New book traces Grant's route to Vicksburg

By Mary Foster/The Associated Press

Before William Tecumseh Sherman’s famous Civil War march to the sea in Georgia, the Union general joined Gen. Ulysses Grant’s siege of Vicksburg, a series of battles that effectively severed the Confederacy’s western states and firmed up Union control of the Mississippi River.

The battles, which began Nov. 2, 1862, included a series of skirmishes through Mississippi and Louisiana, which a new book highlights with a tour of the route Grant and his army took to get to Vicksburg.

President Abraham Lincoln called Vicksburg a key to victory over the Confederacy.

The battles in Mississippi are well known. Grant’s lesser-known march to Vicksburg through Louisiana is the subject of David Dumas’ new book, “Major General U.S. Grant’s March in Louisiana.”

“I’ve always been interested in that whole area,” said Dumas, a retired professor of geophysics and amateur historian who has studied the Vicksburg campaign for 30 years. “It’s so rich in history, but people don’t know a lot about Grant’s march.”

Civil War buffs are familiar with the 1,800-acre Vicksburg National Military Park, which bills itself as having the most battlefield monuments in the nation, with more than 1,300. The park also has the largest National Military Cemetery of Union dead, with 17,000 graves, attesting to the difficulty that capturing the Mississippi River town presented.

“It’s our main draw,” said Bill Seratt, executive director of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, “There are about a million visitors to the military park each year.”

In his book, Dumas concentrates on the route, which includes about 60 miles on the Louisiana side of the river, that Grant and his army marched through.

“With the smaller Civil War sites, people can pass them and never know they’re there,” Dumas said. “This book will help them find the places Grant visited.”

Following failures to capture the city in the Battle of Chickasaw Bluffs, the Yazoo Pass Expedition and Steele’s Bayou Expedition, Grant prepared to cross his troops from the west bank of the Mississippi River to a point south of Vicksburg and attack the city from the south and east.

“By the end of March (1863), Grant had made up his mind that he would march down the western side of the river to get his army below Vicksburg,” Dumas writes. “Much of the march would be through land still submerged with only the levees above fold stage.”

“Much of the march would be through land still submerged with only the levees above flood stage,” Dumas writes.

But he says, “since that time the river has changed course and much of the route taken by Grant remains above flood stage year-round.”

The guide offers detailed driving directions to each of the sites, including mileage, GPS coordinates, photographs and official records of the march. It also includes the writings of Grant and other officers on the march.

“I hope it opens up another bit of the region’s history,” Dumas said.

Confederate troops under Lt. Gen. John Pemberton surrendered to Union forces on July 4. Combined with the Union victory at Gettysburg the same month, the loss at Vicksburg was a blow the Confederacy never recovered from.

The book is published by Author House and sells for $23.88