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Chapter 5:

    • Vicksburg.
    • -- General McClernand's schemes. -- Grant's purposes. -- the lessons of a rebel raid. -- Grant and the secession women. -- McClernand's insubordination and braggadocio. -- the difficulties of operating against Vicksburg. -- Grant's persistency and resources. -- the canal, Lake Providence, and Yazoo pass. -- the country impatient. -- plots to remove him. -- President Lincoln's reply. -- the final and successful plan. -- opposition. -- Grant assumes the responsibility. -- brilliant operations. -- Jackson, Champion Hill, and the Big Black. -- the assault on Vicksburg, and the siege. -- strategy and vigor. -- Vicksburg reduced. -- Grant's interview with Pemberton.--“unconditional surrender” again. -- thirty thousand prisoners, and one hundred and seventy-two cannon. -- the public joy. -- President Lincoln's letter. -- General Halleck's Acknowledgment. -- Grant's modest dignity, and the sullen Discourtesy of rebels. -- Grant's confidence of success. -- his persistency dashes the hopes of a rebel woman. -- his unwearying labors and efforts. -- care for his troops. -- his well-earned reputation.

Vicksburg, which will be forever associated with the name of Grant, was the scene of achievements which confirmed him in the estimation of his country-men, and established his reputation as a general above the reach of the detractions of jealousy and misrepresentation. While Grant was engaged in defending his district of West Tennessee from the threatened invasion of the superior forces of the enemy, McClernand, who had been his subordinate, and was one of the political appointments which he had deprecated, was in Washington, [55] endeavoring to obtain an independent command. It was very desirable that the Mississippi River should be opened its entire length. The Union forces had opened it to Memphis and below, but at Vicksburg the rebels had strong fortifications, and entirely commanded the river between that place and Port Hudson, thus maintaining their communications between the west and the east, and drawing large supplies from Louisiana and Texas. McClernand proposed to open this part of the river, and persuaded President Lincoln to authorize him to organize a force of the new troops from the west for that purpose. He imagined himself fully equal to the undertaking, talked boastfully, claimed the expedition as his original conception, and desired the sole command, with the idea that he should have the sole honor of its success. General Halleck, however, and others, had no such exalted opinion of McClernand's abilities as an officer, and he was allowed to organize the expedition subject to General Grant's direction. Halleck seemed to have more faith in Grant than formerly, or at least placed him far above McClernand as a soldier. He atoned for his former injustice by allowing Grant great freedom of action, and heartily aiding him in all his plans.

But McClernand had no patent right to such a movement. It had formed a part of Halleck's grand plan of operations when he was commander of the Western Department; and Grant had long ago had his eye on Vicksburg as an objective, towards which he would have advanced had his forces been sufficient. Before McClernand got ready to take command of his expedition, Grant sent Sherman, with all the troops collected [56] at Memphis, except a sufficient garrison, down the river to commence operations, and entered earnestly into the movement which was to be under his general direction.

As McClernand's new levies arrived, they were sent to the same destination. Grant at the same time penetrated Mississippi, with the view of cooperating in the rear of Vicksburg. But his forces, though he had accomplished much, were insufficient to hold his long line of railroad communication, and still make advances. The rebels were wary, and, avoiding battle, suddenly cut his communications, and destroyed a large quantity of supplies, and he was obliged to fall back; while Sherman made an unsuccessful attack on the rebel position, on the Yazoo. But the cutting of his communications taught Grant to subsist his army on the enemy's country. The rebels were rejoicing over this disaster to the Union cause, which they exaggerated, and fancied that the national troops must either starve where they were, or retreat, demoralized and beaten, an easy prey for Forrest's active cavalry.

Some rebel women came one day to Grant's headquarters, smiling with exultation at the news they had heard. They thought to taunt him, “in a genteel way,” with his loss, and, as they supposed, his hopeless condition.

“What will you do, general,” asked one, “now that you have lost Holly Springs, and your soldiers will have nothing to eat?”

The general noticed, without appearing to, the glances exchanged by his visitors, and the taunting tone, which was but half concealed, and he quickly replied,-- [57]

“ My soldiers will find plenty to eat in your barns and storehouses.”

The exultant smiles of his visitors were quickly changed to looks of astonishment and alarm.

“You would not rob us! You would not take from non-combatants!” they cried.

“A commander's first duty is to provide for his troops,” replied the general, blandly. “Your friends destroyed my supplies, and I must take others wherever they may be found.”

Remonstrances could not prevail, nor indignant protests, nor harmless threats, nor angry tears. The troops must be fed, and the orders were given to seize all necessary supplies. Grant was now convinced, if he had not been at an earlier stage of the war, that the rebels, who wickedly began the rebellion, and prosecuted it with such obstinacy, hatred, and cruelty, should be made to feel the rigors of war, and that treacherous and malignant non-combatants — those innocents whose “sufferings” Franklin Pierce bewailed — should not be spared. So the country was stripped, and the army was fed. The rebels paid dearly for this raid on Grant's communications, not only there, but throughout the South wherever the Union armies marched, for the lesson which he then learned was afterwards thoroughly and justly practised.

When McClernand took command, he not only lacked the confidence of experienced soldiers, but he manifested insubordination, with overweening conceit criticised the orders of his superior, claimed the expedition as his own, and sought to establish his independence of Grant. His conduct was so offensive, and so [58] endangered the success of the movement, that Grant was authorized to name another commander, or to assume the command himself. To avoid unpleasant results, which might have arisen from superseding McClernand by Sherman, to whom he wished to give the command, he assumed it himself, and retained McClernand in command of his own corps. But the latter, while not a very efficient officer, was still insubordinate and troublesome, boastful and obnoxious to his fellow-officers. Finally his spirit of braggadocio led him to exaggerate what he was doing during one of the fierce assaults in the rear of Vicksburg, to claim successes which he had not gained, and to ask for support which involved an unnecessary sacrifice of life. And to crown this, he published a bombastic address to his corps, in which he recounted all its gallant deeds to his own glory, and the disparagement of other corps and commanders. This unsoldierly conduct justly incensed other officers, and McClernand was at once relieved of his command, which he had obtained through political influence, and in the exercise of which the good of the country was made subordinate to his own glorification. But for Grant's patience and forbearance, he would have been sooner relieved for other reasons.

The movement against Vicksburg was one of the greatest importance. Its object was to open the Mississippi, in order not only to secure that majestic line of communication with the sea, and with the Union forces at its mouth, but to divide the rebel confederacy in twain, and to cut off the rebel armies in the east from one of their chief sources of supply. It was a movement [59] full of difficulties, for it was a position of great natural strength, affording no vantage-ground for an attack, and it had been industriously fortified. The rebels knew its importance to them, and they spared no pains to make it secure. At the first indications of a movement against it, they extended and strengthened its defences, and concentrated their forces so as to be able to present, at any point of attack, numbers at least equal to the assailants.

General Grant believed from the first that the only way of capturing Vicksburg was by an attack in the rear, or a siege. Such had been his plans before the expedition down the river had been determined upon; and when his communications were cut, had he known what he then learned by experience, and what was then first tried by any considerable force,--that he could subsist an army on the enemy's country,--he would have moved promptly on Vicksburg. But the river expedition was now the favorite one with the government, and at this time, perhaps, the most advantageous one, and he bent all his energies to secure its success, aiming still to get to the rear of the rebel position. It was impossible to carry the enemy's works in front, or on their flank, an attack at the only practicable point, on the Yazoo, having already failed; and it was equally impossible to pass the rebel batteries on the river with a sufficient number of transports and gunboats in order to flank them on the south. The problem was, therefore, somewhat difficult in theory as well as in practice.

The year previous, a Union force, under the command of General Williams, had been sent up from New Orleans by General Butler, with a part of Admiral [60] Farragut's fleet, and being, unable to pass Vicksburg, had commenced cutting a canal across the neck of land formed by the bend in the river opposite Vicksburg, with the view of turning the waters of the Mississippi, and securing a safe passage, while leaving Vicksburg some miles inland. Without being too confident of success, Grant ordered this work to be completed on a larger scale and in a more effective manner. He always felt that it was essential to keep his men actively employed; and even if this canal did not enable the fleet to pass down below Vicksburg, it occupied the attention and encouraged the hopes of the troops. The work was pushed forward with vigor; but it took months to bring it near completion, and then a rapid rise in the river broke through the embankment of the canal and overflowed the country, and the work did not answer its purpose.

But Grant had not been idly awaiting the result of this experiment. He was busy in seeking other practicable routes by which he could reach the position he desired. As soon as he took command, he gave orders for cutting a way from the Mississippi to Lake Providence on the west, from which it was hoped steamers might pass into the Tensas, and thence into the Red River, and a passage thus be opened for communication with Banks, who was to cooperate from New Orleans in the opening of the river. At about the same time he sent an expedition to explore on the eastern side of the Mississippi, and to open, if possible, a practicable passage through Yazoo Pass and Steele's Bayou. At one time the latter route promised to be practicable, and to enable Grant to flank the rebel works on the [61] Yazoo, and reach the high land in the rear of Vicksburg. But unexpected obstacles, natural and artificial, were encountered; and though the novel and remark-serious loss and alarm to the rebels, it was found at last to be unavailing.

While Grant was making all these efforts to solve the problem before him, the country, ignorant of the difficulties and the measures taken to overcome them, became impatient. There was a clamor for his removal, prompted in part by jealousy, and in part by ignorance and impatience. This feeling at Washington, and at the North, suggested all sorts of rumors and misrepresentations about Grant, the condition of his troops, and everything which could affect his character as a general. Great efforts were consequently made to remove him; and among those who were using every exertion to accomplish this was General McClernand, who desired and expected to have the command himself. How much of the misrepresentation of Grant and his efforts is due to that scheming subordinate and his friends, may be imagined. He would probably have succeeded but for the good will and firmness of President Lincoln, who even then believed in Grant. To one of those who urged Grant's removal the President said, decidedly, “I rather like the man. I think we'll try him a little longer.” Secretary Stanton, too, “rather liked the man,” and he was not removed to give place to incompetency and bombast. Amid all this clamor and misrepresentation, Grant patiently and earnestly discharged his duties, seeking success against the enemy for the sake of the country, rather than [62] wasting efforts for the sake of himself. So through his whole career, while there was an enemy of his country in his front, he did not turn back to fight his personal enemies in the rear. And never did he undertake to defend himself against the misrepresentations and plots of unscrupulous men, until in himself the safety and welfare of the country were assailed, and the fruits of all his victories were endangered.

But Grant's resources were not exhausted. He had yet another plan, to which, from the beginning, he had anticipated he might resort when the waters had sufficiently subsided. This was to move his army, which was now large and well organized, partly by water through the bayous on the west side of the river, and partly by a wagon road to New Carthage, and thence across the Mississippi below Warrenton, or to a point still farther down the river, and thence across to Grand Gulf. Admiral (then Commodore) Porter at the same time was to run by the rebel batteries with several of his gunboats, and some transports laden with supplies. These gunboats and transports, with such small steamers as could pass through the bayous, were to transport the troops across the river, and a movement was then to be made to the rear of Vicksburg. To this movement Grant's most trusted and able officers, such as Sherman and McPherson, were strongly opposed, as dangerous in the extreme. The army, they represented, would abandon its base of supplies, and would be entirely cut off from the North and all aid in case of any failure; and if not entirely successful, for which the chances were far from equal, the movement would be disastrous. But Grant had weighed the subject [63] well, was confident of success, and quietly assuming the responsibility, without holding any council of war, adhered to his plan, and issued orders for its execution.

The movement was successfully made, and attended with the most brilliant results. The gunboats, and most of the transports, passed the batteries at night without serious damage; the troops moved promptly under Grant's personal direction, and soon reached New Carthage. There, however, there was a delay on account of McClernand's inefficiency, and Commodore> Porter was constrained to urge the immediate presence of Grant at the front. Further examination showing that it was advisable, in consequence of McClernand's delay, to cross the Mississippi at a point below Grand Gulf, which was strongly fortified, General Grant, upon assuming immediate command, moved down from New Carthage to a point opposite Bruinsburg. There the troops were transported across the river by the steamers and gunboats, and established themselves on the Mississippi side, and compelled the evacuation of Grand Gulf. Then Grant,, sending his pithy despatch, “You may not hear from me again for several days,” cut loose from his base, and commenced his brilliant campaign. With skilful movements, which deceived the enemy, he marched to Jackson, skirmished, fought battles, captured Jackson, the capital of Mississippi, and then rapidly marched back to the rear of Vicksburg, defeating the rebels at Champion Hill and the Big Black, and driving them at last within the defences of their stronghold. The rebel forces were driven in dismay from Jackson, and their supplies [64] captured and destroyed; and as the army moved towards Vicksburg, the country was laid waste, and the railroad destroyed, so as to prevent or impede any rebel movement for the relief of Vicksburg.

It was one of the most successful and brilliant operations of modern warfare, and reflected the highest credit on Grant's military capacity. It was the conception of military genius, and was carried through by that confidence which is inspired by genius. Grant's army was now placed where he desired it — in front of the enemy, who was thus cut off from reinforcements and supplies. Another brilliant move and gallant contest, and communication was opened with the Mississippi above Vicksburg, and a base of supplies established. Grant was not disposed to commence the slow operations of a regular siege until he had attempted to carry the enemy's works by assault. He was especially induced to do this because of the danger of a movement upon his rear if he waited too long, believing the importance of Vicksburg to the rebels might lead them even to abandon other points, in order to concentrate a large army for its relief. But finding that the rebel works were too strong to be carried by assault, he commenced regular siege operations, guarding, by a strong force in his rear, against the advance of Johnston, who was collecting all the troops he could for the relief of the beleaguered city. The operations of this force in the rear, under the immediate command of Sherman, were brilliant and effectual. The country, for a great distance, was stripped of supplies, and every important point was guarded, so that Johnston was unable to make any successful movement. The siege operations, in the [65] mean time, progressed with vigor. By the disposition of Grant's forces, and the activity of the gunboats on the river, Vicksburg was completely cut off from supplies and reenforcements. The Union army slowly but surely advanced, siege guns were mounted, and the rebel fortifications and the city were continually shelled. The approaches at last reached the enemy's lines; one or two important rebel works were mined, assaulted, and captured, and the rebels, reduced to quarter rations, harassed and worn out by fatigues, at last, in despair, were obliged to yield.

On the 3d of July, Pemberton, the rebel commander, proposed an armistice and the appointment of commissioners to arrange for capitulation, in order “to save the further effusion of blood.” Grant declined to appoint commissioners, and informed Pemberton that he could stop the further effusion of blood “by an unconditional surrender of the city and garrison,” and that he could offer no other terms. An interview subsequently took place between the two commanders in front of the lines.

When they met, Pemberton inquired, somewhat abruptly, what terms would be allowed him.

“The terms named in my letter of this morning,” replied Grant.

“If that is all,” declared Pemberton, haughtily, “then his conference may as well terminate, and hostilities be resumed at once.”

“Very well,” said Grant, quietly; and he turned away, knowing that the enemy would soon be at his mercy.

But Bowen, Pemberton's subordinate, proposed that [66] he and General Smith, who accompanied Grant, should confer together on terms, and report to their superiors. While those two officers conferred together, Grant and Pemberton paced to and fro, conversing. Pemberton, nervous and dispirited, though insolent in manner, plucked straws to gnash his teeth upon; while Grant, quiet, imperturbable, and firm, calmly smoked his cigar, and as calmly spoke, taking no notice of his opponent's ill temper.

The terms proposed by Bowen were so utterly inadmissible as to elicit a smile from Grant, who promptly rejected them, and promised to send his ultimatum in writing, and the conference ended. Grant summoned a council of war, the only one he ever called, and asked the opinions of his officers. Always self-reliant, and ready to assume his proper responsibility, he evidently did not believe that in war there was safety in a multitude of counsel. In this case none of the terms proposed by his subordinates met with his approbation; but without any discussion he immediately dictated his own terms, which were in the main simply such as had been arranged by a cartel between the national and rebel authorities. The rebels were compelled to accept them or fare worse; and that was the position in which Grant always aimed to place the enemy.

On the 4th of July, Vicksburg, with its hundred and seventy cannon, and its thirty thousand rebel troops,1 was formally surrendered, and a portion of the victorious army entered the city. The Mississippi was opened, for Port Hudson was immediately surrendered, [67] as a consequence of the capture of Vicksburg, and the long-desired and important object of this campaign was attained: the Father of Waters rolled “unvexed to the sea.” The joyful news was flashed by telegraph through the country, and, added to the victory at Gettysburg, made that birthday of the country triply glorious and happy for the loyal people. The popular gratitude to Grant was freely expressed, and he was now recognized, by people, government, and soldiers, as, beyond all question, an able general, who, by brilliant movements, as well as indomitable energy, had secured victory unsurpassed in magnitude and importance by any hitherto achieved. President Lincoln, who had watched the progress of the operations against Vicksburg with the deepest interest, in a letter characterized by the honest frankness which was one of his prominent traits, wrote to Grant,--

“my Dear General: I do not remember that you and I ever met personally. I write this now as a grateful acknowledgment for the almost inestimable service you have done the country. I wish to say one word further. When you first reached the vicinity of Vicksburg, I thought you should do what you finally did — march the troops across the neck, run the batteries with the transports, and thus go below; and I never had any faith, except a general hope that you knew better than I, that the Yazoo expedition, and the like, could succeed. When you got below, and took Port Gibson, Grand Gulf, and vicinity, I thought you should go down the river and join General Banks; and when you turned northward, east of the Big Black, I thought [68] it was a mistake. I now wish to make the personal acknowledgment that you were right, and I was wrong.”

Other men, soldiers and civilians, ignorant of the difficulties and obstacles to be encountered, had made plans for taking Vicksburg, but few were so frank as President Lincoln, who, from that hour, had the fullest confidence in Grant, and gave him his hearty support.

General Halleck, who had been so slow to acknowledge Grant's ability, but who was thoroughly competent to judge of the merits of a campaign accomplished, wrote, “Your narrative of the campaign, like the operations themselves, is brief, soldierly, and in every respect creditable and satisfactory. In boldness of plan, rapidity of execution, and brilliancy of routes, these operations will compare most favorably with those of Napoleon about Ulm.”

When, on the 4th of July, Grant rode into the captured city, it was without any ostentatious parade, or any exhibition of triumph. The rebel soldiers stared at him curiously, as if they wondered how so unpretending a man could be a great general. Stopping at Pemberton's headquarters, he dismounted, and alone entered the porch of the house, neither guard nor officer receiving him. There sat Pemberton and his rebel officers, occupying all the seats; but, though they recognized him, not one of these polished scions of chivalry had the grace to offer him a chair, nor to give him a glass of cold water when he asked for it. It was, however, a sullen incivility and exhibition of bad temper, which had little effect on Grant. Though he wore no air of haughty triumph, he was conscious [69] of his victory; but he could pardon something to chagrin and wounded vanity; and while the vanquished Pemberton and his fellows continued sitting, the victor stood, quietly and courteously talking, till his business with the rebel chief was finished.

Through all the long campaign against Vicksburg, Grant had felt sure of ultimate success. His greatest anxiety — which, even then, did not amount to a doubt — was when he was contending against unnumbered difficulties and obstacles in his efforts to reach the enemy, and the country was becoming impatient at the tedious delays. But when he found that his long-contemplated movement could be made, he was no longer anxious, except to get his troops forward. He never doubted the result; he was confident of victory. His confidence then, as in all his campaigns, amounted almost to fatalism; but it was a confidence born not of blind egotism, or a superstitious belief in inevitable destiny, but of indefatigable effort and unyielding tenacity of purpose. When Sherman and McPherson advised against the movement, he was too confident to listen to their fears. When McClernand's inefficiency gave the rebels time to baffle his first plans, his confidence was not abated; but changing the details, he was never doubtful of reaching the end he aimed at. An incident during the siege illustrates the same confidence, and reveals its character.

As he was one day riding around his lines, he stopped for water at a house in which, notwithstanding its exposure, a rebel woman continued to live. Like most of her class, she was a bitter hater of the Yankees, and a thorough believer in the chivalry. Learning [70] who Grant was, she thought she would taunt him by asking,--

“Do you expect ever to get into Vicksburg, general?”

“Certainly,” replied the general, quietly but decidedly.

“I wonder when!” said the dame, with an evident sneer.

“I cannot tell exactly when I shall take the town,” said the general, with a little more decision than before; “but I mean to stay here till I do, if it takes me thirty years.”

The woman subsided. Such Yankee persistency and confidence dashed her spirits and her hopes. But she saw the general's promise kept without waiting thirty years.

While Grant was thus confident of the result from his tenacity of purpose, he labored indefatigably to secure it. Cautious, vigilant, active, his orders to his subordinates were promptly and explicitly given; and when fairly in the field, every considerable movement contributed to secure the object in view. The experience of the campaign developed his military genius, and proved him a great general in his ability to move and feed troops, as well as in the grand tactics of the field. His army was prompt and rapid in its movements, and always well supplied; and he attended so closely to the details of these matters, that, without the slightest effort or desire to make himself popular, he secured the attachment of his men. But he did not content himself with simply seeing that they were furnished with supplies; he looked well after the wounded and sick, and protected all against the extortions [71] of sutlers and steamboat captains, and other classes of vampyres that followed the army. Plain, quiet, and unassuming, but self-reliant, brave, and cool in the midst of danger, he was just the man to inspire the confidence, if not the enthusiasm, of the army under his command. He had thus, at the close of this brilliant campaign, established with the government, in the army, and before the world, a reputation as a general more solid than that of any other officer in the country.

1 One hundred and seventy-two cannon and thirty-one thousand six hundred men.

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