July 23, 1862, The New York Herald
Our Vicksburg Correspondence.
COMMODORE DAVIS’ FLOTILLA.
BEFORE VICKSBURG, Miss., July 10, 1862.
The siege of Vicksburg, like that of Island No. Ten and Fort Pillow, bids fair to continue a long time. It could hardly be expected that a place so strong by nature and art, and guarded by nearly twenty thousand infantry, could be forced into capitulation in one or two weeks. It is vexatious to have the passage of the Mississippi blockaded at a single point, while elsewhere there are no obstructions; but we must suppress our wrath and make the best of a bad matter. If the canal across the peninsula proves a success, we may be able shortly to pass this point with steamboats between New Orleans and the upper cities. But the country must not be too sanguine. The river is low, and it will take time to make a passage across the narrow neck of land that intervenes between the location of Commodore Davis’ flotilla and that of Porter’s mortar fleet. Till then, or till Vicksburg falls, the blockade is effectual.
IDLENESS OF THE BESIEGERS.
The activity consequent upon our arrival here was not of long duration. We threw shells into Vicksburg, and Porter did the same. Eight of the steam vessels of Farragut’s fleet passed the batteries during a warm engagement, and since then they have been as quiet as possible for well behaved boats. Their commanders wish themselves back again below the defences of Vicksburg, and it is quite likely that they may run the blockade on some dark night. They have found that it is impossible to silence the upper or bluff batteries by guns from the boats, and have abandoned all hope of taking the city by an attack from the navy, unsupported by a strong land force. The storeships being below the city, these upper vessels are somewhat inconvenienced.
STRAITS OF THE REBELS.
Deserters and prisoners from Vicksburg represent affairs there as quite gloomy. Al the inhabitants moved away several weeks ago, and the falling shells have caused considerable injury to the town. Several houses have been torn to pieces, and in others numerous huge holes bear testimony to the accuracy of our fire. It has not been the design to destroy the place, and our commanders have been reluctant to inflict any injury that might fall upon innocent heads. Had we wished to lay Vicksburg in ashes, we could have done so long since by the use of incendiary shells, or by planting a battery on the point of land opposite, and less than a thousand yards distant. It is quite probable that before the rebel works fall into our hands there will be but little of the city left.
SCARCITY OF FOOD.
The deserters from the rebel army say that they are badly off for food, and that unless they can speedily retake Memphis or some other prominent supply point they will have to give up the contest for want of something to eat. It is a matter of speculation what the rebel army in the Mississippi valley will do for supplies. The line they are at present holding lies south of the northern boundary of Mississippi and Alabama and east of the Mississippi river. The corn and pork producing district in the Southern States has hitherto been that portion now in our possession, and the region over which the rebel flag yet waves has been devoted to the culture of cotton and sugar. The large amount of corn planted in these States this season, in lieu of cotton, promised very well upon paper; but the climate was found unpropitous for the cereal, and a large portion of it has already died before arriving at maturity. “Man cannot live by bread alone,” and corn bread at that, with any more facility now than he could eighteen hundred years ago. The rebel rulers, while they admonished the people to plant a sufficiency of corn, neglected to give similar instructions with reference to pork. In consequence of this neglect there is a great scarcity of bacon, and the planters, as well as the quartermasters, find it impossible to afford proper sustenance to their dependents. The negroes now at work on the canal say that for several months past they have seen but little pork, and sometimes have been destitute of it for weeks together. The commodity is at present rated at forty cents a pound, and is difficult to procure even at that price.
Another cause of depression among the troops back of Vicksburg is the recently enforced conscription act. Several regiments raised by this law have lately arrived at Vicksburg, where they are […..] as desertions from the ranks, and the camp is almost continually in a condition bordering upon mutiny. Day before yesterday nine men who had deserted from one of the new regiments were apprehended a few miles from Vicksburg and taken back to the camp. They arrived within the lines about nine A. M., and were at once tried for desertion and speedily convicted. Sunset of the same day was appointed for their execution, and at the designated time they were taken outside of the camp and shot, in presence of their own and several other conscript regiments. The officers at first proposed to make a draft from the conscript regiments to execute the order of the court martial; but on such a detail being made the men positively refused to shoot their own comrades. The commanders foresaw trouble in case they should attempt to carry out their designs, and wisely concluded to drop the matter where it was and make an execution detail elsewhere. The men to shoot the deserters were accordingly drawn from a Louisiana regiment, and when all was ready the guilty conscripts were placed in line, and at the word of command shot, with their backs towards their executioners. A strong force of Louisiana and Alabama volunteers was kept close at hand to suppress any outbreak that might occur among the drafted men; but the affair passed off without any demonstrations of consequence on the part of the latter. There are many escaped conscripts lurking in the bushes in Northern and Central Mississippi who are afraid to show themselves for fear of arrest. In some parts of the State they have taken all the able-bodied men between sixteen and sixty, without regard to any ties that may make their going to the army a matter of serious inconvenience. In several instances as high as three thousand dollars was offered for substitutes. My informant says that he has frequently heard threats against the officers whenever an engagement shall occur.
MORTAR FLEET GOING BELOW.
It is probable that operations before Vicksburg will cease for the present, and that the troops now holding it will enjoy the dog days with comparative freedom from molestation. Captain Porter’s mortar fleet is to suspend its action here and reserve its shells for other localities.
As I am now writing (nine A.M. ) the preparations are being completed for an immediate departure. Twelve of the mortar boats are to go in tow of the Clifton, Westfield, Miami, Jackson, Owasco and Harriet Lane. The Octorara, Capt. Porter’s flagship, precedes them, and will remain at a convenient point until they arrive, after which they will proceed direct to their destination, while the steamers that tow them are to return to Vicksburg, unless Farragut’s fleet should go elsewhere. At present the latter movement appears quite probable, as the coming low water in the Mississippi will be likely to inconvenience the deep draught vessels. Four of the mortar boats remain here, and all vessels of Farragut’s fleet that I have not named above have as yet no orders for moving. The steam vessels that are going are at this moment making up their tows, and are expected to be off by two or three o’clock P. M. to-day. It is possible that the plan may be changed before departure, and even that a boat now momentarily expected from above will countermand the order for leaving. We suppose that the reverse before Richmond, and the falling back upon the James river of which we have just heard, furnishes the reason for removing this part of our fleet. With these mortar boats away the siege of Vicksburg will diminish to an affair of minor importance, and the flotilla from above and the fleet from below be reduced to the necessity of patiently awaiting the arrival of troops we operate on land.
THE CUT-OFF ON THE PENINSULA.
The great canal across the neck of the peninsula does not progress rapidly. River men who know the Mississippi as a jockey knows the fine points of a horse say that a channel to work effectually must start at some point where the current strikes forcibly against the bank. The engineers who laid out the canal have located the upper end in a deep curve in the bank, where there is no current, but where, on the contrary, there is a slight eddy setting against the course of the river. This is a sad oversight, and one that may delay the rush of the water through the ditch. Yesterday the level of the river was reached and the canal opened; but the water refused to run. A sternwheel boat was moored at the upper end of the canal, and by rapid revolutions of its wheel an attempt was made to fill the channel with water, but without success. The only alternatives now left are to dig deeper or wait for a rise in the river. The first measure will probably be adopted, and in its failure the second will be effectual. The next flood of the Mississippi will occur early in 1863, and if we are then before Vicksburg we shall see the channel made across the point and the city become an inland locality. In high water it takes but a short time to cut through a neck of land. When the Raccourci cut-off was made a few years ago, a small ditch was dug two feet wide and a foot below the water level. A pilot on one of the boats told me yesterday that he was passing the upper end of the ditch just as the water was let in. An hour and a half later, as he found the lower end, the torrent was rushing through a channel half as wide as the main stream and with a depth sufficient to float the largest boats. The river was full of floating timber and debris from the land, and as he looked up the new made channel he could see the tall cypress, sycamore and cottonwood trees toppling and falling into the rushing stream like stalks before a reapersickle. Twenty-four hours later the cut-off became the route for steamers. The Raccourci bend was twenty- four miles long, while its cut off does not exceed half a mile. At Milliken bend, twenty-five miles above Vicksburg, the river flows twenty miles and comes back to within three hundred yards of the commencement of the bend. A gang of negroes will be sent up in a few days to make a canal across this point and thus shorten the distance to Memphis and other places above.
REFITTED GUNBOATS EXPECTED.
The gunboats Bragg and Sumter are expected here to-day. The former will be commanded by Lieutenant Bishop, who displayed so much gallantry in her capture, and will be used as a police boat along the river. […..] said to be one of the fastest steamers in the service. The butternut colored paint with which the boats were daubed at the time they were taken has been covered with a respectable dress of black, and the boats are now far better and more effective than they were on the day when they fell into the hands of the Yankees.
ABANDONING THE MISSISSIPPI SHORE.
It is quite likely that we shall be obliged to remove the land force on the Mississippi shore as soon as the fleet starts down the stream. This will be of but little importance to us, as the position has been held merely as a matter of convenience to the gunboats.