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Civil War Series

The Campaign for Vicksburg

   

In November 1862, President Davis gave Johnston the Department of the West, which encompassed a huge portion of the Confederacy between the Mississippi River on the west and Virginia, the Carolinas, and Florida on the east. Johnston was not pleased, for he considered his command too vast for coordinated military movements. He was also disturbed that his two immediate subordinates, Pemberton and Major General Braxton Bragg (Bragg commanded the Confederate Army of Tennessee), continued to report directly to the War Department in Richmond rather than channeling their correspondence through him. Johnston was further discouraged that his suggested strategy of concentrating Confederate forces in the western theater was rejected by the Davis government. In short, Joe Johnston was not in a positive frame of mind as the Vicksburg campaign developed.


On October 20, McClernand received secret orders allowing him to organize volunteer troops in the Midwest for an amphibious operation against Vicksburg.

Union General John McClernand was very positive about what he wanted to do. He wanted an independent command, to capture Vicksburg, and thus to obtain glory and a major boost to his future political aspirations. He blamed the incompetence of professional soldiers for the fact that the Mississippi River was still partially closed. McClernand sought and won permission from Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton and President Lincoln to raise a volunteer army to hammer into submission the "insignificant garrison" defending the river fortress. On October 20, McClernand received secret orders allowing him to organize volunteer troops in the Midwest for an amphibious operation against Vicksburg. He did not know that Henry Halleck, who opposed McClernand's self-serving plans, would work to undermine the expedition. As fast as McClernand and his lieutenants organized companies and regiments, Halleck gave them immediate assignments in the Vicksburg theater to get them out of McClernand's reach.

GENERAL JOSEPH E. JOHNSON (USAMHI)

U. S. Grant eventually got wind of what was amiss and worked to speed up his own plans for attacking Vicksburg. Grant began assembling an invading force at Grand Junction, Tennessee, where the Mississippi Central Railroad, which offered an inviting route of invasion into the heart of Mississippi, intersected the Memphis and Charleston line, which connected Memphis and Corinth. Grant had in mind a converging operation with two Federal wings invading Mississippi. One wing would be led by Cump Sherman from Memphis, the other by Grant from Grand Junction. Grant initially targeted Holly Springs, some twenty-five miles below Grand Junction, and even Grenada, another eighty-five miles south-southwest of Holly Springs.

In early November, Grant ordered out patrols and waited for reinforcements. Conflicting intelligence reports and Confederate resistance thwarted Grant's efforts to get his grand movement southward under way. He was still uneasy about McClernand, but Halleck assured Grant that he had authority "to fight the enemy where you please." Grant gave Sherman the go-ahead to march three divisions from Memphis to Oxford or the Tallahatchie River and an eventual junction with Grant's wing. Grant meanwhile was besieged with supply problems and Confederate cavalry raids as he attempted to mobilize his wing.

Finally in late November, the Federal thrust got under way. The blue wave of the Union XIII Corps swept southward, occupying Holly Springs and pushing on to the Tallahatchie. On December 1, outnumbered Confederate forces evacuated their Tallahatchie entrenchments and began pulling back to Grenada. General Pemberton really had no choice because, in addition to the Sherman-Grant invasion, Federal troops in Helena, Arkansas, located on the west bank of the Mississippi below Memphis, had been ordered to proceed across the river and strike eastward toward the Tallahatchie in the direction of Grenada. With his flank and rear threatened, Pemberton had to rush his army southward. Soon the Confederates would be dug in behind the Yalobusha River at Grenada.


(click on image for a PDF version)
GRANT'S FINAL CAMPAIGN AGAINST VICKSBURG
Grant prepares to cross into Mississippi at Grand Gulf, but after a battle with Confederate guns Porter moves downstream to Bruinsburg. Grant soon has John McClernand's corps in Mississippi, followed by James McPherson's. On May 1, Grant's army wins the Battle of Port Gibson. Victories come at Raymond, Jackson, Champion Hill, and the Big Black River. Grant is ready to begin a direct assault on Vicksburg. After two unsuccessful assaults, Grant decides on siege tactics and after 47 days, Confederate commander John Pemberton surrenders on July 4.

The retreat had created consternation among civilians. In Oxford, "columns of [Confederate] troops, tired, wet and soiled, poured through the town, accompanied by carriages, buggies, and even carts, filled with terror-stricken, delicate ladies—whole families carrying with them their household goods and negroes."

Logistical problems and severe skirmishing forced Grant to halt at Oxford, where he consolidated his gains. The expedition from Helena returned to its point of origin after the Confederates abandoned the Tallahatchie line. Grant sent troops out to repair the Mississippi Central and bridges damaged by retreating Rebels. Union troops also busily stored supplies at Holly Springs, while Grant reorganized the army for an advance on Grenada.

Sometime during the course of the campaign to this point, Grant decided to send Sherman and one division back to Memphis where Cump was to organize an amphibious expedition against Vicksburg while Grant kept Pemberton pinned down in north Mississippi. Grant was concerned about extending his tenuous supply line beyond the Grenada front and no doubt was still anxious to take Vicksburg before McClernand arrived. So he ordered Sherman to move down the Mississippi, land in the area where the Yazoo River emptied into the Mississippi just above Vicksburg, cut all the railroads supplying the city, and begin siege operations.

A UNION CAMP AT THE OXFORD, MISSISSIPPI, COURTHOUSE. (CHICAGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY)

THE TINCLAD RATTLER SPENT HER CAREER AS A RAIDER ON THE MISSISSIPPI AND YAZOO RIVERS. (U.S. NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER)

Sherman organized an impressive force. His expeditionary army included four infantry divisions composed of ten brigades and several batteries totaling fifty-four guns, plus more than two brigades of cavalry. Sherman's total strength was about 40,000. He also had the promised help of the Union navy. On December 20, Federal transports began ferrying Sherman's men downriver. Morale was high, as Union soldiers belted out refrains of "John Brown's Body" and "Yankee Doodle" and argued about whether they would have Christmas dinner in Vicksburg.

Confederate cavalry, meanwhile, had U. S. Grant looking nervously over his shoulder. To help ease the Union pressure on Pemberton, Confederate General Braxton Bragg ordered Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest to raid Grant's supply line between Columbus, Kentucky, and north Mississippi. Forrest and his men carried out their assignment with much elan and skill, destroying bridges, stations, and supplies. On December 31 at Parker's Cross Roads in Tennessee, Forrest suffered a rare defeat and lost much of his booty. Nevertheless, Forrest had gotten Grant's attention, and the latter soon changed his base from Kentucky to Memphis.

MAJOR GENERAL EARL VAN DORN (NA)

MAJOR GENERAL STERLING PRICE (NA)

On the Grenada front, one of Pemberton's colonels suggested a raid on Grant's ever-growing supply base at Holly Springs. Pemberton agreed and gave the orders; success might stop any further Yankee advance and perhaps could even force Grant to order a retreat. On December 18, Earl Van Dorn led about 3,500 Confederate horsemen into the Union rear and two days later took the Holly Springs depot completely by surprise. Van Dorn estimated that his raid resulted in the destruction of $1.5 million worth of supplies. He then continued northward up the Mississippi Central before escaping back to Grenada. The assaults of Forrest and Van Dorn did indeed force Grant to pull his army back to Memphis.

Van Dorn seemed to have at last found his niche as leader of Pemberton's cavalry. Unfortunately for Van Dorn, his days of leading glorious cavalry charges were numbered; he would be killed by an allegedly jealous husband in May of 1863. Pemberton also was about to lose a corps commander, Sterling Price. Price wanted to return to his native Missouri and carry Missouri troops with him, but Pemberton was much too impressed with the Missourians to let them go. Richmond supported Pemberton's decision, and Price departed, leaving his beloved troops behind. A third major general, Mansfield Lovell, soon left Mississippi, never to return to the war. Lovell, the scapegoat of the Confederacy's loss of New Orleans, had been unable to regain the confidence of Davis. John Bowen, Carter Stevenson, and William Loring would eventually replace the three lost commanders.

Grant's retreat seemingly gave Pemberton more time to focus on organizational problems. But any sense of security vanished when Pemberton learned of Sherman's move down the Mississippi. Pemberton had felt that his Vicksburg flank was secure ever since Union gunboats steaming up the Yazoo had withdrawn. The fleet had been scared off after the USS Cairo had hit a torpedo (a mine planted in the river by the Rebels) and sunk. A few days before Christmas, Pemberton was entertaining President Davis and Joseph Johnston on the Grenada front when he received word of Sherman's presence near Vicksburg.

THE USS CAIRO WAS SUNK BY A TORPEDO. ITS REMAINS ARE ON EXHIBIT AT VICKSBURG NATIONAL MILITARY PARK. (LC)

Pemberton alerted his various commanders to be ready at a moment's notice to reinforce Martin Smith's Vicksburg garrison. Meanwhile, he arranged for his distinguished guests, who had recently come to Mississippi and inspected the Vicksburg defenses and were now consulting on strategic matters with Pemberton, to review the troops.

Ominous telegrams from Vicksburg continued to pour in, so Pemberton cut the review short, ordered more reinforcements for Smith, and entrained for Vicksburg. Davis soon left for Richmond, while Johnston settled in temporarily at Pemberton's Jackson headquarters.

Sherman's army landed and marched toward the Walnut Hills north and northeast of Vicksburg. Aware that Grant had retreated, Sherman decided to attack anyway on December 27, initiating the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou. To defend Vicksburg, General Smith had three divisions and several batteries of heavy artillery; he had about half Sherman's strength but the advantage of well-fortified high ground. A provisional division led by Stephen D. Lee and Carter Stevenson's division bore the brunt of the Union attack.

On December 29, Sherman had to admit defeat. Several of his brigades had been decimated in fruitless assaults. John DeCourcy's and Frank Blair, Jr.'s brigades totaled 1,315 casualties. Sherman loaded his battered army back on transports and returned to Memphis. Pemberton had used his interior lines well, shifting troops to a threatened point and winning a great victory. For the moment, Vicksburg was safe.

SHERMAN'S TROOPS ARE SHOWN STORMING CHICKASAW BAYOU IN THIS PERIOD ENGRAVING. (FRANK AND MARIE WOOD PRINT COLLECTION)

FEDERAL GUNBOATS BOMBARD FORT HINDMAN. (LC)

Grant had been thwarted in the first round of his attempt to capture Vicksburg, but his diversion in north Mississippi while Sherman tried an end run set the tone for the remainder of the campaign. Grant continued to use diversion upon diversion, and Pemberton kept guessing as to his opponent's intentions.

While Grant pondered his next move, John McClernand arrived on the scene and, by reason of seniority in rank, took command of Sherman's expeditionary force. With two Union corps, the XIII and XV, and several Union gunboats, McClernand attacked Arkansas Post (Fort Hindman), a Confederate fortress some fifty miles up the Arkansas River from where it emptied into the Mississippi. The campaign lasted from January 4 to 12, 1863, resulting in the fall of Fort Hindman. No longer could Confederate gunboats use the Arkansas as a refuge from which to launch attacks on Union shipping. Nevertheless, Grant was not happy at McClernand's independent foray and ordered this intruder to get his forces ready for future, coordinated operations against Vicksburg.

Grant intended to remain on the offensive. One of his initial steps in January of 1863 was a renewed attempt to build a bypass canal at DeSoto Point, the peninsula around which the Mississippi River looped in front of Vicksburg. By digging a canal across the base of the peninsula, Grant hoped to divert river traffic away from Confederate shore batteries. Thomas Williams had tried the same strategy in 1862, but low water and disease among the troops had defeated the plan. Grant's attempt also failed, mainly and ironically because of high water, but at least he kept some of his troops active and improved their physical condition for the rigors of the coming spring campaign.

Next came the Lake Providence expedition. Grant's engineers thought the lake, crescent-shaped and located some 75 river miles above Vicksburg on the Louisiana side of the Mississippi, might provide access to a network of streams that could give Federal shipping a path to the Red River, which emptied into the Mississippi below Vicksburg. If the idea worked, Grant could get troops safely south of the Confederate fortress, reinforce Nathaniel Banks's Federal army then operating against Port Hudson, and then take his and Banks's troops north to assault Vicksburg. It all sounded fine in theory, but in practice numerous problems arose and the expedition was called off. Nevertheless, the flooding caused by Union engineers during the operation later helped to secure Grant's flank when he later marched his army down the west side of the Mississippi.

AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE INDIANOLA RUNNING THE BLOCKADE AT VICKSBURG. (LC)

THE QUEEN OF THE WEST FIRES AT THE CONFEDERATES' CITY OF VICKSBURG. THE QUEEN OF THE WEST WOULD LATER BE CAPTURED BY THE CONFEDERATES. (COURTESY MISSISSIPPI DEPT. OF ARCHIVES AND HISTORY)

Federal fortunes on the river itself were not very positive in the early winter months of 1863. The Union gunboat USS Indianola successfully steamed southward past the Vicksburg batteries in February. The Indianola took a position at the mouth of the Red River to attack Confederate shipping. A few days later, Confederate gunboats, including the Queen of the West, captured earlier by the Confederates, rammed and partially sank the Indianola, forcing its surrender. The Yankees burned another boat, the DeSoto, to prevent its capture.

Losses and failed expeditions did not deter Grant. He next planned an expedition through Yazoo Pass, a bayou on the east side of the Mississippi just south of Helena, Arkansas. Union engineers blasted a man-made levee to open the way to the Coldwater River via the pass. From the Coldwater troop transports could follow a potential route to the Yazoo via the Tallahatchie. If everything worked, Grant could land troops downriver at Yazoo City and have a short land route to Vicksburg.

Everything did not work. Confederates in force waited for the Yankee expedition at Fort Pemberton, located near where the Tallahatchie and the Yalobusha come together to form the Yazoo at Greenwood, Mississippi. The Rebels, commanded by William Loring, pounded the Union forces May 11-16, forcing yet another of Grant's detachments to give up an expedition.

Despite the victory, Fort Pemberton proved to be a seedbed of discontent for the Confederate high command. Loring harassed Pemberton for reinforcements and more artillery, neither of which Pemberton had to spare. Pemberton questioned Loring's ability to make good use of extra men and guns even if he had them in the restricted confines of Fort Pemberton. The exchanges led to an open break between the two generals, especially on Loring's part. Loring allied himself with Lloyd Tilghman, a former friend of Pemberton's, who harbored anger at the commanding general over an incident involving unauthorized destruction of army property in north Mississippi. Tilghman had been arrested and later cleared, but he had not forgotten. Pemberton's problems with these two officers did not bode well for the future.

BRIGADIER GENERAL LLOYD TILGHMAN (NA)

REAR ADMIRAL DAVID D. PORTER (USAMHI)

The Federals, meanwhile, continued to have problems, having to abandon another ongoing canal project. The so-called Duckport canal on the Louisiana side of the Mississippi west of Vicksburg was to pass through several bayous and enter the river well south of the Vicksburg defenses. Low water and other problems finally doomed the canal.

Another amphibious operation also failed. David Porter led an expedition up Steele's Bayou in hopes of gaining the Sunflower River, which emptied into the Yazoo above Vicksburg. Once in the Yazoo, the expedition would be in a position to operate against Vicksburg or go upstream to assist in the campaign against Fort Pemberton. But thanks to Rebel obstructions, Porter's fleet got bogged down and had to be rescued by a detachment rushed forward by Sherman. The Steele's Bayou operation was canceled.

Whether Grant ever expected any of his failed plans to work is debatable. He surely would have been pleased had one succeeded, but it seems likely that his intent was to remain active enough to keep politicians off his back, to keep his men active and in good spirits, and to keep Pemberton guessing. All the winter operations had the effect of diversions, since they kept Pemberton looking anxiously in several different directions. Pemberton had realized that he simply did not have the manpower to checkmate all the possibilities available to Grant. Thus far, weather, geography, and determined defensive stands at the right places had worked in favor of the Confederates. But if Pemberton ever guessed wrong, his mistake could be fatal.

Grant hoped that he had created enough anxiety to make the Rebel commander guess wrong. But he intended to leave nothing to chance. He continued his strategy of diversion while inaugurating the third, decisive, phase of the Vicksburg campaign.

UNION TROOPS UNDER THE COMMAND OF COLONEL BENJAMIN GRIERSON CAMP AT BATON ROUGE IN MAY 1863. (ANDREW D. LYTLE COLLECTION, LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY)

On March 29, U. S. Grant made a decision. Rejecting the ideas of a frontal assault on Vicksburg or returning to north Mississippi to start a new campaign, he chose to march his army down the west side of the Mississippi to a point below Vicksburg where river transports would ferry the men across. The transports would have to run the gauntlet of the Vicksburg batteries, but other vessels had done so; in any event it was a gamble worth taking.


To improve his chances for success, Grant resorted to his favorite strategy of diversions.

To improve his chances for success, Grant resorted to his favorite strategy of diversions. In early April he sent a detachment commanded by Frederick Steele to Greenville, Mississippi, where the Federals moved inland and operated along Deer Creek, destroying Confederate supplies and trying to convince Pemberton that the Vicksburg target had been abandoned in favor of operations upriver.

Several Federal steamers returning north toward Memphis unintentionally gave Pemberton the idea that Grant had given up and was pulling back. Actually Grant had ordered several boats away from the Vicksburg front to relieve traffic congestion on the Mississippi. Pemberton's misreading of the situation indicated that perhaps Grant's luck was changing.

Grant's most spectacular, and most successful, diversion was a Union cavalry raid that originated in LaGrange, Tennessee, on April 17, slashed through the heart of Mississippi, and ended safely in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on May 2. The leader of the raid was an unlikely hero. Thirty-seven-year-old Colonel Benjamin Henry Grierson had been a music teacher and businessman in Illinois before the war. The man whose name would become synonymous with the famous 1863 cavalry raid that contributed to the fall of Vicksburg also did not like horses.

Despite his unlikely qualifications Grierson had a knack for cavalry tactics. Adopting his own diversionary strategy, Grierson led his 1,700 riders sweeping through Mississippi on a general diagonal route from northeast to southwest, sending out detachments here and there all along the way. The result confused Pemberton's already unreliable intelligence network. The Yankees seemed to be everywhere at once, and the unreliability of Confederate communications left Pemberton in a quandary as he tried to coordinate his forces to intercept Grierson.

A RAILROAD STATION IN MISSISSIPPI IS DESTROYED BY GRIERSON'S RAIDERS. (FRANK AND MARIE WOOD PRINT COLLECTION)

Pemberton was handicapped by a shortage of cavalry, having earlier lost Van Dorn's horseman to Braxton Bragg. Confederate cavalry should have been concentrated, but political circumstances forced Pemberton to use his cavalry to defend as much of north Mississippi as possible. The result was that at one point, Pemberton had to use infantry in a failed attempt to catch Grierson in central Mississippi.

Grierson lost only 15 men during the raid and 5 of those had to be left along the way owing to illness. He claimed to have captured over 3,000 stand of arms, destroyed 50-60 miles of railroad track as well as tons of Confederate property, and captured 1,000 horses and mules that the Rebels could ill afford to lose. Sherman correctly called Grierson's raid "the most brilliant expedition of the war."

Grant unleashed other raids to tie down Pemberton's limited cavalry resources. In northeast Mississippi and north Alabama Union cavalry threatened Braxton Bragg's supply line and Pemberton's communication artery, the Southern Railroad of Mississippi. The most spectacular incident of these operations was the pursuit and capture of Union Colonel Abel Streight's cavalry column in north Alabama by Brigadier General Nathan Bedford Forrest.

But by May 3, when Forrest bagged Streight's raiders, whose mission had been planned in coordination with Grierson's, Grant had won a major battle and had established a strong foothold in Mississippi below Vicksburg. Streight had at least succeeded in keeping Forrest from helping Pemberton.

While Steele, Grierson, Streight, and others helped mask Grant's grand design, John Bowen worried about increased Yankee activity below Vicksburg on the Louisiana side of the Mississippi. Bowen commanded at Grand Gulf, Mississippi, a river town several miles below Vicksburg, where high bluffs had been well fortified with Confederate cannon. Pemberton told Bowen that any serious Yankee advance could be contested but that the Grand Gulf defenses must be kept secure. The commanding general then dismissed Bowen's concerns: "I do not regard it of such importance as to risk your capture."

CONFEDERATE CANNON LIKE THIS 32-POUNDER BROOKE RIFLE WREAKED HAVOC ON THE FEDERAL FLEET. IT IS SHOWN HERE IN FEDERAL HANDS. (LC)

J. O. DAVIDSON'S PAINTING OF PORTER PASSING THE VICKSBURG BATTERIES. (AMERICAN HERITAGE PICTURE COLLECTION)

Next day Pemberton reported to Richmond the rumors that a division of John McClernand's XIII Corps was moving down the west side of the river, rumors which he doubted. Pemberton made a fatal mistake when he doubted; it was not just a division but McClernand's corps that was on the move in Louisiana.

In those early April days, before Grierson's raid, Pemberton concluded that Federal forces were "constantly in motion in all directions." Yet that knowledge did not deter him from ignoring Bowen and concluding that Grant was indeed giving up the fight. Pemberton, deluding himself into a sense of security, felt so confident that he offered to send reinforcements from his army to Bragg's Army of Tennessee. Joseph Johnston cautioned Pemberton against such a rash decision and suggested that troops be sent to points of departure where they could be shuffled as needed.

ON APRIL 29 ADMIRAL PORTER'S GUNBOATS BOMBARDED THE CONFEDERATES AT GRAND GULF. (BL)

By the middle of April, Pemberton began to change his mind. He received a message from Bowen that accurately predicted Grant's true intentions—ferrying the Federal army across the river into Mississippi. Union forces would then march northward and attack Vicksburg. Other reports indicated Federal gunboat activity around a stream called Bayou Pierre, which emptied into the Mississippi below Grand Gulf, and that Union transports, heavily loaded with infantry, were steaming southward toward Vicksburg. Then came news on April 17 that several southbound, empty enemy vessels had successfully run the gauntlet of the Vicksburg batteries. Pemberton immediately wired Johnston that no more troops could be sent to Bragg and that those en route should be sent back to Vicksburg. Johnston agreed.

Just as Pemberton was getting a grasp on the situation facing him, Grierson and his cavalry rode out of Tennessee into Mississippi creating the vital diversion that Grant desired. For two weeks as April faded and May approached, Pemberton kept his eyes on Grierson while Grant continued to march his men southward for the crossing below Vicksburg. Pemberton, who was much better at dealing with the known than with the suspected, turned his attention away from the real threat at his back door.

After Grierson escaped into south Mississippi, Sherman demonstrated against the Snyder's Bluff area north of Vicksburg, turning Pemberton's attention once again in the wrong direction. Sherman's mission was a diversion from Grand Gulf, where Union gunboats were about to launch an attack. Grant hoped to knock out Rebel batteries and ferry his troops into Mississippi at that point. The diversion was not successful, but Sherman had given Pemberton more to think about.

On April 29, eight Union gunboats shelled Grand Gulf for six hours, but the Rebels commanded by John Bowen refused to yield their position. Bowen was a tenacious fighter and his defenders, including his division of Missourians and Arkansans, reflected the character of their commander. Eight large-caliber cannon emplaced in Forts Cobun and Wade anchored Bowen's defense. Confederate fire from these forts inflicted heavy casualties on three Yankee gunboats: USS Benton, USS Tuscumbia, and the USS Pittsburg. All but one of the 75 Union dead and wounded were hit on those vessels. By comparison, Bowen lost 3 killed and 19 wounded. Grant would have to go farther down the Mississippi to find a crossing.

He initially looked downstream at Rodney, a small river town south of Grand Gulf, connected by road to Port Gibson. The town of Port Gibson lay inland a few miles and would provide a good staging area for Grant to assemble his forces and move north toward Vicksburg. When Grant's scouts learned that a road also led from Bruinsburg, located between Rodney and Grand Gulf, into Port Gibson, Grant changed his orders.

MAJOR GENERAL ANDREW J. SMITH (BL)

THE UNION FLEET AT GRAND GULF FIRED ON THE CONFEDERATE ARTILLERY TO PREPARE FOR THE CROSSING OF TROOPS BELOW VICKSBURG. (LC)

On April 30, 1863, Union boats began ferrying the 17,000 troops of the XIII Corps across the Mississippi from Disharoon's Plantation in Louisiana to Bruinsburg. At the time, this was the largest amphibious operation in American history. Most of the corps had waded ashore in Mississippi by early afternoon.

Around 4 P.M., the XIII began marching toward Port Gibson. The corps included the divisions of Peter Osterhaus, A. J. Smith, A. P. Hovey, and Eugene Carr. Despite the lateness of the hour, McClernand urged his troops forward. He feared that the Rebels, surely alerted by now, might destroy the bridges across Bayou Pierre at Port Gibson, thus delaying the Union advance and giving Pemberton more time to concentrate his forces.

Soon the column of bluecoats saw Windsor, the landmark, palatial home of a wealthy Mississippi planter, as they marched along the Bruinsburg-Port Gibson road before turning right onto a trail that connected with the Rodney-Port Gibson road. The decision to veer off the Bruinsburg road was based on a fear that the Confederates probably had blocked the road near Port Gibson. Also, the Rodney road ran closely parallel to the Bruinsburg route and would not cost much time.

In the hills west of Port Gibson, the landscape became treacherous. Steep ravines bordered high ridges. If the Federals encountered Confederate opposition, the men would have to deploy on either side of the road, which, in rugged terrain, at night, would indeed be a challenge.

But the invaders were in high spirits. An Illinois sergeant noted that the "moon is shining above us and the road is romantic in the extreme." Yet he admitted that the geography of narrow valleys and steep hills presented the Rebels a grand opportunity for defense "if they had but known our purpose." Little did he know that a showdown lay ahead as the Union column swung east onto the Rodney-Port Gibson road.

Meanwhile, back at the Bruinsburg beachhead, Union boats began ferrying John Logan's division of James McPherson's XVII Corps across the river. Logan's presence gave Grant some 25,000 soldiers immediately available in case the Confederates contested the inland march.

MAGNOLIA CHURCH ON THE PORT GIBSON BATTLEFIELD CIRCA 1938. (PHOTO BY MARGIE BEARSS)

He had consistently warned Pemberton about what was going on, but all his warnings and dire predictions had fallen on deaf ears.

A frustrated John Bowen knew Grant's intentions, indeed had suspected them for some time. He had consistently warned Pemberton about what was going on, but all his warnings and dire predictions had fallen on deaf ears. When Union vessels moved southward away from Grand Gulf, Bowen had no doubt that the enemy would attempt to cross the Mississippi beyond the range of Grand Gulf cannon. Bowen needed reinforcements desperately. If Grant indeed landed in force south of Bayou Pierre, there were not enough Confederate forces on hand to keep him there and certainly not enough to drive him back to the river. Also, if Grant established his army on the east side of the Mississippi, Bowen would have no choice but to abandon Grand Gulf, which would be vulnerable to attack from the flank and rear.

While he waited for troops from Vicksburg, Bowen hurried a detachment under Martin Green to Port Gibson to set up roadblocks west of the town near where roads from Rodney and Bruinsburg converged. Ultimately, based on scouting reports, Bowen decided to send forces down both roads. He had received incorrect information that the Union column marching toward Port Gibson had divided, one detachment coming up the Rodney road, while a separate column had remained on the Bruinsburg road. Green's force moved down the Rodney road to a good defensive position near Magnolia Church just east of the A. K. Shaifer house. A recently arrived Alabama brigade from Vicksburg, commanded by Edward Tracy, moved west down the Bruinsburg road in search of the Yankees on that route. William Baldwin's brigade of Louisiana and Mississippi troops hurried toward Port Gibson from Vicksburg. Pemberton hastily ordered other units to the coming fight, but they would not arrive in time.

Reports of Union gunboats moving from the Mississippi River into Bayou Pierre jerked Bowen's attention away from approaching Federal ground troops. He moved more batteries to the river and also ordered guns to the Big Black River, which ascended from the Mississippi north of the Port Gibson area on a northeasterly course into central Mississippi. Bowen recognized that the Union navy could capture the Bayou Pierre bridges and cut off his force from any further reinforcements from Vicksburg and from the Missouri brigade still at Grand Gulf. The fate of Bowen's command and Port Gibson would be decided on land, however, not on water.

As the night of April 30 passed slowly near Magnolia Church, Martin Green grew impatient. At 12:30 A.M., May 1, he mounted a horse and rode toward the Shaifer house to check on his skirmish line. News of the impending battle had reached female occupants of the house, who scurried back and forth loading family belongings on a wagon for escape to Port Gibson. Green rode forward to reassure them that the enemy was not close yet. At that moment shots rang out, striking the house and the wagon. An advance Federal patrol had arrived and opened fire. The women, including Mrs. Shaifer, decided they had loaded enough and jumped in the wagon, heading for Confederate lines.

BRIGADIER GENERAL EUGENE A. CARR (LC)

COLONEL FRANCIS M. COCKRELL (LC)

Green's Confederates tensed up and waited while Yankee regiments deployed in the ravines to the west. Union artillery sent shot, shell, and canister roaring through the countryside, echoing eerily among the hills and gullies where the battle of Port Gibson would be decided. Night engagements in the Civil War were rare, and the soldiers would not soon forget this one. The fighting waned when General Eugene Carr decided to wait until morning before continuing the Federal deployment.

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