On Tuesday, May 19, 1863 with the envelopment of Confederate held Vicksburg complete, Ulysses Grant ordered the first, direct assault against the city’s substantial defenses. With William Tecumseh Sherman’s corps to the north or right, James McPherson’s corps in the center, and John McClernand’s corps on the left, thousands of Union troops confronted Vicksburg.
On Monday, May 18, 1863 Ulysses Grant’s Federal army, triumphant at Champion Hill and the Big Black River, began to envelope Vicksburg. John Pemberton was ordered by General Joseph Johnston to evacuate Vicksburg, but knowing that President Jefferson Davis wished to have the city defended, Pemberton with the concurrence of his subordinate officers decided to stay.
Pursuing John Pemberton’s retreating Confederates from Champion Hill, on May 17, 1863, Federal forces attacked Pemberton’s Confederates on the east bank of the Big Black River. Attacking through waist deep water, Union forces overran the Confederates’ breastworks of cotton bales and an abatis of felled trees to the front, forcing the Confederates in confusion and panic to withdraw across the river.
Following the Union occupation of Jackson, Mississippi, General Joseph Johnston, overall Confederate commander in Mississippi, ordered General John Pemberton at Vicksburg to attack the Federals at Clinton.
Pemberton believed that Johnston’s plan was too dangerous and decided instead to attack the Union supply trains moving from Grand Gulf to Raymond. On May 16, 1863 Pemberton’s forces approached Champion Hill when he received another order from Johnston, repeating his former instructions.
On Wednesday, May 13, 1863 Abraham Lincoln in response to a letter by Joseph Hooker, in which the general cited problems within his Union Army of the Potomac causing delayed operations since the debacle at Chancellorsville, noted that he would not restrain Hooker from renewing offensive actions but warned his general that he had indications that “some of your corps and Division Commanders are not giving you their entire confidence.”
Confederate General Joseph Johnston had been in command of all Confederate troops in Mississippi, including those at Vicksburg, for less than a week when Ulysses Grant decided to attack Jackson, the state’s capital, before assaulting Vicksburg.
With only 12,000 troops Joseph Johnston had to abandon the city, evacuating critical supplies and withdrawing to the north. On Thursday, May 14, 1863 after overwhelming the two Confederate brigades left behind to affect a delaying action, Federal forces occupied Jackson.
On May 7, 1863 scandal rocked the Confederate States of America when Major General Earl Van Dorn in his headquarters at Spring Hill, Tennessee was shot once in the back of the head, killing him instantly.
The gunman, Dr. James Bodie Peters, claimed that Van Dorn had carried on an affair with his wife, Jessie McKissack Peters. A blatant womanizer, Van Dorn was dubbed "the terror of ugly husbands" by a reporter shortly before his death.
On Sunday, May 10, 1863 Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson succumbed to his injuries. Wounded by his own men at Chancellorsville, Jackson had developed pneumonia after the amputation of an arm.
In his last, delirious moments, once again ordering his Confederates into battle, he suddenly noted in a calm voice, “Let us cross over the river, and rest under the shade of the trees.” With that, Jackson died.
Two concerned presidents spent much of Thursday, May 7, 1863 in communication with their respective military leaders. After personally conferring with Hooker, Lincoln returned to Washington and wrote his general, noting “If possible I would be very glad of another movement early enough to give us some benefit from the enemies communications being broken, but neither for this reason or any other, do I wish anything done in desperation or rashness.”