Expedition from Helena toward Grenada: Part One

After the successful battle of Corinth in October 1862 General Ulysses S. Grant began his move down the Mississippi Central Railroad in an attempt to capture Vicksburg by an overland route. Hoping to help in this endeavor General Samuel Curtis instructed Brigadier General Cadwalader C. Washburn to report to Helena and organize a movement with Brigadier General Alvin P. Hovey into Mississippi.

On November 27th the soldiers boarded ships to cross the mighty Mississippi River from Helena. This was a formable force indeed. All told there were 2,000 cavalry, 5,000 infantry and fourteen pieces of artillery. Their instructions were to strike Grenada and create a diversion to help Grant’s movement south. Although the expedition was headed by Alvin P. Hovey, the cavalry were under direct command of Washburn. The Union men would land at Delta in Coahoma County and take the Ridge road striking the Tallahatchie at Charleston. Once at Charleston, Washburn would dash ahead with his mounted troops taking Grenada and destroy as much of the railroad in the area.

Although the destination was not made public a number of reporters followed this army on their movement. One of these reporters was from the “New York Daily Herald” and he described events upon arriving at Delta on the night of November 27th.

It was almost the last boat that I was upon, and it was nearly dark when I arrived at the point of disembarkation, a whilom town called by the uncommon name of Delta, somewhere between fifteen and twenty miles below Helena, on the Mississippi shore. Why it was called may not be material; but I was informed that it was owing to a real or imaginary resemblance of that portion of the country to the Greek letter of that name, caused by the position and course of three rivers – the Mississippi, Coldwater and Yazoo. Long rows of campfires relieved the darkness of the night, and by their sides hundreds of wearied men were seeking rest from the steamer upon the bank. Two hours later I sallied forth alone and picked my way carefully through crowds of sleeping soldiers, the sound of my footsteps being the only thing that disturbed the stillness of the night. A portion of the cavalry had already gone out some miles to act as pickets and guard against surprise and alarm. Not a sound, not even the ordinary disturbances of camp, was heard during the night, and at daybreak we rose prepared for the work before us by as refreshing a rest as the first night’s bivouac on the cold damp ground usually affords. A hastily eaten breakfast was followed by an immediate move forward of the cavalry, then of the infantry and artillery, and last of all the wagons, followed by the rear guard, a detachment of the Thirty-First Iowa, a newly arrived and little disciplined regiment. The town of Delta once boasted a few houses; but the ravages of war, the constant wearing away of the banks by the rushing waters of the river, and the natural ruin and decay which time brings in its train, had reduced it to a single tenement – a long, roughly built flatboat, transferred to the land and evidently used in some period as a boarding house. Some one of the regiments, or as many as could crowded into it, occupied it as a barrack, and in the morning applied to it the fatal hand. As the first columns moved forward dark clouds of smoke issued from it, and a few moments saw its sides fall in, one mass of red hot ruin. As the rear guard left the river there remained of Delta only the ground upon which it once stood.

Map of northern Coahoma County: Civil War Official Records
Note the town of Delta is located on the Mississippi River near the lower end of Moon Lake.
It had once been county seat of Coahoma County.

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