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Steele's Bayou Expedition

  • Time Period: March 14-25, 1863
  • Area: Mississippi
  • Explanation: ?

During the ill-fated Yazoo Pass Expedition, Rear Adm. David D. Porter hit on a seperate idea for reaching the Yazoo River and approaching Vicksburg from the northeast. A little more than 6 miles up the Yazoo from its mouth. on its north bank, was the entrance to Steel's Bayou. Porter suspected that Steel's Bayou, Black Bayou beyond it, and Deer Creek to the north were all connected, navigable at high water, and could connect with the Big Sunflower River and the Yazoo, bringing a naval expedition almost full circle from its starting point to attack Confederate batteries on the Yazoo at Haynes' and Drumgould's bluffs, points 10 and 12 miles northeast of the mouth of Steele's Bayou. troops might also be landed behind these batteries and approach Vicksburg from the northeast. The Steele's Bayou entrance lay 7 miles overland north of Vicksburg.

Ill-advised in pursuing this plan, particularly in light of the failure on the Yazoo the previous December at Chickasaw Bluffs, Porter exhibited a boyish sense of adventure and personally scouted the Yazoo and several miles of Steele's Bayou with a local guide. On March 14th, he entered the bayou with the ironclads Mound City, Louisville, Carondelet, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh, 4 morters, and 4 tugboats. These waters were heavily overgrown, normally shallow at many points, obstructed by fallen timber, and had not been navigated by any vessel larger than a skiff or pirogue. Pledging cooperation, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman sent 50 army pioneers aboard the steamer Diligent on the 16th, and followed behind with Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, meeting Porter at Hill's Plantation at the head of Black Bayou on the same day. Not having encountered any resistence and having traveled more than 30 miles in 2 days, Porter pressed on up Deer Creek on the 16th with his 5 ironclads. Sherman remained at Hill's plantation administering the transport of the 2nd Division/XV Corps to Black Bayou, and Grant returned to camp in front of Vicksburg.

North then east on Deer Creek, 32 water miles from Hill's Plantation, sat the Rolling Fork, a spot Porter believed was unobstructed. From there he expected clear sailing to the Yazoo. Obstructions slowed travel through Deer Creek, the ironclads making a top speed of half-a-mile an hour. On the 19th, within 7 miles of Rolling Fork, advance Confederate elements from the Haynes' Bluff garrison arrived, impressed slaves, and put them to work felling trees into Deer Creek and the Sunflower beyond Rolling Fork. Porter dispatched 300 sailors and pioneers ahead to hold Rolling Fork and suffered under sniper fire through the 20th, at that time passing Rolling Fork and hitting willows growing directly out of the stream bed. Confederates began felling trees behind the flotilla and intended on bottling it up until sufficient force arrived from Haynes' Bluff to take it.

Three regiments of the Union 2nd Division arrived at Hill's Plantation early on the 21st. Sherman dispatched them to Porter's assistance, 12 miles overland at Rolling Fork. Other troops arrived on 3 steamboats at Hill's Plantation that night, and Sherman personally led them on a quick march to Porter's aid early on the 22nd.

On the 21st, a Confederate force, estimated at 2,000-3,000 men, began marching on Porter from the east. The first 3 Union regiments, under Col. Giles A. Smith, reached Porter's boats later that smae day in time to stall the Confederate advance. Troops with Sherman arrived on the 22nd, skirmished again with the Confedertaes, then helped Porter return to hill's Plantation. Sherman and the ironclads reached Black Bayou again on the 24th, skirmishing that day and the next with 3 Confederate regiments that had pursued them. This ended the expedition.

Though Porter's cannon were used and some skirmishing took place, the niumber of Confederate casualties in this episode are unknown. Porter lost 4 men wounded and an engineer killed by sniper fire. The Union infantry lost only 2 men killed.

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