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Doc. 140.-Steele's Bayou expedition.

Chicago Tribune account.

United States transport Silver Wave, Black Bayou, Miss., March 21.
on the sixteenth instant, late in the afternoon, [462] Gen. Grant ordered Gen. Stuart to prepare the infantry of his division to move at daylight next morning. Leaving transportation, horses, tents, and every thing except ammunition, arms, and rations, the division having been relieved by that of Gen. Steele, at an early hour we embarked and proceeded up the Mississippi to Eagle Bend. That the purpose of the movement may be understood, let me recapitulate prior events. A few days before our embarkation, Admiral Porter and Gen. Grant had made a personal reconnoissance of a proposed route to the Yazoo above Haines's Bluff. Seven miles from the Mississippi, Steele's Bayou empties into the Yazoo. Entering this bayou in light-draught gunboats and tugs, they explored it up to Black Bayou, about fifty miles, and some distance up the latter. Being satisfied that the route was practicable, they returned. The Admiral sent five iron-clads, and Gen. Sherman was ordered by Gen. Grant to take charge of the opening of the route. General Sherman, with the pioneer corps of Stuart's division and the Eighth Missouri, left at once with the steamer Diligent. In the evening, Gen. Grant received despatches from Admiral Porter, announcing that his gunboats were meeting with great success, and asking that the land force be sent at once. Grant immediately ordered Gen. Stuart to proceed with his division. The distance by land from the Mississippi, along the Muddy Bayou, is about one mile. On account of the impossibility of taking any thing but small steamers, of which we had but five, through Steele's Bayou, the infantry was ordered to cross by this route to the bayou. On reaching Eagle Bend, a personal examination of the ground, made by Generals Stuart and Ewing, disclosed the fact that two long bridges were necessary to the movement of troops. The levee near the plantation of Senator Gwin had been carried away by a crevasse, and the water was rushing across his fields in a rapid torrent of considerable depth. The building of the bridges, under the charge of Col. Parry, of the Forty-seventh Ohio, occupied a day and a half. Soon as it was completed, the division marched across to Steele's Bayou. Gen. Stuart at once embarked so much of the First brigade as could be transported upon the steamer Silver Wave, and started up through the wilderness of forest and water.

Between the Mississippi and the line of railway from Memphis to Jackson, the country north of the Yazoo, for some fifty miles, is traversed by three considerable streams — Steele's Bayou, Deer Creek, and the Sunflower, all of which are fed by innumerable creeks, bayous, and lakes, and empty into the Yazoo, Steele's seven miles from the Mississippi, near the scene of the battle of Chickarow Bayou, Deer Creek below, and the Sunflower above Haines's Bluff. Their course, as is that of all streams through low and level ground, is very tortuous, very like the streams in the Calumet marshes. In fact, if those marshes were covered with a thick growth of huge trees, with a thick mass of cane on the ground, you would have a perfect specimen of the country through which the Second division and the Admiral's iron-clads have passed. Transform the rice and reeds of the Calumet into the luxuriant growth of a Southern swamp, and you have a better idea of the wet wilderness in which we were, than can be written. The eastern part of Issaguena County, on Deer Creek, has higher land, and some of the most valuable cotton plantations in the State. The soil is exceedingly prolific. We found in it immense numbers of slaves, and great quantities of cotton and grain. The Admiral called it one of the granaries of the Confederacy.

It was supposed to be so inaccessible, that the plantations were in the usual process of cultivation, the fields planted with corn, instead of cotton, which was up. They believed themselves beyond the reach of the devastations of war — had their gardens well stocked with vegetables, which were growing most temptingly, and, fancying that “the invader” could not penetrate, with gunboats and armies, the lagoons and forests which surrounded them, devoted their fancied security to the raising of crops to feed their brother rebels in the field. The plantation upon which was the rendezvous of the land force, was one of five owned by a wealthy rebel, James R. Hill, of New-Orleans. It had upon it as ordinary stock, one hundred and twenty-seven slaves, and boasted the name of “Reality.” Another he called “Onward;” still another, “Good intent.” A large part of the cotton was marked “C. S.A.” The appearance of the iron-clads at “Reality” was the first notice that was had of our approach. The overseer hastily fled, giving notice of the presence of the Yankees in the garden. A contraband told us his master called the Deer Creek County the confederate snuff-box, that the Yankees could not open.

Another plantation, nine miles above them, on Deer Creek, is the celebrated “Shelby plantation” --Uncle Tom's Cabin. So the inhabitants of that and neighboring plantations understand it. The tradition of the place is identical with that of Mrs. Stowe's — how Topsy grew, was not born; Uncle Tom was the Tycoon of contrabands, and the heir of the estate bred mulattoes, and went down to the Mississippi in a dug-out to finish his education with professional river men, became a high-toned member of the chivalry, and lost his real-estate and contrabands at faro. Mrs. Stowe little thought, when she wrote her novel, that the Shelby Plantation would one day echo with cannon and musketry in a war growing out of the institution she wrote to abolish. Yet so it happened, last week.

The expedition consisted of the Louisville, Mound City, Carondelet, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh, iron-clad “turtles;” four mortar-boats, the ram Price, and mosquito Linden, and the infantry of the Second division of the Fifteenth army corps, Gen. David Stuart's, except the Fifty-fifth Illinois, and a section of Wood's battery, Lieut. Mc<*>agg; the transports Silver Wave, Diligent, Eagle, Champion, Pocahontas, and Monongahela.

Going up the Yazoo River seven miles, thence up Steele's Bayou twelve miles, the fleet came to [463] Muddy Bayou, which runs across from the Mississippi into Steele's. At this point the troops came over on floating bridges and embarked. Hence they were transported up Steele's and Black Bayou about twenty miles, to Hill's plantation, and marched thence twenty-one miles on a levee north along Deer Creek, nearly to Rolling Fork. It was proposed at that point to embark the troops again on transports and proceed on that creek a distance of seven miles, until we reached the Sunflower. Once upon the Sunflower, a stream of considerable width, we could reach the Yazoo, between Haines's Bluff and Yazoo City, and would be in a position to operate against the enemy at various points with great effect. So much for the object of the expedition and the route through which it was to pass.

General Grant and Admiral Porter, with the, Mosquito Rattler and a tug, made a reconnoissauce far enough to establish the fact that gunboats could pass from the Yazoo into Steele's Bayou. Admiral Porter immediately started with his gunboats up the bayou. General Grant ordered General Sherman, with a division of his army corps, to form the land force. Gen. Sherman started at once with a regiment — the Eighth Missouri--and the pioneer corps, to clear the bayou of obstructions — there was no delay. The reconnoissance was made on the fifteenth, Gen. Grant's tug returning the morning of the six-teenth. Before night, the advance of the land force and gunboats were at Muddy Bayou. Despatches were received by Gen. Grant that evening of the progress of the expedition, and Gen. Stuart was ordered to follow with the rest of the division in the morning. Arriving at Eagle Bend on the seventeenth, a reconnoissance in small boats, made by Gen. Stuart and his brigade commanders, and another made twenty miles above, at Tullahola, by Colonel Giles A. Smith, demonstrated that the troops could not be marched across, a crevasse having swollen the Muddy Bayou to a rapid, deep stream. The construction of two long flooded bridges occupied the eighteenth and the forenoon of the nineteenth. The division marched to Steele's Bayou at once. Arriving there we found only one transport, the Silver Wave. Embarking the Sixth Missouri and One Hundred and Sixteenth Illinois, Stuart started up at once. During the three succeeding days the boats which we had were used with all the despatch possible, in transporting the troops to the rendezvous. At the mouth of Black Bayou they were transported from the steamers to a coal-barge, which was towed by a tug up Black Bayou. In the mean time the gunboats had gone through Black Bayou into Deer Creek. The great might and strength of the iron-clads enabled them to ride over almost any ordinary growth of willow and cypress in the creek; the water was deep, and they moved slowly and surely along up Deer Creek some fifteen miles, without much labor and without any obstruction from the enemy. On the twentieth, the rebels commenced annoying them with sharp-shooters, and by felling trees in the creeks. The boats were obliged to lay by at night, and on the morning of the twenty-first, the Admiral found considerable obstructions in the river, and an enemy, some six hundred strong, with a field-battery of rifles, disputing his passage. This was near some old Indian mounds, and for the greater part of the day they were kept quite busy, making but a half-mile progress.

Large bodies were kept a good distance from the fleet, but sharp-shooters would come up behind trees and fire, taking deliberate aim at our men. The Admiral sent a despatch back to Gen. Sherman, stating the condition of affairs, and the Sixth and Eighth Missouri, and One Hundred and Sixteenth Illinois, of the First brigade, under Col. Giles A. Smith, were at once sent to the relief of the gunboats, and to assist in getting them through. They inmate a forced march, skirmishing a part of the way, and reaching the gunboats before night of the twenty-second, a distance of twenty-one miles, over a terrible road. During the day the enemy had been largely reinforced from the Yazoo, and now unmasked some five thousand men — infantry, cavalry, and artillery. The boats were surrounded with rebels, who had fallen trees before and behind them, and were moving up artillery, and making every exertion to cut off retreat and capture our boats. Col. Smith at once established a patrol for a distance of seven miles along Deer Creek, behind the boats, with a chain of sentinels outside of them, to prevent the felling of trees. Further progress was impossible. For a mile and a half, to Rolling Fork, the creek was full of obstructions. Heavy batteries were on its bank, supported by a large force. To advance was impossible; to retreat seemed almost hopeless. The gunboats had their ports all closed, and preparations all made to resist boarders. The mortar-boats were all ready for fire and explosion. Our lines were so close to each other that rebel officers wandered into our lines in the dark, and were captured. It was the second night without sleep aboard ship, and the infantry had marched twenty-one miles without rest. But the faithful force, with their energetic leader, kept successful watch and ward over the boats and their valuable artillery. At seven o'clock that morning, (the twenty-second,) Gen. Sherman received a despatch from the Admiral, by the hands of a faithful contraband, (who came along through the rebel lines in the night,) stating his perilous condition. Leaving a despatch for Gen. Stuart, who was bringing up Ewing's brigade, and orders to Stuart to follow him with the remainder of the division, General Sherman at once marched with the Second brigade, Lieut.-Colonel Rice commanding — and the Thirteenth regulars and One hundred and Thirteenth Illinois, of the First brigade. Our gunboats at that time were in a bend of the creek; the three regiments of the First brigade had been brought in and placed in position near the boats, by Col. Giles A. Smith. A rebel battery of fifteen guns was in front, at Rolling Fork. The creek was barely the width of a gunboat — the boats were so close up that only one bow-gun [464] apiece of four could be used, and then at an inconvenient angle — in fact, in only one position and the broadsides of several were useless on account of the bank. Our immense superiority of metal was thus rendered almost useless for the purpose of engaging an enemy that was endeavoring to encircle the Admiral's boats. If his rear was gained, their superior numbers could board the first or the last boat, and, having captured her, use her guns with fearful effect on the others.

About mid-day the enemy commenced moving upon us, with the purpose of reaching the bank of the creek below the gunboats and below the infantry. General Sherman was some six miles distant. The rebels are believed to have advanced with about four thousand men. It must be borne in mind that our troops were on a belt of land which forms the bank of the creek, of not great width, back of which the bottom land was under water and impassable. The rebels came down with the intention of turning his right and reaching the creek below. The gunboats and four mortars opened upon them, as soon as they discovered themselves in bodies. This firing embarrassed their movements and considerably retarded them. They debouched through the wood and became engaged with the skirmishers of the Sixth. The fight was beginning to be in earnest, but the rebels were gaining ground. The object was not a battle, but to pass by Smith. The first firing of the gunboats was heard by Gen. Sherman near the Shelby plantation. He urged his troops forward, and after an hour's hard marching the Thirteenth regulars and One Hundred and Thirteenth Illinois, who were in the advance, deployed as skirmishers, came upon a body of the enemy who had passed by the force which engaged Smith. Immediately engaging them, the enemy stood awhile disconcerted by the unexpected attack, fought a short time, and gave way. Our forces pressed them, driving them back toward Smith some two miles. The gunboats opened upon them thus hemmed in, and the day was ours. The rebels retreated, and the gunboats were saved for that day. Our loss was but one killed and none wounded. The loss of the rebels was heavy. The plantation upon which the engagement took place belonged to a Colonel Givins. He was killed, and his wife, a beautiful woman, was also killed by a shell while riding into the wood. One shell from a mortar killed twenty-six, as they were rallying as skirmishers. Another is stated to have killed and wounded forty persons. They suffered very much, but as we did not attempt to occupy the field, it cannot be ascertained. It being obvious that further advance was impracticable, the boats at once commenced moving backward, and made several miles that evening.

The next effort of the rebels was to pass around our lines in the afternoon and night, and throw their whole force still further below us. General Stuart, with four regiments of General Ewing's brigade, marched on Hill's plantation the same morning, having run his transports in the night, and immediately advanced the Fourth Virginia up Deer Creek, and another, the Fiftieth Ohio, still further to the right. The rebels, who were making a circuit about General Sherman, thus found the whole line occupied, and abandoned the attempt to cut off the gunboats for that day. During the afternoon the troops and gunboats all arrived at Hill's plantation. Rebel scouts followed them within two miles of the division headquarters. During the night the Thirty-seventh Ohio, Colonel Lieber, which was on picket about one half-mile out, was attacked by a squadron of cavalry. It immediately, upon the return of their fire, fell back. In the afternoon of the next day, the Eighty-third Indiana, Col. Spooner, going out to relieve the Thirty-ninth, was attacked by three regiments of infantry and a squadron of cavalry. Acting under instructions to draw them on, and to develop their whole force, Col. Spooner skirmished with them, but they refused to follow. The Eighty-third lost one man killed. The enemy landed a steamer and two flatboats loaded with troops and artillery, about six miles above, the night before. We remained two days at Hill's plantation, waiting for the rebels to prepare. But they would not give or receive battle. We embarked on the transports and gunboats, and returned. The troops, gunboats, ammunition, and supplies, with a considerable quantity of cotton and fifty good mules, are all safe, and approaching Young's Point, as I write.

There were destroyed by our troops and by the rebels at least two thousand bales of cotton, fifty thousand bushels of corn, and the gins and houses of the plantations whose owners had obstructed our progress and joined in the warfare. The resources of the country were found ample to subsist the army at Vicksburg for some length of time, and by the destruction of them we crippled the enemy so far.

There were features about this expedition novel and exciting.

Back Bayou, a narrow stream heretofore only navigated by dug-outs, was made of the width of our steamers, with great labor of felling trees and sawing stumps below the surface. Every foot of our way was cut and torn through a dense forest, never before traversed by steamers. I never witnessed a more exciting and picturesque scene than the transportation of the Third brigade, by Gen. Stuart, the last day. Crowded with men, the steamer, at the highest possible speed, pushed through overhanging trees and around short curves. Sometimes wedged fast between trees, then sailing along smoothly, a huge cypress would reach out an arm and sweep the whole length of the boats, tearing guards and chimneys from the decks. The last trip through the Black Bayou was in a night pitchy dark and rainy.

While the adventure was of uncertain success — when the result seemed almost accomplished, and when our gunboats were surrounded with an enemy confident of victory, and their extrication seemed almost an impossibility — officers and men worked with equal alacrity, whether in building bridges or making forced marches, both by [465] day and in the night. The whole time was used in labor-constant and severe. It seems almost a miracle that the boats were saved. If Colonel Giles A. Smith had not arrived at the time he did, their safety would have been hopeless — if Generals Sherman and Stuart, by their utmost exertions and labor, had forwarded their troops a single half-day later — if the second forced march of Col. Rice, under Gen. Sherman, had been retarded a single hour, in all human probability not only our navy, but the first small force, under Smith, would have been lost. The simple truth is, that the gunboats were saved by Stuart's division. The traditionary jealousy between the army and navy at this point is, to a great extent, removed. There is no dispute or doubt in relation to the services performed by the soldiers of the line.

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