« PreviousContinue »
the upper end of the town, mounting seven pieces of heavy artillery. together with lines of intrenchments between them. Six gunboats carrying from four to eight heavy guns each, were anchored along the shore, between the upper and lower redoubts. The country is perfectly level for miles around the place, and the river was so high just then, that the gunboats looked directly over the banks; and the approaches to the town for seven miles were commanded by direct and cross fire from at least sixty guns of heavy calibre. The column under General Pope left Commerce, Mo., on the 27th of February, and, after six days of hard marches through and over the interminable jungles of the great Mingo or Nigger Wool swamp, sat down before the town. They had scarcely been in camp a day before the river batteries opened upon them, forcing the right wing back a few hundred yards further from the river. Trials and dangers now beset the Federal army, which would have discouraged less brave men. It would not have been difficult to carry the intrenchments, but it must have been attended with heavy loss, and they could not have been held half an hour exposed to the destructive fire of the gunboats. It therefore became necessary to bring down a few heavy guns by land to operate against those of the enemy. They were accordingly sent for; and meantime, forced reconnoissances were pushed over the whole ground, and into several parts of the town. Some brisk skirmishes resulted, in which the enemy invariably retreated precipitately. It was found impossible to induce them to trust any considerable force of their infantry outside of their intrenchments. While awaiting the arrival of the heavy guns, Colonel Plummer, of the Eleventh Missouri, was dispatched to Point Pleasant, eight miles below, with three regiments of infantry, three companies of cavalry, and a field battery of 10-pound Parrott and rifled guns, with orders to make a lodgment on the river bank; to line the bank with rifle-pits for a thousand men, and to establish his artillery in sunk batteries of single pieces between the rifle-pits. This arrangement was made in order to present the smallest possible marks to the shells of the gunboats, and to render futile the use of round shot from their heavy guns. Colonel Plummer, after some cannonading from the gunboats which he found there, succeeded in making a lodgment, constructing his batteries and rifle-pits, and occupying them in sufficient force to maintain them against any open assault. After repeated and persistent cannonading from the gunboats, the enemy found it impossible to dislodge him. He maintained his position, and effectually blockaded the river to transports, during the whole siege. Meantime, the enemy continued every day to reinforce New Madrid, until, on the 12th, they had nine thousand infantry, besides a
considerable force of artillery and nine gunboats. The fleet was commanded by Commodore Hollins, the land forces by Generals McCown, Stewart and Gantt. On the 11th, the Federal siege guns were delivered to Colonel Bissell for his engineer regiment, who had been sent to Cairo. They were at once shipped to Sykestown, reached New Madrid at sunset on the 12th, and were placed in battery during the same night, within eight hundred yards of the enemy's main work, commanding the river above it. They opened fire at daylight on the 13th, just thirty-four hours after they were received at Cairo. A brigade, consisting of the Tenth and Sixteenth Illinois, under Colonel Morgan, of the Tenth, was detailed to cover the construction of the battery, and to work in the trenches. It was supported by Stanley's division, consisting of the Twenty-seventh and and Thirty-ninth Ohio, under Colonel Groesbeck, and the Forty-third and Sixty-third Ohio, under Colonel Smith. Captain Mower, First United States infantry, with companies A and H of his regiment, was placed in charge of the siege guns. The enemy's pickets and grand guards were driven in by Colonel Morgan, from the ground selected for the battery. The work was prosecuted in silence, and with the utmost rapidity, until at three o'clock, A. M., two small redoubts connected by a curtain, and mounting four heavy guns were completed, together with rifle-pits in front and on the flanks for two regiments of infantry. The batteries opened as soon as the day dawned, and were replied to in front and on the flanks by the whole of the enemy's heavy artillery on land and water. The Union guns were served by Captain Mower with vigor and skill. In a few hours they disabled several of the gunboats, and dismounted three of the heavy guns in the enemy's main work. Shortly after the Union batteries opened, one of the 24-pound guns was struck in the muzzle by a round shot from the enemy's batteries and disabled. The cannonading was continued furiously all day by the gunboats and land batteries of the enemy, but without producing any impression. Meantime the Union trenches were being extended and advanced toward the bank of the river. General Paine now made a demonstration against the rebel intrenchments on the left, supported by Palmer's division. The enemy's pickets and grand guards were driven in, and the skirmishers forced their way close to the main ditch. A furious thunder storm began about eleven o'clock that night, and continued almost without interruption until morning. Just before daylight, General Stanley was relieved in his trenches with his division by General Hamilton. A few minutes after daylight, a flag of truce approached the batteries, bearing information that the enemy had evacuated his works. Small parties were at once advanced by General
Hamilton to ascertain the truth of this report; and Captain Mower, First United States infantry, with companies A and H of that regiment, were sent forward to plant the United States flag over the abandoned works. The enemy had made a hasty and precipitate flight. Their dead were found unburied, their suppers stood untouched on the tables—candles were burning in the tents. Private baggage of officers and knapsacks of the men were left behind. Neither provisions nor ammunition were carried off—everything gave evidence of a panic. Artillery, field batteries and siege-guns, amounting to thirty-three pieces; magazines full of fixed ammunition of the best character; several thousand stands of inferior small arms, with hundreds of boxes of musket cartridges; tents for an army often thousand men; horses, mules, wagons, intrenching tools, etc., were among the spoils. Their flight was so sudden that they abandoned their pickets, and gave no intimation to the forces at Island No. 10. The Union loss was fifty-one killed and wounded. The enemy's loss could not be ascertained. A number of his dead were left unburied, and over a hundred new graves were found.
ISLAND No. 10,
When the necessity of an early evacuation of Columbus became apparent to the rebel leaders, they commenced the fortification of Island No. 10, in the Mississippi river, forty-five miles below Columbus and twentysix from Hickman. It is located 250 miles below St. Louis and 997 from New Orleans; and when chosen by the secessionists it was deemed impregnable. The earthworks were constructed with great skill, and well calculated to resist any assault which could be made from the river above, while they held undisputed control of the navigation below, and had at their command a formidable fleet of gunboats. New Madrid, on the Missouri shore of the river, a few miles below, was fortified and garrisoned by rebel troops, and they had easy communication and abundant facilities for supplies and reinforcements, if needed.
The energy and perseverance of General Pope, which enabled him, despite the most serious obstacles, to invest and capture the town of New Madrid, was the first note of warning received by the rebels at Island No. 10 that their position was no longer tenable.
The topography of the peninsula on the Tennessee shore, immediately back of the island, where most of the rebel forces were located, is very peculiar; and if the disadvantages of position which the course of events gradually unfolded could have been foreseen, the site would never have
been selected. Commencing at a point about a mile and a half above the island is a range of high land, which extends back south-eastwardly to Reelfoot Lake, a distance of four miles. This lake, in the rear of the peninsula, is fifteen miles in length, and terminates in a swamp, which extends south of Tiptonville, a town on the river bank, below the peninsula. The swamp at that time varied in width from one and a half to eight miles, its narrowest point being four miles above Tiptonville, where the rebels had prepared a corduroy road and bridge, as a means of escape from their position, should retreat by land become necessary. On the 15th of Margh, the gun and mortar-boats comprising the fleet of Commodore Foote commenced the investment and bombardment of Island No. 10, and the rebel batteries and camps at the adjacent peninsula on the Tennessee shore. The fleet consisted of eleven gunboats, and twelve mortar-boats, each of the latter carrying one immense mortar, throwing a shell of two hundred and twenty pounds weight a distance of from two to three miles. The Commodore engaged the rebel batteries almost daily for three weeks, deeming it imprudent to risk the destruction of his vessels by close action, as any misfortune to them would have placed all the towns on the Upper Mississippi at the mercy of the armed steamers of the enemy. The rebels had eighty guns of heavy calibre in the batteries on the island and the adjacent peninsula, while the iron-clad ram Manassas, and a fleet of twenty vessels—gunboats, steamers and transports, were moored under their guns, prepared to act as opportunity or emergency might require. One or more gunboats would advance to attack a shore battery from the right hand of the river—or engage the water battery on the island, approaching from the left bank. The mortars kept continually changing positions, generally hugging the shore on the left bank where the rebel batteries could not reach them, as they were covered by a promontory, or neck of land, made by the bend of the river; and their fire was kept up so unceasingly, that frequently a mortar-shell was thrown every hour during the night. At two o'clock on the morning of April 1, a most daring enterprise on the part of Colonel Roberts, of the Forty-second Illinois regiment, was crowned with success. Taking advantage of a severe storm while the elements were raging furiously, and a dreadful hurricane, accompanied with thunder and lightning, was sweeping the earth and driving the vessels from their moorings, he started with forty picked men, in six yawl boats, and with muffled oars rowed towards the upper water battery on Island No. 10, keeping close to the edge of the river bank. The boats, favored by the intense darkness, approached within a few rods of the battery, when a blinding sheet of lightning flashed across tie water, revealing the adventurous party to the enemy's sentinels. The dark object looming out from the storm alarmed the sentinels, who fired wildly and at random, fleeing with the first discharge. The Union boats made no reply. A few minutes more brought them to the slope of the earthworks, and the men at once sprung over the parapet. In less than five minutes the huge guns on the battery were securely spiked. They were all of large calibre, consisting of two 64, two 80-pounders and one splendid 9-inch pivot gun. Their desperate work accomplished, the boats returned safely to the fleet, having performed a perilous exploit with wonderful success.
CAPTUEE OP ISLAND No. 10 AND THE REBEL ARMY.
After the surrender of the forts at New Madrid, Colonel Bissell's engineer regiment was engaged for four days unspiking guns, changing batteries, and establishing new works. Then they were sent over by General Pope to ascertain whether it would be practicable to establish batteries opposite Island No. 10, and enfilade the rebel works on the Tennessee shore. They spent three days in the swamps, living in their canoes with negroes, but found the project impracticable. Colonel Bissell, however, stated that he could by hard labor get steamboats and flatboats through the woods and bayous, and by that means avoid the batteries on the island, and bring the vessels to New Madrid, whence General Pope's army could be transported to a point nearly opposite, and take all the enemy's works in the rear.
General Pope at once gave him a carte blanche, and he sent to Cairo for four steamboats, six flats, and such guns as could be spared. They sent the steamers W. B. Terry, John Trio, Gilmore, and Emma, with ^he barges, a quantity of lumber, etc., and one eight-inch columbiad and ,three thirty-two pounders. Tools were not needed, for the regiment carried everything, from the heaviest ropes and screws down to fine steel drills for unspiking guns.
The route was about twelve miles long, of which two traversed were through thick timber, and the remaining ten narrow, crooked bayous, choked up with brush and small trees. They cut their way through, the track being fifty feet wide, of which thirty feet was required for the hulls of the boats. The timber was cut four feet below the surface of the water. In one short stretch they cut seventy-five trees, not one less than two feet through. The machines were rigged from rafts and flats, and each worked by about twenty men. In the first place three large launches went ahead to cut out and cloav away the underbrush