Morning came early for McClernand and his staff. They quickly discovered that the lower line of works, although it had emplacements for ten pieces of artillery, were empty. While examining the second line two of the light draft gunboats, Rattler and Black Hawk, move into position and opened fire on the Confederate line. Churchill’s six light guns on the river road declined to respond.
The Union infantry disembarked and BG Frederick Steele’s division of Sherman’s XV Corps took the lead. Rather than march directly at the enemy defense Sherman ordered Stele to attempt to bypass the Confederate left by seeking a route through the forest behind the Notrebe farm. A few rounds from Battery F, 2nd Missouri Artillery scattered the enemy pickets and Steele’s men, with Sherman along, disappeared into the woods. Guide by a contraband they made the best possible effort but soon found themselves mired in a swamp. The only way to avoid the obstacle was to move further away from the objective, which was to approach the fort from the north, on a seven mile circuitous march. A messenger was sent back to McClernand with the news that this attempt was unlikely to pay any dividends. Instead of trusting his experienced subordinate McClernand opted to waste valuable time conducting a personal reconnaissance of the situation. After confirming Sherman’s evaluation he ordered Steele’s men to counter-march.
As they returned to Notrebe’s they ran into MG Morgan’s XIII Corps troops arriving from a landing further down the river. Morgan’s men were given priority on the road while Steele’s men established camp in a field on the north side of the river road. McClernand, now eager to deploy his forces, sent a staff officer back to hustle Morgan forward. To prepare for their arrival BG David Stuart, leading 2nd Division of XV Corps, was ordered to collapse his brigade to the right. The vacated portion of the line was then occupied from right to left, starting with the 60th Indiana of Burbridge’s brigade. Colonel William Landrum’s 2nd Brigade formed a line behind them.
The mob of soldiers on the road complicated matters and caused much delay in the deployment. As darkness began to fall BG Peter Osterhaus’s division of XIII Corps, the trail unit, moved off to a bivouac on the south side of the river road. Determined to find a way around the Confederate left McClernand sent a company of the 3rd Illinois Cavalry on a reconnaissance in that direction. This patrol encountered a contingent of the enemy, 80 of whom readily threw down their weapons and gave themselves up. The troopers returned with news that Post Bayou, which covered the enemy left could be easily forded and an advantageous position gained there.
The Federal maneuvering consumed most of the day. At the river Porter was growing impatient. The proximity of the Union troops to the enemy did not allow him to strike at them. The expected 1400 assault had failed to materialize and darkness was closing in fast. At 1730 McClernand finally notified him that the land forces were prepared. The three city class gunboats closed to within 70 yards of the fort and opened fire. The primary targets were the heavy guns guarding the river. The Confederate sailors manning these pieces in the fort answered. Attempting to gain a bigger firepower advantage Porter threw two smaller boats, Lexington and Black Hawk, into the fight. The enemy fire was reduced enough for Porter to order the Rattler to make a run past the fort. The tin clad vessel became entangled in the water obstacles only 50 yards from the fort and was badly damaged. Enemy shots passed completely through her and it appeared that there was “every prospect of her being destroyed.” She was saved when she broke free and retreated back down the river. The guns fell silent when no land assault was made. With darkness only minutes away McClernand decided to wait until morning to try the enemy defenses. The late foray against the fort cost the Louisville and DeKalb 28 combined casualties. What little was gained was given away by the overnight delay. The Navy memorandum regarding these operations simply stated “in the morning the fort was ready for another fight.”Arkansas Post (Campaign Series)