Saturday, May 18, 2013

May 18, 1863

May 18, 1863

---Gen.  McClernand gets his engineers to throw a pontoon bride across the Big Black, and his troops march over.  Farther upstream, Grant has McPherson cross and Sherman even farther upstream.  The road to Vicksburg is open, and it is only 12 miles away.  By nightfall, McClernand’s troops are only 4 miles from Vicksburg, and McPherson and Sherman are close at hand and link up in a line that covers at least ¾ of the Vicksburg defenses.  The Siege of Vicksburg is underway.

---Sergeant Osborn H. Oldroyd, of the 20th Ohio Infantry Regiment, writes in his journal of the victorious advance of Grant’s troops over the Big Black, and their quick pace in closing up the trap at Vicksburg:

As we crossed the river and marched up the bank, a brass band stood playing national airs. O, how proud we felt as we marched through the rebel works, and up to the muzzles of the abandoned guns that had been planted to stay our progress. Every man felt the combined Confederate army could not keep us out of Vicksburg. It was a grand sight, the long lines of infantry moving over the pontoons, and winding their way up the bluffs, with flags flying in the breeze, and the morning sun glancing upon the guns as they lay across the shoulders of the boys. Cheer after cheer went up in welcome and triumph from the thousands who had already crossed and stood in waiting lines upon the bluff above. This is supposed to be the last halting place before we knock for admittance at our goal—the boasted Gibraltar of the west.

Our division has made a long march to-day, and we have bivouaced for the night without supper, and with no prospect of breakfast, for our rations have been entirely exhausted. Murmurings and complaints are loud and deep, and the swearing fully up to the army standard.

Rainy Day Picket Duty, by Edwin Forbes

---News apparently does not travel as accurately as desired in the South.  The Daily Journal of Wilmington, North Carolina publishes an editorial that is patently wrong about the fortunes of Grant’s Yankee army in central Mississippi:

The news received to-day by telegraph is less discouraging than any we have had for some days past.  At last we get something from Jackson and the West.  As we knew, Jackson was entered last week by the Federals.  It would seem that they must have been checked in their advance, as they are retreating, after having done much damage.  It is to be hoped that they will be made to regret their sudden advance into the interior. Vicksburg and Port Hudson still stand and the enemy’s base and communications are threatened.  We shall look for further news from that quarter with much interest.

---Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, the titular chief of this department, writes to Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton after the battle of Champion Hill, urging Pemberton to abandon Vicksburg---that between saving the city and saving the army, he must save the army, and that if he is trapped in Vicksburg, he will have to surrender and lose both, since Johnston does not have the means to raise the siege that surely must ensue.  In answer, Pemberton writes this letter, with a strange argument that abandoning Vicksburg will make his 30,000 men unfit for service: that they will then lack “such morale and material as to be of further service to the Confederacy”:

Vicksburg, May 18, 1863.

General JOSEPH E. Johnston:

    GENERAL: I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your communication, in reply to mine by the hands of Captain [Thomas] Henderson. In a subsequent letter of same date as this latter, I informed you that the men had failed to hold the trenches at Big Black Bridge, and that, as a consequence, Snyder's Mill was directed to be abandoned. On the receipt of your communication, I immediately assembled a council of war of the general officers of this command, and having laid your instructions before them, asked the free expression of their opinions as to the practicability of carrying them out. The opinion was unanimously expressed that it was impossible to withdraw the army from this position with such morale and material as to be of further service to the Confederacy. While the council of war was assembled, the guns of the enemy opened on the works, and it was at the same time reported that they were crossing the Yahoo River at Brandon's Ferry, above Snyder's Mill. I have decided to hold Vicksburg as long as is possible, with the firm hope that the Government may yet be able to assist me in keeping this obstruction to the enemy's free navigation of the Mississippi River. I still conceive it to be the most important point in the Confederacy.

     Very respectfully, your obedient servant,\

    Lieutenant-General, Commanding.

Strangely enough, Pemberton, in disobeying Johnston's order (or suggestion, at least) has sealed the fate of his nearly 30,000 now trapped in Vicksburg.

---The U.S. Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, writes in his journal about some common reservations about Gen. Joseph Hooker’s moral liabilities:

Senator Doolittle came to see me to-day. Has faith, he says, but fears that General Hooker has no religious faith, laments the infirmities of that officer, and attributes our late misfortune to the want of godliness in the commanding general.

---In Britain, in the House of Lord, the Marquis of Clanricarde charges that the United States has been lax and even flawed in respecting the rights of British ship owners of ships seized by the U.S Navy in the course of blockade duty.  The Foreign Secretary, the Earl Russell, makes a speech in reply, saying that the Crown has investigated such claims and so far can find no legal fault with the way the Union has dealt with British ships.  Russell goes on to categorically deny Crown complicity in the escape of the CSS Alabama (built in Liverpool) from British waters, and that Britain has no desire to interfere unfairly in the Civil War in America.

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