Reports of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, U.S. Army,
commanding Fifteenth Army Corps.
Deer Creek, March 16, 1863
DEAR SIR: I came up Steele’s Bayou and overtook the fleet of iron-clads
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 to-day, but most of the time
were engaged in collecting rafts wheron 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 upon the main Yazoo. None but my small boats can navigate Deer
Creek. I don’t think we can make a lodgement 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 locality.
Maj. Gen. U.S. GRANT
HEADQUARTERS FIFTEENTH ARMY CORPS,
Camp at intersection of Black Bayou and Deer Creek, Miss.,
March 21, 1863
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 impracticable 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 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,* 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 it 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 the saplings and bushes and drift aside, but the channel
is useless to use in a military way. It cannot be used at his 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
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 2
½ 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.
I am, with great respect, your obedient servant,
Col. John A. Rawlins,
Department of the Tennessee
**See inclosure to Featherston's report of March 21
HEADQUARTERS FIFTEENTH ARMY CORPS,
Camp, before Vicksburg, March 29, 1863
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 iron-clads, 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 1 ½
miles from its mouth and 2 ½ 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
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 I 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 as 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
I now inclose a map made by Lieutenant Pitzman,
topographical engineer, showing the route as traveled.* 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 it 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 use as a military
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
I inclose the report of Col. 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 ordinance 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
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.
I am respectfully, your obedient servant,
Col. John A. Rawlins,
Major-General, Commanding Fifteenth Army Corps.
Assistant Adjutant-General, Department of the Tennessee
DEER CREEK, March 19, 1863
We are within 1 ½ miles of Rolling
Fork, having undergone an immensity of labor. Had the way been as good
as represented to me, I should have been in Yazoo City by this time; but
we have been delayed by obstructions which I did not mind much, and the
little willows, which grow so thick that we stuck fast hundreds of times.
I beg that you will shove up troops to us
at once. I am holding the mouth of Rolling Fork 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 difficulties increase.
Truly yours, &c.,
DAVID D. PORTER
P.S. – I think 10,000 troops could be transported here rapidly from
abreast of Island 93, below Bunch’s Bend, Mississippi River. We will require
that many here before we get through with this matter.
March 21 – 8 a.m.
Received midnight March 19-20, answered March 20, describing state of facts
at the moment. All the country but Deer Creek and Mississippi levees under
water. Sixth and Eighth Missouri and One hundred and Sixteenth Illinois
are up. Balance of Stuart’s division at Muddy Bayou.
Text and Maps:
THE WAR OF THE REBELLION: A COMPILATION OF THE OFFICIAL RECORDS OF THE
UNION AND CONFEDERATE ARMIES PREPARED UNDER THE DIRECTION OF THE SECRETARY
OF WAR, BY BVT. LIEUT. COL. ROBERT N. SCOTT, THIRD U.S. ARTILLERY AND PUBLISHED
PURSUANT TO ACT OF CONGRESS APPROVED JUNE 16, 1880.
The US Government Printing Office
Volume: XXXVI: Pages 430-667
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