New York Times
21 Dec. 1862
THE WAR IN THE SOUTHWEST.
The Expedition of Gen. Hovey into Mississippi.
From Our Special Correspondent.
MOUTH OF THE COLDWATER, MISSISSIPPI, Wednesday, Dec. 3, 1862.
The place from which I date this, might, instead of the above, be termed, "In the deepest mudhole, in the midst of the wildest swamp in the most uncivilised portion of 'Mississippi"--it has all these characteristics and many others equally undesirable. The particular point at which this command is encamped is shown on a map at the spot where the Coldwater River debouches into the Tallahatchee, some forty miles cast, or nearly so, from the Mississippi River.
Some eight days ago Gen. HOVEY received orders to leave Helena with a force of -- cavalry, infantry and artillery -- with a view of making a demonstration toward PRICE's left, while Gen. SHERMAN, from Memphis, and Gen. GRANT, from La Grange, advanced upon his front. This was the programme, but what has been done by the other two columns, I do not know, as we are as completely isolated from the world here as if we were in the centre of the Great Desert -- probably, however, ere this, you have received the information that GRANT has moved upon PRICE's works with the success that usually attends that gentleman's efforts.
Embarking on steamers at Helena one sunny morning, we found ourselves the same evening 20 miles below, at a point on the Mississippi shore called Delta -- a point so named from a formation made by the Yazoo and Coldwater rivers. The desolate bank of the river was soon after aglow with camp fires, and an hour later a clear moon looked down upon the whole force, wrapped in blankets and slumber.
At daylight the next morning a heavy cavalry force pushed forward under Gen. WASHBURNE, and soon after infantry and artillery and wagons were creeping along slowly in their rear. As we left, the only residence at Delta -- an immene flat-boat -- was fired, and from that time until we reached the Coldwater, the flames that licked up the unpretending flat-boat, were reflected along every mile of our march. A half mile from the river we entered a swamp, from which we only emerged at rare intervals, and in which we are still lingering. After the column was well under way I rode ahead, and some ten miles from the river came to a rise of ground upon which was a cotton plantation, owned by a Dr. HULL. A fine residence, surrounded by negro quarters, stood in a pleasant grove of trees, while the cleared land ran straight back for a distance of two miles, by a half mile or so in width. So remote from the world, it seemed the very birth place of the genius of quietness; although from the appearance of the place, when I reached it, it seemed as if the presiding spirit of the place had been ousted by desolation.
A woolly-head or two peered timidly around the corners of the log buildings; a large, stolid negress sat upon the door-step of her shanty, and with her head leaning upon her hands, gazed without interest as I rode up. The yard in front of the house was strewn with broken furniture, fragments of clothing, bedding and small piles of cotton. Inside the house I found no one. [???] feet had thronged each room, while shattered trunks and bureaus with their contents scattered over the floor told the objects of the visit. In the parlor were several fine paintings and crayons, evidently the work of some school girl of more than ordinary genius; an elegantly finished piano stood at one side of this room, and upon it lay a book of bound music stamped with the owner's name. The name upon the music book and that upon the crayons was the same -- MARY T --.
"Who is MARY T ------?" I inquired of the negress.
"Dat was missus' name 'fore she married Mars' HULL," was the reply.
The first night we camped at about 10 o'clock, twenty miles from Delta. Our camping ground was exactly upon the road, with thick, impenetrable canebrakes filling the gloomy recesses of the cypress swamp on both sides. Dipping water from the mud-holes just stirred up by the wheels of the heavy artillery and baggage wagons, we made some coffee, drank it with the accompaniment of hard crackers, posted a few pickets in front and rear, and then sought such sleep as the ground, tired nature and freezing cold weather would admit.
There is a silence about these swamps that is mournful. It does not seem like repose, but is rather like the stillness that reigns over a graveyard. Night here has no voices; day is as tongueless as a vault. No squirrel chatters from some high limb; no birds rival with each other in song; even the tall green canes do not break the stillness with a rustle, but stand as void of motion and sound as the brown cypresses that surround them.
The next morning, more coffee and mud for liquids, and more "hard tack" for solids, and then the column moved on. About noon we struck the bank of the Coldwater, thirty miles from the Mississippi River, at a point occupied, or formerly so, as a plantation, by a man named HILL. Here, exactly upon the bank of the river, is a fine brick residence, and close by it a wooden vault, surmounted with a cross, in which sleeps the late owner of the three thousand acres, by which we had been passing for miles.
I rode in the yard, and accosted a smart-looking, ringletted negro.
"Where's your master?"
"Dar he is," said he, pointing to the wooden vault.
"Where's your mistress?"
"Ain't got none, 'cept Miss MATTIE; Ole Mars' never had any wife."
"Who is Miss MATTIE?"
"Ole Mars' daughter. She's gwine down to her gardeen's, an' dais nobody at home but niggers."
Old HILL, when a boy, was apprenticed to a tanner, served out his time, went into business, worked and saved and speculated until he found himself the owner of a fine residence and plantation, two hundred negroes, and more gold and silver than he knew what to do with. He was never married, but had an illegitimate child whom he educated, and who, at his death, became sole heir to all his wealth. Two weeks ago he fell a victim to a prevalent Southern complaint -- whisky -- died, and was gathered to his mother dust.
The house had been turned inside out. A fine bureau was broken to pieces, $1,200 which it contained abstracted, and all the private papers of the late owner scattered over the yard. While there the yard was filled with soldiers, who amused themselves by pitching the bedding out of the window, smashing in windows with the butts of their muskets, and driving their bayonets into the carved panels of a costly canopied bedstead that occupied the best room of the house.
When we left there was not a thing that grunted, squeaked or bellowed left alive on the plantation. Two miles further down I came to a log house where the "Gardeen" lived, and I dismounted to pay my respects to "Miss MATTIE." She was chatty, young and tolerably good-looking, took her losses with a tolerably good grace, gave little alternations of sunshine and showers as the mood ruled her, and avowed her determination never to marry anything but a Secessionist.
That night we encamped here, and since that time have amused ourselves principally by devising ways and means to get dry as fast as we get wet; which, considering the fact that it rains heavily twelve hours out of every fourteen, is an operation of considerable magnitude.
The cavalry force, under Gen. WASHBURNE, pushed forward, and the second day after leaving struck the Mississippi Central Railroad at a point five miles above Grenada. Here they found the enemy in force and fortified, but before leaving they cut the track in three places, burnt two bridges, and then fell back upon the railroad leading from Memphis to Grenada, at a point called Hardee's Station, where they so effectually disabled the track, that it will require six weeks to repair it. They then fell back within twelve miles of this place, and yesterday proceeded to Panola on the same road, where they burnt several hundred yards of bridging and trestle work, and then fell back in safety to their former position.
In all this march -- one unexampled in length for this same time -- they only had one skirmish with the rebels. This occurred at the crossing of a tributary of the Tallahatchie called Loch-na-fra-ta-fa, where a small squad of rebels attempted to dispute their passage. A few shots from a light howitzer battery sent the chivalry into the canebrakes with a loss to them of a few prisoners, and without any to us.
Dispatches -- the first sent -- are about to leave for Helena, and I must close. Will write more at length of operations as soon as possible.