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Yazoo Pass ExpeditionA driving tour guide
By David Dumas
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2012 David Dumas
All right reserved.
Chapter OneYazoo Pass Expedition
DD1 - If you are coming from Rolling Fork (See DD2, an alternate) take MS 14 and go west for approximately 5 miles to MS 1 and go north to Delta (Or use DD2). From Delta go 3.5 to a bridge and at the northwest end of the bridge there is a historical marker (Figure 1) about the Yazoo Pass expedition. The bridge crosses the northwestern part of Moon Lake (Figure 2).
DD2 - If you are coming from Vicksburg or Rolling Fork, go north on US 61 until you reach US 49 (See DD1). Turn left (northwest) and drive until you reach MS 1 where you will turn left and drive for 2.0 mile to the bridge over Moon Lake and a historical marker to your right about the Yazoo Pass expedition (Figure 1). The bridge crosses the northwestern part of Moon Lake (Figure 2).
DD3 - If you are coming from Helena, Arkansas on US 49 (See DD1) turn right (south) on MS1 for 2.0 mile until you reach the bridge over Moon Lake. On your right at the start of the bridge is a historical marker about the Yazoo Pass expedition (Figure 1). The bridge crosses the northwestern part of Moon Lake (Figure 2).
November 24, 1862: CSA Commander Isaac N. Brown report to Lieutenant-General John C. Pemberton on Yazoo Pass: O.R.N., Vol. 23, p. 709.
SIR: I beg leave respectfully to represent to the commanding general that if the Yazoo Pass remains unobstructed it may, at high water, afford the enemy a passage for their gunboats into the Cold-water River, thence to this place. I am not sure that permanent obstructions can at this time be placed in the pass, but if the trees along its banks were felled from both sides across the channel, which is seldom 100 feet wide, they would offer serious impediments to its navigation. Many of these trees would remain under water at sufficient depth to stop the passage of gunboats, and they would, from the strength of the current and from the muddy water rendering them invisible, be very difficult to remove. Lieutenant Shepperd, C. S. Navy, the bearer of this letter, will place himself under your orders to have this work executed, having instructions from me to do so. There are three companies of partisan rangers who are frequently on duty near the Yazoo Pass, and who would perhaps be sufficient to protect the working party under Lieutenant Shepperd. To avoid attracting the attention of the enemy, who are encamped on the east side of the Mississippi River near where the pass makes out of Moon Lake, I think that the work should commence at Hunt's Mill, and from there be continued to the Coldwater River, a distance of 6 miles by the windings of the pass. Fifty negroes with axes ought to execute this work in three days. I would leave it with Lieutenant Shepperd, who is an active and an intelligent officer, to determine whether it would be practicable to obstruct the navigation of the Coldwater River in the same way at any point below where the Yazoo Pass joins that stream.
January 29, 1863 General Ulysses S. Grant ordered Lieutenant Colonel James H. Wilson to cut the levee across Yazoo Pass: Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memories, p.266.
Lieutenant-Colonel Wilson of my staff was sent to Helena, Arkansas, to examine and open a way through Moon Lake and the Yazoo Pass if possible. Formerly there was a route by way of an inlet from the Mississippi River into Moon Lake, a mile east of the river, thence east through Yazoo Pass to Coldwater, along the latter to the Tallahatchie, which joins the Yallabusha about two hundred and fifty miles below Moon Lake and forms the Yazoo River. These were formerly navigated by steamers trading with the rich plantations along their banks; but the State of Mississippi had built a strong levee across the inlet some years before, leaving the only entrance for vessels into this rich region the one by way of the mouth of the Yazoo several hundreds of miles below.
General Grant to Major General Henry W. Halleck on Yazoo Pass: O.R., Ser. I, Vol. XXIV, pt. 1, p. 10.
....I have ordered troops from Helena, escorted by a gunboat, the whole in charge of Colonel Wilson, topographical engineer, to cut the levee across Yazoo Pass, and to explore through to the Coldwater, if possible.
CSA President Jefferson Davis letter to General Pemberton on obstruction of Yazoo Pass: O.R.N., Vol. 24, p. 284.
Has anything or can anything be done to obstruct the navigation from Yazoo Pass down?
February 2, 1863 Colonel Wilson report on the levee at Yazoo Pass to Lieutenant Colonel John A. Rawlins, General Grant's chief of Staff: O.R., Ser. I, Vol. XXIV, pt. 1, p. 371.
COLONEL: We reached Helena last night, and had all arrangements complete to start from there this morning at 10 o'clock. General Gorman accompanied me, sending under my command 500 men, provided with two days' rations, and implements complete for the necessary labor. He returned to Helena this evening, and will send down all the provisions, tents, &c, needed.
I arrived at the levee across the Pass about noon, and found a much more favorable state of affairs than I at first anticipated. The stream looks quite navigable, and I am sure will allow the boats now here to navigate it without difficulty. I had the men at work cutting the embankment by 2 o'clock, and by tomorrow night will have a water-way 20 yards wide cut. The difference of level between the water outside and inside of the levee is 8½ feet.
The steamers Henderson and Hamilton came in the Pass this afternoon, landed against the embankment, and turned about without difficulty, and went back into the Mississippi.
From the above you will perceive that there are two entrances into the Pass; the lower one is the one formerly used, but the upper is the one through which our boats passed to-day, and is the best. You will also perceive that the levee is a very heavy one, and, therefore, will require a good deal of work to cut through; but from the fact that there is 8½ feet difference of level between the water inside and out, once opened, the crevasse will enlarge very rapidly. The back country both north and south of the pass is partially overflowed by water from crevasses in the levee. I think boats can go through our cut in three days. The undertaking promises fine results.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
February 3 and 4, 1863 Acting Master George W. Brown report to Admiral David D. Porter on the explosion that cut the levee at Yazoo Pass: O.R.N., Ser. I, Vol. 24, p. 249.
SIR: I have the honor to report that the levee is cut, and the water is gushing through at a terrible rate. We got the water started about 7 o'clock last night. After cutting two ditches through and ready for the water, we placed a can of powder (50 pounds) under the dam, which I touched off by means of three mortar fuzes joined together. It blew up immense quantities of earth, opening a passage for the water, and loosened the bottom so that the water washed it out very fast. We then sunk three more shafts, one in the entrance of the other ditch, the other two on each side of the mound between the two ditches, and set them off simultaneously, completely shattering the mound and opening a passage through the ditch. The water ran through very fast, taking old logs, trees, and everything in its way, so that by 11 o'clock there was a channel 50 yards wide. This morning we have a channel 70 or 75 yards wide. It is thought that it will be at least four or five days before we can enter. I will report the progress every opportunity. There is a large number of my crew whose time is out, and they are very anxious for their discharge.
General Willis A. Gorman to General Major General Samuel R. Curtis on opening the Yazoo Pass: O.R. Ser. I, Vol. XXII, pt. 2, p. 95.
GENERAL: By an order of Major-General Grant, I am opening the levee at Yazoo Pass, 8 miles below here, with a view of going with gunboats into the Tallahatchie, and I think it likely of success. The water will rush through like a mill-race, as the Mississippi River is 10 feet higher than the pass on the opposite side.
I write to advise you of events as they are transpiring.
February 4, 1863 Colonel Wilson report to Colonel Rawlins on the opening of the pass: O.R., Ser. I, Vol. XXIV, pt. 1, p. 373.
COLONEL: The Pass is open, and a river 75 or 80 yards wide is running through it with the greatest velocity. I wrote you on the evening of the 2d that by the next (yesterday) evening the water would be let through.
About 7 o'clock, after discharging a mine in the mouth of the cut, the water rushed. The channel was only about 5 feet at first, though the embankment was cut through in two places, with an interval of about 20 feet between them, the cut through which the water was first started being considerably the larger.
By 11 p.m. the opening was 40 yards wide, and the water pouring through like nothing else I ever saw except Niagara Falls. Logs, trees, and great masses of earth were torn away with the greatest ease. The work is a perfect success.
The pilots and the captain of the gunboat Forest Rose think it will not be safe to undertake to run through the Pass for four or five days, on account of the great rapidity and fall of the water. It will take several days to fill up the country so much as to slacken the current.
A prominent rebel living near Helena, General Alcorn, says there will be no difficulty whatever in reaching the Yazoo River with boats of medium size.
Captain Brown will go in with the gunboat at the very earliest moment the passage becomes practicable.
Colonel Wilson report on General James Alcorn (CSA) on navigation to the Yazoo River: O.R. Ser. I, Vol. XXIV, pt. 1, p. 373.
A prominent rebel living near Helena, General Alcorn says there will be no difficulty whatever in reaching the Yazoo River with boats of medium size.
February 6, 1863 General Grant message to Colonel J.C. Kelton Assistant Adjutant-General, Washington, D. C. This message is intended for General Halleck: O.R., Ser. I, Vol. XXIV, pt. 1, p. 17.
COLONEL: Inclosed I send you a report of Lieutenant-Colonel Wilson,(*) of the prospects of effecting a safe passage into the Yazoo River by the way of Yazoo Pass. Admiral Porter will have this pass thoroughly explored by light-draught gunboats, upon which I am putting 600 riflemen from the army.
It is to be hoped that this expedition will be able to capture all the transports in the Yazoo and tributaries and destroy two gunboats said to be in course of construction. They will also attempt to ascend the Yalabusha to Grenada, and, if possible, destroy the railroad bridges.
General Grant message to Admiral Porter on the operations at Yazoo Pass: O.R., Ser. I, Vol. XXIV, pt. 3, p. 36.
I would respectfully advise the following programme to be followed, as near as practicable, by the expedition through Yazoo Pass:
They necessarily go through the Pass into Cold water River, thence down that stream into the Tallahatchee, which, with its junction with the Yalabusha, forms the Yazoo, which it is the great object of the expedition to enter.
At the town of Marion [Greenwood], on the Yazoo River, [the enemy] were said at one time to have had a battery, but it has been removed, and, unless a mistrust of our present design has induced the enemy to reoccupy that point, no guns will be found there. It would be well, however, to approach it carefully. Below Marion [Greenwood] the river divides, forming a very large island, the right-hand branch, descending, being known as the Big Sunflower, or at least connecting with it, and the left-hand branch retains the name of Yazoo. On this is Yazoo City, where in all probability steamers will be found; and if any gunboats are being constructed, it is at this place....
Admiral Porter orders to Lieutenant-Commander Watson Smith about his role in the Yazoo Pass Expedition: O.R.N., Ser. I, Vol. 24, p. 244.
SIR: You will proceed with the Rattler and Romeo to Delta, near Helena, where you will find the Forest Rose engaged in trying to enter the Yazoo Pass. You will order the Signal, now at White River, to accompany you; and if the Cricket comes down while you are at Delta, detain her also, or the Linden. Lieutenant-Commander Foster will also be ordered to accompany you.
You will obtain coal enough from Helena to enable you to carry on operations for some time. Your vessels had better all go to Helena and coal and start from there with as much coal in tow (say two barges) as will answer.
Do not enter the Yazoo Cut until the current is quite slack; and some small transport will have to go ahead, and the soldiers will cut away the trees and branches, so as not to endanger the smokestacks of the steamers.
Proceed carefully, and only in the daytime; 600 or 800 soldiers will be detached to accompany you, and you will take 100 on board of each light-draft. See that the army send a very small steamer, with stores from Helena.
Get all the pilots you can who are acquainted with the different branches of the rivers. You may find them at Helena.
You will keep perfect order among the troops while on board your vessels or under your orders.
Subject them to strict military rules, and see that every order you give is promptly obeyed.
When you get to the Tallahatchie, proceed with all dispatch to ascend it as far as the railroad crossing, and completely destroy the railroad bridge at that point, after which you will, if possible, cut the telegraph wires and proceed down the river to the mouth of the Yalobusha.
You will fill up with coal and leave the coal barges at that place in charge of a light-draft vessel and dash on to Grenada; destroy completely the railroad bridge, and retire at once down the river without any further damage, excepting to destroy means of transportation (which you will do in all cases) and you will destroy all small boats.
When you get to the Yalobusha, you will proceed with all your force down the Yazoo River and endeavor to get into Sunflower River, where, it is said, all the large steamers are stowed away.
These you will not have time to capture; therefore you will destroy them, keeping an account, as near as you can, of the value of the property that falls into your hands.
Obtain all the information you can in relation to ironclads, and destroy them if you can while they are on the stocks.
If this duty is performed as I expect it to be, we will strike a terrible blow at the enemy, who do not anticipate an attack from such a quarter. But you must guard against surprise, and if overwhelmed run your vessels on the bank and set fire to them.
Be careful of your coal, and lay in wood where you can find it.
By going along only in the daytime, under low steam, you can cruise some time. But after doing the damage I have mentioned in my orders, ascend the river again to the Yazoo Cut-off, and report to me by a dispatch boat.
You will likely find Honey Island fortified. If it has guns on it, and you can take them, destroy them effectually and blow up the fort.
Do not risk anything by encumbering yourself with prisoners, except officers, whom you must not parole.
Do not engage batteries with the light vessels. The Chillicothe will do the fighting. Let me hear from you as soon as possible, and give me full accounts of what you do.
March 16, 1863 Colonel Wilson letter to General Benjamin M. Prentiss on cutting the levee: O.R., Ser. I, Vol. XXIV, pt. 1, p 392-393.
SIR: As the position occupied by the rebel fortifications below here is very little above the present level of the water, it has occurred to me that a further rise of 4 feet would possibly compel the abandonment of the place. This increased risk might be induced by cutting the levee, so as to make a crevasse a mile or so long at the entrance of Yazoo Pass. In addition to opening the present crevasse, another a mile or two lower down, at the point where the levee strikes the old lake, could be easily made, and would furnish a very large volume of water.
Small mines of powder, say 50 to 100 pounds, established at intervals along the levee, and exploded by slow match, would afford an expeditious method of doing the work. Post augers, with a 12 or 15 inch bit, and handles long enough to bore 10 feet, would be the most expeditious instrument for sinking the shafts. These augers could be made by any good mechanic in a short time. The experiment, I think, is worth trying.
March 20, 1863
There was no date on when the levee was cut, only that General Prentiss on the receipt of Colonel Wilson's letter on this date immediately gave the orders to cut the levee.
Colonel Wilson's report on the cutting of the levee: O.R., Ser. I, Vol. XXIV, pt. 1, p. 390. 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.
Yazoo Pass at Moon Lake
DD4 - Now proceed north to U.S. 49. Turn right (OD) on US 49 for 3.7 miles. Turn right (OD) on Moon Lake Road and proceed .7 miles to the bridge (Figure 3). This is where Yazoo Pass leaves Moon Lake.
February 7, 1863
Colonel Wilson boarded the Forest Rose and went into Moon Lake. They proceeded to the mouth of the Pass where it leaves Moon Lake and explored the Pass.
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Table of Contents
Yazoo Pass Expedition....................8
Yazoo Pass at Moon Lake....................15
Planned Ambush Vicinity....................16
Yazoo Pass at the Coldwater River....................28
Junction of the Coldwater and Little Tallahatchie Rivers....................34
The Federal Fleet learned of Fort Pemberton....................35
Union Camps, Cotton-bale Battery and Fort Pemberton....................36
Additional Points of Interest....................50