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BRUINSBURG: MISSED OPPORTUNITY OR POSTWAR RHETORIC? LarryJ. Daniel In April 1863 Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant led a flanking movement on die Louisiana side of the Mississippi River, from Milliken's Bend to soudi of Hard Times Landing, diat placed two of his three corps in the rear ofVicksburg. Assisted by a fleet under Admiral David Porter, the Federals crossed unopposed to the east bankat Bruinsburg, Mississippi, on the thirtieth. Within two and half weeks, Grant had fought and won five engagements and bottled up Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton's Confederate army within the Vicksburg defenses. The Soudiern high command was clearly outclassed during the campaign . General Joseph E. Johnston, the western theater commander, placed the blame squarely upon Pemberton's shoulders. He declared that several opportunities to strike Grant were missed, notably at Bruinsburg. "The time to contend widi Grant to advantage was, ofcourse, when he was crossing the Mississippi, before the 1st of May," he wrote. "That crossing was by ferrying ... so that the Federal forces engaged in it might easily have been beaten by an inferior force."' Modern historians have confirmed this judgment. One has evaluated Pemberton's performance as "slow and befuddled," and concluded that he "blundered in not meeting Grant when he landed on the east side of the river." Notes anodier critic: "Pemberton's only hope of success throughout the entire campaign was to keep the enemy from crossing, and faced with that necessity his wisest course would have been to risk official disapproval and mass everything he could at Grand Gulf." Anodier has concluded: "In retrospect this was the crucial moment ofdie campaign. . . . If Pemberton could have struck while Grant was thus off balance, with one foot in the water and the other on land, he certainly could have spoiled Grant's plans and he might even have destroyed his army." Bruce Carton has surmised that it was an "obvious fact" diat "ifPemberton caught on to what was being 1 Sarah A. Dorsey, Recollections ofHenry WatkinsAllen (New York, 1866), 228-29. Civil War History, Vol. XXXII, No. 3, ©1986 by The Kent State University Press BRUINSBURG257 attempted he could easily move plenty of troops to Grand Gulf and meet the Federal thrust."2 Was Pemberton the bungling incompetent who tossed away a golden opportunity? Was Johnston's hypothetical Battle of Bruinsburg simply postwar rhetoric designed to dispel culpability from his own generally inept performance during the campaign? Have historians wrongly assessed the importance of the event by not taking into consideration the complexities involved and by basing judgments upon information that was not available to Pemberton? Does the traditional thesis merely represent an unexamined echo? A re-evaluation is in order. On the night of April 16 a portion of Porter's fleet, both ironclads and transports, ran the Vicksburg batteries. The next morning Pemberton received more disturbing news. A large enemy flanking movement was detected at New Carthage, a west bank hamlet midway between Warrenton and Grand Gulf. This maneuver did not catch the Confederates in openmouthed amazement, as some have suggested. For days Rebel scouts had been monitoring a slow buildup along the Richmond Road, a thirtymile , flat-bottom, circuitous route that ran from Milliken's Bend, through Richmond, to New Carthage. Much ofthat area of Louisiana was still badly flooded (New Carthage was like an island) and Federal activity was slow and unalarming. On the seventeenth, however, it was determined that what had been detected was actually the spearhead of a full-scale expedition .3 The difficulty of receiving reliable information from across the river was a problem that Pemberton was never able to resolve. Consequently, he remained largely in the dark about the relative size ofthe flanking column. He knew that there were "two large bodies of troops—the one above and the otiier below Vicksburg," but contended that "it was difficult even to approximate their relative strength. They were supposed, however, from all the information I could garner, to be about equal." Scouts reported the west bank column to be about thirty thousand strong, at least part ofwhich, according to captured Northern newspapers, included John McClernand 's Thirteenth Corps. The Union force opposite Vicksburg was put at...


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