Vicksburg: A Lesson In Flexibility

By Jude, Junior Patriot Columnist

The city of Vicksburg lay atop a high bluff on the Mississippi River giving it a strategic location. Early in the Civil War, the Confederacy had realized this and sent 2,000 troops and several batteries of cannon to start fortifying the city. You see, if you look on a map, Vicksburg sits on an extreme curve of the Mississippi River. That means any ships would have to slow down at that curve and making them easy targets for the Vicksburg’s gunners.

The Union also realized Vicksburg’s importance.  Two attempts were made to attack the city by water; however, these attempts were easily driven off by Confederate cannon.  However, discouraging these attempts were, the Union was determined to drive the Confederates from what Lincoln called the “Gibraltar of the West.”

By October 1862 Federal troops controlled all of the Mississippi except a 130-mile stretch from Vicksburg, Mississippi in the north to Port Hudson, Louisiana in the south. This was the Confederate lifeline. Meat and salt from the Western States were invaluable to the Eastern States. Eastern clothes and weapons were necessary to the Western States.

So newly-appointed Major General Ulysses S. Grant began drawing up plans for a campaign against Vicksburg. He kept his plans flexible so he could change them without ruining his campaign.  He gained command of all the troops in the area in October of 1862.  He had three army corps and his troops numbered 34,000.  Grant also had Colonel Benjamin Grierson’s cavalry and Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron.  Opposing him was General John C. Pemberton’s Confederate force, charged with holding Vicksburg.  Overall he had 40,000 troops.

Grant’s first move was down the Mississippi Central Railroad in the direction of Jackson.  Pemberton’s forces were outflanked at the Tallahatchie River forcing the Confederates to retreat to Grenada.  However, Grant was very slow in pursuing them.

Unhappy at Grant’s lack of speed, Lincoln authorized John A. McClernard to raise an army to take to Vicksburg.  He had promised Lincoln to take the city by Christmas.  However, Union Commander-in-Chief, Henry Halleck, distrusted McClernard and placed him and his army under Grant’s command.

Confederates under Earl Van Dorn and Nathan B. Forest slipped past the Union flank and attacked Grant’s supply lines, forcing Grant to retreat.  Interestingly, Sherman one of Grant’s generals, kept on, only to beat at Chickasaw Bluff.

Now Grant rethought his plan.  Through the winter of 1862, his troops tried in vain to widen bayous and dig canals in an attempt to bypass that extreme curve that made Vicksburg so dangerous to pass through.  Torrential rains swamped these attempts and caused Grant to abandon this plan.

So when spring came, Grant proposed a daring plan.  While Grant moved his forces on the western side of the Mississippi, Admiral Porter would run his ships past Vicksburg’s batteries at night then meet up with Grant at Hard Times Landing to ferry Grant’s troops into the state of Mississippi.  Lastly, Ben Grierson’s cavalry would distract the Rebels.

All three moves worked.  Grant successfully arrived at Hard Times.  Porter got past Vicksburg’s cannon, losing only one ship.  Grierson raided the railroads, causing Pemberton to send cavalry and even a division of troops after him.

Now moving quickly, Grant defeated the Rebels at Port Gibson and Raymond.  Then he moved on to take Jackson and part of the Southern Railroad of Mississippi.  He then defeated rebels at the decisive Battle of Champion Hill.  Pemberton had 4,300 casualties and Grant had 2,400.  The Rebels retreated to the Big Black River and were again defeated.  They now retreated all the way to Vicksburg.

Now Grant surrounded the city.  Two attempts were made to breach the fortifications, but they were pushed back with heavy casualties.  So Grant settled down into a siege.

After a five-week siege, Pemberton surrendered 30,000 troops and its command of the river.  Interestingly enough, this happened on July 4, 1863, jointly with a Union Victory at Gettysburg.  Lincoln was so pleased with Grant, that he said, “Grant is my man and I am his for the rest of the war.”  Because Grant was flexible with his strategies, he effectively outmaneuvered and confused the Confederates.

So if we can learn to be open-minded and adaptable this will allow us to make better decisions and not give up when things are hard.  This can be applied to nearly every circumstance, from winning a battle to learning math.


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