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
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
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 ladieswhole 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
intentionsferrying 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
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
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
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
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
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