Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech

GENERAL: You will proceed as early as practicable up Steele's

Bayou, and through Black Bayou to Deer Creek, and thence with the

gunboats now there by any route they may take to get into the Yazoo

River, for the purpose of determining the feasibility of getting an

army through that route to the east bank of that river, and at a

point from which they can act advantageously against Vicksburg.

Make such details from your army corps as may be required to clear

out the channel of the various bayous through which transports

would have to ran, and to hold such points as in your judgment

should be occupied.

I place at your disposal to-day the steamers Diligent and Silver

Wave, the only two suitable for the present navigation of this

route. Others will be supplied you as fast as required, and they

can be got.

I have given directions (and you may repeat them) that the party

going on board the steamer Diligent push on until they reach Black

Bayou, only stopping sufficiently long at any point before reaching

there to remove such obstructions as prevent their own progress.

Captain Kossak, of the Engineers, will go with this party. The

other boat-load will commence their work in Steele's Bayou, and

make the navigation as free as possible all the way through.

There is but little work to be done in Steele's Bayou, except for

about five miles abort midway of the bayou. In this portion many

overhanging trees will have to be removed, and should be dragged

out of the channel.

Very respectfully,

U. S. GRANT, Major-General.

On returning to my camp at Young's Point, I started these two boats

up the Yazoo and Steele's Bayou, with the Eighth Missouri and some

pioneers, with axes, saws, and all the tools necessary. I gave

orders for a part of Stuart's division to proceed in the large

boats up the Mississippi River to a point at Gwin's plantation,

where a bend of Steele's Bayou neared the main river; and the next

day, with one or two stag-officers and orderlies, got a navy-tug,

and hurried up to overtake Admiral Porter. About sixty miles up

Steele's Bayou we came to the gunboat Price, Lieutenant Woodworth,

United States Navy; commanding, and then turned into Black Bayou, a

narrow, crooked channel, obstructed by overhanging oaks, and filled

with cypress and cotton-wood trees. The gunboats had forced their

way through, pushing aside trees a foot in diameter. In about four

miles we overtook the gunboat fleet just as it was emerging into

Deer Creek. Along Deer Creek the alluvium was higher, and there

was a large cotton-plantation belonging to a Mr. Hill, who was

absent, and the negroes were in charge of the place. Here I

overtook Admiral Porter, and accompanied him a couple of miles up

Deer Creek, which was much wider and more free of trees, with

plantations on both sides at intervals. Admiral Porter thought he

had passed the worst, and that he would be able to reach the

Rolling Fork and Sunflower. He requested me to return and use all

possible means to clear out Black Bayou. I returned to Hill's

plantation, which was soon reached by Major Coleman, with a part of

the Eighth Missouri; the bulk of the regiment and the pioneers had

been distributed along the bayous, and set to work under the

general supervision of Captain Kosaak. The Diligent and Silver

Wave then returned to twin's plantation and brought up

Brigadier-General Giles A. Smith, with the Sixth Missouri, and part

of the One Hundred and Sixteenth Illinois. Admiral Porter was then

working up Deer Creek with his iron-clads, but he had left me a tug,

which enabled me to reconnoitre the country, which was all under

water except the narrow strip along Deer Creek. During the 19th I

heard the heavy navy-guns booming more frequently than seemed

consistent with mere guerrilla operations; and that night I got a

message from Porter, written on tissue-paper, brought me through

the swamp by a negro, who had it concealed in a piece of tobacco.

The admiral stated that he had met a force of infantry and

artillery which gave him great trouble by killing the men who had

to expose themselves outside the iron armor to shove off the bows

of the boats, which had so little headway that they would not

steer. He begged me to come to his rescue as quickly as possible.

Giles A. Smith had only about eight hundred men with him, but I

ordered him to start up Deer Creek at once, crossing to the east

side by an old bridge at Hill's plantation, which we had repaired

for the purpose; to work his way up to the gunboat, fleet, and to

report to the admiral that I would come, up with every man I could

raise as soon as possible. I was almost alone at Hill's, but took

a canoe, paddled down Black Bayou to the gunboat Price, and there,

luckily, found the Silver wave with a load of men just arrived from

twin's plantation. Taking some of the parties who were at work

along the bayou into an empty coal-barge, we tugged it up by a

navy-tug, followed by the Silver Wave, crashing through the trees,

carrying away pilot-house, smoke-stacks, and every thing

above-deck; but the captain (McMillan, of Pittsburg) was a brave

fellow, and realized the necessity. The night was absolutely

black, and we could only make two and a half of the four miles. We

then disembarked, and marched through the canebrake, carrying

lighted candles in our hands, till we got into the open

cotton-fields at Hill's plantation, where we lay down for a few

hours' rest. These men were a part of Giles A. Smith's brigade,

and part belonged to the brigade of T. Bilby Smith, the senior

officer present being Lieutenant-Colonel Rice, Fifty-fourth Ohio,

an excellent young officer. We had no horses.

On Sunday morning, March 21st, as soon as daylight appeared, we

started, following the same route which Giles A. Smith had taken

the day before; the battalion of the Thirteenth United States

Regulars, Major Chase, in the lead. We could hear Porter's guns,

and knew that moments were precious. Being on foot myself, no man

could complain, and we generally went at the double-quick, with

occasional rests. The road lay along Deer Creek, passing several

plantations; and occasionally, at the bends, it crossed the swamp,

where the water came above my hips. The smaller drummer-boys had

to carry their drums on their heads, and most of the men slang

their cartridge-boxes around their necks. The soldiers generally

were glad to have their general and field officers afoot, but we

gave them a fair specimen of marching, accomplishing about

twenty-one miles by noon. Of course, our speed was accelerated by

the sounds of the navy-guns, which became more and more. distinct,

though we could see nothing. At a plantation near some Indian

mounds we met a detachment of the Eighth Missouri, that had been up

to the fleet, and had been sent down as a picket to prevent any

obstructions below. This picket reported that Admiral Porter had

found Deer Creek badly obstructed, had turned back; that there was

a rebel force beyond the fleet, with some six-pounders, and nothing

between us and the fleet. So I sat down on the door-sill of a

cabin to rest, but had not been seated ten minutes when, in the

wood just ahead, not three hundred yards off, I heard quick and

rapid firing of musketry. Jumping up, I ran up the road, and found

Lieutenant-Colonel Rice, who said the head of his column had struck

a small force of rebels with a working gang of negroes, provided

with axes, who on the first fire had broken and run back into the

swamp. I ordered Rice to deploy his brigade, his left on the road,

and extending as far into the swamp as the ground would permit, and

then to sweep forward until he uncovered the gunboats. The

movement was rapid and well executed, and we soon came to some

large cotton-fields and could see our gunboats in Deer Creek,

occasionally firing a heavy eight-inch gun across the cotton field

into the swamp behind. About that time Major Kirby, of the Eighth

Missouri, galloped down the road on a horse he had picked up the

night before, and met me. He explained the situation of affairs,

and offered me his horse. I got on bareback, and rode up the

levee, the sailors coming out of their iron-clads and cheering most

vociferously as I rode by, and as our men swept forward across the

cotton-field in full view. I soon found Admiral Porter, who was on

the deck of one of his iron-clads, with a shield made of the

section of a smoke-stack, and I doubt if he was ever more glad to

meet a friend than he was to see me. He explained that he had

almost reached the Rolling Fork, when the woods became full of

sharp-shooters, who, taking advantage of trees, stumps, and the

levee, would shoot down every man that poked his nose outside the

protection of their armor; so that he could not handle his clumsy

boats in the narrow channel. The rebels had evidently dispatched a

force from Haines's Bluff up the Sunflower to the Rolling Fork, had

anticipated the movement of Admiral Porter's fleet, and had

completely obstructed the channel of the upper part of Deer Creek

by felling trees into it, so that further progress in that

direction was simply impossible. It also happened that, at the

instant of my arrival, a party of about four hundred rebels, armed

and supplied with axes, had passed around the fleet and had got

below it, intending in like manner to block up the channel by the

felling of trees, so as to cut off retreat. This was the force we

had struck so opportunely at the time before described. I inquired

of Admiral Porter what he proposed to do, and he said he wanted to

get out of that scrape as quickly as possible. He was actually

working back when I met him, and, as we then had a sufficient force

to cover his movement completely, he continued to back down Deer

Creek. He informed me at one time things looked so critical that

he had made up his mind to blow up the gunboats, and to escape with

his men through the swamp to the Mississippi River. There being no

longer any sharp-shooters to bother the sailors, they made good

progress; still, it took three full days for the fleet to back out

of Deer Creek into Black Bayou, at Hill's plantation, whence

Admiral Porter proceeded to his post at the month of the Yazoo,

leaving Captain Owen in command of the fleet. I reported the facts

to General Grant, who was sadly disappointed at the failure of the

fleet to get through to the Yazoo above Haines's Bluff, and ordered

us all to resume our camps at Young's Point. We accordingly

steamed down, and regained our camps on the 27th. As this

expedition up Deer Creek was but one of many efforts to secure a

footing from which to operate against Vicksburg, I add the report

of Brigadier-General Giles A. Smith, who was the first to reach the




March 28, 1863

Captain L. M. DAYTON, Assistant Adjutant-General.

CAPTAIN: I have the honor to report the movements of the First

Brigade in the expedition up Steele's Bayou, Black Bayou, and Deer

Creek. The Sixth Missouri and One Hundred and Sixteenth Illinois

regiments embarked at the month of Muddy Bayou on the evening of

Thursday, the 18th of March, and proceeded up Steele's Bayou to the

month of Black; thence up Black Bayou to Hill's plantation, at its

junction with Deer Creek, where we arrived on Friday at four

o'clock p.m., and joined the Eighth Missouri, Lieutenant-Colonel

Coleman commanding, which had arrived at that point two days

before. General Sherman had also established his headquarters

there, having preceded the Eighth Missouri in a tug, with no other

escort than two or three of his staff, reconnoitring all the

different bayous and branches, thereby greatly facilitating the

movements of the troops, but at the same time exposing himself

beyond precedent in a commanding general. At three o'clock of

Saturday morning, the 20th instant, General Sherman having received

a communication from Admiral Porter at the mouth of Rolling Fork,

asking for a speedy cooperation of the land forces with his fleet,

I was ordered by General Sherman to be ready, with all the

available force at that point, to accompany him to his relief; but

before starting it was arranged that I should proceed with the

force at hand (eight hundred men), while he remained, again

entirely unprotected, to hurry up the troops expected to arrive

that night, consisting of the Thirteenth Infantry and One Hundred

and Thirteenth Illinois Volunteers, completing my brigade, and the

Second Brigade, Colonel T. Kilby Smith commanding.

This, as the sequel showed; proved a very wise measure, and

resulted in the safety of the whole fleet. At daybreak we were in

motion, with a regular guide. We had proceeded but about six

miles, when we found the enemy had been very busy felling trees to

obstruct the creek.

All the negroes along the route had been notified to be ready at

night fall to continue the work. To prevent this as much as

possible, I ordered all able-bodied negroes to be taken along, and

warned some of the principal inhabitants that they would be held

responsible for any more obstructions being placed across the

creek. We reached the admiral about four o'clock p.m., with no

opposition save my advance-guard (Company A, Sixth Missouri) being

fired into from the opposite side of the creek, killing one man,

and slightly wounding another; having no way of crossing, we had to

content ourselves with driving them beyond musket-range.

Proceeding with as little loss of time as possible, I found the

fleet obstructed in front by fallen trees, in rear by a sunken

coal-barge, and surrounded, by a large force of rebels with an

abundant supply of artillery, but wisely keeping their main force

out of range of the admiral's guns. Every tree and stump covered a

sharp-shooter, ready to pick off any luckless marine who showed his

head above-decks, and entirely preventing the working-parties from

removing obstructions.

In pursuance of orders from General Sherman, I reported to Admiral

Porter for orders, who turned over to me all the land-forces in his

fleet (about one hundred and fifty men), together with two

howitzers, and I was instructed by him to retain a sufficient force

to clear out the sharp-shooters, and to distribute the remainder

along the creek for six or seven miles below, to prevent any more

obstructions being placed in it during the night. This was

speedily arranged, our skirmishers capturing three prisoners.

Immediate steps were now taken to remove the coal-barge, which was

accomplished about daylight on Sunday morning, when the fleet moved

back toward Black Bayou. By three o'clock p.m. we had only made

about six miles, owing to the large number of trees to be removed;

at this point, where our progress was very slow, we discovered a

long line of the enemy filing along the edge of the woods, and

taking position on the creek below us, and about one mile ahead of

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