W. A. Gillespie.
Greenwood, Miss., May 3, 1904
Lady Delegates to State Chapter U.D.C's.:
As I have been called on by Mrs. Lizzie George Henderson, president of the J. Z. George Chapter, and S. R. Coleman, commander of our Camp, to tell you something of Forts Pemberton and Loring, I will not try and do so in my own way, begging your pardon for any egotism on my part in the following narration.
On Gen. Pemberton's retreat from Coldwater to Grenada, Miss., in Dec. 1862, my company, C, 20th Miss. Reg't, was in that cold, wet and muddy retreat. At Grenada, Gen. Van Dorn gathered his troops of cavalry together and got in Gen. Grant's rear at Holly Springs, causing the Federal army to fall back to Memphis, where Gen. Smith was organizing a fleet of transports and gun boats to get in the rear of Vicksburg via Yazoo Pass, Coldwater, Tallahatchie and Yazoo Rivers.
While we, the army at Grenada, had gone into winter quarters, my regiment being camped some five or six miles above Grenada, on the south side of the Yalobusha River. Where on Christmas day my wife--God bless her, she is with me yet and the grandest old veteran of us all, who wore her fingers and hands into blisters and knots cutting rolls of gray cloth into uniform suits to keep busy the good women of Greenwood sewing them together for our company before leaving for the front and she who traveled over the country behind runaway mules to Tan Yards and Shoe Shops to procure boots and shoes for myself and others, & brought or sent them to us--visited me in camp and then procured board in Grenada, whom I visited daily and procured the mail for the regiment, when one day in Grenada I met an old friend, Capt. Ben Sturdivant, who had orders from the General commanding, to get up a crew for the steamboat J. M. Sharp and go down the river for supplies for our army the next day. He said that I would complete the crew as he had engineers, Mate Brown of the old steamboat Dew Drop and Dis Auter as pilot on board. With both of the last named I was well acquainted, Auter living in Greenwood, an by the way has a daughter living here at present, Mrs. Arnold. After securing a special detail for myself from Gen. Pemberton, I returned to the camp on Yalobusha River and showed my detail to Capt. Monroe Liddell, then commanding my company, who got quite wrathy because of the detailing of his Orderly Sergeant. I went back to Grenada and on board the boat Sharp that evening and went to work. The boat had been stripped for burning. But we got off down the next the next day bound for the Tallahatchie River for a load of corn, the country then being well supplied with corn, and the barns full.
I will let my wife tell you of our trip down the Yalobusha River to Greenwood, and as she was the only cook on board, and how she managed to cook meal and meat for a hungry crew on an old box-shaped wood stove in the cabin, without any cooking utensils. After getting to Greenwood and laying in a supply of rations and cooking utensils, dishes, bedding and adding to our crew Mrs. Auter, wife of the pilot, we steamed up to Capt. Sturdivant's plantation for a load of corn where the Capt. put his negroes and teams to loading the boat. Mrs. Sturdivant had just killed hogs, and Oh! the spare ribs and the home made sausage we had! While the negroes were loading the boat the next day, Mr. Pat Brown, an old friend of the families of Sid Auter and myself, sent up for us to come down and spend the evening and night with them.
I will let my wife relate the laughable incident that occurred that night at Uncle Pat Brown's. After getting a load of corn aboard and back to Greenwood, where we left our lady passengers, we steamed up to Grenada, using corn for fuel when we failed to get fence-rails. After unloading by orders from headquarters, we took on board a party of civil engineers and overseers, with about 200 negroes to proceed at once down the Yalobusha and up the Tallahatchie Rivers for the purpose of having the engineers to locate and fortify a position to stop Gen. Smith with his fleet of gun boats and transports which was then entering the Yazoo Pass from the Mississippi River.
We proceeded to the mouth of the Yazoo Pass, where the overseers and negroes were landed on both sides of the Pass, to obstruct the same and thereby prevent the fleet from descending, when Capt. W. B. Prince, in command of a cavalry company above us, and whose widow and daughter, Mrs. F. M. Southworth, by the way now reside at Carrollton, sent us word to leave at once or we would be captured, and that by cutting down the overhanging trees we were helping the enemy more than ourselves, as the fleet had a submarine saw boat in advance, which sawed the trees up and floated them to one side out of their way. So we took on board the overseers and the negroes and left there in a hurry and steamed down to the mouth of "Coldwater" River, where the engineers landed and examined the ground for fortifications and pronounced it unsuitable. We then proceeded down the Tallahatchie River out of what is known as the "Wilderness," to about Sharkey landing and tied up for the night, and late in the night when every one was quiet asleep except the watchman, pilot, mate and myself, who were in the cabin playing cards (cuchre). In answer to my partner who was complaining of my not taking any interest in the game, making bad plays, etc., I replied: "I was thinking more about helping the engineers out of their trouble in selecting a suitable place to fortify," and I remarked to Auter, who was somewhat acquainted with the topography of the country, that the mouth of Clayton Bayou would be the most suitable in my judgment. So we awoke the civil engineers and stated the case to them who, becoming very much interested, kept me up the balance of the night in mapping of the ground and propounding questions to me. Just before daylight they ordered Capt. Sturdivant to get up steam and proceed to the mouth of Clayton Bayou at once," when the Captain and pilot protested that it was very dark and there were no torch lights aboard, to which the engineers replied: "D--it, float till daylight," which we did, and on arriving at Clayton Bayou that evening the engineers landed and after looking over the ground and verifying the maps of the country with aid of some citizens, they commenced to stake off the ground in a zig-zag way for the breastworks and named the place Ft. Pemberton and sent dispatches to Grenada that evening, ordered our boat up Tallahatchie River to Dr. Curtis' plantation, (now Jones), after a load of cotton bales to be used in breastworks, and our next load of bales came from Purnell plantation, (now Alridge), which was down the river a few miles, and so on all the next day getting bales and supplies and as the bales were unloaded, they were rolled to place and covered with dirt. Gen. Pemberton came across the country from Grenada and took in the situation. The next morning we were ordered, with another steamboat, Ben McCullough, to Grenada for troops. Gen. Pemberton went back with us on the boat, (he was a quiet, unassuming gentleman). It so happened that our boat brought down my company and my regiment, so the army was soon transferred from Grenada by boats and across the country to Fort Pemberton, three miles below Greenwood on the Yazoo and Tallahatchie Rivers as per above map and which I understand you will visit to-day or tomorrow. Other troops from Haynes landing and Snider's Bluff on the Yazoo River above Vicksburg which were quickly transferred here by boats.
Fort Loring, named for Gen. W. W. Loring, who list his arm in the Mexican War, was a continuation of Fort Pemberton down the Yazoo River. In a few days, the historical steamship, Star of the West, at which the first gun of the war was fired by order of Gen. Beauregard at Charleston, S.C., and afterwards captured by Gen. Van Dorn on the Texas coast, was brought up the Mississippi, Yazoo and Tallahatchie Rivers, scuttled and sunk just above the mouth of Clayton Bayou across the channel to obstruct the passage of the enemy's fleet. She was scuttled and sunk by Lieut. A. A. Stoddard and a detail from my company. Lieut. Stoddard has at present a son, M. L., and a daughter, Miss Lula Stoddard, now in our city.
In a few days the enemy's fleet appeared and battle commenced, which was strictly an artillery fight and was continued for several days without any casualty but cripple one of their gunboats and killing several of their crew. No loss on our side. They failed to reach either our right or left flanks of battle with troops, owing to the dense woods, cane and overflow. They did land some light artillery at the Tindall place and came across to the Cothran plantation, (now owned by the heirs of Gen. J. Z. George), but met with such a warm reception of our cannon planted along the South banks of the Tallahatchie and Yalobusha Rivers at of Point Leflore that they were more than glad to retire, as our artillery outclassed theirs.
My company comrade and messmate, T. L. Chapman, who lives in our city, can relate a very interesting coincident of a famous brass cannon, the Lady Richardson, that we had at Fort Pemberton. The enemy soon became discouraged at their failures and retreated back the way they came and my company comrade, Tom Chapman, was detailed by Gen. Loring to follow the enemy's fleet in his "dugout" and he saw them safely back into the Mississippi River, after which our army fell back to Vicksburg and other places and Forts Pemberton and Loring were no more except in history.
Courtesy of Henry McCabe, Greenwood, Mississippi