|MARCH 14-27, 1863.The Steele's Bayou
Expedition (to Rolling Fork, Miss., by Muddy, Steele's, and Black Bayous
and Deer Creek), with skirmishes (21st and 22d) on Deer Creek and (24th
and 25th) on Black Bayou.
Reports of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, U.S. Army, commanding Fifteenth Army Corps.
DEAR SIR: I came up Steele's Bayou and overtook the fleet of ironclads just before they reached Deer Creek. Four of them have gone up Deer Creek to Rolling Fork Cut-off, thence into Sunflower, thence into Yazoo, just below Yazoo City. The Louisville remains here, but goes up the moment I can get a guard through to this point. Deer Creek is not as large nor has it as much current as I expected, but the water is deep and narrow. The iron-clads push their way along unharmed, but the trees and overhanging limbs tear the wooden boats all to pieces. I found the Diligent nearly up to the fleet, and they have been at work today, but most of the time were engaged in collecting rafts whereon to stand whilst cutting trees. I don't think any boat can as yet come through this Black Bayou, but I will push the work.
There is no high land here, nor is the route practicable for troops unless the admiral cleans out the Yazoo and secures the mouth of Deer Creek, when I might use Deer Creek as the route for a diverting force. The main attack on Haynes' Bluff must be in larger boats, directly up the main Yazoo. None but my small boats can navigate Deer Creek. I don't think we can make a lodgment on high land by this route, on account of the difficulty of navigation.
The admiral wants me to hold this place secure for him whilst he operates above, and I will undertake it. We are only 25 miles by land from Haynes' Bluff, but I don't apprehend they will do worse than send a party up to ascertain our strength and purposes. One brigade (Giles A. Smith's) is as much as should be sent here till the trees are cut away.
The plantation here is not more than 3 feet above water, and is the same kind of ground we have on the Mississippi.
I send the Diligent back, having landed the Eighth Missouri here, and arranged for bringing it through the bayou in a coal-barge towed by a tug.
Colonel Ihrie will describe the topographical features of this
HEADQUARTERS FIFTEENTH ARMY CORPS,
SIR: I have the honor to report that, in pursuance of Major General Grant's instructions of the 15th instant, I ordered the Eighth Missouri, Lieutenant-Colonel Coleman in command, with 50 pioneers, to embark on the steamer Diligent, and to proceed with all dispatch up the Yazoo and clean out the channel leading thence up Steele's Bayou.
This party subsequently received instructions to follow the admiral up Steele's Bayou to the Big Black, and proceed to clear it of overhanging trees, and in person I repaired on board the flag-ship Black Hawk, and at daylight on the morning of the 16th, in the tug Fern, I followed, overtook the Diligent in Steele's Bayou, and passed on and overtook the fleet of gunboats just as they were entering Deer Creek.
There I met Admiral Porter, with whom in a tug I proceeded up about 3 miles to Fore's plantation, and returned to this point. My orders were to see as to the practicability of moving my corps from Young's Point to some tenable position on the main land east of the Yazoo, from which to operate against Vicksburg and the Yazoo forts at Haynes' Bluff. Admiral Porter proposed to move up Deer Creek to the Rolling Fork, thence into Sunflower, and so on to the Yazoo, below Yazoo City, and he first proposed to leave one gunboat, the Louisville, at this point, and to reconnoiter with the other four and the tugs.
I was to remain here till he went above. The same night, Monday, he sent orders back for the Louisville to follow, whereupon I disembarked the Eighth. Missouri at this point as a guard, and set the pioneers to work in cleaning away the trees and brush in Black Bayou. This is about 4 miles long, narrow, crooked, and filled with trees.
The heavy iron-clads could force their way through, pressing aside the bushes and trees, but the transports could not follow. The Eighth Missouri passed through on a coal-barge, drawn by a navy tug. Other pioneers and negroes have been sent up by Major-General Grant, among them two companies of Colonel Bissell's regiment, all of whom are busy, and have so far progressed in their work that yesterday the Eagle and Silver Wave came up far enough to land two regiments, viz, the Sixth Missouri and the One hundred and sixteenth Illinois, at the first ground above water from the Yazoo to this point. They have backed out and gone down to Eagle Bend for more troops.
On Tuesday, in a tug, I reconnoitered up Steele's Bayou to see if I could reach the Rolling Fork by that route, but found it utterly ira-practicable for a small tug, much less a transport. All the country on both sides was deep under water. I next examined the left fork up to and beyond the Tallulah Bridge, but the bridge is swept away and the road deep under water. Indeed, all the country bordering Steele's Bayou is submerged swamp. Satisfied that the only dry land in this climate was to be found here on Deer Creek, I returned, and renewed the orders to push the work in clearing out Black Bayou.
Learning that General Stuart's division, of my corps, had been sent up to the Muddy Bayou, I proceeded down on Thursday to see what progress they were making in getting across to Steele's Bayou, and found the division there, with two regiments, the Sixth Missouri and One hundred and sixteenth Illinois, embarked in the Silver Wave, which started out, and General Stuart accompanied me. Our tug broke her rudder, and in the night carried away the smoke-stack, which disabled her all day yesterday; but she is now repaired, and will be used in towing an empty coal-barge freighted with soldiers as they arrive.
On my way up, I met a messenger from Admiral Porter, (See addenda) reporting continued obstructions in his way, and that in the end he would want 10,000 men to hold the country, that he might remove the obstructions. I wrote him at once of the delays in getting forward men to this point, and that h: was a physical impossibility for us to reach his boats with anything like that force, but I would hurry up the troops of Stuart's division to this point,(+) which is really the first high, or, rather, dry ground. But it does not fulfill any of General Grant's conditions, for we cannot reach the Yazoo from this point by land or water. I sent you Admiral Porter's letter by General Stuart.
About 3 a.m. to-day I received another letter from Admiral Porter, telling me that he was still in Deer Creek, and that his passage was obstructed by the enemy, and asked me to hurry up to co-operate. But as the great bulk of my corps is still behind, it would be improper for me to pass beyond all reach of them, and I have accordingly sent up Col. Giles A. Smith, with all of his brigade now up, with orders to march up the east bank of Deer Creek to the gunboats. He got off about daylight, and has 21 miles to march. The admiral is, doubtless, concerned for the safety of his gunboats, and with propriety.
Deer Creek is a narrow, sluggish stream, full of willow bushes and overhanging trees, through which nothing but keel boats have usually plied. His iron-clads move like snails, but with great power, forcing all saplings and bushes and drift aside, but the channel is useless to us in a military way. It cannot be used at this present stage of water. Its banks are usually from 1 to 3 feet above water, and the road keeps upon the river bank a natural levee. There are a series of well-improved plantations the whole distance, and provisions are abundant; that is, cattle, sheep, hogs, and poultry. The wagon road will be useless at this season, as the wheels would cut to the hubs in the damp, low places, on which troops can march very well. If we want to operate along this narrow strip of land, of course the creek must be used to carry all articles of ammunition or subsistence other than what the men have on their backs.
My own impression is that the enemy have so obstructed Rolling Fork Bayou that it will be absolutely impassable to the admiral's fleet, and it will be a difficult and dangerous task to withdraw it safely back to Steele's Bayou and deep, navigable water. He must go through to Rolling Fork to turn his boats, but I understand the fleet is now within a mile of Rolling Fork. I will bring forward Stuart's division as fast as possible, and get it here, and it may be prudent to send Steele's division to the same point, that we may have a force sufficient for any possible contingency.
I have heard some considerable cannonading above this morning, which was doubtless from the gunboats, but it ceased after about an hour. I suppose the admiral was shelling the channel to protect his working parties. The enemy has a quicker route to reach Rolling Fork than we. Their boats can go from Yazoo City or Haynes' Bluff directly up the Sunflower, which is a large, good stream, and Rolling Fork is only 7 miles long, and I understand the levee along it is continuous and above water. To reach this point, which is 21 miles from the fleet, we have to disembark at Muddy Bayou, march across to Steele's, ferry up 28 miles to the mouth of Black Bayou, and again transfer to a coal-barge, and tow up about 2 miles before we find the first land. Thence to this point is 2½ miles, and 21 up to the fleet. We were not and are not prepared to move troops in this way, but I will keep everything moving as fast as I can, but you know the difficulty of managing detached boats in small, crooked streams, where overhanging boughs and submerged trees obstruct their progress at every quarter of a mile.
The three regiments which have gone up to the admiral ought to reach him about 5 p.m., and if I can possibly get the Second Brigade up to-day or to-night, I will also send them forward, as they will cover the advance of the fleet; but, so far as accomplishing the original object, viz, finding a practicable point on the east bank of the Yazoo whereon to disembark my corps, I pronounce it impossible by any channel communicating with Steele's Bayou. If the fleet pushes beyond Rolling Fork, we can hold that point or this, and thereby enable the admiral to use his whole fleet. The Price is still in Steele's Bayou, and cannot pass through Black Bayou. Captain [Selim D.] Woodworth, her commander, expects the wooden gunboat Linden every hour, and thinks she can pass to this point. I only have the Eagle and Silver Wave to ferry troops up from Muddy Bayou, and expect the Diligent up every hour--she is past due-and will set her to work at once in bringing up men.
I take it for granted the five iron-clad gunboats can fight anything that can be brought against them, and land forces are only needed to cover the ground, to enable them to clean out obstructions.
If you want me to hold Deer Creek country, please so order it, and
also how far you want me to proceed.
HEADQUARTERS FIFTEENTH ARMY CORPS,
SIR: I had the honor to report to you the result of my observations on the projected route to the Yazoo, by way of Steele's Bayou, up to the 21st of March. On that day I was at Hill's plantation, on Deer Creek, where Black Bayou enters it, and had sent forward to Admiral Porter all the troops then with me, viz, the Sixth and Eighth Missouri and One hundred and twenty-seventh Illinois, under the command of Col. Giles A. Smith, with orders to march up the east bank of Deer Creek to the vicinity of Rolling Fork, and there report to Admiral Porter.
At that time the admiral had advanced up Deer Creek with five ironclads, but before reaching Rolling Fork had found the creek so full of growing trees and willows that his progress was slower than he had calculated, and the enemy had begun further to obstruct his progress by felling trees in the channel and firing from ambush on his working parties when exposed on the decks or on the banks of the stream. I had, at his call, sent forward every man then with me, and had put in motion all my steamboats to bring forward more troops from Eagle Bend.
By night three steamboat loads had arrived at the foot of Black Bayou, and were transferred to the first visible ground above water, at a point on the south shore of Black Bayou, about l½ miles from its mouth and 2½ miles from Hill's plantation. I conducted them through the dense canebrake, by lighted candles, up to the plantation that night, and on the next morning (March 22), without means of transportation or other facilities, save what we carried on our persons, we marched over the same road which had been traveled by Colonel Smith.
These troops were the battalion of the Thirteenth Regulars and the One hundred and thirteenth Illinois Infantry, being the remainder of Col. Giles A. Smith's brigade, and the Eighty-third Indiana, One hundred and sixteenth Illinois, Fifty-fourth and Fifty-seventh Ohio, commanded by the senior officer present, Lieutenant-Colonel Rice, of the Fifty-seventh Ohio.
Having reason to believe, from the sound of artillery in the direction of the fleet, the enemy to be in force near the gunboats, we hastened forward, and shortly after noon came to a detachment of the Eighth Missouri, stationed at Indian Mound, to prevent the enemy from felling trees in Deer Creek to the rear of the fleet, and about 3 p.m. our advance guard, under the command of Captain [Edward C.] Washington, came in contact with the enemy.
Our arrival was very opportune, and the two leading battalions pushed the enemy along the swamp in rear of the plantation fields that bordered Deer Creek for about 2 miles, and until they were to the north and rear of the gunboat fleet. In person I pushed along the bayou road till I met Colonel Smith coming down to interpose between this same party and his outlying detachment.
As soon as possible I communicated with the admiral, and learned that he had found the route far more difficult than he had been led to believe, and, owing to natural and artificial obstacles to his advance, he had abandoned the attempt to reach the Yazoo, and at the time of my meeting him was in the act of backing down Deer Creek. I accordingly made the necessary dispositions to cover his boats while engaged in this slow and tedious process.
The progress was slow, consuming all of the 22d, 23d, and part of the 24th of March, when the fleet again reached Black Bayou, at Hill's plantation. Not a shot was fired at the gunboats after we drove the enemy back on first encountering him. The enemy hung upon the rear of our column, but would not come within reach.
We remained at Hill's plantation all of the 25th, during which day the enemy appeared at Fore's plantation, about 3 miles above Hill's, displaying three regiments of infantry and some cavalry.
I endeavored to draw them within range, but they came no nearer. Admiral Porter left the fleet at that point on the morning of the 25th, and I proposed to remain for some days, but on the morning of the 26th 1 received General Grant's note of March 22, and a note addressed to the admiral by his flag-captain, [K. Randolph] Breese, which the admiral had sent up to me, urging the immediate return to the mouth of the Yazoo of the fleet for certain reasons therein set forth; and having sent scouts well to the front, I concluded that the enemy had no design to come nearer than Watson's, 5 miles above. I determined to return. Accordingly, at noon that day pickets were drawn in, all the men and working parties were embarked on the gunboats and transports, and we returned to our original camps, reaching them in the night of March 27.
I now inclose a map made by Lieutenant Pitzman, topographical engineer, showing the route as traveled. (Not found) Hence to the mouth of Cypress Bayou (12 miles) the navigation is good. Thence up Cypress 5 miles, also good. Thence 7 miles to Muddy Bayou; channel deep but crooked; boats experience much trouble from short bends and overhanging trees Thence 20 miles up Steele's Bayou; good navigation for small boats. Thence 4 miles through Black Bayou; navigation has been much improved by our pioneers, but is still impracticable to any save iron boats; wooden boats would be all torn to pieces. Thence 30 miles up Deer Creek; water deep but channel narrow, crooked, and filled with young willows, which bind the boats and make navigation difficult, and the banks along the whole length are lined with heavy trees and overhanging branches that tear down chimneys and carry away pilot-houses, stanchions, and all wood-work.
I did not see the Rolling Fork, but without hesitation I pronounce Black Bayou and Deer Creek useless to us as a military channel.
All the country along Steele's Bayou and Black Bayou is under water, but along Deer Creek are many fine plantations, well stocked with mules, cattle, sheep, hogs, corn, and cotton.
Our expedition being chiefly for reconnaissance and partially to protect the gunboats, we went no farther than these objects required.
I inclose the report of Co]. Giles A. Smith and Lieutenant-Colonel Rice, and being myself along, bear testimony to the alacrity of the troops, their eagerness to pursue the enemy, and the cheerfulness with which they marched in rain and mud.
I feel assured Admiral Porter will admit we rendered him and his fleet good service, as without our presence it would have cost him many valuable lives to have extricated his boats while the banks of Deer Creek were lined by the enemy's sharpshooters, against whom his heavy ordnance could not well be brought to bear.
We lost but 2 men--one of the Sixth Missouri and one of the Eighty third Indiana--whose names are given in the appropriate places.
In order that the general may fully understand the
disposition made of the troops sent on this expedition, I inclose the
reports of Brigadier-General Stuart, commanding the division, and his
brigadiers, Cols. Giles A. Smith, T. Kilby Smith, and Hugh Ewing; also of
Lieutenant-Colonel Rice, who commanded the Second Brigade in its march up
Deer Creek and back.
DEER CREEK, March 19, 1863.
I beg that you will shove up troops to us at once. I am holding the mouth of Rolling York against [Wirt] Adams' troops, which have attacked our 200 men. We have only two pieces of artillery; they have six, and 200 men. We should take possession here at once with the army. There is everything here the heart of a soldier could desire; everything in abundance. Please send; it takes all my men to defend the position I have taken. I think the distance is only 14 miles by land I shall look for these re-enforcements. I send you a dispatch from Captain Murphy. Please send on troops.
I think a large force will be used to block us up here. We
must have every soldier to hold the country or they will do it. Our
MARCH 21, 1863--8 a.m.
W. T. SHERMAN,
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