Southern hopes of redeeming the western losses had been significantly dashed by the new year. The Union army was now poised to move against Chattanooga. One demoralized Confederate remarked, 'I am sick and tired of this war, and I can see no prospects of having peace for a long time to come, I don't think it ever will he stopped by fighting, the Yankees can't whip us and we can never whip them.' Lincoln was so impressed by the victory that he later confided to Rosecrans, 'you gave us a hard earned victory which, had there been a defeat instead, the nation could hardly have lived over.'
The Civil War had not begun with Union authorities arguing that points of occupation were more important than defeating Confederate armies. By 1863, however, it certainly appeared that this was the case in the Western Theater. The war in this region was about occupation of significant Southern ports, railroad junctions, cities, loyalist pockets, and plantation districts. Although this meant supplying armies over long distances and protecting the vital transportation arteries, the Union held firm to a belief that occupying strategic points would ultimately bring about the demise of the Confederacy. It was how to conduct affairs as proprietors of Southern domain rather than how to combat soldiers that consumed the attention of Union authorities. The resolve of Southern soldiers and civilians alike convinced many commanders that the war would not end until popular support ended. Consequently, the limited-war attitude gave way to total war - the seizure and destruction of personal property as part of subjugating the enemy, irrespective of their presumed loyalty.
The Union campaigns of 1863, therefore, would be at a distinct advantage over those
The Battle of Stone's River, 31 December 1862—2 January 1863
of the previous year. Commanders were able to exercise more liberality in foraging, confiscating contraband, and dealing with Southern civilians. Still, the objects remained the same. Control of the Mississippi River was paramount to the Union's strategic plan in the west. Although Confederates considered the Memphis and Charleston the backbone of their nation, Federals came to believe that the great spinal cord of the
Confederacy was the Mississippi. The Confederates still held two vital points on the river: Port Hudson, Louisiana, 25 miles (40km) north of Baton Rouge, and Vickshurg, near the mouth of the Yazoo River. But because they never managed to develop sufficient naval strength, Confederates were unable to control the river that they claimed for the Confederacy. Meanwhile, because of the river campaigns of early 1862, Union
TheVicksburg campaign, December 1862-May 1863
authorities had invested in new boats specifically designed for river warfare.
Nothing of much consequence occurred in January, as winter storms inhibited military operations. On 2 February, in broad winter daylight, the Union ram Queen of the West steamed past the Vicksburg batteries. Although it was struck 12 times, its commander, Colonel Charles R. Ellet, made it past and then struck three Confederate vessels, destroying the
supplies on board. Ellet was under orders to continue south all the way to the Red River near the Mississippi-Louisiana state line, disrupting Confederate shipping as he went.
By February, Grant's army had taken up winter camp at Milliken's Bend, a few miles north of Vicksburg, where he devised a series of plans to take the river fortress. The difficulty of getting his army into a position to successfully attack the city remained his nemesis. Throughout the winter and early spring, he attempted a number of schemes. He put his soldiers to work constructing a complex makeshift waterway by connecting creeks, old river channels, and bayous,
A Confederate siege-gun mounted in the river fortifications at Port Hudson, Louisiana. The Confederates blasted 20 of these pieces with deadly precision at David Farragut's fleet throughout the night of 14 March 1863. (Review of Reviews Company)
through which he could send Union vessels south around Vicksburg. Once the waterway was completed, Grant thought he would simply march his army down the river and the vessels could then ferry troops across to the eastern bank. But after several long weeks of arduous labor, he abandoned the operation. Then he put his army to work digging an alternative channel bypassing the city, through which they could redirect the river waters and float vessels south. Again, the operation failed. Next, he ordered an expedition to cut a waterway through Yazoo Pass via a bayou. When that failed, Grant put his men to work creating a waterway that ran down from Yazoo Pass at the northern end of the delta, but it was blocked by the Confederates when they constructed Port Pemberton in its path. After weeks of monotonous laboring for nothing, one soldier called this winter 'the Valley Forge of the War.'
Although Grant's futile attempts to get at the river fortress did little to satisfy an
anxious and demanding Northern public, by mid-April the commander had settled on a plan that would work. It would ultimately prove so successful that it would immortalize Grant as the great victor of Vicksburg. He would move his troops below the city, head to Jackson and cut the railroads, and then move west toward Vicksburg and seize the high ground in the rear of the city.
This picture of Benjamin H. Grierson and his men was taken shortly after his famous raid. Sitting with chin in hand, Gnerson boasted of the most significant Union cavalry raid of the war in the west, luring John Pemberton's cavalry Into futile pursuit. (Review of Reviews Company)
As Grant moved his forces from Milliken's Bend to below Vicksburg, Admiral David Dixon Porter, the naval commander accompanying the land expedition, sent his fleet of 12 vessels past the city on the night of 16 April. In dramatic fashion, all but one vessel managed to run past Confederate batteries and grouped together near Hard Times on the west bank of the Mississippi, where Grant's troops were concentrated. Five nights later, six Federal transports and 12 barges loaded with supplies attempted to run past the city. Although Confederate batteries sunk one transport and six barges, the operation was a success. Grant could now get his men across the river to the eastern shore.
Fifty miles (80km) south of Vicksburg, Bruinsburg, Mississippi, provided Grant with the ideal place to ferry his army across the river. Although the Confederates frustrated the initial crossing, on 30 April Grant had his army hack in Mississippi poised to strike. To divert attention from his main force and to destroy Confederate supplies, Grant would need some help. Rosecrans kept Bragg sufficiently busy in Tennessee, so he could not send reinforcements to Pemberton's aid. 'Old Rosy' accomplished this by setting out on what became the Tullahoma campaign. Sherman was ordered to demonstrate against the high bluffs north of Vicksburg and would then catch up to the main force Grant also ordered raids against the Confederates' logistics bases. One of the most successful raids was undertaken by Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson, a professional bandmaster before the war. Beginning on 17 April, Grierson's 1,700 cavalrymen started from La Grange, Mississippi, and in a few short weeks wreaked havoc all the way south to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Jackson, the state capital of Mississippi, was more important to Grant because four railroads intersected the city, the most
Soldiers and residents alike dug into the hillsides around Vicksburg during the siege on the city. The bombproof shelters in this picture were carved out by the soldiers of the 45th Illinois. (Hulton Getty)
important of which went to Vicksburg. Jackson provided the lifeline to the river fortress and to destroy it meant that Vicksburg would wither on the vine. Still, Pemberton commanded 52,000 soldiers and if Grant attempted to supply his 41,000-man army from Bruinsburg 40 miles (64km) away, the Confederates could easily put up a stern defense while possibly cutting the Union
supply. Grant concluded then to live off the land. After all, his army had done this before in Mississippi during the winter. Now, with the growing season about to provide Southern farms with bountiful crops, there would be plenty for his troops to feed on. In addition to forage for the animals, Mississippi farms yielded corn, hogs, cattle, sheep, and poultry. Many planters had reduced the cultivation of cotton in favor of food staples.
By the second week of May, Grant's army had started east for Jackson. Resupplied and eager to move, his three corps commanded by Sherman, Major-General James B. McPherson, and himself moved along the Black River, a natural boundary that flowed north-south and east of Vicksburg and that
favored his advance. On 12 May, the Federals met resistance at Raymond, 15 miles (24km) south of Jackson. After several hours of fighting, the Confederates pulled back to the capital. The following day, Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston, recently sent to take command of all the troops in besieged Mississippi, pulled together 12,000 troops to protect Jackson. On 14 May, in a severe rainstorm, Sherman's and McPherson's corps drove the Confederates through the city and captured it by mid-afternoon. Outnumbered nearly five to one, Johnston headed north.
While Sherman's corps destroyed the city of Jackson, burning manufacturing installations, Grant ordered McPherson's corps to head west toward Vicksburg and threaten the enemy's communications. Pemberton responded to an order to join Johnston and strike a counteroffensive against Grant's army while it remained at Jackson. The Confederate commander moved a portion of his army out of Vicksburg and placed it on the railroad east of the Black River. The two Confederate forces were only miles apart.
On 16 May, just before noon, a division of Grant's army attacked Pemberton's 20,000 Confederates at Champion's Hill, a commanding ridge east of the Black River, driving them back on the left. The Confederates, however, countered and a full-scale battle ensued. McPherson's men were called up to support the Union right flank, bringing the effective Union strength to 29,000 men, and late in the day, the Federals managed to take the ridge. Pemberton fell back to the Black River, and eventually all the way to Vicksburg. On 18 May, the triumphant Federals crossed the Black River and seized the bluffs around the town. Now, having taken the high ground that skirted the town, Grant dug in.
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