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|Grant's Vicksburg Campaign: Flying shells and mule meat|
(18th in a series)
Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, who turned 41 in 1863, was an Ohio native, the son of a tanner.
He had spent most of his adult life in the military and was considered a soldier's soldier. On most days, no one looked more like a private than he. Grant almost always had mud on his boots.
Never flamboyant or especially ambitious, his determination set him apart. Once given a task, Grant would work quietly and relentlessly to get the job done. And it didn't hurt that he was fearless.
Grant's personal aid during the Civil War, Horace Porter, wrote a book about his experiences with the general. Porter gave a compelling example of why soldiers looked up to Grant.
One day the general was "out on the lines supervising the day's attack" when he "dismounted and set down on a fallen tree to write a dispatch." While at the task, a shell exploded in front of him just as the wounded of the Fifth Wisconsin were being carried by. All eyes were on Grant, who looked up as dust, debris and smoke filled the air. He never flinched, his face showed no expression, and the general went right back to writing without a word, grunt or groan.
That Grant, one of the Wisconsin wounded proclaimed, "don't scare worth a damn."
According to "John Bowen Civil War Days," Grant was "the first modern general. His policy of total war used the advantages of superior armies to weaken Confederate forces and at the same time reduce the South's ability to wage war by devastating whole sections of the country. While early Union interest in the Shenandoah Valley had been tactical – a back door to Richmond – Grant's interest was strategic: the devastation of the breadbasket (Vicksburg) of (General Robert E.) Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.
"Grant's decision for devastation and death was strategic: not personal. He did not display personal bitterness toward the South, as many Union leaders did. Indeed, on several occasions he showed a highly developed sense of ethics. After the war, when radicals sought to try General Lee in court, Grant threatened" to resign from the military "if the surrender terms he had signed" at Appomattox, Virg., were altered.
In 1862, President Lincoln had given Grant the task of capturing Vicksburg, a place and region Lincoln felt was the key to victory for the North. Consequently, Grant spent much time in Louisiana and Mississippi over the course of 1863 and when writing his memoirs years later, talked about the campaign and what was on his mind during those days.
"Vicksburg was important to the enemy because it occupied the first high ground coming close to the river below Memphis," Grant wrote. "From there a railroad runs east, connecting with other roads leading to all points of the Southern States. A railroad also starts from the opposite side of the river, extending west as far as Shreveport, Louisiana. Vicksburg was the only channel, at the time of events...connecting the parts of the Confederacy divided by the Mississippi. So long as it was held by the enemy, the free navigation of the river was prevented, hence its importance. Points on the river between Vicksburg and Port Hudson were held as dependencies; but their fall was sure to follow the capture of the former place."
On the Louisiana side of the river opposite Vicksburg, Grant had attempted to bypass the heavy guns of the city by launching movements by land and water but he faced many obstacles. Plans to cut a new channel into the river failed.
"The long, dreary and, for heavy and continuous rains and high water, unprecedented winter was one of great hardship to all engaged about Vicksburg," Grant recalled. "The river was higher than its natural banks from December, 1862, to the following April (1863). The war had suspended peaceful pursuits in the South, further than the production of army supplies, and in consequence the levees were neglected and broken in many places and the whole country was covered with water. Troops could scarcely find dry ground on which to pitch their tents. Malarial fevers broke out among men. Measles and small-pox also attacked them..."
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