Confederates, on their side, were trying to worry
their opponents by threatening the Pilot Knob line
of the railway.
Thompson, who had never left the south-eastern part of the State, gathered all his troops for the purpose of attacking the three regiments guarding the extremity of the line, under Colonel Carlin.
On the 15th of October he captured a post of fifty men stationed at Big River bridge, and burned the bridge, which was the largest along the line.
The garrison of Pilot Knob found itself thus isolated from St. Louis. Colonel Carlin immediately sent a regiment after him, which attacked him while he was retreating south-eastward, and vigorously harassed his rear-guard.
But the Federals soon encountered the principal corps firmly established at Fredericktown, and, being unable to dislodge, it withdrew after a brisk discharge of musketry.
The position of Carlin was becoming perilous. Fremont, who had quitted the Sedalia Railway to place himself at the head of his columns, was far from any telegraphic station, and could not be consulted.
Fortunately, his assistant Adjutant-General, Captain McKeever, had remained at St. Louis in the exercise of all his powers. He immediately adopted effective measures for keeping Thompson in check.
Two regiments of infantry, with a battery of artillery, under Major Schofield, were sent to the relief of Carlin. Despite the destruction of the bridge, these reinforcements soon joined him, and he was enabled to place himself at their head and attack Thompson at once.
In the mean time, Grant was increasing the garrison at Cape Girardeau, and Colonel Plummer, with a brigade of fifteen hundred men, was sent from that point to assist Carlin in cutting off Thompson's retreat.
Two separate columns thus marched upon Fredericktown; but a despatch from Plummer having fallen into Thompson's hands, the latter, thus apprised of the danger he was incurring, had stolen away by a rapid march. When the Federals met in that city on the morning of the 21st, they found no enemy there.
In the mean while, Thompson's brigade, which had adopted the nickname of its chief, who was called the Swamp Fox, far from wishing to avoid a fight, had gone to take position at a short distance from Fredericktown, where it awaited the Federals.
That brigade was scarcely two thousand men strong; some were armed with fowling-pieces, others with muskets of very poor quality, but all were broken to the rough trade they were following, oblivious to privations, and
resolved to fight the superior forces opposed to them.
Immediately upon his arrival, Plummer, with his brigade and the largest portion of Carlin's, marched against them. The combat begins at once. Plummer deploys his infantry, and Schofield soon appears upon the field with part of his artillery, which has an immense advantage over the four small pieces of the Confederates.
The latter, crashed by the fire, fall back along the line. The Federals press them vigorously, the cavalry makes a charge, and their retreat is soon turned into a complete rout.
Eighty prisoners remain in the hands of Plummer, who continues the pursuit until evening. Having only a sufficient quantity of provisions left to return to Cape Girardeau, he retraces his steps to that post, while Carlin returns to Pilot Knob, where the brigade of the Swamp Fox could never again come to molest him.