Doc. 169.-the siege of Vicksburgh, Mississippi.
Passage of the batteries, April 16.
steamer sunny South, above Vicksburgh, Friday, April 17, 1863.the old canals and the Pass and Bayou expeditions having failed from various causes, we have an entire change of programme. To make the new system of intended operations understood, it may be briefly explained that the efforts hitherto made have had for their object the flanking of Vicksburgh from above the city, and from that direction reaching the rear and obtaining possession of its important railroad communications with Jackson. It was this object that made the Yazoo River so important a position. The Lake Providence project, now abandoned, had in view the same object as the new movement. This is, instead of gaining the rear of Vicksburgh from above, to do so from below. It is to abandon further attempts by the Yazoo Pass and the maze of bayous and rivers that have their origin in that direction, and seek in the ground lying behind the bluffs of Warrenton, between the Mississippi and the Black Rivers, a means of reaching Vicksburgh by passing below that now celebrated city. To accomplish this, the necessary prerequisites evidently were to obtain possession of the forts at Warrenton by means of gunboats, and to keep them, and obtain command thence back to Black River by land forces. The first step in the new strategy was the commencement of another canal on the Louisiana shore, beginning at a higher point and terminating lower than the one whose failure has caused so much disappointment. Through this canal are to be sent, in flatboats or barges, such coal, ammunition, provisions, and other supplies, as will be needed for the land forces and the gunboats below Vicksburgh. This canal is now in satisfactory progress. Four dredge-boats are at work in it, and even the old river pilots — who  from the first prophesied the failure of the other canal — express their belief in the success of this. The next step was the moving of a body of troops (how many it is of course not prudent to state) to a position opposite, or nearly opposite, Warrenton. They marched from Milliken's Bend, passed through Richmond, and at the end of thirty miles reached New-Carthage, a point in the bend below Warrenton. The soldiers being at hand, the canal for supplying their wants and those of a fleet being at the point of termination, the last and most hazardous step was to send down gunboats for the attack on the Warrenton batteries, transports for crossing the troops at New-Carthage to the Mississippi side of the river, and such supplies as will be required before the new canal can be brought into use. There was no other way to get them down except the bold one of running the gauntlet of some eight miles of batteries, past the stronghold of Vicksburgh. Although the recent catastrophe of the Lancaster, and the terrible experiment at Port Hudson, had surrounded this mode of transit with horrors undreamed of on former similar occasions, it was resolved to send eight gunboats, three transports, and various barges and flat-boats laden with material and supplies down the river to New-Carthage. It speaks well for the bravery of our officers and men, and especially of those who had to take the responsible and dangerous positions of pilots, that no difficulty was experienced in manning the expedition. During the whole of yesterday a feeling of anxious expectation existed throughout the fleet. The day was fine and sunny. Cloud and gloom would have been welcome, but the vault of heaven beamed blue and serene over the spot of approaching strife. The sun set clear and beautiful, and the stars came out in full radiance. As the night deepened, a slight haze dimmed the bosom of the Mississippi, but the eye had no difficulty in making out the dark line of the opposite shore. The former expeditions had started shortly before or at daylight; this time a change was resolved upon. Eleven o'clock at night was appointed as the hour at which the boats should leave their rendezvous, which was near the mouth of the Yazoo River. To the anxious expectants of the coming events the hours stole slowly by. As the appointed moment drew near, the decks of the various steamboats were crowded with watchful spectators. A sort of apprehensive shudder ran through the collected gazers when it was announced that the first boat destined to pass the batteries was approaching. Sombre and silent it floated down, near the Louisiana shore; scarcely were its dark sides to be distinguished from the foliage lining the bank. Stealing slowly on, it passed us, and at a point below took an oblique course, steering for the Mississippi side of the river; and in the gloom it was soon confounded with the dark shadow of the trees beyond. Before this boat was lost sight of, another succeeded, and to that another and another, until before midnight the whole had gained the Mississippi side of the river and were swallowed up in the dim obscurity. With breathless interest their transit was watched by all of us on the boats of the fleet, whose position a little above the entrance of the first canal brought the rough hights of Vicksburgh within our sphere of vision, though the town lay for the present buried in the darkness, except where now and then the twinkling of a starry light was seen. As the boats, with lights out and fires carefully hidden, floated past, indistinct as the ghosts of Ossian in the mountain mists, it was curious to note the effect upon the spectators. Before they appeared, the hum of conversation was heard all around. All were busy with speculations as to the probabilities of success. The desponding prognosticated unmitigated disaster. The hopeful indulged in confident expectations. All were contented to endure some loss provided a sufficiency arrived at the destined point to accomplish the object contemplated. As the various boats came slowly into view, stole past with noiseless motion, then vanished into the recesses of the shadowy shore, each voice was hushed; only in subdued and smothered tones were persons at intervals heard to ask a question, or venture an observation. It seemed as if each one felt that his silence was due to the impressive scene; as if an indiscreet utterance on his part might raise the vail of secrecy so necessary to be preserved in the presence of a watchful foe. A painful expectation weighed on every spirit. The boats must now be near the point opposite the beleaguered city. Will they be discovered at the first approach? or will a kindly fortune give them easy passage by? Suddenly a flame starts up! Another and another leaps into the darkness of the night! The enemy has seen the passing boats, and is sending across the river his death-dealing messengers. Rapid now darts the momentary fires; the “iron rain” of the remorseless cannon hurtles upon the dim and gliding boats. Dull upon the heavy air, scarce moved by the night wind, which blows in a direction unfavorable for our hearing, reverberates the heavy thud of the cannon. As the time passes, the batteries, lower and still lower, come into action. We can trace the course of our fleet by new flames that each moment startle the strained sight; and cannon for miles along the hazy shore are hurling their destructive missiles. And now a new accessory adds its influence to the exciting scene. While we had been engaged in watching the vivid flames leaping from cannon-mouths, and exploding shells, a gleam of light, first pale and soft, then red and lurid, and at last glaring and refulgent, stole up into the heavens above the opposing city. For the first time the silence was broken by the gazing crowds upon the steamboats of the fleet. “Vicksburgh is on fire!” was uttered in excited tones. But it was not so. Steady and with wonderful brilliancy, upon the hill on which the city stands, the fire assumed a circular outline on the upper edge,  much like a third part of the full moon when apparently magnified, it is rising above the horizon. The flame glowed brilliant and beautiful; no smoke was visible to dim its splendor. It was a beacon light, placed in a position to throw its beams along each arm of the bend of the river, the convex side of which is turned toward Vicksburgh. So powerful was the light, that at the point where our fleet was moored, the shadow of a hand held a foot from the boat's side was distinctly thrown upon it. This beacon with treacherous fidelity, showed to the foe the now fast disappearing boats; but, happily, it was fired too late. The sight of the boats appeared to add new rage to the enemy, who could not fail to count the cost to him of such a fleet joining Farragut's three gunboats already between Vicksburgh and Port Hudson. The firing became more rapid. From the upper batteries to the last ones down at Warrenton leaped flame on flame. The dull echo of the cannon, and the whirr and shriek of the flying shells startled the midnight air. But now comes a roar which tells that our boys are awake and lively! The light that showed the boats to the enemy revealed to our men the outlines of the batteries, and the roar which deafens the ear to every other sound is the peal of the heavy pieces on our gunboats. After an interval of maddest rage, the upper guns of the enemy almost cease their fire. It is evident our boats have passed the first-reached batteries — all that have escaped the deadly onset. That no large portion of them is missing is evident from the activity of the forts at Warrenton, and the answering thunders of our own guns. By this time the beacon-light was burnt down, and ceased to render its cruel aid. Just as the gathering darkness and the yet longer and longer intervals of silence gave intimation that the exciting scene was nearly over, another startling incident woke anew the emotions of the time. Midway between the extinct beacon in the city and the lower batteries at Warrington a new glow of light, soft as the dawn but rapidly blushing into deeper intensity, climbed gently toward the sky. “They are lighting another beacon,” shouted many voices; but again the speakers were mistaken. The light grew stronger every moment; it wanted the mellow, vivid, space-piercing brilliancy of the beacon; above it rolled volumes of thick and curling smoke; and more — the light with slow and equal pace was moving onward, passing down the stream! There was no disguising the truth--one of our own boats was on fire! The white color of the smoke showed that among the fuel to the flame was cotton. The inference was plain; it was not a gunboat but a transport that was burning. On floated the doomed vessel; her light doubtless exposed to the rebels' view the floating flat-boats and barges, for the firing, especially from the Warrenton batteries, was for a short time violently renewed. The glow of the burning boat continued in sight until the beams of morning hid its glare. Before this, however, the solemn drama had reached its termination. The spectators reluctantly retired to their cabins when nothing remained to engaged the attention but the flaming wreck, and scattering shots--
The distant and random gun,It was not until noon to-day that any account of the fate of the expedition reached this place. We then learned briefly that the whole of the eight gunboats had reached their journey's end without having suffered any material damage. On the Benton, Porter's flag-ship, one man was killed and two wounded by the explosion of a shell. The boat that was burned was the transport Henry Clay; her crew got safely to shore. She was set on fire by a shell exploding among the cotton with which her engines were protected. She was loaded principally with commissary stores and forage, including a large amount of soldiers' rations and oats for the cavalry.
That the foe was sullenly firing.