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Wednesday, August 02, 2017

VICKSBURG Chapter Thirty-Three

The bulk of 43 year old General William Tecumseh Sherman's XVth. Corps began its march from Milliken's Bend, above Vicksburg, down the narrow twisting cordoryed road to Hard Times Landing,  on Saturday, 2 May, 1863 – the day after the battle of Port Gibson. The cork was out of the bottle and Grant now had room to maneuver an additional 15,000 men on the Mississippi side of the river., and he wanted them with him as soon as possible  Neither Sherman's staff officers nor the soldiers they commanded were green troops anymore. They had learned how to organize and execute a march.
One hundred and seventeen years after the American Civil War , then 58 year old Louisiana native and Commandant of the United States Marine Corps,  General Robert Hilliard Barrow,  would say, “Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics." The 70 mile long road to Hard Times now carried not only the 15,000 men and supplies of the XVth Corps, but also the ammunition and supplies for the rest of the Army of Tennessee – some 45,000 troops in all. With so much traffic, so many individual, bizarre accidents and stupid mistakes were inevitable. But Sherman's staff officers kept the entire jumble moving more or less smoothly. It was a triumph of logistical planning.
General Sherman will later calculate that each Union soldier in the field required three pounds of food stuffs each day, in addition to the 13 pounds of “re-supply” required to keep him “effective” - with working rifle, ammunition and powder, boots, uniform, blanket, tent and medicine. Other than the clothes on his back, this all had to be carried in horse or mule drawn wagons. In their wagons each regiment was also expected to carry 25% additional supplies for their teamsters. Even though the Civil War has been labeled “the first railroad war”, its armies were always carried on the backs of horses and mules.
To support each 1,000 men in the field required 40 – 50 wagons (drawn by about 300 mules), to carry foodstuffs (for the humans and animals), tents, blankets, cooking gear, ammunition, tack, horse and human shoes, and one or two ambulances. Each of the horses required 26 pounds of fodder per day and each mule required 24 pounds, half of which the army was required to carry and half of which the animals were expected to find for themselves. When Grant proposed “living of the land” after leaving Port Gibson it was a literal proposal for the animals which reduced the number of wagons required. Each 2-3,000 pound wagon load of supplies could cover about 20 miles in an eight hour day of marching. As the army marched the supplies would be used up, which would lighten the load a little, but the humans and the animals still had to eat.
On average a Civil War army required one horse for every three men - 6 horses to pull each 2,500 pound artillery piece, and 6 mules to pull each wagon. And that was in addition to the mounts for cavalry and officers – which meant that Grant’s army of 42,000 men required 14,000 horses and mules. 
The vast majority of animals in a Civil War army lived a short, brutal life, most no more than a few months. But the war could not have been fought without them.
On the march to Hard Times Landing, when a wagon or gun carriage broke down the teamsters dragged it clear of the traffic lanes with minimal delay.  Pauses in the march were scheduled to allow reverse traffic. And commissary detachments bound for the Army of the Tennessee depot in Grand Gulf were allocated space within the column. The 70 mile march took 3 days – an easy 23 miles a day. The troops arrived at Hard Times Landing fresh and ready for battle. It was the kind of complicated mass movement which the army could not have made even a year earlier. And it added to the army's growing confidence in their officers and themselves.
Sherman (above) did not share that confidence. A week earlier, back on Sunday, 26 April, 1863,  he   had written about the approaching march to his brother John Penland,  “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 (including teamsters) 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.”  He also admitted to his wife. concern about the "narrow difficult road, liable by a shower to become a quagmire"  adding, “I look upon the whole thing as one of the most hazardous and desperate moves of this or any war.” 
Sherman’s road to Vicksburg really began ten years earlier when he floated into San Francisco Bay (above) on the overturned hulk of a sinking lumber schooner. It was the beginning of a decade of failure. 
Sherman’s father had died when he was nine, and the boy known as Tecumseh had been adopted by Thomas Ewing, a powerful Whig senator from Ohio, who secured the boy an appointment at West Point. Sherman had graduated from “The Point” in 1840 and attained the rank of Captain (above). But he resigned from the army in 1853 when he was offered the presidency of a San Francisco bank. 
On his way around South America, Sherman was shipwrecked twice, the last time just outside of the Golden Gate (above) . What followed were four relative good years. Then, in the panic of 1857, Sherman’s bank failed, leaving him broke and far from home. He struggled back to “the states”, eventually landing in Leavenworth, Kansas, where he failed as a lawyer.
And then, in 1859, he secured an appointment as Superintendent of the Louisiana State Military Academy. Just a year later, as secession broke out, Sherman famously wrote a Southern friend, “You are rushing to war with one of the most powerful, ingeniously mechanical, and determined people on earth...You are bound to fail.”  He had little respect for black Americans, and certainly did not support a war to free them, but he told the Louisiana Governor when he resigned, “On no account will I do any act or think any thought hostile…to the…United States.”
The coming of war seemed to offer Sherman opportunities. But at first they only led to more failure. He served as a colonel at First Battle of Bull Run (above), where he was wounded in the knee and shoulder trying to stem the panic.  As he recovered, he was promoted to Brigadier General of Volunteers and placed in command of the Department of the Cumberland, headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio.    But all he could see from his new post were shadows and threats.  In the fall of 1861 Sherman was relieved of duty, suffering a nervous collapse.  At his home in Ohio he contemplated suicide. He was saved when General Halleck offered Sherman the command of the Army of the Tennessee, Instead Sherman offered to serve as a division commander under Grant.
When they met, they liked each other immediately.  At Shiloh, on 6 April, 1862, a now overconfident Sherman saw his unprepared division overrun by Confederate troops. Sherman barely managed to prevent his men from being driven into the Tennessee River. It seemed yet another confirmation of his failure. But that night, when he reported to Grant’s command post, half expecting to be relieved, and confessed “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we”, Grant calmly replied, “Yes. Lick ‘em tomorrow, though.” And with that stoic exchange Sherman’s luck changed. From that night forward, he might disagree with Grant, but he would always “...co-operate with zeal”.
But after being separated from his friend for several days, at such a crucial moment in the campaign, 
"Cump's " imagination was feeding deep doubts about Grant',  which he shared with the commander of his second division, 42 year old Kentucky political General, Francis Preston Blair Jr. (above).  Sherman wrote to Blair that, “...some other way must be found to feed this army."  He later told his 39 year old 3rd Division commander, Brigadier General James Madison Tuttle, “I apprehend great difficulty in the matter of food." 
Despite these misgivings Sherman judged the march itself a success. He would write later, “Our route lay by Richmond (Louisiana)...and Roundabout Bayou, then following Bayou Vidal, we struck the Mississippi River at Perkins Plantation (we know as "Somerset"). Thence the route followed Lake St. Joseph to a plantation called "Hard Times" (owned at that time by Dr. Hollingsworth) about five miles above Grand Gulf.” And like any tourist, Sherman noted the celebrities he brushed against, such as the fantastic Franklin Plantation mansion of Doctor Allen T. Bowie, said to be “...a relative of Jim Bowie” of the Alamo fame.
Meanwhile, across the river, McClernand's and McPherson's Corps of Grant's army were resting on the east bank of the Big Black River, roughly between  Willow and Rocky Springs.  An officer noted they had been “Bivouacked near Hankinson's Ferry three days, giving the men ample time to rest and clean themselves....” The regimental history of the 48th Ohio Volunteer Infantry recorded they put the time to good use. “Orders were therefore issued to subsist on the products of the country...and from that time...foraging parties, or perhaps better known as "bummers," were sent out...”
They were a jolly, mischievous set....They slaughtered the pigs in the pens; the cattle and horses were driven from the fields; smokehouses and cellars were ransacked for flour, meal and bacon; the chickens and turkeys were captured in the yard; the mules were hitched to the family carriage, and the provisions stowed away in it,...Toward evening the foragers returned to camp, driving the cattle before them, followed by a long line of vehicles of every description, loaded with all kinds of provisions, which was equally distributed among the different regiments.” Of course, not all regiments were as inventive as the 48th Ohio.  A worried lieutenant in another regiment in McClernand's corps wrote to his wife on Tuesday, 5 May, that the ten day's rations had about run out. “I have got one cracker left and some meat ..." he complained.
On Wednesday, 6 May, 1863 Sherman's XVth Corps started crossing the river. As each unit came ashore at Grand Gulf, they were immediately pushed up the road toward Willow and Rocky Springs. It would take a few days, but soon all 45,000 men of the Army of the Tennessee would be just south of the Big Black River.  Vicksburg would be just 30 miles away. So near and so tempting. What would be Grant's next move?  And what would Pemberton do?
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