SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the operations of the troops under my command during the recent expedition into the enemy's lines:
In obedience to orders from district headquarters I moved out of Kingsport at 6 p.m. on 5th instant. You are already furnished with the general order containing the different corps of the command and their order of march. The whole force did not exceed 1,200, as the return of my adjutant general for that day exhibits. Such was the secrecy with which the movement was conducted that not only the citizens, but the officers had no idea of its contemplation until it had progressed considerably toward its execution.
Some delay occurred in crossing the river on account of the darkness of the night and the difficult passage of the horses and artillery over a bad ford. All was, however, soon in order, and the march continued in a cold, chilling rain, without further obstacle until we were unexpectedly halted by the passage of Brigadier General Jones' brigade across our road to the Carter's Valley road, upon our right. I did not see General Jones, but learned from his staff officer that this change in the original plan was rendered necessary by the impracticability of the road to and across the river at the ford he proposed at first to cross.
As soon as General Jones' brigade had crossed I moved on slowly, intending to halt a short time at Surgoinsville in order to give General Jones time to reach the enemy's flank and rear before attacking him in front. But just as my advance reached Surgoinsville it was fired upon by a scouting party of the enemy which had reached there that morning (now 4:30 a.m.), as I afterward learned. I communicated this fact to General Jones. The enemy, about 30 in number, retired precipitately on being pressed by a squadron of the First Tennessee, which constituted my advance.
On arriving within 2 miles of Big Creek, where the enemy were understood to be encamped, we came upon a body of the enemy in a strong position, and though not discovering more than 25 or 30, furnished reason for the suspicion of a larger force masked behind the ridge and under cover of dense pine thickets. Some time was consumed in revealing their intention and force by throwing forward flanking and skirmishing parties, before which they again retired. We moved forward without delay, and on approaching Big Creek discovered that the enemy were in the act of crossing at Russell's Ford. Colonel Carter (First Tennessee) was sent at double-quick to cut them off, which he did in most gallant style.
Being cut off from the ford the enemy took a strong position on the opposite side of Big Creek, where they had been encamped, leaving one section of Phillips' battery, supported by three companies Second East Tennessee Mounted Infantry, at Russell's house, 300 yards in front of their position and on this side of Big Creek. Lieutenant-Colonel Trimble, Tenth Kentucky, and Major Parker, Fourth Kentucky, were brought forward and dismounted in 350 yards of this section and moved up. The men all went forward with the greatest enthusiasm, making no halt for balls, shells, or bullets. Colonel Carter, after intercepting their retreat by the ford, turned upon these two guns, and advancing by a shorter route was the first to reach them, capturing at the same time a large number of wagons which had moved out to cross the river. Without halting, a simultaneous advance was made by the three regiments (Tenth Kentucky, First Tennessee, and Fourth Kentucky) across Big Creek, which, though deep and rapid, proved no obstacle, and up the hill on which was posted their other section of artillery, supported by their main force.
At this time Captain Lowry's battery, detained by difficult roads, arrived upon the field and engaged the battery of the enemy, delivering its fire most effectively. Immediately on crossing the creek our forces encountered the enemy in a chosen position, where, after an hour's sharp conflict, they succeeded in capturing the other section of Phillips' battery and about 450 of the enemy. The remainder endeavored to effect their escape by precipitate flight. Here I ordered forward Major Clarke, Sixteenth Georgia Battalion, and Colonel Slemp, Sixty-fourth Virginia, whom I had held in reserve mounted, and sent them at double-quick to pursue and overhaul the fugitives., which was done in the most praiseworthy manner, the Sixteenth Georgia Battalion following them across the river and the Sixty-fourth to Rogersville. A party of these, endeavoring to escape by a lower ford, was met by the Eighth Virginia, of General Jones' command, and most of them captured.
In all, about 550 prisoners were taken by the forces under my command; four brass 6-pounder James guns (Company M, Second Illinois Light Artillery), some 30 wagons loaded with all manner of quartermaster's and commissary, medical, and ordnance stores, together with all their camp and garrison equipage, the horses and arms of the prisoners, all the papers appertaining to the adjutant-general's department, containing most valuable information, &c.
As already mentioned, our forces did not exceed 1,200, of which not more than 600 were engaged actively. The forces of the enemy, commanded by Col. Israel Garrard, Seventh Ohio Cavalry, consisted of Second East Tennessee Mounted Infantry, about full; Seventh Ohio Cavalry, 580 strong, and Phillips' battery, all composing half of Col. James P. T. Carter's brigade (Third Brigade Cavalry, Fourth Division, Twenty-third Army Corps). Colonel Garrard, commanding, escaped with the first who crossed the river. One major, several captains, and one acting adjutant general were among the prisoners.
Our loss will not exceed 10 killed and wounded. The enemy's about 25 or 30. Seven wounded were paroled and left in charge of a surgeon.
Every exertion was used to secure all the captures and the artillery, and about 30 wagons were brought off safely, but, owing to a want of harness for the teams, two caissons and some 20 wagons were disabled and abandoned.
It was my intention to retire to where I could find a good position and obtain forage and remain until everything valuable was secured and sent to the rear, but, General Jones coming up, ordered me to fall back that night beyond the river, which was accomplished by 9 o'clock the next morning.
Two stand of colors captured by the Fourth Kentucky Cavalry were sent up this morning. One captured by the Tenth Kentucky was delivered to you by Brigadier General Jones, and another taken by First Tennessee was afterward stolen from the regimental wagon.*
No discrimination can be made in the gallantry of troops where every corps commanded the admiration of its officers and the gratitude of their country. Their soldierly bearing in the presence of the enemy furnishes a just cause for pride and receives the unqualified approbation of their commander. Those actively engaged and those held in check manifested alike an equal willingness, even anxiety, to discharge their full duty as soldiers, even the most dangerous. Any discrimination among individuals would be invidious, and no one is slighted when it is asserted that all, with a trifling exception, may remember their actions that day with a just pride.
I am especially indebted to Colonel Heiskell, volunteer aide; Captain Flusser, acting aide, and Captain Guerrant, assistant adjutant general, for invaluable services on the field and throughout the expedition.
I am, most respectfully, your obedient servant.
Colonel, Commanding Brigade.
* The regimental flag of the Second East Tennessee Infantry is reported as having been captured by Company B, Fourth Kentucky, and the national flag of same regiment as captured by Lieutenant-Colonel Trimble, Tenth Kentucky Battalion.