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Battle of Chickasaw Bayou

December 26–29, 1862

The Battle of Chickasaw Bayou (also known as the Battle of Chickasaw Bluffs, and the Battle of Walnut Hills) was the first major engagement of the Federal campaign to capture the Confederate fortress of Vicksburg, Mississippi on the Mississippi River.

After the Union successes at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, the Federals turned their attention to the Mississippi River. If the Union could gain control of the Mississippi, the Confederacy would be denied easy access to supplies from the Gulf of Mexico and territories in the American West. Admiral David Farragut captured the port city of New Orleans, Louisiana on May 18, 1862, closing down Confederate access to the Gulf of Mexico. In June, the Union tightened its grip on the Mississippi, when Federal forces captured the river city of Memphis, Tennessee. Nevertheless, the South still controlled traffic on much of the river because of its strong fortifications at Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Vicksburg is located on the eastern side of the Mississippi, south of the mouth of the Yazoo River. The city was known as "The Gibraltar of the Confederacy" because it is situated on a high bluff overlooking a horseshoe-shaped bend in the river. The bluff upon which the city sits made it nearly impossible to assault from the river. Farragut made two attempts to do so in May and June 1862, but both failed. To the north, nearly impenetrable swamps and bayous protected Vicksburg. To the east, a ring of forts mounting 172 guns shielded the city from an overland assault. The land on the Louisiana side of the river, opposite Vicksburg, was rough, etched with poor roads and many streams.

In July 1862, General Henry Halleck was called to Washington and promoted to chief of all Union armies, leaving Major General Ulysses S. Grant in charge of operations in the Western Theater. In December, Grant divided his Army of the Tennessee into two wings and launched his first attempt to capture Vicksburg. Grant personally led about 40,000 Union soldiers that marched south out of Memphis. To the west, Major General William T. Sherman, commanded about 30,000 soldiers that traveled by boat down the Mississippi River to the mouth of the Yazoo River. The flotilla then traveled up the Yazoo to Johnson's Plantation, where three of Sherman's four divisions disembarked on December 26. On December 27, the fourth division landed farther upstream.

Upon landing at Johnson's Plantation, Sherman began probing for weaknesses in the Confederate defenses protecting Vicksburg from the north. Reports from reconnaissance patrols were not promising. Over 13,000 Rebel defenders, commanded by Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton and Brigadier General Stephen D. Lee, were entrenched at Chickasaw Bluffs (also known as Walnut Hills) between the Federals and Vicksburg. To assault the Confederate defenses, Sherman's soldiers would be forced to traverse an area of swampland and the chest-deep waters of Chickasaw Bayou. To make matters worse, the Rebels had constructed defensive barriers at the base of the bluffs.

On December 27, the Federal soldiers began moving through the swamplands toward Chickasaw Bluffs. On December 28, Sherman ordered one division to try to turn the right flank of the Confederate lines, but Rebel artillery fire repulsed the attempt. Seeing no other option, Sherman ordered a frontal assault on December 29.

At about 7:00 a.m. on December 29, Union artillery began bombarding the Confederate defenses. The barrage lasted until about 11:00 a.m., but it had little effect. At noon, the Union soldiers began their assault against stiff resistance and were forced to fall back. Several other attacks later in the day also failed. By evening, the Confederates had inflicted over 1,700 casualties upon the Federals, compared with just over 200 of their own. Sherman planned to continue the assault the next day, but overnight he thought better of it and decided to withdraw.

Ohio units that participated in the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou included:

Infantry units:

16th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

42nd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

48th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

54th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

57th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

58th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

76th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

83rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

96th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

114th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

120th Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Artillery units:

4th Ohio Artillery Battery

8th Ohio Light Artillery Battery

17th Ohio Light Artillery Battery

The Battle of Chickasaw Bayou was one of the more lopsided victories for either side in the Civil War. Despite outnumbering the Confederates by a ratio of over two to one, Sherman suffered over eight times as many losses as the Rebels. The Confederate victory, coupled with Grant's stalled overland offensive to the east, ended the Union's first attempt to capture Vicksburg.


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