University of Rochester Library Bulletin: The Yazoo Pass Expedition

Volume XVI • Spring 1961 • Number 3
The Yazoo Pass Expedition


(Edward W. Clark, a clerk in the office of the Rochester Superintendent of Schools, like many young men of his day, left his home at 12 Scio Street during the Civil War and joined the Navy. In August, 1862, he was appointed Paymaster's Steward of the U. S. Gunboat Eastport by Alexander Mosely Pennock, Commander and Fleet Captain of the U. S. Western Gunboat Flotilla at the U. S. Naval Depot at Cairo, Illinois. By November 9 he had been appointed Acting Ensign and was attached to the Mississippi Squadron, which was under the command of Admiral David Dixon Porter. As a preliminary to the Siege of Vicksburg, it was decided to go through the Yazoo Pass and into the Yazoo River at a point about a hundred miles above Vicksburg, destroying Confederate vessels on the way, and securing a landing for Grant's troops at Vicksburg.

Mrs. W. A. Campbell of Rochester has given us a group of letters concerning Ensign Clark, covering the period from August 7, 1862, to May 31, 1863. The following letter from him to his father, Hiram Clark, a skate maker of Rochester, describes the first movement of the Yazoo Pass Expedition.--Margaret K. Toth)


U.  S. Mississippi Squadron,

February 3d., 1863

Dear Father,

We have had some rather exciting times down here for the last few days. -- You will probably see in the newspapers, an account of one of our vessels running the blockade at Vicksburg, and as I was an eye witness of the affair, I will, for want of something else to write about, attempt to give you a description of one of the most daring feats accomplished during the war. -- It was arranged day before yesterday, by Admiral Porter, that one of our Wooden Rams (the "Queen of the West,") should get under way in the night time, run down the River and under cover of the darkness, sink or destroy the Steamer "Vicksburg" used by the Rebels to transport provisions &c. which vessel was lying directly in front of the City of Vicksburg, tied up to the wharf, and in full view of all the batteries. -- This, as you may imagine was a rather hazardas [sic] undertaking. -- It was to come off Sunday night, the first of February. --

About half past twelve Monday morning I turned out, and in company with Captain Breese, and six other officers, took a tug boat, and went down the river, landing about four miles above the City of Vicksburg, on the opposite side of the river. -- We then walked about two miles through the mud to General Shermans headquarters, where we got the countersign, and then proceeded down the levee, crossing the canal which cuts across the point, and which our soldiers are at work digging, and bringing up about a mile below Vicksburg at a deserted house, used by our pickets, for quarters. -- We arrived here about 3 o'clock in the morning, and could see the  City of Vicksburg, the Rebel stronghold, laid out before us like a map, the steamer "Vicksburg" lying at the wharf, and everything as plain as could be. -- The moon was up, and we could distingwish [sic] everything about the City. -- Here we waited, every moment expecting the Ram would come in sight, until about 6½ o'clock in the morning, when we discovered the smoke of our boat above the trees, and in about twenty minutes, she came around the point in full view. -- All this time she was being fired at by batteries placed around Vicksburg in all directions. -- She made directly for the Steamer "Vicksburg", and ran into her,

(as we could see plainly,) firing turpentine balls into her cabin and upper works. -- She then rounded to under a terrible fire, and proceeded leisurely down the river, and anchored about six miles below the City. -- About fifty batteries, I should think, opened fire on her while she performed this daring act. -- They fired on her from all directions, and the whole town was alive. -- We counted one hundred and forty seven shots, besides several volleys of musketry. -- After she had passed where we were, we all walked down to where she was anchored. --

Only six shot struck her in all, and not a soul on board of her was hurt. -- She was protected by about one hundred and twenty bales of cotton, which was piled around her boilers, magazine, and upper works, pilot house &c. -- One shot struck her as she went into the "Vicksburg," going through a bale of cotton, and lodging in another, setting the cotton on fire, and disabling one of her guns. -- A fire also broke out in the cotton below, over the boilers, but it was soon put out by the force pump, and by throwing three or four bales of cotton overboard. -- The Captain of the Ram, Captain Sutherland, says that he struck the "Vicksburg" fair, just forward of the wheel house, his bow going under her guard, which was very wide, and striking the cotton which was piled up in tiers on her deck. -- He then fired turpentine balls into her, and when he left her she was all in a blaze. -- The Rebels though succeeded in putting the fire out before it had done much damage. -- We could see that she was smoking and that she was leaking badly.

They may however save her. -- It was a most daring and gallant exploit, and was executed most beautifully. -- The "Queen" is now below the town, and if the "Vicksburg" is saved she will do the rebels no good, for we now have possession of the river below Vicksburg, and no steamers will be able to go to or from that City without being captured. -- This is the first act towards the capture of Vicksburg. -- It will annoy the rebels very much to have our Ram between them and their supplies on Red River, where they have several vessels. -- After seeing all that could be seen, we started for the boat. -- We walked about half a mile, when the Colonel of one of the Missouri Regiments, and whom one of our officers happened to be acquainted with, kindly loaned us horses, and we all arrived about 12 o'clock Monday, safe sound and hungry, on board the "Black Hawk." -- I wrote you a long letter last Wednesday, which you have doubtless  received by this time. --

I am hourly expecting a mail boat, with letters from home. --     

We had a visit, a few days ago, from General Jacob Thompson of the Rebel Army, and his staff, who came up from Vicksburg under a flag of truce, ostensibly to see Admiral Porter and General Grant, but really, I presume to see what we were doing. -- They were on the Flag ship a full hour, in consultation with the Admiral and the General Com'dy, about what though I am unable to say. -- Thompson you recollect, was Sec'y of the Interior under Buchanan, and after doing all he could for seceshdom [sic] in Washington, went south to take his command in the Rebel Army. --

But I must close. -- I am enjoying first rate health, and am having a fine time. --

Write a long letter, and dont forget to send me some papers. --

 Give my best love to all. -- Kiss Mother, Charlie Georgie & Nellie for me, and give my regards to Miss Selover. --

Your affectionate son


(In the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies in a report to Admiral Porter from Lieutenant-Commander K. R. Breese dated March 21, 1863, we find this statement: ". . . Mr. [E. W.] Clark is extremely ill on board the hospital ship." According to New York in the War of the Rebellion, compiled by Frederick Phisterer, Ensign Clark died on April 1, 1863.)


Additional resources:

  • The register for the Edward Walter Clark Papers