Given the apparent impossibility of taking Vicksburg by a gunboat attack alone, the Union generals took another approach; it was thought that a canal could be cut across the tight bend in the Mississippi opposite Vicksburg. This would leave Vicksburg miles from the river, rendering its guns ineffective against Union river transport. The New York Times viewed the project with some bemusement. Apparently the editor was imagining that possession of Vicksburg was the goal in itself, rather than opening the Mississippi to shipping.
Blue-Gray Review posted on this topic the other day; as is pointed out there, the project was ultimately a failure. For one thing, the current was against the opposite bank at the top of the canal, so it never really scoured out the cut as expected.
Turning the Flank on Vicksburgh
Gen. BUTLER, having straightened up things generally in New-Orleans, has, it seems, set to straightening the Mississippi River. It was ALPHONSO, of Castile, we believe, who thought he could have given Providence some useful hints, had he been consulted in the framing of things. Gen. BUTLER goes a step further, and is determined to improve what is done: so he starts by mending the crooked ways of the Father of Waters. The story, as it comes to us, is so odd an affair, that we hardly know whether to believe it or not; but it reports that a canal is being cut across the neck of land opposite Vicksburgh, which will take the Mississippi several miles out of its present route, and leave Vicksburgh an inland town.
It is well known that directly opposite this point the Mississippi makes an easterly bend of fourteen miles, returns on itself, and leaves a narrow peninsula of about three-quarters of a mile in breadth. Across the neck of the peninsula it is that the canal is being cut. Several thousand negroes are reported to have been at work on it for some time, and when completed, as it is to be immediately, it is expected that the Mississippi will leave its present bed, and cut a wide channel during high water; while Vicksburgh, from being a river town, will wake up and find itself half a dozen miles off in the interior!
Such is the bizarre story, more like a tale than a sober reality, that comes to us. But what is the object of this high piece of prestidigitation? There we own up to being completely stumped. They can hardly expect to take Vicksburgh by water after they have removed the Mississippi half-a-dozen miles away from it. That would be too much like the Hibernian jury on the question of building a new jail, which resolved: First — That the materials of the old jail be employed in constructing the new one; and 2d — That the old jail shall not be taken down until the new one be finished. Gen. BUTLER is hardly the man to make a practical bull of that kind, and yet meanwhile FARRAGUT is firing away at Vicksburgh with his gunboats, as if he expected to take it by water. We have no doubt there is sound common sense (of the uncommon kind,) in the scheme; but for the present it is a greater mystification than anything HERRMANN or HOUDIN can show. Meantime, what will the “guardians of civilization” say? If throwing a few rocks into Charleston harbor raised such a howl, what will it be when they hear we have been turning rivers out of their courses?
The Richmond Daily Dispatch also took notice of Butler’s canal-building venture a day or two later:
From the Southwest.
Grenada, July 11.
–Memphis papers, of the 9th, state that Andy Johnson was daily expected in that city. The Union Appeal, of Memphis, (Grant’s organ,) says that Butler has confiscated 3,000 slaves and put them to work upon the canal opposite Vicksburg.
The New York Post fears that conscription or drafting will have to be resorted to if Lincoln’s 3000,000 men are to be raised.
Black Republican dispatches claim a victory in Tuesday’s battle, and say that McClellan has since removed his headquarters five miles nearer Richmond. Our forces are represented by them as retiring to their old position.
Gen. Chalmer’s brigade of cavalry at Ripley, last Monday. attacked and dispersed the Yankees assembled at that point.
Jackson,July 10.–General Van Dorn has issued a General Order No, 9, which places fifteen counties contiguous to Vicksburg and all of East Louisiana under martial law. It is declared that disloyalty will not be countenanced; the credit of the Government must be sustained; the seeds of discontent are not to be sown among the troops; speculators will not be tolerated, but be arrested and fined; newspapers will not publish the movements of troops under the penalty of suspension, fine and imprisonment.
Passengers from Memphis say that Hindman has captured Curtis, and that the news was believed in Memphis.
Mobile,July 12.–A special dispatch to the Advertiser, dated Jackson, 11th, states that the enemy were vigorously employed in shelling Vicksburg, effecting but little damage. The Yankees are pillaging the plantations on the river of horses mules, and everything else valuable. Negroes are impressed to work upon the canal across the river bend.
The Dispatch, as you can see, was also reporting the rumor that Gen. Curtis had been captured, both in the item above and in this item from the 10th:
Glorious news from Arkansas–reported capture of Gen. Curtis and 6,000 prisoners.
Grenada, July 10.
–Passengers from Memphis last night say intelligence was received there Monday last that Gen. Hindman had captured Curtis, with 6,000 prisoners. Col. Flich being unable to reach Curtis with reenforcements, returned to Memphis with his command on Sunday.
As with many rumors, this one was false — Curtis’s army had retreated initially in front of Hindman’s at the battle of Hill’s Plantation, but rallied and routed the Confederates on July 7, taking Helena, Arkansas.