bob lawblaw
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Playing a couple of strategic-level ACW games (specifically For the People and The US Civil War), I'm consistently struck by this question.

From a game perspective, once the Union has captured Memphis and the areas of Western Tennessee, it seems logical to ahistorically march down the Eastern side of the Mississippi in order to capture the Vicksburg area. River crossing rules may be slightly different from title to title, but both games I've played (and I'm assuming the same would be true in other designs) make it very difficult/impossible to attack Vicksburg from across the river directly, and very time/resource consuming to work your forces around across the river either above or below like Grant did historically. This part seems to be well-represented from my understanding of the history - taking Vicksburg from the West should be a chore.

So then why would Grant approach from that direction then and not just come down the Eastern side of the river?

Hypotheses:
Actual real-life factors that aren't well-abstracted in game form?
Error in judgement?
Something else I'm missing entirely?
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Peter Lloyd
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Grant tried a more direct approach initially. That didn't work very well. Then the strategy became to go down the west side of the river, cross over then come back up. That split Confederate focus and turned the army facing Butler. The drive on Johnson pocketed the army in Vicksburg.

I think the short answer is that the Confederacy could oppose Grant on a narrow front, but not on wide one, or on 2 fornts
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Judd Vance
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Wichita
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A marsh-like terrain north of Vicksburg: it was defensible for the rebels and difficult to maneuver for the Union. He tried that approach and failed. He tried many approaches before the brilliant and gutsy southern approach.

If you ever get to Vicksburg, they explain it well. If you ever get a chance to play Mississippi Fortress, it will become crystal clear.
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bob lawblaw
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Thanks for the insights! I was aware of the marshy areas to the North, they are even terrain marked in The US Civil War, but it still seemed like swinging around that area to the east was easier than the balancing act of crossing a large force over-river. I had certainly forgot about Butler further South and the split of focus there when the situation isn't being considered in isolation.
 
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Brian Morris
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Raytown
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Keep in mind the question of logistics. Supplying armies in the field in the civil war took a lot of effort. While in the east most of the rivers ran west to east and thus were barriers, in the west the Mississippi and the Tennessee rivers ran north to south making them wonderful for using river boats to supply Union armies moving south.

Staying close to the Mississippi gave Grant a much better supply route than he would have over land to the east. It also gave him the option of getting supply from the north or the south via New Orleans.
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Sam Smith
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I've literally just been reading about the abortive attempts to get to Vburg on the eastern side of the Mississipi in Bruce Catton's excellent "This Hallowed Ground" - recommended. One attempt was to get by boat to the Yazoo River and thence on down but it was a nightmare maze of swamps and narrow river channels which the Confederates could easily block - the flotilla started to get really nervous when they could hear trees being felled to block the route behind them as well as ahead.

At this stage (Winter '62) my understanding is that the aim was to establish a route through which troops AND subsequent supplies could flow. The way Catton tells it, I think a key change in Grant's/Union subsequent thinking in the Spring was that he didn't need an orderly supply chain - if he could run the gauntlet, get downriver below Vburg and then land and move East his army could live off the land long enough to isolate the fortress.
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Pete Belli
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Florida
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Quote:
...why was Grant approaching Vicksburg from the Western side of the Mississippi in the first place?


Blame a lustful officer named Earl Van Dorn.

When Grant tried marching down the railroad in the general direction of Vicksburg the Confederate cavalry led by Van Dorn wreck the massive Union supply depot at Holly Springs. This was late in 1862.

Grant had no choice but to withdraw. However, the experience he gained by watching his hungry soldiers "living off the land" in Mississippi planted the seed of an idea that blossomed when Grant cut loose from his river supply line in 1863 and swept into the city of Jackson to isolate Vicksburg.
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Owen Edwards
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Alongside the other fine insights above, especially from Judd and Pete, add this: Grant was forced to ingenuity by getting beat over and over. Vicksburg wasn't an easy campaign - it took about 7 months! It involved at least two clear defeats in the field plus several failed schemes. Even Champion Hill could have gone the other way, leaving Grant to retreat north. Pemberton wasn't quite so useless, especially when given the natural advantages of the terrain to the north of Vicksburg.
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Robert Stuart
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Decades ago I read Grant's autobiography, and as I recall he explains his thinking very well. It's pure genius. As several people have mentioned, the region just north of Vicksburg, on the eastern side of the Mississippi, was dreadful swamp land. Grant could have approached Vicksburg by swinging further East, against Jackson, and then swinging West against Vicksburg -- but he would have been driving the Confederate forces back upon themselves, making them stronger as he advanced. His march west and south of Vicksburg, followed by his drive to Jackson once he had crossed the Mississippi from the western side, split the Confederate forces, rather than driving them towards each other, and isolated Pemberton in Vicksburg.
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Alan Sutton
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Moruya
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This is a lovely thread which answers a lot of questions I had about this campaign when first reading about it. As someone says above, Catton is really good on this battle.

Actually, I just had The Road To Vicksburg: The Battle of Champion Hill rules on the table last night.

Thanks for your insights Geeks.

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