April 29, 1863: Attack on Grand Gulf

John S. Bowen, CSA
John S. Bowen

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Grand Gulf was Grant’s first choice of a landing site on the east side of the Mississippi. The Confederates had fortified it well, even if Gen. Stevenson didn’t think it likely that the Union troops would come there. Meanwhile, Brigadier Gen. John Bowen, in charge of its defense, was convinced all along that the Yankees were coming. He was about to be proved right. Admiral Porter’s gunboats made a concerted attack on Grand Gulf, destroying the lower fort and killing artillery Col. William Wade, but were unable to silence the upper fort’s battery.

One of Porter’s fleet, the Benton, was disabled during the fight, and drifted up against the Mississippi shore. Fortunately, according to Grabau in Ninety-Eight Days, the upper fort’s guns were placed so high that the rebels were unable to depress them far enough to fire on the immobilized Union ship right below them, and the crew were able to repair the Benton and re-enter the fight. After five and a half hours (six and a half if you ask the Confederates), Porter decided he had to pull the gunboats back.

Grant had two choices. He could go back up to Milliken’s Bend and try to come up with some other way of getting to Vicksburg, or he could move further downriver and land anyway, then fight his way back up northward. Grant being Grant, he chose to keep going. They would chance it all, heading for a crossing somewhere below Grand Gulf. He ordered Porter to run the batteries one more time, shielding the transports as they slipped by on the Louisiana side. They would be absolutely committed, because the transports could never make it back upriver in front of the Grand Gulf guns.


Lieutenant-General PEMBERTON, Jackson.

Number 4. Reports of Brigadier General John S. Bowen, C. S. Army. GRAND GULF, April 29, 1863.

Six gunboats, averaging ten guns, have been bombarding my batteries terrifically since 7 a. m. They pass and repass the batteries at the closest ranges. I cannot tell the effect of our shots. Six transports in sight, loaded with troops, but stationery. My loss as yet only 2 killed. The batteries, especially the lower ones, are badly torn to pieces. I cannot tell the result, but think that re-enforcements would hardly reach me in time to aid in the defense if they attempt to land.

JNO. S. BOWEN,

Brigadier-General.

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General PEMBERTON.

GRAND GULF, April 29, 1863.

After six hours and a half of continued firing, the gunboats have retired. They fired about 3,000 shot and shell, temporarily disabling one gun. Our loss is 3 killed and 12 or 15 wounded. Apparently we injured two of their boats; damage unknown. Colonel William Wade, of the artillery, one of the bravest and best of my command, was killed at his post.

The men behaved like veterans (as they are), and are now hard at work preparing for another attack.

JNO. S. BOWEN,

Brigadier-General.

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Lieutenant-General PEMBERTON.

GRAND GULF, April 29, 1863.

One disabled gunboat, after endeavoring unsuccessfully to go up the river, now lies about 3 miles below, by the Louisiana shore.

JNumber S. BOWEN,

Brigadier-General.

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The ADJUTANT-GENERAL OF THE ARMY,

Washington, D. C.

Number 2. Report of Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, C. S. Army. JACKSON, April 29,[1863.]

Six gunboats, averaging ten guns each, opened a terrific fire upon our batteries at Grand Gulf at 7 a. m., and continued without intermission six hours and a half, when they withdrew. Several boats apparently damaged; one, disabled, lying on Louisiana shore below. Our loss, 3 killed, including Colonel [William] Wade, General Bowen’s chief of artillery; 12 or 15 wounded. Repairs are being made, expecting a renewal of attack to-morrow. Transports loaded with troops in sight, but inactive.

J. C. PEMBERTON,

Lieutenant-General, Commanding.

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[McClernand’s Report]

The ATTACK ON GRAND GULF.

On the morning of the 29th, the gunboats steamed 3 miles down the river to Grand Gulf, and, closely approaching the enemy’s batteries, opened fire upon them. The NINTH, Tenth, [twelfth, and fourteenth div]ISIONS of my corps followed on transports, casting anchor in full view of the Gulf, and holding themselves in readiness to push forward and disembark the moment the enemy’s water batteries should be silenced and a footing for them thus secured. General Carr’s DIVISION remained at Hard Times, waiting for the return of transports to bring them on, too. At the termination of a daring and persistent bombardment of five and a half hours, the enemy’s principal batteries had not been silenced, several of the gunboats had been crippled, and all of them were drawn off. Returning to Hard Times, the NINTH, Tenth, and Twelfth DIVISIONS disembarked, and, together with the Fourteenth DIVISION, crossed over the point opposite Grand Gulf that evening and night to D’Schron’s. The same night the gunboats, transports, and barges ran the blockade at Grand Gulf and landed at D’Schron’s.

If the attack upon Grand Gulf had succeeded, it would have secured either or both of two objects: First, a base for operations against the rear of Vicksburg, and, secondly, safety in re-enforcing General Banks, at Port Hudson. But failing, it became important to gain a footing at some other favorable point. The reconnaissance made by my cavalry, in pursuance of your order, indicated Bruinsburg to be that point.

David Dixon Porter

From Porter’s report to Welles:

As the fire of the upper battery slackened (I presume from want of ammunition), I passed up a short distance above the fort to communicate with General Grant, to see whether he thought proper to send the troops in the transports by the battery, under what was rather a feeble return to our fire.

He concluded to land the troops and march them across by a road 2 miles long, coming out below the batteries. As there was a prospect of spending a good deal of ammunition on the upper battery, with- out being able to occupy it if it was silenced, the vessels moved up- stream again by signal, without being much fired at or receiving any damage, while the enemy had a raking fire on them.

I then sent down Captain Walke in the Lafayette to prevent them from repairing damages, which they were doing with great diligence. He opened on them, to which they responded a few times, and finally left the fort, when he fired at intervals of five minutes until dark.

At 6 oclock p. m. I again got underway (with the transports following us) and attacked the batteries again, the transports all passing safely down under cover of our fire. We are now in a position to make a landing where the general pleases. I should have preferred this latter course in the first instance; it would have saved many lives and many hard knocks.

The Benton received 47 shots in her hull alone, not counting the damage done above her rail; but she was just as good for a fight when she got through as when she commenced. All the vessels did well, though it was the most difficult portion of the river in which to manage an ironclad; strong currents (running 6 knots) and strong eddies turning them round and round, making them fair targets; and the Benton’s heavy plates did not stand the heavy shot, which, in many instances, bored her through. The Tuscumbia showed great weakness as a fighting ship, though her commander did his best to keep her in a position where she did excellent service. The current turned her round and round, exposing her at every turn. It was a hard fight and a long one on both sides.

The enemy fought his upper battery with a desperation I have never yet witnessed, for though we engaged him at a distance of 50 yards, we never fairly succeeded in stopping his fire but for a short time. It was remarkable that we did not disable his guns, but though we knocked the parapets pretty much to pieces. the guns were apparently uninjured.

This entry was posted in David Porter, Gunboats, John A. McClernand, John S. Bowen, Mississippi, Ulysses S. Grant, Vicksburg. Bookmark the permalink.

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