April’s Fools day, 1863, marked a new beginning for the American Civil War. The first 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 for $300 (equal to over $6,000 today), or pay someone to serve for you. In July the draft would lead to riots in New York City (above) that would only be brought under control with Federal troops.
Also on this day 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, the northern shoulder of the Vicksburg defenses.
But at Greenwood, Mississippi the Rebels have constructed "Fort Pemberton" with 8 heavy guns behind seven tiers of cotton bales and 8 feet of earth. They have also sunk the steamboat the “Star of the West” to block the channel of the Coldwater River. This day, April first, Federal gunboats wedged their way up to Fort Pemberton, single file, and troops are landed to attack the fort. But the Federal troops and gunboats have to withdraw after nightfall.
THURSDAY APRIL 2, 1863
Several thousand women in the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia march to the Capital Square chanting “Bread! 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 in the Confederacy the price of wheat had tripled and milk and butter had risen to four times their prewar prices (paid for 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.
This April 2nd, 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. The Union troops are moving slowly because they are corduroying the road as they advance. The process involves felling trees, splitting the logs and laying them across the road, flat side up. This would provide a usable surface for a limited time, but one that would never stand up to the torrent of wagons needed to supply an entire Army for a campaign.
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 of his men) down to Grand Gulf, Louisiana (below).
SUNDAY APRIL 5, 1863
The Yazoo Pass expedition has to admit failure and withdraws back to Memphis and the Mississippi river.
General Bowen, the confederate commander at Grand Gulf below Vicksburg - and Col. Cockerell’s superior- sends a telegram to General Pemberton, who is in overall command at Vicksburg. Bowen suggests that more troops be sent to support Col. Cockerell on the Arkansas shore. Pemberton replies that the Federal advance on the far shore is not a viable threat, and points out that any troops sent across the Mississippi risk being cut off by Federal warships now prowling the river south of Vicksburg. No more troops will be sent across the Mississippi.
FRIDAY APRIL 10, 1863
Union General William Tecumseh Sherman (above) writes to his brother that Sherman's men are working at night on building a “secret artillery battery” on the west side of the Mississippi river, within range of the Northern Vicksburg defenses on the east shore , but adds that a Confederate Major Watts, who had come through the lines to discuss a prisoner exchange, requested that the guns hold off firing for the night, because he was hosting a party and did not want it disturbed. Sherman mentions that he does not know Grant’s plans in detail, but Sherman has little faith in what he does know of those plans.
SUNDAY APRIL 12, 1863
Nathaniel Banks, (above) a “political general”, one time Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives (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 against Grand Gulf. 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 runs down Teche Bayou.
Confederate Brig. Gen. Richard Taylor, from his position at Fort Brisland on Bayou Teche, sends out cavalry to his front to meet any Federal landings there. But he also sends out infantry skirmishers to his rear, as he has heard of a possible landing north of the community of Franklin, Louisiana. In the afternoon of this day Union troops form a battle line in front of the fort. An artillery exchange continues until nightfall, when the Union troops withdraw.
MONDAY APRIL 13, 1863
The artillery barrage on Fort Bisland (above) begins again at about 9:00 am. And then, just after 11:00 am Union troops begin their assault. As evening approaches General Taylor gets word that Union troops have indeed landed and are moving on Franklin, in his rear. Taylor immediately evacuates his men and supplies.
Union troops enter the empty Fort Bisland at 7:00 am and raise the American flag.
Commanded by Admiral Farragut, three Union gunboats make the run past the Rebel high ground at Port Hudson. Two, the USS Hartford and USS Albatross, get through, but a third ship is disabled and sunk.
WEDNESDAY APRIL 15, 1863
Just after 4:00 am Col. Cockrell, on the Louisiana shore, 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 the Rebels are forced to retreat.
The strength and speed of the Union reinforcement surprises Cockrell and he alerts his boss General Bowen at Grand Gulf. But Bowen decides to downplay the results to his own boss, General Pemberton. Bowen tells Pemberton only that Cockrell had killed 2 Union troopers and captured 4 others, along with freeing captive women and children and capturing “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 grandiose.
THURSDAY APRIL 16, 1863
General Grant orders Gen. Sherman to make one more demonstration against Steele’s Bayou up the Yazoo river, and to then move his corps down the river to Carthage.
In the city of Vicksburg, a ball is held to celebrate the deliverance of the city from the Yankee invaders. 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 (above). Anticipating this attempt, as it is a moonless night, the Confederates have set fire to cotton bales soaked in turpentine to illuminate the river. 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 Banks, pushing his advantage gained at Fort Bisland, crosses Vermillion Bayou, while Taylor retreats to the town of Opelousas.
General Bowen crosses the Mississippi to inspect Col. Cockrell’s position. He tells Pemberton that he could reinforce Cockrell or, if Pemberton insists, pull him back to Grand Gulf, on the eastern shore of the river. On the same day, Major General Cal Stevenson, who commands a 10,000 man division at Vicksburg, warns that he has heard reports that Union transports are being sent south of Vicksburg in order to move troops up Bayou Pierre, and requests that Pemberton strengthen defenses at Grand Gulf.
General Pemberton now has about 40,000 men available for the defense of Vicksburg. But they are scattered over half the state of Mississippi, and even on the opposite shore in Louisiana. Pemberton now feels the need to consolidate. He orders Col Cockrell’s men back to Grand Gulf, and dispatches to Bowen an additional infantry brigade and a battery of artillery. Clearly he suspects things are about to heat up south of Vicksburg. Maybe. Also on this day, Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson (above) and 1,700 troopers of the 6th and 7th Illinois and the 2nd Iowa cavalry move out from La Grange, Tennessee, headed south (below).
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 north past the batteries at Port Hudson (above), Admiral Porter sends the USS Switzerland and USS Lancaster down stream south past the batteries at Vicksburg. As expected they come under heavy fire and the USS Lancaster is blown up. But the USS Switzerland makes it safely 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. The battery is being built, but it will be months before it opens fire.
MONDAY APRIL 20, 1863
The 2nd Iowa cavalry splits from Garrison's command, and swings west to hit the Mobile & Ohio railroad, before heading back to La Grange. The hope is that rebels will think Garrison's entire command has gone with them. It has not. But the problem for Pemberton remains. The Confederacy started the Civil War with just 9,000 miles of railroad track, and will fail to produce a single iron rail during the entire war. This means that every 39 foot length of iron that Greirson’s men heat and twist into a knot will not be replaced.
And, amazingly, the Confederate government persists in melting existing rails into cannon and ironclad plating for warships, instead of cannibalizing less essential lines to repair vital lines, like the Central Mississippi railroad through Jackson to Vicksburg.
All the audacity of rebel raiders such as Bedford Forrest in Mississippi and John Hunt Morgan in Virginia, all the headlines and romantic tales of bravery they generate, have less of an impact on the war than Greirson does on this single raid. Rebel raiders can inconvenience Federal armies, even force them to retreat for a time. But Grierson, if left unmolested, can force the surrender of Vicksburg. Pemberton knows this and has to respond to the raid with all the force he can muster.
Col. Grierson and his remaining 950 troopers occupy Starkville, Mississippi.
Six more transports and barges carrying supplies race past the Vicksbug bluffs under cover of darkness. They suffer heavy losses from rebel artillery fire but succeed in re-supply the Union troops gathering at New Carthage.
THURSDAY APRIL 23, 1863
Attempting to block Col. Grierson's raiders, General Pemberton scatters his men, trying to block block every crossroads and protect every railroad crossing.
But after cutting through a swamp and destroying a tannery and a shoe factory as they pass, Col. Greirson's men strike their 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 (irreplaceable) are burned, as is a bridge (irrecplaceable), and extensive track (irreplaceable).
By 2: 00 pm 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.
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.
SATURDAY APRIL 25, 1863
Federal troops of General McClernand’s corp march down the west side of Lake Saint Joseph from Bayou Vidal, and occupy Hard Times landing (above). They are still building bridges and cordoying roads as they slowly advance.
Unnerved 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. He orders them north of Vicksburg to defend Haynes Bluff and Black Bayou.
SUNDAY APRIL 26, 1863
Federal gunboats make another attack on the Port Hudson batteries. But this attack is a diversion, to cover empty transports making their run past the batteries. Grant now has 10,000 men and ships above Port Hudson and below Vicksburg - enough to move them across the river beyond the last Confederate fortifications at Grand Gulf. He orders more men to march down the west bank to Hard Times Landing.
This Sunday, 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.”
Grierson’s raiders seize the ferry over the Pearl River (which was destroyed after his men have crossed) and burn more freight cars and destroy more rails..
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 as the Rebels, but quickly regain their composure and drive the Confederates off. Grierson’s men camp that night in Union Church.
WEDNESDAY APRIL 29, 1863
At 8:00 am Admiral Porter’s River Squadron launches an assault against Grand Gulf, but by 1:30 pm it is evident that the Rebel batteries here 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 the Confederate commander on the spot, General Bowen, is not as certain as Sherman. He has just 5,000 men. He sees a danger of Federal landings everywhere along the river bank. He divides his command, spreading them up and down the river, even dispatching 500 men to guard the road from Bruinsburg to Port Gibson, even further south.
At 9:00 am Union gunboats open fire on Snyder’s Bluff, up the Yazoo River north of Vicksburg, to cover a landing about 6:00 pm 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.
Grierson turns south, slipping out of an ambush prepared by Mississippi Cavalry. He drives off 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.
Also this morning, General Sherman's troops are landed at Drumbold’s Bluff north of Vicksburg, and about 3:00 pm the gunboats again open fire on Confederate batteries on the heights. The firing continues until after dark, when the Union troops again withdraw, to begin their march south..
At noon Grant begins crossing to the east bank of the Mississippi, landing 20,000 men at Bruinsburg, along Bayou Pierre, below Port Gibson. 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. From this moment onward, Grant is convinced that Vicksburg is doomed.
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