Almost from the commencement of secession, until the end of the year 1861, and for some time after, the rebels had and kept control of the Mississippi River
, from the Ohio
to the Gulf of Mexico
, some seven hundred miles. From this vast extent of the greatest of rivers all Union ships and commerce were shut out for nearly a year; so that on January 1, 1862, the secession government was practically what it claimed to be, in sole control of a united and entire Confederacy.
To recover the control of the Mississippi
, and thereby sever the Confederacy
, was one of the earliest strategic purposes of the Federal
government, second only to the defence of Washington
or the capture of Richmond
A free waterway for the safe conveyance of troops of the Union Army
and their supplies, and for the commerce of the great West
to the Gulf
, was alone of untold value to the Union
cause; but the permanent severance of the Confederacy
into two parts entirely cut off from each other was to be the crushing blow which sealed the doom of secession.
The Confederacy west of the Mississippi
embraced the great states of Arkansas
, and the larger part of Louisiana
, whose great corn, cotton, and sugar plantations, and vast droves of cattle, horses, sheep, and swine furnished an inexhaustible supply of food and other sinews of war to the rest of secessia, east of the river.
In 1860 there were in these three states over 1,000,000 cattle, 150,000 horses and mules, and nearly 620,000 sheep and swine; and they raised 50,000,000 bushels of corn and 1,500,000 bales of cotton annually.
All this vast resource and wealth contributed to the success of the Confederacy
during 1861 and 1862, and until the summer of 1863, when the capture of Vicksburg
and of Port Hudson
by the Union
forces under Grant
and under Banks
wrenched the majestic river from the Confederate
control, and once again, in the words of Lincoln
, it ‘flowed unvexed to the sea.’
The first decisive blow in the recovery of the Mississippi
was the capture of Island No.10
in the river opposite the line between Tennessee
in April, 1862.
In the same month fell Forts Jackson
and St. Philip
, not far from the river's mouth, by which victory New Orleans was restored to the