March 22, 1863 (Sunday)
Though Union Admiral David Farragut was only able to slip two vessels past the Confederate guns at Port Hudson, he was determined to make the best of it. About a week had gone by when, on this date, he found himself below Vicksburg and in communication with General Grant.
Farragut’s main purpose was to blockade the Red River. For the time being, it wasn’t that difficult of a job. The two Rebel ships, the CSS Webb and the recently-captured Queen of the West were both undergoing repairs, but would soon be focused upon keeping it open, allowing supplies to travel freely to Port Hudson.
To do this, he badly wanted two rams from Admiral David Dixon Porter’s fleet. Porter, however, was inconveniently retreating through Steele’s Bayou, and unable to assist Farragut.
If he didn’t soon receive help, however, other duties would call him back to New Orleans and the Gulf, leaving the Red River supply route unchecked.
As a closing to Farragut’s communication with General Grant, he noted that Nathaniel Banks, who was commanding the Army of the Gulf near Baton Rouge, did not believe that he had “sufficient force to attack Port Hudson with any chance of success.”
To Grant, this was not a deal breaker. In many ways, as he would describe to Banks in a letter given to Farragut, the deal was already broken.
Grant had tried to find several different ways to get at Vicksburg without having to storm Haynes’ Bluff – the entrenched right of the Confederate line, just up the Yazoo River.
Unable to land any sizable infantry force north of Vicksburg, Grant hoped that Banks “would be able to take Port Hudson and move up to Black River.” If Banks had been able to do that, Grant reasoned that he could send him “all the force, you would require” and Banks, with Grant’s troops, could take Vicksburg from the south.
Grant then detailed the three main failures of his campaign thus far. First, the canal that would bypass Vicksburg and allow troop transports to slip by without danger was a bust. A levee holding back water had burst delaying operations long enough for the Rebels to take notice and erect a battery zeroing in on the canal itself. “It is exceedingly doubtful if this canal can be made of any practical use, even if completed,” lamented the General.
The second failure was the Yazoo Pass Expedition. Soon after his arrival before Vicksburg, Grant wanted to use the Pass to get behind the city. “This enterprise promised most fairly,” he allowed, “but for some cause our troops delayed so as to give the enemy time to fortify.” Though he had received no word from them in five days, the last he heard was that his troops “had abandoned all idea of getting past until they could receive additional ordnance stores.”
Lastly was Steele’s Bayou, a sort of abbreviation of the Yazoo Pass Expedition. At this point, Grant had not known that Admiral Porter and General Sherman were retreating, beaten not by Rebels alone, but by the waterways themselves. “They got in as far as Deer Creek without any great difficulty,” wrote Grant to Banks, “but I fear a failure of getting farther.”
If this should fail, Grant saw little he could do but “collect all my strength and attack Haynes’ Bluff.”
For the time being, if Banks could not take Port Hudson, he had to convince the Rebels that he was about to try, “to hold as many of the enemy there as possible.” The more of the enemy at Port Hudson, the less of the enemy at Vicksburg.
Against Vicksburg, Grant figured that he could probably array 60,000 to 70,000. More might be available if he emptied the camps around Memphis. But all of this would take time – perhaps two weeks, and maybe more.
Attacking Haynes’ Bluff would “necessarily be attended with much loss,” Grant considered, “but I think it can be done.”