Page images
PDF
EPUB

574

SERIOUS DISASTER AT HOLLY SPRINGS.

« Dec. 5,

1862.

Having accomplished the object of their expedition, Hovey and Washburne returned to the Mississippi.

This raid, in which the railways on which the Confederates depended were severely damaged, and the rolling stock destroyed, while Grant was pressing in front, disconcerted Pemberton, and he fell back to Grenada, and by the 1st of December Grant held a strong position south of Holly Springs, and commanding nearly parallel railways in that region, as we have observed on page 524. He pushed on' to Oxford, the capital of Lafayette County, Mississippi, and sent forward two thousand cavalry, under Colonels Lee and

T. L. Dickey, to press the rear of Van Dorn's retreating column.
At Coffeeville, several miles southward, these encountered a

superior force of Van Dorn's infantry and some artillery, and, after a sharp struggle, were driven back several miles, with a loss of one hundred men, killed, wounded, and missing.

Grant, with his main army, remained at Oxford.' The railway had been put in running order as far southward as Holly Springs, and there he had made his temporary depot of arms and supplies of every kind, valued, late in December, at nearly four millions of dollars. That very important post was placed in charge of Colonel R. C. Murphy, with one thousand men, who, as we have seen, abandoned a large quantity of stores at Iuka on the approach of the Confederates. He now permitted a far greater disaster to befall the National cause. His treasures were a powerful temptation to Van Dorn, and Grant was so satisfied that he would attempt to seize them, that he had enjoined Murphy to be extremely vigilant. On the night of the 19th he had warned him of immediate danger, and sent four thousand men to make the security of the stores absolutely certain; but Murphy seems not to have heeded it. He made no preparations, by barricading the streets or

otherwise, for defense. When, at daybreak the next morning,

Van Dorn and liis cavalry burst into the town like an overwhelming avalanche, he was met by very little resistance. He captured Murphy and a greater portion of his men, gathered what plunder his troops wanted for personal use, and burned all the other public property, not sparing even a large hospital, filled with sick and wounded soldiers. The Second Illinois cavalry refused to surrender, and gallantly fought their way out with

a loss of only seven men. Murphy accepted a parole, with his

soldiers; and on the 9th of January' General Grant, in a severe order, “ to take effect,” he said, “ from December 20th, the date of his cowardly and disgraceful conduct," dismissed Murphy from the army,

After remaining at Ilolly Springs ten hours, engaged in pillaging and

Dec. 20.

[ocr errors]

1 Grant had a very efficient staff. Among the principal and most activo oMcers were Brigalier-General J. D. Webster, a most skillful artillery officer, and then snperintendent of military ronds. Lieutenant-Colonel J. A. Rawlins was his chief of stuff, and Captain T. S. Bowers was his most trusted aid-de-caip. The two latter remained on his staff throughout the entire war.

2 See page 513.

3 In an order on the 2301 of December, General Grant spoke of the surrender as “ disgraceful," and declared that with "all the cotton, public stores, and substantial buildings about the depot,” Murphy inight easily have k«pt the assailants at bay until relief arrived. lle pointedly condemned the acceptance of a parole by Murphy for himself and men, a cartel having been agreed to, by which each party was bound to take care of its own prisoners. Had Murphy refused parole for himself and men, Van Dorn would have been “compelled," Grant said, “ to have released them unconditionally, or to have abandoned all further aggressive movements for the time being."

SHERMAN'S DESCENT OF THE MISSISSIPPI.

575

destroying, blowing up the arsenal, and burning the public property, Van Dorn's men departed at five o'clock in the evening, highly elated, and immediately afterward assailed in rapid succession the National troops at Coldwater, Davis's Mills, Middleburg, and even Bolivar, but without other success than the effect produced upon Grant by a serious menace of his communications. Two hours after they had left Holly Springs, the four thousand troops which Grant had dispatched by railway to re-enforce Murphy arrived. They had been detained by accident on the way, or they might have reached the place in time to have saved the property. Its loss was a paralyzing blow to the expedition, for Grant was compelled to fall back to Grand Junction, to save his army from the most imminent peril, and perhaps from destruction. This left General Pemberton at liberty to concentrate his forces at Vicksburg for its defense.

In the mean time General Sherman had been preparing for his descent upon Vicksburg. While in command of the right wing of the Army of the Tennessee, with his head-quarters at Memphis, he had thoroughly drilled his troops, and put that important post in the most complete defensive state. In Fort Pickering he had constructed one of the finest of the numerous look-outs that were so extensively used by both parties during the war, from which, on several occasions, notice of the approach of guerrillas was given in time to save the place from pillage.

Sherman left Memphis with a little more than twenty thousand troops in transports, on the day of the sad disaster at Holly Springs, leaving

• Dec. 20, as a guard to the city a strong force of infantry and cavalry, and the siege-guns in place with a complement of artillerists. He proceeded to Friar's Point, a little below where Hovey landed, where he was joined by Admiral D. ter (whose naval force was at the mouth of the Yazoo River) in his flag-ship Black Hawk, and with the gun-boats Marmora and Conestoga to act as a convoy. On the same evening the troops at Helena embarked, and joined Sherman at Friar's Point, and made his entire force full thirty thousand strong. Arrangements for future action were completed the following morning by the two commanders. The army and navy moved down the

* Dec. 22. stream, and were all at the mouth of the Yazoo River, about twelve miles above Vicksburg, on the 25th. The plan was to make an attack upon Vicksburg in the rear, with a strong force, and for that purpose

[graphic]

1862.

LOOK-OUT,

1 The kind and value of the pnblic property destroyed was as follows:-1,809,000 fixed cartridges and other ordnance stores, including 5,000 rifles and 2,000 revolvers

, $1,500,000; 100,000 suits of clothing and other quartermasters' stores, $500,000 ; 5,000 barrels of flour and other commissary stores, $500,000 ; medical stores, $1,000,000 ; 1,000 bales of cotton and $600,000 worth of sutlers' stores.

2 It was at about this time, as we have observed (page 551), that Forrest was making his raid in West Tennessee.

s The fleet consisted of more than sixty transports, besides a number of gun-boats (some of them armored), and some mortar-boats.

576

NATURAL DEFENSES OF VICKSBURG.

THE BLACK HAWK.

the fleet and army passed up the Yazoo (which, in a great bend, sweeps

round within a few miles of Vicksburg') twelve miles, to JohnDec. 26, 1862.

ston's Landing, the troops debarkingo at points in that vicinity

along the space of three miles, without opposition. To understand the difficulties in Sherman's way, we must consider, for a moment, the topography of his field of intended operations. The bluffs or

hills on which Vicksburg stands rise a little below the city, and extend northeast twelve or fifteen miles to the Yazoo River, where they terminate in Haines's Bluff. In the rear of the city the ground is high and broken, falling

falling off gradually toward the Big Black River,twelve

miles distant. This range of hills, fronting the Mississippi and the Yazoo, was fortified along its entire length, and the only approach to Vicksburg by land was up their steep faces, through which roads were cut in a manner indicated by the engraving. At the base of these bluffs were rifle-pits. To render the approach still more difficult, there is a deep natural ditch, called Chickasaw Bayou, extending from the Yazoo, below Haines's Bluff, passing along near the base of the bluffs for some distance, and emptying into the Mississippi. Added to this is a deep slough, whose bottom is quicksand, and supposed to have once been a lake which stretched along the foot of the bluffs, and entered the bayou where the latter approached them. These formed a natural moat in front of the fortifications, while on the plain over which Sherman had to approach the bluffs the cypress forests were felled in places, and formed a diffi

UPPER ENTRANCE TO VICKSBURG. cult abatis.

Sherman's army was organized in four divisions, commanded respectively by Brigadier-Generals G. W. Morgan, Morgan L. Smith, A. J. Smith, and Frederick Steele. The first three divisions had three brigades each, and the fourth one (Steele's), four. In the plan of attack Steele was assigned to the

[graphic]
[graphic]

1 The Yazoo River is a deep and narrow stream formed by the Tallahatchee and Yallobusha Rivers, which unite in Carroll County, Mississippi. It runs through an extremely fertile alluvial plain.

? This is a view on what is called the Valley road, the one entering Vicksburg from the north, nearest the river. At the point where this little sketch was taken was a strong palisade, and near it was a block-house, both of which were well preserved when the writer visited Vicksburg, in April, 1866.

MOVEMENTS AT CHICKASAW BAYOU.

577

ANCIENT MOUND, CHICKASAW BAYOU.

command of the extreme left, Morgan the left center, M. L. Smith the right center, and A. J. Smith the extreme right. The latter division not having arrived from Milliken's Bend (where it had remained as a support to a force under Colonel Wright, sent to cut the railway on the west side of the Mississippi, that connects Vicksburg with Shreveport) when Sherman was ready to advance, General Frank P. Blair, of Steele's division, was placed in command on the extreme right. All of these divisions were to converge toward the point of attack on the bluffs at or near Barfield's plantation, where only, it had been ascertained, the bayou could be crossed at two points—one at a sand-bar, and the other at a narrow levee. Both were commanded by Confederate batteries and rifle-pits. The battery at the levee was on an ancient Indian mound,' near the bank of the bayou, and could sweep nearly the whole ground over which the Nationals must advance. Everywhere on that advance the ground was so soft that causeways had to be built for the passage of the troops and cannon. Difficulties were found be much greater and more numerous than was anticipated.

The army was ready to move on the 27th, and the center divisions, including Blair's, marched slowly toward the bluffs, driving the

• Dec., 1862 Confederate pickets, silencing a battery on the left where Steele was to join the forward movement, and cheered by the confidence of the commanding general that full success would crown their endeavors. Alas ! he did not then know of the disaster at Holly Springs, the recoil of Grant from Oxford, and the heavy re-enforcements which Pemberton had been sending to Vicksburg. He knew that the line that he was to attack was fifteen miles in length, and supposed there were only fifteen thousand men to man it, and he believed that, with his superior force concentrated at some point, he might break through the line, demolish it in detail, and march triumphantly into Vicksburg. He knew the position to be assailed was a strong one, but he was not aware of the ample preparations, by rifle-pits rising tier above tier upon the slopes, and batteries crowning every hill, to enfilade his troops at every point, and make success almost an impossibility. In ignorance of the strength before him, and expecting Grant's co-operation on the morrow, Sherman reposed on the night of the 27th, his army bivouacking in the cold air without fires.

The army pressed forward on Sunday morning, the 28th, driving the pickets of the Confederates across the bayou. Steele, moving on the extreme left, was soon checked by a slough and cypress swamp, across which there was no passage excepting by a corduroy causeway, enfiladed by the Confederate batteries and rifle-pits. Meanwhile Morgan had advanced under cover of a heavy fog and the fire of his artillery against the Confederate center. He pressed on to a point at the bayou where it approaches

1 The little sketch above shows the appearance of the ancient mound when the writer visited it, in 1866. It was about twenty-five feet in height

VOL. II.-37

[graphic]

578

BATTLE OF CIIICKASAW BAYOU.

[ocr errors]

nearest the bluffs, and where it was impassable. He held his ground there throughout the day and the following night. At the same time M. L. Smith had advanced far to the right, and before noon was disabled by a sharpshooter's ball wounding his hip, when his command devolved on General David Stuart. A. J. Smith pushed forward on the extreme right until his pickets reached a point from which Vicksburg was in full view.

Steele’s division was brought around that night to a point a little below the junction of the bayou with the Yazoo, and on the morning of the 29th, General Sherman, aware that the force of the Confederates on his front was rapidly increasing, ordered a general advance of his whole army. Morgan, being nearest the bayou and the bluffs, was expected to cross early and carry the batteries and heights on his front; but at the dawn the Confederates opened a heavy cannonade upon him, and it was almost noon before he thought it prudent to move forward. Meanwhile detachments had been constructing bridges over the bayou, for the purpose of crossing to assail the foe on the bluffs, and when Morgan was ready to move, Blair had come up with his brigade and was ready to go into the fight, with Thayer, of Steele's division, as a support.

Blair had moved forward between the divisions of Smith and Morgan, and obliquing to the left, which exposed him to a severe flank fire, in which Colonel J. B. Wyman, of the Thirteenth Illinois, was killed, he crossed Morgan's track, and there detached two regiments to the support of that commander. With the remainder he worked his way to the front of Morgan's left, near the house of Mrs. Lake, and at the van of Steele he crossed the bayou over a bridge his men had built, and advanced to the slough, whose

bottom was a quicksand, and its banks were covered with a snarl of felled trees. Over this they passed, Blair leaving his horse floundering in the shallow water with its unstable bed. Dashing through the abatis, and followed by Thayer, with only a single regiment (Fourth Iowa) of his brigade then in hand, he pressed across a sloping plateau, captured two lines of rifle-pits, and fought desperately to gain the crest of the hill before him, while De Courcy's brigade of Morgan's command, which had crossed the bayou, charged on his right. But the

effort was vain. The assailants suffered terribly, for the hills were swarming with men, bristling with weapons, and ablaze with the fire of murderous guns. It was a struggle of three thousand in open fields below with ten thousand behind intrenchments above. Pemberton, who had arrived and was in command, had been re-enforced by three brigades from Grenada, released by Grant's retrograde mover ment, and he defied Sherman. Blair and his companions were compelled to

SWAMP

RIVER

STEELS. DECO. 2

SLOUGH

ARTILLERY

PLAIR

[ocr errors]

OROAN

LAKE

[ocr errors]

TILLE

CONFIDE NOT

NATIONA

ONALS

[ocr errors]

JOHNSON

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

P UNION

CONFEDERATE

TIIE BATTLE OF CUICKASAW BAYOU.

« PreviousContinue »