Wednesday, July 17, 2013

TIME MACHINE: The Vicksburg Campaign



As every American knows, July 4 marks the birthdate of the United States. However, this particular Fourth of July of 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the Confederate Army's surrender of Vickburg, Mississippi to the Union's Army of the Tennessee, commanded by Major General Ulysses S. Grant and the end of the Vicksburg Campaign. 

The Vicksburg Campaign proved to be a series of maneuvers and battles in the U.S. Civil War's Western Theater, which was directed against Vicksburg, Mississippi and Port Hudson, Louisiana. Vicksburg was a fortress city that overlooked one of the two last Confederate-controlled sections of the Mississippi River, between the summer of 1862 and the summer of 1863. The campaign consisted of many important naval operations, troop maneuvers, failed initiatives, and eleven distinct battles that occurred between December 26, 1862 and 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).

The Operation Against Vicksburg began on December 26, 1862 with the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou. Three Union divisions under Major General William T. Sherman disembarked at Johnson's Plantation on the Yazoo River to approach the Vicksburg defenses from the northeast. A fourth division landed farther upstream on December 27. On December 27, the Union Army pushed their lines forward through the swamps toward the Walnut Hills, which were strongly defended by the Confederate Army. On December 28, several futile attempts were made to get around these defenses. On December 29, Sherman ordered a frontal assault, which was repulsed with heavy casualties, and then withdrew. 

The second phase of the Operation Against Vicksburg occurred between January and March 1863, in which General Grant ordered his troops to complete the digging of the Williams Canal across De Soto Peninsula, which offered a potential route downriver that bypassed Vicksburg's guns. Unfortunately, the canal had not been properly engineered. And a sudden rise in the Mississippi River broke through the dam at the head of the canal and flooded the area. Army engineers used two huge steam-driven dipper dredges to clear the canal, but the dredges were exposed to Confederate artillery from Vicksburg's bluff and driven away. The canal project was abandoned. General Grant also In a desperate effort to rescue the project, used two huge steam-driven dipper dredges - Hercules and Sampson - to clear the channel, but the dredges were exposed to Confederate artillery fire from the bluffs at Vicksburg and driven away. By late March, work on the canal was abandoned. Grant also ordered Brigadier General James B. McPherson to construct a canal of several hundred yards from the Mississippi to Lake Providence, northwest of the city. But that project failed as well. Grant also utilized two expeditions - around Yazoo City and Steele's Bayou - to reach Vicksburg. They failed as well.

Too stubborn to admit defeat, General Grant set about his next operation to gain control of Vicksburg for the Union. Recalling Major General Winfield Scott's campaign to capture Mexico City during the Mexican-American War (which he had experienced), Grant decided to utilize the lesson he had learned. Against the protests of General Sherman and other Union generals under his command, Grant decided to leave his supplies behind and allow the Army of the Tennessee to live off the land. He ordered the Army to march down the west side of the Mississippi River, cross it south of Vicksburg, and either attack the city from the south and the east or join forces with General Banks at Port Hudson, capture the Louisiana city and then together, reduce Vicksburg. 

On March 29, Major General John A. 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 rough, 70-mile road from Milliken's Bend to the proposed river crossing at Hard Times, Louisiana. Then on April 16, Admiral 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 with massive artillery fire. However, the fleet survived with little damage. Only thirteen men were wounded and none killed. On April 22, six more boats loaded with supplies made the run. Although one boat did not make it, no one was killed and the crew floated downstream on the boat's remnants. Finally, Grant diverted General Pemberton's attention from the river crossing site that the Union troops would use. He ordered two operations - a feint by Sherman against Snyder's Bluff, Mississippi, north of Vicksburg; 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 major success. Colonel Grierson's raid drew out a large number of Confederate forces to chase him, and Pemberton's defenses were dispersed too far around the state.

Once the Army of the Tennessee reached the east bank of the Mississippi River, south of Vicksburg; General Grant led them on a march that took them eastbound, north and finally just east of the city. This march lasted between April 29 and May 17. During the march, the Army of the Tennessee fought and lost at one battle - the Battle of Grand Gulf on April 29, 1863. The Union forces under Grant won the following battles - Battle of Port Gibson on May 1; the Battle of Raymond on May 12; the Battle of Jacksonon May 14; the Battle of Champion Hill on May 16; and the Battle of Big Black River Bridge on May 17. 

Following the success of the last battle, the Army of the Tennessee successfully reached the breastworks that protected Vicksburg. Once Grant had the remaining Confederates trapped in Vicksburg, he ordered two assaults upon the city on May 19 and May 22. But the assaults failed and the Union Army settled upon a siege on the city that lasted for another month-and-a-half. The Confederacy's General Joe E. Johnston had ordered General Pemberton to evacuate Vicksburg and save his army, but Pemberton thought it impossible to withdraw safely. General Johnston planned to attack the besieging Union Army and relieve Pemberton, but he was unable to arrange the rescue in time. For six weeks, the civilians and Confederate soldiers in Vicksburg suffered from constant bombardment and lack of food supplies. Realizing that General Johnston would be unable to relieve his troops, General Pemberton decided to surrender to General Grant. Being a Northerner from Pennsylvania who had joined the Confederate cause, Pemberton figured that Grant would be merciful toward his troops and Vicksburg's civilian population if he surrendered on the upcoming American holiday. So, on July 4, 1863; General Pemberton surrendered Vicksburg and his army to General Grant. Four days following the surrender of Vicksburg, General Franklin Gardner surrendered the Confederate garrison at Port Hudson to Union General Nathaniel Banks. 

The entire Mississippi River finally belonged to the Union after two years. And the Fourth of July holiday was not celebrated by the citizens of Vicksburg until World War II.

No comments: