April 11, 1863 (Saturday)
General Grant had finally decided on a course of action. Following several failed attempts to get at or behind Confederate-held Vicksburg, he was determined to first hit Grand Gulf, a Rebel fort south of Vicksburg. The reasoning was that General-in-Chief Henry Halleck had urged him to somehow link up with Nathaniel Banks’ Army of the Gulf 150 miles south at Baton Rouge. Together, they could take the Rebel bastion at Port Hudson and then come back north to take Vicksburg.
Grant had other plans in mind, including a trip up the Black River to Jackson, Mississippi. In light of Halleck’s urgings, however, that idea was abandoned before it even got to the planning stages. Now, his mind was set upon New Carthage, a small town recently taken by Federal troops under John McClernand. He had moved a division down the western bank of the Mississippi, establishing the first Union foothold south of Vicksburg.
Taking Port Hudson and Vicksburg were both long term plans. Operating out of New Carthage was just for the short term. Somewhere in the middle was the capture of Grand Gulf. This would give the Federals a base of operations on the Mississippi side of the river.
On this date, General McClernand was at Milliken’s Bend preparing to send forward another division to New Carthage. Grant was finalizing exactly how he wanted to accomplish all of this. To suss it all out, he went to Milliken’s bend to find McClernand, but the latter had left before the former arrived.
Had they had a chance to meet, Grant would have explained that he wanted McClernand to “get possession of Grand Gulf at the earliest practicable moment… From there you can operate on the rear of Port Hudson, in conjunction with Banks from Baton Rouge.”
To facilitate this, Admiral Porter had agreed to run the Vicksburg batteries with twelve vessels, including some loaded with enough rations to feed McClernand’s men and transportation to carry ammunition.
Over the next several days, it would be nothing but preparation and marching. As more troops were fed from Milliken’s Bend to Richmond to New Carthage, others would take their place until all of McClernand’s Corps was south of Vicksburg and the next corps filed along after.
Meanwhile, Grant would try to get in touch with Nathaniel Banks. Grant seemed convinced that Port Hudson would fall with little effort once McClernand joined in with the Army of the Gulf. Banks, however, seemed much less sure of such a thing. In fact, by this time, Banks had already decided that Port Hudson could not be taken and was looking for a way around it.
This was somewhat similar to what Grant himself did with the passage from Milliken’s Band to New Carthage. Banks was looking for a waterway to the Red River via the Atchafalaya River, west of the Mississippi. To do this, he would have to first dip south to confront Confederates under Richard Taylor who had established a fort at the southern end of Grand Lake. Already, Banks had been shifting troops to Donaldsonville and south. Soon, Taylor would be met.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 24, Part 1, p28, 46-47, 72; Part 3, p188; Pretense of Glory by James G. Hollandsworth, Jr; Port Hudson, Confederate Bastion on the Mississippi by Lawrence Lee Hewitt. [↩]