General Lovell the fortification of Port Hudson as a measure of precaution against the fall of our defenses north of Memphis. I was also of the opinion that Helena, on the west bank of the Mississippi, was another favorable point, especially since it might be so fortified as also to cover the Saint Francis River and prevent the possibility of a descent into the Mississippi of the enemy's forces by that stream, and I was satisfied that at or near Vicksburg another favorable position for defense would be found, whether against the enemy from the quarter of New Orleans or Memphis.
About April 20, however, an officer sent by Major-General Lovell reached my headquarters, asking my assistance to occupy and fortify Vicksburg. Meantime, having become satisfied from further investigation that the position at Helena would not answer all the ends promised at the first glance, I at once complied with General Lovell's wishes, and telegraphed to Captain D. B. Harris, then at Fort Pillow, to repair immediately to Vicksburg; at the same time I provided him with the most competent assistance available, while I called on the commanding officer, Colonel Autry, already at Vicksburg by my orders, to collect laborers, tools, and other needful supplies from Pensacola by General Bragg and from New Orleans by General Lovell.
The letter of instructions herewith (marked A) to Captain Harris will show my views as to the character of the works to be constructed, which may be briefly summed up as follows: The erection of batteries or works immediately north of the city, carefully and properly located; if practicable, a battery commanded by the first, and commanding the mouth of the Yazoo, to be obstructed by piles, rafts, or other efficient barriers. To guard against the cutting of a canal across the narrow peninsula opposite Vicksburg (actually attempted afterward, it will be remembered) by the enemy, an inclosed battery below Vicksburg, to command any points at which the canal must debouch into the river. Leaving the plans and profiles of the works to the judgment of Captain Harris, he was informed of the character of the armament disposable and which would be sent him, to wit, some ten or twelve 8 and 10-inch guns, fifteen 42-pounders, three 24-pounders, several mortars, with a dozen field rifled guns and half as many 24-pounder howitzers. The garrison to occupy these defenses was fixed at 3,000 men. Magazines were to be built within the works, also cisterns made, field bomb-proofs erected, and reverses against an enfilading fire in all directions.
Four days later (see papers herewith marked B*) by telegraph Captain Harris was further instructed to erect works below Vicksburg, putting his guns in position first and then erecting works, one main work with detached batteries preferred. Informed by Captain Harris on April 27 that the proposed battery to command the mouth of the Yazoo was not practicable, but could be favorably located at a point 18 miles from the mouth of the stream, the construction of the battery and of proper booms, rafts, and piles was at once ordered. The progress made toward the execution of the duty instructed to Captain Harris will be seen in his several reports* of the 6th and 20th of May, 1862, before which last date Brigadier General M. L. Smith had reached Vicksburg and assumed command.
It is due to Captain Harris that I should here notice the fact that much delay was caused by the want of labor, which was not freely furnished in the vicinage.