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The Civil War in MississippiMajor Campaigns and Battles$

Michael B. Ballard

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9781604738421

Published to University Press of Mississippi: March 2014

DOI: 10.14325/mississippi/9781604738421.001.0001

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date: 18 March 2018



Final Battles and Siege

(p.139) 6 Vicksburg
The Civil War in Mississippi

Michael B. Ballard

University Press of Mississippi

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter describes the Union’s continued campaign to take Vicksburg. These Grant’s path across Mississippi from March 31 to July 5, 1863; the battle of Port Gibson on May 1, 1863; the battle of Raymond on May 12, 1863; the battle of Jackson on May 14, 1863; the battle of Champion Hill on May 16, 1863; the battle of Big Black River on May 17, 1863; and the siege of Vicksburg from May 23 to July 4, 1863.

Keywords:   Grant, Confederates, Union, Port Gibson, Raymond, Jackson, Champion Hill, Big Black River

The Union shift downstream from Milliken’s Bend had to be accomplished in stages. The Louisiana lowlands, flood prone under normal circumstances and even more so thanks to the many breaks in levees by Grant’s failed canal projects, held too much water for the Federals to move en masse. Grant ordered John McClernand, whose corps was in the forward position, to lead the way with his Thirteenth Corps. Grant still had little personal regard for McClernand, but in choosing the political general to blaze a trail for the rest of the army to follow, Grant demonstrated that he had more respect for McClernand the soldier than might have been expected, and certainly more than he ever admitted. It can be argued that Grant simply wanted McClernand out front so he could keep an eye on him. Yet this phase of the campaign could make or break Grant’s career. Would he therefore put a general in the lead whom he did not trust or respect? Whatever the answer, it is an issue historians will continue to debate.

McClernand moved his men slowly down the Louisiana side of the Mississippi to Richmond and then to New Carthage, where he established a staging area. Making a route required patience in bridging bayous and challenged the army’s engineers, but things went smoothly. Grant also worked with David Porter to plan the passage of the Vicksburg batteries in order to get transports south of the city to ferry the army across into Mississippi. Porter warned that once the gunboats were below Vicksburg, they would have to stay for a while, because they did not have enough power to come back upriver against the current should Grant decide to attack Snyder’s Bluff instead.

(p.140) Grant checked out the Snyder’s Bluff area personally, and after viewing Confederate defenses shelved any notion of attacking there. He assured Porter that the plan to turn Pemberton’s flank south of Vicksburg would go forward. The tasks now were clear; McClernand must lead the way and, combined with Porter’s fleet, take Grand Gulf and use the town as a base for an inland campaign against Vicksburg from the south, or possibly the southeast or east. McClernand was one of the few to endorse the plan; Sherman did not like it, and Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana informed his boss, Edwin Stanton, that it seemed risky. Stanton told Dana to keep quiet, Grant ignored the naysayers, and the plan went forward. Grant hoped that this time there would be no turning back.1

John Pemberton received numerous reports from John Bowen, Pemberton’s best field general now stationed at Grand Gulf, that something was amiss on the Louisiana side of the river. Louisiana cavalry contesting McClernand’s move south sent word that the Federals seemed to be moving in force. Bowen finally sent Francis Cockrell’s Missouri brigade across to evaluate the situation. Cockrell’s attempts to slow McClernand’s advance elements failed, and soon the Missouri troops, heavily outnumbered, were recalled to Grand Gulf. Bowen correctly guessed what Grant had in mind, though he thought the Yankees might cross farther downriver at Rodney. Yet Bowen’s urgent messages to Pemberton went unheeded. Convinced that Grant was conducting a feint and nothing more, Pemberton refused to believe Bowen. Grant’s plans further confused Pemberton, for a series of diversions went into motion totally mesmerizing the Confederate commander to the point that he seemed incapable of doing anything to meet the enemy challenge.2

The Federal march down the Louisiana shoreline was a foretaste of what Mississippians could expect if Grant got across the river. Plantations left by escaping owners were sacked and burned; other homes received the same treatment. Some soldiers were struck by the desolation wrought by comrades; others were impressed by the beautiful landscape surrounded by debris. Many white-occupied dwellings had been burned, many by owners to deny Yankee access to valuables the owners could not carry with them when they fled. In fact, many slaves were left behind, especially the old and sickly.3

The first major event of this new campaign began on April 5, 1863, when Frederick Steele landed his division at the port of Greenville well to the north of Vicksburg. Sherman and Grant had decided that sending Steele north would surely get Pemberton’s attention and perhaps cause him to ignore McClernand’s march. Steele had orders to take his men down Deer (p.141) Creek, establish a base, and send out patrols with the goal of capturing Wirt Adams’s cavalry. Other instructions included burning Confederate supplies, rounding up guerrillas, and in general clearing the area of any armed resistance.

Steele’s operations got the attention of West Pointer Samuel Ferguson, who brought his troops up to confront Steele north of Rolling Fork. Stephen Lee hurried from Vicksburg with his brigade, and Tennessee West Pointer John Moore received orders to move his command from Fort Pemberton south to help. Steele’s men accomplished as much destruction as possible, but in light of the Confederate concentration, he pulled his troops back to Greenville, ending the expedition on the 10th. Certainly he had gotten Pemberton’s attention, but Pemberton assumed that all the noise along Deer Creek meant that Grant was merely covering a retreat upriver. For nearly a week, Pemberton and his commander in Vicksburg, West Pointer and Mexican War veteran Carter Stevenson, looked in the wrong direction.4

While Confederate eyes focused on Steele’s diversion, David Porter readied his fleet to pass the Vicksburg batteries. Porter had his crews outfit transports with bales of cotton and hay and strapped the empty vessels to barges for protection from Confederate artillery. Some barges carrying repair equipment and other necessities were strapped to ironclads. Bad weather delayed the operation for a few days, and the flotilla did not get under way until April 16. Porter ordered the diversion of steam exhaust into the paddlewheel housing in order to muffle the sounds of engines. He did not know that in Vicksburg, music from a ball would help drown out sounds on the river; military and civilian dignitaries were gathering at a farewell gala for General Dabney Maury, who was being transferred to east Tennessee.

Porter issued orders that the boats should hug the Louisiana shoreline as they rounded DeSoto Point above Vicksburg. The trees along the banks would help cover shadows; however, if the alarm was sounded, all vessels should cross to the Mississippi shoreline where Confederate cannons, thirty-seven in all, would have difficulty effectively depressing their guns from positions along the banks. At 9:15 that evening the boats began chugging downstream.

Porter’s hopes for making the passage undetected quickly dissipated. Confederate pickets on the Louisiana side saw the Union fleet, but they were too far from the batteries to sound much of an alarm. So they set fire to buildings, including a railroad depot, to warn Vicksburg gunners of what was happening. The fires also illuminated the river to give Rebel (p.142) artillerymen better vision of targets. Fires did the trick, and soon additional blazes lit the Mississippi shore as soldiers ran along the bank lighting houses and other structures.

Vicksburg cannons began to roar, eventually making enough noise to break up the ball as Sherman’s arrival had broken up partying back in December. Confederate gun crews hurried to their posts, and the din grew louder, compounded by the return fire of Porter’s war vessels. Following orders, boat captains steered their vessels across the river to the Mississippi shoreline; the tactic worked well, as many Rebel shells overshot their target. One boat, the Henry Clay, turned back upstream, perhaps due to the panic of captain and crew, and a well-aimed Confederate round slammed into the boat, setting it afire, and it had to be abandoned. Pemberton’s artillerymen saw the crippled ship burning and concentrated a heavy fire to make sure it did not escape. While the gunners concentrated on the Clay, more vessels got by and escaped. Other boats in the flotilla got hit and scarred, but all made it beyond the range of the Vicksburg batteries. The event had been one to remember, with the nighttime display of fireworks, the fires along both banks, and the eerie shadows cast across the river. Beyond the show, Porter’s success assured that Grant’s plan was on track, and seemed to dispel the myth that the Confederate batteries were too dangerous to pass.

Downriver, McClernand’s Thirteenth Corps heard the noise and waited anxiously for Porter’s boats. When the remains of the Clay came into view, a feeling of gloom fell over the soldiers, but soon cheering broke out as the rest of the flotilla steamed into view intact. Confederates soothed their obvious failure to stop Porter with exaggerated stories of how much damage they had inflicted on the enemy navy. Grant decided that since Porter had had a relatively easy time of it, more transports could be sent south. The two quickly organized a second fleet of eighteen barges and steamers.

The new attempt required imaginative tactics, since most of Porter’s warships were now downriver. To help cover the passage of this rather defenseless second wave, Grant ordered all remaining buildings on the DeSoto peninsula fired in order to cover the river with smoke. However, Confederates on the Louisiana side of the river prevented this gambit, using the structures for cover and driving off the would-be arsonists. Grant solved another problem by getting experienced boatmen from the ranks of his army to take the boats downstream; experienced river pilots not in military service refused to be a part of what they deemed a suicide run past the Confederate batteries.

Confederate gunners were ready this time, and they did inflict more damage than before, but most of the vessels in this second passage made (p.143) it by either unscathed or with only minor damage. The trust that the Confederate military had in its Vicksburg batteries to be a significant barrier to Union river traffic proved illusory, as in the summer of 1862. Several problems plagued the artillerists. Their rate of fire was slow, due to the dangers of exposure when the Yankees were shooting back. Also there were simply not enough big guns to cover the entire stretch of river in front of Vicksburg, which forced commanders to string out their guns rather than arranging them for concentrated fire. Finally, due to the thick parapets built to protect the cannons, barrels could not be depressed enough to hit enemy boats close to the Mississippi shoreline.5

Sadly for the Confederacy, John Pemberton still did not grasp the significance of Grant’s operations. Pemberton believed that Grant merely wanted to get boats downriver to transport his troops for future operations in the Louisiana delta area. Despite Bowen’s warnings, and despite the obvious fact that transports could be used to carry Grant’s men across into Mississippi, Pemberton still had no inkling of what was coming. Finally he became concerned enough to send word to Johnston that Grant did not appear to be leaving and that troops being sent to other points should be sent back to Vicksburg. At this point, yet another Grant diversion got his opponent’s attention.

The Union operation that mesmerized Pemberton came out of discussions between Stephen Hurlbut, a South Carolinian by birth but for several years a Republican politician in Illinois and commanding in Memphis, and William Rosecrans, now commanding Federal forces in middle Tennessee. Hurlbut wanted to send raiders to cut the Southern Railroad, which brought troops and supplies to Vicksburg from the east across central Mississippi. Rosecrans envisioned a raid against the Western and Atlantic Railroad in northwest Georgia. Both raids would disrupt enemy supply lines and force the Confederates to disperse their limited cavalry resources.

Abel Streight led the operation across northern Alabama, intended to cut the railroad in Georgia. The raid was unusual because Streight chose to mount his men upon mules, which were better suited for the rugged hill country that awaited his cavalry. Confederate cavalryman Nathan Bedford Forrest led his troopers in pursuit and captured Streight and his entire force in northeast Alabama. While Forrest had completed his assignment, his absence during the forthcoming final campaign against Vicksburg was a big plus for Grant.

The other raid, led by Benjamin Grierson, had a more immediate and direct impact on Grant’s operations, for Grierson’s raid gained and kept John Pemberton’s attention at a crucial time. Grierson led his 1,700 riders out of (p.144) LaGrange, Tennessee, on April 17, and the horsemen soon hit the Mobile & Ohio Railroad in northeast Mississippi, tearing up track and burning Confederate supplies as they rode south. Grierson adopted the tactic of sending out small raiding parties, which caused confusing reports to be sent to Pemberton. The Yankee cavalry seemed to be in several places at once, thoroughly frustrating Pemberton’s efforts to stop the raid.

Grierson followed the railroad for a time, and then led the main body of his troops on a southwesterly course through the towns of Starkville and Louisville, arriving at Newton Station on the 24th. Newton Station (presentday Newton) was located on the Southern Railroad about halfway between Meridian and Jackson. Grierson’s raiders tore up much track and destroyed many supplies intended for Vicksburg, though the Confederates would have the damage repaired within a few days. Pemberton, confounded by his inability to stop Grierson, sent infantry eastward from Jackson, but of course they arrived too late. While crossing the Pearl River south of Jackson, a detachment that had broken off near Starkville to threaten Meridian rejoined the main column. Grierson continued to angle toward Baton Rouge, pausing for a moment east of Port Gibson to consider riding to the river and joining Grant’s operations. Harassment by Wirt Adams’s Confederate riders convinced Grierson that it would be safer to go to Louisiana, and the tired horsemen entered Baton Rouge on May 2.

The ride had been eminently successful, for Grierson’s raid had produced thousands of captured munitions and guns and had resulted in thousands of dollars of property destruction that the Confederacy could ill afford. Grierson had lost only three killed and seven wounded in the process, but, most important, he had kept the enemy busy watching him instead of Grant. Other Union cavalry operations followed in north Mississippi, further tying down Rebel horsemen desperately needed in the Vicksburg area.6

While Grant continued to count on distracting Pemberton and on Pemberton’s obvious nonaggressive generalship, he talked with his friend Sherman about yet another diversion. If Sherman took his corps and demonstrated against Snyder’s Bluff north of Vicksburg on the Yazoo, perhaps Rebel commanders would shift forces in that direction, making it more difficult to send men south to the Grand Gulf area. The idea came at a bad time for Pemberton’s forces, for an obstruction raft at Snyder’s fell apart about this time, and the swift current made repair impossible.

Sherman’s demonstration began on the last day of April, but it never amounted to much, and General Carter Stevenson, commanding locally in Vicksburg, was not fooled by the lackluster offensive moves by Sherman’s (p.145) VicksburgFinal Battles and Siege (p.146) men. At the same time, word came from Grant that Sherman should begin getting his division downstream.7

Downriver, John Bowen continued to plead his case, and at last Pemberton listened. Stevenson got word to have 5,000 men ready to rush to Bowen’s aid if needed. Stevenson obeyed, though he argued that the Grand Gulf force should be sufficient as it was. Stevenson clung to the belief that, given the difficulties of moving a large army down the Louisiana side of the river, Union activities over there must be a feint.8

While all the diversions went on, McPherson and McClernand continued concentrating their divisions in the New Carthage area. McClernand sent scouts to check Grand Gulf, Grant’s preferred landing spot. Reports indicated that Confederate defenses there were impressive. Two forts anchored the line of works. Fort Cobun, located some ten to fifteen yards above the river on a spot called Point of Rocks, anchored the northern approaches, and Fort Wade, slightly over six yards above water and a quarter mile from the water’s edge, the southern flank. Cobun and Wade each contained four heavy guns. Behind the forts, a bluff slanted upward and was lined with rifle pits and was speckled with smaller pieces of artillery.

On April 27 Porter took his warships downriver to test Bowen’s defenses. His four ironclads, plus three additional gunboats, steamed downstream and then back up, firing as they went. Confederate gunners replied in kind. The fighting went on for some time, until the gunners at Fort Wade reduced fire, largely due to the death of their commander. Porter signaled his boats to concentrate on Cobun, but to no avail. Porter’s flagship, the Benton, took a round in the pilothouse and spun out of control, but ran aground in a spot safe from Bowen’s guns.

From shortly after 8 a.m. until around 1 p.m. the shelling continued, and Cobun gunners finally had to slow their rate of fire to wait for more ammunition. Confederate resistance convinced Porter and Grant, however, that it would be costly indeed to attempt a landing at Grand Gulf, so the fighting ended. Porter had lost eighteen killed and fifty-seven wounded, while Bowen counted three dead and nineteen wounded. Grant sent word to McClernand to head his troops farther downriver to Disharoon’s plantation. Porter’s fleet continued to shell Grand Gulf to screen the passage of transports.

Grant found another spot to land, this one at a place called Bruinsburg, several miles south of Grand Gulf and slightly southwest of Port Gibson. On April 30 McClernand’s corps began crossing the Mississippi River into Mississippi. By the time the transfer of troops ended, this would be the largest amphibious operation up to that point in American history.9

(p.147) Once the lead elements crossed, the Thirteenth Corps began moving inland, guided by a local black man. At the head of the column, West Pointer Eugene Carr marched his division from the flatlands to high bluffs beyond. Union soldiers soon found themselves on the grounds of Windsor plantation, where a huge mansion adorned with gigantic Corinthian columns stood. Iowa troops in the lead turned briefly south, and then at Bethel Church turned east on the Rodney–Port Gibson road. The trail soon led into a landscape marked by deep ravines with much undergrowth and steep ridges, the tops of which provided farmland for locals. Night came, and still the column crept forward. By evening Illinoisan John Logan’s division of James McPherson’s Seventeenth Corps had landed on the Mississippi side, and these troops hurried inland to support McClernand.

On the Confederate side, John Bowen worked feverishly to meet this threat. He knew that he was in trouble once the transports passed Grand Gulf. He suspected that Grant would land at Rodney, but wherever the Yankees landed, Bowen knew that he did not have enough men on hand to drive them into the river. Help was supposedly on the way from Vicksburg, but would it arrive in time? Bowen chose not to wait; he sent a force commanded by Martin Green to Port Gibson. Green sent out patrols to scout roads leading from Port Gibson to Natchez and Rodney.

As reinforcements began arriving, Bowen’s force increased, not enough, but perhaps he could slow the enemy invasion until more Confederate troops arrived. Scouting and citizen reports indicated that Grant’s army was marching along two roads, the one to Rodney and the one to Bruinsburg. Bowen agreed with Green that the latter’s force should take position at Magnolia Church on the Rodney road. Green worried about his right flank, which would be vulnerable if Union troops were indeed coming down the Bruinsburg road. None of McClernand’s men were on that road, but Green could take no chances. He sent Edward Tracy’s Alabama brigade over to the Bruinsburg road and added the recently arrived troops of William Baldwin to the position at Magnolia Church.

Tangled ravines and a creek bottom choked with undergrowth separated Bowen’s two wings. Cooperation would be difficult, for troops would have to take a roundabout route to the junction of the two roads just west of Port Gibson in order to aid each other. Tracy’s men, pushed to the limit by the quick march from Vicksburg, were exhausted when they finally deployed on the Bruinsburg road and would not be well rested when they went into battle. Bowen continued to shift troops from Grand Gulf to the area west of Port Gibson. He knew that he was weakening his positions at Grand Gulf and along the Big Black River, but if he could not stop the main Union (p.148) VicksburgFinal Battles and Siege (p.149) advance, he would be flanked and forced to retreat anyway. The decisive battle would be in the rugged country between Port Gibson and the Mississippi, and Bowen had to play all his cards there.

In the darkness of the night and early morning of April 30–May 1, residents of the A. K. Shaifer home west of Magnolia Church hurriedly packed wagons for a quick trip through Confederate lines and out of harm’s way. General Green reassured them that they had plenty of time, but as he spoke, fire from advancing Union patrols peppered the side of the house and the wagon. The civilians hurried away in a panic, causing Green to smile. He calmly ordered his picket line to come up and hold the enemy advance as long as possible.10

The lead elements of the Union column pushed ahead to within fifty yards of Magnolia Church, and soon an artillery duel ensued, creating quite a specter in the black night. The flashes of cannon muzzles and fuses flying through the air lit the night, and deadly missiles of all sizes rained down into woods where soldiers on both sides huddled. Soon cries from wounded men and animals began echoing among the hills and hollows. Survivors long remembered this night.

Firing slacked, as if by mutual consent, before dawn, and as the early streaks of light split the sky of May 1, Federal officers looked incredulously at the terrain that faced them. The battlefield was even more uneven than they could have imagined, and it remained to be seen if an organized battle could be fought in such surroundings. Deep ravines contained ridges and spurs that jutted in a variety of directions. Men could very easily wind up shooting into their own ranks once the smoke of battle covered the area.

McClernand learned from a local slave that a road ran from near the Shaifer home across the hollow to the northeast where it intersected the Bruinsburg road. Supposedly the Confederates had troops there. McClernand knew he must send a force down that road or risk the enemy hitting his left flank and perhaps getting into his rear. On the Bruinsburg road, Edward Tracy’s position had been weakened when he was ordered to send reinforcements to the Magnolia Church sector. McClernand sent a few companies of infantry down the connecting road to check for enemy presence, and when he received reports of Tracy’s position, he sent the division of Germanborn Peter Osterhaus to take care of Tracy, thereby freeing Carr to concentrate on the Confederates at Magnolia Church.

Osterhaus had more men than Tracy, but the rugged terrain helped the Alabamians maintain their position for a time. The firing grew heavy as more of Osterhaus’s troops came up. Soon Tracy fell dead, and Ishom Garrott, a colonel in the Twentieth Alabama, took command. Garrott, unaware (p.150) VicksburgFinal Battles and Siege (p.151) of any battle plans, sent word to Green about Tracy’s death and asked for instructions. Green responded that the Alabamians must hold as long as possible. Beyond that general and obvious order, Garrott was on his own.

Faced with ever-increasing pressure and an ammunition shortage, Garrott had to maneuver his men to take further advantage of terrain. Osterhaus suddenly became tentative and sent word that he could not be sure of a successful attack without reinforcements. He got them when John Logan’s advance arrived. Garrott got help, too, for when more reinforcements arrived from Grand Gulf to help out on the Rodney road, Bowen sent Green’s tired troops to bolster Garrott’s position. When Green arrived, he did not check with anyone before deploying, and Garrott soon realized that Green had put his troops in the wrong position, on the left instead of the right, to help throw back the coming Union assault. Garrott tried to remedy the situation by transferring some of his own troops to the threatened center and right of the Confederate line.

About this time Osterhaus’s attack hit the Confederate right, and the line began to crumple. Green hurriedly shifted his troops to the right, and Osterhaus continued to send in more men. The fighting became confused, but clearly the Federals had the upper hand with overwhelming numbers. Around 5 p.m. Bowen sent word to Green to hold until sunset, but Green chose not to wait. An entire Missouri regiment had almost been lost in the fighting, and Green chose not to continue a conflict that was obviously lost.11

On the Union right, Carr had also had a tough time at the Magnolia Church front. The terrain had caused some gaps in the battle line. Carr attacked Green’s left there, surprising Green, who expected the assault to come on his right across more level ground. Realizing that his flank was threatened, Green had sent word to Tracy for reinforcements. Confederate countercharges produced no results, and Green gave ground, though urged by Bowen to hold on until William Baldwin’s troops arrived. McClernand planned now to hit the Rebel left a hard blow, but soon realized that he had the numbers to simply overwhelm the enemy center. When the attack came, Green’s line gave way, and Confederate artillery fell into Union hands. As Green pulled back toward Port Gibson, Bowen arrived with Baldwin’s brigade. Bowen instructed Green to go to the Bruinsburg road, and Baldwin, soon to be reinforced by Francis Cockrell’s Missourians, took up the fight on the Rodney road.

Bowen decided to set up another line of defense in the Willow Creek bottom east of the Rodney road, where the creek forked into the White and Erwin branches. This should give his men more cover, for the bottom (p.152) contained thick growths of cane. Baldwin would anchor his right across the Rodney road, and the line would form an arch from the north to the southeast. Cockrell covered the Confederate left flank. At Magnolia Church, Union soldiers cheered the speeches of the governor of Illinois and McClernand, but Grant reminded the speakers and the men that there was fighting left to be done.

Indeed there was, for Bowen’s men fought tenaciously along the creek bottom, with Cockrell’s men inflicting heavy casualties as they worked to keep the Yankees from turning Bowen’s left flank, an event that would have likely cost Bowen his entire command. Though Cockrell hit a telling blow on the brigade of James Slack, this fight again proved that solid soldiers plus good terrain could not stop an overwhelming disparity in troop strength. Outnumbered three to one, Bowen was helpless to stop yet another McClernand tactic of bludgeoning the Confederate center.

Finally, to save his army to fight another day, Bowen issued orders for retreat and, despite some close calls, managed to get his men safely through Port Gibson and across Bayou Pierre. Bowen’s rear guard fired the bridges to slow down Grant’s pursuit. Grant now had a solid foothold on Mississippi soil, and he would solidify that grasp in the days to come. The cost had been 787 Union casualties, while Bowen had lost 875.12

Pressured by Washington, Grant considered turning south to cooperate with Nathaniel Banks to take Port Hudson above Baton Rouge, but doing so would give Pemberton valuable time to consolidate forces. Grant had the momentum, and he decided to keep going. Bowen pulled back to the relative safety of the other side of the Big Black and waited. Pemberton decided to abandon Port Hudson and transfer troops there to the Vicksburg front, but Jefferson Davis intervened and insisted that both places must be held. John Gregg’s brigade had already left Port Hudson and was en route to Jackson, but Franklin Gardner, commanding the Louisiana stronghold, received word from Pemberton to keep the rest of his small army within the fortifications. The Confederates would fight on two fronts in spite of the numerical superiority of Federal forces.13

The Union army at Port Gibson repaired burned bridges and began moving inland north and northeast. Grant thought about hitting the Southern Railroad between Jackson and Vicksburg to cut Pemberton’s supply line. Yet he wanted to keep Rebel commanders guessing about his target. McClernand’s Thirteenth Corps, followed by McPherson’s Seventeenth, made a broad front between the Big Black and a road that led from Port Gibson in the direction of Raymond, a small town southwest of Jackson. Troops left behind established a supply depot at Grand Gulf, which Bowen had been (p.153) forced to abandon. Heavily laden wagon trains followed Grant’s army inland, but the troops would also live off the land as circumstances dictated. Contrary to Grant’s postwar claim, he did not cut himself off from his supply base, at least not right away. His army did some living off the land, but not as much as he implied. His friend Sherman liked the idea, and he would practice the philosophy much more than Grant ever did.14

John Pemberton chose, not surprisingly, to adopt a passive strategy. Rather than send troops in an offensive thrust against Grant, Pemberton began assembling men west of the Big Black. Joseph Johnston had advised Pemberton to consolidate his army and attack the Federals, even if that meant risking the loss of Vicksburg. With orders to the contrary from President Davis, Pemberton was not about to do such a thing. It was not in his nature, or in Johnston’s for that matter, to take the offensive, especially a risky offensive. Pemberton thought defensively, then and for the rest of the campaign. He feared that Union forces might strike from the south against the Warrenton area, but Grant’s well-orchestrated feints along the Big Black made predictions a dangerous game. So Pemberton decided he would scatter his army all along the Big Black, especially watching the various fords. Pemberton figured that if Grant did hit the railroad and turn west, the Confederates would dig in along the bluffs bordering the west side of the Big Black and dare the Federals to attack. Clearly Pemberton preferred a strategy of reaction to action.

His subordinates followed suit, both by choice and in obedience to or-ders. William Loring arrived at Bowen’s front shortly after the battle at Port Gibson had been lost, and instantly ordered a retreat to Hankinson’s Ferry on the Big Black. In the process, he let pass a wonderful opportunity to strike McPherson’s corps, which had been temporarily isolated as Grant’s troops spread out to move north. Meanwhile John Gregg received orders to move toward Raymond when he reached Jackson from Port Hudson. In keeping with the defensive mind-set, Pemberton ordered Gregg to observe only and report any Federal inclination to move toward Jackson. Under no circumstances was Gregg to get involved in a fight in which he was outnumbered.15

John Gregg did not intentionally disobey, but he did make a miscalculation that changed the course of the inland campaign. At dawn on May 12, couriers brought word to Gregg’s headquarters that a Yankee force was coming toward Raymond along the Utica road to the southwest. Gregg misunderstood the implications of this intelligence. He decided that the enemy on the road must be screening the Union army’s right as it turned north to hit the railroad. So he chose to attack with the notion that a threat to (p.154) the Federal right flank would disrupt Grant’s march. After all, Pemberton had said it was permissible to attack the enemy flank and rear, and Gregg believed that he had an opportunity to do just that.

Actually, the troops coming up the road were advance elements of McPherson’s entire corps, and when Gregg attacked with his lone brigade, he set himself up for disaster. As the battle developed initially, however, Gregg did not realize for some time just how badly outnumbered he was. The battle began along Fourteenmile Creek just southwest of Raymond, and in the early stages neither side performed in a coordinated manner. McPherson sent troops in piecemeal, beginning with regiments from Logan’s division, and while Gregg’s sparse troops, consisting of Tennesseans and Texans, fought well, many regiments operated without any knowledge of what was going on other parts of the battlefield.

After about two hours of bitter fighting, numbers began to tell, and McPherson’s men began pushing in Gregg’s right flank. Savage hand-to-hand fighting took place between the Seventh Texas and the Twentieth Ohio along the road north of the creek. McPherson soon had troops drifting far enough to the right to threaten Gregg’s left. The dust and smoke of battle, plus McPherson’s lack of control over the fighting, had made it possible for Gregg’s men to hold the Seventeenth Corps in place for nearly three hours. In the most uncoordinated battle of the Vicksburg campaign, the Confederates lost 515 men, while McPherson counted 446 casualties. When it became obvious that the battle had not gone his way, Gregg led his men toward Jackson, the safest retreat route available. Gregg’s decision to fight had not only cost him a large number of casualties, it also had assured that he would not be able to join Pemberton’s army for the defense of Vicksburg. Grant’s tactics of separating his corps in order to feel out the location of the enemy to his front reaped great benefits at Raymond.16

Citizens of Raymond were shocked by the aftermath of the battle. Wounded carried into the town soon filled the county courthouse, other public buildings, and many private homes. Local women helped nurse the slightly and severely wounded and watched helplessly as many died. Towns-people made no effort to hide their contempt for the Yankees, but John Logan and other officers warned soldiers not to pillage and raid homes, an order many soldiers ignored. Looting happened all over town, and the Federal soldiers stole from whites and slaves. McPherson’s men helped them-selves to stolen food, tore down fences to make fires, and generally made themselves at home. Many citizens protested that they were loyal to the Union and always had been. For some, this may have been so, but for most (p.155) VicksburgFinal Battles and Siege (p.156) it was an attempt to save their property. Few Union soldiers were convinced of their sincerity.17

While chaos and dying men overwhelmed Raymond, the fight there convinced Grant to change his strategy. Gregg had caused McPherson enough trouble to convince Grant that it might be dangerous to turn his back on Jackson. Scouts reported that Joseph Johnston had arrived in the Mississippi capital and was assembling a force there. Not wanting to risk being caught between two enemy forces, Grant decided that he must send troops to get rid of Johnston. Then he could turn and go after Pemberton and Vicksburg.

Sherman’s Fifteenth Corps had finally crossed the Mississippi and had caught up with the rest of the army. Grant sent Sherman northeast from Raymond to attack Jackson from the south, while McPherson marched north to Clinton, a town fifteen or so miles west of Jackson on the Jackson-Vicksburg road. McPherson was to turn east and assault the capital city from the west. McClernand would hold the Thirteenth Corps in place between Raymond and Edwards Depot; he would provide support if needed and keep Pemberton from moving east against the flank and rear of the other two corps. Grant need not have worried.18

When Johnston, sent by a worried Jefferson Davis to salvage the deteriorating situation in Mississippi, arrived in Jackson, he immediately sent a telegram to Richmond with a simple message, “I am too late.” Johnston had no interest in saving Vicksburg, and once he realized Grant was moving inland, Johnston decided to let the Federals have the hill city. Further evidence of his defeatist attitude was his immediate decision to give up Jackson, while at the same time ordering Pemberton to move toward the city. Johnston could have fought and held out for a time. By doing so, he would have given reinforcements on the way to Jackson by train from various points east time to arrive and detrain, and he could have then considered his options. Johnston’s quick retreat fit perfectly into Grant’s plans, for now there would be no one in Jackson to attack Grant’s rear.

John Gregg received the assignment to put up a token resistance in Jackson, while supplies moved by wagon to Canton to the northeast. Heavy rains began to fall, slowing both the Federal advance and the Confederate withdrawal. When Sherman’s troops finally crossed a flooded creek south of town, they brushed aside light resistance and soon learned that the Rebels, except for a few home guards, had disappeared. On the west side of town, McPherson, moving down the Clinton-Jackson road and on either side of the Southern Railroad where it ran west toward Vicksburg, encountered heavier resistance. Gregg’s men held on to give the wagon train time (p.157) VicksburgFinal Battles and Siege (p.158) to reach a safe distance to the north. Total casualties included some 300 for Grant and 900 for Johnston, most of the latter being prisoners sacrificed to assure the army’s escape.19

Grant now turned his attention to Pemberton’s army. A Grant informant, impersonating a Confederate scout, brought to McPherson a copy of a Johnston message to Pemberton that ordered Pemberton to march to Clinton for a junction with Johnston’s Jackson force. Pemberton received the message on May 13, while Grant read a copy on the 14th. Knowing full well that Johnston was moving away from Clinton, Grant saw an opportunity to beat Pemberton in the field without having to worry about Johnston’s force interfering. Orders from Grant sent John McClernand and James McPherson marching for Bolton, a town on the railroad between Clinton and Edwards Station. Should Johnston decide to turn west and effect a junction with Pemberton, the likely target would be Bolton. Mean-while Grant left the destruction of railroads and Confederate supplies in and around Jackson to Sherman’s corps. The destructive fires got out of control and spread to consume private and nonmilitary structures as well. The hard hand of war, combined with more destruction in Jackson after the fall of Vicksburg, would give the capital city the nickname “Chimneyville.” The extent of damage may or may not be exaggerated, but the moniker is so ingrained in Civil War mythology it likely will never go away.

A British traveler, Arthur Fremantle, who found the war fascinating enough to travel through the South for three months, entered Jackson after Sherman’s men had left. The destruction impressed him. He wrote, “All the numerous factories have been burnt down by the enemy,” and he believed the Federals had a right to do so. What he did not like was the pillaging of private dwellings, which was very evident. Businesses had been gutted, and the Catholic church and other public service buildings not related to the Rebel war effort had been left in ruins. The local citizens’ hatred of the Yankees impressed Fremantle, who observed that Grant’s visit had surely turned them into “good and earnest rebels.”20

Meanwhile John Pemberton had not seen Jackson, but he was wondering exactly what Joseph Johnston had done. He read with alarm the Johnston message ordering a junction at Clinton. Such a move would leave Vicksburg uncovered, though two divisions, John Forney’s and Martin Luther Smith’s, had been left in the city’s defensive works. Pemberton also had news that a large enemy force, McClernand’s, was lurking along the Raymond-Edwards road, and if Pemberton marched for Clinton, the Yankees would be in position to assault the Confederate right flank. Pemberton called his generals together for a council of war on May 14, and after much discussion (p.159) Pemberton chose to move southeast from Edwards toward Grant’s supply line. Given President Davis’s charge to defend Vicksburg at all costs, Pemberton decided that such a move would leave his army in position to rush back to the Big Black if necessary to block Grant’s approach. At this point, Pemberton did not know that Johnston had already abandoned Jackson and was moving away from Clinton.21

The decision having been made, Pemberton ordered his army forward on May 15, and the advance quickly became victimized by a comedy of errors. Supplies that should have been shipped by train from Vicksburg arrived late, and then the army had to stop because Bakers Creek, which meandered along a northeast-to-southwest course east of Edwards, was flooded, and Pemberton had failed to send scouts to reconnoiter the area. More time was lost in redirecting the army’s line of march to a suitable crossing. By evening the army’s advance division, William Loring’s, had reached the area of Jackson Creek on the Raymond-Edwards road. Behind Loring, strung out from southeast to northwest, were Bowen’s and Stevenson’s divisions, respectively. Supply wagons brought up the rear.22

As the sun rose on May 16, Pemberton received Johnston’s latest message, with news of the evacuation of Jackson and another order to move toward Clinton. Why Johnston would order such a move when he was in Canton with his army is mystifying and perhaps can only be explained by Johnston’s state of mind. He did not want to fight Grant, nor did he care if Grant took Vicksburg. Johnston was a disciple of the theory that armies mattered more than places, and he never abandoned that belief. His only goal seemed to be to get Pemberton’s army out of Grant’s way so that the two divided Confederate forces could unite. What would happen then can never be known, but it is unlikely that the combined army under Johnston would have taken the offensive, certainly not to attack Vicksburg.

Perhaps shaken by the fall of Jackson, Pemberton decided this time to obey Johnston’s instructions, and he issued an order to reverse the column north to Mechanicsburg, from which point the army would march for Clinton. Before the army could reverse its march, however, the supply train had to be taken north to get it out of the way. Teamsters turned the wagons and moved out, but the army could not follow, because it suddenly came under attack from Grant’s two corps closing in from the east.23

The battle of Champion Hill got its name from prominent heights owned by the local Champion family. The highest point, the hill, stood between the Confederate left (Stevenson) and the Union right (McPherson). If Grant won here, he would be in position to move quickly against Vicksburg. Contrarily, a Union loss could leave Grant in a precarious position.

(p.160) As the battle evolved, Pemberton’s army was aligned with Stevenson’s troops on the left, Bowen’s in the center, and Loring’s on the right, with the troops extended from Loring’s position on the Raymond-Edwards road on a northwesterly course to Stevenson’s men strung out from the Jackson road to the railroad. To Stevenson’s right, Bowen deployed from the Jackson road down Middle Road, which ran south to Loring’s left. Loring’s troops took their position astride the Raymond-Edwards road.

Pemberton, ignoring the ominously large number of campfires to the west on the night and early morning of May 15–16, had not organized his troops to receive any kind of attack, though his subordinates had taken some precautions. The Confederates would be outnumbered in the coming fight by 9,000 troops (23,000 to Grant’s 32,000), a disparity that Pemberton could have avoided had he not left the two full divisions in Vicksburg.24

The fighting began badly for the Confederates and, with one brief exception, continued to deteriorate. Along the Jackson road, McPherson sent John Logan’s division on the Union right and Alvin P. Hovey’s division on Logan’s left. Stephen D. Lee, commanding a brigade in Stevenson’s division, fought effectively on the Rebel left, but reinforcements were much too long in coming. Some of Stevenson’s troops did not perform well, especially in Seth Barton’s brigade. Hovey’s division drove a wedge into the Confederate line just north of the Jackson road. Farther north, Stephen Lee could not do much to meet Hovey’s charge, for Logan’s men were pressuring and in the process of turning Lee’s left. By 1 p.m. Stevenson’s division was in shambles, and Pemberton faced the possibility of total disaster with his left flank falling apart.25

At this point John Bowen, fearful of pressure on his own front, finally obeyed Pemberton’s pleas for him to rush to Stevenson’s assistance. Bowen’s division possessed the best soldiers in the army. Led by Francis Cockrell’s hard-fighting Missourians, Bowen’s brigades smashed through Hovey’s division and reached the crest of Champion Hill. For a time, Grant’s right found itself in a shaky situation, but soon Federal reinforcements rushed in, while Pemberton had no men to send to Bowen’s aid. William Loring, though lightly pressured by McClernand in his front, simply refused to send any help to the left until it was much too late. Bowen’s magnificent charge came to nothing as his men grudgingly gave way and pulled back down Champion Hill. By the time Loring sent men to provide support, Stevenson and Bowen were in full retreat, forced to pull back to a lower crossing of Bakers Creek, since Stevenson’s division had been flanked to the north.26

Loring provided cover for the other two retreating divisions, while fending off McClernand, who finally had taken the offensive. In the process, (p.161) VicksburgFinal Battles and Siege (p.162) Lloyd Tilghman, a brigade commander in Loring’s division, fell dead from a cannon shot, and Loring decided that he could not get his men across Bakers Creek, because if he turned to follow, the enemy would be dangerously close on his rear. So Loring sent his men south, where they looped around McClernand and made it back to Jackson and Canton to join Johnston.

The battle of Champion Hill cost Pemberton 3,800 in killed, wounded, and missing men (the missing totaled 2,441), plus Loring’s division. Grant had suffered 2,400 casualties, and he had won with only two of his three corps present. Further, whatever chance Pemberton had of joining Johnston disappeared, for the Confederate army was in disarray as it fell back to defensive works east of the Big Black along either side of the railroad crossing.27

Grant, elated at his army’s success, now thought that total victory was within his grasp, and on the morning of May 17 he ordered his men to push on. McClernand followed the trail of Pemberton’s army, while McPherson and Sherman, the latter having arrived from Jackson, moved north of the railroad to cut off any attempt by Pemberton to escape in that direction.

Pemberton, placing Bowen’s three battered brigades in position in defensive works with the Big Black to their backs, decided to hold on until Loring arrived. Confederate morale was at rock bottom, and Bowen’s veterans knew that they were in a vulnerable position. McClernand’s men, relatively fresh, showed no mercy, as Mike Lawler’s brigade broke through Tennessean John C. Vaughn’s position, held by east Tennessee troops whose loyalty to the Confederate cause was minimal at best. The breaking of Bowen’s line caused a general retreat, and his extreme left and his right suddenly received heavy flanking fire. The Confederates ran pell-mell toward the Big Black, some crossing the railroad bridge, some crossing the boat bridge that had been created by turning a vessel sideways, and some jumping into the water and swimming across. Bowen lost small arms, cannons, and men captured as he tried to get his troops to safety. Portions of Stevenson’s division provided some cover fire from the west bank of the Big Black, and the Union assault slowed. Pemberton’s engineers made sure that the bridges were aflame before following the rest of the army toward Vicksburg.

Loring, of course, never arrived, and Pemberton would not learn until much later that he had risked Bowen’s division for nothing. Confederate casualties at the Big Black are uncertain, though Union reports indicated that 1,751 Rebels had been taken prisoner. McClernand’s corps had light casualties of 39 killed, 237 wounded, and 3 missing. After the Confederate hasty retreat, Grant set his men to work building bridges. He wanted to push on as soon as possible, and by the next day McClernand’s men were (p.163) VicksburgFinal Battles and Siege (p.164) crossing the Big Black. Upstream, McPherson and Sherman found fords and ferries and sent their men across. The entire three corps closed in on Vicksburg.28

Pemberton, meanwhile, gave no thought to trying to escape. Davis had said hold Vicksburg, and Pemberton intended to obey, no matter the odds. He felt sure that once Johnston learned of the events of May 16–17, help would be on the way. He had no way of knowing that Johnston would do nothing for the next several weeks. Upon arriving in Vicksburg, Pemberton received word from Johnston to evacuate the city and get the army out the best way he could. Pemberton refused, in part because even as he read the message, sounds of Grant’s artillery shelling Confederate defenses could be heard. Pemberton had no intention of pulling out anyway, and it is certain that even had he tried, his army would have had great difficulty. Forney’s and Smith’s divisions were fresh, but Stevenson’s and Bowen’s would need time to regroup before any forced march could be made. A determined commander could possibly have led his army south out of town and gotten away, but Pemberton was only determined to make an attempt to save Vicksburg.29

Though depressed by the failures of the last two days, Pemberton and his staff went to work. He deployed Smith on the left and Forney in the center of the works that formed a semicircle from north of town, in an arch to the northeast, east, and southeast, and culminating to the south. Pemberton placed Stevenson’s depleted division on the right, with the expectation that any immediate assault by Grant would hit the Confederate left and center. Bowen’s division would be held in reserve. Anchoring the long Confederate defensive line was Fort Hill on the far left, which covered both land and water (the Mississippi River) approaches; the Stockade Redan complex a few hundred yards east of Fort Hill on Graveyard road; the Third Louisiana Redan on the Baldwin’s Ferry road; the Great Redoubt on the Jackson road; and the Second Texas Lunette and the Railroad Redoubt, north and south, respectively, of the railroad. On the Confederate right, Square Fort (later called Fort Garrott) protected approaches from the Hall’s Ferry road, which entered the city from the southeast. Other works farther to the right included the Salient Work along Hall’s Ferry road and, overlooking the river and approaches from the Warrenton area, South Fort. These latter two works played a less significant role than the others during the two May assaults and siege operations.

Grant’s approach came as Pemberton expected. Sherman occupied the right of Grant’s line, deploying on either side of the Graveyard road that came into Vicksburg from the north. To Sherman’s right, McPherson (p.165) brought his men up the Baldwin’s Ferry road that entered town from the northeast and intersected the Jackson road as it curved north and entered Vicksburg from the northeast. McClernand’s men deployed south of the railroad that entered town from the east. Stevenson’s division would indeed be safe from combat for a time.30

On May 19 Grant, refusing to give Pemberton any more time to organize Confederate defenses, ordered an assault. The main effort came from Sherman’s corps. Sherman’s men had not seen any kind of action since the May 14 attack at Jackson, and very little at that time. Frank Blair’s division led the attack down Graveyard road against the Stockade Redan, a strong work anchored on each side by two smaller fortifications. Martin Smith’s division, aided by Cockrell’s ever-ready Missourians, threw back the Yankees. The First Battalion of the Thirteenth U.S. Army infantry managed to get to the ditch in front of the redan and planted their colors there, giving them the right to the title “First at Vicksburg.”31

After the first wave of the assault ground to a halt, those Federals who had made it close to the Confederate works had to endure shells rolling down the bank and exploding among them. They could not escape until nightfall because retreat in the daylight would have been suicidal. Else-where, McPherson’s and McClernand’s corps made some progress in advancing closer to Confederate defenses, but Grant had to admit failure. He had lost around 1,000 men, while Pemberton had light casualties of 200.32

On May 22 Grant ordered another, more general attack. A signal shot rang across the hills and ravines, and the three corps moved forward. On Sherman’s front the result was about the same, though some troops did manage to gain a little ground on the corps’ left. McPherson’s attack also made little progress, the fire from the Great Redoubt and the lines of rifle pits anchoring it forcing the attackers to find cover quickly.

On the left, McClernand was the only commander to throw his whole corps into the fray, and his men met with enough success that the Confederates had to momentarily evacuate Railroad Redoubt, which threatened the safety of the Second Texas Lunette and the Salient Work and Square Fort positions on the far right. If the breakthrough had been permanent, Pemberton’s right would have been forced well into the city, and McClernand may have produced a Confederate surrender. Reinforcements soon arrived, however, and the Rebels managed to drive the Federals back. McClernand’s pleas for help were initially ignored, and by the time help came it was too late.

Grant’s distrust of McClernand no doubt caused the delay; Grant simply believed, with some justification, that McClernand’s claims of success were (p.166) VicksburgFinal Battles and Siege (p.167) exaggerated. The events of that day set in motion a chain of circumstances, highlighted by McClernand’s release of a congratulatory order that emphasized the role of his men in the May 22 assault at the expense of the other two corps. This faux pas ultimately led to Grant’s dismissal of McClernand before the siege ended.33

Grant now decided on siege operations, and from May 23 until Pemberton surrendered Vicksburg on July 4, Union forces dug trenches and tunnels, getting ever closer to Confederate works. Using sap rollers (cylindrical, hollow contraptions stuffed with cotton or cane to ward off Rebel bullets), Federal soldiers pushed ahead, rolling the saps in front. Sometimes the Confederates successfully used lit fuses to ignite the saps, forcing a quick Yankee retreat. Mining operations met with some success, especially on June 25 and July 1 when Federal engineers exploded powder under the Third Louisiana Redan. Other mining projects might have worked, but the surrender came before explosives were detonated.

Several organized approaches were designed to threaten the Confederate strongpoints. From the Union right to left, the major approaches were John Thayer’s, Thomas Ewing’s, Giles Smith’s, Thomas Ransom’s, John Logan’s, A. J. Smith’s, Eugene Asa Carr’s, Alvin P. Hovey’s, Jacob Lauman’s, and Francis Herron’s. One of the most effective was Logan’s approach, which was at the point of breaching the Stockade Redan defenses when the surrender came. Hovey’s approach against Fort Garrott also came close to success by the time of surrender. Other approaches also almost succeeded before the surrender. The successes of the approaches demonstrated that Pemberton’s decision to give up the fight was based on more than logistics.

Elsewhere in the region, feeble efforts were made to give relief to Pemberton’s trapped army. Across the Mississippi, a Texas division commanded by Major John Walker attacked Union supply and staging areas at Milliken’s Bend and Young’s Point on June 7. At Milliken’s Bend, U.S. Colored Troops, composed of former slaves from Mississippi and Louisiana, bravely fought off Walker’s men, and the follow-up assault at Young’s Point was equally dismal for Walker and his men.34

Joseph E. Johnston had his men operating in the so-called Mechanicsburg Corridor, that area between the Big Black and Yazoo rivers northeast of Vicksburg. But Grant sent patrols into the area, and other than occasional skirmishing, the Confederates did little to aggravate ongoing Federal siege operations. Grant, constantly reinforced by troops coming down the Mississippi from the north, put Sherman in charge of rotating men in and out of the Big Black bridge area east of Vicksburg to make sure that Johnston would not try an attack. There was no reason for concern, for Johnston (p.168) spent most of the siege arguing with Richmond authorities that he did not have enough men to help Pemberton. His arguments lingered on so long that by the time he did make a feeble effort to move toward the Big Black in early July, Grant had enough men to negate any Johnston operation.

Arthur Fremantle found Johnston “below the middle height, spare, soldierlike, and well set up; his features are good, and he had lately taken to wear a grayish beard.” Fremantle enjoyed his company. “He talks in a calm, deliberate, and confident manner; to me he was extremely affable, but he certainly possesses the power of keeping people at a distance when he chooses, and his officers evidently stand in great awe of him.” Johnston told Fremantle what he had been telling Richmond: if the War Department sent him more men, he would try to relieve Pemberton. Fremantle left Johnston’s camp to travel on to Alabama, and he was convinced that Johnston would be “heard of before long.” Fremantle would be at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, the day after that battle ended when Johnston was still miles away from helping Pemberton, who would give up Vicksburg the next day. When he heard Vicksburg had fallen, he did not comment further on Johnston.35

The forty-three-day siege tested soldiers and civilians in ways they never imagined, especially Pemberton’s Confederates and Vicksburg’s citizens. A big problem for the Confederate defenders was their lack of numbers. They did not have enough men to rotate soldiers in and out of earthworks, but they stayed on the move to the point of having little free time. Men in the entrenchments stood up at their own risk. Sharpshooters on both sides killed many men who forgot or got careless and stuck their heads above earthwork rims.

Pemberton had much food stored in Vicksburg, but since he did not know how long his men would be there, he immediately ordered rationing. Little by little the food supplies shrunk down to just enough food per man to keep them alive. Pemberton kept hoping Joseph Johnston would come to his aid, but after a while it became obvious that would not happen. Stories persisted that the men ate rats when all other meat, including that of mules, was consumed, and there is little doubt some ate both, though perhaps not to the extent reported. Lack of good water also became a problem as time passed. The incessant heat and humidity, interrupted from time to time by thunderstorms that turned the earthen works into mud, combined with lack of food, water, and exercise, truly made life miserable for the defenders. Many died at their posts of various illnesses, and by the end of the siege some were too weak to stand and had to be lifted out of the entrenchments by Union soldiers who were astonished that their opponents had held out so long under such circumstances.

(p.169) Civilians, many of whom lived in caves decorated with items from their homes, also suffered from hunger, thirst, and heat. Inflated prices, driven up by ever-increasing shortages, sent costs out of reach for all but the very wealthy. Flour at one time reached $600 a barrel and biscuits $8 a dozen. Some people, including Confederate soldiers, took what they needed and did not worry about paying for it. Merchants were hardly in a position to protest, surrounded by armed soldiers and desperate civilians. Many homes became hospitals, which in most cases were more lethal than bullets and shells. Union artillery made life dangerous and interesting; women performed many heroic acts in hospitals, and youngsters trying to help in various ways performed their duties amid shot and shell falling to the earth in whole or in fragments. People turned to religion, which provided some hope and comfort, two rare conditions in besieged Vicksburg.

Union soldiers, aided by Grant receiving so many reinforcements, had the luxury of rotating in and out of the front lines. They spent leisure time playing cards and reading newspapers and letters from home, and they had more regular chances to take baths and boil lice out of their clothes than since the overland campaign began. Yet even these men endured misery. The heat, the likes of which many of these midwesterners were not used to, made shade a much-sought-after luxury. Poisonous snakes, mosquitoes, and other insects and vermin kept the men alert.

Some Federals regretted being involved in the siege because they knew noncombatants could be killed by the shelling and shooting. They thought of their own families and the misery they would feel if circumstances were switched. Yet they had a job to do, and they knew taking Vicksburg might bring the war to a quicker end and stop all the killing. Most simply wanted the Union restored; they cared little, with some exceptions, about the slaves they encountered, except for the labor they provided, which kept the soldiers from having to work so hard at keeping entrenchments in shape. These soldiers wanted the siege to end so they could go home, and the majority did not care how the impact of the fall of Vicksburg might affect slavery.36

Finally, Pemberton, tired of watching his men suffering and dying and convinced that Johnston would never do anything to help, decided that he must yield to the inevitable, and on July 3 he opened surrender negotiations with Grant. After some posturing led to a stalemate, Grant suggested that he and Pemberton allow their staffs to work out details. Finally terms were reached that allowed Confederate soldiers, minus their rifles and pistols, to be paroled rather than sent to Northern prisons. Confederate officers could retain their sidearms, clothing, and one horse each. On July 4, while angry (p.170) and sad Confederates stacked their guns, Grant’s army marched into Vicksburg. Not only had the Confederacy lost an army that would never fight again as a unit, it had lost thousands of weapons, including some 50,000 small arms and 172 cannons, plus a multitude of ammunition rounds. The fall of Vicksburg forced Franklin Gardner to surrender Port Hudson on July 9. That part of the Confederacy west of the Mississippi was now in effect severed from the rest, for Union forces had achieved a long-sought goal, the clearing and opening of the Mississippi River.37

To solidify the victory, Grant determined that he must deal with Johnston’s presence east of the Big Black. Grant put together an expeditionary force of men from several corps, all under the command of William T. Sherman. Many of the troops protecting the Big Black flank were from Sherman’s corps. Some of Sherman’s soldiers enjoyed wrecking and stealing property on the Joseph Davis plantation, north of the Jackson-Vicksburg road near Bolton. Confederate skirmishers kept things lively. Sherman’s troops would have another chance to tear apart the Davis place during Sherman’s future Meridian campaign.

Johnston retreated to defensive works at Jackson, works that had been somewhat repaired and strengthened since the “battle” there back in May. However, Johnston had not seen to the stockpiling of supplies or the repair of the railroad bridge east of the city. The Confederates would not be able to fight for long and would risk being trapped in the event of a rushed retreat. Sherman’s march toward Jackson began on July 9 and was hampered by heat and a lack of water. Good water became hard to find as Union troops found that Johnston’s army had filled ponds and cisterns with dead cattle and horses.38

Arriving at the outskirts of the city on July 10, Sherman decided that Johnston’s deployment of troops necessitated siege tactics. On the Federal right, Alvin P. Hovey and Jacob Lauman led their divisions into place along the Terry road, which entered Jackson from the southwest, and Bailey Hill, which overlooked Lynch Creek east of the New Orleans, Jackson, and Great Northern Railroad south of the city. Three divisions of E. O. C. Ord’s Thirteenth Corps (Ord was given command after McClernand’s departure) deployed to Hovey’s left, south of the Robinson road, which entered Jackson from the west. Frederick Steele’s division took position north of Robinson road, covering the Southern Railroad of Mississippi, which ran west to Vicksburg. North of the city John Parke’s Ninth Corps came down the Livingston and Canton roads.

To defend the city, Johnston had Loring’s division on the right, fronting Parke’s advance, with W. H. T. Walker’s division on Loring’s left. Samuel (p.171) French’s division faced Ord’s corps, with John C. Breckinridge’s troops in place to block Hovey and Lauman. Johnston had very little notion of fighting it out, for he knew he would eventually be overwhelmed. Perhaps his main reason for taking a stand at Jackson was to save face for his inaction during the Vicksburg siege. He had to know already that Jefferson Davis would harangue him for not making an effort to help Pemberton.

The major action during the siege of Jackson occurred on the Confederate left, where on July 12 Hovey and Lauman attacked. Breckinridge’s men held firm, and Confederate artillery decimated the onrushing blue wave. The forty-minute attack fizzled, and the Confederates took over 200 prisoners and the colors of three Illinois regiments. Casualty figures told the story of the ill-advised assault. The total Federal list included 68 killed and 302 wounded, while the Confederates suffered only seven total casualties.

The siege dragged on until Johnston received word that an attempt to cut off a wagon train bringing ammunition to the Federals from Vicksburg had failed. A side note was that some Federal soldiers stole some of Jefferson Davis’s letters from properties owned by Davis and his brother Joseph near Bolton. Many had been left with a friend, Owen Cox. Surprisingly, many of them survived the war.

On July 16 Johnston ordered his army to evacuate the city and move to the east, and for a second time he abandoned Mississippi’s capital to the enemy. He had lost 71 killed, 504 wounded, and 25 missing during the brief siege. Sherman lost 129 killed, 762 wounded, and 231 missing. Sherman made half-hearted attempts to pursue, aggravated by a lack of cavalry to harass Johnston’s retreat. Most of Johnston’s army would wind up in the Army of Tennessee. Johnston’s retreat signaled the last action of any significant Confederate military force in Mississippi. Sherman crowned his achievement by having a meal in the governor’s mansion; he called it “a beautiful supper” and enjoyed a very celebratory time with his officers.39


(1) . Grant, Memoirs, 295–96, 305; OR, 24-3, 151–52, 168, 179–80; OR, 24-1, 74; ORN, 24:520; Bearss, Vicksburg, 2:27.

(2) . OR, 24-3, 724, 730–31, 745, 752–53, 760, 773.

(3) . Crooke, Twenty-first Iowa, 49, 53; Daniel Buchwalter diary, April 4, 1863, 120th Ohio File, VNMP; S. H. Stephenson to brother, April 18, 1863, Forty-eighth Ohio File, VNMP; W. H. Raynor diary, April 16, 1863, Fifty-sixth Ohio File, VNMP; W. L. Rand to parents, April 20, 1863, Rand Papers, ISHL; Bernard Schermerhorn to wife, April 19, 1863, Schermerhorn Papers, IHS; Asa E. Sample diary, April 14, 1863, Sample Papers, IHS.

(4) . Ballard, Vicksburg, 208–10.

(5) . OR, 24-3, 132, 186, 188, 740, 212, 215–16; OR, 24-1, 70–78, 567–68; ORN, 24:553, 555– 58, 563–64, 566, 682, 697–98, 704; Bearss, Vicksburg, 2:53, 58–59, 65–68, 73–74, 76–79, 80–82; Porter, Incidents, 175; Nathan Dye to father and family, April 16, 1863, Dye Papers, DU; F. Grant, “General Grant,” National Tribune, January 20, 1887; Walker, Vicksburg, 151–52; A. B. Balch, “Memories of Soldiers by One of Them,” Joseph Forrest Papers, ISHL; A. L. Dorsey to father and mother, April 21, 1863, Forty-third Georgia File, VNMP.

(p.287) (6) . Jack Hurst, Nathan Bedford Forrest: A Biography (New York, 1993), 117–24. On Grierson’s raid, see Dee Alexander Brown, Grierson’s Raid: A Cavalry Adventure of the Civil War (Urbana, Ill., 1962); and Benjamin Grierson, A Just and Righteous Cause: Benjamin Grierson’s Civil War Memoir, ed. Bruce J. Dinges and Shirley A. Leckie (Carbondale, Ill., 2008), 134–86.

(7) . Ballard, Vicksburg, 212–13.

(8) . Bearss, Vicksburg, 2:258; OR, 24-1, 256, 678; OR, 24-3, 797, 800, 804.

(9) . Bearss, Vicksburg, 2:269–70, 311, 314; F. Grant, “General Grant,” National Tribune, January 20, 1887; William Warren Rogers Jr., ed., “‘The Prospects of Our Country Are Gloomy Indeed’: Stephen Crooms at Vicksburg (April 1863),” Journal of Mississippi History 59 (Spring 1997): 43–44; OR, 24-1, 663–64; ORN, 24:626–28, 607–8, 610–11, 613, 615–23, 625–26; Crooke, Twenty-first Iowa, 53–54; W. H. Raynor diary, April 29, 1863, Fifty-sixth Ohio File, VNMP; Bevier, History, 412; Hobbs diary, April 29(?)/30(?), 1863, Ninety-ninth Illinois File, VNMP; Grant, Memoirs, 317.

(10) . OR, 24-1, 48, 143, 601, 615, 621, 628, 631, 663–64, 672, 678, 658; Grant, Memoirs, 317–18, 321; A. B. Hubbell to William T. Rigby, April 30, 1908, Forty-second Ohio File, VNMP; F. Grant, “General Grant,” National Tribune, January 27, 1887; Bearss, Vicksburg, 2:318, 346, 353; S. C. Jones, Reminiscences of the Twenty-second Iowa (Iowa City, Iowa, 1993), 29–30; Hobbs diary, May 1, 1863, Ninety-ninth Illinois File, VNMP; L. B. Jessup diary, May 2(?), 1863, excerpts in letter to William T. Rigby, June 10, 1902, Twenty-fourth Indiana File, VNMP.

(11) . OR, 24-1, 143, 413, 586–92, 643, 668, 670, 673, 678, 664, 679–81; Hobbs diary, May 1, 1863, Ninety-ninth Illinois File, VNMP; Minor Ellis to uncle (W. W. Thomas), June 2, 1863, Thomas Papers, IHS; Frances Obenchain to William Rigby, July 4, 1903, Virginia Botetourt Artillery File, VNMP; William Milner Kelly, “A History of the Thirtieth Alabama Volunteers (Infantry), Confederate States Army,” Alabama Historical Quarterly 9 (Spring 1947): 135–36; “Journal of the 46th Regiment, 1861–1865,” Augustus Sinks Papers, ISL.

(12) . OR, 24-1, 145, 180–81, 585, 593, 603, 627, 652, 672–73, 144–45, 599, 602, 606–7, 610–11, 662, 664, 668, 675–76; Hobbs diary, May 1, 1863, Ninety-ninth Illinois File, VNMP; Bearss, Vicksburg, 2:379; Chambers, “My Journal,” 264; Bevier, History, 177–78; Joseph Bowker diary, May 1, 1863, Forty-second Ohio File, VNMP; William R. Eddington, “My Civil War Memoirs and Other Experiences,” 8, Eddington Papers, ISHL; Anderson, Memoirs, 298–99.

(13) . Bearss, Vicksburg, 2:431–35; Ballard, Pemberton, 134, 144–45; OR, 24-3, 810–13, 828, 830, 835, 839, 841–45, 850; Charles S. Howell to father, May 5, 1863, Howell-Taylor Family Papers, USAMHI; OR, 24-2, 69, 336; OR, 24-1, 259.

(14) . OR, 24-1, 32–33; Ballard, Vicksburg, 257–59.

(15) . OR, 24-1, 259, 261; OR, 24-3, 849, 851–66; Bearss, Vicksburg, 2:479–81.

(16) . OR, 24-3, 853; OR, 24-1, 737, 646, 715–17, 718, 728, 740–46, 748, 775, 782; OR, 24-2, 297; Henry D. Dwight, “A Soldier’s Story,” USAMHI; Bearss, Vicksburg, 2:498, 511; Jones, Reminiscences, 33.

(17) . Bowker diary, May 15, 1863, Forty-second Ohio File, VNMP; John P. Davis diary, May 13, 1863, Davis Papers, ISHL; Lavinia to Emmie, [June(?) 1863], Crutcher-Shannon Papers, MDAH; Letitia D. Miller, “Some Recollections of Letitia D. Miller,” 10–11, Miller Collection, UNCCH; Sample diary, May 16, 1863, IHS; George Hovey Cadman, quoted in Grimsley, Hard Hand of War, 157.

(p.288) (18) . Bearss, Vicksburg, 2:512–13; Grant, Memoirs, 332; OR, 24-3, 300–301; OR, 24-1, 638, 729, 734; OR, 24-2, 198.

(19) . OR, 24-1, 51, 215, 239, 639, 751, 753–54, 759–60, 766, 770, 775, 782, 785–87; OR, 24-3, 310; Johnston, Narrative, 172, 174–75; Grant, Memoirs, 333, 337–38; F. Grant, “General Grant,” National Tribune, February 3, 1887; Feis, Grant’s Secret Service, 162.

(20) . OR, 24-1, 754; OR, 24-2, 251; OR, 24-3, 315; Grant, Memoirs, 338; John J. Pettus to Jefferson Davis, May 16, 1863, Pettus Papers, RG 12, MDAH; Davis diary, May 15, 1863, ISHL; Anonymous to mother, May 26, 1863, Sixth Ohio File, Civil War Times Illustrated Collection, USAMHI; William McGlothin diary, May 14, 1863, McGlothin Papers, USAMHI; Sherman, Memoirs, 242; Scott, Story of a Cavalry Regiment, 85; Arthur J. L. Fremantle, Three Months in the Southern States (Edinburgh and London, 1863, 1884), 109–10.

(21) . Ballard, Pemberton, 154–56; OR, 24-3, 877; OR, 24-2, 125; OR, 24-1, 261.

(22) . OR, 24-1, 262; OR, 24-2, 74–75, 87, 90, 93, 107, 110–14, 124; Smith, Compelled to Appear in Print, 96; Ballard, Pemberton, 158–59; William A. Drennan diary, May 30–July 4, 1863, 4, MDAH.

(23) . OR, 24-2, 75, 83, 91, 93–94; OR, 24-1, 263; OR, 24-3, 884.

(24) . OR, 24-2, 104, 108, 110, 116; Drennan diary, 4, MDAH.

(25) . OR, 24-2, 41–42, 48–49, 53, 55, 57–58, 75, 95, 99, 100–105, 110, 122; OR, 24-1, 52, 639, 640, 647, 709, 717–18; Samuel L. Ensminger to William T. Rigby, September 29, 1900, Eleventh Indiana File, VNMP; Jessup diary, May 16, 1863, Twenty-fourth Indiana File, VNMP; Charles Wood diary, May 16, 1863, Twenty-ninth Wisconsin File, VNMP; Lee, “Campaign of Vicksburg,” 40, 42; Samuel Gordon to wife, May 25, 1863, Gordon Papers, ISHL; Ulysses S. Grant, “The Vicksburg Campaign,” B&L, 3:511.

(26) . OR, 24-2, 110–12, 116, 120–21, 49–50, 55–56; Anderson, Memoirs, 311–13; Bevier, History, 187–88; Bearss, Vicksburg, 2:608; A. H. Reynolds, “Vivid Experiences at Champion Hill,” excerpted from Confederate Veteran, Nineteenth Arkansas File, VNMP; Byers, With Fire and Sword, 78–79; “Experiences of Lyman Baker,” 9, Baker Papers, ISHL.

(27) . OR, 24-1, 265; OR, 24-2, 74, 76–78, 81, 89–90, 92, 256; Smith, Compelled to Appear in Print, 135; George H. Forney to Ma, May 27, 1863, Forney Papers, DU; B. J. Williams to William T. Rigby, June 30, 1905, Fourth Indiana Cavalry File, VNMP; Ballard, Vicksburg, 308.

(28) . OR, 24-1, 266, 268–69, 617, 640–41, 648; OR, 24-2, 27, 33, 73, 113, 132, 139, 205, 251, 400–401, 23, 119–20, 137; Bearss, Vicksburg, 2:655–56; Bevier, History, 194–95; J. G. Fox diary, n.d., ISHL; Joseph W. Westbrook memoir, 4, Westbrook Papers, USAMHI; S. H. Lockett, “The Defense of Vicksburg,” B&L, 3:488; Anderson, Memoirs, 319; Bowker diary, May 17, 1863, Forty-second Ohio File, VNMP; Sherman, Memoirs, 352.

(29) . Ballard, Pemberton, 3–4, 165–66; Lockett, “Defense of Vicksburg,” B&L, 3:488.

(30) . OR, 24-2, 172, 179, 199–200; Bearss, Vicksburg, 3:905.

(31) . Bowker diary, June 23, 1863, Forty-second Ohio File, VNMP; W. H. Raynor diary, June 3, 28, 1863, Fifty-sixth Ohio File, VNMP; Charles Schenimann to mother, June 26, 2863, Twenty-ninth Missouri (Union) file, VNMP; S. H. Stephenson to parents, July 2, 1863, Forty-eighth Ohio File, VNMP; E. J. Irwin to mother, June 28, 1863, Irwin Family Papers, UM; Henry Brush to father, June 26, 1863, Brush Family Papers, ISHL; John Harris to mother, June 15, 1863, Harris Papers, ISHL; Richard Hall to mother and father, July 2, 1863, Hall Papers, LSU; Pinckney S. Cone diary, June 14, 1863, Cone Papers, ISHL; (p.289) John Travis to sister, May 25, 1863, Travis Family Letters, UM; Clark Whitten to wife, June 23, July 11, 1863, Whitten Papers, USAMHI.

(32) . Ballard, Vicksburg, 320–24; OR, 24-2, 13, 19, 33, 159–60, 229, 268, 237, 266–67, 402, 406–7; OR, 24-1, 17, 154, 230–31, 273–74; Committee of the Regiment, Story of the Fifty-fifth, 237–40; Bearss, Vicksburg, 3:766–67.

(33) . OR, 24-3, 334–35, 843–44; OR, 24-1, 719, 756–57, 760, 768; OR, 55-6, 172–73; OR, 24-2, 264, 269, 273, 282, 351–52, 361, 407, 257–58, 297, 300, 415; J. W. Larabee statement on May 22 attack, Fifty-fifth Illinois File, VNMP; Henry S. Nousse to William T. Rigby, November 9, 1901, Fifty-fifth Illinois File, VNMP; George Hildt to William T. Rigby, February 8, 1902, Thirtieth Ohio File, VNMP; W. B. Halsey diary, May 23, 1863, Seventy-second Ohio File, VNMP; Tunnard, Southern Record, 239; J. M. Pearson to Stephen D. Lee, May 17, 1902, Thirtieth Alabama File, VNMP; Bearss, Vicksburg, 3:840–41, 843–44; Ainsworth diary, 42–49, UM; John W. Niles diary, May 22, 1863, Ninth Iowa File, VNMP; Alonzo Abernethy diary, May 22, 1863, Ninth Iowa File, VNMP.

(34) . OR, 24-3, 368–74, 384, 386, 934, 937–40, 946–47, 951, 953, 955–56, 978, 978; OR, 24-2, 214, 325, 436–41, 440, 442; OR, 24-1, 194, 224–28, 244; OR, 52-1, 359; ORN, 25:57– 58; Johnston, Narrative, 199; Bearss, Vicksburg, 3:1010.

(35) . Ballard, Vicksburg, 374–88; Fremantle, Three Months, 116, 120, 126.

(36) . OR, 24-2, 107, 155–57, 172–74, 176–77, 179, 181–87, 189–97, 199–203, 207–9, 285, 289–90, 294, 312–13, 317–23, 332–34, 339, 342–43, 363–65, 368, 372, 376–77, 390–91, 407–13, 416, 420–21, 438, 441; OR, 24-3, 356, 387, 391–92, 396, 410, 435; OR, 24-1, 94, 103, 107–8; Committee of the Regiment, Story of Fifty-fifth, 251; Tunnard, Southern Record, 246–48; Anderson, Memoirs, 345; Grant, Memoirs, 345; Andrew Hickenlooper, “The Vicksburg Mine,” B&L, 3:539–40; O. J. Burnham to father and mother, June 12, 1863, Sixth Wisconsin Light Artillery File, VNMP; William Taylor to Jane, June 28, 1863, 100th Pennsylvania File, VNMP; W. H. Bently to William T. Rigby, February 18, 1903, Seventy-seventh Illinois File, VNMP; Dana, Recollections, 82–83; Simpson, Grant, 207–8. Siege caves are now closed to the public due to the dangers of cave-ins. According to former director of the MDAH, Elbert Hilliard, one of the caves was added to the National Register of Historic Places in the 1970s. The Vicksburg National Park has a few photographs of the exterior openings of the caves, and exhibits in the Visitors Center at the park demonstrate what cave life was like for civilians. Another site designated as a Mississippi Landmark, according to Hilliard, is high ground called Bailey Hill, where several Union siege guns were located. Some Union earthworks north of the park are on property owned by the University of Mississippi Medical Center, located in Jackson.

(37) . OR, 24-1, 281–86; OR, 24-3, 982–83; John Pemberton, “The Terms of Surrender,” B&L, 3:544; Ballard, Pemberton, 180–82; Grant, Memoirs, 375–81; Bearss, Vicksburg, 3:1302, 1311; Grabau, Ninety-eight Days, 502; Bevier, History, 218; Tunnard, Southern Record, 271; Barney, Recollections, 200; William P. Henderson to friend, July 11, [1863], Seventeenth Illinois File, VNMP; O. J. Burnham diary, July 4, 1863, Sixth Wisconsin Light Artillery File, VNMP; Edwin Dean, “Edwin Dean’s Civil War Days, 1861–1865,” Dean Papers, USAMHI.

(38) . OR, 24-2, 245–46; OR, 24-3, 427–28, 430–31, 439, 449; Bearss, Vicksburg, 3:1086; William Taylor to Jane, July 11, 1863, 100th Pennsylvania File, VNMP; Willis Herbert Claiborne diary, July 13, 1863, Claiborne Papers, UNCCH; John K. Street to Melinda Street, July 6, 1863, Street Papers, UNCCH; David W. Reed, Campaigns and Battles of the Twelfth Iowa Regiment, Iowa Veteran Volunteer Infantry (Evanston, Ill., 1903), (p.290) 128; MacCutcheon autobiography, “Down the Mississippi,” UM; J. W. Pursley to Mary Frances Pursley, July 28, 1863, Pursley Papers, DU; Ballard, Vicksburg, 406; Buckley Thomas Foster, Sherman’s Mississippi Campaign (Tuscaloosa, Ala., 2006), 49.

(39) . OR, 24-2, 541–42, 575; Edwin C. Bearss, The Siege of Jackson, July 10–17, 1863 (Baltimore, 1981), 81–82, 84–95, 97, 100–103, 105; Johnston, Narrative, 211–52; Dunbar Rowland, ed., Jefferson Davis, Constitutionalist: His Letters, Papers and Speeches, 10 vols. (Jackson, Miss., 1922), 5:579; Lloyd Lewis, Sherman: Fighting Prophet (New York, 1932), 297; Lynda Lasswell Christ, “A Bibliographical Note: Jefferson Davis’s Personal Library: Some Lost, Some Found,” Journal of Mississippi History (August 1983): 186–93.