Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Vicksburg Campaign was a series of battles and maneuvers in the Western Theater of the American Civil War directed against Vicksburg, Mississippi, a fortress city that dominated the last Confederate-controlled section of the Mississippi River. The Union Army of the Tennessee under Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant gained control of the Mississippi River by capturing this stronghold and defeating Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton's forces stationed there.
The campaign consisted of many important naval operations, troop maneuvers, failed initiatives, and eleven distinct battles over the period December 26, 1862, to July 4, 1863. Military historians divide the campaign into two formal phases: Operations Against Vicksburg (December 1862 – January 1863) and Grant's Operations Against Vicksburg (March – July 1863).
After Pemberton's army surrendered (one day after the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg), and when Nathaniel P. Banks captured Port Hudson, the entire Mississippi River belonged to the Union. These events are widely considered the turning point of the war. Grant's Vicksburg Campaign is considered one of the masterpieces of American military history.

Vicksburg Campaign Prelude
The following battles comprise the "Operations against Vicksburg" phase of the Vicksburg Campaign:
Sherman disembarked at the Yazoo River to approach the Vicksburg defenses from the northeast. On December 27, the Federals pushed their lines forward through the swamps toward Walnut Hills, which were strongly defended. On December 29, Sherman ordered a frontal assault, which was repulsed with heavy casualties, and then withdrew.
During this period, Grant's half of the offensive was failing. His lines of communication were disrupted by raids by Van Dorn and Nathan Bedford Forrest, who destroyed his advance base at Holly Springs, forcing him to live off the country. Grant abandoned his overland advance.
In early January, McClernand arrived on the scene with the corps he had recruited. He sought to achieve military glory by launching a combined land and naval movement against Fort Hindman, on the Arkansas River at Arkansas Post. On January 4, he ordered Sherman to attach his corps to the operation, under McClernand's command, calling his 32,000-man force the Army of the Mississippi. This was a direct provocation against Grant, but Sherman acceded to the senior officer. The combined efforts of Sherman's XV Corps, McClernand's XIII Corps, and gunboats under Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter forced the Confederates to surrender on January 11. Union losses were high, and the victory did not contribute to the capture of Vicksburg. Grant was furious; he ordered McClernand back to the Mississippi and assumed personal command of the campaign at Milliken's Bend.

Battles in the Operations against Vicksburg, December 1862 – January 1863
That winter, Grant conducted a series of initiatives to approach and capture Vicksburg, termed "Grant's Bayou Operations". Their general theme was to use or construct alternative waterways so that troops could be positioned within striking distance of Vicksburg, without requiring a direct approach on the Mississippi under the Confederate guns.

The efforts to complete the Williams Canal across DeSoto Peninsula, bypassing Vicksburg's guns, were stepped up by adding Sherman's soldiers to the labor force, although the Confederates could have simply moved their guns to attack the canal's mouth downstream. The river was not cooperative either; Sherman's troops risked drowning as they dug.
Grant attempted to connect Lake Providence, northwest of the city, to the Red River, which would have allowed him to deposit troops south of the city, near Port Hudson. James B. McPherson's troops worked on this, despite constant harassment from Confederate guerrillas, but the effort was abandoned when it was realized that the waterways were too constricted with fallen trees for transports.
McClernand and several gunboats destroyed some dikes in late January outside Helena, Arkansas, some 400 miles (640 km) above Vicksburg, hoping to float gunboats down the flooded Yazoo Delta, in what was called the Yazoo Pass Expedition. But low-hanging trees destroyed anything above deck. Confederates felled more trees in the way. Confederates fired on the Union boats from a quickly constructed "Fort Pemberton" on the Tallahatchie River near Greenwood, Mississippi, and the Union effort collapsed in mid-March 1863.
Admiral Porter started an effort on March 16 to go up the Yazoo Delta via Steele's Bayou, just north of Vicksburg, to Deer Creek. This would outflank Fort Pemberton and allow landing troops between Vicksburg and Yazoo City. Animals attacked their boats from the trees, and Confederates felled trees in their path. This time the Union forces became immobilized, and the Confederates were intent on capturing the lot of them. Sherman's command sent infantry assistance to repel the Confederate cavalry and guerrillas bedeviling Porter, but this approach was abandoned as too difficult.
Grant's final attempt was to dig another canal from Duckport Landing to Walnut Bayou, aimed at getting lighter boats past Vicksburg. By the time the canal was almost finished, on April 6, water levels were declining, and none but the lightest of flatboats could get through. Grant abandoned this canal and started planning anew. Grant's Bayou Operations, January – March 1863
All of the Bayou Operations were failures, but Grant was known for his stubborn determination and would not quit. His final option was bold but risky: March the army down the west side of the Mississippi, cross the river south of Vicksburg, and attack from the south and the east. Porter would have to sneak past the guns to get sufficient gunboats and transport ships south of the city. Once they had completed the downstream passage, they would not be able to return because of the river current. And maintaining supply lines across the river might be difficult, forcing his army to subsist off the land for a long period.
On March 29, McClernand set his troops to work building bridges and corduroy roads. They filled in the swamps in their way as well, and by April 17 they had a 70-mile (110 km) long road from Milliken's Bend to the proposed river crossing at Hard Times, Louisiana, below Vicksburg.
On April 16, a clear night with no moon, Porter sent seven gunboats and three empty troop transports loaded with stores to run the bluff, taking care to minimize noise and lights. But the preparations were ineffective. Confederate sentries sighted the boats, and the bluff exploded in massive artillery fire. Fires were set along the banks to improve visibility. The Union gunboats answered back. Porter observed that the Confederates mainly hit the high parts of his boats, reasoned that they could not depress their guns, and had them hug the east shore, right under Confederate cannon, so close he could hear rebel commanders giving orders, shells flying overhead. The fleet survived with little damage; thirteen men were wounded and none killed. The Henry Clay was disabled and burned at the water's edge. On April 22, six more boats loaded with supplies made the run; one boat did not make it, though no one was killed—the crew floated downstream on the boat's remnants.
The final piece of the strategy was to divert Pemberton's attention from the river crossing site that the Union troops would use. Grant chose two operations: a feint by Sherman against Snyder's Bluff, Mississippi, north of Vicksburg (see the Battle of Snyder's Bluff below), and a daring cavalry raid through central Mississippi by Colonel Benjamin Grierson, known as Grierson's Raid. The former was inconclusive, but the latter was a success. Grierson was able to draw out significant Confederate forces to chase him, and Pemberton's defenses were dispersed too far around the state. (Pemberton was also wary of Nathaniel Banks's impending advance up the river from Baton Rouge to threaten Port Hudson.)

Plan for the campaign and initial movements
Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Tennessee started the campaign with about 44,000 men, which grew by July to 75,000. The army was composed of five corps:
Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton's Army of Mississippi, approximately 30,000 men, consisted of five divisions, under Maj. Gen. William W. Loring, Maj. Gen. Carter L. Stevenson, Maj. Gen. John H. Forney, Maj. Gen. Martin L. Smith, and Maj. Gen. John S. Bowen.
General Joseph E. Johnston's forces in Raymond and Jackson, Mississippi, about 6,000 men, were elements of the Department of the West, including the brigades of Brig. Gen. John Gray, Col. Peyton H. Colquitt, and Brig. Gen. William H. T. Walker.

IX Corps, commanded by Maj. Gen. John G. Parke (corps joined the army in mid-June)
XIII Corps, Maj. Gen. John A. McClernand
XV Corps, Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman
Detachment of the XVI Corps, Cadwallader C. Washburn
XVII Corps, Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson
Detachment from the District of Northeast Louisiana, Brig. Gen. Elias S. Dennis Aftermath

Ballard, Michael B., Vicksburg, The Campaign that Opened the Mississippi, University of North Carolina Press, 2004, ISBN 0-8078-2893-9.
Bearss, Edwin C., The Vicksburg Campaign, 3 volumes, Morningside Press, 1991, ISBN 0-89029-308-2.
Catton, Bruce, Never Call Retreat, Doubleday, 1965, ISBN 0-671-46990-8.
Eicher, David J., The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War, Simon & Schuster, 2001, ISBN 0-684-84944-5.
Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fredericksburg to Meridian, Random House, 1958, ISBN 0-394-49517-9.
McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States), Oxford University Press, 1988, ISBN 0-19-503863-0.

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