Wizards of Oz

"Life is fraughtless ... when you're thoughtless."

19.3.09

Civil War: Western Theater


We spent our St. Patrick's Day driving from Hammond, Louisiana (north shore of Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans) to Nashville. Along the way we stopped at two historic sites: the Vicksburg National Military Park on the east bank of the Mississippi River, and Shiloh National Military Park in southwestern Tennessee.

Vicksburg is significant because it was the culmination of then-Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's campaign in the Western Theater. On July 4th, 1863 (the day after the Battle of Gettysburg a thousand miles to the northeast ended), CSA Lt. Gen. Pemberton surrendered to Grant's Army of the Tennessee -- thereby freeing the Mississippi River for Union commerce and splitting the Confederacy in half. It's important to note that, though the Union had an impenetrable naval blockade of the CSA during the war, the CSA's command of the Mississippi prevented many Union goods from reaching their European markets -- a riverine blockade.

Vicksburg also features the raised timbers of the USS CAIRO, one of seven City-class ironclads that was sunk by what would today be called an IED: an electrically-switched, command-activated floating mine. The port bow in the above photo shows the damage to her hull; she sunk in less than 12 minutes.


Finally, shortly before sunset, we reached Shiloh in southwestern Tennessee. This battle marked the beginning of Grant's ascendancy in the Union Army, where his Army of Western Tennessee became simply known as the Army of the Tennessee. Pinned against the Tennessee River and Owl Creek Swamp, Confederate General Johnston sought to push Grant's forces into the swamps. But fierce fighting in the "Hornet's Nest" (the far side of Duncan's Field in the photo above, across the Sunken Road at the far edge of the field -- we're looking from the Confederate lines near Ruggle's Batteries) slowed the Confederate advance to allow Grant to reform his lines.

After Johnston fell in the first day's fighting, his second-in-command, Maj. Gen. Beauregard, halted the advance at dark -- content to finish Grant off the following April morning (note that this was in 1862, full year before the seige at Vicksburg). However, Union General Buell's Army of the Ohio linked up to reinforce Grant's position -- and allowed the Union to stage a counterattack at dawn, forcing a haphazard retreat by the CSA forces back into Mississippi.

So many end results are the consequence of narrowly-decided actions at the razor's edge. Had Johnston not fallen, had Beauregard kept his advance, had Stonewall Jackson not fallen to friendly fire at Chancellorsville a year later, had Longstreet heeded Hood's advice at Gettysburg to flank Meade's lines at Gettysburg -- had any of these events occurred, and we could still be a nation divided.

Addenda: With this trip, Renee has tied me with 49 states visited. So I need to see North Dakota before she gets to Maine.... Shelby is at 46, Jarrett at 44, and Sophie (after our move to CO at the end of this month) will be at 15. Our "electoral maps" (h/t to tdaxp) follow:




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