Grant Wishes to Avoid “Immense Sacrifice of Life,” Turns to a New Strategy

April 1, 1863 (Wednesday – All Fool’s Day)


At this point, Grant had a couple of plans brewing. The first, which was already underway, involved marching troops south from Milliken’s Bend (above Vicksburg) to New Carthage (below Vicksburg). Supplies had always been an issue and so he was opening a waterway to more easily ship them. This plan, however, wasn’t directly connected to taking Vicksburg. It was a vague attempt to first take Port Hudson, far to the south, get General Nathaniel Banks’ Union Army of the Gulf, and then attack Vicksburg. It would, Grant suspected, take months, if it ever happened at all.

The second plan wasn’t so much a plan as it was a brutal infantry assault upon Haynes’ Bluff, home of the prominent Confederate battery anchoring the right flank of the Vicksburg defenses. Prior to Grant’s last attempt to get around the Confederate right via Steele’s Bayou, he figured that his last resort was “for me but to collect all my strength and attack Haynes’ Bluff.” He conceded that it would “necessarily be attended with much loss,” adding,”I think it can be done.”

With that in mind, Grant, along with William Tecumseh Sherman and Admiral David Dixon Porter boarded the USS Tuscumbia, and ironclad gunboat, to see for himself what might await his men should he order them to assault it.

To get close enough to see the bank where they’d have to land the troops, the Tuscumbia had to get within rage of the Rebel guns. As she moved forward, her Dahlgren smoothbores were trained upon where they believed the hidden enemy batteries to be. The closer they pulled towards the Confederate emplacements, the more troublesome it became. The Rebels, not wanting to disclose the location of their batteries, simply would not fire.

Admiral Porter believed that they were trying to lure the Federal craft closer to where they had planted torpedoes (underwater mines triggered to explode when a ship brushed up against them). In hopes of convincing the Rebels to expose their position, the Tuscumbia’s guns fired five times. Not once did they hit anything, and not once did the Confederates reply.

The shabby USS Tuscumbia

As General Grant looked upon Haynes’ Bluff, he could see that an assault simply wouldn’t work. In a letter written to Admiral Porter the following day, Grant explained: “After the reconnaissance of yesterday, I am satisfied that an attack upon Haynes’ Bluff would be attended with immense sacrifice of life, if not with defeat. This, then, closes out the last hope of turning the enemy by the right.”

With an all out assault all out of the question, Grant turned his attention to the New Carthage plan. Perhaps it could be dovetailed into something more directly connected to defeating Vicksburg.

“I have sent troops through from Milliken’s Bend to New Carthage, to garrison and hold the whole route and make the wagon road good,” explained Grant, referring to General John McClernand’s XIII Corps. And Grant was fully determined to establish a base of operations at New Carthage and attack the Rebel batteries at Grant Gulf and/or Warrenton.

“It is im portant to prevent the enemy from further fortifying either of these places,” wrote Grant to Porter. “I am satisfied that one army corps, with the aid of two gunboats, can take and hold Grand Gulf until such time as I might be able to get my whole army there and make provision for supplying them.”

Today’s approximate map.

In for a penny, in for a pound seemed to be Grant’s new philosophy. With what he considered his last resort being impossible without the sacrifice and slaughter of his own men, Grant immediately wished to commit his entire army to a project meant at first for a single corps.

There was a sort of snag, however. General John McClernand and Grant had never gotten along. In fact, very few in the Army of the Tennessee got along with McClernand. As Grant, Sherman and Porter were steaming up the Yazoo River towards Haynes’ Bluff, McClernand was at Milliken’s Bend preparing his troops for the march to New Carthage.

Thus far, things seemed to be pointed in the right direction. McClernand believed that his cavalry vanguard might be in New Carthage in a day or so. “I am now repairing the roads and bridges between here and Richmond, a distance of 12 miles, including a floating bridge of 200 feet in length,” he reported to Grant, “and will soon commence repairing the road from that place to Carthage, and constructing barges to ply between the same places, unless stopped by unknown obstacles.”

But when Grant ordered McClernand to provide 2,000 troops (out of his 30,000 or so – though only 18,000 were with him at Milliken’s Bend) to help dig out a levee, the unlikable General balked. “Of course, the detail will be furnished,” assured McClernand, “but I think it probable that you would not have ordered it with a fuller knowledge of my operations.”

He went on to explain that “the prospect so far is quite encouraging, perhaps more so than that afforded by the Duckport enterprise, and I hope you will find it consistent with your general views to leave me to prosecute my present undertaking with all the resources at my disposal.”

From the start, McClernand had wanted (and had actually been promised by President Lincoln) a fully independent command. Now, when he most needed to follow orders, Grant must have been wondering if he could be relied upon.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 24, Part 3, p126, 163, 164, 168-169; Official Naval Records, Vol. 24, p519-520. []
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