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Another large audience in Sanders Theatre last evening bore witness to Dr. Fiske's popularity and the popularity of his subject. In this, the third lecture of the course, the unique campaigns about Vicksburg were treated. Among the various stereopticon views, the familiar portraits of Grant and Sherman called forth rounds of applause.
Dr. Fiske spoke in substance as follows:
It had been, from the very beginning, the main purpose of the Western campaigns to open the Mississippi to its mouth, and thereby complete the naval blockade of the rebellious states. Thus only could the immense western territory of Texas and Arkansas, with its great store of recruiting material, and its still more valuable store of grain and supplies, be cut off from the eastern states which relied so largely upon this assistance.
The Confederates realized the importance of the issue, and had strongly fortified every commanding bluff which offered a strong position on the great river. The Union fleet, however, had easily controlled the lowlands, and Grant's brilliant advance parallel to the river had outflanked the strongholds one by one, and compelled their surrender.
But now Farragut's movement from below was checked for want of a land force, and Grant was too far from his base to continue his old plan without great difficulty. Vicksburg on the north and Port Hudson on the south were alone left to guard the Red River, the great artery of the West, but here the Confederates had concentrated all their force.
Vicksburg was especially strong, the Gibralter of America. Impregnable on the river front, with its steep descent, it was protected by a maze of swamps on the north and rough coutry everywhere else. The strong outposts, Haines's Bluff, and Grand Gulf, above and below well guarded its flanks.
Unquestionably the east was the best point of attack. But Grant was hampered by lack of cooperation from Washington, and unwisely dividing his army, found his line of communication broken by Forrest's brilliant raid, and was forced to retreat. Sherman was waiting for Grant in the swamps before Haines's Bluff, and not knowing the strength of the position tried to assault it. The assault failed, and the second part of the plan proved impracticable.
Again Grant advanced, this time massing his whole force on the west bank and getting supplies by the river. But Haines's Bluff had proved impregnable, and a landing on the south side was out of the question because supplies could not be brought down past the batteries.
For two whole months Grant strained every nerve to find or make a water passage to out-flank Haines's Bluff, or get the transports past the batteries. It was all in vain. Canals were cut; bayous explored; passages forced through countless narrow channels; but to no purpose. The North was out of patience; the people clamored for Grant's removal.
There seemed to be little choice of plans; in fact, no prudent course but a seeming retreat to Memphis and a new attempt by central Mississippi.
At this crisis Grant, with characteristic boldness, passed below Grand Bluff, crossed the river and captured the southern defence from behind after a sharp fight. He had a footing, and supplies were slowly coming around. But the work was only half done. Johnston had collected a new force in Jackson, Miss. Pemberton himself, commander at Vicksburg, was almost as strong as Grant. Time was precious.
Never did general face more overwhelming difficulties. But Grant rose to the occasion. Base of supplies, or no base, he resolved to trust everything to rapidity and boldness. Grand Bluff was left far behind, and with his whole column in light marching order, living on the country, he marched straight for Jachson. Napoleon himself never planned a bolder stroke. The enemy were confounded by its swiftness and sharpness. Johnson's force was scattered; Pemberton, bewildered, tried to cut, at Grand Bluff, a line of communication which never existed. Soon he, too, was overwhelmed by the triumphant Federal advance. At Champion's Hill he was routed and again at Black River Bridge. The remnants of the force were hurled back into their fortifications, and Haines's Bluff, outflanked, surrendered. Here Grant established the base which he had dispensed with for the famouse eleven days campaign.
From now on it was simply a question of time. July 4, 1863, Vicksburg surrendered and five days later, when Banks captured Port Hudson, the great river highway was open. Grant's reputation was made, and the first chill of despair crept over the Confederacy.
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