A Union Victory Perhaps Greater But Less Celebrated Than Gettysburg


US Grant and his Army Celebrated Independence Day in Vicksburg While the Rest of the Nation Was Fixated on Gettysburg

Greatness of Grant Often Obscured by History

On this date in History:  General Ulysses S. Grant had to battle more than the Confederate Army in his rise through the ranks of the Union Army; a rise that would see him gain a rank not seen since George Washington and would culminate in his election as the 18th President of the United States.   His chief adversary was his superior officer, General Henry W. Halleck.  In an ironic twist, Halleck indirectly aided Grant in his rise to prominence when he rescued William T. Sherman from obscurity.  Not long after the outbreak of the Civil War, Sherman briefly had been in command of what would become the Army of the Ohio in Louisville when he was ousted following, among other things, claims that he was unstable or “crazy.”  Halleck took Sherman on his staff in St. Louis to give him time to settle down.  Sherman did and went on to be US Grant’s right hand man and most dependable officer.  But Halleck, in general, did not care for Grant.  After Grant rose to national prominence following his victories at Ft. Henry and  Ft. Donelson , Halleck relieved Grant from command for supposed insubordination.  When the officer chosen to replace him fell ill, Grant was reinstated.  Following Grant’s bloody victory at Shiloh, Halleck appeared on the scene and took charge, leaving Grant without any command at all.  Grant nearly resigned but his friend Sherman talked him out of it.  Following a slow and deliberate assault on Corinth, MS Halleck was called to Washington on July 11, 1862 to assume overall command of the Union Army.  Halleck’s rise was more fortunate for Grant than Halleck.

Henry Halleck Didn't Think Much of US Grant

With Halleck out of the way, Grant gained command of the Union Army in the West.  Grant had valuable support from several members of Congress and, more importantly, from President Abraham Lincoln.  When Lincoln was urged to fire US Grant due to charges of Grant’s drunkeness, careless and bold style or typically large casualty figures, Lincoln said of Grant, “I can’t spare this man.  He fights.”  Grant knew that with that kind of support, his career was tied to the fortune of the president.  It was imperitive to Grant that Lincoln be re-elected.  He knew that his own future was at stake but also he thought that only with Lincoln as president could the Union secure an ultimate victory.  So, this fighting general was well aware that the public was growing restless with the length of the war and the few successes of the Union Army against the Confederates.  So, he took bold action.

Admiral Porter Was Confident In His Gunboats

His target was Vicksburg, MS which stood high on bluffs over looking the Mississippi River.  The Union controlled the river to Memphis and also controlled the mouth at New Orleans.  If he could gain control of Vicksburg, the Union would gain control of the entire river and effectively divide the Confederacy in two and deny vital supplies from the Western part of the rebellious states.  Also, such a victory would help the voters gain confidence in the President.  The trouble was that Vicksburg had the river to the west, friendly territory to the South and East and to the North there was a big swampy area that was very difficult to navigate.  After failed attempts to attack from the North, Grant decided that he would take his troops, cross the Mississippi, move down the river on the Louisiana side and then recross the river south of Vicksburg.  Sherman advised against it.

Union Ironclad Carondelet Ran the Mississippi Gauntlet

The scheme would require the Union Navy to run the gauntlet of Vicksburg cannon in order to move down the river and facilitate a recrossing of the river.  Also, Grant would be cutting off his supply and communication lines and be putting his army in enemy terrritory.  To conclude his plan, he had to move North to Vicksburg and attack from the East, which would put his army between Gen. John C. Pemberton’s army at Vicksburg and Joseph E. Johnston’s Army at Jackson, MS.  Talk about high risk, high reward.  But, Grant did it anyway.  Rear Admiral David D. Porter of the Union Navy successfully moved down the river past Vicksburg and transported Grant’s men across the river.  Grant had his men take only the essential supplies, though he was able to create a  very long line of supply. He wanted his force to be able to move quickly.  Henry Halleck ordered Grant to wait for General Nathaniel P.  Banks to reinforce him from New Orleans before he moved to Vicksburg.  But, Grant knew that Banks was slow and in order for his plan to work, he had to move fast.  With his communications relegated to a circuitous route, it took a very long time for Halleck’s orders to reach Grant.  When they did, Grant told the courier that the orders were too late, that he as already moving.  So, now if Grant failed, he faced a potential court martial. 

Grant Took A Long Route to Get to Vicksburg

He took his men northeast and he had Sherman attack Jackson from the Northwest in order  to tie up Johnston.  Grant then turned East on the road between Jackson and Vicksburg and began his assault.  Pemberton had been ordered by Johnston to come out of Vicksburg and meet Grant before he could lay seige to the city.  Grant’s forces met Pemberton’s at Champions Hill on May 16, 1863.  The victory of the Union Army over the Confederates at the Battle of  Champions Hill is considered by many historians as the most important battle of the war.  Pemberton was forced back into Vicksburg and Grant was able to surround the city as Sherman continued to prevent Johnston from attacking Grant from the rear.   For the rest of May and into part of June, Grant attempted to break through the formidable defenses around Vicksburg but failed.  So, he lay seige to the city.  We have a glimpse of what it was like to be in the Union Army  leading up to and the actual siege to Vicksburg  from the diary entries of Union soldier Osborn H. Oldroyd.  We also know what it was like ot be inside Vicksburg.   Without supply or relief of any kind, it is said that the siege of Vicksburg resulted in the citizenry tunnelling into the ground for shelter, not only living like rats but in some cases actually eating rats.  In the early July heat of Mississippi, Pemberton knew that he would not receive any help and that his last stand was over.

Grant Was Never Able to Break Vicksburg's Formidable Defenses

Keep in mind, that at this time, the public’s attention was focused on the battle raging on at Gettysburg.  Robert E. Lee had managed to move north of Washington DC and there was great fear that his seemingly invincible army might be in a position to sack the nation’s capital.  So, while all eyes were on Gettysburg, PA at 10 AM on this date in 1863 John C. Pemberton raised white flags around the city of Vicksburg and sent a message to Major General Ulysses S. Grant asking for terms of surrender.    He proposed that, in order to “save the further effusion of blood”  a committee of three commissioners of each side should meet and negotiate terms.   Characteristically, Grant replied, ” The useless effusion of blood you propose stopping by this course can be ended at any time you may choose, by the unconditional surrender of the city and garrison.”    Grant concluded his response with, “”I do not favor the proposition of appointing commissioners to arrange terms of capitulation, because I have no terms other than those indicated above.” 

Vicksburg Lay In Ruins After the Siege and Provided 172 Artillery Pieces For the Union

On Independence Day of 1863, the nation celebrated the bloody three day victory of General George Meade over the Confederate Forces of Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  No doubt the victory at Gettysburg was a key turn of events for the Union but George Meade’s failure to follow Lee after the victory was criticized.  On that very same day, John C. Pemberton surrendered his forces to those of Ulysses S. Grant.  The terms: unconditional.  However, given that Grant was not able to handle so many prisoners, he did allow for a parole of all soldiers and the officers could keep their horse, private belongings and private sidearms.  This was a fairly common practice and it was supposed that the paroled soldiers would not return to fight another day, though some undoubtedly did so.  Many others though had an honorable excuse to avoid fighting any further in the bloody conflict. Grant had suffered 9, 362 casualties, or more than he lost at Shiloh.  Pemberton’s casualties totaled around 8,000 but he surrendered 29, 491 men and their 172 cannon and howitzers.  The war continued for two more years but, the clock was ticking on the Confederacy.  Not so much because of Robert E. Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg, but because of the strategic victory of Ulysses S. Grant at Vicksburg.  On July 4, 1863, the Union Army and US Grant celebrated Independence Day.   The people of Vicksburg did not celebrate the fourth of July for 100 years.

Weather Bottom Line:  The heat and humidity have returned right on schedule and I have no idea when we will get another break.  Look for highs in the low to mid 90′s and overnight lows in the mid to maybe upper 70′s.  Humidity is back to the uncomfortable range and I see no rain in the offing for the forseeable future.

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