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[331]

Chapter 30:


After the surrender of Vicksburg, there was still much to be done in the vicinity, particularly in driving off the Confederates, who lingered on the banks of the Yazoo and fired on our small gun-boats as they patrolled that river.

A report reached Vicksburg that General Joseph E. Johnston was fortifying Yazoo City, with the apparent intention of occupying that neighborhood with his Army. For this the region was well adapted, being rich in cattle and grain, “hog and hominy.”

It was also reported that a number of large river-steamers that had been employed by the enemy, and had been hiding in the Tallahatchie, were at Yazoo City and employed in supplying Johnston's troops.

A military and naval expedition was therefore arranged to go after these steamers and break up the enemy's resort at Yazoo City.

The Baron deKalb, New National, Kenwood and Signal composed the naval part of the expedition under Lieutenant-Commander John G. Walker, while General Herron, with five thousand troops in transports, composed the military part.

On approaching Yazoo City the enemy appeared in force, and the DeKalb, being the heaviest vessel, pushed ahead and opened her batteries to ascertain the number and position of the enemy's guns. Finding the defences formidable, Walker dropped back and notified General Herron, who at once landed his troops and the Army and Navy made a combined attack. After a sharp conflict the enemy fled, previously setting fire to the four large steamers in their possession, which before the war had been considered the finest passenger vessels on the Mississippi River. General Herron captured the enemy's rear-guard of two hundred and fifty men and pressed on after the retreating foe, taking prisoners every minute.

There were six heavy guns mounted in the enemy's works and one vessel was captured which had formerly been a gun-boat. Unfortunately, while the De Kalb was moving slowly along and firing on the enemy she ran foul of a floating torpedo, which exploded, and the vessel sank almost immediately, a second torpedo exploding under her stern as she went down.

The squadron had pushed ahead with too much enthusiasm to bring the enemy to close quarters where grape-shot and canister would tell. It seems that Lieutenant Isaac N. Brown, of the Confederate Navy, had on a former occasion been prevented by the citizens from placing torpedoes in front of [332] Yazoo City, and it was supposed that it would not be permitted on this occasion for fear of the consequences in the destruction of the property of the inhabitants, should the Union forces get possession of Yazoo City. Lieutenant-Commander Walkertherefore felt confident that he could proceed without encountering any of these destructive machines.

The loss of the DeKalb was a serious one--four of the armored gun-boats lay at the bottom of the rivers — the Cincinnati before Vicksburg, and the Cairo and DeKalb in the Yazoo. while the Indianola was sunk below Vicksburg. But this is the fortune of war — to achieve anything risks must be run, and while a Confederate flag floated in the breeze the officers and men of the Mississippi squadron never stopped to count the cost in pursuit of it.

With the exception of the loss of the DeKalb, whose officers and men were all saved, the expedition was a complete success The enemy's rendezvous was broken up, and a large amount of cotton, beef and pork captured, the enemy's forces driven away and many of them captured by General Herron. Yazoo City was never again troubled by the Confederates planting batteries there.

It had been an important place for the Confederates, and but for the constant attention it received from the Navy and the destruction of all the vessels hiding there, they would probably have sent down a force that would have destroyed our ironclad gun-boats, and perhaps have made a material change in the final result of the campaign.

The Confederate government relied a great deal on the completion of the three iron-clad rams building at Yazoo City, and with their assistance hoped to drive off the Federal squadron from below Vicksburg and thereby cause the siege to be raised — while Haines' Bluff could block the way with its guns and the huge raft which filled up the Yazoo River for half a mile. The Confederates worked on their iron-clads without molestation, and even when General Grant had gained the rear of Vicksburg they relied on General J. E. Johnston's army to protect them while they completed the work on the rams.

If the Arkansas, which ran the gauntlet of Farragut and Davis' squadrons, was a specimen of the iron-clad that could be built at Yazoo City, the Federals had cause to congratulate themselves that the Yazoo was open by the evacuation of Haines' Bluff, and the last attempt of the Confederates to carry on naval operations in that quarter abandoned.

At the same time that the expedition was sent up the Yazoo another was dispatched up the Red River, ascending the Black and Tensas Rivers. Lieutenant-Commander Selfridge penetrated to the head of navigation on the latter stream, at Tensas Lake and Bayou Macon, thirty miles above Vicksburg, and within five or six miles of the Mississippi River.

Parties of the enemy's riflemen were in the habit of crossing this narrow strip of land and firing upon transports passing up and down the Mississippi, sometimes killing women and children who happened to be on board. Quite a large force of Confederates were assembled in that quarter, considering themselves secure from the attacks of the gun-boats, the distance by water from Vicksburg being so great: the route being first to the mouth of the Red River, then up the Black and Tensas, both narrow streams, to Tensas Lake and Bayou Macon. The guerillas fancied they could carry on their raids with impunity. So when Selfridge appeared with his little flotilla on the 12th of July, they were taken by surprise. As soon as the gun-boats hove in sight the enemy's transports, of which there were here quite a number, made their escape among the intricate water-ways with which that region abounds, and where for want of pilots they could not be immediately followed.

Selfridge now divided his forces, sending the Manitou and Rattler up the Little Red River, a small tributary of the Black, and the Forest Rose and Petrel up the Tensas. The night was dark and rainy and the vessels had to grope their way carefully along, keeping a good lookout ahead. Suddenly the Manitou and Rattler came upon a very large steamer, the finest of those now remaining afloat, which had been the pride of the Mississippi River before the war. This was the Louisville, afterwards converted into a war-vessel carrying fifty guns.

Selfridge's other two vessels about the same time captured the steamer Elmira, loaded with stores for the Confederate army under General Walker, who on hearing of the arrival of the Federal gun-boats embarked his army and disappeared up some of the tortuous channels known only to pilots. Selfridge started in pursuit and soon overtook two of the transports, but the Confederates immediately abandoned the vessels after setting them on fire, and they were totally destroyed.

One steamer loaded with ammunition escaped above the fort at

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