The Vicksburg Campaign: April 1862-July 1863

By David G. Martin | Go to book overview
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The Threat Becomes Real

On 1 May 1862, Union Major General Ben "Beast" Butler and his 15,000 infantry finally reached New Orleans and relieved Farragut's sailors and marines. Farragut was anxious to push on and take Baton Rouge, Natchez and Vicksburg, but would have to do so without substantial infantry support. Butler wanted to occupy New Orleans in force, and loaned the navy only 1,400 men under Brigadier General Thomas Williams to be used in operations farther north.

Farragut divided his warships into two flotillas for his dash upstream. The advance flotilla, commanded by Captain S. Phillips Lee of the Oneida, was to hurry forward to grab Vicksburg. The trailing squadron, led by Commander James S. Palmer aboard the Iroquois, easily took possession of Baton Rouge and Natchez. Meanwhile, Captain Phillips was pushing on to Vicksburg, which he reached 18 May.

Phillips expected Vicksburg to be lightly defended, a plum ripe for the plucking, and indeed it would have been so had he reached the town a month earlier. Instead, much to his surprise, he found the town defended by a strong force of 18 guns manned by veteran artillerists and supported by almost 4,000 infantry. The presence of this garrison was the strategy of Major General Mansfield Lovell, the Confederate commander who had recently lost New Orleans. Lovell had decided that the Crescent City was indefensible after Farragut ran his fleet past Forts Jackson and St. Philip. Instead of wasting his men in battle against Butler's much larger Union force, Lovell evacuated New


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