operations against New Madrid.
On the 21st of February, finding that the fear of an advance upon Cairo was groundless, I left that place on a steamboat, with a guard of 140 men, and landed on the Missouri shore at Commerce, 30 miles above. Commerce is the lowest point where the bluffs impinge upon the river between Saint Louis and Helena, in Arkansas, and was on that account selected as a base of operations against New Madrid, from which place it is distant by land -- miles. The bluffs, however, retreat directly to the west from Commerce, leaving an alluvial, swampy bottom land, at least 30 miles wide, along the river below that place. A dismal and almost impassable swamp known as the Great Mingo Swamp extends all the way from Commerce to New Madrid. At that season of the year the banks of the Mississippi were overflowed, and the river spread out for miles on both sides beyond its bed. The whole country for 30 miles west of the river was under water. At many places the water was 8 or 10 feet deep and everywhere from 1 to 5 feet duel,. An old embankment, upon which a corduroy road had been built, extended part, of the way to New Madrid, but the road had not been repaired for years, and was in a very bad condition, and in many places entirely impassable. The weather was cold and wet. A drizzling snow and rain was falling upon us, and adding to our almost insuperable difficulties from the time we marched from Commerce until we reached New Madrid. I can only account for the fact that the enemy attempted no opposition to our march by their belief that the country at that season of overflow was entirely impracticable.
I landed at Commerce on the night of the 21st of February, 1862, with the small escort I have mentioned. Regiments were sent me rapidly from Saint Louis, from Cincinnati, and from Cairo; most of them entirely raw, having had their arms first placed in their hands when they embarked on the steamer to join me. Few of them had ever served at all, and as they had never served together or been even brigaded, I was forced to make a complete organization of them at Commerce. In this difficult task I was so ably assisted by Generals Schuyler Hamilton, Stanley, Palmer, and Granger that within one week of the day I landed almost alone at Commerce we began our march to New Madrid. This organization was the nucleus of the corps afterwards designated the Army of the Mississippi, widely known and greatly distinguished in the West for its discipline, its gallantry, and its effectiveness, and for the soldierly and cordial good feeling which characterized both officers and men.
It is not only proper, but it is my duty, to say here that during my whole experience in this war I have never seen troops which would compare with this little army. Of the mobility and esprit de corps, of courage in battle and patience and fortitude under exposure, labor, and privation, and of the cordial harmony which existed among the officers and men, from the highest to the lowest, the services and the reputation of this little army, from the beginning to the end of the war, whether acting together or separated and serving in other organizations, are sufficient evidence. I cannot at this day think of them and recall my association with them as their commander without emotions which could not be expressed in such a paper as this. As long as I live I shall never cease to remember them, nor fail to acknowledge the deep and lasting gratitude I owe them for the cordial support they gave me while I served with them, and for their earnest sympathy and unfaltering confidence during the most trying and darkest period of my life. I esteem it the highest honor to have belonged to this little army, and regard every officer and soldier connected with it as a personal friend, from whom neither time nor circumstances can ever estrange me.
After incredible labor and exposure, wading through the swamps, and in many places dragging wagons and artillery by hand, we appeared before New Madrid on the 3d of March, and at once drove in the pickets and outposts of the enemy and closely invested the place.
I append hereto my official report of the operations against New Madrid, the reports of division and brigade commanders, and my official correspondence with General Halleck by letter and telegraph. I also attach hereto a return of the force engaged, which exhibits in detail its entire organization and every regiment of which it was composed.
Report of Maj. Gen. John Pope, U.S. Army,
Commanding the Army of the Mississippi
FEBRUARY 28--APRIL 8, 1862.
Operations at New Madrid, Mo., and Island No. 10, and descent upon Union City, Tenn.
HEADQUARTERS DISTRICT OF THE MISSISSIPPI,
New Madrid, March 14, 1862.
Brig. Gen. G. W. CULLUM,
Chief of Staff and Engineer, Department Mississippi.
GENERAL: I have the honor to submit for the information of the general commanding the department the following report of the operations which resulted in the capture of this place.
I arrived before the town with the forces under my command on Monday, the 3d instant. I found the place occupied by five regiments of infantry and several companies of artillery. One bastioned earthwork, mounting 14 heavy guns, about a half a mile below the town, and another irregular work at the upper end of the town, mounting 7 pieces of heavy artillery, together with lines of intrenchments between them, constituted the defensive works. Six gunboats, carrying from 4 to 8 heavy guns each, were anchored along the shore between the upper and lower redoubts. The country is perfectly level for miles around the place, and as the river was so high that the guns of the gunboats looked directly over the banks, the approaches to the town for several miles were commanded by direct and cross-fire from at least 60 guns of heavy caliber. It would not have been difficult to carry the intrenchments, but it would have been attended with heavy loss, and we should not have been able to hold the place half an hour exposed to the destructive fire of the gunboats.
As there seemed no immediate hope of the appearance of our gun-boats, it became necessary to bring down a few heavy guns by land to operate against those of the enemy. They were accordingly sent for, and meantime forced reconnaissances were pushed over the whole ground and into several parts of the town. Some brisk skirmishes resulted, in which the enemy invariably retreated precipitately. It was found impossible to induce them to trust any considerable force of their infantry outside of their intrenchments. As soon as I found it would be necessary to await the arrival of our heavy guns I determined to occupy some point on the river below, and establish our small guns, if possible, in such position as to blockade the river, so far as transports were concerned, and to cut off supplies and re-enforcements for the enemy from below. Point Pleasant, 12 miles below, was selected as being in a rich agricultural region, and being the terminus of the plank road from the interior of Arkansas. I accordingly threw forward Colonel Plummer, Eleventh Missouri, to that point, with three regiments of infantry, three companies of cavalry, and a field battery of 10.pounder Parrott and rifled guns, with orders to make a lodgment on the river bank, to line the banks with rifle pits for 1,000 men, and to establish his artillery in sunk batteries of single pieces between the rifle pits. The arrangement was made to present as small a mark as possible to the shells of the gunboats, and to render futile the use of round shot from their heavy guns. Colonel Plummer marched with all speed, and after some cannonading from gunboats which he found there he succeeded in making a lodgment, constructing his batteries and rifle pits, and occupying them in sufficient force to maintain them against any open assault. After repeated and persistent cannonading from the gunboats the enemy found it impossible to dislodge him, and he maintained obstinately his position and the blockade of the river to transports during the whole of our operations. Meantime the enemy continued every day to re-enforce New Madrid from Island No. 10, until, on the 12th, they had 9,000 infantry, besides a considerable force of artillery and nine gunboats. The fleet was commanded by Commodore Hollins; the land forces by Generals McCown, Stewart, and Gantt.
On the 11th the siege guns were delivered to Colonel Bissell, Engineer Regiment, who had been sent to Cairo for the purpose. They were at once shipped to Sikeston; reached here at sunset on the 12th; were placed in battery during the same night within 800 yards of the enemy's main work, so as to command that and the river above it, and opened fire at daylight on the 13th, just 34 hours after they were received at Cairo. One brigade, consisting of the Tenth and Sixteenth Illinois, under Colonel Morgan, of the Tenth, was detailed to cover the construction of the battery and to work in the trenches. They were supported by Stanley's division, consisting of the Twenty-seventh and Thirty-ninth Ohio, under Colonel Groesbeck, and the Forty-third and Sixty-third Ohio, under Colonel Smith. Captain Mower, First United States Infantry, with Companies A and H of his regiment, was placed in charge of the siege guns. The enemy's pickets and grand guards were driven in by Colonel Morgan from the ground selected for the battery without firing a shot, although the enemy fired several volleys of musketry. The work was prosecuted in silence and with the utmost rapidity, until at 3 a.m. two small redoubts, connected by a curtain and mounting the four heavy guns which had been sent me, were completed, together with rifle pits in front and on the flanks for two regiments of infantry.
Our batteries opened as soon as the day dawned, and were replied to in front and on the flanks by the whole of the enemy's heavy artillery on land and water. As our supply of ammunition for heavy artillery was very limited, I directed Captain Mower to fire only occasionally at the enemy's land batteries, and to concentrate all his fire upon the gunboats. Our guns were served by Captain Mower with vigor and skill, and in a few hours disabled several of the gunboats and dismounted three of the heavy guns in the enemy's main work. Shortly after our batteries opened one of the 24-pounder guns was struck in the muzzle by a round shot from the enemy's batteries and disabled. The cannonading was continued furiously all day by the gunboats and land batteries of the enemy, but without producing any impression upon us. Meantime during the whole day our trenches were being extended and advanced, as it was my purpose to push forward our heavy batteries in the course of the night to the bank of the river. While the cannonade was thus going on our right I instructed General Paine to make a demonstration against the intrenchments on our left, and supported his movement by Palmer's division. The enemy's pickets and grand guards were driven into his intrenchments and the skirmishers forced their way close to the main ditch.
A furious thunder-storm began to rage about 11 o'clock that night and continued almost without intermission until morning. Just before daylight General Stanley was relieved in the trenches with his division by General Hamilton. A few minutes after daylight a flag of truce approached our batteries with information that the enemy had evacuated his works. Small parties were at once advanced by General Hamilton to ascertain whether such were the facts, and Captain Mower, First United States Infantry, with Companies A and H, of that regiment, was sent forward to plant the United States flag over the abandoned works. A brief examination of them disclosed how hasty and precipitate had been the flight of the enemy. Their dead were found unburied; their suppers, untouched, standing on the tables; candles burning in the tents, and every other evidence of a disgraceful panic. Private baggage of officers and knapsacks of men were left behind. Neither provisions nor ammunition were carried off. Some attempt was made to carry ammunition, as boxes without number were found on the bank of the river where the steamers had been landed.
It is almost impossible to give any exact account of the immense quantities of property and supplies left in our hands. All their artillery, field batteries and siege guns, amounting to thirty-three pieces, magazines full of fixed ammunition of the best character, several thousand stand of superior small-arms, with hundreds of boxes of musket cartridges, tents for an army of 10,000 men, horses, mules, wagons, intrenching tools, &c., are among the spoils. Nothing except the men escaped, and they only with what they wore. They landed on the opposite side of the river, and are scattered in the wide bottoms. I immediately advanced Hamilton's division into the place, and had the guns of the enemy turned upon the river, which they completely command. The flight of the enemy was so hasty that they abandoned their pickets and gave no intimation to the forces at Island No. 10. The consequence is that one gunboat and ten large steamers which were there are cut off from below, and must either be destroyed or fall into our hands. Island No. 10 must necessarily be evacuated, as it can neither be re-enforced nor supplied from below.
During the operations here the whole of the forces were at different times brought under the fire of the enemy and behaved themselves with great gallantry and coolness. It seems proper, however, that I should make special mention of those more directly concerned in the final operations against the place. The Tenth and Sixteenth Illinois, commanded respectively by Colonels Morgan and R. F. Smith, were detailed as guards to the proposed trenches and to aid in constructing them. They marched from camp at sunset on the 12th, and drove in the pickets and grand guards of the enemy, as they were ordered, at shouldered arms, and, without returning a shot, covered the front of the intrenching parties, and occupied the trenches and rifle pits during the whole day and night of the 13th under furious and incessant cannonading from sixty pieces of heavy artillery. At the urgent request of their colonels their regimental flags were kept flying over our trenches, though they offered a conspicuous mark to the enemy. The coolness, courage, and cheerfulness of these troops, exposed for two nights and a day to the furious fire of the enemy at short range and to the severe storm which raged during the whole night of the 13th, are beyond all praise, and delighted and astonished every officer who witnessed it.
The division of General Stanley, consisting of the Twenty-seventh, Thirty-ninth, Forty-third, and Sixty-third Ohio Regiments, supported the battery from 2 o'clock a.m. on the 13th to daylight on the 14th, exposed to the full fury of the cannonade, without being able to return a shot, and the severe storm of that night, and displayed coolness, courage, and fortitude worthy of all praise. In fact, the conduct of all the troops of this command so far exceeded my expectations that I was astonished and delighted, and feel very safe in predicting for them a brilliant career in arms.
To General Stanley, who commanded in the trenches on the 13th, and to General Hamilton, who relieved him on the morning of the 14th, I am specially indebted, not only for their efficient aid on the last days of the operations here, but for their uniform zea1 and co-operation during the whole of the operations near this place. Brigadier-General Plummer, commanding at Point Pleasant, is entitled to special commendation for the bold and skillful manner in which he effected a lodgment at that place under fire of the enemy's gunboats and for the determined persistence with which he maintained himself and the blockade of the river for days under heavy fire of the enemy. Captain Mower, First United States Infantry, who, with two companies of his regiment (A and H), had charge of the batteries and served the guns, I desire to present to your special notice. A more gallant and efficient officer is not to be found with this command, and his eminent services during the reduction-of this place entitle hint to special notice. Col. J. W. Bissell, Engineer Regiment, rendered me most valuable service both before and during the bombardment of the place. He conducted the erection of the heavy batteries and remained in them until the enemy evacuated the place. Major Lothrop, chief of artillery, has distinguished himself throughout the operations. My personal staff, Major Butler, assistant adjutant-general, Maj. C. A. Morgan and Capt. L. H. Marshall, aides-de-camp, and Major Corse, inspector-general, were prompt and efficient in conveying my orders under the fire of the enemy.
I transmit inclosed the reports of division and brigade commanders immediately concerned in the final operations, as also of Captain Mower, commanding in the batteries, and of Major Lothtop, chief of artillery. Col. J. W. Bissell, Engineers, has been too incessantly occupied to make a written report, but desires to mention the following officers of his regiment who displayed unusual gallantry: Lieutenant-Colonel Adams, Captains Dean, Hill, and Tweeddale, and Lieutenants Odenbaugh, Randolph, and Besier.
Our whole loss during the operations was 51 killed and wounded. A detailed list will be transmitted as soon as it can be made.
The enemy's loss cannot be ascertained. A number of his dead were left unburied, and more than a hundred new graves attested that he must have suffered severely.
I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Brigadier General, Commanding
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