Tuesday, May 21, 2013

150-years-ago -- SIEGE OF VICKSBURG

Both sides used hand grenades during the siege.
(The Soldier in Our Civil War)

[Excerpted from National Park Service
Publication, “Vicksburg: The  Opening
Of the Mississippi 1862-63"]

After May 25, when [Maj. Gen. U.S.] Grant began siege operations,
only two attempts were made to break through the Confederate defenses, neither of which succeeded.
Sherman, holding the Union right opposite the strong Fort Hill position, determined to neutralize the upper river batteries with naval aid. On May 27 the gunboat
Cincinnati, protected by logs and bales of hay, moved into position and engaged the several river batteries
of that sector. Subjected to a deadly plunging fire which "went entirely through our protection — hay, wood, and iron," Cincinnati went down with her colors nailed to the stump of a mast. 

A month later the Federals attempted to pierce the defense line by exploding a mine under the 3rd
Louisiana Redan. From the head of Logan's Approach, which had reached the exterior slope of the
redan, a tunnel was dug under the three-sided fort
and packed with 2,200 pounds of powder. Mean-
while, the Confederate garrison had heard the miners'
picks at work beneath the redan and began a coun-
termine in a grim race for survival. On June 25, as
the entire Union line opened fire to prevent the
Southerners from shifting reinforcements, the mine
was detonated. The blast severely damaged the
redan and gouged out a crater 40 feet wide and 12
feet deep. The 45th Illinois Infantry Regiment leaped
from the approach and drove forward. Having antici-
pated this kind of maneuver, the redan's garrison
had previously withdrawn to a new defense position
to the rear. Now the Confederates pinned down the
Illinoisans in the crater under a murderous fire. A
sharp firefight continued for the next 24 hours, then
the Federals withdrew. A second mine was detonated
under the redan on July 1 : still others were being pre-
pared by Union engineers at the time of the surrender.
By the beginning of July the Army of Vicksburg 
had held the line for six weeks, but its unyielding 
defense had been a costly one. Pemberton reported 
10,000 of his men so debilitated by wounds and 
sickness as to be no longer able to man the works, 
and the list of ineffectives swelled daily from the 
twin afflictions of insufficient rations and the devas- 
tating fire of Union artillery and the searching 
volleys of Union sharpshooters. Each day the con- 
stricting Union line pushed closer against the Vicks- 
burg defenses, and there were indications that Grant 
might soon launch another great assault which, even 
if repulsed, must certainly result in a severe toll of 
the garrison. 
Pemberton's foremost objective in prolonging the 
defense of Vicksburg was to afford Johnston and the 
Confederate government time to collect sufficient 
troops to raise the siege. Unfortunately, circum- 
stances worked against his plan. Gen. Robert E. 
Lee's Army of Northern Virginia began its invasion 
of the North shortly after Grant invested the city, 
and no troops could be spared from that quarter. 
Only a limited number of men were available from 
other areas. 
By the first week of June, reinforcements from 
Tennessee, South Carolina, and Georgia had in- 
creased Johnston's force to 31,000 troops. Grant, 
anticipating that Johnston would move against his 
rear, sent reinforcements from Kentucky, West Ten- 
nessee, and Missouri to construct and man a strong 
outer defense position facing the probable line of 
advance. This gave Grant two lines of works — one 
to hold Pemberton in, the other to keep Johnston 
out. While Confederate Secretary of War James A. 
Seddon counseled Johnston that '"the eyes and hopes 
of the whole Confederacy are upon you. with the full 
confidence that you will act, and with the sentiment 
that it is better to fail nobly daring, than, through 
prudence even, to be inactive," Johnston notified his 
government on June 15: i consider saving Vicks- 
burg hopeless."" 
On July 1 Johnston moved his army of four infantry 
divisions and one cavalry division to the east bank of 
the Big Black River, seeking a vulnerable place to 
attack Grant's outer defenses. His reconnaissance 
during the next three days convinced him that no 
practical crossing of the Big Black River lay north of 
the railroad bridge. On July 3 Johnston received defi- 
nite word of the fall of Vicksburg. On the following 
day he began withdrawing his army toward Jackson. 
Sgt. Janes Bishop White of the 60th Tennessee Infantry of Vaughn's Brigade on the northern end of the Confederate defenses. (Liljenquist Family Collection, Library of Congress) 
Efforts by Confederate forces in the Trans-Missis-sippi to assist the Vicksburg garrison were checked by Union troops holding the Young's Point, Mil- 
liken's Bend, and Lake Providence enclaves, sup- 
ported by Admiral Porter's gunboats. At Milliken'sBend, on June 7, there was a savage fight in whicha brigade of blacks suffered heavy losses during  an attack by a brigade of Texans. The timely arrival of Union gunboats compelled the Texans to withdraw. This was the first Civil War battle in which blacks played the major role. 
Faced with dwindling stores and no help from 
the outside, Pemberton saw only two eventualities:"either to evacuate the city and cut my way out orto capitulate upon the best obtainable terms." Contemplating the former possibility, he asked his division commanders on July 1 to report whether the physical condition of the troops would favor such a hazardous stroke. All but two of his division and brigade commanders were unanimous in their 
replies that siege conditions had physically distressed so large a number of the defending army thatan attempt to cut through the Union lines would bedisastrous. Pemberton's only alternative, then, was surrender. 
Although not requested, Pemberton also received 
the verdict of his army in a message from an 
unknown private, signed "Many Soldiers." Taking 
pride in the gallant conduct of his fellow soldiers "in 
repulsing the enemy at every assault, and bearing 
with patient endurance all the privations and hard- 
ships," the writer requested the commanding general 
to "think of one small biscuit and one or two 
mouthfuls of bacon per day," concluding with the 
irrefutable logic of an enlisted man: "If you can't 
feed us, you had better surrender us, horrible as the 
idea is." 
At 8 a.m. on July 3 Chaplain R. L. Howard of the 
124th Illinois Infantry located near the Shirley 
House noticed "a white flag away to our left on the 
rebel works. Soon another appeared, and another 
and, directly, one in front of us. The firing ceased, 
and all was still, the first time since May 25th, thirty- 
nine days. Soon greybacks began to show themselves 
all along the lines. Heads first, cautiously, then 
bodies, and we straightened up too, in many places 
only a few yards from them. The works were mounted 
and we looked each other in the face, the line of 
motley and the line of blue. How eager we all were 
to see, and what did it all mean?'' A few hours later 
Grant and Pemberton met beneath an oak tree on a 
slope between the lines to begin negotiations for the 
surrender of the 29,500-man garrison. No accord was 
forthcoming at this meeting. Following an exchange 
of communications, an agreement was reached early 
the next morning. It had been 14 months since 
Farragut's warships had first engaged the Vicksburg 
batteries, seven months since Grant's first expedi- 
tion against the city, and 47 days since the appear- 
ance of the Federal army on the city's eastern 
approaches. On the morning of July 4, 1863, while 
Northern cities celebrated Independence Day, the 
Army of Vicksburg was formally surrendered. 

No comments: