Steel’s Bayou empties into the Yazoo River between Haines’ Bluff
and its mouth. It is narrow, very tortuous, and fringed with a
very heavy growth of timber, but it is deep. It approaches to
within one mile of the Mississippi at Eagle Bend, thirty miles
above Young’s Point. Steel’s Bayou connects with Black Bayou,
Black Bayou with Deer Creek, Deer Creek with Rolling Fork,
Rolling Fork with the Big Sunflower River, and the Big Sunflower
with the Yazoo River about ten miles above Haines’ Bluff in a
right line but probably twenty or twenty-five miles by the
winding of the river. All these waterways are of about the same
nature so far as navigation is concerned, until the Sunflower is
reached; this affords free navigation.

Admiral Porter explored this waterway as far as Deer Creek on
the 14th of March, and reported it navigable. On the next day
he started with five gunboats and four mortar-boats. I went
with him for some distance. The heavy overhanging timber
retarded progress very much, as did also the short turns in so
narrow a stream. The gunboats, however, ploughed their way
through without other damage than to their appearance. The
transports did not fare so well although they followed behind.
The road was somewhat cleared for them by the gunboats. In the
evening I returned to headquarters to hurry up reinforcements.
Sherman went in person on the 16th, taking with him Stuart’s
division of the 15th corps. They took large river transports to
Eagle Bend on the Mississippi, where they debarked and marched
across to Steel’s Bayou, where they re-embarked on the
transports. The river steamers, with their tall smokestacks and
light guards extending out, were so much impeded that the
gunboats got far ahead. Porter, with his fleet, got within a
few hundred yards of where the sailing would have been clear and
free from the obstructions caused by felling trees into the
water, when he encountered rebel sharp-shooters, and his
progress was delayed by obstructions in his front. He could do
nothing with gunboats against sharpshooters. The rebels,
learning his route, had sent in about 4,000 men–many more than
there were sailors in the fleet.

Sherman went back, at the request of the admiral, to clear out
Black Bayou and to hurry up reinforcements, which were far
behind. On the night of the 19th he received notice from the
admiral that he had been attacked by sharp-shooters and was in
imminent peril. Sherman at once returned through Black Bayou in
a canoe, and passed on until he met a steamer, with the last of
the reinforcements he had, coming up. They tried to force their
way through Black Bayou with their steamer, but, finding it slow
and tedious work, debarked and pushed forward on foot. It was
night when they landed, and intensely dark. There was but a
narrow strip of land above water, and that was grown up with
underbrush or cane. The troops lighted their way through this
with candles carried in their hands for a mile and a half, when
they came to an open plantation. Here the troops rested until
morning. They made twenty-one miles from this resting-place by
noon the next day, and were in time to rescue the fleet. Porter
had fully made up his mind to blow up the gunboats rather than
have them fall into the hands of the enemy. More welcome
visitors he probably never met than the “boys in blue” on this
occasion. The vessels were backed out and returned to their
rendezvous on the Mississippi; and thus ended in failure the
fourth attempt to get in rear of Vicksburg.

CHAPTER XXXII.

THE BAYOUS WEST OF THE MISSISSIPPI–CRITICISMS OF THE NORTHERN
PRESS–RUNNING THE BATTERIES–LOSS OF THE INDIANOLA–DISPOSITION
OF THE TROOPS.

The original canal scheme was also abandoned on the 27th of
March. The effort to make a waterway through Lake Providence
and the connecting bayous was abandoned as wholly impracticable
about the same time.

At Milliken’s Bend, and also at Young’s Point, bayous or
channels start, which connecting with other bayous passing
Richmond, Louisiana, enter the Mississippi at Carthage
twenty-five or thirty miles above Grand Gulf. The Mississippi
levee cuts the supply of water off from these bayous or
channels, but all the rainfall behind the levee, at these
points, is carried through these same channels to the river
below. In case of a crevasse in this vicinity, the water
escaping would find its outlet through the same channels. The
dredges and laborers from the canal having been driven out by
overflow and the enemy’s batteries, I determined to open these
other channels, if possible. If successful the effort would
afford a route, away from the enemy’s batteries, for our
transports. There was a good road back of the levees, along
these bayous, to carry the troops, artillery and wagon trains
over whenever the water receded a little, and after a few days
of dry weather. Accordingly, with the abandonment of all the
other plans for reaching a base heretofore described, this new
one was undertaken.

As early as the 4th of February I had written to Halleck about
this route, stating that I thought it much more practicable than
the other undertaking (the Lake Providence route), and that it
would have been accomplished with much less labor if commenced
before the water had got all over the country.

The upper end of these bayous being cut off from a water supply,
further than the rainfall back of the levees, was grown up with
dense timber for a distance of several miles from their
source. It was necessary, therefore, to clear this out before
letting in the water from the river. This work was continued
until the waters of the river began to recede and the road to
Richmond, Louisiana, emerged from the water. One small steamer
and some barges were got through this channel, but no further
use could be made of it because of the fall in the river. Beyond
this it was no more successful than the other experiments with
which the winter was whiled away. All these failures would have
been very discouraging if I had expected much from the efforts;
but I had not. From the first the most I hoped to accomplish
was the passage of transports, to be used below Vicksburg,
without exposure to the long line of batteries defending that
city.

This long, dreary and, for heavy and continuous rains and high
water, unprecedented winter was one of great hardship to all
engaged about Vicksburg. The river was higher than its natural
banks from December, 1862, to the following April. The war had
suspended peaceful pursuits in the South, further than the
production of army supplies, and in consequence the levees were
neglected and broken in many places and the whole country was
covered with water. Troops could scarcely find dry ground on
which to pitch their tents. Malarial fevers broke out among the
men. Measles and small-pox also attacked them. The hospital
arrangements and medical attendance were so perfect, however,
that the loss of life was much less than might have been
expected. Visitors to the camps went home with dismal stories
to relate; Northern papers came back to the soldiers with these
stories exaggerated. Because I would not divulge my ultimate
plans to visitors, they pronounced me idle, incompetent and
unfit to command men in an emergency, and clamored for my
removal. They were not to be satisfied, many of them, with my
simple removal, but named who my successor should be.
McClernand, Fremont, Hunter and McClellan were all mentioned in
this connection. I took no steps to answer these complaints,
but continued to do my duty, as I understood it, to the best of
my ability. Every one has his superstitions. One of mine is
that in positions of great responsibility every one should do
his duty to the best of his ability where assigned by competent
authority, without application or the use of influence to change
his position. While at Cairo I had watched with very great
interest the operations of the Army of the Potomac, looking upon
that as the main field of the war. I had no idea, myself, of
ever having any large command, nor did I suppose that I was
equal to one; but I had the vanity to think that as a cavalry
officer I might succeed very well in the command of a brigade.
On one occasion, in talking about this to my staff officers, all
of whom were civilians without any military education whatever, I
said that I would give anything if I were commanding a brigade of
cavalry in the Army of the Potomac and I believed I could do some
good. Captain Hillyer spoke up and suggested that I make
application to be transferred there to command the cavalry. I
then told him that I would cut my right arm off first, and
mentioned this superstition.

In time of war the President, being by the Constitution
Commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy, is responsible for the
selection of commanders. He should not be embarrassed in making
his selections. I having been selected, my responsibility ended
with my doing the best I knew how. If I had sought the place,
or obtained it through personal or political influence, my
belief is that I would have feared to undertake any plan of my
own conception, and would probably have awaited direct orders
from my distant superiors. Persons obtaining important commands
by application or political influence are apt to keep a written
record of complaints and predictions of defeat, which are shown
in case of disaster. Somebody must be responsible for their
failures.

With all the pressure brought to bear upon them, both President
Lincoln and General Halleck stood by me to the end of the
campaign. I had never met Mr. Lincoln, but his support was
constant.

At last the waters began to recede; the roads crossing the
peninsula behind the levees of the bayous, were emerging from
the waters; the troops were all concentrated from distant points
at Milliken’s Bend preparatory to a final move which was to crown
the long, tedious and discouraging labors with success.

I had had in contemplation the whole winter the movement by land
to a point below Vicksburg from which to operate, subject only to
the possible but not expected success of some one of the
expedients resorted to for the purpose of giving us a different
base. This could not be undertaken until the waters receded. I
did not therefore communicate this plan, even to an officer of my
staff, until it was necessary to make preparations for the
start. My recollection is that Admiral Porter was the first one
to whom I mentioned it. The co-operation of the navy was
absolutely essential to the success (even to the contemplation)
of such an enterprise. I had no more authority to command
Porter than he had to command me. It was necessary to have part
of his fleet below Vicksburg if the troops went there. Steamers
to use as ferries were also essential. The navy was the only
escort and protection for these steamers, all of which in
getting below had to run about fourteen miles of batteries.
Porter fell into the plan at once, and suggested that he had
better superintend the preparation of the steamers selected to
run the batteries, as sailors would probably understand the work
better than soldiers. I was glad to accept his proposition, not
only because I admitted his argument, but because it would
enable me to keep from the enemy a little longer our designs.
Porter’s fleet was on the east side of the river above the mouth
of the Yazoo, entirely concealed from the enemy by the dense
forests that intervened. Even spies could not get near him, on
account of the undergrowth and overflowed lands. Suspicions of
some mysterious movements were aroused. Our river guards
discovered one day a small skiff moving quietly and mysteriously
up the river near the east shore, from the direction of
Vicksburg, towards the fleet. On overhauling the boat they
found a small white flag, not much larger than a handkerchief,
set up in the stern, no doubt intended as a flag of truce in
case of discovery. The boat, crew and passengers were brought
ashore to me. The chief personage aboard proved to be Jacob
Thompson, Secretary of the Interior under the administration of
President Buchanan. After a pleasant conversation of half an
hour or more I allowed the boat and crew, passengers and all, to
return to Vicksburg, without creating a suspicion that there was
a doubt in my mind as to the good faith of Mr. Thompson and his
flag.

Admiral Porter proceeded with the preparation of the steamers
for their hazardous passage of the enemy’s batteries. The great
essential was to protect the boilers from the enemy’s shot, and
to conceal the fires under the boilers from view. This he
accomplished by loading the steamers, between the guards and
boilers on the boiler deck up to the deck above, with bales of
hay and cotton, and the deck in front of the boilers in the same
way, adding sacks of grain. The hay and grain would be wanted
below, and could not be transported in sufficient quantity by
the muddy roads over which we expected to march.

Before this I had been collecting, from St. Louis and Chicago,
yawls and barges to be used as ferries when we got below. By
the 16th of April Porter was ready to start on his perilous
trip. The advance, flagship Benton, Porter commanding, started
at ten o’clock at night, followed at intervals of a few minutes
by the Lafayette with a captured steamer, the Price, lashed to
her side, the Louisville, Mound City, Pittsburgh and
Carondelet–all of these being naval vessels. Next came the
transports–Forest Queen, Silver Wave and Henry Clay, each
towing barges loaded with coal to be used as fuel by the naval
and transport steamers when below the batteries. The gunboat
Tuscumbia brought up the rear. Soon after the start a battery
between Vicksburg and Warrenton opened fire across the
intervening peninsula, followed by the upper batteries, and then
by batteries all along the line. The gunboats ran up close under
the bluffs, delivering their fire in return at short distances,
probably without much effect. They were under fire for more
than two hours and every vessel was struck many times, but with
little damage to the gunboats. The transports did not fare so
well. The Henry Clay was disabled and deserted by her crew.
Soon after a shell burst in the cotton packed about the boilers,
set the vessel on fire and burned her to the water’s edge. The
burning mass, however, floated down to Carthage before
grounding, as did also one of the barges in tow.

The enemy were evidently expecting our fleet, for they were
ready to light up the river by means of bonfires on the east
side and by firing houses on the point of land opposite the city
on the Louisiana side. The sight was magnificent, but
terrible. I witnessed it from the deck of a river transport,
run out into the middle of the river and as low down as it was
prudent to go. My mind was much relieved when I learned that no
one on the transports had been killed and but few, if any,
wounded. During the running of the batteries men were stationed
in the holds of the transports to partially stop with cotton
shot-holes that might be made in the hulls. All damage was
afterwards soon repaired under the direction of Admiral Porter.

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