Tag Archives: Vicksburg Campaign

From Edwin Fay, Minden Rangers

Letter from Sergeant Edwin Fay of the Minden Rangers

Camp 4 miles in rear Mechanicsburg

July 10, 1863

Mississippi State Flag | Image Credit: AllFlagsWorld.com

MY OWN DEAR WIFE:

I wrote you a long letter yesterday but on sober reflection last night while all the Camps were wrapped in sleep I concluded that it was too wicked to send you and I have concluded this morning to write again. I have little indeed to write as news is scarce in this part of the Country. Vicksburg as you will already have heard has been surrendered to the enemy and 17,500 brave Southern men have laid down their arms and given up the stronghold, the key of the Confederacy. It is almost impossible to tell the consequences but if Grant is wise Port Hudson will fall in less than a week and then Mobile, Selma, Montgomery, Atlanta, Augusta, Charleston. There is one escape and I am almost in hopes that Grant will pursue Johnston to Jackson as we learned yesterday that they were skirmishing at Clinton halfway between Jackson and Vicksburg. If we can keep them from Port Hudson till we can get there we may prevent such a series of disasters. God only knows what will be the fate of the Confederacy. I believe that as a power of the Earth it is conquered, but do not near believe the people are subjugated. I have little hope for the future.

But as an offset we hear of the total discomfiture of the Yankee Army in Maryland 12 miles from Baltimore at the Relay House some 30 miles north of Washington, having killed 4 Brig Gen’ls and severely wounded Col. Mead, the successor of Hooker in command of the largest army on the Planet. Washington will doubtless be captured. Such being the case I have a faint hope that a compromise of some kind will be effected which may result in Peace. This is a faint hope but drowning men will catch at straws, you know. The Yankee troops were told that when Vicksburg was taken they would be paid off, discharged, and go home, that peace would be made at once. Poor deluded, miserable wretches to believe a lie. How many thousands of their bones will bleach beneath a Southern sun ere they will see the dawn of peace. If Johnston whips Grant, as he will if he can fight him outside his entrenchments, the Yankee glory will be shortlived. God grant that he may get the opportunity.

Johnston was moving to relieve Pemberton and the time of the attack was to have been July 7th and Pemberton surrendered on the 4th, alleging starvation as the cause. The 10th was agreed upon and the blame rests on Pemberton. Thus we have suffered from Southern men of Northern birth. New Orleans, Vicksburg, and the Confederacy all gone unless by a direct interposition of Providence. We hear that New Orleans is in our hands but it won’t be long if Grant moves down the River. But a truce to War Matters, though a word more. I very much fear you will be visited by the Vandals before long, for I know there is a lack of ammunition on the west side of the river and if so you may look for me home. I may come anyhow. I can’t tell you, you need not be surprised to see me at almost any time. I feel sad to think that all my sufferings and toils are all lost to the Country all in vain. My first allegiance is to my family, my second to my Country.

Mr. Minchew came last Friday but he brought me no letter from you. Others had received letters from Minden by mail since Caufield’s return there, some as late as 19th but none for me and you can imagine how I felt. Tuesday I got yours of the 16th inst. and you don’t know how rejoiced I was to get it, but at the same time I thought it was very tame and cool considering I had not had a letter for nearly two months…

If some terms of accommodation are not come to between the contending powers, this will be a war of extermination. I cannot keep from the War Theme, my pen is like Anacreon’s lyre only its strains instead of those of Cupid belong rather to Mars bristling with his helmet and shield. I wish you to keep that pistol loaded and capped and if the Yankees come to Minden to wear it on your person, never be without it and the first one that dares insult you blow his brains out. This you must do or you are not the woman I married…

The report has just come in that Bragg has fallen back to the Tenn. River, Rosecrans having whipped him or rather flanked him and caused him to fall back. If it had not been for Bragg’s incompetency we would have held possession of all of Ky. and Tenn. We have been thoroughly blessed with incompetents in this Western Dept. Jeff Davis thinks Richmond is Heaven or nearly so while the loss of Vicksburg is incomparably greater than 40 such cities as Richmond, yet the latter has been surrendered, the former held…

But I must close my letter, I know it is not interesting but it is the best I can do under the circumstances. I am glad to hear that you have so much flour. I wish we could get some, for this cornbread will sour in 12 hours and we are required to keep 2 days’ rations on hand all the time. But I must write to Mother a hasty note to let her know I have not been surrendered at Vicksburg, for she will worry if she does not hear. I want to write to Spencer too before long as I expect he is now in Chattanooga. I am tired of this eternal state of suspense. Whatever is to be done I want it done quickly. My love to your Mother, Father and Sisters. What did your Father go to Shreveport for? Don’t let him neglect that matter of Spencer’s. Good Bye, dearest.

Your husband,

E.H. FAY

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Source: Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: Vintage Books, 1988), p. 156-60

 

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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

Confederates Starving in Vicksburg

July 3, 1863 – The Confederate soldiers and residents under siege in Vicksburg were on the verge of being starved into submission.

Shelters dug into the hills during the siege of Vicksburg | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

By this time, Vicksburg had been under siege for nearly six grueling weeks. Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal Army of the Tennessee surrounded the land side of the city, while Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron sealed Vicksburg from the water. Both Grant and Porter continuously bombarded the Confederates with heavy guns and mortars.

With no supply flow, the Confederate defenders and the residents under siege were on the brink of starvation. In addition, Federals were tunneling under the defenses in hopes of detonating explosives and blowing holes in the siege line, adding yet another threat to the suffering defenders. One tunnel was exploded on the 1st, but the Federal commanders determined that it did not cause enough damage to facilitate a successful breakthrough.

General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the 32,000-man Confederate “Army of Relief” east of Vicksburg, began moving out of Jackson to break through Grant’s siege lines and rescue the trapped Confederates. The movement was quickly halted by Major General William T. Sherman’s XV Corps blocking their path and all crossings at the Big Black River.

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

Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate army in Vicksburg, hoped his men had enough strength to break out themselves. He sent a confidential message to each of his four division commanders (Generals Carter L. Stevenson, Martin L. Smith, John H. Forney and John S. Bowen):

“Unless the siege of Vicksburg is raised or supplies are thrown in, it will become necessary very shortly to evacuate the place. I see no prospect of the former, and there are many great, if not insuperable, obstacles in the way of the latter. You are, therefore, requested to inform me with as little delay as possible as to the condition of your troops, and their ability to make the marches and undergo the fatigues necessary to accomplish a successful evacuation.”

The commanders unanimously agreed that their exhausted and starving troops could not break out of Vicksburg and defeat such a superior Federal army. This prompted Pemberton to ask Grant for surrender terms. Meanwhile, Johnston held his forces back, unaware that Grant had already begun planning to confront him after capturing Vicksburg.

At 10 a.m. on the 3rd, Confederates in a sector of the defense line raised white flags to allow two officers to cross over and deliver a message from Pemberton to Grant: “General, I have the honor to propose to you an armistice for several hours, with a view to arranging terms for the capitulation of Vicksburg.”

Pemberton had learned (after breaking the Federal signal code) that Porter did not want to deal with shipping 30,000 Confederate prisoners to northern prison camps. He therefore hoped to get the most favorable surrender terms possible by sending Bowen, Grant’s old neighbor from St. Louis, to deliver the surrender offer. Pemberton also tried appealing to the Federals’ patriotism by offering to give up Vicksburg on Independence Day.

If that did not work, Pemberton tried bluffing that he was making this offer only “to save the further effusion of blood, which must otherwise be shed to a frightful extent, feeling myself fully able to maintain my position for a yet indefinite period.” As such, he proposed appointing commissioners to negotiate a settlement. Pemberton was disappointed by Grant’s stern reply:

“Your note of this date is just received, proposing an armistice for several hours for the purpose of arranging terms of capitulation through commissioners to be appointed, & c. The useless effusion of blood you propose stopping by this course can be ended at any time you may choose, by an unconditional surrender of the city and the garrison. Men who have shown so much endurance and courage as those now in Vicksburg will always challenge the respect of an adversary, and I can assure you will be treated with all the respect due to prisoners of war. I do not favor the proposition of appointing commissioners to arrange terms of capitulation, because I have no terms other than those indicated above.”

Bowen then played both sides to end the siege; Grant agreed to meet with Pemberton after Bowen said that Pemberton wanted to meet; Bowen then returned to Pemberton and told him that Grant wanted to meet with him. The two commanders and their staffs met under an oak tree at 3 p.m., but Pemberton angrily rejected Grant’s demand for unconditional surrender, saying that “you will bury many more of your men before you will enter Vicksburg.”

The men separated, leaving their staffs to discuss the matter without them. Both staffs favored paroling the prisoners, even though Grant did not. Grant left the meeting agreeing to send his final surrender terms to Pemberton by 10 p.m. This gave Grant’s staff time to persuade him to ease his unconditional surrender demand. After taking time for reflection, Grant sent his final terms:

“In conformity with the agreement of this afternoon, I will submit the following proposition for the surrender of the city of Vicksburg, public stores, & c. On your accepting the terms propo(sed) I will march in one Division as a guard and take possession at 8 a.m. to-morrow. As soon as rolls can be made out and paroles signed by officers and men you will be allowed to march out of our lines the officers taking with them their side arms and clothing, and the Field, Staff & Cavalry officers one horse each. The rank & file will be allowed all their clothing but no other property.”

Paroling Confederates exceeded Grant’s authority under War Department regulations. But Grant hoped to start a new offensive as soon as he cleared out Vicksburg, and both he and Porter knew it would take a while to ship so many prisoners north. Moreover, Grant figured that most of the parolees, who would be eligible to return to the ranks once exchanged for Federal prisoners, would instead choose to stay home after nearly starving in Vicksburg.

Pemberton accepted Grant’s terms in the early hours of Independence Day. He had just received a message from Johnston stating that he would try breaking Pemberton’s army out of Vicksburg on the 7th “by an attack on the enemy, to create a diversion which might enable Pemberton to cut his way out… if Vicksburg cannot be saved, the garrison must.” But it was too little, too late.

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 378-79; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 129; Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 393; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 68; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18735; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 298-300; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 606-10; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 320, 323; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 149, 152-56; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 259-60; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 378; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 636

Vicksburg: Federal Operations

June 18, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant continued his relentless siege, and he also finally removed one of his troublesome commanders.

Maj Gen J.A. McClernand | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The tedium of the ongoing siege gave Grant time to address a longstanding problem with one of his commanders, Major General John A. McClernand of XIII Corps. McClernand was a former politician who had gained his position through political connections rather than military experience. Grant had long sought to remove McClernand but refrained due to his popularity in the North and his ability to get Democratic support for the war.

In mid-June, Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr., commanding a division in Major General William T. Sherman’s XV Corps, discovered an article in the Memphis Evening Bulletin that included a congratulatory order issued by McClernand to his men for their valiant efforts in the Second Battle of Vicksburg on May 22. The order itself was not improper, but McClernand then went further:

“How and why the general assault failed, it would be useless now to explain. The Thirteenth army corps, acknowledging the good intentions of all, would scorn indulgence in weak regrets and idle criminations. According justice to all, it would only defend itself. If while the enemy was massing to crush it, assistance was asked for a diversion at other points or by reinforcement, it only asked what, in one case, Maj. Gen. Grant had specifically and peremptorily ordered, namely, simultaneous and persistent attacks all along our lines, until the enemy’s outer works should be carried: and what in the other by massing a strong force in time upon a weakened point, would have probably insured success.”

This implied that the defeat had been caused by Grant and his other two corps commanders failing to do enough to support McClernand’s men. McClernand compounded his poor judgment by sending this order to newspapers politically friendly to him, without first sending it through the commanding officer per army regulations. Thus, neither Grant nor anyone else outside McClernand’s corps knew about the order until Blair found it two weeks later.

Sherman sent the article to Grant, calling it an outrage to the rest of the army and “an effusion of vain-glory and hypocrisy.” In fact, it was so offensive that Sherman, who had served under McClernand in the Fort Hindman campaign, initially believed that he had neither written it, “Nor can I believe General McClernand ever published such an order officially to his corps. I know too well that the brave and intelligent soldiers and officers who compose that corps will not be humbugged by such stuff.”

Sherman added that the order, if real, was not intended for the troops, but rather to convince the voters back home that McClernand was “the sagacious leader and bold hero he so complacently paints himself.” Major General James B. McPherson, commanding XVII Corps, called the order an effort “to impress the public mind with the magnificent strategy, superior tactics and brilliant deeds” of McClernand.

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

Grant was reminded of the War Department directive “which actually forbids the publication of all official letters and reports, and requires the name of the writer to be laid before the President of the United States for dismissal.” He sent the newspaper article to McClernand with a message:

“Inclosed I send you what purports to be your congratulatory address to the Thirteenth Army Corps. I would respectfully ask if it is a true copy. If it is not a correct copy, furnish me one by bearer, as required both by regulations and existing orders of the Department.”

McClernand replied, “The newspaper slip is a correct copy of my congratulatory order, No 72. I am prepared to maintain its statements. I regret that my adjutant did not send you a copy promptly, as he ought, and I thought he had.” Noting that all of McClernand’s orders had gone through the proper channels without incident except this one, Grant immediately issued a directive:

“Major General John A. McClernand is hereby relieved of command of the Thirteenth Army Corps. He will proceed to any point he may select in the state of Illinois and report by letter to Headquarters of the Army for orders.”

Grant assigned Lieutenant Colonel James H. Wilson, the army’s chief engineer who happened to despise McClernand, to deliver the order. Wilson arrived at McClernand’s headquarters at 3 a.m. and woke the general. When he finally read the message, McClernand, knowing that Wilson hated him, invoked a pun: “Well, sir, I am relieved. By God, sir, we are both relieved!”

McClernand quickly wrote a reply: “Having been appointed by the President to command of that corps, under a definite act of Congress, I might justly challenge your authority in the premises, but forbear to do so at present.” Grant did not acknowledge this veiled threat, but he did address McClernand’s official report on the Battle of Vicksburg, which he submitted just before being relieved:

“This report contains so many inaccuracies that to correct it, to make it a fair report to be handed down as historical, would require the rewriting of most of it. It is pretentious and egotistical, as is sufficiently shown by my own and all other reports accompanying.”

Grant replaced McClernand with Major General E.O.C. Ord, a Regular army officer. McClernand spent the rest of the year lobbying General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and President Abraham Lincoln for reinstatement. Lincoln finally returned him to command of XIII Corps in early 1864, after the corps had been transferred to the Department of the Gulf.

Meanwhile, the siege inexorably continued. Federals spent two days digging a tunnel under a Confederate redan north of the road to Jackson. The tunnel was 45 feet long and included three 15-foot passageways. Gunpowder was packed at the end of each passageway, totaling 2,200 pounds, with the intent to blow a hole in the Confederate defenses. The gunpowder was detonated on the 25th. The explosion created a large crater in the ground, but the Confederates had expected the blast and pulled back. They easily repelled the ensuing Federal charge.

Federal artillery on land and on the Mississippi continued bombarding Vicksburg around the clock, and Federal troops inched closer to the Confederate defenses each day. Vicksburg residents and Confederate troops faced starvation as the Federals cut all supply lines and guarded all approaches to and from the city. Grant wrote Sherman about rumors from the Confederate lines:

“Strong faith is expressed by some in (General Joseph E.) Johnston’s coming to their relief. (They) cannot believe they have been so wicked as for Providence to allow the loss of their stronghold of Vicksburg. Their principal faith seems to be in Providence and Joe Johnston.”

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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. 295; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 414, 421-22, 424; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 313, 316; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 136-37, 147-49; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 368; Simon, John Y., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 456-57

Vicksburg: Confederate Hardships Increase

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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References

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

The 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

Vicksburg: The Federal Grip Tightens

June 1, 1863 – As the month began, Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals strengthened their grip around the Confederates in Vicksburg by the day.

The Vicksburg siege quickly became a test of endurance for the Confederates, as Federal artillerists continuously bombarded them and Federal infantry gradually inched closer to their defense lines. The men stayed deep in trenches and earthworks, while sharpshooters waited to shoot anyone careless enough to expose himself above the defenses.

The Siege of Vicksburg | Image Credit: mkwe.com

The Federal shells rained on both soldiers and civilians, causing city residents to run for shelter. Many burrowed into nearby caves. With no supplies coming into Vicksburg, merchants began charging exorbitant prices for food and other necessities. People responded by burning a block of stores, which caused more damage than any destruction caused by Grant during the siege.

Because the lines of communication to Washington carried news slowly, President Abraham Lincoln was still unaware that Grant and Major General Nathaniel P. Banks had begun separate sieges against Vicksburg and Port Hudson. Lincoln wired Grant on the 2nd, “Are you in communication with Gen. Banks? Is he coming toward you, or going further off?”

Meanwhile, the siege tightened even further with the arrival of Major General John G. Parke’s Federal IX Corps from the Department of the Ohio. Federal Rear Admiral David D. Porter wrote the commander of the U.S.S. Benton, calling for a continuous bombardment of Vicksburg: “The town will soon fall now, and we can afford to expend a little more ammunition.”

On the Confederate side, General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Western Department, informed his superiors at Richmond that he had 24,100 troops in northern Mississippi to oppose Grant, as well as a cavalry command and some irregular cavalry units. Secretary of War James A. Seddon questioned Johnston’s numbers, stating that official reports showed that Johnston’s force should total around 32,000 men.

Seddon expressed regret for not being able to send more troops, explaining that manpower had been spread to all the threatened points in the South. Nevertheless, he urged Johnston to act fast, noting, “With the facilities and resources of the enemy time works against us.”

The tedium of the siege began taking its toll on the men on both sides. This included the officers and even Grant himself. On the 6th, Grant went on a drunken binge in one of his most highly publicized scandals of the war. General John Rawlins, Grant’s chief of staff who had been tasked with monitoring Grant’s sobriety, wrote him a desperate letter at 1:00 that morning:

“The great solicitude I feel for the safety of this army leads me to mention what I had hoped never again to do–the subject of your drinking… I find you where the wine bottle has just been emptied, in the company with those who drink and urge you to do likewise, and the lack of your usual promptness of decision and clearness in expressing yourself in writing tended to confirm my suspicions. You have the full control of your appetite and can let drinking alone… If my suspicions are… correctly founded, and you determine not to heed the admonitions and the prayers of this hasty note by immediately ceasing to touch a single drop of any kind of liquor, no matter by whom asked or under what circumstances, let my immediate relief from duty in this department be the result.”

Grant pledged not to drink again, and Rawlins stayed on as his chief of staff.

Meanwhile, Federal movements continued, as troops below Vicksburg burned Brierfield, the plantation owned by President Jefferson Davis and his brother. Porter’s Federal mortar flotilla resumed bombarding Vicksburg on the 9th to prevent supplies from reaching the town and to destroy residents’ morale. About 175 heavy shells were exploded over the town each day. Porter wrote Navy Secretary Gideon Welles:

“The mortars keep constantly playing on the city and works, and the gunboats throw in their shell whenever they see any work going on at the batteries, or new batteries being put up. Not a soul is to be seen moving in the city, the soldiers lying in their trenches or pits, and the inhabitants being stowed in caves or holds dug out in the cliffs. If the city is not relieved by a much superior force from the outside, Vicksburg must fall without anything more being done to it. I only wonder it has held out so long…”

A Vicksburg resident wrote about the Federal bombardment: “Twenty-four hours of each day these preachers of the Union made their touching remarks to the town. All night long their deadly hail of iron dropped through roofs and tore up the deserted and denuded streets.”

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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. 371-72; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18575; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 291, 293; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 304-05, 307; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 151; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 361, 363