REPORT 18

Reports of Brig. Gen. Winfield S. Featherston, C.S. Army, commanding Brigade

DEER CREEK, March 20, 1863

     SIR: We arrived here to-day. The enemy are said to have one division here and five gunboats. We see the boats. We attacked them this evening, and drove them back 1 ½ miles. The enemy are at the junction of Deer Creek and Rolling Fork. We intend to take the boats to-night or early in the morning. Porter is here. You had better send me all the balance of my brigade. We want Deer Creek blocked or obstructed, so as to prevent them from getting in our rear. We fear nothing but an attack from the rear. We will hold them in check and drive them back, but do not like the idea of their getting in our rear.
     Very respectfully,

W.S. FEATHERSTON, 
Brigadier-General, Commanding.
Major-General Maury.
 
 
 
SATURDAY, March 21, [1863.]
The enemy are certainly re-enforcing heavily. Commodore Porter is here. Sherman is just below. They have nine boats here. Four thousand are on the march from below by land. I send you a dispatch captured last night. I submit these facts for your consideration.
W.S. FEATHERSTON, 
Brigadier-General, Commanding.
Generals MAURY, STEVENSON, and HEBERT

[Inclosure]

FRIDAY EVENING.
Admiral DAVID D. PORTER:

DEAR ADMIRAL: I have about 1,000 men here now, and think, with good luck and hard work, I may have another 1,000 to-morrow in the night, and will push till I get all of Stuart’s division up. I send you three Southern papers of very late dates, giving the names of the vessels which have passed Port Hudson on their way up, and which are referred to in Grant’s letter to me as being below Warrenton. The gunboat Linden was sent back by Captain Woodworth for the coal-barge. Work on Black Bayou progressing very, but the crooks and turns are so short that boats cannot navigate it with speed. Please write me by bearer and give a receipt for the papers, as I have promised to pay him $50 if he reaches you and returns safely. I have no doubt your channel will be obstructed, but no large force can assail you. Nothing from below to-day. Scouts and spies are feeling up their way from Haynes’ Bluff, but I will watch them.
     Yours,

SHERMAN
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DEER CREEK, March 22, 1863.
GENERAL: We have engaged the enemy here for two days, and driven them back about 5 or 6 miles. We have been fighting their boats. They have five here. We are now out of ammunition for the artillery, or nearly so. They were re-enforced yesterday; infantry marched up by land, how many we are not able to say. Admiral Porter is here on the fleet; Sherman is below on Black Bayou, where they have a strong force. This was their grand effort for securing the Yazoo. I sent you their dispatches yesterday, captured the night before. If they advance here again, this place cannot be held without a strong force. We need boats, we need ammunition, and will need more men if they advance. We cannot pursue them well without more troops; our forces are worn out. My guns are one 3-inch rifle and one 24-pounder howitzer. Have Deer Creek obstructed below, so that we cannot be cut off.
     Your obedient servant,
W.S. FEATHERSTON,
Brigadier-General, Commanding.
Lieutenant-General PEMBERTON.

P.S. – We need intrenching tools and wheelbarrows. The object is to construct a levee across Deer Creek.

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DEER CREEK, March 23, 1863.
GENERAL: The Sharp has arrived with the Thirty-first and some ammunition. We engaged the enemy all day yesterday; sharpshooters attacking the boats. About 2 p.m. we met their re-enforcements coming up, when a sharp skirmish ensued. Sherman arrived yesterday evening. Porter has conducted the fleet all the time. They formed a line of battle late yesterday and advance don us through a  field, but fell back before they came in range of our small arms. We drove them yesterday about 2 miles. We have not advanced to-day. It is raining hard. I learn, upon reliable information from citizens, that they have on this line nearly all of their army that was in front of Vicksburg – from 20,000 to 40,000 men. This was their route for taking the Yazoo River, Mississippi, and Vicksburg. It is no small expedition of theirs. If they do not abandon it now, it will require a heavy force to defend this place. It is a hard line to defend. The shortest line we can defend here so as to keep them from cutting off supplies is 20 miles. I have not looked at the rear at all in this estimate. They can run their boats in Little Sunflower; also in Silver Creek. I cannot tell how supplies are above here. We may be unable to get them, even for a small force.
     I state all these facts that you may judge of the expediency of sending more troops here. We need them, many more, but we have more here now than we could get away, if compelled to retire, with the number of boats we have here. We need more boats. The Arcadia runs badly in daylight, and cannot run at all at night. We saw nine of the enemy’s gunboats yesterday evening. If they do not turn back now, this is their advance upon Vicksburg. I shall do the best I can, and leave the result to the Almighty.
     Your obedient servant,
W.S. FEATHERSTON, 
Brigadier-General, Commanding.
Lieutenant-General PEMBERTON.

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HEADQUARTERS FEATHERSTON’S BRIGADE 
Near Fort Pemberton, Miss., April 3, 1863.
     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 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 move 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 when ever 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 banks 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 to 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 the 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 ordinance 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 7 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 servant,
W.S. FEATHERSTON, 
Brigadier-General, Commanding
Maj. D.W. FLOWERREE
       Assistant Adjutant-General, General Maury’s Division.
 
 
Sources:
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
Photographs:
NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
Washington Navy Yard
805 Kidder Breese Street SE
Washington Navy Yard, DC 20374-5060
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