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Doc. 36.-the siege of Vicksburgh.


McPherson's attack, June twenty-fifth.

headquarters Logan's division, centre corps Army Besieging Vicksburgh, Friday, June 26.
I Append below a few of the particulars of the most important operation of the siege since the mournful result of the twenty-second--the attempt of the central division to effect a lodgment in one of the enemy's most conspicuous forts. You are informed that the method of reducing the stronghold in front of us is, first, a complete investment of the garrison, cutting off all supplies and intercourse; second, a system of earth-works [202] protecting batteries, by which the guns of the enemy are silenced, and a curtain of riflepits and galleries, by which he is intimidated from strengthening his position.

In the selection of the site for this chain of works, the rebels have of course seized all the advantages which the very remarkable ground afforded. The highest hills and steepest hollows have all been duly taken into their account, and whenever the finale shall permit, the few square miles between us and the river will show some of the most remarkable fortifications the engineering world has ever seen.

Running in a slanting line from the north side of the city of Vicksburgh, backward toward the railroad, runs a prominent ridge with a system of spurs or branches. Along the north side of this rests the rebel left, crossing the main ridge at the centre in the position assigned at present to the division of General Logan. On the crest of this backbone they have constructed, in the system of intrenchments, a salient fort, originally designed for a number of guns. The guns originally in this work have for three weeks been silent, and more recently been removed. Here as elsewhere our sappers have been at work crawling up to the side of the fort. On the outer side the fort overlooked a steep chasm. Here the ingenuity of sapping was at fault.

On Saturday last, we had a general bombardment, and advantage was taken of it to send a couple of adventurous diggers across the ravine, who commenced an earnest excavation under the very walls of the fort, hewn as they are, in part, out of the natural sedimentary cliff. Since then the miners have been faithfully at work, the rebels have been kept silent by our ever-watchful sharp-shooters, and perhaps ignorant of the operations going on under their very feet. Indeed, nothing is more striking in this whole siege than the fact that the two lines are so close together that at points the muzzles of the rifles are not more than twenty feet apart, and those of the cannon not more than two hundred and fifty yards.

Here have we seen for days the forts blazing in lightning flashes and storming thunder crashes at less than half the usual distance, although all the protection is a rude wall of earth thrown up in front of gabions, which latter are planted under fire of the concealed riflemen of the enemy. In fact, the lines described by the works of bth parties may be indicated in outlines by conceiving two thirds of a circle. On the chord rests Vicksburgh; on the same side are heavy guns and rifle-pits, with which we have no present concern. On the circle commencing from the supposed centre is, first a line of heavy batteries of the enemy; at a distance of perhaps a mile to those quarters is a second line of abandoned forts from which the enemy has been driven by successive bombardment; between these is one ground chain of rifle-pits.

Beyond and still further from the centre, about two hundred yards, is a line of national rifle-pits with crooked branches extending toward, touching at points, the last mentioned line. Further out still is a line of abandoned rifle-pits, with their branching saps, and an irregular line of forts on every considerable crest of the series. Thus the lines present two sets of lines for each party; an interior double line for which we are contending, and which is at places blended and interplexed; on each side of it a line of batteries.

Our superiority in artillery has aided to force the rebels back from their original line. While we have more than a hundred guns of every desirable calibre and pattern along our line, the enemy is not supposed to have more than fifty movable pieces, and the same number of heavy pieces on the river-bank, where they silently grin at the equally silent navy's long-range cannon.

On yesterday afternoon, about three o'clock, the troops all along the line might have been seen in order of battle, the guns keeping up their usual din and the sharp-shooters more than usually brisk with their fire.

Several prominent officers might have been seen, glasses in hand, and their eyes turned in two directions; mainly, however, on the hump of land in the centre. Presently a movement might have been seen of the earth; upward it rose, as if some slumbering man of the mountain were shaking off the superfluous covering; in a moment more, through a gaping crater, a shaft of white smoke rushed through, and then a cloud of dust. An instant clatter of fire-arms then commenced, and raged with painful intensity for an hour, when, out of the confusion of smoke something might have been seen of two sets of combatants, almost, as you may say, at arm's length.

All this while, before and after the explosion, there was a terrific cannonade. Previously every gun along the line was in play, and the intervals of a few seconds not filled with the burst of shells, the crack of guns of all calibres, were closed up by the more awful crackle of the infantry along the whole line. It is true that no assault was being made along the line, but the whole circuit of muskets was firing, firing into the aimless air; nobody was to be seen; there were the bleak ridges as ever; there the silent forts; but the bullets were whizzing into their intrench. ments in myraids of radial lines. We have come to learn and to realize how fatal all this shower of leaden hail may have been, if it had no ulterior purpose, though not a soul was to be seen. Its real purpose was, however, to prevent any concentration on the critical points, by feigning an attack at all. Besides the one on the centre, another was selected on Blair's front, which, as we learned afterward, proved abortive, there being an insufficiency of powder, or it being placed too loosely in the mine.

The way in which the fort on McPherson's front was exploded is, as we learn from some of the participants, as follows: After the diggers had cut across the middle of the fort, which was a prominent fort, and, by reason of our flanking it, has been so pierced as to be almost of the [203] parallelogram or nearly an oblong shape, they deposited in it a ton of powder, and then sealed up the cavity as tightly as possible. A train of powder and slow match were only required to explode this immense mass and set free the enormous gaseous force, so soon as the disposition was made for the climacteric. The efficient superintendence of this operation is due to Captain Hickenlooper, of McPherson's staff.

After the explosion, which, by the way, was either noiseless, or at least not noticeable in the rear of heavy guns, our soldiers rushed for the breach, intending to occupy the whole of the work. The blast had opened up a rift right across the fort, extending from wall to wall. The rebels, as if they had knowledge of the design, or else by a marvellous coincidence, rushed simultaneously from the other end. The powder had left a couple of huge projecting lips, and between them a crater-like fissure, making the distance from furrow to furrow from ten to twenty feet. Thus, ranged behind these new-formed walls, our men found themselves face to face with their foes, and a dire and dreadful slaughter commenced from perhaps three hundred men on each side, within this arena of two hundred feet in length.

The contest was severe, and the fresh packs of rifles kept opening on all sides. The gunners loaded and fired away vigorously. The rebels crowded up with great spirit. Our men went in, a regiment at a time, with full cartridge-boxes, and in thirty minutes were relieved by others. The firing for about an hour was more terrific than any battle-field ever the gory field of war has witnessed. Had every shot touched its man there would have been half a million slain; as it was, by far the greater portion of them found lodgment in the solid clay.

The first regiment which rushed in was the scarred remnant of the Forty-fifth Illinois, whose members lie on a dozen illustrious fields, led by Colonel Maltby. Its loss was necessarily severe. It was seconded by the “Bloody Seventh” Missouri, who were soon recalled.

Next went in the Twentieth Illinois, who kept up a gallant resistance for a half-hour, when the Thirty-first Illinois, under Lieutenant-Colonel Reese, went in. Subsequently, during the evening and night, the Twenty-third Indiana, the Forty-sixth Illinois, and the Fifty-sixth Illinois, the latter under its beloved Colonel, Melancthon Smith. The list then commenced again, relieving in this same order.

The melee at first was terrible, although the losses were not proportionate at all to the noise. The men on both sides were engaged in throwing up temporary works with a view to getting a light field-piece in position. They had gotten a notched piece of timber rolled up to the top of the rough bank, when smash came a blast from a ten-pounder right in their faces, sending the stick of timber right amongst them, singeing their hair and blackening them with the discharge, killing two or three outright.

This blow struck Colonel Maltby with stunning force. The rattle of musketry kept up until nightfall. Our batteries on Lightburn's and Giles Smith's front, as well as from Burbridge, kept firing on the rebels; but from the nearness of the combatants, the missiles either did not reach the thick of the rebel opposition, or came so close as to injure our own men. In a few hours, however, they had felt so much reconciled to their position as to commence a most dangerous and dreadful piece of warfare-casting lighted shells over into one end of the fort. Some grenades, it is said, were first thrown, and afterward twenty-twos and twenty-fours. Our forces seeing the dismay and destruction, still felt secure enough to commence the same game, heaving however, some very heavy shells to the rebel end of the work.

I may say here that our possession of this end of the fort is regarded as complete as that of the enemy to the rest. It is believed, also, by General McPherson and his engineers that, if not too much pressed, he can in a day or two establish a battery within the work. The contest still rages, and as both sides are throwing up earthworks, it seems as if we might find at the end of a few days our point gained and our lines advanced to a most commanding position.

Our losses, I grieve to say, include several very fine officers. The total up to noon to-day, in this particular division, will amount to about three hundred in killed and wounded — perhaps forty of the former. Major Leander Fink was killed by a ball through the forehead. Colonel Melancthon Smith, an excellent soldier and a model gentleman, is dangerously and we fear mortally wounded. Lieutenant-Colonel Reese, of the Thirty-first Illinois, is wounded in the arm. Lieutenant J. Clifford, of the Forty-fifth Illinois, is wounded severely. Captain Boyce and Adjutant Frohok, of the same regiment, are wounded also. There are some others, removed to the general hospital, whose names I cannot send at present. 1


1 See Report of General Grant, page 142, Docs. ante.

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