In the next two episodes Scott and James will discuss the Siege of Vicksburg. In the summer of 1863, Grant’s Army of the Tennessee came to Vicksburg, located on a high bluff converged on Vicksburg, a Mississippi town on the same river. Union occupation of the town was critical to control of the strategic river. If it fell then the Confederacy would completely lose access to critical supply lines in Texas and Mexico.

Grant’s six-week campaign began in June. His army came to Vicksburg, which was defended by Confederate General John C. Pemberton’s men, who built a series of trenches, forts, redans, and artillery lunettes surrounding the city.  Grant’s army surrounded Pemberton and outnumbered him two to one. Trapped for six weeks, the residents of Vicksburg were forced to dig caves and eat rats to survive. But, due to Pemberton’s diligence and resourceful mind, they continued to trust his command despite dire circumstances.

The West (other than Vicksburg), May 1862 – January 1863

  • Halleck and Grant
      1. After the capture of Corinth on May 30, Halleck and the Union army in the west did little.
      2. In July of 1862, Halleck was promoted to General-in-Chief of all U. S. armies and transferred to Washington.
      3. Before leaving, Halleck dispersed his army, sending part under Buell to Chattanooga, part under Sherman to Memphis, and part to Arkansas.  The rest remained near Corinth under Gen. William Rosecrans. Grant was in overall command in the “Far West”
      4. Braxton Bragg was put in command of all western Confederate forces, replacing Beauregard.
      5. Bragg shifted 35,000 men by rail from Corinth to Chattanooga, TN.
      6. In September and October 1862, Confederate forces attacked the Federals at Iuka and Corinth, but both times, Grant and his army fought them off.
  • Perryville
      1. Two Confederate armies, one under Edmund Kirby Smith and one under Bragg, left Chattanooga in August 1862 and marched into Kentucky.
      2. Union general Don Carlos Buell marched from Nashville to stop the rebels.
      3. The two armies met at Perryville, KY on October 8.
      4. There were about 4200 Union and 3400 Confederate casualties.
      5. The battle was inconclusive, but since the Confederates retreated back into East Tennessee, the battle was a strategic Union victory.
      6. This was the last time the Confederates mounted a major operation to take KY.
      7. Buell did not vigorously pursue Bragg’s army.  Lincoln fired him and replaced him with William Rosecrans.
  • Murfreesboro / Stones River
    1. In December 1862, Bragg’s army was camped near Murfreesboro, TN, southeast of Nashville.
    2. On the 26th, Rosecrans and his army marched from Nashville to challenge Bragg.
    3. By the 30th, the two armies were camped only about 700 yards from each other.  (Story about the battling bands).
    4. Bragg attacked on the 31st, but the Federals held firm.
    5. Little happened on January 1.  Bragg attacked again on the 2nd, but the Federals again drove the rebels back.  Bragg then retreated back to Chattanooga.
    6. The Federals lost about 13,000 troops, and the Confederates lost 12,000.  This is the bloodiest battle of the war in terms of the percentage of casualties (about 30%)
    7. Rosecrans did not pursue Bragg, but nevertheless, the Union victory lifted northern morale.
    8. (Fun fact) Soon after the battle Rosecrans received a new chief of staff, a young Brigadier General named James A. Garfield.

The Vicksburg Campaign

  • Background
    1. By June 1862, the Union controlled all of the Mississippi except for a 200-mile stretch between Vicksburg and Port Hudson, LA.
    2. Vicksburg (“The Gibraltar of the Mississippi”) was on a 200-foot bluff, was heavily fortified (4 miles of batteries!), and was seen as the key to controlling the Mississippi. 
  • First Attempt to Take Vicksburg (June – July 1862)
    1. Flag Officer David Farragut sent a message to the military governor of Vicksburg, calling for the city’s surrender
    2. The governor replied “Mississippians don’t know, and refuse to learn, how to surrender…If Commodore Farragut…can teach them, let [him] come and try.”
    3. Farragut ordered the Union flotillas at Memphis and New Orleans (which had a combined total of 220 guns) to attack the Vicksburg defenses.
    4. The attack was inconclusive.  Farragut realized that the Navy alone could not take the city.  The city could only be taken by an attack from the rear (the land side) combined with a naval bombardment.
    5. The city was defended by 10,000 entrenched Confederate troops under Earl Van Dorn.
    6. Farragut requested 3000 Union soldiers from New Orleans.  They (along with 1500 contrabands) tried to dig a canal that would leave the fortress isolated.
    7. This effort failed, and hundreds of the soldiers, contrabands, and sailors died of disease.
    8. The Union gave up trying to take Vicksburg…for now.
  1. Second Attempt
    1. In December 1862, Grant made a new plan to take Vicksburg.  Grant would march down from Tennessee with an army and attack the city from the east.  He hoped to lure most of the small army defending the city (now commanded by John C. Pemberton) and attack it.
    2. Meanwhile William T. Sherman would take another force and attack the lightly-defended city from the North.
    3. As Grant marched southward, his army’s supply line was cut by Confederate cavalry under Nathan Bedford Forrest and Earl Van Dorn (now commanding a cavalry unit).  This forced Grant to return to Tennessee. 
    4. As Grant and his army were marching back to TN, they noticed that the countryside was rich with food and other supplies.  He could have lived off the land.
    5. Meanwhile, Sherman’s force was attacked and defeated at the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou (just outside Vicksburg) on Dec. 29
    6. Grant abandoned his efforts.  During the winter and early spring of 1863, he ordered that several canals be cut.  He also considered using the Yazoo River. None of these efforts worked.
    7. Many Northerners called on Lincoln to replace Grant.  Lincoln refused, saying “I can’t spare this man. He fights!”