On arriving at Memphis, I found General Sherman’s expedition was ready to move toward Vicksburg. A few of the soldiers who escaped from the raid on Holly Springs had reached Memphis with intelligence of that disaster. The news caused much excitement, as the strength of the Rebels was greatly exaggerated. A few of these soldiers thought Van Dorn’s entire division of fifteen or twenty thousand men had been mounted and was present at the raid. There were rumors of a contemplated attack upon Memphis, after General Sherman’s departure.
Unmilitary men thought the event might delay the movement upon Vicksburg, but it did not have that effect. General Sherman said he had no official knowledge that Holly Springs had been captured, and could do no less than carry out his orders. The expedition sailed, its various divisions making a rendezvous at Friar’s Point, twelve miles below Helena, on the night of the 22d of December. From this place to the mouth of the Yazoo, we moved leisurely down the Mississippi, halting a day near Milliken’s Bend, almost in sight of Vicksburg. We passed a portion of Christmas-Day near the mouth of the Yazoo.
On the morning of the 26th of December, the fleet of sixty transports, convoyed by several gun-boats, commenced the ascent of the Yazoo. This stream debouches into the Mississippi, fifteen miles above Vicksburg, by the course of the current, though the distance in an airline is not more than six miles. Ten or twelve miles above its mouth, the Yazoo sweeps the base of the range of hills on which Vicksburg stands, at a point nearly behind the city. It was therefore considered a feasible route to the rear of Vicksburg.
In a letter which I wrote on that occasion, I gave the following description of the country adjoining the river, and the incidents of a night bivouac before the battle:—“The bottom-land of the Yazoo is covered with a heavy growth of tall cypress-trees, whose limbs are everywhere interlaced. In many places the forest has a dense undergrowth, and in others it is quite clear, and affords easy passage to mounted men. These huge trees are heavily draped in the ’hanging moss,’ so common in the Southern States, which gives them a most gloomy appearance. The moss, everywhere pendent from the limbs of the trees, covers them like a shroud, and in some localities shuts out the sunlight. In these forests there are numerous bayous that form a net-work converting the land into a series of islands. When separated from your companions, you can easily imagine yourself in a wilderness. In the wild woods of the Oregon there is no greater solitude.”
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“On the afternoon of the 27th, I started from the transports, and accompanied our left wing, which was advancing on the east side of Chickasaw Bayou. The road lay along the crest of the levee which had been thrown up on the bank of the bayou, to protect the fields on that side against inundation. This road was only wide enough for the passage of a single wagon. Our progress was very slow, on account of the necessity for removing heavy logs across the levee. When night overtook us, we made our bivouac in the forest, about three miles from the river.