Chickasaw Bayou (6)

by Dan O'Connell on January 1, 2014 · 0 comments

December 27th

Safely ashore and anticipating the arrival of BG A. J. Smith’s division from Milliken’s Bend Sherman formulated a plan to seize crossings of Chickasaw Bayou on the 27th,but his initial plan was altered when Smith’s troops were delayed. Restructuring the plan Sherman ordered BG Steele to detach Blair’s brigade and embark his remaining two brigades for a trip up the Yazoo to a spot above the mouth of Chickasaw Bayou. The trip up the river was again slowed by efforts to avoid torpedoes and Steele’s men did not land until noon. Heavy overnight rain had turned the landscape into a morass and Steele’s men had to corduroy a road inland again using valuable time. Arriving at Blake’s levee they moved down the single wagon width levee road to cooperate with BG Morgan. The plan revealed just how little was known about the surrounding terrain. It was believed that the levee ran along the banks of the bayou when, in fact, it skirted Thompson Lake. The intervening obstacle made any cooperation with Morgan impossible. As they attempted to move around the lake Steele’s advance (BG Charles Hovey’s brigade) was detected by a twelve man picket of the 26th Louisiana Infantry. The movement down Blake’s Levee was reported to Captain Guion who recalled the picket and understanding the odds against him moved his company back to a better position supported by a section of guns from Company A, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery. Incapable of maneuver Hovey had no alternative but to attack on a very narrow front which stole away his manpower advantage. The Confederates broke off the unequal fight after a short stand but stalled Hovey long enough for Steele to decide that the coming darkness made further operations too risky. His command was ordered into bivouac. A single company with two guns in support had foiled the intentions of two federal brigades.

While Steele travelled up river Morgan began his attack in the vicinity of the Lake House with DeCourcy’s brigade again in the lead. This effort, unlike the first, was supported by the 1st Wisconsin Battery. DeCourcy was followed, thirty minutes later, by COL Daniel Lindsey’s 2nd Brigade and two regiments of COL Lionel Sheldon’s 1st Brigade. Near the Lake cotton gin DeCourcy’s column collided with the 17th Louisiana Infantry and a single gun from Co D, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery.

In support of this attack Blair’s brigade of Steele’s division moved north from its forward position toward the Lake house. This put them on a collision course with the two companies of the 46th Mississippi that remained on duty to guard there to guard Withers left flank. The numbers were too much and the 46th became hard pressed to hold its position. Threatened with having his retreat route cut Withers hustled one gun of Co D 1st Mississippi Light Artillery to cover the 46th. Assailed from two directions Withers began the process of retiring his tiny force to a secondary position. The 17th Louisiana was successfully disengaged and readied a new line just in front of the Bayou. After an 80 round bombardment by the 4th Ohio Battery the 46th Mississippi and their artillery piece joined Withers on the new line. To slow the expected pursuit Withers deployed two companies of the 26th Louisiana on the north bank of the bayou. They were to engage any Federal troops moving down the road on the south bank.

DeCourcy’s men marched directly into the trap from the Lake house around 3 p.m. The fire from the other bank proved severe enough to force DeCourcy to deploy the 22nd Kentucky, 54th Indiana, and a portion of the 42nd Ohio to suppress the enemy riflemen. After a two hour fire fight the Confederates were forced to withdraw when Federal artillery (Six guns of the 1st Wisconsin Light) raked the opposite bank with canister. Withers had delayed the Union advance just long enough for night to put an end to operations. With slightly more than two regiments he had stalled the advance of an entire division short of their objective.

As DeCourcy and Blair battled Withers, BG M. L. Smith recommended a reconnaissance of the right flank. BG David Stuart’s 4th Brigade was tasked to cooperate with a regiment from Blair. Stuart selected the 55th Illinois and Blair contributed the 58th Ohio. The two regiments moved down the road, with the 58th in the lead, toward Indian Mound where the road crossed over the bayou. They struck three companies of the 31st Louisiana who had crossed over the bayou to protect a party of impressed slaves cutting an abatis across the road. At the sound of the resulting fire Stuart raced the remainder of his brigade forward. The Union skirmish line closed to within 50 yards of the crossing where they discovered a maze of fallen trees blocking their progress. On the far side of the bayou was the main Confederate position covering “a narrow and difficult ford.” Behind this line lay the imposing position of the Walnut Hills. The advance here was also stopped for the night. Withers had again purchased valuable time at a low cost.

On the river BG A. J. Smith’s division began arriving about 1 p.m. By the time they completed unloading there was little time left to do anything but stumble forward to the Lake house in the dark. In an associated action designed as a diversion LT Commander Gwin took seven vessels up the Yazoo to bombard Synder’s Bluff. Fire from the west shore required Gwin to request assistance from Steele to clear the enemy away. Steele sent the 17th Missouri Infantry across the Yazoo to drive off the enemy sharpshooters. The fleet exchanged fire with the Confederates on the bluff for an hour and a half. Little was accomplished and the mission cost Gwin his life when he was struck in the chest by a shot from the enemy along the banks.

Chickasaw Bayou (Campaign Series)

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