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Reminiscences of the siege of Vicksburg. Paper no. 3—(conclusion).

By, Major J. T. Hogane, of the Engineer Corps.
Nearly every evening about dusk there would be a cessation of firing by the sharp-shooters. Then the banter of the men on both sides would commence, and perhaps truces were made to meet outside of the works. One moonlight night I asked who the officer was in front, and after telling me his name, he invited me to a conference. We met in a ravine about one hundred feet from our line and talked faster in a given time than four men could have talked under less exciting conditions. This officer whose kindness I acknowledge, tendered me his note-book to write a letter to my wife, who over two years before, I had left in St. Louis. She answered it by way of a ‘flag of truce’ and I got her letter in Richmond afterwards. Johnny Reb and Jonathan Fed had many a set-to, to see who could say the funniest things, or who could outwit the other in a trade, which generally ended by a warning cry, ‘going to shoot, Johnny.’

There never was an instance during the whole siege that advantage was taken by either side during these short truces, made extra-official by the men themselves. From day to day the privates on the outside excited our curiosity by hints that in a short time they would blow the very foundations of the city into the air. They made it an open secret that when they got ready, two hundred cannon, opened on us, all at the same time, would make ‘Rome howl,’ at which the insides sneered.

The night before the guns opened—for it was no idle boast our opponents had been making—I was engaged raising the epaulement of a twenty-four pound smooth bore, with a detail worn out to the last stage of usefulness. One boy laid down on the ground, telling his sergeant that he could not lift his spade, much less dirt. The sergeant reported him to me as insubordinate, so I went to see what was the matter. The boy frankly said he was starving, and [485] his pale face, seen in the light of the moon, told the truth more emphatically than his voice. I thought of that boy's mother, away off in the hills of Alabama, that perhaps at that moment was praying for the life of her child, whose right foot edged the grave, and that was awaiting the order to forward march from the King of the shadowland. I had a hard biscuit in my pocket that had lain there for the coming hour, when we were to cut our way out. I placed it in his hand. He looked at it, and at me, then burst into a flood of tears, and whispered faintly, ‘Is this for me?’ I never saw him more, but I hope that fair-faced boy reached home to give the warm gratitude of his heart to the mother he spoke so lovingly about. Before we got through raising the battery a round of shots from artillery drove us to the protection of the fortification we had been strengthening, and then for hours the connonading was terrific in its energy. Over the work we were in, shell burst in rapid succession, with a horrid din and concussion of the air that seemed to tear the breath out of the hearers.

It did not prevent some of the men, who had been working, from going to sleep. They lay back on the hard plank floor, on which the gun carriage traversed, and, with a great look of ‘ennui,’ closed their eyes, heedless of danger, glory, or any other sentiment other than that of repose. The fusilade of the heavy guns could be traced all around the fire-environed force of the south, and by an odd association of ideas in the rise and fall of sound, brought to mind the regular chimes of the church bells of a city. Old Bones, a steed that I had tied to a six-pound enfilading field-piece, shook his tail at the splintering of the shells as Tam O'Shanter's mare did at the Wharlocks. After an hour's waiting for the fire to cease, I cut his cogitations short by mounting him and defying sharp-shooters and shells, making for camp, to save my share of mule soup and pea-bread. My camp was in the grounds of a castlelated building on the south side of the city, a real place of security from all the cannonading going on. Under the shelter of a raised earth terrace my tent was an ark of refuge. A pallet and blanket, a piece of mulesteak, a drink of molasses beer, sour as vinegar, some pea-meal, flour bread, that could easily have been palmed off as first-class bird lime, and five or six hours of dreamless sleep, ‘tired nature's sweet restorer;’ a report in person made to engineer headquarters in the afternoon, a report to Major-General Smith, commanding the line at 5 o'clock P. M., an active duty laying out and rebuilding earthworks destroyed during the day by the enemy, and it will be a fair representation of the [486] daily routine of the engineer's work, to whose judgment and skill the efficiency of the earthworks of Vicksburg were entrusted. The narrow escapes they made, the strategems of war they invented to meet existing difficulties, the strong spell that the word duty wrought in them to replace weariness, sickness, and a desire for death, rather than the life of the moment, does not strike the enthusiasm of the masses like the brilliant charge into the vortex of death that a Federal officer made when he leaped, standard in hand, on to the walls of the battery in which so many Missourians were blown up. Yet the 15,000 men who lay secure behind the dirt lines, and the still greater number who lay outside, felt the result of the eternal vigilance of the few scientific men who, in season and out of season, gave unity and design to the labors of the noble soldiers whose rest was little in that unfortunate city. A few days before the termination of the attack upon Vicksburg the vanity of a Major of artillery, who because of seniority was the chief of artillery on the line, caused me a narrow escape from the ‘sudden death’ that the church reminds us every Sunday to pray against. He had sent a dispatch to Major-General Smith that the enemy was making a breach in the works, and asking that the engineer officer report to the works at once. It was sent to me by General Smith, with a request to go. As I had been on duty sixteen hours I refused, but Colonel Lockett persuaded me to go. Just above the courthouse on the river road I was shot in the thigh, but fortunately having the means at hand, and the minnie ball having touched no bone or artery, I had the wound dressed and rode on, reporting to Brigadier-General Vaughn at Fort Hill. There was nothing the matter with the works, so having plenty of time both General Vaughn and I expended an incalculable number of hard words on that soft artillery officer. He got the rheumatism, dug him a cave, and went to studying McMahon's fortification for the rest of the siege. The night preceding the surrender was the darkest I ever saw. I had just reported for duty in the rear of the works near the river; depressed in feelings, miserable and weak, an orderly handed me a dispatch and at the same time informed me that the Union soldiers were running mines under the stockade. He also told me that the Lieutenant of engineers placed there had been badly wounded. The post of danger being there, I literally felt my way over the sleeping soldiers, giving and taking impatient exclamations until I reached the stockade. Silently I went over the breastworks to find out the direction and extent of the work the enemy was engaged in prosecuting. On my knees, [487] and with ear to the ground I listened for the sappers and miners as they, mole-like were running passages under the breastworks.

To my gratification I found that they were still about six feet from our works. I went to the sap of one of the mines and looked down on a private passing back dirt from the mine, but not caring to make closer acquaintance, I deftly backed out and landed on our side of Jordan.

The nine mines the Yankees were working in had got so far along that I put my details to work cutting a deep ditch (at the end next our works) at right angles to their direction with the object of making the line of least resistance upwards through the ditch instead of under the stockaded breastworks. And, after doing this, still having time I commenced making a counter mine over each of these mines. So close and so loud was the sound of the miners' work that it was with difficulty I could keep the men at work, only doing so by making frequent changes of men. I had sent for fuses several times and waiting in the ditch to tamp a fuse preparatory to blowing up the counter mine, when Colonel Scott looked down at me and stated that it was no use, we were surrendered; that commissioners had been out all night to agree upon terms. This was the end of the extraordinary wise movement to prevent the opening of the Mississippi river. It was a death blow to the unity of action of the southern armies.

The whole siege was a farce so far as it meant a bloody and determined defense of the fortified position of Vicksburg. No large supplies of provisions had been accumulated inside of the works, munitions of war were scarce, and when Grant gave Pemberton Hobson's choice of surrendering on the 4th of July or a fight, he put on his little airs, but threw up the sponge on the natal day of the republic. Taking Colonel Scott's advice I did not fire the mine, but went down to the lower city. On my way I heard the rapid gallop of horses, and on looking behind me saw General Grant and staff, and at the tail end of the staff Fred. Grant in his shirt sleeves. General Grant's dark face, with its short, black, stubby beard, gave me the impression at the time that it was the face of a just but determined man. The moment I saw it I felt that our men would be treated well, that the mean, petty spite of the non-combatant leaders of the North would have no influence with him. Subsequent events proved the quality of the man, for he ordered a distribution of provisions [488] without stint or measure. Sacks of Lincoln coffee were given to the boys—a peace measure—for it was a piece of pure good luck to get a quanity of the Arabian bean. As he had 22,000 pounds of Confederate bacon to draw on, he also gave us bacon to butter our flour bread with. So, for this and other reasons, Grant was praised among the Confederates in a quiet way. It took about a week to fix up our parole papers, when we bid farewell to Vicksburg, with Jackson as our objective point. Just beyond Pearl river, General Pemberton informed me that he had just got complete returns of the killed and wounded. Six hundred killed sunk into my mind but the number wounded I don't remember. How many died in the hospital under Yankee care he never knew. They had better have died on a field of victory, like Wolf on the plains of Abraham, with the ecstatic feeling, ‘They run,’ sounding to their dying senses.

It would be ill grace if, before finishing the story of Vicksburg's seige, warm praise was not given to the heroic brave men who endured the hardships of the fifty-eight day and night fight; the desperate assaults made by the Federals on the slight entrenchments behind which they couched, half starved, yet full of the fire of battle. This hurling of iron balls from the throats of 200 cannon, and filling the air with minnie balls aimed with deadly effect against these men who occupied the sand rifle pits and lunettes of Vicksburg, attested both the power of the paternal government attacking and the solid bravery of the defensive force. The thunder of cannon, the sharp shriek of the rifle's leaden messenger, the threats of death that the thirteen-inch bombs continually kept up as they coursed in curves through the air, the spattering of shrapnell, the quick explosion of shells tearing and crushing through the houses, the sudden death of a companion, the pale, hunger-pinched faces around them, had no effect on the nerves of the men who talked openly, ‘No surrender.’ Hunger weakened them, sleepless nights and watchful days were their portion, rats, peameal, mulesteak, and old horse their food, yet they ever responded to the call of duty, either to fight or for fatigue service. It was amusing to hear the trades proposed by the outside to the inside, or by the rebs to their fat brethren who were so jealously keeping them from going astray. The leading articles of barter were coffee for tobacco, newspaper for newspaper, but there was a great deal more talk than trade, and the chaffing generally ended in assertions on one hand that they were coming over soon, and an invitation on the other hand to come to [489] dinner and they would have a fresh mule cooked. Declining with thanks, the boys in blue went to their camp to full meals, to camp stories of flood and field, to tender readings of letters from wife, family or sweetheart, and, owing to numbers, light fighting when put on duty. Behind those yellow streaks of sand that faced them they saw not the lank figure that an hour before had thrown back to them the quirk of wit. Let us, who are on the inside, look at that sentinel standing motionless on guard, or that one wrapped in his coarse torn blanket laid in the trenches; the finger of death has crossed his forehead, drawing the hollow cheeks to closer lines, shrinking all but the unbending soul that is in command. Scan them all, the ones standing by the grim tubes of iron, shotted or shelled for use in the next charge; the ones tossing restlessly on the hospital pallets, torn and mangled out of shape; the boy who, unable to lift the sand on his spade to build up a battery, yet apologizes for his inability by laying it to hunger and not to want of will; and dare any one say that these were men who ought not to be respected—whose eyes said plainly, we are soldiers. I say God bless those that are alive, and those who have cast off the soldierly accoutrements of life to take upon themselves the duties of a better existence. Either alive or dead they deserve the loving praise of the South, the acknowledgments of the North that the crown of bravery was the standard and emblem under which they fought. The common things of today are the history of to-morrow, so in putting into words my recollections of what came under my eye in Vicksburg, I hope it will incite others of my comrades to put upon the plane of record their impressions of events and actions on other parts of the fire-encircled rim that enclosed the City of the Hills. The Blues have had their say for twenty years. They have stiffened history by crowding too many of their heroes on its pages. Let the Grays shake the dust from the past and lovingly limn the great ones who led and were led in not only the field of Vicksburg but on other fields where glory was won or the right to wear the spurs of knighthood maintained. The soldiers of both sides will like it. The brave men on both sides, when the order for stacking arms was given, gave hands and kind greetings to each other; it was the weaklings and vicious that enlisted for the war when the bullets ceased to rustle the air, and that like spiteful cats want to still continue the fight from opposite housetops.

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