On the eve of our departure from this place it is fit I should write, even if there is yet no way by which to send a letter. We may have to fight our way out, or, the way may now be clear. The rumors are so conflicting that it is impossible to tell anything about what exists beyond the range of our vision. This we do know however; our communications is cut off and we are short of rations, and very short of forage for the animals; several of our boats have been sunk or captured: the River is extremely low, too low to admit of the easy transportation of supplies, had we the river to ourselves and the Gunboats are of course almost useless.
As for rumors; we hear that our army in Virginia has met with a reverse; that the Rebel General Price is marching on us with 12000 fresh troops; that our General Steele has been thrashed , ic,nc, on the dark side, while on the other, we hear of victories in Lou??: of larger force on the Atchafalaya: of Gunboats below with Farragut aboard: of the Rebels below being surrounded and a sure gobble, and of an orderly or messenger, with dispatches from General Price demanding reinforcements above from those who are below us on the river, being taken today by our scouts. The general feeling however is buoyant, perhaps attributable to the successful passage of the Gunboats over the falls - which took place today all but three being down safe.
I witnessed the passage of two of them over today and must say that after all there work to save them, that the trip down was anything but a safe one. At the upper falls a dam is built out from the side to an extent that narrows the river two thirds. Through this sluice the water rushes over a rocky bottom and the channel is anything but straight so that the boats have to be "let down" by means of strong hawsers fastened upon the shore, which on account of the bend in the river at the falls is in a straight line with the rapids. Once clear of the most dangerous part and in the deeper water the hawsers are cast off and the boat "swims again" - until she reaches the lower and by far the most dangerous fall.
When the "Carondelet" and "Pittsburg" found this fall I was upon the high bank about a hundred and fifty yards below the dam. Imagine a swift rolling river of 300 yards width narrowed down to about 25 or 30 yards by a dam upon the crest of sharp rapids with a fall of six or eight feet in the space of as many rods. The "race" is kept perfect by placing sunken barges on a bar in the middle and confining the water close under the southern shore, for the length of three long barges.
I came upon the spot just as the "Mound City" got through and all eyes were bent up river for the next. Soon, around the bend came the black monster, throwing out the densest smoke and roaring under the pressure of steam that forced her along. Her model exposes nothing of her machinery or wheelhouses and all you can see of her is a beveled block with a smoke stack stuck into it. At first the roar of the torrent almost drowns that of the boat; but borne down by the current, and the force of her powerful engines she soon mingles her snorts with the roar of the element she has to battle with. As she approaches the narrow sluice she seems to hesitate and resistant as if to gather herself for the plunge, and then, while every heart, of the many thousand spectators, ceases to beat and all stand breathless, she rushes in. She glides along finely; But once did her stern swing slightly and then suddenly recover, and the next instant the bow struck the shore, and the stern swung around and the "Carondelelt" had "made the passage" A shout loud and long, greeted her as she swung out of the way for the next - The next was the Pittsburg". Less fortunate than her predecessor her pilot shut off steam before she entered the "Race" and in that narrow passage with a current of twenty miles an hour she could not be managed by her rudder. Once she swung badly but was caught by the eddy and set right again. Another instant and she had crashed into one of the barges and swung around and round until out of the current where her wheels could control her. Her passage was considered a success, however, coming on dark no more were attempted, but will run down in the morning.
No time is to be lost now that the Boats are all right and consequently orders have been issued for a march tomorrow. We leave at 8 or 9 ??
Col. Peck left tonight and bid farewell to us all. As this will probably be received by your before you hear whether I got through safe or not you must wait patiently for a notice as I will send it as soon as possible when we next halt. I do not anticipate much trouble.
Hoping this will find you all well I remain