Battle of Snyder’s Bluff
To insure that troops were not withdrawn to Grand Gulf to assist Confederates there, a combined Union army-navy force feigned an attack on Snyder’s Bluff, Mississippi. After noon, on April 29th, Lt. Cdr. K. Randolph Breese, with his eight gunboats and ten transports carrying Maj. Gen. Francis Blair’s division, inched up the Yazoo River to the mouth of Chickasaw Bayou where they spent the night. At 9:00 am, the next morning, the force, minus one gunboat, continued upriver to Drumgould’s Bluff and engaged the enemy batteries. During the fighting, Choctaw suffered more than fifty hits, but no casualties occurred. Around 6:00 pm, the troops disembarked and marched along Blake’s Levee toward the guns. As they neared Drumgould’s Bluff, a battery opened on them, creating havoc and casualties. The Union advance halted and, after dark, the men reembarked on the transports. The next morning, transports disembarked other troops. The swampy terrain and enemy heavy artillery fire forced them to retire. The gunboats opened fire again, about 3:00 pm on the 1st, causing some damage. Later, the boats’ fire slackened and stopped altogether after dark. Sherman had received orders to land his troops at Milliken’s Bend, so the gunboats returned to their anchorages at the mouth of the Yazoo. (NPS summary)
In conjunction with the attack on Grand Gulf MG Grant envisioned a diversionary attack north of Vicksburg in the area of previous bloody repulses. The intent of this operation was to prevent Pemberton from rushing reinforcements into the area of his projected landings. Grant was keenly aware of the criticism that was leveled against him for early failures in the campaign and did not want to expose himself or his subordinate commanders to unnecessary attacks by an ill informed press. Grant believed that a diversionary attack that was pulled back after accomplishing its designed mission would be misinterpreted as another defeat. In a concession to the possible public opinion reaction to such a “failure” he did not order Sherman to conduct such an operation. Instead he “suggested” that a deception in this area would prove useful to the overall scheme of maneuver. Grant wrote to Sherman on the 27th;
“If you think it advisable, you may make a reconnaissance of Hayne’s Bluff… The effect of a heavy demonstration in that direction would be good …. But I am loathe to order it, because it would be so hard to make our own troops understand that only a demonstration was intended, and our people at home would characterize it as a repulse….I therefore leave it you whether to make such a demonstration.”
Grant also advised his subordinate to make sure written orders were in place defining any such move as a diversion, so evidence to that affect would exist prior to the operation. Sherman cared little about the opinion of the press and took the “suggestion” as an order. He immediately formulated a plan to conduct the demonstration in support of Grant’s Grand Gulf move. Writing to Grant on the 28th he justified his decision;
“You are engaged in a hazardous enterprise and for good reasons wish to divert attention; that is sufficient to me and it will be done.”
As far as public outcry was concerned Sherman scoffed at the idea. He wrote “the people must find the truth as they best can; it is none of their business”.
While two of his divisions moved toward a rendezvous with the rest of the Army at Perkin’s Plantation Sherman had ten regiments of Blair’s division boarded on a fleet of ten transports. They were escorted up the Yazoo River by Tyler, Choctaw, DeKalb, Signal, Romeo, Linden, Petrel, and Black Hawk. The gunboats engaged the Confederate batteries while the troops disembarked at the site of the bloody fiasco of 29 December 1862. As the troops marched out and made disposition as for attack, the boats maintained a steady fire. Their fire was returned with great effectiveness. The Choctaw was struck 53 times and the Tyler was struck in the starboard and was forced to retire for repairs. She patched the hole in her side and took up station down river to prevent the placement of additional batteries. As the DeKalb was retiring from the action she was fired on by musketry coming from some shore line buildings. In the biggest action involving ground forces during the entire diversion a 25 man boarding party, led by Acting Master C. S. Kendrick, was put ashore. They battled members of 3rd Louisiana Infantry for possession of the buildings. The Navy men proved as adept with small arms as they were with their big guns. The encounter left 4 Confederates dead, one major and three privates, and another officer (lieutenant) prisoner. The remainder of the force was sent fleeing through the swamp.
The performance was repeated the next day and had an immediate impact on the Confederate commander in Vicksburg. BG Carter L. Stevenson responded to reports by reversing a column intended for Bowen at Grand Gulf. Stevenson wired Pemberton in Jackson that;
“The gunboats have been engaging Synder’s (Haynes Bluff) since 9 o’clock. Have sent reinforcements to that point.”
The success of the diversion was tempered by Porter, who felt he had been deceived by the nature of the mission. His understanding of the proposed action did not include engagement of the batteries. He chastised Lieutenant Commander K. R. Breese, commander of the operation, for placing the boats in danger. In a message to Breese he stated the mission;
“Which you call a feint, but which I consider an unnecessary exposure of the vessels. The results were unfavorable to us and the affair will be considered a defeat.”
He tempered his criticism in a message about the “affair” to Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, stating that the vessels had been put under fire unnecessarily but since there were few casualties “it mattered but little.” Naval second guessing aside the operation had been an unquestioned success.