The Vicksburg Campaign in a Nutshell -- Conclusion - by Morgan Gates
Pemberton’s exhausted and demoralized men will retreat to the Big Black River just a few miles west of the battlefield where a formidable ring of fortifications guard the eastern approach to the railroad bridge and the small steamer “Dot” has been converted into a raft bridge, but these men are broken by the carnage of the previous day, they will need time to recover and Grant does not intend to give them that time! Pemberton has lost men killed and wounded, and captured. Loring’s whole division is MIA, and a good bit of Pemberton’s artillery has gone over to Union. Only about a third of Grant’s forces on the field had been seriously engaged on the 16th and the men are buoyed by victory.
The very next day, May 17th, the boys in blue are moving at first light. Grant sends his glory hungry political general, McCernand and his large 13th Corp into the fight, this time with orders TO ENGAGE! On another day, this strong position might have cost the Union many causalities, but a belligerent Irishman named Lawler, finds a natural depression in the flat river flood plain that allows his men to get very close to the southern lines and as they burst out of the depression, the Rebel line breaks in a panic and the defense collapses, the bridges are burned and the men of the south retreat in disarray into Vicksburg. If Grant had had a few pontoon bridges to quickly bridge the Big Black, Vicksburg might have fallen that day, as it was he need time to build the bridges, and the Southern Army makes the safety of the Vicksburg fortifications.
As the 13th and 17th Corps cross the next day, the 15th Corps (they do have a pontoon bridge) has caught up. Sherman, with 2 divisions had been supervising the destruction of Jackson and has missed the actions on May 16th and 17th. The red-haired buckeye’s fresh troop push across the Big Black a few miles north of the other yanks with little resistance. Grant rides over to catch up with his BFF. Sherman’s men reach Vicksburg’s defensive perimeter a few hours ahead of the slower moving columns of McClearnand and McPherson.
By the afternoon of the 19th of May, they are on the Graveyard Road overlooking a menacing line of ravines and earthen forts, but Grant remembers the easy victory of the 17th and orders the assault to begin with only the 15th Corps men in position, but this time there will be no panicked retreat along the Confederate line, this time the response is a murderous hail storm of lead and iron for these are not the same beaten men but fresh troops anxious to spill Yankee blood, and spill it they will and by the time the sun mercifully sets almost 1000 men will lie dead and wounded on the battlefield. This brutal turn of events revitalized the spent Confederate survivors of Champion Hill and Big Black River and they return to their positions, ready for payback.
Grant will allow the rest of the army to get in position, get everybody rested and fed before ordering a second assault, on May 22nd which ends even more disastrously that the first. About 3500 men will lay dead and wounded at the end of that day. Why, you might ask would you order a second a second assault after witnessing the bloody results of the day before? Grant in his memoirs will justify his actions by saying he felt the men would not be satisfied to sit through a long and tedious siege without it. Is this true or is it just the ruminations of a dying old man justifying the mistakes of his youth, you be the judge, but even he will say that this was one of two assaults he wished he had never ordered.
Grant then settles into regular siege operations, isolated and cut off from help Pemberton’s days are numbered, Sickness, shellfire and sharpshooters thin his already shorthanded ranks. Joseph E. Johnson sent to Mississippi for the express reason of lifting the siege, sits in Canton Mississippi (only 50 miles away) throughout the early summer as his ranks swell and his resolve shrivels by the time he moves west it is too late. Facing the inevitable Pemberton, negotiates the best surrender terms he can for his brave men. Deliberately choosing the 4th of July in order to gain leniency, his men are granted parole (one of the last large uses of this ancient traditions by the way) and on Independence Day of 1863, old Glory flies once more over Vicksburg.
While I have tried to do justice to this pivotal campaign, in truth only the surface has been scratched. To better understand, plan a trip to Vicksburg. Allow at least a day to see the Vicksburg National Military Park and the City, if you want to follow the March up to Vicksburg at least one more, you won’t regret it. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on a arranging a guided tour.