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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

VICKSBURG Chapter Six 4th Week in May


FRIDAY MAY 22, 1863
Since midnight, the 220 artillery pieces in Grant's arsenal have been bombarding the Vicksburg land defences, joined by Union gunboats in the river. The barrage continues for four hours after dawn. At 10:00 am the Union infantry advances along a three mile front. Along Graveyard Road, the assault is led by 150 volunteers who have nicknamed themselves "The Forlorn Hope". They carry scaling ladders and planks to lay over the wire entanglements at the bottom of the revine. But "The Forelorn Hope" is driven back under heavy fire, as are the assaults all along the line. By 11:00 am Generals Sherman and McPherson are convinced the attacks are useless, and Grant is inclined to agree.
Just then a messenger arrives from General McClerand, commanding on the left. He requests another division in reinforcement and hints that he has captured two forts. Grant demurs, telling McClerand to use his own reserves. But both Sherman and McPherson now launch additional assaults, to support McClerand's troops.
In truth, McClerand has captured no Rebel forts, and by 5:00 pm, all the assaults are called off. Union causalities are 502 dead, 2,500 wounded and 147 missing. Confederate General Pemberton has lost less than 500 men, in total. And Rebel moral has been substantially restored. Vicksburg is never going to fall to assault. And Grant has yet another reason to want to be rid of McClerand.
SATURDAY MAY 23, 1863
It is exactly three weeks since Grant's 42,000 man army crossed the Mississippi and began its march on Vicksburg. At no time did Federal troops have more than a 2,000 man advantage over the Confederate forces in total, and yet at each individual engagement Grant held a substantial battle field advantage - At Port Gibson, Grant had 20,000 men, General Bowen, less than 5,000 - At Raymond led Grant 12,000, Gregg 4,100 – At Jackson, Grant commanded 38,000, Johnston, 5,000 – At Champion's Hill, Grant led 32,000 men, Pemberton just 22,000 – And at the battle of the Big Black River, Grant commanded 32,000 men while Bowen led just 5,000. He had always been victorious because of his remorseless drive to a single objective.
In far off Washington, General Hallack decides to reinforce success. Just a week before he was seeking to sidetrack Grant to Bank's command at Port Hudson. But now Washington is sending Grant every man it can, bringing his force, by the end of the campaign, to 77,000 men. And it is Banks who has been regulated to a sideshow.
Also this day, the Illustrated London News discusses a deputation of English Labor Union members who the day before had visited the American Ambassador, to express their belief that “the cause of the North to be the cause of freedom, that they wished for the success of Mr. Lincoln's armies...”. The News was skeptical, but hastened to add, “We are not going to interfere for the South....we encourage no breaking of the (Union) blockade...” With each passing day it becomes less likely that any foreign nation will recognize the slave state Confederacy.
SUNDAY MAY 24, 1863
Yesterday evening, along Grant's Mississippi River supply line, just south of the Tennessee border and near the riverfront village of Austin, Mississippi, Confederate sharpshooters fired on a supply boat, killing able Seaman Philip Dalton. Angered by that attack, this morning Brigadier General A.W. Ellet lands his forces and is drawn into a fruitless two hour battle eight miles outside of Austin with the 2nd Arkansas Cavalry. The Rebels eventually withdraw.  Believing Confederate agents in the town have been bringing in weapons and ammunition from across the river (which they probably have), Elliot orders the town burned to the ground.  It is an act of terrorism (as was the sniper shot) and a warning to all Rebel sympathizers.
MONDAY MAY 25, 1863
Grant issues Special Order Number 140, instructing “"Corps Commanders will immediately commence the work of reducing the enemy by regular approaches (siege). It is desirable that no more loss of life shall be sustained in the reduction of Vicksburg, and the capture of the garrison. Every advantage will be taken of the natural inequalities of the ground to gain positions from which to start mines, trenches, or advance batteries." 
Also on this day, whiskered U.S. Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles (center - to Lincoln's right) notes in his diary that an argument over the fugitive slave act broke out in a cabinet meeting between Postmaster General Francis Blair (to Welles' right, a slave owner) and Salomon Chase (to Lincoln's left, a Radical Republican), the Secretary of the Treasury. President Lincoln finally intervened, to tell one of his stories, about a man from Illinois “who was in debt and terribly annoyed by a pressing creditor, until finally the debtor (pretended) to be crazy whenever the creditor broached the subject. “I,” said the President, “have on more than one occasion, in this room, when beset by extremists on this question, been compelled to appear to be very mad." He continued, ” I think none of you will ever dispose of this subject without getting mad.”  Three years into the war and there were still leaders in the north who favored returning escaped slaves to their masters in the borders states, Slavery as an institution was not yet dead.  
TUESDAY MAY 26, 1863
Today, General Frank Blair, son of the Postmaster General Blair, leads his division from Sherman's corps out of the siege lines. His orders are to destroy the supplies Confederates are collecting at Mechanicsburg, Mississippi, intended for General Johnston's troops still in Jackson, Mississippi. General Blair will be gone a week, during which time, while dueling with Wirt Adam's cavalry, he will burn 500,000 bushels of corn, and the grist mill used to grind it, and capture 1,000 head of cattle, 300 mules and 40 bales of cotton  He will also bring back “negroes, equal to my own command”. Thanks to this raid, no matter how many men General Johnston is able to gather, he will not be able to advance from his lines around Jackson until he has replaced those supplies. There will be no relief for Vicksburg from Jackson, Mississippi.
WEDNESDAY MAY 27, 1863
This morning, General Banks launches his 13,000 man army against the defenses of Port Hudson. The attacks are uncoordinated and are easily thrown back. Among the attacking units are the 1st and 3rd Louisiana Native Guards, the first black Americans to officially wear Union Blue. Union casualties are 1,995, while the Confederates lose just 235.  General Banks will not be rushing to replace Grant anytime soon.
THURSDAY, MAY 28, 1863
After the overnight cloud burst a week earlier, the drought in Mississippi has returned with a vengeance. In Vicksburg this is already creating concern. The city has no wells. It has always drawn water from the numerous streams and rivulets that cut through the bluffs to the Mississippi River. General Pemberton has almost unlimited weapons and ammunition, collected here to supply the entire Confederacy. But he is short of food, and already rationing water. To escape the almost constant Federal bombardment, citizens of Vicksburg begin to dig in the cliffs to protect themselves. All hope in Vicksburg now rest on General Johnston in Jackson. In fact, that hope is already dead.
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