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Civil War Series

The Campaign for Vicksburg

   

The main attack came from Frank Blair, Jr.'s division of Sherman's corps. Sherman was positioned on the right, or north, flank of the Federal army. Blair's bluecoats charged down the Graveyard road and ran into the withering fire of Rebels holding the Stockade Redan, a formidable work that commanded the Graveyard road approach. Martin Smith's division and the seemingly fatigueless Missourians of Cockrell's brigade pounded the attacking Yankees. The First Battalion, 13th U.S. Infantry, penetrated to a ditch in front of the redan and planted their national and regimental colors on the north face of the Confederate stronghold, earning the battalion the claim "First at Vicksburg," but Confederate fire stopped further advances.

THE SIEGE OF VICKSBURG BASED ON A PAINTING BY CHAPPEL. (LC)


(click on image for a PDF version)
VICKSBURG MAY 19, 1863, ASSAULT
Grant is anxious to finish the job so he orders an ill-advised assault on the Confederate earthworks. The major attack is by Sherman's corps against the Rebel left-center at a place called Stockade Redan. Sherman's brigades find felled timber and other obstacles as they try to force their way to the walls of the redan. Troops of Martin Luther Smith's and Bowen's divisions maul the attacking Yankees, although a few men of the 13th U.S. Infantry reach the Graveyard road, and Hugh Ewing's brigade makes an impressive charge. While Sherman's attack is failing, McPherson and McClernand make only token advances. The failed assault boosts the morale of Pemberton's army.


THE MAY 19 UNION ASSAULT AS PAINTED BY THOSE DE THULSTROP. (THE SEVENTH REGIMENT FUND, INC.)

CONFEDERATES TOSS LIGHTED SHELLS UPON THE FEDERAL ATTACKERS. (FRANK AND MARIE WOOD PRINT COLLECTION)

The presence of Union soldiers in the ditches at the base of the redan forced the defenders to roll six- and twelve-pound cannon balls, with the timing fuse cut short, down into the blue masses. Many did their work, though some were thrown back into the Rebel ranks before they exploded.

By nightfall it became clear that the attack had failed. McPherson in the center along the Jackson road and McClernand on the left on the Baldwin's Ferry road had made only limited progress. Federal losses for the day were nearly 1,000 to the Confederates' 200.

A KURZ AND ALLISON LITHOGRAPH OF THE SIEGE. (LC)

On May 22, Grant tried again. A four-hour artillery bombardment preceded a general assault. From Sherman's corps, Blair's and James Tuttle's divisions led another fruitless attack against Stockade Redan. Confederates blunted charges by McPherson's divisions against the 3rd Louisiana Redan and the Great Redoubt, the latter being the major Rebel fortification on the Jackson road. John Stevenson's brigade suffered particularly heavy losses attacking the redoubt. On the Federal left, McClernand made the only real gains of the day. His troops captured the Railroad Redoubt and advanced impressively against the 2nd Texas Lunette, Square Fort, and South Fort.


(click on image for a PDF version)
VICKSBURG, MAY 22, 1863, ASSAULT
Grant tries again, ordering a heavy artillery bombardment of the Confederate works. At 10 A.M. he launches an all-out attack. Sherman's thrust against Stockade Redan is quickly repulsed. McPherson sends his troops down the Jackson road where they quickly recoil under the Confederate fire. McClernand is the only commander to throw his entire corps into the fray. Two of his brigades advance upon the 2nd Texas Lunette. Other McClernand brigades force the evacuation of the Railroad Redoubt, and the Confederate works known as South Fort and Square Fort are also threatened. To take advantage of these opportunities, McClernand needs help from Sherman and McPherson, but doesn't get it. Confederate counterattacks roll back McClernand's troops. Grant gives up the idea of taking Vicksburg by assault and orders his commanders to begin siege tactics.

McClernand's call for help was not ignored at Grant's headquarters, but Grant doubted the political general's claims of success, and Federal charges along the battle lines to take pressure off McClernand were feeble. Late in the day, the Confederates of Colonel Thomas Waul's Texas Legion (attached to Carter Stevenson's division on the Confederate right) retook the Railroad Redoubt and Martin Green led an attack clearing the Yankees from in front of the Second Texas Lunette. The general assault had failed. Grant had lost another 3,200 men, Pemberton less than 500. Grant decided to lay siege to Vicksburg, concluding that "they could not last always."

"THE SHELL" PAINTED BY HOWARD PYLE IN 1908. (PRIVATE COLLECTION. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF THE BRANDYWINE RIVER MUSEUM.)

He also removed McClernand from command when the latter decided to take political advantage of the May 22 assault. McClernand provided newspapers with glowing accounts of the successes of his corps. Furious, Grant decided that he had had enough of his subordinate's bombast and gave the corps command to E. O. C. Ord. McClernand was sent back to Illinois, but he would return to command his corps during the Red River campaign of 1864. Grant's prejudice was evident in the McClernand affair. McClernand, after all, had been the only one of the corps commanders to conduct an all-out attack as Grant supposedly intended.

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