Major-General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal Army of the Tennessee was poised to cross to the east side of the Mississippi River and threaten the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg from the south. The army was led by Major-General John A. McClernand’s Thirteenth Corps, which was at Hard Times, ready to be transported five miles downriver to Grand Gulf, on the opposite shore. McClernand was joined by one division from Major-General James B. McPherson’s Seventeenth Corps, with McPherson’s other two divisions approaching.
Major-General William T. Sherman’s Fifteenth Corps stayed back at Young’s Point, ready to carry out a diversion north of Vicksburg while McClernand and McPherson crossed to the south. Grant wanted Sherman to feint an attack on the Confederate defenses and then pull back, but he worried that such a move would be misinterpreted by the northern press and public as another defeat. Grant therefore wrote Sherman on April 27:
“The effect of a heavy demonstration in that direction would be good as far as the enemy are concerned, but I am loth to order it, because it would be hard to make our own troops understand that only a demonstration was intended and our people at home would characterize it as a repulse. I therefore leave it to you whether to make such a demonstration… I shall probably move on Grand Gulf tomorrow.”
If Sherman decided to do it, Grant advised him to “publish your order beforehand, stating that a reconnaissance in force was to be made for the purpose of calling off the enemy’s attention from our movements south of Vicksburg, and not with any expectation of attacking.”
Sherman showed Grant’s message to a staff officer and said, “Does General Grant think I care what the newspapers say?” Sherman then wrote Grant, “We will make as strong a demonstration as possible. The troops will all understand the purpose and will not be hurt by the repulse. The people of the country must find out the truth as best they can; it is none of their business. You are engaged in a hazardous enterprise, and, for good reasons, wish to divert attention; that is sufficient for me, and it shall be done.”
Sherman described what he planned to do and then added, “I will use the troops that I know will trust us and not be humbugged by a repulse. The men have sense, and will trust us. As to the reports in newspapers, we must scorn them, else they will ruin us and our country. They are as much enemies to good government as the secesh, and between the two I like the secesh best, because they are a brave, open enemy and not a set of sneaking, croaking scoundrels.”
Meanwhile, the army movement across the Mississippi was delayed by miscommunications between McClernand and the captains of the naval transports assigned to ferry the troops across. Grant was in the process of writing a letter reprimanding McClernand for causing the delay when he received word that the issues had been sorted out and the men were now ready to cross. Grant therefore did not send the letter and instead devoted his full attention on the rainy 27th to getting the troops on board the transports.
Rear-Admiral David D. Porter, commanding the Federal naval squadron supporting Grant, prepared his warships to bombard the Confederate garrison at Grand Gulf. He issued orders to his captains:
“The Louisville, Carondelet, Mound City, and Pittsburg will proceed in advance, going down slowly, firing their bow guns at the guns in the first battery on the bluff, passing 100 yards from it, and 150 yards apart from each. As they pass the battery on the bluff they will fire grape, canister, and shrapnel, cut at one-half second, and percussion shell from rifled guns…”
Lieutenant-General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, directed the commander of the Grand Gulf defenses, Brigadier-General John S. Bowen, to scout for Federal cavalry if he had the resources, or try to strengthen Port Gibson farther south. The Federal cavalry raids compelled Pemberton to spread out his infantry in defense. Bowen reported that a large Federal force was across the river from him and ordered his troops to link the defenses between Grand Gulf and Port Gibson.
The next day, Bowen reported that “transports and barges loaded down with troops are landing at Hard-Times on the west bank.” Pemberton replied, “Have you force enough to hold your position? If not, give me the smallest additional number with which you can.”
- Catton, Bruce, Grant Moves South. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, Inc., 1960.
- 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).
- 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.