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Saturday, June 23, 2018

VICKSBURG Chapter Seventy - One

Eleven River miles above Vicksburg , at Milliken's Bend, were Grant's primary supply depots. With the capture of Haine's Buff these could now to be bypassed, and a new depot established just behind his the front lines - , up the Yazoo River at the Johnson plantation on Chickasaw Bayou. 
The regiments protecting those warehouses were transferred as well. But that left Grant with the same problem he had in December at Holly Springs. There were still depots at The Bend, and 5 miles closer to Vicksburg, new hospitals (above)  which had sprung up at the scene of that previous winter's pestilence and disease, at Young's Point - opposite the mouth of the Yazoo River.
The only combat unit at hand to prevent the rebels from cutting the Mississippi river to Grant's rear was the heavily abused 23rd Iowa Infantry regiment.  After sacrificing themselves at the battles of Port Gibson, Champion Hill and the Big Black River Bridge, there were only 160 Iowa boys left -  barely enough to guard Confederate prisoners captured at the Big Black. The need for more soldiers was so desperate that Grant had been forced to bolster the weary corn huskers were 1,410 black volunteers.
A few short weeks before they had been plantations slaves. Touching a gun would have gotten them shot dead or lynched.  Now they wore blue coats with brass buttons stamped “U.S.” And they carried muskets, produced so quickly some of them would not fire.  They were still largely untrained, but their white officers were mostly veterans and volunteers.  These green soldiers  had been roughly formed into the 9th and 11th Louisiana and 1st Mississippi regiments, referred to as the African Brigade.  In no way could they yet be considered an effective combat force , but they were determined to fight rather than become slaves again.
But that was a drop in the bucket to what Grant needed. He begged General Hallack and the War Department to send new units to free up the XVI Corps, under 45 year old Minnesota businessman, Brigadier General Cadwallader Colden Washburn. These divisions under William Sooy Smith, Greenville Dodge, Nathan Kimball and Jacob Lauman, and been garrisoning Memphis and LaGrange Tennessee and Corinth, Mississippi.  It would take a week, but by the first of June the amazing northern railroad network  and the United States Military Rail Road had these green soldiers moving to occupy central Tennessee, freeing those 15,000 men to fill the southern trenches of McClernand's lines, closing the ring around Vicksburg.
With those men, Grant's strength would top 55,000. But if Joe Johnson's army, gathering around Jackson, Mississippi, could advance quickly enough, he might force an escape route for Pemberton's trapped 20,000 soldiers in Vicksburg. Grant (above) needed more men. And, amazingly, he found them, thanks to the worst disaster suffered by the Union Army in the entire war.
Said a Yankee participant in the bloody fiasco of Saturday, 13 December 1862, “If ever men in this war were slaughtered blindly, it was there.” A federal General observing the battle recalled that rank after rank of blue clad soldiers melted “...like snow coming down on warm ground”. Still, they came on, 47 brigades, one brigade at a time, one after the other, thrown against  entrenched rebels. John L. Smith, of the 118th Pennsylvania volunteers described the attacks as “...simply murder.” The returning wounded warned the fresh brigades they were “marching into an abattoir.” And still they marched on. Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin told Lincoln to his face, “It was not a battle, it was a butchery.”
In this single disaster 1,284 union soldiers were killed, twice as many as were wounded. Almost another thousand were captured or walked away from the war in horror and disgust. Federal losses were 8 times those of the rebel defenders. Lincoln said later that another battle like this might destroy the army. And the sole man responsible for this catastrophe was the commander of the Army of the Potomac, Major General Ambrose Everett Burnside, for ever after known as the “Butcher of Fredricksburg”.
Like a Shakespearean character, command of the Army of the Potomac would be offered Ambrose Burnside (above) three times. Twice he had shown the good sense to reject it, assuring Lincoln, “I am not competent to command such a large army as this." But every time another of his peers failed, his political masters came back to Burnside. 
He was a graduate of West Point. He had invented his own carbine, 55,000 of which were in use. He was a solid Republican, and a popular Rhode Island politician. He was a successful businessman. In 1861 his IX Corps had cleared 80% of the North Carolina coast, and at South Mountain in mid 1862 by itself it had pinned down the rebel army, forcing it to fight for its life at Antietam. So Lincoln offered him the crown for a third time. And as ultimate proof of his incompetence, Burnside accepted.
In many armies, after a disaster like Fredricksburg,  Burnside would have been tried for incompetence, and shot by a firing squad.  In the American Army he was exiled to headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio. He requested his old IX corp to join him there. And as a sop to his battered ego, in March of 1863, stripped of one division, the 8,000 men were returned to Burnside and took over occupation duties in Kentucky.
And that is why, in late May of 1863, a frantic War Department found two full divisions of damn good soldiers sitting on their behinds in Kentucky. The 1st Division of 39 year old Pennsylvania canal boat operator Brigadier General Thomas Welsh, and the 2nd Division of 33 year old Schenectady lawyer Brigadier General Robert Brown Potter, were transferred to Grant's command and told to quickly move south. Needless to say, General Burnside was ordered not to accompany them.
The IX Brigade was transported to Haine's Bluff, to defend the new supply depot. With their arrival Grant's army numbered about 75,000 men. More troops would follow, with time. The rule of reinforcing success was now working for Grant.
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