Vicksburg Campaign map courtesy of NPS
The Vicksburg Campaign in a Nutshell: Part I by Morgan Gates --
The Campaign and Siege of Vicksburg is arguably one of the most complex of the War. To do it justice in a blog post (or two in this case) could be called a fool’s errand, but I’ve been called worse, so here goes.
In 1861 Winfield Scott, an old war horse of a chief general if ever there was one having been involved in hostilities in 1812 and the Mexican-American War, comes up with the Anaconda Plan (named for the South American snake). At the very beginning the North does not have the military assets to conquer the South; therefore, he hopes to strangle the South into submission by blockading ports and capturing river cities, thereby crippling the import/export economy of the fledgling Confederacy and forcing quick capitulation. The plan was going swimmingly with both New Orleans and Memphis back in Union hands by the summer of 1862 with relatively few casualties.
Flag Officer David Farragut steams up from New Orleans in the spring of 1862 in his flagship The Hartford. Standing off in the Mississippi Farragut demands Vicksburg’s surrender to which he receives the reply “Mississippians do not know how to surrender and refuse to be taught, but if Admiral Farragut wishes to come ashore and teach us he is welcome to try”! The on and off bombardment of the city throughout the spring and summer of 1862, is largely ineffectual as the majority of the city sits too high above the river for the limited elevation of his big guns. As the river stages drop sharply in late summer Farragut retreats. Vicksburg one, Farragut zip!
One day after Christmas of 1862, William T. Sherman attempts to deliver a belated lump of coal to naughty Vicksburg by attacking across the flooded swamps north of the city with 32,000 men, believing the bulk of (CSA) Lt. General Pemberton’s army to be tied up hundreds of miles north fighting U.S. Grant in North Mississippi. Both geography and history are against Sherman this Yuletide for Grant has been forced to abandon his southward push, when a daring (CSA) cavalry raid destroys his supply base in Holly Springs. The 3200 or so Rebs defending Vicksburg are dug in on the bluffs and the largely untouched railways to Vicksburg’s rear are quickly shuttling Pemberton’s army back to Vicksburg. Sherman retreats with heavy casualties on the 29th. Vicksburg one, Sherman zip!
Grant takes direct command of operations against Vicksburg in February of 1863, moving his headquarters from Memphis to swampy northeast Louisiana. He will spend a miserable winter (winters in the Deep South are cold and wet, not frozen) trying and discarding many plans. Two attempts to bypass Vicksburg are deemed failures and abandoned. Two naval expeditions to penetrate the deep swamps north of Vicksburg also fail. Grant must have hard dry ground on the eastern bank to land and march his sizable army on, and the only possible place he can find that anywhere even remotely close to Vicksburg is SOUTH of Vicksburg and that is his problem! He has almost free run of the west bank of the “Big Muddy” with only Mother Nature to slow him down, but you don’t wade, ford, or swim across the “Father of Waters” and the first bridge will not be built for another 11 years and it will be 500 miles to the north. Grant needs serious naval assets south of Vicksburg’s impressive water batteries, and the U.S. Navy doesn’t let him down running 7 ironclads and 4 transports by in the middle of the night on April 16th in a running night gun battle that surely would have put the bombardment of Fort McHenry to shame. Minus one lost transport on April 30th 1863 the fleet completes the largest amphibious landing between Xerxes invasion of Greece in 480 B.C. and the D-Day landings of 1942.
Pushing inland Grant’s vanguard encounters a CSA roadblock just after midnight on May 1st in the surreal landscape outside of the small town of Port Gibson. The battle begins in earnest at first light and lasts until dark as determined and highly outnumbered Rebel’s use the landscape as a force multiplier. By the time darkness falls Grant’s sheer numerical superiority finally prevails and the exhausted and depleted Confederates make a mad dash for the safety of the Big Black River Crossing at Hankinson’s Ferry (a sizable tributary of the Mississippi a few miles north of Port Gibson) in a chase scene that would do a Hollywood block buster proud, the Rebels barely escape across the Big Black and as the pursuing Yank’s crest the hill overlooking the Ferry they find (CSA) General John Bowen himself chopping furiously at the ropes securing the raft bridge crossing, (Can’t you just see your favorite Hollywood action star playing this role?) running for his life as bullets whiz by him he must abandon his gun belt and the matched set of LeMatte revolvers he had removed as he chopped away. Those revolvers are unaccounted for to this day and may yet languish in some Midwestern homes attic or basement…………..
(To be continued)