Ed Bearss’ “The Vicksburg Campaign” Volume II — Grant Strikes a Fatal Blow

This is the second volume in Ed Bearss’ three volume book on the Vicksburg campaign. It covers the most active part of the operation – where Grant moves down the river to below the city, distracts the Rebels with numerous cavalry raids, and crosses the river. Striking inland, he wins five battles, separating Pemberton from reinforcement and routing his army, finally sending it reeling into the Vicksburg fortifications.

At this point, all signs seem to point to a quick fall of the city…

Champion Hill

The last update had Pemberton marching out under orders from Joe Johnston to strike Grant, unaware that Grant was on the way to attack him.  That is a bit of oversimplification I said before.  The first order from Joe Johnston to attack the troops in the town of Clinton was ignored by Pemberton, and instead he marched South and East, in an attempt to move against Grant’s communications.  But Grant was not relying on holding that area permanently, so this strike was ineffective.  Also, Pemberton’s and his army were unused to coordinated maneuvers, and the move went slowly.  Meanwhile, Grant was turning to face him.

Pemberton and Johnston seemed to think that Grant and his army would just sit there and wait for them to get their act in gear. This flew in the face of all experience in the last few weeks, of course.  Johnston again ordered Pemberton to move on Clinton for a joint attack.

This time, Pemberton decided to obey the order, and turned his army northward. This meant he was now marching across the face of Grant’s advance.  He was assuming that Grant was far off, and that he would have time to make the march.  He sent no scouts out to find out what Grant was doing.

This was a major mistake, as Grant’s seven divisions were advancing on three parallel roads and caught him with his back to a major creek. The Confederates had to hastily take up a position on Champion Hill and block the other two roads. If any of these positions were taken, there was a good chance that much of the army would be captured.

Like the other battles described, the Confederates were aided by the poor communication across the three parts of the Union force.  The standard orders at the start were to advance with caution. The orders to attack aggressively had to travel miles back to a road junction and forward again. But on the Jackson Road, where Grant was, the first attacks crushed the defenders and outflanked the hill, cutting the road to one of the two crossings of the creek.  The hesitancy of the other two forces allowed Pemberton to shift forces north and counterattack, driving the Union back off the hill for a time. But there were too many Union troops, and they were driven back again.

The battle was lost, the only question is if the entire army would be lost. The Union held the route to one bridge, and had crushed half the army. Pemberton used his last force, Loring’s Division, to cover a retreat south to the last crossing. If the other two advances had been pushing forward rapidly, this might have been impossible. But most of the army made it, but Loring’s Division either lost its way or decided not to risk it and marched off to the south.

Big Black River Bridge

Pemberton fell back to a fortified river crossing over the Big Black River. He posted men and guns on the east side of the river facing the Union  advance, to hold long enough for Loring’s division to come in.  He was unaware that Loring was not coming.  He also seemed unaware that his troops were in no mood to defend the position.

The gunners were upset that the horses needed to save their guns in case of a retreat were posted on the far side of the river. Many of the troops were raw, or were upset that the shape of the position meant that they would have great difficulty getting out if the line broke.  This would have a disastrous effect if the line did break.

The Union advance had sky high morale and good officers. One noted that there was a path where a unit could be moved close to the line without being seen, and a brigade was moved into attack position.

Jumping off, the attack was hit with a storm of fire, but there was only time for one volley and the line was cracked. At this, the entire Confederate force broke and ran for the bridges over the river. Thousands did not make it and were captured, the others streamed back toward the city. The remnants of Pemberton’s army followed towards the fortifications of Vicksburg.

Their only hope now was a relief army driving off Grant, which would take some doing.

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Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign – Raymond and Jackson

More Reading in Bearss’ Vicksburg Campaign, Volume II…

The days after the seizure of Grand Gulf were busy for Grant’s army. Reinforcements were pouring down from the North, freeing troops left on the river to join those who had already crossed. This had to be done quickly, before Pemberton realized that he had more forces in the area than Grant did.

As brigades marched forward, they escorted supply convoys. This meant that Grant could keep more of his force on the line facing Pemberton. In a matter of days, Grant’s three corps were facing Pemberton along 14 Mile Creek, which parallels the railroad south of Edward’s Station.  What Grant might have done is a question, but when his right flank corps under McPherson collided with a brigade of Confederate troops under General Gregg, he changed his plans.

The Battle of Raymond was much like Port Gibson – a small force of Confederate troops uses the difficult terrain to advantage for much of the day, before being overwhelmed in the end. While it was nobody’s ideal battle, it was another Union victory.  What made it important was that it emphasized to Grant that there were substantial forces gathering at Jackson, which could complicate his attempts to defeat Pemberton at Edward’s Station. These two forces are indicated on the map by the red blotches on the map.  If Grant moved against Pemberton at Edward’s Station, the forces at Jackson could move against his flank if he attacked north, or his rear if he tried to drive Pemberton back toward Vicksburg.

Grant decided that Pemberton would be slow to detect a change in plan, since he had watched Grant move toward him at his current position at Edward’s for several days. But if Grant moved quickly off to Jackson, he could scatter the gathering forces there and destroy the railroads in the city, giving him time to turn on Pemberton.

He had McClernand fake a frontal attack while McPherson and Sherman moved on Jackson. Then McClernand retired on Raymond to obstruct any move by Pemberton. This gave Pemberton a chance to fall on McClernand with odds, but the chance was missed, and even so the difficult terrain would have worked in the Union’s favor. Grant now had his army between Pemberton ,and Joe Johnston, who had just been given command the day before Sherman and McPherson took Jackson. The reinforcements who would have at least doubled the size of the Jackson force retired to the east and south, while Johnston fell back to the north.  Sherman’s Corps destroyed the industry and railroads around the city, while McPherson joined McClernand facing Pemberton. The chance to catch Grant at a disadvantage was over.

Before leaving Jackson, General Johnston had ordered Pemberton to strike the force threatening Jackson from the west – this would have been McPherson at the time. If only the one corps was involved, this might have been a good enough idea, but Johnston had lost track of the other two corps  Even at the time the order was issued, Pemberton would have had to fight McClernand as he advanced.  And by the time he got the order, Johnston and all the forces were in full retreat in all directions, and Pemberton was moving alone into a trap.

And Grant knew it, because one of the three couriers delivering the order to Pemberton was a Union spy, who gave it to the Union army even before it got to its intended recipient.  Grant was overmatching Pemberton even before he knew what orders he was following – in the battle of Champion Hill to come he held all the cards and he knew it.

Quick Reading Update

A quick reading update – I seem to be just starting or in the middle of a lot of books now

A Ship To Remember

This is a book about the Maine, the battleship whose sinking in the harbor of Havana triggered the Spanish-American War.  I’m just getting into this book, and the scene is just getting set. There’s tension between the US and Spain over Cuba, and so far the author is not really taking sides between the rebels and Spain over the various claims of atrocities, and I suppose it’s not really germane.  At this point the Maine is there, tensions are seeming to ease, and ….

Neptune’s Inferno

Another Navy book!  The campaign around Guadalcanal is still touch and go, but the US managed to spank the overconfident Japanese in a night battle off Cape Esperance.  This seemed to be a victory, but later unopposed Japanese shelling of the Marines led to heavy damage and calls for more naval help. Admiral Gormley was relieved, and Bull Halsey put in his place. Stung by accusations that the Navy has left the Marines in the lurch, Halsey commits his forces forward just as the Japanese sail to finish the job they started before. A major naval battle, Santa Cruz, is about to start.

Barbarossa Derailed

A few weeks have passed, and the Germans are trying to clear the flanks in the Smolensk area in preparation for a move – South to Kiev or East to Moscow?  The Soviets are attempting another offensive as well, but are hindered by their lack of skill and equipment.

KINdle report – E. E. “Doc” Smith

The science fiction megabook is now going through some Doc Smith novels. These read well, and are interesting enough although I’m not a big believer in the ‘rule by the mental powered elite’ that so far was the major thrust of all the books. The guy who can throw mental bolt X wins busty lady who can only throw x-1 and their buddies all pair up and live happily ever after, as they form a pan-galactic empire of the mentalists.  Balancing this, however, is the total lack of elite ‘snobbery’ by the actual characters.

His ‘lensman’ series has a similar theme, but at least the lens thingy that gave the oomph also kept it from working if you were a jerk, so they were the galactic cops.

In the latest book (Galaxy Masters?), the Earth explorer ship stumbles on a planet of androids who claim the earthers are their masters and now will be served by the robots. Oh, and also there’s an evil race out there to fight. So the humans are trying to learn – yes – mental powers to fight back, and teach the robots not to be slaves, and also pairing up and forming little families all at the same time. Lots of pairing up and marrying in these 1930s sci-fi classics. It looks like they hadn’t given up on the ladies yet.

Welcome ‘the wuc’

Aside

‘the wuc’ liked my Port Gibson post yesterday, which was a first.  Even my almost famous post on Dredd Scott didn’t get a ‘like’.  I did go and look at her site for a bit the other day, and it was interesting if not topically similar to mine.  But liking is liking.

The Battle of Port Gibson

I’ve gotten a little farther in Bearss’ Volume II of the Vicksburg Campaign. Finally, after months of feints and attempts to get around the city, Grant is putting into action his plan to get his army up onto the level ground behind the city, where he will not have to face the bluffs, swamps, and fortifications as well as Pemberton’s army.

While Pemberton was occupied trying to clutch after Grierson’s cavalry, who were riding across the bottom right of the map at this same time, Grant was moving his army south, where the navy ships that ran the batteries could transport them over.  The first thought was to take Grand Gulf, the red circled area in the lower left. It turned out this was too well fortified to take, so the outflanking operation had to move even farther south, to Bruinsburg.

Pemberton didn’t profit from the warning, and when Grant pushed inland only a small force from Grand Gulf was available to stop him. They met outside of Port Gibson.

The country outside of Vicksburg is very odd. The ground is made of a material called loess, that holds its structure well against gravity but erodes quickly. So the streams in the area cut deep gorges into the soil with incredibly steep sides. I’ve seen these in person, and one gorge between the Union and Confederate lines seemed to be as deep as it was wide. These gorges usually fill up with tangled vegetation making it very hard to operate off the ridges between streams, which is where the roads are.

So a small force can block a road against a larger force pretty well, but if all the roads are not blocked going cross-country to follow the enemy using the road might be impossible. The Rebel force managed to get across the two roads the two Union corps were using, and it took all day to wear them out and open up the road again. But because of the problems in blocking alternate routes, it was felt that the force had to retire back to Grand Gulf, destroying the bridges over the Bayou Pierre to slow down Grant.

Grant soon found a way across, and Grand Gulf was threatened from the rear. The post was abandoned, and the defenders retired across the next river line, the Big Black. This meant they were safe for the moment, but now Grant had a decent supply base on the River at Grand Gulf, and an open field ahead of him. What to do next?

The map shows Grant’s decision — to quickly move to separate the defenders of Vicksburg from possible reinforcements by taking Jackson and destroying the railroads. With the two sides based in opposite directions, and he in the middle, he should have the upper had for as long as he could keep the initiative.

Why Did Rome Fall?

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In 395 AD, after the battle of the Frigidus River, Theodosius was emperor over a united Roman Empire. Its extent was virtually the same as it was at the time of Trajan, the golden age  But less than a century later, a Germanic officer sent the regalia of the Western Emperor back to the East, saying that it was no longer required.

What had gone wrong?

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