Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman


Text to Speech

enemy, who, right over their heads, held their muskets outside the

parapet vertically, and fired down So critical was the position,

that we could not recall the men till after dark, and then one at a

time. Our loss had been pretty heavy, and we had accomplished

nothing, and had inflicted little loss on our enemy. At first I

intended to renew the assault, but soon became satisfied that, the

enemy's attention having been drawn to the only two practicable

points, it would prove too costly, and accordingly resolved to look

elsewhere for a point below Haines's Bluff, or Blake's plantation.

That night I conferred with Admiral Porter, who undertook to cover

the landing; and the next day (December 30th) the boats were all

selected, but so alarmed were the captains and pilots, that we had

to place sentinels with loaded muskets to insure their remaining at

their posts. Under cover of night, Steele's division, and one

brigade of Stuart's, were drawn out of line, and quietly embarked

on steamboats in the Yazoo River. The night of December 30th was

appointed for this force, under the command of General Fred Steele,

to proceed up the Yazoo just below Haines's Bluff, there to

disembark about daylight, and make a dash for the hills. Meantime

we had strengthened our positions near Chickasaw Bayou, had all our

guns in good position with parapets, and had every thing ready to

renew our attack as soon as we heard the sound of battle above.

At midnight I left Admiral Porter on his gunboat; he had his fleet

ready and the night was propitious. I rode back to camp and gave

orders for all to be ready by daybreak; but when daylight came I

received a note from General Steele reporting that, before his

boats had got up steam, the fog had settled down on the river so

thick and impenetrable, that it was simply impossible to move; so

the attempt had to be abandoned. The rain, too, began to fall, and

the trees bore water-marks ten feet above our heads, so that I

became convinced that the part of wisdom was to withdraw. I

ordered the stores which had been landed to be reembarked on the

boats, and preparations made for all the troops to regain their

proper boats during the night of the 1st of January, 1863. From

our camps at Chickasaw we could hear, the whistles of the trains

arriving in Vicksburg, could see battalions of men marching up

toward Haines's Bluff, and taking post at all points in our front.

I was more than convinced that heavy reenforcements were coming to

Vicksburg; whether from Pemberton at Grenada, Bragg in Tennessee,

or from other sources, I could not tell; but at no point did the

enemy assume the offensive; and when we drew off our rear-guard, on

the morning of the 2d, they simply followed up the movement,

timidly. Up to that moment I had not heard a word from General

Grant since leaving Memphis; and most assuredly I had listened for

days for the sound of his guns in the direction of Yazoo City. On

the morning of January 2d, all my command were again afloat in

their proper steamboats, when Admiral Porter told me that General

McClernand had arrived at the mouth of the Yazoo in the steamboat

Tigress, and that it was rumored he had come down to supersede me.

Leaving my whole force where it was, I ran down to the month of the

Yazoo in a small tug boat, and there found General McClernand, with

orders from the War Department to command the expeditionary force

on the Mississippi River. I explained what had been done, and what

was the actual state of facts; that the heavy reenforcements

pouring into Vicksburg must be Pemberton's army, and that General

Grant must be near at hand. He informed me that General Grant was

not coming at all; that his depot at Holly Springs had been

captured by Van Dorn, and that he had drawn back from Coffeeville

and Oxford to Holly Springs and Lagrange; and, further, that

Quinby's division of Grant's army was actually at Memphis for

stores when he passed down. This, then, fully explained how

Vicksburg was being reenforced. I saw that any attempt on the

place from the Yazoo was hopeless; and, with General McClernand's

full approval, we all came out of the Yazoo, and on the 3d of

January rendezvoused at Milliken's Bend, about ten miles above.

On the 4th General McClernand issued his General Order No. 1,

assuming command of the Army of the Mississippi, divided into two

corps; the first to be commanded by General Morgan, composed of his

own and A. J. Smith's divisions; and the second, composed of

Steele's and Stuart's divisions, to be commanded by me. Up to that

time the army had been styled the right wing of (General Grant's)

Thirteenth Army Corps, and numbered about thirty thousand men. The

aggregate loss during the time of any command, mostly on the 29th

of December, was one hundred and seventy-five killed, nine hundred

and thirty wounded, and seven hundred and forty-three prisoners.

According to Badeau, the rebels lost sixty-three killed, one

hundred and thirty-four wounded, and ten prisoners. It afterward

transpired that Van Dorn had captured Holly Springs on the 20th of

December, and that General Grant fell back very soon after.

General Pemberton, who had telegraphic and railroad communication

with Vicksburg, was therefore at perfect liberty to reenforce the

place with a garrison equal, if not superior, to my command. The

rebels held high, commanding ground, and could see every movement

of our men and boats, so that the only possible hope of success

consisted in celerity and surprise, and in General Grant's holding

all of Pemberton's army hard pressed meantime. General Grant was

perfectly aware of this, and had sent me word of the change, but it

did not reach me in time; indeed, I was not aware of it until after

my assault of December 29th, and until the news was brought me by

General McClernand as related. General McClernand was appointed to

this command by President Lincoln in person, who had no knowledge

of what was then going on down the river. Still, my relief, on the

heels of a failure, raised the usual cry, at the North, of

"repulse, failure, and bungling." There was no bungling on my

part, for I never worked harder or with more intensity of purpose

in my life; and General Grant, long after, in his report of the

operations of the siege of Vicksburg, gave us all full credit for

the skill of the movement, and described the almost impregnable

nature of the ground; and, although in all official reports I

assumed the whole responsibility, I have ever felt that had General

Morgan promptly and skillfully sustained the lead of Frank Blair's

brigade on that day, we should have broken the rebel line, and

effected a lodgment on the hills behind Vicksburg. General Frank

Blair was outspoken and indignant against Generals Morgan and De

Courcey at the time, and always abused me for assuming the whole

blame. But, had we succeeded, we might have found ourselves in a

worse trap, when General Pemberton was at full liberty to turn his

whole force against us. While I was engaged at Chickasaw Bayou,

Admiral Porter was equally busy in the Yazoo River, threatening the

enemy's batteries at Haines's and Snyder's Bluffs above. In a

sharp engagement he lost one of his best officers, in the person of

Captain Gwin, United States Navy, who, though on board an ironclad,

insisted on keeping his post on deck, where he was struck in the

breast by a round shot, which carried away the muscle, and

contused the lung within, from which he died a few days after. We

of the army deplored his loss quite as much as his fellows of the

navy, for he had been intimately associated with us in our previous

operations on the Tennessee River, at Shiloh and above, and we had

come to regard him as one of us.

On the 4th of January, 1863, our fleet of transports was collected

at Milliken's Bend, about ten miles above the mouth of the Yazoo,

Admiral Porter remaining with his gunboats at the Yazoo. General

John A. McClernand was in chief command, General George W. Morgan

commanded the First Corps and I the Second Corps of the Army of the

Mississippi.

I had learned that a small steamboat, the Blue Wing, with a mail,

towing coal-barges and loaded with ammunition, had left Memphis for

the Yazoo, about the 20th of December, had been captured by a rebel

boat which had come out of the Arkansas River, and had been carried

up that river to Fort Hind

We had reports from this fort, usually called the "Post of

Arkansas," about forty miles above the mouth, that it was held by

about five thousand rebels, was an inclosed work, commanding the

passage of the river, but supposed to be easy of capture from the

rear. At that time I don't think General McClernand had any

definite views or plays of action. If so, he did not impart them

to me. He spoke, in general terms of opening the navigation of the

Mississippi, "cutting his way to the sea," etc., etc., but the

modus operandi was not so clear. Knowing full well that we could

not carry on operations against Vicksburg as long as the rebels

held the Post of Arkansas, whence to attack our boats coming and

going without convoy, I visited him on his boat, the Tigress, took

with me a boy who had been on the Blue Wing, and had escaped, and

asked leave to go up the Arkansas, to clear out the Post. He made

various objections, but consented to go with me to see Admiral

Porter about it. We got up steam in the Forest Queen, during the

night of January 4th, stopped at the Tigress, took General

McClernand on board, and proceeded down the river by night to the

admiral's boat, the Black Hawk, lying in the mouth of the Yazoo.

It must have been near midnight, and Admiral Porter was in

deshabille. We were seated in his cabin and I explained my views

about Arkansas Post, and asked his cooperation. He said that he

was short of coal, and could not use wood in his iron-clad boats.

Of these I asked for two, to be commanded by Captain Shirk or

Phelps, or some officer of my acquaintance. At that moment, poor

Gwin lay on his bed, in a state-room close by, dying from the

effect of the cannon shot received at Haines's Bluff, as before

described. Porter's manner to McClernand was so curt that I

invited him out into a forward-cabin where he had his charts, and

asked him what he meant by it. He said that "he did not like him;"

that in Washington, before coming West, he had been introduced to

him by President Lincoln, and he had taken a strong prejudice

against him. I begged him, for the sake of harmony, to waive that,

which he promised to do. Returning to the cabin, the conversation

was resumed, and, on our offering to tow his gunboats up the river

to save coal, and on renewing the request for Shirk to command the

detachment, Porter said, "Suppose I go along myself?" I answered,

if he would do so, it would insure the success of the enterprise.

At that time I supposed General McClernand would send me on this

business, but he concluded to go himself, and to take his whole

force. Orders were at once issued for the troops not to disembark

at Milliken's Bend, but to remain as they were on board the

transports. My two divisions were commanded--the First, by

Brigadier-General Frederick Steele, with three brigades, commanded

by Brigadier-Generals F. P. Blair, C. E. Hooey, and J. M. Thayer;

the Second, by Brigadier-General D. Stuart, with two brigades,

commanded by Colonels G. A. Smith and T. Kilby Smith.

The whole army, embarked on steamboats convoyed by the gunboats, of

which three were iron-clads, proceeded up the Mississippi River to

the mouth of White River, which we reached January 8th. On the

next day we continued up White River to the "Cut-off;" through this

to the Arkansas, and up the Arkansas to Notrib's farm, just below

Fort Hindman. Early the next morning we disembarked. Stuart's

division, moving up the river along the bank, soon encountered a

force of the enemy intrenched behind a line of earthworks,

extending from the river across to the swamp. I took Steele's

division, marching by the flank by a road through the swamp to the

firm ground behind, and was moving up to get to the rear of Fort

Hindman, when General McClernand overtook me, with the report that

the rebels had abandoned their first position, and had fallen back

into the fort. By his orders, we counter-marched, recrossed the

swamp, and hurried forward to overtake Stuart, marching for Fort

Hindman. The first line of the rebels was about four miles below

Fort Hindman, and the intervening space was densely, wooded and

obscure, with the exception of some old fields back of and close to

the fort. During the night, which was a bright moonlight one, we

reconnoitred close up, and found a large number of huts which had

been abandoned, and the whole rebel force had fallen back into and

about the fort. Personally I crept up to a stump so close that I

could hear the enemy hard at work, pulling down houses, cutting

with axes, and building intrenchments. I could almost hear their

words, and I was thus listening when, about 4 A. M. the bugler in

the rebel camp sounded as pretty a reveille as I ever listened to.

When daylight broke it revealed to us a new line of parapet

straight across the peninsula, connecting Fort Hindman, on the

Arkansas River bank, with the impassable swamp about a mile to its

left or rear. This peninsula was divided into two nearly equal

parts by a road. My command had the ground to the right of the

road, and Morgan's corps that to the left. McClernand had his

quarters still on the Tigress, back at Notrib's farm, but moved

forward that morning (January 11th) to a place in the woods to our

rear, where he had a man up a tree, to observe and report the

movements.

There was a general understanding with Admiral Porter that he was

to attack the fort with his three ironclad gunboats directly by its

water-front, while we assaulted by land in the rear. About 10 a.m.

I got a message from General McClernand, telling me where he could

be found, and asking me what we were waiting for. I answered that

we were then in close contact with the enemy, viz., about five or

six hundred yards off; that the next movement must be a direct

assault; that this should be simultaneous along the whole line; and

that I was waiting to hear from the gunboats; asking him to notify

Admiral Porter that we were all ready. In about half an hour I

heard the clear ring of the navy-guns; the fire gradually

increasing in rapidity and advancing toward the fort. I had

distributed our field-guns, and, when I judged the time had come, I

gave the orders to begin. The intervening ground between us and

the enemy was a dead level, with the exception of one or two small

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