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Chapter 6:

The proclamation of blockade issued by President Lincoln April 19, 1861, was put in force for the Mississippi river in June, when the Powhatan and Brooklyn took position off the passes. Other war vessels were presently added to the blockading squadron. Following this the launches of the hostile ships began a series of marauding expeditions in Mississippi Sound, and to stop this an expedition was organized by Captain Higgins. With two lake steamers, armed with cannon, the Oregon under Capt. A. L. Myers, and the Swain under Lieut. A. F. Warley, he sailed out July 6th to the cruising ground of the enemy. Finding no hostile sails in sight he decided to occupy Ship Island, and landed the guns and men, the Swain remaining while the Oregon returned to New Orleans to obtain provisions and munitions. On her return she was accompanied by the Grey Cloud, and they found the little garrison under Lieutenant Warley gallantly defending themselves from an attack by the U. S. Steamer Massachusetts. The garrison had been eking out their supply of ammunition by digging out the enemy's round shot from the sand, and when more supplies were landed by the Oregon, gave the Massachusetts so warm a greeting that she hauled off to the Chandeleur Islands.

Three companies, under Lieut.-Col. H. W. Allen, were brought over from Mississippi City, and fortification of the island was begun. This work was continued in a [68] desultory manner during the summer, but the fortifications were abandoned September 16th, upon the recommendation of Col. J. K. Duncan, and the garrison just removed in time to escape an attack from Federal war. ships, which were seen bearing down upon the island as the last Confederate boat was leaving. The enemy shelled quite vigorously what they supposed was a masked battery. On December 8th the island was occupied by a brigade from the department of New England, to which Gen. Benjamin F. Butler had been assigned. Several gunboats of the Federal squadron also made this island their base, while they attacked Confederate shipping and harassed the Mississippi coast.

On April 3d, a force of 500 Federals was landed at Biloxi, and General Lovell, in command of the department, arranged for an attack upon them by seven companies of the Third Mississippi, Colonel Deason, stationed at Handsborough and Pass Christian, while Commodore Whittle with the Carondelet, Pamlico and Oregon should engage the Federal vessels; but the enemy's fleet was reinforced by two ships, the troops were re-embarked and the Confederate boats repulsed. The expedition then landed 1,200 men at Pass Christian, who overpowered the three companies there and burned their camp, the men retreating and joining Colonel Deason's other battalion.1 Deason marched on Biloxi, found it abandoned, and was then ordered to rendezvous his regiment at Pass Christian; but it was soon withdrawn to New Orleans, where it remained until the city was evacuated.

In March, 1862, the combined naval and military expedition against the lower Mississippi defenses was ready to move. Commodore Farragut had a formidable fleet in the passes, and General Butler, who arrived at Ship Island March 21st, embarked 6,000 men on the 29th to [69] support the naval attack. After a five days bombardment of Forts Jackson and St. Philip, Farragut passed the forts April 24th, and took possession of New Orleans, while the remainder of his fleet compelled the surrender of the forts. The garrison of New Orleans had been stripped of troops for the military operations further north, and only the Third Mississippi remained to represent this State among the 2,000 or 3,000 men present. The advance of the Federal fleet up the river reached Natchez May 12th, where Col. C. G. Dahlgren was then stationed as commandant, with hardly a corporal's guard. The mayor was summoned to surrender the city, and was compelled to promptly comply. Colonel Dahlgren, who had retired to Washington, resumed command after the boats passed, ordered cotton burned, and reported that he had thrown into the county jail a citizen who had offered to carry the demand for surrender from the Federal boat to the mayor; but General Beauregard's orders in the matter indicated that the treason of the citizen might be expiated by thirty days in jail.

Meanwhile Gen. M. L. Smith had been assigned to the command at Vicksburg, on May 12, 1862, on which date three batteries had been completed and a fourth begun, the work being pushed vigorously by Col. J. L. Autry and Chief Engineer D. B. Harris. On May 18th, when the first division of the Federal fleet arrived, under Com. S. Phillips Lee, six batteries were complete and fairly well manned. The armed troops present consisted of parts of two Louisiana regiments. Lee sent a note to the ‘authorities of Vicksburg’ demanding surrender of the town and its defenses, May 18, 1862, to which three answers were immediately given, one by Mayor L. Lindsay, who said that he had no control of the defenses— ‘but, sir, in further reply, I will state that neither the municipal authorities nor the citizens will ever consent to the surrender of the city;’ another by James L. Autry, military governor and colonel commanding post, who defiantly [70] said: ‘Mississippians don't know and refuse to learn how to surrender to an enemy. If Commodore Farragut or Brigadier-General Butler can teach them, let them come and try;’ and the third, an enclosure in Autry's note, from General Smith, commanding the forces at or near Vicksburg, who stated that ‘having been ordered here to hold these defenses, my intention is to do so as long as it is in my power.’

In the report of General Smith of this first attack on Vicksburg, from which we now liberally quote, he says: ‘The citizens of the town had with great unanimity made up their minds that its possession ought to be maintained at all hazards, even though total demolition should be the result. This determination was enthusiastically concurred in by persons of all ages and both sexes, and borne to my ears from every quarter. Thus cheered on and upheld, the defense became an affair of more than public interest, and the approving sentiments of those so deeply interested unquestionably had its influence on the ultimate result. Our cause probably needed an example of this kind, and assuredly a brighter one has never been given. The inhabitants had been advised to leave the city when the smoke of the ascending gunboats was first seen, under the impression that the enemy would open fire immediately upon arrival, hence the demands for surrender found the city sparsely populated and somewhat prepared for an attack, although when it really commenced there were numbers still to depart, besides many who had determined to remain and take the chances of escaping unharmed, a few of whom absolutely endured to the end.’

In the fall of 1861, the construction had been begun at Memphis of two ironclad rams, the Tennessee and Arkansas, to be completed December 24th; but as they were unfinished at the fall of Island No.10,he Tennessee was burned and the Arkansas was brought down the Mississippi and taken up the Yazoo river to Greenwood for completion. [71] About the time the bombardment of Vicksburg began, the work of completing the boat was put in charge of Lieut. Isaac N. Brown, C. S. N., who had entered the United States navy from Mississippi in 1834, and since then had had a distinguished career as a naval officer.

The enemy's fleet remained inactive for more than a week, during which time it was reinforced to ten gunboats, and Smith's command was increased by the Twentieth and Twenty-eighth Louisiana volunteers, five companies of Starke's cavalry, Ridley's battery of Withers' artillery, and four companies of the Sixth Mississippi battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel Balfour. These troops were thrown forward toward Warrenton to resist a land attack. Later, two more Louisiana regiments arrived.

On May 21st,Commander Lee gave formal notice of the necessity of removing women and children within twenty-four hours, ‘as it will be impossible to attack the defenses without injuring or destroying the town, a proceeding which all the authorities of Vicksburg seem determined to require. I had hoped,’ Lee wrote, ‘that the same spirit which induced the military authorities to retire from the city of New Orleans rather than wantonly sacrifice the lives and property of its inhabitants would have been followed here.’

This ingenuous suggestion failed to secure the abandonment of the batteries, and on the afternoon of the 26th the gunboats opened fire and continued it about two hours, apparently with the intention of getting our range. The batteries were ordered not to return the fire at long range, and very sparingly at short range, for the double purpose of saving the limited ammunition and keeping the men fresh for any assault that might be made. From that time until the middle of June the firing of the boats was kept up at intervals, and sometimes quite heavily, during the latter part of the time being directed at the town or localities where troops were suspected. From June 14th to 18th there was a cessation of the attack, [72] the Federals waiting for the arrival of the mortar fleet which had taken such an effective part in the reduction of Forts Jackson and St. Philip. Eighteen of these were in position June 20th, and the garrison had not only this new danger to confront them, but unknown perils from the north, Fort Pillow and Memphis having fallen, and the river being open for hostile expeditions throughout its entire course in the Confederate States, save only at Vicksburg.

In spite of all gloomy forebodings the Confederate garrison worked on with unabated courage, finally completing their ten batteries under fire. Without reinforcements they endured a bombardment from the mortars and gunboats every day from the 20th to the 27th, at times very heavy and frequently lasting until late at night. On the 28th General Van Dorn, department commander, arrived, and with him the advance of Breckinridge's division, which occupied the city. Guns were brought up from Mobile, Richmond, Columbus, and elsewhere, and put in battery. Smith's brigade remained at the batteries and with details from Breckinridge's division guarded the flank approaches, a duty which was shared by Withers' light artillery, while Starke's cavalry served on outpost duty on the Yazoo and Mississippi rivers. The batteries now mounted 29 guns, of which two were 10-inch Columbiads, the rest being old style 42 and 32 pounders.

The fire from the enemy's boats began to increase in fury on the night of the 27th, when for several hours a shower of bomb-shells fell from the batteries that sorely tried the courage of the gunners. But they kept their places and easily repaired all damage.

‘At daylight on the 28th,’ reported General Smith, ‘the enemy recommenced with the same fury, and soon the gunboats were moving rapidly up in front of the city, and the fire of thirty-five vessels was directed upon the batteries. The mortars filled the air with shells, and the [73] sloops of war and gunboats delivered broadsides of shot, shell or grape, according to their distance. Our batteries opened as soon as they were within range and for the first time in full force. The roar of the cannon was now continuous and deafening; loud explosions shook the city to its foundations; shot and shell went hissing and tearing through trees and walls, scattering fragments far and wide in their terrific flight; men, women and children rushed into the streets, and amid the crash of falling houses, commenced their hasty flight to the country for safety. This continued for about an hour and a half, when the enemy left, the vessels that had passed the lower batteries continuing on up the river, apparently as the quickest means of getting out of range, those that had not passed rapidly dropping down.’

This encounter demonstrated the remarkable inefficiency of a naval attack upon the Vicksburg batteries, as not a single gun had been disabled, and pointed out that, as General Smith prophetically remarked, ‘the ultimate success of our resistance hinged upon a movement by land.’ The mortar shells would make holes in the firm clay seventeen feet deep, and it was a difficult matter to make bomb-proofs against such missiles. Yet few citizens or soldiers were killed by the fire of the fleet, although the demoniac howling of the shells had a very demoralizing effect on those unaccustomed to them. Chief Engineer S. H. Lockett has told of a Frenchman, a gallant officer who served under him, who was almost unmanned when one of the bomb-shells passed near him. He was not ashamed to confess: ‘I no like ze bomb; I cannot fight him back.’

But while in the terrific encounter of the 28th it had been shown that Vicksburg was impregnable to naval attack, it was also, on the other hand, shown that the Federal vessels with some loss and damage could run the batteries, whose high position on the bluff made them less destructive as well as secure. Farragut now took position behind [74] the neck of land opposite Vicksburg, with nine of his vessels, and the neck itself was occupied by Gen. Thomas Williams with an infantry force which was considered too small to attempt an attack upon Vicksburg by land. Williams, therefore, by order of General Butler (who also dug a canal at Dutch Gap), engaged in the undertaking of cutting a ditch across the neck, so as to change the course of the river and leave Vicksburg and its obdurate defenders on an unimportant bayou. But this effort to add to the territory of the State, and render Vicksburg a side issue, did not win the co-operation of the Father of Waters, who fell faster than the ditch could be dug; and, in fact, never would appreciate the well-meant attempt to shorten his course to the Gulf.

The bombardment continued day by day, but with less vigor, and on June 12th more than forty gunboats, mortar-boats and transports had arrived from Memphis under Flag-Officer Davis, above Vicksburg, and took part in the attack upon the batteries and city. Even the citizens who remained became accustomed to the steady dropping of shells, and went about their daily business. Women and children who remained sheltered in caves would come out and divert themselves by watching the fiery instruments of destruction, taking refuge again when the shots would concentrate in their neighborhood.

Finally the situation, which had grown monotonous, was enlivened by one of the most gallant performances in the history of the Confederate navy. The arming of the ram Arkansas had been progressing rapidly under the most unfavorable circumstances, inspired by the indomitable energy of Captain Brown. The planters furnished laborers; forges were sent in; the hoisting engine of the steamboat Capitol was employed to drive drills; guncar-riages were made from timber that was standing when work was begun; and in five weeks from the time the incomplete vessel reached the Yazoo she was a formidable warship. Previous to her completion, Commander A. W. [75] Ellet went up the Yazoo with two rams, about sixty-five miles, intending to destroy three gunboats, the Van Dorn, Polk and Livingston. It does not appear from Ellet's report of this expedition that he was aware of the existence of the Arkansas. But if he were, his effort to reach her was defeated by the Confederates, who set fire to the three gunboats and cut them loose. Before their fiery advance Ellet sailed at full speed and escaped to the Mississippi.

The Arkansas was completed, and in appearance suggested both the Merrimac and the Monitor, having the ends above water like the latter, and with the armored shed of the former shortened up to a ‘gun-box’ amidships. The armor was ordinary railroad iron. The battery was respectable for that period, ten guns, including two 64-pounders and two 100-pounders, and was manned principally by men from the late river fleet, commanded by experienced officers from the old United States navy.

On July 12th,Captain Brown dropped down to Satartia bar, and after a day spent in organization and drill started down to encounter the enemy's fleet. At the mouth of Sunflower creek it was found that steam had wet the powder in the forward magazine so as to render it unfit for use, and it was necessary to tie up and spread the powder out in the sun to dry. Finally, after more vexatious delays, the ram entered the broad expanse of Old river, and was there met at dawn, on the 15th of July, by the ironclad-Carondelet, the wooden gunboat Tyler, and the ram Queen of the West. The Arkansas immediately started at full speed for the Carondelet, which fired one gun and then turned tail, followed by the other vessels. The Arkansas opened fire with her 8-inch guns, and the 64-pound projectiles were seen to have marked effect on the armor of the Federal ironclad. The latter and the other Federal boats kept up a spirited fire from their stern guns. The pilot-house of the Arkansas was imperfectly covered with 1-inch bars, and a shot from the [76] enemy wrought havoc in that quarter, mortally wounding Chief-Pilot Hodges and disabling Shacklett, the Yazoo river pilot. James Brady, a Missourian, then took the wheel, and all went well until the Tyler, slowing up, came within gunshot and a minie ball struck Brown in the temple and momentarily rendered him unconscious. On recovering he resumed command and passing the Carondelet, which took refuge in shallow water, he drove the other two boats before him into the river.

On turning down the Mississippi toward Vicksburg, it was found that the temperature in the engine-room had run up to 130 degrees, so that the engines could only be tended by frequent relays of men and the connections between the furnaces and the smokestack had been shot away, so that only 20 pounds of steam were available, barely enough to turn the engines. This destroyed all hope of using the vessel as a ram in the conflict with the great Federal fleet which now lay before Brown and his men like a forest of masts and smokestacks. But they had no mind to do else than what in fact was the only thing they could do—go ahead with the current. Undauntedly they advanced to the attack of what Brown described as appearing like a whole navy, four or five ironclads, six or seven rams and the fleet of Farragut generally.

As the Arkansas neared the head of the line she opened with her bow guns on the Hartford, Farragut's flagship at New Orleans, and soon all her guns were in action. The day was calm and the smoke settled down so that the gunners could only aim at the flashes of fire which encircled them on all sides. The shock of missiles was continuous on the sides of the gallant Arkansas, and the rain of shrapnel made it impossible to remain on the shield-deck. Still she replied with unceasing vigor, firing in every direction ‘without the fear of hitting a friend or missing an enemy.’ The approach of a ram at the stern was diverted by the powerful rifle guns. ‘Another ram [77] was across our way ahead,’ says Brown in an account of this wonderful fight. ‘As I gave the order, “Go through him, Brady,” his steam went into the air and his crew into the river. A shot from one of our bow guns had gone through his boiler and saved the collision. We passed by and through the brave fellows struggling in the water under a shower of missiles intended for us. When near the end of this ordeal, a large ironclad was seen square in front, which escaped ramming by steaming ahead, receiving the Arkansas' last shots in the fight, which must have gone through the vessel from rudder to prow.’

As the ram approached Vicksburg the lower fleet was seen, one vessel aground and in flames. But the Arkansas had no desire to engage them immediately. Her smokestack was cut to pieces, a section of plating torn from the side, and her dead and wounded demanded attention. Amid enthusiastic cheers, the ram made a landing opposite City Hall, and dropping down to the coal depot began coaling and repairing under the fire of the lower fleet.

This movement of Brown's compelled part of the fleet above the city to drop down again below Vicksburg, which was begun that evening. The Arkansas, notwithstanding her crippled condition, gallantly put out into the stream, but was immediately still more disabled by a 160-pound iron bolt which crashed through her engine room, injuring the engine and killing, among others, Pilot Gilmore, and knocking overboard the heroic steersman Brady. It also destroyed all the medical supplies and broke a very serious leak. Nevertheless, the indomitable gunners stood to their work, sending broadside after broadside into the Federal boats as they dropped past. A few days later, as the Arkansas lay at anchor with only enough men on board to man two guns, and engine disabled, the ironclad Essex and ram Queen of the West endeavored to cut her out or run her down under the guns [78] of the batteries; but, though killing half the crew and further disabling the Arkansas, failed in their purpose and themselves suffered severely. This fourth and final battle left the Arkansas, as Brown is fully justified in saying, ‘though reduced in crew to twenty men all told for duty, still defiant in the presence of a hostile force, perhaps exceeding in strength that which fought under Nelson at Trafalgar.’

With this failure to destroy the Arkansas the serious attack upon Vicksburg ceased, although the bombardment was kept up until the 27th, when both fleets disappeared. For sixty-seven days the enemy had been in front of Vicksburg, and during much of the time had been raining shot and shell into the devoted city and defenses. The number of Federal missiles was estimated at from 20,000 to 25,000, yet the casualties in the batteries were only seven killed and fifteen wounded, and but two deaths were reported from the town. Probably 300 guns were used against the defenses, but of the comparatively small number on the Confederate side not one was dismounted, and but two temporarily disabled.

The troops gathered by General Van Dorn for the defense of Vicksburg included the brigades of General Helm, General Bowen, General Preston, Colonel Statham and General Smith. The Mississippi organizations in these commands were the Thirty-first infantry, Colonel Orr, with Helm; the Sixth infantry, Colonel Lowry, and Second Confederate battalion, James C. Malone, with Bowen; the Fifteenth infantry, Lieutenant-Colonel Farrell, and the Twenty-second infantry, Captain Hughes, with Statham; the Sixth battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel Balfour; the Third infantry, Colonel Mellon; Company I, Thirty-ninth infantry, Captain Randel; First regiment Mississippi light artillery, Colonel Withers; Twenty-eighth Mississippi cavalry, Colonel Starke, with Smith.

These officers and men are mentioned in the reports of Generals Smith and Van Dorn in the most complimentary [79] terms. ‘The lamented Colonel Statham's brigade, under his own lead, showed a bravery in guarding the front of attack assigned him that could not be surpassed. On one occasion, having forced his way through a swamp deemed impassable, he made a rush upon the mortar-boats moored to the shore, driving the force guarding on board, and, had the positions of the boats been accurately known, would have taken possession of and destroyed several.’

But the Mississippians alone did not gain this splendid result. As General Van Dorn, himself one of the State's most famous sons, well said: ‘The power which baffled the enemy resided in the breasts of the soldiers of seven States, marshaled behind the ramparts at Vicksburg. Mississippians were there, but there were also the men of Kentucky, of Tennessee, of Alabama, of Arkansas, of Louisiana and of Missouri, as ready to defend the emporium of Mississippi as to strike down the foe at their own hearthstones.’

According to the report of General Smith, ‘the report of the struggle at Vicksburg would be incomplete without the following merited tribute: During the engagement of the 28th, an estimable lady, Mrs. Gamble, lost her life by a fragment of shell striking her as she left the city. This lady deserves more than a passing notice. Burning with patriotism, she inspired all around her with the noble spirit of resistance to oppression and confidence in the success of our cause. Ever present in the hospitals, ministering to the sick and wounded soldiers, she was among the last of her sex to leave the devoted city, where she yielded up her life in attestation to her faith and devotion. Though but the type of a class of which our Southern land can boast, she is a martyr to the cause she loved, and without her name the history which Vicksburg has made for herself would be incomplete.’

General Smith called attention to another fact, that after the Federal fleet had given up their attempt to reduce the batteries and had in fact partly retired, they continued [80] to throw shells into the town ‘day after day, with the sole purpose of injuring it or defacing it, or destroying private property; indicating a spirit of wanton destruction scarcely pardonable in an uncivilized Indian. This seemed to be the special mission of the upper fleet. Shame to the man who commanded it!’

On May 26th, General Williams had landed some of his infantry at Grand Gulf, on account of a Confederate battery there firing upon the Federal vessels, and a skirmish ensued in which a few were wounded on each side.

On June 9th, the batteries at Grand Gulf were attacked by the U. S. steamers Wissahickon and Itasca, but repulsed the assault. The Federal infantry under General Williams reached this point June 22d, and made a flank movement by Bayou Pierre, but the Confederate force withdrew in safety. General Williams reported that he found one sentinel on picket at Grand Gulf, and that he burned the town.

After the abandonment of the attack on Vicksburg, Williams' brigade went into camp at Baton Rouge, and on July 27th General Breckinridge started from Vicksburg, with something less than 4,000 men, to attack him. At Camp Moore, General Ruggles with his command joined the expedition, and the forces were divided off in two divisions, the first under General Charles Clark including the Fifteenth, Thirty-first, and Twenty-second Mississippi. Everything was ready for the attack on the morning of August 5th, when it was understood the ram Arkansas would be on hand to co-operate. The famous ram was not in condition to undertake such an adventure, and her commander was disabled by illness. But she was ordered out, to be at Baton Rouge at the appointed time, under the command of Lieutenant Stephens. In the effort to arrive on time one of the engines broke down, and the other drove the boat ashore within sight of her destination. In a little while the Essex was seen approaching, and to avoid surrender Stephens sent his [81] men ashore, while he set fire to the boat. So, with colors flying, the gallant Arkansas was blown into the air in the face of her expectant foe.

Unaware of this disaster, Breckinridge attacked Williams on August 5th. Sickness had reduced his force to about 2,600 men, and according to the Federal reports the enemy had about the same strength. The battle was successful in driving the enemy from his intrenchments and camp, which was burned; but the loss was heavy, including General Clark, who, severely wounded, was at his request left on the field with Lieutenant Yerger, one of his faithful aides. The Twenty-second regiment, led by Capt. F. Hughes, who fell mortally wounded, and the Thirty-first, Maj. H. E. Topp, took a prominent part in the battle. The Fifteenth, Major Binford, was held in reserve.

Capt. John A. Buckner, assistant adjutant-general, who was assigned to the command of the First brigade, Clark's division, after Gen. B. H. Helm and Col. T. H. Hunt had been wounded, reported that his command (which included the Thirty-first Mississippi), after driving the Federals from one encampment, advanced spiritedly to the second, and was hotly engaged when ordered to retire by General Clark, who fell in the retrograde movement. Continuing his report to General Breckinridge, Captain Buckner said: ‘The Second brigade [which included the Fifteenth and Twenty-second Mississippi] was then ordered by yourself to advance. It went up in good style, Captain Hughes, commanding Twenty-second Mississippi regiment, leading them gallantly. By your presence and assistance the First brigade was rallied and led by yourself in person to the same position from which it had fallen back, when it joined with the Second brigade and they moved conjointly through the second encampment, driving the enemy before them through the third and last of their camps to the river, under cover of their gunboats. This being accomplished, which was all [82] that was expected of the land force, the Arkansas failing to make her appearance, nothing remained but to destroy what had been captured . . . and retire from the range of the enemy's heavy batteries on the river.’

Company I of the Thirty-ninth Mississippi shared the gallant services of the Fourth Louisiana and lost two men. The loss in killed and wounded of the Thirty-first was 47, of the Twenty-second 47. The Federal loss was also heavy, including General Williams, killed. Breckinridge then encamped at Port Hudson and began the fortification of that place, and on August 19th, with a portion of his command, moved to Jackson.

1 The flag that was captured on that day from Company A, Capt. B. Curran, was returned to him by Col. John B. Healy, Ninth Connecticut, with public ceremonies, during the Columbian exposition at Chicago.

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