Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Grants Grand Assault on Vicksburg (May 22, 1863)

Railroad Redoubt at Vicksburg, Mississippi
Blue (U.S.) and Red Signs (C.S.) show the scene of hand to hand fighting.
150 years ago today, after one of the most ferocious bombardments ever unleashed on an American city, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant sent his Union army forward against the Confederate defenses of Vicksburg, Mississippi.  It was an unmitigated disaster.

Grant had closed in on Vicksburg from the east 4 days earlier after battling Confederate forces at Port Gibson, Raymond, Big Black River and other locations. The Confederate commander, Gen. John Pemberton, fell back into the prepared fortifications that ringed Vicksburg and prepared to defend the vital city that controlled traffic on the Mississippi River and provided a link between the two halves of the Confederacy that the river divided.

Stockade Redan at Vicksburg
In a first attempt to break through Pemberton's lines, the Union commander had sent Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman forward against the Stockade Redan on May 19, 1863. Confederate forces - primarily the 36th Mississippi Infantry - sent Sherman's men reeling back for their own lines. Confederate losses in the assault, the first fighting of the Battle of Vicksburg, totaled 8 killed and 62 wounded. Union casualties were much higher, with 157 killed and 777 wounded.

Grant tried again three days later on May 22, 1863. It was that attack, which took place 150 years ago today, that resulted in some of the bloodiest fighting of the Siege and Battle of Vicksburg.

Confederate Cannon at Vicksburg

Pemberton's men knew the attack was coming when, on the previous night, the Union army opened on the city with more than 220 cannon. The warships of the Union navy steamed to within range and joined in the bombardment, as soldiers and civilians alike in the beleaguered city dug tunnels to protect themselves from the falling shells.

Then, at 10 o'clock a.m., the Union army advanced. Watching from their lines, the Confederates saw enemy columns forming for attacks on the Stockade Redan, Great Redoubt, Third Louisiana Redan, Second Texas Lunette and the Railroad Redoubt. In the military terms of the day, a redan was a triangular fortification, a lunette was a semi-circular or crescent fortification and a redoubt was a square or rectangular fort.

Second Texas Lunette
Confederate cannon swept the field as the three-mile wide attack developed. The attacks on the Stockade Redan and Great Redoubt were driven back with heavy losses. The Federals almost broke through at the Second Texas Lunette, where heavy fighting took place before Confederate troops finally broke apart their attack.

The critical moment of the day came, however, when Union soldiers stormed over the walls of the Railroad Redoubt and drove out its Confederate defenders. The desperately needed break in the Southern lines had been achieved, but before the Federals could exploit the advantage gained at the redoubt, Waul's Texas Legion counterattacked and drove them out in hand-to-hand fighting.

When all was said and done, the Confederacy still held Vicksburg and Grant had lost more than 3,000 men compared to a loss of around 500 for Pemberton.

To learn more about the Battle of Vicksburg and to check the schedule of planned 150th Anniversary events planned for this Memorial Day Weekend, please visit

No comments: