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J. W. Bissell, “Battles
and Leaders of the
gineer regiment, returning in a canoe with a guide CH. XVII. from his unsuccessful visit to secure Foote's coöperation, learned that a bayou, from two and a half to three miles west of the Mississippi, ran irregularly to the southwest from the neighborhood of Island No. 8, the station of the Union gunboat flotilla, to its junction with the river at New Madrid, a distance of twelve miles. An open cornfield and an opening in the woods, which marked the course of an old road, suggested the possibility of connecting the river with the bayou; but between the end of the road and the bayou lay a belt of heavy timber two miles in width. How could he get a fleet of Civil War.” vessels over the ground thickly covered by trees of every size, from a sapling to a forest veteran three feet in diameter, whose roots stood six or seven feet under water! Modern mechanical appliances are not easily baffled by natural obstacles. Six hundred skillful mechanics working with the aid of steam and machinery, and directed by American inventive ingenuity, brought the wonder to pass. In a few days Colonel Bissell had a line of four light-draft steamboats and six coal-barges crossing the cornfield and entering the open road. Great saws, bent in the form of an arc and fastened to frames swinging on pivots, severed the tree-trunks four and a half feet under water; ropes, pulleys, and capstans hauled the encumbering débris out of the path. In eight days the amphibious fleet was in the bayou. Here were new difficulties — to clear away the dams of accumulated and entangled drift-wood.
1 The barges used were coal- six inches thick, and of solid barges, about eighty feet long and timber.-J. W. Bissell, “Battles twenty wide, scow-shaped, with and Leaders of the Civil War." both ends alike. The sides were Vol. I., p. 461.
March 30, 1862. VOL. VIII.,
In a few days more Bissell's boats and barges were ready to emerge into the Mississippi at New Madrid, but yet kept prudently concealed. Two gunboats were needed to protect the transports in crossing troops. The sagacious judgment of Foote and the heroism of his subordinates supplied these at
the opportune moment. Commander Henry Walke to Walke, of the Carondelet volunteered to run the batteries at W.R. Island No. 10; and, now that the risk was justified,
the flag-officer consented. On the night of the 4th of April, after the moon had gone down, the gunboat Carondelet, moving with as little noise as possible, swung into the stream from her moorings and started on her perilous voyage. It must have seemed an omen of success that a sudden thunderstorm with its additional gloom and noise came up to aid the attempt. The movement was unsuspected by the enemy till, by one of the frequent flashes of lightning, the rebel sentries on the earthworks of Island No. 10 and the shore batteries opposite, saw the huge turtle-shaped river craft stand out in vivid outline, to be in a second hidden again by the dense obscurity. Alarm cries rang out, musketry rattled, great guns resounded; the ship almost touched the shore in the drift of the crooked channel. But the Confederate guns could not be aimed amidst the swift succession of brilliant flashes and total darkness. The rebel missiles flew wild, and a little after midnight the Carondelet lay unharmed at the New Madrid landing. Commander Walke had made the first successful experiment in a feat of daring and skill that was many times repeated after he had demonstrated its possibility.
The gunboat Pittsburgh, also running past the
Foote to Welles,
rebel batteries at night, joined the Carondelet' at CH. XVII. New Madrid on the morning of April 7, and the problem of Pope's difficulties was solved. When he crossed his troops over the river by help of his gunboats and transports, formidable attack was no longer necessary. Island No. 10 had surrendered 1862? W.'R. to Flag-officer Foote that morning, and the several rebel garrisons were using their utmost endeavors to effect a retreat southward. Pope easily intercepted their movement; on that and the following Halleche, day he received the surrender of three general 1862. W.R. officers and six or seven thousand Confederate troops.
As General Pope's victory had been gained without loss or demoralization, he prepared immediately to push his operations farther south. “If transportation arrives to-morrow or next day," telegraphed Assistant Secretary Scott, who was with him at New Madrid, "we shall have Memphis within ten days.” Halleck responded with the promise of ten large steamers to carry troops, and other suggestions indicating his approval of the movement “down the river.” In the same dispatch Halleck gave news of the Union victory at Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River, and announced his intention to proceed thither, and asked Assistant Secretary Scott to meet him at Cairo for consultation. The meeting took place on the 10th of April, by which time Halleck had become more impressed with the severity and the perils of the late battle on the Tennessee; for Scott asked the Washington authorities whether a reënforcement of 20,000 or 30,000 men could not be sent from the East to make good the loss. This
CH. XVII. conference probably originated the idea that soon
interrupted the successful river operations, by withdrawing the army under Pope. Reënforcements could not be spared from the East, and Pope's army became the next resource. For the present, however, there was a continuation of the first plan.
Pope's preliminary orders for embarkation were issued on the 10th, and on the 14th the combined land and naval forces which had reduced Island No. 10 reached Fort Pillow. Its works were found to be strong and extensive. The overflow of the whole country rendered land operations difficult; it was estimated that it would require two weeks to turn the position and reduce the works. Meanwhile information was obtained that Van Dorn's rebel army from Arkansas was about to reënforce Beauregard at Corinth. In view of all this, Assistant Secretary Scott asked the question: “If General Pope finds, after careful examination, that he cannot capture Fort Pillow within ten days, had he not better reënforce General Halleck immediately
and let Commodore Foote continue to blockade beto Stanton, low until forces can be returned and the position
be turned by General Halleck beating Beauregard Part II.,
and marching upon Memphis from Corinth 9" Before an answer came from the War Department at Washington, Halleck, who had for several days been with the army on the Tennessee River, decided the question for himself and telegraphed to Pope (April 15), “Move with your army to this place, leaving troops enough with Commodore Foote to land and hold Fort Pillow, should the enemy's forces withdraw." At the same time he
Thomas A. Scott
Halleok to Foote,
Vol. X., Part II.,
sent the following suggestion to Flag-officer Foote: CH. XVII. “I have ordered General Pope's army to this place, but I think you had best continue the bombardment of Fort Pillow; and if the enemy should abandon it, take possession or go down the river, April 18, as you may deem best. General Pope will leave forces enough to occupy any fortifications that may be taken."
The plan was forthwith carried into effect. The transports, instead of disembarking Pope's troops to invest Fort Pillow, were turned northward, and steaming up the Mississippi to Cairo, thence to Paducah, and from Paducah up the Tennessee River, landed the whole of Pope's army, except two regiments, at Pittsburg Landing, on the 22d of April. The flotilla under Foote and the two regiments left behind continued in front of Fort Pillow, keeping up a show of attack, by a bombardment from one of the mortar-boats and such reconnaissances as the little handful of troops could venture, to discover if possible some weak point in the enemy's defenses. On the other hand, the Confederates, watching what they thought a favorable opportunity, brought up eight of their gunboats, and made a spirited attack on the Union vessels on the morning of May 10. In a short combat two of the Union gunboats, which bore the brunt of the onset, were seriously disabled, though not until they had inflicted such damage on three Confederate vessels that they drifted helplessly out of the fight; after which the remainder of the rebel flotilla retired from the encounter. For nearly a month after this preliminary gunboat battle the river operations, though full of excit