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.The Eternal American Battle - Humans V Money

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Monday, May 12, 2008

SUNDAY MAY 17, 1863

As Pemberton’s battered men march through the night, they number less than 10,000: exhausted, defeated and mishandled. By now Pemberton is aware that he cannot stop at the Big Black, but must reach the safety of the Vicksburg entrenchments. He leaves three brigades from General Bowen’s division behind to slow the Union advance, perhaps 2,000 men, and drives the rest of his weary men on to Vicksburg some 20 miles away.
*
Bowen’s men occupy positions prepared a week earlier, across the neck of a bend in the Big Black. The river at this point is so narrow that a riverboat has been jammed between the banks and is being used by the Confederates as a footbridge. The Vicksburg & Jackson railroad also bridges the river here, but it can not be used by horses or wagons. Grant describes the rebel position across the bend as covering an old bayou. “The bayou was grown up with timber, which the enemy had felled into the ditch. All this time there was a foot or two of water in it. The rebels had constructed a parapet along the inner bank of this bayou, by using cotton bales from the plantation close by and throwing dirt over them. The whole was thoroughly commanded from the height west of the river.” Now General John McClernand’s Corps is in the lead again, and as Grant watches, his artillery begins firing on the rebel trenches while General Michael K. Carr’s division prepares to assault the Confederate works.
*
It is at this moment that (according to Grant) a messenger arrives with instructions from General Halleck in Washington, via General Banks - who is still struggling in the hinterlands of Louisiana in order (allegedly) to eventually, somehow, proceed against Port Hudson on the Mississippi River. The message is dated May 11 and orders Grant to immediately return to Grand Gulf and proceed against Port Hudson. And only after its fall will Grant be allowed to return to his actions against Vicksburg. After reading the message Grant tells the messenger that if Halleck knew the present situation he would not insist on the order. The messenger insists that Grant must obey his instructions. *
Just at that moment, with a bold charge, Irishman General Michael K, Lawler puts his military philosophy into practice (“If you see a head, hit it.”) by storming the Confederate breastworks in the face of a withering fire. Union Secretary of War Charles Dana would later describe Lawler as “…brave as a lion,…and has as much brains”, but with this one fell swoop the battle is won. Allegedly Grant now turns to the messenger and says, “It may be too early to end this campaign.” Whatever Grant said (if anything) he later wrote, “I immediately mounted my horse and rode in the direction of the charge, and saw no more of the officer who delivered the dispatch, I think not even to this day.”
*
As the Confederate troops began to flee from the battle line the Confederate engineers set fire to the bridge and boat, to deny their use by the Union. The Union could claim 1,751 Confederate killed, wounded and captured, and an unknown number drowned when their bridges burned beneath their feet. Union losses are 39 killed, 237 wounded and 3 missing. Pemberton will return the next day to his original position inside the Vicksburg fortifications but with less than half the 17,000 men he had on the morning of Saturday, May 16.
*
On this morning General Sherman rouses his men before daylight and spends the entire day marching up the Vicksburg/Jackson road. He finally calls a halt after 2AM having reached Bolton. It is now May 18, the last day of Grant’s Vicksburg campaign.
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