March 20, 1863 (Friday)
General Leonard Ross had waited for reinforcements, just as he said he would. The many attacks upon Confederate Fort Pemberton had failed. The USS Chillicothe was severely damaged and practically useless. He had wanted to completely abandon the Yazoo Pass Expedition, but had been coaxed by the Chief of Engineers, James H. Wilson, to stick around.
Wilson also thought it was hopeless, but perhaps with the promised reinforcements and the imminent arrival of General Isaac Quinby, things might change. Almost everyone’s hopes had been lifted when the Naval commander, Watson Smith, had returned to Helena, Arkansas due to illness.
The previous day had been spent tramping through swamps and across bayous looking for some place to deploy infantry. They found nothing they could use.
Ross had sent dispatch boats up the Tallahatchie towards the Cold Water to see if they could find General Quinby, but they had never returned. This was troublesome and gave strength to a nasty rumor that had been floating around in the past couple of days.
As rumors went, it was more or less believable. Apparently, the Rebels were about “to establish a blockade at the mouth of Coldwater by sending infantry and artillery by railroad to Panola, and thence down the Tallahatchee.”
What this really meant was that Ross and the Union flotilla would be trapped between Fort Pemberton and this blockade. In light of this, Ross thought it best that they retreat. By 11am, the Union fleet before Fort Pemberton was gone.
Confederate General William Wing Loring had been worried. His fort was good for what it was – a hastily assembled pile of dirt and cotton, but could hardly be expected to withstand a siege. Now, seeing the Federal ships moving away, his spirits lifted.
“Enemy in full run,” reported Loring, “as fast as steam can carry him, and my men after him.” Before the Union vessels were out of sight, Loring had a cottonclad ship giving chase and troops on either side of the Tallahatchie River following. He was elated and believed that he had spoiled “a great plan for the attack of Vicksburg in rear.”
“After many months of secret preparations, they were certain of success,” boasted Loring. “With but little time to fortify, they were determinedly met and forced to an ignominious retreat, leaving behind them evidences that their loss was great in men and material — a check which will undoubtedly prevent a further invasion of the State of Mississippi by the way of Tallahatchee and Yazoo Rivers.”
Though the Federals were in retreat, reinforcements, including General Quinby, were on their way, moving south as Ross and the flotilla returned north. Perhaps the fight wasn’t quite yet over.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 24, p398, 416-417. [↩]