Chickasaw Bayou
(December 23, 1862-January 4, 1863)
"The Valley of Death"

Chickasaw bluffs from the Yazoo River
Click on photo to visit's tour of the site

[The battle of Chickasaw Bayou was a prelude to the Vicksburg campaign. It can be viewed as the first in a series of failed efforts by Gen. U. S. Grant to capture this city which was high on a bluff overlooking a hairpin loop in the Mississippi. Guns mounted along the bluff in the fortified town prevented use of the river either for commerce or military purposes. Control of Vicksburg and a similar strong point at Port Hudson, Louisiana, about 100 miles down the River, gave control of the segment of the river between them to the Confederacy. This stretch of river provided a vital lifeline that allowed cattle, smuggled arms, and other supplies to flow between Texas, western Louisiana and Arkansas and the Confederate states east of the Mississippi. The Union controlled the Mississippi north of Vicksburg in December of 1862 but passage down river was extremely hazardous even for ironclad gunboats. Just to the north of Vicksburg the Yazoo River, a sluggish, swampy stream flowed into the Mississippi. Between it and Vicksburg rose the southern portion of Chickasaw Bluff (a.k.a. Walnut Hills and Haines' Bluff), which was less formidable than the bluff in front of Vicksburg, but an easily defended location none the less. The plan was for Gen. Grant to fight his way toward Vicksburg inland along the Mississippi Central Rail Road, which paralleled the river. This would keep the Confederate forces under General Pemberton occupied and reduce the troops available to defend the bluff. If a quick attack by General Sherman could surprise the confederates and a bridgehead could be captured on the Chickasaw Bluff, Grant could then push south and combine forces with Sherman to capture Vicksburg. Many things went wrong. The major problems were:

Any of these problems might have caused the attack to fail but all of them constituted an overwhelming disadvantage. The rising river alluded to by both Hussey and Moats as a major problem is not usually mentioned in histories.

Chickasaw bluff
Courtesy of Bruce Schulze

Sherman attacked the bluff with troops on his left. Some regiments had heavy losses while others either were confused, not in position or mishandled by their officers. Sherman had retired to his tent and was not present to correct the errors of the less experienced officers and use his authority to settle disputes. This battle is arguably General Sherman's worst performance in a battle. The 48th was fortunate to be on the right where there was little action and on reserve during the battle. They suffered no casualties in this action as a result. Gen. Sherman deftly withdrew the army under cover of darkness. Hussey and Moats report the river flooding their camp as steamers embarked and Moats reports a massive artillery barrage on their abandoned camp just after they left.

John A. Bering and Thomas Montgomery in their 1880 history of the regiment describe the feelings of one of them during a visit to the site of this battle a year later after the fall of Vicksburg and Jackson "From one of the letters written home in August, 1863".

"Yesterday I concluded to pay a visit to the Yazoo Swamps, where our army was during the unsuccessful attack on Vicksburg last December. Accordingly, after breakfast, I mounted my charger, and in an hour's ride I passed through Vicksburg and by all the upper river batteries. From there I descended into the valley, which we occupied last winter. After a careful survey of the ground which the rebels occupied, and that which was held by us, I have come to the conclusion that their position was as near impregnable as art and nature could make it. The swamps are as silent and dismal-looking as ever. The valley is covered with a rank growth of timber, underbrush and creeping vines. The limbs of the trees are covered with gray Spanish moss, that hangs in different lengths from every twig. It is this that gives it the air of solemnity, more than anything else. Add to this the rattle of musketry, the booming of cannon, a heavy rain, and then under cover of darkness to get out on double-quick, and leave on the boats for the Mississippi river, and last, but not least, to have it said that you are whipped, that Vicksburg can't be taken, then perhaps you can form a faint idea how we felt while going up the river, and why it was called 'The Valley of Death.'…"

There was a political enemy faced by Grant and Sherman as well as a military one. Midwest farmers and merchants were stressed economically because the closing of the Mississippi had cut off the most economical method of transporting their goods and crops to market. Gen. McClernand, a former congressmen from Abraham Lincoln's home district, had earlier seized on this issue and successfully lobbied the President and War Department for permission to raise and lead a group of Midwestern troops in a campaign to open the Mississippi by capturing Vicksburg and Port Hudson. Gen. Grant considered him insubordinate, ignorant of military affairs, and an upstart despite his good performance at Shiloh. Gens. Halleck and Sherman and Adm. Porter, also professional military men concurred in this opinion but they all were powerless to overturn the orders of the President and Secretary of War. The plan that led to the Battle of Chickasaw Bluff was a hurried attempt on Vicksburg planned by Gen. Grant using troops raised by Gen. McClernand before McClernand could arrive and lead them himself.

See Stanley P. Hirshson, The White Tecumseh, Wiley, 1997, p. 137-144 and Shelby Foote A Narrative: Fredricksburg to Meridian, Vintage 1986, pp.60-65. ]


Click above for full map
Chart of the Mississippi River from
the Ohio River to Gulf of Mexico"
Virtue Yorston & Co., 1863.
Library of Congress




December 23, 1862

Leaving early the next day, we arrived at Milliken's Bend, La., early on Christmas morning, where we remained until the first brigade destroyed the Shreveport & Texas R. R. Our next point was Vicksburg, which is located at the upper end of one of the great bends of the Mississippi river, on the south-east bank. It is situated on very high bluffs, which would almost bar a direct attack from the front. The hills extend north-east to Haines' Bluff, on the Yazoo river, about ten miles above where it empties into the Mississippi. Between these hills and the two rivers are the Yazoo Swamps, noted for their dense woods and low, marshy lands, part of which was once the old bed of the Yazoo [River].
John A. Bering & Thomas Montgomery, 1880

Tuesday 23rd
Started at 8:00 A.M. Moored at Gaine's Landing at 3:00 P.M. Some gaming on the boat. Continued & conditionally finished a letter to My Wife. A large amount of theft from plantations. Appearance of rain.
Cyrus Hussey

Virgil Moats to wife Eliza

Tuesday morning 23rd have just passed Napoleon. I promised to write last night but could not & now the boat shakes so bad that I can hardly write. I will quit writing for this time. Hoping to be able to write with more comfort after a while. I can do better with a pencil & will write on for a time at any rate. I expect we will meet Whit somewhere below & now I will tell you that I believe that we are going up the Yazoo River get the map and you will see that it puts into the Miss just above Vicksburg 12 miles. Grant's army and ours will meet there that is the opinion of many at any rate. I have not much to write about home matters having written all that was necessary in my former letters.
…I will very likely get a letter from you the first mail that comes down after us. Monday was the day that it should have come but then we were on the river & no mail.
When I will get to send this is hard to tell, it may be a week or more. I think we will reach our destination tomorrow evening & it may not be long before some of the boats go back up the river. Now you will have to write often if you expect me to hear from you at all as I will be along ways from you. Vicksburg is 400 miles down from Memphis. As I have filled this sheet I will stop for this time promising more before it starts.. .
Virgil Moats 12/23/62

December 24, 1862

Wed. 24th
Continued letter to Rebecca urging her to go to school. Moored at Millikin's [sic.] Bend After 12 Midnight.
Cyrus Hussey

Gen. A. J. Smith Report
[We] arrived at Milliken's Bend on the night of the 24th.
At this point I received orders to detach one brigade of my division to cut the Vicksburg and Shreveport Railroad.
A. J. Smith (OR 1/1/1863)

December 25, 1862

1st Brigade Started on a scout at 10:00 A.M. Appd on Col. Landram's Staff. Mailed Letter to My Wife. Quite a scare about 3:00 P.M. The gen. Supposed the enemy were approaching & ordered out the forces. It proved to be some prisoners & a drove of cattle our men had captured. Troops on board again at sunset. Reading an excellent work styled "Like & Unlike".
Cyrus Hussey

Gen. A. J. Smith Report
…Brig. Gen. Burbridge, commanding the First Brigade [the 48th OVI was in the 2nd Brigade], was ordered to accomplish this work, and with six regiments of infantry, two companies of cavalry, and one piece of artillery, on the morning of the 25th proceeded to the Railroad at or near Dallas, La, burned three bridges, about 500 yards of trestle-work, tearing up also the rails and the ties, and effectively destroying one mile of the road; returned to the boats about 12 o'clock on the night of the 26th, bringing a large number of mules that were put on board during the night. He also burned over 1,000 bales of cotton, marked C.S.A. and a storehouse containing about 2,000 bushels of corn belonging to the Confederate Government. The result of this expedition is very credible to the officer in charge, whose report has been wherefore forwarded to you

A. J. Smith (OR 1/1/1863)

December 26, 1862

On the 26th we proceeded down the Mississippi to the mouth of the Yazoo, and up that river about six miles, where we landed on the south bank, …
John A. Bering & Thomas Montgomery, 1880

Friday, 26th
Got servant. Primus - 1st Brigade returned after dark. They burned the R.R. bridges & a large amount of cotton & c.s. corn. To move tomorrow morning. Finished "Like & Unlike". It is a most excellent work by A. S. Roe.
Cyrus Hussey

Gen. A. J. Smith Report
Owing to the long and fatiguing march many of the men did not reach the river until daylight. I left one steamer, having on board the One hundred and thirty-first Illinois Volunteers, under the protection of a gunboat, to receive parties later coming in, and proceeded with the remainder of my division to join the fleet in the Yazoo River,...
A. J. Smith (OR 1/1/1863)

December 27, 1862

…on the 27th, with two days' rations, and bivouacked for the night on the river bank. During the evening we received orders to move on the following morning (Sunday) at four o'clock.
John A. Bering & Thomas Montgomery, 1880

Saturday 27th
Started down at 10:00 a.m. Went up the Yazoo & Disembarked at Pelicans Neck. To move tomorrow morning early. Write to my wife.
Cyrus Hussey

Virgil Moats to wife Eliza 1/3/63
We arrived at the mouth of the Yazoo Saturday 27th & landed in the evening, laid on the boat during the night…
Virgil Moats 1/3/63

Report of Col. Peter J. Sullivan (not present at event)
On the December 27, 1862, we landed at the mouth of the Yazoo River, and were immediately advanced with the rest of the troops some six miles toward Vicksburg, where we had a successful skirmish with the enemy, without loss to this regiment…
Peter J. Sullivan (OR 8/4/63)

Gen. A. J. Smith Report
…[Rejoining the Fleet in the Yazoo] was accomplished about 1:00 p.m. on the 27th Ultimo.
I immediately commenced disembarking my division, which was accomplished by sunset, and ordered the First Brigade and one Battery (Seventh Ohio Volunteer Artillery) forward to overtake the Army, then in advance. The one hundred and thirty-first Illinois Volunteer Infantry arrived that night and was detailed to remain at the landing as a guard for our boats and stores.
Proceeding the remainder of the Second Brigade (five Regiments [including the 48th OVI]), Cooley's mercantile Battery, and one company of the Fourth Indiana Cavalry, early in the morning of the 28th I overtook the army in advance, about 8 a.m., on the Chickasaw Bayou, where I received orders to make the following disposition of my Division (close in on the bayou), and instructed to force a passage and proceed in an easterly direction on the crest of the hill toward Vicksburg; the Second Brigade [including the 48th OVI], commanded by Col. W. J. Landram, of Nineteenth Kentucky, with Cooly's Mercantile Battery, was, in obedience to orders, posted at the junction of the roads leading to Vicksburg, with instructions to hold that important position reconoider the river toward the city.
Brig. Gen. Smith, commanding the Second Division having been wounded, I was called to the command of the division at 3 p.m., with orders to force a passage across Chickasaw Bayou.

A. J. Smith (OR 1/1/1863)

December 28, 1862

[Sunday, 4:00] We were on the march with our brigade at the appointed time. After following up the Yazoo two or three miles, we turned to the right, and marched several miles through a thick-timbered swamp. At about 8 A. M. the booming of cannon and the crash of musketry on our left told us the battle had begun. - We formed in line of battle, marched to the left of the road and halted. The fighting on our left increased with every volley. The smoke and fog became so thick we could scarcely see twenty yards in advance. We remained there a short time, when we were ordered forward, and after passing the troops in reserve, we soon reached the skirmish line of the 77th Ills. We then advanced with them in line of battle, through a dense forest of live-oak and cypress, covered with Spanish moss. We drove the enemy's pickets about a mile, when we came in sight of their fortifications, situated on a high hill, in front of which they had cut down the timber. We remained in sight of their batteries until evening, when the Regiment returned to the Division, about one mile in the rear, and camped for the night, leaving the 77th Ills. on picket.
The battle on our left continued without any intermission all day.
John A. Bering & Thomas Montgomery, 1880

Sunday 28th
Advanced at daybreak. Smith, Morgan & Steel engaged. Gained slight advantage. Our Brigade advanced near works on the right but could not draw fire, except a few shots from Pickets. Moved back across Bayou in the evening. 77th Ill. skirmished during the day followed by 48th Ohio. 131st left at Landing to guard boats.
Cyrus Hussey

Virgil Moats to wife Eliza
…& was on the march before day for Vicksburg. Our advance had been skirmishing with rebels on the left since Friday. Sunday morning fighting was very severe in that direction. We kept on our way until we came in sight of their fortifications on the hills to the right - or up on the river from the city where we halted, & also where they had cut down all the timber to impede our progress. We remained in that position during the day & in the evening fell back about two miles and encamped.
The rebels did not open on us although in full view and not more than one-half mile distant.
Virgil Moats 1/3/63

Report of Col. Peter J. Sullivan (not present at event)
…For several days succeeding, or brigade was placed in reserve,… Peter J. Sullivan (OR 8/4/63)

December 29, 1862

The next day, 29th, at daybreak, the firing was resumed on our left, and was kept up as on the previous day. We remained in reserve until evening, when two companies were ordered on picket in the rear. That evening a heavy rain set in and continued all night.
John A. Bering & Thomas Montgomery, 1880

Monday 29th
Some Cannonading.
97thIll. releaved the 77thIll.
The 19thKen. Lt. Col. [John] Cowan
48thOhio Lt. Col. [Job R.] Parker
77thIll. Col. [David P.] Grier
97thIll. Col. [Friend S.] Rutherford
18th " Col. [John] Warner
131st " " Geo W Neeley
Formed the 2nd Brigade, except 48th Ohio - left to support battery - moved foreword at 9:30 A.M. Considerable of random skirmishing. No one hurt on our side. One Rebel Killed. The Rebs shelled us to some extent from big heights. No one hit.
Cyrus Hussey

Gen. A. J. Smith Report

On the 28th and 29th ultimo there was heavy skirmishing all along the line.

During the 30th and 31st the two divisions have been occupied in strengthening our positions.

A. J. Smith (OR 1/1/1863)

December 30, 1862

The day following being too wet for military operations, we remained in camp.
John A. Bering & Thomas Montgomery, 1880

Tuesday 30th
But little change. Orders to make no advance. 4 deserters from 81st Tenn came in. No News.
Cyrus Hussey

December 31, 1862

Dec. 31st, the Regiment went on picket, occupying the position the 77th Ills. held on the 28th, with the right of the Regiment extending to the Mississippi river above Vicksburg. We relieved the old guards at 9 A. M. under a heavy fire. We spent a quiet day, except an occasional shot from the rebel pickets. That night we suffered from the cold weather, having left everything but our rubber blankets on the boat. In the absence of woolen blankets, the pickets in reserve made beds out of Spanish moss.
John A. Bering & Thomas Montgomery, 1880

Wednesday 31st
48th & 19th Ky. On Picket. Lines of 19th made to connect with Brigade's. Making redoubts. 19th took 2 prisoners of 50th Tenn. Baggage just off boat.
Cyrus Hussey

Virgil Moats to wife Eliza
We remained in out encampment until Wednesday morning when we went on picket, & during the day the reb picket showed a flag of truce & we met them half way on the river bank above the city - and within 80 rods of their batteries - had a nice chat - talked over matters, agreed not to fire on each other while on picket, & finally parted on the best of terms, that they were all saying they were heartily tired of the war. They were East Tennesseans, & I know they were for several of them deserted & came over the two previous nights & they were taken off picket that night and others put in their place - for fear they would desert.. Those that came over said whole companies of their regiment would come at the first opportunity. That is the feeling in nearly all their regiments.
Virgil Moats 1/3/63

January 1, 1863

January 1st, 1863, we were relieved, and returned to camp in the rear again. New Year's day was spent in making shelter, gathering leaves and moss for beds, and cleaning our camp-ground. But we were not permitted to enjoy our comfortable booths. At 9 o'clock that evening, Companies C and K were sent to the landing, with orders to load all our stores by 4 o'clock next morning on board the steamer "City of Alton," as the army was to evacuate at that time. We labored hard all night, …
John A. Bering & Thomas Montgomery, 1880

Thursday 1st Jan. 1863
Retained positions until 2.00 A.M. 2nd inst. Baggage Moved to Boats before midnight. Went to boat, got provisions & returned at 10:00 P.M.
Cyrus Hussey

Virgil Moats to wife Eliza
Thursday Gen. Sherman finding them too strong for him being able to make any very considerable impression on their works - although he succeeded in taking two of their forts - & Gen. Grant & other expected assistance failing to appear as understood, he was compelled to fall back & take the boats…
Virgil Moats 1/3/63

Report of Col. Peter J. Sullivan (not present at event)
…and on January 2, 1863, received orders to re-embark at 2 a. m., which was duly effected and without loss to the regiment…
Peter J. Sullivan (OR 8/4/63)

January 2, 1863

…and at daylight the troops embarked on the boats, but the fleet did not leave until 10 o'clock P. M. Shortly after leaving, a violent rain-storm began and raged two days and nights. What our condition would have been had we remained in that dismal swamp, called by the soldiers "the valley of death," can better be imagined than described….
John A. Bering & Thomas Montgomery, 1880

Friday 2nd
48th, 19th, & 77 marched to boats., Col. Landram accompanying. At 2:00 A.M. Pickets called in & marched to boats at 4:00 A.M. Everything was done so quietly that the enemy did not know of the movement. The embarkation was prompt & complete. The enemy moved trains & troops during most of the night. Remained at Johnson's Landing until 2:00 P.M. when the fleet moved down the Yazoo & up the Miss. to Millikin's Bend, when it moved at 9:00 P.M. It is thought that we withdrew on account of the rising of the river which would soon have overflowen the position we held. Banks & Grant failed to come to our support. Slept none last night & feel badly. Commenced a letter to My Wife.
Cyrus Hussey

Virgil Moats to wife Eliza
... Accordingly during the night our artillery teams, baggage etc. were all sent back and at two in the morning we were on our way & before daylight were in the boat - distance from where we landed to city about 9 miles. Friday after we left the rebels shelled the woods severely but we were not there. There [sic.] shells did no harm except to destroy timber. The country over which we passed is low bottom & all woods & when the water is up covers it to a depth of 15 feet. The weather while in there was warm days cold noghts freezing so as to make ice. It is a fine thing we got out for the rain commenced falling yesterday afternoon and continued to fall in torrents all night, by this time the bottom must be covered.
Virgil Moats 1/3/63

The campaign contemplated an attack on Vicksburg, by Gen. Grant's army marching through Mississippi from Memphis, and getting in the rear of Vicksburg, while Gen. Sherman, with 40,000 men, was to descend the Mississippi river, and attack from the north, on Chickasaw Bayou. But the day before Gen. Sherman left Memphis with his fleet, Holly Springs, Gen. Grant's base of supplies, with its immense quantity of military stores, had surrendered to the rebels without firing a shot, which compelled Gen. Grant to retreat. Gen. Sherman not being aware of this, made the attack alone. The enemy then sent their troops by rail to Vicksburg in such numbers that they soon outnumbered us. They being behind fortifications, had every advantage, which made it an unequal contest. After a loss of about 2,000 men, Gen. Sherman withdrew his army…
John A. Bering & Thomas Montgomery, 1880

January 3, 1863

Saturday 3rd
Heavy rain all last night. I slept well & feel much refreshed. Could not find Desare [boat with division headquarters]. Order to disembark but weather prevented. Finished letter to my wife but having no Opportunity to mail left envelope open & may write more. Mail came in from the North. Not much order in our arrangements about Pickets on roads for debarkation. No letter for me. Finished and mailed letter to My Wife. Orders to disembark early in the morning & go into camp. Just received a letter from Mary Jane Lewis dated Dec. 22, 1862. Rebecca reached home Dec. 17th, Wed. Our boat very dirty.
Cyrus Hussey

Virgil Moats to wife Eliza
Dear Eliza and Family
Again I write you a short letter to let you know where I am & that I am yet alive & among the living. My health & that of the boys is good although we have had some pretty hard times since I last wrote - which was on this boat & I hope you got it…
…We are now at Milliken bend where I finished my last letter. What we will do next, where we will go, or when we will leave here is more than I can tell. I believe that I have given you all the particulars, and all that has transpired since my last.
Our loss in fighting was about 160 killed, 200 wounded, none in our brigade.
I will stop for this time. May write more before this gos. I am so nervous & write so poor that I fear you will hardly be able to read this, but you must overlook that for this time. You had best save all my letters for the present. They may be of some account sometime. Since writing the above I fear that we land now as rain is over and the boats go up river & that mail will go to morrow. So I will close for this time & will write again soon. Write twice a week and give one the news.
I have no instructions to give only do the best you can with everything. I have not received letters from home since we left Memphis.
Good bye for this time will write longer next time.
(John Johnson is getting fat as a pig.)
Virgil Moats 1/3/63

January 4, 1863

…on the 4th of January, 1863, [Gen. Sherman] was relieved by Gen. McClernand, who assumed command and divided the army into two corps. Gen. Morgan commanded the first corps, to which our Division - A. J. Smith's - belonged. This Division afterward became the 13th Corps, and Gen. Sherman was placed in command of the second Corps.
Gen. McClernand soon after ordered the army to Arkansas Post. We now proceeded up the Mississippi with the fleet, arriving at the mouth of White river during the night of the 7th of January.
John A. Bering & Thomas Montgomery, 1880

Sunday 4th
Orders to disembark countermanded. The Army to move up the Miss. To the mouth of the White River. Mail taken on board in the "Desare" (Division Hd. Qtrs.) Transports go after Gun Boats, but they came up themselves. Going up river. Moored at night.
Cyrus Hussey



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