MARCH 14-27, 1863.--The Steele's Bayou
HEADQUARTERS FEATHERSTON'S BRIGADE,
MAJOR: In obedience to orders, I submit the following report of the troops under my command on Rolling Fork and Deer Creek:
About 3 a.m., March 19, I was ordered to move my brigade to Snyder's Bluff as rapidly as possible; to take two regiments from that point and one section of artillery, and proceed up Sunflower River and Rolling Fork to the junction of Rolling Fork and Deer Creek, to which point the enemy was said to be directing his movements. The order was promptly obeyed, and on Friday (20th), about 3 p.m., we arrived at the mouth of Rolling Fork, and disembarked the troops, who had to march through water three quarters of a mile before reaching land. Colonel Ferguson had preceded me from near Greenville, Miss., with his command, consisting of a battalion of infantry, six pieces of artillery, and a squadron of cavalry some 40 or 50 in number. Colonel Ferguson had previously engaged the enemy and driven back his advance guard from Dr. Chaney's house, immediately in the fork of Rolling Fork and Deer Creek. My artillery and infantry were moved rapidly from the boat landing, a distance of some 6 or 7 miles, to the head of Rolling Fork, and arrived there from 4.30 to 5 p.m. I immediately assumed command of all the forces, and placed them in position for an immediate attack The battalion of infantry was placed on the right, extending up to Deer Creek. The Twenty-second and Twenty-third Mississippi Regiments were placed on the left in the nearest strip of woods to the enemy, and extending down Deer Creek below the enemy's line of boats the artillery on the more elevated position in the center. The enemy's boats (five in number), commanded by Admiral Porter, were lying a few hundred yards below the junction of Rolling Fork and Deer Creek, surrounded by an open field from one-half to a mile wide, and near a large, elevated mound, upon which he had planted a land battery of not more than two guns. The infantry were ordered to throw out companies of skirmishers in advance, with instructions to fire at every man who made his appearance on the boats. This disposition of the troops having been made, a brisk fire was opened by our artillery and continued until dark. This fire was responded to by the enemy's gunboats as well as their land battery until night. There was no hope of boarding the boats at this time by the infantry, as they were in the middle of the stream, and could not be reached without passing through water from 10 to 20 feet deep.
The troops remained in position during the night, with instructions that if the boats landed on the east side of Deer Creek to board whenever an opportunity offered. During the night their land battery moved from the Mound to the boats, and the boats commenced moving down stream.
Next morning the attack was renewed. Skirmishers were thrown forward to the nearest points of woods on both sides of the creek, and a constant fire kept up during the day. The artillery was not used on the second day, for the reason that the supply of ammunition was nearly exhausted by the firing on Friday. The country from the head of Rolling Fork down Deer Creek to Black Bayou is nearly a continuous chain of plantations, cleared on both sides, and but few points of woods running to the bank of the stream to serve as a covert and protection for sharpshooters. Owing to the high stage of water in Deer Creek, their guns could be sufficiently depressed on the boats to use grape and canister.
On Saturday evening, the Fortieth Alabama, Lieut. Col. John H. Higley commanding, arrived, and was placed, with the Twenty-second and Thirty-third Mississippi Regiments, under the command of Col. D. W. Hurst, Thirty-third Mississippi Regiment, who had prior to that time had the immediate command of the Twenty-second and Thirty-third Mississippi Regiments, Colonel Ferguson retaining during the whole time the immediate command of his own forces. The enemy continued to retire down the creek.
On Sunday morning the attack was continued at Moore's plantation, some 6 or 7 miles below the head of Rolling Fork. Two regiments were thrown below in advance of the boats (Twenty-second and Thirty-third Mississippi), in a point of woods running up to the creek, where it was thought they could be successfully assailed. The Fortieth Alabama and artillery ordered to open a brisk fire on them until it had exhausted its supply of ammunition. This order was promptly obeyed, and the fire of our guns most cordially responded to by the guns of the enemy's boats. The two regiments thrown below were met by Sherman's division coming up, when a sharp skirmish ensued. While this skirmish was going on between the two regiments below and Sherman's division, two regiments of the enemy advanced from the boats immediately to the front, evidently with a view of cutting off the Twenty second and Thirty-third Mississippi, then in advance. These two regiments were ordered back to a strong position then held by the Fortieth Alabama and artillery. This was done in good order through the skirt of woods on the enemy's left. The enemy advancing some half a mile through the field, and finding our forces united, fell back to the boats. I am satisfied, from reliable information received from citizens as well as a captured dispatch from General Sherman to Admiral Porter, that the enemy's force could not now have consisted of less than eight or nine regiments.
On Monday [23d], our troops were not moved, for the reason that our artillery was out of ammunition and hourly expecting a supply by our boats, and the men were without rations, and had been scantily and irregularly supplied up to that time, owing to the fact that we arrived without rations and without transportation, and it required time to collect both.
On Tuesday morning the march was again resumed, but the artillery was carried but a little distance until the roads were found impassable, and it was left.
On Wednesday [25th], the enemy was overtaken on Watson's farm, about 3 miles above Black Bayou. They were posted in a dense canebrake and woods, from which they retired before our skirmishers, the boats having preceded them. The woods were occupied by our troops that (Wednesday) night.
On Thursday morning our troops again advanced through Fore's plantation, when a skirmish ensued between their rear guard and our sharpshooters.
On Friday morning, when preparing to advance through the last skirt of woods on the east side of Deer Creek, before reaching Black Bayou, I learned from cavalry scouts sent in advance that the enemy's boats had gone down Black Bayou and his land forces retired.
On Monday evening, the Thirty-first Mississippi Regiment, Col. J. A. Orr commanding, arrived, and in time advance on Tuesday and Wednesday Colonel Orr had the immediate command of the Twenty-second, Thirty-third, Thirty-first Mississippi, and Fortieth Alabama Regiments.
On Friday night, after the first engagement, the cavalry was sent several miles below to fell trees into the stream to prevent the escape of the boats, but were driven from their work at an early hour by a body of the enemy's infantry without having accomplished much. The cavalry did that night capture a negro, a bearer of a dispatch from General Sherman to Admiral Porter, which was sent to you at Vicksburg. The capture of the gunboats could only have been accomplished by the presence of a land force strong enough to have moved a part of it boldly to the rear of the boats, and taken a position where the succoring land force of the enemy might have been held firmly in check, while the remaining part might have felled trees and otherwise obstructed the stream in rear of the boats, annoying them with sharpshooters and compelled their surrender from absolute stress and calamity of situation after their ammunition, and perhaps provisions, should have been exhausted. The entire force under my command up to Monday did not exceed 1,300 effective men, and at no time during the seven days did it exceed 2,500 men. The visionary absurdity of the over-sanguine expectations of capturing gunboats entertained by some military men becomes apparent when it is considered that from 12 to 15 feet depth of water, with a width of from 6 to 10 feet, is always interposed between the assailants and the object assailed, and the boats well-nigh incapable of entrance when boarded, and each arranged with reference to the protection of the other. This entire expedition was full of hardships to the troops, who endured them with patience and fortitude, and were always cool and spirited in the presence of the enemy.
I not only feel under obligation to my regular staff--Capt. W. R. Barksdale, assistant adjutant-general, and Lieut. A. N. Parker, aide-de-camp--but also to Lieutenant [W. A.] Drennan, acting ordnance officer, and Mr. E M. McAfee, volunteer aides, who were efficient in their places. Major [E. H.] Cummins, engineer officer, Major-General Maury's staff; accompanied me on this expedition, and had charge of all defensive works, in which he displayed much judgment and efficiency.
Our loss in the slight combats of this expedition was small, not exceeding 2 killed and 6 or 8 wounded. The enemy's loss, as learned from released citizens, was not less than from 12 to 13 killed and from 40 to 45 wounded.
A shot from our artillery, whose firing was admirable, crippled the United States tug, and took off the leg of the engineer, whose grave we found marked, "Engineer United States tug Dahlia; died March 22, 1863." The success of the expedition consists in turning and driving back the enemy, who in a very short time would have been through Rolling Fork into Sunflower River, and had the uncontested control of the Yazoo waters.
I have the honor to be, major, very respectfully, your obedient
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