Tag Archives: Mississippi River

From William Nugent, 28th Mississippi Cavalry

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

Hd. Qrs. Cavalry Brigade

Tupelo, Miss.

September 7, 1863

Mississippi State Flag | Image Credit: AllFlagsWorld.com

MY DARLING WIFE,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your devoted husband,

WILL

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Source:

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

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The Fall of Vicksburg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lincoln wrote Grant on the 13th:

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

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 129; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 301; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 9453-65; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 839; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 613-14, 623-24; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 323-24; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 156-59; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 259-60; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 378-79, 385; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 636-38; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 168; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 707; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781-84; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 239-241

Farragut Runs the Port Hudson Batteries

March 14, 1863 – Acting Rear Admiral David G. Farragut tried running his naval squadron past the Confederate batteries at Port Hudson in an effort to move up the Mississippi River to Vicksburg.

As Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals continued trying to get at Vicksburg, Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Federal Army of the Gulf worked to capture Port Hudson, Louisiana. The effort against these two strongholds had initially been envisioned as a joint operation between Grant and Banks of the army, and Acting Rear Admiral David D. Porter and Farragut of the navy. But by this month, they had become two separate and distinct operations.

In early March, Banks assembled his army at New Orleans and advanced north to Baton Rouge. This would be the launching point for his drive on Port Hudson, a fort atop a bluff facing the Mississippi, with the land side shielded by woods, undergrowth, swamps, and ravines. The Confederates at Port Hudson protected the Red River, which flowed into the Mississippi and was used to transport Confederate supplies from the west.

Banks’s army consisted of 15,000 men in three divisions. The Port Hudson garrison contained four Confederate brigades. Banks did not have the strength to attack Port Hudson directly, so he agreed to stage a demonstration in front of the fort while Farragut’s warships steamed past on their way north to Vicksburg. Getting Federal naval vessels between Port Hudson and Vicksburg could at least prevent the Confederates from using the Red River.

David G. Farragut | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Farragut arrived at Baton Rouge aboard his flagship, the U.S.S. Hartford, on the 12th. There he finalized plans to run past Port Hudson and join forces with Porter at Vicksburg. The Hartford would lead the effort, followed by the U.S.S. Monongahela and Richmond, with a gunboat lashed to the port (Port Hudson) side of each ship. The U.S.S. Mississippi, flagship of Commodore Matthew Perry during his historic visit to Tokyo Bay, would follow along with two gunboats and six mortar schooners.

By the 14th, Farragut was ready to send his fleet past the batteries overlooking the river. Banks’s troops had advanced within six miles of Port Hudson, but Banks had agreed to be in position to create the diversion by dawn. When Farragut opted to advance that night, Banks informed him that he could expect no army support. Farragut, believing Banks should have been there already, fumed, “He had well be in New Orleans or at Baton Rouge for the good he is doing us!” Consequently, nothing would divert the Confederates’ attention from the passing vessels.

At 9:30 p.m., the Hartford flashed two red lights below her stern, signaling the rest of the fleet to begin the run. The Federal gunboats and schooners opened fire, and the Confederates waited until they came within range to respond. Gun smoke made visibility impossible, and the Federals quickly found themselves on the wrong side of a one-sided fight. The Richmond and the gunboat lashed to her, the U.S.S. Genesee, were both knocked out, with the Richmond taking a shot in her steam plant and requiring the Genesee to pull her downriver to safety.

The Monongahela took eight shots directly through her, destroying the bridge and wounding Captain James P. McKinstry. After taking direct fire for nearly half an hour, her partner, the U.S.S. Kineo, helped pull her downriver out of the fight.

The Mississippi ran aground in a sandbar under direct fire, forcing Captain Melancthon Smith to order the crew to set her on fire and abandon ship. She exploded at 3 a.m. Survivors included Lieutenant George Dewey, conqueror of Manila Bay in the Spanish-American War 35 years later. Only the Hartford and her consort, the U.S.S. Albatross, made it past the guns. The Federals suffered 112 total casualties (35 killed and 77 wounded or missing), including 64 from the Mississippi alone.

The passage of two ships made the mission partially successful, but Farragut was now separated from the rest of his fleet, which remained below Port Hudson. Unaware that all the ships except the Mississippi could be repaired and returned to action, Farragut reported to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles the next day, “It becomes my duty again to report disaster to my fleet.”

However, Welles applauded Farragut’s effort to get vessels between Port Hudson and Vicksburg; Assistant Navy Secretary Gustavus V. Fox responded that “the President thinks the importance of keeping a force of strength in this part of the river is so great that he fully approves of your proceeding.”

The Hartford and Albatross continued upriver to Natchez, Mississippi, where Federals cut the telegraph lines to Port Hudson. The ships reached Grand Gulf, Mississippi, on the night of the 18th. By that time, Banks’s Federals had returned to Baton Rouge, 20 miles below Port Hudson, looting the countryside along the way. Banks dispatched expeditions to try finding Farragut, thinking he was waiting for the army just above Port Hudson. But Farragut was now 150 miles north.

Farragut ran the Confederate batteries at Grand Gulf, sustaining many hits and losing eight men (two killed and six wounded). This enabled his two vessels to advance to the mouth of the Red River. They reached Warrenton, Mississippi, by the morning of the 20th. From there, he contacted Grant and Porter offering to support their operations and requesting coal for refuel. They sent a coal barge downriver past the Vicksburg batteries.

The Federals now had warships between Port Hudson and Vicksburg to stop Confederate river traffic. However, the engagement at Port Hudson proved that capturing the stronghold would need a much stronger effort from both the army and navy.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; 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. 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. 213-15; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 269-73; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 161-62; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 326, 328, 330; 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. 160-61; Thomas, Emory M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 596-97

The Queen of the West on the Mississippi

February 3, 1863 – The U.S.S. Queen of the West continued down the Mississippi River on her mission to stop the flow of Confederate supplies from the Red River between Vicksburg and Port Hudson.

The Queen of the West | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The day after running the Vicksburg batteries and mortally damaging the C.S.S. City of Vicksburg, the U.S.S. Queen of the West, commanded by 19-year-old Colonel Charles R. Ellet, chugged down to below the mouth of the Red. There she seized the Confederate steamer A.W. Baker, which had just delivered supplies to the Port Hudson garrison about 30 miles south. The Federals captured several Confederate officers and their passengers, including the ladies.

The Queen next captured the steamer Moro, which carried over 100,000 pounds of pork, nearly 500 hogs, and a large quantity of salt. When the Queen turned away to get more coal, Ellet burned nearly 25,000 pounds of cornmeal at a nearby landing. He docked at a plantation and released the civilians from the A.W. Baker as another Confederate steamer approached.

The approaching steamer was the Berwick Bay, carrying about 30,000 pounds of flour, 40 bales of cotton, 10 hogsheads of sugar, and 200 barrels of molasses. After capturing this steamer, Ellet burned all the ships; the property destroyed had an estimated worth of $200,000. Ellet then ran out of coal and docked at Gordon’s Point, about 85 miles up the Red River.

During this time, Major General William T. Sherman visited Ellet and congratulated him on his successful mission. Ellet explained that he planned to have Acting Rear Admiral David D. Porter send a coal barge downstream, past the Vicksburg batteries at night, to refuel the Queen. Ellet claimed the De Soto, captured at Fort Pillow and renamed the General Lyon, could tow the barge, since the De Soto was “very small, tolerably fast, and of little intrinsic value.” Ellet would then send part of his crew to attach the barge to the Queen. Ellet said, “I will only take eight or nine men, and if sunk, we can all escape in a boat.”

Sherman encouraged Ellet to share the plan with Porter. Ellet told Porter, “The De Soto is worth nothing anyhow, and the importance of getting coal at once to the Queen justifies, I think, the risk.” Porter replied, “You can do as you like about the De Soto, though I fear a failure.”

On the night of the 6th, Porter sent the De Soto and a barge filled with 20,000 bushels of coal down the Mississippi undetected by the Confederates manning the Vicksburg batteries. Porter notified Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, “This gives the ram (Queen of the West) nearly coal enough to last a month, in which time she can commit great havoc, if no accident happens to her.”

The De Soto and the coal barge made it past the Vicksburg batteries and reached Ellet on the 7th. Porter directed Ellet to take the Queen and the De Soto to a point just north of the Red River’s mouth to “destroy all small boats… met with on the river; also wharf boats and barges.”

Porter wrote, “When you capture them, do not burn them until you have broken all the machinery, then let go the anchors and let them burn, under your own eye, at their anchors. There will be no danger then of any part of them floating down to the enemy.”

Porter also warned Ellet that a formidable Confederate steam ram named the C.S.S. William H. Webb may be nearby: “If you get the first crack at her, you will sink her, and if she gets the first crack at you she will sink you.” If boarded by Confederates, “do not open any doors or ports to board in return, but act on the defensive, giving the enemy steam and shell. Do not forget to wet your cotton before going into action.”

The De Soto, which Porter and Ellet considered expendable, was not to fall into enemy hands. If it appeared that she might, Ellet was to “destroy her at once.” But since she was a “government vessel,” Porter stated that she “should be brought back if possible.” Porter also directed Ellet to observe Port Hudson from a safe distance.

On the night of the 10th, the Queen and the De Soto steamed past the batteries at Warrenton, Mississippi, undetected and destroyed Confederate skiffs and flatboats on the banks of both the Mississippi and the Red rivers. Meanwhile, Porter worked to alleviate his chronic coal shortage by writing the Federal commander at Cairo, Illinois:

“As circumstances occur I have to change the quantity of coal required here… I want a stock of 160,000 bushels sent to the Yazoo River, besides the monthly allowance already required, viz, 70,000 bushels here, 40,000 at White River, and 20,000 at Memphis… You will also have the Abraham filled up with three months’ provisions and stores for the squadron, or as much as she can carry, and keep her ready at all times… to move at a moment’s notice to such point as I may designate.”

Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, could not figure out the Queen’s intentions. He wrote, “Unless the enemy designs landing below Vicksburg and a protracted investment, I can see no purpose in his arrangements.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 259-60; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 195-96; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 263; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 607; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 77-78; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 318-19; 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. 158

Vicksburg: Grant’s Two-Pronged Advance

December 18, 1862 – Confederate forces prepared to defend against Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s advance on Vicksburg from both water and land.

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

The Confederate Army of Mississippi, the main force within Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton’s Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, was mainly stationed around Grenada, Mississippi. There they awaited an overland approach by Grant’s Army of the Tennessee, which advanced near Oxford along the Mississippi Central Railroad line. Grant’s objective was Vicksburg, the stronghold on the Mississippi River facilitating the flow of Confederate supplies from the west.

Grant directed Major General William T. Sherman to join forces with Major General John A. McClernand at Memphis and launch a second drive on Vicksburg via the Mississippi. The Federals of Sherman and McClernand would move downriver to Helena, Arkansas, where they would pick up reinforcements. Then, supported by Admiral David D. Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron, they would advance through Chickasaw Bluffs on the Yazoo River and threaten Vicksburg from the north.

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

Sherman left for Memphis on the 9th, wiring Porter, “Time now is the great object. We must not give time for new combinations.” Porter’s first task was to clear the Yazoo of obstructions and Confederate torpedoes (i.e., mines). He dispatched a squadron of four gunboats, with two shallow-draft vessels sweeping for mines and the ironclads U.S.S. Cairo and Pittsburgh bombarding Confederate batteries and sharpshooters on the shores.

As the squadron approached Haynes’ Bluff, Lieutenant Commander Thomas O. Selfridge moved the Cairo farther up the main channel, where a torpedo detonated under her hull at 11:55 a.m. The crew abandoned ship, and Selfridge later reported, “The Cairo sunk in about 12 minutes after the explosion, going totally out of sight, except for the top of her chimneys, in 6 fathoms of water.”

The Cairo was the first Federal vessel destroyed by a Confederate torpedo in the war. Prior to this, Porter had reported to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles that “these torpedoes have proved so harmless… that officers have not felt that respect for them to which they are entitled.” Federal naval commanders quickly became much more cautious in dealing with torpedoes.

As Porter’s ships resumed clearing the Yazoo, Grant continued voicing concern about McClernand’s separate, supposedly secret mission to capture Vicksburg. Grant believed that not only should the operation be left to one overall commander, but, as he explained to General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, he did not want McClernand involved at all because he was “unmanageable and incompetent.”

Grant had sent Sherman to Memphis to join forces with McClernand, knowing that McClernand was still in Illinois recruiting volunteers for the operation. Grant hoped to send Sherman’s Federals downriver with McClernand’s recruits before McClernand could come down to take charge. Grant reasoned that he had authority over McClernand’s men because they were being sent to Memphis, which was part of Grant’s military department.

Meanwhile, McClernand awaited authorization from the War Department to proceed, notifying Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that he was “anxiously awaiting your order sending me forward for duty in connection with the Mississippi expedition.” When Stanton referred him to Halleck, McClernand wrote the general-in-chief, “I beg to be sent forward in accordance with the order of the Secretary of War … giving me command of the Mississippi expedition.”

McClernand soon realized that neither Stanton nor Halleck wanted him to lead the expedition, so he went to President Abraham Lincoln, who had authorized him to proceed in the first place: “I believe I am superseded. Please inquire and let me know whether it is or shall be true.” The War Department tried clearing up the confusion by issuing General Order No. 210, which formally organized Grant’s army into a corps structure:

  • XIII Corps under Major General John A. McClernand
  • XV Corps under Major General William T. Sherman (formerly troops from the District of Memphis and the command at Helena, Arkansas)
  • XVI Corps under Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut (formerly troops from the Districts of Memphis, Jackson, and Columbia)
  • XVII Corps under Major General James B. McPherson (formerly troops from the District of Corinth)

Grant was to see that McClernand’s corps “constituted part of the river expedition and that he shall have the immediate command under your direction.” Grant did not want McClernand at all, but at least now McClernand would be reporting to him and not leading his own operation.

This ostensibly ended McClernand’s ambition to form an independent “Army of the Mississippi” to capture Vicksburg. But McClernand, who outranked Sherman, would take command of the river expedition as soon as he got to Memphis. To prevent this, Grant directed Sherman to lead the Federals downriver before McClernand arrived.

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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. 241, 245; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 63-64, 74; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 236, 238, 240-41; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 500; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 293-95, 298; 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. 131-32; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 178-79

The C.S.S. Arkansas on the Mississippi

July 15, 1862 – A new Confederate ironclad blasted through Federal ships and threatened to turn the tide of the war on the Mississippi River.

During the first half of July, the freshwater Federal Western Flotilla under Commodore Charles H. Davis joined forces with Admiral David G. Farragut’s saltwater Federal squadron on the Mississippi River above Vicksburg, Mississippi. The combined fleet now totaled 37 ships. Reuniting with Davis, Farragut wrote:

“The iron-clads are curious looking things to us salt-water gentlemen; but no doubt they are better calculated for this river than our ships… They look like great turtles. Davis came on board… We have made the circuit (since we met at Port Royal) around half the United States and met on the Mississippi.”

Farragut contacted Major General Henry W. Halleck, stationed at the time at Corinth, Mississippi, and requested army troops to launch a joint land-water attack on Vicksburg. But Halleck refused: “The scattered and weakened condition of my forces renders it impossible for me to detach any troops to cooperate with you at Vicksburg.” For the next week, the Federals pondered their next move while sporadically bombarding Vicksburg. Diseases such as typhoid, dysentery, and malaria continued afflicting the men.

Meanwhile, Confederates launched a makeshift ironclad ram called the C.S.S. Arkansas to wreak havoc on enemy ships. The Arkansas was commanded by Lieutenant Isaac N. Brown, who had overseen the ship’s construction. Workers had rescued the partially built vessel before the fall of Memphis and completed her at Yazoo City, on the Yazoo River north of Vicksburg.

The C.S.S. Arkansas | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

This “hermaphrodite ironclad” was 165 feet long and armed with 10 guns. The crew consisted of artillerists and Missouri infantry. The Arkansas was not quite ready for combat, but the water levels on the Yazoo were falling so she had to be launched or destroyed. The ram started down the river on the 12th.

Farragut learned that the Arkansas was being built on the Yazoo and dispatched the timber-clad U.S.S. Tyler, the ironclad U.S.S. Carondelet, and the ram U.S.S. Queen of the West to move up that river and confirm the rumor. Expecting to find a half-built ship in dry dock, the Federal commanders were surprised to see the ram approaching them on the 15th.

The Federal ships quickly turned and fled with the Arkansas in pursuit. The Carondelet, the slowest of the three Federal vessels, was forced aground. Brown reported:

“The Benton, or whatever ironclad we disabled, was left with colors down, evidently aground to prevent sinking, about one mile and a half above the mouth of the Yazoo, on the right-hand bank, or bank across from Vicksburg. I wish it to be remembered that we whipped this vessel, made it run out of the fight and haul down colors, with two less guns than they had; and at the same time fought two rams, which were firing at us with great guns and small-arms; this, too, with our miscellaneous crew, who had never, for the most part, been on board a ship, or at big guns.”

The Arkansas then fired into the wooden hulls of the Tyler and Queen. The Tyler turned back and returned fire, knocking off the Arkansas’s smokestack, which reduced her speed. The Queen escaped into the Mississippi, with the Tyler hurrying behind. The Federals of the Tyler and Carondelet sustained 60 casualties (16 killed, 36 wounded, and eight missing and presumed drowned).

As the ships entered the Mississippi, the Arkansas found her way to Vicksburg blocked by both Farragut’s and Davis’s squadrons. Fortunately for the Arkansas, the Federals were conserving coal and did not have their steam up to give chase. The Arkansas steamed past them, taking broadsides from each ship that cracked her armor in some places but did no substantial damage.

Despite enduring temperatures exceeding 120 degrees inside the ironclad, Brown reported that his crew returned fire “to every point of the circumference, without the fear of hitting a friend or missing an enemy.” The ship ultimately made it to the bluffs below Vicksburg, under the cover of the city’s batteries.

The Confederates lost 53 men (25 killed and 28 wounded). A master’s mate wrote, “The scene around the gun deck upon our arrival was ghastly in the extreme. Blood and brains bespattered everything, whilst arms, legs, and several headless trunks were strewn about.” Nevertheless, Major General Earl Van Dorn, commanding Confederates at Vicksburg, boasted that the Arkansas’s achievement was “the most brilliant ever recorded in naval annals.” Brown later received the thanks of both President Jefferson Davis and the Confederate Congress, along with a promotion to naval commander.

The Arkansas’s escape embarrassed the Federals and left them, as the fleet surgeon aboard the U.S.S. Hartford wrote, “Caught with our breeches down!” Farragut delivered the bad news to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles with “deep mortification,” adding, “I shall leave no stone unturned to destroy her.” Welles responded, “It is an absolute necessity that the neglect or apparent neglect of the squadron should be wiped out by the destruction of the Arkansas.” Farragut called the Arkansas’s run past 37 Federal ships “Damnable neglect, or worse!”

One Federal ship had been disabled, and every wooden ship in the Federal fleet sustained at least one hit. The presence of an enemy ironclad on the Mississippi threatened to allow Confederates to regain momentum after a long string of defeats on the river.

At dusk, Farragut prepared his squadron for a night attack on the Arkansas below the Vicksburg bluffs. Charles Davis refused to commit his vessels, fearing the operation was too dangerous. Farragut’s ships advanced and managed to hit the Arkansas a few times before the Confederate batteries drove them off; the Arkansas was not destroyed as Farragut hoped.

Farragut vowed to “try to destroy her until my squadron is destroyed or she is… There is no rest for the wicked until she is destroyed.” Charles Davis was later replaced by Admiral David D. Porter due to his role in this incident.

A week later, the U.S.S. Essex and the Queen of the West again tried attacking the Arkansas, hitting the ship with glancing blows and one broadside while taking heavy punishment from the Vicksburg batteries. Most of the Arkansas’s crew was on shore, but the remaining Confederates fought back as best they could. Dabney M. Scales, a crewman aboard the Arkansas, wrote his father:

“At 4 o’clock on the morning of the 22nd, I was awakened by the call to quarters. Hurrying to our stations, with not even a full complement of men for 3 guns, our soldiers having left just the night before, we discovered the enemy coming right down on us… We did not have men enough to heave the anchor up and get underway, before the enemy got to us, even if we had steam ready…”

The Essex eventually disengaged and moved downriver to join Farragut’s fleet. The Queen returned upriver in desperate need of repairs. Brown steamed the Arkansas back and forth in front of the bluffs, defying the Federals to attack again while the Vicksburg batteries covered him.

The attack seemed to cause minimal damage to the Arkansas at first, but it was later discovered that a shot had cracked the connecting rods, making the ship’s already deficient engines potentially even more so. Meanwhile, President Davis called on Mississippi Governor John J. Pettus for help in getting more crewmen for the ironclad:

“Captain Brown of the Arkansas requires boatmen, and reports himself doomed to inactivity by the inability to get them. We have a large class of river boatmen and some ordinary seamen on our Gulf Coast who must now be unemployed. Can you help Captain Brown to get an adequate crew?”

Two days later, Farragut led his Federal naval squadron back down the Mississippi River to New Orleans due to falling waters and rampant illness among his men. The remaining gunboats patrolled the area between Vicksburg and Helena, Arkansas. This gave the Confederates control of the Mississippi from Vicksburg 200 river miles down to Port Hudson, Louisiana. Farragut firmly believed that naval forces alone could not capture the mighty stronghold of Vicksburg. Welles later wrote:

“The most disreputable naval affair of the war was the descent of the steam ram Arkansas through both squadrons, until she hauled into the batteries of Vicksburg, and there the two Flag Officers abandoned the place and the ironclad ram, Farragut and his force going down to New Orleans, and Davis proceeding with his flotilla up the river.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 15899-907; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 635; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 188, 193-94, 196-98; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 556; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 178, 182, 184-85; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 607, 784; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 26-32; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 240; 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. 421; 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. 89, 92-94; Still, Jr., William N., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 22; 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), Q362

Running the Vicksburg Batteries

June 18, 1862 – Flag Officer David G. Farragut began assembling a Federal naval squadron to run past Vicksburg, one of the last major Confederate strongholds on the Mississippi River.

David G. Farragut | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Farragut received orders from Washington to assemble a flotilla of gunboats and mortars that could bypass the Confederate batteries at Vicksburg and link with the Federal Western Flotilla at Memphis. Although he doubted that ships could get past Vicksburg’s heavy guns without being destroyed, he began organizing a squadron downriver at Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

By this time, Major General Earl Van Dorn, the new Confederate commander in the region, had assembled 10,000 troops to defend Vicksburg. Recent Federal successes on the Mississippi had prompted soldiers and residents to strengthen the city’s defenses, which included building fortifications and placing more batteries on the bluffs overlooking the river to prevent Federal naval passage.

On June 20, a 3,000-man Federal detachment from Major General Benjamin F. Butler’s New Orleans occupation force under Brigadier General Thomas Williams boarded transports to join Farragut’s fleet upriver to Vicksburg. Their mission was to set up a base across the river from the city at Swampy Toe, and then dig a canal to allow Federal vessels to bypass a bend in the river and move upriver, beyond Vicksburg’s cannon range.

As the Federals approached, the Confederates’ rush to finish Vicksburg’s defenses accelerated. The steep bluffs on the riverbank, along with Van Dorn’s superior numbers, made an infantry attack impossible. But many worried that the Federals’ naval firepower could overwhelm the defenders. President Jefferson Davis wrote to Van Dorn, “The people will sustain you in your heroic determination, and may God bless you with success.”

The Federal troops began landing on the 24th. Unaccustomed to the southern climate, they fell ill from diseases such as dysentery, malaria, and typhoid, and many died as a result. In addition, Farragut worried that the summer drought would lower the river and strand his deep-draft vessels. Nevertheless, the mortar boats began firing on the Vicksburg defenses as the Federal troops started digging the canal.

After two days of bombardment, Farragut resolved to try moving his gunboats past Vicksburg, just as he had bypassed Forts Jackson and St. Philip in April. Nighttime navigation on the river was too difficult, so Farragut had to make the attempt at dawn. As Commander David D. Porter’s mortar fleet continued shelling the town, the gunboats began upriver. The Confederates immediately began firing down on them from the bluffs, with the ships answering with broadsides. A sailor aboard Farragut’s flagship, the U.S.S. Hartford, wrote:

“The whole fleet moved up to the attack. The shells from the mortars were being hurled right over our heads, and as (enemy) battery after battery was unmasked from every conceivable position, the ridge of the bluff was one sheet of fire. The big ships sent in their broadsides, the mortars scores of shells, and all combined to make up a grand display and terrible conflict.”

Ultimately, eight vessels made it past the batteries and three had to turn back. The Hartford made it through, even though she was “riddled from stem to stern.” A shot nearly killed Farragut, hitting the ship’s rigging just above where he stood. He wrote his wife, “The same shot cut the halyard that hoisted my flag, which dropped to half-mast without being perceived by us. This circumstance caused the other vessels to think that I was killed.”

Federal fire killed 22 soldiers and two civilians (a man and a woman). The Federals suffered 10 killed. Farragut succeeded in getting most of his fleet past Vicksburg, thus demonstrating the ability of gunboats to bypass stationary batteries. But the Confederate defenders still commanded the river, and Farragut noted that as soon as Federal fire drove Confederate artillerists from their guns, they “return to them as soon as we have passed and rake us.”

Vicksburg could not be captured by naval firepower alone, leading Farragut to write to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles, “I am satisfied that it is not possible for us to take Vicksburg without an army force of twelve to fifteen thousand men.” A long, brutal campaign to take this Confederate bastion had just begun.

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References

Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 184-86; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 169-72, 174-75; Jones, Virgil Carrington (Pat), Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 784; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24-26; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 228-33; 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. 420-21; 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. 89-91; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 429; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 846