Tag Archives: Mississippi River Squadron

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

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The Milliken’s Bend Engagement

June 7, 1863 – Confederates tried lifting the siege of Vicksburg by preparing to attack the Federal outpost at Milliken’s Bend, on the west bank of the Mississippi River.

General Joseph E. Johnston commanded the Confederate Western Department, which only extended to the east bank of the Mississippi. The territory west of the river belonged to Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith’s Trans-Mississippi Department. Johnston had repeatedly asked Smith to try doing something in the west to help relieve the Federal pressure on Vicksburg and Port Hudson.

On the 7th, Smith ordered Major General Richard Taylor, commanding the Confederate District of West Louisiana, to attack Milliken’s Bend, just above Vicksburg. Smith was unaware that such an attack would do little to stop the siege of Vicksburg because Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals no longer relied on Milliken’s Bend for their supplies.

Taylor doubted that Grant had anything of value still on the west bank, but he obeyed Smith’s orders. He led 4,500 Confederates in three brigades:

  • Brigadier General Henry E. McCulloch’s Texans advanced on Milliken’s Bend
  • A second brigade approached Young’s Point to the south
  • A third brigade attacked Lake Providence to the north

One of Smith’s locals assured Taylor that he should have no trouble taking Milliken’s Bend because it was “guarded by some convalescents and some negro troops.”

Troopers of the 10th Illinois Cavalry learned of the Federal threat and notified Colonel Hermann Lieb, the Federal commander at Milliken’s Bend. Lieb prepared defenses with the one white regiment and three black regiments he had at the outpost. The black troops had been used mostly for manual labor and were not combat tested. Many were armed with antiquated muskets.

Fighting at Milliken’s Bend | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

McCulloch’s 1,500 Confederates attacked before dawn on the 8th, and the Federals quickly panicked. They fled east over the levee, where they put up a desperate fight until the Federal gunboats U.S.S. Lexington and Choctaw came up and “opened on the rebels with shell, grape, and canister.” Rear Admiral David D. Porter, commanding the Federal Mississippi River Squadron, reported that the Confederates:

“… fled in wild confusion, not knowing the gunboats were there or expecting such a reception. They retreated rapidly to the woods and soon disappeared. Eighty dead rebels were left on the ground, and our trenches were packed with the dead bodies of the blacks, who stood at their post like men.”

The Federals sustained 652 casualties (101 killed, 285 wounded, and 266 missing or captured), including 566 black troops. The white Federals noted the blacks’ courage under fire, and Grant later reported that the black troops “behaved well.” Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana, an observer with Grant’s Army of the Tennessee, wrote:

“The bravery of the blacks completely revolutionized the sentiment of the army with regard to the employment of negro troops. I heard prominent officers who formerly in private had sneered at the idea of negroes fighting express themselves after that as heartily in favor of it.”

Dana added that “the feeling was very different” among the Confederate attackers, claiming that the sight of armed blacks enraged them to the point that they yelled, “No quarter!” and murdered several prisoners. Many other captives were sent back into slavery.

Porter reported that he watched as the Confederates “commenced driving the negro regiments, and killed all they captured,” which “infuriated the negroes, who turned on the rebels and slaughtered them like sheep, and captured 200 prisoners.” However, this figure was exaggerated, and the Confederates did not kill all the black troops they captured as Porter claimed. According to McCulloch:

“These negroes had doubtless been in the possession of the enemy, and would have been a clear loss to their owners but for (fellow officer) Captain Marold, and should they be forfeited to the Confederate States or returned to their owners, I would regard it nothing but fair to give to Captain Marold one or two of the best of them.”

Still, in keeping with Confederate policy regarding armed slaves, McCulloch considered “it an unfortunate circumstance that any negroes were captured.” Taylor reported, “A very large number of the negroes were killed and wounded, and, unfortunately, some 50 with two of their white officers, captured. I respectfully ask instructions as to the disposition of these prisoners.”

The Confederates lost 185 men and did no real damage to Grant’s supply lines. They fared no better at Young’s Point or Lake Providence. This ended Taylor’s efforts to disrupt Grant’s operations from west of the Mississippi; he instead turned his attention to Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Army of the Gulf at Port Hudson.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 292; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 406; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 305-06; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 146-47; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 363; 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. 633-34; 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

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

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

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: Porter Runs the Batteries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 351-52; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 127-29; Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 784-85; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 66-68; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18340; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 275; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 329, 345; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 282; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 84-85; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 338-39; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 626-27; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 165; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781-84

Vicksburg: The Steele’s Bayou Expedition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 266-68; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 207; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 271-74; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 80, 82-83; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 329, 331; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 586-87; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 163-64; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 716