The Siege Of Vicksburg

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▼ An artist's impression of the city of Vicksburg in the 1860s, as seen from the .Mississippi.

Caves Dug Civilians Vicksburg

Around Vicksburg Pemberton's men had constructed a defensive line some seven miles in length. Pem-berton reckoned that he had rations for 60 days. In addition to the civilian population of the city, he commanded more than 30,000 men. One of General McPherson's staff officers, when he first rode up the Jackson road and looked at the problem ahead, was impressed: kA long line of high, rugged, irregular bluffs, clearly cut against the skv, crowned with cannon which peered ominously from embrasures to the right and left as far as the eye could see. Lines of heavy rifle-pits, surmounted with head logs, ran along the bluffs, connecting fort with fort and filled with veteran infantry... The approaches to this position were frightful - enough to appal the stoutest heart.' Grant, too, thought the defences looked formidable.

But Pemberton's army was trapped. For weeks now they had been out-generalled and out-fought. They had little confidence in their commander. Many of them were sick and even among those who were still fit, although they were experienced and tough and determined soldiers, there was a draining sense of fatalism, the feeling that it was only a matter of time before they would have to concede.

General Jo Johnston, 30 miles to the east and desperately trying to raise reinforcements so that he could threaten Grant's rear, thought the best thing now would be for Pemberton to fight his way out of

▼ An artist's impression of the city of Vicksburg in the 1860s, as seen from the .Mississippi.

THE SIEGE OF VICKSBURG

Siege Vicksburg

Vicksburg and link up with him and then together they could force Grant into battle before the Federal reinforcements came pouring in from the north. He wrote to Pemberton: 'If it is not too late, evacuate Vicksburg and its dependencies, and march to the north-east.' Pemberton discused the matter with his generals and all agreed that their army lacked the spirit to attempt a breakout. Pemberton replied to Johnston: 'I have determined to hold Vicksburg as long as possible.'

Grant and his army, on the other hand, were in danger of over-confidence. After many days of hard marching and hard living, first in rain and mud and now in summer heat, they had tents and cooking utensils, full rations and an organized camp life. Their lines of supply and communication were secure again and before long the reinforcements would be arriving. They were beginning to think their general was invincible. And Vicksburg was \ surrounded. On the ground the Federal line stretched for fifteen miles from the Yazoo to the Mississippi, with Sherman in the north, McPherson holding the centre, and McClernand in the south. The rivers were controlled by Admiral Porter's gunboats.

Grant reckoned that by now the Confederate troops would be seriously demoralized by their long retreat and their defeats at Champion Hill and the Big Black River, and he wanted to finish the job before Jo Johnston had time to get into the action. So in the early afternoon of 19 May - the day after he had arrived in front of Vicksburg - he launched an assault on the Confederate line. It was a failure. The Confederate troops may have been dispirited but they were well dug in. Their positions commanded wide angles of fire, and it was a comparatively simple matter to beat off the attack. Grant gained some ground here and there but at no point could his men break through the defensive line.

Initial Assaults

He spent the next two days preparing for a bigger and better-organized assault. On the morning of 22 May his guns opened up a tremendous bombardment, and at 10 o'clock the men of all three army corps attacked across the open ground. Grant later wrote: 'The attack was gallant, and portions of each of the three corps succeeded in getting up to the very parapets of the enemy and in planting their

▼ Grant's first unsuccessful attempt to break through the Confederate defences and into the city.

Info The Battle Grand Gulf

battle flags upon them; but at no place were we able to enter/

In the centre of the line several of McPherson's regiments - from Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin -scaled the walls of a Confederate fort bv the railway, seized it and succeeded in holding it for more than two hours despite repeated counter-attacks. Then Texas units, with fixed bayonets, got among them and hurled them out. All along the line the fighting was furious. A colonel from Illinois spoke of, '...the most murderous fire I ever saw'. Federal losses this day were 502 men killed, 2,550 wounded, 147 captured or missing.

At one point in the southern sector McCler-nand saw his men reach the Confederate line ahead and some of them were waving their banners in a triumphant manner. I le assumed they had broken through and promptly sent word to Grant, asking for reinforcements and renewed efforts by the other two army corps. Grant was dubious but acceded to McClernand's requests. The result was costly and unprofitable, and Grant was very angry. Two days later he said: 'General McClernand's dispatches misled me as to the real state of the facts, and caused much of this loss. He is entirely unfit for the position of corps commander, both on the march and on the battlefield. Looking after his corps gives me more labour and infinitely more uneasiness than all the remainder of my department.' There can be little doubt that he was going to get rid of McCler-nand. He had the power to do so; a telegram from Edwin Stanton, the War Secretary in Washington, read: 'General Grant has full and absolute authority to enforce his own commands, and to remove any person who, by ignorance, inaction or any other cause, interferes with or delays his operations.' Grant was biding his time.

▼ Grant's first unsuccessful attempt to break through the Confederate defences and into the city.

Siege Operations

The failure of the two assaults persuaded Grant that there was nothing for it hut to settle down to a long siege. He consoled himself with the reflection that at least the failures had demonstrated to his soldiers that Vicksburg could not be quickly or cheaply won. Perhaps that thought would reconcile them to the hot, slow, slogging work of a siege. And by now it was getting very hot indeed. Many in the Confederacy had cheered themselves up with the notion that their summer heat would be altogether too much for the pale-faced men of the north. Grant and his men now set themselves to show this was just another piece of wartime wishful thinking.

A complex system of deep and wide trenches had to be dug, approaching ever closer to the Confederate defences. Gun sites had to be constructed and protected. It meant a great deal of labour and movement, with the ever present risk of being picked off by marksmen on the rising ground ahead. Later on, tunnels were dug deep underground in an endeavour to get beneath the enemy strongpoints and blow them up. It was heavy, dirty, sweaty work. It was engineers' work really, and Grant was short of trained engineers. Hut, as they had shown in the early days of the campaign, his mid-Westerners were hard and practical and resourceful men. One of their few engineering officers said: 'Whether a battery was to be constructed by men who had never built one before, a sap-roller made by those who had never heard the name, or a ship's gun carriage to be built, it was done, and after a few trials well done... Officers and men had to learn to be engineers while the siege was going on.'

Grant was sure that Pemberton could not get out of Vicksburg and equally certain that Johnston would not want to get in. He told a staff officer: 'If Johnston tries to cut his way in we will let him do it, and then see that he doesn't get out. You say he has 30,000 men with him? That will give us 30,000 more prisoners than we now have.' Reinforcements were arriving almost daily, building up his army to more than 71,000 men, with 248 guns, six siege guns (32-pounders), and a battery of large-calibre naval guns, supplied by Admiral Porter and manned by sailors. In addition to manning the northern sector of the line facing Vicksburg, Sherman was given

Battle Vicksburg

A At first, the Federal troops made headway against the defences; but these footholds were swept away by the Confederate counter-attach.

A At first, the Federal troops made headway against the defences; but these footholds were swept away by the Confederate counter-attach.

the job of safeguarding the army's rear, and by late June something like a half of Grant's entire force was encamped to the east, awaiting the approach of Jo Johnston. During these weeks Grant was everywhere, studying the progress of his siege operations, encouraging his men, talking to them in his easy, unpretentious way. He told one group: 'Pemberton is a Northern man who has got into bad company.' More than once he was bawled at for casually exposing himself to sniper fire.

It was some time during this period of preparation that Grant is alleged to have fallen for his ancient tempter, the whisky bottle. The tale was told, long after the war, by a correspondent for the New York Herald called Sylvanus Cadwallader, whose memoirs (not published until 1955) described

Ron VolstadVicles Burg May 1863

Grant's second attempt to seize the city — on 22 May 1863 - came closer to success than the first hut mas finally repulsed with serious losses on the Union side.

a visit Grant made to the Mississippi area which led to a two-day drinking session on one of the ships. There is no other evidence for this bender and it may be nothing more than the product of a newspaperman's imagination. Certainly, for most of the long campaign, the watchful and close attendance of John A. Rawlins, his chief of staff, precluded any alcoholic back-sliding.

Naturally, rumours of Grant's excessive drinking continued to be circulated by his ill-wishers.

President Lincoln had to listen to much of this talk and dealt with it in masterly fashion. Carl Sandburg, in his massive biography of the President, recounts a story Lincoln is said to have told one of his visitors: 'One day a delegation headed by a distinguished doctor of divinity from New York, called on me and made the familiar complaint and protest against Grant's being retained in his command. After the clergyman had concluded his remarks, I asked if any others desired to add anything to what

General Ord

A Major General E.O.C. Ord, who took' command of Grant's XIII Army Corps on 18 June 1863, the day McClernand was finally dismissed.

► The view from the extreme right of Grant's investing line, above the point at which the Mississippi makes an acute turn to flow below the city. This part of the line was held by Sherman's army corps.

A Major General E.O.C. Ord, who took' command of Grant's XIII Army Corps on 18 June 1863, the day McClernand was finally dismissed.

► The view from the extreme right of Grant's investing line, above the point at which the Mississippi makes an acute turn to flow below the city. This part of the line was held by Sherman's army corps.

had already been said. They replied that they did not. Then looking as serious as I eould, I said: "Doctor, can you tell me where General Grant gets his liquor?" The doctor seemed quite nonplussed, but replied that he could not. I then said to him: "I am very sorry, for if you could tell me I would direct the Chief Quartermaster of the army to lay in a large stock of the same kind of liquor, and would also direct him to furnish a supply to some of my other generals who have never yet won a victory." '

Lincoln was delighted with Grant's progress and towards the end of May he wrote to a congressman: 'Whether Gen. Grant shall not consummate the capture of Vicksburg, his campaign from the beginning of the month up to the 22nd day of it, is one of the most brilliant in the world.'

It was towards the end of May, too, that McClernand made his fatal move. He issued an order to his army corps, congratulating them on their achievements and implying that if they had

Siege Vicksburg

been given proper support in the assault on 22 May, Vicksburg would have been theirs. A week or two later the order was printed in some Northern newspapers, presumably to enhance McClernand's image and political chances in Illinois. Both Sherman, who hated the press at the best of times, and McPherson protested to Grant. Grant asked McClernand for a copy of the order. McClernand complied and said he stood by what he had said. On June 18 Grant issued an order of his own: 'Major General John A. McClernand is hereby relieved from the command of XIII Army Corps. He will proceed to any point he may select in the state of Illinois and report by Letter to Headquarters of the Army for orders.' McClernand was replaced by the man who had been his second in command, Major General E.O.C. Ord, a reliable if unremarkable commander.

Inside Vicksburg

For the Confederates trapped in Vicksburg these were increasingly terrible weeks. Grant's trench works crept closer all the time. His bombardment from all sides was relentless. Food became scarce and drinking water even more so. Many soldiers and civilians were sick and all were hungry. The soldiers took it with a resigned stoicism. Colonel Ashabel Smith of the 2nd Texas Regiment said: 'Up to the last moment of siege the men bore [their hardships] with unrepining cheerfulness.' After the surrender

■4 Confederate lines at the rear of Vicksburg; from a contemporary photograph.

Siege Vicksburg Confederate Soldiers

M The headquarters of the Union Signal Corps before Vicksburg.

Siege Vicksburg Surrender

The Vicksburg Defences

\ smith

Porter's gunboats

Glass BaVoVi

Siege Vicksburg Confederate Soldiers

/ McCLERNAND

Porter's gunboats

Glass BaVoVi

Bowen was used to reinforce lines at points of assault where needed

Mcpherson

GRANT/

/ McCLERNAND

GRANT/

Grant's initial assaults on the Vicksburg perimeter Confederate lines 1/2 1 Mile

Ao one of their generals said: i have rarely heard a murmur of complaint. The tone has always been, "...this is pretty hard, but we can stand it".' A journalist in the city later wrote: 'By the middle of June, Vicksburg was in a deplorable condition. There was scarcely a building but what had been struck by the enemy's shells, while many of them were entirely demolished.'

One of the soldiers noted in his diary: 'The fighting is now carried on quite systematically... in the morning there seems to be time allowed for breakfast, when all at once the work of destruction is renewed. There is about an hour at noon and about the same at sunset, laking these three intervals out, the work goes on just as regularly as on a well-regulated farm and the noise is not unlike the clearing up of new ground when much heavy timber is cut down.' Emma Balfour, the wife of a Vicksburg doctor, also kept a diary in which she wrote: 'As I sat at mv window I saw mortars from the west pass entirely over the house, and the shells from the east passing by -crossing each other and this terrible fire

Vicksburg Lithograph

▲ Part of McPherson's Corps in place before Vicksburg. It was in this sector of the lines that Pemberton and Grant were to meet. ■4 Logan's 3rd Division of McPherson's Corps showing the exploding of the mine under the Confederate Jort near the Jackson road. ► Top right: An artist's dramatic impression of a railway accident in the forests of .Mississippi that did nothing to help General Johnston 's efforts to get reinforcements. Below right: A funeral on the levee at the Duck port Canal.

Siege Vicksburg Tower Vicksburg Lithograph

The view from General Hovey V divisional headquarters at the southern end of the besieging line. A lithograph after a sketch made by A. E. Mathews.

Vicksburg LithographSiege Vicksburg LithographsVicksburg LithographVicksburg LithographVicksburg Lithograph

A An artist's impression of the view Grant V investing forces must have had of the city that had been their objective for so long. The imposing building in the centre was the court-house, built only Jive years earlier. The Confederates used the clock-tower as a lookout point and signal station. Union gunners used it as a ranging point. The building survived the siege and is now a museum.

■4 Grant organized his siege lines very thoroughly. This was 'Battery Hickenlooper\ an important point close to the Jackson road.

raging in the centre... I sec we are to have no rest.' A merchant's wife took refuge in a cave and there gave birth to a son whom she called Siege.

Many civilians took to living in caves, carved out of the yellow clay hillsides. They were safe from the shelling there and some tried to make the caves homely with rugs and carpets, beds and chairs, but it was far from pleasant. One woman wrote: 'It was living like plant roots. We were in hourly dread of snakes. The vines and thickets were full of them, and a large rattlesnake was found one morning under a mattress on which some of us had slept all night.' Food supplies ran low. They made bread with corn and dried peas, in equal proportions. One soldier said: 'It had the properties of indiarubber and was worse than leather to digest.' The meat of horses, dogs and rats was available in the butchers' shops. By the beginning of July they were slaughtering their mules as well. Soldiers were subsisting on 'one small biscuit and one or two mouthfuls of bacon per day'.

Stout's Bayou

Vicksburg

Durden Confederate

Durden Creek

A Surrender site V Site of modern Visitors ' Center

LAUMAN

(arrived end May)

Durden Creek

I South Fort

1 Salient work

3 Fort Garrett

4 Railroad Redoubt

5 2nd Texas Lunette

6 Great Redoubt

7 Stockade Redan 78

A Surrender site V Site of modern Visitors ' Center xxxx PEMBERTON

STEVENSON

LAUMAN

(arrived end May)

SMITH

Stout's Bayou

BOWEN

Vicksburg

Mississippi River. Confederate batteries confront Porter's blockading squadron

Grant's HQ

Battle Vicksburg

By the surrender of the city, Johnston has advanced with reinforcements as far as the Big Black River.

xxxx

TENNESSEE

Railway line to Jackson

Fort Hill

Glass Bayou

THE SIEGE OF VICKSBURG

By the surrender of the city, Johnston has advanced with reinforcements as far as the Big Black River.

US XIII

(succeeded McClernand 18 June)

Mississippi River. Confederate batteries confront Porter's blockading squadron xxxx

"THE

grant

TENNESSEE

Railway line to Jackson

us|X|xv sherman

Grant's HQ

Fort Hill

Glass Bayou

us [XJ XVII Mcpherson

End May to 4 July 1863, as seen from the south-east, showing the siege works as fully developed

Souths Loss The Siege Vicksburg

A McPherson's engineers worked hard to destroy a key point in the centre of the Confederates' defences, the fort above the main I 'icksburg to Jackson road. The idea was to mine under the Jort, then blow it up. First they pushed trenches and parapets as close as they dared, '¡'hen an underground gallery was built. Soldiers who had been coal miners in civilian life were organized - in two shifts of eighteen men each - to dig the tunnel, shore it up, and remove the soil.

4 Sherman 's extreme right Jlank in the Union line before Vicksburg.

► The entrance to the gallery of the Union mine..

▼ Once directly under the Jort, the Federal sappers planted 2,200 pounds of gunpowder, laid their fuzes, and blew it up at 3 p.m. on 25 June.

4 Sherman 's extreme right Jlank in the Union line before Vicksburg.

Siege Vicksburg Confederate SoldiersSappers And Miners Uniform

A The fort was destroyed and Union troops poured into ▼ Men of Logan's Division pouring into the crater-the crater that had been created. Hut they were pinned and being carried out. down there by fierce Confederate Jire and had to pull back' again.

Vicksburg Quarter

Uniforms of the Union army. Left to right: a company quarter-master sergeant of the 30th Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment; a pioneer of the 17 th Illinois; and a Regimental quarter-master sergeant of the 3rd New Jersey Regiment. (Ron Volstad)

Ron Volstad Art

Pemberton grew increasingly pessimistic. One night he had the idea that his army might escape across the river to the Louisiana side, and started work on the building of crude craft. But Grant heard of this and alerted Admiral Porter who took immediate measures to prevent any escape that way.

Ron Volstad Artist

The Confederates' best hope lay in the other direction. Jo Johnston had gathered an army of 32,000 men. By late June he was approaching Grant's lines from the south, planning to stage a diversionary attack that would give Pemberton a chance to fight his way out. Pemberton put the plan

A Union headquarters, 3 July. Grant receives Pemberton 's message proposing an armistice leading to the surrender ofVicks-burg.

Below left: an artist's impression of the first meeting of Genera Is Grant and Pemberton to discuss terms of surrender.

► Below right: Grant arrives at Pemberton's Vicksburg house on 4 July.

Grant And Pemberton Surrendering

to his generals and they were of the unanimous opinion that, although their men were still fit enough to man the defences, none of them was in any shape for active campaigning in the field. Brigadier General Louis Herbert stated the case: 'Forty-eight days and nights passed in the trenches, exposed to the burning sun during the day, the chilly air of night; subject to a murderous storm of balls, shells and war missiles of all kinds; cramped up in pits and holes not large enough to allow them to extend their limbs; labouring day and night; fed on reduced rations of the poorest kinds of food, yet always cheerful...' Johnston hoped to stage the diversion and the breakout on 6 July. But at 10 a.m. on the 3rd white flags began to appear along the Confederate lines. The firing died down and two Confederate officers rode out with a letter from General Pemberton to General Grant.

The Surrender

Pemberton's letter said that the Vicksburg garrison could hold out much longer, but that in the interests of preventing further suffering and loss of life, he proposed an armistice and the setting up of a com mission that would decide surrender terms. It was a try-on and Grant would have none of it. In his reply he said: 'The useless effusion of blood you propose stopping by this course can be ended at any time you may choose, by the unconditional surrender of the city and garrison.'

The two men came face to face at 3 o'clock that afternoon. They knew each other, they had served for a time in the same division during the Mexican War, but it was a frosty encounter. Pemberton was edgy and Grant was firm, but they finally agreed that Grant would send another letter that night stating his final terms.

That evening Grant had a meeting with his corps and divisional commanders, a meeting that he later described as, '...the nearest approach to a "council of war" I ever held'. The chief subject for discussion was whether or not they should offer to parole Pemberton's armv, not send them to the prison camps of the north but to leave them in the Confederacy, having made them all sign promises to take no further part in the fighting. Some of them would break the promise, but it seemed likely that the great majority would not. They were mostly men from the south-western states and could be

Battle Vicksburg

Vicksburg by the Jackson road on 4 July.

► Near right: Vicksburg Court House, which had been a landmark during the siege; from a photograph taken seventeen years later in 1880.

The Gulf Paria The Creek

relied upon to take the first chance that came along to escape from the army and go back home. It seemed sensible to let the Confederacy have that problem rather than face the massive administrative task of shipping them all north and then looking after them for the duration. Finally they decided to offer parole and Grant sent his promised letter.

Pemberton accepted the new terms promptly and on the morning of 4 July John Logan marched his division into the city of Vicksburg and took control. Sherman was ordered to switch his whole attention to driv ing Jo Johnston out of the state of Mississippi and smashing Confederate communications to the east. He set about it immediately and with a will. Grant rode into Vicksburg, had a cool meeting with Pemberton and his generals, then went down to the riverside for a reunion with Admiral Porter.

The job was done at last. They took nearly 31,000 prisoners, 170 cannon and 60,000 rifles. In the whole campaign, from November 1862 to July 1863, they had put well over 40,000 Confederate soldiers out of active participation in the war. Grant himself had lost fewer than 10,000 men.

He now did all that he could to ensure that the defeated men were not abused or humiliated. In his first letter to Pemberton he had said: 'Men who have shown so much endurance and courage as those now in Vicksburg, will always challenge the respect of an adversary and, I can assure you, will be treated with all the respect due to prisoners of war.1 In his Memoirs he recalled: 'Our soldiers were no sooner inside the lines than the two armies began to fraternize. Our men had had full rations from the time the siege commenced, to the close. The enemy had been suffering, particularly towards the last. I myself saw our men taking bread from their haversacks, and giv ing it to the enemy they had so recently been engaged in starving out. It was accepted with av idity and with thanks.1

► Top right: an artist's impression of the scene, from the Confederate side, when the Federal army marched in to take charge of Vicksburg.

► Below far right: Logan '.v division enters 86

Vicksburg by the Jackson road on 4 July.

► Near right: Vicksburg Court House, which had been a landmark during the siege; from a photograph taken seventeen years later in 1880.

Battle Grand Gulf Photos

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Responses

  • nils
    Who was the Union commander that captured Vicksburg and 30,000 men after a 6 week siege?
    8 years ago

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