This series has five easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Concentration of Forces upon Vicksburg Area.
Vicksburg had a double importance for the Confederacy. Its height, at a bend of the Mississippi, gave its guns command of the river, so that the Union vessels could not pass up or down. Even more important than this was the fact that a large part of the supplies for the Confederate armies was drawn from the country west of the Mississippi. These were brought by rail to a point opposite Vicksburg, ferried across, and again loaded upon rail-cars and carried to the east. The capture of the city, therefore, would rob the Confederacy of both these advantages.
The start of the campaign illustrated the problems of bringing politics into military operations. First John A. McClernand, an influential politician was made a general. Later he was put in command of the army to take Vicksburg. He screwed that up, going down the wrong side of the river and getting blocked by bayous and swamps. (The army was on the west side of the river amid all those swamps and stuff while Vicksburg was on the east side of the river on solid ground and atop a hill, besides.) Lincoln tried to fix things by putting Grant in charge. Grant admitted in his memoirs that the best thing would have to been to just go back and start over would have looked bad in the press so he attempted secondary plans.
Charles Dana was an important journalist and writer while James Wilson was a general who served with Grant in the war. They collaborated in writing this piece. As our series begins, Grant’s army had crossed to the Vicksburg side of the river, beat off the Confederates, and established a beachhead.
Time: April – May, 1863
Place: Vicksburg, Mississippi
After Beauregard’s retirement, the Richmond authorities put the control of all their military operations in the South west into the hands of Joseph E. Johnston, who made his headquarters with Bragg, receiving daily reports from all parts of his extensive command. Pemberton gave him the impression that Grant would relinquish the campaign against Vicksburg, but he sadly misconceived the temper of his adversary.
During the progress of the battle near Port Gibson, Johnston ordered reinforcements from Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, and directed Pemberton to gather all his forces and “drive Grant into the river”; but that officer was not only incapable of doing this, but of understanding the principles of warfare upon which the order was based. Instead of abandoning Vicksburg at once and concentrating his entire force in the direction of Jackson —- a railroad center —- he collected his troops Within the fortiﬁcations that had already shown their in-utility, and waited for the blow that was menacing him.
In pursuance of Grant’s instructions, Hurlbut sent out from West Tennessee, in the latter part of April, a detachment of cavalry under Colonel Grierson, with instructions to ride through Mississippi for the purpose of destroying Confederate property, breaking the railroads, and scattering Confederate conscripts, and finally joining either Grant or Banks, as circumstances should determine. This raid proved to be eminently successful, demonstrating clearly to the country that the Confederacy was but a shell—empty within, and strong only on the outside—a piece of information upon which Grant was by no means slow to act.
Sherman, with the Fifteenth Corps, joined the army on May 8th; wagons and supplies had been brought forward in the mean while, and definite information obtained touching the enemy’s movements. Grant’s force was now not far from forty-five thou sand men, and everything was in excellent condition when the word for the advance was given. His plan was to sweep around to the eastward of the Big Black, with Sherman’s and McClernand’s corps, marching by the roads toward Edwards’s Depot and Bolton, on the Vicksburg and Jackson Railroad, while McPherson was to be thrown well out toward the interior —- if necessary, as far as Jackson -— by the way of Raymond. Rations of sugar, coffee, and salt, together with “three days of hard bread to last five,” were issued to the troops; everything else was to be gathered from the country. In pursuance of these instructions, the different corps pushed forward, encountering little or no resistance.
On May 12th McPherson’s leading division, under command of the gallant and irrepressible Logan, encountered the enemy in strong force under Gregg and Walker, recently arrived from Port Gibson and Georgia, posted on the north side of Fondreau’s Creek, near Raymond, and after a brilliant combat of several hours, in which a part of Crocker’s division became finally en gaged, drove them from the field, with the loss of 120 killed and 750 wounded and prisoners. Our losses were 69 killed (from Colonel Richards’s Twentieth Illinois Infantry and Major Kaga’s Twentieth Ohio), 341 wounded, and 32 missing. The Confederate force was about 6,000 strong, and fought well. McPherson and Logan behaved with great gallantry and displayed excellent generalship in this affair, while Stevenson, Dennis, Lieutenant-Colonel Sturgis of the Eighth Illinois, and all the officers and men showed the highest soldierly qualities.
This battle, in which a second detachment of the enemy had been routed, gave Grant great conﬁdence in the following steps of the campaign. Instead of pushing McClernand and Sherman, who had both crossed Fourteen-mile Creek and got within seven miles of Edwards’s Depot, directly upon the latter place, he determined to make sure of Jackson ﬁrst, and to scatter the force now known to be assembling there under Johnston in person. To this end McPherson was pushed toward that place by the Clinton road; Sherman was ordered to move rapidly by the way of Raymond and Mississippi Springs, to the same place; while McClernand was directed to withdraw by his right ﬂank from his menacing position in front of Edwards’s Depot, and to march to Raymond, whence he could support either McPherson or Sher man. These movements were made with precision and celerity, and on the 14th Grant entered Jackson in triumph, after a sharp ﬁght of several hours between McPherson’s leading division under Crocker and a force under Johnston. The latter, ﬁnding that the city could not be held, had posted guns in front of Sher man and thrown this force out upon the Clinton road for the purpose of resisting McPherson’s advance long enough to permit the evacuation of the city by the Canton road. Large quantities of military stores, including six or eight guns and an abundant supply of sugar, fell into Federal hands. Grant was one of the ﬁrst to perceive the ruse which his wily antagonist had adopted, and at once galloped into the town, followed by the troops.
Charging Sherman with the demolition of the bridge across Pearl River, and the destruction of Confederate military property not needed by the army—not forgetting the railroads north, south, east, and west—Grant apprised McClernand that evening of his success, and directed him to move Carr, Osterhaus, and Hovey, the next morning, toward Bolton Station, and A. J. Smith toward Edwards’s Depot. General Francis P. Blair, commanding a division of Sherman’s troops, not yet arrived, and Ransom, with a brigade of McPherson’s corps, were also directed to move upon the same point. Soon after arriving at Jackson, Grant learned that Johnston had sent, the night before, three different couriers with positive orders for Pemberton, requiring him to march out and fall upon the rear of the National army. Without giving McPherson an hour’s rest, Grant directed him to countermarch his corps and push with all possible haste toward Bolton, for the purpose of uniting with McClernand’s corps and anticipating the attack. Sherman was left to finish the work which he had so thoroughly begun, and then to follow the main body of the army by the Clinton road.
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