Battlefield maps show Snyder’s Bluff on the east side of the Yazoo River (not, as I had expected, the Mississippi) beginning and heading north from the tiny village of Mills, on a county road from Vicksburg to Yazoo City; John Snyder’s house sat atop it. This bluff is a northern extension of the Walnut Hills, from which Vicksburg’s artillery commanded the Mississippi River. Just to the north of Snyder’s Bluff the same cliff system is known as Drumgould’s Bluff, and a little further north as Haines’ or Haynes’ Bluff. Snyder’s Bluff is approximately seven or eight miles north of Vicksburg. Sherman passed right by it at the beginning of a two-day feint up the Yazoo April 30 and May 1, 1863, with ten regiments and transport ships for them, plus three gunboats, four armored vessels, and three mortar boats. Details of the engagement are given by Civil War historian Shelby Foote (the emphasis is mine):Intent on making the greatest possible show of strength, Sherman spread his troops over the transport decks with orders for “every man [to] look as numerous as possible.” Short of Haines Bluff . . . the bluecoats went ashore; marching and countermarching, banners flying and bands playing for all they were worth in the boggy woodland, they demonstrated in sight of the fortified line of hills, while the gunboats closed to within point-blank range of the bluff itself. For three hours the naval attack was pressed, as if in preparation for an infantry assault. However, the defenders clearly had their backs up; nor was there anything wrong with their marksmanship. . . [The following day the Federal] infantry continued to mass as if for attack, and the gunboats moved again within range of Haines Bluff, keeping up the action until 8 o’clock that evening. Then [the] men got back aboard their transports and withdrew, returning to the west bank of the Mississippi, followed by the somewhat battered but undaunted ten-boat flotilla, which dropped anchor off the mouth of the Yazoo.Thomas Burgin’s Mississippi State Troops had met their first major combat challenge commendably. Thomas’ former commander, as quoted above, had heard he was commanding a brigade. If so, this was probably an temporary, emergency battlefield arrangement, not a permanent promotion or reassignment.
The day before Sherman began his bombardment, Major General Ulysses S. Grant, commander of all Union forces in the Vicksburg operation, after months of trying various strategies, had finally succeeded in getting his army moved across the Mississippi to the east bank, south of Vicksburg; Sherman’s action north of the city was intended as a distraction.
Vicksburg, the city on the bluffs 300 feet above the Mississippi River, was almost impregnable. Its artillery batteries, high on the Walnut Hills overlooking a wide stretch of the river, could simply blow any hostile ship out of the water. It also had tremendous strategic importance; as long as it commanded the Mississippi, the Confederacy had free access to Texas, the West, and the rest of the world, and it denied the Union free access to New Orleans from the northern states. Abraham Lincoln said,
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