Illinois Regiments in Operations against Vicksburg
(Mississippi River above Vicksburg and Vicksburg, Mississippi)
(December 1862 - July 4, 1863)


After the fall of Memphis and New Orleans in 1862, Vicksburg was the principal remaining Confederate strongpoint on the Mississippi River. The city was perched on steep bluffs overlooking a sharp bend in the river. As long as the city remained in Confederate hands, trade from the Great Plains and the Ohio Valley down the Mississippi River was cut off. In addition, the possession of the city kept open the flow of supplies from the trans-mississippi region of Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas. The loss of the city would cut the Confederacy in two.

The first attempt on the city was made by the Navy. Ironclad gunboats from Memphis joined the downriver gunboats from New Orleans in a rather ineffective bombardment of the city. Unable to force the surrender of the city, both squadrons returned to their starting points with little to show for their efforts. It became clear that the Navy alone could not capture Vicksburg.

The main antagonists for the struggle for Vicksburg were Union General Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate General John C. Pemberton. In addition to fighting the enemy in front of him, Grant had to fend off the designs of Union General John A. McClernand. McClernand was a former law partner of Lincoln and had secretly proposed an expedition against Vicksburg to "show what a volunteer officer could do." Grant and General-in-Chief Halleck back in Washington were not informed of McClearnand's orders or intentions, although his troops began arriving in Memphis. Grant had been planning an overland push towards Vicksburg and was concerned that his effort would draw all the Confederate defenders to his front, giving McClernand an easy job in taking Vicksburg. Determined to avoid all the work with none of the glory, Grant basically hijacked McClernands troops in Memphis (with Hallecks approval) and began a two-pronged effort to capture the city.

Grant pushed south from Tennessee in what became known as his Central Mississippi Campaign. At the same time, he sent Brigadier General William T. Sherman with his own as well as McLernands troops down the Mississippi River to attempt a landing just north of Vicksburg up the Yazoo River. After his supply depot at Holly Springs and the railroads in his rear were destroyed by cavalry raids, Grant had to pull back to Tennessee. Pembleton was then able to shift his troops south to counter Sherman at Chickasaw Bayou. After unsuccessful assaults, Sherman convinced McClernand, who had finally arrived down river, to eliminate the Confederate Fort Hindman (Arkansas Post), which had been used as a base for disrupting Sherman's supplies. A combined Army-Navy attack forced the surrender of the fort. Grant then brought the rest of his army down from Memphis and based his troops at Millikan's Bend, Louisiana, several miles upriver from Vicksburg.

Grant's principal problem was the geography of the region. Between Memphis and Vickburg on the east side of the Mississippi River was a vast swampy alluvial plain with little dry land. There were no approaches from the north that Grant could use without long vulnerable supply lines. In addition, malaria was rampant in the region reducing the effectivness of any troops he could bring to the area. All this time, the Confederates were strengthening the defenses of Vicksburg and also at Port Hudson 100 miles downriver.

While waiting for dryer road conditions, Grant's troops undertook a series of attempts to get on the dry ground behind Vicksburg. These attempts included, bringing a gunboat through the Yazoo delta (blocked), two attempts to dig a canal for the Mississippi bypassing Vicksburg (ineffective), finding passages for the transports through the swamps west of the river in Louisiana (not enough water) and east of the river (blocked).

Grant finally decided to march his troops downriver and force a crossing below the city. His plan was to march two of his three corps down the west side of the river till they were 25 miles downriver of Vicksburg. This put Grant's troops below Vicksburg, but still on the wrong side of the river. To get across, the Army's transports and the Navy's gunboats would have to run by the guns of Vicksburg. The gunboats could get past the Vicksburg batteries with little damage, but to try and run the batteries going back upstream against the current would expose them to almost certain destruction. Once the boats ran past Vicksburg, they were stuck there until the city was destroyed. Similarly, once Grant was on the east bank of the Mississippi below Vicksburg, he would have to either take the city or be destroyed. With the troops, transports, and gunboats downstream of Vicksburg, Grant would cross to the east bank and attack Vicksburg from the rear. The boats ran the gauntlet on April 16 taking many hits but only losing one transport.

To distract the Confederates during the movement accross the river, Grant had Sherman's corps make a demonstration to the north of the city. He also had Colonel Benjamin Greirson lead a cavalry raid with three regiments of cavalry south from Tennessee to break up the railroads of Central Mississippi. Grierson's raid was the first successful large Union Cavalry raid of the war. His troopers reentered Union lines at Baton Rouge having confused the Confederates as to the true position and intentions of Grants forces.

The landing of the troops was unopposed at Bruinsburg. With his two corps ashore, Sherman's corps was brought down so that the entire army was south of Vicksburg. In the next seven days, Grant's army fought a series of battles (Port Gibson, Raymond, Jackson, Champions Hill, Big Black River Bridge), winning each, keeping a relief force under Confederate General Joe Johnston at bay, and forcing Pembletons remaining defenders into the trenches around Vicksburg. During that week, Grants army had no direct supply line, but lived off the land for food.

Upon reaching the city, Grant reestablished his supply line and after two unsuccessful assaults on the defenses of Vicksburg, began siege operations. To protect his operations against Johnstons forces, Grant set up an additional defense line behind his first looking back towards Jackson.

With no hope for relief and with his starving soliders unable to force a breakout from the city, Pembleton surrendered the city and its 29,500 defenders on July 4, 1863. Upon hearing that Vicksburg had fallen, President Lincoln quipped "The Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea."

The Illinois regiments which took part in Operations against Vicksburg are listed below. The links will take you to the regimental pages.


Source: Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Dyer's Compendium

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