March 12, 1863 (Thursday)
As both the Union and Confederate troops near Fort Pemberton licked their wounds from the previous day’s scrap, the fort’s namesake, General John Pemberton, was finally feeling a little better about things.
On the 9th, he had written Richmond a most disparaging letter filled with doubts and more bad news than one might dare shake a stick at.
The following day, President Jefferson Davis himself responded with a laundry list of questions for General Pemberton. On this date, with his heart lifted, Pemberton happily responded.
On the 9th, Pemberton was stricken with worry that the Federals were about to finish the canal opposite Vicksburg. If successful, it would bypass and cut off the city, rendering the defenses basically useless. But today there was good news! The levee holding back the water while the workers built the canal had collapsed, and the walls were caving in.
This was some pretty good news, but the somber Pemberton was still a bit worried. The Federals had brought in at least one dredging machine. Eventually, the canal would be completed.
But in other good news, he discovered that his artillery could play upon the Federal workers. “Two 10-inch columbiads, one 10-inch mortar, 30-pounder Parrott, and one Whitworth,” reported Pemberton, “are effective against working parties by day at mouth of canal.”
While on the 9th, he seemed almost certain that Fort Pemberton would fall, this date saw a complete reversal. “I think General Loring will be able to repel them,” he now relayed. While it was impossible to tell just how many ships were in the Union flotilla, “not more than two gunboats can operate at the same time against the fort.” He was confident that his troops and artillery could hold them off.
Though he had left it off the list of bad news on the 9th, Pemberton was thrilled to say that supplies were once again coming in by rail. Previously, the Southern Railroad had been in shambles, causing deliveries of food and ammunition to be greatly delayed.
And since the USS Queen of the West was captured and the USS Indianola sunk, supplies were coming in via the Red River, which the two ships had been sent to block. Speaking of the Indianola, his engineers believed that she could be raised once the river levels dropped.
The good news just kept flowing in like water over a broken Federal levee. He had heard, through the grapevine of course, that the 110th New York Regiment had mutinied when ordered towards Port Hudson.
Naturally, not everything was roses. Pemberton also had to remind Davis that he was short on artillery. Davis wondered whether Ellis Cliffs couldn’t also be fortified, along with Grand Gulf, both south of Vicksburg. This way, if the Federals bypassed Vicksburg, they would have two large Confederate batteries to contend with. Pemberton replied that he had only enough guns to fortify one of the proposed sites.
Still, this bit of bad news was hardly anything new. Both Davis and Pemberton were well aware of the state of the artillery at Vicksburg. Perhaps they just didn’t like to think about it much – after all, it was a rather sobering thought.
But for the time being, things seemed not as bad, and that was something.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 24, Part 3, p659-660, 663. [↩]