A BGES Civil War Field University Program:
September 18-22, 2018
With Parker Hills from Vicksburg, MS
The battle at Port Gibson sent shock waves through the Confederacy. Even as Lee was turning to meet Joseph Hooker’s turning movement in the Wilderness of Virginia telegraphic messages from the governor of Mississippi sought relief from the impending blue juggernaut. Things would not get any better for the Confederates.
Bamboozled by Grant’s deceptive maneuvers, Confederate commanders John C. Pemberton near Vicksburg and Joseph E. Johnston scrambled to respond. Pemberton still held a substantial and strong position with his southern flank anchored on Redbone Ridge. It was widely assumed that Grant would come directly at Vicksburg and that the defenses would prove as daunting as those around Chickasaw Bluffs and Walnut Hills to the north. They had not a clue.
Grant had made a key decision to disregard orders to support General Banks in Louisiana and he had a couple of weeks to make something happen before guidance from Washington clipped his wings. He would make the most of it. This program will follow Grant’s planning and actions as he establishes his new supply base at Grand Gulf and fans out on a wide front moving each of his three corps along separate routes. This is the art of command and the odds are not even–Grant against Johnston and Pemberton, a decisive commander facing two dithering and indecisive officers. Pemberton under preemptive orders to hold Vicksburg and Johnston whose Fabian mindset will not let him fight battles nor work with the political leadership to achieve national objectives. Grant will tackle both and eliminate one during this pivotal period in the Vicksburg Campaign.
Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Meet at the Hampton Inn at 6:30 PM to pick up your reading books and enjoy the hospitality hour at the hotel that starts at 5 PM. At 7, we will adjourn to the meeting room for an opening lecture. Parker takes great pride in his PowerPoint presentations and it shows. His lecture will bring you up to date on the campaign thus far tying it into the greater geopolitical considerations and detailing the operations and diversions Grant constructed for this plan. We will enjoy pizza and other snacks during his lecture.
Wednesday, September 19, 2018
8:00 A.M. Understanding the terrain is critical and we start this program with a trip to Bayou Pierre on the Grand Gulf Road. Here we will talk about the delays the Confederates tossed into Grant’s path and how Grant overcame them. The rewards for his efforts were significant and we will detail them as Grant moves inland to Grindstone Ford.
We have discovered a “must experience” luncheon in Lorman where a kindly gentleman makes the best country southern buffet we’ve ever had. Mr. Ds has become a BGES staple over the years with fresh (never frozen) fried chicken and pork chops, delicious vegetables and fresh peach cobbler with ice cream. The venue would never attract you otherwise but it has been featured in Southern Living and National Geographic, plus numerous food and travel magazines–after one trip you will know why.
Returning to the road, we will follow the inward trek of Grant’s troops to Willow Springs–the key to Grand Gulf that will become Grant’s commissary. The discussion of the provisioning of Grant’s force is a key to understanding his ultimate success. While Lee is advising President Davis and his cabinet that Grant cannot sustain his army during the malarial summer months, Grant is planning to do precisely that.
Moving along the Grand Gulf Scenic Byway we will head to Kennison Creek and discuss an engagement between Marcel Crocker’s division and Monroe Cockrell’s & Stephen Lee’s brigades. We will then travel to Grand Gulf to establish the supply depot before taking a beautiful drive back to Vicksburg where we will arrive in time for happy hour. We provide lunch with dinner on your own.
Thursday, September 20, 2018
8 AM: Having established the means to support his operations with a secure supply line, Grant moves all his forces to advance against the railroad feeding Vicksburg. With John McClernand at the tip of the spear and the youthful and inexperienced James B. McPherson on the extreme right, Grant is ready to sweep ahead. Moving to Rocky Springs we will discuss Grant’s concentration of forces that occurred between May 7th and 10th. We will move inland passing through Reganton, Utica, Week’s Farm and Roach Plantation before pausing at Lebanon Church. From this point we will march with McPherson to Raymond on the morning of May 12th, 1863.
Following lunch in Raymond, we will travel to Dillon Plantation on the Natchez Trace where Grant receives intelligence that will change the character of the campaign he has conducted to this point. The balance of the afternoon will bring Sherman and McClernand forward to within striking distance of the railroad. You will visit obscure but significant sites such as Cayuga, Whitaker’s Ford and Fourteenmile Creek where both McClernand and Sherman will cross after being briefly challenge in a short firefight.
Today is the key to understanding why Hills is the master of the campaign. Ed Bearss may have written the script; however, BGES and Hills have brought the reality of operations in 1863 to the long forgotten but preserved sites extant 155 years later. It is a reward for the most diligent Civil War buffs among you.
We will return to the hotel in time for Happy hour. We will provide lunch. You’ll have dinner on your own
Friday, September 21, 2018
8 AM: One of the great preservation successes of modern times is the reclamation of the Raymond battlefield from the farm fields and woods of central Mississippi and Parker Hills is the man who did that. The relatively small battle at Raymond had major ramifications for the ensuing campaign. We will devote today to that battle.
This is a site where the vast majority of the battlefield has been saved and interpreted with even more coming. BGES played a major role in this effort sponsoring the majority of the reproduction cannons that adorn the field. Raymond is the only battlefield in the nation with one piece of artillery positioned where every piece of artillery was placed on May 12, 1863. The display of 23 pieces including the 4 Confederate guns are of the same type and location as those present during the battle and artillery ridge is featured in a stunning photograph in the National Geographic publication The Civil War, A Travelers Guide.
The battlefield is a continuing work in progress with considerable archeology revealing new insights into where the battle was actually fought. Hills has been at the forefront of all this new scholarship and you will benefit from it all while seeing dramatic artifacts recovered from the fields in front of you.
The battle is detailed in a BGES monograph, Confusion Compounded, written by the late historian Warren Grabau. We will provide you with a copy of that publication. While the field is not a large one, as battles go, the different components that have been uncovered over the past 15 years make this site the crown jewel of the campaign. It is a part of the NPS’ master plan to expand the Vicksburg NMP and work is underway to absorb Raymond into the park system.
We will finish the day at the Confederate cemetery in Raymond before returning to Vicksburg for Happy hour. We provide lunch, while you can get dinner on your own.
Saturday, September 22, 2018
As you learned on Thursday, the intelligence that Grant received while at Dillon’s plantation about the engagement at Raymond influenced his strategy. Rather than go directly at the railroad, Grant now determines that Joe Johnston is a problem that must be disposed of before he can complete his Vicksburg masterpiece. Departing again at 8 AM we will head to Waverly House in Raymond to discuss McPherson’s occupation of the town and Grant’s visit. We then pick up the route of the defeated Confederate General John Gregg’s troops to their campsite. This dots the I to Raymond and we now turn to Joe Johnston’s force lurking in and around Jackson.
Johnston is the theater commander but has become the focus of President Davis’ attention as he cobbles together an “Army of Relief.” Johnston believes that Pemberton is being hemmed in and would rather free him to maneuver in the open countryside even if it means abandoning Vicksburg. This of course is in direct opposition to the preemptory directions Pemberton has from Davis to hold Vicksburg at all hazards. Davis believes the closure of the Mississippi River is working to the political advantage of the Confederacy and is worth the potential risk. Johnston believes that holding fixed geographic positions is wasteful.
Johnston is expected to relieve the pressure on Pemberton and Davis is seeking to find more troops to help him do that. Lee has released troops from the coastal regions of South Carolina and Georgia but believes that if he sends Longstreet west that his own plans to move into Pennsylvania will be ruined. He has also formed a negative view of Johnston’s battlefield management and thinks his detached troops would not be well used by “Old Joe”–he is right.
As Grant turns to Jackson and Johnston, Joe is already planning to yield in the face of any attention given by Grant. We will bring Sherman to a position overlooking the lightly manned earthworks west of Jackson and will discuss the Battle of Jackson on May 14th, such as it is. En route to lunch we will follow McPherson’s advance to Clinton. Afterwards we will go to Jackson to see the Confederate defenses and then travel to the Old Capitol where we will summarize Johnston’s impact on Grant’s operations. Our final stop will be in Madison, Mississippi at the Chapel of the Cross where Johnston withdraws from the support of Pemberton. Here we will talk about Johnston after Jackson before returning to Vicksburg where we gather at Rowdy’s for our longstanding tradition of a Catfish dinner to wrap the programs in this series. You can leave at your leisure. We will say “later” and look forward to greeting many of you again for Parts 5 and 6 in 2019. Lunch and dinner are provided.
About the Faculty:
Parker Hills is the nation’s leading historian on the Vicksburg Campaign and a scholar of some note on the Gettysburg Campaign. He has a well earned reputation for the highest standards of preparation on tours and the exceptional educational value of his content. Being with Hills is like taking a senior military service school course in which you will surely leave with far more knowledge than when you arrived. Parker is a graduate of the US Army War College and he is in high demand from businesses and military organizations that want his leadership training. Hills is the founder of BattleFocus and is a retired general officer who served on both active duty as a battery commander in Korea, and as an aide to General of the Army Omar Bradley. He was the Director of Public Affairs for the Mississippi National Guard and he founded the Regional Counter Drug Training Academy in Meridian, Mississippi. Parker is the co-author of Receding Tide, Vicksburg and Gettysburg, The Campaigns that Changed the Civil War. Parker has also published the Vicksburg Campaign Driving Guide and The Art of Commemoration–a book that reveals the symbolism and beauty of the commemorative memorialization at the Vicksburg park. He is also the driving force for Civil War preservation in the state of Mississippi and largely through his efforts the Raymond Battlefield Park exists. He is in high demand and his programs cost a little more; but, you will quickly see that they are well worth it.
We are negotiating with the Hampton Inn on Clay Street Vicksburg and will set aside a block of rooms there at a special rate. We will make a separate announcement when the block is set up and open for reservations.
The closest servicing airport is Jackson (JAN). You can get much better airfare flying into New Orleans (MSY) and driving the 150 miles to the program. There is no public or hired transportation between Vicksburg and Jackson–thus you will need a rental car. This is a program where driving is a great option. Amtrak does service Jackson, Mississippi.
Key Publications and Recommended Reading
You will be provided with a reading book and maps upon arrival. We recommend the following books to enhance your preparation for this tour. Amazon.com has a program to support non profits IF YOU SIGN UP to support Blue and Gray Education Society (EIN 54-1720582) at AmazonSmile. When you sign up there rather than the normal Amazon site one half of one percent of your purchase price is provided to BGES as a donation from Amazon. This will apply not only on this purchase but others you may make at other times.
You will be provided with a reading book and maps upon arrival. The following books are suggested to enhance your readiness for the program. If you register with AmazonSmile using the following link, BGES will receive a portion of the purchase price of any books you purchase through that portal.
- Edwin C. Bearss: Vicksburg is the Key This volume is out of print and can be had on the secondary market for prices up to and above $75
- Edwin C. Bearss and James P. Hills: Receding Tide: Vicksburg and Gettysburg, The Campaigns that Changed the Civil War $30
Registration includes four lunches, one dinner, a welcoming reception, nightly happy hours, a reading book with maps, the academic program, support of a professional historian, tour director, all admissions and transportation. We will also provide snacks, bottled water and a limited selection of sodas.
Register for this program online using our secure Sutler’s Tent ecommerce site: Register for Grant Disposes of Johnston: Part 4 of Our Signature Vicksburg Campaign Study.
Register by mail, or fax
Download a printable itinerary and registration form.