April 5, 1863 (Sunday)
For Confederate General William Wing Loring, the past week had been filled with dismay and consternation as he watched more and more Federal reinforcements appear before him at Fort Pemberton, Mississippi.
He and his band of Rebels had driven off two Union ironclads several times before the Federals retreated. Loring was, of course, thrilled at first, basking in the triumph of his own success. A few short days later, however, the Federals were back and had come with more infantry transports.
In the ensuing week and a half, the numbers before him grew. On April 1st, the Federals erected a land battery larger than the one they had established during their previous visit. The next day, he reported that the enemy’s infantry transports were being sent back empty in order to bring down more soldiers.
On the 3rd, 3,000 addition enemy troops landed and he called to General Pemberton, commanding the Rebel troops in Mississippi, to send more guns, more ammunition, more rockets. “This fight, from the preparations making by the enemy, will be desperate,” he pleaded. In hopes of softening the enemy, he began shelling their lines. They, of course, returned fire from the land battery.
The day after, he received the news that seventeen fully loaded Federal transports were en route to Fort Pemberton, giving the enemy 10,000 addition troops. For Loring, there were no extra guns, but he had been reinforced with an entire brigade. Knowing this, “Can you send us entrenching tools?,” was all he asked. At this point, he had more troops than his Union counterparts. But he knew that the additional Yankee reinforcements would soon throw the balance against them.
Loring was hardly content with simply remaining in the fort and allowing the Yankees to overrun it. As the transports were arriving, he sent out a reconnaissance in force. They found a good location and commenced to send three artillery shells into one of the ships packed with Union soldiers, “doing considerable damage among them, and disabling the boat.”
As the night of the 4th thickened, reports began to come in that the enemy was retreating. On the morning of this date, it was clear. “The enemy commenced embarking last night at 10 o’clock,” wired Loring, “and before day this morning were in rapid retreat, after re-enforcing yesterday 10,000 men.” He was convinced that the reconnaissance in force and the shelling of the infantry transports “influenced their retreat.”
While the shelling was, no doubt, troublesome, it wasn’t what sent the Federals back up the river. While the Federal officer in command had been convinced that his force could take the Rebel fortification, General Grant, commanding the entire Army of the Tennessee, was not. He had formulated what he believed to be a better idea to get at Vicksburg and needed all the troops he could muster.
Quinby’s expedition had been doomed long before that. On March 23rd, Grant began siphoning off Federal reinforcements headed down Yazoo Pass before they even got started. In a message, Grant then allowed Quinby to be the deciding factor. It was up to him to determine whether Fort Pemberton could be taken.
On the 28th, Grant wired General Benjamin Prentiss, Quniby’s commander: “The troops that have gone down Yazoo Pass are now ordered back. On their return to Helena, debark them, and send Hovey’s division immediately down to join General McClernand at Milliken’s Bend.” It wasn’t until the 4th that Grant’s message got to Quinby and the retreat commenced.
“By daylight,” reported General Loring of this date, “they were in rapid retreat up the river. We can hear of them steaming toward the Pass. How far they have got we are not fully advised, but think that they will go entirely through to the Mississippi.”
He was right. Fort Pemberton was saved. The back door to Vicksburg was still closed.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 24, Part 1, p418-421; Part 3, p133, 134, 151. [↩]