Statement by Capt. Victor Von Sheliha, Engineer Officer of Gen. Crittenden's Staff
Excerpt from "Fishing Creek Battle," Memphis Daily Avalanche, 28 January 1862, page 2; quoting the Knoxville Register, 25 January 1862
Capt. Shlala [Sheliha], of the engineers, bearing dispatches to Gen. Sidney Johnson, arrived at Loudon on Thursday, directly from the field of battle at Fishing Creek. He was in the engagement, and his account is therefore reliable. The substance of his statement is thus given by a friend who conversed with him at Loudon:
On last Saturday night at 12 o'clock Gen. Crittenden and forces marched out to meet the enemy on Fishing Creek, eleven miles distant. They met the enemy lying in ambush, just at the dawning of day, when Gen. Zollicoffer who was in front gave the order for an attack. Col. Staunton cried out "for God's sake don't firethey are our friends." The Shoepfites hallowing lustily for Jeff. Davis. Simultaneously the enemy fired, shooting Gen. Zollicoffer in the heart and killing him instantly. He spoke but twicehis last words were, "Go on, go on, my brave boys! I am killed!" On parting with his trusty servant at midnight he shook hands and remarked that they would probably meet no more.
Col. Battle's and Cumming's and the 15th Mississippi regiments fought bravely, saving our forces from annihilation. Gens. Crittenden and Carroll were in the engagement, the whole time, evincing great courage and determination. The enemy were repulsed several times. Their strength was fifteen regiments. Ours actually engaged was three regiments and two companies of artillery. Our loss in killed, wounded and missing, is 350. Theirs is probably much more.
The Confederate army retreated across the river by steamboat and two flats in good order, as is shown by our losing only one man while crossing. Fourteen pieces of artillery were placed on the boat; Gen. Crittenden ordered them spiked and the boat burned, and the guns are now at the bottom of the Cumberland. The river is much swollen by recent rains and snow in the mountains. The enemy have no boats, so there is no danger of any considerable force crossing the river. Our men mostly brought away their arms, and will make a sand either at Monticello or at Wolf River, twelve miles beyond Jamestown.
Capt. Sheliha makes several statements that were apparently believed among the Confederates at the time, but which were not true. A good example of this is his statement that the Federals were waiting in ambush; several Confederate post-battle statements indicate they believed their advance had been betrayed by locals, and instead of attacking a handful of unsuspecting Union regiments, they found two brigades with an alert picket force. In common with many post-battle reports, Sheliha grossly over-estimates the Union strength and casualties.
"The Shoepfites hallowing lustily for Jeff. Davis." -- Another Confederate belief was that the Federal soldiers intentionally tried to deceive them by giving Southern passwords or cheers. The "Shoepfites" would have been the Union brigade under Gen. Albin Schoepf; although some of his troops were present in the battle, he himself was not.
The comment that Crittenden and Carroll were present the entire time may have been an attempt to quell rumors that Crittenden was drunk.
The Confederate artillery was not placed on the boat, but was left abandoned in the camp (twelve pieces). The boat was burned, but not with guns on board. Nonetheless, there are persistent rumors that one or more Confederate cannons is at the bottom of the river on the Mill Springs side.