April 20, 1863 (Tuesday)
Two days after fully realizing that General Grant was not disappearing before his very eyes, life for John Pemberton, commanding the Confederate troops in Mississippi, had not gotten any better. Not only was Grant threatening to cross the Mississippi River below Vicksburg, but there were at least three Federal cavalry raids coming down from the north. There were other reports of Union troops near Yazoo Pass and even more near Greenville. Blue seemed to be closing in all around him.
To counter these various threats, he needed cavalry. “I have virtually no cavalry from Grand Gulf to Yazoo City,” wrote Pemberton to Joe Johnston, his department commander, before asking him to send cavalry from Tennessee to check the raids to the north. Everything was in a chaotic panic and nobody seemed to know what to do.
The frustration and incoordination did not go unnoticed by the Federals. Admiral David Dixon Porter, who had slipped an entire Union fleet past the Vicksburg defenses on the 16th, enthusiastically wrote Grant about the opportunity.
“I think 10,000 good men landing in Vicksburg the other night would have taken it,” wrote Porter of the 16th, “we can do this easier.” Porter had landed his ships about a mile south of New Carthage, Louisiana.
“This move has demoralized these fellows very much,” he continued, “don’t give them time to get over it. I wish twenty times a day that Sherman was here, or yourself, but I suppose we cannot have all we wish.” The only Union troops in the immediate area was John McClernand’s Corps. They had been tasked with crossing the river and taking out Grand Gulf, while Grant’s other troops held the line or created diversions.
But timing was essential. Grant had to move quickly. Through the chaos, General Pemberton was reinforcing Grand Gulf. The three original guns were still in place, but space had been created for at least two more. “They will move heaven and earth to stop us if we don’t go ahead,” Porter opined.
Porter offered to “go down and settle the batteries,” but warned that if he was disabled, he wouldn’t be in any condition “to cover the landing when it takes place.” The soonest that this could all be arranged was four days, “if the troops just leave all their tents behind and take only provisions.”
This was a tall order. “I don’t want to make a failure,” he wrote in closing, “and am sure that a combined attack will succeed beautifully.”
Grant couldn’t have agreed more. He hoped to send several additional transports past Vicksburg’s defenses once again (though it would actually take a couple of days to pull that off). But for all intents and purposes, Grant was all in.
He issued orders detailing the army’s organization for the quickly-coming campaign, stating that John McClernand (XIII Corps) would constitute the right wing, William Tecumseh Sherman (XV Corps) would be the left, and the center would be held by James McPherson (XVII Corps). The order of the march to New Carthage would be from right to left.
“As fast as the Thirteenth Army Corps advances,” ordered Grant, “the Seventeenth Army Corps will take its place, and in its turn will be followed in like manner by the Fifteenth Army Corps.”1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 24, Part 3, p211, 212-213, 769; Pemberton by John C. Pemberton; Vicksburg by Michael B. Ballard. [↩]