Category Archives: Mississippi

Vicksburg: Federal Operations

June 18, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant continued his relentless siege, and he also finally removed one of his troublesome commanders.

Maj Gen J.A. McClernand | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The tedium of the ongoing siege gave Grant time to address a longstanding problem with one of his commanders, Major General John A. McClernand of XIII Corps. McClernand was a former politician who had gained his position through political connections rather than military experience. Grant had long sought to remove McClernand but refrained due to his popularity in the North and his ability to get Democratic support for the war.

In mid-June, Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr., commanding a division in Major General William T. Sherman’s XV Corps, discovered an article in the Memphis Evening Bulletin that included a congratulatory order issued by McClernand to his men for their valiant efforts in the Second Battle of Vicksburg on May 22. The order itself was not improper, but McClernand then went further:

“How and why the general assault failed, it would be useless now to explain. The Thirteenth army corps, acknowledging the good intentions of all, would scorn indulgence in weak regrets and idle criminations. According justice to all, it would only defend itself. If while the enemy was massing to crush it, assistance was asked for a diversion at other points or by reinforcement, it only asked what, in one case, Maj. Gen. Grant had specifically and peremptorily ordered, namely, simultaneous and persistent attacks all along our lines, until the enemy’s outer works should be carried: and what in the other by massing a strong force in time upon a weakened point, would have probably insured success.”

This implied that the defeat had been caused by Grant and his other two corps commanders failing to do enough to support McClernand’s men. McClernand compounded his poor judgment by sending this order to newspapers politically friendly to him, without first sending it through the commanding officer per army regulations. Thus, neither Grant nor anyone else outside McClernand’s corps knew about the order until Blair found it two weeks later.

Sherman sent the article to Grant, calling it an outrage to the rest of the army and “an effusion of vain-glory and hypocrisy.” In fact, it was so offensive that Sherman, who had served under McClernand in the Fort Hindman campaign, initially believed that he had neither written it, “Nor can I believe General McClernand ever published such an order officially to his corps. I know too well that the brave and intelligent soldiers and officers who compose that corps will not be humbugged by such stuff.”

Sherman added that the order, if real, was not intended for the troops, but rather to convince the voters back home that McClernand was “the sagacious leader and bold hero he so complacently paints himself.” Major General James B. McPherson, commanding XVII Corps, called the order an effort “to impress the public mind with the magnificent strategy, superior tactics and brilliant deeds” of McClernand.

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

Grant was reminded of the War Department directive “which actually forbids the publication of all official letters and reports, and requires the name of the writer to be laid before the President of the United States for dismissal.” He sent the newspaper article to McClernand with a message:

“Inclosed I send you what purports to be your congratulatory address to the Thirteenth Army Corps. I would respectfully ask if it is a true copy. If it is not a correct copy, furnish me one by bearer, as required both by regulations and existing orders of the Department.”

McClernand replied, “The newspaper slip is a correct copy of my congratulatory order, No 72. I am prepared to maintain its statements. I regret that my adjutant did not send you a copy promptly, as he ought, and I thought he had.” Noting that all of McClernand’s orders had gone through the proper channels without incident except this one, Grant immediately issued a directive:

“Major General John A. McClernand is hereby relieved of command of the Thirteenth Army Corps. He will proceed to any point he may select in the state of Illinois and report by letter to Headquarters of the Army for orders.”

Grant assigned Lieutenant Colonel James H. Wilson, the army’s chief engineer who happened to despise McClernand, to deliver the order. Wilson arrived at McClernand’s headquarters at 3 a.m. and woke the general. When he finally read the message, McClernand, knowing that Wilson hated him, invoked a pun: “Well, sir, I am relieved. By God, sir, we are both relieved!”

McClernand quickly wrote a reply: “Having been appointed by the President to command of that corps, under a definite act of Congress, I might justly challenge your authority in the premises, but forbear to do so at present.” Grant did not acknowledge this veiled threat, but he did address McClernand’s official report on the Battle of Vicksburg, which he submitted just before being relieved:

“This report contains so many inaccuracies that to correct it, to make it a fair report to be handed down as historical, would require the rewriting of most of it. It is pretentious and egotistical, as is sufficiently shown by my own and all other reports accompanying.”

Grant replaced McClernand with Major General E.O.C. Ord, a Regular army officer. McClernand spent the rest of the year lobbying General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and President Abraham Lincoln for reinstatement. Lincoln finally returned him to command of XIII Corps in early 1864, after the corps had been transferred to the Department of the Gulf.

Meanwhile, the siege inexorably continued. Federals spent two days digging a tunnel under a Confederate redan north of the road to Jackson. The tunnel was 45 feet long and included three 15-foot passageways. Gunpowder was packed at the end of each passageway, totaling 2,200 pounds, with the intent to blow a hole in the Confederate defenses. The gunpowder was detonated on the 25th. The explosion created a large crater in the ground, but the Confederates had expected the blast and pulled back. They easily repelled the ensuing Federal charge.

Federal artillery on land and on the Mississippi continued bombarding Vicksburg around the clock, and Federal troops inched closer to the Confederate defenses each day. Vicksburg residents and Confederate troops faced starvation as the Federals cut all supply lines and guarded all approaches to and from the city. Grant wrote Sherman about rumors from the Confederate lines:

“Strong faith is expressed by some in (General Joseph E.) Johnston’s coming to their relief. (They) cannot believe they have been so wicked as for Providence to allow the loss of their stronghold of Vicksburg. Their principal faith seems to be in Providence and Joe Johnston.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 295; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 414, 421-22, 424; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 313, 316; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 136-37, 147-49; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 368; Simon, John Y., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 456-57

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Vicksburg: Confederate Hardships Increase

June 13, 1863 – The soldiers and civilians besieged in Vicksburg endured severe hardships as the Confederate high command argued over whether to hold or abandon the city.

By mid-June, over 200 Federal guns bombarded the people of Vicksburg around the clock from land, while gunboats from Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron shelled them from the water. A Confederate major described the siege:

“One day is like another in a besieged city–all you can hear is the rattle of the Enemy’s guns, with the sharp crack of the rifles of their sharp-shooters going from early dawn to dark and then at night the roaring of the terrible mortars is kept up sometimes all this time.”

Only a few yards separated the opposing armies at some points on the siege line, and sharpshooters killed many men who made the mistake of stretching too far above their fortifications. Since the Federals had cut all supply lines going into Vicksburg, the city residents soon faced a shortage of food and other essentials. Many resorted to eating horses, mules, household pets, and even rats as they sought refuge from the shelling in hillside caves. Some people moved in among the troops in the strongly protected trenches.

Hillside caves at Vicksburg | Image Credit: betweenthegateposts.blogspot.com

Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate army, received a message from his superior, General Joseph E. Johnston, on the 13th. The message was dated May 29, having been delayed by cut telegraph wires. Johnston wrote:

“I am too weak to save Vicksburg. All that we can attempt is, to save you and your garrison. To do this, exact co-operation is indispensable. By fighting the enemy simultaneously at the same point of his line, you may be extricated. It will be impossible to extricate you unless you co-operate and we make mutually supporting movements. Communicate your plans and suggestions, if possible.”

By the time Pemberton received this message, he was trapped in Vicksburg and unable to coordinate anything with Johnston. He responded two days later in the hope that Johnston could make a move without mutual support:

“The enemy has placed several heavy guns in position against our works, and is approaching them very nearly by sap. His fire is almost continuous. Our men have no relief; are becoming much fatigued, but are still in pretty good spirits. I think your movement should be made as soon as possible. The enemy is receiving reinforcements. We are living on greatly reduced rations, but I think sufficient for 20 days yet.”

Meanwhile, President Jefferson Davis asked General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee at Tullahoma, if he could either take the offensive or send reinforcements to Vicksburg. Also, Secretary of War James A. Seddon sent an urgent request for Johnston to do all he could to save both Pemberton and Vicksburg.

Johnston replied to Seddon, “The odds against me are much greater than those you express. I consider saving Vicksburg hopeless.” This shocked the high command at Richmond and reminded them of Johnston’s similar pronouncement against Richmond in the spring of 1862. Seddon replied the next day, trying to impress upon Johnston that Vicksburg was too important not to fight for, with or without Pemberton:

“Your telegram grieves and alarms me. Vicksburg must not be lost without a desperate struggle. The interest and honor of the Confederacy forbid it. I rely on you still to avert the loss. If better resources do not offer, you must hazard attack. It may be made in concert with the garrison, if practicable, but otherwise without; by day or night, as you think best.”

Johnston countered that Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals besieging Vicksburg had received a number of reinforcements “at least equal to my whole force.” Pemberton again urged Johnston to do something to try breaking the siege, writing on the 19th:

“I hope you will advance with the least possible delay. My men have been 34 days and nights in the trenches, without relief, and the enemy within conversation distance. We are living on very reduced rations, and, as you know, are entirely isolated. What aid am I to expect from you?”

On the 20th, Seddon again urged Johnston “to follow the most desperate course the occasion may demand. Rely upon it, the eyes and hopes of the whole Confederacy are upon you, with the full confidence that you will act, and with the sentiment that it were better to fail nobly daring than, through prudence even, to be inactive… I rely on you for all possible to save Vicksburg.” Seddon’s plea came despite Johnston’s previous assertions that trying to save Vicksburg would mean sure destruction and leave both Mississippi and Alabama open to Federal conquest.

Three days later, Pemberton received a message from Johnston via courier:

“Scouts report the enemy fortifying toward us and the roads blocked. If I can do nothing to relieve you, rather than surrender the garrison, endeavor to cross the river at the last moment if you and General (Richard) Taylor (in western Louisiana) communicate.”

But moving across the river would be impossible due to the patrolling Federal ironclads. Moreover, Taylor’s Confederates were moving down the Teche to threaten New Orleans, too far to help Pemberton. The next day, Pemberton sent a message to Johnston proposing that Johnston contact Grant and offer “propositions to pass this army out, with all its arms and equipages,” in exchange for giving the Vicksburg to the Federals.

Johnston rejected this, explaining that Grant most likely would not agree to such a deal. In addition, Johnston stated that “negotiations with Grant for the relief of the garrison, should they become necessary, must be made by you. It would be a confession of weakness on my part, which I ought not to make, to propose them. When it becomes necessary to make terms, they may be considered as made under my authority.” Thus, if Pemberton surrendered to Grant, Johnston would approve.

Meanwhile, Davis sent a desperate message to Bragg and General P.G.T. Beauregard in South Carolina asking them to send troops to Vicksburg or else “the Missi. will be lost.” Johnston’s efforts to disrupt Grant’s supply lines in his rear had no effect. Johnston finally began moving his five divisions to confront the seven under Major General William T. Sherman protecting the Federal rear, but this also had no effect on those besieged in Vicksburg.

Near month’s end, Pemberton received a letter from his troops:

“The emergency of the case demands prompt and decided action on your part. If you can’t feed us, you had better surrender us, horrible as the idea is, than suffer this noble army to disgrace themselves by desertion… Self-preservation is the first law of nature, and hunger will compel a man to do almost anything… This army is now ripe for mutiny, unless it can be fed…”

Explaining that the men were down to just “one biscuit and a small bit of bacon per day,” the letter was signed “Many Soldiers.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 128-29; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 413-15, 422, 425; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 311, 317; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 139, 142; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 365, 369, 371; 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), p. 634-36

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.”

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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

The Siege of Vicksburg

May 25, 1863 – Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton offered Major General Ulysses S. Grant a truce, while President Jefferson Davis tried hurrying Confederate reinforcements and Federal army-navy forces began a siege.

Lt Gen John C. Pemberton | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Pemberton’s defeats outside Vicksburg had alarmed Confederate authorities at Richmond, but his two victories within the Vicksburg defenses renewed their confidence that he could hold the city. The day after Pemberton’s second victory, Davis still did not know that Pemberton could no longer join forces with General Joseph E. Johnston, whose 23,000 Confederates were beyond reach in northern Mississippi. As such, Davis telegraphed Johnston stating he was “hopeful of junction of your forces (with Pemberton’s) and defeat of the enemy.” Davis then wired Pemberton: “Sympathizing with you for the reverse sustained.”

As Davis worked to get reinforcements to Johnston and Pemberton, a response came from General Braxton Bragg, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee at Tullahoma: “Sent 3,500 with the General (Johnston); 3 batteries of artillery and 2,000 cavalry since; will dispatch 6,000 more immediately.” Davis replied, “Your answer is in the spirit of patriotism heretofore manifested by you. The need is sore, but you must not forget your own necessities.”

The next day, Davis expressed confidence to Johnston that Pemberton would hold Vicksburg, “but the disparity of numbers renders prolonged defence dangerous. I hope you will soon be able to break the investment, make a junction and carry in munitions.”

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

That same day, Grant directed his Federals to start digging trenches and building earthworks of their own to lay siege to Vicksburg. Grant called on his Memphis garrison to join the siege, and soon his army swelled from 45,000 men to 70,000. He assigned part of his force to guard against any attempt by Johnston to break through the siege lines and rescue Pemberton.

Grant had previously promised to send reinforcements to Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Army of the Gulf confronting Port Hudson, down the Mississippi from Vicksburg. But now Grant rejected Banks’s plea to send him 10,000 men because Banks no longer faced a serious threat from the Confederates either at Port Hudson or operating in western Louisiana.

Grant submitted his report on his most recent defeat against Pemberton’s defenses. This report reflected his growing dissatisfaction with Major General John A. McClernand as XIII Corps commander:

“I attempted to carry the place by storm on the 22d but was unsuccessful. Our troops were not repulsed from any point but simply failed to enter the works of the enemy… The whole loss for the day will probably reach 1,500 killed and wounded. General McClernand’s dispatches misled me as to the real state of facts, and caused much of this loss. He is entirely unfit for the position of corps commander, both on the march and on the battlefield. Looking after his corps gives me more labor and infinitely more uneasiness than all the remainder of my department.”

Grant assured General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “The enemy are now undoubtedly in our grasp. The fall of Vicksburg and capture of most of the garrison can only be a question of time.” President Abraham Lincoln fully supported Grant’s efforts. When someone criticized Grant’s recent defeats, Lincoln said, “Whether Gen. Grant shall or shall not consummate the capture of Vicksburg, his campaign from the beginning of this month up to the 22nd day of it, is one of the most brilliant in the world.”

By the 25th, Grant still had not requested a truce to bury his dead or collect his wounded outside the Confederate works. Military tradition stipulated that the defeated commander must request a truce from the victor to tend to casualties, but Grant would not admit defeat. Pemberton finally sent a messenger to Grant’s headquarters:

“Two days having elapsed since your dead and wounded have been lying in our front, and as yet no disposition on your part of a desire to remove them being exhibited, in the name of humanity I have the honor to propose a cessation of hostilities for two hours and a half, that you may be enabled to remove your dead and dying men. If you can not do this, on notifications from you that hostilities will be suspended on your part of the time specified, I will endeavor to have the dead buried and the wounded cared for.”

Grant “consented” to the request, and Federal burial parties came out under white flags at 6 p.m. to inter the corpses of their comrades. All firing on both sides stopped, as opposing soldiers came out to confer with each other and trade items such as tobacco, coffee, and newspapers.

On the Confederate side, Davis informed Pemberton, “Bragg is sending a division; when it comes, I will move to you.” Davis then wrote General Robert E. Lee in Virginia, “Pemberton is stoutly defending the entrenchments at Vicksburg, and Johnston has an army outside, which I suppose will be able to raise the siege, and combined with Pemberton’s forces may win a victory.” On the 29th, Pemberton notified Johnston that his army could not escape Vicksburg. Two of the eight roads leading out of town remained open, but Grant soon sealed them with incoming Federals.

Meanwhile, Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron continued its invaluable support of Grant’s army. Gunboats on the Yazoo River began moving up the Sunflower River to destroy supplies earmarked for the Vicksburg defenders. Colonel Alfred W. Ellet’s Federal rams patrolling the Mississippi River burned Austin, Mississippi, after residents reported the Federals’ movements to the Confederates.

Porter suffered a setback on the 28th, when the U.S.S. Cincinnati under Lieutenant George M. Bache was destroyed while supporting Major General William T. Sherman’s assault on Fort Hill, the westernmost Confederate strong point on the Mississippi. Both Grant and Sherman thought the fort could be easily captured because the Confederates had moved their batteries to weaker points covering the land. They were wrong.

Bache started the Cincinnati downstream toward the fort at 7 a.m. As the vessel turned to fight the strong downstream current, Confederate artillerists directed plunging fire on her unarmored stern. The ship took multiple hits from a “Whistling Dick,” or a smoothbore cannon outfitted by Confederates to be rifled; this conversion caused shells to fire erratically and produce a whistling sound.

The Cincinnati sank in 20 feet of water around 10 a.m.; 13 men drowned and another 19 were killed or wounded by enemy fire. Surviving crewmen nailed the flags to the mast as the vessel went down. This was the second time the Cincinnati had been sunk; she also went down in the Battle of Plum Run Bend just over a year ago. Federals later raised her and returned her to service a third time.

The day after the Cincinnati was sunk, Porter directed the crews of his flotilla that–

“… it will be the duty of the commander of every vessel to fire on people working on the enemy’s batteries, to have officers on shore examining the heights, and not to have it said that the enemy put up batteries in sight of them and they did nothing to prevent it.”

Porter next began supporting Federal efforts to clear Confederates between the Yazoo and Big Black rivers. Grant hoped to secure the Mississippi Central Railroad bridge, which was used to supply the Confederates in Vicksburg. Federal gunboats rescued troops cut off from their main force at Perkins Landing, and Porter loaned Sherman two naval howitzers for his men to use on land. All these efforts helped strengthen the siege of Vicksburg going into June.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 368-69; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18569, 18728; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 288-90; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9440; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 385-88; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 301-03; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 134, 136-40; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 357-59; 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), p. 633; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 167; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 238, 501; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 820; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q263

The Second Battle of Vicksburg

May 22, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant resolved to send his Federals against the Confederate defenses outside Vicksburg once more.

Maj Gen U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

After sustaining a sharp defeat while trying to penetrate the Vicksburg defenses on the 19th, Grant conferred with his corps commanders (Major Generals William T. Sherman, James B. McPherson, and John A. McClernand) on the morning of the 20th and ordered a careful reconnaissance of the Confederate positions before attacking again. Grant told his commanders to spend the next two days preparing “for a renewed assault on the 22d, simultaneously, at 10 a.m.” Unlike the disjointed attack of the 19th, the upcoming assault was to be closely coordinated.

General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Western Department, continued working to relieve Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton’s Confederate army trapped in Vicksburg. Johnston soon assembled about 23,000 troops in northern Mississippi, but that was not enough to confront Grant’s army, which was growing as Grant pulled resources from various posts in northern Mississippi and western Tennessee.

Johnston wrote the Confederate commander at Port Hudson, Major General Franklin Gardner, that Port Hudson was “no longer valuable,” and therefore “all the troops in the department should be concentrated as soon as possible.” But by the time the message reached Gardner, his troops were being surrounded by Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Army of the Gulf on land and Federal naval forces on the Mississippi.

Meanwhile, Confederates in Vicksburg faced a continuous artillery bombardment, as well as the danger of being killed by sharpshooters waiting for anyone to rise above the breastworks. Pemberton wrote Johnston, “At present, our main necessity is musket caps. Can you send them to me by hands of couriers or citizens?” This indicated that Pemberton’s supply lines had been cut, making it only a matter of time before his army was doomed if Johnston did not rescue him or he did not break through the Federal lines.

On the 21st, a Federal gunboat flotilla led by Commander James Grimes forced Confederates to abandon Yazoo City. Grimes led the vessels from Haynes’s Bluff and destroyed a Confederate navy yard, along with several tooling shops and boats. The Federals destroyed three warships under constructions, including “a monster, 310 feet long and 70 beam… she would have given us much trouble.” Outside Vicksburg, Grant’s Federals continued entrenching around Vicksburg in preparation for their attack the next day.

The Federals opened a massive artillery barrage at 6 a.m. on the 22nd, as 200 guns on land joined 100 naval guns on the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers. Confederate return fire scored several hits on the river fleet, as a master’s mate on Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s flagship wrote, “It is useless to try to remember the different times the vessels were hit.” But none of the gunboats were seriously damaged.

After a four-hour bombardment, Federal troops from all three corps began advancing in the first-ever assault coordinated by synchronized watches (done because the signal guns could not be heard above the artillery barrage). Spread across a three-mile front, the men struggled through the dense brush and deep ravines with orders not to fire until they entered the Confederate works.

When the Federals came within range, Confederate artillerists opened fire with every gun they had, pouring grape and canister into their lines. Then the Confederate infantry, “rising in the trenches, poured into their ranks volley after volley with so deadly an effect that, leaving the ground literally covered in some places with their dead and wounded, they precipitately retreated.”

Fighting at Vicksburg | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Federal charge devolved into mass confusion like the assault three days before. Men of Sherman’s corps temporarily seized one area of trenches but were quickly repelled. Grant was about to call off the assault when McClernand insisted that his men could break through the Railroad Redoubt with another charge. Though skeptical, Grant ordered the three corps to renew the attack around 3 p.m., with Sherman advancing on the right and one of McPherson’s divisions supporting McClernand on the left.

Just as Grant feared, the assault failed. Sherman watched the carnage and told an aide, “This is murder. Order those troops back.” The Federal survivors pulled back all along the line. This was the bloodiest engagement of Grant’s campaign. He sustained 3,199 casualties (502 killed, 2,550 wounded, and 147 missing), while the Confederates lost less than 500 men. Sherman reported to Grant, “We have had a hard day’s work, and all are exhausted.” Grant notified General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck:

“Vicksburg is now completely invested… Today an attempt was made to carry the City by assault, but was not entirely successful. We hold possession however of some of the enemy’s forts and have skirmishers close under all of them. Our loss was not severe.”

Grant later expressed regret for ordering the second assault, which “only served to increase our casualties without giving any benefit.” He had ordered it based on McClernand’s exaggerated claims of success. This added more tension to the already tense relationship between McClernand and Grant.

Grant had resisted the idea of besieging Vicksburg because capturing the city could take months. But he finally realized that no attacking force could penetrate such strong defenses, and starving the enemy into submission was the only way to win. Grant informed Admiral Porter, “I now find the position of the enemy so strong that I shall be compelled to regularly besiege the city.” He announced to his officers that night, “We’ll have to dig our way in.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 368; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 128-29; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 320; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 68; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18605; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 286; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 383, 386; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 300-01; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 127, 130-32, 136-37; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 356-57; 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), p. 632; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 166; Simon, John Y., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 456-57; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781-84

The Battle of Vicksburg

May 18, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant followed up his overwhelming Federal victory on the Big Black River by driving toward Vicksburg, the ultimate goal of his campaign.

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

Federal forces crossed the Big Black using hastily built bridges and headed west toward Vicksburg. Major General William T. Sherman’s XV Corps, holding the north end of Grant’s line, advanced on Haynes’s Bluff, the formidable defense point north of Vicksburg that the Federals had been trying to capture since the campaign began.

Now, with the Federals coming from the land side in overwhelming numbers, the Confederates on the bluff were finally forced to evacuate on the morning of the 18th. They joined the rest of Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton’s Confederate army in Vicksburg.

Sherman took the bluff around 10 a.m., where he connected with the Federal gunboats on the Yazoo River to open a supply line. Sherman told Grant, “Until this moment I never thought your expedition a success. I never could see the end clearly until now. But this is a campaign. This is a success if we never take the town.”

Meanwhile, Major General James B. McPherson’s XVII Corps advanced on Vicksburg from the east, and Major General John A. McClernand’s XIII Corps advanced from the southeast. Because General Joseph E. Johnston’s 20,000 Confederates still hovered in northeastern Mississippi, Grant placed the bulk of his forces in the northeast and east sectors to block any attempt by Pemberton or Johnston to join forces.

Pemberton entered Vicksburg with two demoralized divisions under Major General Carter L. Stevenson and Brigadier General John S. Bowen. They joined the other two divisions defending the city under Generals John H. Forney and Martin L. Smith. The troops had spent the previous night strengthening the city defenses, which consisted of entrenchments and breastworks surrounding Vicksburg, with both flanks anchored on the Mississippi River. The defenses were covered by 102 guns.

On the morning of the 18th, Pemberton received a message from Johnston, in “camp between Livingston and Brownsville,” responding to news of yesterday’s defeat on the Big Black:

“If Haines’s Bluff is untenable, Vicksburg is of no value and can not be held. If, therefore, you are invested in Vicksburg, you must ultimately surrender. Under such circumstances, instead of losing both troops and place, we must, if possible, save the troops. If it is not too late, evacuate Vicksburg and its dependencies, and march to the northeast.”

Pemberton called a council of war, where he shared Johnston’s message with his four division commanders and asked for advice on “the question of practicability.” President Jefferson Davis had ordered Pemberton to hold Vicksburg at all costs, but Grant was now closing in on three sides. Federal gunboats covered the fourth side, and they began bombarding the city that day. After consulting with his officers, Pemberton replied to Johnston:

“… the opinion was unanimously expressed that it was impossible to withdraw the army from this position with such morale and material as to be of further service to the Confederacy. I have decided to hold Vicksburg as long as possible, with the firm hope that the Government may yet be able to assist me in keeping this obstruction to the enemy’s free navigation of the Mississippi River. I still conceive it to be the most important point in the Confederacy.”

Grant, having destroyed any hope Pemberton had to join forces with Johnston, wanted to attack the Vicksburg defenses before Johnston was reinforced enough to try breaking Pemberton out. As Federal troops surrounded the defense perimeter, Grant planned to drive through the seemingly demoralized Confederates the next day and take the city.

The “general charge of all the corps along the whole line” was ordered to begin at 2 p.m. on the 19th. Sherman’s corps was ready to attack on time, but McPherson and McClernand were slowed by dense underbrush and deep ravines. Thus, Grant’s plan for a simultaneous assault by all three corps began with just Sherman’s men attacking. They approached Stockade Redan and faced defenses that required a ladder to reach. Already exhausted from marching across the uneven terrain, the Federals were repulsed.

McPherson and McClernand were never able to fully commit their corps to the attack, and those who managed to get close to the defenses were quickly halted by heavy fire. Grant suspended the attack, and the Federals pinned down at the foot of the enemy works fell back under cover of darkness.

The Federals sustained 942 casualties, while the Confederates lost less than 200 men. The Confederate defenses proved to be the strongest works of the war to date, giving the defenders a nearly insurmountable advantage over attackers. Sherman wrote his wife, “This is a death struggle, and will be terrible.”

This was the first time during the campaign that Grant’s army had failed to achieve an objective. Grant, refusing to believe that the defenses could not be taken, planned to strike again before Johnston could rescue Pemberton. Johnston wrote Pemberton that day, “I am trying to gather a force which may attempt to relieve you. Hold out.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 367-68; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 128-29; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 320; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18542-51, 18575-89, 18598; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 286; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 379-81, 383, 413; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 299; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 126-27, 136-37; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 354-55; 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), p. 632; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781-84

The Battle of Big Black River

May 17, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals routed Confederates under Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton and sent them fleeing into the defenses outside Vicksburg.

After yesterday’s defeat at Champion’s Hill, Pemberton was backed against the Southern Mississippi Railroad crossing on the Big Black River, the last waterway separating Grant from Vicksburg. Pemberton had just two divisions; his third division under Major General William W. Loring had been cut off and forced to try joining with General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederates to the north.

Pemberton sent Major General Carter L. Stevenson’s division, which had taken the brunt of yesterday’s fighting, across the river toward Vicksburg, 15 miles west. That left Brigadier General John S. Bowen’s division, whose 5,000 men were entrenched behind cotton bales east of the Big Black, with both flanks on the river.

The left flank guarding the railroad bridge was weakly held, but Pemberton expected Loring to rejoin him there, unaware that Loring had instead gone north. The troops were demoralized, and disgruntled conscripts held the important center of the line.

Grant’s XV Corps under Major General William T. Sherman had left Jackson last night, and now Grant directed those Federals to take Bridgeport, five miles upriver, and block any attempt by Pemberton or Johnston to join forces. Major General James B. McPherson’s XVII Corps remained on the Champion’s Hill battlefield to tend to the wounded and bury the dead.

Major General John A. McClernand’s XIII Corps moved forward to confront Bowen around 7 a.m. A brigade in McClernand’s corps, hoping to gain the glory that McPherson’s men had won yesterday, charged without orders and routed the vulnerable Confederate left. This broke the entire line.

Fighting at the Big Black | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The rest of the Confederates rushed across the river; some drowned while trying to swim across. Two of Stevenson’s brigades tried covering the retreat, as Pemberton ordered the railroad bridge burned even before all his men crossed. The steamer Dot, which had been anchored sideways to serve as a second bridge, was also burned.

When Pemberton received word that Sherman was trying to outflank him to the north, he ordered his men to continue retreating all the way to Vicksburg’s defenses. Lieutenant Colonel James H. Wilson, heading the Federal corps of engineers, directed his men to use cotton bales and planks from nearby houses and barns to bridge the river and pursue the Confederates.

The Federals sustained just 279 casualties (39 killed, 237 wounded, and three missing), while Pemberton lost about 1,951 (200 killed or wounded, and 1,751 captured), along with 18 guns. He lost 5,500 men in two days. On the way to Vicksburg, Pemberton told an officer, “Just 30 years ago I began my cadetship at the U.S. Military Academy. Today, the same date, that career is ended in disaster and disgrace.”

In 17 days, Grant’s men had marched 180 miles, won five engagements, captured a Confederate state capital, drove one Confederate force away and demoralized another, and were now poised to seize their ultimate goal of Vicksburg. They had lost no guns or colors in what had become one of the most remarkable Federal campaigns of the war.

Vicksburg residents learned of the defeat on the Big Black late on the 17th, as Confederate soldiers began straggling into the city’s defenses. A woman wrote, “I shall never forget the woeful sight. Wan, hollow-eyed, ragged, footsore, bloody, the men limped along unarmed… humanity in the last throes of endurance.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 367; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 128; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 317; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 285-86; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 376-77; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 298; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 122-25; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 354; 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), p. 630-32; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781-84