April’s Fools day 1863 marked a new beginning for the American Civil War. The first real draft in American history went into effect in the North, and all males between 20 and 45 years of age were required to register. However, you could buy an exemption from the draft for $300 ($6,162.00 in 2007 dollars), or pay someone to serve for you. In July this would lead to riots in New York City that would only be brought under control with Federal troops fresh from the Gettysburg battlefield who fired on the rioters.
Union gunboats are trying to approach Vicksburg from the North by re-opening an old connecting bayou of the Mississippi River called the Yazoo Pass, just below Memphis, Tennessee. The Yazoo Pass connects with the Coldwater River, which crosses the Mississippi border and then flows into the Tallahatchie River which becomes the Yallabusha River before finally entering the Yazoo River, which rejoins the Mississippi just above Vicksburg. This roundabout approach promised to outflank Confederate defense at Haynes Bluff, Northern shoulder of the Vicksburg bluffs. But at Greenwood, Mississippi the Rebels constructed "Fort Pemberton" with 8 heavy guns behind seven tiers of cotton bales and 8 feet of earth. They also sunk the “Star of the West” steamboat to block the channel. This day Federal gunboats wedged their way up to the fort, single file, to open fire, and troops are landed to attack the fort directly. But the fort resists the bombardment and the troops and gunboats have to withdraw after nightfall.
THURSDAY APRIL 2, 1863
Several thousand women in the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia marched to the Capital Square chanting “Bread! Bread!” and begin to systematically loot groceries and dry goods stores. They seem to have been inspired by a March 18 incident when the wives of 50 to 75 Confederate soldiers invaded a grocery in Salisbury, North Carolina and liberated 23 barrels of flour, some molasses and salt – and $20 in cash. Over the previous two years the price of wheat had tripled and milk and butter had risen to four times their prewar prices (in the by then almost worthless Confederate currency). After pleading with the mob to disperse Confederate President Jefferson Davis had to dodge a loaf of bread thrown at him. He then took out his pocket watch and announced that in five minutes he would order the militia to open fire. Before the willingness of the militia to shoot down hungry women was tested, the crowd dispersed. Several people were brought to trial, including the imposing 6’ tall Minerva Meredith, a 40 year old butcher’s apprentice who was charged as “one of the ringleaders.” Minerva was sentenced to six months in jail and fined $100. Later there were similar food “riots” in Macon, Savanna and Atlanta, Georgia.
Union troops of General McClernand’s corps began a slow advance down the West Bank of the Mississippi River, facing minor resistance from Rebel soldiers under Col. Francis Cockerell. McClerand’s men are corduroying the road as they advanced. The process involves felling trees, splitting the logs and laying them across the road. It promised to provide a usable surface for a limited time, but one that would never stand up to the pounding from the torrent of wagons needed to supply sustained combat operations.
FRIDAY APRIL 3, 1863
Federal gunboats again shell Fort Pemberton, again to no effect.
SATURDAY APRIL 4, 1863
General U. S. Grant sends a telegram to Washington notifying them of his plan to move his entire army south of Vicksburg via a circuitous route through the interconnecting bayous on the West bank of the Mississippi (just pioneered by General Osterhaus and 54 men) down to Grand Gulf, Louisiana.
SUNDAY APRIL 5, 1863
The Yazoo Pass expedition has to admit failure and withdraws back to Memphis and the Mississippi.
WEDNESDAY APRIL 8, 1863
General Bowen, the confederate commander at Grand Gulf (and Col. Cockerell’s superior) sends a telegram to General Pemberton in Vicksburg, suggesting that more troops be sent to support Col. Cockerell on the Arkansas shore and slow the Federal advance still further. Pemberton replies that in his view the Federal advance on the far shore is not a real threat, and besides, any troops sent across the Mississippi risk being cut off by Federal warships prowling stream.
FRIDAY APRIL 10, 1863
Union General William Tecumseh Sherman writes his brother that he has men working at night on emplacing a “secret artillery battery” within range of the Northern Vicksburg , but adds that a Confederate Major Watts, who had come through the lines to discuss a prisoner exchange, asked if the guns could hold off firing for the night so a party he was hosting would not be disturbed. Sherman does not know Grant’s plans in detail yet, (and Grant is not sharing them!) but Sherman has little faith in what he does know of those plans.
SUNDAY APRIL 12, 1863
Nathaniel Banks, a “political general”, one time Speaker of the House (elected in the longest contested contest in congressional history Dec. 1, 1855 – Feb. 2, 1856), and one time governor of Massachusetts (1858 – 1860), and now a General of Volunteers, who has raised his own 30,000 man corps in New England, has replaced General Butler in command at New Orleans. And he now begins operations out of New Orleans in support of Grant. His first move is to send a division up the Teche Bayou and the lower Atchafalaya River. His object is to cut the Red River supply line for Port Hudson, which ran down Teche Bayou. The Rebel commander, Brig. Gen. Richard Taylor, from his position at Fort Bisland on Bayou Teche, sent out cavalry to his front and skirmishers to his rear upon hearing of a possible landing North of the community of Franklin, Louisiana. In the afternoon Union troops formed a battle line outside of the Fort. An artillery exchange continued until nightfall, when the Union troops withdrew.
MONDAY APRIL 13, 1863
The artillery barrage on Fort Bisland begins again about 9AM and just after 11AM Union troops begin their assault on the Fort. The fight continues throughout the day. But, as evening approaches, Taylor gets word that Union troops had indeed landed and are moving on Franklin, in his rear. If the town falls he will be cut off. Taylor immediately evacuates his men and supplies.
TUESDAY APRIL 14, 1863
Union troops enter the empty Fort Bisland at 7AM and raise the American flag.
Led by Admiral Farragut himself, three Union gunboats make the run past the Rebel high ground at Port Hudson. Two, the USS Hartford and USS Albatross, get through while a third ship is disabled and sunk.
WEDNESDAY APRIL 15, 1863
Just after 4AM Col. Cockrell, on the Louisiana side of the Mississippi, sends the First Missouri infantry through the waist deep waters of Mill Bayou to attack the Second Illinois Cavalry encamped at Dunbar’s Plantation. The Missourians drive in the pickets and force the Union troopers to fall back. But Federal reinforcements quickly come up and then the Rebels are forced to retreat. The strength of the Union response surprises Cockrell and he alerts General Bowen at Grand Gulf. But Bowen decides to downplay the results, telling General Pemberton only that Cockrell had killed 2 Union troopers and captured 4 others, along with freeing captive women & children and “100 negroes”. Given that the released captives had to be dragged through a waist deep swamp, the claim of a hundred slaves returned to servitude seems a bit grandiose.
THURSDAY APRIL 16, 1863
General Grant orders Gen. Sherman to make one more demonstration against Steele’s Bayou up the Yazoo, and to then move his corps down the river to Carthage.
At a quarter past nine in the evening eight Federal gunboats and three troop transports attempt to slip past the Rebel cannon atop the Vicksburg bluffs. Prepared for the attempt, as it is a moonless night, the Confederate troops have set fire to cotton bales soaked in turpentine along the shore, to illuminate the night. The Union ships are hit repeatedly, and one is sunk. But all the others make the run successfully, and below Vicksburg they make contact with the Union troops moving on Carthage, Louisiana.
General Bowen crosses the Mississippi to inspect Col. Cockrell’s position He tells Pemberton, in a telegram, that he could reinforce Cockrell or, if Pemberton insists, pull him back to Grand Gulf.
Major General Cal Stevenson, who commands a 10,000 man divison at Vicksburg, writes that Pemberton’s commander of artillery has heard reports that the Union transports are being sent South of Vicksburg in order to move troops up Bayou Pierre, from where they could assault Grand Gulf from the rear, and urges defenses in that area be made stronger.
Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson and 1,700 troopers of the 6th and 7th Illinois and the 2nd Iowa cavalry move out from La Grange, Tennessee, headed south.
General Pemberton now has about 40,000 men available, but they are scattered all over the state of Mississippi. He feels the need to consolidate. He orders General Bowen to bring Col Cockrell’s men back to Grand Gulf, and dispatches him an additional infantry brigade and a battery of artillery. Clearly he suspects things are about to heat up South of Vicksburg. Maybe.
SATURDAY APRIL 18, 1863
Grierson’s troopers reach New Albany, Mississippi, 30 miles from La Grange.
SUNDAY APRIL 19, 1863
With the USS Hartford and USS Albatross having driven up the river past the batteries at Port Hudson, Admiral Porter sends the USS Switzerland and Lancaster down stream past the batteries at Vicksburg. As expected they come under heavy fire and the Lancaster is blown up. But the Switzerland makes it and joins the growing fleet of warships below Vicksburg.
The Chicago Times publishes an account of “a powerful battery” which it says “…is being erected on the extreme point of the main levee opposite the lower part of the city of Vicksburg…” claiming it will mount “…the heaviest Parrott guns in the department…With these guns it will be possible to destroy…the whole city.” Confederate intelligence agents are certain to read this account.
MONDAY APRIL 20, 1863
The 2nd Iowa cavalry swing west to hit the Mobile & Ohio railroad, and then headed back to La Grange, hoping the rebels will think the entire command has gone with them. They have not. But, the Confederacy started the war with just 9,000 miles of railroad track and failed to produce a single iron rail during the entire war, which means that every 39 foot length of iron that Greirson’s men twist can not be replaced. And, amazingly, the Confederate government persists in melting existing rails into cannon and ironclad warships, instead of cannibalizing them for repairing vital lines like the Central Mississippi line through Jackson. In fact Rebel raiders such as Bedford Forrest in Mississippi and John Hunt Morgan in Virginia, for all their generated headlines and romantic tales of bravery, have less of an impact on the war than Greirson does on this single raid. Rebel raiders could inconvenience Federal armies, even force them to retreat for a time, while Grierson, if unmolested, could force the surrender of Vicksburg. Pemberton has to respond to the raid with all the force he can muster.
Union gunboats bombard the forts around Grand Gulf. Admiral Porter receives a minor head wound.
TUESDAY APRIL 21, 1863
Col. Grierson and his remaining 950 troopers occupy Starkville, Mississippi.
WEDNESDAY APRIL 22, 1863
Six more transports and barges, carrying supplies, race past the Vicksbug bluffs under cover of darkness. They suffer heavy losses from rebel artillery but re-supply the Union troops gathering at New Carthage.
THURSDAY APRIL 23, 1863
Grierson's Cavalry raid is a thorn in General Pemberton's side. Pemberton scatters his men by sending them to block every road and trying to protect every vulnerable point. But Col. Greirson has left the roads and is cutting through a swamp, destroying a tannery and shoe factory as his men pass, before striking his main target, the railroad at Newton Station, 75 miles due West of Jackson, Mississippi. Two locomotives (irreplaceable!) are blown up, and 25 freight cars (irreplaceable!) filled with supplies are burned, as is a bridge, and extensive track is destroyed. By 2pm the raiders have moved on to Garlandville, where they fight a brief skirmish with militia. They camp that night on a plantation, 50 miles South of Newton Station.
FRIDAY APRIL 24, 1863
Grierson rests his men and horses for the day.
Up the Black Bayou, North of Vicksburg, troops from Sherman’s corps exchange shots with Confederate infantry.
Unerved by Grierson's raid and by Sherman's movements at Black Bayou, Pemberton hedges his bets and orders the withdraw of 1,000 men from Grand Gulf and sends them North of Vicksburg in case Sherman is serious about a new assault on Haynes Bluff and Black Bayou. (A century later Eisenhower will make this same bluff, by using a threat of George Patton to paralyze German forces in Norther n France and prevent them from reinforcing the invasion beaches.)
SUNDAY APRIL 26, 1863
Federal gunboats make another attack on the Grand Gulf batteries, under cover of which the empty transports run past the batteries. Grant now has 10,000 men and ships enough to move them across the river beyond the last Confederate fortifications south of Vicksburg, and orders his men to push further South to the village of Hard Times Landing.
Col. Grierson’s raiders cross the Leaf River and move on to Raleigh.
William T. Sherman writes his brother back in Ohio, “Tomorrow I start my corps to bring up the rear of the movement against Grand Gulf,...I feel in its success less confidence than in any similar undertaking of the war, but it is my duty to co-operate with zeal… Sixty thousand men will thus be on a single road, narrow, crooked, and liable to become a quagmire on the occurrence of a single rain. We carry ten days ration with us…Now if we can sustain the army it may do, but I know the materials or food, forage or ammunition cannot be conveyed on that single precarious road.”
MONDAY APRIL 27, 1863
Grierson’s raiders seize the ferry over the Pearl River (which was destroyed after his men had crossed) and burn more freight cars.
TUESDAY APRIL 28, 1863
Grierson’s men halt 2 miles East of the village of Union Church, where they are stumbled upon by two companies of Mississippi cavalry out of Grand Gulf under Col. W.W. Adams. The Union troopers are as surprised by the contact as the Rebels, but quickly regain their compsure and drive them off. Grierson’s men camp that night in Union Church.
WEDNESDAY APRIL 29, 1863
At 8AM Admiral Porter’s River Squadron launches yet another assault against Grand Gulf, but by 1;30PM it is evident that the Rebel batteries will never be silenced from the river. This makes a landing at Grand Gulf impossible. It appears that Grant’s entire movement to the south is, as Sherman suspected, a disaster. But at Grand Gulf, Bowen is not as certain as Sherman. He has just 5,000 men, to Grant’s estimated 10,000 just across the river. He sees a danger of Federal landings everywhere. He even dispatches men further down the river, including 500 men to cover the road from Bruinsburg to Port Gibson.
At 9AM Union gunboats open fire on Snyder’s Bluff, up the Yazoo River North of Vicksburg, to cover a landing about 6pm of an Infantry division under Major Francis Blair, of General Sherman’s corps. Confederate batteries return fire and hit the Union ships a number of times. After dark Blair’s troops are re-embarked.
That night, more empty Federal transports and gunboats run past the Rebel Guns at Grand Gulf.
THURDAY APRIL 30, 1863
Grierson turns south, slipping out of an ambush prepared by the Mississippi Cavalry. He routes 500 militia at Brookhaven, 60 miles due South of Jackson, Mississippi, and burns another 15 freight cars at Bogue Chitto Station, and 25 more at the village of Summit.
In the morning Blair’s division of Union troops are landed at Drumbold’s Bluff North of Vicksburg and about 3PM the gunboats again open fire on Confederate batteries on the heights. The firing continues until after dark, when the Union troops again withdraw.
At noon Grant begins crossing to the East bank of the Mississippi, landing 20,000 men at Bruinsburg, below Bayou Pierre. The advance parties begin to march on Port Gibson even before most of the men are ashore. Now, at last, Grant is on the same side of the river as Pemberton, and can come to grips with him. Vicksburg is doomed.