HEADQUARTERS Fifteenth ARMY CORPS, Camp before Vicksburg, March 31, 1863.
Major General FRED. STEELE,
Commanding First DIVISION:
GENERAL: In compliance with instructions verbally communicated to me to-day by General Grant, I have ordered your DIVISION,* at least the effective part of it, to embark to-morrow on steamboats for an expedition to Deer Creek.
You will proceed in order to Greenville, on the east bank of the Mississippi, and land your force. Reconnoiter across to Deer Creek by such route as you find best, and, when assured you can reach the plantations bordering on Deer Creek, march your DIVISION over, leaving a guard for your boats. Take with you such rations and parts of rations as can be carried or transported on pack mules.
When you have reached Deer Creek, and established your road across from the boats and a kind of depot, ascertain if any of Wirt Adams' cavalry is above you, viz, to the north. If so, try and capture them and their horses.
If no enemy be to your north, move down Deer Creek two or three days' easy marches, of course clearing the country as you go of guerrillas and Confederate soldiers. If planters remain at home and behave themselves, molest them as little as possible, but if the planters abandon their plantations you may infer they are hostile, and can take their cattle, hogs, corn, or anything you need. Cotton which is clearly private property should not be molested, but cotton marked "C. S. A. " should be brought away or burned. Also all provisions which are needed by us or might be used by the army in Vicksburg, unless needed by the peaceful inhabitants, should be brought away, used by your men, or destroyed.
Greenville has been a favorite point from which to assail our passing boats, and one object of your expedition is to let the planters and inhabitants on Deer Creek see and feel that they will be held accountable for the acts of guerrillas and Confederate soldiers who sojourn in their country for the purpose of firing on our boats passing Greenville and the section of the Mississippi thereabouts.
If the stage of water thereabouts be such as to prevent your crossing over to Deer Creek, then stop and pay Lake Washington a visit, and see if a practicable road leads from there. Let all the people understand that we claim the unmolested navigation of the Mississippi River, and will have it, if all the country within reach has to be laid waste; but that if our boats pass free and unmolested, we will spare them the ravages of war as much as we can consistent with our own interests.
I inclose you a map. + If you can reach the mouth of Rolling Fork, you will be at the point where Admiral Porter's fleet turned back, where I know the country is abundantly supplied, and whence the enemy known to draw much of his corn and meat.
Please report as often as possible, and in case you receive no orders from General Grant or myself, return to camp at the end of two weeks.
I am, with respect, your obedient servant,
W. T. SHERMAN.
*By Special Orders, Numbers 77, of same date, Colonel Abbott's regiment being left on picket.