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Incidents of Vicksburgh, Miss.

Johnson's plantation, near Vicksburgh, January 2, 1863.
I have given you an account of the action which occurred on the twenty-ninth day of December, and of its results. But two divisions — those of Morgan's and Steele's — were generally and closely engaged. A portion of Smith's division made some advance under a terrible fire, in which the gallant Sixth Missouri were most actively engaged. This regiment crossed the levee, which had been occupied by the enemy as an earthwork, and was still, after being crossed, commanded by the enemy's cannon. It however, led to an advance upon Smith's line, but without any positive advantage to us. From certain points on the new line thus made, Vicksburgh could be seen. The movements of the rebel troops in the city, and some portions of Vicksburgh, were clearly and fairly in view. It was tempting to look straight in upon the beleaguered city, and still know that its occupation was improbable, if not impossible. But so it was, and our troops lay down upon their arms on the night of the twenty-ninth with anxious hearts and high hopes that something might occur to make it practicable. The night of the twenty-ninth passed and the morning dawned without any new development being made, except that the enemy assumed a threatening position with their artillery. It was evidently his intention to shell our camp. It having rained incessantly during the night, and our men having been exposed to it all, it was deemed advisable to place our troops in such a position that they would not be exposed to the enemy's cannon, and where they could examine their ammunition and clean their rusted arms, preparatory to further operations. In the mean time, our front was to be held firmly, and heavier artillery was to be placed in position behind earth-works. The threatening preparations in front deterred the enemy from shelling the camps, and put him on his guard, for offensive operations on our part. Wednesday was occupied by both armies in the presence of each other, throwing up new works, digging new pits, preparing for operations offensive and defensive. During the afternoon of Tuesday the cries of our wounded could be heard, and an impromptu effort was made to recover them by a flag of truce. Being irregular, and perhaps not authorized, and occasional skirmishes still going on, the flag was fired on by the enemy. The wounded and dead of Thayer's and Blair's brigades had to lie there and await the tedious process of official communication. This is one of the most horrible pictures which a battle-field presents, but frequently is unavoidable. It seems to have been so in this instance. While a tear here and there was dropped for the dying and the dead, still the great purpose of the expedition were not accomplished, and generally our army looked forward to watch future movements.

Wednesday morning came and still no change from Tuesday. The front was kept up by Smith's and Morgan's divisions, while Steele's division lay along Chickasaw Bayou, ready to meet the enemy if they should make a deployment in that direction. Every thing was quiet on the line, and this being a favorable opportunity, a flag of truce was sent to the enemy for the purpose of recovering and attending to our dead and wounded. The flag was duly recognized, the message was received and was answered, allowing us four hours to bury our dead. The cessation of hostilities consequent to the removal of our dead and wounded, gave the sharp-shooters and pickets an opportunity to converse with each other. The conversation was opened by our pickets, by asking: “How far it was to Vicksburgh?”

Rebel Picket--“So far that you'll never git thar.”

Federal--“How many men you got?”

Rebel--“Enough to clean you out.”

One rebel, who seemed to be somewhat of a stumper, said that “Banks had been whipped out at Port Hudson; that Memphis had been retaken, and that the Yankees would not take Vicksburgh till hell froze over.” A thousand questions were asked, and all answered in the same defiant way.

While this interesting parley was going on, the wounded and dead were removed. In a very short time the field was cleared, and every thing was again quiet on the lines.

The camps were soon astir again; orderlies and aids were galloping to and from the various division and brigade headquarters; of course it could be interpreted to mean nothing else than further orders. The critical and trying position of our army lent an additional interest to orders. They were important, for Steele's division was ordered to make a night assault on Haines's Bluff, while the other division commanders were to hold their fronts firm and advance, if they could, while Steele was storming the enemy's works at Haines's Bluff. The movement preparatory to this was, for Steele to mask his division from the enemy's look-outs by marching down Chickasaw bayou to the river, put his troops on board the transports and steam quietly up the Yazoo, and before daylight debark his troops under the enemy's guns at Haines's Bluff. In this matter the gunboat and mortar fleets were to play an important part. The river was lined with torpedoes, and it was necessary to clear it out before the transports could go up. This being accomplished, they were to take a position further up the river from the point of debarkation, and engage the batteries, while the troops should advance to the Bluffs. During the day, the boilers of the steamboats designated for the hazardous business were protected by bales of hay and otherwise. Pilots and river men were shaky, and anxiously inquired what it meant. No information was imparted, as the whole plan was to be kept strictly secret. [37]

When night came, Steele's division marched noiselessly down the bayou, and embarked on the transports as quietly as possible. The men were instructed to be as quiet as possible on the boats. From the orders given out, they gathered that something perilous was on hand, and seemed to be impressed with the danger they had soon to encounter. So Steele's division lay down to sleep at nine o'clock that night expecting to awake to the performance of a sanguinary duty.

During the night the fleet made a reconnoissance up the river; they attempted to work at the torpedoes, but the fog was so heavy that they could not accomplish any thing. It was also discovered that several pilots had deserted to the enemy, who would probably inform the enemy of the plan in time for him to thwart it.

These and other reasons thus delayed the execution of this perilous undertaking — a plan which, if successful, would have been one of the most brilliant and daring exploits of the present war.

General Thayer, while leading his column up the hill where the enemy had dug rifle-pits and thrown up earth-works, lost his sword. There was a fence half-way up the hill, and near the second line of works, which it was necessary for his troops to climb over. The General sheathed his sword for the purpose, and in climbing over the fence, the lower part of it was caught, which reversed the scabbard, and the sword noiselessly slipped out. He started back after other regiments in his brigade, and not having occasion to use it, he did not miss it until after the enemy had possession of the field. He regretted it very much, as it was presented to him for distinguished services in the Indian war which occurred some years ago on the frontier. Whilst our dead were being taken off the field under the flag of truce, a soldier of the Fourth Iowa discovered it, and slipped it on the platter which was being used to convey a wounded man off the field. It was restored to the General. The casualties are not as great as at first supposed. The number will not reach one thousand killed, wounded, and missing. The Fourth Iowa, in Thayer's brigade, and Thirteenth Illinois, in Blair's brigade, suffered most. In these two regiments the killed and wounded amount to near three hundred. The Fifty-eighth Ohio is said to have suffered considerably. Colonel Dresler, one of the best officers in the service, is numbered among the killed. Colonel Wyman, Thirteenth Illinois, was mortally wounded in the action of the twenty-eighth, and has since died. General Morgan L. Smith was wounded on the same day, but not seriously. He is recovering, and will be able to return to his command in a few days.

We are not in Vicksburgh yet. A change has been made in the programme. Instead of storming this formidable citadel of rebeldom, we go North. General McClernand has arrived and supersedes Sherman. Such are the mutations of military operations, that correspondents can't help but be mistaken.

The army is in excellent spirits. “Push forward the columns.”


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