Federal Transports Break Through Yazoo Pass!

March 2, 1863 (Monday)

General Leonard Ross

General Grant’s attempt to surprise the Vicksburg Rebels by appearing at their back door wasn’t exactly going as planned. Early on, the Yazoo Pass expedition held up by floods, debris, entanglement and the Rebels themselves, who had suspected the Federals might try to run the Pass to the Coldwater River, and then to the Tallahatchie and Yazoo.

Yazoo Pass was narrow and full of twists and bends. Taking a small craft through it wasn’t so much of a problem, but when it came to transporting brigades of troops, that was another thing entirely.

Crowding the waterway on both sides was a jungle of tightly-packed trees. Overhead, the same gnarled branches hung low, knocking holes through cabins and smokestacks from their ports. Even the soldiers on board had to keep low or risk being ensnared or knocked off their transport.

The Pass was so crooked that the crew of a ship moving in one direction could peer through the thick brush and see another ship moving in the opposite direction. It seemed to wind endless on, sometimes taking thirty-five river miles to cover but five land miles.


The expedition started on February 3, when the levee opening up Yazoo Pass was breeched. Now, on this date, nearly a month later, the last of the Federal transports cleared it, entering the Coldwater River.

Union General Leonard Ross reported that while all of his ships, but two steamers, somehow made it through, not all were in such great condition. The Diana and Emma, were both so wrecked that he wasn’t sure if they would make it much farther.

“A large force of rebels is reported on the Tallahatchee awaiting our advance,” reported General Ross. “I do not credit the report, but if they are there we shall probably find them in the course of a couple of days, when we shall do just the best we can.”

This large force of Rebels was certainly on the Tallahatchee, but was farther south than expected. Confederate General William Wing Loring commanded Fort Pemberton, at the confluence of the Tallahatchie, Yalobusha, and Yazoo. He was expecting to see the Federal ships any day now.

But on this date, he saw none. Though his scouts were at the mouth of the Coldwater, they reported that no Federal gunboats had broken through Yazoo Pass. This information, however, was four days old.

It was even speculated that the Federals had given up. “Learned the enemy had only been below the junction of Coldwater and Pass a few miles,” wrote Confederate scout Sam Henderson. “Fleet returned up the Pass Tuesday, except one tug, Walch, two guns, which is anchored at junction. Rest of enemy’s forces gone back to [Moon] Lake; some think to Helena.”

He had heard from a “reliable gentleman” from Memphis that “the Federal officers proclaim that they will take Vicksburg by a dash of their gunboats, and transports will land their whole force in front, taking it by storm.”

Similar dispatches would filter in for the next several days, as the Union flotilla slowly steamed south towards Fort Pemberton.1

  1. Sources: Nothing But Victory by Steven E. Woodworth; Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 24, Part 1, p45, 393; Part 3, p648-649. []
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