FEBRUARY 24-APRIL 8, 1863.--The Yazoo Pass Expedition
(by Moon Lake, Yazoo Pass,
Reports of Lieut. Col. James H. Wilson, Assistant
Inspector-General, U.S. Army, Chief of
DR. CURTISS' PLANTATION,
GENERAL: The land and naval forces constituting the Yazoo expedition, after many provoking delays, arrived at this point on the morning of the 11th, and after a reconnaissance of the fort and a slight engagement between the Chillicothe and one of its heavy guns, the troops were landed.
The Chillicothe, on the afternoon of the 11th, from a position near the one indicated on the inclosed sketch, (not found) opened her batteries upon the enemy, but in a very short time received a rifle shot in her left port, killing and wounding 14 of her crew.
On the night of the 11th, a cotton-bale battery was erected at the point marked, about 700 yards from the large gun, with a view to dismounting it, if possible. Having no siege guns, a naval 30-pounder battery was placed in it.
On the 12th, the naval forces not being ready to attack, nothing was done, but on that night (last) another 30-pounder was added to the battery; and this morning, at 10, it and the Chillicothe, Baron De Kalb, and the mortar boat began the attack, but to-night we are not able to perceive any advantage gained.
Last night the enemy erected heavy traverses against our Parrott battery, so that it could do him no serious damage to-day.
The rebel position is a strong one by virtue of the difficulties of approach, though it is defended by only two guns of any weight, one a powerful rifle, 6.4-inch bore. General Tilghman is in command. General Loring was there, but recently relieved. How many troops he has we cannot ascertain.
The Chillicothe has not stood the work well; that, too, at 1,100 yards. What may be the result at close range must depend entirely upon chance. I understand Commander Smith intends to go close up to-morrow, though I don't think he or his commanders are very sanguine.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
MARCH 13, --11 p.m.
DEAR RAWLINS: I've just written a hasty note to the general; please apologize for its meager character. I've now been two days and entire nights without sleep, and am almost dead. The mail boat goes early to-morrow, so I can't give details; but my next will compensate.
I'm disgusted with 7, 9, 10, and 11 inch guns; to let one 6½-inch rifle stop our Navy. Bah! They ought to go up to 200 yards and "make a spoon or spoil a horn." They are to attack to-morrow, but may not do much. I have no hope of anything great, considering the course followed by the naval forces under direction of their able and efficient Acting Rear-Admiral, Commodore, Captain, Lieutenant-Commander Smith. One chance shot will do the work; we may not make it in a thousand. No more troops are needed here till Greenwood is taken. I think we have troops enough to whip all the rebels in this vicinity if we can only get by the fort. One good gunboat can do the work, and no doubt; the two here are no great shakes.
We are stopped now certain. Ross has done all in his power to urge this thing forward. If what he suggested had been adopted, the ironclads would have been here fifteen days ago and found no battery of any importance. So much for speed.
Very truly, your friend,
HEADQUARTERS YAZOO EXPEDITION,
MY DEAR RAWLINS: We are no nearer Greenwood than when 1 wrote you night before last. We didn't attack yesterday, because the gunboats had not finished their repairs, and put it off to-day out of respect for the Sabbath; but to-morrow it is arranged to try it again, though I am not over-sanguine of success, since I can see a disposition on the part of the Navy to keep from a close and desperate engagement. I've talked with them all and tried to give them backbone, but they are not confident. Smith, you doubtless have understood by this time, I don't regard as the equal of Lord Nelson. Walker and Foster, of the De Kalb and Chillicothe, are good men, and will cheerfully do what they are ordered, but both think of Commodore Smith just as I do. I don't hesitate to say that, although the rebels got ahead of us in obstructing the Pass, and thereby kept us back ten days, and although we were furnished with miserable old transports and a new element of delay introduced, Commodore Smith is entirely responsible for the detention at this point and the consequent failure of the expedition, and responsible for no other reason than his timid and slow movements. When the iron-clads started into the Pass, I urged with all the force I could the absolute necessity of sending them, the rams, and two mosquitoes forward with all possible dispatch. Both Foster and Walker and General Ross agreed with this plan. Had this been done, they could have reached the mouth of the Tallahatchee in four days, I think, and even less. I'll bet my life I could have brought them to this point in three days; but grant that it would have required five days, that would have brought them to this place on the 1st of March, two whole weeks ago, at which time no heavy guns were here. The rifle did not arrive till about ten days ago. This we have from reliable authority.
I haven't time to tell you all the details of our Operations here; but in the gunboat engagements they have suffered pretty heavily from the effects of the heavy rifle. At the distance of 1,100 yards the shots from this gun have battered and hammered the armored crafts sadly; they have not penetrated, but come so near that there is no fun in it. The Chillicothe is an inglorious failure the wooden backing to her armor is of only 9-inch pine, and shivers into pieces every time the plating is struck; her bolt-work flies off at a terrible rate. If she is hit half as many times to-morrow at close range as she has been at long, she'll be in a sad condition. The De Kalb stands it well as long as she is square to the front, though her sides do not fare so well. Add to all this, these gentlemen have ammunition for only two hours' fighting.
I have erected a battery on shore only 700 yards from the rebel fort, and have two 30-pounder Parrotts and one 8-inch ship gun in position to assist the Navy, but have only an average of 50 or 60 rounds for them. In addition to this, it is intended to embark one brigade on the light-draught gunboats, and in case the rebel batteries are silenced, they will be landed at the fort to assault it and attack the rebel infantry if it should stand.
The latter part of the programme cannot be carried out unless the battery is completely disabled, so that we can run down and break up the raft that lies just above the fort.
The old steamship Star of the West is sunk just below the raft, across the stream, and they have the John Walsh close to the same place, either ready to sink or use as a boarding craft and ram. We've captured several prisoners, but can learn nothing of the rebel force, nothing definite at least. Loring, Tilghman, Colonel Waul of the Texas Legion, the Second Texas, Forty-sixth and Twentieth Mississippi are all the troops we have heard of. The Second Texas left Vicksburg on the 15th of February, went to Jackson, marched thence to Yazoo City, and came from there by steamer. They are doubtless fortifying Yazoo City strongly.
If we should succeed to-morrow in capturing their fort, and all depends upon the determination and distance, we may succeed in capturing a large number of prisoners.
The rebel fort called Greenwood and Pemberton is constructed of cotton bales covered over with sand and earth, and in itself would be very valuable.
Colonel, I have written you freely upon all that concerns this expedition, and wish you to preserve my letters. They are semi-official, and I believe in no case will you find a misstatement of facts or an error in judgment stated in them. I should have directed them to the general, perhaps, but upon deliberation thought I could write with more freedom to you, and subserve the same purpose.
There is yet one matter to which I wish to call your attention, and that is, notwithstanding your wish that I should have been consulted, and the general's letter to General Prentiss directing the same thing, in no case and in no regard was my opinion solicited, either explicitly or implicitly, directly or indirectly. With reference to the organization of the expedition, I knew, as I told you, absolutely nothing of it until I returned to Moon Lake. Since we have been on the move, General Ross has consulted me freely upon all matters.
From all this you will see I am solicitous for my reputation at headquarters. I would not have you or any one else imagine I have stood upon punctilio in matters that concern the public welfare; but, to the contrary, I have not hesitated to tender my opinion upon a single occasion where I thought it worthy of attention, even to the naval authorities. The only case in which I regret my own negligence or want of foresight was in not advising General Gorman to send a heavy detachment down the Pass to Coldwater before we began Operations at the levee, in order to prevent interference with it. I was thrown off my guard by the appearance of the country, giving confirmation to the report of the people that the whole country was flooded from back water and crevasses. Every appearance indicated this to be so. The fact is it was so nearly everywhere, and the trees had to be cut by men standing in boats. We might have prevented this, and might not. Even if we had, the expedition would not have been expedited by it, for as it was, it did not get ready to enter until a couple of days after we had returned to Helena. The transports were not ready until two or three days after. But suppose they had been, and the trees had not been cut, the rebels, instead of depending upon the obstructions and difficulties of navigation to detain us, would have begun at once to fortify at Greenwood.
As the thing stands now, without two or three good iron-clads are sent very soon, together with a siege train of six or eight 8-inch howitzers and 30-pounder rifles, or unless fortune should favor us to-mor-row, the game is blocked on us here as well as below.
Should it turn out this way, Vicksburg becomes subordinate, our department secondary, and Rosecrans' army our hope in the West. Won't we, in that event, be required to furnish 50,000 or 60,000 men?
Before closing this letter, it may not be improper to mention the fact that the rebels are making great calculations "to bag us" entire. As long as we are here that's out of the question, and only becomes practicable when they have rammed our iron-clads, or carried them by boarding. It is said that they have a battalion of volunteers from the different Mississippi regiments, commanded by Todd, selected for their prowess, and to be used as boarders. We can receive such gentlemen with bloody hands.
What has become of Casey and my horse? Remember me to Bowers and Osband. Say to the latter, if he moves his horses from Memphis, to please make arrangements concerning my mare.
I wrote you hastily a few evenings ago, and referred to my brother of the Eighteenth. I wish I could show you the testimonials and recommendations he has received, since his court-martial, from Haynie, Sullivan, Brayman, Lawler, and his lieutenant-colonel (who preferred the charges against him and has been at enmity with him), urging his promotion to the majority of the Eighteenth. He has twice received this promotion, and twice had it withdrawn in favor of political aspirants. He ought to have it now, and if you can do anything for him I wish you would.
Remember me kindly to the general, and say I will write again when the result of to-morrow's attack is known.
I believe I explained the difficulty of land Operations here, arising from the high water. Nearly the whole country is under water. There is no way of our reaching the fort except by landing against it with our boats, after the guns are silent and the raft destroyed.
Write me about affairs below and the prospect. Your letter of the
latest date was very interesting. Accept my grateful acknowledgments of
the kind sentiments manifested toward me, and believe me, dear Rawlins,
very truly, your friend,
HEADQUARTERS YAZOO EXPEDITION,
GENERAL: I wrote to you hurriedly a few days ago, and to Colonel Rawlins quite fully last night.
I am sorry to say we are no nearer the accomplishment of our object to-night than we were yesterday. In accordance with the arrangement between General Ross and the commodore, we had placed an 8-inch shell gun in battery with our Parrott last night, and were ready at daylight to make the final effort. General Ross selected the three best regiments of his command, and embarked them on three of the light-clad gunboats, ready to throw them ashore at the battery, provided the heavy guns of the enemy should be silenced and the raft broken, so as to permit a landing.
About noon our battery opened and was vigorously replied to by some rifled field pieces from two little batteries, erected on the bank of the Yazoo, 300 or 400 yards below the fort last night. Our 8-inch gun was well handled, but having only the muzzle of their heavy gun to fire at, could not have effected much without great good fortune. Then, too, the rebels were supplied with plenty of cotton bales, which they used judiciously in covering their piece. In a few minutes after the land battery opened, the Chillicothe, followed by the De Kalb, moved out with the intention of "going in" upon the well-established principle of gunboat warfare, "close quarters and quick work,"but the former had hardly reached her old position, 1,100 yards from the fort, before she was struck with great violence several times, and in fifteen minutes, during which her two guns were fired only seven times, she was struck six times with solid 8-inch shot and the rifled 6.4-inch gun, resulting in closing "hermetically" both ports, so that neither could be opened till they were lifted off and hammered out. The De Kalb, for the reason that the Chillicothe was compelled to retire, was also drawn out. The fire from our land battery was kept up till night, and with so much effect that I am convinced the two boats assisting it would have had a better chance than at any previous time. I urged that the De Kalb alone should try it at close quarters, but it was not done. Our sharpshooters were pushed out through the overflow, to a point only 450 yards distant from the rebel batteries, and succeeded in annoying their gunners very greatly.
The rebel 8-inch gun was mounted and placed in position last night, and a few more days of such policy as we have been compelled to adopt by the tardy unreadiness of the naval commander will enable them to make Fort Greenwood entirely efficient against any force that can operate against it from this quarter. It has already shown considerable power in resisting gunboats and battering them. The Chillicothe has been under its fire five times, varying from fifteen minutes to an hour and a quarter, during which she has been hit fifty-two times, and I don't hesitate to say is now almost incapable of further active service. In the first place, she is a great cheat and swindle upon the Government. Her plating is laid against a backing of only 9 inches of pine wood, and fastened on by 6-inch spikes shaped thus: |>=====> instead of bolts with taps and screws. The framing which supports the plating is broken short near the middle of the two ports, and has settled down so that the grating over the top has to be propped up in order that the steering-wheel may be turned. Another 8-inch solid shot between the ports will bring the whole turret down.
If we had the guns and materials, and a good supply of ammunition, with another division of troops, we might be able to erect counter batteries on this and the left bank of the Tallahatchee River sufficiently strong to silence the rebel guns everywhere else but at the positions of the two pointing up the river, and, by means of raft and boat bridges, throw our troops upon the point in rear, or beyond the present line of rebel works. But with the troops now here, without siege materials of any kind, it is impossible to do anything without the gunboats first silencing the large guns. Remember, the enemy is in an isolated position, unapproachable by land, and no way for transports to reach him except by the river, directly in front of his heavy guns. We can get within about 450 yards of their works, or different parts of them, on both banks of the Tallahatchee, and at one place on the left bank can approach nearly opposite their camps; but it seems to me, without a direct approach to the front, no serious damage can be done them, for they can traverse their guns from oblique fire easily, and still command the river. However, I am perfectly certain the place can be taken in time, by a proper and prompt array of strength, and all the necessary materials for such an operation. I have no confidence in the snap or activity of the present naval commander in this quarter, and don't hesitate to say I regard him entirely responsible for the failure to take this place without a fight. His juniors, Captains Foster and Walker, I believe will bear me out in this. They both agreed with me in the policy to be pursued, and both attribute our failure to its neglect. There is no doubt but that, with all the difficulties we encountered, the iron-clads could have been here by the 1st instant. There is just as little doubt that we would have found this point unprepared for resistance. Before adopting the policy of concentrating a heavy force here, there are one or two points to be regarded.
First, the confluence of the Yalabusha and the Tallahatchee is a position of considerable importance, as being the key to a large area of rich country, at the head of a river capable of easy navigation for large steamers, while to approach it we are compelled to thread several streams, with more or less difficulties of navigation to overcome. Without the gunboats could of themselves silence and destroy the rebel batteries at once, we should be compelled to adopt the slow and tedious process of a siege, under no very favorable circumstances--a siege, with the object of silencing and destroying their guns in the first place, and, in the second, to cross the river in such force as to expel the rebels from the point, and hold it ourselves till the obstacles to navigation could be removed. I don't undertake to say how many days this would require, but it is quite clear that as the matter now stands it would require several weeks. A fall of 10 feet in the Mississippi would probably prevent the return of our transports and naval vessels. There would then remain the necessity of going out by the Yazoo or of burning the boats. A contingency of this kind could be prevented by beginning the operation with the understanding that it should be abandoned when the river had fallen a certain amount. There is yet one other point in the enemy's favor. He can move guns up the railroad to Panola, and float them down to the mouth of Coldwater, and, unless that point is vigilantly guarded, can erect a strong battery there. I have suggested that a regiment of troops and one "tin-clad" be left or sent to that point as soon as possible. There is also a great chance yet for us. If the water rises 4 feet more here, it will flood almost the entire country, so much of it, at any rate, that the rebels cannot occupy their present position. To induce this rise, I have advised General Ross to write to General Prentiss, requesting him to put a strong force at work destroying the levee near the entrance to the Pass. The general's letter will go out by the naval dispatch boat that leaves in the morning. If the river is still as high as it was at the last dates we had, an opening even a half mile wide near the entrance will let in an immense volume of water, but whether enough to produce the desired effect is the problem to be solved. It's worth trying, I think.
We had 1 man wounded in the land battery to-day. A 6-pounder rifle shot came in at the embrasure, traversed a cotton bale from end to end, and took off his arm. Several of our men have been wounded in different skirmishes, and have taken several prisoners.
You will please remember, general, that I am not responsible for the defects in the organization of this expedition, neither directly nor indirectly, for although you were good enough to direct General Prentiss to answer my suggestions and "requisitions for troops and materials" as coming from yourself, I received no notice of this till furnished with a copy by Colonel Rawlins, and in no way was I consulted by any one in authority.
I don't mention this with a desire to convince you that the result would have been otherwise had I been consulted, but simply to assure you that the land forces would not have been entirely without siege materials and guns suitable for any ordinary Operations.
In relation to the activity displayed by the expedition, I wish to be clearly understood. I have written Colonel Rawlins quite fully from time to time concerning the causes of delay. I frequently, from the day the expedition left Moon Lake, urged that the rams, iron-clads, and two light-clads, but certainly the rams and iron-clads, should be pushed forward with the greatest possible speed, leaving the transports and balance of naval vessels to come forward as rapidly as they could. I went so far as to obtrude my opinions upon Acting Commodore Smith, urging that, for the main objects of the expedition, the troops were an incumbrance, and could only assist by occupying important points after they had been taken possession of. But notwithstanding General Ross insisted on this in more than one interview, it was not assented to. It was with the greatest difficulty that we could persuade him to put his coal-barges behind and allow the expedition to steam a little faster than the stream would float them.
I believe I have given you quite as full an account of matters here as I can in a letter.
Our offensive Operations are suspended till more ammunition can be obtained, the gunboats wishing to hold some on hand for defense.
I don't know what course General Ross and Commodore Smith will now adopt, but it is the intention to wait on the defensive till we can determine something better.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
HEADQUARTERS YAZOO EXPEDITION,
DEAR RAWLINS: Military and naval Operations here are about terminated for the present. His Excellency Acting Rear-Admiral Commodore Smith left to-day for a more salubrious climate, very sick, giving it as his opinion that the present force of iron-clads could not take the two rebel guns in our front. Captain Foster, the next in rank, has assumed command, and insists on withdrawing his force. General Ross assented at first, but has since determined to delay here till General Quinby arrives to assume the responsibility of attempting to reduce the rebel work or of withdrawing the land forces.
I am satisfied there is but one right way to take the fort, and that is for the gunboats to go right at it and hammer it till they take it. A deserter came in this morning, confirming in every particular the justice of my view. He says there were no heavy guns mounted here till the 10th or 12th of this month; that a heavy force is collecting at Yazoo City, and that they are building a tremendous raft there, upon which they keep constantly employed 1,000 men. They are also building one gunboat a mile below the city, 300 feet long, but for want of material it will require twenty four months to finish. With this exception they have neither gunboat nor ram anywhere on these waters.
General Loring is in command in our front I don't know his force, but heard some one say over 3,000 men. Captains [Isaac N.] Brown and [F. E.] Shepherd, of the rebel Navy, have charge of the two large guns over in the fort, and when we made our attack on Monday they had but a very limited supply of ammunition. The rifle 6.4 was, in fact, silenced for want of projectiles. The Chillicothe drew out early, and Smith wouldn't let the De Kalb go down to press the matter. The deserter says there is no possibility of a doubt that we should have captured the battery had our gunboats continued in action. Night before last they received a small supply of rifle shot, and on Sunday night they received and mounted the 8-inch gun which threw solid shot at us on Monday.
We have thrown away a magnificent chance to injure the enemy, and all because of the culpable and inexcusable slowness of the naval commander in the first place, and his timidity and cautiousness in the second.
The matter rests just this way now: If Admiral Porter can send three good iron-clads, well supplied with ammunition, say, 400 rounds for each gun, and a good man to fight them, they can yet capture the place. If he can't do so, it is childish folly to keep the present force here, thereby causing the enemy to strengthen his position and allowing him an opportunity to bag our entire force. Twenty thousand men would be safe here, and, supplied with a liberal allowance of siege material, might so damage the enemy as to require him to evacuate; but if the land forces are required to stop at every point of importance, and reduce it by a siege, how long do you think it will require them to reach Yazoo City?
It's provoking beyond measure to think that everything we undertake must be marred by incompetency and stupidity! I am intensely disgusted to-night.
In case of our withdrawal entirely or partially, I shall avail myself of the first opportunity to return to Vicksburg or to headquarters to see you and the general.
It seems to me the principal advantages of this line have already been lost, and what remain derive their importance from the fact that the gunboats, by being vigorously handled, ought to open us a rapid and safe line of communication, at least to Yazoo City. If the gunboats can't do this work, the venture fails, at least so far as concerns its advantages. An army in time can go through unassisted, but I would not like to be answerable for all the time consumed, nor for the success of the army afterward.
I have just finished dismantling our land battery and removing the guns to the landing. This was thought best, since we were nearly out of ammunition for them, and to save the labor of guarding the battery. I can't begin to give you an idea of my disgust.
Write me soon, and in the mean time believe me, dear Rawlins, very
truly, your friend,
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE TENNESSEE,
GENERAL: I have the honor to submit the following report, for the information of the Engineer Department:
On the 29th of January, while at the mouth of the Yazoo River, I received verbal instructions from Major-General Grant to proceed at once to Helena, Ark., and organize an expedition for opening and examining the Yazoo Pass. Brigadier-General Gorman, commanding District of Eastern Arkansas, was directed to furnish all necessary details, boats and implements. I was instructed to cut the levee across the mouth of the Pass, and descend at least as far as the Coldwater, if practicable; return as soon as possible, and report upon the practicability of the route as a line of military Operations.
At 2 p.m. on the 2d of February, with 400 men, furnished with shovels, axes, and picks, I began work. The levee was cut in two places, the cuts being respectively 15 and 20 feet wide on top, with an interval of 50 feet between them, the wider one being directly in the axis of the old channel.
On the evening of the 3d, at 6 o'clock, the excavation was completed, end the water let in by the explosion of a small mine planted in the mouth of the cut. A mine was exploded under the mass of earth between the two cuts, simultaneously shattering and loosening it so that the rapid rush of water which ensued soon carried it entirely away, uniting the two cuts into one. By 11 p.m., a crevasse 40 yards wide was opened, and by morning the old entrance of the Pass was entirely clear of the embankment. The level of the water on the exterior side of the levee was 10 feet below the top of the embankment; on the inside, 18½ feet below; difference of level, 8½ feet. The water was 15 feet deep in the bed of the stream at the foot of the exterior slope. The width of the levee on the top was 10 feet; exterior slope, 4 upon 1; interior slope, 3½ upon 1. From the violence with which the water rushed through the crevasse, the steamboat pilots did not consider it safe to run a boat into it till the lake and the country in the vicinity were filled up.
On the 7th of March, with the steamer Henderson, I entered the Pass, through Moon Lake, to the exit from the latter. Before going farther, I was informed by some citizens from Coldwater that the rebels had been busily engaged, since about the 2d, in felling trees into and across the stream. I subsequently learned that General Pemberton had given orders two months before, and had reiterated them about two weeks before I reached Helena, directing the obstruction of Yazoo Pass. A party had been organized for this purpose before I began Operations, and began work immediately after they learned the levee was cut.
On the 8th, I descended the stream nearly 6 miles in an open boat, but, not thinking it prudent to go farther without a larger escort, I did not learn the entire extent of the obstacles. I was, however, confirmed in the opinion expressed in my report of the 2d, informing General Grant of the suitability of the route as a line of Operations against the country on the left bank of the Yazoo River.
On the 9th, General Washburn, with three small steamers and two regiments of infantry, provided with axes, cables, and implements, arrived from Helena, and entered the Pass 2 or 3 miles without meeting any serious blockades.
On the 10th, after a careful examination of the obstructions and their probable extent, with the steamboats and two regiments of infantry, under the command of Brigadier-General Washburn, the work of removing the obstructions was begun.
The first barricade was a mile in length, and the second about 2 miles, but not so compactly constructed, though slighter obstructions were found all along the Pass from Pennington's to within a mile of Cold-water. They were formed by felling trees into and across the stream. The forest being very dense, and the growth luxuriant, the trees were of the largest and heaviest kinds, cottonwood, sycamore, oak, elm, and pecan prevailing, and all, except cottonwood, having a greater specific gravity than water. These, mixed with drift-wood, rendered the barricade of no trifling nature, and, under ordinary circumstances, would have required great labor to remove. To add to the difficulties of the work, the rapid rise of the water from the crevasse at the entrance over-flowed the entire country, except a very narrow strip of land next the bank, not to exceed in any place 50 yards wide, and frequently not half that. The working parties were kept necessarily on board the boats, There being no way of reaching the lower end of the Pass with troops and the necessary provision and implements, the work had to be done from the upper end and the "blockades" removed successively. After resorting to the use of windlasses and other machinery for removing the fallen trees and drift timber, all attended with the breakage of cables, tackle, and boat machinery, besides being entirely too slow, the plan of cutting off the limbs, sawing in two the logs, and drawing out such parts as would not sink entirely out of the way was adopted.
In many cases where a footing could be obtained, entire trees, measuring 90 feet in length and 4 feet through the butt, were drawn out by attaching two or three 6-inch cables and hauling upon them with from 250 to 400 men. In this way, by the 21st instant, the entire Pass was cleared, and, with the cutting of an occasional overhanging tree, prepared for navigation.
The width of the waterway is from 60 to 80 feet clear, and from 18 to 30 feet deep at the stage of water indicated. The distance from Moon Lake to the Coldwater is about 15 miles.
The Coldwater from its junction with Yazoo Pass is a considerable river, from 100 to 130 feet wide, running through a dense wilderness nearly all the way.
The Tallahatchee is a stream of very similar nature, from 130 to 180 feet wide, and from 30 miles below the mouth of Coldwater affords fine navigation for boats 250 feet long.
There are not more than fifty plantations between the entrance to Yazoo Pass and the mouth of the Tallahatchee, a distance of nearly 200 miles.
By the time Yazoo Pass was ready for navigation, General Grant had organized an expedition of about 5,000 men, to co-operate with a naval force of two iron-clads, two rams, and six light-draught gunboats. On the 24th of February, the iron-clad Chillicothe, 160 feet long and 50 feet beam, followed by the Baron De Kalb, 175 feet long and 51 feet beam, entered the Pass from Moon Lake. The light-clads, rams, and transports, to the number of twenty-two, some of them as much as 220 feet long and 55 feet beam, followed, and without any serious accident reached Dr. Curtiss' plantation, a few miles from the junction of the Yalabusha and the Tallahatchee Rivers, on the evening of March 10, 1863. It may not be improper to state that the rams and iron-clads could have reached the same point easily by the 3d March, and with extra activity by the 1st.
On the morning of the 11th, the Chillicothe moved down in range of the battery erected by the rebels in a loop between the Tallahatchee and the Yazoo, covering the mouth of the Yalabusha and Greenwood, and when within about 1,100 yards of the fort was opened upon by a rifle 32-pounder and several smaller pieces. One shot took effect near the right-hand corner of the square turret, bending and denting the plate upon which it took effect, about 4 inches from the plane of its original position, and knocking the 9-inch pine backing into fragments.
On the afternoon of this day, both the Chillicothe and De Kalb moved down to the attack, but, having approached no nearer than 900 or 1,000 yards, their shots had produced no visible effect, when the Chillicothe received a shot in her left bow port and withdrew.
On the night of the 12th, by direction of General Ross, commanding the land forces, I erected a cotton-bale battery at a point indicated on the inclosed sketch (below), putting in it one 30-pounder rifled Parrott obtained from the Navy. The materials were moved from Clarke's plantation house at night, and the battery completed between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. 13th.
The Navy having accomplished nothing, on account of long ranger another 30-pounder Parrott was added on the night of the 13th, and on the night of the 15th an 8-inch ship howitzer was put in position.
These guns were not used with any hope of seriously injuring the enemy, since the battery could not be placed so as to enfilade the enemy's work, nor close enough to give any reasonable ground for hope of dismounting his guns by direct fire.
From the inclosed sketch 64KB you will perceive that the position of Fort Pemberton was unassailable by infantry, and therefore could only be taken by a vigorous and determined naval attack. This was not made, the closest the gunboats ever went not being less than 800 yards.
The site of the fort was but very little above water, and therefore it occurred to me that by cutting the Mississippi levee, near Austin, about 18 miles above Helena, a large volume of water might be induced to take the line of the Coldwater and Tallahatchee and flood the country near both streams. The levee was cut by General Prentiss, but not sufficiently to produce the desired effect; had it been destroyed for 2 miles, at the point indicated, I have little doubt that 2 feet of a rise would have reached Greenwood. The enemy could not have withstood more than 12 inches.
During our presence in the vicinity of Fort Greenwood, the rebels mounted one 8-inch columbiad. The armament is given in the sketch.
I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE TENNESSEE,
GENERAL: The report of Brig. Gen. L. F. Ross, commanding the Yazoo expedition, having failed to reach you, I have the honor to make the following statement, for your information:
On the 23d day of February, 1863, the Yazoo Pass was opened for navigation. On the 24th, the expedition left Moon Lake, and on the 10th day of March arrived at or near Fort Pemberton. The distance traversed was about 225 miles. The difficulties of navigation, as described in my letters to you, were great, and some of the transports were old and unseaworthy, yet all of these things are insufficient to account for all of the delay. Such other causes as may have existed should be known, and out of justice to both branches of the public service involved in the expedition I deem it my duty to state them. To the timidity, over cautiousness, and lack of interest displayed by Lieut. Commander Watson Smith, commanding the gunboats, and the delays growing out of them, is attributable the failure of the entire expedition. Lieutenant-Commander Smith was frequently urged by General Ross, myself, and Captains Walker and Foster, of the Navy, to move with more rapidity, or, at least, allow the iron-clads and rams to proceed with all practicable dispatch to the mouth of the Tallahatchee. I have no hesitation in saying that, bad these suggestions been followed, the entire expedition could have reached Fort Pemberton from three to five days sooner than it did, and that the iron-clads, the only ones depended upon in attacking land batteries, could have arrived there by the 2d of March at furthest.
It is not necessary at this time to urge the importance of the lost days, or what might have been the result had more activity been displayed by Lieutenant-Commander Smith.
With the highest admiration for the gallantry and intelligence displayed by Captains [James P.] Foster and [John G.] Walker, of the Chillicothe and De Kalb, and the earliest conviction that they would have cheerfully obeyed any order from their superior officer, I am constrained to state that in the attack upon Fort Pemberton, Lieutenant-Commander Smith again failed to exhibit the decision and intelligence necessary under such circumstances to secure the advantage of a victory. After the Chillicothe and De Kalb had silenced the fort, he failed to push the latter close enough to it to ascertain the cause of its not replying to her fire. I requested General Ross at the time to urge upon him the importance of this step and the probability of our success, and have reason to believe he followed my suggestion. At all events, it was ascertained a few days afterward, from reliable sources, that had the De Kalb been advanced she would have met with no further resistance, because the rebel ammunition was exhausted. The truth of this is now beyond peradventure.
It was simply impossible for General Ross to assault the works at this or any other time, with or without re-enforcements.
Hoping that this matter may be investigated, and the responsibility
fixed where it belongs, I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient
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