Mississippi River Wars Term Paper

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¶ … Mississippi River Wars

The South had to defend too large an area with too few men..." (Powles, 2005)

When the average person thinks of the Civil War, what probably comes to mind first is that it was a war over state's rights, and over the issue of slavery. Thinking a bit deeper, the person who hasn't read anything about the war in many years, may recall the bloody battle at Gettysburg and General Sherman's march to the sea - after burning down the city of Atlanta.

But there is so much more to learn about the Civil War, and the battles fought on the Mississippi River are both pertinent to the historical legacy of the war, and certainly very interesting from an historical perspective as well. There are many books, articles and publications about the battle of Vicksburg that raged on the Mississippi, and the strategies that led to that battle. The battle for Vicksburg is considered one of the pivotal clashes of the Civil War, mainly because it was such a strategic spot on the river, and it broke the back of the confederacy when it opened up traffic in the Mississippi to Union supplies and troops. Several aspects of the battle for Vicksburg - and events leading up to it - will be used in this paper to bring the story into full light.

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A glance at the history of the city of Vicksburg is appropriate; it was founded in 1814 by a North Carolina minister named Newet Vick, and grew quickly because of the explosion of steamboat trade in the early part of the 19th Century. Nearby, huge cotton plantations "blossomed...in the rich alluvial soil" (Arnold, 12). Rail lines connected Vicksburg with the state capital, Jackson. Vicksburg, in fact, was the sole rail and river venue between New Orleans and Memphis, Tennessee.

The citizens of Vicksburg were so content with life as it was, they were opposed to seceding from the Union by a ratio of roughly three to one. But when the war began, they were loyal to the south, and quickly worked to fortify their position high on bluffs overlooking the Mississippi.

Term Paper on Mississippi River Wars Assignment

A book called Grant Wins The War: Decision at Vicksburg goes into great detail about the city of Vicksburg, and the fight for the city on the Mississippi River. As far as fortifications against attacks, Vicksburg had a natural advantage; the high ground east of the city was a serious of bluffs, up to 260 feet high. With powerful cannons positioned heavily on those bluffs, it made it very problematic for the northern naval forces to make it past, either from the south or north. In addition to the high bluffs, there was a sharp bend in the river right at that point; "naval guns could not elevate sufficiently to engage batteries along the blufftops," Arnold writes on page 14. The rebels had "two heavy batteries," a four-gun battery on the highest ground, and 50 feet above the river another battery.

Indeed, an "integral part of the North's war strategy had been to control the Mississippi River," writes author James R. Arnold (Arnold 12). And it seemed, by June 1862, that this goal was within reach, when the rebel fleet was destroyed in Memphis. The North was in high spirits about this time, because it appeared like the tide had turned and the war was nearly over.

In the east, the Federal army was bearing down on Richmond, the Confederate capital. And in the west, the rebels had been chased out of Corinth by General Halleck, which meant that Halleck's 120,000 men were available to further put pressure on the rebels. But where to disperse those 120,000? Some were sent east, some west, and others were sent out to guard the rail lines, so vital to the continuing movement of supplies (from the north) that were needed to win the war (Arnold, 12). A mistake in those dispersal calculations resulted in not enough men in the Federal fleet that was moving down the Mississippi toward Vicksburg. If they truly wanted to capture Vicksburg, the Union thrust had to be massive, decisive; but this was not to be the reality, at least not for now.

That having been said, it was also true that a mistake in strategy had bogged down a large number of Union navy troops who were moving north up the river from New Orleans, led by Admiral David Farragut. Admiral Farragut, who had entered the navy at the age of nine, and was a captain at the age of 13, captured New Orleans in April 1862, and then had the possibility of moving on up the river and helping with the capture of Vicksburg.

However the "key port of Mobile [Alabama] lay virtually defenseless" (Arnold, 12), which was a temptation, as were towns along the lower Mississippi; and rather than concentrating on either one, or the other, Farragut attempted to move against both targets. It wasn't a smart military move.

An article in Civil War Times (Wert, 2006) discusses the fact that New Orleans had fallen to the Union troops in April 1862, but the Mississippi was still closed off because of course, the Confederacy controlled Vicksburg. And twice during December of 1862, General Ulysses S. Grant has attempted to take Vicksburg from the north, and both times he was pushed back. But Grant planned to bring his army down the Louisiana side of the river, over rough roads, and await the arrival of support naval troops, under the direction of Rear Adm. David Dixon, which were to of course arrive via the river. There had been vain attempts to divert the Mississippi north of Vicksburg, to channel a portion of the rush of water away from the mail flow of the river, to allow naval troops to avoid the heavy guns of the Confederates on the main river flow.

Meantime, the small naval force led by Farragut approached Vicksburg at 2:00 A.M. On June 28, 1862, "formed his ships in two columns," Arnold explains on page 15, and pushed upriver. There was a "ship-to-shore" fight, which cost Farragut 15 killed and thirty wounded, but he at least had passed by and could now wait north of Vicksburg for General Halleck to send more men for the all-out assault on Vicksburg. It was to be a long wait.

In the meantime, Farragut and his forces engaged a rebel ironclad, Arkansas, and after getting the worst of it, Farragut realized he was outgunned for the time being. In 1863, others plan were to be hatched to take Vicksburg. Ulysses Grant had a strategy to "outflank Vicksburg," Arnold writes on page 68. Grant's troops struggled to slog through mud, swamps, and the billions of mosquitoes that were prolific east of the Mississippi, and prepared for engagement.

Between October, 1862, to the spring of 1863, Grant made "several attempts to take Vicksburg," according to Patricia Faust ("The Battle of Vicksburg"). Those attempts by Grant included bloody battles such as the "Battle of Chickasaw Bluffs"; the "Yazoo Pass Expedition"; and "Steele's Bayou Expedition." pivotal date was on "April 20, 1863; Grant issued Special order Number 110 in which he formally committed his army to the task of achieving a foothold on the Mississippi's east bank" (Arnold, 78). That was the official announcement that all available troops and munitions would be committed to take the Mississippi away from the rebels.

Coming down from the north, he had generals McClernand in the lead, followed by McPherson, then General Sherman. The Mississippi river - and its tributaries - rose high on the muddy banks after a wet winter, and one-by-one steamers with supplies attempted to pass by Vicksburg's guns. Heavy damage was done to the steamers heaped with supplies, but though 391 shots were fired from the bluffs, only one supply ship, the Tigress was sunk. Still, Grant (Arnold, 81) ordered that no more unarmed steamers were to run the gauntlet to pass the Vicksburg gun emplacements.

In Jeffry Wert's article (Civil War Times), after finding a safe crossing at Port Gibson, Grant is quoted as saying, "when this was effected, I felt a degree of relief scarcely ever equaled since...I was on dry ground on the same side of the river with the enemy. All the campaigns, labors, hardships and exposures from the month of December previous to this time that had been made and endured, were for the accomplishment of this one object." But this "accomplishment" for Grant and his troops was just the start of what was to become an enormous conflict ahead.

How was life for the citizens of Vicksburg during the build-up to this titanic battle? In his book, Vicksburg: A People at War, 1860-1865, author Peter F. Walker writes (p. 121) that "shortages of food and housing, as acute as they were" during the siege by the Union forces, "were taken in stride by the citizens." Knowledge that much of the South was also short of food, water, and… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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