Christmas 150 years ago was very eventful in Mississippi. December 26th through the 29th of 1862, General Sherman of the Union Army was busy trying to take Vicksburg during the Civil War at the battle of Chickasaw Bayou.
Chickasaw Bayou is peaceful stream today, meandering through the extreme lower end of the Delta, north of Vicksburg. But in late December 150 years-ago, Chickasaw Bayou, or more accurately the road beside it, was General Sherman's guide into Vicksburg.
The day after Christmas, Sherman landed his 32,000 men about where the Kings Point Ferry crosses the Yazoo River today. And then he started marching north and eastward along a road that connected a couple of plantations to the Yazoo River on one end, and then intersected with what is now North Washington Street in Vicksburg on the other.
Although the Delta was cleared for farming at this spot 150 years ago, it was still crisscrossed with bogs and bayous and swamps like it is today. And even the farm fields were up to your ankles in muck from about as hard of rains that Christmas as we've just had over the past week. Not ideal terrain for marching an invasion force across.
General Grant, in his memoirs described the lay of the land during the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou like this:
"The waters were high so that the bottoms were generally overflowed leaving only narrow causeways of dry land between points of debarkation and the high bluffs. These were fortified at all points. Sherman could not use one-forth of his force."
After three days of trying to make it to the Vicksburg road at the bottom of the bluffs, Sherman gave up. The deciding factor of his defeat? Well, the defenders under General Stephen D. Lee of course. But more than anything, it was the soppy Delta winter that beat them.
Wil Wilson, Park Guide at the Vicksburg National Military Park agrees.
"Because of the topography of where we are at making this area inundated with slues and bayous almost impenetrable," said Wilson. "And when the Confederates do set up their defenses along the bluffs it really does make the assault that Sherman engages in really for naught."
As far as the fall of Vicksburg a few months later in the summer of 1863, the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou really had no effect one way or the other. Except to let General Grant of the Union know that Vicksburg wasn't going to just fall into his hands like a ripe fig off a tree. He would have to work for it. Which he did from January through July of 1863.
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