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Chapter 23:


It must not be forgotten that General Beauregard, in his conference with General Polk, a few days after his arrival at Jackson, Tennessee, suggested and even urged the evacuation of Columbus at the earliest moment practicable; that is to say, as soon as Madrid Bend, Island No.10, and New Madrid could be fortified and sufficiently prepared for temporary occupation; the object being to give time for the completion of the work of armament then going on at Fort Pillow, fifty-nine miles above Memphis, which was [353] represented to be a strong natural position, but in a more unfinished state than any other around Madrid Bend. Some fieldworks were also in process of construction at the points above named, though little progress had yet been made upon them, as was represented to General Beauregard by his Chief-Engineer, Captain Harris.

The reader is referred to the several chapters preceding the account of the battle of Shiloh,1 wherein many of the arrangements made by General Beauregard with regard to Columbus, and for the defence of New Madrid, Island No.10, and Madrid Bend, including the incidents connected therewith, are mentioned at length, and carefully reviewed in the order of their actual occurrence. We allude to the memorandum of February 7th, prepared at Bowling Green by General Beauregard, exhibiting the general plans of operations adopted by General A. S. Johnston at that time;2 to General Beauregard's letter to General Johnston, dated February 12th, 1862;3 to the telegram of the Secretary of War, dated February 19th, authorizing the evacuation of Columbus, as suggested by General Beauregard;4 to the latter's communication of February 21st to General Cooper;5 to his circular of same date to the governors of Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana;6 and also to his letter of February 23d to Lieutenant-General Polk.7 These papers, documents, and outside details give an outline of the dispositions General Beauregard considered it judicious to make for the security of the defensive works on the Mississippi River. They show that although his attention was engrossed by the movements of concentration which he was then preparing, he could, nevertheless, spare time and thought for distant points, foreseeing what the probable plans of the enemy would be, and suggesting the means necessary to defeat them.

It had been agreed between Generals Beauregard and Polk that Brigadier-General McCown, with some seven thousand men, should be sent to the positions about Madrid Bend as soon as the works in process of construction there should have reached a sufficient state of completion to be properly armed and manned. The surplus ammunition removed from Columbus was to be sent to [354] Fort Pillow, and also the surplus guns, which were to be mounted with the greatest possible celerity.

General McCown, according to a telegram forwarded to that effect, repaired to Jackson, Tennessee, to receive personal instructions from General Beauregard. He was accompanied by General Trudeau, of Louisiana, acting Chief of Artillery on General Polk's staff. The line of conduct to be adopted and the mode and manner of defence were minutely traced out for him. He was told by General Beauregard that he must not count upon reinforcements, for all available troops were now being collected in or about western Tennessee, to oppose the Federals, should they attempt to cross the Tennessee River; that he must therefore make up his mind to do his utmost with the troops he would take with him; that he would find two regiments at New Madrid, under Colonel Gantt, and possibly two others, under Colonel L. M. Walker, at Fort Pillow. As an additional assistance, Captain Harris, Chief-Engineer, was to be put in charge of the construction of all the field-works required, under specific verbal and written instructions from General Beauregard. This was a system adopted and invariably followed by him throughout the course of the war. He knew that subordinate commanders, however able in other respects, could not, with justice, be expected to possess a thorough knowledge of engineering.

General McCown inspected the river defences at and about Madrid Bend on the 25th of February, when, on his application, Colonel L. M. Walker, with his two regiments from Fort Pillow, was ordered to reinforce Colonel Gantt, at New Madrid. Shortly afterwards General McCown's own troops arrived from Columbus, at Island No.10, and at Madrid Bend, where he established his headquarters. He was followed, on the 1st of March, by Stewart's brigade, which was sent to reinforce the troops at New Madrid, where General Stewart, being the senior officer at that point, assumed command of the post under General McCown, who ranked him. Commodore Hollins, C. S. N., with eight river gunboats, which General Beauregard had obtained from New Orleans, soon came up with his fleet to assist in the defence of the upper Mississippi, until Fort Pillow, with the obstructions then in process of construction somewhat higher up, could be made strong enough to prevent the Federal gunboats and transports from passing down the river. Thus, in the early part of March, General [355] McCown's forces at New Madrid were increased to six regiments of infantry, and a few companies of heavy artillery, in two fieldworks, one of which—Fort Thompson, a bastioned redoubt, south of the town—had fourteen heavy guns, while the other—Fort Bankhead, a battery north of the town—was armed with seven heavy guns. He also had a field battery, originally of six guns, afterwards of seven. The two works were more or less connected by rifle-pits.

The river was high at that season of the year, and the eight Confederate gunboats, under Commodore Hollins, could easily rake the approaches to the above-named forts.8

On or about the 12th of March, General McCown's forces, exclusive of the gunboats—which were not under his orders, but had come to co-operate with him—consisted of twelve regiments and one battalion of infantry, five field-batteries of six pieces each, and three companies of cavalry; added to which was the equivalent of one regiment of heavy (foot) artillery, making an aggregate of about eight thousand five hundred men of all arms.

His opponent, Major-General Pope, who had left Commerce, on the Mississippi, above Columbus, Kentucky, on the 28th of February, arrived in front of New Madrid on the morning of the 3d of March. His force numbered five small infantry divisions, with one light battery to each, besides nine companies organized into a division of light artillery; about three regiments of cavalry, and two of infantry acting as engineer troops — in all, some twenty-five thousand men.

General Pope had no sooner ascertained the nature and armament of the Confederate works in his front than he sent for and obtained, from Cairo, with great labor and difficulty, three rifled 24-pounders and one 8-inch howitzer, which were all the siegeguns he could bring to his assistance.

On March 5th he detached Colonel Plummer, from near New Madrid, with three regiments of infantry, four light rifled pieces of artillery, two companies of cavalry, and one of engineer troops, to act as an outpost at Point Pleasant, some ten miles below New Madrid, and to attempt, with their rifled field-pieces, to stop the passage of transports up and down the river. By morning of the 7th the enemy's four guns were in position, in separate sunken [356] batteries, along the river bank, connected together by rifle-pits; and so accurate was the fire of the sharpshooters there stationed that the gunners on the Confederate gunboats could no longer keep their posts. This compelled the fleet to retire, and the transports to stop at Tiptonville, some eight miles farther down the river.

General McCown must have considered himself in a critical condition from the very outset, for on the 6th General Beauregard received from him the following telegram:

New Madrid, March 5th, 1862, Via Memphis, March 6th.
General Beauregard:
The force in my front is, say fifteen thousand; between here and Sykeston fifteen thousand, and large number of guns. Sigel is marching on Point Pleasant with ten thousand. My position is eminently dangerous.

J. P. Mccown, Comdg. New Madrid.

This somewhat alarmed General Beauregard, although he could not well believe that the forces under General Pope amounted to more than twenty or twenty-five thousand men; and he had good reason to know that General Sigel was then operating in southwestern Missouri, against Van Dorn's army. It was clear to him, however, that he could not place much reliance in a subordinate commander who was thus timorous under responsibility, and who apparently gave way to nervous apprehension as to the strength of his adversary. This was another and still stronger proof of the absolute need of trustworthy commanders in General Beauregard's military district. Acting under that impression, he, on the same day, telegraphed General Cooper as follows:

Jackson, Tenn., March 6th, 1862.
For the sake of our cause and country, send at once Mackall as Major-General, and three brigadier-generals recommended by me. Colonel Ransom to command cavalry. Organization here much needed.

On the 9th came another despatch from General McCown, dated the day previous. In it he said that he had not yet placed the salient ordered by General Beauregard, in advance of the works, as the position it was to occupy would be raked by our gunboats, and that he had no force to place there; that he would erect it as soon as possible. [This, however, he never did.] In the same telegram, which was a long one, he also said:

The least estimate of the force of the enemy on Madrid plain is thirty [357] thousand, with sixty guns. . . . How long can I hold New Madrid with my small force against such odds, is a question. I believe the enemy will soon be fifty thousand strong. . . . I am determined to hold my position at every hazard. Shall engage in no field risks; I see my danger; my men are confident and in good spirit.

This communication aroused the greatest apprehension in General Beauregard's mind, as it confirmed his belief in General Mc-Cown's exaggerated fears of the dangers threatening his position. Clearly, Napoleon's axiom—‘Confidence is half the battle’—was not known to the commander at Madrid Bend. General Beauregard began to think it would be necessary to send a steadier officer to relieve him. Having but recently arrived in that military district, however, the direct command of which he had assumed only four days previously,9 and being, as yet, unacquainted with the subordinate commanders serving there, General Beauregard, who, on the other hand, was still awaiting the arrival of the officers so urgently asked10 of the War Department, concluded to await further developments before taking final action in the matter. He did not doubt the personal bravery of General McCown, though his timorousness as a commander and fear of responsibility were most apparent. He therefore wrote him an earnest letter of encouragement, of which the closing words were: ‘The country expects us all to do our duty with a fearless heart, and we must do it or die in the attempt.’11

Columbus had been successfully evacuated. Part of its troops and most of its guns and other armament had been transferred to the different defences about Madrid Bend, the enemy offering no interference to delay the movement. There was additional cause of gratification in the fact that the governors of the southwestern States had all favorably answered General Beauregard's call on them, through his circular of February 21st. We need not repeat what we have already written about his efforts to organize and concentrate an army under the most trying circumstances, and the noteworthy manner in which it was effected.12

The real attack on New Madrid commenced March 12th, but [358] the four siege-guns of the Federals were not in position, nor were their batteries completed, until 3 A. M. on the 13th. The firing opened at daybreak and ended at dusk, with very little injury on either side; yet, that very evening, after a defence of less than twelve hours, General McCown, although the vital importance of holding his post to the last extremity had been repeatedly impressed upon him by General Beauregard, held an informal conference with Commodore Hollins, on board the latter's flagship, at which General Stewart only was present, and it was agreed that the forts must be immediately evacuated. This was done during the night of the 13th, in a heavy rain storm, and in a manner far from creditable to the general commanding. The evacuation was conducted with so much confusion indeed as almost to amount to a stampede. The Confederate forces there engaged numbered some three thousand five hundred men of all arms, with twentyone heavy guns, and two light batteries of six pieces, opposed to which were only four siege-guns, as we have already stated. All our artillery, except the guns of one of the two light batteries, together with ammunition, animals, and stores, were left in the hands of the enemy. Not one of General Beauregard's important instructions had been carried out. This was the poorest defence made of any fortified post during the whole course of the war; and the responsibility for the disasters it entailed must necessarily rest on the immediate commander and not on the troops; for they were formed of the same material as those who manned and made glorious the defences of Island No.10, Fort Pillow, Vicksburg, Charleston Harbor, Petersburg, Fort Fisher, and Spanish Fort.

The hasty and unnecessary evacuation of New Madrid destroyed the little confidence General Beauregard had felt in the commander of that sub-district. It is but fair to add that the enemy had displayed activity, enterprise, and determination in his attack upon the Confederate works, though, as appears from the Federal reports, no such easy victory had been anticipated.

General Beauregard now concluded to apply at once for Brigadier-General W. W. Mackall, then Chief of Staff to General A. S. Johnston, whose promotion he had long been urging, and who, he knew, would have fulfilled all his expectations, had it been possible sooner to secure his services.

General Johnston sustained the application, but could not spare [359] Brigadier-General Mackall, until his own and General Beauregard's forces were united at Corinth, which only occurred on March 27th. The hurried course of events and consequent dangerous outlook on the Mississippi, from and after the 14th of March, rendered it doubtful whether it was not too late, on the 31st, when General Mackall assumed command, to accomplish any good result, or provide for the emergencies of the situation. At his last interview with General Beauregard before entering upon his new duties, and in answer to the remark that he would probably command only a forlorn hope, but that the fate of the Mississippi Valley depended, just then, on the possession of Island No.10 and the surrounding works, if only for twelve days more, he, true soldier as he was, said: ‘The post of danger is the post of honor. I will do my duty to the best of my ability, and, I hope, to the satisfaction of the country and of yourself.’

It has already been shown, in Chapter XVIII., how the garrison of New Madrid was transferred to the opposite bank of the river, and how a portion of it was sent to reinforce the troops supporting the works at and about Island No.10.

General McCown, having succeeded in reaching Fort Pillow with a portion of his forces, was authorized by General Polk to assume command there; but General Beauregard, though approving the main dispositions taken for the defence of Madrid Bend and Island No.10, insisted upon General McCown's return to his former headquarters, to resume the direction of operations; which he did, on the 21st, leaving General A. P. Stewart, a good artillery officer, in charge of the fort and its immediate surroundings.

The abandonment of New Madrid insured the fall, ere long, of Island No.10, and, therefore, of Madrid Bend. Hence General Beauregard's immediate order to send at once all unmounted guns, surplus supplies, and boats to Fort Pillow—thus reducing to a minimum the forces necessary to hold those two now much endangered posts.13 His order was first delayed on account of an earnest appeal made to him by General McCown, but was renewed and carried out on the 18th, the need being absolute for a garrison at Fort Pillow, and no other troops being then available. The force thus transferred thither consisted of five regiments of infantry, two light batteries of six guns each, and Captain Neely's [360] squadron of cavalry, which was soon to follow; leaving, under General Walker, for the defence of Island No.10 and Madrid Bend, some companies of heavy artillery, forming about the equivalent of a regiment; seven regiments and one battalion of infantry; one company of Stewart's light battery, with six guns; and two companies of Mississippi cavalry—an aggregate of about four thousand four hundred men.

General McCown's telegrams to General Beauregard now again exhibited the same anxiety and discouragement so discernible in those previously forwarded; and such continued to be his course, until he was finally relieved by General Mackall, on the 31st, as already explained. He was sent to Memphis, out of command, and ordered to write the report of his operations, especially such as referred to the evacuation of New Madrid.

After a stout and soldierly resistance at Island No.10, our troops displaying the unflinching spirit that distinguished them during the war, the work at last succumbed on the 7th of April, and surrendered to the Federal fleet, under Commodore A. H2. Foote, two or three hours after the retreat of the Confederate forces from Shiloh had been ordered. The shattered condition of the works proved to what extremity their defenders had been reduced. A Federal writer says: ‘The earth is ploughed and furrowed as with an earthquake. Small caverns were excavated by the tremendous explosions,’14 etc. And General Force, a fair narrator of this period of the war, speaking of the first or second day of the bombardment (what must it not have been on the last!), uses this language: ‘Thirteen-inch shells exploding in the ground made caverns in the soil. Water stood on the ground within, and the artillerists waded in mud and water.’15 Lieutenant-Colonel Cook, of the 12th Arkansas, had been placed in command of the Island on the morning of the 7th, by order of General Mackall. Having had news, on the evening of that day, that General Pope's forces had effected a landing on the east bank of the river, and that the Confederate troops had already fallen back, he ordered and effected the evacuation of the work, leaving it in charge of Captain Hawes, of the artillery. Colonel Cook, that night, retreated with his regiment (about four hundred men) along the [361] western shore of Reelfoot Lake, until he reached a ferry landing, near Tiptonville, where General Beauregard had had collected, through the activity and energy of Colonel Pickett, commanding at Union City, quite a number of canoes, skiffs, and other small boats, for such an emergency. With these Colonel Cook succeeded in saving, not only his own command, but several hundred stragglers who had gathered there during the night. Meanwhile, towards midnight on the 7th, General Pope's entire army had crossed the river and was advancing on Tiptonville, General Paine's division leading the march. With such overwhelming odds against him, General Mackall was compelled to surrender with his small force, aggregating about three thousand men. It follows, as a matter of course, that General Pope's official report of the number of Confederate prisoners taken on that occasion, namely, ‘six thousand seven hundred,’ was a greatly exaggerated statement.

The enemy had now full control of the river as far down as Fort Pillow, one hundred and ten miles below Island No.10.

That fort, contrary to the general opinion about it, was not so strong as its natural position indicated, nor as it had been represented to be to General Beauregard. It was situated on the east bank of the river, near the mouth of Coal Creek, and some ten miles above the Hatchie River. A little over three miles east of it, the two streams just mentioned, with their banks partially overflowed and, therefore, almost impracticable, came within a mile and a half of each other. Yet the engineers who planned the works before General Beauregard's arrival in the West had not availed themselves of this natural advantage, and, strangely enough, instead of erecting the land defenses at the point mentioned, had placed them nearer the fort, thereby lengthening their lines more than three miles, and necessitating a garrison of nearly ten thousand men. A similar error, as we have already pointed out, had been committed at Columbus. General Beauregard, upon assuming command of his new military district, and, in fact, before he had done so, used every endeavor to introduce a new and entirely different system, in the defensive works of the Mississippi River. He caused them to be almost entirely reconstructed for minimum garrisons, which he knew would be amply adequate, under efficient commanders, to resist a siege of several weeks, or until assistance could be afforded them, thus increasing, to a maximum, the troops available for operations in the field. [362] So far as circumstances would permit, this plan had been carried out in regard to all the river defences. But, in order the sooner to complete the works at New Madrid, Island No.10, and Madrid Bend, which had first to be prepared against attack, only the surplus guns of Columbus had been sent to Fort Pillow.

The recent loss of so much armament and ammunition had increased the gravity of the situation, not to speak of the additional loss of General Mackall's forces at Island No.10. We were in one of those unfortunate positions in war where it becomes necessary to sacrifice a fractional command to save the other and larger portion. Here the sacrifice had become all the more imperative, by reason of the fact that Fort Pillow was now our only reliance, for the safety of the Mississippi Valley; except, perhaps, Randolph, fifteen miles farther down, where some light works had been thrown up, with as little regard to a minimum garrison as at Forts Pillow and Columbus.

Less than a week after the surrender of Island No.10, transports were filled with General Pope's forces, and, thus loaded, descended the stream, reaching the vicinity of Fort Pillow on or about the 14th of April. And here began a new phase of the stirring drama of this period of the war; for, before any active operations were undertaken by General Pope against Fort Pillow, he was suddenly ordered to Pittsburg Landing by General Halleck, who had arrived there on the 11th, and had officially assumed command. This order was carried out; and on the 21st, General Pope's army was encamped at Hamburg, on the Tennessee River, some twelve miles below the celebrated ‘Landing;’ thus increasing the Federal forces at and around the battle-field of Shiloh, to an aggregate of at least one hundred and twenty thousand men.16 This was an error on the part of General Halleck; for he certainly had no need of reinforcements at that time, his army being in a state of complete inactivity. General Pope should have been allowed to continue his operations against Fort Pillow, as he had already successfully done against New Madrid, Island No.10, and Madrid Bend. The probabilities are that, with their immense resources in men and materials, and in view of the unfinished condition [363] of the works at Fort Pillow, the Federals would, in a short time, have succeeded in forcing its evacuation, when the whole Mississippi River would have been opened to them down to New Orleans.

A respite of many months was thus unintentionally given, by the commander of the Federal forces, to the Confederacy, then hard pressed in the Southwest.

During the operations thus recorded, and judging from the different telegrams he had received from Commodore Hollins, and Generals Polk and McCown, General Beauregard was under the impression that our gunboats had done all that could have been expected of them. A careful reading of other telegrams, letters, and reports, Confederate as well as Federal, have, since that time, compelled him to modify his opinion. He now thinks that the Confederate flotilla, under Commodore Hollins, did not display the energy, resoluteness, and daring afterwards evinced by many an officer in the Confederate States navy, most conspicuous among whom were the heroic Admiral Semmes, Commodore Maffitt, and Captain Brown of the Arkansas.

Among the gunboats brought from New Orleans by Commodore Hollins, or sent to him after he had left, was the celebrated ram Manassas, which, however, could not then be used to any advantage, for the reason, as it appears, that there was no Federal craft of any description south of Island No.10, against which her ramming qualities might be brought into play. Later, and just as she could have been of much use, General Lovell insisted upon her being sent back to him, which, after several remonstrances from General Beauregard and from Commodore Hollins, was reluctantly done. Had the Manassas been with the flotilla, on the 5th of April, when the Federal transports passed through the recently excavated canal at New Madrid, and two of the enemy's gunboats ran the gauntlet before Island No.10 and the Madrid Bend batteries, it is more than probable that they would have been destroyed by the Confederate ram; and that no other Federal transport or gunboat would have made a like attempt. In that case General Pope would not have been able to cross his troops to the Tennessee shore, and could not have taken in rear the forces holding the works at Madrid Bend. Had a signal repulse been met with by the first Federal boats entering that part of the Mississippi River, it is to be presumed that General Pope's operations around [364] New Madrid would have been abandoned; for twice, already, had General Halleck been on the point of recalling his expedition.

Far as he was from the scene of action, General Beauregard's telegrams and instructions to Generals Polk, Withers, Stewart, Rust, and Villepigue, to Captains Harris and Lynch, to Lieutenant Meriwether, and other officers of the engineer corps, show how extreme was his vigilance, and what minute precision marked his different orders.

We submit the following examples:17


Jackson, Tenn., March 8th, 1862.
Captain M. Lynch, Corps Engineers, Fort Pillow:
Your traverses would do against field-guns, but not against heavy ones. Dismount every third gun when sufficient force arrives. Surmount present parapet in rifle-battery with sand-bags.


Select shortest line; construct detached works first, then connect with cremaillere. Get all negroes possible. Reconnoitre opposite shore also.


What does McCown mean by his doubt? Would it not be well to leave to his judgment when to execute the movement decided upon? Have you given orders to provision Fort Pillow for two or three months for five thousand men?


Jackson, Tenn., March 21st, 1862.
Captain D. B. Harris, Engineers, Fort Pillow:
Look as soon as practicable to land defences of fort. Construct detached works first, then cremaillere. Total garrison about three thousand men; defensive lines must not be too extensive.


Is water battery unserviceable from high water? If so, remove guns immediately to better position. Put all river batteries in immediate serviceable condition. How many negroes have you? If not enough, call on Captain Adams, Memphis, for more forthwith, also for tools. How are batteries off for ammunition? Look to this.

Thomas Jordan, Acting Adjutant-General.



Send Captain Owen's Arkansas company to Fort Pillow, to report for heavy artillery service.


The General wishes his instructions to engineers and commanding officers at Fort Pillow collected and copied in a book, for information of commanding officer of that post. The land front defences must be shortened, for a total garrison of but three thousand men, as he has repeatedly stated before.

Thos. Jordan, A. Adj-Gen.


Furnish “Mississippi defence expedition” all requisite armament and ammunition for immediate service, and report.


No arms here, or available at present. Employ unarmed men to construct bridge over Hatchie on roads to Covington and Randolph, and repair roads. Impress negroes also for same purpose. Show to General. Villepigue. Ample additional forces ordered to our assistance.


Corinth, April 14th, 1862.
General Sam. Cooper, Adjutant and Inspector General, Richmond, Va.:
Cannot a more active and efficient officer be put in command of gunboats at Fort Pillow? It is important to do so at once. I am informed garrison at Madrid Bend capitulated; part got off. No official report yet. I am reinforcing garrison of Fort Pillow for a strong and long defence. When will Memphis gunboats be ready? Are much needed.

On the 13th of April, General Rust, of General Price's division of Van Dorn's Trans-Mississippi Department, was sent to Fort Pillow with three regiments and a battalion of infantry, most of them badly armed and equipped. On the following day he informed General Beauregard of his arrival; spoke of the imminence of an attack by the enemy's land forces; and called for additional arms for his men.

General Villepigue had asked for reinforcements as soon as he no longer doubted the truth of the report of the fall of Island No. [366] 10; but, though expecting troops from Memphis, he had not been apprised of the name or rank of the officer who was to accompany them. He soon learned, however, that General Rust ranked him, and wrote for instructions to army headquarters. General Beauregard authorized him to retain the immediate command of the Works until the arrival of Major-General Samuel Jones, spoken of as the next commander of the fort, but who never came, his services being required at Mobile. On the 24th, the whole of General Rust's command—less one regiment left at Randolph—was ordered to Corinth via Memphis. The object was to counteract, as much as possible, by additional forces, whatever movement was planned by the enemy, in consequence of the withdrawal of General Pope's forces from the Mississippi River.

A few days before, General Beauregard being of opinion that the services of Captain Harris could then be dispensed with at Fort Pillow, and appreciating the necessity of defending the river at some other point farther down, telegraphed General Villepigue as follows:

Corinth, April 20th, 1862.
Brigadier-General J. B. Villepigue, Comdg. works at Fort Pillow:
Release Captain D. B. Harris, and instruct him to repair to Vicksburg, where he will find orders in post-office.

By command of General Beauregard.

Thomas Jordan, A. Adj.-Gen.

These orders ran thus:

Headquarters army of the Mississippi, Corinth, Miss., April 21st, 1862.
Captain D. B. Harris, Chief-Engineer, Vicksburg, Miss.:
Captain,—Understanding that there are no points sufficiently high on the river, between Memphis and Vicksburg, which could be fortified for the defence of the Mississippi, I have concluded to construct some defensive works on the bluffs at or about Vicksburg, for which purpose you will make a careful reconnoissance of that locality. From what I am told, I should think the bluffs immediately above that city, not far from where a small stream empties into the river, would be a proper point for said works, provided it is not commanded by surrounding heights within two miles. A lower battery, with four or five guns, might be so located as to defend the entrance of the Yazoo River and the small stream above mentioned, provided said battery can be protected by the guns of the upper works; otherwise the entrances into these two branches of the Mississippi must be obstructed by rafts, piling, or otherwise.

Another important consideration is, that the peninsula opposite Vicksburg should not be susceptible of being canalled across, from the river above to the [367] river below, for the passage of the enemy's boats beyond the reach of the guns of the fort.

Should the locality admit of such a canal, beyond the range of said guns, another enclosed battery, of four or five guns, will have to be constructed below Vicksburg, to command the ground over which said canal might be made.

The plans and profiles of these works must be left to your own judgment, and to the nature of the ground on which they are to be located. Their armament will consist of ten or twelve 8-inch and 10-inch guns, fifteen 42pound-ers, three 24-pounders, and several mortars, with a dozen field rifled guns, and half a dozen 24-pounder howitzers; those being all the guns we can spare at present for the defence of the river at that point.

The total garrison will consist of about three thousand men. There should be ample space in those works for magazines-traverses in every direction, field bomb-proofs, and a few storehouses and cisterns.

Acting Captains John M. Reid and Pattison, also Acting Lieutenant John H. Reid, have been ordered to report to you for the construction of these works. The two Reids (father and son) I am well acquainted with; they were for years employed by me in the construction of my forts in Louisiana. They are very reliable, practical men, and will be of much assistance to you; the other gentleman I am not personally acquainted with. Colonel Aubrey, military commander of Vicksburg, has been ordered to afford you all the assistance in his power, in the collection of men and materials for the construction of said works. About one thousand negroes have been ordered to report to you with their tools, etc., immediately; but, should you not be able to procure them otherwise, you will impress them at once. You must put forth all your energy to complete those works as soon as practicable, and report their progress every week.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,

Nor was General Beauregard unmindful of the importance of strengthening and increasing the armament of Randolph, as appears by his letter to Commodore Pinckney, under date of April 24th, 1862.18

On the 27th Captain Harris answered that no batteries could be placed on the Mississippi banks to command the mouth of the Yazoo River, which is twelve miles above Vicksburg. He said it was proposed to pass into the Yazoo much valuable property, and obstruct the passage of the enemy's boats by booms, rafts, piling, and batteries, at a point eighteen miles above its mouth, and twelve miles from Vicksburg, where the highlands reach that stream; and he added, ‘Shall I order this work? I am now constructing [368] batteries below this city.’ His object was, in the event of New Orleans falling into the hands of the Federals, to prevent their passage up the river. General Beauregard approved at once his proposed plans, and notified him to that effect. He had previously written to Dr. E. K. Marshall, a very influential citizen of Vicksburg, asking him ‘to give Captain Harris all the aid in his power, and to arouse his people to a sense of their duty to furnish the necessary labor in such measure that the work will go on with proper celerity.’

On the very day upon which Captain Harris's answer was penned New Orleans surrendered to the Federal fleet under Admiral Farragut, after a short and inglorious resistance on the part of Forts Jackson and St. Philip. There had been no adequate assistance from the Confederate gunboats and rams ordered to cooperate with them; nor did the armed vessels known as the ‘Montgomery fleet,’ with one or two exceptions, show any efficiency whatever. Such a disaster, resulting from so weak a defence, took the whole country by surprise—the North as well as the South; and it is grievous to make even a passing mention of it. Want of foresight and discipline caused this irreparable calamity. It affords us some consolation, however, to be able to state that the Hon. J. T. Monroe, mayor of the unfortunate city, evinced more than ordinary firmness and patriotism in his refusal to comply with the demand made upon him, to strike the Confederate flag floating over the city hall.

On the 28th the bombardment of Fort Pillow was fairly begun. No ‘mutineers’ were there, as there were in Fort Jackson, to force a surrender upon the officers. The whole command, men and officers, vied with each other in a determined and resolute resistance, and troops were even withdrawn from the fort to reinforce other points needing assistance, without a sign of despondency, still less of mutiny, among the men. Troops act differently in different forts. Their conduct depends on the conduct of their officers. As these prove themselves to be, so, invariably, are the men under them.

We were now in May, and no material change had been noticed at General Villepigue's post. The bombardment was continued day after day, and frequently throughout the nights, but with no visible result. Now and then a man was killed, and one or two wounded. The commander's spirit, however, and the spirit of his [369] troops, remained the same. A diversion occurred on the 10th of May.

The ‘Montgomery Rams,’ of which four out of eight were fully armed and equipped, were induced by General Jeff. Thompson and his ‘jay-hawkers’—as the enemy called his men—to run into the Federal fleet, then besieging Fort Pillow. General Thompson took personal command of the movement—a decided and bold one—which would have resulted in the dispersion of the Federal fleet, had Commodore Pinckney, who now commanded the Confederate gunboats, co-operated in the attack, as it was his plain duty to do. Two of the enemy's gunboats, the Mound City and the Carondelet, were seriously crippled, and compelled to seek safety in shoal water. The mortar-boats—of which one was reported sunk—were towed out of range.

This is proof of what could be accomplished by our fleet, such as it was, when managed with determination and energy; and caused General Beauregard to regret still more the supineness of the naval commanders charged with the protection of that part of the Mississippi River. Small hope, however, could be entertained of a change for the better in these matters. For, on May 13th, and despite strenuous efforts on the part of General Beauregard, the two iron-clads on the stocks at Memphis were far from being finished. On that day (13th) he was informed by General Villepigue that Mr. Ellerson, of Memphis, offered to complete at once either of the two gunboats, if officially authorized, and properly assisted in doing so. General Beauregard immediately forwarded instructions to that effect, as is shown by the following telegrams:


Yes, let him work day and night until finished.


Corinth, May 14th, 1862.
General S. Cooper, A. and I. G., Richmond, Va.:
I have ordered the Memphis ram to the Yazoo for safe-keeping until finished. Have ordered every exertion made to finish it forthwith. It will be done in one week. May I request proper officers, crew, armament, and ammunition to be provided for it at once?


See that steam-ram be properly guarded, and use every exertion to finish it forthwith.


On the following day, with a view to protect the river near Vicksburg until the works in process of construction there could be sufficiently completed, he ordered the heaviest steam-rains down from Fort Pillow. His telegram to General Villepigue to that effect speaks for itself:

Have those heaviest steam-rams been sent to Vicksburg? If not, send them forthwith. Otherwise, may lose the river from below. We want a few days longer to finish the Arkansas.

On the 19th he asks General Smith, at Vicksburg, if it is true that more iron is needed for the Arkansas, and if ‘no work is being done on her,’ and on the 21st he telegraphs Hon. S. R. Mallory, as follows:

I want a general order to get what rope is necessary for this army. Steamram Arkansas reported, “cannot be got ready for one month.” Is it not, possible to expedite its construction? Safety of the river depends on it now.

These despatches invite us to give here the after-history of the Confederate iron-clad whose name has just been mentioned. The manner in which she was saved from destruction, completed, and officered has already been described. The feats she performed under her dauntless commander, Captain Isaac N. Brown, who, upon General Beauregard's demand for an able officer, was judiciously selected by the Hon. Mr. Mallory, Secretary of the Navy, are deserving of enthusiastic praise; the more so, since Commodore Lynch, after inspection, said of her, she is ‘very inferior to the Merrimac in every particular; the iron with which she is covered is worn and indifferent, taken from a railroad track, and is poorly secured to the vessel; boiler iron on stern and counter; her smoke-stack of sheet iron.’19

Nevertheless, on the morning of the 15th of July, 1862, that Confederate iron-clad, the Arkansas, mounting ten guns, with a crew of two hundred men, descended the Yazoo River to attack, not one or two Federal gunboats, but the fleets of Admirals Farragut and Davis, then near Vicksburg. She was met at sunrise, [371] in Old River, ten miles from the Federal anchorage, by the United States iron-clad Carondelet, the gunboat Tyler, and the ram Monarch. The Carondelet alone was superior in guns, armor, and speed to the Arkansas. Captain Brown promptly assailed this advance squadron, and, after an hour of close combat, disabled and silenced the iron-clad and drove the other two vessels to the shelter of the fleets, in the main river. Losing no time with the disabled Carondelet, the Confederate iron-clad proceeded down stream, and attacked the combined fleet of more than twenty men-of-war. She pushed through their double line of heavy ships, rams, mortar-boats, and six iron-clads, each one of which last, like her late antagonist, in Old River, was of greater force than herself. She received the fire of three hundred guns, which, at half cable's length, the lone Confederate ship returned with destructive effect, from bow, stern, and both broadside batteries. For more than an hour the combat of one to thirty lasted, until the Arkansas, cutting her way through the enemy's line of massive ships, destroying some and disabling others, passed, shattered, but unconquered, on her way to Vicksburg, virtually raising the siege of that hitherto closely blockaded city.

This combat, in its odds and results without a parallel in naval warfare, was attended with great loss to the Confederates in killed and wounded. The commander of the Arkansas, exposed on the shield deck, was three times wounded: once by a Minie-ball, touching him over the left temple; then by a contusion on the head and slight wound in the hand and shoulder; then, struck from the deck insensible, he was, for the moment, supposed to be killed, but he regained consciousness, and, dauntless as ever, resumed his place and command till the end of the battle. Among the wounded was Lieutenant G. W. Gift, who, with Grimball of South Carolina, the second lieutenant, ably commanded the bow-guns. Lieutenant Stevens, the executive officer, discharged with honor, both in preparation for and during the action, every duty of his responsible position. Barbot, Charles Reid, Wharton, and Dabney Scales, lieutenants who, like their commander, were recently from the United States navy, were alike distinguished for the bravery and precision with which they served their guns. Captains Harris and McDonald, of a Missouri regiment, with sixty of their men, volunteered for the naval service, and though they went on board only forty-eight hours before the battle, and were entirely [372] unused to the exercise of great guns, formed an effective portion of the Arkansas's crew. It is but a just tribute to the brave men who figured in this engagement to add, that they did so, knowing the odds against them, and with the resolution, inspired by a short address of their commander, as the fight was about to begin, to succeed in their work or perish.

The conflict here so briefly sketched took place in close proximity to the Federal army encamped on the west bank of the river, but not in view of the city of Vicksburg. The solitary Confederate ship was thus within hearing, but not within reach of aid from her friends.

The subsequent history of the Arkansas may be given in a few words. On the evening of the 15th (July), the day of the double battle above Vicksburg, she engaged the fleet of Admiral Farragut, passing Vicksburg, and, in the latter action, had both her armor and machinery further damaged, suffering also severely in killed and wounded among men and officers. A week later, when the crew of the Arkansas had been reduced to twenty-eight men, by sickness and the detachment of the Missouri volunteers, the ironclad Essex, aided by the strongest ram of the Federal fleet, attacked her. Both assailing vessels, though running into the Arkansas, were repulsed, but with a loss to the latter of half her crew, killed by the cannon-shot of the Essex. Not daring to make another attack, the Union forces abandoned the blockade, some going down and others up the river. Unfortunately the damaged condition of the Arkansas would not allow pursuit.

Of admirals and naval commanders who have achieved exalted fame, none accomplished a more fearless feat, with a better result, than the commander of the Confederate iron-clad Arkansas. His name, and, coupled with it, the names of his brave officers, merit lasting honor at the hands of the South. Nor are the men who formed that matchless crew, because their names are unchronicled, entitled to less applause.

On the 20th and 22d of May, General Villepigue informed General Beauregard that the enemy had sent to Fort Pillow two hundred prisoners, most of whom were sick with smallpox, and who had been received, without his authority, by the second officer in command. Believing, as did also General Villepigue, that this would result in communicating that terrible disease to the garrison, and thereby destroy its effectiveness, General Beauregard [373] at once telegraphed, ‘return them forthwith.’ But Commodore Davis, of the United States navy, peremptorily refused to take them back. They were then cared for by General Villepigue, and placed, with great difficulty, in separate quarters, under the intelligent and devoted supervision of Doctor C. H. Tebault, of Louisiana, then a surgeon in the Confederate army. He wrote an interesting paper on the subject, detailing all its circumstances; but this document, to our regret, is not in our possession.

Foreseeing the necessity of withdrawing his forces from Corinth, and having, in fact, resolved to adopt that course within a short time, General Beauregard began to prepare General Villepigue for the event; not that Fort Pillow was then in any immediate danger, for the enemy had no land forces to spare for operations against it, but because a retrograde movement from Corinth necessarily involved the evacuation of the fort. He, therefore, on the 25th, telegraphed to General Villepigue that ‘whenever the place, in his judgment, should become untenable, he must destroy the works and armaments, and evacuate it, as already instructed; repairing to Grenada, by the shortest route, for the protection of the depot; giving timely notice of the same to Fort Randolph and to Memphis.’

Three days afterwards, and when the precise moment of the retreat from Corinth had been decided upon (as will be, hereafter, more fully developed), General Beauregard forwarded the following instructions to General Villepigue:

Headquarters Western Department, Corinth, May 28th, 1862.
Brigadier-General J. B. Villepigue, Comdg. at Fort Pillow, Tenn.:
General,—Wishing to take the enemy further into the interior, where I hope to be able to strike him a severe blow, which cannot be done here, where he is so close to his supplies, I have concluded to withdraw on the 30th instant from this place for the present, before he compels me to do so by his superiority of numbers. The evacuation of this place necessarily involves that of your present position, which you have so long and gallantly defended. Hence, I have this day telegraphed you that, whenever the enemy shall have crossed the Hatchie River, at Pocahontas or elsewhere, on his way westward, you will immediately evacuate Fort Pillow for Grenada, by the best and shortest route.

Should you, however, consider it necessary for the safety of your command to evacuate Fort Pillow before the enemy shall have crossed the Hatchie, you are left at liberty to do so, having entire confidence in your judgment and ability, not being able to judge from here of your facilities for reaching Grenada. [374] I am of opinion, however, that he will venture slowly and cautiously westward, so long as I shall remain within striking distance of him, on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, at or about Baldwin. It may be well for you to know that the telegraph communication from there to Memphis will be completed before a week or ten days.

Whenever you shall be about to abandon the fort, you will telegraph the commanding officer at Memphis to burn all the cotton, sugar, etc., in the vicinity of that city, as per my instructions already communicated to him.

You will necessarily destroy all government property, arms, guns, etc., that you will not be able to carry off with you; and on arriving at Grenada, you will assume immediate command of all troops there assembled, to organize and discipline them. You might also throw up some light works (batteries and rifle-pits), for the defence of that important position against a small force of the enemy. I have thought it advisable to give you the above instructions in view of the probability that I may not be able shortly to communicate with you.

Hoping you may continue to meet with success in the defence of our cause and country,

I remain, respectfully, your obedient servant,

The telegram referred to above, as being forwarded on the same date, read thus:

Headquarters Western Department, Corinth, May 28th, 1862.
Brigadier-General J. B. Villepigue, Comdg. Fort Pillow:
We are to retire from here south. Make preparations to abandon Fort Pillow when forces at Grand Junction retire from there, which commandant is ordered to communicate to you and to execute when the enemy crosses Hatchic River from here, at Pocahontas or elsewhere.

To complete the record of this episode of the southwestern campaign—although by so doing the course of this narrative is anticipated—it must be stated here that Fort Pillow was successfully evacuated about the 1st of June, and that its gallant commander, after complying, so far as he could, with the instructions given him, was subsequently sent to Port Hudson, where, not long afterwards, he unfortunately died—not in battle, as he would have wished—but of fever, the result of too great exposure to the weather, and over-fatigue in the performance of his laborious duties. He was a graduate of West Point, and an officer of great intelligence, perseverance, and bravery; never despondent under difficulties; never shrinking from responsibility. He had many [375] traits of resemblance to General Bee, who, like himself, was a South Carolinian. Both of them would, no doubt, have attained the highest rank in the Confederate service, had their lives been spared to the end of the war.

During the occurrence of events of so momentous a character, between the middle of February and the 6th of April, and upon which hung the fate of the entire southwestern part of the Confederacy, it was—and is—to some a matter of no small surprise that General A. S. Johnston, the commander of the whole department, interposed neither advice nor authority, nor even made inquiry as to the enemy's designs, or our plans to foil them. Such silence, on the part of one whose love of the cause precludes all idea of indifference, omission, or neglect, can only be explained by the fact that he placed implicit reliance upon General Beauregard's ability to cope, unassisted, with the difficulties of the situation, and successfully direct any and all movements originating within the limits of his military district. The telegrams of General Johnston, dated February 16th and 18th, confirm this interpretation. ‘You must do as your judgment dictates.’ And again: ‘You must now act as seems best to you. The separation of our armies is, for the present, complete.’

1 Chapters XV.-XVIII.

2 Chapter XV: p. 220.

3 Ibid. p. 221.

4 Appendix to Chapter XVI.

5 Ibid.

6 Chapter XVI: p. 240.

7 Appendix to Chapter XVI.

8 General Force, ‘From Fort Henry to Corinth,’ pp. 68, 69.

9 March 5th. See order to that effect, as given in Chapter XVII. p. 249.

10 See General Beauregard's letter of February 24th, to General Cooper, in Chapter XVI. See all his telegrams to same purpose.

11 The letter appears in the Appendix to the present chapter.

12 See Chapters XVI.–XVIII.

13 General Beauregard's letter to General Bragg, of March 15th, see Appendix.

14 ‘Record of the Rebellion’ (Documents), 1862, vol. IV. p. 440.

15 ‘From Fort Henry to Corinth,’ p. 80.

16 General Halleck puts the number at one hundred and twenty-five thousand. General Force, in his book, often quoted by us, says one hundred thousand. General Sherman, in his ‘Memoirs,’ vol. i. p. 251, says that the army ‘must have numbered nearly one hundred thousand men.’

17 Other telegrams of equal importance are given in the Appendix.

18 See letter in Appendix.

19 See Captain C. W. Reid's ‘Reminiscences of the Confederate States Navy,’ vol. i. No. 5 of the ‘Southern Historical Society Papers,’ for May, 1876. Captain Reid was one of the officers of the Arkansas, and it was he who, by order of Commodore Lynch, forwarded to the Secretary of War the despatch above, pronouncing the vessel inadequate for the service required of her.

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