Intro – Vicksburg in the Civil War
In part two of the Vicksburg Campaign series (Civil War) we examined the Bayou Expeditions. The Bayou Expeditions that Ulysses S. Grant and his Union forces attempted ended in failure. However, this did not deter Grant from his goal of capturing the Confederate bastion of Vicksburg. Vicksburg was a Confederate fort that sat on a bluff high above the Mississippi River. This was the last major Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi in 1863.
Control of the Mississippi during the Civil War, as we have seen throughout our series, was crucial to both North and South. Control of the Mississippi meant control of the most important economic route in the nation during the Civil War. If the Union could gain control of the river, it also meant that the Confederacy would be split in two. This would isolate the western states from the rest of the Confederacy.
In part three of our Vicksburg Campaign series, we will examine Ulysses’ next move and his plans to take Grand Gulf. We will also look at how Grant and Porter run their gunboats past Vicksburg and attempt to take the fort from the south.
Siege of Vicksburg
Grant Begin’s His Move
While Grant had been working on the Bayou Expeditions, he was also attempting to find a weakness in the Confederate communication lines. On February 13, Grant messaged General Stephen A. Hurlbut, who was stationed in Memphis, TN, and shared the idea of attacking Confederate General Pemberton’s railroad lines. In response to Grant’s message, Hurtlbut started to prepare for a cavalry raid against the Southern Railroad of Mississippi.
Ulysses S. Grant then began looking for a land movement south of Vicksburg. There was low, level land south of Milliken’s Bend and west of Young’s Point. Grant decided to wait until the spring to make a move when the Mississippi River withdrew and the bayou’s drained. Grant decided New Carthage was the goal of the march. This was a small village that sat 17 miles to the south of Milliken’s Bend. It was also situated south of the Warrenton case mate south of Vicksburg and was 32 miles north of the Grand Gulf guns.
So, if Porter’s gunboats could get past Vicksburg, Grant could ferry his men from the west side of the Mississippi to the east side and work his way to Vicksburg from land. This also gave Grant the option to take New Carthage or Grand Gulf.
Then, on March 29, Ulysses S. Grant had General John McClernand and his XIII Corps move from Milliken’s Bend to New Carthage. Grant’s hope was that New Carthage would become a new supply depot for the campaign. Behind the XIII Corps would be the XVII Corps under McPherson. In the rear would be Sherman and the XV Corps. McClernand began his move on March 31.
Grant was advised by Henry Halleck, McPherson, Steele, and Sherman to take a different course of action. However, despite opposition from his superior and his subordinates, Ulysses decided to move forward with his plan. Grant was not one to shy away or change course. He wrote in his memoir, “The problem for us was to move forward to a decisive victory, or out cause was lost. No progress was being made in any other field, and we had to go on.
Support From Porter
While Ulysses was issuing marching orders to his corps commanders, he also asked Porter if he would be able to get “one or two vessels” past the heights of Vicksburg. Ulysses wrote, “WIthout the aid of gunboats it will hardly be worth the while to send troops to New Carthage.” Porter responded, “hen these gunboats once go below, we give up all hope of ever getting them up again.”
Porter was concerned that, due to the lack of engine power in the vessels, when they went north up the Mississippi River, they would be in the water in front of the Vicksburg guns for 90 minutes. Much longer than the 20 minutes going down the Mississippi. This, still, did not deter General Grant.
Grant then ordered Sherman to take a diversionary raid into the area north of Greenville. The thinking behind this plan was to trick the Confederate forces into believing that the Union soldiers were planning to flank Vicksburg. By April 8, the Union soldiers were within 20 miles of Rolling Fork. This is a success as the Confederates buy it.
General Carter Stevenson, commander in Vicksburg, sent General Stephen D. Lee’s brigade to Rolling Fork to stop this raid. William W. Loring, commander of Fort Pemberton, sent General John C. Moore’s bigade as well. This took the Confederates’ attention away from McClernand and his men heading south to New Carthage and placed it north. Pemberton then makes another mistake. When he learned that Federal ships were traveling north up the Mississippi, he thought that Ulysses S. Grant was withdrawing his force.
A Flood in the Road
McClernand’s force was led by Colonel Thomas W. Bennett and the 69th Indiana who were a part of General Peter J. Osterhaus’s division. This lead element constructs bridges and roads to allow the rest of the men to pass through. To accomplish this, Capt. WIlliam F. Patterson’s Kentucky Company of Engineers and Mechanics also travels with them, as well as cavalry. These 1,000 men lead the way with the remainder of McClernand’s 17,000 men behind. By April 4, Osterhaus’s men reach Pointe Clear Plantation, just two miles to the north of the village of New Carthage. However, it is at this point that a snag in Grant’s plan is reached.
Here, McClernand realized that all the land from Pointe Clear to New Carthage was flooded. Down the river from where these actions were taking place, Confederate general John Bowen is aware of and worried about Grant’s movements. Bowen decided to send the Hine and the Charm up and across the Mississippi River filled with two regiments. These regiments landed in Louisiana. These Confederate troops run into McClernand’s force and send a report back to Bowen who, in turn, telegraphs Pemberton. Confederate Major Isaac Harrison and his 15th Louisiana cavalry also spot McClernand and his force. These reports make their way back to Jefferson Davis in Richmond as early at April 7.
A Spy from Washington
Not only did Grant not have the confidence of his subordinates and flooding issues, he also had the Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana sent on April 6 to keep an eye on him. The official “cause” of his mission was army pay service. However, he was really sent to keep and eye on Grant and to send reports about the Ohio born general back to D.C. LIncoln, not knowing if the rumors about Grant’s drinking were true or not, sent Dana to find out.
However, this does not fool the cunning general. Still, Ulysses is very welcoming and inviting to Dana. He makes Dana feel invaluable and like he was needed out west. In response, Dana sends nothing but high praise back to Washington and the president.
Misleading the Confederates
On April 14, Pemberton still believed that Grant’s move south was just a distraction from his real plan of attack. In response, Pemberton decides to send 4,000 Confederate soldiers under General Abraham Buford from Port Hudson to re-enforce Braxton Bragg who was facing off against William Rosecrans in Tennessee. Pemberton also orders General John C. Vaughn’s brigade to prepare to leave Vicksburg and head to Tennessee as well. He also sent General Simon Bolivar Buckner a telegraph recommending that he send soldiers to Tennessee.
While Pemberton was removing soldiers and sending them to Tennessee, he was situated in Jackson. In Jackson he lived a life of comfort. His wife, Pattie, was with him and he commanded via Carter Stevenson who was actually situated in Vicksburg. He takes Stevenson’s information and assessment of the situation without doubt. Then, on APril 15, Pemberton received a report that Union soldiers were heading south in Louisiana. This report came from Bowen who was stationed at Grand Gulf. It was at that point that Pemberton finally started to feel as though Ulysses may have been tricking the Confederates. However, he failed to take action which gave Grant all the time he needed.
Running the Vicksburg Guns
Grant used Pemberton’s hesitation to his advantage. In the beginning of April, Grant messaged Porter and said, “To-morrow I shall have work commenced to prepare at least six steamers to run the blockade. I would, admiral, therefore, renew my request to prepare for running the blockade at as early a day as possible.” They were determined to run past the blockade on April 16. Porter planned to put the slowest boat, Benton, in the front of the line since the other boats could keep up with the spread of Benton. A tug, Ivy, was latched to Benton. The next boat in line was Lafayette with General Price, a former Confederate ram that had been captured, attached to it. The four Eads iron-clads were next. Louisville, Mound City, Pittsburgh, and Carondelet. After the iron-clads were three transports: Silver Wave, Henry Clay, and Forest Queen. Finally, Tuscumbia was last in line.
These boats began their mission at 9:15 p.m. As they traveled down the Mississippi, they neared Vicksburg. At this point, Confederate volunteers loaded into several small boats and headed to Delta Point on the Louisiana side of the river. They then lit barrels filled with turpentine. The plan of this was to light up the night so that the gunboats were visible. At 10:30 p.m, an hour after the boats set out, the guns of Vicksburg opened fire. The gunboats fired shots back in response. Nearly 45 minutes later, the Union gunboats were under heavy fire. Henry Clay was hit with a shot and was set ablaze. However, that was the only boat to not make it past the bastion. All the other boats made it south of Vicksburg.
On April 17, at 2:30 a.m., Pemberton learned that at least five Union gunboats had gotten past Vicksburg. Pemberton then began to realize the gravity of the situation. He then sent a message to Johnston to inform him that he needed Burford’s brigade sent back to Mississippi. He also informs Johnston that he will not be able to send any help to Bragg. Another major issue for the Confederacy was that there was no one in command of the Mississippi itself. They had a Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana and the Trans-Mississippi Department. However, neither of these departments included the Mississippi.
Also on April 17, Colonel Francis M. Cockrell is told to get his men back to the Mississippi side of the River before they get isolated or their ships get sunk by the Federal gunboats. The only Confederates that were left to oppose Grant were Major Harrison and 240 Louisiana cavalrymen. On the same day, Grant headed south from Milliken’s Bend and met with McClernand. Grant was accompanied by his son Fred, staff officers, and cavalrymen. This ride was not easy due to the fact that, while on the 30 mile ride, Grant suffered from either the piles or the boils.
When Grant reached Ione Plantation, he realized that Warrenton was not a good site to land. With Warrenton crossed off, Grant focused on Grand Gulf. Grand Gulf was situated 24 river miles south of Ione. Grant ordered McClernand to get his men opposite Grand Gulf on the Louisiana side of the river. That was, once the guns were negated, the Union soldiers could be ferried across the river. Grant then focused on getting McPherson’s XVII Corps to support McClernand.
A Move for Grand Gulf
On April 18, McClernand moved his men south in search of an area opposite of Grand Gulf. He learned from scouts that Judge John Perkin’s Somerset Plantation was a possible staging area. The other option presented to McClernand was the Hard Times Plantation of Dr. J. Y. Hollinsworth. The roads south needed work however, which would take four days to complete.
While McClernand headed south, Grant began addressing another issue that had arisen. Grant needed more transports in order to get across the Mississippi with speed and surprise. Grant decided to again attempt to run the batteries of Vicksburg. However, this time, there would not be gunboats but transports only. So, on April 22, at 11 p.m., the Tigress, Anglo-Saxon, J. W. Cheeseman, Moderator, Horizon, and Empire City attempted to pass Vicksburg. The Tigress was destroyed. However, the remaining five boats traveled south and on April 23, by 12 p.m., they reached New Carthage. This gave Grant a total of seven transports, seven gunboats, a ram, and a tugboat south of Vicksburg. Grant then moved his headquarters to Pointe Clear Plantation.
On April 23, McPherson’s XVII Corps reached Milliken’s Bend. They then began traveling south. Steele’s division was ordered by Sherman to Young’s Point, which they reached on the 25. Grant asked Sherman to trail behind and to strengthen the road network. Two days later, Grant decided to create another diversion to distract the Confederate forces. Grant asked Sherman to take a division of soldiers up the Yazoo River and head to Snyder’s Bluff. These multiple actions worked well to confuse Pemberton.
Grant’s Move South
A Cavalry Raid
Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson had distracted Pemberton with his cavalry. On April 24, Grierson had cut the Southern Railroad of Mississippi at Newton Station. This compounded Pemberton’s problems and further confused the Confederate general. Once he cut the line, on April 27, Grierson sent his “butternut guerillas” (Union soldiers dressed as Confederates) into Hazlehurst. Two of these Union soldiers walked into the telegraph office and sent a message to Pemberton informing him that Grierson was going to the capital of Mississippi. As a result of this message, Pemberton ordered his cavalry from the Mississippi. This happened right as Ulysses S. Grant was gathering his force at hard Times. Hard Times was across from Grand Gulf.
Also, on April 27, Pemberton also ordered General Bowen to have Colonel Wirt Adam;s Mississippi Cavalry go to the east to help with Grierson’s cavalry. Pemberton was completely fooled by Grant and moved his soldiers in the complete opposite direction. The following day, Grant, at Hard Times, Louisiana, had the XIII Corps under McClernand prepare to attack Grand Gulf. McPherson’s XVIII Corps supported the attack and the XV Corps under Sherman diverted the Confederate attention near Vicksburg.
The gunboat’s under Porter also prepared to attack Grand Gulf. Bowen sent a telegraph to Pemberton stating, “Reports indicate an immense force opposite…. I advise that every man and gun that can be spared from other points be sent here.” Upon receiving this telegraph, Pemberton messaged General Stevenson in Vicksburg. He informed Stevenson to get 5,000 men to send to Grand Gulf. However, Stevenson refused, believing that the attack at Grand Gulf was a feint.
An Attack on Grand Gulf
While Pemberton and his Confederate force tried to decipher what the Federal soldiers were up to, Grant prepared to hit Grand Gulf. 17,000 men of McClernand’s XII Corps loaded up on transports and barges. The following day, on April 29, Sherman and ten regiments traveled north on the Yazoo River. With Sherman and his men were several ironclad and timberclad ships. At 7 a.m. on the 29, Porter’s gunboats left Hard Times Landing and went downriver in preparation for the attack. Pittsburgh was chosen to lead the boats in the attack. Situated at Grand Gulf were two Confederate brigades under Bowen. This amounted to around 4,000 men.
The defenses at Grand Gulf consisted of earthworks. The town had been destroyed by Flag Officer David Farragut the previous year. The lower fort was positioned behind the remnants of the town. This would become known as Fort Wade. Here, Bowen decided to place four guns including a 100-pounder Blakely rifle, two rifled 32-pounders, and one VIII-inch Dahlgren shell gun. Another fort, Fort Cobun, was situated 1,500 yards to the north of Fort Wade. The guns at Fort Cobun were situated 40 feet above the river on the cliff Point of Rock. Here, the Confederates had two 32-pounders, one VIII-inch Dahlgren, and a 30-pound Parrott rifle. These guns were hidden behind a 40-foot-thick parapet.
These three forts were linked together by a double three-quarter-mile-long line of rifle pits and a sunken way. A second line of rifle pits was situated behind the Grand Gulf cemetery. Porter’s ironclads began firing on Fort Cobun at 7:50 a.m. 25 minutes later the Confederates had returned fire. Porter had decided to divide his force into two flotillas. The other force attacked Fort Wade and consisted off Pittsburg, Louisville, Mound City, and Carondelet. By 9 a.m., the guns of Fort Wade had been silenced.
While Fort Wade was being fired on, Porter’s second flotilla attacked Fort Cobun. This flotilla consisted of Benton, the flagship with 16 guns, Lafayette, and Tuscumbia. An hour later, Porter had taken out all but two of Fort Wade’s guns. Porter decided to send Lafayette to Fort Wade. This left two ships in front of Fort Cobun. At 10:10 a.m. Benton was hit and Porter himself was wounded.
While Benton was out of action, she was replaced by Pittsburg. By noon, Fort Wade had been silenced. Once Fort Wade was no longer returning fire, the ironclads all focused on Fort Cobun. At 1:15 p.m., the Union fleet returned to Hard Times Landing. The Union had suffered 18 killed and 57 wounded. The Confederates had suffered three dead and 19 wounded. McClernand’s men went back to dry ground. The Confederates attempted to repair the fortifications at Grand Gulf. To prevent this, Lafayette returned and opened fire once again and continued until 8 p.m. that night.
At 7:45 p.m., the fleet left Hard Times Landing. The gunboats opened fire on the Confederates and created an opening for the transports to get past Grand Gulf. Once they were safely past, the gunboats disengaged and went south of Grand Gulf. While this fighting had taken place, Stevenson in Vicksburg was still convinced that the Union attack would be on Vicksburg and that Grand Gulf was a feint. Stevenson also did not receive a telegram from Bowen requesting 5,000 Confederate soldiers because the telegraph line was down. The following day he did send two brigades to Grand Gulf.
Battle of Grand Gulf – Civil War
A New Plan
McClernand is then given an order to take his men across the base of Coffee Point, south of Hard Times Landing. By the end of the day, the XIII Corps reached Disharoon Plantation. They had moved three miles south. Grant’s new plan was to send the XII Corps further south the next day. He also planned to head to Rodney and use that as a launching point for an attack on Port Gibson. From there, he planned to get behind and flank Grand Gulf. If one way did not succeed, Grant would always try to find another.
On April 30, at 8 a.m., the fleet moved south. At Bruinsburg, McClernand’s force began to land on the shores. Grant had gunboats and seven transports to get McClernand’s men across the river. The 24th and 46th Infantry of General Alvin Hovey’s division were the first to land. By 12 pm. that day, almost all of the XIII Corps had landed ashore. Grant wrote, “When this was accomplished I felt a degree of relief scarcely ever equaled since. Vicksburg was not yet taken it is true… but, I was on dry ground on the same side of the river with the enemy.” Grant had done what months earlier had seemed impossible. Grant was now on the Mississippi side of the river. The plan to run the guns of Vicksburg with Porter’s fleet while simultaneously marching his force on the Louisiana side of the river and then using the boats to ferry the men across was a success.
McClernand’s men began their move at 4 p.m. McClernand’s force was lead by General Eugene A. Carr’s Division. Carr had the 11th Wisconsin go ahead of the main body incase of an ambush by Confederate forces. The XIII Corps reached the bluff that overlooked the Mississippi later that day. At that point, the Union soldiers continued south of the Widow Smith Coffee Daniell’s Windsor Plantation. Here, the men rested and ate their rations. Then, at 5:30 p.m., the soldiers continued their march. Behind Carr’s division was Osterhaus’s division. Behind Osterhaus was General Alvin P. Hovey’s division. Behind Hovey was General Andrew Jackson “Whiskey” Smith’s division. Then, on the night of the 30, Grant decided to continue to have men moved from the Louisiana side of the Mississippi River to the Mississippi side. McClernand’s XIII Corps all crossed the river and the XVII Corps under McPherson were the next to cross.
Confederates Move to Block Grant
Grant’s force then went two miles south to Bethel Church. From here, the Union force moved east. While the Union soldiers were moving, Bowen was well aware of the Union forces’ plan. Bowen knew he had to make a move, so he ordered General Martin E. Green to send 500 Confederates to Port Gibson. Their task was to slow Grant and his men down. When Green reached Port Gibson, they discovered that Col. J. E. Cravens and his 500 soldiers were in the wrong spot. Green ordered this force to move west to the junction of the Rodney and Bruinsburg Roads. At this point, the roads met and joined into one road leading to Port Gibson. From this point, the Confederates would be able to slow Grant down. Green settled on a spot close to Magnolia Church. However, Green made a fatal mistake.
Green stationed his Confederates east of the intersection. This gave Grant’s army the ability to move soldiers back-and-forth between the Rodney and Bruinsburg Roads. Bowen himself then went to Port Gibson and discussed the situation with Green. They agreed to put twow or three companies on the Bruinsburg road. The remainder of the force was stationed on Rodney Road. However, the Confederate generals were not informed that Grant was not using the Bruinsburg Road. By 6 p.m., more reinforcements reached Port Gibson. 1,500 soldiers had been sent to help. They also received four guns. The Confederates placed half their force on each of the roads, however, to Grant’s luck, he did not using one of those roads.
Map of the Vicksburg Campaign (Siege of Vicksburg) – Civil War
Receding Tide – Vicksburg and Gettysburg The Campaigns that Chamged the Civil War. Edwin C. Bearss and J. Parker Hills