Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Grant Takes Command at Vicksburg

When Grant heard of the capture of Fort Hindman, he was very upset. John McClernand had moved without informing Grant, and Grant saw this as only a waste of time in the main mission – to capture Vicksburg. Using this as an opportunity to take out McClernand, a possible threat to his authority, Grant got permission from Halleck to take command of the army himself.

When he arrived there on January 30th, he was faced with a hard problem. Vicksburg was built on a bluff running roughly along the Mississippi River. Repulsed at Chickasaw Bayou, Sherman had shown the difficulty of attacking the bluffs themselves, and Grant had already retreated from an attempt to march overland because of strikes at his supply lines, and the batteries at Vicksburg were so strong it was clear the navy would not attempt to silence the guns. That left Grant with two options. He could try to run the batteries, a dangerous proposition in unarmored transports, or he could try to find a way to go around, which is what he set out to do.
Grant's Canal
It was about this time that the work was resumed on the first in his series of attempts to find a way around Vicksburg through the complicated rivers and bayous in the area. Grant planned to dig a canal across De Soto's point, right across the river from Vicksburg. If a canal could be opened, the Union ships could sail through, avoiding the Vicksburg batteries, and land troops below the town to capture it from the landward side. Work on a canal had already been begun with what was called "Butler's Ditch." But it was only six feet wide and six feet deep. Sherman set the men to make it 60 feet wide and 7 feet deep. The Union soldiers worked for weeks, many falling sick from diseases in the unhealthy, wet climate. But then as they were working the Mississippi River suddenly rose, as it is wont to do, filling the canal with dirt. With weeks of work wasted, the project was abandoned as hopeless.  


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