Letter from the 66th Illinois.
A brief History of the Regiment — Their Campaign in Northern Missouri — The Attack on Fort Donelson — Battle of Pittsburg Landing — The Siege of Corinth — The 14th Missouri become the 66th Illinois — State Pride — Present Location of the Regiment — Building a Stockade Fort — Diving on Half Rations — The Soldiers Satisfied with the War Policy of the Government — Determination to put down Rebellion, &c. &c.
The following interesting letter from the 66th Illinois (formerly Birge's Sharpshooters and the 14th Missouri Volunteers) has been delayed in reaching us in consequence of the rebel raid in West Tennessee. It will be found of interest even now, however, not only on account of the information it contains but so the indication it furnished of the feeling which animates the army:
CAMP OF WESTERN SHARPSHOOTERS,
66TH ILLINOIS VOLUNTEERS,
TUSCUMBIA RIVER, MISS., Dec. 25, '62.
EDITORS JOURNAL: — Most of our Illinois regiments have an occasional letter to the JOURNAL, and I can find no better place for passing Christmas than writing one also, since the Sharpshooters are now known as an Illinois regiment.
Our regiment left Camp Benton for North Missouri on the 12th of December, 1861, and served along the line of the N. Mo. R. R., under command of Col. J. W. Birge, until February, 1862.
On the night of Dec. 20th, 1861, the rebels burned all the bridges along the line of that railroad, thus cutting us off from all communication and supplies from St. Louis; and all other places where loyal sentiment prevailed. Companies were detached in pursuit of the marauders and numerous skirmishes were the consequence. On Christmas day, the regiment pushed cars from Centralia to Sturgeon, a distance of eight miles, and as they were loaded with camp equipage, it was, perhaps, the hardest day's work ever performed by a regiment during the war. That day Gen. B. M. Prentiss, with a force of cavalry, surrounded the town of Paris and captured a company of cavalry, who were on the way South to join Price.
Gen. Prentiss arrived at Sturgeon on the 26th, and the next day sent a cavalry company to scour the country to the southward to the Missouri river. This scout proved successful, having an engagement that evening with a force of 300 rebel cavalry at the village of Hallsville, 12 miles south of Sturgeon. Although driven into camp, they discovered the location of the rebel camp, which was attacked the next morning by 250 sharp-shooters, under Col. Birge, and 200 cavalry under Col. Glover, all under the command of Gen. Prentiss. The force left Sturgeon at three o'clock, A. M., of the 28th, and drove the rebel pickets at sunrise, attacking their camp at eight o'clock, A. M., after marching a distance of eighteen miles, and was completely victorious, killing 60 wounding 150, and taking 35 prisoners. The enemy's force was under the command of Col. Dorsey, and consisted of 800 men, mostly armed with double-barreled shotguns. Our loss was five killed and twenty-five wounded, of which a large proportion of the wounded was caused by the buckshot of the enemy, who found themselves totally unable to cope with the riflemen of our regiment.
We left Mt. Zion church, the scene of the battle, that evening, and arrived in Sturgeon at ten o'clock, P. M., after marching a distance of 36 miles, and fighting one of the bloodiest battles, for the number engaged, of the war. It was by such bold dashes as these that Gen. Prentiss succeeded in restoring quiet to that part of Missouri under his charge, and gaining the respect and confidence of the officers and men who served under him. Birge's Sharpshooters were ordered to St. Louis, and finally to Fort Henry, Tenn., and left North Missouri on the 4th of February.
We reached Fort Henry too late to participate in the engagement there, but when, in a few days, the army marched to Ft. Donelson, the sharpshooters fell into line, and won a name there that they are proud of to this time. At Pittsburg Landing the Sharpshooters were used on the extreme right of Grant's army, and were engaged in continual skirmishes during Sunday and Monday of that eventful battle with the Texas Rangers and others of the boldest of the rebel army. Missouri laid claim to the regiment, and we, under the command of Colonel Compton, became known as the 14th Missouri volunteers, but that office was removed, and the regiment added to its laurels at the siege of Corinth in the thousand and one skirmishes during the advance from Pittsburg Landing, and until the occupation of Corinth in the latter end of May by our troops, under command of Lieut. Col. C. W. Smith. The Western Sharpshooters (14th Mo. volunteers,) followed up the retreating forces of Beauregard to Boonville, and then, along with the rest of the second Division, Army of the Tennessee, went into camp near Corinth as garrison for that place. In July, Col. P. E. Burke arrived and assumed command of the regiment. Soon afterward it became Provost Guard for Corinth. At the battle of Corinth, the Western Sharpshooters opened the battle on the morning of the 4th of October, and were highly complimented by their General and the troops engaged for their conduct on that occasion. Illinois has now proved her claims to the regiment, a majority of the men being from that State, and from and after this date we are to be known as the Western Sharpshooters, 66th Illinois volunteers, a change agreeable to all; for we are truly proud of that noble State in this contest for constitutional liberty. The regiment is at present encamped on the Mobile & Ohio R. R. at the crossing of the Tuscombia river, six miles south of Corinth, along with a battalion of the 5th Ohio cavalry, and are fortifying our camp with a stockade of posts ten feet high and over eight inches thick, impregnable against any force of infantry or cavalry that may come against us! We are the outpost troops, south of Corinth, and are in daily receipt of news from the Confederacy through the numerous contrabands that flock to our camps.
Let Grant, Rosecrans and Burnside move to their destination, we can hold our position between the two first, come what may to interrupt our quiet. A concentration of troops and a forward movement will keep the enemy before them, and only delay will permit them to separate.
The movement of the enemy at Jackson, Tennessee, last week, has shortened our supplies so that for the last three days we have been living on half rations. Think of that, ye epicures, and do not give grudgingly to the wounded and homeless soldiers in your midst. Do not think we soldiers wish for any abatement of the policy of the war party of our country. The longer we are here at our posts, the more determined are we to put down the rebellion, in such a way that treason will not dare again to raise its hydra head in our country. We soldiers set out with the determination to maintain the integrity of the United States, and we wish to have it distinctly understood that "come what may to stand in the way," we mean to maintain our position.