Monday, May 20, 2013


First at Vicksburg

Confederate Lines, Vicksburg, Mississippi, 19 May 1863. In this assault against bitter resistance the 1st Battalion, 13th Infantry, lost forty-three percent of its men, but of the attacking force, it alone fought its color up the steep slope to the top. General Sherman called its performance "unequalled in the Army" and authorized the 13th Infantry to inscribe "First at Vicksburg" on its color. Although it took two more months of hard fighting to capture Vicksburg and split the Confederacy, no episode illustrates better the indomitable spirit of Americans on both sides. (U.S. Army Military History)

[Excerpted from National Park Service
Publication, “Vicksburg: The  Opening
Of the Mississippi 1862-63"]
Artillery positions and forts (lunettes, redans, and
redoubts) had been constructed at salient and com-
manding points along the exterior line. The earth
parapets of the forts were up to 20 feet thick. In
front of most of these the Confederates had dug a
deep, wide ditch so that any assaulting troops who
managed to reach the work would still have a high
steep wall to climb to get into it. Lines of rifle-pits or
entrenchments, for the most part protected by para-
pets and ditches, covered the ground between the
strong points. Where spurs jutted out from the main
ridges, forward artillery batteries provided a deadly
crossfire against attacking lines. During the early
phase of the siege, the Confederates mounted as
many as 115 cannon (including a few heavy siege
guns) along the defense perimeter. The River Batter-
ies contained an additional 31 heavy guns and s(Mnc
field pieces.

The area's topography greatly strengthened the
Confederate position. Over the centuries, running
water had eroded the region's soil into deep gullies
and ravines, creating a broken and complicated
terrain that seriously obstructed Union movements.
The Confederates had cut down most of the trees
fronting their lines to permit a clear field of fire and
to further hinder advancing troops. Several hundred
yards away, roughly parallel to the Confederate
position, was a ridge system not so continuous and
more broken than that occupied by Pemberton's
army. Along this line the Union army would eventu-
ally take position and begin siege operations.

Maj. Gen. Martin Luther Smith
(Library of Congress)
The two men most responsible for fort if ring Vicksburg
were Maj. Gen. Martin Luther Smith who had previously helped to plan the
defenses of New Orleans, and his chief engineer, Maj. Samuel H. Lockett. At
the time of Farragut's 1862 naval attack. Smith was Vicksburg 's commanding officer. During the 1862 siege, he commanded Pemberton 's left wing.

On the scattered natural bridges of high ground
spanning the ravines, six roads and one railroad
entered Vicksburg. To guard these access points, the
Confederates had constructed nine defensive works-
Fort Hill on the river north of the city. Stockade
Redan, Third Louisiana Redan, Great Redoubt,
Second Texas Lunette, Railroad Redoubt, Fort Gar-
rott (also known as Square Fort), Salient Work, and
South Fort on the river below Vicksburg. The Con-
federate divisions defending the city were, north to
south, those commanded by Maj. Gen. Martin L.
Smith, Maj. Gen. John H. Forney, and Maj. General
Stevenson. Maj. General Bowen's division was held
in reserve. The Army of Vicksburg at the beginning
of the siege numbered about 31 ,000 men. Grant listed
his strength, shortly after the siege began, at 50,000.

By midday of May 19 [Maj. Gen. U.S.] Grant had deployed 20,000
of those troops behind Vicksburg. In the north, Sher-
man's corps was in position opposite the Confederate
left, extending from the river (at the present loca-
tion of the national cemetery) to Graveyard Road.
McPherson's corps, on Sherman's left, stretched
from near Graveyard Road to near Baldwin's Ferry
Road, while the front of McClernand's corps ex-
tended from Baldwin's Ferry Road southward toward
the Square Fort. About 500 yards separated the
opposing armies.

Grant had had little opportunity to assess the
strength of the Vicksburg defenses because Confed-
erate skirmishers had slowed his army's approach,
thus preventing a close inspection of the Southern
fortifications. Nevertheless, the Union commander
decided to launch an immediate attack, reasoning
that the longer he waited the stronger those defenses
would become. He ordered an assault for 2 p.m. on
the 19th.

[Maj. Gen. W.T.] Sherman's troops, whose early arrival had enabled
Grant to launch the attack, advanced under heavy
fire against the Confederate left. Although they got
close to the works, they failed to breach the defenses
and withdrew. McPherson and McClernand, not yet
in good position for attack, could do little more than
advance several hundred yards closer to the de-
fense line. Grant lost 1,000 men testing the Vicks-
burg defenses and discovered an unyielding army
manning the works. Confederate losses were slight.

Although the probing operation of the 19th had
failed, Grant did not despair but continued to ponder
what important results a successful assault would
achieve. Such a move, however costly, would save a
long siege. In the end, fewer men might be lost, and
a growing threat to the Union rear— General [J.E.] John-
ston raising troops near Jackson for the relief of
Vicksburg— could be eliminated by quickly capturing
Vicksburg and throwing the entire Union strength
against Johnston. In addition, the Federal troops,
spirited by recent victories and impatient to seize the
prize for which they had campaigned so long, would
work more zealously in the trenches with pick and
shovel if they were certain that a siege was the only
alternative. With 40,000 troops available. Grant is-
sued orders on the 21st for another assault against
Vicksburg the following day.
Pvt. Thomas Booker of Company B,
28th (Thomas') Louisiana Infantry, helped
stop the Federal assaults at several
different points on the defense line.
(Liljenquist Family Collection, Library of

The Union assault of May 22 was centered against the Confederate line along a front from a point midway between Fort Hill and Stockade Redan to Square Fort. The felled trees and thick undergrowth, as well as the precipitous faces of the ravines, restricted the scope of Union maneuver. In preparation for the attack, field batteries were run forward and emplaced to provide a covering fire for the infantry, and troops were advanced into concealed posi-
tions—in places within 200 yards of their objective. To prevent Pemberton from shifting his forces from one threatened point to another, the infantry attacks were to begin simultaneously at 10 a.m. Watches of all Union commanders were synchronized. Reserves were posted to exploit a breakthrough.

The attack on the Stockade Redan by Maj. Gen.
Francis P. Blair's division of Sherman's corps exemplified the day's action in method and result. Blair's men were faced with formidable obstacles: the route of advance along the Graveyard Road was covered by Confederate fire, and access to the redan itself was rendered difficult by steep exterior slopes and
by a deep ditch fronting the works. The night before,
Sherman had decided that a bridge would be needed
by his men to span the ditch. Only one source of
lumber could be found — a frame house in which
General Grant was sleeping. Informed of the need.
Grant dressed and watched the house quickly torn
down for bridging material.

At the stroke of 10, the artillery bombardment of
the fortifications ceased and the "Forlorn Hope," a
volunteer band of 150 men, surged along Graveyard
Road toward the redan. They carried planks to
bridge the ditch and ladders to scale the steep
exterior slope. The Confederates held their fire until
the column issued from a cut in the road 400 feet
away. Then the Southern soldiers "rose from their
reclining position behind the works, and gave them
such a terrible volley of musketry" that the road
soon was nearly obstructed by the bodies of the
killed and wounded, "the very sticks and chips
scattered over the ground jumping under the hot
shower of Rebel bullets."

A Federal color-bearer managed to place a flag on
the exterior slope. The galling fire forced the rem-
nants of attack formations that had reached the
redan to take cover in the ditch. Attempting to pre-
vent the defenders from firing down into the ditch.
Federal infantry swept the top of the redan with
withering volleys. The Confederates fought back,
using artillery shells as hand grenades and rolling
them down among the Union troops pinned in the
ditch. In the face of ferocious resistance, the morn-
ing attack ground to a halt at the Stockade Redan.

Union flags were also placed on the slopes of the
Railroad Redoubt, the Great Redoubt, and at the
rifle-pits near the Second Texas Lunette. At the
Railroad Redoubt a tenuous breach was made in the
Confederate defenses by McClernand's troops. A
small band of lowans led by Sgts. Joseph Griffith and
Nicholas Messenger crawled through a gap blasted
by Union artillery at the salient angle, entered the
redoubt, and drove out most of the remaining de-
fenders. Later a dozen Confederates inside the re-
doubt surrendered. Other Federal troops clung to
the slopes or took cover in the ditch.

Encouraged by his partial success, McClernand
asked Grant for reinforcements and a renewal of the
attacks. One of McPherson's divisions marched to
augment McClernand's striking power. Grant or-
dered Sherman and McPherson to create a diversion
in McClernand's favor. All assaults in the afternoon
were shattered by a resolute Confederate defense.
The afternoon attacks, the last massive assault 
against Vicksburg, served only to increase Federal 
losses and to intensify an already bitter contro- 
versy over McClernand's military performance. 
Union casualties on May 22 totaled 3,200. A month 
later McClernand was replaced by Maj. Gen. Ed- 
ward O.C.Ord. Confederate casualties were comparatively

National Park Service

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