Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech

mouth of the Yazoo, but taking only ten small regiments, selected

out of Blair's division, to make a show of force. We afterward

learned that General Pemberton in Vicksburg had previously

dispatched a large force to the assistance of General Bowers, at

Grand Gulf and Port Gibson, which force had proceeded as far as

Hankinson's Ferry, when he discovered our ostentatious movement up

the Yazoo, recalled his men, and sent them up to Haines's Bluff to

meet us. This detachment of rebel troops must have marched nearly

sixty miles without rest, for afterward, on reaching Vicksburg, I

heard that the men were perfectly exhausted, and lay along the road

in groups, completely fagged out. This diversion, made with so

much pomp and display, therefore completely fulfilled its purpose,

by leaving General Grant to contend with a minor force, on landing

at Bruinsburg, and afterward at Port Gibson and Grand Gulf.

In May the waters of the Mississippi had so far subsided that all

our canals were useless, and the roads had become practicable.

After McPherson's corps had passed Richmond, I took up the route of

march, with Steele's and Tuttle's divisions. Blair's division

remained at Milliken's Bend to protect our depots there, till

relieved by troops from Memphis, and then he was ordered to follow

us. Our route lay by Richmond and Roundabout Bayou; then,

following Bayou Vidal we struck the Mississippi at Perkins's

plantation. Thence the route followed Lake St. Joseph to a

plantation called Hard Times, about five miles above Grand Gulf.

The road was more or less occupied by wagons and detachments

belonging to McPherson's corps; still we marched rapidly and

reached Hard Times on the 6th of May. Along the Bayou or Lake St.

Joseph were many very fine cotton plantations, and I recall that of

a Mr. Bowie, brother-in-law of the Hon. Reverdy Johnson, of

Baltimore. The house was very handsome, with a fine, extensive

grass-plot in front. We entered the yard, and, leaving our horses

with the headquarters escort, walked to the house. On the

front-porch I found a magnificent grand-piano, with several

satin-covered arm-chairs, in one of which sat a Union soldier (one

of McPherson's men), with his feet on the keys of the piano, and

his musket and knapsack lying on the porch. I asked him what he

was doing there, and he answered that he was "taking a rest;" this

was manifest and I started him in a hurry, to overtake his command.

The house was tenantless, and had been completely ransacked;

articles of dress and books were strewed about, and a handsome

boudoir with mirror front had been cast down, striking a French

bedstead, shivering the glass. The library was extensive, with a

fine collection of books; and hanging on the wall were two

full-length portraits of Reverdy Johnson and his wife, one of the

most beautiful ladies of our country, with whom I had been

acquainted in Washington at the time of General Taylor's

administration. Behind the mansion was the usual double row of

cabins called the "quarters." There I found an old negro (a family

servant) with several women, whom I sent to the house to put things

in order; telling the old man that other troops would follow, and

he must stand on the porch to tell any officers who came along that

the property belonged to Mr. Bowie, who was the brother-in-law of

our friend Mr. Reverdy Johnson, of Baltimore, asking them to see

that no further harm was done. Soon after we left the house I saw

some negroes carrying away furniture which manifestly belonged to

the house, and compelled them to carry it back; and after reaching

camp that night, at Hard Times, I sent a wagon back to Bowie's

plantation, to bring up to Dr. Hollingsworth's house the two

portraits for safe keeping; but before the wagon had reached

Bowie's the house was burned, whether by some of our men or by

negroes I have never learned.

At the river there was a good deal of scrambling to get across,

because the means of ferriage were inadequate; but by the aid of

the Forest Queen and several gunboats I got my command across

during the 7th of May, and marched out to Hankiuson's Ferry

(eighteen miles), relieving General Crocker's division of

McPherson's corps. McClernand's corps and McPherson's were still

ahead, and had fought the battle of Port Gibson, on the 11th. I

overtook General Grant in person at Auburn, and he accompanied my

corps all the way into Jackson, which we reached May 14th.

McClernand's corps had been left in observation toward Edwards's

Ferry. McPherson had fought at Raymond, and taken the left-hand

road toward Jackson, via Clinton, while my troops were ordered by

General Grant in person to take the right-hand road leading through

Mississippi Springs. We reached Jackson at the same time;

McPherson fighting on the Clinton road, and my troops fighting just

outside the town, on the Raymond road, where we captured three

entire field-batteries, and about two hundred prisoners of war.

The rebels, under General Joe Johnston, had retreated through the

town northward on the Canton road. Generals Grant, McPherson, and

I, met in the large hotel facing the State-House, where the former

explained to us that he had intercepted dispatches from Pemberton

to Johnston, which made it important for us to work smart to

prevent a junction of their respective forces. McPherson was

ordered to march back early the next day on the Clinton road to

make junction with McClernand, and I was ordered to remain one day

to break up railroads, to destroy the arsenal, a foundery, the

cotton-factory of the Messrs. Green, etc., etc., and then to

follow McPherson.

McPherson left Jackson early on the 15th, and General Grant during

the same day. I kept my troops busy in tearing up railroad-tracks,

etc., but early on the morning of the 16th received notice from

General Grant that a battle was imminent near Edwards's Depot; that

he wanted me to dispatch one of my divisions immediately, and to

follow with the other as soon as I had completed the work of

destruction. Steele's division started immediately, and later in

the day I followed with the other division (Tuttle's). Just as I

was leaving Jackson, a very fat man came to see me, to inquire if

his hotel, a large, frame building near the depot, were doomed to

be burned. I told him we had no intention to burn it, or any other

house, except the machine-shops, and such buildings as could easily

be converted to hostile uses. He professed to be a law-abiding

Union man, and I remember to have said that this fact was manifest

from the sign of his hotel, which was the "Confederate Hotel;" the

sign "United States" being faintly painted out, and "Confederate"

painted over it! I remembered that hotel, as it was the

supper-station for the New Orleans trains when I used to travel the

road before the war. I had not the least purpose, however, of

burning it, but, just as we were leaving the town, it burst out in

flames and was burned to the ground. I never found out exactly who

set it on fire, but was told that in one of our batteries were some

officers and men who had been made prisoners at Shiloh, with

Prentiss's division, and had been carried past Jackson in a

railroad-train; they had been permitted by the guard to go to this

very hotel for supper, and had nothing to pay but greenbacks, which

were refused, with insult, by this same law-abiding landlord.

These men, it was said, had quietly and stealthily applied the fire

underneath the hotel just as we were leaving the town.

About dark we met General Grant's staff-officer near Bolton

Station, who turned us to the right, with orders to push on to

Vicksburg by what was known as the upper Jackson Road, which

crossed the Big Black at Bridgeport. During that day (May 16th)

the battle of Champion Hills had been fought and won by

McClernand's and McPherson's corps, aided by one division of mine

(Blairs), under the immediate command of General Grant; and

McPherson was then following the mass of Pemberton's army,

disordered and retreating toward Vicksburg by the Edwards's Ferry

road. General Blair's division had come up from the rear, was

temporarily attached to McClernand's corps, taking part with it in

the battle of Champion Hills, but on the 17th it was ordered by

General Grant across to Bridgeport, to join me there.

Just beyond Bolton there was a small hewn-log house, standing back

in a yard, in which was a well; at this some of our soldiers were

drawing water. I rode in to get a drink, and, seeing a book on the

ground, asked some soldier to hand it to me. It was a volume of

the Constitution of the United States, and on the title-page was

written the name of Jefferson Davis. On inquiry of a negro, I

learned that the place belonged to the then President of the

Southern Confederation. His brother Joe Davis's plantation was not

far off; one of my staff-officers went there, with a few soldiers,

and took a pair of carriage-horses, without my knowledge at the

time. He found Joe Davis at home, an old man, attended by a young

and affectionate niece; but they were overwhelmed with grief to see

their country overran and swarming with Federal troops.

We pushed on, and reached the Big Black early, Blair's

troops having preceded us by an hour or so. I found General

Blair in person, and he reported that there was no bridge across

the Big Black; that it was swimming-deep; and that there was

a rebel force on the opposite side, intrenched. He had ordered

a detachment of the Thirteenth United States Regulars, under

Captain Charles Ewing, to strip some artillery-horses, mount the

men, and swim the river above the ferry, to attack and drive

away the party on the opposite bank. I did not approve of this

risky attempt, but crept down close to the brink of the river-

bank, behind a corn-crib belonging to a plantation house near by,

and saw the parapet on the opposite bank. Ordering a section of

guns to be brought forward by hand behind this corn-crib, a few

well-directed shells brought out of their holes the little party

that was covering the crossing, viz., a lieutenant and ten men,

who came down to the river-bank and surrendered. Blair's pon-

toon-train was brought up, consisting of India-rubber boats, one

of which was inflated, used as a boat, and brought over the

prisoners. A pontoon-bridge was at once begun, finished by night,

and the troops began the passage. After dark, the whole scene was

lit up with fires of pitch-pine. General Grant joined me there,

and we sat on a log, looking at the passage of the troops by the

light of those fires; the bridge swayed to and fro under the

passing feet, and made a fine war-picture. At daybreak we moved

on, ascending the ridge, and by 10 a.m. the head of my column, long

drawn out, reached the Benton road, and gave us command of the

peninsula between the Yazoo and Big Black. I dispatched Colonel

Swan, of the Fourth Iowa Cavalry, to Haines's Bluff, to capture

that battery from the rear, and he afterward reported that he found

it abandoned, its garrison having hastily retreated into Vicksburg,

leaving their guns partially disabled, a magazine full of

ammunition, and a hospital full of wounded and sick men. Colonel

Swan saw one of our gunboats lying about two miles below in the

Yazoo, to which he signaled. She steamed up, and to its commander

the cavalry turned over the battery at Haines's Bluff, and rejoined

me in front of Vicksburg. Allowing a couple of hours for rest and

to close up the column, I resumed the march straight on Vicksburg.

About two miles before reaching the forts, the road forked; the

left was the main Jackson road, and the right was the "graveyard"

road, which entered Vicksburg near a large cemetery. General Grant

in person directed me to take the right-hand road, but, as

McPherson had not yet got up from the direction of the

railroad-bridge at Big Black, I sent the Eighth Missouri on the

main Jackson road, to push the rebel skirmishers into town, and to

remain until relieved by McPherson's advance, which happened late

that evening, May 18th. The battalion of the Thirteenth United

States Regulars, commanded by Captain Washington, was at the head

of the column on the right-hand road, and pushed the rebels close

behind their parapets; one of my staff, Captain Pitzman, receiving

a dangerous wound in the hip, which apparently disabled him for

life. By night Blair's whole division had closed up against the

defenses of Vicksburg, which were found to be strong and well

manned; and, on General Steele's head of column arriving, I turned

it still more to the right, with orders to work its way down the

bluff, so as to make connection with our fleet in the Mississippi

River. There was a good deal of desultory fighting that evening,

and a man was killed by the aide of General Grant and myself, as we

sat by the road-side looking at Steele's division passing to the

right. General Steele's men reached the road which led from

Vicksburg up to Haines's Bluff, which road lay at the foot of the

hills, and intercepted some prisoners and wagons which were coming

down from Haines's Bluff.

All that night McPherson's troops were arriving by the main Jackson

road, and McClernand'a by another near the railroad, deploying

forward as fast as they struck the rebel works. My corps (the

Fifteenth) had the right of the line of investment; McPherson's

(the Seventeenth) the centre; and McClernand's (the Thirteenth) the

left, reaching from the river above to the railroad below. Our

lines connected, and invested about three-quarters of the

land-front of the fortifications of Vicksburg. On the supposition

that the garrison of Vicksburg was demoralized by the defeats at

Champion Hills and at the railroad crossing of the Big Black,

General Grant ordered an assault at our respective fronts on the

19th. My troops reached the top of the parapet, but could not

cross over. The rebel parapets were strongly manned, and the enemy

fought hard and well. My loss was pretty heavy, falling chiefly on

the Thirteenth Regulars, whose commanding officer, Captain

Washington, was killed, and several other regiments were pretty

badly cut up. We, however, held the ground up to the ditch till

night, and then drew back only a short distance, and began to

counter-trench. On the graveyard road, our parapet was within less

than fifty yards of the rebel ditch.

On the 20th of May, General Grant called the three corps commanders

together, viz., McClernand, McPherson, and Sherman. We compared

notes, and agreed that the assault of the day before had failed, by

reason of the natural strength of the position, and because we were

forced by the nature of the ground to limit our attacks to the

strongest parts of the enemy's line, viz., where the three

principal roads entered the city.

It was not a council of war, but a mere consultation, resulting in

orders from General Grant for us to make all possible preparations

for a renewed assault on the 22d, simultaneously, at 10 a.m. I

reconnoitred my front thoroughly in person, from right to left, and

concluded to make my real attack at the right flank of the bastion,

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