The Fall of Vicksburg



A.D. 1863


Vicksburg had a double importance for the Confederacy. Its height, at a bend of the Mississippi, gave its guns command of the river, so that the National vessels could not pass up or down. Even more important than this was the fact that a large part of the supplies for the Confederate armies was drawn from the country west of the Mississippi. These were brought by rail to a point opposite Vicksburg, ferried across, and again loaded upon rail-cars and carried to the east. The capture of the city, therefore, would rob the Confederacy of both these advantages. Grant first approached the place from the north, but found that the natural protection of swamps and a network of bayous made capture from that side impossible. He then crossed the Mississippi with his entire army, marched down the west side to a point below the city, recrossed to the eastern shore, and then moving northward and eastward fought the battles and began the siege that are so clearly described in the narrative of Dana and Wilson that here follows.

AFTER Beauregard's retirement, the Richmond authorities put the control of all their military operations in the Southwest into the hands of Joseph E. Johnston, who made his headquarters with Bragg, receiving daily reports from all parts of his extensive command. Pemberton gave him the impression that Grant would relinquish the campaign against Vicksburg, but he sadly misconceived the temper of his adversary.

During the progress of the battle near Port Gibson, Johnston ordered reinforcements from Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia, and directed Pemberton to gather all his forces and "drive Grant into the river"; but that officer was not only incapable of doing this, but of understanding the principles of warfare upon which the order was based. Instead of abandoning Vicksburg at once and concentrating his entire force in the direction of Jackson - a railroad centre - he collected his troops within the fortifications that had already shown their inutility, and waited for the blow that was menacing him.

In pursuance of Grant's instructions, Hurlbut sent out from West Tennessee, in the latter part of April, a detachment of cavalry under Colonel Grierson, with instructions to ride through Mississippi for the purpose of destroying Confederate property, breaking the railroads, and scattering Confederate conscripts, and finally joining either Grant or Banks, as circumstances should determine. This raid proved to be eminently successful, demonstrating clearly to the country that the Confederacy was but a shell-empty within, and strong only on the outside - a piece of information upon which Grant was by no means slow to act.

Sherman, with the Fifteenth Corps, joined the army on May 8th; wagons and supplies had been brought forward in the mean while, and definite information obtained touching the enemy's movements. Grant's force was now not far from forty-five thousand men, and everything was in excellent condition when the word for the advance was given. His plan was to sweep around to the eastward of the Big Black, with Sherman's and McClernand's corps, marching by the roads toward Edwards's Depot and Bolton, on the Vicksburg and Jackson Railroad, while McPherson was to be thrown well out toward the interior - if necessary, as far as Jackson - by the way of Raymond. Rations of sugar, coffee, and salt, together with "three days of hard bread to last five," were issued to the troops; everything else was to be gathered from the country. In pursuance of these instructions, the different corps pushed forward, encountering little or no resistance.

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