T, lie Federal army had been doing well in the west after their Confederate opponents had returned to widely dispersed positions and a static defense—the curse of the defender who is responsible for securing every line— following their frustrated counteroffensives at Shiloh and Perryville, Kentucky. General Joseph E. Johnston, now recovered sufficiently from the wounds he had received at Seven Pines, returned to the field. This excellent commander, however, lacked the resources to be able to halt Federal operations as Grant continued to maneuver toward his well-defined strategic goal, the opening of the entire length of the Mississippi River.
Command of the Confederate forces in northern Mississippi was assigned to Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commander of weakened forces too widely scattered to be able to resist the concentrated attack Grant was planning. The key to the control of the river was the city of Vicksburg, located on top of a bluff two hundred feet above the river.
Heavy guns on the high bluff located on a great bend in the Mississippi were positioned where they could dominate river traffic for miles in either direction. The lessons learned by naval officers at Fort Donelson would not be repeated here. The powerful batteries and extreme range that the guns of Vicksburg were capable of covering made this bend in the Mississippi a very dangerous place for an attack.
Combined operations conducted by Federal forces on the Mississippi drainage had experienced considerable success up to this point in the war. Farragut and Butler had captured New Orleans in spring 1862; Memphis—the northern extreme of the Confederacy—had fallen in June of the same year. The South still held Vicksburg and Port Hudson, however, along with the 250 miles of the Mississippi River that lay in between the two strongholds.
Lincoln, as any good chief executive would, had defined the military objective in
Was this article helpful?