STEAMER PRIMA DONNA,
March 16, 1863-8 p. m.
GENERAL: On the morning of the 4th [14th] instant, the First Brigade and she headquarters of this DIVISION, together with the pioneer corps and two companies of cavalry, on six transports, left their encampment, 3 miles bellow Helena, and entered the Yazoo Pass. After three days of unremitting toil, and, for me, much painful anxiety, we have reached the Coldwater, and passed down it about 2 miles.
The order five boats were some distance in my rear when I started this morning, but I hope they will reach this point before noon to-morrow. At all events, I shall not move forward until all get through the Pass.
The Coldwater at its present stage might be called a navigable stream, but the passage from Moon Lake to it can scarcely be made by any except the smallest sized steamboats.
The Prima Donna is greatly damaged, although handled with the utmost care. A great portion of our time was occupied in clearing away obstructions which impeded her progress, as they probably would have that of the other boats; still, she kept well in advance, and will now have to wait at least half a day for them to close up.
It being the determination of Major-General Grant to send your whole army corps, and perhaps two additional DIVISIONS, over this route, I may be permitted to suggest that both expedition and economy would be consulted by employing a number, say, twenty, well-constructed flatboats, and a few small but powerful tugs, rather than the steamboats such as we are now using. A flat-boat, 120 feet long and 50 feet broad, with ordinary skill in its management, would have made in one day the distance that has occupied us three. The first cost of such a flat-boat would scarcely exceed that for repairing the damage to one of the steamboats after making the passage. I commend this to your serious consideration, as I believe it a physical impossibility to transport and subsist a large army by this route with steamboats such as we are now using, and it is not likely that a sufficient number of a suitable can be found on the Western waters.
The steamer Carl came up to-night just after we had tied up. She brought no official dispatches for me, but the passengers inform me that General Ross is about 2 miles above Greenwood, at a point which is fortified by the enemy.
Our gunboats engaged the rebel batteries last Friday, but were compelled to retire after sustaining some injury.
I shall hurry forward with this brigade as fast as possible, and hope before you overtake me to effect a lodgment at some good position on the Yazoo.
The rest of my DIVISION will follow me by brigades as fast as transportation is provided
I very much fear that the boats which have been down the Pass will not be in a condition to transport other troops without extensive repairs. I predicate this upon the damage the Prima Donna has already received.
I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
I. F. QUINBY,
Commanding SEVENTEENTH Army Corps.