No. 7. Report of Colonel Jacob Fry, Sixty-first
of capture of Humboldt and Trenton.
BENTON BARRACKS, MO., January 17, 1863.
I herewith transmit a report of the raid of General
Forrest, of the rebel army, on the Mobile and
Ohio Railroad, and the attack on Trenton and Humboldt, on December 20:
Some eight days previous to the attack I received a
telegraphic dispatch from Major-General Grant
giving information from Major-General Rosecrans that Forrest was moving with his force toward the
Tennessee River, and ordering me to be on the lookout. I immediately dispatched a detachment of
the Second West Tennessee Cavalry to look after the enemy and watch his movements. I also
prepared this place for defense by throwing up earthworks and digging rifle-pits on an elevation
completely commanding the depot and other public property. These were completed on the 17th in
a most secure manner, of sufficient capacity to hold 1,500 men, and I was confident that with my
force I could hold it against Forrest's entire command.
On the 15th news was received that Forrest was
crossing the Tennessee River at Clifton, immediately
east of Jackson. Colonel Ingersoll, chief of cavalry on General Sullivan's staff, ordered Colonel Hawkins,
of the Second West Tennessee Cavalry, with all his effective men to join his force, the Eleventh Illinois
and 300 of the Fifth Ohio Cavalry, at Lexington. This order was promptly obeyed by Colonel Hawkins.
On the 17th [18th] Colonel Ingersoll met the enemy
near Lexington, and after a very sharp engagement
was repulsed, with a loss of some men and two pieces of artillery. The same day General Sullivan
telegraphed to know what my available force was at Trenton. I replied that I had about 500 available men,
with three pieces of artillery, not more than sufficient to hold the place if attacked.
The next morning I received an order from general
Sullivan for the whole of my force to move to Jackson
(with two days' rations), reserving only the convalescents for guard duty, and to notify the citizens that they
would be held responsible for any damage to the railroad or other public property, which order was promptly
The last of the troops left Trenton on
the 19th, at 3 o'clock (a portion having had to wait for the
train from Union City with troops also ordered from that place to Jackson). As the troops had been ordered from
Trenton I was compelled to abandon my rifle-pits and to concentrate what force I had at the depot.
On Thursday evening and Friday morning I had the depot
platform (some 150 by 40 feet) barricaded with cotton-
bales and other stores and armed all the convalescents that were able for duty.
On Friday morning I learned that a wood train passing
Carroll Station was fired into by enemy and considerably
injured. During the day a train arrived from Columbus and remained overnight, having on board some 60 or 70
soldiers returning from hospitals. These I also armed.
On Saturday morning the train was ordered to Jackson,
leaving about 20 of these men, representing fifteen different
On Friday evening (the 19th) Colonel Hawkins returned
from the Lexington fight and reported that he did not see
more than 800 of the enemy, and that he saw no artillery except the two pieces taken from our forces. This news
gave us renewed hopes. Our stockade was secure against any force of cavalry of infantry unless accompanied by artillery.
Forrest's demonstration toward Jackson with a portion
of his force was merely a feint, his main object being Trenton and
Humboldt and the Mobile and Ohio railroad, with a view to cut off General Grant's supplies.
Learning from my scouts on Friday morning (the 19th)
that the main force of the enemy was moving toward Trenton I
telegraphed to General Davies, at Columbus, to send me re-enforcements, with one battery of artillery, if possible, as I
expected an attack hourly. To this dispatch I received no answer. On the arrival of the train at noon I learned from Ex-
Governor Wood, of Illinois, that when he left Columbus that morning a regiment of infantry was disembarking. I again
telegraphed to General Davies for re-enforcements, with a battery of artillery, stating that my force had been ordered
to Jackson and that I had nothing left but convalescents. To this replied that he had no men or artillery to spare.
On Saturday morning I learned from scouts that Forrest
had encamped at Spring Creek with his entire force. I telegraphed
this fact to General Sullivan. General Haynie, then in command at Jackson, answered that General Sullivan was in the field
and asked the distance and direction to Spring Creek. I answered 20 miles, and that the enemy would approach from the
east. The wires were cut soon after, and I had no further communication with Jackson.
Under these circumstances I was determined to make the
best possible defense, and collected the convalescents, stragglers,
fugitives, and other soldiers until I got together a force of about 250 men. This was the condition of things up to noon on
Saturday, and I felt confident of holding the place against every force except artillery. Twenty-five sharpshooters, under
command of Lieutenant Allender, of the Second West Tennessee Cavalry, were placed on a brick building across the street,
the top of which was well protected by a parapet wall about 3 feet high. A squad of 6 men were placed in a building that
commanded another street, to fire from the windows. All officers in the breastworks were placed in positions where they
could be most serviceable. Scouts, who were watching the movements and approach of the enemy reported them within
a few miles and that they would be upon us soon.
At about 3 o'clock they made their appearance and
charged our position in two columns. When within 100 yards of the
sharpshooters a deadly fire was opened on them from the advance posts, the men in the stockade following the example.
In a very short time both columns were repulsed with considerable loss in killed and wounded. They then moved rapidly out
of range of our guns to the right and left, completely surrounding our position, we supposed for a charge on all sides at once,
a maneuver for which we were fully prepared. Instead of this they planted a battery of six guns on an elevated position
southeast of the stockade. Two of these guns were inside of our own earthworks, one howitzer on the southwest and one
on the north, and commenced shelling our position. Sixteen shells were fired, one passing through the depot, near a large
quantity of ammunition, but did not explode. At this time they could have leveled the stockade, depot, and all in thirty minutes,
and probably killed and wounded a large portion of our men, while we could have done them no damage, being armed only
with old guns, without bayonets, and therefore unable to make a charge.
Seeing that we were completely in their power, and had
done all the damage to them we could, I called a council of officers.
They were unanimous for surrender. Had there been the least chance, or gad the cavalry continued the fight, we should
have held out; but as we could do nothing it was deemed prudent to surrender and save the lives of the men. The question
of surrender was one of time only. They would have had the place, without the loss of another man, in thirty minutes. The terms
of the surrender were "unconditional", but General Forrest admitted us to our paroles the next morning, sending the Tennessee
troops immediately home and others to Columbus under a flag of truce.
I would bear testimony to the efficiency and bearing
of the following officers in preparing and conducting the defense: Colonel
Hawkins, of the Second West Tennessee Cavalry; Major Chapman (although very much out of health) and Captain Cowen, of
the One hundred and twenty-second Illinois Infantry; Captain Hawkins, Captain Belew, Lieutenant Allender, Lieutenant Hawkins,
and Lieutenant Robinson, of the Second West Tennessee Cavalry, and Lieutenant Godspeed, my adjutant, and especially
Lieutenant Hanford, post quartermaster, of the Fourth Illinois Cavalry, as also the bravery of the men. And I can assure them
that our humiliation was not produced from a want of vigilance or the necessary precaution on our part, but from causes entirely
out of our control.
Of the taking of Humboldt, also under my command, I
know but little. All the effective men were withdrawn to Jackson. The
sick and convalescents blew up and burned the magazine and then surrendered. I am informed that at the time of the surrender
the highest officer present was a corporal of the Eighty-first Illinois Infantry.
The loss of the enemy, from the best information we
could obtain from themselves, was 17 killed and 50 wounded. Our loss was
1 killed (a private of the One hundred and twenty-second Illinois Infantry), but none wounded.
The enemy burned the depots at Trenton and Humboldt and all the stores on hand that they could not carry away.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,