Monday, July 1, 2013

Vicskburg Campaign-The Navy Unloads Its Firepower.

One of the chief reasons for Union victory in the West was the close
cooperation  between General Grant and Admiral Porter.
While the the Navy bombarded Port Hudson from the river and land, Admiral Dixon Porter set up a similar operation for Vicksburg itself. The admiral had the USS Cincinnati, Mound City, Carendolet, Benton, and Tuscumbia approach within 300-400 yards of the Confederate guns.  The two sides exchanged shots for over two hours before the Union squadron withdrew.  Porter often coordinated closely with General Ulysses S. Grant's ground assaults.  It was during one of these raids that Confederate gunners found their mark on Cincinnati, striking the ironclad in several critical places.  The ironclad soon sank.

Porter's ships bombarding Vicksburg at night.
Direct assaults did not make much progress.   Union leadership decided on a  more passive siege.  Ground forces would bombard from land, while Porter deployed a number of heavy guns from river and land to shell the fortress town.  Porter brought up mortar boats equipped with 175 mortars (not all of them functioning) from the south to augment his ironclad squadron. 

In addition to his warships, Porter placed IX-Inch and X-inch Dahlgrens and 100 pounder Parrott Rifles on scows (flat bottom river boats).  On land, he contributed five VIII-inch and two IX-inch Dahlgrens, two 42-pounder rifles, and older 32-pounder smoothbores.  All the guns were added to Grant's artillery batteries and manned by sailors from Porter's squadron. From 27 May to 3 July 1863,  Porter's gunners bombarded Vicksburg.  The gunners usually fired either first thing in the morning or at night, as Porter did not want to exhaust his gunners during the hot summer days. 

"Siege of Vicksburg"-Compare this print to the war time sketch
 of the same scene by Theodore Davis.
Porter directed the gunners not only to fire at the town, but also at the town supply depots, such as its cattle herd. The bombardments killed several hundred heads of cattle, making the Confederate's supply situation that much worse. 

One target Porter directed his gunners to stop firing at was the infamous "Whistling Dick" gun.  "Dick" was an 18-pounder rifle that made a distinct "whistling" sound when fired.  It is credited with sinking Cincinnati.  After many failed attempts to knock the gun out, Porter told his ships not to specifically target it anymore. 

In addition to the massive bombardment, Naval forces assisted in keeping Confederate relief columns from coming to Vicksburg's rescue. Porter deployed Brigadier General Alfred Ellet's Mississippi Marine Brigade to help Union ground forces fend off approaching enemy units.  This unique formation now under Navy control was a combined unit of infantry and cavalry with its own river transports.  The unit also took control of plantations along the river where newly freed slaves produced cotton for Union forces.

Porter received a note during the siege indicating that Admiral Andrew Hull Foote died in a New York hospital on 27 June.  Considered one of the Navy's finest seamen (and rabid teetotaler), he suffered an injury during the Fort Donelson campaign which he never fully recovered from.  He was to take over the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, but his injury prevented him from travelling.  All the ships in the squadron lowered their flags to half mast. 

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