- 28 Apr 2021 13:23
April 29, Wednesday
Colonel Grierson’s raiders are only about fifty miles from Grand Gulf, but he is starting to worry. If General Grant has landed, there should be indications—fleeing civilians, troop movements, or sounds of battle. So far there has been nothing. Then, not far from Grand Gulf, Grierson encounters something that deeply concerns him. The enemy is now on his track in earnest. The raiders are in the vicinity of the Confederates’ stronghold, and, from couriers and dispatches that they capture, it is evident that the enemy is sending forces in all directions to intercept them. It is time to escape. From southwestern Mississippi there is only one refuge Grierson can hope to reach: Baton Rouge, Louisiana, about 150 miles distant. That river port is now in Federal hands, and Grierson decides to head for it. His men are approaching the limits of their endurance. They have been covering thirty to fifty miles a day, sleeping little, and eating what they can find in the countryside. As the troops travel, they replenish their stock of horses as best they can from farms and plantations. But even the freshest of their mounts—which now include mules—are flagging.
During Grierson’s Raid, General Grant, poised on the west bank of the Mississippi, has come up with one more distraction for General Pemberton. North of Vicksburg, General Sherman’s corps is still positioned before the town’s defenses. Somewhat tentatively, Grant has suggested that these troops might make a feint against Vicksburg near Chickasaw Bluffs, the scene of Sherman’s earlier, disastrous attack. “The effect of a heavy demonstration in that direction would be good as far as the enemy are concerned,” Grant has written to Sherman, “but I am loath to order it, because it would be hard to make our own troops understand that only a demonstration was intended and our people at home would characterize it as a repulse. I thereby leave it to you whether to make such a demonstration.” Sherman, who prides himself on being a loyal subordinate, responds indignantly—and typically. “Does General Grant think I care what the newspapers say?” he asks a staff officer. He writes to Grant: “We will make as strong a demonstration as possible. As to the reports in the newspapers, we must scorn them, else they will ruin us and our country.”
Today Sherman sets off with ten regiments, ordering the men to spread out over the decks of their transports so that they will “look as numerous as possible.” Admiral Porter still has a few boats above Vicksburg, and they are ordered to get up steam so that the Confederates will think a major landing is planned. The gunboats and transports whistle and puff, and make all the noise they can. They show themselves to the garrison and then drift back and land the men, who are marched through the woods until they are seen by the enemy. Then the soldiers are taken back on board the boats “to go through the same farce again.” Pemberton has dispatched reinforcements in the direction of Grand Gulf to help meet the threat from across the river, but now he receives an alarming message from Brigadier General Carter L. Stevenson, his commander north of Vicksburg. “The demonstration at Grand Gulf must be only a feint,” Stevenson telegraphs Pemberton in a panic. “Here is the real attack. The enemy are in front of me in force such as have never been seen before at Vicksburg. Send me reinforcements.” The regiments that have been sent to fight Grant are hastily ordered to turn around and head back to meet Sherman’s thrust. Some of the Confederate soldiers are so exhausted by the time they get back to the town that citizens in carriages have to help them to their lines. They arrive just in time to see Sherman load his men into their transports for the last time, and sail away.
Meanwhile, the naval bombardment of Grand Gulf has begun. Despite the fact that Grant’s various diversionary tactics have succeeded admirably, the Union fleet runs into stiff resistance. While work on Grand Gulf’s gun emplacements began in early March, by this time the defenses are still unfinished. Nevertheless, they are formidable—as Admiral Porter, who is tasked with subduing them, quickly finds out. Situated near the junction of the Mississippi and Big Black Rivers, Grand Gulf is commanded by a promontory fifty feet high, and atop this bluff the Confederates have positioned sixteen artillery pieces. Most of the cannon on board Porter’s gunboats are far heavier than the Confederate pieces, and therefore the Union forces do not anticipate much trouble. Transports and barges loaded with the men of McClernand’s XIII Corps stand out of range, ready to land. Some of the men have been aboard these vessels for two days, and they soon discover that they face a longer wait. As Grant watches from a tug in the middle of the Mississippi, the Federal fleet and Confederate batteries pound each other. The duel lasts five hours, and both sides do extensive damage. More than 2,500 Federal projectiles fall on the hilltop batteries, but the Confederates suffer only eighteen casualties. Porter, down below, is hit much harder. He loses 18 killed and 56 wounded, and his vessels are battered—one of them, the Tuscumbia, so badly that it will be out of action for days. When the Federal gunboats renew the attack three hours later, they are unable to silence the Confederate guns.
Grant goes aboard Porter’s flagship, the Benton, for a consultation. There seems no point in hammering away any further at Grand Gulf. They must try to make a landing elsewhere. Grant still needs Grand Gulf as a supply port, but if he can get troops ashore farther to the south they can march back and take the town’s fortifications from the rear. The soldiers are returned to the Louisiana bank and allowed to disembark, and Grant casts about for a new place to land. Here as elsewhere along the Mississippi, the terrain is laced with waterways. A landing site has to provide not only dry ground at the bank but also a dry route back to Grand Gulf. Only a local person might know of such a place, and come evening soldiers abduct a slave from the east bank and bring him to headquarters. He points out a good landing spot: the village of Bruinsburg, eight miles downriver. It is high and dry.
In Virginia, the first sign of what General Hooker might have in mind comes on the old battlefield south of Fredericksburg, near Hamilton’s Crossing, where Jubal Early’s division of Stonewall Jackson’s corps is stationed. The enemy movement catches the celebrated Jackson during a rare interlude of relaxation. He has not been home in two years, had not seen his wife for nearly one year, and had never laid eyes on his only child. Taking advantage of the early-spring lull, he has brought his wife and infant daughter to his headquarters at the Yerby House, a mansion near Hamilton’s Crossing. They have spent eight days together when, this morning, Jackson is awakened to hear that General Sedgwick is launching Hooker’s long-awaited offensive; Federal troops are pouring over pontoon bridges thrown across the Rappahannock during the night. Jackson makes preparations to send his wife and baby home, says a long goodbye, and rides to the front.
Jubal Early has already deployed his regiments on the plain near the Old Richmond Road and along the railway embankment when Jackson arrives, and Brigadier General Robert Rodes is in motion, marching up to reinforce Early. Sending a aide to alert General Lee, Jackson orders A.P. Hill to bring his division into line along the crest of the ridge to Early’s right. Lee soon rides out to confer with Jackson, and then sends a request for reinforcements to President Davis. As the day progresses, evidence of the true Federal intentions begins to accumulate. Sedgwick’s troops at Hamilton’s Crossing, although poised to attack, make no move. Then Lee receives word that 14,000 men—General Howard’s XI Corps—has crossed the Rappahannock at Kelly’s Ford. Perhaps, Lee speculates, Howard is heading for the railroad junction at Gordonsville to harass Confederate supply lines. Toward evening, however, more information comes from west of Fredericksburg. Couriers report that Federal cavalry and infantry have crossed the Rapidan at Germanna and Ely’s Fords. From those fords the roads converge on Chancellorsville. The threat to the Confederate left is growing, and Lee decides to send Major General Richard Anderson’s division toward Chancellorsville to cover the roads leading to Fredericksburg. Anderson moves out during the night. Reaching the area of Chancellor House, he confirms that a large enemy force is bearing down from the west. he decides to withdraw from the tangled Wilderness, where maneuver is difficult, and take up a defensive position in open country. He selects a ridge near the Tabernacle Church and just west of a fork in the Plank Road that leads from Fredericksburg. The two roads that run westward from the fork—the Plank Road arcing to the south and a more northerly route known as the Turnpike—come back together at Chancellorsville. Thus Anderson’s division covers both of the main routes the Federals might take.
Meanwhile, the major part of Hooker’s army crosses the Rappahannock at Kelly’s and the US fords, plunging into the Wilderness, clear of the left flank of Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia. Stoneman, with the Federal cavalry, operates against Lee’s communications. Other actions in the area break out at Franklin’s Crossing or Deep Run just below Fredericksburg, and at Pollock’s Mill Creek, known also as White Oak Run or Fitzhugh’s Crossing. Federals from Falmouth try to divert the Confederates from the major effort above the city. Other skirmishing in Virginia is at Crook’s Run and Germanna Ford, near Kellysville, Brandy Station, and Stevenburg. In West Virginia Confederate Grumble Jones fights a skirmish at Fairmont.
In the West a Federal scouting party moves out from La Grange, Tennessee, into northern Mississippi for two or three days.
In Tennessee there are reconnaissances from Murfreesboro on the Manchester Pike and on the Chapel Hill Pike; while in Missouri Marmaduke fights Federals at Castor River. A two-day Federal expedition operates from Opelousas to Chicotville and Bayou Boeuf, Louisiana.
The expert is more aristocratic than the aristocrat, because the aristocrat is only the man who lives well, while the expert is the man who knows better.
—G. K. Chesterton