Surrounded by “That Devil Forrest” at Parker’s Crossroads
By midafternoon of Wednesday December 31, 1862, Adjutant Henry Clay Gooding (1838-1913) of the 122nd Illinois Infantry was certain that he was about to become a prisoner of General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s troopers. Tending his wounded colonel, the former Hoosier ducked to avoid bullets flying from front, rear, and both flanks. “Several of my intimate friends were in my sight mortally wounded. As many as a dozen were on their elbows with their heads raised and imploring help at the same time; others lay in their death struggle. Some were killed after being wounded by the fire of both sides across the field. Passing from one to another, I was often compelled to lie down until the firing abated. Trees did but little good as the shots came from every direction,” he commented.
“The butternuts who had been in our front supposing our men retreating came in the woods in squads and we even freely talked with them. They made no effort to take us, thinking that they had the whole army. We thought so, too, not knowing what was going on in the rear,” Gooding stated. But then, to his surprise and delight, he heard a torrent of firing coming from Parker’s Crossroads. Brigadier John Fuller’s brigade of three Ohio regiments had struck Forrest in the rear by surprise, and the fight was on. But General Forrest famously charged in both directions and ultimately escaped, much to Gooding's relief.
The arrival of Fuller’s Buckeyes saved the 122nd Illinois from capture, but the Illinoisans took heavy losses at Parker’s Crossroads: 23 killed, 58 wounded, and one man missing, including Colonel John Rinaker who Gooding assisted off the field. Adjutant Gooding’s account of the battle was sent to his oldest brother David S. Gooding in Greenfield, Indiana who had the letter published in the local Hancock Democrat on January 29, 1863.
A Parrott rifle marks the location of the Parker's Crossroads battlefield along I-40 in western Tennessee. (Photo courtesy of John Banks' blog)
January 5, 1863
This morning I sent you an account of our first expedition. From Jackson we were ordered back to Trenton, stopping at Humboldt all night where we found my trunk and the Colonel’s all right. The baggage of the other officers was all destroyed. The Rebels had captured the place, took our sick prisoners and some others, carried off the boys’ knapsacks, and scattered their letters among the girls in the country. There was one thing they did not get: my clerk in the Adjutant’s office just before we left brought in a jug of good cider sent him from home. We drank it at the same time remarking that we would place it beyond the possibility of capture!
We moved up to Trenton and were the first troops in since the Rebels had gone. They took nearly 400 prisoners here, burned the depot, and were only 12 miles distant when we arrived. That night we were ordered to fall back some five miles and spent Christmas Eve in that way. Again we returned to Trenton and were just getting comfortably fixed when the order came to march. Our brigade was composed of the 122nd Illinois, 50th Indiana, 39th Iowa, and three pieces of the 7th Wisconsin Battery with Colonel Cyrus L. Dunham in command. We were started in pursuit of Forrest. Another brigade [Fuller’s] also started with us.
|Colonel Cyrus L. Dunham|
50th Indiana Infantry
After hard marches, half rations, and some skirmishing, we arrived at a small town named Clarksburg ten miles north of Lexington. It was night and we were formed in line of battle expecting a fight. No fight came off, so we built fires and I was about to lie down on the leaves to sleep when I was detailed as officer of the picket guard. The enemy was reported three miles distant and 9,000 strong; they were all mounted and of course could make a dash on us in half an hour. A detachment of their cavalry had met our mounted infantry in the village just before we came up. Our men killed two of them and their dead bodies were in town. I saw one of them. I was placed with 25 men to guard the junction of two roads leading into the town from the direction of the enemy; constructed two barricades, one commanding each road, tore down the fences so that we could have a raking fire from our position, threw out videttes and awaited the coming of the enemy but they came not.
In the morning, the last day of 1862, and a bright and beautiful one it was as we moved down the road four miles when cannonading in front became distinctly audible. Soon we saw the smoke of our own and the enemy’s batteries. The enemy seemed to be in the woods. The artillery duel lead to skirmishing and we could distinctly hear the crack of muskets. We continued spectators of the changing scenes for two hours. We assumed positions and abandoned them to act against the movements of the enemy. We finally drew up in line of battle about noon to await their attack for our other brigade was absent and we were outnumbered.
The whole brigade was behind the battery in line. The dogs barked at each other at considerable distance at first; soon a few shells passed over our heads and burst in the rear. Stray bullets were seen to hit trees in front. The ball was opened. We were formed into platoons and marched by the right flank on the double quick through the woods towards their cannon. I commanded the second platoon of one company. The underbrush was thick, and it was almost impossible to keep in line. The shells by this time were bursting over our heads thick and fast. We all dodged more or less but kept straight ahead. I supposed we were to charge the batteries.
|Marker denoting site where Union soldiers killed at Parker's Crossroads were buried. Most of them were moved to the national cemetery in Corinth, Mississippi shortly after the war. |
(Photo courtesy of John Banks' blog)
We were halted at the edge of the timber and commanded to lie down and fire on the cannoneers. The order was promptly obeyed. In that position we faced ten cannon throwing shells, grape, and canister. Our battery consisting of three guns did us but little good. Men never fought more bravely than ours. With nothing but a fence between them and the enemy’s guns, they loaded and fired like men at hard work for nearly two hours. Shells were splitting trees, bursting rails, tearing up the ground while knocking off heads and arms and legs, but all stood to the work like men.
A fire opened on us from the rear when it became apparent, we were surrounded. We faced about and charged the enemy at the point of the bayonet. They scattered like chaff before the wind. It was then man to man and not musket to artillery. The fight lasted some half an hour longer when our other brigade came up and the enemy was completely routed. The victory was ours. We took about 400 prisoners and seven of their cannon; they took 50 of our men. They outnumbered us two to one.
During the fight, they twice sent in a flag of truce demanding our surrender so confident were they that we were whipped. Forrest told some of our prisoners that we were twice badly whipped; that old soldiers would have known it and surrendered. As we were getting back from the fence, our Colonel [John Rinaker], being dangerously wounded, called me to help him off the field. A young man of our regiment helping him had his arm shot off just as I arrived to assist. We were surrounded and the shots were thick on every hand, so I had the Colonel lie down and followed suit myself.
The butternuts who had been in our front supposing our men retreating came in the woods in squads and we even freely talked with them. They made no effort to take us, thinking that they had the whole army. We thought so, too, not knowing what was going on in the rear. When the Colonel could spare me for a moment, I was busy helping the wounded who called to me in the most imploring terms. We had no doctor until I sent a flag of truce and got a Rebel surgeon. I found him behind a tree. When he came the bullets were still so thick, he thought it not safe to venture out. I had a white flag hung on the fence at his instance when he dressed the wound of the Colonel and others.
Like all hard-fought battles, it was a heart-rending scene. Several of my intimate friends were in my sight mortally wounded. Two of my best friends were each killed with a shell. As many as a dozen were on their elbows with their heads raised and imploring help at the same time; others in the death struggle. Some were killed after being wounded by the fire of both sides across the field. Passing from one to another, I was often compelled to lie down until the firing abated. Trees did but little good as the shots came from every direction. It was on that part of the field that we suffered most, and you may judge our joy when we heard the other brigade had arrived and victory was sure.
The accounts in the papers of the killed and wounded on both sides are very exaggerated though the fighting was terrific. We slept on the field that night and in the morning started in pursuit. At Lexington we met a fresh brigade from Jackson which continued the pursuit and we returned. There were many very interesting incidents which I have not time to mention but might well be engraved in imperishable rock.
H.C. Gooding, 122nd Illinois
Letter from Adjutant Henry C. Gooding, 122nd Illinois, Hancock Democrat (Indiana), January 29, 1863, pg. 2
|National colors of the 122nd Illinois Volunteer Infantry, recently restored, are now on display at the Macoupin County Courthouse in Carlinville. The regiment saw action at Parker's Crossroads, Paducah, Tupelo, Nashville, and Fort Blakeley.|
Post a Comment