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The Civil War in America

The Illustrated London News, vol. 40, no. 1149, p. 607.

June 14, 1862

THE CIVIL WAR IN AMERICA.
(From our Special Artist and Correspondent.)
Mississippi Flotilla, near Fort Pillow,
75 miles above Memphis, May 14.

The last you heard of me was waiting in St. Louis for a reply from General Halleck to a request I had made for permission to join his army in front of Corinth. His answer I have now received, and it is difficult to determine whether a favourable construction may be put upon it or not; at all events, as yet it has done little to advance me on my proposed journey up the Tennessee River. All vessels communicating with the grand army of the West are in the employ of the Federal authorities, and there is no route open that I am aware of that would enable one to reach the impending scene of conflict by land. Now, General Halleck in his reply states that he can give me no facilities to travel on Government transports (there are no others), and that he has laid down a rule excluding civilians from the lines of his army, which he is indisposed to depart from in the present instance; yet he would wish me to enjoy the same privileges that are accorded to American correspondents. What these may be I am unable, from the tenor of the General's letter, to ascertain, unless Transatlantic journalists are supposed to provide for their transportation by each man paddling his own canoe. The distance from Cairo to Pittsburg Landing, which is the nearest point to Corinth, is over two hundred miles, and as I am not in a position to charter a steamer specially to carry me, or swim up the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers, I have availed myself of the courtesy of the naval authorities on the Mississippi, and am now writing to you from the gun-boat flotilla off Fort Pillow. I shall avail myself of the first opportunity that offers itself for reaching Corinth; but in the mean time I will endeavour to find subjects of interest on the river flank, such as the probable taking within the next few days of Fort Pillow, followed by the capture of Memphis.

I take it that the opening of the Mississippi is not the least important among the many movements of the Federal forces; indeed, it appears to me that Peace and Commerce, hand in hand, will float down its broad bosom in the wake of the flotilla, restoring confidence on their way by recalling the suffering disaffected to their former avocations. Already numbers of refugees from the Confederate strongholds below us have penetrated through the submerged forests in "dug outs," and have requested to be allowed to take the oath of allegiance to the old Government. Their description of the condition of Memphis would scarcely indicate that the population is over sanguine as to the result of the struggle progressing or that its confidence is great in the ultimate success of Confederacy. They say that the more quiet and law-abiding portion of the people are crushed and held in subjection by the military authorities, and that hundreds would welcome the appearance of the Federal fleet and the restoration of their former condition of order and prosperity. No doubt the destruction of property will be great on the approach of the flotilla, but this will be simply because the citizens are powerless to prevent it; and I am strengthened in this opinion from a conversation I have had with a Memphis merchant who is on the same boat as myself. Possibly, however, these fugitives may wish to represent matters to the Federal commander in a couleur de rose tint, and therefore their statements should perhaps be accepted with considerable reservation; yet I cannot conceive they would fly from their homes and seek the protection of Uncle Sam had not their convictions undergone a change, and their confidence in Jeff Davis and his power to sustain his Government been greatly diminished.

There is no disguising one fact. The South is now reduced to a general conscription, or rather, force-draughting of men, who apparently, unless compelled, betray little inclination to take up arms, or "wade waist-deep in blood in defence of the Southern rights," as the Richmond and other journals in the Confederacy have asserted every man would do. This extreme measure, sanctioned by the Confederate Congress, has hastened the flight of many of those who were wavering and created considerable dissatisfaction among those who remain. In all conscience, I have had little to thank some of the Federal authorities for lately, and cannot therefore be suspected of any blind partiality; yet it would be base and dishonest in me to conceal from your readers that Secession is in a very bad way just now, and a look into the future does not promise much improvement in its condition. The army of the Potomac, that I should have been with, is reaping its laurels by acres in front of Richmond and wiping out the disgrace of Bull Run. Norfolk has fallen; and Burnside, with his miniature army, is rapidly closing his grasp on North Carolina. Fort Pulaski has been reduced, and Charleston may at any hour be attacked by Hunter; while the mortar fleet under Porter and Farragut has achieved a most important victory in the capture of New Orleans, the metropolis of the South. The great question in the West is about to be decided in front of Corinth, and,


Page 608

should that place and Richmond fall before the armies of Halleck and M'Clellan, I see no further hope for the Southern Confederacy. The resources of the South must fail under this accumulation of disaster, and the prodigal loss of cannon and other matériel of war to which the Confederates have latterly been subjected must sooner or later deprive them of the means of carrying on the contest. I have spoken with numerous deserters, prisoners, and others, and they have, with few exceptions, expressed themselves heartily sick of the war, and state that a feeling of dissatisfaction and weariness is gradually displaying itself throughout the Southern Army. This is hardly to be marvelled at, when we take into consideration the numerous reverses the Confederates have met with and the demoralising influence they must have had upon the men. If your readers will glance back at the long list of successes that have latterly crowned the Federal arms, they will notice among the more prominent the following:—Mill Spring (where Zollicoffer was killed), Roanoke, Fort Henry, Donnelson, Pea Ridge, Newberne, Shiloh, Pulaski, Fort Macon, Island No. 10, Yorktown, Williamsburg, Norfolk, and New Orleans. We know that most of the cannon they possessed were taken from Norfolk Navy-yard, and of these they have lost a considerable number, which it will be difficult, or next to impossible, for them to replace, as they have not the means and appliances within themselves to produce them like the North. They are dependent on outside aid for smallarms, the greater portion of their men being furnished with simple shot-guns or renovated old flint locks, while powder is nearly three times as dear with them as it is with the Federals. We find that each day the North is developing her gigantic resources; all her foundries are busily engaged in the manufacture of improved artillery; iron-clad gun-boats of models that revolutionise naval architecture, grow upon her ways, and regiment after regiment of well-equipped soldiers flow in legions from her States, and the cry is still "They come !" Can the South, in the face of all this, maintain their ground? I doubt it. She is not wanting in her thousands of gallant men; but I am of opinion, as I said before, that her army is growing weary; and this fact cannot be more strongly demonstrated than by the measure to which the Confederate Government has been compelled of forced enlistments. Recollect that as yet the Federal army has been composed entirely of volunteers; and, from my own experience, I believe that, were it absolutely necessary, as many more could be obtained. Again the reinforcements that Beauregard is collecting round him at Corinth are new levies, comparatively unarmed, uninformed, and certainly undisciplined, and most of them have been impressed against their inclinations—at least such would appear to be the case if we may place reliance on deserters and others. What the effect of bringing such men into action will be I leave your readers to judge, though I thoroughly believe that when the final battle is fought on the Tennessee it will probably be the most desperate of the war. The Western men that will be brought to meet the Southern army are the finest soldiers in the rough I have ever seen, and among them are really numerous regiments that are marvellously well disciplined for the time they have been in the field. Taking all these facts into consideration, I cannot help coming to the conclusion that Secession is in a most desperate strait.

I have taken my first voyage on the Mississippi, the "father of waters," and am now living on its broad bosom with the Tennessee shore on one side and Arkansas on the other. But I am wrong in using the word "shore," for there really is none—nothing but submerged forests for miles and miles back, with here and there a clearing showing the locality of a plantation with the roofs of the planter's house and negro quarters dotting the surface of the widely-spreading waters like so many drifting Noah's arks. This is the greatest rise the Mississippi has known for years, and materially has it assisted the Federalists in their operations on the river, while to the South it has brought nothing but disaster, washing out their water batteries and swelling every little channel through many of which the Union gun-boats could not otherwise have passed. Probably I could not have seen this mighty river under circumstances more favourable to impress me with its grandeur, an ocean in volume flowing through a valley of over three thousand miles in extent.

Leaving St. Louis late in the afternoon, I found myself steaming down its rapid current in one of those floating palaces, perfect marvels of steam-boat architecture. On my left lay the flooded low-lands of Illinois, and on my right the foliated bluffs of Missouri reflecting their dark masses deep into the eddying stream, while away in the west crimsoning zephyr clouds, enpurpling distant forests and suffusing the firmament with richly glowing tints, sank the sun to rest, "setting his burning seal upon the close of day." Then rose from wood and water a gauzy veil of violet-toned mist, exaggerating distances, and making vast and indefinite, in the overspreading gloom, the dark boundaries of forest that marked the course of this giant of rivers. Away we sped, through the portals of evening into the halls of night, anon shooting a red glare from our open furnaces across the black waters, and flashing from the obscurity some island of eccentric form. Hour after hour did I sit on the forward guards, waiting for the rising of the moon, and lost in reveries suggested by the occasion. In every drifting snag that passed from gloom to gloom my imagination saw a canoe, and its branches, surmounted by tufts of foliage, gave the Indian with his headdress of feathers. The whip-poor-will, calling to his mate from the leafy glades, sounded to my excited imagination like the whoop of the red man; and, lastly, when the Queen of Night rose from her bed of cloud, I saw in the silver-fringed masses a perfect group of De Soto and his warriors gazing down on that river which they were the first to discover.

I could not better have timed my arrival at the flotilla off Fort Pillow, for the very morning after my advent, while sitting at breakfast, I was startled by a rapid cannonading all about me. Fort Pillow is round a bend in the river, some three miles below where we are lying, and beneath its guns the Confederate fleet usually lie for protection. Having been reinforced by some of their boats from New Orleans they had apparently determined on a desperate effort to disperse the Federal squadron, and as I rushed to the stern-gallery I saw four of their vessels advancing with a full head of steam on, and not firing a shot, though our boats as they slipped from their moorings to meet them were banging away with their eleven inches gloriously. The attention of the Southerners appeared to be at first directed towards a mortar-boat which lay under the bank about a mile below the rest of the Federal fleet, and their object was evidently to sink or capture it before assistance could arrive. The Cincinnati, however, succeeded in getting between them and their prey, upon which two made directly for her and the others advanced up the stream towards the Benton and Carondelet. We now for the first time perceived they were constructed to act as rams, for the two first ran into the Cincinnati at full speed, striking her as it so happened in her most vulnerable part, and receiving the contents of her entire battery as they did so. The Mound City had now reached the scene of action, and was struck in turn by one of the Confederate vessels, but the effect of her fire was so severe, as was also that of the Cincinnati, that both of the rams hauled off in an apparently disabled condition, and went twisting and turning with the current round the point, obscured in a cloud of smoke. Tugs immediately laid hold of the two Federal boats and towed them in a sinking state, from the crashing effect of the iron prows, to shoal water. In the meantime, the rams that had made for the Benton and Carondelet were met with a warm reception, one of them getting her boilers exploded, which enveloped her in a veil of steam, and the shrieks from those on board could be distinctly heard in the intervals of firing; she drifted helplessly after her consorts, while the other, in a riddled condition, struck her flag, and would have been captured had not another boat taken her in tow and carried her beneath the guns of the fort. All this time four Confederate gun-boats stood off at a respectful distance, firing at long range and ricocheting their shot all round our neighbourhood; but as soon as their crippled consorts had placed the point between them and us, thinking discretion the better pact of valour, they decided on following them. In addition to the damage done to the Cincinnati and Mound City, Captain Stembal, of the former vessel, was dangerously wounded, one of the Masters killed, and some few of the crew of both boats more or less hurt. A deserter from Fort Pillow, who has just been taken on board the Commodore's vessel, reports the loss of the Confederates in the action at one hundred and eight killed: doubtless numbers must have lost their lives from scalding on the boat whose boilers were exploded. The Secessionists apparently relied entirely upon the effect of their rams, for though these had guns mounted in embrazures of cotton-bales they made no use of them. This was probably owing to the terrific fire at close quarters which the Federals kept up, making it almost certain death to any one attempting to serve the pieces, and some of their guns, with the protecting bales, were knocked into a disordered heap. We are expecting daily to make an attack upon the fort and try issues with the vessels that, to speak the truth, so gallantly courted combat on the above occasion.

There is a lurking danger to which we are exposed, which is of that treacherous and hidden nature that it is difficult to contend successfully against it. Roving bands of guerrillas secrete themselves amid the thick growth on the rising banks (where not flooded), and every transport that passes down the river is a target for their assassin rifles. Our pilot narrowly escaped being shot the other day from the Arkansas shore. We were steaming along with the stream when suddenly "Crack, crack, crack !" "Whiz, whiz, whiz! " made every one jump to his feet. There was the puff of white smoke curling from the trees, and though we made directly for the spot we were not in time to retaliate, but caught a glimpse of the band of desperadoes as they plunged back into the woods. I send you a sketch of these Jeff Thompson heroes, who make no distinction between citizen and soldier, but all alike fall victims to their murderous toils.

F. V.
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