February 24-April 8, 1863.-The Yazoo Pass Expedition (by Moon Lake, Yazoo Pass, and the Coldwater and Tallahatchee Rivers), including engagements (March 11, 13, and 16, and April 2 and 4) at Fort Pemberton, near Greenwood, Miss.
February 2-February 24, 1863, Official Reports of Lieut.
Col. James H. Wilson, Assistant Inspector-General, U.S. Army, Chief of
topographical Engineers, Army of the Tennessee.
YAZOO PASS, Miss., February 2, 1863--8 p.m.
I arrived at the levee across the Pass about noon, and found a much more favorable state of affairs than I at first anticipated. The stream looks quite navigable, and I am sure will allow the boats now here to navigate it without difficulty. I had the men at work cutting the embankment by 2 o'clock, and by to-morrow night will have a water-way 20 yards wide cut. The difference of level between the water outside and inside of the levee is 8½ feet.
The steamers Henderson and Hamilton came in the Pass this afternoon, landed against the embankment, and turned about without difficulty, and went back into the Mississippi.
The following rough sketch (38 KB) will convey an idea of the state, of affairs here at present
From the above you will perceive that there are two entrances into the
Pass; the lower one is the one formerly used, but the upper is the one
through which our boats passed to-day, and is the best. You will also
perceive that the levee is a very heavy one, and, therefore, will require
a good deal of work to cut through; but from the fact that there is 8½
feet difference of level between the water inside and out, once opened,
the crevasse will enlarge very rapidly. The back country both north and
south of the pass is partially overflowed by water from crevasses in the
levee. I think boats can go through our cut in three days. The undertaking
promises fine results.
Lieut. Col. John A. Rawlins,
YAZOO PASS, MISS., February 4, 1863--8 a.m.
About 7 o'clock, after discharging a mine in the mouth of the cut, the water rushed. The channel was only about 5 feet at first, though the embankment was cut through in two places, with an interval of about 20 feet between them, the cut through which the water was first started being considerably the larger.
By 11 p.m. the opening was 40 yards wide, and the water pouring through like nothing else I ever saw except Niagara Falls. Logs, trees, and great masses of earth were torn away with the greatest ease. The work is a perfect success.
The pilots and the captain of the gunboat Forest Rose think it will not be safe to undertake to run through the Pass for four or five days, on account of the great rapidity and fall of the water. It will take several days to fill up the country so much as to slacken the current.
A prominent rebel living near Helena, General Alcorn, says there will be no difficulty whatever in reaching the Yazoo River with boats of medium size.
Captain Brown will go in with the gunboat at the very earliest moment
the passage becomes practicable.
Lieut. Gel. JOHN A. RAWLINS,
HELENA, ARK., February 9, 1863--6 p.m.
I have been waiting all day for a boat to return to Vicksburg, in order to report in person the condition of affairs in Yazoo Pass; but as an expedition has already been arranged, and you gave me permission to accompany it, I shall go back to the Pass in the morning.
After the levee had been cut, the pilots thought it unsafe to undertake an entrance for several days. The gunboat Forest Rose, needing repairs, plank, &c., ran up to Memphis, returned, and, on the morning of the 7th, we ran down and entered the Pass with great ease. About a mile inside of the levee we struck Moon Lake, ran down it about 5 miles, to the point where the Pass leaves it, and from that point I proceeded to make further examinations. I was somewhat disappointed to find the stream neither so large nor straight as it is nearer the river. I went in it about 3 miles in an open boat, but found no obstruction of a serious nature. However, we found three men who had just come through in a dug-out from the Tallahatchee, ostensibly for supplies of salt, &c. They said that the people at the mouth of Coldwater had discovered what had been done at the levee, and that a force of rebels (some 30 or 40), with about 100 negroes, had been engaged for several days in felling timber across the stream at intervals between its junction with the Coldwater and a point nearly 5 miles from Moon Lake.
The next day (yesterday), after waiting till noon for a small steamer that I had expected the day before, I went in again with Captain [G. W.] Brown's cutter and crew, and descended the Pass nearly 6 miles. During this trip we took 2 men who had belonged to a company of partisan cavalry. They spoke of the rebels having been there in small force, engaged in cutting timber, but said they had left the evening before.
I saw, perhaps, at different points, forty trees that had been cut so as to fall in the stream, but in no place had it obstructed the channel so as to resist or prevent the passage of boats. At three places some drift timber had collected against standing trees, so as to contract the waterway, but a few hours' work would open it so as to make the passage easy. The timber, or, at least, all that I saw, which had been cut into the water, had either sunk out of sight or been drifted against the shore so as to hurt nothing. From this fact, and the opinion of boatmen accustomed to small streams, I am inclined to think that, although many more trees may have been cut lower down, and at points opposite each other, they will not materially interfere with navigation. The stream is only about 100 feet wide (but very deep), and, as the timber overhangs it in many places, it will be necessary to cut out considerable in order to prevent the smoke-stacks of the steamers from being knocked down. This will be a more tedious operation than usual, from the fact that, in many places, the banks of the stream are under water; but, with all these difficulties, no one here entertains a doubt of our being able to work through.
General Gorman sent General Washburn down yesterday with 1,000 men and sent 500 more this morning. They have begun Operations. I shall go down myself early in the morning and push matters as rapidly as possible.
Before I left there the ferry-boat Luella, about 100 feet long, had gone into the Pass nearly 3 miles, turned about, and returned.
Information of no very reliable character has reached General Gorman to the effect that the rebels were aware of our movements, and were making arrangements for our reception. Where or how is not known.
I have been thus minute in my statement so that you could see exactly how the matter stands.
I am quite sure that no material advantages in the way of a surprise can be obtained, unless our expedition gets through within five or six days. 1 see nothing, however, except the non-arrival of the gunboats to prevent this, unless, indeed, the obstructions in the other end of the Pass are more serious than we now think.
Should the river fall again 8 or 10 feet, there is not the possibility
of a doubt that Yazoo Pass can be opened to admit a large class of boats,
and after the Coldwater is reached there are no obstacles of any kind, and
very little chance of interposing any, until you arrive at Yazoo City;
there is a bluff there, and the next high land is at Haynes' Bluff.
Maj. Gen. U.S. GRANT,
P. S.--It is called 12 miles from Moon Lake to the junction of the Pass with the Coldwater, and, therefore, there is only 6 or 7 miles yet unexplored; certainly 2 miles of which are no more difficult than what I have explored already. I will keep you informed of our progress.
IN YAZOO PASS, 14 MILES FROM THE MISSISSIPPI,
COLONEL: In my letter of the 9th to the general, I informed him of the fact that, although eminently successful in opening the levee across the Pass, as well as fortunate in finding it naturally a stream entirely capable of navigation, the rebels had discovered our Operations time enough to obstruct the channel by felling trees across and into it.
On the morning of the 10th, I joined General Washburn over a mile from Moon Lake, inside the Pass. Since then, with three days' constant work, we have made somewhat more than 5 miles, having passed and removed two somewhat considerable obstructions of fallen and drifted timber. Just in front of us there is another about a half mile long, in which many of the trees reach entirely across the stream. Some of them, cottonwoods and sycamores, are 4 feet through at the butt, and will weigh 35 tons. To add to the difficulty of removing them, the country near the stream is overflowed; nowhere is there more than a mere strip of land next the bank, and that only a few inches out of the water; but, with all these things against us, there is no doubt of our ability to remove the obstructions, and make the Pass navigable for the largest boats that pass through the Louisville Canal. We have brought three steamers with us all the way, two of which, the Mattie Cook and Luella, have been turned about, and run to and from Helena. Our greatest difficulty so far has been to obtain tackle strong enough to resist the strains brought upon it; but by to-morrow noon we expect to have new 6-inch cables. With these we shall be able to lift the heaviest logs. By sawing in two the larger trees, removing such parts as will not sink, and taking out the smaller trees entirely, we can remove all the obstructions in time. The narrowness and rapidity of the streams require everything to be taken out that will not float off or sink.
I learned to-day what I previously suspected, that rebel sympathizers in Helena, through some means or other, obtained information, and communicated to their friends the nature of our Operations at the levee the day we began. At all events, it is certain that while we were engaged in opening the Pass at one end the rebels were closing it at the other.
We are now about 7 miles from Moon Lake, and by the meanderings of the
stream the same distance from the Coldwater, though the map shows both
distances scarcely 6 miles. It will take from seven to ten days, possibly
longer, to reach the end of our work.
Lieut. Col. JOHN A. RAWLINS,
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE TENNESSEE,
HELENA, ARK., February 24, 1863.
The levee at the entrance was cut on the 3d instant, with comparatively little difficulty, and by the 7th the rush of water through the crevasse had so subsided that the U.S. gunboat Forest Rose, Capt. George W. Brown, entered as far as the exit of the Pass from Moon Lake. About this time it was fully ascertained that the rebels had obstructed the stream by felling heavy trees into and across it.
On the 8th, fresh troops, under the command of General Washburn, arrived at Moon Lake, and began the removal of the blockades. By the evening of the 21st, the work was accomplished, and at 5 p.m. of the 22d the steamers Henderson and Mattie Cook, with one regiment of troops on board, entered the Coldwater River and descended it 2½ miles, to Cole's plantation. On the 23d, they went down from 10 to 12 miles farther, through some of the shortest bends, and returned the same day to Hunt's Mill, on the Pass.
I am confirmed in the opinions expressed in my previous reports concerning the practicability of this route, during proper stages of water, as a line of military Operations. In navigating Yazoo Pass some difficulty will be experienced from limbs of overhanging trees, not removed because of the impossibility of cutting them down without letting the whole tree fall into the channel. Should the water fall 4 or 5 feet, this could be easily obviated by cutting and pulling inland the trees now partly in the way.
The Coldwater is a considerable stream after its junction with the Pass--from 120 to 150 feet in width inside of its banks; is now quite full, rising slowly, and is easily navigable for any boat that can work its way through the Pass. Like the latter, it might be improved by cutting off more of the overhanging trees, though it is not essential in either ease. It would simply facilitate the navigation.
In the present condition of affairs, I think boats 180 feet in length, and of any proportional beam and draught-of water, can be sent from the Mississippi to the Tallahatchee by this route in four days, possibly in less time, with good management. The period for which this route can be used will depend entirely upon the stage of water in the Mississippi, the shallowest part being on the bar, over which boats are compelled to pass in order to reach the entrance.
In submitting this report of the work assigned me, it would be unjust not to call attention to the difficulties encountered and the arduous labor performed by the troops in overcoming them. With the exception of the secondary ridges, some distance from the stream, and occasional strips of land, from 20 to 50 feet wide, close to it, the entire country was overflowed, so that communication was nearly impossible, and the work could only be done by small parties, beginning at the upper end and working toward the Coldwater. In no case were more than 500 men employed, and frequently not half that number. The obstructions were found at intervals, all along the Pass, from a point 4 miles from Moon Lake to a point near the Coldwater, the principal one being a mile long, and composed of the heaviest trees, cut from both sides of the stream, so as to lie across and upon each other. Various plans were tried for removing them, all attended with the breakage of cables and boat machinery, but finally, by cutting, sawing, and pulling out upon the banks entire trees, the way was opened. The labor was so severe, and the exposure so great, that it was found necessary to relieve the troops several times by fresh regiments from Helena.
Brigadier-General Washburn, who was in actual command of the forces employed, after leaving Moon Lake will doubtless report concerning them; but I take the liberty of commending the zeal and intelligence of Lieut. George [G.] Murdock, of the Sixteenth Ohio Battery; Captain Whipple, of the Thirty-third Iowa, and Colonel Cameron, of the Thirty-fourth Indiana. They rendered valuable assistance (Lieutenant Murdock from the lake to the Coldwater) in directing and prosecuting the work.
The steamer Henderson, under the efficient command of Capt. A. Lamont, rendered invaluable service. Her cordage and light upper work were considerably broken; it would, therefore, be no more than justice to put her in repair at the public expense.
Inclosed herewith I hand a sketch*
(66 KB) of the Pass and adjacent country.
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