Col. Elijah Gates, First
About 11 o'clock on the morning of May 12, the forces of the enemy attacked my pickets--- composed of three companies of infantry and a, section of artillery, commanded by Major [W. C.] Parker--some 4 miles south of Edwards Depot. The enemy opened upon us with skirmishers and artillery. I had possession of the creek where the road crosses leading to Port Gibson. I held them in check at this point for an hour or more, when we had to fall back slowly to the reserve (in order to keep them from flanking us), which was some 2 miles south of Edwards Depot. There I put my infantry and artillery in position, and telegraphed to General Bowen my idea of the enemy's movements. General Bowen dispatched me to hold the enemy in check, if possible, until night, then, if I could do no more, to burn the commissary stores then at the depot, and fall back to the bridge on Big Black. I called upon General Bowen for the wagon trains of both brigades, and I would save the stores that night. He did so, and by daylight next morning we had everything out of the depot--about seventy-five wagon loads. At the time General Bowen started the wagons to me he telegraphed me to hold my position; that General Green would be ordered to my support at once. Accordingly, at daylight General Green arrived, followed by Colonel [F. M.] Cockrell's brigade, also Generals Loring's and Stevenson's divisions. They formed line of battle 2 miles south of Edwards Depot.
About 12 o'clock, General Loring ordered me to take a battalion of sharpshooters: then commanded by Captain [W. S.] Catterson, move to the front and press the Federal pickets, and ascertain whether or not the enemy were there in force. I did so, and drove in the enemy's pickets, but soon had to fall back myself, for I was satisfied, from the force they brought up, that their whole force was there. I reported the same to Generals Green and Bowen.
About 12 o'clock on the 15th, we were ordered to move out on the road leading from the depot to Clinton. We followed the Clinton road until after crossing Baker's Creek. We then took a neighborhood road through some plantations, and about 11 p.m. bivouacked for the night and threw out skirmishers.
About sunrise the 16th, a skirmish commenced with General Grant's and General Pemberton's troops. I was ordered by General Green to call my men in line and move by the right companies to the rear, which we did, first and last, to the distance of about a mile. We halted, about-faced, and moved to the front some 600 yards and halted in the timber. I occupied the right of Green's brigade. General Green sent me word that General Loring was preparing for a charge, and did not want his brigade to be behind in the charge. We remained in this position, I suppose, about an hour. By this time the enemy had attacked General Stevenson, on our left. We were then moved by the left flank at a double-quick nearly three-fourths of a mile; were then put in line of battle and moved to the front 200 or 300 yards before we commenced firing. There Colonel Cockrell met me with his saber in hand, and exclaimed he was very glad to see me, for he had been under a desperate fire. I immediately ordered a charge, which my men obeyed as promptly as I ever saw troops in my life. We drove the enemy about a half or three-quarters of a mile through a corn-field and across some deep ravines before they brought us to a stand. This was under a desperate fire. They occupied one ridge and I another, with a deep, narrow ravine between us. There they shot my horse three times, and he lay down and died like a soldier. Three times I tried to drive them from their position, but my men were not able to ascend the hill on which the enemy's line was formed.
At different times my adjutant came to me to know what we were to do for ammunition. I told him to take the ammunition from the dead and wounded that lay on the field. My loss here was upward of 100 men.
We held our position until we were forced for the want of ammunition to fall back. This, I think, was about 3 o'clock. I then saw General Green. He said that the orders were to fall back beyond Baker's Creek, below the bridge over which we had crossed in going out the night before. We did so, and formed in an open field, to hold the crossing until General Loring could cross. The enemy crossed the creek above where we did, and commenced a heavy cannonade upon us, and soon drove us from our position, though in the mean while we replenished our ammunition. We then took the road toward Edwards Depot and Big Black Bridge. I got there about I 1 o'clock, and crossed the river to my wagon train.
Just after sunrise the 17th, I was ordered by General Green to put my men under arms and be ready to move to the east side of the river. In a few minutes I started. General Green accompanied me. The firing was then going on between the men who occupied the ditches that night and the enemy's skirmishers. We crossed over the bridge and moved up the river about half a mile. Here General Green halted and ordered me to move 400 or 500 yards higher up the river, and take my position in some rifle-pits next to the river, on the left of the line of battle, which we did at once. We commenced a heavy skirmish with the enemy. Here my horse received a very bad wound in the face, which brought him to the ground. I then went in the ditches myself. We skirmished with the enemy for about an hour before they made the charge. They formed their men on the river in the timber where we could not see them. They brought their men out by the right flank in column of fours about 140 yards in front of my regiment at a double-quick, Colonel [W. 11.] Kinsman's regiment (Twenty-third Iowa, General Lawler's brigade) leading the charge. I then opened a most terrific fire upon them, and kept it up until the brigade had passed out of my sight behind a grove of timber that stood immediately on my right. They moved so as to strike the ditches occupied by General Vaughn's brigade, so I am informed. I do not know whose troops were there, but it was immediately on the right of Green's brigade. After they had passed me, I listened for our men to open a heavy volley on my right and drive the enemy back. Upon not hearing any firing on the right, I directed Lieutenant-Colonel [George W.]Law to mount his horse and go to General Green and know whether the center were holding their position or not. Colonel Law returned in a few minutes, and said that General Green ordered me to fall back. I did so at once. After I had got back below the bend of the river, I discovered that they had crossed the ditches and were between me and the bridge. My lieutenant-colonel, being mounted, thought he could make his escape, and did so with the loss of the left arm. I told my men to swim the river. They all took the river except about 90 officers and men. One or two of my men were drowned in trying to swim the river. The officers and men who could not swim pleaded so hard for me to stay with them that I gave way to them, and we were all captured. I remained with the enemy three days and made my escape. I cannot give any account of anything that transpired after this until after the fall of Vicksburg.
I am, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Major [R. W.]
At Baker's Creek: Killed, 16 officers and 115 enlisted men; wounded, 64 officers and 366 enlisted men; missing, 7 officers and 300 enlisted men.
At Big Black Bridge: Killed, I officer and 2 enlisted men; wounded, 9 enlisted men; missing, 46 officers and 427 enlisted men.
At Vicksburg: Killed, 24 officers and 166 enlisted men; wounded, 35 officers and 469 enlisted men; missing, 74 enlisted men.
The report of the Twenty-first Arkansas (Second Brigade) cannot be found; supposed to have been destroyed with other papers at the time of the surrender. All field and most of line officers captured at Big Black, which makes about 59 officers and 480 enlisted men missing at that place.
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