Some of these residents, who wished Northern men to join them, claimed to have excellent plantations along the Yazoo, or near some of its tributary bayous. These men were confident a fine cotton crop could be made, “if there were some Northern man to manage the niggers.” It was the general complaint with the people who lived in that region that, with few exceptions, no Southern man could induce the negroes to continue at work. One of these plantation proprietors said his location was such that no guerrilla could get near it without endangering his life. An investigation showed that no other person could reach the plantation without incurring a risk nearly as great. Very few of these owners of remote plantations were able to induce strangers to join them.
We procured a map of the Mississippi and the country bordering its banks. Whenever we found a good location and made inquiry about it at the office of the leasing agents, we were sure to ascertain that some one had already filed an application. It was plain that Vicksburg was not the proper field for our researches. We shook its dust from our feet and went to Natchez, a hundred and twenty-five miles below, where a better prospect was afforded.
In the spring of 1863, the Rebels felt confident of retaining permanent possession of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, two hundred and fifty miles apart. Whatever might be the result elsewhere, this portion of the Mississippi should not be abandoned. In the belief that the progress of the Yankees had been permanently stopped, the planters in the locality mentioned endeavored to make as full crops as possible of the great staple of the South. Accordingly, they plowed and planted, and tended the growing cotton until midsummer came. On the fourth of July, Vicksburg surrendered, and opened the river to Port Hudson. General Herron’s Division was sent to re-enforce General Banks, who was besieging the latter place. In a few days, General Gardner hauled down his flag and gave Port Hudson to the nation. “The Father of Waters went unvexed to the Sea.”
The rich region that the Rebels had thought to hold was, by the fortune of war, in the possession of the National army. The planters suspended their operations, through fear that the Yankees would possess the land.
Some of them sent their negroes to the interior of Louisiana for safety. Others removed to Texas, carrying all their human property with them. On some plantations the cotton had been so well cared for that it came to maturity in fine condition. On others it had been very slightly cultivated, and was almost choked out of existence by weeds and grass. Nearly every plantation could boast of more or less cotton in the field—the quantity varying from twenty bales to five hundred. On some plantations cotton had been neglected, and a large crop of corn grown in its place. Everywhere the Rebel law had been obeyed by the production of more corn than usual. There was enough for the sustenance of our armies for many months.