Tipton’s cavalry soldiers: actions at Byhalia and Wyatt, Miss., Part II
Oct. 12,1863 found the Federals in hot pursuit of the Rebel cavalry. Gen. James R. Chalmers was unaware of the Federals closing in on his division. He had dispersed his brigades: Richardson’s men headed for Myers’ Mill; W. L. Duckworth’s to Ingram’s mill, and McGuirk’s to Milam’s mills. Chalmers left for Hernando to see his family, leaving Robert V. Richardson in command.
Within hours, Richardson received word that a mounted enemy force was driving hard for Byhalia. Richardson, with only the 12th and 14th Tennessee, ordered Duckworth to ride fast and bring his troops, camped several miles away. During the next two days, Tipton’s soldiers in the 7th and 12th Tennessee would battle Sherman’s Union cavalry.
Reconnoitering the ground between Ingram’s house and Byhalia, a distance of two miles, Richardson determined to give battle to the pursuing Federals. He would make his stand on a commanding hill that sloped down in to the wooded bottom of Red Bank Creek. He dismounted the 12th and 14th Tennessee, posting them behind a fence on the right of the road ascending the ridge. The horses were led to the rear and sharpshooters from the 12th Tennessee were advanced and posted in three deserted houses. Col. J. J. Neely’s 13th Tennessee was posted in the wooded lot on the left of the road. Capt. Baylor Palmer’s Reneau battery unlimbered their two six-pounders in the road. The 12th Mississippi battalion was placed to the right of the 14th Tennessee. The Rebel defenders numbered about 900 men; Col. Edward Hatch’s Federal cavalry division numbered 2,200 men with eight cannons.
On finding the rebel battle line, the men of the 7th Illinois Cavalry dismounted and advanced, driving back Richardson’s pickets. Their progress was short lived. Palmer’s cannon fire, and that of the 13th Tennessee, checked the oncoming Yanks.
By 3 p.m., Phillips’ entire brigade was on the field including the 9th Illinois Mounted Infantry, the 7th Kansas, 6th Illinois Cavalries and a battery of mountain howitzers. Union cannon fire was concentrated on Lt. Col. John Uriah Green’s 12th Tennessee sharpshooters. Federal efforts to turn the Confederate flanks were repulsed. For three hours, both sides fired away at each other. Rebel ammunition began to run low and Duckworth’s brigade was nowhere in sight.
Still worse, Rebel scouts brought word that Union Col. Gilbert Moyers’ cavalry brigade was approaching from Holly Springs. Richardson, very skillfully, broke off the engagement in a retrograde movement. The Federals trailed Richardson’s troopers until dark, but were unable to inflict any damage due to the valiant rear guard defense of Col. F. M. Stewart’s 14th Tennessee. Nightfall found Richardson’s brigade at Ingram’s mill with Duckworth’s troopers four miles farther south.
Col. W. L. Duckworth’s command was ordered to cover the retreat early on Oct. 13th. The 7th Tennessee Cavalry was chosen for this duty commanded by senior officer Lt. H. J. Livingston of Brownsville. John Johnston wrote of this action:
“The enemy sent a strong force in pursuit…before daylight we were marched back to near the steam, and as the crisp morning broke upon us, we were greeted with the sharp crack of guns from across the creek (the Federal troopers were mounted as well). We had quite a spirited little skirmish as we sat our horses in the woods but it soon ended…how relieved I was when ordered to retire…
We retired that day down towards Wyatt on the Tallahatchie, and were followed, but not vigorously pressed by the enemy….”
Continued next week