Tuesday, September 26, 2006


Dates: November 3, 1862 to July 4, 1863


Union: Army; Major General Ulysses S. Grant command the Army of the Tennessee
Navy; Admiral David Dixon Porter commanding US naval forces on the Mississippi river.

Confederate: Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton commanding the Vicksburg Defenses.

Prelude: following the fall of Corinth, MS in May of 1862, Union forces had Western Tennessee and Northern Mississippi in their grasp. The next step in the plan to cripple the Confederacy was the capture of the Mississippi River, a stated goal since the beginning of the war. The key to all of this was the town of Vicksburg, situated on the river (at the time) about 200 miles north of New Orleans. The Confederates possession of the town did two things; first, this allowed a section of the river to remain in Confederate hands, and second, that possession alone allowed supplies from Texas and Arkansas to the east. Union possession would not only curtail that, but also cut the CSA in two.

During the summer of 1862 there had already been an attempt to seize Vicksburg. A naval force under the command of Admiral David Farragut sailed to Vicksburg and began to shell the town. First thing that was noticed was that most of the town is situated on bluffs overlooking the river. Second was that the Confederate defenders could mount cannon on those bluffs and could be reasonably protected. The weather, malaria, and the presence of the ironclad warship CSS Arkansas halted any efforts to bombard the town into submission. The Union ships had to pull back and it was decided that that place had to be taken by ground troops.

In October of 1862, President Abraham Lincoln ordered Major General Ulysses S. Grant to handle the task. Grant was already beset with a problem, one of his subordinate generals, John McClernand, wanted an independent command and was trying to do so. This might have prompted Grant to begin the campaign sooner that he planned. Grant did get a break when McClernand took leave to get married. What troops that were going to McClernand went to Major General William Sherman. Now the campaign can begin. Grant’s plan was a two pronged advance, with Sherman going along the river and Grant moving along the rail line towards the Mississippi capital of Jackson.

November 3-4, 1862: Grant begins movement with most of his army reaching Grand Junction, at the Tennessee-Mississippi line.

November 8, 1862: Confederate Major General Earl Van Dorn, commanding a detachment in north Mississippi, pulls back from Holly Springs towards the Tallahatchie River. Movement is complete on November 10.
November 26, 1862: Sherman’s forces depart Memphis, TN and head southeast in support of Grant.

November 27, 1862: Grant’s wing of the attack reaches Holly Springs, MS.

November 27 to December 7, 1862: Federal troops conduct raids in order to wreck rail lines after landing at Friar’s Point, on the Mississippi River.

November 29 to December 5, 1862: Confederate troops pull back from the Tallahatchie to the Yalobusha Rivers. A distance of 50 miles.

December 2, 1862: Grant’s troops occupy Oxford, MS.

December 5, 1862: Van Dorn’s infantry hits Grant near Coffeeville, MS. Grant ends up halting his forces while the rail line from Holly Springs is repaired.

December 8, 1862: Sherman heads back to Memphis.

December 11, 1862: Confederate cavalry under Nathan Forrest begin to attack Grant’s supply lines in Tennessee. This continues until January 1, 1863.

December 20, 1862: Van Dorn springs a big surprise on Grant by hitting and destroying the Federal supply dump at Holly Springs.

December 20, 1862: Sherman departs Memphis and begins heading south along the Mississippi River.

During this time, the Confederates under Lieutenant General John Pemberton begin amassing in the Vicksburg area. A system of fortifications is being dug.

December 22, 1862: With his supply lines in a shambles, Grant decides to pull back to Memphis.

December 26, 1862: Sherman’s forces land at Johnson’s Plantation, on the Yazoo River northwest of Vicksburg. Skirmishing breaks out along the defensive line.

December 29, 1862: Sherman attempts a frontal assault on the Confederate line at Chickasaw Bayou, but the heavily entrenched defenders repulsed the Federals.

January 2, 1863: Sherman’s forces pull back up river to Milliken’s Bend, on the Louisiana side.

January 9, 1862: McClernand returns from his wedding and retakes command of the troops led by Sherman. He than leads those troops on an unauthorized movement up the Mississippi towards the Arkansas River.

January 10, 1863: Grant completes his withdrawal to Memphis. He knows he can take Vicksburg, it’s just finding out how to do it.

January 11, 1863: McClernand launches an attack on Confederate fortifications at Arkansas Post, AR. With gunboat support, McClernand manages to take the fort.

Grant had to go back to the drawing board. He was not the type who sulked away his failures. Battling intrigue within the ranks (McClernand) and bad press outside (the constant accusations that he was drunk), Grant was the type that hated war, but it was the only thing he was good at. He saw Vicksburg as something that could be overcome, so he set to planning the next move.

This is how the Army of the Tennessee was deployed. HQ was at Milliken’s Bend with McClernand’s XIII Corps. Sherman was given XV Corps and was placed at Young’s Point, to the south. XVII Corps, under Major General James McPherson, was placed at Lake Providence, to the southeast, and XVI Corps, under Major General Stephen Hurlbut was left in western Tennessee.

Opposing Grant was a Confederate army under Pendleton. He was commander of the Department of the Mississippi despite the fact that he was a Pennsylvania native who sided with his wife’s native state of Virginia. That was already strike one with the locals in Mississippi but he enjoyed the confidence of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, a Mississippi native. His main job was to keep what was left of the Mississippi River in Confederate hands.

January 24, 1863: The next plan tried was a canal that would be dug across the base of De Soto Point, across the river from Vicksburg. The goal was to leave the town high and dry by diverting the Mississippi River. (This would end in failure, but nature, in 1876, accomplished what Grant’s boys couldn’t. The Mississippi river now bends to the south of Vicksburg and a canal was cut from the Yazoo River to the Mississippi.)

February 2, 1863: McPherson’s troops began an attempt to cut a canal from Lake Providence through several bayous.

February 3, 1863: A third attempt at a water assault begins at Yazoo Pass, about 120 miles (straight line, about 325 miles as the river goes) north of Vicksburg.

February 23, 1863: Union troops begin movement southeast from Yazoo Pass.

March 10, 1863: a Federal force reaches the town of Greenwood, MS and finds a fort in the way.

March 11, 1863: Union troops began a series of assaults on the fort, named Fort Pemberton.

March 16, 1863: Admiral Porter’s gunboats are sent up the Yazoo River in order to assist Federal forces at Fort Pemberton. He is supported by some of Sherman’s troops.

March 20, 1863: Porter’s gunboats are turned back at Rolling Fork, on the Yazoo River.

March 21, 1863: Both Sherman and Porter agree to pull back down the Yazoo.

March 27, 1863: Porter’s gunboats and Sherman’s troops return to the Mississippi River.

March 29, 1863; both the De Soto Point and the Lake Providence canal operations are called off. High water and underwater obstructions had contributed to the problems the Union faces, but now the Mississippi was falling, making the canals impractical.

Another plan was already in the works. Grant had three options, launch a cross river assault on Vicksburg, return to Memphis and try an overland approach, or land troops south of Vicksburg and do an overland march. The direct assault across river would be destroyed before any troops could be landed. The Memphis option was probably what the Confederates expected. Grant’s choice was made clear; he would land troops below Vicksburg and then march on the town. He also saw the advantage of taking Jackson, since it was a rail junction that could get supplies to Vicksburg.

April 2, 1863: Federal troops are sent to destroy food stocks that could be helpful to the Confederate defenders.

April 5, 1863: Union troops at Fort Pemberton begin pulling back to Yazoo Pass.

April 16-17, 1863: Porters gunboats run past the Vicksburg defenses. This places naval forces below the town.

At the same time, Federal cavalry under Colonel R. H. Grierson are sent on raids into Mississippi and Louisiana as a diversion.

April 20, 1863: Grant begins moving his army down river to Bruinsburg, MS. Sherman’s corps is left in order to make a diversion. All of this is needed to keep the Confederates occupied as to Grant’s intentions.

April 29, 1863: Sherman’s corps crosses the Yazoo River and is in a position to threaten Snyder’s bluff, north of Vicksburg. On that same day, Grant’s forces reached the river port of Hard Times, LA.

Grant now revealed his plan, he was to take 20,000 men and head inland to Jackson, then approach Vicksburg. He would dispense with supply lines; his army would live off the land, raiding farms and plantations along the way. This was risky, if Pendleton got wind of this, he could cut Grant off from the river without any hope of relief.

April 30, 1862: McClernand’s and McPherson’s corps is sent across the Mississippi to Bruinsburg. They faced a Confederate division under Brigadier General John Bowen. Bowen sent word to Pemberton, who is distracted by Sherman’s presence north of Vicksburg. Any reserves Pemberton might have sent were instead chasing Grierson.

May 1, 1863: After an 18 hour battle, Bowen is forced to pull his troops to the north beyond the Big Black River. Grant now has a secure base in which to operate.

At this time, Confederate General Joe Johnston was assembling an army at Jackson.

May 2, 1863: Sherman begins his movement south to the Federal beachhead at Grand Gulf, MS. At the same time, McPherson gets his corps to Grindstone’s Ford, northeast of Port Gibson, where Grant has his headquarters. Grierson also finishes his raid.

May 3, 1863: Union troops seize Hankinson’s Ferry, on the Big Black River, north of Port Gibson. Porter’s gunboat squadron arrives at Grand Gulf.

May 4, 1863: Pemberton, thinking that Grant is making an assault from the south, orders a defensive line formed from Warrenton, MS east to Baldwin’s Ferry on the Big Black.

May 8, 1863: Sherman completes moving his corps across the Mississippi and reports to Grant, now at Hankinson’s Ferry.

Now that Grant has Pemberton occupied, he begins sending his troops to the northeast.
McClernand’s corps has the left of the advance, Sherman is in the middle, and McPherson on the right.

May 11, 1863: As Federal troops approach the town of Raymond, southwest of Jackson, they encounter the first serious resistance.

May 12, 1863: Confederate troops at Raymond launch an attack on advancing Federal troops, the result was a four hour battle the went in the Union’s favor. The Confederates were forced to retreat to Jackson.

May 13, 1863: Pemberton has a line dug in at Edward’s Station, east of Vicksburg, but Grant now applies full force at Jackson.

May 14, 1863: McPherson’s corps is sent to Clinton, near Jackson and blocks Confederate movement in either direction. Johnston has only 12,000 to counter Grant, so he decides to evacuate Jackson.

May 15, 1863: Jackson, MS has fallen to Federal troops. Sherman’s troops wreck the rail lines and anything of military importance while McClernand’s and McPherson’s corps is turned to the west. Meanwhile, Pemberton sends a force to cut Grant’s line of retreat. Grant finds this out from a Union agent posing as a Confederate.

May 16, 1863: McClernand and Pemberton meet at Champion’s Hill, west of Clinton, and began a battle in which the hill changed hands three times. In the end, Pemberton was forced to retreat.

May 17, 1863: Grant pushes his forces, with Sherman rejoining him, to the Big Black River. Sherman and McPherson prepare to cross, but McClernand launches an attack on a Confederate defensive line, which crumbles. Pemberton now has no choice but to pull all of his army within the defensive lines now surrounding Vicksburg.

May 18, 1863: Unknown to Grant, Pemberton manages to have two fresh divisions, the last he will get.

May 19, 1863: As the Army of the Tennessee approaches Vicksburg, Grant makes contact with Admiral Porter. On the heels of his other victories, Grant felt that he could breach the line and take Vicksburg immediately. At 1:30 p.m. he launches an assault on the works, which last until dark without success. Grant decides to bring up artillery and try again in three days.

May 22, 1863: 6:10 a.m. Federal artillery and gunboats begin shelling both Vicksburg and the defensive line.

Starting at 10:00 a.m. Grant began to launch frontal assaults from the Square Fort north to the Railroad redoubt. The defensive line proves too tough to crack and fighting ends at dusk.

May 25, 1863: After another attempt to break the Confederate line, this time with a tunnel bored under the defensive line, filled with explosives, and detonated, Grant decides on a siege as the best way to take the town.

Even with his losses, Grant still had 44,000 men and gunboat support to isolate the town. Pemberton wanted his forces to hang on in hopes that Johnston will come to his aid. The civilians were subjected to short rations and daily bombardment. In the end, the citizens were forced to live in caves in order to survive the shelling.

Conditions during the siege were terrible to say the least. The hot weather, bugs, and lack of food (on the Confederate side) were taking their toll. Still, the evenings were when soldiers from both sides could do some trading. There was even a truce so bodies could be buried because the smell was offensive.

To stiffen the siege, Grant had additional troops sent in, raising his troop levels to about 70,000.

As June was coming to an end, Pemberton’s men were reduced to eating horses and mules. The local paper was printing their editions on the backs of wallpaper. There was an editorial that claimed that Grant promised to eat dinner on July 4 in Vicksburg. The answer was that the only thing that could be eaten in Vicksburg was rabbit. And first Grant must “catch the rabbit,” meaning Vicksburg.

Meanwhile, Johnston was assembling a force to break the siege. But after finding out the size of the Union forces, he notified President Davis on June 15 that there was no way that siege could be lifted with what he had. The fate of Vicksburg was sealed and it was only a matter of time.

July 1, 1863: There was another explosion at the 3rd Louisiana Redan, but this time there was no follow up attack.

July 2, 1863: Pemberton was faced with two choices, either try to break out or surrender. His commanders informed him that the troops were not in condition for an assault. Pemberton decides to meet with Grant.

July 3, 1863: Grant and Pemberton meet. Grant demands unconditional surrender, Pemberton refuses. Grant oversees the situation; an unconditional surrender would leave him with thousands of prisoners to send north. He did not have the time or the transports to take care of that. Grant decided that it was easier to take the Confederates parole, a promise not to resume fighting until exchanged for a Union soldier being held prisoner, and concentrate on defeating Johnston and taking the war to the east. Grant offers Pemberton those terms and they are accepted.

As Palmerton broke the news, some of his commanders were resistant until he said, “I know my people (Northerners). They are a vain, glorious lot. That they will give anything if this city and its garrison surrenders on July Fourth.”

July 4, 1863; Vicksburg, MS formally surrenders to the Army of the Tennessee. The Confederates stack their arms and equipment, accept a parole slip, and then are allowed to leave the town.

With Vicksburg captured and the later Union victory at Port Hudson, the Mississippi River was fully in Federal hands. President Lincoln summed up the event with this statement, “The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the Sea.”

The people of Vicksburg would not celebrate July 4th until 1948.

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