Monday, April 29, 2013

April 29, 1863: The Battle of Grand Gulf

On this day 150 years ago, the Mississippi River Squadron under acting Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter attempted to force a crossing of the Mississippi River at Grand Gulf. Ulysses S. Grant described the battle in his memoirs.
At 8 o'clock A.M., 29th, Porter made the attack with his entire strength present, eight gunboats. For nearly five and a half hours the attack was kept up without silencing a single gun of the enemy. All this time McClernand's 10,000 men were huddled together on the transports in the stream ready to attempt a landing if signalled. I occupied a tug from which I could see the effect of the battle on both sides, within range of the enemy's guns; but a small tug, without armament, was not calculated to attract the fire of batteries while they were being assailed themselves. About half-past one the fleet withdrew, seeing their efforts were entirely unavailing. The enemy ceased firing as soon as we withdrew. I immediately signalled the Admiral and went aboard his ship. The navy lost in this engagement eighteen killed and fifty-six wounded. A large proportion of these were of the crew of the flagship, and most of those from a single shell which penetrated the ship's side and exploded between decks where the men were working their guns. The sight of the mangled and dying men which met my eye as I boarded the ship was sickening.

Grand Gulf is on a high bluff where the river runs at the very foot of it. It is as defensible upon its front as Vicksburg and, at that time, would have been just as impossible to capture by a front attack. I therefore requested Porter to run the batteries with his fleet that night, and to take charge of the transports, all of which would be wanted below.

There is a long tongue of land from the Louisiana side extending towards Grand Gulf, made by the river running nearly east from about three miles above and nearly in the opposite direction from that point for about the same distance below. The land was so low and wet that it would not have been practicable to march an army across but for a levee. I had had this explored before, as well as the east bank below to ascertain if there was a possible point of debarkation north of Rodney. It was found that the top of the levee afforded a good road to march upon.

Porter, as was always the case with him, not only acquiesced in the plan, but volunteered to use his entire fleet as transports. I had intended to make this request, but he anticipated me. At dusk, when concealed from the view of the enemy at Grand Gulf, McClernand landed his command on the west bank. The navy and transports ran the batteries successfully. The troops marched across the point of land under cover of night, unobserved. By the time it was light the enemy saw our whole fleet, ironclads, gunboats, river steamers and barges, quietly moving down the river three miles below them, black, or rather blue, with National troops.


Allen Gathman said...

It's noteworthy that Grant once again displayed his willingness to commit irrevocably to a plan. Porter told him earlier that running the Vicksburg batteries couldn't be undone -- the gunboats wouldn't survive the slow trip back up against the current in front of the guns. Here it was the same with Grand Gulf; the transports, once moved south, could never come back up until Grand Gulf was taken. Grant didn't hesitate, and Porter took the boats south.

Allen Gathman said...

Grant once again showed his willingness to commit to a plan. Just as he had done in ordering the boats run past the Vicksburg batteries, he was ready to run the transports south of Grand Gulf. Both he and Porter knew that the boats would never survive the slow upriver return under the guns, so they were stuck south until Grand Gulf was taken. Neither of them hesitated.