Colonel Theophilus Lyle Dickey

Battlefield report from December 1 - 5, 1862

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Report of Colonel Theophilus Lyle Dickey, Fourth Illinois Cavalry of skirmishes about Oxford December 1-3, Water Valley December 4 and engagement at Coffeeville December 5, all dates in the year 1862.

Headquarters U.S. Forces, Cavalry Division, 13th Army Corp, Camp near the Yocknapatalfa River, Mississippi; December 7, 1862.

Colonel: In obedience to the order of the Major-general commanding I have the honor to report that at 10pm December 1 while at the headquarters of Major-general McPherson near Old Waterford, and five miles north of the Tallahatchie River, a communication was received from Major-general Grant advising me that the enemy had left his works at the river; that part of our cavalry has crossed and others were crossing, and ordering me to push on at daylight, take command of all cavalry and follow the enemy (if retreating) as long as any results were likely to follow.

At daylight, on Tuesday, December 2 attended by Lt. J.H. Wilson, Topographical Engineers, acting as my assistant Adjutant-general and by Lt. GT. Davis, of the 11th Illinois Infantry, my acting division quartermaster, and an escort of ten troopers, Seventh Illinois Cavalry, under the command of Sergeant Baylor, I pushed rapidly to the front, gathering my command on the march.

On Tuesday------this section is the account of action between Abbeville and Oxford as Confederate forces fought a strong rear guard action. About 4:30 pm the Federal Forces were able to enter Oxford the enemy having retreated to the south.

On Wednesday morning Colonel Hatch's brigade (2nd Iowa Cavalry, hand written in the original document) was ordered forward in pursuit on the main Coffeeville road. Colonel Lee's brigade advanced on the route east of the main road. Colonel Mizner, of the Third Michigan having reported for duty, was ordered to take command of his brigade, consisting of the Third Michigan Cavalry and the Sixth Illinois Cavalry, under Colonel Grierson, which had reported that morning from Major-general Sherman's wing of the Army. Colonel Mizner was ordered to send the Sixth Illinois Cavalry to scour the country to the west as far as the Tallahatchie, reporting by courier directly to Major-general Grant, and to hold the Third Michigan in Oxford ready to support, at a moments notice, either Colonel Lee or Colonel Hatch. Having made this disposition of my command I remained in Oxford in contact with both columns. Very soon after Lees brigade left the town Colonel Hatch reported that he had overtaken the enemy three miles from Oxford and was skirmishing with the read guard, advancing steadily. At once a courier was dispatched to Colonel Lee, advising his of the fact and directing him to move cautiously and guard well his right flank. The courier lost his way and was taken prisoner. About the same time your note enjoining caution and ordering me to push the enemy as far as possible was received. At 9 o'clock pm on December 3 couriers brought the advices that Lee had crossed the Yockna, or Yocknapatalfa, on the Paris road about 8 miles due south of Oxford, Having driven the enemy from a burning bridge and repaired it. About the same time a dispatch from Hatch reported that the enemy had burned the bridge on the main Coffeeville road and had thus far successfully resisted his attempts to cross; that he had been skirmishing most of day and was at the Yockna, and the enemy in considerable force was on the opposite bank. At once orders were sent to Lee to move cautiously, bearing to his right down the river, and to cooperate with Hatch in effecting a crossing, and not to advance till the south side of the river was cleared of the enemy and Hatch communicated with; and to Hatch that if he failed to effect a crossing in the morning he should turn up the river to some point where he could cross, and that he should approach or join Lee's column after crossing, and both, when in communication should move on toward Coffeeville.

Before daylight on the 4th couriers reported Hatch had crossed the Yockna at Prophet Bridge, some 18 miles from Oxford and seven miles from Water Valley, and about the same distance down the river from the burned bridge. Again couriers were dispatched, ordering Lee and Hatch to approach each other, communicate before advancing and then pursue the enemy hotly. At 8 am on the 4th Mizner was sent with the third Michigan Cavalry and one piece of artillery, under Lt. Durkee, of Battery G, Second Illinois Artillery, to join and cooperate with Hatch, while I proceeded on Colonel Lee's route with another piece of artillery, commanded by a sergeant of the same company, escorted by a detachment of Cavalry. Major-general McPherson at my request had sent two pieces of artillery. I overtook Lee near Water Valley, which he was reconnoitering before entering. Here Colonel Hatch came up with his command, and the two brigades entered the town about the same time. The enemy had crossed the Otuckalofa and burned the wagon bridge, about a mile from the town. It had turned out that Lee and Hatch had failed to communicate with each other, that Hatch, on the morning of the 4th, pushed directly for Water Valley, entered the town before noon, at and below the railroad crossing and the burnt bridge, drove them through the town and across Otuckalofa. About this time he discovered a strong rebel force approaching from the Northeast, Upon his left and rear, and withdrew his main force back through the village to a strong position, facing the road upon which the approaching force was advancing. The enemy attacked with determined vigor with a force of cavalry estimated at eight regiments, but after a fierce fight was worsted and driven back with considerable loss. Another detachment of the enemy at this moment threatened the rear of Colonel Hatch's command. Leaving Lt. Col. Price with the Seventh Illinois to hold the ground Colonel Hatch went with the rest of his command to the rear, on the route he had advanced over. At this juncture colonel Lee's command made it appearance from the Northeast. Colonel Price, supposing it to be another detachment of the enemy thought it prudent to withdraw to the Northwest upon the road upon which he had advanced. The former approaching, learned from prisoners that Colonel Hatch had been in Water Valley, had had a fight and afterward fell back. Inferring that Colonel Hatch had been beaten, he advanced with great caution waiting to communicate with Hatch. The country being hilly and densely wooded it took some time to establish communication. By this chapter of accidents the enemy found time to escape across the O'Tuckalofa and burn the bridge near the railroad; but we arrived in time to save the railroad bridge. We bivouacked on the north bank of the river. While here it was reliably ascertained that Federal forces from Helena had been at or near Grenada and on the railroad to the northwest-infantry at Charleston and cavalry at Oakland-and that some cavalry fighting had taken place at the latter point on Tuesday and Wednesday. The desire to communicate with these forces, relying somewhat upon the moral effect of their presence at this point, determined me to press the enemy one day longer.

Colonel Mizner's command, with one piece of artillery, was ordered to take the advance on Friday morning, followed by Lee's brigade and that by Colonel Hatch. Considerable delay occurred in getting across the river, and Colonel Lee, having found a bridge near his camp, reached the main road on the south side of O'Tuck (as it is familiarly called), before the advance of Colonel Mizner's command. To avoid delay he was ordered to take the advance, and did so, followed by Colonel Mizner's command, and his by that of Colonel Hatch's. Thus the entire command was concentrated, and, from the absence of parallel roads, compelled to move on the same road.

About 2 o'clock the head of the column came up with the rear of the enemy and pressed him sharply. Having discovered a small party of rebel cavalry on our right carefully watching our movements, a detachment was sent to dislodge it, and an order was sent to Colonel Lee, at the head of the column, to move cautiously, throw out strong flankers at the head of each of their commands.

Riding rapidly to the front I found one piece of artillery moving cautiously forward and now and then throwing a shell beyond our skirmishers as they steadily advanced. About one mile from Coffeeville a few shells were thrown to the front, when suddenly the enemy opened at short range upon our position with shell, using I think four pieces of artillery, perhaps six. At the same time his infantry in line opened at short range upon our advanced dismounted skirmishers with rapid volleys, while heavy skirmishing was in progress on both flanks of the head of our column and extending to the rear of the head of the column. From all this it was quiet evident that we had encountered a heavier force than we were able to combat, under the jaded condition of our men and horses. Colonel Lee was ordered to fall back steadily in the center and strong parties were at once sent to the support of our skirmishers on the right and left flanks. The column was faced to the rear and Colonels Mizner and Hatch were ordered to form successive supporting lines of detachments on each side of the road to cover the retreat of our skirmishers and check the advance of the enemy on the main road. The enemy pressing hard upon our retiring forces, the moving back of the led horses of the dismounted men and the reversal of the wagons and ambulances occasioned considerable confusion, though no indication whatever of panic were at any time perceptible. Our flank was repeatedly attacked by the enemy's infantry, but our flankers as often succeeded in repulsing them. The column was steadily withdrawn about a mile and a half to the rear to an open field, when the fighting ceased. Night having come on in the meantime the column was halted at this point, a strong rear guard sent back to watch the enemy and check his pursuit if attempted, while suitable parties were detached to watch the approaches on the right and left flanks of the rear. Having waited about an hour to enable our dismounted men to find and mount their horses, the division was marched back to the camps which it had occupied the night before, arriving there about 11 pm. Here I at first thought of resting the next day and sending scouting parties toward Coffeeville, but upon the advice of Colonel Lee the command was moved early the next morning of the 6th to Yockna River, crossing the Prophet Bridge, about 6 miles distant from Water Valley. The command was encamped so as to watch the approaches and gather forage.

In the action near Coffeeville, as well as during the entire pursuit, the men and officers behaved in the most gallant manner, cheerfully bearing every hardship in order to inflict injury upon the enemy.

Lt.-Colonel McCullough, of the 4th Illinois Cavalry, fell while covering the retreat of our column with the mounted companies of his regiment. He was at first reported wounded and a prisoner, but is now ascertained that he was instantly killed. A better or braver man never fought or fell. He died with his face to the foe, at the head of his command, thus nobly sacrificing his life for the safety of his fellows. His loss is a severe one to the country and the service.

Lt. Washburn of the 7th Kansas fell mortally wounded at the first volley of the enemy. Captain Towsend of the 4th Illinois Cavalry; Lt. Colbert, of the 7th Kansas; Capt. Eystra and Lt. Reed, Budd, and Harrington, of the 2nd Iowa, and Capt. Caldwell, of the 3rd Michigan Cavalry, received honorable wounds in this action. Sergeant Baylor, of my escort, was wounded by my side near the close of the action. The horse of Colonel Lee was wounded; that of Colonel Hatch killed.

The conduct of Colonels Mizner, Lee and Hatch in the handling of their troops was worthy of praise. Major Ricker, of the 5th Ohio Cavalry, conducted the rear guard in the retreat with cool bravery and good judgment.