The rebels gallantly defended the linchpin of the confederacy, but they couldn’t hold it forever.
No less an authority Confederacy than its only president, Jefferson Davis, once described Vicksburg, Mississippi, as “the nailhead that held the South’s two halves together.” His counter- part in Washington, Abraham Lincoln, said: “Vicksburg is on the the key. The war can never be brought to a close until the key is in our pocket.”
Union and Confederate military brass were equally convinced of the city’s importance—and one look at its dominat ing position atop a series of steep hills and bluffs defending a hairpin turn in the Mississippi River explains why. It was also an important hub on the Southern Mississippi and Vicksburg & Texas rail roads. As soon as the war began, strate gists on both sides started wrangling over plans to either seize or defend Vicksburg.
Major General Ulysses S. Grant began his quest for the city in October 1862, but early attempts to attack it from land or water failed. They resulted in little more than additional casualties for the Federals, and increased pressure on Grant—who was already feeling the heat from above and below. He spent the rest of the winter trying to keep his army intact and occupied while he attempted to construct a plan for eliminating the last obstacle that stood in the way of Union control of the Mississippi.
By the spring of 1863, Grant was ready to test his conviction that the only way to crack Vicksburg was to bypass its formidable batteries by marching down the Louisiana side of the river and crossing south of the city. A tip from a local resident caused him to settle on Bruinsburg, Miss., as his landing point, and 24,000 Federals—Maj. Gen. John A. McClernand’s XIII Corps and two divisions from Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson’s XVII Corps—finally gained the east bank of the Mississippi there starting on April 30. Major General William T. Sherman’s XV Corps would cross shortly after.
Over the next few weeks, the Federals steadily built momentum as they penetrated deeper into Mississippi, winning battles at Port Gibson and Raymond. On May 14, Grant successfully captured the capital, Jackson, and prevented General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate forces from joining the Vicksburg defenders under Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton. The Federals then turned their attention west, toward their final goal.
May 16 was one of the most crucial days of the campaign. Roughly halfway between Jackson and Vicksburg at Champion Hill, some 23,000 Confederates under Pemberton attempted to halt the Federal progress, and a bloody day of attack and counterattack ensued. Ultimately the Confederates were forced to fall back toward their citadel on the river. A smaller battle took place at the Big Black River near Edwards, with the same result. By May 18, the Federal forces were gathering outside Vicksburg and the siege of the city had begun.
The following is excerpted from Edwin C. Bearss’ Fields of Honor: Pivotal Battles of the Civil War, with permission from the National Geographic Society. Copyright © 2006 Edwin Cole Bearss.
Union morale is sky high. They have beaten the Confederates in five battles in 17 days. On the 16th they mauled Pemberton’s field army at Champion Hill. They routed the Confederates at Big Black Bridge. In these battles they inflicted more than 7,000 casualties on the foe, captured 65 cannon, and drove the Confederates back into Vicksburg, which seems ripe for plucking. The soldiers want to end it quick. Grant knows what a hot long summer on the river might do. Yellow jack—mosquito borne yellow fever—or something equally atrocious might attack the Union forces. With scant preparation, Grant schedules an attack for the afternoon of May 19. The only serious fighting will be in the Stockade Redan section.
Stockade Redan is the strong point guarding the northeast approach to Vicksburg. Entering the Vicksburg works topping the ridge separating the head waters of Mint Spring Bayou from the headwaters of Glass Bayou is Graveyard Road. Located here is Stockade Redan. Fronting Stockade Redan is a ditch or dry moat. Why is it called Stockade Redan? Across Graveyard Road is a poplar log stockade through which wagons can egress and ingress. To the west is the 27th Louisiana Redan, fronted by Mint Spring Bayou. Connecting the strong points are rifle pits. The Confederates here are fresh troops. They include the 36th Mississippi and 27th Louisiana.
Early on the 19th an event occurs that Sherman cites in his memoirs. When Maj. Gen. Frederick Steele’s division advances and secures Bell Smith Ridge, bounding Mint Spring Bayou on the north, driving in Rebel skirmishers, they sight smoke of Union transports and gunboats on the lower Yazoo River. They yell, “Hardtack! Hardtack!” Sherman recalls that the soldiers are tired of their diet of freshly slaughtered meat. He’ll turn to Grant and say, “You were right and I was wrong, because I thought you made a mistake when you marched south to cross the Mississippi rather than returning to Memphis and resuming the march down the railroad.”
This day you don’t want to be in Frank Blair’s division. It’s been a good division to be in so far. The men saw only skirmishing at Champion Hill, and they’ve seen no other action since their April 30–May 1 demonstration against Snyder’s Bluff. Blair gives his orders to attack. They’re going to have little or no artillery preparation. Col. Thomas Kilby Smith’s brigade guides on Graveyard Road. One of his regiments, the 55th Illinois, is led by Col. Oscar Malmborg, a heavy-drinking Swedish soldier of fortune. He’s unpopular with his men.
On the ridges to the north Col. Giles A. Smith forms up his brigade. Among his units is a battalion of the 13th U.S. Infantry led by Capt. Edward Washington. The ravines where Mint Spring Bayou heads are filled with felled timber. Off to the northwest, on the far side of Mint Spring Bayou, there is the brigade led by Brig. Gen. Hugh Ewing, a friend of Stonewall Jackson back in today’s West Virginia. His men are new to the western army. They include the 37th and 47th Ohio and 4th West Virginia, veterans who have seen much action in western Virginia, and the 30th Ohio, which stood tall in the Antietam campaign. These newcomers with their kepis and paper collars are called “bandbox” soldiers by battered-hat wearing and raggedy-assed Westerners.
At 2 p.m. when Blair gives the word to attack, his men raise a “Huzzah!” They come forward in line of battle, elbow touching elbow. The second rank a step and a half behind the first, and then the file closers. As Kilby Smith’s people come under fire, the men enter the abatis on the left and right of Graveyard Road. In the abatis they get hung up in the felled timber. They halt, re-form, and drive forward. They reach a spur and a handful of men—mostly from the 83rd Indiana— dash forward and jump into the ditch. Those on the spur are pinned down. Unable to advance any closer to the Rebel works, they volley fire.
In the 55th Illinois is Drummer Orion Howe, a 14-year-old from Waukegan. Howe is a musician, young and agile. The soldiers fire up their ammunition fast, and they send men to the rear for more. Howe is among these volunteers. While sprinting along Graveyard Road, the lad is struck in the leg by a minié ball. Undaunted, he continues on his hazardous mission. Staggering up to a mounted Sherman, Howe informs the general of the crucial shortage of cartridges at the front. Impressed by the lad’s gallantry, the War Department awarded Howe the Medal of Honor on Sherman’s recommendation. He thus became one of the youngest recipients of the nation’s highest award for heroism.
Giles Smith’s line of advance is at a right angle to Kilby Smith’s. Surging first downward and then upward through felled timber, the bluecoats close on Stockade Redan’s north face. Particularly hard hit is the 1st Battalion, 13th U.S. Infantry. Among those out front is Color Sgt. James E. Brown. He is mortally wounded, and four others will likewise be cut down as they seek to advance the national colors. Battalion commander Washington is mortally wounded. Capt. Thomas Ewing, a Sherman brother-in-law, and ten men reach the ditch fronting the redan, but this is the Regulars’ high tide. Sherman calls the battalion’s performance “unequaled in the Army,” and authorizes the 13th to sew “First at Vicksburg” onto its colors.
The “bandbox” soldiers of Hugh Ewing’s brigade charge the 27th Louisiana Lunette, and it “looked for a while as if they would stay.” But in the end their battle line “went down in a windrow.” Grant’s May 19 assault has failed. Union casualties number 919, two-thirds of them belonging to Blair’s division. Confederate losses may have reached 200. Grant and his soldiers, much to their surprise, found that the Confederates, fighting behind earthworks, had recovered their self-confidence. It is evident that Vicksburg will not be captured by a poorly organized and uncoordinated attack.
Grant is determined to break through the Confederate lines. He gives his generals two days to plan an assault with all their forces to be carried out on May 22. Grant secures the cooperation of Admiral David Porter’s gunboats, which will bom bard the city’s defenses from the river. The day’s action will begin with a four hour bombardment. As dawn breaks on the 22nd, the guns open fire.
Grant’s May 22 assault takes place in three sectors in this order: McPherson’s corps attacks north and south of Jackson Road, Sherman’s centering on Graveyard Road, and McClernand’s south of the railroad. It will be an all-out assault. Grant has massed some 40,000 troops, and it will be up to the corps commanders how they will employ their soldiers. The plan is that at 6 o’clock in the morn ing all Union cannon will open fire. The bombardment will cease at 10 a.m. and be followed by the attack. Officers have synchronized their watches, perhaps a first.
On McPherson’s front, General Logan attacks with two brigades. John E. Smith’s forms in the ravine east of the Shirley House. The 23rd Indiana will lead the attack. When the artillery ceases fire, the Hoosiers come out of the ravine and onto Jackson Road in a column by eights. The Yankees surge onward, and as they pass through the deep cut, 100 yards west of the Third Louisiana Redan, the Rebels open fire and they take cover in the hollow north of the road. The Indianans are staggered. The regiment following the Hoosiers, the 20th Illinois, hunkers down in the ravine south of the road, and Smith’s attack is over. Out of Smith’s five regiments, he has engaged two.
John Stevenson is made of sterner stuff; he deploys as skirmishers the 17th Illinois in the hollow fronting Great Redoubt. When the artillery ceases fire, these units are to form into columns of assault. In the right column, eight abreast, are the 7th Missouri and 32nd Ohio. The left column, 200 yards to their left, includes the 8th and 81st Illinois. They start up the slope. The Rebels open fire. Men drop and they recoil into the hollow. Union artillery again hammers Great Redoubt. The order forward comes, and screened by skirmishers, the two columns again move up the slope. Col. James J. Dollins of the 81st Illinois is shot down and the left column breaks and recoils.
The right column, spearheaded by the 7th Missouri, seems invincible as the regiment climbs the slope. An Irish regiment, the Missourians carry an emerald green flag. The vanguard, with a final desperate lunge, leap into the ditch fronting the redoubt and discover that their scaling ladders are too short. An engineer had goofed estimating the height from the bottom of the ditch to the top of the superior slope as 12 feet when it is 17. Trapped in the ditch, their advance is turned back with heavy losses.
Brig. Gen. Isaac F. Quinby now leads Colonel Marcellus M. Crocker’s division, and he proves to be a timid soul. When his men cross a ridge 300 yards east of the Rebel works, they encounter a storm of canister and musketry and retire back having lost less than a dozen men. Of McPherson’s 32 regiments present only 7 have been seriously engaged—underscoring that perhaps as a combat commander McPherson’s leadership at Raymond had not been an aberration.
As it was on May 19, Sherman’s XV Corps today is on McPherson’s right. Less than 72 hours earlier the Confederates had savaged Blair’s people in the abatis-choked ravines flanking Graveyard Road. So Sherman comes up with a “better idea.” A call goes out to Blair’s division for 150 volunteers, 50 from each of his three brigades. They are designated the “Forlorn Hope.” They will go forward carrying debris and scaling ladders. They will sling their rifle-muskets because they are going to come down the Graveyard Road eight abreast and they are not going to halt and fire. They will fill the ditch with the debris. The people coming behind are to charge over the debris and into the works. Following the Forlorn Hope is the brigade commanded by General Ewing in column by eights: the 30th Ohio, 37th Ohio, 4th West Virginia, and 47th Ohio. Behind them in the same formation are Blair’s other two brigades. Behind them are Brig. Gen. James Tuttle’s three brigades. You’ve got a battering ram that beats all battering rams. Almost 10,000 men, eight abreast, extending back along Graveyard Road for more than a mile.
The bombardment ceases at 10 a.m. Ewing looks at Capt. John Gorce, commanding the Forlorn Hope. Gorce bellows “Forward!” Pvt. Howell Trogden carries Ewing’s headquarters flag, and down the road they come. The Confederate works are enveloped in dust and smoke. The Yanks hope that the artillery has solved everything. You hear the shuffling of their feet. When they reach the Graveyard Road cut, 100 yards from Stockade Redan, the dust and smoke clears, and a terrible sight appears: Rebels in two ranks come into view. They fire a crashing volley. Dead and wounded fall. Gorce and Trogden get into the ditch with a handful of men and plant Ewing’s headquarters flag on the exterior slope.
Up comes the 30th Ohio. The Buckeyes see dead and wounded sprawled in the cut. They enter the cut and suffer a fate similar to the Forlorn Hope. Dead and wounded are cut down, and a handful of men surge onward and reach the ditch. Now comes the 37th Ohio, raised from in and around Toledo. The men enter the cut, see dead and wounded, freeze, and either go to ground or take cover in the ravines to the left and right. Col. Lewis von Blessing and Sgt. Maj. Lewis Sebastian, in a futile effort to get the attack moving, employ their swords upon the shirkers’ backsides.
Sherman’s attack is stymied. He has only committed the Forlorn Hope and the 30th and 37th Ohio. Sherman will do nothing more until noon. Grant has joined him. Here Grant receives a message from General McClernand reporting, “We have part possession of two forts, and the stars and stripes are floating over them.” Grant believes McClernand is exaggerating. But he can’t let the opportunity pass. So he orders the attack renewed. General Quinby sends his division to reinforce McClernand at the Railroad Redoubt and the Second Texas Lunette, and Sherman will again assail Stockade Redan as well as the earthwork west and south of that salient angle, where the Missouri monument now stands.
Sherman launches four attacks during the afternoon. They are piecemeal and uncoordinated. At 1 p.m. Brig. Gen. Thomas E.G. Ransom’s brigade, of McPherson’s XVII Corps on Sherman’s left spearheaded by the 14th and 17th Wisconsin and 72nd Illinois, charges up and out of the north prong of Glass Bayou. They close on the enemy’s works but are thrown back. About a half hour later the brigades of Giles Smith and Kilby Smith are repulsed. Let’s try what we did in the morning: Send another column down Graveyard Road. Let’s do it with Brig. Gen. Joe Mower, he’s a helluva fighter, and commands the famed Eagle Brigade. “Old Abe,” the 8th Wisconsin’s war eagle, is a much honored bird, but never soared above a battlefield because he is chained to his perch, which is carried next to the colors.
The brigade comes forward in column by eights. The 11th Missouri, Col. Andrew Weber commanding, leads off, followed respectively by the 47th Illinois, 8th Wisconsin, and 5th Minnesota. A handful of men accompanied by Colonel Weber of the 11th Missouri gain the ditch fronting Stockade Redan, and now two flags fly on the exterior slope of that work. Just as Old Abe enters the cut and is about to be blasted into eternity, Sherman looks at Mower, Mower looks at him, and they suspend the attack.
At 4 o’clock, at a point three-quarters of a mile west of Stockade Redan, General Steele finally gets his men into position. Up the steep slope they charge, but are repulsed. Sherman’s May 22 attack has failed.
On McClernand’s front to the south, the initial Yankee assaults against Second Texas Lunette and Railroad Redoubt fare better.
Railroad Redoubt juts out in front of the Confederate works. It is garrisoned by a detachment of the 30th Alabama, commanded by Col. Charles M. Shelley, one of five regiments in S.D. Lee’s Alabama Brigade. Two cannon are emplaced in the work. To the north of the railroad, the Second Texas defends the lunette that bears the regiment’s name.
McClernand has six brigades available for his attack. He places Eugene Asa Carr in command of the four brigades on the right. Carr assigns the brigades under Brig. Gens. Stephen Burbridge and William P. Benton to attack the Texans, and the two led by Mike Lawler and Col. William Landram to assail Railroad Redoubt.
Col. George Bailey’s 99th Illinois heads Benton’s column as it emerges from the ravine fronting today’s visitor center and crosses Baldwin’s Ferry Road. Bailey strides along in his shirtsleeves. Alongside him is one of his color bearers, Cpl. Thomas J. Higgins. Higgins rushes into the Rebel fire and doesn’t look back. He goes into the foe’s works and Texas Capt. A.J. Hurley pulls him in, grabs his chest, and inquires, “Are you wearing a bulletproof vest? My men are good shots. They were shooting at you.” Higgins looks around. Where in the hell are his friends? He looks to the rear and sees that Bailey and the rest of the 99th have gone to ground.
But on come many more Yanks and after a desperate struggle finally gain the ditch fronting Second Texas Lunette. The lunette’s interior traverses are bales of cotton, and they catch fire. The Federals seek to crawl through the cannon embrasures. The Confederates throw them back. You’ve got bluecoats in the ditch and the Texans in the lunette. The Chicago Mercantile Battery under Capt. Patrick White, who along with five of his cannoneers become recipients of the Medal of Honor, push a brass six-pounder to within ten yards of the works. They begin pumping shots into the lunette.
South of the railroad a dozen Iowans led by Sgts. Joseph Griffith and Nicholas Messenger fight their way into Railroad Redoubt and drive the Rebels out. The Confederates counterattack. Hiding behind a traverse is Lt. J.M. Pearson and a score of Alabamians. Capt. H.P. Oden leads about 15 counterattacking Alabamians. As they enter the work, they see both Yanks and Rebels. The Johnnies are crouched down. Oden screams at Pearson, “Why in the hell ain’t you fighting?” The Iowans fire. Oden and most of his men are killed or wounded in falling back. Pearson and his men ground arms and surrender.
The Iowans plant their colors in the redoubt and are soon reinforced by soldiers of the 77th Illinois. Unlike McPherson and Sherman, who have many men on the field but not in contact with the foe, McClernand and Carr have all their men engaged. They have no reserves to exploit the situation. The Confederates have reserves, the men of Brig. Gen. John S. Bowen’s division. Bowen sends Colonel Francis M. Cockrell’s Missourians to support the Stockade Redan defenders, and Brig. Gen. Martin E. Green’s brigade to bolster the Texans at the lunette. This leads to a stalemate on McClernand’s front.
To break the impasse, McPherson sends Quinby’s division. Instead of deploying the fresh division as a unit, McClernand breaks it up. Col. John C. Sanborn’s brigade rushes to support Benton and Burbridge at Second Texas Lunette. Col. George B. Boomer is to reinforce Lawler and Landram at Railroad Redoubt. Col. Samuel Holmes goes to Square Fort to help Brig. Gen. Peter J. Osterhaus’ division.
It’s 3 p.m. and yes, the Yanks still hold Railroad Redoubt and are in the ditch fronting Second Texas Lunette. The Confederates see Boomer forming his men. Brigade commander S.D. Lee knows he’d better drive those Yankees out of the Redoubt, or Boomer’s bluecoats might punch through the Confederates’ second line. He calls on Colonel Shelley for a counterattack, but Shelley refuses.
Now comes up a hero. Col. Thomas Waul had been a Vicksburg lawyer before going to Texas. He had raised Waul’s Texas Legion and solicits for his Texans the honor of recapturing the Redoubt. Lee tells him to proceed. Two companies of Texans guided by Col. Edmund Pettus counterattack. They overwhelm the Yankees, capturing several flags. Down in the ditch fronting the works is Lt. Col. Harvey Graham with about 70 bluecoats. S.D. Lee rolls 18-pound shells down into the ditch. Soon Colonel Graham and his men ground their arms. The breach is sealed.
Too late, Boomer’s men advance. The Confederates open fire, and he’s almost the first casualty. With Boomer mortally wounded, his men drop to the ground. What’s happening at the Second Texas Lunette? Up comes Sanborn’s people. Burbridge’s and Benton’s troops have been here all day. As soon as the re inforcements come up, they pull out. To make a grim situation worse for Sanborn’s newcomers, Green’s Arkansans and Missourians sortie. Orders now come to retire. But before Sanborn does, Federal infantrymen help Captain White withdraw his brass six-pounder, which had been manhandled to within a few yards of the ditch fronting the lunette.
McClernand’s soldiers are back where they were in the morning, the same as Sherman’s and McPherson’s. Losses on his front were much greater, though at one time his corps had secured part pos session of Railroad Redoubt and gained the Second Texas Lunette’s ditch. The great assault is over. There are 3,199 Union dead, wounded, and missing, of whom about 500 are prisoners. Five stands of colors are captured. Con federate losses do not exceed 500.
Thwarted in his efforts to take Vicksburg by assault, Grant decides to besiege the Confederate city. Union sol diers entrench; in various places they begin to dig approaches—zigzag trenches that push toward the Confederate fortifi cations.
Gen. Alvin Hovey’s approach is directed against Square Fort. The Yankees position two sap rollers—huge wicker cylinders that can be rolled ahead of men digging a trench for protection against enemy fire. They dig two approach trenches that zigzag up these spurs. There are many Union sharpshooters. After May 22 you have a better chance to be killed or wounded if you are a Rebel. You ask, Why does that happen? The Rebs are entrenched. The Yanks aren’t dug in as well. Where are the Confederates? They are on the high ground. Where do you expose yourself as a silhouette? On the high ground.
Where would you like to be if you are Yankee marksman? You’d like to be on low ground with sandbags in front of you or behind a tree, waiting all day until some Confederate exposes himself on the skyline. Because of optics, whether you are a Civil War soldier or a World War II combat infantryman, the human eye is such that if you fire down a grade your optic nerve tends to make you fire high. That is why the officers and NCOs when Civil War soldiers fought in line of battle kept yelling, “Fire low. Fire low.” If you fire at a man’s knees you are probably going to hit him in the middle, if you aim high, the odds are that you will miss.
Particularly at risk are senior officers. Among those gunned down are brigade commanders—Col. Isham W. Garrott of the 20th Alabama is killed in Square Fort on June 17 by a Union sharpshooter, and Brig. Gen. Green of Missouri on June 25. Subsequent to the two officers’ deaths, Square Fort is designated Fort Garrott and a smaller work at the Missouri Monument Green’s Redan.
Elsewhere the Yankees try other ways to breach the Confederate defenses.
Lt. Henry C. Foster of the 23rd Indiana gets revenge on the Confederates for what they did to his regiment on May 22 and earlier at Raymond. He and his men use railroad ties to construct a tower. The tower is built on commanding ground south of Jackson Road, adjacent to Logan’s Approach, and is raised to a height sufficient to allow Foster to see over the Third Louisiana Redan’s para pet. Foster, because of his marksmanship, became a terror to the Confederates. Among the Yanks in Logan’s division, because of his coonskin cap, he became known as “Coonskin” Foster and his perch as “Coonskin Tower.” He is visited here on one occasion by Ulysses S. Grant.
All the while the Federals continue dig ging and pushing Logan’s Approach, which began in the hollow at the Shirley House closer to Third Louisiana Redan. As they dig, sappers push a railroad flat
car stacked with cotton bales ahead of them. In a successful effort to slow the Yanks, Col. Sam Russell of the Third Louisiana calls for smoothbore muskets. He then secures tow (refuse cotton), soaks it in turpentine, wraps it around small-caliber musket balls, and has his men fire these into the cotton bales. The sap roller catches fire and burns. But Logan’s people improvise. What do they do? They get several 55-gallon barrels, nail two of them together, fill them with dirt, and then wrap them with cane. This gives them a mobile barricade ten feet wide and five feet high that is not flammable.
By June 23 the head of Logan’s Approach has been driven to within 30 yards of the exterior slope of the redan. Now is time to extend a gallery from the head of the approach to extend under the redan. Volunteers with experience as miners are called for, and soldiers of the 7th Missouri and 32nd Ohio respond. Within less than 48 hours the gallery has been completed, and its head extends under the redan.
The Rebels hear digging. Men of the 43rd Mississippi start sinking countermines. They want either to tap into the Union gallery or, if they can get close enough, to place a barrel of powder in the countermine with a slow fuse, touch it off, and that’s the end of the bluecoats working in the gallery. The Yanks hear the Mississippians digging. Confronted by what could be a crisis, the Federals place 2,000 pounds of black powder at the head of the gallery. At 3:30 p.m. on June 25, the fuse is lit and the Yanks hunker down. An explosion ensues; the ground shakes, a great geyser of dirt and dust ascends and then descends. Charging up Logan’s Approach and into the crater is the 45th Illinois. But the Rebels, aware of what to expect, have thrown up a traverse—an interior earthwork—across the gorge of Third Louisiana Redan. Behind the traverse crouch the Louisianans. The Lead Miners of the 45th Illinois can’t get out of the crater: They are pinned down. During the next 20 hours Union regiments, in a futile effort to break the stalemate, are rotated into and out of the crater. A Rebel counterattack is repulsed. Grant, seeing that McPherson’s people are making no headway, cuts his losses and pulls his men out of the crater.
Grant is undaunted and so are his engineers. They immediately drive another gallery under the redan. When the siege commenced, Grant had requisitioned a hundred coehorn mortars—lightweight mortars that can be carried by four men—from the St. Louis depot, but in warfare you always have snafus. Although he has requisitioned them, the coehorns do not arrive. Logan’s chief engineer, Capt. S.R. Tresilian, comes up with an ingenious idea. He takes three tree trunks, bores them out, one to take a 6-pound shell and two others sized for 12-pound shells. He bands them with iron and places them down in that ravine.
This time there isn’t going to be an infantry attack following the detonation of the mine—1,800 pounds of powder. On the first day of July far more damage is done to Third Louisiana Redan than six days earlier. The mine explodes. A number of Confederates tumble down the bank, some are severely injured, and five of six blacks working on a countermine are killed. Tresilian’s mortars open fire. During the next three days the wooden mortars inflict more Confederate casualties in this area than occurred from artillery fire in the previous 44 days.
Throughout June, Grant tightens the noose around Vicksburg. Reinforcements arrive, allowing him to fend off Johnston’s relief efforts from the east and by the trans-Mississippi Confederates from the west with ease. Soon it appears to be only a matter of time before Pemberton will be compelled to give up. But the Confederate commander proves a stubborn foe. As July begins, Grant decides that unless Pemberton surrenders soon, he will mount an all-out assault on July 6. In the city, civilians and soldiers alike suffer from lack of food and the incessant rain of Federal shells.
Finally, on July 3, Grant and Pemberton meet between the lines near the Jackson Road. At first it looks as if negotiations are going nowhere; by that night, however, an agreement is reached whereby Grant will parole Pemberton’s command and enter the city. The next day, July 4, Union troops enter Vicksburg.
In the Jackson Road sector where Grant is, the Yankees don’t celebrate. In Maj. Gen. Edward O.C. Ord’s XIII Corps sector south of Fort Garrott, it is different. One of the best Union diaries of this siege is that of Lt. Anthony Burton of the 5th Ohio Battery. Burton writes that their chief of artillery says that they are supposed to fire a hundred-gun salute to celebrate the fall of Vicksburg, but adds, “the hell with blanks; we will fire blanks next year.” There is cheering on the Union left. Up where Grant is, they keep a lid on cheering, but don’t believe that all the Yankees sit there in silent respect to their gallant foe.
Edwin C. Bearss, the former chief historian of the National Park Service, is currently the NPS historian emeritus.
Originally published in the July 2006 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.