By Gary Farrow, Danville Historical Society
The city of Vicksburg which lay on the Mississippi River was perhaps the Union’s most important strategic target of the war. Later a Federal official would say that it was “worth more than forty Gettysburgs’”. Meanwhile back East, Vermonters were engaged in a doomed enterprise called the Peninsular Campaign.
North StarJuly 12, 1862
Capture of Vicksburg
Cairo July 4
…On Thursday, Com. Porter’s fleet commenced to shell the upper batteries below the town. This continued all day without any result. The shelling was renewed on Friday, and in the afternoon a fire was directed on the town over which the shells were seen plainly to burst. This continued until 4 o’clock, when the firing ceased.
During the bombardment, the rebel batteries played feebly. Their firing was inaccurate. Half an hour after cessation of the bombardment, the rebel water battery opened on our mortar fleet, which replied until the battery ceased firing. At 8 o’clock in the evening, a fire was opened from the entire fleet on the town and it continued for an hour. The next morning at 4 o’clock the bombardment was renewed… The city must have been greatly damaged as conflagrations were seen in numerous places in different parts of the city.
We have been informed on indisputable authority that 5,000 negroes have been ordered by General Butler to work on the canal across the bend on which Vicksburg or its remains are now situated. The channel of the Mississippi will thus be changed and Vicksburg will become an inland town, hereafter. Seven hundred more shells have been ordered from New Orleans to reduce the remains to ashes.
The war in the West had now come down to this. The strategic importance of Vicksburg cannot be overstated. Whoever held Vicksburg controlled the Mississippi River Valley and was key to taking back the river itself. The nineteenth century’s premier commercial highway split the South in half with most of Louisiana and the states of Arkansas and Texas on the western side of the nation’s largest waterway. If the Union could take the river town of Vicksburg, the men and material from the west would be neutralized and the North’s Anaconda plan to squeeze the South economically through the blockade of seaports and control of the Mississippi River would be completed.
The account reported in the North Star was all hubris. The attempt to turn Vicksburg into an “inland town” would turn out to be an abject failure and the town would not be reduced “to ashes.” In fact it would take the North nine tries and exactly a year before the contest was decided.
The Vermont Brigade
Mr. Walton, writing from Washington under date of July 3, says the whole Vermont brigade was in the late battles – but the 5th regiment was particularly exposed, having been ordered to charge upon a battery of the enemy, which was doing great damage by shells. The men charged into the swamp, while mired were subject to terrible cross fire…The retreat of the brigade was, in military parlance, made in good order, the teams all being saved – Col Lord was especially in keeping his men orderly in the ranks.
The brigade has suffered more or less in late fighting. The list of casualties come slowly, and the reports are conflicting….
It is impossible at this time to give anything like a detailed list of casualties in the Vermont brigade…. From all that we learn, however, none of the Danville boys were killed or wounded.
This action was part of McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign to take Richmond. The North’s first large scale offensive in the Eastern Theatre culminated in a series of five major battles over the period of June 26 – July 2 and came to be known as the Seven Days’ Battles. They included Mechanicsville, Gaines Mill, Savage Station, Frayser’s Farm and Malvern Hill. After July 2, General Lee’s troops withdrew to Richmond and the Army of the Potomac retreated along the peninsula towards Washington. Both sides sustained heavy losses. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia suffered 20,000 casualties (killed, wounded or captured) out of a total 90,000; while McClellan’s Army of 104,000 sustained a loss of 16,000.
With the Union troops repelled and the seizure of Richmond averted, Lee would go on the attack.