Volume XXVI Issue #3 • An Excerpt From:

The Battle of Chickasaw Bayou

By Terrence J. Winschel

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Note: All Blue & Gray feature articles are annotated.

This view from Park Stop 9 at Vicksburg National Military Park shows an original bend in the Mississippi River (its course has changed dramatically since 1862, actually moving away from the historic Vicksburg waterfront). In the center and right background is the swampy ground over which Sherman’s forces marched to attack Confederates under Stephen D. Lee in strong positions on the high ground, in that sector known as the Walnut Hills. The water spray (see arrow) marks a lumber yard, which now sits on the site of the wartime Vicksburg Race Track

At 40 years of age, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant feared not to accept the challenge to capture Vicksburg and pocket the city that Lincoln referred to as the “key to victory.” An 1843 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and veteran of the Mexican War, Grant was no stranger to challenge and had struggled with adversity much of his adult life. Having battled his way to national prominence at Belmont, Fort Donelson, and Shiloh, Grant struggled with rumor and innuendo to establish a reputation of respectability. Late that same year, 1862, after the battles of Iuka (September 19) and Corinth (October 3-4) in north Mississippi, the initiative swung to Union forces under his command. As commander of the Union Army of the Tennessee, Grant’s objective was the Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River—Vicksburg.

In the first week of November, Grant’s soldiers took up the line of march as three divisions from Corinth, Mississippi, and two from Bolivar, Tennessee, moved to converge on Grand Junction, Tennessee, where the tracks of the Memphis & Charleston and Mississippi Central railroads intersected (see Map, Pg. 9). His proposed line of advance would carry the troops, approximately 40,000 strong, south from La Grange (where Grant established his headquarters on November 4) and Grand Junction along the line of the Mississippi Central Railroad through Holly Springs, Mississippi, to Oxford, and possibly Grenada. Additional Federal troops, three divisions in all, under the command of Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman, were to march out of the Memphis perimeter and join him in Oxford. From there the combined force would continue south to Jackson and strike Vicksburg from the east.

In response to this movement, Confederate forces in north Mississippi fell back to the Tallahatchie River where Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton concentrated 24,000 men to oppose Grant. The Southern commander also ordered his men to dig in and, with the assistance of hundreds of blacks, a strong line of works was thrown up along the Tallahatchie’s left bank. A formidable abatis of felled trees extended from the works to the river. At this early stage of the campaign Grant observed, “The Tallahatchie, which confronted me, was very high, the railroad bridge destroyed and Pemberton strongly fortified on the south side. A crossing would have been impossible in the presence of the enemy.”11

To aid Grant’s offensive, General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck ordered troops from the Federal enclave at Helena, Arkansas, to cross the Mississippi River and cut the railroads that supported Pemberton’s army. The objectives of this raid were the bridges that carried the rails of the Mississippi & Tennessee Railroad and those of the Mississippi Central across the Yalobusha River near Grenada. This important mission was assigned to Brig. Gen. Alvin P. Hovey who commanded a combined infantry/cavalry force of 7,000 men that crossed the Mississippi on November 27 and pushed eastward.

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