Chapter 13

            Vicksburg: Sealing the Fate of the Confederacy

            Nearly before the first shots on Fort Sumter ended, visionary general officers of the Union army foresaw that this would not be any ³90-day struggle,² as the Washington bureaucrats and woefully inadequate top army brass claimed. Not only was the very cream of the pre-war U.S. Army officer corps resigning their commissions in order to serve their Southern home states, the level of rhetoric coming from the near fanatical secessionist politicians insured that once separate, it would be a long, hard climb to reconstruct the whole nation.

            The de facto leader of this visionary group was none other than USA General Winfield Scott, the aged veteran of the War of 1812 and the Mexican War (not to mention his less heroic involvement in the southeastern Native American removals of the 1820s and 1830s). Despite his ill health and dated military strategies, he insisted that not only was the nation headed for a long war, but that the South could only be defeated by a long, grinding campaign aimed at cutting itıs lines of supply and communication. His grand scheme, dubbed the Anaconda Plan, called for an absolute blockade of the entire Southern coastline by the U.S. Navy, to prevent resupply from friendly foreign countries and stop waterborne reinforcement of the Confederate armies, followed by the capture and use of the Mississippi from Illinois to the Gulf of Mexico, to cut the Southern confederacy in half and allow it to die from lack of supplies.

            ³Old Fuss and Feathers² Scottıs plan was seriously derided at first, as few Union politicians or generals saw the need to do anything so drastic; the widely held belief on both side was that one big battle would be all that was needed to send the opposing army fleeing from the field, and the conflict instantly resolved. The laughter stopped, however, after the shocking Union defeat at the 1st Manassas (1st Bull Run) battle in Virginia; and even as Scott was being replaced as General-in-Chief by USA Major General George Brinton ³Little Mac² McClellan, essential elements of the ŒAnaconda Planı were being expanded into the over Union strategy for the war.

 

            Splitting the South

            The Union strategy during the war had three parts; first, the total naval blockade of the Southern coastline envisioned by Scott; second, and overland campaign to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia; and third, to take control of the Mississippi RIver and all the port towns along it. USA Brigadier General (later General-in-Chief) Ulysses Simpson Grant opened the third part of this grand strategy in early February, 1862, with the assault on and capture of Forts Henry and Donelson on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers in northern Tennessee. With the way cleared towards Nashville and other points south in Tennessee, Grant then turned west along the Ohio River towards the Mississippi, swung around and isolated a strong Confederate garrison at Columbus, Kentucky, and then turned inland to move towards Corinth, Mississippi. Memphis fell soon afterward, after another short, fierce naval battle, completely opening the northern stretches of the Mississippi to Union control.

            USA Major General John Pope successfully moved his Army of the Mississippi against fortified Confederate positions at Island Number 10 and New Madrid on the Mississippi, well supported by Union gunboats, and opened the northern stretches of the great river to Union control by early April, 1862. Later that same month USA Flag Officer (later Admiral) David Glasgow Farragut and USA Major General Benjamin Franklin Butler captured New Orleans after a short naval battle, opening up the southern stretches of the river. By early spring, 1862, only Port Hudson, Louisiana, and Vicksburg, Mississippi, remained in Confederate hands and prevented a complete Union domination of the river.

 

            Background to the Battle

            The Vicksburg Campaign was an unusually long and costly operation for both sides. From the earliest assault attempts in December 1862 to the final surrender on July 4, 1863, only the horrible siege at Petersburg, Virginia, from June 1864 to May 1865 was longer or more destructive in lives to both soldiers and civilians. As the best defensive ground of any port between Memphis and the Gulf Coast, Vicksburg was an obvious target which the Union commanders wasted little time in attacking.

            Most histories of the Vicksburg Campaign concentrate their attention on the famous siege of the small town, which lasted from April 29 to July 4, 1863, but in fact the battle for this critical river port started many months earlier.

            Grant had been given the task of completely clearing the Mississippi of any Confederate threat when he assumed command of the newly formed USA Department of Tennessee on October 16, 1862. Under his command were some 43,000 men, reinforced to about 75,000 as the campaign wore on. Two days earlier CSA Lieutenant General John Clifford Pemberton had assumed command of the CSA Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, which for all practical purposes simply meant the area immediately surrounding Vicksburg. The number of men he commanded has been the subject of countless debates since the war; while probably numbering in the 40,000 range, Grant claimed he faced well over 60,000, while Pemberton himself stated he had only 28,000.

 

            Chickasaw Bluff

            With his victory at the Battle of Shiloh and the fall of Corinth, Mississippi assuring his dominance over western Confederate armies, Grant immediately set about moving against Vicksburg, which he considered one of the most vital target in the entire western theater. He split his command into two great columns; led by USA Major General William Tecumseh Sherman, the westernmost column was to move south with 32,000 men on transport barges down the Mississippi River from Memphis to directly attack Vicksburg. To keep Confederate forces divided and unable to concentrate on the cityıs defense, Grant personally led 40,000 men south overland along the Mississippi Central Railroad tracks from Grand Junction, Tennessee, 35 miles west of Corinth.

            Grant moved south on November 26, 1862, slowly moving his large force through northern Mississippi. Passing through Holly Springs and Oxford, he established forward supply bases in both towns and left small garrisons to guard against expected Confederate raids. His major problem during the march south was that his supply lines back to Columbus, Kentucky, were growing longer and more vulnerable. On December 20, just as the vanguard of Grantıs column was approaching the small town of Granada, a 3,500 man Confederate cavalry force under CSA General Major General Earl Van Dorn captured and destroyed his supply base at Holly Springs. At about the same time, another cavalry force under CSA Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest stormed through western Tennessee and southern Kentucky, destroying more than 60 miles if the critical railroad lines supplying the Union overland campaign. Grant was forced to call off his part of the attack and move northwest into Memphis.

            The same day Grant lost his base at Holy Springs, Sherman and his men boarded a naval flotilla in Memphis and cast off towards Vicksburg. The infantrymen were loaded onto 59 transport ships and barges, escorted by seven gunboats. A message about Grantıs defeat reached Sherman the next day, but he decided to continue on, risking that his strong surprise assault might be enough to carry the coming battle. On Christmas Eve the Union flotilla arrived at Millikenıs Bend, Louisiana, just north of Vicksburg, and prepared to start disembarking the troops.

 

            December 24, 1862, in Vicksburg

            Vicksburg had been an island of relative calm at this point, a safe harbor from the vicious naval battles that ranged north and south along the Mississippi. Social life went little changed from antebellum times, with frequent parties, cotillions and afternoon bar-b-ques, the major difference being that the men wore Confederate gray dress uniforms instead of their civilian garb. Dr. William Balfour and his wife Emma had prepared a grand Christmas Eve ball in their house on Crawford Street, inviting the local garrisonıs officers to join the society elite in n elaborate party. As the band played and couples danced, mud-splattered CSA Private Philip Fall burst through the door searching for the ranking officer present, CSA Major General Martin Luther Smith, carrying the startling news that Sherman and his force were nearly upon them at that very moment. Signaling for the band to stop playing, Smith addressed the crowd, ³This ball is at an end - the enemy are coming down the river, all non-combatants must leave the city.² With that, Smith and his officers immediately departed, calling out the garrison to man the defenses while still in their dress uniforms.

            Aware that Sherman was coming from the north, area commander Pemberton (who arrived on December 26 from his position at Grenada) placed the majority of his men in a northeast to southwest line at the foot of the Walnut Hills on the north side of town (nearly directly atop present-day U.S. Business Highway 61 on the north side of the military park), facing northwest towards where Shermanıs troops were expected to approach. He had about 25,000 men total (including reinforcements brought in during the battle) divided into two divisions to stand against Shermanıs four divisions with 30,000 men (some sources state 33,000). The Confederate lines were formable, with several lines of entrenchments well supported by artillery emplacements and fronted by a thick tangle of abatis made of felled trees that also gave the infantry a well-cleared field of fire.

           

            The Assault on Chickasaw Bluff

            The Union troops disembarked starting on the late afternoon of December 26, and by the next day were pushing inland towards Vicksburg, led by USA Colonel John F. DeCourcyıs 3rd Brigade (3rd Division). As the blue-clad infantry advanced slowly on the road past Mrs. Anne E. Lakeıs house, they came under heavy fire from advance Confederate pickets posted in the nearby woods. This advance to contact ended after a brief but heavy firefight; DeCourcy pulled his men back to camp and the pickets retired within the Confederate line. Other probing and advance to contact actions took place over the next two days, while Sherman tried to figure out where was Pembertonıs weakest spot.

            Finding no part of the Confederate line was notably weaker than any other, Sherman decided to try a massive head-on assault. At 7:30 AM on December 29, his artillery opened a heavy fire on Pembertonıs line, answered quickly by counter-battery fire from massed Confederate guns on the bluff above them. About 11 AM, Union infantry officers ordered their men into line of battle; USA Brigadier General Frank Blairıs Brigade on the left, DeCourcyıs and USA Brigadier General John M. Thayerıs Brigades in the center and USA Brigadier General Andrew Jackson Smith leading both the 1st and 2nd Divisionıs on the right, all arrayed to strike the Confederate line at about the same time.

            Under heavy and accurate rifle fire as soon as they exited the woods, DeCourcyıs and Blairıs Brigades stormed across the bayou and managed to push through the entangling defenses and take the first line of rifle pits. Soon joined by the 4th Iowa Regiment of Thayerıs Brigade (the only one to make it across the open fields), the Union infantrymen attempted to keep their assault moving and push back through the layers of defensive entrenchments, but were soon stopped by murderous rifle and artillery fire. As they started to pull back and retreat to their encampment, CSA General Stephen Dill Lee ordered his men forward in a counterattack. The 17th and 26th Louisiana Infantry Regiments surged forward, overrunning the hapless Union infantry, and soon returned with their prize: 21 officers, 311 enlisted men and 4 regimental battle flags.

            This scene was repeated all down the line. Although Smithıs two divisions managed to make it literally within spitting distance of the Confederate lines on the right, they were not able to carry the works even after five assault attempts. As darkness fell, the Union troops abandoned what little gains they had made and returned to their encampments. That night, during a drenching and chilling cold rainstorm, Sherman made plans to assault again the next day, this time aimed at taking the artillery emplacements atop the bluff, but finally canceled the attack after deciding that it would be too costly an attempt. Another planned attack, this time against Confederate fortifications on nearby Snyderıs Bluff on New Yearıs Day, was canceled when a thick fog prevented easy movement.

            Late on the afternoon of January 1, 1863, Sherman ordered his men back about the transport ships and barges, and set sail down the Yazoo River to itıs mouth on the Mississippi. The next day he was placed under the command of USA Major General John A. McClernand, who decided to carry the battle away from Vicksburg for the time being. Shermanıs report of the battle, and his failure, is a model of terseness: ³I reached Vicksburg at the time appointed, landed, assaulted and failed.² His failure cost the lives of 208 dead, 1005 wounded, and 563 captured or missing. Despite the personal responsibility he seemed to take in his report for the failed assault, in letter and his postwar memoirs, he blamed a lack of fighting spirit in his own infantry for the failure, most notably DeCourcyıs Brigade, which had ironically advanced the furthest into the Confederate entrenchments. Pemberton reported a loss of 63 killed, 134 wounded and 10 missing after the battle.

 

            Attempts to Bypass Vicksburg

            Grant waited a few weeks building up his army before attempting to reduce Vicksburg again. His major tactical problem, underscored by Shermanıs failure, was that the town was built on a steep bluff footed by swamps and the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers, making any assault from the east, north or south a near suicidal venture. The only approach that might possibly work is from the east, along the spine of ridges that arced nearly 200 miles above and below the town. This favorable approach had itıs own set of problems, most notably, how to get his troops in position atop the eastern bluffs. To add to all these problems, the winter rains that year had been unusually heavy, increasing the flooding problems and widening the rivers.

            Grantıs problems can be illustrated by the near-desperate attempt he had his engineers make, digging a 1 1/2 mile long canal across one of the peninsulas below Vicksburg, known locally as De Soto Point, which would hopefully allow his troop and supply ships to bypass the powerful artillery batteries and land unmolested south of the city. Now known as Grantıs Canal, work continued through March of 1863, when early Spring flooding destroyed some of the works and covered the peninsula, and the Confederate defenders moved some of their artillery batteries to cover both ends of the canal.

            Meanwhile, USA Major General James Birdseye McPherson was attempting to bring his XVII Corps in to reinforce Grant and hit the city from the south by cutting and blasting a passage through the labyrinth of swamps and small rivers from Lake Providence, 75 miles north of Vicksburg, to a point in the Mississippi some 200 miles south of the city. A 400 mile long route was mapped and partially prepared before the entire project was scrapped as unworkable.

            A third attempt to gain the eastern bluffs was mounted by blasting through a natural levee at Yazoo Pass, 320 miles north of Vicksburg, and plotting a waterborne route south to the city. Before they could make much progress, CSA Major General William W. Loringıs Division rushed north to stop the Union raid. About 90 miles north of Vicksburg, the Confederate troops hastily built an earthwork and cotton bale post (dubbed ³Fort Pemberton²), and engaged the onrushing Union gunboats on March 11. The Union infantry could find no way to assault the fort in the swampy terrain, and this expedition soon turned away in defeat. Less than a week later a fourth and last attempt to sail through the bayous north of the city, known as Steeleıs Bayou Expedition, ended in both defeat and the near capture of all the Union gunboats.

 

            The Battle of Grand Gulf

            With every attempt to bypass the Vicksburg defenses proving unsuccessful, Grant decided to take the head-on approach. McClernand had just been placed under Grantıs overall command, and he was ordered to have his command build a road to move down the western bank of the Mississippi River to a forward base directly across from the Confederate outpost at Grand Gulf, 60 miles south of Vicksburg. Planning to try an amphibious assault under fire against the Confederate fortifications, Grant also directed McClernand to have his gunboats and troop transports run past the Vicksburg Mississippi River batteries and meet up with his Army of the Tennessee at a point ironically named Hard Times. On the night of April 16, 1863, eight gunboats and three transports set sail downriver under the direct command of USA Commodore WIlliam David Porter, each specially prepared to meet the expected hot Confederate fire. The port (left) side of each ship, which would face the Confederate batteries, was piled high with cotton and hay bales, along with small coal scows and supply barges lashed to each side of the ships.

            Just before midnight the small flotilla approached Confederate outposts just north of Vicksburg, which promptly raised the alarm. Artillery crews raced in to man their guns, and within minutes a furious firefight broke out along the river. Porter reported later that every one of his ships were hit in the exchange, some multiple times, but stated that his own broadsides into the town could not help but do great damage to the city, as they were firing at near point-blank range. One sailor reported that they were so close that falling bricks from buildings struck by the Union cannon could clearly be heard.

            Despite the heavy and accurate Confederate fire, only one transport was sunk, and the other ships limped down to join the infantry at Hard Times. Another flotilla ran the same gauntlet on the night of April 22, six transports towing 12 supply barges, but this time Confederate gunners managed to sink one transport and six of the barges.

            Grant had planned to use the transports and barges to bring 10,000 infantrymen across the Mississippi to a landing point at Grand Gulf, at the mouth of the Big Black RIver. Porterıs gunboats opened fire on the Confederate fortifications at Grand Gulf on April 29, but failed to inflict any serious damage or silence their guns after nearly six hours of continuous bombardment. To add to his problems, return fire from Confederate gunners inflicted serious damage to the Union gunboat fleet. Grant reconsidered his plan, and decided to move his men downriver to a ³cooler² landing zone. The next day, in the largest amphibious operation mounted by an American Army until World War II, Grant crossed the river and landed at Bruinsburg with 24,000 troops and 60 cannon. After months of campaigning, Grant at last had a toehold on the east side of the river close to VIcksburg.

 

            The Battle of Port Gibson

            While Grant was crossing the river downstream, Sherman had mounted a strong demonstration against Haineıs Bluff, while USA Colonel R H Grierson moved his cavalry south out of Tennessee and mounted another demonstration against the railroad lines between Meridian and Jackson, before turning south towards Baton Rouge. Grantıs men began moving north almost as soon as they reached dry land, aiming for the town of Port Gibson. By late in the afternoon of April 30, over 17,000 Union troops were ashore and moving out rapidly, with several thousand more still enroute across the river..

            Two Confederate brigades had already marched south from Grand Gulf to oppose the Union assault, CSA Brigadier General Edward D. Tracyıs and CSA Brigadier General Martin E. Greenıs, which by nightfall were astride the Bruinsburg and Rodney Roads directly in the path of the Union advance. Starting about midnight the advanced skirmishers of the Union column met up with the Confederate pickets, and a lively firefight broke out. The firing died down about 3 AM, but picked up again with vigor about the first light of dawn (about 5:30 AM).

            The Confederate lines held well until about 10 AM, when Greenıs Brigade was pushed back up the road about 1 1/2 miles by a heavy Union assault. There, they were reinforced by two other brigades hastily dispatched from Grand Gulf, CSA Brigadier General William E. Baldwinıs and CSA Brigadier General Francis M. Cockrellıs, which helped shore up a strong line along the Rodney Road.Tracyıs men managed to hold up well in their position on the right, despite losing Tracy himself, killed early in the fighting. Although several vicious counterattacks were mounted that managed some limited success, the Union assault was simply overwhelming, and all the Confederate commanders began retiring from the field about 5:30 PM.

            The day-long battle cost Grant 131 killed, 719 wounded and 25 missing or captured, while the Confederate commanders reported a loss of 60 killed, 340 wounded and 387 missing or captured. Accounts vary, but the total Confederate force in the field amounted to about 8,000, while Grant had an estimated 23,000 engaged in the fight by late afternoon. Confused by the Union attacks towards Vicksburg seemingly coming from all directions, Pemberton ordered Grand Gulf evacuated and all the troops to move within the defenses of Vicksburg, instead of confronting and attacking Grantıs bridgehead.

 

            The Battle of Raymond

            Rather than directly move in and seize Grand Gulf, Grant decided to move northeast and cut the Southern Railroad lines between Jackson and Vicksburg, Pembertonıs only remaining line of communications, supply and retreat. Similar to Shermanıs later march through Georgia, Grant set his forces in a three-corps abreast formation, with McClernandıs XIII Corps on the left, Shermanıs XV Corps in the middle and McPhersonıs XVII Corps on the right. Grant planned to move nearly directly northeast toward Jackson, then turn right and cut the rail line somewhere east of the small settlement of Edwards. On May 7 the three corps moved out, a total of 45,000 Union soldiers moving deep into the very heart of the Confederacy and dangerously far from their own base of supplies.

            Pemberton guessed correctly what Grant was up to, and sent word to his garrison in Jackson to move out and confront the Union advance, while he moved part of his own force in Vicksburg out to strike the Union line from the west. CSA Brigadier General John Gregg moved his 3,000 man brigade out of Jackson promptly, arriving in Raymond on May 11 and setting up pickets along the west and south roads into the town. For artillery support Gregg could boast a single battery, the three guns of CSA Captain Hiram Bledsoeıs Missouri Battery.

            At dawn on May 12 Greggıs pickets sent word in that the Union vanguard was approaching their position along the Utica Road (today known as Mississippi Highway 18). The Confederate commander hastily deployed his men to strike what he thought would be the right flank of a small Union force, along both the Utica and Gallatin Roads, and placed the Missouri Battery atop a small hill commanding the bridge crossing Fourteenmile Creek. As the first regiments of McPhersonıs column moved into the small valley of Fourteenmile Creek, Gregg ordered volley fire into their flank.

            The sudden burst of fire shattered the front Union ranks, and Gregg ordered his men to keep up a hot fire. After about two hours of volleys, Gregg order up his Tennessee and Texans in line of assault, planning to roll up the Union line and finish up the day. As the Confederates advanced into the dry creekbed and through the easternmost Union formations, they ran smack into the newly reorganized division led by USA Major General John A. Logan, who was leading his men into battle with ³the shriek of an eagle.² By 1:30 PM, with Union regiments and brigades piling onto the field, Gregg finally realized that he was facing a full Union corps and started ordering his units to pull back. The battle had become a confused swirling of Union and Confederate units nearly invisible to their commanders in the thick, choking dust, and it took most of the rest of the afternoon for both commanders to get a complete grasp of their own positions and issue appropriate orders.

            Gregg attempted to break contact and retreat, but McPhersonıs troops kept a running battle going until they reached Raymond itself. The Confederates hurried past townspeople who were preparing a Œvictoryı picnic for them, before stopping for the night at Snake Creek. McPhersonıs men broke off the pursuit in Raymond, where the Union troops helped themselves to the picnic dinner. The next morning Gregg moved his brigade back into Jackson, reporting a loss of 73 killed, 252 wounded and 190 missing or captured. McPherson reported to Grant that he had faced a force ³about 6,000 strong² but emerged victorious, at the cost of 68 killed, 341 wounded and 37 missing or captured.

 

            The Battle of Jackson

            Surprised at the strong show of force so far east of Vicksburg, Grant decided that he would have to take Jackson before he could safely turn back west towards ³Fortress Vicksburg.² On May 13 he ordered his army forward once again, McPherson north from Raymond along the Clinton Road, Sherman northeast through Raymond towards Mississippi Springs, and McClernandıs Corps arrayed in a defensive line from Raymond to Clinton, to guard against any more unpleasant surprises. The same day, Department of Tennessee and Mississippi Commander CSA General Joseph Eggleston Johnston arrived in Jackson by train, to assume overall command of Vicksburgıs defense. With Grantıs army nearly knocking on Jacksonıs door, Johnston ordered an immediate evacuation of the city towards the north, with Greggıs Brigade and parts of two other brigades remaining as long as possible to mount a rear-guard action. After a heavy rainfall the morning of May 14 briefly delayed their attack, Shermanıs and McPhersonıs Corps charged the weak Confederate defenses with bayonets fixed starting about 11 AM, driving the Confederate defenders back after a bitter hand-to-hand struggle, and capturing the outer defenses of the city without much loss.

            Although strong Confederate artillery emplacements delayed the Union advance in the center, Sherman sent part of his command around the right flank and north along the railroad line into the heart of the city. With his left flank breached, Gregg ordered his brigades to move out of the city along the Canton Road to the north, while Union troops invested the city right behind them. By 3 PM the Stars and Stripes was being hoisted again over the state capital building. The few hours of combat resulted in about 300 Union killed, wounded and missing, and an estimated 850 Confederate casualties.

            With Grantıs army between him and Vicksburg, Johnston believed that he had arrived to late to do any real good, but sent a series of messages to Pemberton urging him to march out of Vicksburg and join the 6,000 troops he had moved north out of Jackson in a great battle to destroy Grantıs force. Pemberton, a great believer in the use of fixed fortifications, was extremely reluctant to enter a campaign of movement and maneuver, and made it very clear that he wished to remain in his line along the Big Black River, but finally agreed to move out. In a clear act of disobedience of orders, instead of moving to join Johnston, Pemberton decided on his own to strike against Grantıs line of communication back to Grand Gulf, now occupied and a major supply center for the Union Army.

            On May 15 Pemberton initially moved his 23,000 men southeast to near Edwardıs Station, effectively moving further away from Johnston and placing Grantıs army between the two commands. Unknown to either Confederate commander, Grantıs men had intercepted the series of orders and communications between them, and the Union commander was maneuvering his own forces to exploit the confusion. Johnston issued another order on May 16 to Pemberton to move northeast and join him, which for some reason he decided to obey, but by this time Grant was ready to strike.

 

            The Battle of Champion Hill

            As Pemberton moved northeast early on the morning of May 16 along the Ratliff Road just south of Champion Hill, his three division strung out along the road for nearly three miles, a courier brought word that a large Union contingent was bearing down upon him from the Jackson Road, to the northeast. Pemberton immediately halted his march and arrayed in line of battle to protect the high ground of Champion Hill itself, as well as the crossroads leading to Edwards and Vicksburg. CSA Major General William Wing Loringıs Division covered the Raymond Road to the south, the right flank of Pembertonıs line; CSA Brigadier (soon after Major) General John S. Bowenıs Division deployed along the Ratliff Road to Loringıs left; and CSA Major General Carter Littlepage Stevensonıs Division covered the left flank and the crest of the small knob of Champion Hill.

            Just before noon USA Brigadier General Alvin P. Hoveyıs and Loganıs Divisions of McPhersonıs Corps attacked along the Jackson road against Stevensonıs positions atop Champion Hill. Stevensonıs men were soon forced off the crest under heavy fire, but Bowenıs Division shifted north and succeeded in regaining the hill. Grant ordered his artillery massed and directed all fire on the hilltop Confederate positions, quickly followed by renewed infantry assaults. About 1 PM Stevensonıs and Bowenıs men were forced to retreat under the crushing Union assault, escaping south along Bakerıs Creek to the Raymond Road before turning west towards Vicksburg.

            CSA Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghmanıs Brigade was ordered to act as a rear guard, to cover the escape ³at all costs.² Joined by Loringıs men, they put up a fierce resistance but were cut off by massive artillery fire and forced to move further south and east, eventually circling around north and meeting up with Johnston near Jackson. Tilghman himself was killed during the rear guard action.

            Pemberton led his armyıs retreat west through Edwards before taking up a defensive position at the Big Black River for the night, while McClernandıs Corps moving in from the south entered and occupied Edwards about 8 PM. Grant reported losses of 410 killed, 1,844 wounded and 187 missing or captured, while Pemberton suffered casualties amounting to 381 killed, 1,018 wounded and 2,441 missing or captured, but the real damage was the decisive defeat of the Confederate forces. Pemberton would eventually limp back into VIcksburg minus Loringıs Division, which never returned to his command, but Grant had succeeded in isolating Vicksburg to an island outpost completely cut off from any hope of resupply or reinforcement.

 

            Big Black RIver Bridges

            Pemberton was unaware that Loring was not following him back into Vicksburg, instead cut off and circling around to the south and east to join up with Johnston at Jackson. Instead of immediately moving all his forces back within Vicksburgıs formidable defense, he ordered Bowenıs Division reinforced by CSA Brigadier General John Vaughnıs Brigade to hold a defensive perimeter around the bridges over the Big Black River, in the hopes that Loring would soon show up and have a safe passage over the river. On the morning of May 17, with the rest of Pembertonıs troops marching the 12 miles west to Vicksburg, McClernandıs XIII Corps rapidly swept forward and engaged Bowenıs small command.

            Bowen had established a seemingly tight line of battle, well anchored on the river on the left and a waist-deep swampy area on the right, with 18 artillery pieces arrayed along the line to sweep a wide area of fire that any Union assault would have to march through. Even before McClernandıs Corps was fully arrayed for battle, USA Brigadier General Michael Lawler saw an opportunity to gain a quick victory, and ordered his brigade to fix bayonets and hit the center of the Confederate line. In a hand-to-hand combat that lasted less than three minutes, Vaughnıs Brigade broke under the fierce assault and ran for the bridges, followed quickly by the rest of Bowenıs command, as more and more Union infantry brigades fixed bayonets and followed Lawlerıs lead.

            Many of the retreating Confederates drowned while attempting to cross the river, forced into the water by Pembertonıs chief engineer, CSA Major Sam Lockett, who had set fire to the bridges to keep them out of Grantıs hands. There is no known surviving record of Confederate dead and wounded in the brief battle, but Grant reported capturing over 1,700 prisoners and all 18 artillery pieces, while suffering a total of 279 dead, wounded and missing out of his own commands.

            Burning the bridges slowed Grantıs advance less than a single day. His engineer threw up three bridges across the river by the morning of May 18, and the great Union army quickly crossed and moved out towards Vicksburg.

 

            Fortress Vicksburg

            Shortly after the fall of New Orleans in the Spring of 1862, USA Flag Officer (soon afterwards Rear Admiral) David Glasgow Farragut sailed his West Gulf Blockading Squadron north along the Mississippi River and captured Baton Rouge and Natchez without resistance. Joined just outside Vicksburg on July 1, 1862, by USA Flag Officer Charles Henry Davisı Western Flotilla, sailing south along the Mississippi after capturing Memphis and reducing the Confederate rivers fleet to a shattered remnant, the two powerful gunboat fleets had managed to take control of nearly the entire river for the Union after only a few months of campaigning. Now, the only thing that stood in the way of complete and free Union transit of the river was a few artillery batteries stationed high on a bluff next to the river in the small but very important port town of Vicksburg.

            Farragutıs fleet had passed by Vicksburg several times, starting in late May, and had exchanged fire with the rapidly growing city defenses to no real effect. Before Davisı arrival, his own mortarboats and sloops had kept a steady bombardment of the town, irregularly at first, but growing in intensity as both sides brought more guns into action. After three weeks of numbing and near continuous fire, and after the intense heat and disease had rended all but 800 of his 3,000 sailors unfit for duty, Farragut called off the operation and sailed south, while Davis returned his fleet to Memphis. Farragut reported that Vicksburg could only be successfully reduced by a combined army and naval force attacking from land and water simultaneously.

            Even before the first Union assaults on the town, Department of the West commander CSA General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard had prepared a plan of defense for the town after the defeat at Shiloh, and sent engineer CSA Captain D. B. Harris south from Fort Pillow to oversee the initial construction of a series of fortifications. CSA Major (later Major General) Martin Luther Smith soon arrived from constructing the defenses of New Orleans to take over building the VIcksburg defenses, and ended up commanding troops during the siege from behind his own line of fortifications.

            In September of 1862, following Farraguts failed attempts, this line of fortifications was extended to the inland side of Vicksburg, neatly surrounding the town with a powerful, near unassailable and continuous line of forts, infantry positions and artillery emplacements. Within a few months the defense line ran from Fort Hill on the north side of town along the curving ridges some nine miles south to South Fort, then back north along the river for some 4 1/2 additional miles. The defensive line mounted about 115 heavy guns, with another 31 mounted in batteries alongside the river.

            The only approaches into the city through the surrounding ridges were six roads and one railroad track that ran across natural bridges over rather steep ravines. To guard these natural avenues of attack, Harrisı engineers had constructed nine well constructed and powerful forts, some with walls nearly 20 feet thick. Each one of these forts was surrounded by a maze of interconnected and interlocking rifle pits, artillery batteries and communications trenches. In front of this line was a deep and wide ditch and all the trees were cut down for quite some distance in front of the line to provide a clear filed of fire, making any direct assault a suicidal venture at best. The town was now a massive fortified redoubt, nearly impregnable to reduction by weapons of the day, that could either prove a safe haven for itıs Confederate defenders or a deadly trap, depending entirely on what Grant choose to do.

 

            First Assaults on Vicksburg

            Grant believed he had Pembertonıs 31,000 men demoralized and not fully prepared to make much of a fight after his two week-long running battle from Port Gibson to the Big Black River, and wanted to storm the Vicksburg defenses before they could recover. On May 19, with 50,000 men under his command, but only 20,000 in position to strike, he ordered an immediate assault on the town.

            Shermanıs XV Corps was the only command in position to strike, and about 2 PM he ordered a general attack. Moving against the northeastern corner of the Vicksburg line, his men attempted to storm and reduce the powerful fort called Stockade Redan. Advancing under heavy and accurate Confederate fire, part of one regiment (the 13th U.S. Infantry) got close in enough to place their colors on the exterior sloping wall before being thrown back with heavy losses. This was the only Œgainı Sherman managed before withdrawing; McPhersonıs XVII and McClernandıs XIII Corps made some demonstrations against other parts of the line, but neither did any better than Sherman, who lost nearly 1,000 casualties to no gain.

            Three days later Grant ordered another assault attempt, this time preceded by a four hour long artillery barrage against the Confederate line followed by a 45,000 man attack against a three mile front. Portions of all three corps managed to make it to the base of the Confederate defenses, but only one regiment penetrated the line. An Iowa regiment of McClernandıs corps led by two sergeants shot their way into the Railroad Redoubt through a hole made by their artillery, and in a fierce firefight managed to kill or drive out the Confederate defenders. Before this regiment could be reinforced and the breach in the wall exploited, men of CSA Colonel Thomas N. Waulıs Texas Legion counterattacked and regained the fort. No other Union gain was made before the entire assault line was once against thrown back with heavy losses.

            Pemberton had even managed to rest many of his combat troops even during these assaults, using only about 18,000 of his men in the defense, while inflicting a total of 3,200 Union casualties. Pembertonıs own casualties in these assaults is not recorded, but were undoubtedly much less severe than Grantıs. With his powerful assault forces turned aside without much difficulty, Grant changed his plans and settled in for a long siege of the fortified town, something Johnston had already warned Pemberton would be inevitable and disastrous if he pulled his forces back into the city as planned.

           

            The Siege

            Grant officially began his siege operation on May 25, and with the exception of two isolated events, made no further attempts to take Vicksburg by force. With all lines of supply, communications or reinforcement successfully cut, rant directed his engineers and infantry to begin construction of a series of siege trenches, designed to gradually grow nearer and nearer the Confederate positions. He had no intention of simply allowing VIcksburg to starve itself out, at least initially, but planned to try digging a series of mines (or tunnels) under the massive fortifications, pack them full of explosives, and literally blast his way through the walls into the city.

            While the infantry was busy digging their way through MIssissippi, Grantıs artillery and Porterıs naval flotilla set about making life miserable within the town. While the city had suffered sporadic shelling from Union gunboats on the river ever since the first days of the campaign, nearly constant incoming fire began soon after Pemberton brought his army inside the defenses, and did not cease until the final surrender some 47 days later. It did not take long for Vicksburgıs citizens to move out of their homes and into caves dug deep into the sides of the hills. It also did not take long to figure out when they could safely venture out to try and find food and water; 8 AM, noon and 8 PM, when the artillerymen would cease firing to eat their meals. Grant continuously built up his siege artillery force, by the end of June he had 220 guns of various sizes engaged around the city.

            Within a relatively short time the siege made life nearly untenable for civilians and soldiers alike within the city. Food supplies had not been abundant when the campaign began, and when all supply routes were cut, what few items were still available commanded premium prices. Flour sold for as high as $1,000 per barrel, molasses for $10 per gallon, spoiled bacon for $5 a pound and what little cornmeal remained went for $140 per bushel. Beef, coffee, sugar, bread, and even horse or mule meat was nearly nonexistent. For a while a bread made of ground peas was available, for a price, but soon even this disgusting fare was gone. Some accounts even claim that the rat population of the city nearly disappeared by the middle of June,but this is undoubtedly an apocryphal tale. The truth, however, is just as stark; by late June the average soldier ration consisted of one biscuit, four ounces of usually rotted bacon, peas and sometimes a little rice each day, less than half of the normal combat ration.

            One odd shortage that reared itıs head in June was that of cartridge bags for Pembertonıs remaining heavy guns. These bags were made of flannel and held a measured charge of gunpowder, and not a single bolt of the cloth could be found anywhere in town. The soldiers were being asked to give up their outer shirts for the cause, when the ladies of the town found out and immediately volunteered their petticoats. A newspaperman in town later remarked that every outgoing shell from the cityıs 10-inch Columbiads was powered by these womenıs underwear.

 

            Sherman Gets Impatient

            Only two days after the siege operation began, Sherman displayed his usual impatience and requested help from Porterıs naval flotilla to reduce the fortifications before him. The gunboat Cincinnati was reinforced with heavy logs and bales of cotton along her ironclad sides, then moved downriver to directly confront the river batteries below Fort Hill, clearing the way for the infantry to move in.

            The Cincinnatiıs captain, USA Lieutenant George M. Bache, brought her downriver on May 27 and turned close to shore on the north end of town to prepare to open a broadside fire on the Confederate batteries. However, before his own guns could open fire, the swift river current caught his boat and spun it around, forcing Bache to unmask his stern batteries in order to maintain control. This was the weakest and least armored section of the ironclad, and the Confederate gunners took full advantage. From atop Fort Hill and from the multiple batteries along the river, rains of 8- and 10-inch fire raked the Union gunboat, soon smashing through her stern and shooting away her steering gear. Within minutes the huge gunboat was an uncontrollable mess of smashed gundecks and wounded and dying men.

            Bache attempted to run his boat aground on the far side of the river, to allow his crew to escape safely, but the boat was too badly damaged to stay afloat that long. The Cincinnati went down in three fathoms of water, taking 40 of her men with her, her colors still flying from the blasted stump of a flagpole where they had been nailed during the brief but vicious battle.

 

            The Mines

            From the very start of the siege, Grant had planned to try and blast his way through the Confederate defenses by using mines, and by late June the first were ready to go. A tunnel had been dug under the 3rd Louisiana Redoubt, near the center of the arcing Confederate line, and filled with over a ton of gunpowder. On June 25 the mine was ready, and Grant ordered every gun he had to open fire all along the Vicksburg line, to prevent Pemberton from shifting his forces around. At 3 PM the powder was fired, and with a deafening roar the entire top of the hill was blown off, opening a crater 50 feet in diameter and 12 feet deep. WIth nearly 150 heavy guns and every infantry unit along the line supporting, two regiments led by USA Brigadier General Mortimer D. Legget charged into the breach, only to discover that the Confederates had discovered their mining attempt and moved back to a second fortified position.

            From there, the Louisiana troops directed near point-blank volleys of shot and cannister into the Union infantry ranks, whose survivors were then soon joined in hand-to-hand combat by the 6th Missouri Infantry Regiment. The Illinois infantrymen attempted to stay in the crater, throwing up a hasty was in front of them and forming in a double line of battle to keep up a continuous volley fire of their own. The Louisiana defenders responded by throwing hand-grenades down into the crater, which Legget later said did fearful damage to his surviving infantry. The firing died down after the Union infantry managed to pull back slightly and build a parapet across the crater for their own protection. Grant reported a loss of 30 men, but this is not thought to be accurate; his true loss in the short action was most likely between 300 and 400 killed or wounded. Pemberton reported a loss of 90 dead and wounded.

            The next morning Pembertonıs men exploded two mines of their own on the north side of the line, near where Shermanıs troops were working on a mine near the Stockade Redoubt. No-one was killed, but the Union mining operation there was destroyed. Another mine was started that day under the new position of the 3rd Louisiana Redan, and fired off on July 1. This time a large number of Confederate defenders were killed or wounded in the explosion, which completely destroyed the large redoubt and blasted a hole 50 feet wide and 20 feet deep in the parapet walls. CSA Colonel Francis Marion Cockrell led his Missouri regiment immediately forward to seal the breach, although himself wounded by the explosion. Under extremely heavy artillery and rifle fire the breach was gradually filled in and reinforced, although at a cost of over 100 infantrymen during the six hour long operation. Grant never ordered an infantry attack forward to exploit this breach.

            With mining operations continuing all along the Vicksburg line, Grant decided to hold his forces in place until all was ready, then fire all at once and assault in one huge wave over the line. By July 2 the siege trenches were so close to the Confederate positions that the defenders would only have time for one volley before the Union infantry would be on top of them. The only crimp in this plan was a possible attempt to relieve Vicksburg from Grantıs rear.

            Johnston had returned to Jackson after Grantıs departure, and had spent the intervening weeks building up his forces. In addition to the men he had pulled out of the capital in the face of the Union assault, he now commanded Loringıs Division, joining him after being cut off from Pemberton after the Battle of Champion Hill, as well as every militia unit, local defense command, home guard or individual able man that could be scraped together from all around Mississippi. Johnston had appealed to both Bragg in Georgia and Davis in Richmond for more troops and supplies, but the building Chickamauga campaign in north Georgia had taken up every spare man and all the available supplies. In Jackson he had nearly 30,000 troops, but the vast majority were ³green² troops totally untrained and ignorant of battle, with a curious collection of shotguns, muskets and old rifles.

            Despite the odds, Johnston was determined to do what he could, and sent a message to Pemberton that he was on the way and would attempt to break through Grantıs siege line, probably on July 7. Grant had intercepted this message, and promptly shifted his forces around to face Johnston, whom he feared far more than Pemberton, and requested immediate reinforcements from any command in the west. Several thousand men arrived from the Trans-Mississippi Theater and from Union armies in Tennessee by later June, and sent Sherman to take control of the growing threat from the east.

            In the end, Johnston never did anything with the army he had raised, remaining in Jackson until June 28, then hesitantly moving west. On July 4, still not in contact with Shermanıs line at the Big Black RIver, he learned of Pembertonıs surrender and immediately returned his army to Jackson.

 

            July 4, 1863: The End

            By early July nearly half of Pembertonıs men were unfit to fight, suffering from malaria, dysentery, gangrene and a host of other illnesses, and the rest capable of holding on but weakened by the severe food shortage. Nearly every building in the city had been hit by the ceaseless artillery fire, and most were reduced to blasted hulks. Snipers fired at any man who dared poke his head out of his trench or above the parapet of his redoubt, civilians were now living full time in dug-out caves, many with ventilation so poor that candles wouldnıt stay lit. The stench from blasted-apart horses and mules filled the air, and everyone was approaching complete exhaustion from the strain of the prolonged siege.

            Pemberton knew that Grant was about to make a move against him, and undoubtedly knew that his men probably wouldnıt be able to stop it. Multiple communications begging Johnston to attack went unanswered or came back with replies saying the Jackson garrison needed more time to organize. In answer to his predicament, a letter appeared in his headquarters on June 28, signed ³Many Soldiers,² praising his own inspired leadership but asking that he surrender. The letter went on to threaten a general mutiny if he did not. On July 1 Pemberton circulated a letter among his top commanders asking if their troops would be able to fight their way out of the siege, which came back with a decided negative answer. On July 2 he called a conference of all his officers and point-blank asked if they thought he should surrender the city. Only two disagreed, but could offer no other feasible plan.

            At 10 AM on July 3, 1863, white flags of truce were raised all along the Vicksburg line, and for the first time in weeks the guns fell silent. After some difficulty in discussing the terms of surrender, with Pemberton showing some late-stage theatrics and Grant calmly insisting upon unconditional surrender, a deal was finally struck late in the day. Confederate soldiers would surrender their weapons but would not enter prison camps, instead being paroled out as soon as rolls could be made out. Grant wanted to avoid the expense and logistical nightmare of feeding and transporting 30,000 prisoners, and Pemberton was quite acceptable to the offer, undoubtedly knowing that most of the men would soon return to the army anyway.

            At 10 Am on July 4, 1863, the day after the great Union victory at Gettysburg, Pemberton ordered each of his division in turn to get out of their trenches, form up, and march under their own colors to the surrender point. Union regiments stood alongside the road watching silently as their beaten opponents passed, offering in a soldiers way a salute to the gallant defenders of Vicksburg.

            With the Confederates stacking arms and tenderly laying down their colors, USA Major General John Alexander Logan led his 3rd Division into the town to occupy it, and soon one of his regimental flags and the Stars and Stripes were raised over the Courthouse. The long campaign was at last over, and the end of the Confederacy in the West had begun.

 

            The Cost

            Both sides suffered terribly in the long campaign to capture Vicksburg and ultimately the Mississippi RIver. There are fairly complete records for Grantıs losses; 1,514 killed, 7,395 wounded and 453 captured or missing. Confederate records are very spotty on this period, but during the siege operation alone Pemberton lost a reported 1,260 killed, 3,572 wounded and 4,227 missing or captured. Union records indicate that a total of 29,491 surrendered on July 4, but this figure includes all the civilians left in town as well as the remnants of the Confederate defenders.

 

            The Tour

            Getting There: Vicksburg

            Vicksburg lies 45 miles due west of Jackson, Mississippi, easily accessible on Interstate 20. The battlefield park lies just off I20 exit 4, turn right at the bottom of the exit ramp (approaching from Jackson) onto Clay Street and the well-marked entrance to the park is just ahead on your right. The main business district of Vicksburg is further west along Clay Street, which is dotted with directional signs to guide you to all the prominent and most of the obscure sites and attractions. The Vicksburg Convention & Visitors Bureau Welcome Center is across the street on the left from the battlefield park entrance, and is a Œmust stopı for detailed directions, as well as the vast selection of brochures, discount coupons, maps and other information on the local establishments and attractions. The staff is quite friendly and has demonstrated an outstanding willingness to go far out of their way to help meet the visitors needs.

 

            Chickasaw Bayou Today

            Almost all of the Chickasaw Bayou battlefield is now private property and not open to touring, but you can get a good view of the area from both a highway that runs through the area, and from certain points in the battlefield park. U.S. Highway 61 Business, also known in town as Washington Street, runs northeast out of town, and just past the boundaries of the battlefield park it passes over the remains of the COnfederate line of defense. About 1 1/2 miles north on U.S. 61 Business is a turnoff to the left leading to an old Indian mound; this was the position held by the 31st Louisiana and 52nd Georgia Infantry Regiments, supported by a battery from the 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, which successfully held off five strong assaults by Union troops.

            One of the best views of the general area can be had from Fort Hill, within the battlefield park (stop 9 on their tour map). From the north ramparts, look straight ahead and a bit to your right; the bluffs you can see about two miles away are the positions of Confederate artillery during the battle, the Confederate infantry was in emplacements at the base of the bluffs, and the swampy are you can see a little to your left is where the Union troops assaulted through.

 

            Modern Times in Vicksburg

            Today, Vicksburg is a bustling small town, driven in about equal parts by Civil War related tourism and the new boom in riverboat gambling. As you drive down the ³main drag,² Clay Street, you canıt help but notice both the extreme frequency of markers and monuments scattered among the fast-food restaurants and small businesses, and that even many of the completely non-ACW related businesses make some reference to the long siege and battle in their names; the Battlefield Inn, Vicksburg Battle Campground, the Pemberton Square Mall and so on. Although obviously the destination at the end of a well-worn path leading hoards of tourists from Jackson and other points east (and west and north and south), it is a surprisingly pleasant place to visit. Unlike a great number of other tourist and Civil War related destinations, we did not have a single unpleasant encounter during our visits, and aside from a few government employees in the national park, we experienced nothing but the warmest and most gracious of welcomes wherever we went.

            This no doubt was the result of Vicksburgıs ³other² and perhaps least obvious face; that it is ground-zero for that most revered of all surviving Southern traditions, the Southern belle. Scarlet OıHara in Gone With the Wind fame is the idea that most people not of the South have of belles, and in some ways it is an accurate portrayal. Belles are known here (and across the Old South)  as an effective combination of sugar-sweet politeness covering the tenacity and effectiveness of a tank, who would never think of being rude to a stranger any more than they would wear white shoes before Easter (or after Labor Day, for that matter). While some of their traditions seem a bit dated, such as never putting dark meat in a chicken salad or avoiding Miracle Whip like the plague(³real² Southern belles make their own, or at least buy Hellmanıs and add a little lemon), it is an absolute delight to be in the presence of people who would never dream of making you feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. As opposed to the standards set by certain television talk shows and the average rush-hour commute, these ladies can think of no word stronger than ³tacky² to describe the worst possible aspect of someoneıs behavior. And they would never, ever say that to their faces.

            Old times are indeed not forgotten here, as the annual Spring and Fall Pilgrimages open the many antebellum homes for tours, the fees from which helps keep many of them open and in the same family. Many of these homes claim rightfully to have survived the vicious fighting here, and several have visible damage to the structure as proof. While the main Visitors Center on Clay Street can give you maps and brochures of the even dozen homes open year-round for tours, some of which are listed below, a casual drive around the small city takes you past many others that wear their scars from the War as badges of honor.

            One last word about touring Vicksburg before we recommend some specific sites and attractions: When you go (and you must!), prepare to stay awhile and let the charm of this Confederate mecca embrace you. This is not the sort of historic site that treats itıs history as a sideshow to help get you to empty out your wallet, these folks rightfully treat their town as hallowed ground, where the sacrifices of both sides are respectfully preserved, and for the most part, tastefully presented.

 

          



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