Tag Archives: John C. Pemberton

Post-Vicksburg: Davis Deals with Crisis

August 9, 1863 – Confederate President Jefferson Davis tried to regroup after the disastrous loss of the Mississippi River.

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

Following the devastating surrenders of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, the southern press generally concluded that Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, who had surrendered Vicksburg, was the most to blame. Davis disagreed, noting that General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding all Confederates in the Western Theater, had urged Pemberton to abandon Vicksburg, and when Pemberton got trapped there, Johnston did little to try rescuing him.

A letter circulated among southern newspapers from Johnston’s medical director, Dr. D.W. Yandell, in which Yandell (apparently writing to a fellow doctor) praised Johnston while condemning Pemberton and Davis for lacking decisiveness and wisdom. When Davis read this “article/letter,” he resentfully forwarded a copy to Johnston with a message of his own:

“It is needless to say that you are not considered capable of giving countenance to such efforts at laudation of yourself and detraction of others, and the paper is sent to you with the confidence that you will take the proper action in the premises.”

A few days later, Pemberton, now awaiting a prisoner exchange at Gainesville, Alabama, submitted his official report on the Vicksburg campaign. In it, he sought to “disprove many charges made against me through ignorance or malice.” However, “I fully acknowledge the correctness of the principle, that in military affairs, ‘Success is the test of merit.’”

That quote came from General Albert Sidney Johnston when he was assembling Confederate forces for a counterattack after the fall of Fort Donelson in 1862. Johnston, a close friend of Davis’s who was killed at the Battle of Shiloh, said, “The test of merit in my profession with the people is success. It is a hard rule, but I think it right.”

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Davis responded on the 9th. He tried easing Pemberton’s resentment by noting that in the eyes of the press, success was not necessarily the test of merit; for press favorites, the test was simply doing “what they are expected to do.” Such favorites were “sheltered when they fail by a transfer of the blame.” Those whom the press disliked often had their success “denied or treated as a necessary result.”

“The test of success,” Davis wrote, “though far from just, is one which may be accepted in preference to the popular delusion so readily created by unscrupulous men who resort to the newspapers to desseminate falsehood and forestall the public judgement.”

To Davis, both Pemberton and General Robert E. Lee had recently received harsh press criticism due more to opinion than fact. He stated, “General Lee and yourself have seemed to me example of the second class, and my confidence has not been diminished because letter-writers have not sent forth your praise on the wings of the press.”

Davis assured Pemberton that he was “no stranger to the misrepresentation of that which malignity is capable, nor to the generation of such feelings by the conscientious discharge of duty.” He knew firsthand “how slowly the messenger of truth follows that of slander.”

However, southerners continued railing against Pemberton, with some speculating that his Pennsylvania roots may have played a role in his surrender. Davis received a letter from an army chaplain expressing the sentiments of many troops in the western armies “that every disaster that has befallen us in the West has grown out of the fact that weak and inefficient men have been kept in power,” including Pemberton. The chaplain asked, “I beseech of you to relieve us of these drones and pigmies.”

Pemberton remained disqualified from service until paroled in October. He did not take up active field operations again.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 646-47; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 397

The Fall of Vicksburg

July 4, 1863 – Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton’s Confederates formally surrendered on Independence Day, transferring the mighty stronghold of Vicksburg to Federal hands.

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

Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal Army of the Tennessee accepted the surrender of both the Army of Mississippi and the city of Vicksburg. White flags were raised all along the Confederate defense line. A Federal division entered the city and quietly watched Vicksburg’s brave, exhausted, and starving defenders stack their arms in front of their lines at 10 a.m. Grant opened a supply line to feed the Confederates and city residents.

Federals replaced the Confederate flag over the city courthouse with a U.S. flag. An Ohio soldier wrote, “This was the most Glorious Fourth I ever spent.” Federal vessels on the Mississippi River blew their whistles in celebration. Federal officers celebrated the fall of Vicksburg at President Jefferson Davis’s nearby Brierfield Plantation. Vicksburg residents wept over the fall of their prized city.

A total of 29,511 officers and men were paroled (2,166 officers, 27,230 soldiers, and 115 civilians with the army). A group of 709 Confederates insisted on being taken prisoner so they would not have to take up arms again if exchanged. The Federals seized 172 guns, 50,000 stands of arms, and 600,000 rounds of ammunition. They now almost completely controlled the Mississippi River, except for the last Confederate garrison at Port Hudson.

The Army of Mississippi’s elimination from the war left General Joseph E. Johnston in command of Pemberton’s Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana. Johnston’s 32,000-man “Army of Relief” became the new Army of the Mississippi, and it was now all that was left to defend the rest of the state from Federal conquest.

Rear Admiral David D. Porter, commanding the Mississippi River Squadron, relayed the first news of Vicksburg’s fall to Washington by sending a gunboat upriver to the nearest telegraph office at Cairo, Illinois, to wire Navy Secretary Gideon Welles. Porter reported having fired 7,000 mortar rounds at Vicksburg, 4,500 shot and shells by gunboat, and 4,500 rounds by 13 naval guns placed on shore.

When Welles received the telegram on the 7th, he hurried to the White House to share the news with President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was discussing the Vicksburg campaign with Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase when Welles entered the room and handed him the message: “I have the honor to inform you that Vicksburg has surrendered to the U.S. forces on this 4th day of July.”

Lincoln embraced Welles and said, “What can we do for the Secretary of the Navy for this glorious intelligence? He is always giving us good news. I cannot, in words, tell you my joy over this result. It is great, Mr. Welles, it is great!” Grant soon received a wire from Washington: “It gives me great pleasure to inform you that you have been appointed a major general in the Regular Army, to rank from July 4, the date of your capture of Vicksburg.”

It had taken Grant seven months to capture this Confederate stronghold, which strategically was the most important Federal victory of the war. During the 48-day siege, the Federals had sustained 4,910 casualties while the Confederates lost 2,872 (in addition to the 29,511 surrendered). Grant wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck:

“The enemy surrendered this morning. The only terms allowed is their parole as prisoners of war. This I regard as a great advantage to us at the moment. It saves, probably, several days in the capture, and leaves troops and transports ready for immediate service. (General William T.) Sherman, with a large force, moves immediately on Johnston, to drive him from the State.”

Grant also paid tribute to Porter and his Mississippi River Squadron for their role in capturing Vicksburg: “The navy, under Porter, was all it could be during the entire campaign. Without its assistance the campaign could not have been successfully made with twice the number of men engaged.”

In Vicksburg, Federal troops broke into stores and, a Louisiana sergeant recalled, they brought the “luxuries” out “and throwing them down, would shout, ‘here rebs, help yourselves, you are naked and starving and need them.’ What a strange spectacle of war between those who were recently deadly foes.” Annie T. Wittemyer, a nurse in the Federal hospitals around Vicksburg, distributed between $116,000 and $136,000 worth of supplies to Confederate hospitals to help care for the sick and wounded in the city.

Grant submitted his report on Vicksburg’s surrender on July 8. Initially, Lincoln and Halleck expressed concern over Grant’s decision to parole the Confederates rather than ship them north as prisoners of war. However, Grant assured them that the prisoners, most of whom were “tired of the war and would get home as soon as they could,” would be processed for exchange by an authorized Confederate commissioner. In addition, paroling the troops would allow Grant to confront the Confederates at Jackson and Port Hudson. Porter’s fleet was also freed from conveying prisoners; it began moving downriver to help capture Port Hudson.

Lincoln wrote Grant on the 13th:

“My Dear General, I do not remember that you and I ever met personally. I write this now as a grateful acknowledgement for the almost inestimable service you have done the country. I wish to say a word further. When you first reached the vicinity of Vicksburg, I thought you should do what you finally did–march the troops across the neck, run the batteries with the transports, and thus go below; and I never had any faith, except a general hope that you knew better than I, that the Yazoo Pass expedition and the like could succeed. When you got below and took Port Gibson, Grand Gulf and vicinity, I thought you should go down the river and join General Banks; and when you turned Northward, East of the Big Black, I feared it was a mistake. I now wish to make a personal acknowledgement that you were right and I was wrong.”

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 129; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 301; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9453-65; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 839; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 613-14, 623-24; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 323-24; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 156-59; 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. 378-79, 385; 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. 636-38; 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. 168; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 707; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781-84; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 239-241

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: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

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: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

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.

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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. 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: Confederate Hardships Increase

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 128-29; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 413-15, 422, 425; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 311, 317; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 139, 142; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 365, 369, 371; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 634-36

The Siege of Vicksburg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 368-69; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18569, 18728; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 288-90; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9440; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 385-88; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 301-03; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 134, 136-40; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 357-59; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 633; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 167; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 238, 501; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 820; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q263

The Second Battle of Vicksburg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fighting at Vicksburg | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 368; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 128-29; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 320; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 68; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18605; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 286; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 383, 386; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 300-01; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 127, 130-32, 136-37; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 356-57; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 632; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 166; Simon, John Y., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 456-57; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781-84

The Battle of Vicksburg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 367-68; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 128-29; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 320; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18542-51, 18575-89, 18598; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 286; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 379-81, 383, 413; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 299; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 126-27, 136-37; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 354-55; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 632; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781-84