The Next Vicksburg Offensive Begins

By this time, Major-General Ulysses S. Grant had taken overall command of the Federal forces that would be part of the next expedition against the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, Mississippi. Grant issued the following directives:

  • Major-General John A. McClernand’s corps to resume work on a partially constructed canal that would enable Federal shipping to bypass the Vicksburg guns overlooking the Mississippi River
  • Major-General William T. Sherman’s corps to start digging a canal at Duckport, northwest of Vicksburg, that would bring Federal gunboats 20 miles below Vicksburg
  • Major-General James McPherson’s corps to scout the area around Lake Providence and Bayou Macon to find any viable approaches to Vicksburg from the south

Meanwhile, Acting Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron would reconnoiter the Yazoo River above Vicksburg, clearing out Confederates and using confiscated bales of cotton as “armor” against Confederate artillery. After seizing 11 Confederate steamers carrying supplies for the garrison at Port Hudson, Porter wrote Navy Secretary Gideon Welles:

“The army is landing on the neck of land opposite Vicksburg. What they expect to do I don’t know, but presume it is a temporary arrangement. I am covering their landing and guarding the Yazoo River. The front of Vicksburg is heavily fortified, and unless we can get troops in the rear of the city I see no chance of taking it at present, though we cut off all their supplies from Texas and Louisiana.”

General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck notified Grant on the 25th, “Direct your attention particularly to the canal proposed across the point. The President attaches much importance to this.” Grant responded, “I leave for the fleet… tomorrow.” Grant traveled 400 river miles from Memphis to Young’s Point, on the Mississippi’s west bank, below Milliken’s Bend and a few miles above Vicksburg. There he took personal command of the Federal Army of the Tennessee, with its primary mission to capture Vicksburg.

Upon his arrival at Young’s Point, Grant assigned 62,000 of his 103,000-man Department of the Tennessee to the Vicksburg campaign:

  • 32,000 men in McClernand’s “Army of the Mississippi” (i.e., two corps under McClernand and Sherman)
  • 15,000 men of McPherson’s corps
  • 15,000 men of Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut’s corps (these troops would stay behind to guard the Federal supply line from Memphis)

Grant’s main effort to take Vicksburg involved the canal construction. A secondary effort began on the 29th when Lieutenant-Colonel James H. Wilson of the Federal army corps of engineers received orders to lead a Federal contingent in opening a levee on Yazoo Pass. This inland waterway connected the Mississippi to Moon Lake and Coldwater River. Opening this route could allow the Federal navy to steam around Vicksburg’s flank and cover an army landing from the north.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis was already aware that the Federals could target this area, as he wrote to Lieutenant-General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, “Has anything or can anything be done to obstruct the navigation from Yazoo Pass down?”

As the primary and secondary Federal efforts got under way, Grant met with McClernand on the 29th. McClernand resented being relegated to a command within Grant’s army; he thought that he had been promised top command over the Vicksburg expedition. Grant, knowing that McClernand had strong political connections with President Abraham Lincoln and the pro-war Democrats in the Midwest, assured him that there would be no changes in “relation to the forces here.” McClernand would command the expedition while Grant would merely supervise McClernand’s operations.

Under this arrangement, the corps of Sherman, McPherson, and Hurlbut would be part of McClernand’s command. But once Grant arrived on the scene, the officers in those corps who distrusted McClernand began bypassing him and going to Grant for instructions. In addition, Grant had directed Sherman to work on the Duckport canal without notifying McClernand. This did not sit well with McClernand, and by the 30th, he was ready for a confrontation about it with Grant.


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  • Catton, Bruce, Grant Moves South. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, Inc., 1960.
  • Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes. Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889.
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