AUGUST   2020


Friday, May 23, 2014


I have absolutely no sympathy for Anthony Comstock, a man described by a biographer as having “no conspicuous talents and...boundless energy”.   His brother's death from wounds suffered in the three days of slaughter at Gettysburg, compelled Anthony to join the Union Army. But chance sent the Connecticut farm boy far from the crucial battles around Richmond, and he spent a year of isolation and boredom guarding the backwaters of St. Augustine, Florida. Most of his fellow soldiers considered him a bible thumping prig, who instead of simply refusing it, pompously poured his daily whiskey ration out on the ground. And the great lesson this “religio-monomaniac” took from the war that ended slavery, was that his fellow soldiers were addicted to pornography.
By 1861 there were almost 3,000 photographers in Paris, and 200 schools teaching the skill in London. And from day one, a significant percentage of these technicians found taking “dirty pictures” very profitable. Shortly after Gettysburg, another smug priss, General Marsena Patrick, had boasted in his diary of “burning up a large quantity of obscene books, taken from the mails.” And it wasn't just pocket editions of “Fanny Hill”, and the “Libertine Enchantress” that he burned. There were also the “barrack favorites”, the “carte de visite” french postcards – nude photos of women, which went for twelve cents each, and “London and Paris Volupuarties” engaged in actual sex, for $3 a dozen ($9 for stereoscopic views). Comstock found himself drawn to these “deadly poisons” - as he called them - “cast into the fountain of moral purity.”
By 1868 the muscular Comstock was a menial worker in New York City, making $12 a week as a porter for a dry goods store. He was a man "devoid of humor, lustful after publicity, and vastly ignorant “ who, by his own admission, spent many lonely evenings fearing “for the souls of the young men” who roomed with him. He joined the Young Men's Christian Association, and became convinced he faced “some of the most insidious and deadly forces of evil” in America. A nation racked by continued violence inspired by four bloody years of war saw pornography as a low priority. But Comstock did not share that opinion.
He quickly attracted the attention of the President of the WMCA, Morris K. Jessup, who had made his fortune as a banker for railroad tycoons. Jessup interviewed Comstock in his Madison Avenue mansion and liked what he saw. They made an unlikely pair. Jessup stood over six feet tall, and was a philanthropist to many causes. Comstock was short and brutally single minded. But for forty years Jessup was supportive of Comstock, with money and political influence, even creating the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice for the Christian warrior, when others in the WMCA questioned his tactics. (It is interesting to note that of all the social reform movements of the late 19th century, the Comstock's “Society” was the only one with no women in positions of authority.)Comstock would admit in his diary, “ Only one man thinks as I do and that is Mr. Jessup.”
With Jessup's support Comstock successfully lobbied congress for the Comstock Law, the last act of a lame duck congress on March 3, 1873, which made it illegal to send “obscene, lewd, or lascivious" material through the mail. Comstock included in that definition of lascivious was anything pertaining to birth control or preventing venereal disease. In Comstock's view, “God has set certain natural barriers. If you turn loose the passions and break down the fear (of unwanted pregnancies or disease) you bring . . . disaster.” His first year the new Special Inspector, always dressed in his black frock, traveled 23, 000 miles on a free rail pass, looking for sin in America. And luckily, since his job depended on it, he found it everywhere, and 24 states passed their own versions, collectively called the Little Comstock Laws.
In 1872 Comstock won national attention when he went after Victoria Woodhull (above). She was no common pornographer, but a feminist who had run her own Wall Street brokerage firm and her “Weekly” newspaper -  in which Victoria argued,”When woman rises... into the ownership and control of her sexual organs, and man is obliged to respect this freedom...then will woman be raised” To highlight the hypocrisy of men making decisions about birth control, the “Weekly” published details of an extramarital affair by one of her critics, popular Brooklyn minister Henry Ward Breecher. The same day the article appeared, Victoria, her husband and her sister were all arrested. Reporting the affair, said Comstock, was spreading obscenity. Comstock's belligerent theatrics in the court room so offended some members of the jury, they hung. Still, the trial only increased the popularity of both Comstock and Breecher.
Comstock claimed he convicted 3,500 people of distribution of pornography and destroyed 15 tons of obscene books, including medical text books that displayed female anatomy charts or mentioned abortion. To Comstock, woman’s health was far less important than their moral purity. He also burned novels written by D.H. Lawrence and Theodore Dreiser. Comstock even tried to close down a play by George Bernard Shaw, whom he called an “Irish smut dealer”. Of the first twelve people convicted of violating the Federal Comstock law, 5 were pardoned by President Ulysses Grant, who had signed the law. And of the 105 people arrested for violating Comstock's federal anti-birth control campaign, all but 16 were found not guilty. In state courts Comstock fared much better.
He saw himself as “the weeder in God's garden”, but his critics saw him as “a first class Torquemada” and chief of America's “moral eunuchs.” In 1877 Comstock went after Massachusetts social activist Ezra Heywood for publishing a pamphlet about marriage called “Cupid’s Yokes”. The judge told the jury the pamphlet was too offensive to allow them to read it, and they sentenced Heywood to two years at hard labor in the Dedham jail. Six months later President Rutherford B. Hayes pardoned Heywood, but Comstock saw that as a challenge. He now persecuted Heywood, having him arrested four more times, once for reprinting two poems by Walt Whitman, and again for discussing a contraceptive device called the “Comstock syringe” . By the fourth arrest the sixty year old Heywood was broke and emotionally exhausted, and was convicted and sentenced to another two years of hard labor. This time there was no pardon. A year after he was released in 1892, Heywood died of tuberculosis he had contracted in jail. Comstock had won again.
Comstock boasted he had driven 15 people to suicide. His most famous victim was Ida Craddock, a free spirit and writer of fact based guides like “The Marriage Night” and “Right Marital Living”. After pleading guilty and receiving a suspended sentence in 1899, for to violating Illinois' Little Comstock Law, she was arrested under New York's version in 1892 and suffered three months in a workhouse. As she left that jail Comstock had her arrested again on Federal charges for the same offense. This time she was sentenced to five years at hard labor. And Comstock let her know, that as soon as she served that term, he intended on arresting her again.
The night before she was to enter prison, Ida Craddock put her head in the oven, turned on the gas jets, and then slit her wrists. In her public suicide note, Ida blamed her death on “This man, Anthony Comstock,...(who is) unctuous with hypocrisy...if the reading of impure books and the gazing upon impure pictures does debauch and corrupt and pervert the mind...(and) Anthony Comstock has himself read perhaps more obscene books, and has gazed upon perhaps more lewd pictures than has any other one man in the United States, what are we to think of the probable state of Mr. Comstock's imagination? ...The man is a sex pervert; he is what physicians term a Sadist...for nine long years I have faced social ostracism, poverty, and the dangers of persecution by Anthony Comstock..I beg of you, for your own sakes, and for the future happiness of the young people who are dear to you, to protect my little book...” Comstock insisted that her death was one of his proudest moments.
It was not Comstock's bullying, but his lack of self awareness that gradually weakened his grip on public morals. The final breaking point came in 1913 when Harry Reichenbach besieged Comstock with complaints about the Braun and Company gallery on west 46th street in Manhattan. The prig-in-chief found the sidewalk in front crowded with young men snickering and praising the beauty of painting of a nude woman in the front window. Comstock stormed into the gallery and ordered the painting removed. The clerk, James Kelly, stammered, “But that is the famous “September Morn” by Paul Chabas”(above).  The work was famous, having won a medal of honor from the French academy of Painting just the year before. Undaunted, Comstock replied, “There is too little morning and too much maid”, and threatened to arrest the gallery owner, Philippe Ortiz if the painting was not removed.
Defiantly, Mr. Ortiz kept the painting in his gallery's front window for another two weeks, removing it only after the crowds jamming his studio had bought out every print of it. Twenty years later in his memoir, “Phantom Fame”, Reichenbach admitted he had staged the entire thing, including hiring the young men to ogle the painting, as a publicity stunt for the gallery. Comstock, who was not in on the joke, had behaved as boorishly and brutally as expected.
Comstock died suddenly on the evening of September 21, 1915. His monument was that during World War One the United States was the only nation not to supply its soldiers with prophylactics.. As a result the American Army and Navy discharged 10,000 men who had become infected with untreatable sexually transmitted diseases, the largest single cause of causalities during the war. It would be another 18 years before birth control could be openly purchased in the United States. Echos of Anthony Comstock's warmed vision could be heard as far away as the election of 2012, a century after his death.. It seems that every prig like him is convinced they are the savior of civilization. And yet none of them ever prove to be.
- 30 -

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


I am assured by fundamentalist Christians that six thousand years ago God created the world in six days. Of course, six thousand years ago a day was about the shortest period of time humans could measure accurately. And the mystical number six is also the number of sides to the electromagnetic spaces that give cell phones their name. Within each 10 square mile cell surrounding every tower, 832 separate frequencies are used, two frequencies for every individual phone conversation. For the last half century the preferred method for defining these frequencies, the time between each electromagnetic wave crest, has been to hit a ball of 10 million pure cesium atoms with a microwave beam. The cesium then produces one energy wave crest 9 billion, 192 million, 631 thousand 770 times every second and will maintain that exact frequency, it is estimated, for about 20 million years. And 20 million beats 6 thousand any day of the week.
The only problem is that pure cesium is rare. The metal is so it eager to combine with oxygen that on contact it instantly steals water's two oxygen atoms, thereby generating enough heat to visibly explode the now free hydrogen atom like a mini-Hindenburg. Given a little time cesium will even dissolve glass to steal its oxygen. Cesium is only stable in nature in a rare rock called Pegmatite (above), and 82 % of all the cesium rich Pegmatite known to exist on earth has been found in one place, beneath a single narrow lake along the Bird River in Manitoba, Canada, a land unknown in 1656, to the Archbishop of Ireland.
In retrospect the Irish primate James Ussher (above) seems an unlikely source for 300 years of dogmatic intellectual stagnation. In life he was a purveyor of political compromises. Ussher's “Annales veteris testamenti” (Annals of the Old Testament), published in 1650, displayed his love of dusty manuscripts, esoteric minutiae and ancient languages. As an academic it was his judgment the world began after sunset on Sunday 23 October, 4004 B.C. He was using the best evidence available at the time, and disagreed about the date for creation with the Oxford mathematician Sir Isaac Newton by just four years.
Bernic Lake is about 60 miles northeast of Winnipeg, just beyond the western edge of the Canadian Shield. But on this spot two and a half billion years ago, Precambrian rains fell upon sterile volcanic basalt of the shield, chemically altering and eroding the rock into the world wide ocean, laying down oxygen poor sediments called Greenstone belts. These belts were buried and heated, compressed and folded at least three times, beginning two billion years ago with the advent of plate tectonics, until eventually batholiths of a new rock, granite, rose and (above) intruded the Greenstrones at depth. And at one batholith, about 15 miles due west of today's small community of Lac du Bonnet, Manitoba, cracks in the Greenstone were injected with chemically rich waters from the granite, concentrating a potpourri of rare earth metals, lithium, beryllium, tantalum and cesium.
Sir Isaac Newton's modern fame is that of the discoverer of gravity, the inventor of calculus and optics and his three Laws of Motion. When praised by his contemporaries Newton explained he stood on the shoulders of geniuses. But the great economist John Maynard Keynes also called him “the last of the magicians.” Newton devoted most of his time and effort to alchemy, and his search for the Philosopher's Stone, which would magically turn lead into gold. Newton was no more a fool, than Bishop Ussher. But both of men were of their age, and they lacked the technology to more precisely measure the world.
The Bird River flows through the largest remaining, seemingly eternal, boreal forest on earth. It is an awe inspiring terrain, but capable of supporting only two humans per square mile. Since 1929 some 60 families in Lac du Bonnet have depended upon the Cabot Corporation's Tanco mine (above) to earn a living. Since the middle of the 1990's, each year's 30,000 kilograms of cesium extracted from the great rock rooms beneath Bernic Lake, have been destined to lubricate and cool oil drilling equipment world wide, in the form of caesium formate. The tiny fraction used in atomic clocks would never economically justify keeping the mine open. But there is enough profitable cesium under Bernic Lake to last another ten years. If the mine does not swallow the lake first.
At room temperature a single atom of cesium has 55 electrons in six orbits around its nucleus - two in the first level, eight in the second, eighteen in both the third and fourth, eight in the fifth and a lone single electron on the outside or valance level. It is the valance electron that emits energy at a specific frequency when excited by microwaves, as was first predicted in 1945 by Professor Isidor Rabi from Columbia University. With all due respect to Professor Rabi, he was not smarter than Newton, but as Newton put it, Rabbi was standing on Newton's shoulders. Seven years later the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) built the first cesium atomic clock. They kept perfecting and miniaturizing the design until about 1968, when they established the highest standard of measurement - until recently
Until 1989 cesium sold for less than $5 a gram (above). Then came the invention of cesium formate, a slurry that was liquid enough to lubricate drilling bits, and heavy enough improve drill efficiency and to carry rock back up the bore hole, while enduring the temperatures and pressures found thousands of feet underground. By 1998 the price of 99% pure cesium was over $60 a gram. It was then that Cabot decided to maximize profits by extracting even the ore holding the up the roof of their mine. They shaved away the pillars supporting the ceiling, from 50 feet in diameter to just 25. In 2012 the price of cesium was $70.60 a gram. Then, in 2013, Cabot admitted that over the past three years at least a ton of rock had fallen into their mine because “The crown unstable and requires immediate action”.
The accuracy of cesium clocks is now the limiting factor in available cell phone channels, the accuracy of Global Positioning systems, higher precision and versatility in the electrical grid and better science in every field. So in the new generation of clocks, the NIST-F2, introduced on 3 April 2014, the chamber containing the cesium ball is chilled to minus 316 degrees Fahrenheit (-193 ÂșC). This does not change the frequency of the cesium, but it eliminates much of the “noise” of all the other atoms in the chamber, so the call of that single valance election can be more clearly heard and more closely defined. Instead of losing a second every 20 million years, the NIST-F2 loses a second every 300 million years. With this the internet will get faster, cell phones will get more versatile and dependable and there will be more profit and better lives for every living human on earth.
Bernic Lake (above) will drown Cabot's golden goose and the world's primary source of cesium within three years,  unless something is done. Cabot's solution is to bulldoze a new road through the virgin forest, build dikes across the lake, and “de-water” the now isolated section over their mine. In Cabot's opinion, this provides “an optimal solution, in that it eliminates the immediate risk of flooding, minimizes the long-term footprint of the project, and upholds Cabot’s corporate commitment to being responsive, responsible and respected citizens...”. It will also keep oil pouring into pipelines around the world, and profits pouring into the pockets of Cabot directors and majority stockholders. It will continue to pour $28 million a year into the Lac du Bonnet economy, and save 150 jobs in Manitoba. It will also provide cesium for new NIST-F2 clocks world wide. And it may kill the three mile long Bernic Lake, and poison the Bird River, the Winnipeg River and Lake Winnipeg which all those sources pour into.
About six thousand years ago a Sumerian Michelangelo crafted an 8 foot long, 3 foot wide copper tribute to his God, the powerful lion headed eagle Imdugud (above). Copper was a new medium six thousand years ago. The metal has two electrons in its first orbit, eight in the second, eighteen in the third, and like cesium, a single electron in the valance level. But unlike cesium, when exposed to oxygen and moisture, copper only slowly forms a layer of green verdigris, or copper carbonate, which then shields the underlying metal from further corrosion. 
The Imdugud frieze, found in the ancient city of al' Urbaid, has been dated using carbon 14 techniques, which uses the science developed by Newton and extended by Professor Isidor Rab. The science of chemistry and metallurgy tells us the ore for the frieze came from mines in present day Iran, mines whose tailings and waste rocks were scavenged for copper not long after Bishop Ussher's birth date for the universe. Perhaps the ore was carried to Ubaid in a ship powered by a sail, an invention which also made its first appearance about 6,000 years ago, as dated from the images painted on pottery, an unbroken line of which can be followed style change by style change, over the last six thousand years.
In the past Christianity has denied that atoms decayed, that sunlight could be split into a spectrum, that the sun was at the center of the solar system, that anything existed before sunset Sunday, 23 October, 4004 B.C. None of those contentions proved or disproved the existence of God. And eventually each, and a thousand others, were discarded, without destroying the faith of the faithful. Only insisting that ignorance is truth, that hypocrisy is devotion, taking his name in vain and by mistaking your will for God's will threatens the existence of God..
         - 30 -

Sunday, May 18, 2014

VICKSBURG Third Week in May

FRIDAY, MAY 15, 1863
In the pre-dawn darkness on the outskirts of Edwards Station, Mississippi , 17,000 Confederate infantry in three divisions set out south eastwards for the crossroads of Dillion. Leading the force is General Pemberton himself. He is looking for the supply trains of Grant's army, which he believes must be strung out between Grand Gulf on the Mississippi and the Mississippi state capital at Jackson, which Grant has just captured. But a mile and a half out of Edward's Station, Pemberton's three divisions are stopped at the ford over tiny Bakers Creek. The usually placid stream has been swollen by the downpour from the 13/14 May. The crossing is so flooded, it is unusable. Because of a lack of simple scouting, Pemberton's little army is forced to backtrack 1 ½ miles to cross the same stream via the bridge of the Jackson/Vicksburg road. Then the column must detour another four miles south before rejoining the road they want to be on. Wirt Adam’s cavalry now leads, followed by Loring’s and then Bowen’s Division, and finally Stevenson’s division,  followed by the army’s supply trains. Pemberton does not know it, but this delay is a lucky break for his army.
Also this morning, another 4,000 Confederate militia arrive at General Johnston’s position on the Canton Road, six miles north of Jackson. Johnston now has a force of 15,000 men, about a quarter the size of Grant's Army. But together with Pemberton's force 17,000 man force, the Confederates might have a numerical advantage. But Johnston's troops are not a single cohesive unit, and cannot be expected to fight an engagement with Grant’s veterans. So Johnston can only dig in, drill his men and wait for word of what General Pemberton is doing.
At seven that morning, the two divisions of Sherman's corps march out of Jackson, led by Logan’s division, west bound for Clinton. Waiting for them out on the Vicksburg road is General McClernard’s Corps, now with orders to advance toward Edwards.  But McClernard is also cautioned by Grant not to bring on a general engagement, not just yet.
Grant (above) rides as far as Clinton, where he meets two captured workers from the Vicksburg and Jackson Railroad. They tell him that Pemberton is at Edward’s Station with 3 divisions. Having earlier captured one of the couriers carrying a copy of Johnston’s message to Pemberton, Grant thus expects there to be contact with Pemberton’s army this day near Edwards. He urges Sherman to hurry the destruction of Jackson and bring up his full Corps westward.
SATURDAY, MAY 16, 1863
Awakening in a house along the road near Dillion, Pemberton is confused. He was expecting to find this morning that he had Grant's supply trains in his grasp. But Wirt Adam’s cavalry reports from overnight that he finds no traffic on the Grand Gulf to Jackson road. Where are Grant's supply trains? The troops of Generals' Stevenson and Loring have been on the march past midnight, searching at every crossroads for evidence of the Yankee wagons. They have found nothing. Pemberton is adrift, and uncertain where to send his men next. What is Grant up to? Where is Grant?.
Then, at 6:30 am cavalry commander Wirt Adams reports in person that his pickets are skirmishing with Federal troops near the Raymond road - behind Pemberton's men. During Adam's report a messenger arrives from Johnston, carrying a second copy of Pemberton's message - which Grant has already intercepted:  “Our being compelled to leave Jackson makes your plan (to fall on the supply trains) impractical. The only mode by which we can unite is by your moving directly to Clinton..."
It is an ominous message. Pemberton is already out a limb, and suddenly he hears it cracking. He orders an immediate counter march, so he can shift his axis of advance toward Clinton. Thus, at the very moment of contact with Grant, Pemberton is off balance, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
Later that morning on the Confederate left flank, General Stevenson (above) has just reversed his march when, at about 7:00 am, he receives word of enemy skirmishers just beyond the Raymond road junction. Immediately he throws his own skirmish line across the road, and hurries (as best he can) the supply wagons back across the still flooded Baker’s Creek. He also throws his men to work building a defensive position three miles long across the hilltop farm of Matilda and Sid Champion. At about 9:30 am this morning Union General McClernand’s cavalry captures the tiny village of Bolton, and continues to press forward.
Pemberton arrives at  the Champion Hill battleground and finds he also faces Federal troops on his right flank, in front of Loring’s division, south of the Raymond road. Still, most of the firing seems to be coming from Champion Hill and north of the road. When Stevenson reports that he must be reinforced or lose the hill, Pemberton orders General Bowen’s (above) division to reinforce his left flank. But Bowen says he can not move until Loring gets out of his way. And Loring says he cannot do that because of Federal troops massing to his front. Frustrated, Pemberton convinces Bowen to send at least one brigade to Stevenson’s assistance by marching around Loring's men.
By 10:00 am Sherman’s men have finished their destruction in Jackson and are on the road toward the battle. Johnston’s troops do not follow the retreating Yankees. Instead they struggle to put out fires and resurrect the telegraph lines in Jackson.  At about the same time Grant arrives on the field before Champion Hill and orders an immediate assault by McPherson’s men on the right and McClernand’s Corp on the left. By 1:00 pm McPherson’s men have carried the Confederate works atop Champion's hill.
Frustrated by the behavior of both Loring and Bowen, General Pemberton has been reduced to feeding individual battalions of Bowen's men into the fight for Champions Hill -  piecemeal. Now, in reaction to the Union success, Col. Cockrell, the same man who had so harassed McClernand on the Louisiana shore, now leads a charge that retakes the captured works for the Confederates. But Pemberton knows the hill cannot be held. He sends yet another order to Loring, instructing him to move to his left in support of Bowen and Stevenson. But Loring replies that the Federal troops to his front are moving to flank him. It is a reasonable argument, except that Pemberton hears no firing coming from that flank.
What Pemberton cannot know is that the Federal troops in front of Loring are commanded by General McClernand, who is showing no more inclination to force a fight than Loring. Grant has chosen not to press McClernand, even though his inaction is in violation of direct orders. Instead the Union commander reaches out for Sherman’s leading units coming out of Jackson.  He throws these men into a counter attack on Champion Hill, retaking the crucial position by about 4:00 pm. At last Confederate General Stevenson’s division breaks under the pressure.
Confederate General Loyd Tilghman’s brigade fights the rearguard action until he is killed. Then, the Confederate forces retreat across Bakers Creek. Luckily the stream has now fallen enough to make the ford useful again, but this means it will also be useful for the following Yankees. Because of this Pemberton makes the decision to retreat all the way back to the Big Black River.
All that way, Pemberton expects General Loring (above) to act as his rear guard.  But Loring has used the excuse of distant fire from Union cannon to retreat south along the east bank of Bakers Creek, wandering for several days,  as if a petulant child resisting the call to come home for dinner. Eventually Loring turns north and east,  until he rejoins the Confederacy at Jackson, Mississippi. Johnston thus acquires yet another temperamental general, something he does not really need. Worse, in addition to combat losses suffered at Champion's Hill, Pemberton has lost one third of his little army by Loring's wanderings.
Champions Hill will prove to be the crucial battle of the entire campaign. The Union army (32,000 strong now) suffer 410 dead, 1,844 wounded and 187 missing (total casualties 2,441), while the Confederates, weaker at the start of the battle (just 17,000 men), have suffered 3,840 dead, 1,018 wounded and 2,441 missing (total casualties, 7,299). Pemberton has lost 13% of his strength, in addition to the men under Loring who declared independence. This outcome proves that Pemberton chose the worst possible course of action by trying to find a middle ground between abandoning Vicksburg, and digging in there for a siege. 
To have kept all five divisions behind the Vicksburg fortifications, as Davis had ordered, would have simply made Grant’s job that much easier. If Pemberton had brought all five of his divisions out to defeat Grant in battle, as Johnston has urged, Vicksburg might have been captured in his rear by a U.S. Naval landing force, just as had happened at Memphis and at Grand Gulf.  But Pemberton might have defeated Grant in the field, and then retaken the city at his leisure. Instead, by choosing not risk everything, he has lost everything. 
To quote Bruce Catton on the subject, “Vicksburg was one of the places which the Confederate nation had to possess if it was to win its independence…But all the troops that could conceivably be brought in were urgently needed somewhere else…(However) To accept this argument was in effect to admit that the Confederacy was being tried beyond its strength, an admission Mr. Davis would never make.”(Catton, “Never Call Retreat” pp 3-4.)
SUNDAY,  MAY 17, 1863 
Pemberton’s battered army retreats through the night. They now number less than 10,000 men. They have been defeated and mishandled. Moral is low. And Pemberton decides he cannot stop at the Big Black River (above), but must reach the safety of the Vicksburg entrenchments, occupied by his remaining two healthy divisions. He leaves three brigades from General Bowen’s division behind, perhaps 2,000 men,  to slow the Union advance, and drives the rest of his weary men the final 20 miles to Vicksburg.
Bowen’s rearguard occupies positions prepared a week earlier, with their backs across the open mouth of  a "U" shaped bend in the Big Black river. The river at the bottom of the "U" is so narrow that a riverboat has been jammed between the banks, and is being used by the Confederates as a footbridge. The Vicksburg and Jackson railroad also bridges the river here, but the bridge can not be used by horses or wagons. Grant later describes the rebel position as once having been an old bayou “...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...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, Federal artillery begins firing on the rebel trenches while Union General Michael K. Carr’s division prepares to assault the Confederate works.
It is at this moment that (according to Grant) a staff officer arrives with instructions from General Halleck in far off Washington. The message is dated May 11 (a week earlier)  and orders Grant to immediately return to Grand Gulf and from there to proceed against Port Hudson. Only after the fall of Fort Hudson 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. In his turn the messenger insists that Grant must obey the instructions.
Just at this moment, with a bold charge, Irishman Michael K. Lawler puts his military philosophy into practice (“If you see a head, hit it.”). His division storms 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 determined charge the battle of the Big Black River is won. Allegedly Grant now turns to the messenger and says, “It may be too early to end this campaign.” Whatever Grant actually 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, Confederate engineers set fire to the railroad bridge and boat, to deny their use by the Union. The Union could claim 1,751 Confederates killed, wounded and captured (out of the 2,000 man force), and an unknown number drowned when their bridges burned beneath their feet. Union losses are 39 killed, 237 wounded and 3 missing. The next day Pemberton will return to his original position inside the Vicksburg fortifications,  leading now less than half the 17,000 men he had on the morning of Saturday, May 16.
Also 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 2:00 am.
MONDAY MAY 18, 1863
It is just 18 days since Grant's first troops crossed the Mississippi River below Vicksburg. This morning. Sherman’s Corps crosses the Big Black River some 11 miles above the point at which McCernand’s and McPherson’s Corps have thrown pontoon bridges across the river (above). By 8:00 am the pontoon bridges are open and Grant is one of the first to cross over them. He quickly moves cross-country to join the rapidly advancing Sherman's Corps.
It is early that afternoon that Sherman and Grant together reach the rear of the Confederate batteries atop Haynes Bluff’s. Below them Confederate troops are evacuating the position, and retreating inside Vicksburg's main defenses. And Grant is happy to allow them to leave. With Haynes Bluff in Union hands, supplies and reinforcements can now flow unimpeded to Grant’s army from naval units on the Mississippi. Grant later wrote, “(Sherman) turned to me, saying that up to this minute he had felt no positive assurance of success. This, however, he said, was the end of one of the greatest campaigns in history, and I ought to make a report of it at once. Vicksburg was not yet captured, and there was no telling what might happen before it was taken; but whether captured or not, this was a complete and successful campaign.”  Grant's response is to order a morning assault against the city's defenses. Then he sends the telegram.
Including the men from the two divisions he left behind, General Pemberton now has some 18,500 troops and 102 artillery pieces with which to defend the 6 ½ mile long fortifications. The time spent improving the cities' defenses by the men left behind has been well used, digging trenches, forts and redoubts. The old adage about the defense multiplying defenders by a factor of three, is about to be put to the test.
TUESDAY MAY 19, 1863
At 9:00 am Union artillery opens fire on the northern flank of the Confederate fortifications, where the "Graveyard Road" enters the city. Then at 2:00 pm  Francis Blair's division attacks the Rebel line, and the Union troops are suddenly up against the terrain of Vicksburg. Approaching the "Stockade Redan", they are forced to descend into a deep ravine, At the bottom their way is blocked by wooden stakes, wire entanglements, and disguised man traps. From the fort above, Rebel infantry rakes the Federal troops with musket shot and exploding cannon shells, rolled down the slope. Three times Blair's division throws itself against the Confederates and three times they are repulsed.  The firing is so heavy that the farthest advanced Union troops cannot be pulled back until after nightfall. Union casualties are about 157 dead, just under 800 wounded and 8 missing. The Confederates suffer less than 200 dead and injured.
Grant now has some 35,000 troops in hand. It is not enough to invest the city, so he decides on a second, larger assault, and spends the day putting his troops to work finishing a second road from Haynes Bluffs to the rear of his positions outside of Vicksburg. Meanwhile he sends officers forward to inspect the rebel positions and plan an attack. As he is inspecting his men's camps, the chant of "Hardtack, Hardtack!" breaks out. For over a week now the the men have been marching and fighting while living off the three days rations they were issued in Port Gibson, and the foodstuffs they foraged from the Mississippi countryside. That night the Army dines on standard army fare of hardtack, beans and coffee brought up the new road from the Navy transports in the river. The obligation of a good General is that he give his soldiers the tools they need. Their obligation is to kill and if need be, to die.
THURSDAY, MAY 21, 1863
April operations out of New Orleans  have cut the western shore of the Red River supply route for the Confederate fort at Port Hudson. Today, before dawn, newly promoted Brigadier General Benjamin Grierson and his now rested cavalry troopers, lead the 7,000 infantrymen under Major General Christopher Augurs north out of Baton Rouge. They are headed for a road junction just 12 miles north, occupied by a single two story building. The first floor contains a general store run by a family named Young, and the second floor contains meeting rooms for the Plains Masonic Lodge. The crossroads is called Plains Store. Five miles due east of this crossroads, overlooking the Mississippi River, are the cannon of Port Hudson (above). Occupying this insignificant crossroads will cut off the last communications and supply line for those rebel cannon.
As the Grierson's cavalry approaches the Plains Store crossroads this morning, they skirmish with 600 Rebel defenders. But the arrival of Union infantry brigades a few hours later force the Confederates to withdraw. The arrival of Confederate reinforcements a few hours after this forces the Union infantry to draw back. But numbers and determination eventually tell, and by the end of the day the Confederates are forced to withdraw inside their fortifications at Port Hudson.  Union   casualties are 100, while the Rebels lose 89. 
Over the next 48 hours, the rest of General Banks' (above) 40, 000 men cross from the Louisiana shore and take up positions on the land side of the 7,500 Rebels in the fortress of Port Hudson (below). Banks hopes to take the fortress quickly, and then transfer his men north, to take command of the siege of Vicksburg.  Grant has no intention of allowing him the opportunity. Thus it is that Generals on both sides of the Vicksburg campaign, find themselves fighting each other as often as they do the enemy.
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