by S. H. Lockett, C. S. A., chief engineer of the defenses.
The occupation of Vicksburg
was the immediate result of the fall of New Orleans on the 25th of April, 1862.1
The first military operations were the laying out and construction of some batteries for heavy guns, by Captain
) D. B. Harris
of the Confederate States
the work being mostly done by a force of hired negroes.
These batteries were located chiefly below the city; their positions were well chosen; they had fine command of the river against a fleet coming from below.
On the 12th of May, 1862, Brigadier-General Martin Luther Smith
arrived and took command, under orders from Major-General Mansfield Lovell
, the Department commander.
From that day to the end General Smith
was never absent from his post, was always equal to every emergency, and never once, while in control, failed to do the right: thing at the right time.
On the 20th of June, 1862, I was ordered from the Army of Tennessee, then under General Bragg
, to report to General Smith
as his Chief Engineer
Confederate lines in the rear of Vicksburg.
From a War-time photograph. |
I was with him in that capacity until the 1st of November, when I was made, by General Pemberton
, Chief Engineer
of the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, of which General Pemberton
had just taken command.
This change extended my field of operations from Holly Springs
to Port Hudson
, but I never relinquished immediate charge of the defenses of Vicksburg
Hence I may safely claim to have been identified with the defense almost from the beginning to the end of operations.
The series of irregular hills, bluffs, and narrow, tortuous ridges, apparently without system or order, that constitute the strong defensive position of Vicksburg
, raised some two hundred feet above the level of the river, owe their character, with all their strangely complex arrangement and configuration, to the natural erosive action of water on the fine, homogeneous, calcareous silt peculiar to the lias or bluff formation.
At the time of my arrival no enemy was near, but the work of preparation was going on vigorously.
The garrison was engaged in strengthening the batteries already constructed, in making bomb-proof magazines, and in mounting new guns recently arrived.
Several new batteries were laid out by myself on the most commanding points above the city; these were afterward known as the “Upper batteries.”
The work of making an accurate map of Vicksburg
and vicinity was also begun.
But we had not many days for these preliminaries.
On the 26th of June the advance of Farragut
's fleet arrived in sight.
The next morning found it in position for bombarding.
A flotilla of mortar-boats was moored close to the farther shore of the river just beyond the range of our lower batteries.
A second flotilla had crept along the bank next to us with their masts so covered with the boughs of trees that we did not discover them until they were quite near.
They were completely protected from our guns by the bank.
At a signal-gun from one of the iron-clads the guns were opened.
I measured one of the holes made by the mortar-shells in hard, compact clay, and found it seventeen feet deep.
It was a difficult matter to make bomb-proofs against such destructive engines.
A few shots were fired from our batteries in answer to the challenge of the mortar-boats, but these shots were harmless, and were soon discontinued.
The Federal bombardment was likewise nearly harmless.
But few soldiers and citizens were killed.
Vertical fire is never very destructive of life.
Yet the howling and bursting shells had a very demoralizing effect on those not accustomed to them.
One of my engineer officers, a Frenchman, a gallant officer who had distinguished himself in several severe engagements, was almost unmanned whenever one passed anywhere near him. When joked about it, he was not ashamed to confess: “I no like ze bomb; I cannot fight him back!”
June 28th was a memorable day. At early dawn the mortar-fleet renewed its heavy bombardment.
At the same time the vessels and gun-boats moved up toward the city and opened fire with all their heavy ordnance.
Under cover of this tremendous shelling the Brooklyn
and several of the iron-clads boldly pushed up stream, and went past our batteries under full headway, pouring into the city broadside after broadside with astonishing rapidity.
The Confederate batteries responded with equal energy.
The results of this first encounter with the hitherto redoubtable fleet was highly gratifying to the defenders of Vicksburg
It is true the fleet got past the batteries; but the Brooklyn
were temporarily disabled.
All the vessels suffered more or less, and many Federal sailors were killed and wounded, as we learned from people who lived across the river.
On the Confederate
side no gun was disabled, no battery injured, and only thirteen were killed or wounded.
Our batteries mounted 29 guns, of which 2 were 10-inch Columbiads, the rest being old style 42 and 32 pounders.
alone carried 24 11-inch Dahlgren
We expected a land attack at the same time, and were prepared for it by the presence of as many as ten thousand troops, under Breckinridge
, and Preston
, who had just
arrived and were in near-supporting distance.
They were not called upon, however, and no troops were under fire except the brigade of General M. L. Smith
After this, for two weeks, things moved along at Vicksburg
with something akin to monotony.
The mortar-fleets kept up a steady bombardment, but even the citizens of the town became so accustomed to it that they went about their daily occupations.
The women and children left their caves to watch the shells, and would only betake themselves to their shelters when the fire seemed to be concentrated in their particular neighborhoods.
Finally the upper fleet, under Flag-Officer C. H. Davis
, came down the
river, joined the vessels that had run our batteries, put a flotilla of mortar-boats in position, and took part in the grand but nearly harmless sport of pitching big shells into Vicksburg
During this period General Thomas Williams
commenced the famous canal across the narrow neck of land in front of Vicksburg
But the water fell faster than the ditch was dug, the river refused to make a cut-off, and this effort also proved a failure.
On the 15th of July the monotony of the situation was greatly relieved by one of the most stirring episodes of the war. The little Confederate ram, Arkansas
, under her gallant commander, I. N. Brown
, came out of Yazoo River
, where she had been built in imitation of the famous Merrimac
, and ran the gauntlet of the whole upper fleet.
[See article by Captain I. N. Brown
, to follow.]
For several days after this the regulation bombardment was kept up. Suddenly, however, on the 25th of July, the lower fleet, big ships, gun-boats, and mortar-boats, weighed anchor and dropped down the river to a distance of several miles below their former position.
On the 27th both lower and upper fleets took leave of us, and the 28th of July found Vicksburg
once more freed from the presence of a hostile force.
Working parties were at once put upon the river-batteries to repair damages and increase their strength wherever recent experience had shown it to be necessary.
It was also determined to construct a line of defense in rear of Vicksburg
, to prepare against an army operating upon land.
As chief engineer
, it became my duty to plan, locate, and lay out that line of defense.
A month was spent in reconnoitering, surveying, and studying the complicated and irregular site to be fortified.
No greater topographical puzzle was ever presented to an engineer.
The difficulty of the situation was greatly enhanced by the fact that a large part of the hills and hollows had never been cleared of their virgin forest of magnificent magnolia-trees and dense undergrowth of cane.
At first it seemed impossible to find anything like a general line of commanding ground surrounding the city; but careful study gradually worked out the problem.
The most prominent points I purposed to occupy with a system of redoubts, redans, lunettes, and small field-works, connecting them by rifle-pits so as to give a continuous line of defense.
The work of construction was begun about the 1st of September with a force of negro laborers hired or impressed from the plantations of the adjacent counties.
Haynes's Bluff on the Yazoo River
, about six miles below Vicksburg
, were fortified as flank protections to the main position.
On the 14th of October, 1862, Lieutenant-General John C. Pemberton
took command of the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, establishing his headquarters at Jackson
About the same time General Grant
was placed in supreme command of the Federal
forces in north Mississippi
Then followed a succession of movements against Vicksburg
, having for their object the turning of that point.
They were all uniformly unsuccessful, and were so remote from the city, with one exception, that the garrison of Vicksburg
was not involved in the operations which defeated them.
I will simply mention them in the order in which they occurred.
First was General Grant
's advance from Memphis
and Grand Junction
, via Holly Springs
, toward Grenada
This was defeated by the raids of Van Dorn
's communications [December 20th and December 15th to January 3d]. He was forced to retire or starve.
Next came General Sherman
's attempt to get in rear of Vicksburg
by the Chickasaw Bayou
road, which ran from the Yazoo River bottom
to the Walnut hills
, six miles above the city.
His column of thirty thousand men was defeated and driven back with dreadful slaughter by General S. D. Lee
with one brigade of the Vieksburg garrison [December 20th to January 3d].
After this General Grant
himself appeared in front of Vicksburg
, occupied the river with an immense fleet and the Louisiana
shore with a large army.
He renewed the old style of bombardment and the work on the canal, but high water made him abandon that work and his position.
Then came the expedition, via Lake Providence
and Bayou Macon
, which was defeated by natural difficulties.
Next, the expedition by Yazoo Pass
and Hushpuccanaugh Bayou, which was stopped by Fort Pemberton
,--a cotton-bale fort made by
Captain P. Robinson
, of the Confederate States
Engineers, on the overflowed bottom-lands of the Tallahatchie
and Yallabusha rivers
, near their junction [February 24th to April 8th]. Here General Loring
, with 3 guns and about 1500 men, turned back a large fleet and land force, and won the sobriquet of “Old Blizzards” by standing on the cotton-bale parapet and shouting “Give them blizzards, boys!
Give them blizzards!”
Last of these flanking expeditions was one of General Sherman
and Admiral Porter
, via Steele's Bayou
, to reach the Sunflower
and Yazoo rivers
, above Haynes's Bluff [March 14th-27th]. This came near being as disastrous as that by the Chickasaw Bayou
, owing to obstructions made by the Confederates
and to a sudden fall in the waters.
Though these expeditions all failed, the desperate nature of most of them convinced us that General Grant
was in deep earnest, and not easily discouraged.
He made one more effort, which succeeded perhaps beyond his own most sanguine expectations.
This had been anticipated by General Pemberton
, and, to a certain extent, provided for by sending General John S. Bowen
to occupy and fortify Grand Gulf
I accompanied General Bowen
and located the works at Grand Gulf
, leaving them in charge of Lieutenant Donnellan
, of the Confederate States
On the night of the 16th of April, 1863, a large part of the upper fleet (then commanded by Admiral David D. Porter
), consisting of six gun-boats and several transports, ran the batteries at Vicksburg
Gun-boats had frequently passed the batteries during the operations of the preceding ten months, but up to that time no one had dreamed that the ordinary river steamboats could do so. They were protected by cotton-bales and by large barges loaded with coal and forage, lashed alongside.
One of the transports was fired by our shells, and burned to the water's edge in front of the city.
Two other boats were partly disabled, and several of the barges were sunk.
Yet eight boats succeeded in getting past both Vicksburg
in more or less serviceable condition.
The movement of the boats was soon discovered by the Confederate
pickets, who nightly patrolled the river in small boats.
They immediately crossed the river and fired several houses in the village of DeSoto
, so as to illuminate the river.
To appreciate the boldness of this action one must try to put himself in the place of these pickets, who ran great risks of being captured in landing on the opposite shore, which was occupied by the Federal
In addition, as soon as their work was accomplished, they were exposed to the enemy's sharp-shooters, on the now brightly lighted river, and were in the direct line of fire of the batteries of their friends.
Yet they neither failed nor faltered.
Two nights later, four more boats, towing barges of large capacity, passed down the river, and joined the others at New Carthage, a village in Louisiana
about half-way between Vicksburg
and Grand Gulf
Here there was a fleet of formidable gun-boats, and transports and barges enough to ferry a large force across the river.
This gave a serious and threatening aspect to the movement.
At the same time a force under General Sherman
was again menacing Haynes's Bluff; Grierson
“Sky parlor Hill,” a Confederate signal-station during the siege, and (pictures above and below) caves of the kind in which residents of Vicksburg sought refuge during the bombardment by the fleet.
From photographs. |
was playing havoc with railroads and depots of supplies in the interior of Mississippi
; rumors of movements of Federal troops in north Mississippi
were rife; and Port Hudson
, just previous to this time, had sent some troops from his department to General Bragg
, at Tullahoma
, and had others en route
to the same destination.
As soon as he became convinced that Vicksburg
was seriously threatened by General Grant
's last move, he strongly pleaded for the return of his troops, and made rapid dispositions of those still left, to meet the various forces operating against him. Lack of reliable information, however, made his efforts unavailing.3
Before he could determine which was the real attack, and which were mere diversions, General Grant
had perfected his arrangements, attacked and temporarily silenced the batteries of Grand Gulf
, and passed that point with his fleet.
This was on the 29th of April.
On the next day he crossed the river at Bruinsburg
and obtained a lodgment on the eastern shore.
Then followed in rapid succession the defeat of Bowen
at Port Gibson
on May 1st, the defeat of General Gregg
on the 12th, and the capture of Jackson
on the 14th.
Meantime General Pemberton
had left Jackson
and gone to Vicksburg
The writer followed him, after having laid out a line of defenses around Jackson
, leaving them to be constructed by Captain Thyssens
. General Pemberton
first thought that Grant
would turn north from Port Gibson
and try to force a passage across Big Black River
at one of the ferries.
He accordingly sent about a brigade eachtoHankinson's, Hall
's, and Baldwin
's ferr ies, and
Cave near the machine-shop. |
ordered field-works to be thrown up at these crossings.
After taking measures to establish works for the defense of the important points on our main line of communications at the railroad bridge and
's depot, I returned to Vicksburg
with Captain Wintter
's company of sappers and miners and put them to work on the rear line of defenses, with orders to make necessary repairs and put everything in good condition.
At last General Pemberton
became convinced that General Grant
's intention was to march up the east bank of Big Black River
, to strike the railroad at or near Edwards
's depot, and thus cut his communications with Jackson
To prevent this, and at the same time to defeat Grant
, if possible, he concentrated all of his forces at Edwards
's depot, excepting General Forney
's division which was left in Vicksburg
, and General Smith
's which was posted at and near the railroad bridge.
On the 12th of May, under the orders of General Pemberton
, I went to Edwards
's depot to put the Confederate forces in position upon the ground selected forthem to occupy, covering all the approaches from the south and east.
The army here assembled consisted of three divisions: Bowen
's on the right, Loring
's in the center, and C. L. Stevenson
's on the left, numbering about 18,000 men. Some slight field-works had been thrown up at favorable points.
The position was naturally a strong one, on high ground, with the cultivated valley of Baker's Creek
in its front.
Here General Pemberton
wished to wait to be attacked by Grant
There can be no doubt that if he had been allowed to do so a desperate and bloody battle would have been fought on that ground, the issue of which might have been different from that of the two unfortunate engagements which did actually occur.
The army remained at Edwards
's depot from the 13th to the 15th.
During this time General Pemberton
received numerous dispatches from President Davis
, and from General J. E. Johnston
, who had recently arrived at Jackson
I saw, or heard read, most of these dispatches.
They were very conflicting in their tenor, and neither those of Mr. Davis
nor those of General Johnston
exactly comported with General Pemberton
He then made the capital mistake of trying to harmonize instructions from his superiors diametrically opposed to each other, and at the same time to bring them into accord with his own judgment, which was adverse to the plan s of both.
's idea was to hold Vicksburg
at all hazard, and not to endanger it by getting too far from it. Johnston
's plan was to cut loose from Vicksburg
altogether, manceuvre so as to avoid a general engagement with Grant
until the Confederate forces could be concentrated, and then beat him. Pemberton
wished to take a strong position on the line of the Big Black and wait for an attack, believing that it would be successfully resisted, and that then the tables could be turned upon Grant
in a very bad position, without any base of supplies, and without a well-protected line of retreat.
As I have said, none of these plans was carried out, but a sort of compromise or compound of all these attempts, resulting in the unfortunate battle of Baker's Creek
, or Champion's Hill, and the disgraceful stampede of Big Black bridge.
moved out from Edwards
's depot in obedience to a dispatch from General Johnston
, ordering him to attack in the rear a force which he supposed General Johnston
was going to engage in front.
Instead of this, he encountered Grant
's victorious army returning, exultant and eager for more prizes, from the capture of Jackson
's army, which was making a retrograde movement at the time, was put into line of battle by being faced to the right with infantry, artillery, baggage, and ordnance wagons just as they were.
In a few minutes after this disposition was made, his extreme left, previously the head of his column, was actively engaged with largely superior numbers.
Under all the circumstances the Confederates
made a gallant fight, but they were driven from the field with heavy loss in killed, wounded, and captured, and a considerable loss of arms and ammunition.
's division bore the brunt of this battle and suffered the heaviest losses.
's division sustained its reputation by making one of its grand old charges, in which it bored a hole through the Federal
army, and finding itself unsupported turned around and bored its way back again.
's division did not cooperate with the other two, through some misunderstanding or misconception, and was scarcely engaged at all during the fight.
's brigade of this division covered the road by which the Confederates
retreated late in the afternoon.
While in the discharge of this duty General Tilghman
Our beaten forces, except Loring
's division, retreated across Baker's Creek
and took position at nightfall at Big Black bridge; part of the forces, Bowen
's division and Vaughn
's brigade, being put in position in the tete-de-pont
on the east bank of the river, and part on the bluffs on the west.
's division was moved by its commander, by the right; flank, around the Federal
army, and finally, after a loss of most of its cannon and wagons, joined General Johnston
The affair of Big Black bridge was one which an ex-Confederate participant naturally dislikes to record.
The Federals engaged us early in the
morning from a copse of woods on our left.
I was standing on the railroad bridge at the time, and soon saw signs of unsteadiness in our men, and reporting the fact to General Pemberton
, received orders to prepare to destroy the bridges.
Fence-rails and loose cotton saturated with turpentine were piled on the railroad bridge, and a barrel of spirits of turpentine placed on the steamer Dot
, which was swung across the river and used as a bridge.
About 9 o'clock our troops on the left (Vaughn
's brigade) broke from their breastworks and came pell-mell toward the bridges.
's men, seeing themselves unsupported, followed the example, and soon the whole force was crossing the river by the bridges and by swimming, hotly pursued by the Federals
I was on the Dot
at the time.
Waiting until all the Confederates
in sight were across the river I touched a match to the barrel of turpentine, and with the aid of one of my lieutenants tipped it over.
In a moment the boat was in a blaze.
The railroad bridge
Effect of the gun-boat shells on Vicksburg houses.
From a sketch made the day of the surrender. |
was likewise fired, and all immediate danger of pursuit prevented.
After the stampede at the bridge orders were issued for the army to fall back to Vicksburg
, Major-General Stevenson
being placed in command of the retreating forces.
rode on himself to Bovina
, a small railroad station about two and a half miles from the river.
I was the only staff-officer with him. He was very much depressed by the events of the last two days, and for some time after mounting his horse rode in silence.
He finally said: “Just thirty years ago I began my military career by receiving my appointment to a cadetship at the U. S. Military Academy, and to-day — the same date — that career is ended in disaster and disgrace.”
I strove to encourage him, urging that things were not so bad as they seemed to be; that we still had two excellent divisions (Smith
's and Forney
's) which had not been engaged and were, therefore, fresh and not demoralized; that they could occupy our lines at Vicksburg
, covering especially the approaches from the position now occupied by the Federal
forces, which they would naturally follow; that the rest of the troops could be put, at first, in the less exposed parts of the line, or in reserve, until they had steadied themselves; that Vicksburg
was strong and could not be carried by assault; and that Mr. Davis
had telegraphed to him “to hold Vicksburg
at all hazard,” adding that “if besieged he would be relieved.”
To all of which General Pemberton
replied that my youth and hopes were the parents of my judgment; he himself did not believe our troops would stand the first shock of an attack.
We finally reached Bovina
, where the general halted, and at my earnest instance wrote an order directing me to return to Vicksburg
in all possible haste, to put the place in a good state of defense.
This order directed all officers, of whatsoever rank, to obey all requisitions of the chief engineer
for men, materials, and labor, and to render all possible aid in carrying out his plans.
responded heartily, and before nightfall work was under way all along the lines of defense.
The main works on the rear line, already described, had, for the most part, exterior ditches from six to ten feet deep, with rampart, parapet, banquette for infantry, and embrasures and platforms for artillery.
Not having been occupied they were now much washed and weakened by the winter's rains.
The rifle-pits connecting the main works had suffered in the same way, while on many parts of the line these pits had never been finished.
Fatigue parties were set to work making these repairs and connections; at the same time all field-artillery, Parrott
guns, and siege pieces on the river front were moved to the rear line, plat-forms and embrasures were prepared for them, and ammunition was placed in convenient and protected places.
The field-artillery brought in by our retreating army was likewise put in position as it arrived, and the morning of the 18th found us with 102 guns ready for service on the rear line.
Some portions of our front were protected by abatis of fallen trees and entanglements of telegraph wire.
The river-batteries were still strong and intact, having lost none of their sea-coast guns.
The troops were placed in position as I had recommended.
General C. L. Stevenson
's division extended from the Warrenton
road on our extreme right to the railroad; General John H. Forney
's division occupied the center, from the railroad to the Graveyard road; General M. L. Smith
's division filling up the space between the Graveyard road and the river on our left.
General John S. Bowen
's Missourians and Waul
's Texas Legion were held in reserve.4
Early on May 18th the Federal
forces appeared on the Jackson
and Graveyard roads, which were covered by a part of General M. L. Smith
's division posted as skirmishers and pickets outside of our main lines.
The Federals were held in check, so that during the night General Smith
had no difficulty in withdrawing his forces within the main line of defense.
The next day, when the Federals
discovered that the Confederates
were gone from their position of the evening before, they came forward rapidly and took that position, with shout and cheer, and soon after rushed upon the main line of defense, apparently with perfect confidence that there would be another “walk over” such as they had had two days before at Big Black bridge.
But this time they struck a rock in General Shoup
's brigade which met them with so heavy and well-directed a fire that they were compelled to fall back.
A second time they came forward in greater numbers and with more boldness and determination, but
with even more fatal results.
They were repulsed with great loss, leaving five stand of colors close to our lines and tie ground being strewn with their dead and wounded.
These assaults extended from Shoup
's position toward our right so as to include a part of Forney
Thus they were met by troops which had not been in any of the recent disastrous engagements, and were not in the least demoralized.
These men stood to their arms like true soldiers, and helped to restore the morale
of our army.
The 20th and 21st of May were occupied by the Federal
forces in completing their line, at an average distance of about eight hundred yards from our works.
The Confederates utilized the time in putting up traverses against enfilade fires, and in making covered approaches from the camps in rear to the line of works.
Many a man and officer had already been picked off by the quick-sighted Federal sharp-shooters, while passing along our lines or between them and the cooking-camps.
It took several days for our men to learn the caution necessary to protect themselves.
On the 22d of May the gun-boats moved up within range and opened fire upon the river front.
At the same time several dense columns of troops assaulted our lines in the rear.
These assaults covered the right of General Smith
's position, where General Shoup
's brigade was posted, the whole of General Forney
's front, and that of Stephen D. Lee
's brigade of Stevenson
The assaults were made with great determination and admirable courage by the Federal
Once, twice, three times they came forward and recoiled from the deadly fire poured upon them by the Confederates
, who were now thoroughly restored to their old-time confidence and aroused to an enthusiastic determination to hold their lines.
Every assault was repulsed with terrible loss to the attacking parties.
At two points on the line — on General Forney
's and General S. D. Lee
's front — the Federals
obtained a lodgment and planted their colors on our parapet; but the brave fellows paid for their success by being either killed or captured and having their colors fall into our hands.
On General Lee
's line they even succeeded in capturing one of our detached works and drove out the men who held it. But it was retaken in a few minutes by a charge of Waul
's Legion, led by Colonel Pettus
The losses on both sides were severe; several thousand men, estimated by us
at 3500, were left dead and wounded between the lines.
On the 25th the Federal
dead and some of their wounded in the fight of the 22d were still in our front and close to our lines.
The dead had become offensive and the living were suffering fearful agonies.
, therefore, under a flag of truce, sent a note to General Grant
, proposing a cessation of hostilities for two and a half hours, so that the dead and dying men might receive proper attention.
This was acceded to by General Grant
, and from six o'clock until nearly dark both parties were engaged in performing funeral rites and deeds of mercy to the dead and wounded Federal soldiers.
On this occasion I met General Sherman
for the first time.
Naturally, the officers of both armies took advantage of the truce to use their eyes to the best possible advantage.
I was on the Jackson
road redan, which had been terribly
pounded and was the object of constant attention from a battery of heavy guns in its immediate front.
The Federals were running toward it in a zigzag approach [see p. 540], and were already in uncomfortable proximity to it. While standing on the parapet of this work a Federal orderly came up to me and said that General Sherman
wished to speak to me. Following the orderly, I reached a group of officers standing some two hundred yards in front of our line.
One of these came forward, introduced himself as General Sherman
, and said: “I saw that you were an officer by your insignia of rank, and have asked you to meet me, to put into your hands some letters intrusted to me by Northern friends of some of your officers and men. I thought this would be a good opportunity to deliver this mail before it got too old.”
To this I replied: “Yes, General, it would have been very old, indeed, if you had kept it until you brought it into Vicksburg
“So you think, then,” said the general, “(I am a very slow mail route.”
“Well, rather,” was the reply, “when you have to travel by regular approaches, parallels, and zigzags.”
“Yes,” he said, “that is a slow way of getting into a place, but it is a very sure way, and I was determined to deliver those letters sooner or later.”
The general then invited me to take a seat with him on an old log near by, and thus the rest of the time of the truce was spent in pleasant conversation.
In the course of it the general remarked: “You have an admirable position for defense here, and you have taken excellent advantage of the ground.”
“Yes, General,” I replied, “but it is equally as well adapted to offensive operations, and your engineers have not been slow to discover it.”
To this General Sherman
Intentionally or not, his civility certainly prevented me from seeing many other points in our front that I as chief engineer was very anxious to examine.
The truce ended, the sharp-shooters immediately began their work and kept it up until darkness prevented accuracy of aim. Then the pickets of the two armies were posted in front of their respective lines, so near to each other that they whiled away the long hours of the night-watch
with social chat.
Within our lines the pick and shovel were the weapons of defense until the next morning.
On the night of the 26th, while we were trying to place an obstruction across the swamp between our right and the river, our working party and its support had a sharp engagement with a detachment of Federals who came to see what we were doing.
We captured one hundred of our inquisitive friends, and retired without putting in the obstruction.
At other parts of the line the work of making traverses, changing guns to more available points, making covered ways along the line and to the rear, and repairing damages, went on as vigorously as our means would allow.
The events of the 27th of May were varied by an attack on our river batteries by the fleet.
was badly crippled, and before reaching her former moorings she sank in water not deep enough to cover her deck.
She was still within range of our guns, so that the efforts made by the Federals
to dismantle her and remove her armament were effectually prevented.
By this time the Federal
commander was evidently convinced that Vicksburg
had to be taken
by regular siege operations.
By the 4th of June the Federals
had advanced their parallels to within 150 yards of our line.
From them they commenced several double saps against our most salient works — the Jackson
road redan, the Graveyard road redan, the Third Louisiana redan, on the left of the Jackson
road, and the lunette on the right of the Baldwin's Ferry road.
In each of these the engineer in charge was ordered to place thundering barrels and loaded shells with short-time fuses, as preparations for meeting assaults.
The stockade redan and the stockade on its left, which had been constructed across a low place in our line, had by this time been nearly knocked to pieces by the enemy's artillery.
A new line was therefore made to take its place when it should be no longer tenable.
So, too, retrenchments, or inner lines, were ordered at all points where breaches seemed imminent or the enemy more than ordinarily near.
These retrenchments served us excellently before the siege was terminated.
By the 8th of June, in spite of all efforts to prevent them, the enemy's sap-rollers had approached within sixty feet of two of our works.
A private soldier suggested a novel expedient by which we succeeded in destroying the rollers.
He took a piece of port-fire, stuffed it with cotton saturated with turpentine, and fired it from an old-fashioned large-bore musket into the roller, and thus set it on fire.
Thus the enemy's sappers were exposed and forced to leave their sap and begin a new one some distance back.
After this they kept their sap-rollers wet, forcing us to other expedients.5
Our next effort was counter-mining.
From the ditches of all the threatened works counter-mines were started on the night of the 13th of June.
The Third Louisiana redan was located on a very narrow ridge and had no ditch.
The counter-mines for it were therefore started from within by first sinking a vertical shaft, with the intention of working out by an inclined gallery under the enemy's sap. Before this work was completed the Federal
sappers succeeded in getting under the salient of the redan, and on the 25th they exploded a small mine, but the charge was too small to do much damage.
Nevertheless, it tore off the vortex of the redan, and made what the Federals
thought was a practicable breach.
Into it they poured in strong force as soon as the explosion had expended itself.
But they were met by a deadly volley from our men posted behind the retrenchment prepared for this emergency, and after heavy loss were compelled to retire.
Six of our counter-miners were buried by this explosion.
On the same day we exploded two of our counter-mines and completely destroyed the enemy's sap-rollers, filled up their saps, and forced them to abandon a parallel very close to our line.
Two days later we exploded another mine prematurely, without injury to the enemy, as they had not approached as near our works as we supposed.
It was very difficult to determine distances under ground, where we could hear the enemy's sappers picking, picking, picking, so very distinctly that it hardly seemed possible for them to be more than a few feet distant, when in reality they were many yards away.
On the 29th of June the enemy had succeeded in getting close up to the parapet of the Third Louisiana redan.
We rolled some of their unexploded 13-inch shells down upon them and annoyed them so much as to force them to stop operations.
At night they protected themselves against this method of attack by erecting a screen in front of their sap. This screen was made of heavy timbers, which even the shells could not move.
I finally determined to try the effect of a barrel of powder.
One containing 125 pounds was obtained, a time-fuse set to fifteen seconds was placed in the bung-hole, was touched off by myself with a live coal, and the barrel was rolled over the parapet by two of our sappers.
The barrel went true to its destination and exploded with terrific force.
Timbers, gabions, and fascineswere hurled into the air in all directions and the sappers once more were compelled to retire.
They renewed their operations, however, at night, and in a few days succeeded in establishing their mine under the redan, which they exploded at 1:30 o'clock p. M. on the 1st of July.
The charge was enormous--one and a quarter tons, as I subsequently learned from the Federal
The crater made was about twenty feet deep and fifty feet in diameter.
The redan was virtually destroyed, and the explosive effect extended back far enough to make a breach of nearly twenty feet width in the retrenchment across the gorge of the work.
We expected an assault, but previous experience had made the enemy cautious.
Instead, they opened upon the work a most terrific fire from everything that could be brought to bear upon it. Only a few minutes before the explosion I had been down in our counter-mine and had left seven men there, only one of whom was ever seen again; he, a negro, was blown over into the Federal
lines but not seriously hurt [see p. 527]. The next thing for us to do was to stop the breach in our retrenchment.
This we first tried to accomplish by heaving dirt into the breach wit h shovels from the two sides, but the earth was swept away by the storm of missiles faster than it could be placed in position.
We then tried sand-bags, but they, too, were torn to shreds and scattered.
Finally I sent for some tent flies and wagon covers, and with these great rolls of earth were prepared under cover and pushed into place, until at last we had something between us and the deadly hail of shot and shell and minie-balls.
Playing into that narrow breach for nearly six hours were 2 9-inch Dahlgren
guns, a battery of large Parrotts, 1 or more batteries of field-guns, a Coehorn mortar, and the deadliest fire of musketry ever witnessed by any of us there present.
We stopped the breach, but lost in killed and wounded nearly one hundred men by the explosion and the subsequent fusillade.
This was really the last
stirring incident of the siege.
On the 2d of July we exploded one of our mines somewhat prematurely, and we had ready for explosion 11 others, containing from 100 to 125 pounds of powder, and extending at a depth of 6 to 9 feet for a distance of from 18 to 20 feet in front of our works.
The fuses were set and everything was primed and ready for the approach of the Federal
sappers, but on the 3d of July the flag of truce stopped all operations on both sides, and the efficiency of our preparations was not put to the test.
The Federal engineers had similar preparations made for our destruction at several points.
Their men had gradually closed up to our lines so that at some portions, for a hundred yards or more, the thickness of our parapet was all that separated us. Fighting by hand-grenades was all that was possible at such close quarters.
As the Federals
had the hand-grenades and we had none; we obtained our supply by using such of theirs as failed to explode, or by catching them as they came over the parapet and hurling them back.
The causes that led to the capitulation6
are well known.
We had been from the beginning short of ammunition, and continued so throughout in spite of the daring exploits of Lamar Fontaine
, Captain Saunders
, and Courier Walker
, who floated down the river on logs and brought us, respectively, 18,000, 20,000, and 200,000 caps.
We were short of provisions, so that our men had been on quarter rations for days before the close of the siege; had eaten mule meat, and rats, and young shoots of cane, with the relish of epicures dining on the finest delicacies of the table.
We were so short-handed that no man within the lines had ever been off duty more than a small part of each day; and in response to inquiries of the lieutenant-general
commanding, every general officer and colonel had reported his men as physically exhausted and unfit for any duty but simply standing in the trenches and firing.
Our lines were badly battered, many of our guns were dismounted, and the Federal
forces were within less than a minute of our defenses, so that a single dash could have precipitated them upon us in overwhelming numbers.
All of these facts were brought out in the council of war on the night of the 2d of July.
After that General Pemberton
said he had lost all hopes of being relieved by General Johnston
; he had considered every possible plan of relieving ourselves, and to his mind there were but two alternatives — either to surrender while we still had ammunition enough left to give us the right to demand terms, or to sell our lives as dearly as possible in what he knew must be a hopeless effort to cut our way through the Federal
He then asked each officer present to give his vote on the question, surrender or not
? Beginning with the juni or officer present, all voted to surrender but two,--Brigadier-General S. D. Lee
and Brigadier-General Baldwin
,--and these had no reasons to offer.
After all had voted General Pemberton
said: “Well, gentlemen, I have heard your votes and I agree with your almost unanimous decision, though my own preference would be to put myself at the head of my troops and make a desperate effort to cut our way through the enemy.
That is my only hope of saving myself from shame and disgrace.
Far better would it be for me to die at the head of my army, even in a vain effort to force the enemy's lines, than to surrender it and live and meet the obloquy which I know will be heaped upon me. But my duty is to sacrifice myself to save the army which has so nobly done its duty to defend Vicksburg
I therefore concur with you and shall offer to surrender this army on the 4th of July.”
Some objection was made to the day, but General Pemberton
said: “I am a Northern man; I know my people; I know their peculiar weaknesses and their national vanity; I know we can get better terms from them on the 4th of July than any other day of the year.7
We must sacrifice our pride to these considerations.”
And thus the surrender was brought about.
During the negotiations we noticed that General Grant
and Admiral Porter
were communicating with each other by signals from a tall tower on land and a mast-head on Porter
Our signal-service men had long before worked out the Federal
code on the principle of Poe
's Gold Bug,
and translated the messages as soon as sent.
We knew that General Grant
was anxious to take us all as prisoners to the Northern
We also knew that Porter
said that he did not have sufficient transportation to carry us, and that in his judgment it would be far better to parole us and use the fleet in sending the Federal
troops to Port Hudson
and other points where they were needed.
This helped to make General Pemberton
more bold and persistent in his demands, and finally enabled him to obtain virtually the terms of his original proposition.
A few minutes after the Federal
soldiers marched in, the soldiers of the two armies were fraternizing and swapping yarns over the incidents of the long siege.
One Federal soldier seeing me on my little white pony, which I had ridden every day to and from and along the lines, sang out as he passed: “See here, Mister
,--you man on the little white horse!
Danged if you ain't the hardest feller to hit I ever saw; I've shot at you more'n a hundred times!”
says there was no cheering by the Federal
My recollection is that on our right a hearty cheer was given by one Federal division “for the gallant defenders of Vieksburg!”
Vicksburg from the North--after the surrender.
From a sketch made at the time. |