Although the Army of the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana (better known as the Army of Vicksburg) was not officially created until October 1862, it had its origins in the armies left in Mississippi after General Braxton Bragg transferred the Army of Mississippi (soon to be renamed the Army of Tennessee) from Tupelo, Mississippi, to Chattanooga, Tennessee in July 1862.
With Bragg’s departure, there were only two organized Confederate armies left in
Mississippi: the Army of the District of the Mississippi, commanded by Major General Earl Van Dorn, who had 16,000 men spread out along the Mississippi River from Vicksburg to Port Hudson, Louisiana; and the Army of the West commanded by Major General Sterling Price, who had 17,000 men in northeast Mississippi.
On September 19, 1862 Sterling Price fought the battle of Iuka and after a bloody but indecisive engagement, was forced to retreat to avoid having his entire command surrounded and destroyed. The Mississippi infantry units that fought at Iuka were the 7th Mississippi Battalion and the 36th, 37th, 38th, 40th, and 43rd regiments. In addition, Wirt Adams regiment of Mississippi Cavalry, the 1st Mississippi Partisan Rangers, 2nd Mississippi Cavalry and the 4th Mississippi Cavalry fought in the battle as well. The casualty reports are incomplete, but the Mississippi units that did list their casualties had a combined 20 killed, 91 wounded, and 21 missing.
For many of the Mississippians, Iuka was the first battle in which they “saw the elephant,” and the reality of war conflicted with the romantic notions of war that many inexperienced soldiers had. In a letter written just days after the battle, Captain James M. Fulghum of Company K, 36th Mississippi Infantry, wrote this heartfelt account of the horrors he witnessed: “I reckon we must have driven the Yankees about a quarter of a mile back when night closed in and put an end to the conflict. They fought until pitch dark and worse of all, we had to stay all night in the battlefield. That was a night of horror to us, to hear the cries of the wounded as they lay bleeding on the ground. I never want to spend another night in that manner. I will never forget it as long as I live. I never will forget it as long as I live.”
After Iuka, the two Confederate armies in Mississippi combined under the leadership of senior general Earl Van Dorn for an attack on Corinth, Mississippi. This new Rebel force was known as the Army of West Tennessee, and in the battle of Corinth on October 3-4 1862, the Confederates were given a bloody repulse and Van Dorn forced to retreat.
Mississippi was well represented at Corinth. The infantry units that fought in the battle were the 1st Battalion Mississippi Sharpshooters, 7th Mississippi Infantry Battalion, and the 6th, 15th, 22nd, 33rd, 35th, 36th, 37th, 38th, 39th, 40th, 43rd infantry regiments. In addition, the 2nd Confederate Infantry regiment fought at Corinth, and this unit had three companies from Mississippi. Four cavalry units from the state participated in the battle: the 1st Mississippi cavalry, 1st Mississippi Partisan Rangers, 2nd Mississippi Cavalry and Wirt Adams regiment of Mississippi cavalry. There was also one artillery unit of Mississippians on the battlefield – Hudson’s Mississippi Battery. The soldiers from the Magnolia State suffered very heavily in the battle: casualty reports are incomplete, but the units that did list their killed and wounded had a combined 91 killed and 399 wounded.
In 1909, W.B. Brack, the captain of Company F, 35th Mississippi Infantry, wrote an account for the Dallas Morning News of the attack on Battery Robinett at Corinth. In the article he stated: “Rushing in with my company to within a few yards of the gun, a soldier attempted to fire. If he did it meant the ruin of our company, who were packed in the road directly in front of the gun. Checking up a moment, I fired my pistol at the man at the gun. He fell, whether killed or not I do not know. When within a few feet of the gun, another tried to fire it. I fired upon him with the same result. Then with a few more steps I was on the cannon. My men and others came on pell mell, and for a time it was close fighting.”
In the wake of the Confederate defeat at Corinth, President Jefferson Davis sent Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton to take charge of all the Confederate forces in Mississippi as part of his new command, the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana in October 1862. Pemberton’s command is usually referred to simply as the Army of Vicksburg.
Mississippians made up a large portion of the Army of Vicksburg. In a departmental return dated March 31, 1863, the state had twenty infantry regiments, three infantry battalions of regular troops and three infantry regiments, three battalions, and one brigade of state troops serving in the Army of Vicksburg. There was also a considerable number of Mississippi artillerymen attached to the army: during the siege of Vicksburg in 1863, there were eleven batteries from the state serving in the Army of Vicksburg.
After taking command Pemberton kept the bulk his army in north Mississippi, awaiting any move south by the Union forces in Tennessee, and he did not have long to wait. On October 16, 1862, Major General Ulysses S. Grant assumed command of the Department of the Tennessee and began making plans to invade Mississippi and capture Vicksburg. In late November he advanced into the Magnolia state with 40,000 men, moving south along the Mississippi Central Railroad. In response to the Union advance Pemberton retreated and eventually established a defensive position behind the Yalabusha River at Grenada.
When Grant reached the Yalabusha opposite Grenada, the Union general came up with a plan to quickly take Vicksburg. He decided to use his army to pin Pemberton at Grenada while Major General William T. Sherman took 32,000 men from Memphis and steamed down the Mississippi River to assault lightly defended Vicksburg.
Grant’s plan went awry very quickly; a Confederate cavalry raid led by General Earl Van Dorn destroyed the Union supply depot at Holly Springs, Mississippi, on December 20. With no way to support his army, Grant was forced to retreat back into Tennessee; this allowed Pemberton to send reinforcements to defend Vicksburg from Sherman’s assault.
Even with the reinforcements, the Confederate commander at Vicksburg, Brigadier General Stephen D. Lee, was terribly outnumbered, having only 6,000 men to face over 32,000 Federals. Fortunately for the Rebels, they were entrenched in a strong position at Chickasaw Bayou, and when the Federals made their main attack on December 29, 1862, they were repulsed with heavy losses. The Yankees had 208 men killed, 1,005 wounded, and 563 missing. Confederate casualties amounted to only 207 killed, wounded, and missing. Sherman’s defeat at Chickasaw Bayou ended the 1862 campaign for Vicksburg.
In the battle of Chickasaw Bayou the following infantry regiments took part: 3rd Mississippi Infantry, 3rd Battalion Mississippi State Troops, 4th Mississippi Infantry, 35th Mississippi Infantry and the 46th Mississippi Infantry. Mississippi artillerymen were represented in the fight as well: Company A, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery (section), Company D, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, Company E, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, Company I, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, and Companies A & B, 14th Battalion Mississippi Light Artillery. There was one cavalry unit from Mississippi at Chickasaw Bayou: Johnson’s Mississippi Cavalry Company.
In a newspaper article about Chickasaw Bayou published in January 1863, the writer noted the part played by the 14th Battalion Mississippi Artillery in the battle: “Companies A and B, of Major Ward’s Artillery Battalion, took part in the fights, and are deserving of notice. They arrived here on Friday, and were ordered to the battle field immediately. On Sunday afternoon Company A, under the command of Major Ward, took position at the foot of the hill, in front of General Bartou’s brigade, and opened upon a battery of the enemy. They were under fire for two hours, and behaved well. No one was hurt but Major Ward, who received a slight wound on the side of the head. They were assisted in silencing the battery by Lieut. Stowers, of Company B, in charge of three siege guns, on the crest of the hill. At night one section of Company A, in charge of Lieut. Tarleton, went up the lines of General Lee, and were all day Monday in the hottest of the fight. A shell exploded one of their caissons, killing Captain Hamilton of General Lee’s staff, a most excellent officer. He had just rode up to deliver an order to Lieutenant Tarleton. They shot away all their ammunition twice during the day.”
After Chickasaw Bayou campaigning ended for the winter, and Pemberton had time to build up his forces to protect Vicksburg. By the end of March 1863, he had 57,000 troops available for the defense of Vicksburg and the only other Rebel bastion on the Mississippi, Port Hudson, Louisiana.
After retreating back to Tennessee, Grant moved his army to camps in Louisiana opposite Vicksburg, and spent the winter formulating a plan to put his men on dry ground in Mississippi from which to operate against Vicksburg. He eventually came up with the plan to march his troops down the Louisiana side of the river to a point below Vicksburg. His transports and gunboats would run past the Vicksburg water batteries, meet up with the army, and ferry them across into Mississippi.
On April 30, 1863, Grant began ferrying his army to a landing near Bruinsburg, Mississippi. On May 1, the vanguard of the Union army, about 23,000 men, met 6,800 Confederates under Brigadier General John Bowen in the battle of Port Gibson. There were only four Mississippi units engaged at Port Gibson: the 4th, 6th, and 46th infantry regiments and the Pettus Flying Artillery, and all of these commands were heavily engaged in the battle. The 4th and 46th had a forced march just to reach the battlefield, leaving Vicksburg after dark on April 29 and arriving outside Port Gibson at midnight before May 1. At daylight they resumed their march with the sounds of the battle having already begun, and the men went into action after having walked over 40 miles to reach the battlefield. The 6th Mississippi Infantry particularly distinguished itself in the fighting, capturing a battery of artillery, but at the cost of over 100 casualties.
Lieutenant Simeon R. Martin of Company I, 46th Mississippi Infantry, wrote this account of his regiment’s service at Port Gibson: “We were advanced about a quarter mile to the front, down the Bruinsburg Road, and took position in an open field in full view of the enemy, and exposed to an open fire from both artillery and small arms. Many blunders are made in war, and this was one of them, and a fatal one for many of our men. This field was not more than two hundred yards wide, with timber on both sides of it, in which we could have had good shelter from the enemy’s fire, and yet we were kept there for a full half hour, in a bare level field, with not a tree, stump or anything else to shelter us, exposed to a merciless fire of shells, grape, canister and minnie balls. It was here that Sam Smith was killed and John Campbell wounded, and where I had another narrow escape myself. After we had suffered severe loss, in killed and wounded, we were finally withdrawn into the road where we were sheltered by the high banks. We were then deployed as skirmishers and advanced to the front through the timber till we were in sight of the enemy, when we began firing, and kept it up till night pretty much in the same position.”
The Confederates fought well at Port Gibson, but the Yankee numbers made the difference, and Bowen was forced to retreat. Grant knew precisely what he wanted to do next: “…cut lose from my base, destroy the rebel force in rear of Vicksburg and invest or capture the city.” – Portraits of Conflict, pg. 217.
On May 7, Grant began to move inland towards Jackson, and on May 12 a portion of his force under Major General James B. McPherson met a Rebel force commanded by Brigadier General John Gregg in the battle of Raymond. Once again the Confederates were heavily outnumbered, and after putting up a fierce defense were compelled by numbers to retreat back to Jackson. Confederate casualties were 73 killed, 252 wounded, and 190 missing. Only a few Mississippi cavalry and mounted infantry were involved in the battle of Raymond, and their losses were negligible.
The battle of Raymond convinced Grant to deal with the Confederates at Jackson first before turning west to deal with Vicksburg. On May 13, Pemberton’s superior, General Joseph E. Johnston, arrived in Jackson to assume direct command of the effort to defeat Grant. With only a small force in the town and Grant advancing on the city, Johnston called for the evacuation of the city on May 14, and ordered General Gregg to fight a delaying action to give the Rebels time to retreat. Gregg’s small command engaged approximately 11,500 Yankees in the battle of Jackson, buying the time Johnston needed to evacuate the city. Confederate casualties in the battle were 17 killed, 64 wounded, and 118 missing. The involvement of Mississippi units in the battle was minor; the 14th Mississippi Infantry, 1st Battalion Mississippi State Troops, and Brookhaven Light Artillery were all lightly engaged and suffered few casualties.
After the battle of Jackson, Grant left Major General William T. Sherman with his troops to wreck Jackson while the rest of the army began moving west towards Vicksburg. On May 16, Grant’s army met Pemberton’s at Champion Hill between Bolton and Edwards. In the largest battle of the campaign, 32,000 Federals met 22,000 Confederates. After very intense fighting, Pemberton was forced to retreat to avoid having his army captured or destroyed. Confederate casualties in the battle were 3,840 against Federal losses of 2,441.
There were a number of Mississippi units at the battle of Champion Hill, including the following infantry regiments: 3rd, 6th, 20th, 22nd, 23rd, 26th, 31st, 33rd, and the 1st Mississippi Sharpshooter battalion. The artillery units that took part in the battle were Company A, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, Company D, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, Company G, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, Company C, 14th Battalion Mississippi Light Artillery, and Company G, 14th Battalion Mississippi Light Artillery. The only cavalry unit from the state that participated in the battle was Wirt Adams regiment of Mississippi cavalry.
Strangely enough, very few of the Mississippi units that fought at Champion Hill were heavily engaged, and losses for the most part were very light. One exception was Company A, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, commanded by Captain Samuel J. Ridley. In the fighting
his battery was assaulted by an overpowering wave of Federal infantry, and all of his men either shot down or forced to flee. Ridley however continued working one gun alone until shot down and killed. Major General Carter L. Stevenson later wrote, “Here, too, the gallant Ridley, refusing to leave his guns, single handed and alone fought until he fell, pierced with six shots, winning even from his enemies the highest tribute of admiration.” – Military History of Mississippi, pg. 469.
In the retreat from Champion Hill, the Confederate Division commanded by Major General William W. Loring, approximately 7,800 men, was cut off and forced to skirt around the Federal army before eventually reaching Jackson and safety.
After the battle of Champion Hill, Pemberton fell back to the Big Black River and put about 5,000 of his men into the defenses on the east side of the river to hold open the retreat route for Loring’s Division, whom he thought was bringing up the rear. On May 17 however it was the Federals who appeared at the Big Black, and they quickly attacked, smashing the Rebel line and forcing the Confederates to flee across the river. Federal casualties were only 279; Confederate casualties were not reported, but approximately 1,751 men were taken prisoner.
Only two Mississippi units were involved in the fighting at the Big Black River; the 4th Mississippi Infantry and Company A, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery. Both units fought well in the battle and the 4th Mississippi was commended by Brigadier General William E. Baldwin, who wrote that the regiment “…gallantly held its place until left alone, when the remnant escaped by swimming the river.” – Military History of Mississippi, pg. 160.
After the disaster at the Big Black River, Pemberton pulled his army back into the Vicksburg defenses, and his army endured a 47-day siege of the city from May 18 – July 4, 1863. Mississippians were involved in the siege of Vicksburg in large numbers. The following infantry regiments from the state took part in the siege: 4th, 35th, 36th, 37th, 38th, 40th, 43rd, and 46th. In addition the 7th Mississippi Infantry battalion and the 3rd Mississippi Infantry battalion, state troops, and the 5th Mississippi Infantry, state troops, fought at Vicksburg. There was also a detachment of the 6th Mississippi Infantry at Vicksburg that had been cut off from their unit during the battle of Champion Hill and had retreated into the city with the rest of the army. Mississippi was also well represented by artillery units at Vicksburg: Batteries A, C, D, E, G, I, and L of the 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, the 14th Battalion Mississippi Light Artillery and the Pettus Flying Artillery served during the siege. The only Mississippi cavalry to serve in the siege lines was Smyth’s Company, Mississippi Partisan Rangers.
During the siege the Mississippians suffered terribly from lack of food, exposure to the elements, and the constant threat of death from Union artillery and muskets. But the men in the trenches held out for 47 terrible days. In his diary Captain William L. Faulk of Company B, 38th Mississippi Infantry, spelled out why he was willing to endure such hardship: “All worried and tired, but still determined to endure all for what we believe to be our rights, and confident that an over-ruling providence will work all for our good. The enemy may be a superior force, overcome us for a short time, but God will never favor the persecutors of innocent women and children. They have passed by my home and I cried to hear the condition in which I fear they have left my wife and children. God will certainly visit them with a terrible vengeance.”
Not all of the Mississippi units that fought during the siege listed their casualties, but those that did had combined losses of 160 men killed, 392 wounded, and 12 missing. The men from the Magnolia State had paid a very high price in blood trying to defend their homeland from the invader.
While the siege of Vicksburg was underway, General Joseph E. Johnston returned to Jackson after the Union forces left, and began assembling an army to relieve Pemberton’s army. Units from all over the Confederacy flooded into Jackson, and among the troops were those of General William W. Loring’s Division that had been cut off after the battle of Champion Hill. The army that Johnston assembled was simply known as the Army of Relief. There were a number of Mississippi units in this army, many of them in Loring’s Division. In all the army had from the state 12 infantry regiments or battalions, one section of artillery, and six regiments or battalions of cavalry.
By early June 1863 Johnston had over 31,000 men in the Army of Relief, along with 78 cannon. Although Pemberton’s and Johnston’s combined forces now outnumbered those Grant had besieging Vicksburg, the Confederate forces in Jackson made no move towards Vicksburg. Johnston kept making excuses not to move while thousands of reinforcements were being sent to Grant, giving him the advantage in numbers once again.
Johnston finally began a slow advance towards Vicksburg on July 1, but before his troops could reach the city, Pemberton surrendered Vicksburg to Grant on July 4. With his troops now freed up to go elsewhere, Grant ordered Sherman to go after Johnston’s army. The Confederate commander quickly pulled his force back to Jackson where it underwent a partial siege by Sherman’s men from July 9-16, 1863. On the night of the 16th, Johnston withdrew from the city and moved off to the west, crossing the Pearl River. The Federals did not pursue for long because of the summer heat, and soon went back to Vicksburg, officially ending the 1863 Vicksburg Campaign.
At the same time that Vicksburg was under siege in Mississippi, a second, lesser known siege was going on at Port Hudson, Louisiana. The southern stronghold at Port Hudson consisted of a force of about 6,800 men, commanded by Major General Franklin Gardner. This garrison was the southern counterpart to Vicksburg, and the Confederate artillery commanding the river at Port Hudson could deny the use of the lower river to Union civilian shipping.
Union Major General Nathaniel P. Banks moved against Port Hudson with a force of more than 30,000 men, and on May 23, 1863, his forces were in position to besiege Port Hudson and reduce the Rebel garrison. Banks launched attacks on the Confederate works on May 27 and again on June 14, but both attacks were repulsed with heavy casualties for the Yankees. Banks then settled in to starve the Confederates out. Starvation, exposure, and constant danger from Union infantry and artillery made conditions for the soldiers at Port Hudson even worse than those for Vicksburg’s defenders. Still the small garrison managed to hold out until July 9, 1863, when they surrendered, ending a siege that lasted 48 days.
In his after action report, Colonel Winchester B. Shelby, commander of the 39th Mississippi infantry, wrote this tribute to the conduct of his men at Port Hudson: “I trust I may be pardoned for saying a few words with reference to my own regiment. The conduct of officers & men alike meets my unqualified approbation. They evinced that spirit which ever activates men fighting for the holiest of causes, freedom & their homes.”
Among the Mississippi troops that fought at Port Hudson was the 1st Mississippi Infantry, 39th Mississippi Infantry, and Claiborne’s Mississippi Light Infantry Company. The Mississippi artillery units that participated in the siege were batteries B, F, & K of the 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, English’s Mississippi battery, and the Seven Stars Mississippi Light Artillery. There were no cavalry units from Mississippi inside the Port Hudson siege lines, but there were several units from the state outside the siege lines operating against isolated units of the Union army. The most prominent of the Mississippi cavalry units that took part in the Port Hudson campaign was Garland’s Mississippi cavalry battalion and Stockdale’s Mississippi cavalry battalion.
“The Battle at Vicksburg.” Charleston Mercury, Charleston, SC: 13 January 1863.
Bearss, Edwin C. “The Campaign For Vicksburg.” Volumes II & III. Dayton, OH: Morningside House, 1986.
_____. “The Armed Conflict: 1861-1865.” In “A History of Mississippi,” Volume 1. Richard A. McLemore, ed. Jackson, MS: University and College Press of Mississippi, 1973.
Boatner, Mark Mayo III. “The Civil War Dictionary.” New York: David McKay Company, 1959.
Brack, William B. “Death of Col. Rogers.” Dallas Morning News, Dallas, TX: 18 May 1909.
Cozzens, Peter. “The Darkest Days of the War: The Battles of Iuka and Corinth.” Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
Faulk, William L. Diary, 18 May 1863 – 9 July 1863. Mississippi File, Vicksburg National Military Park, Vicksburg, MS.
Fulghum, James M. Letter, 24 September 1862. Located in the Old Court House Museum Collections, Vicksburg, MS.
Howell, H. Grady. “Going to Meet the Yankees.” Jackson, MS: Chickasaw Bayou Press, 1981.
Martin, Simeon R. “Recollections of the War Between the States.” Privately published, no date. A copy is in the collections of the Old Court House Museum, Vicksburg, MS.
Moneyhon, Carl and Bobby Roberts. “Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Mississippi in the Civil War.” Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press, 1993.
Rowland, Dunbar. “Military History of Mississippi 1803-1898.” Spartanburg, SC: The Reprint Company, 1978.
Shelby, Winchester B. “Report of the Conduct & Operations of the 39th Mississippi Volunteers During the Siege of Port Hudson.” 8 August 1863. Located in the Tulane University Library, New Orleans, LA.