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Chapter 6:

  • Character of Mississippi valley
  • -- position and strength of Vicksburg -- Grant's force on taking command of expedition -- problem of the campaign -- the Vicksburg canal -- continuous labor for months -- rise in river -- failure of canal -- Lake Providence scheme -- difficulties of this route -- abandonment of the plan -- alarm and subsequent derision of rebels -- the Yazoo pass -- circuitous route -- obstructions by rebels -- pass finally cleared -- troops enter the pass -- rebel fort at Greenwood -- naval attack unsuccessful -- Reenforcements ordered into the pass -- route found impracticable -- Steele's bayou expedition -- remarkable natural difficulties -- Sherman and Admiral Porter proceed to Deer creek -- Porter gets into danger -- Sherman rescues the fleet -- further and irremovable obstructions -- return of both expeditions to Milliken's bend -- concentration of Grant's forces -- Impatience of the country and government -- efforts to remove Grant -- Grant's New plan -- opposition of Sherman and other of Grant's subordinates -- Grant inflexible -- movement of Thirteenth corps to New Carthage -- difficulties of route -- trouble with Mc-Clernand -- Grierson's raid -- running of Vicksburg batteries -- Cooperation of Admiral Porter -- attack on Grand Gulf -- failure to silence batteries -- further marches of troops -- running of batteries at Grand Gulf -- crossing of Mississippi river by Grant's advance -- demonstration by Sherman against Haine's bluff -- Grant's confidence of success.

All the way from Cairo to New Orleans the Mississippi meanders through a vast alluvial region, the whole of which is annually overflowed, except where the system of artificial embankments, called levees,1 has, of late years, afforded a partial barrier. This great basin is nearly fifty miles in width, and extends on the east to the upland plains of Tennessee and [157] Mississippi, while on the west it is bounded by the lesser elevations of drift alone. The bluffs that form the escarpment of the eastern plains are usually quite steep, and thickly overgrown with timber, underbrush, and vines. At various points in its course the river touches one extremity or the other of the bottom-land, washing the base of the bluffs, and often cutting deeply into the soft strata of which they are composed. Columbus, Fort Pillow, Memphis, Helena, Vicksburg, Grand Gulf, and Port Hudson are points of this kind, and rise from eighty to two hundred feet above the freshets.

The Mississippi is, perhaps, the most tortuous stream in the world. Its course is frequently north, east, south, and west, within a circuit of twenty miles. Every few years it deviates from its channel here and there, leaving the former bed for some new route, and creating islands and peninsulas innumerable; the flat nature of the country and the soft quality of the soil allowing these excursions, which occur whenever any unusual obstacle is presented to the vast momentum of the stream. The alluvial region, throughout its entire extent, is higher near the banks of the river, and falls off gradually till it reaches the line of the bluffs; the drainage is, therefore, necessarily towards the hills, and is the source of the intricate network of bayous2 for which the basin is remarkable. The Coldwater, the Tallahatchie, the Yazoo, the Washita, the Red, and Atchafalaya rivers, besides numerous other and smaller streams, are accordingly nothing more than huge side drains. During freshets, [158] the water that breaks over the Mississippi banks, or through the crevasses, flows through cypress-swamps, and a labyrinth of bayous, till it reaches the bluffs, and is again forced back into the parent stream.

Besides the bayous, crescent-shaped lakes, the sole remains of the ancient meanderings of the river, abound on both sides, often at considerable distances from the present channel. The forests of the alluvial region are extremely luxuriant and dense; cottonwood, tulip-trees, sweet gum, magnolia, sycamore, and ash are found, with an almost impenetrable jungle of cane and vine. The cypress-swamps that occupy the lower portions of the bottom are nearly always under water; and this, with the slimy character of the soil, and the treacherous beds, and slippery, steep banks of the bayous, renders the country almost impassable in summer, and entirely so, except by boats, in winter.3

Winding through this abnormal region, the Mississippi makes a sudden bend below Young's point, opposite the mouth of the Yazoo, and turning towards the northeast, flows in that direction some four or five miles, till it strikes the Vicksburg hills, when it turns again, still more abruptly, and runs for almost the same distance towards the southwest. By this curve a narrow peninsula is formed of the Louisiana shore, which stretches out in the shape of a tongue, not more than a mile or two across. Opposite the lower side of the peninsula, the city of Vicksburg rises, terraced on its rugged site, and commanding the approaches [159] from above and below, for a distance of long cannon-range. The bluffs extend along the eastern bank for nearly twenty miles. From Walnut hills to Warrenton the Mississippi washes the foot of the range. At few places is the interval between the river and the bluff more than six hundred yards; and at the point where Vicksburg stands, the cliffs rise abruptly from the water's edge two hundred feet.

Above the town the hills turn to the northeast; the point where the range strikes the Yazoo nearly twenty miles from its mouth is known as Haine's bluff, and was the extreme right of the rebel line. It is very precipitous, and completely commands the navigation of the Yazoo, as well as the opposite shore. So long as this position was held by the rebels, Vicksburg could not be approached from the north. From Haine's bluff, which is twelve miles above the town, to the Mississippi, the highlands were completely and thoroughly fortified, and thence along down, till they recede from the river, at Warrenton, seven miles below. Twenty-eight guns of heavy calibre were mounted on the river front, all of which had a plunging fire; they effectually barred all progress by the stream, for no gun in the squadron could be sufficiently elevated to be formidable to batteries crowning cliffs two and three hundred feet high.

At the foot of the ridge, and along the slopes, rifle-pits were dug, that commanded the strip of swamp land which sometimes intervenes between the river and the bluffs. The Louisiana shore is swampy, and impracticable for the transportation or occupation of troops. Rafts were moored, chains were stretched across the Yazoo, to detain vessels under [160] fire, and thus render any attempt at surprise impracticable, so that troops could not possibly be landed near enough for an assault, except where Sherman's bold attack, in January, had been so unsuccessful.

In the rear of Vicksburg the range is rugged, broken by precipitous ravines, and presenting almost equally admirable facilities for defence on the land side. Creeks and bayous also abound, even in this higher country, whose nearer slopes encircle the city with a parapet of hills. The region outside, between the Big Black river and the Pearl, was an abounding granary, from which the besieged could draw at will, without danger of exhausting the supply.

This post was now the key to the Mississippi river, and to the magnificent valley which it fertilizes. At Grand Gulf, where the bluffs again approach the shore, some fifty miles below, another fortification was soon erected; and still another, of even greater strength, at Port Hudson, a hundred and fifty miles from the sea. Port Hudson and Grand Gulf were, in reality, the outworks of Vicksburg, and between them the mighty river was closed for a distance of four hundred miles, within which the rebels were as completely masters as though the national flag had never been supreme above its waters. But Banks, with an army of forty thousand men, and Farragut, with the fleet that had subdued New Orleans, were directed to put forth every effort against Port Hudson; while to Grant and his subordinates was assigned the task of unlocking the greatest barrier that vexed the waters of the Mississippi on their way to the sea.

On the 29th of January, the entire force in the Department of the Tennessee amounted to one hundred and thirty thousand men. It was divided into [161] four army corps, the Thirteenth, Fifteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth, commanded by Major-Generals Mc-Clernand, Sherman, Hurlbut, and McPherson, respectively. The Arkansas troops had been assigned to the Thirteenth corps, which, in conjunction with the Sixteenth, now at Memphis and in West Tennessee, was required to protect Grant's rear, and keep open the river to Cairo. St. Louis and Memphis were made the depots for supplies. Porter's cooperating fleet numbered sixty vessels of all classes, carrying two hundred and eighty guns and eight hundred men.

The troops composing the expedition were at Young's point and Milliken's bend, and fifty thou. sand in number; they consisted of the Fifteenth and Seventeenth, and part of the Thirteenth corps; these had already been disembarked, and put in camps along the west bank of the river, on the low swampland, overflowed this year to an unusual extent. This protracted freshet, together with the extraordinary fall of rain, greatly increased Grant's difficulties, as well as the hardships of his army.

The camps were frequently submerged, and the diseases consequent to this exposure prevailed among the troops; dysenteries and fevers made sad havoc, and the small-pox even was introduced, but speedily controlled. The levees furnished the only dry land deep enough for graves, and for miles along the river bank this narrow strip was all that appeared above the water, furrowed in its whole length with graves. The troops were thus hemmed in by the burial-places of their comrades.

Every possible precaution, however, was taken to secure the health and comfort of the command; tents [162] were supplied, medical stores provided, and during the long and tedious campaign that followed, the sanitary condition of the army remained as tolerable as inevitable emergencies and hardships would allow. But exaggerated rumors of disease and even pestilence were circulated by the enemy, and at the North; these added to the anxieties of the country, as well as to the difficulties of the commander.

Grant's problem now was, to obtain a footing on the highlands of the eastern bank, and a base from which to operate against the city and its communications. A direct attack had already been tried by Sherman, at the only point where a landing was practicable, and failed, because of the character of the country, and the strength of the fortifications, at a time when those fortifications were much less elaborate than now. It remained, then, either to discover some means of reaching the Yazoo, at a point still farther from its mouth than Haine's bluff, and so secure a foothold in the rear of Vicksburg; or, to get below the works, at Warrenton, and thence operate, on the eastern side, against the town. The rains had filled the swamps and bayous, so that there was no probability of their drying again during the winter, or a landing might have been effected opposite Milliken's bend, and roads constructed to the Yazoo, above Haine's bluff, when the enemy's works would have been turned. With Grant once back of the intrenchments on the crest of the hills, the rebels would have been compelled either to come out and give him battle in the open field, or submit to have all their communications cut, and so be left to starve. The rains, however, rendered this operation impracticalble. [163]

But if an attempt should be made to get below the town, Vicksburg itself threatened the only line by which supplies could be obtained. Three means of obviating this difficulty suggested themselves: First, to turn the Mississippi river from its course, and, by cutting a canal across the peninsula in front of Vicksburg, create a new channel, through which the fleet might glide securely by the rebellious city, and in full view from its disappointed batteries, to the coveted position below. Second, by breaking levees, opening canals, and connecting and widening streams, a circuitous route, through bayous, and rivers, and swamps, could be opened, from Lake Providence on the Louisiana side, seventy miles above Vicksburg, and a passage found, through the Red river, into the Mississippi again, four hundred miles below. This route, however, would, at best, be long and difficult, and, if opened, would only afford an opportunity of reinforcing Banks, as the mouth of the Red river is just above Port Hudson. The third, and apparently only other possible plan, was to march the whole army along the western shore, to some point below the town, and then cross the river, and combine with Banks to operate against Port Hudson; and, after that place should fall, begin a new campaign against Vicksburg, from Grand Gulf or Warrenton, depending on supplies from below. The roads in Louisiana were, however, entirely under water, so that this plan was not now feasible; and until Port Hudson was taken and the river opened to New Orleans, the difficulty of supplying the army, when thrown below the town, appeared absolutely insuperable.

As early as the 20th of January, Grant had instructed McClernand to begin the enlargement of the [164] canal. He had himself been ordered by Halleck to direct his attention particularly to this undertaking, ‘as the President attaches much importance to this.’ It was a scheme of magnificent proportions, but more likely to attract an imagination like Mr. Lincoln's than to strike favorably a purely military mind. The country, North and South, watched its progress anxiously; and, even in Europe, the plan of turning a mighty river from its course attracted attention and comment. The rebels loudly predicted failure, and the gibes of those who opposed the war at the North, were incessant. Still Grant toiled on; four thousand soldiers were constantly employed on the work, besides negroes, who were comparatively of little use. On the 4th of February, however, he reported to Halleck that he had lost all faith in the practicability of the scheme. ‘The canal,’ he said, ‘is at right angles with the thread of the current at both ends, and both ends are in an eddy, the lower coming out under bluffs completely commanding it. Warrenton, a few miles below, is capable of as strong defences as Vicksburg; and the enemy, seeing us at work here, have turned their attention to that point.’

The peninsula is about three and a half miles long, and where the canal was located, only a mile and a fifth in width. As constructed by General Williams, the canal was ten feet wide and six deep, but his excavation did not extend through the stratum of black alluvial soil to the sandy substratum, and in 1862, when the water rose so as to run through, there was no enlargement. Grant's engineers attempted to remedy this, by cutting a wing, from a point two or three hundred yards further up the river, where the current impinges more strongly against the [165] shore. It was hoped by the additional flow of water thus secured, and by the use of dredging-machines,4 to widen and deepen the main canal. The design was, to allow a passage for vessels with a breadth of beam of sixty feet, and a draught of eight or nine.

The troops who were engaged for two months on the canal, were encamped immediately on its west bank, and protected from possible inundation by a levee; but the continued rise in the river made a large expenditure of labor necessary to keep the water out of the camps and canal. The work was tedious and difficult, and seemed interminable; and towards the last it became also dangerous, for the enemy, well aware how important it was to thwart this operation, threw shells all over the peninsula, and, as Grant had predicted, erected batteries which commanded the lower end of the canal. But, at last, there seemed some prospect of success; the dredge-boats worked to a charm; the laborers reached a sufficient depth in the soil; the wing was ready to connect with the main artery, and the undertaking was apparently all but completed; when, on the 8th of March, an additional and rapid rise in the river, and the consequent increase of pressure, caused the dam near the upper end of the canal to give way, and every attempt to keep [166] the rush of water out proved abortive. The torrent, thus admitted, struggled for a while with the obstacles that sought to stay its course; but finally, instead of coming out below, broke the levee of the canal itself, and spread rapidly across the peninsula, overwhelming every barrier, and separating the northern and southern shores as effectually as if the Mississippi itself flowed between them. It swept far and wide over the interior, submerging the camps, and spreading into the bayous, even to the Tensas and lower Red. The troops were obliged to flee for their lives, horses were drowned, implements were broken and borne away by the current, and all the labor of many weeks was lost.

Attempts were made to repair the damages, but on the 27th of March, Grant reported that all work except repairing the crevasses in the canal levee had been suspended for several days, the enemy having driven the dredges entirely out. ‘The canal may be useful in passing boats through, at night, but nothing further.’ As he had foretold, the batteries erected on the hills below Vicksburg completely enfiladed the canal. The rebels declared that the Yankees had been as impious as the Titans, in their audacity, and as impotent, and hoped that in future they would not attempt to disturb the natural features of the globe.

On the 30th of January, the day after he assumed command of the Vicksburg expedition,5 Grant gave orders for cutting a way from the Mississippi to Lake Providence and went himself to that place on the 4th of February, remaining there several days. [167] This sheet of water is a portion of the old bed of the river, and lies about a mile west of the present channel. It is six miles long, and connected by Bayou Baxter with Bayou Macon, a navigable stream communicating in its turn with the Tensas, Washita, and Red rivers. Through these various channels it was thought possible to open a route by which transports of light draught might reach the Mississippi again, below, and thus enable Grant to reinforce Banks (then on either the Red river or the Atchafalaya), and to cooperate with him against Port Hudson.

The levee was cut, and a canal opened between the river and the lake, through which the water passed rapidly; but peculiar difficulties were encountered in clearing Bayou Baxter of the overhanging forests and fallen timber with which it was ob. structed. The land, from Lake Providence, and also from Bayou Macon, recedes until the lowest interval between the two widens out into a cypress-swamp, where Bayou Baxter is lost. This flat was filled with water to the depth of several feet; and the work of removing the timber, that choked the bayou thickly for a distance of twelve or fifteen miles, was, in consequence, exceedingly difficult and slow; but if this could have been accomplished, the channel, in high water, would have been continuous, although intricate and circuitous in a remarkable degree. So McPherson's corps was engaged in the undertaking for many weeks. The impossibility of obtaining the requisite number of light-draught steamers, however, would have rendered this route useless, even had it been thoroughly opened. But no steamer ever passed through the tortuous channel, which served only to employ the superfluous troops, and to demonstrate [168] the fertility and variety of devices developed during this anomalous campaign. The Lake Providence route was finally rejected, in March, at about the same time that all hope of effecting any thing by the canal was abandoned.

This project excited attention and speculation, especially in the rebellious states, where many imagined that the whole torrent of the Mississippi might be diverted, even into the Atchafalaya, and the old bed of the former stream forever denuded, which would have left New Orleans an inland town, far away from the river that was the sole source and cause of its prosperity. But no expectation of any such stupendous results was entertained by Grant. He believed that Vicksburg was only to be won by hard fighting, and by destroying armies; and although he resorted to these various schemes for placing his troops where a foothold for active operations could be maintained, and a route secured by which the new base might be supplied, he nevertheless looked on them as in reality offering little promise, and simply affording occupation for his men, till the subsidence of the waters should allow him to move in the ordinary way.

At the same time that he began these other undertakings, Grant sent Lieutenant-Colonel Wilson, of his staff, to Helena, to organize an expedition for opening and examining the Yazoo pass. This was with a view to destroying the rebel steamboats and embryo gunboats on the Yazoo river, above Haine's bluff. The pass is a narrow and tortuous bayou, sixty or eighty feet wide, and from twenty to thirty feet deep, running nearly east from a point on the Mississippi, six miles below Helena, into Moon lake, the former [169] bed of the river. Issuing thence, it still flows eastward, and, fifteen miles beyond, connects with the Coldwater. The latter stream, after fifty miles of windings, enters the Tallahatchie, which joins the Yallabusha to form the Yazoo, a hundred and fifteen miles below. This route was used in former times, as a roundabout way of reaching the Yazoo river with small steamers and light trading craft; but, as the entire course lies in the alluvial region, the country between the two rivers was frequently overflowed; and, accordingly, the state of Mississippi constructed a large and strong levee at the entrance to the pass, so as to cut off all communication between its waters and those of the parent stream.

This levee was cut on the 2d of February, and the water let in by the explosion of a mine planted at the mouth of the cut; and, in two days, the torrent carried away the levee so completely as to allow the largest steamers to pass through the crevasse into Moon lake, about a mile beyond. But in the mean time, the rebels had begun to make obstructions lower down, by felling huge trees into the pass. The forest was extremely luxuriant, and the rafts and entanglements thus formed were obstacles of the most formidable character, extending, with intervals, a distance of nearly four miles. A single one of these barricades was a mile and a quarter in length, and composed of no fewer than eighty trees, reaching completely across the stream. Cottonwood, sycamore, oak, elm, and pecan-wood was used, and none of this timber, except the cottonwood, will float. The removal, in consequence, was a tedious task. Many of the trees, weighing at the least twenty tons, had to be hauled out entire upon the shore by strong [170] cables, while a few of the most buoyant were cut in pieces and fastened along the banks. To add to the difficulties, the rapid rise of the water, from the crevasse at the entrance, submerged the entire country, except along a very narrow strip of land near the shore. The men, in parties of about five hundred, were thus obliged to work in the water, as well as during almost incessant rains. The barriers, however, being removed, and a heavy growth of overhanging timber cut away, the distance from Moon lake to the Coldwater was finally cleared. But, while Grant's forces were thus diligently engaged in opening one end of the pass, the enemy had gained time to securely fortify below.

On the 15th of February, however, a way was open to the Tallahatchie, and Brigadier-General Ross, with forty-five hundred men, was ordered into the pass. He embarked on twenty-two light transports, preceded by two iron-clad gunboats, and a mosquito fleet, as the light-armored craft suitable for this navigation was called. Lieutenant-Commander Watson Smith commanded the naval force. The difficulty of procuring light transports delayed Ross over a week. but the combined fleet entered the pass on the 24th of February, and reached the Coldwater, twenty-five miles from the Mississippi, on the 2d of March. The Coldwater is over a hundred feet wide, and runs through a dense wilderness, for nearly all its course. The Tallahatchie is a stream of similar nature, and, from its width and depth, no longer susceptible of obstruction by the enemy. Thirty miles below the mouth of the Coldwater, the Tallahatchie affords free navigation for boats two hundred and fifty feet long. When once the expedition reached these rivers, a great [171] part of its difficulties would, it was hoped, be past. The naval commander moved cautiously, running but little faster than the current by daylight, and tying his boats to the shore after nightfall, so that the expedition did not reach the lower Tallahatchie till the 10th of March. This long passage of two hundred and fifty miles, through an almost unbroken forest, was made without the loss of a man. The country being overflowed, the river-banks could not be approached in any force by guerillas or sharpshooters.

Wilson now reported the practicability of the route as a line of important military operations, and Grant determined to prosecute his entire campaign, if possible, in this direction. The idea was to reach the Yazoo river, above Haine's bluff, with the whole army; the distance from Milliken's bend would have been nearly nine hundred miles. At first, only a single division of troops, under Brigadier-General Quimby, was sent to the support of Ross; but, shortly afterwards, McPherson, with his whole corps, and an additional division from Hurlbut's command (at Memphis), was ordered into the pass, whenever suitable transportation could be procured. Great difficultty, however, was found in obtaining light-draught steamers fit for the navigation of these narrow and devious streams; and the reenforcements were, in consequence, delayed at Helena.

Near where the waters of the Tallahatchie meet those of the Yallabusha, the small town of Greenwood is built; a little way above this point, the former stream sweeps to the east for eight or ten miles, and then doubles at the confluence; while the Yazoo, which is formed by the junction, flows back again to within five hundred yards of the Tallahatchie. At [172] the narrowest part of the neck of land thus created, the rebels had hastily constructed, of earth and cotton-bales, a line of parapet, running irregularly across from the Tallahatchie to the north bank of the Yazoo. This work they called Fort Pemberton; it was defended by two heavy guns and a light battery, and so located as to command both the land and the water approaches, from the northwest; it also guarded the Yallabusha, and the road in the rear to Grenada, as well as the Yazoo. It was built on ground so low that the water spread along its entire front, across the neck of land, and indefinitely towards the interior. All approach being thus rendered impracticable for infantry, the idea of a land attack was excluded, and the expedition was compelled to rely entirely upon the naval force for success.

Two attacks were accordingly made by the ironclads, on the 11th, and one on the 13th of March, at a range of eight or nine hundred yards, and aided by a battery erected on the shore. In these fights one vessel was disabled, six men were killed, and twenty-five wounded.6 Neither of the attacks was successful, and as every thing depended on the ability of the gunboats to silence the rebel batteries, and enable the transports to run down and land troops immediately at or on the fort itself, operations were apparently at an end; unless, indeed, the flood should drive out the occupants of the fort. As the site of the work was so little above water, a rise of two feet would accomplish this last object; and the levee on the Mississippi, three hundred miles away, was accordingly cut, at Austin, eighteen miles above Helena, with the hope that so large a volume of water [173] might be induced to take the line of the Coldwater and Tallahatchie, as to flood the country around the fort, The cut, however, did not prove large enough to produce this effect.7

The rebels meanwhile had made haste to avail themselves of the delay occasioned by the lack of transportation for McPherson's corps, and Grant was informed that they were hurrying troops from Vicksburg, over their shorter lines, to Greenwood. In order to relieve Ross, who was now in imminent danger of being surrounded, isolated as he was, away off in this tangled network of forest and bayou, Grant devised still another scheme.

This was to hem in the enemy on the Yazoo, by sending a force along another of these labyrinthine routes, that leaves the Yazoo river below Haine's bluff, and, after innumerable windings, renters the same stream sixty miles above that point, and in the rear of Greenwood. The route was by way of the Yazoo river to Steele's bayou, up the latter to Black bayou, through that to Deer creek, and along Deer creek to the Rolling Fork; thence, across to the Big Sunflower, and down the Sunflower to the Yazoo; in all, about a hundred and fifty miles. On the 14th of March, Admiral Porter made a reconnoissance of these streams, as far as Deer creek, and informed Grant that, up to the limit of exploration, they were navigable for the [174] smaller iron-clads. Grant, the next day, accompanied the admiral on a second reconnoissance, and satisfied himself that, so far as he had penetrated, the principal obstruction was in the overhanging trees. He at once returned to Milliken's bend, with the purpose of hurrying up men and means for clearing the channel. ‘If we can get boats in the rear of them in time,’ he wrote, ‘it will so confuse the enemy as to save Ross's force. If not, I shall feel restless for his fate until I know that Quimby has reached him.’ Had this plan succeeded, it would have left Greenwood between the two national forces, and made imperative the immediate abandonment of that stronghold; about thirty steamers of the enemy would thus have been destroyed, or have fallen into Grant's hands.

On the 16th of March, he sent Sherman with a division of troops (Stuart's) up Steele's bayou; five iron-clads and four mortar-boats accompanied, under Porter. The object was, not only to liberate Ross, but to find a practicable passage to the Yazoo, without passing the enemy's batteries at Haine's bluff; and to get possession of some point on the east bank, from which Vicksburg could be reached by dry land. Grant informed Quimby of Sherman's cooperation , and urged him to the support of Ross from the north, saying: ‘Sherman will come in below the enemy you are now contending against, and, between, the two forces, you will find no further difficulties before reaching the ground I so much desire.’ In all these various operations, Grant never lost sight of his principal aim—to obtain a footing and a secure base from which to prosecute his campaign on dry land. [175]

Sherman's troops went up the Mississippi on large transports, about thirty miles, to Eagle bend, where Steele's bayou runs within one mile of the river; they thus saved the distance from the mouth of the Yazoo, and also the most difficult part of the navigation in the bayou. They marched across the strip of land between the river and the bayou, building floating bridges over part of the way, which led through a swamp called Muddy bayou. Small-class steamers then ferried them up the stream, Porter having the advance. The drift-timber soon began to obstruct the channel, and the gunboats got entangled, but nevertheless forced a way through. The turns were so short, that the admiral was obliged to heave his vessels around the bends, having not a foot to spare. It took him thus twenty-four hours to advance four miles.

By this time, it had become evident that transportation for McPherson, through the Yazoo pass, could not be procured; his previous orders to go to the assistance of Ross were therefore countermanded, Grant now intending to bring him to the lower end of the expedition. Quimby's orders, however, were not yet revoked.

Porter pushed along with his unwieldy iron-clads, through the labyrinth, his way obstructed now far more than in the earlier stages of the expedition. The gunboats moved like snails, but with great power, pushing all saplings, and bushes, and drift aside. The bayous were narrow and crooked, the turns sudden, the channel was half filled with cypress and willows growing in the bed of the stream; a thicket of trees overhead had to be thrust aside, but he broke the branches of the forest with his heavy iron-clad boats, [176] and made a tortuous path in advance of the lighter transports, which had still more difficulty than he in forcing a passage.8 Trees had to be pulled up by the roots, and stumps sawn off below the surface of the water; chimneys, and guards, and pilot-houses were swept away by the wilderness of boughs that reached down from above, and stretched out on either side.

There was no dry land along the route as far as Deer creek, and all the troops had finally to be removed from the transports and conveyed on tugs and coal-barges, the way having become impassable to the steamers. The movement of the land forces was therefore extremely slow, and the naval vessels got some thirty miles in advance, near the Rolling Fork. Here, on the 20th of March, Porter was attacked by sharpshooters, to whom his heavy ordnance could render only ineffectual replies. The rebels had not only impeded his progress, by hewing heavy trees in his front, but begun doing the same in his rear. The labor of removing these artificial obstructions was prodigious; it was prosecuted by night as well as by day, and under artillery and musketry fire; and Porter finally sent back for Sherman to hurry up to his assistance.

Sherman was then at the junction of the Big Black bayou and Deer creek. He at once sent forward all the troops which had arrived at that point; and, when, in a few hours, reenforcements came up, although it was night, he marched at their head, along the narrow and only track of hard land that [177] had been found, leading his troops by lighted candles through the canebrake. They got up opportunely for Porter, whose iron-clads were three feet below the banks of the river, and thus unable to reply to the sharpshooters. He had in fact begun to withdraw; but the rebels had a force of about four thousand men in the swamps, and were compelling negroes, at the muzzle of the musket, to fell trees all around the fleet, in rear as well as in advance. A battery of artillery was also established in front. Sherman, however, speedily drove away the annoying skirmishers, and saved the admiral with his fleet.9

But the impracticability of the campaign had been demonstrated. So much time had been consumed, that the enemy was now fully aware of the movement. The creek was blockaded just where the boats would leave it for the Rolling Fork, and the rebels occupied the ground in force, from which they could prevent the removal of the obstructions. The admiral, therefore, was forced to desist from any further effort to proceed, when within a few hundred yards of clear sailing to the Yazoo; for, once in the Rolling Fork, there would have been no more difficulties. The character of the country precluded the possibility of taking any land route, and it was accordingly necessary to return, without having accomplished any of the objects of the expedition.

The troops had, however, been carried into the heart of the granary from which the Vicksburg forces were being fed, and great alarm had been caused to the enemy. Rebel guns were removed from batteries along the Mississippi, citizens in the interior fled from their plantations, several thousand bales of cotton [178] were burnt, lest they should fall into the hands of the national forces, and much of the bacon, beef, and poultry of the region was consumed. But these results were insignificant, when compared with those which it had been hoped to attain.

The iron-clads had to back out of the stream into navigable water, as there was not room to turn, and, with unshipped rudders, rebounded from tree to tree. Sherman, on shore, protected them during this difficult and dangerous operation, and, on the 27th, he was back in his original camps opposite Vicksburg.

Meanwhile, Ross had withdrawn from before Fort Pemberton, and on his way back met Quimby, on the 22d of March, near the head of the Yazoo pass. Quimby being senior, decided to return, and ascertain for himself the situation, but soon discovered that nothing could be done to remedy it; and, as soon as Grant learned the failure of the Steele's bayou expedition, he directed the concentration of all his forces at Milliken's bend.

These various attempts and expeditions on both sides of the Mississippi, although unsuccessful in their main objects, were yet productive of beneficial results. The national forces, so constantly employed, became hardened by exposure, and of course improved in spirits and health; they obtained also a thorough knowledge of the peculiar difficulties of the country in which they were operating, and were thus better able to encounter those difficulties. The enemy, besides, was kept continually on the alert, and, obliged to move his troops hurriedly and frequently from place to place; not knowing in what quarter nor from what direction the blow might fall, he was forced to maintain large detachments at posts remote [179] from Grant's real objective point. The men were thus wearied and distracted, in advance of the great trial of their spirit and strength which was sure to come in the end.

While all these operations had been going on, Admiral Farragut, with a part of his fleet, had run by the batteries at Port Hudson, and communicated with Grant. For a while, he lay just below Warrenton, having even passed the fortifications at Grand Gulf. Through Farragut, Grant was enabled to communicate with Banks. All hope of receiving any aid from that officer had long since been abandoned; he had found the capture of Port Hudson as difficult a task as that of Vicksburg had proven to Grant; and, the latter, when it became apparent that neither the canal, nor the Lake Providence, nor the Yazoo pass, nor the Steele's bayou scheme was likely to be of any avail, now proposed to send an army corps to cooperate with Banks.10 With this increased force, Port Hudson could certainly be taken, and then Banks's entire army might be combined with Grant's, and, moving up from below, a cooperative attack be made on Vicksburg. The great distance that separated the two armies, however, between whom also lay the two strongholds which were the objective [180] points of the campaign of each, prevented the realization of this plan.

The country, meanwhile, and the government, had become very impatient. Clamors were raised everywhere against Grant's slowness; the old rumors about his personal character were revived; his soldiers were said to be dying of swamp fevers and dysenteries, in the morasses around Vicksburg; he was pronounced utterly destitute of genius or energy; his repeatedly baffled schemes declared to emanate from a brain unfitted for such trials; his' persistency was dogged obstinacy, his patience was sluggish dulness. McClernand, and Hunter, and Fremont, and McClellan were spoken of as his successors; senators and governors went to Vicksburg, and from Vicksburg to Washington, to work for his removal. McClernand's machinations at this time came very near succeeding. His advocates were never so earnest nor so hopeful, while some of Grant's best friends failed him at the critical moment. But the President said: ‘I rather like the man; I think we'll try him a little longer.’11 But for this persistency, Grant would undoubtedly have been relieved, and McClernand put in command of the expedition against Vicksburg. Grant was aware of all these efforts to supplant him, and of the probability of their success. His anxieties as a commander were of course enhanced by the near prospect of his removal.

On the 2d of April, Halleck informed him that [181] the President ‘seems to be rather impatient about matters on the Mississippi,’ and inquired if Grant could not cooperate with Banks against Port Hudson. On the 9th, also, he wrote: ‘You are too well advised of the anxiety of the government for your success, and its disappointment at the delay, to render it necessary to urge upon you the importance of early action;’ but, added in his own behalf: ‘I am confident that you will do every thing possible to open the Mississippi river.’ And, indeed, it is not surprising that the government should have urged him on. No substantial victory had cheered the flagging spirits of the North, since Grant's own successes at Corinth and Iuka, of the preceding autumn. Banks had achieved no military results, with his mammoth expedition; Burnside, in December, had suffered the repulse at Fredericksburg; Rosecrans had not got further than Murfreesboro; and, the great force of sixty or seventy thousand men, at Grant's disposal, had accomplished absolutely nothing, during six long, weary months of effort and delay.

The rebels were confident of the security of their stronghold, and taunted Grant with his failures; every new plan awoke new demonstrations of contempt, and Vicksburg was pronounced by Mr. Jefferson Davis to be the Gibraltar of America. A reconnoissance was made to Haine's bluff, but it only demonstrated the impracticability of attacking that place during the high stage of water. Whichever way the national forces turned, nature seemed to combine with art to render the rebel fortifications impregnable. The elements were the strongest defences of Vicksburg, stubborn and gallant as was the courage of her soldiers. [182]

Still, Grant wrote, on the 4th of April, after all these failures: ‘The discipline and health of this army is now good, and I am satisfied the greatest confidence of success prevails.’ In the following words he described to Halleck the plan which he next essayed. It was the last:

There is a system of bayous running from Milliken's bend, also from near the river at this point (Young's point), that are navigable for large and small steamers, passing around by Richmond to New Carthage. There is also a good wagon-road from Milliken's bend to New Carthage. The dredges are now engaged cutting a canal from here into these bayous. I am having all the empty coal-boats and other barges prepared for carrying troops and artillery, and have written to Colonel Allen for some more, and also for six tugs to tow them. With them it would be easy to carry supplies to New Carthage, and any point south of that.12

My expectation is for some of the naval fleet to run the batteries of Vicksburg, whilst the army moves through by this new route. Once there, I will move to Warrenton or Grand Gulf, probably the latter. From either of these points, there are good roads to Jackson and the Black river bridge, without crossing Black river. I will keep my army together, and see to it that I am not cut off from my supplies, or beat in any other way than a fair fight.

Grant himself had long believed that he should [183] eventually be compelled to adopt this plan; but the submerged condition of the roads on the Louisiana shore had hitherto rendered it impracticable. When the idea became known to those in his intimacy, to his staff, and to his corps commanders, it seemed to them full of danger. To move his army below Vicksburg was to separate it from the North, and from all its supplies; to throw what seemed an insurmountable obstacle between himself and his own base; to cut his own communications, and place his army exactly where it is the whole object and aim of war to get the enemy. In a word, it was to hazard every thing, for if failure came, it was sure to be overwhelming; only the most complete and speedy victory could insure him against absolute annihilation. These considerations were urged upon Grant by the most accomplished soldiers of his command; those who have since acquired reputations of the most brilliant character, strove to divert their chief from what they considered this fatal error. Sherman, McPherson, Logan, Wilson, all opposed—all of course within the proper limits of soldierly subordination, but all with energy.

Even after the orders for the movement had been issued, Sherman rode up to Grant's headquarters, and proposed his plan. He asserted, emphatically, that the only way to take Vicksburg was from the north, selecting some high ground on the Mississippi for a base. Grant replied that such a plan would require him to go back to Memphis. ‘Exactly so,’ said Sherman, ‘that is what I mean;’ and he developed the reasons, which seemed to him unanswerable, in favor of such a course. Grant, however, believed that a retrograde movement, even if temporary, would [184] be disastrous to the country, which was in no temper to endure another reverse; he was determined to take no step backward, and so declared. Sherman thereupon returned to his own headquarters, and, on the 8th of April, addressed a formal communication to Lieutenant-Colonel Rawlins, Grant's chief of staff, in which he again set forth the advantages of the route he had recommended, and suggested that Grant should call on all his corps commanders for their views.

‘Let the line of the Yallabusha be the base,’ he said, ‘from which to operate against the points where the Mississippi Central crosses Big Black, above Canton, and lastly where the Vicksburg and Jackson railroad crosses the same river. The capture of Vicksburg would result.’13 The letter was able, and in strict accordance with the established principles of military science; it was respectful and subordinate in tone, and concluded in these words: ‘I make these suggestions with the request that General Grant simply read them, and give them, as I know he will, a share of his thoughts. I would prefer he should not answer them, but merely give them as much or as little weight as they deserve; whatever plan of action he may adopt will receive from me the same zealous cooperation and energetic support as though conceived by myself.’

Colonel Rawlins handed the paper to Grant without saying a word; Grant read it carefully but in silence, and after the perusal was finished made no comment. The orders were not revoked, the council of war was not called, and the letter has never since been mentioned between the two commanders. Its [185] existence was not disclosed by Grant, until Sherman himself publicly related the incident, after the investment of Vicksburg, when several prominent men were attributing to him the conception of the campaign which resulted in opening the Mississippi river.

Sherman, doubtless, was induced to take this step by his anxiety for the success of the campaign, as well as for the reputation of his chief, between whom and himself relations of such peculiar intimacy had long existed; but Grant was firmly determined to make the movement, and the disapproval of his ablest generals had no effect to deter him. Sherman, thinking the plan almost certain of defeat, for that reason felt the greater need of making the greater effort to insure its success. He did not fail, nor did any of those officers whose faith in the enterprise was least, to do their utmost to falsify their own opinions. Indeed, had Grant's subordinates been less thoroughly subordinate, had they done less than their best to attain a result which they believed almost, if not quite unattainable, no determination, nor daring, nor energy in their commander could have availed. But, not a word of dissatisfaction or criticism escaped from these true soldiers, after it once became evident that Grant was immovable.

At this time, however, he had not himself determined to do all that he afterwards attempted. His plans, indeed, were always ripened into their full fruition by the emergencies and opportunities of a battle or campaign; his judgment was always sharpened by events, his faculties were always brighter at a crisis; his decisions were most unerring when compelled to be most sudden and irrevocable. Then, words, if few, were not laggard, and always to the point; and [186] action followed as fast on thought as a strong man's movements on his will.

His design, now, was to move his army to some point below Vicksburg, where he might be able to supply himself by the roads and bayous in Louisiana, and thence send a corps to cooperate with Banks in the reduction of Port Hudson. After that place should have fallen, Banks, with his whole army and the corps from Grant, was to march up and unite in the campaign against Vicksburg. As the Mississippi would then be open from New Orleans, supplies could reach the army from below. In order to accomplish this movement, it was necessary for Grant to throw his whole force simultaneously south of Vicksburg, as a single corps would be exposed to the risk of attack from the garrison, as well as from the rebel army in the interior. Banks was the senior of Grant, and upon a junction of their forces must have assumed command.

Accordingly, in the last week in March, orders were issued for the concentration of all the forces of the expedition at Milliken's bend; McPherson was brought from Lake Providence and the Yazoo pass, and Sherman from Steele's bayou; Hurlbut was stripped of every man that could be spared from the rear; yawls and flat-boats were collected from St. Louis and Chicago, and, on the 29th of March, Mc-Clernand was sent by the circuitous roads that lead from Milliken's bend, by way of Richmond and west of Roundaway bayou, to New Carthage, twenty-seven miles below. McPherson and Sherman were to follow McClernand, as rapidly as ammunition and rations could be forwarded. The movement was necessarily slow; the roads though level, were intolerably bad, [187] the effects of the long overflow having not yet disappeared. A new canal was being constructed at Duckport, to connect the Mississippi with Roundaway bayou, and there was danger of McClernand's route becoming overflowed from this canal. The wagonroad, even where built up, was only twenty inches above water in the swamp; and the river was four and a half inches higher than the land, at the point where the water was to be let into the canal. Grant, at this time, wrote to Halleck: ‘The embarrassment I have had to contend against, on account of extreme high water, cannot be appreciated by any one not present to witness it.’

New Carthage, however, was occupied on the 6th of April, but the levee of Bayou Vidal, which empties into the Mississippi at that point, was broken in several places, and the country deluged for a distance of two miles; boats were accordingly collected from all the bayous in the vicinity, and others were constructed of such material as was at hand. One division, with its artillery, was thus conveyed across Vidal bayou, and through the overflowed forest to the levee at New Carthage; but, the ferriage of an entire army in this way would have been exceedingly tedious, and a new route was found from Smith's plantation, where the crevasse had occurred, to Perkins's, twelve miles below. This made the march from Milliken's bend to the new point from which it was-now proposed to operate, about thirty-five or forty miles. Four bridges, two of them six hundred feet long, had to be laid across the swollen bayous which interrupted this route. These were built of the barges and flats previously used at Smith's plan. tation, and of forest timber found near the crossing. [188]

The transport route, through Duckport canal and the bayous, had just become practicable, when a fall in the waters of the Mississippi occurred, and one steamer only got through this passage. Afterwards, the depth of water was insufficient to allow transports of the smallest draught to make their way, and all supplies of ordnance stores and provisions had to be hauled by land over the miserable, muddy roads.

As early as the 13th of February, Grant had written to Hurlbut: ‘It seems to me that Grierson, with about five hundred picked men, might succeed in cutting his way south, and cut the railroad east of Jackson, Mississippi. The undertaking would be a hazardous one, but it would pay well if carried out.’ This road was the principal avenue of communication for the rebels with Vicksburg. Circumstances prevented the execution of the plan until the 9th of March, when full instructions were issued to Hurlbut to send Grierson on such an errand; but obstacles again intervened, and it was not till the middle of April that a cavalry force, seventeen hundred strong, was organized at La Grange, and the command given to Colonel B. H. Grierson, of the Sixth Illinois cavalry. This force was ordered to make its way south, from La Grange, through the state of Mississippi, to some point on the river below Vicksburg, destroying railroads and cutting off supplies in every way possible from the besieged city. The movement was also intended to act as a diversion in favor of Grant's new campaign, as well as to test the idea he entertained, that the fortunes of the rebellion were waning, its armies becoming exhausted, and its supplies rapidly decreasing; that, in fact, men and stores were alike drawn to the outside, and the so. [189] called Confederacy itself was only a ‘hollow shell.’ This ‘shell’ Grierson was to penetrate. He started on the 17th of April, and made one of the most memorable cavalry expeditions of the war, traversing the entire state of Mississippi, without meeting any large force to oppose him; destroying stores, burning bridges, tearing up railroads, and having a moral effect upon the population of the interior altogether unprecedented. Larger cavalry forces often moved, far greater cavalry campaigns were made, but this was the most remarkable which had then occurred, and therefore produced a greater effect upon the imaginations of the rebels than any that came after. Grierson emerged out of the unknown and hostile territory, at Baton Rouge, on the 2d of May. He had captured five hundred prisoners, killed and wounded one hundred rebels, destroyed fifty miles of railroad and telegraph wire and three thousand stands of arms, and marched six hundred miles, in less than sixteen days. His loss was three killed and seven wounded. Five men were left on the road, sick, and nine straggled.14

While Grant had been prosecuting his different campaigns, by land and river and swamp, above the city, several of the vessels in Porter's command had run by the Vicksburg batteries, with various fortune. One was captured, two were sunk, and one, the Queen of the West, passed by without serious injury. For several reasons it had now become indispensable to have a supply of boats below Vicksburg. Barges were needed to ferry the troops across the river, to the point from which the new campaign was to commence; and the transportation of supplies by land was so tedious, that Grant determined to risk send. [190] ing three steamers and ten barges past the batteries, loaded with rations and forage. The cooperation of Admiral Porter was necessary in this part of the undertaking; and, whenever, in all this long and varied campaign, such cooperation was needed, Grant never applied in vain. On the 26th of April, he wrote: ‘I am happy to say the admiral and myself have never yet disagreed upon any policy.’

Only two of the steamboat masters were willing to encounter the danger; the crew of one transport also remained aboard, but all the others shrank. When, however, it became known in the army that volunteers were wanted for the dangerous task, men enough to man a hundred steamers pressed themselves upon the commanders; pilots, masters, engineers, and men, all were found in the ranks and among the officers on shore, and from these, crews were speedily improvised for the transport fleet. While seven of Porter's iron-clads engaged the batteries, the river steamers, protected by bales of cotton and wet hay, and towing the barges, were to run the gantlet of twenty-eight heavy guns that commanded the river for over fifteen miles.

The night of the 16th of April was selected for the undertaking. There was no moon, and by ten o'clock all was ready. One after another, and as silently as possible, the venturous fleet steamed down the river to the bend. From this point they proceeded more leisurely, drifting with the current, the gunboats in advance. Porter led the way, on the Benton, and reached the first batteries without being discovered; but, at sixteen minutes past eleven, the artillery opened from the bluffs; the admiral at once responding with a rapid fire. The vessels of the [191] squadron, all in line, followed his example, while the transports hugged the Louisiana shore, and sought to hurry by under cover of the smoke. Grant remained on a transport just above the bend, where he could watch the operations, within range. Shot and shell fell thick around him.

The night was dark, but houses were speedily set on fire by the rebels along the shore on either side, and the bright glare thrown across the water made it light as day. When the fleet got opposite the city, the men at the batteries and in the streets of Vicksburg, could be plainly seen. The first transports arrived opposite the court-house at twenty minutes past twelve. It was here they received the heaviest fire; each vessel became a target to the rebel shot, and a storm of projectiles of every variety and size came crashing over them, cutting the ropes and chimney-guys, bursting in the pilot-houses, and shivering the machinery. Men were stationed in the holds, to put cotton-bags into such openings as were made by the rebel shot; and, soon after getting under fire, the barges were cut loose, some of them sweeping down in the current, even below New Carthage.

Every transport was struck, and two were drawn into the eddy, and ran over a part of the distance in front of Vicksburg no less than three times. The Forest Queen was disabled by a round shot, and drifted down opposite the lower picket stations, where the gunboat Tuscumbia took her in tow, and landed her just above the crevasse at New Carthage. The Henry Clay also became disabled, and was in a sinking condition soon after coming within range of the upper batteries; she had in tow a barge with soldiers aboard, which was cast loose, and floated [192] down the stream. Not long afterwards the boat itself took fire, from the explosion of a shell, and burned to the water's edge, drifting along with the current, a flaming mass. General Sherman was in a small boat, watching the bombardment, and picked up the pilot as he floated from the wreck. The crew pushed off in yawls to the Louisiana side, where they landed, and hid themselves behind an old levee, during the cannonade. After it had ceased, they made their way back through the submerged swamps, to camp.

The light streamed up from the blazing hull of the Henry Clay, and threw into strong relief against the shadows of night the other transports, and the gunboats at their fiery work. The currents were strong, and dangerous eddies delayed the vessels; the lights glaring in every direction, and the smoke enveloping the squadron, confused the pilots; the bulwarks, even of the iron-clads, were crushed; and the uproar of artillery, reechoing from the hills, was incessant. One of the heaviest guns of the enemy was seen to burst in the streets of Vicksburg, and the whole population was awake and out of doors, watching the scene on which its destinies depended. For two hours and forty minutes, the fleets were under fire. But, at last, the transports and the gunboats had all got out of range, the blazing beacons on the hills and on the stream burned low, the array of batteries belching flame and noise from the embattled bluffs had ceased their utterance, and silence and darkness resumed their sway over the beleaguered city, and the swamps and rivers that encircle Vicksburg.

On the gunboats, no one was killed, and only eight wounded; all of Porter's vessels were ready for [193] service within half an hour after passing the batteries. No casualties were reported on the transports, but both the steamers and barges were materially damaged.

Meanwhile, McClernand's advance had arrived at New Carthage, and was watching anxiously the issue of the operation. At first, only the burning fragments of the Henry Clay, and the barge that had been cut loose, came floating down; and an old rebel, on whose—estate McClernand's headquarters were established, was jubilant at what he supposed the defeat of the Yankees. ‘Where are your gunboats now?’ he exclaimed; ‘Vicksburg has put an end to them all;’ and the national officers feared lest his elation might prove well-founded. By daylight, however, the wrecks had all passed by; and, after a while, a gunboat appeared below the bend; and then, a transport; then, one after another, the whole fleet of iron-clads and army steamers hove in sight, from their perilous passage. The ‘Yankees’ now had their turn of rejoicing, and thanked the rebel for teaching them the word. ‘Where are your gunboats now?’ they said. ‘Did Vicksburg put an end to them all?’ But the old man was too much exasperated at the national success, to endure the taunts he had himself provoked, and rushed away in a rage. The next day he set fire to his own house, rather than allow it to shelter his enemies.

His plantation was one of the loveliest in Louisiana; high enough to be secure from inundation, it overlooked the meanderings of the Mississippi for nearly fifty miles; wide savannas teemed with the wealth of the corn and the cotton-plant, while the spacious lawns were clad in all the charms of precocious [194] summer in this balmy clime. Japan plums and fig-trees grew in the open air, and groves of magnolia and oleander bloomed. The softness of the atmosphere, redolent with unfamiliar fragrance, and the aspect of the landscape, brilliant with blossoms and verdure, enchanted the soldiers. ‘Here, at last,’ they cried, ‘we have found the sunny South.’ But desolation and destruction fell like a storm-cloud over the scene. In a few hours a blackened pile was all that remained of the stately mansion; the broad plantation became a camping-ground; the venerable trees in which it was embosomed were hewn down for firewood, and the secluded fields were speedily transformed into a confused and bustling bivouac.15

Grant's orders to McClernand had been explicit and urgent, to seize and occupy Grand Gulf. In order to appease the unappeasable ambition and conceit of his subordinate, he had given him command of the advance, and charged him with an operation, which, if successful, would have rendered McClernand famous at once. On the 12th of April, he wrote to that officer: ‘It is my desire that you should get possession of Grand Gulf at the earliest practicable moment. . . . I wanted particularly to see you about the facilities for getting troops from Smith's [195] plantation to New Carthage, and the chances for embarking there.’ On the 13th: ‘It is not desirable that you should move in any direction from Grand Gulf, but remain under the protection of the gun. boats. The present plan, if not changed by the movements of the enemy, will be to hold Grand Gulf.’ On the 18th: ‘I would still repeat former instructions, that possession be got of Grand Gulf at the earliest possible moment.’ Again: ‘I will be over here in a few days again, and hope it will be my good fortune to find you in safe possession of Grand Gulf.’

But McClernand's inefficiency in conducting the movements of his corps was such, that Grant was obliged to instruct him in the most minute details.16 Instead of appreciating this, McClernand resented it as interference. Admiral Porter, after the running of the batteries, also endeavored to make suggestions to the intractable and incompetent commander of the advance. He informed McClernand of opportunities for attacking Grand Gulf, and urged him to make a combined assault with the navy, on that place. But all in vain.

Finally, Porter wrote to Sherman, with whom he was intimate, and begged him to induce General Grant at once to come down in person to the front, and examine the situation for himself, as the favoraable opportunity was fast slipping by. Grant was suffering from boils at the time, and almost unable to mount a horse; but, the day after receiving this request, he rode forty miles, from Milliken's bend to Perkins's landing, and there gave McClernand further [196] instructions. The time that had been wasted, how. ever, was irrecoverable; the rebels had used it to advantage, and Grant became convinced that nothing would be accomplished until he took command in person, and remained with the advance. He returned, therefore, to Milliken's bend, to hasten the transportation of McPherson's corps.

In fact, during this entire campaign, Grant constantly directed the quartermasters and commissaries, the movements of troops and the transportation of stores and ordnance, the plans of reconnoissances and the positions of important batteries. Not only was there no movement of a division, from the time he took command, in January, that was not expressly ordered by himself, but his instructions, even to regimental commanders, when these commanded detached posts, were numerous, and constant, and detailed. This course was indispensable, because of the complicated character of the campaign, the vast distances over which he was operating, and the extreme difficulties in transportation, against which he was obliged to contend. In no other way could he harmonize these various movements, and evoke unity out of the confused and apparently conflicting combinations. A commander who had not supervised every thing, at this emergency, would have failed.17

On the 26th of April, six other transports attempted to run by the Vicksburg batteries; five of them succeeded, although in a damaged condition; one was sunk, being struck in the hull by a solid shot. The crews of all these transports, like those of their [197] predecessors, were composed of volunteers for the purpose, from the army. Twelve barges, laden with forage and rations, were sent in tow of the last six steamers, and half of them got safely by. On this occasion, but one man was killed, and six or eight were wounded; about five hundred shots were fired.

Immediately after the running of the batteries, the various vessels and barges were repaired, by order of Admiral Porter, who furnished the material. Mechanics were found in the army to do the work; for it was a striking feature of the volunteer service, throughout the war, that no mechanical or professional need arose, when accomplished adepts could not be found in almost any regiment to perform the duty required. The army craft was soon in a condition to be of use in moving troops; but, the destruction of two transports and six barges, reduced the number so that it was found necessary to march the men from Perkins's plantation to Hard Times, twenty-two miles further, and a distance of seventy miles from Milliken's bend. The new road lay along the west bank of Lake St. Joseph, and across three large bayous, over which bridges were built by the troops, the materials being taken from plantation-houses near by.

The whole route was in miserable condition, and after the march was once begun, the roads became intolerable. But, on the 29th of April, the entire Thirteenth corps had arrived at Hard Times, ten thousand men having moved from Perkins's plantation on transports. Grant's headquarters, on the 24th, were with the advance.

Reconnoissances of the eastern shore had meanwhile been ordered by Grant, and resulted in the discovery [198] that there was but one point between Warrenton and Grand Gulf, where a good road existed from the river to the bluffs, the whole country being still overflowed on the left bank of the river. This dry point was at a place called Congo Island, and was so strongly protected by natural defences, that it was not judged advisable to attempt a landing there. The road led to Cox's farm on the Big Black river, and to use this landing would have necessitated crossing the Big Black in the face of the enemy.

The Seventeenth corps, under McPherson, had followed McClernand closely, and Grant, after consuiting with Admiral Porter, now determined to attack the works at Grand Gulf. The Mississippi, at this place, has cut away the alluvium to the foot of the highland, and forms a large semi-circular bay or ‘gulf.’ The bluff rises into a bold promontory, and commands a full view of the river for five or six miles above. The fortifications consisted of a series of rifle-trenches, and of two batteries, mounting thirteen heavy guns. The plan was, for the naval force to bombard and silence the batteries, and, immediately afterwards, the troops were to land at the foot of the bluff, and carry the works by storm. Accordingly, ten thousand troops of the Thirteenth corps were crowded aboard the transports and barges, and moved down the stream, to the front of Grand Gulf, at a point just out of range.

Grant, however, had foreseen that a necessity for running by the batteries might again arise. In his order to McClernand for the attack, dated the 27th of April, he remarked: ‘It may be that the enemy will occupy positions back from the city, out of range of the gunboats, so as to make it desirable to run [199] past Grand Gulf and land at Rodney,. . . or, it may be expedient for the boats to run past, but not the men. In this case, then, the transports would have to be brought back to where the men could land, and move by forced marches to below Grand Gulf, reembark rapidly, and proceed to the latter place.’18 With the exception of the march to Grand Gulf, this is what actually occurred, two days afterwards. On the same day, Grant instructed McClernand: ‘The amount of transportation being limited for the number of men it is desirable to take to Grand Gulf, I especially intended that no horses, except what was necessary for drawing the artillery, should be taken.’

At eight o'clock on the morning of the 29th, Porter began the bombardment with all his iron-clads, seven in number, and one ordinary gunboat. For five hours and twenty minutes, he kept up a vigorous fire, without intermission, running his vessels at times almost within pistol-shot of the batteries. The current of the Mississippi at this place is quite swift, and the stream too deep for anchorage, so that the gunboats were compelled to keep continually in motion; they were turned round and round in the eddies, exposed of course at every turn. The vessels were handled with skill and boldness, but the rebel batteries were too elevated for Porter to accomplish any thing; he was not able to dismount a solitary piece, and it would have been madness to attempt a landing, under unsilenced guns like these. No serious injury was sustained by any of the fleet, but, at twenty minutes past one o'clock, the admiral withdrew, [200] the utter futility of his effort having been amply demonstrated; the enemy also suspended fire. Porter's loss was eighteen killed and fifty-six wounded. One of his vessels was struck as many as forty-seven times.

Grant had witnessed the bombardment from a tug in the stream, and, immediately upon its close, he signalled the admiral, who took him aboard the flagship. There, he at once requested Porter to run by the batteries at Grand Gulf that night, with his entire fleet, as a cover to the transports, while the troops should be disembarked at Hard Times, and marched to De Shroon's, a point on the western shore, three miles below Grand Gulf. Porter promptly acquiesced, and that night the gunboats again engaged the batteries, while all the transports ran by, receiving no damage in the passage, only one or two being struck. They were thus ready, on the morning of the 30th, to take the troops aboard at De Shroon's. During the night, the Thirteenth corps marched around to that place, on the levee. The gunboats also passed below the batteries.

Grant had previously ordered the eastern shore below Grand Gulf explored, to find a landing-place, and hardly hoped to get a footing anywhere north of Rodney; but, that night, information was procured from a negro, that a good road led from Bruinsburg, six miles below Grand Gulf, to Port Gibson, twelve miles in the interior, and on high ground. When the embarkation began in the morning, it was with a view to steam down the river, until hard land should be found, but, this information being relied on, the first transports went direct to Bruinsburg, and found the negro's story correct; a good dry road leading to [201] the bluffs, which were at least two miles from the river.

At the same time that the attack on Grand Gulf was ordered, Grant wrote to Sherman, who had not yet started from Milliken's bend, to make a demonstration against Haine's bluff, which should serve as a diversion merely, in favor of the assault below. ‘The effect of a heavy demonstration in that direction,’ said Grant, ‘would be good, so far as the enemy are concerned; but I am loath to order it, because it would be so hard to make our own troops understand that only a demonstration was intended, and our people at home would characterize it as a repulse.’ Sherman had been so unfortunate, and the comments of the newspaper press on his career had been so unjustly harsh, that Grant felt an especial unwillingness to place him and his command in a position that would subject them to unpleasant criticism. Still, he preferred Sherman to any other commander, for this separate and important part of the enterprise. But Sherman replied: ‘I believe a diversion at Haine's bluff is proper and right, and will make it, let whatever reports of repulses be made.’ On the 29th of April, accordingly, he moved ten regiments up the Yazoo on transports, while the gunboats which had been left by Porter north of Vicksburg (eight in number), also appeared in sight of the bluff, and engaged the batteries. The troops were landed, and mock dispositions made for attack; reconnoissances were sent out, and the enemy opened heavy fire both upon the naval and the land forces. This lasted for two days, and Grant afterwards learned that the movement caused great anxiety and many changes of troops, in the command at Vicksburg. Not a man of [202] Sherman's force was hurt, nor were there any losses in the squadron. On the 1st of May, Sherman got orders from Grant to withdraw from before the bluff, and follow as rapidly as possible, on the heels of McPherson's corps. ‘Move up to Perkins's plantation, with two divisions of your corps, as rapidly as possible.’

On the 29th, after passing Grand Gulf, Grant wrote to Halleck: ‘I feel now that the battle is more than half over.’ During this tedious month, his confidence had never failed. On the 2d of April, he said to Halleck: ‘In two weeks I expect to be able to collect all my forces and turn the enemy's left.’ When Sherman returned, unsuccessful, from Steele's bayou, Grant consoled himself by saying that ‘the expedition has at least pushed our troops into the heart of the granary from which the Vicksburg forces are now being fed.’ On the 11th, he announced: ‘My force in a few days will be all concentrated; I expect to take Grand Gulf.’ On the 17th: ‘I go to New Carthage to-night; if it is possible, I will occupy Grand Gulf in four days.’ On the 18th: ‘I hope very soon to be able to report my possession of Grand Gulf.’ On the 21st: ‘My force is abundant, with a foothold once attained, to do the work.’ On the 24th, to Sherman: ‘I foresee great difficulties in our present position, but it will not do to let these retard any movements.’ Again: ‘Once at Grand Gulf, I do not feel a doubt of success in the entire clearing out of the enemy from the banks of the river.’ ‘Every effort will be exerted to get speedy possession of Grand Gulf, and from that point to open the Mississippi.’

1 The word levee is in universal use at the Southwest. Breaks in the embankments are called crevasses.

2 The streams that everywhere intersect these alluvial regions are called bayous—a corruption of the French word boyau—a gut or channel.

3 Valuable material for this description of the Mississippi valley, as well as for this entire chapter, has been obtained from a manuscript memoir of the campaign and siege of Vicksburg, placed at my disposal by Brevet Major-General J. H. Wilson, lieutenant of engineers, and lieutenant-colonel on Grant's staff at the period of these operations.

4 The following correspondence contains the only suggestion made by General Halleck to Grant during this portion of the Vicksburg campaign:

February 18.
Cannot dredge-boats be used with advantage in the canal? There are four lying idle at Louisville, belonging to Barton, Robinson & Co., contractors.

H. W. Halleck, General-in-chief.

February 17.
We have one dredging-machine here, and another ordered. More than two could not be advantageously used.

U. S. Grant, Major-General.

5 At this time Grant wrote to Halleck:

January 31.
I am pushing every thing to gain a passage, avoiding Vicksburg.

6 The enemy lost one man killed and twenty wounded.

7 There is a discrepancy between some of the statements made by subordinate army and navy officers about the Yazoo pass expedition. Each arm of the service blamed the other for delays and mishaps, for which, perhaps, neither was fairly blamable. The difficulties were prodigious, and sufficiently account for the failure of the expedition, without attributing it to a lack of energy, much less of earnestness or courage in any concerned. When accounts differ, I have adopted the statements which seemed to me best authenticated.


I never yet saw vessels so well adapted to knocking down trees, hauling them up by the roots, or demolishing bridges. Admiral Porter's Report.

9 The losses on both sides in this entire expedition did not amount to half a score.

10 On the 2d of April, Halleck wrote to Grant, using these words: . . . ‘What is most desired (and your attention is again called to this object) is, that your forces and those of General Banks should be brought into cooperation as early as possible. If he cannot get up to cooperate with you on Vicksburg, cannot you get troops down to help him at Port Hudson, or at least can you not destroy Grand Gulf before it becomes too strong.’ This and the dispatch of February 13th, already quoted, are the only orders or suggestions relating to military operations that were made to Grant by the general in-chief, from January 29th to May 11th. That of May 11th will be given in its place.

11 A congressman, who had been one of Grant's warmest friends, was found wanting at this juncture. He went to the President without being sent for, and declared that the emergencies of the country seemed to demand another commander before Vicksburg. To him Mr. Lincoln replied: ‘I rather like the man. I think we'll try him a little longer.’

12 As early as February 4th, Grant had written to Halleck about this route: ‘There is no question but that this route is much more practicable than the present undertaking, and would have been accomplished with much less labor if commenced before the water had got all over the country.’

13 See Appendix for Sherman's letter in full.

14 For Grierson's raid, see Map of Theatre of War.


The movement of troops from Milliken's bend to New Carthage will be so conducted as to allow the transportation of ten days supply of rations, and one-half the allowance of ordnance required by previous orders. Commanders are authorized and enjoined to collect all the beef cattle, corn, and other necessary supplies for the army, on the line of march, but wanton destruction of property, taking of articles useless for military purposes, insulting citizens, going into and searching houses without proper orders from division commanders, are positively prohibited. All such irregularities must be summarily punished. Extract from Grant's General Order for this movement. (See Appendix for order, entire.)

16 See Appendix for Grant's letter to McClernand of April 18th.

17 See Appendix for Grant's orders to Sherman, of April 24th. Grant's letter-book to subordinates at this time is probably one of the most curious in the history of war.

18 See Appendix for Grant's orders to McClernand for the attack in full, April 27th. Also Grant's orders of April 24th.

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