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The Fighting at Pilot Knob.


September 1864

From The Missouri Democrat, Friday, September 30, 1864.


Full and Graphic Details.


A Heroic and Glorious Defense.

Captain Chas. K. Hill, Assistant Provost Marshal of St. Louis, reached St. Louis at eight o’clock last evening from Pilot Knob. He left that place Wednesday night, traveled about sixty miles across the country, with escort, to the Pacific railroad at Cuba, and thence on the road to this city. He brings the glorious intelligence that General Ewing’s defense was triumphant and that he and his garrison are in safety.

He reports Price personally in command of the rebels, who are about 12,000. A train of 44 wagons had been destroyed and the men slain by the rebels, who massacred the men without demanding a surrender. This took place between Irondale and Mineral Point.

Captain Hill, last evening, made to General Rosecrans the following narrative, verbally, of the experience of the command:


Monday night General Ewing sent off a rail road train with the most of the supplies. At five o’clock in the morning we drove the rebels back two miles below Ironton. They did not appear in much force that day. We drove them to Shut-In Pass, and took down artillery, cavalry, etc., there.

They drove us back one mile thence. We had so little support for the two guns that we took them back part of the way to town. We dropped down in the field, threw out skirmishers—dismounted cavalry—for a mile long. They brought up artillery and infantry. The General was up at the fort. I stayed and Major Wilson also, in the field. It was raining a good deal. The opposing pickets joked back and forth. We ascertained that they were forming a very extensive line. I noticed one man’s voice who seemed to command the whole line. I would ride along and notice his voice, and heard him give his instructions along the whole line. I saw their’s [sic] was a very long line, but our line was longer. We laid there till morning, when I rode into the Fort, and told the General there was no use trying to do anything, but put on a little stand; that if they began early they’d double us up. We’d better fall back. He said all right and he then moved back to the Court House in Ironton. I went and asked him: “Had’nt [sic] we better send back some artillery?” I sent down two guns and gave them forty rounds of ammunition from the Fort. When daylight broke the skirmishers came back, walking along leisurely. It was raining and foggy. We soon saw the rebels forming in line. There was an old fort in Arcadia that we had not occupied at all. They formed about four lines of cavalry, I judge, and marched across the valley up towards that fort. We brought the two guns from the Court House, and gave them five or six shells, which sent them back, breaking them all to pieces. Our gunners were delighted with this exploit, but in a few minutes up came three pretty heavy shots from a rebel battery. General Ewing thought we were now getting into a pretty tight place but we stood there till they commenced moving on our left flank. We did’nt [sic] have force enough to stand that way. We neglected guarding our right, and trusted to the range of our guns to take care of that, but the rebels burst in on our left, and told us they were going to “come in and swing us up.” So we marched back to town and skirmished with the cavalry. I went back with the infantry, and Major Wilson with the cavalry. As we approached town there was a narrow gorge between two hills, and I concluded there would be a place to hold, so the cavalry kept the farthest back, down towards Ironton, while the infantry prepared to receive the enemy.

While this was going on I went back and threw out the 14th Iowa so as to make a skirmish line from the base of Sheppard [sic-Shepherd’s] Mountain clear up to its cone and on the other side. I gave the Captain instructions to fall back and follow right around that base, and when he got posted, his left would rest opposite the Fort, and then, if he was disposed to leave, that would be a good chance for him to slide (into the Fort.) We had no reserve. I made the line of skirmisher as long as I could. Only portions of the cavalry were employed on the Knob. They were dismounted, each fourth man holding horses. They had instructions not to obstruct the fire of the Fort, but to keep the right and left, so that it would leave the whole plain open for the play of our artillery.

A rebel battery was brought to bear upon us, and Marmaduke came up and took charge of it. He had four lines of cavalry running clear across the gorge. His last line was necessarily very long. He had a very large force. About that time they tried to get in a flag of truce, and a man rode forward with it, and waved it, and fooled around there considerably. I told a man to shoot at him, which he did. I then rode up and told the General about it, and he told me they might “go to hell.” We didn’t let the flag of truce come up at all. The boys shot at him every time he came around. He went back and put up his flag.

From Arcadia a road runs around the base of Sheppard Mountain, and comes clear up at the west front of the Fort. Down the road a force was sent to discover that of the enemy there. We expected to find a very large force, but only sent a few cavalry to see if they fired and peppered around awhile, but it didn’t amount to much. Then there was a very fierce fire from both sides for about an hour. By and by they began to crowd on that line and dr[illegible] to the infantry on the mountain, but made no progress in the valley. They kept crowding that line up, and correspondingly crowding the cavalry on the left.

General Cabell, formerly member of Congress from Florida, was on the Knob and in person commanded the rebels. They forced the infantry line back considerably and then undertook to make a slight demonstration against the Fort. Then the guns first opened on them, and soon they planted a battery right over the point of this gorge, and began firing up into the town. But their range was such that they could not fire at the Fort at all. Our guns would pitch shot at a considerable distance, which would fall down upon the hills among the rebels. There [illegible] an old Englishman came up and said one of our shots struck on a gun of theirs and it hadn’t spoke since. The rebels forced the infantry right back to the rifle pits. I had sent a regiment of re-enlisted veterans with muskets to take up Shepherd Mountain and skirmish it right around to the other side. We had an idea that if they ever got that mountain we were gone up in the Fort, because they could throw rock right into us. But they would not hold the mountain. They threw out a good skirmish line, full as good as ever we had. They threw out a solid line of infantry, and worked at that from two till four. They were helped a good deal by the guns of the fort. The gunners in the fort were well apprised of the presence all the time of this line of our own, and they helped them a good deal by pitching shells over their heads. In that way the rebs were kept back till about two o’clock, when they made a great rush, and came over all the hills at once. Simultaneously there came a line of cavalry from the mountain on the other side, and that left both hills clear. The rebels drove our cavalry clear up to the Iron-Works, and then set fire to these, and they commenced burning will a brilliant light. As quick as they got the two hills swept, they filled them full of infantry and dismounted cavalry, armed with muskets, and they just peppered things then. They pitched the shot right into the Fort. They could shoot from each hill into that Fort, as it is within good rifle range. All the while they were doing that, they were getting a battery up to the top of that mountain. They got their lines formed on four sides of us, ready for an assault, which commenced with the signal guns of this battery on the mountain. We were at this time mostly outside of our works, with our cavalry and two pieces of artillery unlimbered and firing. The men were in the rifle-pits, an one company of infantry up in the gorge near the Iron Works. At the signal of these two guns the whole rebel army came together, pouring down upon us, and swept everything before them. General Ewing, at this juncture, directed me to go outside the Fort, get on my horse, take a company of the 14th Iowa out of the rifle-pit, go up to town, and prevent its being pillaged by the rebels. I started to go; was riding out at a considerable speed, when one of our own guns blew me, horse and all, “higher than a kite.” The rebels then opened fire, and I could not get away. Then he told me to go out to town and bring in a company of infantry that was there, whose Captain was killed. I started immediately. We brought in our infantry and got them back under a perfect hail of fire from every direction. This battery and two guns under Major Wilson was all the while shelling the hill. The Major had not discovered that a big column of cavalry was coming upon us. He could not see it, on account of obstructions. The General told me to rush up there and tell the Major to get the guns up to the Fort as soon as he could. The rebel batteries were tumbling shell down off this mountain into the Fort, and General Cabell was moving right up into his lines from the north, while his cavalry was rushing down after the artillery of Major Wilson. Off on the other mountain was a line under somebody—I don’t know whom—and they were all sweeping down upon us. The Major limbered up and started on a dead run, passed the rifle-pits, jumped off the horses and got up into the Fort. He got the battery in and the men in the ditches, ran to come inside the Fort and assist to work the heavy guns of the Fort. The rebel cavalry followed the battery right in. There the battery stood, and the men were firing right into the rebel cavalry, who finally started back over the plains, when these infernal horses at the guns started off too, right after them. Some of men in the Fort fired at the artillery horses, killing two and that stopped the rest and saved the guns.

General Cabell came clear up with his infantry, and got in under the guns of the fort, so that they could not hit them at all. The rebels were cheering and yelling, and General Cabell came up with his line right toward the drawbridge of the fort. We undertook to raise the draw. The infernal rope broke, and down it went. We could not get it up to save ourselves, so we just laid hold of barrels, &c., to form an obstruction. The rebels got up on the bridge, some clear across it, but could not get by the barrels. We finally got the rebs started on the retreat. Our guns all the time had been playing on their battery on the hill, and finally silenced it.

This was just as the rebels had made their attempt at the bridge and been forced back. Now our gunners turned their attention to the assaulting forces. The rebels did not try to scale the walls or ditches at all. When they skedaddled, everybody was bold as a lion, and vied with each other to show their bravery. When the rebels got far enough from the fort, so that we could train our big guns upon them, the gunners opened with grape. When they got out of the range of grape, we gave them canister. Then, when they got out of the range of canister, we gave them shell, and drove them right off. We kept on shelling them till after dark. Every gun was going its best. We had four guns knocked off the platform, and the men set them up again and blazed away. They never came around there last night—no wagons nor ambulances.

We had no wounded. Our skirmish line lost two men killed. The rest were near by. The carpenter asked the General if he had better go after the rebel wounded.

General Cabell was shot by Captain Milroy. They undertook to get him off, and succeeded. We took one Lieutenant Colonel, one Major, three Captains, and three Lieutenants, I believe. The Lieutenant Colonel was taken into the hospital, where he gave us the substance of Cabell’s last words. Said he “Colonel, tell General Price I am dead. And tell him never to charge that fort again,” and he died, cursing Marmaduke, as he was the General who ordered the fort to be charged and then failed to assist in it. His whole force stayed down all day long.

Our men fired about three hundred rounds of ammunition per man, and just blowed everything. There was one eternal rackety crash from morning till night. The big guns fired all the time and never stopped.

Colonel Fletcher was in the fort and got knocked down by a handspike, in some way, and was disabled.


I don’t know how the d—l we got away. We just got up and walked away. Nobody objected. We got away at three o’clock in the morning. We held a council of war and called in all the citizens. They were in a terrible sweat. We could not have held the fort. The rebs would have shelled us out. We concluded they never could get us only for the surrounding hills fighting against us. They went to work that very night planting a battery right on that hill, and when morning came we expected they would drop about fifty shells a minute right into us.

The General’s calculation was to go in and commence fighting again, but he saw what the effect of that battery would be, and he said he believed he would leave. He said he thought we could do it. We turned down a little gorge there, shelled all the bark off the trees to clear our way of rebels, and marched out of the fort, every man of the command with us. We went through where we had shelled, and didn’t see a picket. Nobody hailed at us—not a word was said.

The old furnace had got to burning. There was one grand blaze of fire which made it as light as day. We could see all the town, and all the houses all over town. The General sent out a detail, who gathered 130 horses, got saddles and fixed them up, making quite a little cavalry force. We got out the artillery, started out some infantry first, posted them away from the Fort, then started cavalry all along the prepared route. Then we followed with a little infantry, then put in a battery, then more infantry, with cavalry in the rear. After the plan had been fixed, we mounted a lot of citizens, and let them lead. We put a train to the magazine, and left a man to blow it up.

We marched along from that place until I left.

The force in the Fort consisted of soldiers and citizens. Our numbers bore no comparison to those assaulting us. They were at least six to our one. We pressed citizens and negroes in to fight. The negroes fought good.

On the way home, Captain Hills [sic] directed us to take an escort of ten men and go to the nearest telegraph station and communicate to headquarters that we were safe. Only three or four of the men reported, and with them I came in.