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Actions prior to Grant's landing before the siege of Vicksburg

This paqe is about the Battle of Vicksburg (where all references live) during the American Civil War. This material is on early military actions before Ulysses S. Grant's landing to begin army actions before the siege of Vicksburg.

Grant's plans to get his troops south & west of Vicksburg's bluff

General U.S. Grant's risky plan was to thus march his army west and south of the fortified cliff of Vicksburg, cross the river, and assault Vicksburg from behind. While he could march troops well west of the west-facing fortified bluff, getting his boats below to ferry them across the mile-wide river required running the bluff, a task that fell to Admiral David Dixon Porter. While neither was under the command of the other, Porter accepted the assignment.

On March 29, Grant's arch-enemy in the Union army, the over-ambitious General John A. McClernand, set his troops to work corduroying roads and making bridges. They filled in the swamps in their way as well, and after but weeks had a 70-mile road from Milliken's Bend to Hard Times below Vicksburg. It wasn't the best, but sufficed to march troops. Now it was Porter's turn.

The Union Navy runs the bluff

Porter knew that he may be able to get south of the bluff, as it had been run before, but his low-powered craft would never be able to make it upriver again until the bluff had been reduced. Thus he would be crossing the Rubicon -- no going back.

On April 16, 1863, a clear night with no moon, Porter sent seven gunboats loaded with seventy-nine big guns and three empty troop transports loaded with stores to the run the bluff. Boat furnaces were hidden; all lights were out; the boats sailed slow to mask noise; there were no animals.

To no avail. Confederate sentries sighted the boats and the bluff exploded. The Union gunboats answered back. Porter noted the Confederates mainly hit the high parts of his boats, reasoned that they couldn't depress their guns, and had them hug the east shore, right under Confederate cannon, so close he could hear rebel commanders giving orders, shells flying overhead. The fleet survived with suprisingly little damage, and only thirteen men had been wounded; none killed. The Henry Clay was disabled and burned to the water's edge, the crew deserting. On April 22, six boats loaded with supplies made the run; one did not make it, though no one was killed, the crew having floated downstream on the boat's remnants.

Grant's big riverboat gamble succeeded. Now the Union had to confuse the Confederates as to their intentions and prevent their opposing Grant's landing.

Union efforts to confuse the Confederates before the assault

Haine's bluff

On April 30, General Sherman with ten regiments and what of the navy Porter had not sent below Vicksburg's bluff took off up the Yazoo River for Haines Bluff losing little (for the Civil War), but gaining nothing. This feint was to keep a substantial portion of the Vicksburg garrison north of the Union main effort to the south. This an other feints were, in Shelby Foote's words to "confuse and distract" the Confederates prior to Grant's crucial landing.

Grierson's raid

The big feint however, the one that most threw the Confederates off balance, was Grierson's Raid. In this discussion it will be summarized. It ran from April 17, to May 2, 1863. Confederate cavalry commanders such as Nathan Bedford Forrest, John Hunt Morgan and J.E.B. Stuart had so far rode circles around the Union (literally, in Stuart's case; see the Seven Days Campaign), and it was time to out-do the Confederates in cavalry expeditions, and the task fell to Colonel Benjamin Grierson, who, oddly, hated horses.

Grierson's raid from southern Tennessee, through the state of Mississippi and to Union-held Baton Rouge, Louisiana, entered the realm of legend, later inspiring an historically inaccurate John Wayne movie titled The Horse Soldiers.

Grierson and his 1,700 horse troopers rode through over six hundred miles of hostile territory, over routes no Union soldier had traveled before. He tore up railroads and burned crossties, freed slaves, burned Confederate storehouses, inflicted ten times the casualties he received, destroyed locomotives and commissary stores, ripped up bridges and trestles, burned buildings, all while detachments of his troops made feints confusing the Confederates as to his actual whereabouts and direction.

Vicksburg's general Pemberton was short on cavalry and could do nothing to Grierson, and an entire division of Pemberton's graybacks were tied up defending the Vicksburg -- Jackson railroad from the slippery Grierson, and consequently did nothing to stop Grant's landing. The premier Confederate cavalry commander, Nathan Bedford Forrest, was off chasing another Union raider named Abel Streight in Alabama, and did nothing to stop Grierson.

While Streight's raid failed, occupying the deadly Forrest perhaps sealed the success of Grierson's Raid. Of course every Confederate in the state -- save perhaps Forrest -- was hot in Grierson's trail. All they gained was mass confusion. Grierson and his troopers ultimately pulled in to Baton Rouge; combined with Sherman's feint, the befuddled Confederates did not oppose Grant's landing on the east side of the Mississippi.

Cold feet for the Union

General Grant did not even know what Grierson was doing. Porter had grown increasingly doubtful of this dangerous plan of Grant's, firing notes to his Washington superiors to absolve himself in the expected debacle; an April 29 attempt to land at the 75-foot Confederate-held bluff of Grand Gulf was a dismal failure, leading to 18 (or 19 -- U.S. Grant, Personal Memoirs) Union dead of seventy-five casualties.

Grant finds where to land his troops

Grant needed information -- where to land? Slaves seldom felt sympathy for the Confederacy, and in the evening of April 29, a slave gave Grant what he needed. An east-bank slave was brought -- at gunpoint -- to Grant's headquarters tent, where as Shelby Foote described it, he "turned co-operative." Foote partially described it thus (Fredericksburg to Meridian, pg. 343):

"Look here," Grant said. "Tell me where this road leads to -- starting where you see my finger here on the map and running down that way," The Negro studied the problem, then shook his head. "That road fetches up at Bayou Pierre," he said. "But you can't go that way, 'cause it's plum full of backwater."

More questions ensued, the slave pointed to Bruinsburg, Mississippi on the map, where there was a good road, well away from trackless swamps. This was one of many important services a slave or contraband (Civil War terminology) did the Union army; this subject is large and subject to much scholarship. Grant may have been lukewarm on the issue of slavery, but he knew a freed slave was one less soldier in the rebel army. This one gave him his landing point.

Grant does not tell the whole story as Foote does, only saying in his work Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, ch. 33,

... that night a colored man came in who informed me that a good landing would be found at Bruinsburg, ... The information was found to be correct, and our landing was affected without opposition, ...