Movement to Contact
The last of the Memphis contingent (A. J. Smith’s division) departed Memphis at noon on December 21st and arrived at friars Point at dark. Because the transports for MG Frederick Steele’s Arkansas based troops were not due to arrive until early on the 22nd Smith’s troops has a layover at Friars Point. As the anxious troops waited they became caught up in rumor’s concerning the murder of a Union sympathizer. Troops from the 83rd Ohio rampaged through the mostly deserted buildings of the nearby village and then applied the torch. The unit history gives a brief description of the event.
“One night we tied up at Friar’s Point, where it was reported that a Union man had been headed up in a barrel and rolled into the river. It was thought necessary that this be avenged. The boys opened several houses, and, the owners being away, they took what they could carry and as the fleet steamed away about all the town was reduced to ashes.”
The diary of an 83rd soldier, C. W. Gerard, paints a clearer picture:
“We landed at midnight at Friar’s Point, a town of a dozen houses. Concerning this place a wild rumor had been in circulation to the effect that a Union man had been put in a flour barrel, which was headed up by the citizens, and then thrown into the river and permitted to float away. Of course this was an improbable story for two reasons: First, there had been no Union man there for a long time, and secondly, the only inhabitants of the place were women, and the man could have escaped before they could have put the head in the barrel. But, notwithstanding the denial of the charge made by the citizens, and the improbabilities of its truth, a false rumor having about the same effect as a fact in war times, the soldiers sought revenge by burning the town before leaving it.”
On the 22nd the remaining 18 transports arrived and Steele’s division was loaded. The 55 transports and 5 supply boats were guided by Admiral Porter’s flagship, Black Hawk, to a position below the mouth of the White River where they tied up for the night. The following day the convoy was fired upon by Confederate patrols and troops were landed to conduct a fruitless chase. Stymied in their efforts to catch the rebels all the buildings in the area were burned in retaliation.
At Gaines Landing the destruction continued until the fleet departed at 0500 on December 24th for Milliken’s Bend. Stopping frequently to take on wood the convoy arrived well after nightfall and the troops celebrated Christmas Eve the best they could aboard the boats, many of which were overcrowded and filthy, especially those carrying animals. The seaworthiness of some was also questioned by the passengers. The 83rd Indiana aboard the steamer Sioux City reported the boat “as leaky as all out of doors.” Nevertheless all made it safely to Milliken’s Bend.
As Admiral Porter’s boats conducted reconnaissance of the Yazoo, Sherman sent BG Stephen Burbridge’s brigade (16th Indiana, 60th Indiana, 67th Indiana 83rd Ohio, 96th Ohio, and 23rd Wisconsin), of BG A. J. Smith’s division, accompanied by a detachment of the 6th Missouri Cavalry on a mission to destroy the Vicksburg, Shreveport & Texas Railroad. During the march to the rail line the telegraph line was cut and several enemy scouts captured. These prisoners were escorted back to Milliken’s Bend by a company from the 96th Ohio while the rest of the column pushed on. After a 37 mile march the raiding column reached Dallas, a small station on the VS&T line. While the infantry wrecked the facilities at Dallas two mounted patrols headed out to other stations. One patrol managed to destroy the warehouses, depot, a large quantity of medical supplies, a quantity of cotton and cloth, a bridge and several trestles at Delhi before returning to Milliken’s Bend. The other did not fare as well. After burning a small bridge and some trestle works near Quebec they were forced to return by the 15th Louisiana Cavalry. The entire column headed back to Milliken’s Bend but a cold rain caused heavy straggling to the extent that when the fleet left for the Yazoo River the steamboat Iowa and the 131st Illinois remained behind to collect the missing men.
Of course a movement of this size and the resulting activity made it impossible for Sherman’s expedition to remain undetected. The first reports reached Pemberton on the 21st. By the 25th these initial reports were confirmed by Wirt Adams cavalry and the warning sent to local commanders. Pemberton also began funneling reinforcements from the Yalobusha line to the city. Most of these, however, would not arrive until after the Union departure. The threat would be handled by the thin line of troops already protecting access to Vicksburg from the north.Chickasaw Bayou (Campaign Series)