Scenes from Vicksburg, Day 3 (part one)

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I’ve been in Vicksburg for the American Battlefield Trust and Emerging Civil War to commemorate the 155th anniversary of the Vicksburg campaign. We actually started Thursday’s adventures with a holdover from Wednesday: a Facebook LIVE shoot from Grand Gulf. Water in the Mississippi was so high that it came up to the historic riverbank, so we got to stand along the water’s edge just where we would have in April of 1863. Parker Hills filled us in on the action.

Grand Gulf along the riverbandk

With the high water of the Mississippi just behind them, Kris White and Parker Hills explain to our Facebook audience just how point-blank Federal gunships came to the shoreline during the battle of Grand Gulf on April 29, 1863. Connor Townsend is behind the camera.

Grand Gulf Military Park

Grand Gulf Military Monument Park preserves the sites of the former Confederate Forts Cobun and Wade. The park also features a number of historic buildings.

Grand Gulf Museum

The museum at Grand Gulf Military Monument Park features a really cool and eclectic collection of stuff. (see the link below for more info)

Grand Gulf House on Stilts

You know you live right along the Mississippi River when….

Click here for more information about the Grand Gulf Military Monument Park, including a virtual tour.

Scenes from Vicksburg, Day Two (part 4)

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We capped off the day with a visit to Champion Hill on the 155th anniversary of the battle. Kris White and Connor Townsend and I were joined once again by Parker Hills and by the guy who wrote the book on the battle, Tim Smith. I admit, I was in full “Civil War Nerd” mode to be out on the field, on the anniversary, with some of the world’s greatest experts on the battle. It was awesome.

We started at the Crossroads and then made our way up to the top of the hill. Because of connectivity issues, we shot the segment in two parts (one and two).

Champion Hill historians

Historians Tim Smith, Kris White, and Parker Hills, and the Trust’s social media guru, Connor Townsend

Champion Hill anniversary

Someone decked out the Crossroads for the 155th anniversary of the battle.

Champion Hill-Historic Plaque

The plaque on the historical marker at Champion Hill had been stolen once upon a time, and apparently, the thief, feeling guilty, sent the plaque back from Florida!

Champion Hill-Bowens Counterattack

Another of the markers at Champion Hill tells the story of Bowen’s Confederate counterattack through the area–fierce but unsupported and so, ultimately, unsuccessful.

Champion Hill-Hill of Death

At the very top of Champion Hill, a sign marks the peak of the “hill of death.” Much of the top of the hill has been stripped away, though, because of a gravel-mining operation early in the 20th century. “There are parts of Champion Hill scattered all across the county now,” Parker Hills suggested.

Scenes from Vicksburg, Day 2 (part three)

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We followed the route of Grant’s supply train from the Mississippi up toward the modern Raymond battlefield. One of the myth’s of the campaign is that Grant lived off the land, a la Sherman’s later March to the Sea, but in fact, he had a well-protected supply line.

At Raymond, we did a two-part Facebook LIVE (parts one and two) so that we could visit the two ends of the battlefield, which is maintained by a great Friends of Raymond Battlefield group. Historian Parker Hills is a former president of the group.

Raymond-Parker

Parker Hills lays out the battle for Kris White, while the Trust’s social media guru, Connor Townsend, broadcast’s the program.

Raymond-Confederate

The Confederate artillery position has a reconstructed Whitworth cannon and two Napoleons. The Whitworth had a range of six miles, although no artillerists could actually see that far.

Raymond-Whitworth back

Whitworths were breech-loading pieces, so Parker opened up the breech to offer us a look inside.

Raymond-Whitworth front

Whitworths had hexagonal rifling to allow for greater accuracy over its longer range. This piece was loaded with “birdshot”–filled with birds nests!

Raymond-Federal

The Federal position at Raymond is marked by a line of 22 cannon (Ruggles’ battery at Shiloh, by contrast, has only 14). Spaced 12 yards apart, they would have normally been deployed with 15 yards between them, but space limitations required improvisation.

 

 

Scenes from Vicksburg, Day 2 (part two)

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When I got out of the car at the Windsor ruins, I was awed by what I saw: the skeletonal remains of an opulent plantation house accidentally destroyed by fire after the war.

We decided to do a quick, impromptu Facebook LIVE shoot from the site of ruins because we all just thought they were so cool.

Windsor Ruins 01

Twenty-three columns remain standing, each 45 feet tall. Wrought iron balcony fencing still connects columns along the former front of the building, and each column is topped by additional ornamental ironwork.

Windsor Ruins-sketch

This sketch of the former plantation house shows how palatial it was.

Windsor Ruins 02

There’s no truth to the rumor that Sherman and his men burned the house (a la the ’64 March to the Sea). It burned after the war when a guest, after lighting a cigarette, threw his match in a wastepaper basket in the kitchen.

Click here for more info on the Windsor ruins.

Scenes from Vicksburg, Day 2 (part one)

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On Wednesday, we started off our Facebook LIVE events at Bruinsburg, the site where Ulysses S. Grant landed his army on the east bank of the Mississippi April 30-May 1, 1863, to kick off his overland campaign to take Vicksburg. It was “Grant’s D-Day,” but with no Germans waiting for him, Kris White said. Historian Parker Hills brought us (with permission) onto private property so we could get to the actual site itself.

As I did yesterday, I wanted to share a few images from the day’s adventures (even as we’re out making new ones today!). Our thanks to our partners at the American Battlefield Trust for inviting us to co-host this series!

Bruinsburg Flood Plain

The landing area today is a wide flood plain, but in 1863, the riverbank ran right along the edge of the brown grass in the foreground.

Bruinsburg Landing Site

This road trace is the path Grant’s men took from their disembarkation point along the river onto the eastern shore of the Mississippi.

Bruinsburg Dike

High water necessitated that Grant’s men march along a dike to get away from the riverbank. The spit of grass in the center of the picture shows the remains of that dike, which has slowly been obliterated by agriculture in the 155 years since. The river would have been behind the camera.

Bruinsburg Dike 02

The dike as it runs through the forest before the road begins its climb away from the river—note how the ground slopes away on either side of the dike, which is the green strip right down the middle of the image. The river would have been to the left of the camera.

Bruinsburg Dike-Parker

Parker Hills, Brig. gen. (ret.), co-hosted today’s segments. Parker, the former chair of Mississippi’s Sesquicentennial Commission, runs “Battle Focus” tours–and man, does he really know his stuff!

Witness Tree

A witness tree stands at the intersection where the historic Bruinsburg road meets the modern road that runs back into Port Gibson.

J.E.B. Stuart and the Question of Corps Command

JEB Stuart

In the days after his victory in the Chancellorsville Campaign, Gen. Robert E. Lee faced a number of critical decisions, among them the reorganization of his Army of Northern Virginia. The death of Lt. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson on May 10, 1863 had left a void at corps command. There were a number of officers, including Maj. Gens. Richard Ewell, Ambrose Powell Hill and Richard Anderson in the running to replace Jackson. Another name which may have been the most intriguing was the commander of Lee’s cavalry division, Maj. Gen. James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart. Over the course of the last month or so, I’ve been trying to locate primary evidence regarding Stuart’s consideration for corps command. The search is far from over, in fact in may never be over, but I wanted to share what I have found so far and offer my thoughts on the matter. I also invite our readers to share any primary sources on the subject for additional research.

When Jackson fell victim to friendly fire on the night of May 2 at Chancellorsville, command of his Second Corps eventually fell to Stuart. The cavalry chief turned in a splendid performance the following day and his efforts eventually led to a Confederate victory. Stuart returned to command of the mounted division on May 6. Following Jackson’s death on May 10, rumors regarding his replacement began to circulate through the Confederate ranks.

Stuart’s own headquarters was not immune to such innuendo. Captain John Esten Cooke, a relative of Stuart’s wife, Flora, and member of his staff recorded in his journal a brief discussion he had with the gray cavalier. According to Cooke, Stuart related a story told to him by Col. Thomas L. Rosser, the commander of the 5th Virginia Cavalry, “that Jackson on his death bed had expressed a desire that he…should succeed him in the command of his corps.” Stuart then told Cooke that he “would rather know that Jackson said that, than have the appointment.”

Interestingly enough, Rosser  did not visit Jackson during the final six days of his life. Additionally, the statement from Jackson has not been corroborated by those who were with him as he passed away his last hours in Thomas Chandler’s plantation office near Guinea Station. That isn’t to say those that were closest to Jackson were not impressed by Stuart’s performance. Jackson’s cartographer, Jedediah Hotckiss, praised Stuart for his actions at Chancellorsville in a letter to his wife written on May 19. Hotchkiss, however, does not mention the potential of Stuart taking over Jackson’s corps. Stuart also mentioned the camp rumors in a letter to Flora. “There has been a great deal of talk of my succeeding General Jackson,” he wrote, “but I think without foundation in fact.”

On May 20, Lee wrote to President Jefferson Davis to propose a reorganization of his army. This restructure revolved around the creation of a third corps. Stuart’s name is not mentioned either as a replacement for Jackson or as a new corps commander. It does appears from a letter written by Lee to Stuart on May 23 that Stuart offered his thoughts on who should succeed Jackson.

That’s not to say Stuart did not covet a third star and a promotion to Lieutenant General, a grade synonymous with corps command in Lee’s army. Stuart stood fourth on the seniority list of Major Generals behind Ewell (January 24, 1862) Hill (May 26, 1862) and Anderson (July 14, 1862). Such a promotion, vaulting Stuart over three other officers, could create discontent and friction within the army. Lee was in the midst of planning his second Northern invasion where cooperation and cohesion among his subordinates would be critical to the operation’s success.

Still, rumors regarding Stuart’s consideration for command persisted. It appears one of the chief purveyors was Brig. Gen. William Dorsey Pender, a brigade commander in Hill’s division. “I hear that Gen’l Jackson is thought to be in very serious condition”, he wrote to his wife, Fanny, on May 9. “He has pneumonia…he will be a great loss to the country  and it is devoutly hoped that he may be spared to the country. Some think in his absence Stuart will be made Lt. General, but I hope not.” In another letter two weeks later, Pender wrote, “it is rumored that Stuart has tendered his resignation because they will not give him this corps, but I cannot think him so foolish.”

Stuart’s elevation to the corps level had the potential to upset Pender’s own rise within the army. Pender’s direct superior, A.P. Hill, was Jackson’s senior division commander and stood to receive the Second Corps. If Stuart were given Jackson’s corps, Hill would remain at the division level. On the other hand, Hill’s elevation would create a vacancy for his division. Pender,  stood second on the seniority list among Hill’s brigadiers behind Henry Heth. It should be noted that Pender shared his appointment with fellow brigade head James Archer. Heth, however, presented problems of his own.

“If A.P. Hill is promoted, a major general will be wanted for his division,” Lee wrote  in the aforementioned letter to Davis. “Heth is the senior brigadier in the division. I think him a good officer. He has lately joined this army, was in the last battle, and did well. His nomination having been once declined by the Senate, I do not know whether it would be proper to promote him.” In the subsequent reorganization, both Heth and Pender were promoted to Major General and received a divisional command.

But at end of the day, the discussion may be a moot point. In August, 1863, Lee recommended that Stuart’s cavalry be restructured as a corps. Davis approved the measure and Stuart finally received his corps command in September. It should be noted that Stuart was not promoted to Lieutenant General upon the reorganization, which might be worth looking into at some point as well.

All things considered, there appears to be little evidence that Stuart was a major contender for an infantry corps after Chancellorsville. Still, the search goes on and the process continues.