Category Archives: Mississippi

Sherman Targets Meridian

January 10, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman, the new commander of the Federal Army of the Tennessee, arrived at Memphis to discuss his upcoming campaign against Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s Confederate Army of Mississippi.

Federal Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit:

In December, Sherman had proposed clearing Confederate guerrillas from the Yazoo and Red rivers in Mississippi and Louisiana. But as the new year began, that plan changed. At Memphis, Sherman shared his new plan with Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut, commanding XVI Corps. Sherman’s army, consisting of two corps (Hurlbut’s and Major General James B. McPherson’s XVII) garrisoned throughout the region, would move across central Mississippi from the Mississippi River to confront Polk, whose 10,000-man army was stationed near Meridian.

Sherman next wrote McPherson, “Now is the time to strike inland at Meridian and Selma. I think Vicksburg is the point of departure from the (Mississippi) river.” Sherman would pull 20,000 white troops from the garrisons at Fort Pillow, Memphis, Corinth, and other posts, and replace them with black troops. Sherman wrote, “Keep this to yourself, and make preparations.” Sherman demanded strict secrecy or else the Confederates might hurry reinforcements to Polk. This included severely restricting the number of newspaper correspondents in his military department.

Sherman then met with Brigadier General William Sooy Smith, who commanded 2,500 Federal cavalry troopers clearing “the country of the bands of guerrillas that infested” Middle Tennessee. Smith’s force would be expanded and assigned to confront Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s 3,500 Confederate horsemen, which were currently heading into Mississippi to gather new recruits and join Polk.

Within two weeks, Smith’s force had been bolstered to 7,000 troopers in two divisions. They would advance southeast from Memphis, plundering along the Mobile & Ohio Railroad line from Okolona to Meridian while looking to confront Forrest.

Sherman arrived at Vicksburg aboard the gunboat Juliet on the 29th. He wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck explaining his plan to launch Smith against Forrest and the railroad while the main force moved east from Vicksburg to Meridian. A third force would move up the Yazoo River and threaten Grenada as a diversion.

Sherman wrote Major General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Military Division of the Mississippi, “All things favorable thus far for movement on Meridian.” The official Federal mission was to inflict so much destruction on the railroads in Mississippi “that the enemy will not attempt to rebuild them during the rebellion.”

To McPherson, Sherman made it clear that he intended to wage war on civilians: “Let the commanding officer impress on the people that we shall periodically visit that country and destroy property or take it, as long as parties of Confederate troops or guerrillas infest the river banks.” Sherman directed his men to seize farmers’ cotton and give it to Federal ships that had been fired upon by Confederate partisans.

Sherman stated that civilians along the Yazoo must know “that we intend to hold them responsible for all acts of hostility to the river commerce,” because they now must–

“… feel that war may reach their doors. If the enemy burns cotton we don’t care. It is their property and not ours, but so long as they have cotton, corn, horses, or anything, we will appropriate it or destroy it so long as the confederates in war act in violence to us and our lawful commerce. They must be active friends or enemies. They cannot be silent or neutral.”

The Federals were not to bring any provisions with them on the march, “for the enemy must not only pay for damages inflicted on our commerce but for the expenses incurred in the suppression.”

To divert attention from Sherman’s expedition, Grant directed Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Federal Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga, to advance on General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee at Dalton, Georgia. Thomas was not to bring on a general battle, but rather just keep Johnston occupied so he could not reinforce Polk.

Sherman learned that keeping his plans secret would be more difficult than anticipated. Forrest reported to Polk on the 31st, “A gentleman just from Memphis says the enemy design moving a large force from Vicksburg on Jackson and contemplate rebuilding the railroad between those points and moving from Jackson on Mobile and Meridian.” Nevertheless, Sherman’s campaign of destruction began as scheduled in February.


References; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 358, 362; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 923; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 391; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 457-58


Sherman’s Plans for Mississippi

December 29, 1863 – Major General William T. Sherman shared his plan to clear the Confederates from Mississippi and its connecting waterways with his close friend Major General Ulysses S. Grant.

Following his victory at Chattanooga, Grant returned to division headquarters at Nashville. President Abraham Lincoln sent him a personal message, which Grant issued to his troops as a general order:

“Understanding that your lodgment at Chattanooga and Knoxville is now secure, I wish to tender you, and all under your command, my more than thanks–my profoundest gratitude–for the skill, courage, and perseverance with which you and they, over so great difficulties, have effected that important object. God bless you all.”

Federal Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit:

Grant soon began preparing for the next campaign. Sherman, whose troops had recently returned to Chattanooga after “rescuing” the Federals at Knoxville, urged Grant to send him back to Mississippi to deal with the growing number of guerrillas on the Mississippi River, Confederates raiding Federal supply lines, and Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s Army of the Southwest stationed at Meridian.

Grant agreed, notifying his superiors at Washington, “I will send Sherman down the Mississippi.” Sherman planned to work with Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron to clear the waterways for Federal commerce and then confront Polk’s Confederates. Sherman wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “I will be at Cairo (Illinois) and down the Mississippi by January 2, and strike Grenada and Shreveport, if the admiral agrees. I left my command ragged, but in splendid fighting order.”

In a second letter to Halleck, Sherman addressed the growing problem of guerrillas attacking Federal shipping and elaborated on his plans:

“I propose to send an expedition up the Yazoo, above Yazoo City, to march back to the Grenada road and do a certain amount of damage, and give general notice that for every boat fired on we will destroy some inland town, and, if need be, fire on houses, even if they have families, for I know the secessionists have boasted that although we have the river, still it shall do us no good.”

Sherman asserted that there was “complicity between guerrillas and the people, and if the latter fire on our boats loaded with women and children, we should retaliate.” After clearing the Yazoo River, Sherman proposed to move up the Red River “as high as the water will permit, and make them feel their vulnerability.” Sherman then explained his overall view on how the war should be prosecuted in the Mississippi region:

“I do not believe in holding possession of any part of the interior. This requires a vast force, which is rendered harmless to the enemy by its scattered parts. With Columbus, Memphis, Helena, and Vicksburg strongly held, and all other forces prepared to move to any point, we can do something, but in holding the line of the Memphis and Charleston road, inferior points on the Mississippi, and the interior of Louisiana, a large army is wasted in detachments.”

Turning to the command structure, Sherman told Halleck that Grant’s authority should be expanded to control the entire Mississippi River. Currently Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, who technically outranked Grant, controlled the stretch running through Louisiana to the Gulf of Mexico. Sherman proposed retaining Banks’s Department of the Gulf, but limiting its jurisdiction to Texas only.

Writing to Grant on the 29th, Sherman provided more specifics in his plan to wipe Confederates off the Mississippi and other connecting rivers. He reported that he had asked Porter to provide “accurate accounts of all damages to steam-boats on the Mississippi, with the localities where they occurred.” Once this data was collected:

“I think that we can hold the people on Yazoo and back responsible for all damages above Vicksburg, the country on Ouachita for all damages between the mouth of Red and Arkansas on the west bank, and finally the rich country up Red River for the more aggravated cases near the mouth of the Red River. We should (force) planters pay in cotton not only for the damages done, but the cost of our occupation, and in case of failure to pay we should inflict exemplary punishment.”

Sherman then added a lavish assessment of his friend’s new prominence in the army command:

“You occupy a position of more power than Halleck or the President. There are similar instances in European history, but none in ours. For the sake of future generations risk nothing. Let us risk, and when you strike let it be as at Vicksburg and Chattanooga. Your reputation as a general is now far above that of any man living, and partisans will maneuver for your influence; but if you can escape them, as you have hitherto done, you will be more powerful for good than it is possible to measure.”

He then repeated to Grant what he had proposed to Halleck: “I wish you would urge on Halleck to give you the whole Mississippi.” With the entire river now under Federal control, “the navigation is one and should be controlled by one mind.” Without Grant commanding all of the Mississippi, Sherman’s proposed expedition up the Red River could be rejected by Banks because Sherman would be operating in Banks’s department.

The discussion would continue into next year, as Sherman went on planning for what he hoped to be a ruthless campaign.


References; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 918

From William Nugent, 28th Mississippi Cavalry

Letter from Captain William Nugent of the 28th Mississippi Cavalry to his wife

Hd. Qrs. Cavalry Brigade

Tupelo, Miss.

September 7, 1863

Mississippi State Flag | Image Credit:


The hour of your trial is approaching and I feel very very uneasy on your account. I hope and trust in the Giver of all good, though the thought that you are so far away, so near the enemy’s lines and surrounded by so many dangers makes me feel quite blue at times: and were it not for the elasticity of mind and heart which characterizes me, I should have long since grown utterly despondent.

War is fast becoming the thing natural, tho’ abhorrent to my feelings. I got at it just as I used to go at law-suits. Still I am not by any manner of means fond of the profession. The idea of being continually employed in the destruction of human life is revolting in the extreme. Necessity imperious and exacting, forces us along and we hurry through the dreadful task apparently unconscious of its demoralizing influences and destructive effects both upon the nation and individuals. I wish Uncl. Saml. would recognize his nephew and give us peace. I do not desire a reconstruction and a hollow truce, a servile place in the family of nations and to eat the bread of dependence while I am denied all the privileges of a freeman. The Yankees say that when we are conquered they cannot afford to let us have the right of trial by jury, because they say a “secesh” jury would clear us all, neither can we have our own judges or exercise the elective franchise. This is the doctrine held by their main supporters and is the one which will be practiced by them if they are successful. And yet our weak-minded friends are willing to lick the hand that would smite them and pay court to the hardhearted minions of abolitionism. I own no slaves and can freely express my notions without being taxed with any motive of self interest. I know that this country without slave labor would be wholly worthless, a barren waste and desolate plain–we can only live and exist by this species of labor: and hence I am willing to continue the fight to the last. If we have to succumb we must do it bravely fighting for our rights; and the remnant must migrate. If the worst comes, we must go over to England or France, and become Colonies again. Never will I be content to submit to Yankee rule. The Russian yoke would be preferable. The close fisted Yankees would filch our pockets at every turn–France I would prefer. Her policy is more enlightened than that of England and she would give us the rights and privileges of freemen. It would be her policy and doubtless when her affairs are straightened in Mexico, she will recognize the importance of a more decided policy in American affairs.

I hope the enemy now discovers that the possession of the River is a barren victory. Their Western produce finds no market and the foreign demand will not be very large or extensive either at New Orleans. Their commerce is fettered by childish restrictions and the Southern privateers keep them uneasy. Cotton cannot be found and flour and bacon is not a commodity of much exchangeable value. A few men, in authority, may make fortunes; but the poor man who brings his flat load of corn and potatoes expecting to return with a pocket full of money will be utterly mistaken. The Yankees won’t see this until too late to remedy the evil. They are not far-seeing enough. If they only had the negroes at work on the plantations under their masters, they would have realized some beneficial results.

We are now camped at a place memorable in this war, and whose name will live in history. We are occupying Genl. Bragg’s old Hd. Qrs. and have a cozy time of it–and if the enemy don’t disturb us soon we will be quite comfortably fixed…

Old Pillow is conscripting every man in the whole country. He is no respecter of persons. There is in consequence a terrific quaking among the noncombatants and substitute men. Judge Handy has just decided that the principal is liable unless his substitute is over 45 yrs. of age; and is in any event liable for militia duty. This will make the nice young gentlemen quake in their shoes, and force them to “come to the centre.”

My health continues good–I am endeavoring to get Clarence promoted so that he can come up here and be with me, and, I think I will succeed in due course of time. The Company is, I am sorry to have to say, going to pieces, numbering now only some twenty-nine men for duty.

Give my love and kisses to all. Do the best you can, and ever remember that you are supreme in my affections. May God Almighty bless, comfort, protect and preserve you is the prayer of

Your devoted husband,




Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: First Vintage Books, 1988), p. 175-77

The Second Fall of Jackson

July 16, 1863 – General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederates abandoned Jackson and central Mississippi as superior Federal numbers closed in on them.

Generals W.T. Sherman and J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Major General William T. Sherman’s 40,000 Federals had chased Johnston east to the Mississippi capital of Jackson after the fall of Vicksburg. Sherman partially encircled the city and prepared to put Johnston’s 32,000 Confederates under siege. The Federals began a bombardment on the 12th, with heavy guns shelling the Confederate defenses from multiple directions.

Johnston did not want to lose his army the way that Generals John C. Pemberton and Franklin Gardner lost theirs at Vicksburg and Port Hudson. Johnston was willing to sacrifice the town if it saved his men. He wrote President Jefferson Davis, “If the enemy will not attack, we must, or at the last moment withdraw. We cannot attack seriously without risking the army.”

Brigadier General Jacob G. Lauman’s Federal division of XIII Corps reconnoitered the woods between the railroad and the Pearl River, on Johnston’s extreme left. During this mission, one of Lauman’s brigades exceeded orders and charged Major General John C. Breckinridge’s Confederate earthworks. The attack failed miserably, as the Federals lost 465 of 880 men and three regimental colors. Major General E.O.C. Ord, commanding XIII Corps, relieved Lauman from command for this fiasco.

Federal commanders did not request a truce to collect the dead from the field, instead leaving them to rot for two days in the sweltering heat. Johnston sent Sherman a message offering a ceasefire so the Federals could collect the bodies, and Sherman agreed. This temporarily halted the almost constant exchange of artillery that had taken place since the siege began.

Over the next few days, the Federals inched closer to surrounding the defenses. Johnston dispatched his cavalry division under Brigadier General William H. Jackson to capture a large wagon train coming from Vicksburg to supply Sherman’s Federals. However, Jackson could not intercept the wagon before it reached its destination, thus ensuring that the siege would last indefinitely.

Sherman notified Major General Ulysses S. Grant at Vicksburg, “I think we are doing well out here, but won’t brag till Johnston clears out and stops shooting his big rifle guns at us. If he moves across Pearl River and makes good speed, I will let him go.” Johnston hoped to lure Sherman into a frontal assault, but Sherman would not take the bait. Johnston informed Davis on the 15th:

“The enemy is evidently making a siege which we cannot resist. It would be madness to attack him. In the beginning it might have been done, but I thought then that want of water would compel him to attack us. The remainder of the army under Grant at Vicksburg is beyond doubt on its way to this place.”

Grant was not on his way, but he could have easily reinforced Sherman if needed. Johnston had no reinforcements to draw from, and a protracted siege would only result in losing his entire army. Worse, Johnston learned on the 16th that his cavalry expedition to capture Sherman’s supply train had failed, resulting in the Federals having enough ammunition to train 200 guns on the Confederates.

Johnston wrote Davis, “The enemy being strongly reinforced, and able when he pleases to cut us off, I shall abandon this place, which is impossible for us to hold.” He sent his sick and wounded out of town to the east before evacuating the main army that night. The Confederates fell back across the Pearl River to Brandon. They left behind a large amount of weapons and supplies because they did not repair the railroad bridge needed to transport them.

Noting a lack of enemy activity on the morning of the 17th, Sherman sent his troops forward to confirm the defenses had been abandoned. He dispatched a division to pursue the Confederates, but Johnston moved farther east to Morton. The distance and the blistering heat halted the Federal pursuit. Sherman later wrote, “General Johnston had carried his army safely off, and pursuit in that hot weather would have been fatal to my command.”

Sherman lost 1,112 Federals in the partial siege of Jackson, while Johnston lost 604. The Federals began a second occupation of the city and set about looting and pillaging what was left, despite Sherman assigning a division to prevent such destruction. The Federals that reached Brandon burned that town as well before Sherman led his force back to Vicksburg on the 25th. Johnston saved his army, but he gave up central Mississippi in the process.



Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 393;; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18759; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 308, 310; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 619-20; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 328, 330-31, 335; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 156; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 386-87; 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. 637

The Jackson Campaign

July 10, 1863 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals approached the Mississippi capital of Jackson to confront General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederates.

Federal Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit:

During the siege of Vicksburg, Major General Ulysses S. Grant dispatched Sherman to lead a force in defending against an attempt by Johnston’s “Army of Relief” to break the besieged Confederates out. Once Vicksburg fell, Sherman was to go on the offensive against Johnston. The day before Vicksburg’s formal surrender, Grant told Sherman, “I want Johnston broken up as effectually as possible, and roads destroyed.” As the surrender was being finalized, Grant provided more detail:

“When we go in, I want you to drive Johnston from the Mississippi Central Railroad, destroy bridges as far as Grenada with your cavalry, and do the enemy all the harm possible. You can make your own arrangements and have all the troops of my command, except one corps–(General James) McPherson’s, say. I must have some troops to send to (General Nathaniel) Banks, to use against Port Hudson.”

Grant assigned 40,000 of his 77,000 troops to Sherman’s expedition. Sherman commanded Major General Frederick Steele’s XV Corps, Major General John G. Parke’s IX Corps, and Major General E.O.C. Ord’s XIII Corps. This new Federal army had orders to “inflict all the punishment you can.”

Johnston had 32,000 Confederates in four divisions, led by Major Generals William W. Loring, John C. Breckinridge, Samuel G. French, and William H.T. Walker. He also had Brigadier General William H. Jackson’s cavalry division. Johnston learned that Pemberton had surrendered on the 5th, as he was planning to try breaking him out of Vicksburg.

Sherman’s Federals came out of their trenches that day to oppose him. Johnston ordered his men to abandon their line along the Big Black River and fall back east toward Jackson. Federals clashed with Johnston’s rear guard at Birdsong Ferry on the river.

The Federals marched to Bolton before continuing to Jackson. Sherman later recalled that “the weather was fearfully hot, and water scarce. Johnston had marched rapidly, and in retreating had caused cattle, hogs, and sheep, to be driven into the ponds of water, and there shot down; so that we had to haul their dead and stinking carcasses out to use the water.”

On the 7th, Johnston deployed 26,000 of his men in defensive works around Jackson. News spread among the Confederates that Vicksburg had fallen, which dampened morale. The Federals camped on the Champion’s Hill battlefield on the night of the 7th, and one of Sherman’s aides recalled the scene:

“We reached it in the night and bivouacked on the very spot where we had fought. It was a strange happening. Our sensations were very unusual, for we realized that all about us there in the woods were the graves of our buried comrades and the still unburied bones of many of our foes. Save an occasional hooting owl the woods were sad and silent. Before we lay down in the leaves to sleep the glee club of Company B sang that plaintive song, ‘We’re Tenting To-night on the Old Camp Ground.’ Never was a song sung under sadder circumstances. All the night a terrible odor filled the bivouac.

“When daylight came one of the boys came to our company and said, ‘Go over to that hollow, and you will see hell.’ Some of us went. We looked but once. Dante himself never conjured anything so horrible as the reality before us. After the battle the Rebels in their haste had tossed hundreds of their dead into this little ravine and slightly covered them over with earth, but the rains had come, and the earth was washed away, and there stood or lay hundreds of half-decayed corpses. Some were grinning skeletons, some were headless, some armless, some had their clothes torn away, and some were mangled by dogs and wolves. The horror of that spectacle followed us for weeks. That, too, was war!”

Sherman’s Federals, enraged by Confederate efforts to ruin the drinking water, devastated the countryside as they advanced east. They looted and burned private homes, barns, businesses, cotton gins, crops, and anything else within their reach. Valuables were seized, and anything not considered valuable was destroyed. Civilian protests against such barbarism went unheeded.

Skirmishing occurred at Clinton, Bolton Depot, and various other places as the Federals pushed east. They approached the defenses outside Jackson on the 9th. Although Johnston had just four divisions to Sherman’s 11, Sherman opted to move his left flank to the Pearl River above town, extend his right to the river below town, and initiate siege operations. He also sent raiders north and south to cut the Mississippi Central Railroad. Sherman hoped this would result in capturing Johnston’s entire army.

President Jefferson Davis, unaware of the massive force extending around Johnston’s works, wrote to him expressing hope that he would “attack and crush the enemy.”



Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 393;; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18742-50; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 302-03, 305-06; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 614, 619; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 324-27; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 156-57; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 380, 383; 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. 636-37; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 60-61, 781-84; 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), Q363

Confederates Starving in Vicksburg

July 3, 1863 – The Confederate soldiers and residents under siege in Vicksburg were on the verge of being starved into submission.

Shelters dug into the hills during the siege of Vicksburg | Image Credit:

By this time, Vicksburg had been under siege for nearly six grueling weeks. Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal Army of the Tennessee surrounded the land side of the city, while Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron sealed Vicksburg from the water. Both Grant and Porter continuously bombarded the Confederates with heavy guns and mortars.

With no supply flow, the Confederate defenders and the residents under siege were on the brink of starvation. In addition, Federals were tunneling under the defenses in hopes of detonating explosives and blowing holes in the siege line, adding yet another threat to the suffering defenders. One tunnel was exploded on the 1st, but the Federal commanders determined that it did not cause enough damage to facilitate a successful breakthrough.

General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the 32,000-man Confederate “Army of Relief” east of Vicksburg, began moving out of Jackson to break through Grant’s siege lines and rescue the trapped Confederates. The movement was quickly halted by Major General William T. Sherman’s XV Corps blocking their path and all crossings at the Big Black River.

Lt Gen John C. Pemberton | Image Credit:

Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate army in Vicksburg, hoped his men had enough strength to break out themselves. He sent a confidential message to each of his four division commanders (Generals Carter L. Stevenson, Martin L. Smith, John H. Forney and John S. Bowen):

“Unless the siege of Vicksburg is raised or supplies are thrown in, it will become necessary very shortly to evacuate the place. I see no prospect of the former, and there are many great, if not insuperable, obstacles in the way of the latter. You are, therefore, requested to inform me with as little delay as possible as to the condition of your troops, and their ability to make the marches and undergo the fatigues necessary to accomplish a successful evacuation.”

The commanders unanimously agreed that their exhausted and starving troops could not break out of Vicksburg and defeat such a superior Federal army. This prompted Pemberton to ask Grant for surrender terms. Meanwhile, Johnston held his forces back, unaware that Grant had already begun planning to confront him after capturing Vicksburg.

At 10 a.m. on the 3rd, Confederates in a sector of the defense line raised white flags to allow two officers to cross over and deliver a message from Pemberton to Grant: “General, I have the honor to propose to you an armistice for several hours, with a view to arranging terms for the capitulation of Vicksburg.”

Pemberton had learned (after breaking the Federal signal code) that Porter did not want to deal with shipping 30,000 Confederate prisoners to northern prison camps. He therefore hoped to get the most favorable surrender terms possible by sending Bowen, Grant’s old neighbor from St. Louis, to deliver the surrender offer. Pemberton also tried appealing to the Federals’ patriotism by offering to give up Vicksburg on Independence Day.

If that did not work, Pemberton tried bluffing that he was making this offer only “to save the further effusion of blood, which must otherwise be shed to a frightful extent, feeling myself fully able to maintain my position for a yet indefinite period.” As such, he proposed appointing commissioners to negotiate a settlement. Pemberton was disappointed by Grant’s stern reply:

“Your note of this date is just received, proposing an armistice for several hours for the purpose of arranging terms of capitulation through commissioners to be appointed, & c. The useless effusion of blood you propose stopping by this course can be ended at any time you may choose, by an unconditional surrender of the city and the garrison. Men who have shown so much endurance and courage as those now in Vicksburg will always challenge the respect of an adversary, and I can assure you will be treated with all the respect due to prisoners of war. I do not favor the proposition of appointing commissioners to arrange terms of capitulation, because I have no terms other than those indicated above.”

Bowen then played both sides to end the siege; Grant agreed to meet with Pemberton after Bowen said that Pemberton wanted to meet; Bowen then returned to Pemberton and told him that Grant wanted to meet with him. The two commanders and their staffs met under an oak tree at 3 p.m., but Pemberton angrily rejected Grant’s demand for unconditional surrender, saying that “you will bury many more of your men before you will enter Vicksburg.”

The men separated, leaving their staffs to discuss the matter without them. Both staffs favored paroling the prisoners, even though Grant did not. Grant left the meeting agreeing to send his final surrender terms to Pemberton by 10 p.m. This gave Grant’s staff time to persuade him to ease his unconditional surrender demand. After taking time for reflection, Grant sent his final terms:

“In conformity with the agreement of this afternoon, I will submit the following proposition for the surrender of the city of Vicksburg, public stores, & c. On your accepting the terms propo(sed) I will march in one Division as a guard and take possession at 8 a.m. to-morrow. As soon as rolls can be made out and paroles signed by officers and men you will be allowed to march out of our lines the officers taking with them their side arms and clothing, and the Field, Staff & Cavalry officers one horse each. The rank & file will be allowed all their clothing but no other property.”

Paroling Confederates exceeded Grant’s authority under War Department regulations. But Grant hoped to start a new offensive as soon as he cleared out Vicksburg, and both he and Porter knew it would take a while to ship so many prisoners north. Moreover, Grant figured that most of the parolees, who would be eligible to return to the ranks once exchanged for Federal prisoners, would instead choose to stay home after nearly starving in Vicksburg.

Pemberton accepted Grant’s terms in the early hours of Independence Day. He had just received a message from Johnston stating that he would try breaking Pemberton’s army out of Vicksburg on the 7th “by an attack on the enemy, to create a diversion which might enable Pemberton to cut his way out… if Vicksburg cannot be saved, the garrison must.” But it was too little, too late.



Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 378-79; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 129; Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 393; 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 18735; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 298-300; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 606-10; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 320, 323; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 149, 152-56; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 259-60; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 378; 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. 636

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:

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:

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.”


References; 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