Tag Archives: Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana

The Battle of Raymond

May 12, 1863 – A lone Confederate brigade offered stiff resistance against one of Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal corps near the town of Raymond, Mississippi.

Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, still believed that Grant’s primary target was the Jackson & Vicksburg Railroad where it crossed the Big Black River. As such, he directed Major General William W. Loring to defend that point with 20,000 Confederates. Pemberton did not know that Grant intended to move east of Loring and cut the supply line between Vicksburg and the state capital of Jackson.

Pemberton informed General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Western Department, and President Jefferson Davis that he intended to confront the Federals as they advanced toward Edwards Station, 16 miles east of Vicksburg. Pemberton requested reinforcements, “Also, that 3,000 cavalry be at once sent to operate on this line. I urge this as a positive necessity. The enemy largely outnumbers me, and I am obliged to hold back a large force at the ferries on Big Black.”

Early on the 12th, Federal Major General James B. McPherson’s 12,000-man XVII Corps resumed its advance toward Raymond, about 15 miles west of Jackson, with General John A. Logan’s division in the lead. The Federals climbed a ridge about three miles southwest of Raymond near 10 a.m. Brigadier General John Gregg, commanding a Confederate brigade, learned of the Federal approach. Believing these troops were just a feint, Gregg arranged his men and guns in line of battle.

The Confederates opened fire as Logan’s Federals descended the ridge. The Federals responded by forming a battle line of their own and advancing into the woods surrounding Fourteen Mile Creek. The two sides exchanged intense fire, as Gregg repelled Logan’s initial advance. The heavy smoke and dense brush prevented Gregg from seeing how outnumbered he truly was. It also confused the Federals and caused some to flee before Logan personally rallied them.

Fighting at Raymond | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

By 1:30 p.m., elements of McPherson’s other two divisions had come up to reinforce Logan, along with 22 guns. Logan attacked again and broke the Confederate right. Gregg, now realizing he was outnumbered three-to-one, began slowly pulling back through Raymond around 2 p.m.

The Federals sustained 442 casualties (66 killed, 339 wounded, and 37 missing). The Confederates lost 514 (72 killed, 252 wounded, and 190 missing), of which 345 came from the 7th Texas and 3rd Tennessee regiments alone. Gregg withdrew to Jackson, where Confederate reinforcements were arriving.

The Federals entered Raymond around 5 p.m. and seized a large amount of food and supplies the Confederates left behind. They also laid waste to much of the town. McPherson notified Grant, “The rough and impracticable nature of the country, filled with ravines and dense undergrowth, prevented anything like an effective use of artillery or a very rapid pursuit.” Meanwhile, Grant’s other two corps under Major Generals William T. Sherman and John A. McClernand advanced along different routes and clashed with various Confederate units.

Pemberton telegraphed Major General Carter L. Stevenson, commanding Confederates at Vicksburg:

“From information received, it is evident that the enemy is advancing in force on Edwards’s Depot and Big Black Bridge; hot skirmishing has been going on all morning, and the enemy are at Fourteen-Mile Creek. You must move with your whole division to the support of Loring and Bowen at the bridge, leaving Baldwin’s and Moore’s brigades to protect your right.”

Davis responded to Pemberton’s message by wiring Johnston at Jackson: “In addition to the 5,000 men originally ordered from Charleston (from General P.G.T. Beauregard’s department), about 4,000 more will follow. I fear more can not be spared to you.”

Although the engagement at Raymond was relatively small, it changed Grant’s plans. He had originally intended to merely cut Vicksburg off from Jackson, but now, seeing how lightly defended the state capital was (and learning that Johnston was on his way with reinforcements), he decided to veer east and capture Jackson before pivoting west toward Vicksburg.

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References

Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 617; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 67; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18437, 18445-53, 18559; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 283; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 360; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 295; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 111-12; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 352

The Battle of Port Gibson

May 1, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals tried pushing inland from the Mississippi River to gain a foothold on the ground south of Vicksburg. Confederates blocked their advance at Port Gibson.

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

Grant’s troops continued landing at Bruinsburg, on the east side of the Mississippi, while Major General William T. Sherman’s troops continued diverting Confederate attention north of Vicksburg. Sherman informed Grant, “At 3 p.m. we will open another cannonade to prolong the diversion, and keep it up till after dark, when we shall drop down to Chickasaw and go on back to camp.”

Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana from Jackson, received word of Grant’s landing and immediately called on both General Joseph E. Johnston (commanding the Western Department) and President Jefferson Davis to send reinforcements. Davis replied that he was trying to get Johnston to send troops from southern Alabama. Secretary of War James A. Seddon replied that reinforcements should be forthcoming from General P.G.T. Beauregard’s department at Charleston.

Johnston advised Pemberton, “If Grant’s army lands on this side of the river, the safety of Mississippi depends on beating it. For that object you should unite your whole force.” Pemberton currently had about 5,500 Confederates under Major General John S. Bowen to contest the Federal landing force, estimated to number at least 20,000.

At 6 a.m., Grant’s lead corps under Major General John A. McClernand pushed inland from Bruinsburg toward Port Gibson, about 30 miles south of Vicksburg. The main road split into north and south paths, separated by heavy brush and ravines. A local slave informed McClernand that the roads reconnected at Port Gibson, so McClernand sent one division up the north road and three up the south.

Confederate defenders contested both roads, with Brigadier General Edward D. Tracy commanding the northern approach and Brigadier General Martin L. Smith commanding the southern. Bowen arrived at Port Gibson in mid-morning to assume overall command.

The Confederates put up a strong resistance as the Federals advanced along the difficult terrain, during which Tracy was killed. Colonel Isham W. Garrott, who temporarily took over for Tracy, recalled that he “fell near the front line, pierced through the breast, and instantly died without uttering a word.”

A Federal thrust on the southern road knocked Smith back to within a half-mile of Port Gibson. Bowen directed Confederate reinforcements from Grand Gulf and Vicksburg to help defend the southern road. Meanwhile, Federal artillery began bombarding the Confederate positions.

Gen J.S. Bowen | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Heavily outnumbered, Bowen notified Pemberton that he would “have to retire under cover of night to the other side of Bayou Pierre and await reinforcements.” Before receiving this message, Pemberton, now at Vicksburg, replied that he was “hurrying reinforcements; also ammunition. Endeavor to hold your own until they arrive, though it may be some time, as the distance is great.” When Pemberton saw Bowen’s message, he wrote, “It is very important, as you know, to retain your present position, if possible…”

Fighting raged back and forth until a division of Major General James B. McPherson’s Federal corps came up to reinforce both fronts and aid in a general advance. The Confederates on the northern road broke and retreated toward Grand Gulf. The southern road defenders broke soon after, falling back through Port Gibson before turning north toward Vicksburg. The Confederates destroyed bridges over Bayou Pierre and Little Bayou Pierre.

Bowen directed his men into position to defend Grand Gulf, which he believed would be the Federals’ next target. Bowen had skillfully delayed the Federal advance for a day despite being heavily outnumbered. The Federals camped just outside Port Gibson for the night, with Grant planning to push northeast toward Jackson, not Vicksburg, the next day. Grant directed Sherman to stop his diversionary operation and join the main army.

The Federals sustained 875 casualties (131 killed, 719 wounded, and 25 missing), and the Confederates lost 832 (68 killed, 380 wounded, and 384 missing). Abandoning Port Gibson gave Grant a permanent foothold on the east side of the Mississippi. Pemberton informed Davis, “Enemy movement threatens Jackson, and, if successful, cuts off Vicksburg and Port Hudson from the east.”

The Federals advanced at dawn to renew the contest but found Port Gibson empty. Grant directed his chief engineer, Lieutenant Colonel James H. Wilson, to build a bridge over the south fork of Bayou Pierre. The work was completed by the afternoon of the 2nd. The Federals crossed and the vanguard reached Grindstone Ford, eight miles northeast, where the bridge had been destroyed. It was now becoming clear to the Confederate command that Grant was targeting Jackson and not Vicksburg.

Pemberton received word that Bowen had abandoned Port Gibson and responded by advising Governor John J. Pettus to remove state archives from the capital at Jackson. He then asked Johnston to send “large reinforcements” to handle this “completely changed character of defense.” Pemberton next cabled Davis, “I think Port Hudson and Grand Gulf should be evacuated, and the whole force concentrated for defense of Vicksburg and Jackson.”

Johnston addressed Pemberton’s reluctance to abandon Jackson or Vicksburg by advising, “Success will give you back what was abandoned to win it.” When Johnston advised Pemberton to “unite all your troops,” Pemberton directed Major General Franklin Gardner, commanding the Confederate garrison at Port Hudson, to leave a token force there and come north with the rest of his men to join in defending Jackson. Confederates abandoned Grand Gulf by nightfall.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 310-11; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 67; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18365-74; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 279-80; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 333, 346-49, 353, 355; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 102-04, 109; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 344-47; 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. 628; Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 760; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 595-96, 781-84

Vicksburg: Grant’s First Phase

April 27, 1863 – Federal troops arrived at Hard Times on the west bank of the Mississippi River. This signaled the successful completion of the first phase of Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s plan to capture Vicksburg.

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

Grant’s Federal troops were marching down the west bank to get below Vicksburg on the opposite shore. The men would then cross the river and threaten the city from the south. Grant planned for the troops to cross and land at Grand Gulf, Mississippi, but the Confederates anticipated this and hurried to strengthen defenses there.

To counter, Rear Admiral David D. Porter, commanding the Mississippi River Squadron supporting Grant, stationed gunboats on the Mississippi near the mouth of the Big Black River to isolate the Grand Gulf garrison. Porter told Grant that a “half Union man” claimed 12,000 Confederates and 12 guns were en route to Grand Gulf. Consequently, Porter would not attack without army support.

Grant received a conflicting report from Major General John A. McClernand, commanding the lead corps on the march down the west bank. McClernand stated, “I saw no great activity of any kind displayed by the enemy, nor did I see any formidable display of batteries or forts.” McClernand asserted that if the Federals were going to attack, “I cannot too strongly urge that it be done now. The enemy should be at once driven away from the crest and river slope of the bluffs, and I believe the gunboats can easily do it.”

Not sure whether to rely on Porter or McClernand, Grant left Milliken’s Bend to see for himself. He inspected the batteries at Grand Gulf and then wrote Major General William T. Sherman, commanding the diversionary corps north of Vicksburg, “I foresee great difficulties in our present position, but it will not do to let these retard any movements.” Grant planned to use the gunboats to take out the Confederate batteries and then land McClernand’s troops.

Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, had many things to worry about from his Jackson headquarters:

  • Grant threatened Grand Gulf below Vicksburg
  • Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Federal Army of the Gulf threatened Port Hudson farther down the Mississippi in Louisiana
  • Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson was raiding from the north as a diversion, along with other Federal cavalry units

Pemberton wrote Major General Carter L. Stevenson, commanding Confederates at Vicksburg, on the 25th:

“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.”

By the 27th, McClernand’s four divisions were at Hard Times, ready to be transported five miles downriver to Grand Gulf, on the east bank. McClernand was joined by one division from Major General James B. McPherson’s corps, with the other two approaching. Sherman’s corps was at Young’s Point, ready to carry out its diversion north of Vicksburg. Grant wrote Sherman:

“The effect of a heavy demonstration in that direction would be good so far as the enemy are concerned, but I am loth to order it, because it would be hard to make our own troops understand that only a demonstration was intended and our people at home would characterize it as a repulse. I therefore leave it to you whether to make such a demonstration.”

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

If Sherman decided to do it, Grant advised him to “publish your order beforehand, stating that a reconnaissance in force was to be made for the purpose of calling off the enemy’s attention from our movements south of Vicksburg, and not with any expectation of attacking.”

Sherman, who thought nothing of politics or public opinion, replied:

“We will make as strong a demonstration as possible. The troops will all understand the purpose and not be hurt by the repulse. The people of the country must find out the truth as best they can; it is none of their business…”

Meanwhile, Porter issued orders to his captains on how to attack Grand Gulf:

“The Louisville, Carondelet, Mound City, and Pittsburg will proceed in advance, going down slowly, firing their bow guns at the guns in the first battery on the bluff, passing 100 yards from it, and 150 yards apart from each. As they pass the battery on the bluff they will fire grape, canister, and shrapnel, cut at one-half second, and percussion shell from rifled guns…”

Meanwhile, Pemberton directed Brigadier General John S. Bowen, commanding the Grand Gulf defenses, to scout for Federal cavalry if he had the resources, or try strengthening Port Gibson farther south. The Federal cavalry raids compelled Pemberton to spread out his infantry in defense. Bowen reported that a large Federal force was across the river from him and ordered his troops to link the defenses between Grand Gulf and Port Gibson.

The next day, Bowen reported that “transports and barges loaded down with troops are landing at Hard-Times on the west bank.” Pemberton replied, “Have you force enough to hold your position? If not, give me the smallest additional number with which you can.”

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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. 353; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18340-48, 18402; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 278; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 330-31; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 285-86

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

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

The Yazoo Pass Expedition

February 7, 1863 – A Federal army-navy expedition began in an effort to capture Vicksburg by entering Yazoo Pass and approaching the city by water from the north.

Acting Rear Admiral David D. Porter, commanding the Federal Mississippi River Squadron, had lost all hope that Vicksburg could be taken by naval force alone. Confederates now had 50 guns overlooking the river, atop bluffs so steep that 10,000 troops could not climb up to them. Porter wrote, “We can, perhaps, destroy the city and public buildings, but that would bring us no nearer the desired point than we are now, and would likely put out the little spark of Union feeling still existing in Vicksburg.”

Yazoo Pass Expedition Map | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

He then came upon the idea of destroying a Mississippi River levee to flood Yazoo Pass. This would allow his gunboats to move to the Coldwater River, a tributary of the Tallahatchie, and then on to the Yazoo River in Vicksburg’s rear. Grant could then “follow with his army and Vicksburg attacked in the rear in a manner not likely dreamed of.”

Major General Ulysses S. Grant was not confident that such an operation would work. But he would not be ready to launch an all-out offensive against Vicksburg until spring, and he could not afford to appear idle until then. He therefore approved this and other minor operations, standing ready to exploit them in the slim chance that they succeeded.

The expedition would include elements of the army headed by Brigadier General Leonard F. Ross of XIII Corps, and the navy led by Lieutenant Commander Watson Smith. Seven gunboats, led by the ironclads U.S.S. Baron de Kalb and Chillicothe, would escort 5,000 troops aboard army transports.

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Wilson, chief Federal topographical engineer, devised the plan to open the levee sealing Yazoo Pass. Federal soldiers and engineers mined and detonated explosives that blew a 75-foot-wide hole in the levee and flooded the pass. The water swept away everything in its path, running too fast to guarantee safe navigation. This delayed the start of the expedition for several days.

The flotilla finally moved out on the 7th, riding the fast current onto Moon Lake. Obstructions such as underwater tree stumps and low hanging tree branches damaged the tinclad U.S.S. Forest Rose and generally hindered the Federal advance.

Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, knew that Yazoo Pass could be a weak point and directed his troops to obstruct the area with felled trees even before the Federal expedition began. The natural impediments combined with the Confederate obstructions to slow the Federal advance to about 10 miles per day.

As the flotilla struggled ahead, the Confederates quickly installed a garrison at Fort Pemberton, also known as Fort Greenwood, near Greenwood, Mississippi. The small work stood on the neck of land between the Tallahatchie to the north and the Yazoo to the south, about 50 miles north of Yazoo City. The troops, led by Major General William W. Loring, built defenses out of cotton bales but had just 10 guns to defend against a Federal naval approach. Loring also scuttled the former Star of the West to obstruct the waterway.

Meanwhile, the Federals continued pushing through the obstructions using “picks, spades, and wheelbarrows.” Smith insisted that the entire flotilla move together, rejecting Ross’s pleas to allow the ironclads to go ahead. This delayed the advance and gave the Confederates more time to build their defenses.

Two weeks after the Federals blew up the levee, Pemberton received a report from a Confederate naval lieutenant:

“The enemy have driven us off from the works on the Pass, and are coming through. Hasty obstructions with fortifications may save Yazoo City. I have done my best; worked under their noses, till their pickets came in 100 yards of me.”

Captain Isaac Brown, commanding Confederate naval forces at Yazoo City, also wrote Pemberton:

“I regret that we have so little time to make preparations, so little, in fact, that I cannot be answerable for what may happen, in other words, I can give no assurance that we shall be able to stop the enemy, as we cannot tell with what amount or description of force he is coming through. We will do all we can.”

Pemberton in turn wrote President Jefferson Davis:

“Many believe that the enemy will get through the Yazoo Pass, and I am informed that, by the use of steam saw-mills, three quarters of a mile of solid obstructions were removed in two days. I do not apprehend anything serious from this demonstration, still, if it be the enemy’s purpose to lay siege to Vicksburg, this is doubtless part of his plan to cut off our supplies, and would materially assist the investment of the place.”

Pemberton requested a “full supply of ammunition to be furnished for the defense of Vicksburg.” On the 23rd, Pemberton received word that the Federal flotilla had reached the Coldwater, en route to the Tallahatchie. He sent more troops to bolster Loring at Fort Pemberton. However, the Federals turned back when Colonel Wilson advised them to clear more obstructions before continuing forward. By the end of February, the Federals had finally cleared Yazoo Pass and entered the Coldwater River.

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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. 259, 264; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 202; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 260-62, 265-67; Grant, Ulysses S., Memoirs and Selected Letters: Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, Selected Letters 1839–1865 (New York: Library of America, 1990), p. 267; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 75-76; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 321; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 846