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Chapter 39:

Dear Friend: My last letter contained details of the battle of Shiloh on the first and second day; of the first day's victory, of Albert Sydney Johnston's death; and of our reverse and retreat on the second day, before the combined armies of Buell and Grant. I also informed you that the retreat was covered by General Breckinridge, with his Kentuckians, and of the admirable manner in which he performed that difficult task. “General,” said Beauregard, riding up with his staff, “we must retreat; we cannot maintain an unequal contest against such odds of fresh troops. The command of the rear-guard is given to you. This retreat must not be a rout — if it costs your last man, it must not be so!” The army was withdrawn from the field as if in review, and Breckinridge covered the retreat so skilfully that the enemy halted, and did not pursue us more than a mile from the field. This was partly owing to their own exhausted condition; for next day the pursuit was taken up by General Pope, who captured several hundred of our sick and wounded in the timber. Many, doubtless, were like those who lagged behind in your retreat from Yorktown-men who lacked patriotism, who had enlisted from disaffected or unsound districts, had become lukewarm, and, for the sake of peace and comfort, willingly became prisoners to the numerous and well-conditioned forces of the enemy. [405]

When we reached Corinth I was glad to hear that Price, with a division of Missourians, had crossed the Mississippi, and formed a junction with Van Dorn and a few Arkansians, the trans-Mississippi campaign being considered closed for some time. Within a few days, we learned that the tremendous forces of Grant and Buell, combined under command of Halleck, were slowly advancing. It was reported that they swarmed over the country like locusts, eating or destroying every thing, carrying off property, capturing negroes, and impressing them into service.1 Driving in our pickets, they [406] had occupied the northern end of the New-Orleans and Memphis Railroad; they had also seized Memphis, sunk our little improvised fleet of gunboats there, after a noble fight, in which we inflicted considerable loss; had pushed along the Charleston and Mississippi Railroad, the west end of which they occupied; and had camped about three miles from Corinth.

This was a startling position for us truly! Our main railroad communication with Richmond, via Chattanooga, in the enemy's possession, and we obliged to travel many hundred miles round by way of Mobile, Alabama, and Georgia, to keep the communication open! As there are but two lines of railroad, both had been taxed to the utmost before this disaster. What could we do with but one, while the enemy had several outlets by land and river communication as well for advance as supplies? To add to our misfortunes, Corinth was a wretched site for a camp, utterly destitute of water, good or bad, and what little could be obtained was scooped up from the sand, or from pools fed by occasional rains. You are acquainted with the place, having camped here before going to Virginia; and you know, although there were at that time not more than ten thousand men here, the water was so bad that many gave ten cents a gallon for such as they could get from an indifferent well at the hotel. Except to keep open the railroad traffic with the South, Beauregard would not have held the place five minutes, particularly as out of thirty-five thousand men present, the heat, insufficient and bad food, wretched water, and other causes, had reduced our effective strength to about twenty-five thousand.

To these disagreeable circumstances add the fact that Halleck did not seem inclined to fight us in our breastworks, but occupied ground north of the town, which, you know, is higher than our side, and, intrenching himself there, depended on time and patience to work up till within shelling distance, and then destroy us at leisure. Notwithstanding our small force and [407] the tremendous odds against us, Beauregard put a bold face upon matters; frequently marched out and offered battle, but, to our surprise, found the enemy unwilling to leave their intrenchments, which grew larger and more numerous every day. Halleck's losses, however, must have been truly appalling; for if our own troops were discouraged, though born on the soil and accustomed to the heats, rains, sudden changes, and abominable water, what must be said of men suffering from similar causes, who were never South before in their lives, and who had been accustomed to every necessary in the field?

As long as Halleck held the railroad in our front and another on our left flank, he seemed sufficiently contented to advance slowly upon us, and having more or less completed a vast line of elaborate breastworks, began to manoeuvre on our right, so as to gain possession of the east branch of the Mobile and Columbus road; thus leaving Beauregard in possession of but one line to the South, namely, the south branch of the New-Orleans and Memphis Railroad. This intention was early perceived by Beauregard, who moved counter to the design, without weakening Corinth itself.

The labor and pertinacity of Halleck were wonderful. Having to make roads as he advanced into the interior, he employed large bodies of men, and when trenches were opened before Corinth, his army had completed several fine military roads from the Tennessee River to his immediate front. By these roads ponderous guns and immense trains of supplies were drawn from his base of operations on that river, so that for a distance of thirty miles or more, ox, horse, and mule teams were unceasingly moving by night and day, to facilitate the construction of his works. Sickness, however, greatly weakened his forces, and chills, fevers, chronic disorders, and agues, filled the hospitals. Still, his sanitary system was much superior to ours; scores of deep wells were bored, and an ample supply of water obtained for his men, while we in Corinth were almost decimated for the want of a sufficient quantity; and the surrounding country was filled by our sick men, too weak to stand, reduced to skeletons from heat and exposure.

It soon became obvious that if Halleck would not advance from his works, we should either be compelled to, retreat at no [408] distant day, or be massacred at discretion by the enemy's guns which were daily advanced nearer and nearer with apparent impunity. The Federals were sorely afraid we would retreat, as in that case their mammoth trenches and laboriously constructed roads would but ill repay them for their patience and long-suffering. This affliction, however, we could not spare them. Immense roads, as I have said, had been dug and levelled through miles of timber, unheard — of supplies of shot, shell, and mammoth mortar batteries had been brought to the front with infinite labor, and much sacrifice of life and money, when early one morning our whole army quietly decamped towards Tullahoma, and ere the mists had risen were beyond sight or hearing!

A few regiments were thrown out to our front as usual, and maintained picket-firing, but were much surprised to receive orders to fall back; they could not believe the army had left, for the movement had taken place so quietly, orderly, and unexpectedly, that it required ocular proof to convince them of the fact When the pickets retired from the front, the enemy quickly perceived it, and, though much astonished, prepared to pursue. Mortified at the failure of their designs, they followed our trail vigorously, and, owing to some miscarriage of orders, two trains of miscellaneous but not valuable baggage fell into their hands, together with several hundred sick, and a few old arms. I cannot say with absolute certainty, but believe we did not lose a single gun, caisson, or a pound of ammunition; to account for which it is necessary to add that Beauregard had been quietly withdrawing from Corinth for a space of three weeks, but so strictly had all orders been fulfilled, and so secretly, that three fourths of the army were ignorant of the fact, and would not believe it! It was true, nevertheless, and had it not been for the accidental capture of the two small baggage-trains, through wilful carelessness, this celebrated retreat would perhaps stand unrivalled in the history of warfare, as being the most secret, successful, and disastrous blow which a feeble army ever dealt to an all-powerful and confident enemy.

Your description of Johnston's retreat from Manassas leads me to believe that Beauregard was desirous of emulating your commander; the result at any rate does him infinite credit. Halleck had stored his camps with immense supplies; he had [409] destroyed hundreds of horses, wagons, mules, and carts, in the work of transportation; had prepared for a bombardment of an indefinite period; built magazines and barracks, repaired rail roads, and erected bridges, thus occupying the whole spring in preparation; and now in one moment all these plans were thwarted, and the hot season too far advanced for his troops to move a mile farther into the interior! The disappointment was equal to the loss of a battle, if not worse. As for ourselves, save a few hundred sick, and the baggage-trains already mentioned, together with two old locomotives, we lost scarcely any thing worth mentioning, and arrived at Tullahoma without adventures of any kind, save flying rumors from the rear, where General Pope was following us up, shelling the woods furiously on every hand, but never approaching within gunshot of our rear-guard. The distance was twenty miles south of Corinth, and the place selected for our stand an excellent one to protect the south branches of the Mobile and New-Orleans railroads. The season, as I have said, made it impossible for the enemy to follow, (it was the month of June,) so, finding a supply of good water, and eligible sites for fortifications, we settled down comfortably, and had no fear of consequences.

You may imagine Halleck's chagrin on discovering our retreat! as might be expected, the whole North was railing at us for running away, calling us “cowards,” for not remaining to be shelled out at discretion! Much comment, too, has been made in our army regarding this movement; it took the Confederacy by surprise; opinions differ materially, and it is said that the War Office blames Beauregard for allowing himself to be driven to any such necessity. I doubt this report, but let us reason the matter a little, though I am not aware of the opinions formed by military critics in Virginia regarding it. “First. Why did B. fall back upon Corinth and fortify it, after the defeat at Shiloh? To protect communication by the two main roads intersecting there.” “Second. Was that object accomplished, or could he have done so by remaining there? No; the fall of Memphis gave all the roads north of Corinth to the enemy; they approached and threatened B.'s left along the western branch of the Mobile and Columbus road, which was unavoidable, and were manoeuvring on his right to gain the eastern [410] section; Corinth was indefensible, and by falling back he protected the southern branches of both roads, had a better position to fortify, and the health of his troops secured.” “ Third. But why fortify and decimate his troops by remaining there, when its indefensibility was teen at a glance? To hold their large unacclimated army in check, decimate them in a much greater ratio than his own, compel them to waste their only available season fruitlessly, and gain the objects of a campaign, without shedding blood!” “Fourth. But did B. prove himself a general in allowing Halleck to approach by parallels, when he could have prevented it by counter-works? No, if Halleck had gained the object of these works; yes, because he intended to leave, and did leave them, ere the bombardment opened!” “Fifth. What then did B. gain by holding and in finally leaving Corinth? He gained time; held the enemy in check without a battle — the result being as valuable as if gained at the price of blood-and by retreating at the time he did, out-generalled the enemy, rendered them powerless to move, and saved Mississippi from the inroad of a large army, which would have followed him into the interior at an earlier season of the year, but was now unable to do so from weakened forces and the great heats.” “Did not B.'s army suffer extremely, and what was the ratio between friend and foe from the same causes? The army suffered extremely from sickness, but not mortality; while, from being unacclimated, the reverse was the case with the enemy-the ratio between us in mortality was as seven to one! The figures are from the acknowledged returns of both generals. Our extraordinary expense in holding Corinth during the spring was but trifling; Halleck's expenditure was enormous in amount.”

But to return to my narrative:

We had scarcely arrived at Tullahoma ere it was known that Farragut's fleet from New-Orleans, and Foote's from the Upper Mississippi, were approaching, to unite against the batteries at Vicksburgh — the only town which prevented the free navigation of the river by the enemy. As it was thought that a land force would cooperate with the gunboats, our brigade was sent to assist in the defence of the stronghold. Van Dorn was appointed to command the post, and did every thing in his power to place the city in a good posture for defence. [411]

Vicksburgh, situated on the east bank of the river, did good service as a depot and rendezvous for the trans-Mississippi States during the war, being the only safe crossing-place for us. Thousands of men, supplies, and materiel were continually passing to and fro-much of our provisions for the armies in the East and West being derived from Texas, parts of Louisiana, and Arkansas. In short, could the enemy silence our batteries and seize the town, all the agricultural products of the Northern and Western States would pass down unmolested to the Gulf; the enemy would gain free access to the whole river front, supply themselves abundantly with cotton, sugar, molasses, and other products, disjoin the east and west Mississippi States, and, having us fairly, on the flanks, could operate with impunity upon numberless points, divide our forces, and perhaps subjugate us piecemeal. The east bank of the river, for several miles above Vicksburgh, gradually rises higher than the common level, so that immediately above the city there are high bluffs, which command the river north and south, cover the town, and can sweep the peninsula across the stream, formed as it is by windings of the river, and subject to overflows. The Mississippi, above Vicksburgh, runs west to east, and, suddenly bending, runs north and south; so that the point of this peninsula came immediately under our guns at the bluffs, and few boats could pass or repass without receiving damage, since the stream at that point was not half a mite across, and the navigable channel immediately tinder our batteries! As will be seen at a glance, Vicksburgh was an all-important point to the enemy, who, apart from military ends, desired free navigation for their commerce; it was a vital position to us for the same reasons, independent of the fact that its occupation would end our campaigns west of the river, throw those States into the hands of the enemy, and cut us off from regular and large receipts of commissary stores.

As the enemy had swept every thing before them on the river north and south of Vicksburgh, it was considered we could make but a feeble resistance. The country around was only a cotton district, short of agricultural supplies, and connected with the interior and main army at Tullahoma by a single track of railroad, much overworked and unsound. As June advanced, and the rivers began to rise, the smoke of [412] numerous gunboats above and below the city probed that the enemy were busy reconnoitring, and slowly approaching their object. Foundries and workshops were kept busy night and day; timber was hewn on every side for breastworks, magazines, and hospitals; and, within a few days, formidable earthworks and rifle-pits were dug on every hand, the river-bank being lined with marksmen to sweep the decks should an enemy appear. The streets running parallel with, and at right angles to, the stream, were cleared of all combustible material, and orders were given for women and children to leave immediately. The former, for the most part, refused to go; many dug holes in the ground, and made them bomb-proof and comfortable, so that, if forced by the gunboats, they could seek refuge therein. The whole town was burning with patriotism, and women were more fierce, if possible, than the men.

All was prepared for the expected bombardment, yet business went on as before, to some extent, and there was nothing of that flurry and excitement visible among the people which thoughts of a cannonade might naturally create. Batteries on the bluff were manned night and day, but so concealed, it was impossible to discover the position or number of pieces. In truth, we had not more than twenty guns, and our artillerists were mere novices. They were eager for the “fun,” however, and were ably supported by some splendid troops from Louisiana, Kentucky, and Mississippi, who would “rather fight than eat.” The women seemed to have changed their feminine natures; they wished every building crushed to powder rather than give up; and if any of the Northern soldiery could have seen them, young and old, arming for the worst, and bent on mischief, it would not have given them a very pleasing idea of the reception prepared for a Federal landing! Every thing ingenuity could devise was resorted to by chivalric dames to facilitate military preparations — expense, loss, fatigue, and danger were despised, and all were in rivalry to make sacrifices for the common cause, and even stripped sheets and blankets from beds for the use of the sick. More than this: it was announced that the commandant of the town needed flannel for ammunition, and none could be obtained; in less than an hour several [413] hundred flannel petticoats were sent to him with compliments of the late wearers! Could women do more?

I was on picket duty one morning at the river bank, south of the town, when a gunboat was seen coming up round the bend, with a white flag flying, and much speculation ensued as to the cause. A boat soon landed at the wharf, and communicated with the commandant, asking for the surrender of Vicksburgh, in the name of Commodore Farragut, United States Navy. The answer was instant, “Mississippians never surrender!” and the gunboat departed. All now knew what was in store, and began cleaning arms, preparing for the combined attack of both fleets, which none could doubt would attempt to unite and destroy us. The following day, from bluffs above town and on high grounds at the mouth of the Yazoo, a few miles above Vicksburgh, we could plainly see Foote's fleet of gunboats, rams, and transports steaming down towards us, and at evening descried the smoke ascending from their funnels, while anchoring west of the peninsula before described. From the winding of the river, this peninsula faces — or, as sailors would say, “lies broadside to” --Vicksburgh, being about half a mile across; so that were it not for timber, a vessel would be in sight for twenty miles or more, ere rounding the point, and passing under the bluffs.

A day or two after an answer had been returned to Farragut, one of his iron-clads was signalled from below; and soon after appearing round the southern bend, put on steam, and advanced rapidly and boldly towards us, evidently bent on running the gauntlet of our guns, and joining Foote's fleet, snugly anchored west of the peninsula, and screened from view by the woods. Coming within distance, it was perceived she carried numerous and heavy guns, was shot proof, and had no one visible on deck! When nearing town, under full head of steam, some of her ports opened, and heads thrust out, shouted to pickets on the bank, “O, you God d-d sons of--!” and a torrent of such like compliments. They were instantly answered by a volley of small-arms, and quickly dropped the port-screens. When abreast of the city, and steaming boldly to round the point, three or four of our guns opened fire with round-shot, which plunged about the gunboat, spurting up [414] jets and columns of water around her. Still pushing forward, her helm answered readily, and when rounding the point and abreast of the bluffs, a quick succession of bright flashes glanced from her dark sides, and, amid deafening roars, the ground was ploughed up in all directions round our guns, while quick answers from our side made the water spout around her, as if a thousand whales were blowing. Thus it continued for some time, without intermission — the gunboat throwing eleven-inch shell, and our batteries vomiting roundshot. Though not disabled, it was clear the boat had been repeatedly struck; yet when rounding the point and getting out of danger, she gallantly presented her port-guns to the batteries, and, giving a parting broadside, was soon hid from view by the trees, and safely anchored with Foote's flotilla.

It was now apparent that we could do but little with the enemy's iron-clads, for our shot glanced from their sides in showers of sparks, and damaged them but slightly: so that it was deemed necessary to erect a strong battery south of the town for the better reception of other visitors. They were not long in coming, for being informed of the inefficiency or insufficiency of our batteries, several others ran past, inflicting no injury, but in many cases receiving much. The two fleets having now formed a junction, prepared to bombard the town, and by way of preliminary, to get the range, sent several dozen eleven-inch shell across the peninsula, which, save a horrible screaming noise, did little harm, more than throw up tremendous clouds of dust and sand wherever they chanced to fall. The transports of the enemy now began to assemble rapidly, until a truly formidable fleet was gathered, and all imagined them heavily freighted with troops destined to cooperate on land. Had the peninsula been less thickly timbered, our batteries could have played sad havoc among them, for the distance was not more than a mile in a direct line, yet every shell thrown by us was waste of ammunition, since the vessels were so close in shore, that it required more skill than our gunners possessed to clear the woods with nicety and drop shell among them, drawn up as they were in singles line, broadside to the beach.

But while the enemy at early dawn or in the cool of [415] evening, and even long after starlight, were amusing themselves with cannonading, Commodore Lynch and a few young naval officers were up the Yazoo River, preparing a little surprise for them. Having blockaded the passage to the enemy with immense rafts, cut in, and floated down from, extensive forests in that vast region of swamps, they commenced building a huge rough iron-clad, called the Arkansas, which was destined to sally out and drive off the enemy. The Federal commodores were fully aware of our activity up that river, and correctly informed by negroes of all our doings with the ships and craft which had taken refuge there. The Star of. the West, which attempted to reenforce Fort Sumter at the beginning of the war, had been captured by us off the Gulf Coast, and taken into New-Orleans; but when Farragut took that city, this, with some three or four other sea-vessels, and a fleet of magnificent Southern steamboats, steamed up the Mississippi, and had run far up the Yazoo River, and were then under the orders of Commodore Lynch. The enemy had detached three of, their finest gunboats from the fleet at Milliken's Bend, to watch the mouth of the Yazoo; and to be ready for any emergency, they kept up steam night and day. So much for the Yazoo at present, but I shall have more to tell you by and by.

The Federal fleet maintained a hot and vigorous cannonade upon the city at all hours, save during the intense heat of mid. day. Their troops were landed from transports, but never came within view. From scouts, who volunteered as spies, we ascertained that they had seized hundreds of negroes in that part of Louisiana, and were actually digging a canal from Milliken's Bend across the peninsula, which, it was hoped, would divert the waters of the river from its proper bed, and leave Vicksburgh Sigh and dry as an inland city! The idea was a bold one, and originated with General Pope, who, not able to pass “Island no.10” some months before, dug a canal across a small peninsula near New-Madrid, in Missouri, and got safely in the rear of the island, and captured it. The present undertaking, however, did not promise like results; for the stream was strong, and would not be diverted. Hundreds of men, both whites and blacks, sank and died under the labor of cutting this canal, before the attempt was discontinued. [416]

And still the bombardment progressed. Thousands of shell, round shot, and other missiles were hurled at our devoted city; but, strange to say, except in some half-dozen instances, I know not one house which was more than slightly injured. The enemy, on the other hand, suffered much from their very inaction. The heats of July and the fever of August told fearfully upon their unacclimated troops, cooped up in their ships amid smoke and heat, and the deathly night-vapors of the land and water. Though suffering extremely in every way, they were farther from realizing their hopes than ever. It was computed they had at anchor more than twenty gunboats playing on the city, together with a land force of several thousand men, and scores of transports and flats. Ordnance officers affirmed that they had fired more than twelve thousand eleven-inch and other shells during the month, without counting rockets' round shot, and iron bolts. For a few days they were inactive, but did not prepare to depart. They had abandoned the canal project after digging more than a mile, and negroes informed us that their wheelbarrows and tools were scattered around the peninsula, where every house was converted into an hospital. The commodores were nonplussed; and as their large fleets lay at anchor on the rippleless copper-colored river, with a cloudless sky, under the scorching sun of August, without the echo of a voice, without the motion of a leaf, or the flapping of ensigns from a breath of air, the cries of sand-cranes flying to and fro reminded one of some river of death, with hospitals for ships and spectres for crews.

But while the enemy were thus inactive, Commodore Lynch was hard at work night and day, ably assisted by young officers and citizens, fitting out the ram Arkansas in the Yazoo River. The name of this stream literally means “ River of Death,” so called by the Indians (Choctaws) from the fevers, chills, and agues, which it caused in ancient times. In a direct line north from Vicksburgh, it is not more than twelve miles distant; so that it formed an admirable protection to our right flank, and in case of attack, Paynes's Bluff, some miles from the mouth, was well fortified and mounted, while yet farther above was moored an enormous raft made of huge rough logs, and so constructed that it could be opened from above, but not below. A few miles still beyond (near Yazoo City) Commodore Lynch [417] had improvised a ship-yard, and was busy in reconstructing Various boats for river services You smile, perhaps, but let me explain, and your sarcasm may change into admiration for the indefatigable industry of those engaged there.

In the first place, although several small steam sea-vessels, and a magnificent fleet of river passenger and freight boats had escaped from New-Orleans, and were far inland, up the Yazoo, they were not safe. Naval officers knew the enemy would soon visit the mouth of the river, and accordingly they lost no time in building a raft to retard their progress, and put bounds to Federal curiosity. Many old rafts of Huge cypress logs found moored in the Yazoo and its tributaries were floated down; woodmen were busy in the timber at various places, cutting down immense trees, the sound of whose fall, crashing in the forest, was like distant thunder, so that in less than a week a raft was formed in two parts, which, he made fast, would stand “butting” from all the ‘rams’ in Lincolndom. Nor could the enemy fire it, for the timber was so green, or so perfectly saturated from months and years of exposure in the water, it might well defy all the turpentine North-Carolina could produce in a century to kindle a single stick of it. This necessary work having been speedily and well accomplished, Lynch and his officers razed one of the vessels, and began the formation of the ungainly Arkansas. Carpenters, wood-choppers, sawyers, blacksmiths, voluntarily gave a hand to expedite proceedings, an old engine was placed in her, and the work of plating commenced. But how were they to get a sufficient supply of plates, bolts, screws, and machinery, remote as they were from every source of supply, in an out-of-the-way river, far from Vicksburgh, thirty miles from the nearest railroad station, and close to a very small town, devoid of every thing but cotton and pretty women : It would puzzle me to tell how, but by superhuman exertions many things were procured, the vessel was completed, four large guns were placed aboard, and sufficient ammunition; and, lastly, plenty of volunteers were not wanting to man her, particularly as it was certain she would have terrible fighting to do ere reaching Vicksburgh, the point of destination.

When finished and ready for service, I visited her, and [418] seeing how much indifferent material had been used in the construction, concluded that she would be sent to the bottom in less than no time, when opposed to the magnificent rams and iron-clads watching for her at the mouth of the Yazoo, or drawn up in parallel lines to receive her when passing the channel of the great river. She was large, rough, strong, and ungainly-vulnerable in many places, and the top imperfectly covered; so that should a stray shell drop through the roof, her destruction was almost certain, as the magazine was somewhat exposed. Many were desirous of commanding, as it was hoped she might eclipse the doings of the old Merrimac in Hampton Roads, which sank two large frigates and damaged the Monitor; but, after a little reflection, Commodore Lynch gave her in charge of a Mississippian, late of the old naval service, whose name was Brown. This officer grumbled much at the deficiencies apparent in the craft, and particularly at the engines, which were old and of doubtful capacity.

“Do you refuse to command, sir?” ask Jed the little Commodore; “if there is any thing you object to in her, state it, and I will go myself-either you or I must command ”

“I do not object, sir,” was the quick reply. “If you take command, I only ask to be captain of a gun — for I'm bound to go in her, in one capacity or other.”

“Very well, sir,” said the Commodore, going ashore in his quiet, meek manner; “make things ship-shape immediately, and wait for orders.”

Things were soon prepared, and orders received. It was deemed advisable to keep the hour of her departure a secret, yet it became known in some way to the enemy at the mouth, who steamed off and on all the time. At night the raft was unexpectedly opened by a few midshipmen, and the Arkansas slowly and noiselessly floated several miles down the stream, and was perfectly lost in the dense fogs which fall at evening. Next morning, at daylight, steam was raised, and by keeping close to the heavily timbered banks, she cautiously proceeded; and, as the fog lifted, espied three of the enemy's finest gunboats and rams in the river, near the mouth. Two of them backed down into the Mississippi, while the largest opened fire immediately and very briskly. The Arkansas was moving [419] but slowly on account of her defective engines, but fired deliberately and with telling effect, crippling the enemy at the first broadside, who ran their magnificent craft upon the bank, and struck colors at the moment our boat was passing. Captain Brown, finding his engines to be useless, depended solely upon the stream, and could not stop to take the splendid prize, for he knew many boats would soon appear to oppose his exit from the mouth of the Yazoo; so, although using more steam than could be generated, he boldly pushed into the Mississippi, rapidly firing at the two gunboats retreating before him.

At this point of the action we could discern all that transpired from our batteries on the bluffs. As soon as the Arkansas rounded from the Yazoo, the. whole Federal fleet hoisted anchor, and formed in two lines-one each side of the channel! Frigates, rams, gunboats — all were ready to annihilate that iron-clad mass of timber slowly floating towards them. Presently an iron-clad left her position, and boldly steaming up between the lines of dark hulls, opened fire at a considerable distance. The Arkansas was silent, and nothing was seen but a rush of steam as the monster slowly entered the channel, which seemed to please her single enemy, who steamed up nearer and fired again. In an instant the bow gun of the rebel replied, smashed the boiler and machinery of the enemy-men jumped overboard, and the vessel sank immediately! This exasperated the fleet, which now opened with a terrific roar from both squadrons, until the side of the Arkansas looked like a mass of sparks floating between parallel lines of curling smoke. Few dared approach, however, and those who dared to do so received such a fearful handling that they immediately put back, and were content to fire at a distance. To us on the bluff, spectators of the scene, the slowness of the Arkansas was unaccountable, for she seemed encircled with fire and doomed to destruction ere emerging from the ordeal. “What's the matter with her?” “Why don't she clap on steam and rush through them?” “They'll sink her in three minutes ” were the remarks of all. Yet onward she came, slowly picking her way, the enemy believing she was only enticing them in her path by apparent slowness! This was not the case, however; her engines were worthless, and audacity alone was [420] carrying her through. Still fighting at long range, the Federal fleet slowly followed, and the nearer she approached the bluff the quicker the Arkansas fought, until finding her safely under our guns, the enemy gave up the chase, and amid our cheers on the bluff and a salvo of guns, the Arkansas slowly turned the Point and was moored before the city!

From the commotion visible among the enemy's vessels of all classes, the activity of small boats passing to and fro, and the succession of signals exchanged between commanders, it was evident that many of them were badly crippled, for several were towed to the banks, and run upon the sand. One vessel had sunk, several were towed away, while the vigorous working of pumps among them testified that shots had penetrated in different quarters, and that they felt infinite relief in the escape of the Arkansas. Various fragments of wreck soon floated down from the scene of conflict, which proved that chance shot had visited more than one unlucky transport; while with glasses We could perceive two powerful gunboats at the mouth of the Yazoo, which, like ants, were dragging their crippled companion out of further danger.

It was vexatious to think that all the spoil was escaping us, and we felt particularly annoyed that the gunboat which had struck her colors to the Arkansas in the Yazoo should this easily escape, for it was the finest in the fleet. It could not be helped, however, and when the truth became known, regarding the utter failure of our engines, and the danger to which the Arkansas had been exposed during her passage, we could only feel surprise that she had done so well and inflicted so much loss upon the enemy; had the fleets known the true cause of her slow progress, not a fragment of her would ever have floated down so majestically and triumphantly.

Towards evening, many of the enemy's transports moved up the river, and preparations were made on board the gunboats which seemed to indicate that powder and ball were intended for us in earnest. As night closed in, none expected an engagement of any kind, but alarm-guns warned the garrison to be on the alert, when, sooner than expected, several vessels appeared before our upper batteries, and the engagement opened with great fury. While the bluff batteries were contending [421] with most of the fleet, several of Farragut's squadron ran past, and opened with an awful roar upon the-Arkansas, lying broadside to shore; while several boats from below engaged our guns south of the town. Although the night was quite dark, so frequent and rapid were the flashes of the guns on both sides that every thing was distinctly visible. The noise was astounding. The bluff batteries above, and south batteries below, the town, seemed all on fire, while the Arkansas, engaged with several heavy gunboats and frigates, was rocking from the immense weight of metal hurled at her every moment; but as she was bound fast to shore, and the enemy could not remain stationary in the stream, their vessels slowly drifted past towards the lower batteries.

For a long time this unearthly noise was maintained on both sides, and it was once supposed that Farragut's boats would grapple with the Arkansas and take her; but such was her steady and destructive fire, that they slunk off in the darkness to longer distance, and never seemed inclined to try it again. The woods facing Vicksburgh were literally blown down by chance shots from our side, while the river was all afoam with hundreds of water-columns rising and falling every minute from the same cause. It is more than probable that if our batteries had not concentrated their fire upon the enemy engaged with our solitary iron-clad, it would have fallen into their hands; but such a shower of shot and shell assailed them from three points, and so incessant was the storm of small-shot poured into their ports and decks, that it was impossible for a human being to appear without instant loss of life. After a fierce and obstinate engagement, the enemy's boats escaped down the river in a crippled condition, while the upper fleet moved up-stream with great expedition amid the prolonged and enthusiastic cheering of our garrison and citizens, who lined the works, making night hideous with their wild and defiant shrieks.

Thus ended the first bombardment of Vicksburgh. I am sorry to say that not less than four or five of our men were killed and some half-dozen wounded onboard the gallant ironclad, most of them receiving injuries in the night attack of the enemy's gunboats. Beyond these casualties I hear of none [422] whatever throughout the garrison. All are in the highest spirits, and desirous of meeting the enemy again at any time and in any number. Yours always, ...

P. S.-I open this to say that our cavalry and a light battery far up the river have succeeded in capturing the Federal despatch-boat, and destroyed it, after securing all the letters and despatches of the fleet. I glean this from Headquarters; the telegram came an hour ago. Van Dorn says the enemy admit a great loss among them from various causes, and are afraid the Arkansas may run down to New-Orleans and play havoc among them there I Four gunboats are disabled, two sunk, and several others require expensive repairs. More anon.


1 As a specimen of the behavior of Federal troops in the West and South, I subjoin the following from their own organs: The Louisville (Kentucky) Democrat, which for safety was printed over the Ohio River at New-Albany, thus speaks of their soldiery in Athens, Alabama: “General Turchin said to his soldiers that he would shut his eyes for two hours, and let them loose upon the town and citizens of Athens — the very same citizens who, when all the rest of the State was disloyal, nailed the national colors to the highest pinnacle of their court-house cupola. These citizens, to a wonderful degree true to their allegiance, had their houses and stores broken open, and robbed of every thing valuable; and, what was too unwieldy to be transported easily, was broken or ruined. Safes were forced open, and rifled of thousands of dollars; wives and mothers were insulted, and husbands and fathers arrested if they dared to murmur; horses and negroes taken in large numbers; ladies were robbed of all their wearing apparel, except what they had on; in fine, every outrage was committed, and every excess indulged in that was ever heard of by the most savage and brutal soldiery towards a defenceless and alarmed population. All this was done by those who pretend to represent the United States Government. .... I know similar acts disgraced the same brigade when we occupied Bowling Green, (Kentucky,) but the matter was hushed up to save the credit of our army, hoping it would never occur again.”

The St. Louis (Missouri) Republican, a Federal journal, and the most responsible organ in the West, says: “In Monroe County, Missouri, near the Salt River railway bridge, as Mr. Lasley and family were returning from church, together with a party of young ladies and gentlemen, who were visiting them at their countryhouse, they found their dwelling and grounds occupied by Federal troops, who had been stationed at the bridge. Suspecting no harm, though finding the grounds guarded, they advanced towards their residence, when Mr. Lasley was ordered to get down and go to Palmyra. He replied, that they must permit him to enter the house, and get a thicker coat, as he would be absent all night. This was not allowed; but they placed him and James Price (young son of a poor widow) and young Ridgeway (only son of aged parents) in front of the Federal lines. They were then insulted grossly by the officer commanding, without explanation of any kind; and Mrs. Lasley, thinking they were going to be shot, rushed towards her husband; but Mr. Lasley and young Price fell dead at the one moment, and from the same volley. Young Ridgeway ran to the woods, but was pursued and shot. Mr. Lasley and young Ridgeway had both taken the oath of allegiance, and were under heavy bonds. Before this crime was committed the soldiery had taken possession of Mr. Lasley's house, and helped themselves to every thing they needed, had forced the old cook to prepare dinner for them, and destroyed many articles of furniture, etc.” These are but mild instances of what the Federal soldiery have done, in various places, to harmless citizens.

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