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Battle of Coffeeville, Mississippi


Water Valley, Miss. Thursday, Dec. 4th. We moved out about 7 this A.M. and reached Water Valley about 4 P.M. Col. Hathaway’s brigade had reached there two hours earlier. They met a force of rebels there whom they drove out after a sharp skirmish. We lost three men killed. We are camped here.

Friday, 5th. We moved out this morning towards Coffeeville, when within about four miles of town we came upon the enemy’s outposts. After driving them quite easily for a mile they were strongly reenforced, and our advance was checked. It was the opinion of the brigade and regimental commanders that we had better proceed no further, but Col. Dickey who was chief of cavalry, thought otherwise and ordered an advance. I may as well state here the tactics of cavalry in a general action. When in rank we are always numbered by fours. Beginning at the right of the line we count one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four and so on, repeatedly to the end of the company throughout each company of the regiment, on going into action. Numbers one, two and three of each set of fours would dismount and fasten their horses together by means of a short strap buckled to the pommel of the saddle and by means of a snap on the other end of the strap fastened to the bit of the horse on the right. Number four remained mounted and led the horses of one, two and three, on his right by means of the strap from the pommel of his saddle. The dismounted men then formed and moved as directed. The led horses were also moved as required. We are now armed with sabres, colts navy six shooting revolvers, and seven companies have colts five shooting revolving rifles, and the other three companies have sharp’s carbines. We fight as skirmishers, that is, are from six to ten feet apart in line. Our sabers are left on our horses when we fight dismounted. When we were ordered forward today eight companies of our regiment were dismounted and formed in line on the left of the road. A portion of the 4th Ill. cavalry was on our right. Mounted men were on our flanks. In this order we moved forward down a slope across a ravine, and up the opposite slope which was heavily wooded. When nearly to the top heavy lines of infantry and masked batteries opened on us. We were obliged to fall back to the opposite ridge from which we had just come. There another line was formed and held as long as possible. A battery had also been brought into action in the road and to the right of it. Lt. Col. McCollough of the 4th Ill cavalry was supporting it with a portion of his regiment until he was killed. Soon after this we were ordered to fall back as skirmishers, as we were hard pressed, which we did in good order. I was sent with this order to the company commanders of our regiment. Orderly Sergeant Hinsdale was in command of Co. D in this action. As he was falling back with his men in obedience to the order I had given him, he said," I will give them one more shot," and so saying he turned and fired. As he turned to resume his place at the head of the company he exclaimed "boys, I am shot!" and staggered, and fell, shot through the heart. Emerson and three others rushed to him and tried to carry him off the field, but the enemy was so close that it was impossible. The death of Sergeant Hinsdale was keenly felt by all. He was a brave soldier, and efficient officer and a favorite in the company. Another regiment had been formed about fifty yards to our rear. We passed through their lines and made another stand about fifty yards to our rear. When that regiment fell back after a stubborn fight we met the enemy again. This was the last stand made. Heavy flanking forces of the enemy were swinging around to our right and left, while we were hard pressed in front. We were obliged to fall back to avoid being flanked and captured. Many of the men could not reach their horses, and barely escaped capture. Among this number was Emerson. Darkness coming on just then was to our advantage, as the enemy soon gave up the pursuit. We continued our retreat to Water Valley where we arrived at about 11 P.M.

Saturday, Dec. 6th. We rested at Water Valley about three hours and fed horses. Many of the stragglers came in, my brother among them. It rained a little all day yesterday. We are bivouacked tonight about 15 miles south of Oxford, having reached here about noon.

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