On the thirtieth of April Grant landed with twenty thousand men at Bruinsburg, on the east side of the Mississippi, about sixty miles below Vicksburg. A week later Sherman reinforced him to thirty-three thousand. Before the fall of Vicksburg his total strength reached seventy-five thousand. The Confederate total also fluctuated; but not so much. There were about sixty thousand Confederates in the whole strategic area between Vicksburg and Jackson (fifty miles east) when Grant made his first daring move, and about the same when Vicksburg surrendered. The scene of action was almost triangular; for it lay between the three lines joining Jackson, Haynes's Bluff, Rodney, and Jackson again. The respective lengths of these straight lines are forty, fifty, and seventy miles. But roundabout ways by land and water multiplied these distances, and much fighting and many obstacles vastly increased Grant's difficulties.
An army, however, that had managed to reach Bruinsburg from the north and west was assuredly fit for more hard work of any kind; while a commander who had, left a safe base above Vicksburg and landed below, to live on (as well as in) an enemy country till victory should give him a new land line to the north, must, in view of the resultant triumph, be counted among the master-minds of war. Grant's marvelous skill in massing, dividing, forwarding, and concentrating his forces over a hundred miles of intricate passages between Milliken's Bend and Bruinsburg was only excelled by his consummate genius in carrying out this daring operation, forcing his way through his enemies, into full possession of interior lines, between their great garrison of Vicksburg and their field army from Jackson. He had to create two fronts in spite of his doubled enemy and live on that enemy's country without any land base of his own.
Grant knew the country was quite able to support his army if he could only control enough of it. Bread, beef, and mutton would be almost unobtainable. But chickens, turkeys, and ducks were abundant, while hard-tack would do instead of bread. Bird-and-biscuit of course became unpopular; and after weeks of it Grant was not surprised to hear a soldier mutter "hard-tack" loudly enough for others to take up the cry. By this time, however, he luckily knew that the bread ration was about to be resumed; and when he told the men they cheered as only men on service can men to whom battles are rare events but rations the very stuff of daily existence. Coffee, bacon, beef, and mutton came next in popular favor when full rations were renewed. So when the Northern land line was reopened towards the end of the siege, and friends came into camp with presents from home, they found, to their amazement, that even the tenderest spring chicken was loathsome to their boys in blue.
Grant set to work immediately on landing. His first objective was Grand Gulf, which he wanted as a field base for further advance. But in order to get it he had to drive away the enemy from Port Gibson, which was by no means easy, even with superior numbers, because the whole country thereabouts was so densely wooded and so intricately watered that concerted movements could only be made along the few and conspicuous roads. On the first of May, however, the Confederates were driven off before their reinforcements could arrive. McClernand bungled brigades and divisions out of mutual support. But Grant personally put things right again.
By the third of May the bridge burnt by the enemy had been repaired and Grant's men were crossing to press them back on Vicksburg, so as to clear Grand Gulf. Grant's supply train (raised by impressing every horse, mule, ox, and wheeled thing in the neighborhood) looked more like comic opera than war. Fine private carriages, piled high with ammunition, and sometimes drawn by mules with straw collars and rope lines, went side by side with the longest plantation wagons drawn by many oxen, or with a two-wheeled cart drawn by a thoroughbred horse.
Before any more actions could be fought news came through that the Federals in Virginia had been terribly beaten by Lee, who was now expected to invade the North. The South was triumphant; so much so, indeed, that its Government thought the war itself had now been won. But Lincoln, Grant, and Lee knew better.
Swiftly, silently, and with a sure strategic touch, Grant marched northeast on Jackson, to make his rear secure before he turned on Vicksburg. On the twelfth he won at Raymond and on the fourteenth at Jackson itself. Here he turned back west again. On the sixteenth he won the stubborn fight of Champion's Hill, on the seventeenth he won again at Big Black River, and on the eighteenth he appeared before the lines of Vicksburg. With the prestige of five victories in twenty days, and with the momentum acquired in the process, he then tried to carry the lines by assault on the spot. But the attack of the nineteenth failed, as did its renewal on the twenty-second. Next day both sides settled down to a six weeks' siege.
The failure of the two assaults was recognized by friend and foe as being a mere check; and Grant's men all believed they had now found the lookedfor leader. So they had. Like Lee and Stonewall Jackson in Virginia, Grant, with as yet inferior numbers (but with the immense advantage of sea-power), had seized, held, and acted on interior lines so ably that his forty-three thousand men had out-maneuvered and out-fought the sixty thousand of the enemy, beating them in detail on ground of their own besides inflicting a threefold loss. Grant lost little over four thousand. The Confederates lost nearly twelve thousand, half of whom were captured.