The Summer of the Titans
Climax at Vicksburg and Gettysburg
On the warm, moonless night of April 16th, 1863, Ulysses S. Grant and his wife Julia sat down on deck chairs on the upper deck of the steamer Magnolia and watched a fantastic display of lights flashing in the sky while their two young sons let out gasps of awe and excitement. During peacetime the Grant family might hag been watching a shoreline fireworks show but this was the middle of the Civil War and the explosion and flashes indicated far more serious business. About three miles away Commodore David Porter was aboard his flagship Benton directing the actions of 11 Federal vessels as they attempted to run past the Confederate batteries protecting Vicksburg on the bluffs 200 feet above the Mississippi River. Confederate gunners scored hit after hit on the specially prepared armored gunboats and steam transports, and a few minutes into the dash the Patrick Henry was totally wreathed in flames and beginning to explode as its crew abandoned ship. However, the other 10 ships came through the gauntlet more or less intact and the first giant step in the final campaign against the "Gibraltar of the West" had now been accomplished.
Porter's daring gamble was the result of an agreement between the commodore and his army counterpart that the only way to break the stalemate around Vicksburg was to have the army cross from Louisiana into Mississippi, well to the south of the main enemy defenses, which in turn would require the services of the fleet. Once the naval vessels made their successful run, Grant ordered McClernand's and McPherson's corps to march the 50 miles from Milliken's Bend to a plantation named Hard Times which was opposite an east side landing at Grand Gulf, Mississippi. However, when Porter's gunboats attempted to eliminate the enemy shore positions they were repulsed with heavy casualties. The situation looked bleak until an escaped slave came into Grant's headquarters with the vital information that there was an alternate landing beach 10 miles south at