Chapter 26: siege of Vicksburg.
- Loss of the Queen of the West, after running the Vicksburg batteries and destroying a great deal of the enemy's property.
-- running of the batteries by the iron-clad Indianola.
-- combat between the Indianola and Confederate flotilla, consisting of the Webb, Queen of the West and two armed transports.
-- capture of the Indianola by the Confederates.
-- an account written by her commanding officer Lieut.-Commander George Brown.
-- attempt to cut a canal to Lake Providence.
-- Yazoo Pass expedition by gunboats and transports.
-- engagement with Fort Pemberton on the Tallahatchie River, etc.
The siege of Vicksburg
may be said to have commenced January 26th, 1862, on which day the Army was landed at Young's Point
, seven miles above Vickburg, and at Milliken's Bend
, two or three miles above Young's Point
This was rather a desperate movement, but there was no other alternative.
first came down with the gunboats in company, he did not start out with the idea that he was to undertake a siege, but that Vicksburg
was to be taken by an unexpected attack.
Time was an important factor in this expedition, and that could not be lost by delaying for the purpose of collecting siege tools, etc. Therefore, when the Union Army
landed above Vicksburg
, it was deficient in all the many appliances for undertaking a siege.
They had but four siege guns, and three were supplied by the Navy.
Their position opposite Vicksburg
was such a poor one that a sudden rise of water would have drowned them out; and, worst of all, they had a leader in whom not an officer of the expedition could put any confidence.
had come to supersede Sherman
in the Yazoo River
just after the troops had fallen back to the transports, and he had accompanied the Army to Arkansas
Post, but with the express understanding with Admiral Porter
that he would not interfere with General Sherman
This he refrained from doing until the enemy was beaten, and at that moment he assumed command and made all the reports himself.
There were splendid generals in that Army, all men of the highest military acquirements, such as Sherman
, who now saw placed at their head an officer who had not only no qualifications for managing an Army of such a size, but had not the necessary knowledge to be the leader of anything more than a division under another general.
These and many other considerations induced General Grant
to take the command of the Army at Vicksburg
He had become convinced that the siege would be a long one.
and made his preparations accordingly.
Hearrived in person at Young's Point
on the 29th of January, 1863, and assumed command of the Army on the 30th.
McClernand at once protested against this arrangement, but in vain, and thereafter was simply a divisional commander.
At this time the naval force at Vicksburg
consisted of the following vessels: Benton
, De Kalb
, Mound City
, and Chillicothe
, iron-clads; Rattler
. Forest Rose
, and Marmora
, light-draughts; the Taylor
and Black Hawk
, wooden armed steamers; Queen of the West
, and Lioness
, rams; During the following month the Lafayette
, iron-clads, joined the fleet.
The carpenter shops, machine shops, provision boats, ordnance department, hospital, etc., (all on large steamers) were ordered to the mouth of the Yazoo
; also ten of the mortar boats which had been used by Foote
at Island No.10
and Fort Pillow
Besides these, there were a number of “tin-clads” with light batteries stationed all along the river from Cairo
, each vessel having its beat.
In this manner the Army transports were conveyed from one station to another, and the gun-boats performed this duty so efficiently that during the whole siege of seven months, the transportation of troops and stores was not interrupted.
The guerillas along the bank were so handled by these small vessels, and so summarily dealt with, that they soon withdrew to other parts.
soon saw that Vicksburg
could not be taken by the Army sitting down and looking at it from Young's Point
The wide and swift running Mississippi
was between them.
No force could land in front of the city with its long line of heavy batteries on the hills and at the water front, with 42,000 men in garrison under a very clever general (Pemberton
), and Gen. J. E. Johnston
with 40,000 more troops at Jackson
(the capital of Mississippi
), within easy distance of the besieged — if those may be so called who had ten times as much freedom and a hundred times more dry land to travel about on, than the besiegers.
There was no use attempting to attack the place on either flank.
The attempt had been made by Sherman
at Chickasaw Bayou
without effect, and since then that point had been made doubly secure against invasion.
The Federal Army could not cross the river below the town.
for there were no transports on that side of the batteries, and it was then thought impossible to pass them.
at one time received orders to march up to Vicksburg
and assist Grant
, and so envelop the city, but for some reason this movement was delayed from time to time, and the latter had to depend upon his own resources.
and Port Hudson
were both receiving large supplies via
the Red River
, and the first step necessary to be taken was to send a vessel (or vessels) to establish a blockade.
This, it was thought, would hasten the evacuation of Port Hudson
, and thus leave Banks
at liberty to ascend the Mississippi
On the 3d of February, 1863, the ram, Queen of the West
, Colonel Charles R. Ellet
, was selected to perform the perilous duty of running the batteries and carrying out Admiral Porter
was a gallant young fellow, full of dash and enterprise, and was delighted with this opportunity to distinguish himself; and, although his vessel was a very frail one for such an enterprise, he did not hesitate to accept the risk when this duty was proposed to him.
The admiral depended a great deal on the darkness of the night to shield the vesel during the passage, and gave his orders accordingly.
The Queen of the West
started on her mission after midnight, but owing to the bad position of the wheel for manoeuvering, Ellet
stopped on his way to shift it to a point from which he thought he could manoeuvre his vessel better, and lost so much time by the operation that the advantages of the darkness were lost.
It was nearly daylight when he reached the first
Ellet's stern wheel “ram.”
battery, which he passed at full speed.
The alarm gun was fired from the fort and in an instant the gunners of the lower batteries were at their posts, and when the Queen
arrived abreast of the city battery after battery opened upon her. As it was supposed that Colonel Ellet
would pass during the night-time, he had been ordered to ram a large steamer (the Vicksburg
) lying at the levee, and also to throw lighted tow balls on board of her to set her on fire.
This could have been easily done at night, but it was almost certain destruction to attempt it in the day-time, but the gallant young fellow determined to carry out his orders at all hazards, rammed the vessel as directed and endeavored to set her on fire, but by this time the enemy's shot were rattling about him, and the current carrying him past the steamer, he was obliged to speed on.
This being the first vessel to run their batteries the Confederate
nervous and did not at first get the proper range and many a screaming rifle shell went over Ellet's head, and passed harmlessly by. The steamer at the levee burst into flames but they were afterwards extinguished by the Confederates
The Queen of the West
had been well packed with cotton-bales to make her shot proof, but it did not make her shell proof, for at the moment she struck the Vicksburg
and became stationary a shell from the enemy exploded in a cotton bale and in a moment the vessel was all ablaze.
The flames spread rapidly and the dense smoke suffocated the engineers in the engineroom — so all attempts to ram the Vicksburg
again were given up and the Queen
turned her head down stream.
Every one was set to work to extinguish the fire, which was done by cutting away the barricades and throwing the cotton overboard.
The enemy of course were not idle but continued to pour their shot and shells into the Mississippi
River without stint.
was struck twelve times.
twice just above the water line.
reached Red River
and committed great havoc along the shore.
He had been ordered to sink or destroy all steamers he might capture, and to blockade the river so closely that no provisions could get to Port Hudson
Almost immediately on his arrival he captured and burned three large steamers loaded with army stores for Port Hudson
. Five army officers were also captured.
then proceeded ten miles up the Red River
where the enemy were known to have had a number of fine steamers engaged as army transports — but they all fled on hearing that a Federal gun-boat was approaching.
got out of coal and took advantage of this panic to run up to Warrenton
just below Vicksburg
, to obtain a fresh supply and report progress.
He was again sent off to burn, sink and destroy or capture, and did good execution.
He captured two steamers loaded with army stores for Port Hudson
, and destroyed a wagon train returning from Shreveport
: then the Queen of the West
started up Red River
but a treacherous pilot grounded her under the guns of a fort; the enemy opened upon her with four 32 pounders, every shot from which, struck her and killed or wounded many of the crew.
At length a shot cut the steam pipe and the scalding steam amidst the wounded and dying made a never-to-be-forgotten scene.
Every one who was able to do so jumped overboard to escape being scalded, and Ellet
with what was left of his crew floated down the river on cotton-bales until he fell in with one of his prizes, the New Era
, when all got on board and made their escape up to the Federal
landing below Vicksburg
The Confederates soon repaired the Queen of the West
, manned her with a good crew of sharpshooters, and sent her in company with the Webb
, (another powerful ram) in pursuit of the New Era
The Queen of the West
had been so successful it was determined (to make matters doubly sure) to send down all ironclad, and the Indianola
, with a bow battery of two 11-inch guns, was prepared to pass the batteries at night.
She was commanded by Lieutenant-Commander George Brown
, an officer whose gallantry and prudence had been well established.
She carried a coal-barge on each side of her with orders to cut them adrift if she should meet the Webb
, and every precaution was taken to prevent her being captured in case she got into an action.
She passed the batteries in safety, but a few days after her departure two of her crew appeared and stated that she had fallen in with the rams Queen of the West
, in company; that she had been rammed six times and being in a sinking condition had surrendered.
This was a great disappointment to the admiral and General Grant
, but she was blown up next night by a Yankee ruse, and the Confederates
did not benefit by her capture.
In justice to Lieutenant-Commander Brown
, his account of this affair is inserted.
It will show the kind of fighting that took place on the Mississippi
, and the desperate character of the foe the Federals
had to contend with.
Other means had now to be invented to get into the rear of the enemy or down the river in order to stop his supplies.
The importance of this late move cannot be estimated.
The communications between Texas
had been cut off, and the capture of so many steamers loaded with army stores for Port Hudson
had sealed the fate of that place; they could not hold out, and Bank's Army would soon be free to march upon Vicksburg
by the left shore of the river.
At this time Vicksburg
mounted seventy-five heavy guns, and possessed a number of heavy rifled field-pieces, which, being able to move about, were quite as annoying to vessels running the blockade.
The guns at Vicksburg
were so scattered about and so cunningly concealed that it was almost impossible to detect them.
A clever plan was adopted by a naval photographer to bring all the guns to light.
A large photograph of the city was taken, and that again enlarged, when by means of magnifying glasses, every gun was revealed.
They were situated in many queer places; some inside the railroad depot, one in an engine house, others screened by carts tipped up, etc., etc.; but from that time forth the Federal
mortars and rifled guns sent their missiles to the right place.
Eight mortars on rafts were kept playing on the town and enemy's works day and night, and three heavy rifled guns that could reach any part of Vicksburg
, were placed on scows to protect the mortars.
was by nature the strongest point on the river, but art had rendered it almost impregnable.
It was very certain even in the early part of February,that this was to be a long and tiresome siege, and so General Grant
A naval contingent could not do more than give protection to the Army, which was very important; but as to the vessels alone possessing the power to knock down these inaccessible forts, it was not to be thought of. If batteries should be placed on the right bank of the river, they would soon be driven out by the plunging shot and shells from the enemy.
The military engineers
had employed many expedients to render the Federal
For a distance of six miles all their heavy guns were scattered except at two points where water batteries were placed to concentrate their fire upon passing vessels.
One of these batteries mounted thirteen guns and the other eleven.
The fire of the Navy upon Vicksburg
might in time have destroyed the city and its fine public buildings, but that would have brought the Army no nearer the desired object: the possession of this stronghold and the opening of the Mississippi
When General Williams
ascended the river in company with Farragut
, with 3,000 men, he announced that this force was not sufficient to hold Vicksburg
, even if he could capture it. In which opinion he was right.
He set his troops to work to cut a canal across the isthmus, hoping to direct the waters of the Mississippi
into this cut and make the river take a new direction, by which the city would have been left out in the cold; but the plan did not work as it had done in many other cases, and when General Williams
departed he left only a dry ditch.
being anxious to get transports past Vicksburg
, determined to try the ditch again, and had dredges brought down to work on it. It was hoped that when the river rose it would cut its way through, but that wished for event did not come to pass until after the fall of Vicksburg
The enemy mounted heavy guns opposite the mouth of the canal, and prevented any work upon it.
now hit upon a new expedient — which was to deepen Lake Providence
communicated with the
(a deep stream), and the Tensas
emptied into the Washita
, and this latter into the Red River
— thus forming a beautiful system of inland navigation which if properly opened and intelligently directed would have been of great service to the country bordering on the rivers mentioned.
But it was not to be, the engineers were not successful.
Several transports were taken in, but there were miles of forest to work through and trees to be cut down.
The swift current drove the steamers against the trees and injured them so much that this plan had to be abandoned.
Then some one proposed to cut away the levee at a place called Delta
and open Yazoo Pass
This used to be the main way to Yazoo City
and to the Tallahatchie
and Yallabusha Rivers
, before the Southern railroad was built, and it had been closed up to reclaim some millions of acres of land.
It led into the Tallahatchie
, and if our Navy could succeed in getting through it, a way would be opened for the Army to get into the rear of Vicksburg
The levee was cut and the Mississippi
being on the rise the water rushed through the opening with great force, sweeping everything before it and cutting a channel 200 yards wide at the mouth.
It took several days for the water to reach its level, as it had at first a fall of nine feet.
In the mean time gun-boats were detailed and prepared for the expedition.
These vessels were the Chillicothe
, Lieutenant-Commander Foster
, the Baron DeKalb
, Lieutenant-Commander Walker
, the tinclad Rattler
(ram) and two other light draft vessels.
All were under the command of Lieutenant-Commander Watson Smith
, who had instructions to open the way to the Yazoo River
and destroy all of the enemy's means that could not be carried away.
sent an Army contingent along with the gunboats to assist in forcing the way through the obstructions.
This force was commanded by Brigadier-General Ross
To describe the difficulties which attended this expedition would be impossible and they could only be realized by those who saw them.
The pass had been closed for many years and trees had grown up in the middle of the channel which Lad become dry after the levee was built across its mouth.
Great rafts were left in this dry channel as the water ran off and bushes and vines now grew thickly around them and tied them together as with withes.
Overhanging trees joined together over the channel — and their branches were so low that steamers could not pass without having their smoke-pipes knocked down and all their boats and upper-works swept away.
The current was running swiftly, for the vessels entered the cut before the water had reached its level.
On the first day, not more than six miles was made, and this was only accomplished by all hands going to work and sawing or cutting away the obstructions.
, an Army engineer, who directed all this kind of work, was a thoughtful, energetic man, and he conducted the operations in an intelligent manner, and though the vessels did not make very rapid headway, they did wonderfully well considering the difficulties.
They all had to be carefully handled with hawsers around the bends, for the Yazoo
Pass, following the example of the mother Mississippi
, was as crooked as a ram's horn.
On the second day, the vessels were so torn to pieces that no more harm could be done to them — they had hulls and engines left and that had to suffice.
The officers and men performed a great deal of manual
labor, but no one found fault, and their jolly songs echoed turough the woods as they worked, frightening the birds out of their quiet retreats, where they had rested undisturbed for a quarter of a century.
The men were rewarded after four days of terrible labor by getting forty miles on their journey through such obstructions as they had never dreamed of. At last they arrived at the Tallahatchie
(a clear and swift running river), and the vessels forming in some kind of order, with the gunboats leading, hastened on. Much time had been lost at Helena
in getting the troops on board the transports, and the pass was not entered until the 8th of March, and not passed until the 11th; then, when everyone thought the way clear before them, they suddenly came upon a formidable fort, with a large steamer sunk in the middle of the channel to obstruct the passage of the Federal fleet.
Here was a surprise to all parties.
The Confederates did not
expect to see iron-clads in these waters, nor the Federals
to find forts where the contrabands had reported the way clear before them.
Fortunately the people in the fort had not yet removed the powder from the steamer, and the transports had time to back up the stream and take position behind the woods in a bend, and there make their preparations for attack.
, Lieutenant-Commander Foster
, and the DeKalb
. Lieutenant-Commander Walker
, took position.
side by side, tied up to the bank with bows down, and began the action with a mortar boat that had accompanied the expedition, in the rear.
At this time, unfortunately, Lieutenant-Commander Watson Smith
gave evidence of aberration of mind, and much hampered Foster
by contradictory orders which they felt bound to obey.
was temporarily disabled by having her port shutter closed by a shot from the fort, which returned the fire of the gun-boats as soon as the Confederates
got their powder from the steamer; and when they did get to work they kept up a rapid and well directed fire.
In obedience to the order of Lieutenant-Commander Smith
, the two iron-clads had to withdraw from action, and this was put down as a reconnaissance.
In the afternoon of the same day, the Chillicothe
went down and attacked the fort at close quarters, but got the worst of it. She proved herself to be a poor vessel for resisting shot.
During the afternoon fight she lost four men killed and fifteen wounded.
On the 13th, the two iron-clads again went into action, lying alongside of each other as before.
remained in action one hour and thirty-eight minutes, and then had to withdraw for want of ammunition, besides being much cut up by the enemy.
remained in position and finally silenced the Confederate battery, after losing but three killed and three wounded.
The only way this fort could be taken was by siege guns brought up close to the works; but this was not done.
The general commanding the military contingent did not consider himself strong enough to attempt anything of consequence, and after a delay of thirteen days, in which neither side did anything, the Federal
The Navy did all that was required of it on this occasion, but there was no hearty co-operation on the part of the Army.
, though well fortified and in a strong position, ought to have been taken.
This would have given the Federals
command of the Tallahatchie
and Yazoo Rivers
, and of course a clear way to the rear of Vicksburg
On the 18th of March, Lieutenant-Commander Watson Smith
, owing to aberration of mind, gave up the command of the Naval force to Lieutenant-Commander Foster
, who after trying all that could be thought of, followed the Army which had been ordered to retire from before Fort Pemberton
A great deal of cotton was taken by this expedition, but the result was a failure in the main object.
The enemy burned two large steamers loaded with cotton, or they were set on fire by the shells of the gun-boats.
The Confederates had a narrow escape here, and had it not been for the delay in embarking the troops at Helena
would have been successful.
As soon as the Confederates
discovered the object of this movement (which they did as soon as the levee was cut at Delta
) they went to work and built the two formidable forts, Pemberton
on the Tallahatchie
, and blocked the way effectually.
showed a great deal of ability in his defense of Vicksburg
, all through, and won the respect of his opponents by his zeal and fidelity to his cause, to say nothing of his spirit of endurance.
But in nothing did he show more energy than in watching the Federal
tactics, and guarding against all attempts made to turn his flanks, especially by way of the streams which would have commanded the approaches to Vicksburg
if held by an enemy.
took care that these passes should never be left unguarded in the future.
These attempts to turn his flanks sharpened his wits and set them to work in other directions to make Vicksburg
stronger than ever.
The vessels which composed the expedition through Yazoo Pass
, worked their way back by the route they had entered.
The zeal they exhibited in getting in had all left them, their vessels were much injured and their labors seemed interminable.
It was a happy day to all when they found themselves on the wide Mississippi
, which seemed to the explorers like an ocean in comparison with the small and tortuous streams over which they had been fighting their way.
The shot and shell of the enemy were nothing compared to the manual labor of soldiers and sailors in removing obstructions which to many seemed insurmountable.
Yet all alike were these difficulties to be overcome in getting into Vicksburg
, and this was only one in a number of cases where the energy and courage of our Army and Navy were taxed to the utmost.
In reading over some of the Western
papers of those days one would suppose that the two branches of the service were sitting down quietly before Vicksburg
, watching the daily performances of the besieged without making any efforts to get inside the city, while, in fact, from the general down, there was but one feeling,--a total disregard of personal comfort and a stern determination to capture Vicksburg
at any cost.
Disappointment after disappointment was met with a stern philosophy which showed that the word “fail” was not understood in that Army and Navy.
Whenever our soldiers and sailors laid aside their work for a short time to rest, it was the signal for renewed libelous newspaper attacks upon their commanders, but these articles were read by our men with the same feeling of contempt which has been felt in later times by those who have wasted life and health in saving the unity of this great country for millions yet unborn, whom, it is hoped, will feel more grateful than their forefathers.