By Henry Cabot Lodge
What flag is this you carry
Along the sea and shore?
The same our grandsires lifted up–
The same our fathers bore.
In many a battle’s tempest
It shed the crimson rain–
What God has woven in his loom
Let no man rend in twain.
To Canaan, to Canaan,
The Lord has led us forth,
To plant upon the rebel towers
The banners of the North.
On January 29, 1863, General Ulysses S. Grant took command of the army intended to operate against Vicksburg, Mississippi, the last place held by the rebels on the Mississippi River, and the only point at which they could cross the river and keep up communication with their armies and territory in the southwest. It was the first high ground below Memphis, Tennessee was very strongly fortified, and was held by a large army under Confederate Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton. The complete possession of the Mississippi River was absolutely essential to the National Government because the control of that great river would cut the Confederacy in two, and do more, probably, than anything else, to make the overthrow of the Rebellion both speedy and certain.
The natural way to invest and capture so strong a place defended and fortified as Vicksburg was, would have been, if the axioms of the art of war had been adhered to, by a system of gradual approaches. A strong base should have been established at Memphis, and then the army and the fleet moved gradually forward, building storehouses and taking strong positions as they went. To do this, however, it first would have been necessary to withdraw the army from the positions it then held not far above Vicksburg, on the western bank of the river. But, such a movement, at that time, would not have been understood by the country and would have had a discouraging effect on the public mind, which it was most essential to avoid.
The elections of 1862 had gone against the government, and there was great discouragement throughout the North. Voluntary enlistments had fallen off, a draft had been ordered, and the peace party was apparently gaining rapidly in strength. General Grant, looking at this grave political situation with the eye of a statesman, decided, as a soldier, that under no circumstances would he withdraw the army, but that, whatever happened, he would “press forward to a decisive victory.” In this determination, he never faltered but drove straight at his object until, five months later, the great Mississippi stronghold fell before him.
Efforts were made through the winter to reach Vicksburg from the north by cutting canals, and by attempts to get in through the bayous and tributary streams of the great river. All these expedients failed, however, one after another, as Grant, from the beginning, had feared that they would. He, therefore, took another and widely different line and determined to cross the river from the western to the eastern bank below Vicksburg, to the south. With the aid of the fleet, which ran the batteries successfully, he moved his army down the west bank until he reached a point beyond the possibility of attack, while a diversion by Major General William T. Sherman at Haines’ Bluff, above Vicksburg, kept Pemberton in his fortifications.
On April 26, Grant began to move his men over the river and landed them at Bruinsburg. “When this was effected,” he wrote, “I felt a degree of relief scarcely ever equaled since. Vicksburg was not yet taken, it is true, nor were its defenders demoralized by any of our previous movements. I was now in the enemy’s country, with a vast river and the stronghold of Vicksburg between me and my base of supplies, but I was on dry ground, on the same side of the river with the enemy.”
The situation was this: The enemy had about 60,000 men at Vicksburg, Haines’ Bluff, and at Jackson, Mississippi, about 50 miles east of Vicksburg. Grant, when he started, had about 33,000 men. It was absolutely necessary for success that Grant, with inferior numbers, should succeed in destroying the smaller forces to the eastward, and thus prevent their union with Pemberton and the main army at Vicksburg. His plan, in brief; was to fight and defeat a superior enemy separately and in detail. He lost no time in putting his plan into action, and pressing forward quickly, met a detachment of the enemy at Port Gibson and defeated them. Thence he marched to Grand Gulf on the Mississippi River, which he took, and which he had planned to make a base of supply. When he reached Grand Gulf, however, he found that he would be obliged to wait a month, in order to obtain the reinforcements which he expected from General Nathaniel P. Banks at Port Hudson.
He, therefore, gave up the idea of making Grand Gulf a base, and Sherman, having now joined him with his corps, Grant struck at once into the interior. He took nothing with him except ammunition, and his army was in the lightest marching order. This enabled him to move with great rapidity but deprived him of his wagon trains, and of all munitions of war except cartridges. Everything, however, in this campaign, depended on quickness, and Grant’s decision, as well as all his movements, marked the genius of the great soldier, which consists very largely in knowing just when to abandon the accepted military axioms.
Pressing forward, Grant met the enemy, numbering between seven and eight thousand, at Raymond, and readily defeated them. He then marched on toward Jackson, fighting another action at Clinton, and at Jackson, he struck General Joseph Johnston, who had arrived at that point to take command of all the rebel forces. Johnston had with him, at the moment, about 11,000 men, and stood his ground. There was a sharp fight, but Grant easily defeated the enemy and took possession of the town. This was an important point, for Jackson was the capitol of the State of Mississippi, and was a base of military supplies. Grant destroyed the factories and the munitions of war which were gathered there, and also came into possession of the line of railroad which ran from Jackson to Vicksburg.
While he was thus engaged, an intercepted message revealed to him the fact that Pemberton, in accordance with Johnston’s orders, had come out of Vicksburg with 25,000 men, and was moving eastward against him. Pemberton, however, instead of holding a straight line against Grant, turned at first to the south, with the view of breaking the latter’s line of communication.
This was not a success, for, as Grant said, with grim humor, “I had no line of communication to break”; and, moreover, it delayed Pemberton when delay was of value to Grant in finishing Johnston. After this useless turn to the southward Pemberton resumed his march to the east, as he should have done in the beginning, in accordance with Johnston’s orders; but Grant was now more than ready.