CAMP BEFORE VICKSBURG, March 30, 1863.
I got back from an excursion up to Deer Creek in connection with Admiral Porter the day before yesterday, and being on General Grant's boat which lies about four miles above me I wrote you a hasty note saying we were all well. I don't know what the people and press will make of this move, but I explain it to you. Our difficulty at Vicksburg has been to get a foothold on hard ground on that side of the Mississippi. We have endeavored to get east of the Yazoo without success by every possible channel, and Admiral Porter and General Grant thought they had discovered a new route up Yazoo and Steele's Bayou to Black Fork across into Deer Creek, up Deer Creek to Rolling Fork and then into Sunflower and Yazoo. I don't know if your maps show this route, but there is a channel during high water. Grant accompanied the Admiral up a short distance returned and ordered me to follow, to reconnoitre, to ascertain if the route was feasible to move my Corps. I got one of the Admiral's little tugs and with only two aids, Col. Johnson and Lt. Pitzman and my orderly Boyer, pushed up and overtook the Admiral in Black Bayou. I took no troops with me, but had ordered the 8th Missouri and some pioneers to go up in a steamboat to clear out trees and overhanging branches. I saw very soon that the channel was too narrow and obstructed by trees to be passable without a vast amount of clearing, and soon reported that it would not do, but the Admiral pushed up Deer Creek with his iron-clads. He had not proceeded twenty miles before the channel became so obstructed that he doubted his ability to proceed, and the enemy had detected the move and had begun to fell trees across the channel. At last he called on me for help; and having brought up three small regiments I sent them forward and worked like a beaver to get up more. I succeeded in getting up the better part of two brigades and afoot started for the fleet. I got there not a minute too soon. The enemy were swarming about the fleet, had chopped down trees in front and were in the act of doing the same below so as to block them in. There were five iron-clads and three little tenders or tugs. Their heavy guns could not contend with the rifle men who behind trees and logs picked off every man who showed his head. I do believe if I had not labored as I did, and moved as rapidly, the enemy would have got the boats and the tables would have been turned on us here at Vicksburg; but the Admiral had actually resolved to blow them all up. The mud and rain were terrific, but I marched afoot and the men were tickled to see me there; and such cheers as the gun-boats put up when they saw General Sherman! Of course we soon cleared the ground, and not a shot was fired at the gun-boats after I got there. For four days and nights they were beset by a crowd of guerrillas and soldiers and could not sleep or rest; it was the lion in a net.
The admiral was in the act of backing out when I got to him, and his judgment was that the route was impracticable. Of course, we gradually withdrew slowly and leisurely, and the enemy followed us at a distance. No place on earth is favored by nature with natural defense such as Vicksburg, and I do believe the whole thing will fail and we will have to go back to the original plan, viz: the main army to move by land from Memphis, Oxford, Grenada to Yazoo City and Vicksburg, whilst a smaller force hem in the river and attack in flank contemporaneous with the arrival of the main army. This was the original plan and the only one certain of success. Grant may resolve to attack Haines' Bluff, but we cannot bring our whole force to bear there. The river does not admit of it. . . .
SOURCES: M. A. DeWolfe Howe, Editor, Home Letters of General Sherman, p. 244-6. A full copy of this letter can be found in the William T Sherman Family papers (SHR), University of Notre Dame Archives (UNDA), Notre Dame, IN 46556, Folder CSHR 2/02.