The capture of the defences of the upper Mississippi, and the fall of New Orleans with the forts that covered it, by no means completed the task of opening the great Western river, four hundred miles of which remained under Confederate control. Two strongly-fortified places, Vicksburg on the north and Port Hudson on the south, with an intermediate intrenched position at Grand Gulf, defended this portion of the river, and were destined to give the Union armies no small trouble before they could be taken and the river again made a national highway. Before describing the movements by which this great purpose was effected, it is necessary to bring up our review of Western events to the date of these operations.
The advance of Lee into Maryland had its parallel in a vigorous northward raid made by Bragg in the West, in which he crossed the national line of defence and advanced nearly to the Ohio. The capture of Corinth by the Union forces had been succeeded by some important military operations, which may be briefly epitomized. Chattanooga, a town situated on the Tennessee River just north of the Georgia State line, and on the eastern flank of the Cumberland Mountains, became now a point of great military importance, and Buell was ordered to occupy it with his army. He commenced his march on June 10, 1862, but moved too deliberately to effect his purpose. Bragg, the Confederate commander, as soon as he discerned the object of Buell's march, hastened with the greatest rapidity to the place, and took firm possession of it before Buell could reach it. The latter was forced to retreat, and reinforcements were sent him from Grant's army, to strengthen him against an advance by Bragg. This fact was taken advantage of by Price and Van Dorn, who confronted Grant with a force of considerable strength. They made movements intended to induce Grant to weaken his army still further, hoping for an opportunity to seize Corinth. Grant at once assumed the offensive. Rosecrans was sent to Iuka, to which place Price had advanced. He reached this place on September 19. A battle ensued, which ended in both sides holding their ground. During the night, however, the Confederates decamped, and marched too rapidly to be overtaken. On October 3, Van Dorn and Price in conjunction assailed Rosecrans at Corinth, Grant being then at Jackson. Rosecrans had about twenty thousand men. The Confederates had about forty thousand, and made their assault with great vigor and persistency. Their charge on the works, however, ended in a severe and sanguinary repulse and a hasty retreat, in which they were pursued for sixty miles. They lost, in killed, wounded, and prisoners, about nine thousand men. The Union loss was about two thousand four hundred.
While these operations were taking place, Bragg was engaged in an invasion of Kentucky that threatened disaster to the Union cause. He marched actively northward with an army of fifty thousand men, reaching the line of the Nashville and Louisville Railroad at Munfordsville, whose garrison he captured. A division of his army, under Kirby Smith, marched from Knoxville, and at Richmond, Kentucky, routed General Manson. Smith claimed to have killed and wounded one thousand and taken five thousand prisoners, with a valuable spoil in arms, ammunition, and provisions. He then passed through Lexington, and reached Cynthiana.
This raid had necessitated a rapid reverse movement on the part of Buell, who was forced with all haste to march from southern Tennessee to the Ohio, a distance of three hundred miles. From Munfordsville Bragg moved to Frankfort, where he formed a junction with Kirby Smith. The one had made feigned movements against Nashville, and the other against Cincinnati, but intercepted despatches taught Buell that their true object was Louisville, and to this place he hastened with all speed. Bragg had moved too slowly. He had been six weeks in marching from Chattanooga to Frankfort. Yet he would have captured Louisville but for detention by a burnt bridge, which enabled Buell to get in advance. The latter had hastened north with the utmost speed, leaving a garrison at Nashville, and reaching Louisvill on September 25. He found that city in a panic. At this point he was reinforced by troops from all quarters, till his army reached the number of one hundred thousand men.
Meanwhile, Bragg had issued a proclamation to the Kentuckians in emulation of that which Lee had issued in Maryland, and with like unsatisfactory results. The people of Kentucky had fully decided to remain in the Union. Bragg's foraging-parties scoured and devastated the surrounding country, carrying off all the spoil they could find. Men were conscripted and forced into his army. He now commenced a deliberate retreat, while Buell advanced upon him. A severe battle took place on October 8 at Perryville, in which both sides lost heavily and neither gained a decisive advantage. Bragg's retreat, however, continued, and he reached Chattanooga without further loss. Buell's movements in pursuit were so annoyingly slow that he was removed from his command by the government and replaced by Rosecrans. Bragg's expedition, so far as political ends were concerned, had proved a failure. He had, however, carried off vast quantities of provisions and clothing.
New movements quickly supervened. Rosecrans at once reorganized his army, and concentrated it at Nashville. Bragg had hardly reached Chattanooga before he was ordered to march northward again. He reached Murfreesborough, to the south of Nashville, whence he sent out detachments of cavalry to cut Rosecrans's communications, and where he indulged in Christmas festivities, with Davis, the Confederate President, as his guest. Yet Rosecrans had no intention of remaining idle. He made a sudden march on December 26, drove back the Confederate outposts, and on the 30th confronted Bragg, who was stationed two miles in front of Mur-freesborough. Rosecrans had forty-three thousand and Bragg sixty-two thousand men. A battle took place at this point on the 31st, Bragg assailing with such strength as to drive back the right wing of the Union army. The next division, commanded by Sheridan, held its own with much energy, but was finally forced back, though in unbroken order. The other divisions were obliged to follow.
So far the advantage had been with the Confederates. But Rosecrans readjusted his army, formed a new line, and awaited the triumphant advance of his foe. The assault was tremendous, but it was met with a withering fire of musketry and artillery, and though four times repeated, the Union line remained unbroken. A fresh division of seven thousand men was brought forward and assailed Rosecrans's left flank, but with the same ill fortune. Night fell, the closing night of 1862. On New-Year's day the armies faced each other without a renewal of the battle. So they continued till the 3d, Rosecrans strongly intrenching his position. On the night of the 3d Bragg secretly withdrew, leaving his antagonist in possession of the battle-field, though too much crippled to pursue. Each army had lost about one-fourth of its whole force. Rosecrans had lost more than a third of his artillery, and a large portion of his train. But he had bravely held his ground, and taught his enemies that the Ohio River was beyond their reach. The Cumberland Mountains were thenceforward to be the boundary of the Confederacy in that quarter.
The military events in the West during 1863 were of the utmost importance, ending in the opening of the Mississippi and the capture of Chattanooga. The first achievement had been attempted by Farragut, immediately after the taking of New Orleans. He sent a part of his fleet up the river, captured Baton Rouge and Natchez, and advanced to Vicksburg. This city refused to surrender, and was bombarded by Farragut, who ran the batteries with his fleet. Orders from Washington checked these operations, there being no land-force ready to co-operate, and the fleet being unable to silence the batteries.
In the autumn of 1862 Grant made his first efforts towards his projected reduction of Vicksburg. His army was now large, and he advanced, driving Pemberton, the Confederate commander at Vicksburg, before him. Sherman was sent with a strong force to march down the Mississippi, while Grant moved by an inland route, to take the city in the rear. His scheme was frustrated by an unforeseen event. Holly Springs had been established as his depot of supplies. Van Dorn, with the Confederate cavalry, made a rapid movement to Grant's rear, and captured this place, then guarded by only a single regiment, on December 20. The vast stores that had been accumulated, valued at more than two millions of dollars, were destroyed by fire. Grant was forced to give up his overland route, and move to the river.
In the mean time, Sherman had reached the vicinity of Vicksburg. At this locality a line of high bluffs border the river, with but a narrow space between them and the stream. The Yazoo River joins the Mississippi above the city, while the surrounding soil is cut by numerous deep bayous, and the low lands are very swampy. A fortified line, fifteen miles in length, had been constructed along the bluffs. Sherman made a strong but ineffectual assault upon the fortifications, and found that the Confederates were being reinforced so rapidly, while he was surrounded with such difficulties, that he was obliged to abandon the expedition. The only success gained was the reduction of a stronghold on the Arkansas River, which had served as a basis for steamboat expeditions against his line of supplies. Here five thousand prisoners and much valuable material were taken.
The fortifications at Vicksburg were now strengthened until it became an exceedingly strong post. Grand Gulf and Port Hudson, farther down the river, were also fortified. Against these strong-holds the efforts of the Western armies were now mainly directed. General Banks, aided by Farragut's fleet, entered upon the siege of Port Hudson, while Grant put forward all his strength against Vicksburg, assisted by the gunboats under Admiral Porter. The Army of the Tennessee now numbered one hundred and thirty thousand men, of whom fifty thousand men took part in the expedition against Vicksburg. Porter had a fleet of sixty vessels, carrying two hundred and eighty guns and eight hundred men.
Grant arrived and took command of the expedition on January 30, 1863. The first plan of operations adopted was to dig a canal across the neck of land made by a wide bend in the river at Vicksburg, with the hope that the Mississippi would take this new course and abandon the city. Two months were spent on this, yet a rise in the river rendered the labor unavailing, by overflowing all the surrounding space. Then strenuous efforts were made to transport the fleet and army below Vicksburg by way of the bayous and larger streams that bordered the river. Efforts of this kind were made both east and west of the river, but in both cases without success. The surrounding country meanwhile was so overflowed and marshy as to interfere greatly with land-operations. It was next determined to run the batteries with the fleet. The night of the 16th of April was fixed for this exploit. It was achieved with much greater success than had been expected. Several of the vessels were wrecked, but the great bulk of the fleet passed in safety. A land-force had been sent down west of the river, to meet the vessels. The next project was to attack the fortifications at Grand Gulf, fifty miles below. An assault by the fleet on this place proved futile. A land-force was then carried across the river, which attacked and carried Port Gibson and defeated several detachments in the field. The successes thus gained rendered Grand Gulf untenable, and it was evacuated, and taken possession of by Grant's army.
It was now early May. Three months had been spent in the operations against Vicksburg, and it was still as far from capture as ever. Grant's whole army was now in the vicinity of Grand Gulf, and a new system of operations was adopted. Cutting loose from all lines of communication, he marched out into the open country, determined to subsist his army on the people, defeat all the defenders of Vicksburg in the field, and carry that place by assault from the rear. General J. E. Johnston commanded the Confederate forces in the field, and several engagements ensued, in all of which the Union army was successful. The city of Jackson was captured, and Pemberton, who marched out from Vicksburg to co-operate with Johnston, was defeated and forced to retreat to his intrenchments. Grant rapidly pursued, and on the 19th of May took possession of the outer works of the Vicksburg lines, definitely shutting the enemy within his fortifications. The important post of Haines' Bluff was taken, and communication opened with the fleet.
The campaign had lasted twenty days. In that time Grant had marched two hundred miles, beaten two armies in five successive battles, captured twenty-seven heavy cannon and sixty-one pieces of field-artillery, taken six thousand five hundred prisoners, and killed and wounded about six thousand men. He had forced the evacuation of Grand Gulf, seized Jackson, the State capital, destroyed thirty miles of railroad, and ended by investing the strong-hold of Vicksburg. Starting with two days' rations, he had subsisted his army on the country, and reached his goal with a loss in all of four thousand three hundred and thirty-five men.
Return to The Great Republic by the Master Historians (Vol 3)