Doc. 154.-expedition up the Yazoo River, its Journal and history.
near Vicksburgh, Monday, March 31, 1863.The return of all the transports and gunboats of Admiral Porter's naval and military expedition up the Yazoo River, to their former rendezvous in and near the mouth of the Yazoo, will have reached you by telegraph, and the whole affair will have passed into history, perhaps before this is seen by the readers of the Times. The rebels undoubtedly take great credit to themselves for having defeated the expedition; and the withdrawal of our gunboats and troops will be trumpeted as another glorious victory. It is true the prime object of the expedition — which was understood to be the taking of Yazoo City; the capture of the transports and gunboats, if any were found, and the getting into position to attack Haines's Bluff from above, was not accomplished, owing to the delay arising from unexpected obstacles in Black Bayou. There was some hard fighting both by the land forces and by the naval batteries; some sharp dodging of guerrillas behind stumps and trees; a world of hard work performed in cutting and clearing the way for the gunboats through the bayous — and, report says, a little tall running on one occasion by the marines or land troops. The latter statement, of course, is unworthy of credit. The fleet, it is asserted, had a narrow escape from capture, on account of a sudden attack of a large rebel force, who felled trees and other obstructions before and behind, and was only saved by the timely arrival of General Sherman's troops, who drove back the rebel sharp-shooters and relieved our working parties, who, for a day and night, were prisoners under their own casemates, and unable to show their heads on account of rebel dead-shots, who lay behind every stump and tree, and devoted themselves to the amiable task of “picking off” our men. Notwithstanding, the enterprise has paid pretty well for the outlay, in what it has developed of the hydrography of that portion of the country, its numerous and hitherto unfamiliar avenues of approach, exhibiting to the rebels themselves, as well as to us, their weak and exposed position; and, finally, in the damage which it has inflicted upon the whole region visited, the capture of cotton and contrabands, and the mutual destruction of thousands of bales which could not be brought away, reducing by so much the collateral resources of the enemy. The loss of life was comparatively small, only one being killed and some twenty wounded, in the naval part of the expedition. One of these has since died. Among the troops the loss was also small, and the damage to our vessels, though apparently serious, can all be repaired for five thousand dollars or less. Some three hundred bales of cotton were brought down, together with about three hundred and fifty “free colored people of African descent.” The latter thronged toward our gunboats and transports wherever they approached the plantations and landings along the river, and seemed to regard our advent as a providential affair, sent expressly to rescue them from a life of hopeless bondage. The slaves thus brought out of the Yazoo region would raise corn and pork enough to feed a whole brigade of rebel soldiers. Distributed among the land and naval forces here, they will perform an immense amount of hard and necessary labor, thus saving the health and lives of our troops in this exhausting and unhealthy climate. But I will not further touch on this matter. Your able and rollicking correspondent “Galway,” accompanied the troops, and will, as usual, do full justice to that part of the expedition, unless his letters again fall into the hands of “Hammond.” What I give in this brief letter refers more particularly to the naval operations from the time of starting to its return. The gunboat fleet consisted of the Carondelet, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Cincinnati, Mound City, Tyler, Linden, (No. 2,) some four small tugs, the Champion, Pocahontas, Monongahela, and several other boats — all proceeding up the Yazoo, while the large portion of the troops went up the Mississippi as far as Island Number100--at Eagle Bend — where they were disembarked, and marched by a military road constructed for the purpose to a point on “Steele's” or “Cypress Bayou,” where that stream approaches very near the Mississippi River. The Carondelet and Tyler started on Thursday, March twelfth, and were followed on Friday by the other vessels. During Saturday and Sunday the troops went up to their destination already mentioned on the Mississippi. The Tyler led the way up the Yazoo and stopped at Johnson's Landing, opposite Cypress Bayou, where she remained doing picket or guard-duty, until the fleet returned on the following Thursday. At this point the Admiral, accompanied by Captain Murphy, of the Carondelet, made a reconnoissance for some distance up Steele's Bayou. Having sent back and procured a large supply of axes, saws, and other engineering tools, the expedition proceeded on Saturday. The gunboats went on cautiously, the small tugs or gigs being employed to go ahead and reconnoitre the way. At half-past 8 A. M., Captain Murphy, with Ensign Amerman, and a gig's crew, with a howitzer, proceeded to examine the bayou. Twelve miles above the mouth of the bayou they came to and passed the mouth of Muddy Creek, an outlet of the Mississippi. A mile further on they passed Hughes's Mound on the right. At noon they reached the mouth of Big Black Bayou. One party, in charge of Mr. Amerman, landed and  proceeded along a road leading through a canebrake, while another portion of the men pulled along the river. Near Hill's plantation the two parties met, and then returned to report the result of their explorations. They returned to the Carondelet, which now lay at Muddy Creek, near Colonel Joe Willett's forsaken plantation. Here game was found in abundance. Mallard duck, bottle duck, a species of Mallaca; wood-duck, water turkey or cormorant, which live on fish, and in turn are eaten by the negroes, and large black squirrel abounded. Besides, there were seen snapping-turtles, alligators, moccasin and copperhead snakes, and other varmints in great variety. The country was heavily wooded for miles on either side of the bayous, and like the overflowing of the Nile, where it is open and cultivated, the alluvial deposit adds to the productiveness of the land. The wood is the wild cypress, ash, bitter pecans, and cottonwood. The following are the distances from the Cypress Bayou: From the mouth of Steele's or Cypress Bayou to Big Black Bayou, thirty miles; from Big Black to Big Deer Creek, six miles; Big Deer Creek to Rollin, Fork, eighteen miles; Rolling Fork to Sunflower, ten miles; Sunflower to Yazoo, forty-one miles--sixty miles from its mouth. Total, one hundred and five miles. During Sunday the armed vessels proceeded up the Cypress and stopped near Hill's plantation, where pickets were stationed for the night. On Monday proceeded to Hill's house and captured all whom we found there — some sixty or seventy blacks, men, women, and children — and with the assistance of negroes for guides, the land party proceeded to Fore's plantation, destroying the bridge over the bayou. A guard was placed over Fore and his overseer, to prevent either from escaping to give information of the approach of the expedition. The Admiral took a tug and pushed far ahead during Monday to reconnoitre. Tuesday, March 17.--The gunboats were under weigh as soon as it was light enough to see, and were all day butting at large trees in Black Bayou. They reached Hill's plantation at half-past 11 A. M., at the mouth of Deer Creek. Ensign Amerman was put in charge of a tug with howitzer, a gun's crew, and seventeen marines, with a sergeant to keep ahead and reconnoitre. Upon nearing “Massa Ben's” (Watson's) plantation the bridge over the bayou was destroyed. Here two men were observed to cross over on horseback and ride away with great speed. It was sundown before we reached the next plantation and held up for the night. Wednesday, March 18.--At an early hour the fleet was under way, passing Hunt's plantation. Here we were greeted with the first exhibition of cotton-burning. The overseer, named Johnson, was captured by the advance party in the tug, and sent to the Admiral. A mile further on passed two Indian mounds. Having reached Shelby's plantation, it was ascertained that thirty cavalry had been there and left the night before, at sunset. As the gunboats approached the different plantations the cotton was set on fire and burned; cotton and gin-houses were everywhere in a blaze, to prevent it from falling into our hands. Men were now frequently seen on horseback, fleeing to give information of our approach. Thursday, March 19.--The gunboats were early under way, and pressing as rapidly as possible through the now increasing obstructions. There was only width enough in the creek to admit the large vessel, and trees and snags blocked up the way. Having reached Dr. Butt's plantation with the tug, she was sent back for a field-howitzer and men. Here Capt. Murphy landed and took possession of a high Indian mound — a position some seventy feet above the level of the adjacent country, and commanding it in all directions. This was near the junction of Rolling Fork. The indications now began to increase, that the country had been aroused, and that the rebels were congregating to oppose the advance of the Union forces. Some one hundred and fifty or two hundred troops made their appearance at Rolling Fork, and were soon shelled by our men. The Union party were then advanced, and the enemy dislodged from the woods where they had concealed themselves. At this juncture the tug ran upon a large tree which had been felled across the creek to obstruct the passage of the boats. It was now no longer possible to conceal our approach from the enemy. The firing of artillery awakened echoes for many miles among the still forests, and the smoke of the steamers as well as of the burning cotton, aroused the people in all directions. While the whites fled from the presence of the approaching forces, the blacks swarmed to the boats, taking it for granted that they were to be received and protected. Their movements not please their owners and overseers. At one place where this exodus began, the overseer asked them where they were going. “These people do not want you,” said he; “go back, you niggers.” But “niggers” didn't see it in that light, and kept on toward the Yankee gunboats and transports. The belching of big guns and the noise and confusion did not seem to scare the blacks in the least, and nothing could restrain their movements. Several important communications passed between Admiral Porter and General Sherman, which were conveyed by these blacks One only out of three failed to make his appearance. It is supposed he was captured by the enemy. Friday, March 20.--This proved to be the most exciting and decisive day experienced by the expedition. Working parties had been busy all night in cutting away the tree which obstructed the bayou. It was by measurement four and a half feet in diameter. At seven A. M. the tug was still hard and fast. During the night Captain Murphy returned to the ship, but landed again at an early hour, and occupied the mound, throwing out scouts in advance. The rebel infantry and artillery opened fire upon our line early, employing twelve and twenty-four pound shell. Two of these passed  between the smoke-pipes and struck the wheel-house. In a short time their fire was stopped. Captain Murphy, who was on shore directing the range of the mortars, ordered Ensign Amerman to take charge of the infantry on shore. The rebels now advanced in regular line of battle, bringing up thirteen pieces of artillery, supported by regiments of infantry and cavalry, and opened on our lines, bringing two or three of their guns on our flank, which raked the road from the direction of Dr. Chainey's house. At this juncture some one shouted the alarm that the flying artillery was corning, and a temporary panic ensued. Shot and shell fell like rain among our men, who finally adjourned from that place in some disorder. The Admiral, who witnessed the whole proceeding, being himself under the thickest fire, remained remarkably cool, and ordered the tug to be brought down out of range of the enemy's guns. We were now within two miles of Rolling Fork, which would have introduced our gunboats into the Big Sunflower in a short time. Our guns were kept firing until the rebel batteries were silenced. The night was quiet. Saturday, 21.--The rebels attacked again before daybreak, but our batteries soon silenced them. They, however, followed up the attack by sharp-shooters, harassing us much, and compelling our guns' crews to keep under cover. The ports were the chief target, and as soon as they were opened a shower of balls greeted those working at the guns. Strunk, of the forward battery, was shot through the thigh; Thomas Graham was shot in the hand, and assistant-engineer John Hough (or Huff) received ball through his thigh, a serious wound. Altogether, some twenty were wounded in the different boats. The Carondelet seemed to get her full share of the hard knocks, being in the advance. At three A. M. Col. Smith, of the Eighth Missouri, arrived most opportunely with eight hundred men, and brought word that Gen. Sherman, with ten thousand men, was within about a day's march of us. Col. Smith's sharpshooters now began to peg away at the rebels, and they soon fell back out of range. The most opportune arrival of Col. Smith rescued the expedition from a serious dilemma. As the reenforcements were too far behind to be of service, the order was given to fall back, which the boats did slowly and in good order. In backing slowly down Bighleer Creek, the boats met with many obstructions, which had been placed there to retard and cut off our retreat, and it now became of the first importance to hasten out of reach of the enemy, who were gathering in heavy force from Haines's Bluff and Yazoo City. In the afternoon the rebel sharp-shooters and skirmishers recommenced the attack, which was met by the Eighth Missouri and the other land forces which had now come up from below. Some splendid firing was made by Ensign Amerman's battery one shell falling in the midst of a large body of rebel troops who were just dropping into line. The effect upon their ranks was to skedaddle the whole crowd in a double-quick. Monday, March 23.--The fleet continued slowly backing down the creek, and was now out of range. One hundred and twenty-five of the sick troops of General Sherman were put on board the Carondelet, and many on other. vessels. Wednesday, March 25.--On the way down, the boats stopped at the plantations and took aboard what cotton could be. conveniently carried, and the rest was destroyed. Some of the soldiers, on their own responsibility, burned three or four buildings. All the boats took on what cotton they could. Two prisoners, Dean and Howe, who had been detained, were released and sent ashore. On Wednesday, Gen. Sherman's sick were put ashore at Hill's. Information reached here that the Dew Drop, with one thousand two hundred rebel soldiers, had followed as far as Little Deer Creek, six miles distant. Late in the afternoon, Gen. Sherman's force were engaged in skirmishing with a rebel force near by. One of the Eighty-third Indiana was killed. The rebels had three regiments of infantry and one of cavalry. Thursday, 26.--At Hill's plantation half of the Thirty-seventh Ohio regiment, with Brig.-General Ewing, embarked; the pickets were called in, bringing one prisoner, and at six P. M. the boats reentered Steele's Bayou. After pausing to bury seaman Long, who died of pneumonia on board the Carondelet, the vessel passed on down to the Yazoo, rather glad to get out of the wilderness. It must be confessed the boats as they made their appearance again at their old rendezvous, excited no little attention from their dilapidated appearance. Most of them were minus one or both smoke-pipes, and much of the light upper wood-work was carried away or destroyed. Herewith I send you a sketch of the country visited by the expedition, with the location of the different creeks and bayous, the plantations, Indian mounds, etc. The country is one of the most beautiful in this whole region, the plantations being large and flourishing, and every thing giving evidence of great former prosperity. A large quantity of supplies is sent from there to Vicksburgh.
--N. Y. Times.