Tag Archives: John S. Bowen

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

The Battle of Big Black River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 367; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 128; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 317; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 285-86; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 376-77; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 298; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 122-25; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 354; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 630-32; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781-84

The Battle of Champion’s Hill

May 16, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals headed west from Jackson and took on Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton’s Confederates near the halfway point to Vicksburg.

At 8:30 a.m. on the 15th, General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Western Department, received Pemberton’s message stating that he was not moving to join forces with Johnston, but instead moving southeast to attack Grant’s supply line at Grand Gulf. Neither Pemberton nor Johnston knew that Grant had cut himself off from Grand Gulf and his army was now living off the land.

Johnston, frustrated that the two main Confederate forces in Mississippi were not reuniting but moving farther apart, responded, “Our being compelled to leave Jackson makes your plans impracticable. The only mode by which we can unite is by your moving directly to Clinton.”

Meanwhile, Grant’s XVII Corps under Major General James B. McPherson moved west from Jackson to link with Major General John A. McClernand’s XIII Corps near Raymond. From there, the two corps would advance in multiple columns to Edwards Station, about 15 miles east of Clinton. Major General William T. Sherman’s XV Corps stayed at Jackson and continued destroying anything of military value, along with most other valuable property.

Grant, who had a spy on Johnston’s staff, expected to confront Pemberton at Clinton because Johnston urged him to go there. Grant was unaware that Pemberton decided to defy Johnston’s order and instead go southeast. Blocked by a flooded waterway, Pemberton’s Confederates countermarched until cavalry reported a large Federal force near Bolton. That night, Grant’s troops bivouacked on the Jackson, Middle, and Raymond roads. The forces of Grant and Pemberton were within four miles of each other.

The next morning, Pemberton received Johnston’s message urging him to go to Clinton so they could join forces. By this time, Colonel Wirt Adams, commanding the Confederate cavalry, had reported skirmishing with Federals on the Raymond road. Pemberton, who had disobeyed Johnston’s initial order to join him, now decided to obey. He replied, “The order of countermarch has been issued. I am thus particular, so that you may be able to make a junction with this army. Heavy skirmishing is now going on in my front.”

As Pemberton’s 22,000 men began countermarching toward Clinton, McPherson advanced from Bolton to block him at a wooded ridge called Champion’s Hill, on the farm of Sid Champion, almost exactly between Jackson and Vicksburg. Federals drove in Pemberton’s pickets and opened with artillery. Pemberton saw that the Federals were to his north, poised to either block him from joining Johnston or hurry west to capture Vicksburg. He therefore decided to give battle.

Fighting at Champion’s Hill | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Pemberton deployed Major General Carter L. Stevenson’s division on the hill to face McPherson while sending the divisions under Major General William W. Loring and Brigadier General John S. Bowen against McClernand to the southeast. McPherson attacked Stevenson around 10:30 a.m., pushing the Confederates back and taking the hill. Bowen joined Stevenson in a counterattack that regained Champion’s Hill and almost pushed its way to Grant’s headquarters.

Just as McPherson’s line began wavering, the rest of his corps came up, led by Major General John A. Logan and Marcellus Crocker’s “Greyhounds.” The Federals launched another attack while Loring failed to support Bowen and Stevenson. This drove the Confederates off what they called “the hill of death” for good. The “up in the air” Confederate left flank disintegrated.

Pemberton ordered a retreat southwest to Edwards Station, with Loring’s division serving as the rear guard. Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman, who had surrendered Fort Henry last year, was killed by a shell fragment while directing artillery to cover the Confederate retreat.

The Confederates fell back on the Raymond road to Baker’s Creek, and then to Edwards. But the Federals pursued, and the disorganized Confederates could not hold Edwards Station. They broke and fled around 5 p.m. toward the bridge over the Big Black River, just 10 miles from Vicksburg, leaving Loring isolated. Loring held a council of war and decided not to try reuniting with the rest of Pemberton’s army. He hurried north to join with Johnston instead.

The Federals sustained 2,441 casualties (410 killed, 1,844 wounded, and 187 missing), and the Confederates lost 3,840 (381 killed, 1,018 wounded, and 2,441 missing or captured). The Federals captured 27 enemy cannon. Grant later claimed that more Confederates could have been captured had McClernand not been so cautious, but the Federals succeeded in cutting off Loring’s entire division.

This was the decisive battle of Grant’s campaign, during which he had defeated two Confederate armies and made it impossible for them to join forces. Meanwhile, Sherman’s corps remained at Jackson, where Sherman reported, “We have made good progress today in the work of destruction. Jackson will no longer be a point of danger. The land is devastated for 30 miles around.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 367; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 128; Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 126; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 317; 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 18485-91, 18507; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 285; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 368-71, 374-75; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 297; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 756; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 116, 118, 122, 124-25; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 353-54; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 630; 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 Moves East

May 4, 1863 – Major General John S. Bowen’s Confederates evacuated Grand Gulf, as Federals under Major General Ulysses S. Grant continued their eastward advance from Port Gibson.

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

The Federals moved through Port Gibson and crossed parts of Bayou Pierre on the 2nd. Lieutenant Colonel James H. Wilson, chief Federal engineer, repaired the bridge over Grindstone Ford so the advance could continue. Grant wrote, “The enemy is badly beaten, greatly demoralized, and exhausted of ammunition. The road to Vicksburg is open…” Meanwhile, Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron continued ferrying troops across the Mississippi, with gunboats covering their landing.

By day’s end, the Federals were deep behind the Confederates clinging to Grand Gulf, north of Port Gibson. Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, Confederate department commander, had rushed reinforcements to Bowen, giving him 9,000 men. However, Major General James B. McPherson’s XVII Corps landed to join Major General John A. McClernand’s XIII Corps, giving Grant about 30,000 Federals. More would come soon because Major General William T. Sherman’s XV Corps was on its way.

When Bowen learned that the Federals were on their way to the Big Black River, he ordered a withdrawal from Grand Gulf around midnight. The Confederates left five guns and moved north just as four of Porter’s gunboats approached to shell their defenses again. When Porter saw the place empty, he reported to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, “… it is with great pleasure that I report that the Navy holds the door to Vicksburg.”

Grant wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “Our victory has been most complete, and the enemy thoroughly demoralized.” Bowen’s defense effort had been “a very bold one and well carried out. My force, however, was too heavy for his, and composed of well-disciplined and hardy men who know no defeat and are not willing to learn what it is.”

Grant had initially planned to advance on Vicksburg from the south, but the harsh terrain gave defenders a major advantage over attackers. Also, Confederates in Vicksburg could be supplied by the railroad leading to the state capital of Jackson. So Grant planned instead to move east, cut the railroad between Vicksburg and Jackson, and then turn to take Vicksburg to the west.

The plan called for establishing a supply base at Grand Gulf in anticipation of Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Army of the Gulf coming up from Louisiana to join Grant’s army. But when Grant learned that Banks would be busy trying to capture Port Hudson, he opted to “live off the country.” As the Federals moved east, they looted houses, farms, and plantations, leaving desolation in their wake. On the 6th, Sherman’s Federals arrived at Hard Times, on the west bank of the Mississippi, and began crossing to join the main army.

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

Pemberton wired Secretary of War James A. Seddon explaining that he did not receive enough reinforcements to stop the Federals. Pemberton wrote, “The stake is a great one; I can see nothing so important.” President Jefferson Davis wrote the next day, approving the withdrawal from Grand Gulf while stating, “Am anxiously expecting further information of your active operations… To hold both Vicksburg and Port Hudson is necessary to our connection with Trans-Mississippi. You may expect whatever it is in my power to do for your aid.”

This prompted Pemberton to countermand his order for Major General Franklin Gardner to lead the bulk of his force from Port Hudson to help defend Jackson. Pemberton instead directed Gardner to stay at Port Hudson “and hold it to the last. President says both places (Port Hudson and Vicksburg) must be held.” However, Pemberton received conflicting instructions from General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Western Department, who urged him to come out of his defenses and fight Grant, even if it meant losing Vicksburg.

By that time, Grant’s army had swelled to 44,000 men as it continued moving east. Grant commended his troops for their victory on May 1, a battle which added to “the long list of those previously won by your valor and endurance.” Grant declared, “A few days’ continuance of the same zeal and constancy will secure to this army the crowning victory over the rebellion… A grateful country will rejoice at our success, and history will record it with immortal honor.”

Grant’s Federals, led by McPherson and McClernand, began arriving at Utica, some 20 miles southwest of Jackson, on the 9th. Sherman informed Grant that supply wagons were clogging the road all the way to Grand Gulf, hampering troop movements. Grant responded:

“I do not calculate upon the possibility of supplying the army with full rations from Grand Gulf. I know it will be impossible without constructing additional roads. What I do expect, however, is to get up what rations of hard bread, coffee, and salt we can, and make the country furnish the balance.”

Confederate General J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

That same day, Seddon ordered Johnston to “proceed at once (from Tullahoma) to Mississippi and take chief command of the forces, giving to those in the field, as far as practicable, the encouragement and benefit of your personal direction. Arrange to take, for temporary service, with you, or to be followed without delay, 3,000 good troops…”

The administration hoped that Johnston could better manage the crisis in Mississippi if he was there directing Pemberton’s movements in person. Johnston, whose wounds from the Battle of Seven Pines nearly a year before were still giving him trouble, replied, “I shall go immediately, although unfit for service.” He left on the 10th, after responding to Pemberton’s report on troop positioning around Vicksburg: “Disposition of troops, as far as understood, judicious; can be readily concentrated against Grant’s army.”

Pemberton had about 23,000 troops to face 44,000 Federals. He wrote Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, “My force is insufficient for offensive operations. I must stand on the defensive in all events until reinforcements reach me.”

Grant dispatched Federal cavalry under Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson to operate around Crystal Springs, where they severed the New Orleans & Jackson Railroad line. Grant reported to Halleck on the 11th:

“My forces will be this evening as far advanced towards Fourteen Mile Creek–the left near Black River and extending in a line nearly east and west–as they can get without bringing on a general engagement. I shall communicate with Grand Gulf no more except it becomes necessary to send a train with heavy escort. You may not hear from me again for several days.”

Pemberton received word that the Federals were closing in on Edwards Station, 16 miles east of Vicksburg, in an apparent effort to wreck the Jackson & Vicksburg Railroad. Pemberton directed Brigadier General John Gregg, who had led a brigade from Port Hudson to Jackson, to scout for Federals around Raymond while defending the main crossings on the Big Black River. Gregg was unaware that McPherson’s 12,000-man corps was approaching Raymond.

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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. 361-62; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 128-29; Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 617; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18374, 18437, 18445; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 281, 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. 349-53, 355-57; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 292-94; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 104, 108-09; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 347-48, 350-51; 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. 629; Robbins, Peggy, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 628-29; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 392-93, 781-84

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 Needs Another Crossing

April 29, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant needed to find another place to cross the Mississippi River after Confederate defenses at Grand Gulf proved too strong to overcome.

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

By this time, two of Grant’s three Federal corps were below Vicksburg, waiting to be shuttled across the Mississippi River to threaten the city from the south. He planned to land the troops at Grand Gulf, Mississippi, but Confederates had hurried to build strong defenses there. Grant relied on Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron to break the defenses so the troops could cross.

Grant’s third corps, led by Major General William T. Sherman, was to create a diversion north of Vicksburg. Sherman’s Federals moved up the Yazoo River with a fleet of eight gunboats, three mortars, and 10 transports. Sherman directed the men to stand on the transport decks and “look as numerous as possible.” The Federals landed near Haynes’s Bluff, marched forward, then marched back onto the transports to draw enemy fire while firing back with artillery of their own.

The ploy worked. Major General Carter L. Stevenson, commanding the Vicksburg defenses, wrote Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, department commander, “The demonstration at Grand Gulf must be only a feint. Here is the real attack. The enemy are in front of me in force such as have never been seen before at Vicksburg. Send me reinforcements.”

Meanwhile, 33 miles southwest of Vicksburg, Porter positioned six gunboats on the Mississippi to bombard Grand Gulf: the U.S.S. Benton, Tuscumbia, Lafayette, Carondelet, Mound City, and Louisville. The Confederate defenses included two recently installed heavy batteries. As Grant watched from a nearby boat, Porter began the bombardment. Brigadier General John S. Bowen, commanding the Confederates at Grand Gulf, informed Pemberton that he was under heavy attack in preparation for an enemy troop landing.

The Federals fired 2,500 rounds, but they inflicted just 18 casualties while silencing one battery and disabling four guns. The Confederate response was more damaging, as Porter reported that his fleet was “pretty cut up.” His flagship Benton took 70 hits, the Lafayette took 45, and the Tuscumbia was put out of action for several days after taking 81 hits. The other three gunboats generally stayed out of range and suffered minimal damage.

At 12:30 p.m., five hours after the fight began, Porter signaled the fleet to fall back with the message “transports cannot pass.” The Federals sustained 75 casualties (18 killed and 57 wounded). According to Porter, “It was the most difficult portion of the river in which to manage an ironclad, strong currents (running six knots) and strong eddies turning them round and round, making them fair targets.”

When Pemberton learned of the Federal repulse, he wired Bowen, “In the name of the army, I desire to thank you and your troops for your gallant conduct today. Keep up the good work… Yesterday I warmly recommended you for a major-generalcy. I shall renew it.”

Grant and Porter agreed that the Grand Gulf defenses were too strong for the troop landing. That night, Federals seized a local slave who knew the area and had him show where another landing could be made. Grant initially planned to cross opposite Rodney, but the slave showed the Federals an unguarded crossing farther south, opposite Bruinsburg. A road extended from that town to Port Gibson and the rear of Grand Gulf.

That night, the Federal gunboats lashed transports to their sides facing away from Grand Gulf and passed the Confederate batteries to the new crossing point. The next day, Grant’s lead corps under Major General John A. McClernand began crossing on the transports and landing at Bruinsburg unopposed. By noon, 23,000 Federals had landed on Mississippi soil.

Grant later wrote that he felt:

“… a degree of relief scarcely ever equaled since. I was now in the enemy’s country, with a vast river and the stronghold of Vicksburg between me and my base of supplies. But I was on dry ground on the same side of the river with the enemy. All the campaigns, labors, hardships, and exposures, from the month of December previous to this time, that had been made and endured, were for the accomplishments of this one object.”

Grant directed the Federals to attack before their landing was discovered. They first needed to confront the 5,164 Confederates at Port Gibson, 12 miles east of Bruinsburg and six miles southwest of Grand Gulf. Bowen dispatched 5,000 more Confederates under Brigadier General Martin L. Smith out of Grand Gulf to intercept the Federals. They moved across Bayou Pierre and arrived about four miles west of Port Gibson that night, where they set up defenses.

McClernand’s Federals marched seven miles inland before camping for the night. Grant ordered Sherman to stop his demonstration and come down to join the main operation. Grant had the numbers, and now he had seized the initiative in a daring gamble, with help from Sherman’s feint and Grierson’s raid. The fight for Vicksburg would begin on the 1st of May.

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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. 353-54; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 127-29; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 66-68; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18348-56; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 279; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 332, 342-43, 346-47; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 287-88; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 96-97, 100-01; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 343-44; 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; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 165-66; 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