Category Archives: Mississippi

Vicksburg: Grierson’s Raid

April 17, 1863 – Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson set out with 1,700 Federal cavalrymen to divert Confederate attention from Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s landing below Vicksburg.

Col Benjamin H. Grierson | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Grierson, a former music teacher, had been in the military for just 18 months before this assignment. He led the 2nd Iowa, the 6th and 7th Illinois cavalry regiments, and a battery of horse artillery from Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut’s division based at Memphis. Grierson’s main objective was to ride between the Memphis & Charleston and Mobile & Ohio railroads and cut the vital Southern Mississippi Railroad, which connected Vicksburg to Jackson and Meridian, and eventually Mobile, Alabama.

Grierson also had instructions to disrupt as many enemy communication lines and destroy as many enemy supplies as possible. This would not only cripple the Confederates’ ability to defend Mississippi, but it would draw their attention away from Grant’s plan to march his army down the west bank of the Mississippi River and cross below Vicksburg.

The troopers left La Grange, Tennessee, and headed south, with only Grierson knowing the true object of their mission. They quickly entered northern Mississippi and clashed with Confederates at New Albany before reaching the vicinity of Pontotoc by Sunday the 19th.

Grierson sent over 150 wounded and ill troopers back north; their comrades called them the “Quinine Brigade.” These men returned on the same tracks they used to move south, deceiving Lieutenant Colonel Clark R. Barteau’s Confederate cavalry into thinking Grierson’s entire force was going back north. This gave Grierson more time to widen the distance between he and Barteau.

Grierson divided his force near West Point on the 21st, sending Colonel Edward Hatch’s 2nd Iowa east to threaten the Mobile & Ohio Railroad at Columbus before returning to La Grange, 175 miles north. Barteau’s Confederates pursued Hatch, giving Grierson freedom to attack the Southern Mississippi Railroad with his two Illinois regiments.

Two days later, the main Federal force reached the Southern Mississippi at Newton Station, about 100 miles east of Vicksburg in the heart of enemy territory. The troopers captured two locomotives pulling 36 railcars filled with Confederate supplies and ammunition. They destroyed the locomotives and the railcars, cut the telegraph lines, wrecked the railroad tracks, and burned nearby bridges. They also burned a government building that housed a large quantity of small arms and Confederate uniforms.

Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, was aware of Grant’s attempts to move below Vicksburg, but he considered Grierson the greater threat and dispatched valuable resources to stop him. Grierson, having achieved his main objective, decided not to return to La Grange, but to instead join Grant’s main force crossing the Mississippi at Grand Gulf.

Meanwhile, 35 Federals of the 7th Illinois/Company B under Captain Henry C. Forbes arrived at Enterprise. Grierson had detached them to ride along the Mobile & Ohio Railroad and cut the telegraph lines at Macon. Grierson also released a report stating that the main Federal force would be heading for Enterprise. This was intended to fool the Confederates, but it fooled Forbes as well, who had gone to Enterprise to meet up with the main force.

When Forbes learned that the town was heavily garrisoned by Confederate troops, he demanded their surrender and then rode off while they debated what to do. A Confederate report stated that Grierson’s main force was east of Newton Station, but most of Grierson’s men were actually moving west toward Grand Gulf. Forbes’s men hurried to join Grierson’s main force, which was difficult because the Federals had burned so many bridges. Forbes finally reached Grierson on the Pearl River on the 27th.

Meanwhile, news of Grierson’s raid reached Richmond, Virginia, and caused anxiety among the Confederate high command. Pemberton continued focusing mainly on the cavalry raids of not only Grierson, but also a smaller force east of Grierson under General Grenville Dodge, which had captured Tuscumbia, Alabama.

Pemberton frantically tried raising a cavalry force of his own to track down these raiders. He wrote Mississippi Governor John J. Pettus on the 25th, “I have the honor to call upon you to exercise the right vested in you by the Legislature of Mississippi, and to seize or impress the requisite number of animals–587–with trappings when possible.”

Pemberton continued, “The people residing in the immediate vicinity of each important depot of supplies and manufactures, and each railroad connection can easily render the Government an essential service and greatly relieve the army and increase its efficiency in protecting the country from the raids of the enemy.” For this, he asked Pettus “to organize all the citizens within a radius of 10 miles of each locality, not now in the Confederate or State service, into companies, battalions, and regiments, as the number at each place may justify.”

Both Pemberton and General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Western Department from Tullahoma, advised the Confederate commanders at Meridian and Newton Station on how best to track down Grierson’s troopers, which were headed southwest toward Grand Gulf. Pemberton next warned General Franklin Gardner, commanding Confederates at Port Hudson, that Grierson may be riding to join Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Army of the Gulf at Baton Rouge. Pemberton then explained to Johnston that “these raids cannot be prevented unless I can have more mounted men.”

Grierson’s Federals continued west toward the Mississippi, burning a line of boxcars on the New Orleans, Jackson & Great Northern Railroad at Hazelhurst. They also clashed with Confederates near Union Church before learning that large numbers of Confederates were closing in from all directions. Realizing that he was cut off from Grand Gulf, Grierson resolved that he had to press on to Baton Rouge, another 150 miles away.

Pemberton notified Major General Carter L. Stevenson, commanding the Confederates at Vicksburg, that he may need to pull troops to deal with the raiders:

“It is indispensable that you keep in your lines only such force as is absolutely needed to hold them, and organize the remainder, if there are any of your troops as a movable force available for any point where it may be most required.”

Grierson’s raid succeeded beyond all Federal expectations. While Pemberton sent messages to various commanders to focus on the Federal troopers, Grant’s 45,000-man army continued its movement across the river from Vicksburg, soon to land in the city’s vulnerable rear.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 127-29; Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 326; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 275, 277-79; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 334, 336-37; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 282-85; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 87-94; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 339; 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. 627; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781-84

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Vicksburg: Porter Runs the Batteries

April 16, 1863 – Rear Admiral David D. Porter successfully passed the Confederate batteries guarding Vicksburg. This marked a successful start to Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s plan to capture Vicksburg from below.

Rear Adm D.D. Porter | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Porter prepared eight gunboats (seven ironclads and one timber-clad), and three transports to pass the Vicksburg batteries on the dark, moonless night of the 16th (and into the 17th). Their mission was to transport supplies to the Federal troops at New Carthage, below Vicksburg, and bring those troops to the east bank of the Mississippi. This was a daring gamble that threatened to ruin Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron if it failed.

Federals placed heavy logs, wet cotton bales and haystacks on the ship decks to absorb Confederate cannon fire. Coal barges were lashed to the ships, with each barge carrying 10,000 bushels of coal to refuel the ships once they got below Vicksburg. All lights were extinguished, portholes were closed, and engine noises were muffled.

The fleet began moving from the mouth of the Yazoo River around 9:30 p.m., with Porter’s flagship, the U.S.S. Benton, in the lead. Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana observed the movement and wrote:

“It was a strange scene. First a mass of black things detached itself from the shore, and we saw it float out toward the middle of the stream. There was nothing to see but this big mass, which dropped slowly down the river. Soon another black mass detached itself, and another, then another. It was Admiral Porter’s fleet of ironclad turtles, steamboats, and barges. They floated down the Mississippi darkly and silently, showing neither steam nor light, save occasionally a signal astern, where the enemy could not see it.”

The ships rounded the toe of De Soto Point near 11 p.m. Confederate pickets immediately spotted the fleet and lit bonfires to expose the ships to the artillerists. Some Confederates ignited barrels of pitch, and others on the west bank set fire to a frame house. The four-mile line of Confederate batteries opened fire.

The people of Vicksburg were unaware of the fleet’s approach. The Confederate department commander, Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, had told his superiors that Grant gave up trying to take the city and returned to Memphis. The Vicksburg Whig stated the Federal gunboats “are all more or less damaged, the men dissatisfied and demoralized… There is no immediate danger here.” Officers and citizens held a festive ball in the city that night, which turned into “confusion and alarm” when the guests heard the gunfire opening on the river.

Many of the Confederate guns were slow to respond because the artillery officers had left their posts to attend the ball. The Confederates ultimately fired 525 rounds but scored only 68 hits. A master’s mate wrote that “we ran the Vicksburg shore so close that they overshot us most of the time.”

Running the Vicksburg batteries | Image Credit: figures.boundless.com

The run took two and a half hours, during which time nearly every Federal vessel was hit at least once. Each ship endured about 30 minutes of fire while passing the batteries, and a few minutes more while passing Warrenton. The transport Henry Clay sank, but Federals rescued the crew. Another tried turning back, but the U.S.S. Tuscumbia brought up the rear to stop her. Two coal barges had to be cut loose, but the rest made it through. The Federals sustained 14 wounded and none killed.

The 10 remaining ships continued downriver to Hard Times, their mission successfully completed. Porter minimized the damage he sustained in his official report, explaining privately to Assistant Navy Secretary Gustavus V. Fox that “as it will not do to let the enemy know how often they hit us, and show how vulnerable we are. Their heavy shot walked right through us, as if we were made of putty.”

With the naval part of the plan completed, it was now up to Grant to lead the troops across the river and exploit the back door to Vicksburg. Grant heard the firing from Milliken’s Bend, but when it stopped he did not know whether the ships made it through. Before dawn, he rode 17 miles through the swamps and bayous to New Carthage, where he saw that the fleet had arrived mostly intact. This was just the first of many gambles Grant would take in this campaign. The next step would be to ferry the troops to the east bank of the Mississippi, which would cut them off from their supply base in enemy territory.

Pemberton had speculated that Grant was returning to Memphis and returned 8,000 troops on loan from the Army of Tennessee. He quickly asked General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Western Department, to send them back, wiring that Grant’s “movement up the river was a ruse. Certainly no more troops should leave this department.” Pemberton also reported that 64 steamers had left Memphis, “loaded with troops and negroes, apparently with intention of making an assault on Vicksburg.”

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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. 351-52; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 127-29; Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 784-85; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 66-68; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18340; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 275; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 329, 345; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 282; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 84-85; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 338-39; 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. 626-27; 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. 165; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781-84

Vicksburg: Grant and Porter Assemble

April 15, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant assembled his Federal troops at Milliken’s Bend as Rear Admiral David D. Porter prepared to pass the Vicksburg batteries with his Mississippi River Squadron.

Maj Gen U.S. Grant and Rear Adm D.D. Porter | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Grant’s plan to bypass Vicksburg on the west bank of the Mississippi and then threaten the city from below was about to be implemented. As Grant explained to General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck on the 4th:

“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.”

Richmond was on the road from Milliken’s Bend to New Carthage. The Federals needed this town to keep the road open. The Confederates needed the town to get supplies across the river to Vicksburg. Major General John A. McClernand’s XIII Corps, led by General Peter J. Osterhaus’s division, secured the town and the road on the 4th, with help from slaves escaping from nearby plantations. McClernand’s troops spent the next few days assembling at and fortifying New Carthage.

A meeting took place on the 8th between Grant, Major Generals William T. Sherman (commanding XV Corps), James B. McPherson (commanding XVII Corps), Francis P. Blair, Jr. (commanding a division), and Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana. Sherman wanted to take the army back to Memphis and retry the overland route to Vicksburg from the north. Grant refused to make any movement that could be construed as a retreat, especially since it was becoming apparent that McClernand was leading a group of officers pushing for Grant’s removal as commander.

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 President Abraham 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. 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 now at New Carthage. Grant directed McPherson to begin moving his corps down to join McClernand, as Sherman’s corps got 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, “Grant’s forces are being withdrawn to Memphis.” Confident that Vicksburg was safe for now, Pemberton prepared to return 8,000 Confederate troops on loan from the Army of Tennessee at Tullahoma. He would soon need them back.

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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. 271, 273-75; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 325, 345; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 281; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 86; 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. 626

Vicksburg: Grant Changes Strategy

April 1, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant finally conceded the impossibility of capturing Vicksburg from the north and began devising another, more daring, plan.

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

By this time, Grant had failed or was on the verge of failing in five efforts to reach Vicksburg:

  • Overland via the Mississippi Central Railroad
  • On water via Chickasaw Bayou
  • On water via various canal projects
  • On water via Steele’s Bayou
  • On water via Yazoo Pass

Rear Admiral David D. Porter brought Grant and Major General William T. Sherman, Grant’s most trusted subordinate, on a reconnaissance mission. They boarded the U.S.S. Tuscumbia and steamed up the Yazoo River to Haynes’s Bluff, where Confederates had placed batteries north of Vicksburg. Grant went on this mission figuring he would have “to collect all my strength and attack Haynes’ Bluff.” Understanding that such an effort would involve heavy loss, Grant nonetheless stated, “I think it can be done.”

As the Tuscumbia approached, Grant observed the enemy batteries in the heights above. He also noted the natural obstacles and enemy torpedoes that could sink naval vessels. Grant wrote Porter the next day, “After the reconnaissance of yesterday, I am satisfied that an attack upon Haynes’ Bluff would be attended with immense sacrifice of life, if not with defeat. This, then, closes out the last hope of turning the enemy by the right (north).”

Grant had been working on another plan to operate on the other side of the Mississippi River from Vicksburg. This involved moving Federal troops from Milliken’s Bend, above Vicksburg, to New Carthage below. But Grant meant for this operation to support Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s advance on Port Hudson, not to take Vicksburg. Grant feared that this operation could take months or until the Lincoln administration lost patience and called it off.

After seeing that attacking Haynes’s Bluff would be futile, Grant started reworking the Milliken’s Bend plan to take Vicksburg rather than support Banks. Grant wrote, “I have sent troops through from Milliken’s Bend to New Carthage, to garrison and hold the whole route and make the wagon road good.”

From New Carthage, Federals could cross the Mississippi and attack either Grand Gulf or Warrenton, which guarded the back door to Vicksburg from the south. Grant wrote, “It is important to prevent the enemy from further fortifying either of these places. I am satisfied that one army corps, with the aid of two gunboats, can take and hold Grand Gulf until such time as I might be able to get my whole army there and make provision for supplying them.”

The troops currently at Milliken’s Bend belonged to XIII Corps under Major General John A. McClernand. They were in the process of clearing the path for men and supplies to move to New Carthage. McClernand reported to Grant, “I am now repairing the roads and bridges between here and Richmond, a distance of 12 miles, including a floating bridge of 200 feet in length, and will soon commence repairing the road from that place to (New) Carthage, and constructing barges to ply between the same places, unless stopped by unknown obstacles.”

Grant and McClernand had never gotten along; Grant was a West Pointer and McClernand was a former politician with connections going all the way up to President Abraham Lincoln. When Grant asked McClernand to detach some of his troops to dig a levee, McClernand replied:

“I think it probable that you would not have ordered it with a fuller knowledge of my operations… the prospect so far is quite encouraging… and I hope you will find it consistent with your general views to leave me to prosecute my present undertaking with all the resources at my disposal.”

Porter disagreed with Grant’s plan to march the army down the west bank of the Mississippi. He believed Grant should pull his army back to Memphis and march overland along the Mississippi Central Railroad to Vicksburg as he had tried in December. But the northern public and the administration would view this as yet another defeat, which could be detrimental to the careers of all involved.

Grant met with Porter on the 2nd and described the plan in greater detail:

  • Sherman’s corps would feign an attack on Haynes’s Bluff as a diversion
  • Grant’s remaining two corps would move from Milliken’s Bend to New Carthage, building roads during the march
  • Porter’s fleet would pass the Vicksburg batteries with gunboats, transports, and supply vessels, and meet Grant’s troops at Hard Times, 30 miles south of the city
  • The ships would ferry the troops to the east bank of the Mississippi, where Grant would advance on Vicksburg from the south

Porter still expressed reluctance, warning Grant that “when these gunboats once go below we give up all hopes of ever getting them up again.” But Navy Secretary Gideon Welles urged Porter to cooperate, writing that if the operation succeeded, it would be “the severest blow that can be struck upon the enemy,” and thus “worth all the risk.”

On the Confederate side, Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, endured not only mounting Federal threats to Vicksburg, but mounting criticism of his abilities as well. President Jefferson Davis defended Pemberton, writing that “by his judicious imposition of his forces and skillful selection of the best points of defence he has repulsed the enemy at Vicksburg, Port Hudson, on the Tallahatchie and at Deer Creek, and has thus far foiled his every attempt to get possession of the Mississippi river and the vast section of country which it controls.”

Pemberton had requested reinforcements from General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Western Department. Pemberton specifically wanted Major General Earl Van Dorn’s cavalry operating in western Tennessee. But Johnston replied:

“In the present aspect of affairs, General Van Dorn’s cavalry is much more needed in this department than in that of Mississippi and East Louisiana, and can not be sent back as long as this state of things exists. You have now in your department five brigades of the troops you most require, viz., infantry, belonging to the Army of Tennessee. This is more than a compensation for the absence of General Van Dorn’s cavalry command.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 127-29; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18429; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 270-71; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 217; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 276-77; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 83; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 334; 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. 164-65

Vicksburg: The Steele’s Bayou Expedition

March 22, 1863 – Federal Rear Admiral David D. Porter conceded that yet another effort to reach Vicksburg using the vast network of waterways to the north had failed.

Rear Adm D.D. Porter | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Porter, commanding the Mississippi River Squadron, devised a plan to bypass Fort Pemberton and get to the Confederate right flank north of Vicksburg by moving up the winding Yazoo River to Steele’s Bayou, six miles upstream from the Yazoo’s mouth. Porter believed he could access other waterways from the bayou that could take his fleet behind the Confederate batteries at Haynes’s and Drumgould’s bluffs. If the vessels could land Federal troops behind the batteries, they could attack Vicksburg from the rear.

The plan called for using Steele’s Bayou to get to Black Bayou and then Deer Creek. The fleet would then turn east on Rolling Fork, which went to the Sunflower River. The Federals would move south down the Sunflower until it emptied into the Yazoo. Porter would have to navigate 200 water miles to reach a point just 20 miles northeast of where he started, but he would bypass the Confederate defenses.

Porter led four gunboats, four mortar schooners, and four tugboats into Steele’s Bayou on the 14th. Navigation proved extremely difficult due to heavy undergrowth, natural obstructions, and shallow water. Trees and other impediments had to be pulled out of the water to enable the ships to pass. They advanced just four miles in 24 hours, finally reaching Black Bayou the next day.

Federal Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: collaborationnation.wikispaces.com

The fleet was supported by the 2nd Division of XV Corps, personally led by corps commander William T. Sherman. These troops marched through marshes and swamps to Hill’s Plantation, where they boarded 11 transports on the 16th. Porter, Sherman, and army commander Ulysses S. Grant conferred at Hill’s Plantation, as Sherman dispatched 50 pioneers aboard the steamer Diligent to clear obstructions from the waterway.

The Federals had not yet encountered direct enemy resistance, but Confederates began felling trees across the bayous both in front and behind the fleet. Crewmen aboard the vessels had to watch for these obstructions, along with low hanging branches of willow, cottonwood, and cypress trees that smashed into smokestacks. Wildlife such as snakes or possums fell out of the branches onto the decks. The advance averaged just about one mile per hour. By the 19th, Confederate sharpshooters had begun shooting at anyone who came out on deck.

The fleet entered Deer Creek that day, moving north and then east toward Rolling Fork. Porter expected Rolling Fork to be navigable, but Confederates had impressed slaves into felling trees to impede both that waterway and the Sunflower River beyond. The fleet speed slowed to a half-mile per day as Porter dispatched 300 sailors and pioneers to clear the obstructions.

As the Federals entered Rolling Fork, Confederates began placing obstructions behind them to trap them long enough for three Confederate regiments to come up from Haynes’s Bluff and destroy them. Sharpshooters continuously fired on the Federals trying to clear the obstructions, while Federal pilots struggled to move around the willows sprouting from the creek bed.

Meanwhile, Sherman’s troop transports were still several miles behind the fleet. Porter sent a contraband to deliver a message to Sherman: “Hurry up, for Heaven’s sake. I never knew how helpless an ironclad could be steaming around through the woods without an army to back her.” Sherman pulled his troops off the transports and directed them to march through waist-deep waters to help Porter’s flotilla, 12 miles away. They rounded up the slaves in their path to prevent them from being used to further obstruct the waterways.

The troops began arriving on the 21st, driving off the nearby Confederates and helping clear the obstructions. By the next day, Porter admitted that this effort had failed and issued orders for the fleet and Sherman’s troops to return to Hill’s Plantation. The troops protected the vessels from sporadic Confederate attacks. Federals seized or burned all property along the shorelines as they retreated, including enough cotton to buy another gunboat. They were followed by slaves, many of whom took their masters’ property before the Federals burned it.

The fleet returned to Black Bayou on 24th. The Confederates attacked the next day, but they were driven off by Porter’s naval guns. Porter sustained five casualties due to sharpshooters (one killed and four wounded). Sherman lost two killed. Porter said this expedition included “the most severe labor officers and men ever went through.” He reported to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, “With the end of this expedition ends all my hopes of getting into Vicksburg in this direction.”

Yet another Federal effort to capture Vicksburg failed. Frustration at the inability to get to Vicksburg mounted among Grant’s army, Porter’s navy, Federal politicians, and the northern public.

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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. 266-68; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 207; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 271-74; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 80, 82-83; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 329, 331; 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. 586-87; 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. 163-64; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 716

Vicksburg: Federals Abandon Yazoo Pass

March 20, 1863 – The Federal vessels comprising the Yazoo Pass expedition began steaming back down the Tallahatchie River after failing to neutralize Fort Pemberton near Greenwood, Mississippi.

Yazoo Pass Expedition Map | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Lieutenant Commander James P. Foster, commanding the U.S.S. Chillicothe, took charge of the Federal naval fleet in the Yazoo delta. He replaced Lieutenant Commander Watson Smith, who had suffered from health problems and finally requested to be removed after issuing incoherent orders that subordinates could not follow.

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Wilson, the lead Federal topographical engineer on the expedition (and no fan of Smith), reported, “His Excellency Acting Rear-Admiral Commodore Smith left to-day for a more salubrious climate, very sick, giving it as his opinion that the present force of iron-clads could not take the two (largest) rebel guns in our front.”

Foster consulted with Brigadier General Leonard F. Ross, heading the army portion of the expedition, and it was “deemed advisable to retreat to Helena, Ark., as the strength of Fort Greenwood (i.e., Fort Pemberton) is such that it is impossible, with the naval forces alone, to conquer it, and it being impossible for the army forces to combine in the attack in consequence of water, etc., and as we are in imminent danger of being outflanked and cut off by rebel forces coming down to the mouth of the Coldwater.”

Wilson protested the retreat, writing, “We have thrown away a magnificent chance to injure the enemy, and all because of the culpable and inexcusable slowness of the naval commander in the first place, and his timidity and cautiousness in the second.” He stated he knew from Confederate deserters that the fort was almost out of ammunition, and it could be taken if three more ironclads were sent to help. Wilson persuaded Ross to wait for reinforcements on their way under Brigadier General Isaac Quinby, Ross’s immediate superior, before withdrawing.

Ross waited three days; during that time, rumors circulated that the Confederates were about “to establish a blockade at the mouth of Coldwater by sending infantry and artillery by railroad to Panola, and thence down the Tallahatchee.” This would trap the Federal flotilla between the blockaders and Fort Pemberton. Hearing no news on when Quinby might arrive, Ross began withdrawing on the 20th.

Major General William W. Loring, commanding the Confederates at Fort Pemberton, had worried that the Federals might try besieging his garrison, which would starve the men into submission. But he was happy to report on the 20th, “Enemy in full run as fast as steam can carry him, and my men after him.” Loring dispatched a cotton-clad vessel to pursue the Federals, having repelled their “great plan for the attack of Vicksburg in rear.” Loring added:

“After many months of secret preparations, they were certain of success. With but little time to fortify, they were determinedly met and forced to an ignominious retreat, leaving behind them evidences that their loss was great in men and material–a check which will undoubtedly prevent a further invasion of the State of Mississippi by the way of Tallahatchee and Yazoo Rivers.”

The Federal flotilla returned to Moon Lake on the 21st, where they met Quinby and his reinforcements. Ross and Foster explained how the Confederate guns and natural obstructions in the waterways had forced them to retreat. Quinby said that retreating “would have a depressing effect upon our army and the country, and raise the hopes and the determination of the rebels.” Thus, he ordered Ross to go back down the Tallahatchie and renew the assault on Fort Pemberton. Since he had no authority over the navy, Quinby then persuaded Foster to join Ross.

The flotilla began its return voyage on the 22nd and arrived within range of the fort the next morning. The ironclads Chillicothe and Baron de Kalb fired some probing shots at the fort, but the Confederates did not respond. The Federals pulled back and prepared to launch the main assault the following day. But rain poured for the next five days, during which time Quinby began doubting that the fort could be taken.

Quinby proposed other ways to try getting to Fort Pemberton, but Foster finally announced that the navy was pulling out of the expedition. Quinby reported to his superior, Major General James B. McPherson, “Should he act on this determination, the land forces would be left here in a very precarious position, with nearly 200 miles of unguarded water communications between them and the Mississippi.”

When Foster led the gunboats out, Quinby followed with the transports, hoping to get reinforcements at Yazoo Pass for another attack. However, the troops did not arrive as expected, and Quinby told McPherson on the 28th:

“This delay is to be greatly regretted, for the rebels are constantly receiving re-enforcements, adding to and strengthening their works. It is evident that they intend to make a determined stand at this point. Every move that we make is answered by one from them.”

Quinby finally realized what Ross and Foster had known since the 16th: the expedition was futile. Confederates had planted a battery where Quinby wanted to bridge the Tallahatchie and cross troops for a ground attack. Moreover, heavy rains had made the rivers and tributaries too high to bridge. There were also delays in getting the men, artillery, and supplies needed for the operation.

Finally, Major General Ulysses S. Grant, the Federal army commander, ended the expedition: “The troops that have gone down Yazoo Pass are now ordered back” to Helena, Arkansas. He needed the troops for another plan he had in mind.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 272-73; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 77; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 846

Farragut Runs the Port Hudson Batteries

March 14, 1863 – Acting Rear Admiral David G. Farragut tried running his naval squadron past the Confederate batteries at Port Hudson in an effort to move up the Mississippi River to Vicksburg.

As Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals continued trying to get at Vicksburg, Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Federal Army of the Gulf worked to capture Port Hudson, Louisiana. The effort against these two strongholds had initially been envisioned as a joint operation between Grant and Banks of the army, and Acting Rear Admiral David D. Porter and Farragut of the navy. But by this month, they had become two separate and distinct operations.

In early March, Banks assembled his army at New Orleans and advanced north to Baton Rouge. This would be the launching point for his drive on Port Hudson, a fort atop a bluff facing the Mississippi, with the land side shielded by woods, undergrowth, swamps, and ravines. The Confederates at Port Hudson protected the Red River, which flowed into the Mississippi and was used to transport Confederate supplies from the west.

Banks’s army consisted of 15,000 men in three divisions. The Port Hudson garrison contained four Confederate brigades. Banks did not have the strength to attack Port Hudson directly, so he agreed to stage a demonstration in front of the fort while Farragut’s warships steamed past on their way north to Vicksburg. Getting Federal naval vessels between Port Hudson and Vicksburg could at least prevent the Confederates from using the Red River.

David G. Farragut | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Farragut arrived at Baton Rouge aboard his flagship, the U.S.S. Hartford, on the 12th. There he finalized plans to run past Port Hudson and join forces with Porter at Vicksburg. The Hartford would lead the effort, followed by the U.S.S. Monongahela and Richmond, with a gunboat lashed to the port (Port Hudson) side of each ship. The U.S.S. Mississippi, flagship of Commodore Matthew Perry during his historic visit to Tokyo Bay, would follow along with two gunboats and six mortar schooners.

By the 14th, Farragut was ready to send his fleet past the batteries overlooking the river. Banks’s troops had advanced within six miles of Port Hudson, but Banks had agreed to be in position to create the diversion by dawn. When Farragut opted to advance that night, Banks informed him that he could expect no army support. Farragut, believing Banks should have been there already, fumed, “He had well be in New Orleans or at Baton Rouge for the good he is doing us!” Consequently, nothing would divert the Confederates’ attention from the passing vessels.

At 9:30 p.m., the Hartford flashed two red lights below her stern, signaling the rest of the fleet to begin the run. The Federal gunboats and schooners opened fire, and the Confederates waited until they came within range to respond. Gun smoke made visibility impossible, and the Federals quickly found themselves on the wrong side of a one-sided fight. The Richmond and the gunboat lashed to her, the U.S.S. Genesee, were both knocked out, with the Richmond taking a shot in her steam plant and requiring the Genesee to pull her downriver to safety.

The Monongahela took eight shots directly through her, destroying the bridge and wounding Captain James P. McKinstry. After taking direct fire for nearly half an hour, her partner, the U.S.S. Kineo, helped pull her downriver out of the fight.

The Mississippi ran aground in a sandbar under direct fire, forcing Captain Melancthon Smith to order the crew to set her on fire and abandon ship. She exploded at 3 a.m. Survivors included Lieutenant George Dewey, conqueror of Manila Bay in the Spanish-American War 35 years later. Only the Hartford and her consort, the U.S.S. Albatross, made it past the guns. The Federals suffered 112 total casualties (35 killed and 77 wounded or missing), including 64 from the Mississippi alone.

The passage of two ships made the mission partially successful, but Farragut was now separated from the rest of his fleet, which remained below Port Hudson. Unaware that all the ships except the Mississippi could be repaired and returned to action, Farragut reported to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles the next day, “It becomes my duty again to report disaster to my fleet.”

However, Welles applauded Farragut’s effort to get vessels between Port Hudson and Vicksburg; Assistant Navy Secretary Gustavus V. Fox responded that “the President thinks the importance of keeping a force of strength in this part of the river is so great that he fully approves of your proceeding.”

The Hartford and Albatross continued upriver to Natchez, Mississippi, where Federals cut the telegraph lines to Port Hudson. The ships reached Grand Gulf, Mississippi, on the night of the 18th. By that time, Banks’s Federals had returned to Baton Rouge, 20 miles below Port Hudson, looting the countryside along the way. Banks dispatched expeditions to try finding Farragut, thinking he was waiting for the army just above Port Hudson. But Farragut was now 150 miles north.

Farragut ran the Confederate batteries at Grand Gulf, sustaining many hits and losing eight men (two killed and six wounded). This enabled his two vessels to advance to the mouth of the Red River. They reached Warrenton, Mississippi, by the morning of the 20th. From there, he contacted Grant and Porter offering to support their operations and requesting coal for refuel. They sent a coal barge downriver past the Vicksburg batteries.

The Federals now had warships between Port Hudson and Vicksburg to stop Confederate river traffic. However, the engagement at Port Hudson proved that capturing the stronghold would need a much stronger effort from both the army and navy.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18340; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 266-68; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 213-15; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 269-73; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 161-62; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 326, 328, 330; 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. 160-61; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 596-97