Vicksburg Was Grant’s Proving Ground.

by Daniel Russ on May 26, 2013

The Caves Of Vicksburg

Ulysses S. Grant was making great progress against the Confederate forces in the west. Knowing he outnumbered the Confederates he was willing to allow battles to grind out and produce casualties. Prevailing at Port Gibson, and Champion Hill, the Union Army showed an unusual tenacity and willingness to pursue defeated troops. It was this primacy on the battlefield that eventually earned Grant the command of the Army of the Potomac. Effete and aloof George McClellan couldn’t win despite the size of the Army he commanded, which left Lincoln with little choice but to look for a replacement.



Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton lost Jackson, Mississippi and was left with few choices as well. He deployed his 33,000 Confederates westward towards the Mississippi. Pemberton also knew that General Sherman was lurking north of his lines and could easily outflank him. Pemberton was not a southerner by birth but he was a proud Confederate and felt that divesting Vicksburg, the last Confederate redoubt on the Mississippi would be to sever effective ties with one third of the rebel army. The area west of Vicksburg , the Transmissisippi held not only troops, but other resources that the South desperately needed to continue to wage war.


Confederate President Jefferson Davis implored Pemberton to hold Vicksburg at all costs. Militarily, Pemberton felt it was not really a worthy target to defend. The South was going to lose control of the port anyway. Perhaps it would have been more practicable to keep the 33,000-man army nimble and maneuverable. Perhaps after considering the divestiture of Vicksburg would  get him fired, he instead chose instead to disengage, build defensive earthworks around the city and make a stand. He torched the Big Black River Bridge and purloined anything that could be eaten or used by the Yankees on his way to Vicksburg.


Grant wanted to pursue Pemberton with as much speed as possible. He had 77,000 men but not all of them were on hand. Many were still packing out of the last bivouac and trickling into Vicksburg. So the race was on, and it was an overcast day, May 19th, 1863 when the available troops made frontal assaults on the Confederate lines that were easily repulsed by blooded infantry and canons. They repulsed another Union onslaught on the 22nd.  Grant decided not to try and outmaneuver a cornered opponent, rather to lay siege to Vicksburg, to shell it into submission. Firing canons from outside the defensive lines in the rolling hills to the east, and from gun boats now free to patrol the waters to the west, poured fire into the town 150 years ago.



With massive reinforcements trickling in, Grant was assuaged that the natural defensive landscape around Vicksburg wouldn’t matter at the end of the day. The Army of Tennessee had encircled Vicksburg and they would eventually run out of food and medicine.


Vicksburg was one of the more metropolitan towns in the country at the outset of hostilities. The hills overlooking the ports on the Wazoo were filled with huge homes of the Colonial Williamsburg style, and others reprised the French Provincial architecture redolent of the first French traders through the Mississippi. There were two story brick Georgians and warehouses around to store tobacco, and timber and other goods that moved robustly up and down the busy Mississippi. Parties hosting bands in magnificently appointed ballrooms filled the weekend evenings with music and laughter. Lanterns reflected off the calm river waters and horse drawn carriage made languid lops around city roads in the heat of the Summer. Rich southern families occupied the hills and slaves occupied the quarters built behind their homes. Now, 33,000 new people had showed up suddenly and they all had to be fed along with the population.


The 18 Pounder Parrot Rifle “The Whistling Dick”



Caves were dug into hills that faced no Union bombardment, and people poured into them. These make shift bomb shelters were a humiliating demotion for the upper crust women who weeks previously dined on crumpets and tea in their parlors festooned with fresh cut flowers and lace. Slaves and servants saw themselves now on equal ground with those that have purview over them. The shelling itself was terrifying in its sound, and in its random lethality. Air-burst shells sent people running into make shift claustrophobic caves. The rugs and blankets and lanterns were bereft of the real comforts these citizens were used to. The Union Navy alone fired 22,000 shells into the city during its 47 day siege. The Army fired probably as many.


The shelling of the city was not to kill people, believe it or not. It was meant to force the Confederate commander to see the tribulations he was making the citizens suffer. It was a guilt trip. It worked.


ON July 3rd, Pemberton sent a note to Grant asking for terms. Grant decided that he did not want to bog his army down by taking the 33,000 Confederates prisoner. It would be an operose task moving and feeding them northwards. Instead, imprecated by their humiliating loss, Grant assumed they would not take up arms again. Many of them did indeed fight until the war was over. He took their guns and canons and let them have their horses and otherwise paroled them.The city had suffered over 3,000 casualties and 29,000 Confederates, starved and ragged with disease, surrendered. The Union suffered under 6,000 casualties.  Grant was a man with some degree of compassion. Like, Lincoln, he just wanted the war to end. Now that Lincoln had found his commander it would in deed, though not soon enough.’


Sources: Wiki




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