The canal don’t amount to much. — William T. Sherman

On June 27, 1862, a 3,000-man infantry brigade under the command of Brigadier General Thomas Williams began working on what would become known as “Grant’s Canal.” The goal of this endeavor was to create a channel that would bypass the Confederate batteries at Vicksburg; some also believed that the new channel could catch enough of the current’s force to cause the river to change course and leave Vicksburg high dry. Soon after work commenced, disease began to spread through the ranks bringing with it dysentery, malaria and fevers to the men. Heat exhaustion and sun stroke also became the enemy. Williams would write:

The labor of making this cut is far greater than estimated by anybody. The health of the troops has been much impaired by the absence of proper shelter. The quarters on board the transports are hot and crowded and those on shore are no protection against rain. 

Williams would add to his dwindling workforce reporting:

Between 1,100 and 1,200 blacks, gathered from neighboring plantations by armed parties, are now engaged in the work of excavating, cutting down trees, and grubbing up roots.


The Milwaukee Civil War Round Table is proud to welcome our speaker for the May meeting, Dave Bastian, author of Grant’s Canal: The Union’s Attempt to Bypass Vicksburg (Available on Amazon). Mr. Bastian has given his presentations to over 80 Civil War Round Tables. The presentation is based upon his book and will cover the two Union campaigns against Vicksburg, specifically the efforts to divert the Mississippi River away from Vicksburg by digging a canal across the narrow bend opposite the town. The evening’s presentation will explore Vicksburg’s geographical importance and the topographical characteristics that made it so defensible. As a civil engineer who lived in Vicksburg, Dave understands the river and how close the Union came in succeeding. Had they succeeded, Vicksburg would no longer have been an important target. This was an engineering project — diverting the Mighty Mississippi — an engineering solution to a military problem. Mr. Bastian has a degree in Civil Engineering from Georgia Tech and a Master’s degree from Delft University in the Netherlands. He was a delegate to the tri-national Commission for the Study of Alternatives to the Panama Canal that produced the feasibility study for the Canal’s current enlargement. More recently, Dave has worked on the post-Katrina levee rebuild in New Orleans and co-authored a book that comes out this May: New Orleans, Hurricanes from the Start.