- Historic Sites
General Grant escapes the swamps and a War Department move to relieve him of command
October 1955 | Volume 6, Issue 6
The Yazoo Pass expedition, the most celebrated perhaps of all, was undertaken about March 1st • by which it was intended to transport a heavy body of troops from its upper end, eight miles below Helena, Ark., eastward into Moon Lake, which emptied into Coldwater river, and this into the upper Yazoo. The shallowness of the water prevented the passage of fully half the transports and ironclads, and occasioned delays that enabled the Confederates to erect an exceedingly strong fortification, known as Ft. Pemberton, at the junction of the Tallahatchie and Yalobusha rivers. This fort was entirely surrounded by water for several miles when our transports arrived in its vicinity. There was absolutely no road by which infantry could reach it. It was too strong to be reduced by the force which could be brought to bear upon it; and the ironclads could not get close enough to do the work. Part of the troops commenced the return trip to the Mississippi on March 21st arriving at Milliken’s Bend on the 23rd.
• Work on this waterway was started several weeks before March 1, and the attempt to pass troops through it began on February 24.
The next attempt of importance, if not in the order of date, was known as that of Steele’s Bayou. This bayou debouched from the west, or right, bank of the Yazoo about halfway from its mouth to Haynes’s Bluff; and extended northward about seventy-five miles. It was very tortuous, filled with logs of decaying trees, overhung with cypress and tangled growths, and found to be exceedingly difficult to navigate. Gen. Sherman was in command; and two gunboats from Admiral Porter’s fleet led the procession up the Bayou.
On emerging into the Deer Creek plantations, we found the Bayou so narrow and shallow that persons could jump from the boats to dry land on either side. As usual the Confederates began to appear in the distance and to show a determination to stop our advance, if possible. Porter’s “ironclads” finally were several miles ahead of the infantry transports. Soon firing was heard in the extreme advance, and it became apparent that the enemy were trying to impede and harass the gunboats. No fears were entertained for their safety however until an appeal for aid came from Porter to Sherman.
The infantry made a forced march to their relief and found them in what seemed to the “dough-boys” a ridiculous predicament. The Confederates had dumped one or two kilns of brick into the channel in front of the boats so it was impossible for them to proceed; and had then gone deliberately to work felling trees in the creek in the rear. Sharpshooters were in tree tops commanding the ironclads and every one who appeared on deck was a target for prize shooting. The Admiral and his boats were at their mercy and would have been starved into a surrender beyond all question without outside aid!
Gen. Sherman raised the siege, helped to remove obstructions in the rear, and enabled the fleet to back out. A reconnaissance showed that Deer Creek and the Sunflower would not permit the passage of vessels, and the expedition was considered a failure, and the return commenced.
Up to this time nearly every projected movement on Vicksburg had proven a decided failure. The army was becoming discouraged; and during its stay in the swamps and bayous of Young’s Point and Milliken’s Bend had lost heavily from the unsanitary condition of its camps. Public feeling in the North had also become excited and troublesome. The cry of “On to Vicksburg” was as common as “On to Richmond.” Gen. Grant’s enemies were industrious and persistent in their efforts to have him removed from command. Many leading newspapers were openly demanding it. Public opinion had set so strongly in this direction because of the great length of time spent at Young’s Point and Milliken’s Bend, fruitlessly as it seemed to the nation at large, that his staunchest friends found it difficult to defend him.
The government was finally almost compelled to take some action in the premises. Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas was thereupon sent from Washington City to the theater of Grant’s operations on a double mission. One of these was to examine the condition of the “contraband” camps on the Mississippi river, and if possible organize Negro regiments there. The other, and most important, duty assigned him was to investigate affairs about Vicksburg with a view to Grant’s removal. It was asserted in some quarters that he came clothed with authority to do this, if in his opinion it seemed advisable.
Contrary to public expectation Gen. Thomas became so interested in Negro regiments that he seemed unlikely to reach Grant’s headquarters before midsummer. He stopped at nearly every landing on the river and spent what seemed to be an unnecessary time at each, until he was suspected of purposely evading the disagreeable subject. However this may have been, the impatience at the capital became so great that Hon. Charles A. Dana, First Assistant Secretary of War, soon followed Gen. Thomas with full power to carry out the instructions previously given to the former so far as Gen. Grant was concerned.