Thursday, February 21, 2013

February 21, 1863: Loring moves to counter Yazoo Pass Expedition

Major General William W. Loring

Union naval forces had blown a pass through the Mississippi River's levee above Vicksburg on February 4, 1862 in the hope that a navigable channel to the Yazoo River above Vicksburg's defenses could be created. As the flotilla of Union gunboats and transports began threading their way through narrow flooded rivers, lakes, and bayous, the Confederate forces defending Vicksburg became aware of the threat posed by the federal expedition. Vickburg's Confederate commander, Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, sent Major General William W. Loring to organize the defense against the advancing federal flotilla.

Loring arrived on the scene on February 21, 1863. He toured the growing Confederate defenses and sent the following report to Pemberton:
CAMP PEMBERTON, Yazoo River, February 21, 1863.

Lieutenant-General PEMBERTON,

Commanding, &c.:

GENERAL: Upon my arrival here to-day, I found that Major [M.] Meriweather had, in accordance with my instructions, acted promptly in his selection of a place where we may be enabled to construct suitable works for the defense of this river. He has chosen this point [Beck's Ferry], and vigorously commenced the erection of works which I trust, when completed, will do much toward preventing the passage down of the enemy. The location is 2 1/2 miles by land and about 4 by water below Greenwood. The banks are some 8 feet above water, and the guns will be mounted upon works constructed of earth and cotton bales, so as to place them at an altitude that insures a plunging fire upon the enemy's boat. The Tallahatchee and the Yazoo Rivers are only about 500 yards apart here, and the works commanding each will be connected by suitable lines of intrenchments. Colonel [T. N.] Waul with his troops is encamped here. He is judicious in his arrangements, and I would recommend that he be kept in command of this position.

The river here will also be obstructed with rafts, if it can be done before the enemy approach. This is highly probable, as there is not the least apparent prospect of their speedy descent, and no present indication of a further rise in the river. If, however, the obstruction by rafts cannot be completed in time, I shall use the C. S. S. Star of the West, as stated in my last dispatch, and, if necessary, sink her athwart the channel.

I would remove the two pieces sent by you to Yazoo City, but do not think it best to do so unless others could be sent there. That position, naturally strong, should be kept in a condition of defense in the event we should be compelled to abandon the works up the river.

I have given orders that those boats now being used for the transportation of supplies on the Tallahatchee and Yalabusha Rivers for Grenada, and on the Yazoo for Vicksburg, shall not be interfered with, and to this end the rafts which I have spoken of will not be placed in position to obstruct the streams until the enemy's approach renders it absolutely necessary to do so. Those boats not in use for this purpose are now being encircled with cotton bales, under the direction of Captain [I. N.] Brown, who will command them, and assist our works by boarding the enemy if he should attempt a descent of the river.

I have issued an order to Colonel [R.] McCulloch to hold his cavalry in readiness to march in the direction of the Coldwater, if a practicable road can be discovered.

Colonel Waul has established a line of couriers between this point and Vaiden, on the Central Railroad, through which channel communication with headquarters may be conveniently held.

I inclose you a rough sketch of the position here. That portion in ink will represent the works that are being constructed. Colonel Waul will send you a more accurate sketch of the river and works as soon as the engineer can prepare it for you.

Will go up the Tallahatchee to-morrow in the direction of the Coldwater, with the view of finding some other suitable points for the erection of works or obstruction of the streams, proceeding up the Coldwater toward the Yazoo Pass. My progress up the latter, however, will depend entirely upon the information I may be enabled to obtain respecting the strength of the enemy.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,


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