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Civil War Series

The Campaign for Vicksburg

   

As the siege of Vicksburg began, Confederate efforts in Louisiana to relieve the beleaguered city heated up, but ultimately to no avail. Major General John Walker's Texas Division had been sent to stop the Yankees from marching down to cross at Bruinsburg. But mismanagement by Trans-Mississippi commander Edmund Kirby Smith kept the Texans from getting the job done. Finally Walker did begin operating across the Mississippi from Vicksburg, attacking Milliken's Bend and Young's Point on June 7. At Milliken's Bend Walker had to withdraw after some savage fighting with black troops in Louisiana and Mississippi regiments. The attack on Young's Point was even more dismal for the Confederates. The last major Confederate effort west of the Mississippi on behalf of Vicksburg resulted in a disastrous defeat at Helena, Arkansas, on the ironic date of July 4.

BOMBPROOFS IN FRONT OF THE SHIRLEY HOUSE. (OLD COURTHOUSE MUSEUM, VICKSBURG, MISS.)


A LADY'S CAVE LIFE IN VICKSBURG

In 1864 D. Appleton and Company of New York published a Volume entitled My Cave Life in Vicksburg, with Letters of Trial and Travel, By a Lady. The lady was Mary Ann Loughborough, and the account she wrote is the most thorough and vivid picture we have of cave life in the besieged city. The following accounts are taken from her book.


"... a Parrott shell came whirling in at the entrance, and fell in the centre of the cave before us all, lying there smoking. Our eyes were fastened upon it, while we expected every moment the terrific explosion would ensue."

"It was about four o'clock, one Wednesday evening—the shelling during the day had gone on about as usual—I was reading in safety, I imagined, when the unmistakable whirring of Parrott shells told us that the battery we so much feared had opened from the intrenchments. I ran to the entrance to call the servants in; and immediately after they entered, a shell struck the earth a few feet from the entrance, burying itself without exploding. I ran to the little dressing room, and could hear them striking around us on all sides. I crouched closely against the wall, for I did not know at what moment one might strike within the cave. A man came in much frightened, and asked to remain until the danger was over. The servants stood in the little niche by the bed, and the man took refuge in the small ell where I was stationed. He had been there but a short time, standing in front of me, and near the wall, when a Parrott shell came whirling in at the entrance, and fell in the centre of the cave before us all, lying there smoking. Our eyes were fastened upon it, while we expected every moment the terrific explosion would ensue. I pressed my child closer to my heart, and drew nearer to the wall. Our fate seemed almost certain. The poor man who had sought refuge within was most exposed of all. With a sudden impulse, I seized a large double blanket that lay near, and gave it to him for the purpose of shielding him from the fragments; and thus we remained for a moment, with our eyes fixed in terror on the missile of death, when George, the servant boy, rushed forward, seized the shell, and threw it into the street, running swiftly in the opposite direction. Fortunately, the fuse had become nearly extinguished, and the shell fell harmless—remaining near the mouth of the cave, as a trophy of the fearlessness of the servant and our remarkable escape. Very thankful was I for our preservation, which was the theme of conversation for a day among our cave neighbors. The incident of the blanket was also related; and all laughed heartily at my wise supposition that the blanket could be any protection from the heavy fragments of shells."

"Sitting in the cave, one evening, I heard the most heartrending screams and moans. I was told that a mother had taken a child into a cave about a hundred yards from us; and having laid it on its little bed, as the poor woman believed, in safety, she took her seat near the entrance of the cave. A mortar shell came rushing through the air, and fell with much force, entering the earth above the sleeping child—cutting through into the cave—oh! most horrible sight to the mother—crushing in the upper part of the little sleeping head, and taking away the young innocent life without a look or word of passing love to be treasured in the mother's heart."

"Our dining, breakfasting, and supper hours were quite irregular. When the shells were falling fast, the servants came in for safety, and our meals waited for completion some little time; again they would fall slowly, with the lapse of many minutes between, and out would start the cooks to their work."

THIS VICKSBURG WOMAN MADE THE INTERIOR OF HER CAVE AS HOMEY AS POSSIBLE. (LC)

Back in Vicksburg, John Pemberton looked eastward to Joseph Johnston for help. Pemberton expected a joint attack in cooperation with Johnston, but as time dragged on it became apparent that Johnston had no intention of conducting an offensive operation to relieve Vicksburg. Johnston gathered an army of some 31,000 in the Jackson area, but he continually complained to Richmond about not having enough men. He began inching his army westward toward the Big Black River on July 1, but Johnston still tarried until Vicksburg had been surrendered.

CAPTURED CONFEDERATE SUPPLIES INCLUDED BARRELS OF SALT AND MOLASSES. (CHICAGO HISTORICAL SOCIETY)

The only hope Johnston gave Pemberton was a plan to assault part of the Federal line, while Pemberton's army tried to break out simultaneously. But the plan never came to fruition, largely because Johnston really had no interest in it, partially because of the irregular correspondence between the two generals. Couriers had a difficult time getting through Union lines; some messages never did reach their destination.

U. S. Grant knew of Johnston's presence and kept a wary eye on Jackson. Grant dispatched troops to watch the Big Black and warn of any approach by the Confederates from the east. Union expeditions in other areas of Mississippi gave Johnston more to think about. Meanwhile, Union reinforcements began arriving, and by the time the siege ended Grant's army outnumbered Pemberton's by almost four to one.

UNION SOLDIERS STORM THE CONFEDERATE LINE AFTER AN EXPLOSION OPENED IT ON JUNE 25. (LC)

Inside Vicksburg, citizens who had chosen to remain and Confederate soldiers defending the city coped as best they could. Along with Grant's artillery, positioned in a semicircle connecting the northern, eastern, and southern flanks of Vicksburg, David Porter's Union gunboats almost continuously lobbed shells into the city from the river. When the shells came screaming overhead, people scattered, breathing a sigh of relief if the missiles went on past, for fragments usually fell forward. Sometimes the results were tragic as private homes and civilians fell victim to the deadly Union fire.

A THEODORE DAVIS SKETCH OF GRANT AND PEMBERTON DISCUSSING TERMS. (AMERICAN HERITAGE PICTURE COLLECTION)

Certain days would live on in the memory of the besieged, such as May 29, when the shelling "seriously damaged many buildings, killing and wounding a large number of soldiers and citizens." Homes used as hospitals occasionally got hit, doing more damage to sick and wounded patients inside.

Many residents cut caves into the hillsides and took up residence there for the duration of the siege. During lulls in the artillery barrage, people emerged from the caves and cellars and carried on lives seemingly as if nothing were wrong. But at the first sound of gunfire, they went scurrying for cover, and Vicksburg once more resembled a ghost town.

Vicksburg women wrote a special chapter of courage in the history of the siege. They carried on as wives, mothers, and nurses in spite of the terror. Some, like Mary Loughborough and Emma Balfour, kept priceless diaries that contain vivid accounts of life in their war-torn town.

As time dragged on, Pemberton continually cut rations, trying to stretch his supplies as long as possible. Mule meat became normal fare. Pemberton later recalled, "I am gratified to say it was found by officers and men not only nutritious, but very palatable, and [in] every way preferable to poor beef." Stories persisted that hungry Confederates resorted to eating rats, though siege authorities have found no credible supporting evidence. Louisiana troops did eat muskrats as they had done before the siege.

Grant's army kept up the pressure on Pemberton, ever extending his lines and tightening the noose around Vicksburg to keep the Confederates from getting supplies of food or ordnance. Union soldiers conducted classic siege operations, digging various approach trenches toward Confederate lines, forcing Rebels to stay on the alert. Yankees hid behind sap rollers (a roller was a cylindrical contraption stuffed with cotton or other protective material) as they zigzagged trenches ever closer to enemy works.

Grant also ordered mining operations. On June 25 and July 1, his engineers exploded mines, severely damaging the 3rd Louisiana Redan on the Jackson road and causing numerous casualties among the Confederates in that sector. In the words of a Louisianan, "It seemed as if all hell had suddenly yawned . . . and vomited forth its sulphurous fire and smoke upon them." "From this time forward," Pemberton later wrote, "our engineers were kept constantly and busily engaged in countermining against the enemy, who was at work day and night mining on different portions of the line."


The most spectacular Rebel raid resulted in the burning of the Federal ironclad Cincinnati, which had been crippled by Confederate artillery.

Confederates conducted sorties of their own to counterattack Union activities. The most spectacular Rebel raid resulted in the burning of the Federal ironclad Cincinnati, which had been crippled by Confederate artillery. The boat was later salvaged and put back in service, but the incident boosted morale, and Pemberton presented the raiders "with the flag captured on the occasion."

As the month of July approached, Pemberton decided that he had done all he could do to save Vicksburg. He saw no chance of help from Johnston or the Trans-Mississippi, and he may have been depressed by a bit of possible Union psychological warfare. Pemberton received a letter signed "Many Soldiers," supposedly written by Confederate soldiers who suggested surrender so they would not have to desert.

F. D. MILLET'S PAINTING OF THE 4TH MINNESOTA MARCHING INTO VICKSBURG ON JULY 4, 1863. (MINNESOTA HISTORICAL SOCIETY)

On July 4, Federal soldiers marched into Vicksburg, and Confederate soldiers, many angry and with tears in their eyes, stacked their arms. The long Vicksburg campaign had ended.

Pemberton polled his generals as to whether a breakout was possible. They unanimously said no; Bowen and Smith recommended capitulation. On July 3, Pemberton opened surrender negotiations with Grant. Grant demanded unconditional surrender, the terms that had gained him fame at Fort Donelson. Pemberton refused and demanded terms. He warned his adversary that unless he was willing to compromise, "you will bury many more of your men before you will enter Vicksburg." With the help of Bowen, who had known Grant before the war, and other generals, terms were finally reached. The Confederate soldiers must give up their arms, but they would be paroled (allowed to go free if they promised not to fight until exchanged on a one-to-one basis with Federal prisoners) and allowed to leave the city. Officers could retain their side arms, clothing, and one horse each. On July 4, Federal soldiers marched into Vicksburg, and Confederate soldiers, many angry and with tears in their eyes, stacked their arms. The long Vicksburg campaign had ended.

A VIEW OF THE CITY DURING WARTIME. (LC)

John Pemberton never escaped the shadow of Vicksburg. Accused of being a traitor for surrendering on July 4, he claimed he did so to get better terms. In the aftermath of surrender, Pemberton and Johnston pointed accusing fingers at each other; Pemberton demanded but never got a court of inquiry. Vicksburg was his last major command; in 1864 he accepted a reduction in rank and served out the remainder of the war quietly in the eastern theater. Johnston assumed command of the Army of Tennessee in 1864, was fired by President Davis during the Atlanta campaign, and then brought back to lead the same army during the closing months of the war in North Carolina. The one true Confederate hero of the Vicksburg campaign, John Bowen, died of dysentery shortly after the siege.


WALLPAPER AND GRANT'S DINNER

Due to a shortage of paper in Louisiana and Mississippi some 31 known editions of newspapers were printed on the back side of wallpaper. Six siege editions of the Vicksburg Daily Citizen have been identified: June 16, 18, 20, 27, 30, and July 2, 1863.

On July 4, victorious Union soldiers reprinted the July 2 edition with an addendum. They had found that editor J. W. Swords had written about Grant's boast that he would have dinner in Vicksburg on July 4, "Ulysses must get into the city before he dines in it. The way to cook a rabbit is first to catch it'."

The soldiers inserted the following paragraph:

"Two days bring about great changes. The banner of the Union floats over Vicksburg. Gen. Grant has caught the rabbit,' he has dined in Vicksburg, and he did bring his dinner with him. The Citizen lives to see it. For the last time it appears on Wallpaper.' No more will it eulogize the luxury of mule-meat and fricasseed kitten—urge Southern warriors to such diet nevermore. This is the last wallpaper edition, and is, excepting this note, from the types as we found them."

GENERAL GRANT AND GENERAL PEMBERTON MEET AT THE ROCK HOUSE IN VICKSBURG ON JULY 4, 1863. (BL)

U. S. Grant's victorious campaign made him a national hero. Ahead lay victory at Chattanooga and then command of all Union forces and triumph over Robert E. Lee in Virginia. Beyond the war loomed the presidency of the United States, though a series of scandals would tarnish his image. The emotional Cump Sherman trumpeted the end of the successful campaign as a "day of Jubilee." Fame awaited Sherman in his Georgia campaign of 1864, the capture of Atlanta, his famous "march to the sea," and final triumph in North Carolina. After the war he would succeed his friend Grant as general of United States armies.

THESE UNION GUNS GUARDING VICKSBURG'S REAR WOULD NEVER HAVE TO FIRE. (LC)

So the Vicksburg campaign passed into history, unsurpassed during the Civil War for its decisive and far-reaching results. The Confederacy had lost an army, and the Trans-Mississippi Confederacy had been severed from its sister states, creating insurmountable logistical and strategic problems. The Union had gained momentum for ultimate victory in the western theater of the war. Now Federal forces could concentrate on the one remaining Confederate army in the west, the Army of Tennessee.

A SILENT CANNON AT VICKSBURG NATIONAL MILITARY PARK OVERLOOKS THE MISSISSIPPI (NPS)

Psychological factors were also significant. Coming the day after Robert E. Lee had been defeated at Gettysburg, the early days of July 1863 had a tremendous impact on morale, North and South. Southerners wondered if their dream of independence had received mortal blows. Northerners had renewed hope of a reunited country. Symbolic of their euphoria was the great river, the backbone of the nation, the father of waters, the Mississippi, which, as Abraham Lincoln said in simple eloquence, again rolled "unvexed to the sea."


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Vicksburg National Military Park

Back cover: Siege at Vicksburg, artist unknown. Courtesy Frank and Marie Wood Print Collection.
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