Major-General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Federal Army of the Tennessee, planned to bypass the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg by moving his troops down the west bank of the Mississippi River so that they could threaten the city from below. He would be supported by Rear-Admiral David D. Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron of warships and transports. As Grant explained to General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck on April 4:
“My expectation is for a portion of the naval fleet to run the batteries of Vicksburg, whilst the army moves through by this new route (to New Carthage). Once there, I will move either to Warrenton or Grand Gulf; most probably the latter. From either of these points there are good roads to Vicksburg, and from Grand Gulf there is a good road to Jackson and the Black River Bridge without crossing the Black River.”
Grant assembled his troops at Milliken’s Bend and prepared to move them southward to New Carthage. To get there, the Federals would have to pass through the town of Richmond. The Federals needed Richmond to keep the road open, while the Confederates needed it to get supplies across the river to Vicksburg. Major-General John A. McClernand’s Thirteenth Corps, led by Brigadier-General Peter J. Osterhaus’s division, secured the town and the road on the 4th, with help from slaves escaping from nearby plantations.
The Federals moved through Holmes’s Plantation, and then through Smith’s Plantation, sweeping what little Confederate resistance there was away. But the road ahead was flooded, with New Carthage being almost completely underwater. The troops spent the next few days collecting as many boats as they could to ferry themselves through to dry land.
Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana arrived at Grant’s headquarters on the 6th. He announced that he had been made a special commissioner of the War Department sent to investigate paymaster affairs. But the true purpose of Dana’s visit was to investigate rumors of Grant’s drunkenness and to determine whether he was capable of leading this upcoming campaign. Members of Grant’s staff quickly figured out why Dana was there and resented it, but Grant insisted that he be treated as a welcomed guest.
Grant held a meeting on the 8th with Major-Generals William T. Sherman (commanding the Fifteenth Corps), Francis P. Blair, Jr. (commanding a division in Sherman’s corps), James B. McPherson (commanding the Seventeenth Corps) and Dana. Sherman wanted Grant to take the army back to Memphis and retry using the overland route to Vicksburg that had been tried in December. Grant refused to make any move that could be construed as a retreat, especially since anti-war fervor was on the rise in the North and it was becoming apparent that McClernand was pushing for Grant’s removal as commander.
McClernand was an influential Illinois politician with connections that went all the way up to President Abraham Lincoln. McClernand had urged the administration to give him an independent command separate from Grant’s since last year. According to Sherman, the men feared that McClernand “was still intriguing against General Grant, in hopes to regain the command of the whole expedition, and that others were raising a clamor against General Grant in the newspapers of the North.”
McClernand was indeed using his political connections to get Grant ousted. He wrote Lincoln that “on the 13th of March, 1863, Genl. Grant I am informed was gloriously drunk and in bed sick all next day. If you (are) averse to drunken Genl’s I can furnish the name of officers of high standing to substantiate the above.” Next, McClernand wrote Illinois Governor Richard Yates, calling the situation “intolerable” because Grant did “nothing decisive,” while “time is passing and the Republic is dying of inertia. Can’t you prevail upon the President to send some competent commander? For our country’s sake do.”
Grant did not directly address the situation at this time. He ordered McClernand to stay put at New Carthage and rejected the urgings of both Porter and Sherman to return to Memphis and start over. However, the administration continued pushing Grant to provide some support for Major-General Nathaniel P. Banks’s advance on Port Hudson, Louisiana. They envisioned Grant joining forces with Banks to take the fort, and then move together upriver to take Vicksburg.
Grant responded by informing Halleck on the 11th: “Grand Gulf is the point at which I expect to strike, and send an army corps to Port Hudson to co-operate with General Banks.” He then directed McClernand, who was sending the rest of his corps to New Carthage, to “get possession of Grand Gulf at the earliest practicable moment… From there you can operate on the rear of Port Hudson, in conjunction with Banks from Baton Rouge.”
Porter would support McClernand by sending a naval fleet past Vicksburg carrying rations and supplies for the troops. Porter wrote Navy Secretary Gideon Welles on the 12th that Grant “proposes to embark his army at (New) Carthage, seize Grand Gulf under fire of the gunboats, and make it the base of his operations… The squadron will pass the batteries and engage them while the transports go by in the smoke, passing down, of course, at night…” Running short on manpower, Porter reported that he employed 600 local contrabands, and Grant furnished 800 troops.
By the 15th, Grant had 45,000 troops at Milliken’s Bend, in addition to McClernand’s corps at New Carthage. Grant directed McPherson to begin moving his troops, many of whom were just returning from the failed Yazoo Pass expedition, down to join McClernand. Sherman’s corps would start getting into position to feint against Haynes’s Bluff, north of Vicksburg.
Lieutenant-General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, was so confused by Grant’s movements that he thought Grant was abandoning the Vicksburg operation. Pemberton reported to General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Western Department, that “most of Grant’s forces were being withdrawn to Memphis.”
Pemberton had been warned by his superiors that Major-General William S. Rosecrans’s Federal army in Middle Tennessee was being reinforced. Confident that Vicksburg was now safe, Pemberton notified Johnston, “Will forward troops to you as fast as transportation can be furnished–about 8000 men. Am satisfied Rosecrans will be reinforced from Grant’s army.” He would soon need those men back.
- Ballard, Michael B., Vicksburg: The Campaign That Opened the Mississippi. The University of North Carolina Press, 2004.
- Catton, Bruce, Grant Moves South. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, Inc., 1960.
- Catton, Bruce and Long, E.B. (ed.), Never Call Retreat: Centennial History of the Civil War Book 3. New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc. (Kindle Edition), 1965.
- Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian. New York: Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (Kindle Edition), 2011.
- Grant, Ulysses S., Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant. New York: Da Capo Press, 1982 (original 1885, republication of 1952 edition).
- Johnston, Joseph E., Narrative of Military Operations During the Civil War. Sharpe Books, Kindle Edition, 2014.
- Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983.
- McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press (Kindle Edition), 1988.
- Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (facsimile of the 1866 edition). New York: Fairfax Press, 1990.
- Woodworth, Steven E., Nothing but Victory: The Army of the Tennessee, 1861-1865. New York: Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition, 2005.