Letter from Capt. Bridgeford.
Headq'rs Co. I, 45th Reg. Ill. Vols.,
Fort Donelson, Feb. 25th, 1862.
EDITOR ARGUS — Dear Sir: I write you a few lines to let you know our whereabouts. You have heard about our great and glorious victory at this place.
Our regiment left Fort Henry Tuesday, the 11th inst., marched four miles, camped on beautiful hillside, threw out pickets and lay down on our arms to take a night's rest.
Early the following morning the camp was astir, and in a short time breakfast — Hardee's Tactics, hard crackers and coffee — was over, and we were on the march. The roads were very muddy and our progress slow, being in the rear of Dresser's battery of eight pieces which was moved with difficulty. But on the afternoon of that day we arrived within one mile of the enemy's breastworks, and bivouacked for the night. Several shots passed this afternoon between our artillery and the enemy's batteries, also between the pickets of the contending forces, those of the enemy being driven in with a loss of four or five killed and as many wounded. That night all was quiet, with the exception of an occasional exchange of shots between pickets.
The next morning at early dawn, a heavy cannonade commenced on both sides, and continued till about 12 o'clock, when the 17th Illinois made a charge upon the breastworks, fighting desperately, but were repulsed by the enemy with great loss on both sides. The 49th Illinois went to their relief, but also withdrew after sustaining a heavy loss. Just before the 49th withdrew, Gen. Wallace rode up to the 45th, which was drawn up in line, and ordered us to support the gallant 49th. Now was the time for a desperate struggle for the possession of the enemy's breastworks. The 45th marched up on the double quick, and when within thirty yards of where the enemy stood sheltered and concealed behind earth works, halted, being partially shielded by fallen timber, cut to impede our progress at this point. We stood face to face, firing volley after volley, for about an hour, but finding it impossible to scale the walls, withdrew over the hill about one hundred yards, and all firing ceased. At this place the regiment lost several killed and about 15 wounded, among the latter, in company I were 1st Lieut. James Balfour, buckshot in the right arm; 2d Lieut. Henry H. Boyce, Minnie ball in the right hip. Privates — G. W. Poppleton, musket ball in the right heel; Isaac F. Bridgeford, rifle ball through the left arm close to the shoulder, badly fracturing the bone.
Thursday night we lay on our arms within 80 rods of the enemy's batteries, protected by the hill which rose between. We were twice called into line during the night by skirmishers coming out to annoy us. This was a bad night for us, as it rained and snowed alternately, and we had neither overcoats nor blankets, these being left where we camped the night before.
Friday, continual firing was kept up from daylight till dark, the gunboats on one side and our flying artillery on the other, with incessant skirmishing by the infantry and cavalry. Friday night we camped near the same place we did the night before, and detailed half of each company to bring the blankets and knapsacks from where we had left them two days before. We slept on our arms, and were formed in line but once.
Saturday at daybreak we were aroused by heavy firing of musketry on our right, and were soon in line; and in an instant after, musket balls, grape shot and canister were flying thick as hail in all directions. The fact was, the rebels had found the day before rather hot, and had determined to break our lines. The fighting continued till about noon, when, after a desperate struggle, we succeeded in driving the enemy back to their entrenchments, with a loss on either side of 500 killed and 1000 wounded. Early in the morning Lieut. Col. Maltby was carried off the field, wounded in the right leg. As he fell he gave us encouraging words. His loss is deeply felt in the regiments, as he was as brave as the bravest. Col. J. E. Smith rode up and down the lines encouraging the boys. Major Smith was also in the thickest of the fight. — Saturday night we drew our forces off one mile from where we camped the night before, and slept well.
Sunday morning everything was as still as death, not a gun was fired, and at 8 o'clock the news came that the enemy had made an unconditional surrender.
Thus ended the struggle of Fort Donelson, where a most glorious victory has been achieved, and secesh received its death blow. Our boys, with but few exceptions, are well.
I remain, yours, &c., O. A. B.