Report of Col. Abel D. Streight, Fifty-First Indiana Infantry, commanding expedition.
Headquarters Fifty-First Indiana Volunteers, Chattanooga, Tenn., August 22, 1864.
SIR: I have the honor to report that since my return to duty, June 1 last, I have been endeavoring to obtain the necessary information, from the several regiments that composed my command, to enable me to render you an accurate report of my expedition in April, 1863; but, owing to the absence of most of my officers (who are still confined as prisoners of war) and the scattered condition of the men, I have been unable to collect as many of the particulars as I had intended. On April 7, 1863, I received orders from General Rosecrans to proceed with the Provisional Brigade – about 1,700 officers and men, composed of my regiment (the Fifty-first Indiana), Seventy-third Indiana, Colonel Hathaway; Third Ohio, Colonel Lawson; Eightieth Illinois, Lieutenant-Colonel Rodgers, and two companies of the First Middle Tennessee Cavalry, Capt. Louis J. Sheehan, Esquire – to Nashville, and to fit out as speedily as possible for an expedition to the interior of Alabama and Georgia, for the purpose of destroying the railroads and other rebel property in that country. I was instructed to draw about half the number of mules necessary to mount my command, at Nashville, and to seize in the country through which I passed a sufficient number of animals to mount the balance. On arriving at Nashville, I organized the following staff, to wit: Capt. D.L. Wright, Fifty-first Indiana Volunteers, to be acting assistant adjutant-general; Maj. W.L. Peck, Third Ohio, to be brigade surgeon; Lieut. J.G. Doughty, regimental quartermaster Fifty-first Indiana Volunteers, to be acting assistant quartermaster; Captain Driscoll, Third Ohio, to be acting assistant inspector-general; Lieut. J.W. Pavey, Eightieth Illinois Volunteer, to be ordnance officer, and Lieut. A.C. Roach, Fifty-first Indiana Volunteers, to be aide-de-camp. As soon as possible all hands were at work to supply the command with the necessary clothing, ordnance, and equipments for an expedition of this kind, and on the afternoon of the 10th I received orders from General Garfield, chief of staff, to embark at once on steamers then at the landing and proceed down the river to Palmyra, land my command there, and march across the country to Fort Henry, and to seize all the horses and mules I could find in the country. Everything was speedily put on board, although it was late in the evening before the mules were brought to the landing for shipment. I was temporarily absent at the time, attending to some business affairs preparatory to starting; consequently did not see them. As soon as everything was ready we proceeded down the river to Palmyra, where we arrived on the evening of the 11th, and disembarked at once. I sent the fleet, consisting of eight steamers, around to Fort Henry, under the command of Colonel Lawson, Third Ohio, and furnished him with four companies of the Fifty-first Indiana Volunteers as guard. He had orders to stop at Smithland and take on a quantity of rations and forage for General Dodge’s command. As soon as it was light the next morning, all hands were set at work to catch and saddle the mules. I then for the first time discovered that the mules were nothing but poor, wild, and unbroken colts, many of them but two years old, and that a large number of them had the horse distemper; some 40 or 50 of the lot were too near dead to travel, and had to be left at the landing; 10 or 12 died before we started, and such of them as could be rode at all were so wild and unmanageable that it took us all that day and a part of the next to catch and break them before we could move out across the country; but in the mean time I had sent out several parties to gather in horses and mules, and they had been successful in getting about 150 very good animals, but mostly barefooted. On the 13th, the command left Palmyra and marched about 15 miles in a southwesterly direction, and encamped on Yellow Creek. My scouting parties did not succeed in finding many horses or mules. The people had got warning of our movements, and the stock was mostly run off. Early the next morning we resumed our march, and arrived at Fort Henry about noon on the 15th. We had scoured the country as far south as it was safe, on account of the proximity of a large force of the enemy, under [T.G.] Woodward, and although about 100 of the mules gave out and had to be left behind on our march, yet when we reached Fort Henry our animals numbered about 1,250. Those that we had collected in the country were mostly in good condition, but were nearly all barefooted. Contrary to my expectations the boats had not arrived, nor did they reach there until the evening of the 16th, having been delayed in getting the rations and forage above referred. General Ellet’s Marine Brigade and two gunboats accompanied the fleet to Fort Henry, and informed me that they were ordered to proceed with me as far as Eastport, Miss. General Ellet assumed command of the fleet, and we embarked as soon as possible; but the pilots declared that at the existing low stage of water it would be unsafe to run at nights; hence we did not start until the morning of the 17th, when we steamed up the river, but, despite all my efforts to urge the fleet ahead as fast as possible, we did not reach Eastport until the afternoon of the 19th. As soon as we arrived at Eastport, I left Colonel Lawson in command, with orders to disembark and prepare to march, while I went to see General Dodge, who, with his command (some 8,000 strong), was awaiting my arrival 12 miles up Bear River. After my interview with General Dodge, I returned to Eastport about midnight, and was informed that a stampede had occurred among the animals, and that some of them had got away. Daylight the next morning revealed to me the fact that nearly 400 of our best animals were gone. All that day and part of the next was spent in scouring the country to recover them, but only about 200 of the lost number were recovered; the remainder fell into the hands of the enemy. The loss of these animals was a heavy blow to my command, for besides detaining us nearly two days at Eastport and running down our stock in searching the country to recover them, it caused still further delay at Tuscumbia to supply their places. Quite a number of the mules drawn at Nashville had to be left at Eastport, on account of the distemper before mentioned; several died before we left. We left Eastport on the afternoon of April 21, and reached General Dodge’s headquarters the following morning about 8 o’clock. We then proceeded in rear of General Dodge’s forces, which were continually skirmishing with the enemy as they advanced as far as Tuscumbia, Ala., scouring the country to the river on the left and to the mountains on our right, and collected all the horses and mules that could be found.