The Battle of Vicksburg
The object of contention in the Vicksburg campaign was the Mississippi River, which bore the same relation to the seceding Southern States that the Hudson bore to the rebellious Thirteen Colonies in the Revolutionary War; it divided them into two parts (Ballard(1) 3-5). If the Union forces could get control of this river they would split the Confederacy in two, and stop the passage of supplies and men to the Confederate armies in the east from Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas (Ballard(1) 72). This was a purely military consideration, but there was also a political and commercial consideration.
The Mississippi was the great highway of trade between the Northwestern States and the outside world; so long as any part of it was controlled by Confederate batteries the highway was closed (Ballard(1) 8). The Confederates in the first year of the war controlled the middle portion of the river by the forts at Columbus, New Madrid and Island No. 10, Fort Pillow and Fort Randolph (Ballard(1) 18). Columbus was evacuated a short while after the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson (Ballard(1) 27). General Pope, with the help of Foote’s fleet, captured New Madrid and Island No. 10, in April, 1862.
The victory at Shiloh (April 6 and 7, 1862) advanced the Union line southward to the Memphis and Charleston Railway, Fort Pillow was abandoned by the Confederates on the 4th of June, and Fort Randolph the next day (Ballard(1) 42-43). At this time the Federals and the Confederates both had fleets on the river. Foote’s fleet, now commanded by Commodore Davis, Foote being still disabled by the wound he received at Donelson, pushed on down the river, as one Confederate post after another was evacuated or taken. On May 10, 1862, the Confederate flotilla had attacked the Union fleet at Fort Pillow and been defeated (Shea and Winschel 10).
On June 7 the Union squadron attacked the Confederate fleet at Memphis, destroying three of its vessels, damaging others, and driving the fleet southward. The Mayor of Memphis immediately surrendered the town to Davis. The river was now open southward as far as Vicksburg (Shea and Winschel 11-12). On the 25th of April, 1862, Farragut’s fleet had arrived at New Orleans and taken possession of that city; in May the fleet moved up the river and took Baton Rouge and Natchez, and, with the assistance of a small detachment of land troops, tried to take Vicksburg, but failed (Shea and Winschel 35-37).
The Confederate authorities, now appreciating the importance and the peril of Vicksburg, had it strongly garrisoned and provided with batteries to command the river. By direction of the authorities at Washington, Farragut, with his fleet of ships and gunboats, and General Williams, with a small force of artillery and infantry, made another unsuccessful effort against Vicksburg, toward the end of June, 1862 (Ballard(2) 16-17).
Vicksburg was now the only point of the river held by the Confederates, but in August General Breckinridge garrisoned Port Hudson, two hundred miles below Vicksburg, and began setting up heavy batteries there to command the river. Thenceforward this point, also, was occupied by the Confederates until after the fall of Vicksburg. The Confederates also regained control of the river as far northward as Helena, Arkansas. (Ballard (2) 45-47). Such was the situation along the Mississippi in September, 1862.
Halleck, having captured Corinth and dispersed his army, had gone to Washington to assume the office of Generalin-Chief, leaving Grant “in command of all troops in the vicinity of Memphis and Corinth and as far back as Columbus, Ky” (Ropes 35). Buell and Bragg were in their race for Kentucky, and Grant’s forces had been drawn upon to reinforce Buell’s; Grant now had only about 42,000 men. With these he was required by Halleck to guard the railway from Memphis to Decatur, two hundred miles, and keep open communication with Buell. This constrained him to a passive defensive attitude for the time (Ballard (2) 186-87).
The Confederate troops in Mississippi composed two independent commands, each about 16,000 strong. One force under Van Dorn; the other under Sterling Price. On the 2nd of September Price received word from Bragg that Rosecrans, whose “Army of the Mississippi” formed the left of Grant’s line, was about to march to Tennessee in order to join Buell. Bragg asked Price to prevent this movement. Accordingly, Price asked Van Dorn to join forces with him to attack Rosecrans. Van Dorn agreed to join him, but replied that he should not be able to assemble his scattered forces before the 12th of the month.
Fearing that this would not be early enough to catch Rosecrans, Price moved out without waiting for Van Dorn. On the 14th he occupied Iuka. About the 18th Price and Van Dorn arranged to join their forces at Rienzi for an advance against Corinth (Shea and Hess 303-113). Meantime Grant had been watching the movements of Price and Van Dorn, and had resolved to attack Price at Iuka, before he and Van Dorn could unite their forces. To this end he assembled Rosecrans’s command and Ord’s division at Corinth, and started them toward Iuka.
Rosecrans took the roads by way of Rienzi and Jacinto, and was to approach Iuka from the direction of the south. Ord marched by way of the railway, and was to attack at the same time from the north and west. The combined attack was to drive Price against the Tennessee River. As usually happens with marches of concentration, this one miscarried. The upshot was, Rosecrans approached by one road only from the south, and attacked the Confederates without Ord. Darkness ended the combat, and during the night Price slipped out by the other road [the Fulton road] to the south (Ballard (1) 75-77) .
Rosecrans and Ord returned to Corinth. Van Dorn and Price met at Ripley on the 28th of September, and Van Dorn took command of their combined force by virtue of his rank. Van Dorn marched the united force by way of Pocahontas and Chewalla, and formed line of battle to the northwest of Rosecrans’s position, near intrenchments at Corinth, on the morning of October the 3rd. The Confederates attacked, and by sunset had driven the Federals into the redoubts at the edge of the town. The next morning Van Dorn renewed the assault.
The combat was ferocious; but by noon it was over, and the Confederates were retreating from the field. Rosecrans made no pursuit until the next day. Van Dorn made good his retreat to Holly Springs. Rosecrans and Hurlbut pursued to Ripley and were then recalled by Grant to Corinth and Bolivar. General Pemberton was now sent to Mississippi to take command of all the Confederate forces in the State; Rosecrans was called from Grant’s army to relieve Buell of the command of the Army of the Ohio. Grant was promised by Halleck a “large body of new levies,” and he purposed taking the offensive without delay (Reed 88).
Meantime McClernand was in Washington working out a secret scheme with the President and the Secretary of War, by which he was to raise a volunteer army in Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, and lead it down the Mississippi to capture Vicksburg. No intimation of this project was given to General Grant, but Halleck, of course, was informed of it. The result was that when Grant first wrote to Halleck (October 26) asking leave to move against Vicksburg, he received no reply to his letter. Then followed several contradictory and vague dispatches from Halleck, which kept Grant for some time guessing what he was expected to do.
At last, however, it was arranged that Grant should move with the main army from Grand Junction to Holly Springs, and be joined by Sherman with the troops from Memphis, on the Tallahatchie River. A force from Helena was to move across the Mississippi and threaten the Confederate rear at Grenada (Reed 92-95). At this time Van Dorn commanded the Confederate forces about Holly Springs-some 24,000 men, formed in two divisions, under Price and Lovell. Vicksburg was garrisoned by 6,000 Confederates, and Port Hudson by 5,500. Pemberton had his headquarters at Jackson.
By the 5th of November Grant had reached Oxford with the main body, and Sherman was at College Hill, a few miles northwest of that place. The force from Helena had carried out its part of the plan and had returned to Helena. Van Dorn had fallen back, before Grant’s advance, to Grenada. Up to this time Grant had advanced with no very definite plan, except to attack the enemy if he overtook him. But Van Dorn, by Pemberton’s order, had kept falling back. As Grant’s line of communication was now more than 200 miles long-a single-track railway back to Columbus, Kentucky,-Grant established a secondary base at Holly Springs.
After considerable correspondence with Halleck, and the discussion of several plans with Sherman for the capture of Vicksburg, it was finally arranged, with Halleck’s approval, that Sherman should return to Memphis with one division. There he was to pick up all the newly arrived troops, and, with the troops under Steele from Helena, he was to organize an expedition to move by transports, under escort of Porter’s fleet of gunboats, to Vicksburg, while Grant marched his army along the left bank of the Yazoo against the same objective. Sherman was back at Memphis by the 12th of December, and set out for Vicksburg on the 20th (Reed 104-106).
But events occurred which prevented Grant from carrying out his part of the plan. As a consequence of raids Grant was forced to place his army on short rations, fall back to the Memphis and Charleston Railway, and open communications with Memphis. No supplies were to be had in the country; it had been stripped. Sherman, in the meanwhile, had gone down the Mississippi. He had a force of 32,000 men and sixty guns, which he organized into four divisions. His division commanders were M. L. Smith, A. J. Smith, G. W. Morgan, and Fred Steele.
The expedition reached Miliken’s Bend, twenty-five miles above Vicksburg, before daylight on Christmas day (Simon and Grant 98-100). Vicksburg stood 250 feet above the waters of the Mississippi, and from there a line of cliffs, known as Chickasaw Bluffs, ran northward twelve miles, to Haynes’s Bluff on the Yazoo River. The space between the base of the bluffs and the rivers was a wooded swamp cut up by bayous and creeks (Ropes 71). Pemberton had learned of Sherman’s expedition, and had hurried reinforcements to Vicksburg; so that 12,000 Confederates were now intrenched upon the bluffs, awaiting Sherman’s attack.
This expedition was also to have received the cooperation of an expedition under Banks from New Orleans. Banks, however, got no farther than Baton Rouge Sherman landed his troops, on the 26th of December, at Johnson’s plantation, and his columns, on the 27th and 28th, meandered across the swamps and bayous toward the foot of the bluffs. Only one of the columns had a bridgetrain. On the 29th Sherman assaulted the Confederate position, but was unable to carry it. He remained in position two or three days, vainly trying to find some way by which to dislodge the Confederates.
On the 2nd of January he reembarked his men, and, without opposition, returned to the mouth of the Yazoo. Here he was met by McClernand, with an order assigning that general to command the expedition. The order was dated about the 17th of December (Ropes 74-76). Thus ended in failure the project of a combined movement against Vicksburg by land and water. Works Cited Ballard, Michael B. (1) Vicksburg: The Campaign That Opened the Mississippi. University of North Carolina Press, 2004. Ballard, Michael B. (2) Civil War Mississippi: A Guide. University Press of Mississippi, 2000. Shea, William L. and Hess, Earl J.
Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West. University of North Carolina Press, 1992. Shea, William L. and Winschel, Terrence J. Vicksburg Is the Key: The Struggle for the Mississippi River. University of Nebraska Press, 2003. Simon, John Y. and Grant, Ulysses S. The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant: April 1 – July 6, 1863 Vol. 8. Southern Illinois University Press, 1979. Reed, Samuel R. The Vicksburg Campaign, and the Battles about Chattanooga under the Command of General U. S. Grant in 1862-63; a Historical Review. Cincinnati: R. Clarke, 1882. Ropes, John Codman. The Army in the Civil War. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1881.