The Vicksburg campaign

For several months afterward, Grant did little but combat raiding parties and guerrilla bands. After Halleck bad scattered his mammoth army, Grant lacked sufficient force to launch another offensive. Runaway slaves, cotton trading, guerrillas, Confederate raids, and offended civilians absorbed his time and energy. Campaigning, it seemed, had taken a back seat to occupying secessionist territory.

But by late October 1862, pressure for a campaign against Vicksburg had begun to build. Nestled on a 200ft (61m) bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, Vicksburg dominated passage along the waterway. In Confederate hands, some cleverly positioned cannon could block Union transit. For the Federals, Vicksburg and Port Hudson, Louisiana, represented the last two Rebel strongholds along the Mississippi River. Once Vicksburg fell to Union forces, Port Hudson would become untenable. Then the Federals would control the entire length of the river and would slice off and isolate the Trans-Mississippi Confederacy.

A politician turned general, John A. McClernand, had received authority from Lincoln to raise a command to capture Vicksburg. Grant, who knew McClernand well, had serious doubts about McClernand's ability and temperament to lead such an expedition, judging him 'unmanageable and incompetent,' and at the urging of Halleck he decided to preempt McClernand's Vicksburg campaign by attempting it himself.

Grant's plan called for two separate forces to advance simultaneously and without communication, a risky proposition at best. While Grant personally led an army south along the Mississippi Central Railroad toward Jackson, hoping to draw Confederate forces out for a fight, Sherman would slip down the Mississippi River on transports and land near Chickasaw Bluffs, just north of Vicksburg. Sherman's troops then would brush aside the light Confederate opposition and seize the city. But the scheme quickly fell awry.

Two Rebel cavalry raids severed Grant's supply line, and he fell back under the misapprehension that his feint had succeeded and Sherman had captured Vicksburg. The Confederates at Vicksburg, however, did not budge from their works, and when Sherman tried to storm the bluffs in late December, Confederate shells and balls cut bluecoats down by the hundreds.

The new year brought a blend of headaches and hope for Grant and Sherman. On 2 January 1863, McClernand arrived by transport north of Vicksburg with his newly created army. Commissioned a major-general of volunteers that ranked him above Sherman, McClernand took command of all forces there. They had no prospects of capturing Vicksburg from below Chickasaw Bluffs. Sherman, therefore, proposed a joint army-navy operation against Fort Hindman, often called Arkansas Post, on the Arkansas River, from which Confederates had launched raids against Federal transit along the Mississippi River. McClernand endorsed the concept so warmly that he eventually claimed the idea as his, while Admiral David Dixon Porter needed coaxing from Sherman. Porter had all the confidence in the world in Sherman and none in McClernand, and as a result he extracted a promise from McClernand that Sherman would run the operation. On 9 January, the Federal expedition reached the vicinity of Arkansas Post, and within two days, Porter's bombardment had compelled the defenders to raise up the white flag. Nearly 5,000 prisoners fell into Union hands.

Grant, meanwhile, had resolved some important questions in his own mind about the upcoming Vicksburg campaign. Since McClernand lacked the fitness to command, he would direct operations personally. McClernand, Sherman, and a Grant protege named James B. McPherson, a personable engineer officer who graduated first in the West Point class of 1853, would command corps.

The overland advance along the Mississippi Central Railroad had failed, so Grant explored a variety of options to get at Vicksburg. He

John A. McClernand. a politician from Illinois before the war commanded a division at Forts Henry and Donelson and again at Shiloh. He raised troops that helped him capture Arkansas Post. McClernand commanded a corps in the Vicksburg campaign, fighting at Raymond. Champion Hill, and the assaults on Vicksburg. Quick to claim glory, he failed to gain the trust of Grant or Sherman and was removed. Later he led a corps under Banks in the disastrous Red River campaign. (Library of Congress)

tried bypassing it, and seeking waterways that could position his army on the bluffs to the northeast of the city. 'Heretofore I have had nothing to do but fight the enemy,' a dejected Grant commented to his wife. 'This time I have to overcome obsticles to reach him.' When the last effort to turn Vicksburg on the right failed, Grant, Sherman, and Porter reconnoitered to select the best places to land troops.

But on that April Fool's Day, as he gazed across the Yazoo at the opposite slopes, he realized just how costly an attack here would be, and with no assurance of success. Lately, he had contemplated an unconventional movement that would take his army around to the enemy left flank. It was a risky proposition, but in a very different way from the frontal attack against Confederates occupying high ground. As he stood there, mulling it over in his mind. Grant determined that it was worth a try.

Grant began the campaign by asking the ever game Porter to run gunboats and barges past the Vicksburg batteries. For deception, Grant sent a cavalryman named Colonel Benjamin Grierson to launch a raid through the interior of Mississippi and come out at the Union army around Port Hudson, and he called on Sherman to feign an attack at Haines' Bluff. Meanwhile, the other two corps would march along the western side of the Mississippi River and Porter's people would shuttle them across the river to Bruinsburg, below Vicksburg. Eventually, Sherman's men would follow.

Once on the eastern side, Grant launched one of the most brilliant campaigns in American military history. By rapid marches, he continually confused his enemy. His army pounded the Confederate forces protecting Vicksburg, and then moved quickly to the northeast, where they hammered a Rebel command accumulating near the capital city of Jackson under General Joseph E. Johnston. Grant then turned back on Vicksburg, and had McClernand not attacked prematurely, he might have interposed Sherman's corps between Vicksburg and its defending columns. All told, the Union army fought five battles, and even though there were more Confederates in the campaign than Federals, Grant placed superior numbers on each battlefield and won every one of them. By mid-May, he was laying siege against Vicksburg.

The Confederate commander at Vicksburg, Pemberton, had a chance to escape. Johnston urged him to do so, but Pemberton had also received explicit instructions front President Davis to hold the city at all costs. After a council of war, Pemberton chose to hunker down and await succor from Johnston. It would never arrive.

Shortly after he besieged Vicksburg, Grant attempted to storm the Rebel works twice and was repulsed on both occasions. He also removed McClernand from command for violating a War Department directive and for general incompetence. Otherwise, he supervised a traditional siege that slowly strangled Pemberton's army. By early July, it became apparent to the Confederate general that his cause was lost. On 4 July, Pemberton

David Dixon Porter, whose father also raised David Farragut proved to be a wonderful naval commander. Intolerant of red tape, Porter's aggressiveness and spirit of cooperation with the army won him lifetime friendship with Grant and Sherman. Porter was invaluable in the Vicksburg campaign and the fall of Fort Fisher. (Library of Congress)

surrendered almost 30,000 Rebels and 172 artillery pieces. For the second time, Grant had captured a Confederate army.

The fall of Vicksburg left one last Confederate toehold on the Mississippi River - Port Hudson, Louisiana. Located some 25 miles (40km) north of Baton Rouge, Port Hudson consisted of extensive man-made works and natural obstructions, especially swamps. Like Vicksburg. its commander, Major-General Franklin Gardner, hailed from the North. Gardner, who had fought at Shiloh and in Bragg's Kentucky campaign, had a mere 7,000 troops to hold the position.

Against Gardner and his defenders, the Union sent Major-General Nathanial P. Banks and 20,000 troops, accompanied by Farragut's warships. From 8 to 10 May, Union gunboats shelled and ultimately silenced the batteries. Banks maneuvered his troops around the Confederate defenses, taking a horseshoe-shaped position, with the ends stretching to the riverbank. On 27 May, Banks launched an uncoordinated assault. Among the participants were two black regiments, the 1st and 3rd Louisiana Native Guards. Charging well-defended fortifications, and part of the way through floodwater, the black infantrymen exhibited courage, even in the face of severe losses. The Union attack was repulsed everywhere. Again on 11 June and then 14 June, the Union columns attacked and failed. Banks resigned himself to siege, hoping to starve out the defenders. One Confederate recorded in his diary that he and his comrades ate 'alt the beef - all the mules - all the Dogs - and all the Rats' they could find.

Once word of the fall of Vicksburg reached the Port Hudson defenders, Gardner knew his cause was hopeless. He surrendered on 9 July. Banks suffered 3,000 casualties in the campaign, while the Confederates lost 7,200, of whom 5.500 were taken prisoner. Lincoln could now announce proudly, 'The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea.'

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