Vicksburg: The Federal Grip Tightens

June 1, 1863 – As the month began, Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals strengthened their grip around the Confederates in Vicksburg by the day.

The Vicksburg siege quickly became a test of endurance for the Confederates, as Federal artillerists continuously bombarded them and Federal infantry gradually inched closer to their defense lines. The men stayed deep in trenches and earthworks, while sharpshooters waited to shoot anyone careless enough to expose himself above the defenses.

The Siege of Vicksburg | Image Credit: mkwe.com

The Federal shells rained on both soldiers and civilians, causing city residents to run for shelter. Many burrowed into nearby caves. With no supplies coming into Vicksburg, merchants began charging exorbitant prices for food and other necessities. People responded by burning a block of stores, which caused more damage than any destruction caused by Grant during the siege.

Because the lines of communication to Washington carried news slowly, President Abraham Lincoln was still unaware that Grant and Major General Nathaniel P. Banks had begun separate sieges against Vicksburg and Port Hudson. Lincoln wired Grant on the 2nd, “Are you in communication with Gen. Banks? Is he coming toward you, or going further off?”

Meanwhile, the siege tightened even further with the arrival of Major General John G. Parke’s Federal IX Corps from the Department of the Ohio. Federal Rear Admiral David D. Porter wrote the commander of the U.S.S. Benton, calling for a continuous bombardment of Vicksburg: “The town will soon fall now, and we can afford to expend a little more ammunition.”

On the Confederate side, General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Western Department, informed his superiors at Richmond that he had 24,100 troops in northern Mississippi to oppose Grant, as well as a cavalry command and some irregular cavalry units. Secretary of War James A. Seddon questioned Johnston’s numbers, stating that official reports showed that Johnston’s force should total around 32,000 men.

Seddon expressed regret for not being able to send more troops, explaining that manpower had been spread to all the threatened points in the South. Nevertheless, he urged Johnston to act fast, noting, “With the facilities and resources of the enemy time works against us.”

The tedium of the siege began taking its toll on the men on both sides. This included the officers and even Grant himself. On the 6th, Grant went on a drunken binge in one of his most highly publicized scandals of the war. General John Rawlins, Grant’s chief of staff who had been tasked with monitoring Grant’s sobriety, wrote him a desperate letter at 1:00 that morning:

“The great solicitude I feel for the safety of this army leads me to mention what I had hoped never again to do–the subject of your drinking… I find you where the wine bottle has just been emptied, in the company with those who drink and urge you to do likewise, and the lack of your usual promptness of decision and clearness in expressing yourself in writing tended to confirm my suspicions. You have the full control of your appetite and can let drinking alone… If my suspicions are… correctly founded, and you determine not to heed the admonitions and the prayers of this hasty note by immediately ceasing to touch a single drop of any kind of liquor, no matter by whom asked or under what circumstances, let my immediate relief from duty in this department be the result.”

Grant pledged not to drink again, and Rawlins stayed on as his chief of staff.

Meanwhile, Federal movements continued, as troops below Vicksburg burned Brierfield, the plantation owned by President Jefferson Davis and his brother. Porter’s Federal mortar flotilla resumed bombarding Vicksburg on the 9th to prevent supplies from reaching the town and to destroy residents’ morale. About 175 heavy shells were exploded over the town each day. Porter wrote Navy Secretary Gideon Welles:

“The mortars keep constantly playing on the city and works, and the gunboats throw in their shell whenever they see any work going on at the batteries, or new batteries being put up. Not a soul is to be seen moving in the city, the soldiers lying in their trenches or pits, and the inhabitants being stowed in caves or holds dug out in the cliffs. If the city is not relieved by a much superior force from the outside, Vicksburg must fall without anything more being done to it. I only wonder it has held out so long…”

A Vicksburg resident wrote about the Federal bombardment: “Twenty-four hours of each day these preachers of the Union made their touching remarks to the town. All night long their deadly hail of iron dropped through roofs and tore up the deserted and denuded streets.”

—–

References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 371-72; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18575; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 291, 293; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 304-05, 307; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 151; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 361, 363

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One thought on “Vicksburg: The Federal Grip Tightens

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