Undaunted by his failure at Grand Gulf, Grant moved farther south in search of a more favorable crossing point. Looking now to cross his army at Rodney, Grant was informed that there was a good road ascending the bluffs east of Bruinsburg. Seizing the opportunity, the Union commander transported his army across the mighty river and onto Mississippi soil at Bruinsburg on April 30—May 1, 1863. In the early morning hours of April 30, infantrymen of the 24th and 46th Indiana Regiments stepped ashore on Mississippi soil at Bruinsburg. The invasion had begun.
The landing was made unopposed and, as the men came ashore, a band aboard the U.S.S. Benton struck up "The Red, White, and Blue." The Hoosiers were quickly followed by the remainder of the XIII Union Army Corps and portions of the XVII Corps — 17,000 men. This landing was the largest amphibious operation in American military history until the Allied invasion of Normandy during World War II. Elements of the Union army pushed inland and took possession of the bluffs, thereby securing the landing area. By late afternoon of April 30, 17,000 soldiers were ashore and the march inland began. Moving away from the landing area at Bruinsburg, the Federal soldiers rested and ate their crackers in the shade of the trees on Windsor Plantation. Late that afternoon the decision was made to push on that night by a forced march in hopes of surprising the Confederates and preventing them from destroying the bridges over Bayou Pierre. The Union columns resumed the advance at 5:30 p.m., but instead of taking the Bruinsburg Road — the most direct road from the landing area to Port Gibson — Grant's columns swung onto the Rodney Road, passing Bethel Church and marching through the night.
Bethel Presbyterian Church is one of the few remaining landmarks associated with the battle of Port Gibson. Built around 1826, the church played a significant role in the expansion of Presbyterianism into the Old Southwest. The present structure dates to the mid-1840s. Although the slave gallery has been removed and the original pointed steeple destroyed by a tornado (1943), the church retains the classical symmetry of the Greek Revival style.
This section of the Rodney Road has changed little since the days of the Civil War. Imagine soldiers marching down this road, tightly packed in columns of four, the stillness of the night broken by the sounds of their marching feet, clanking accouterments, and the rumbling of wagons and artillery pieces. It was a clear, moon-lit night, and tension and fear were in the air, for these soldiers knew they were on enemy soil and that enemy was near, but where? As they marched along in the late night hours many of the soldiers dozed. One bluecoat recalled the night march as being "romantic in the extreme."
Now that General Grant was ashore, he began his campaign for Vicksburg, first having to pass through the Confederate defenses at Port Gibson.
(Note: The village of Bruinsburg was established in 1796 and quickly became a landing of great importance. It was here that young Andrew Jackson, future President of the United States, established a small trading post. The advent of the Civil War brought a decline in river traffic which resulted in the economic collapse of Bruinsburg. By 1865 the town was extinct. The former town site is now private property.)
Last updated: February 15, 2018