Reports of Col. Samuel W. Ferguson, C.S. Army, commanding Detachment.
MOUTH OF ROLLING FORK, March 20,1863MAJOR: I, yesterday, on my arrival here, dispatched in great haste to you. Since then I have advanced with infantry and cavalry, which joined me after marching down Deer Creek about 4 miles up Rolling Fork, and have succeeded in getting three pieces of artillery over the bad portion of the road, yesterday deemed impassable. I have been busy cutting timber into Rolling Fork and obstructing it. Already enough has been done to detain the boats two or three days, if unopposed. If re-enforcements do not arrive in time, and I have to abandon this point, we lose all the country drained by Deer Creek, Bogue Phaliah, Sunflower, and Yazoo, unless we can oppose them with cotton-boats in these latter. From the point at which they reached Deer Creek they can, by going down, enter the Yazoo above Haynes’ Landing. If they have done this, I am already cut off. It is impossible for me yet to ascertain their force in this section. I know of seven boats positively, and have myself seen the smoke and steam from those in advance. They have not yet advanced into Rolling Fork by boat.
Day before yesterday I sent the Emma Bett on Bogue Phaliah, about 8 miles below Falls’ Landing, and ordered her to go at once to latter point, take on board the animals and baggage I had left, stop at mouth of Bogue, and take on section of artillery there, then join me here. It is now about 9 a.m., and she has not yet come up. I expected her last night. The guns warn me to the front. Kept the Sharp here to fall back on, and if the Bett comes, will at once send her with this dispatch.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
S.W. FERGUSON,Maj. J.J. REEVE, Assistant Adjutant-General.
P.S. – Colonel Ferguson left this for me to add any additional news. There is none. Emma Bett arrived.
JOHN J. REEVE,
CAMP ON DEER CREEK, March 30, 1863.MAJOR: I have the honor to report that on the 17th instant a battalion of sharpshooter, about 250 strong, under Captain [John H.] Morgan, reported to me on Deer Creek at my camp, about 40 miles above Rolling Fork. In the course of that night I received a dispatch from some citizens, informing me that about 30 Yankees were at Watson’s place, on Deer Creek, about 15 miles below Rolling Fork. I at once ordered 30 of the cavalry to oppose them, but the party had but just started when another express from the citizens informed me that five gunboats had entered Deer Creek from Black Bayou, and were rapidly making their way to Rolling Fork. I instantly ordered the rest of the cavalry by forced march to the latter place, to obstruct the creek and keep the enemy in check as long as possible. I hurried the artillery and infantry on the steamer which had brought the latter, and proceeded with all dispatch to the mouth of Rolling Fork, which I fortunately reached before the enemy, on the afternoon of the 19th. Here the prospect was gloomy enough; a pile of saw-dust the only landing place, and the first half mile of the road was overflowed, with two bridges afloat.
By the morning of the 20th, I succeeded in getting one section of artillery to the dry land, and at once attacked the enemy and drove them in their gunboats, at that time detained in Deer Creek, about one quarter of a mile below Rolling Fork, by some trees that had been cut by the cavalry. The attack was pushed with success until the ammunition failed, when the forces were withdrawn from range of the gunboats’ shells. As soon as the rest of the guns could be brought up and the limbers replenished, the attack was renewed with the same result and discontinued for the same cause.
Just at this time Major [H.W.] Bridges reported to take command of the sharpshooters, and informed me that General Featherston was near with re-enforcements. Turning over the command of the field to him, I hastened to meet General Featherston, to inform him of the condition of things, and to urge him to hurry up and attack. On his arrival on the field, it was agreed that the artillery should open on the boats and keep up a brisk fire until his infantry should debouch from the woods on our left and rather in rear of the enemy, when a rush would be made for the boats. The artillery opened fire as directed; my sharpshooters drove in the enemy, and one section of my artillery, from an enflading position, drove their howitzers, and men in confusion to the boats. Still, none of General Featherston’s infantry appeared, and the artillery fire was continued until darkness put an end to the conflict. During the night I was informed by General Featherston that his regiments were in rear of the enemy, close to the creek bank, and that in case the enemy attempted to retreat during the night they would attack at once; otherwise that we would all attack at daylight.
In compliance with this, I made an attack early on the 21st, drove the enemy back, and, after exhausting all my artillery ammunition, continued to pursue and harass him with sharpshooters, expecting at every moment to hear General Featherston’s regiments open; but after I had been engaged for three hours or more, and had driven the boats back about 2 miles, I saw the forces of General Featherston in rear of the position they had held the previous afternoon, entering the woods. My sharpshooters continued to harass the enemy until dark. The latter, after reaching a position on the plantation of Dr. Moore, halted till after dark, and during the day burned every building on the place except one small stable.
On the following day it was discovered that they had during the night continued their retreat, although re-enforced by one regiment, and they were still getting out of the way as rapidly as possible. General Featherston ordered my sharpshooters to press them on the right bank, two regiments to gain their rear and then attack, while the artillery and the Fortieth Alabama pressed them on the left bank. As soon as the enemy discovered that their rear had been gained, they halted in an open country and fired furiously at everything which could be seen, but without effect. Our artillery returned the fire as long as their ammunition held out. The regiments in the rear encountered re-enforcements coming up, and immediately fell back after slight skirmishing. The re-enforcements arrived, deployed, run in our skirmishers, and marched back to the fleet. We remained in position until dark, then fell back.
My command, having been engaged for three successive days constantly, was then held in reserve, and the enemy was followed at too great a distance for them to be again used, except the cavalry, under Captain [G.] Barnes, to whose untiring energy and gallant conduct on this, as on every other occasion since he reported to me, much praise is due.
The artillery, under Lieutenant [R.L.] Wood, behaved as I expected men who fought as they did on the 23d ultimo. Their cool, calm courage and good shooting was a glad sight to a soldier’s eye. I would include in this favorable notice the section under Lieutenant [A.P.] St. John, temporarily attached to the command of Lieutenant Wood.
The sharpshooters, under skillful guidance of Major Bridges and Captain Morgan, exhibited that reckless disregard for shell and grape which made the furious cannonade of the Yankees seem an amusing display of pyrotechnics.
The expenditure of all kinds of missiles, from a 13-inch shell to a Minie ball, on every point where it was thought they might be hid, showed the estimation the enemy had of them. Except Private Reuben Wilmore, of Company I, Third Mississippi Volunteers, who fell, gallantly fighting, from a grape-shot wound in the head, none of my command was touched by their artillery, though subjected to a constant fire for three days. I regret to have to report Privates W.A. Swayze, Company C. McBeecher, Company H, and Samuel Devereau, Company E, all of Third Mississippi Volunteers, wounded by Minie balls, and Acting Sergt. Maj. John [G.] Poindexter, Company B, and Private McKnight, Company E, same regiment, captured. The two latter had particularly attracted my attention by skill and bravery.
There is just subject for congratulation that this formidable expedition, commanded by Admiral Porter, and consisting of some of the best iron-clads and mortar-boats, was successfully repulsed with such trifling loss; but I must express belief that all the boats should have been captured or destroyed by a vigorous attack, and the infantry re-enforcements destroyed in detail as they came up.
I would call attention to the burning of houses and cotton and pillaging done by Admiral Porter, in direct contradiction of the notice published by himself, an official copy of which I forwarded to the department. One of the shells from this valiant hero exploded in the chamber of an invalid woman, in which ten women and children had taken refuge. Providentially, but one negro woman was wounded by it. She now lies at the point of death. A child two years old was grievously burned. This was the most effective shell thrown by them. We caused to be destroyed one large coal-barge, and captured nine launches and yawls and several small-arms and two flags, besides cooking utensils, &c.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
S.W. FERGUSON,Maj. D.W. FLOWERREE,
Colonel, Commanding Detachments.