Reports of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, U.S. Army, Commanding Fifteenth Army Corps.
MAY 19-JULY 4, 1863.--The Siege of Vicksburg, Miss.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXIV/2 [S# 37]
AT McCALL'S, June 23, 1863--11 a.m.
DEAR GENERAL: Parke, with Smith's division and one brigade of his Yankee troops, is on the river road from Neily's to Post Oak Ridge, with orders to feel forward to the bridge across Bear Creek, 6 miles beyond Post Oak Ridge. My cavalry is now down at Little Bear Creek, on the Birdsong road. Tuttle's division is close up to the cavalry, and McArthur's is near here, and we are waiting for his troops to come up. I will put them on the Birdsong road. Parke and I can communicate by the ridge from McCall's to Neily's. After nooning I propose to go forward to the Big Black. I hear nothing of Johnston at all; no trace of him or signs of his approach. The country is ill-adapted to large masses. It is cut up by impracticable ravines, and all the roads are on narrow ridges, where a regiment will find difficulty in forming a front. A small force can oppose a large one, and as to getting at Johnston unless he crosses to this side of Big Black, I think it cannot be done. If he crosses Big Black and comes by any road, I shall, of course, meet him and oppose him, calling for all the help I may deem necessary. If he crosses Big Black, I think this is the place to fight him. Order Osterhaus to be certain to blockade all roads from Big Black toward Vicksburg, between Clear Creek and this road. After satisfying myself that there is, or is not, a purpose on his part to cross over, I will communicate the fact; but, no matter what his strength, he must come by narrow roads, and I have as many men as can be handled on such grounds. If I conclude he does not design to come in by Birdsong Ferry or the ford above, I will blockade it, so as to force him to come on the main ridge within striking distance of Haynes' Bluff, so that we won't care if he comes or not.
Yesterday four companies of my cavalry (Fourth Iowa) had gone to Big Black River on the road to obstruct it. They had felled many trees, and must have been off their guard when their pickets came in from three directions, giving notice of the approach of the enemy. Quite a fight ensued, in which our men got the worst, and were forced to fly. As soon as the news reached camp, Colonel Swan went to the ground with his regiment, and found 8 dead, 12 wounded, and about 20 missing. From the people he heard the attack came from Wirt Adams' cavalry, which had gone off in the direction of Mechanicsburg. Colonel Swan buried the dead, and brought off all the wounded except one, who was left well cared for at a house. He could hear of but about 12 prisoners in the hands of the enemy, so that he expects some 8 more will have gone down to Osterhaus, and will come in today.
The party lost that 2-pounder gun we captured at Jackson, but before abandoning it they disabled it by taking out the breech-pin. The fact of our coming out today is attributed by the secesh to our purpose to punish the perpetrators of this action.
I will send you positive intelligence to-night if Johnston be coming or not this side of Big Black River. On the best evidence now procurable, he is not coming this way, or at this time.
I take it for granted you do not want me to attempt to follow him across that river unless after a defeat. If he comes to this side, I can hold him till re-enforced, and then I know we can whip him. In the mean time look out toward Baldwin's and Hankinson's, though I do not believe he will put himself in such a pocket.
W. T. SHERMAN,
Major-General, Commanding Expedition.
HEADQUARTERS FIFTEENTH ARMY CORPS,
Bear Creek, June 24, 1863.
Not the sign of an enemy from Post Oak Ridge Post-office to Bird-song Ferry. Every point has been examined to-day, and nothing seen. No sign of an intention to cross anywhere near Bear Creek. I hear Port Hudson is taken; please telegraph me the whole truth. The bearer of this note will wait an answer at the Bluff. I am now with General Parke, at Post Oak Post-office, but will return to my extreme right, near Young's.
W. T. SHERMAN,
HEADQUARTERS FIFTEENTH ARMY CORPS,
Camp at Bear Creek, June 27, 1863.
Col. JOHN A. RAWLINS,
SIR: It was my purpose to have come to headquarters yesterday, but the importance of knowing the ground in this quarter, so broken and complicated, induced me to continue what I had begun, and I continued my exploration. Big Black River is so easily passable at many points that I am forced to extend my lines to watch all, and the result of my personal observations is contained in an order made last night, which is now being carried into effect. I found the enemy watching with cavalry an easy ford at Messinger's house. The family consisting of many women, whose husbands and brothers were evidently serving an easy purpose of keeping up communications, so I moved them all by force, leaving a fine house filled with elegant furniture and costly paintings to the chances of war. Also the family of Hill, with other war widows, at a place on the Birdsong road, is removed to a harmless place within our lines. These may appeal to the tender heart of our commanding general, but he will not reverse my decision when he knows a family accessible to the enemy--keen scouts--can collect and impart more information than the most expert spies. Our volunteer pickets and patrols reveal names and facts in their innocence which, if repeated by these women, give the key to our points.
As a general thing, the valley of Big Black River above the bridge has a wide fertile valley on this side, the hill coming down rather abrupt from the other. The ground slopes easily and gradually from the ridge, marked on Wilson's map from Oak Ridge, Neily's, McCall's, Wixon's, and Tiffintown. Innumerable roads and cross-roads intersect the country, which cannot be obstructed, but which, running on narrow ridges, with narrow corn-fields, admit of easy defense. It is only by familiarity with the country, its ugly ravines, its open, narrow ridges all coming to a common spur, that a comparatively small force can hold in check a large one.
If the enemy crosses at one point, he must take some days to get over his men and matériel, and then would have to feel his way, as he knows full well that many of them have been made impassable to his wagons and artillery. This will give us time to fall on him or await his attack. Should he cross at several points, our tactics would be to hold small forces in obstruction at the several points named in my order, and a heavy force fall on one or other of his detachments. If the enemy forces us back, Wixon's will be the grand battle-field, or somewhere on Clear Creek.
I think, unless General Grant thinks my services more useful elsewhere, I had better remain, as naturally all look to me for orders. Please ask the general to read the inclosed order(*) carefully, and, if any part is open to objection, to state it, that I may modify in time. I sent 800 cavalry, under Colonel Bussey, up the Ridge road toward Mechanicsville, last night, to sweep back by the lower Benton road. They went to Post Oak Ridge, and have not yet reported.
Yesterday our pickets skirmished a little at Messinger's. I was there, and did not see more than 15 or 20 men, on horseback, as curious to watch us as we them. One man, near Hill's, was shot through the head by a scamp from the bushes, who could not be found. As usual, my cavalry are not bold, but the infantry go in without any hesitation.
Not a sound, syllable, or sign to indicate a purpose of crossing Big Black River toward us, but I still enjoin on all that our enemy is too wary to give us notice a minute too soon. Every possible motive exists for them to come to the relief of Vicksburg, and we should act on that supposition rather than the mere signs of movements which are known only to Johnston, and will not be revealed, even to his own troops, till the last moment.
In order that you may understand any future communication, mark your map as follows: One and a half miles east of Young's, where the road comes in from Markham, mark Hill's; 1 miles southeast of Hill's, Jones' plantation; 2 miles below Birdsong Ferry, Jones' Ford; 1 miles southeast of Cameron, Messinger's plantation and Ford; 1 mile east of Fox, mark Parson Fox; 3 miles east of Tiffin, on the Bridgeport road, Brook. All these points may become of note. I still regard the country at Tiffin, Brant, Cowan, W. Wixon, and Hardaway as the key-points of this region.
I still have my headquarters by the roadside, in front of Tribbs', where the road forks to Young's and Markham's.
When this letter is read, please send it to my adjutant, to be copied in my letter-book, and returned to you for file.
I am, &c.,
W. T. SHERMAN,
BIG BLACK, June 30, 1863.
I am at General Osterhaus', on a visit. All quiet along the Big Black River. A cavalry force, under Colonel Bussey, went yesterday 15 miles up the ridge, and returned along Big Black River, down as far as mouth of Bear Creek. Saw nothing of interest. The cavalry of the enemy can be seen opposite Messinger's, but quit immediately on a few rounds of Parrott shell. All the troops are now in position. Please telegraph me if anything new. I feel uneasy about the affairs about Washington. Have seen the Saint Louis papers of the 24th. Have you anything later?
W. T. SHERMAN,
HEADQUARTERS DEPARTMENT OF THE TENNESSEE,
July 1, 1863.
GENERAL: I am just in from a circuit. All is absolutely silent along Big Black River.
One of your best scouts, Tuttle, is just in from Bolton, where I sent him to see if he could learn if any part of Johnston's army had passed south of the railroad; especially to watch the course of army wagons. He could see or hear nothing to show that a movement south was in progress. I will send him out to Auburn to-night.
Osterhaus watches Baldwin's and Hall's Ferries.
It might be well to send a small force to the red church, between Warrenton and Hankinson's, to make a show. My troops are in such a position that they could reach Noland or Whitaker in five hours. Big Bayou should be made impassable.
I am at one bridge, as high up as possible, shortening the neck between it and the branch (see your map), and I have a good road to run between the railroad, via Tiffin, Bovina, and Noland. I think Johnston may feint to the south, but do not think he will risk chances in the pocket of Black River. Still, we must watch him close. I will have a scout out on an old road from Rocky Springs and Auburn, and can tell quickly if anything is afloat.
Everybody still reports a few rebel force at Mechanicsburg, Vernon, Brownsville, and Bolton. Militia collecting at Jackson. Johnston vibrating between Jackson and Canton.
OAK RIDGE, July 2, 1863.
I do not believe Johnston will come in by Hankinson's, but will be ready to move in that direction on short notice. My scout to Auburn will develop the truth, and I had him make speed.
OAK RIDGE, [July] 3, 1863.
GENERAL: I have your dispatch. I have sent forces to make a bridge at Messinger's as soon as the surrender is certain. Order my corps to march by the Bridgeport road to Griffin [Tiffin?], Ord's corps to the railroad crossing at railroad bridge, and I will order Parke's corps to cross at Birdsong, all to concentrate north of Bolton, to move direct on Johnston, wherever he may be. The railroad should be broken east to Meridian and north to Grenada. Order all troops to move light, with ten days' rations of bread, salt, sugar, and coffee. If Rawlins will send J. Condit Smith an approximate return of the troops, I think he will have the rations provided and hauled. I will concentrate at Bolton and strike from there.
Pemberton will probably have advised Johnston of his purpose to surrender. The enemy's pickets on the other side are shy, but are there. I propose to bridge at once to-night. The move will only be made in force when I know my own corps and Ord's are crossing.
W. T. SHERMAN,
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