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Chapter 41: fall of Vicksburg, July 4, 1863.

After Gettysburg the non-combatants were fecund in expedients which would have compelled victory, had they been adopted. But unfortunately these military strategists agreed on but one point, viz., that the President and his cabinet were ignorant of the measures necessary to compel victory; these were in some inexplicable way very derelict. The Examiner, as the exponent of the critics, foretold every evil for the Confederacy, and thus discouraged the people, and weakened the power of the President to serve them.

Subsequent to the battle of Murfreesboro, in January, 1863, attention was concentrated upon a campaign in Mississippi with Vicksburg as the objective point. Of course, this section of country was very dear to the President, he knew every other family in it, and had a passionate desire to save them from the desolation that had fallen upon our only large city, New Orleans.

On December 28, 1862, General Sherman [413] made an offensive movement and was repulsed.

In January, 1863, General Grant landed at Young's Point on the Mississippi River, a few miles below, and opposite to Vicksburg, and soon after with his large army marched into the interior of Mississippi.

The destruction of valuable stores at Holly Springs by General Van Dorn frustrated Grant's plan of operations, and he retreated to Memphis.

Upon General Johnston's recovery from the wound received at Seven Pines, he had been assigned, on November 24, 1862, to the command of a Geographical Department including the States of Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina. Mrs. Johnston and I were very intimate friends, and the day before his departure I went to see them. General Johnston seemed ill and dispirited. In answer to a hope expressed by me that he would have a brilliant campaign, he said, “I might if I had Lee's chances with the army of Northern Virginia;” from which I inferred he was very averse to leaving Virginia.

When the events occurred that have been narrated, General Pemberton had felt severely the need of cavalry for observation and to keep open communications with our troops in Mississippi. [414] As soon as General Johnston assumed command in person, General Pemberton renewed his strenuous efforts to procure it from him, hoping to check the invading army.

General Johnston arrived at Jackson on May 13, 1863, and telegraphed to James A. Seddon, Secretary of War, as follows:

I arrived this evening, finding the enemy in force between this place and General Pemberton, cutting off communication. I am too late.

In the order assigning General Johnston to the Geographical Department of the West, he was directed to repair in person to any part of his command, whenever his presence might be deemed for the time necessary or desirable.

On May 9, 1863, General Johnston was ordered to “proceed at once to Mississippi and take chief command of the forces,” and he telegraphed to General Pemberton from Tullahoma the same day, “Disposition of troops, as far as understood, judicious.” Can be readily concentrated against Grant's army.

When he reached Jackson, learning that the enemy was between that place and the position occupied by General Pemberton's forces, about thirty miles distant, he halted there and opened correspondence with Pemberton, from which a confusion with consequent [415] disaster resulted, which might have been avoided had he, with or without reinforcements, proceeded to Pemberton's headquarters in the field. What the confusion or want of co-intelligence was, will best appear from citing the important part of the despatches which passed between them.

On May 13th, General Johnston, then at Jackson, sent the following despatch to General Pemberton, which was received on the 14th:

I have lately arrived, and learn that Major-General Sherman is between us with four divisions at Clinton. It is important to reestablish communications, that you may be reinforced, if practicable. I come up on his rear at once. To beat such a detachment would be of immense value. The troops here could co-operate; all the strength you can quickly assemble should be brought. Time is all-important.

On the same day, the 14th, General Pemberton, then at Bovina, replied:

I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your communication. I moved at once with whole available force, about sixteen thousand, leaving Vaughn's brigade, about fifteen hundred, at Big Black Bridge; Tilghman's brigade, fifteen hundred, now at Baldwin's Ferry, I have ordered to bring up the [416] rear of my column; he will be, however, fifteen or twenty miles behind it.

Baldwin's Ferry will be left, necessarily, unprotected. To hold Vicksburg are Smith's and Forney's divisions, extending from Snyder's Mills to Warrenton, numbering effectives, seven thousand eight hundred men.

... I do not think that you fully comprehend the position that Vicksburg will be left in, but I comply at once with your order.

On the same day General Pemberton, after his arrival at Edward's Depot, called a council of war of all the general officers present. He placed General Johnston's despatch before them, and stated his own views against the propriety of an advance, but expressed the opinion that the only possibility of success would be by a movement upon the enemy s communications.

A majority of the officers present expressed themselves favorable to the plan indicated by General Johnston. ... General Pemberton then sent the following despatch to General Johnston:

Edward's Depot, May 14, 1863.
I shall move as early to-morrow morning as practicable, with a column of seventeen thousand men, to Dillon's, situated on the main road leading from Raymond to Port [417] Gibson, seven and a half miles from Edward's Depot. The object is to cut the enemy's communications and to force him to attack me, as I do not consider my force sufficient to justify an attack on the enemy in position, or to attempt to cut my way to Jackson. At this point your nearest communication would be through Raymond.

The movement commenced at I P. M. on the 15th. General Pemberton states that the force at Clinton was an army corps, numerically greater than his whole available force in the field; that “the enemy had at least an equal force to the south, on my right flank, which would be nearer Vicksburg than myself in case I should make the movement proposed. I had, moreover, positive information that he was daily increasing his strength. I also learned, on reaching Edward's Depot, that one division of the enemy (A. J. Smith's) was at or near Dillon's.”

On the morning of the 16th, about 6.30 o'clock, Colonel Wirt Adams, commanding the cavalry, reported to General Pemberton that his pickets were skirmishing with the enemy on the Raymond road, in our front. At the same moment a courier arrived and delivered the following despatch from General Johnston: [418]

Canton Road, Ten Miles from Jackson, May 15, 1863, 8.30 A. M.
Our being compelled to leave Jackson makes your plan impracticable. The only mode by which we can unite is by your moving directly to Clinton and informing me, that we may move to that point with about six thousand.

Pemberton reversed his column to return to Edward's Depot and take the Brownsville road, so as to proceed toward Clinton, on the north side of the railroad, and sent a reply to General Johnston to notify him of the retrograde movement. Just as the reverse movement commenced, the enemy opened fire with artillery and attacked Pemberton at Big Black, defeated, and forced him to retire to Vicksburg.

On the morning of the 18th, the troops were, from right to left, on the defence, and 102 pieces of artillery, mostly field pieces, were placed in position. Grant's army appeared before the city on the 18th.

Pemberton relied upon the co-operation of a relieving army before any investment could be made, and had endeavored to secure supplies for the duration of an ordinary siege.

On May 25th, General Grant telegraphed General Halleck at Washington: “I can [419] manage the force in Vicksburg and an attacking force of 30,000. My effective force is 50,000 ;” and General Johnston telegraphed to Richmond that the troops he had at his disposal against Grant amounted to 24,000, not including Jackson's cavalry command.

On May 18th, General Pemberton received by courier a communication from General Johnston containing these words: “If Hayne's Bluff is untenable, Vicksburg is of no value and cannot be held. If you are invested in Vicksburg you must ultimately surrender. Under these circumstances, instead of losing both troops and place, we must if possible save the troops. If it is not too late, evacuate Vicksburg and its dependences, and march to the northeast.”

Relying upon his Government and General Johnston to raise the siege, General Pemberton called a council of war, laid Johnston's communication before them, and requested their opinion. It was unanimous that “it was impossible to withdraw the army from this position with such morale and materiel as to be of further service to the Confederacy.” He then announced his decision to hold Vicksburg as long as possible.

On May 19th two assaults were made, on the left and centre. Both were repulsed and heavy loss inflicted; the enemy then confined [420] himself to gradual approaches and mining. Our loss was small.

How to dispose of the women and children during the siege was a problem which could be solved in only one way, viz., they must stay at home. Their fathers, husbands, brothers, or sons were many of them in the army of Northern Virginia, or in the West. The money left with their families was all exhausted; all industries were at a standstill. The interior of Mississippi had been desolated by fire and sword, and the women and children could not exist there unprotected and without food; so they grappled with the ills they knew, and remained at home. Caves were dug in the high clay hills, and there the non-combatants dwelt in darkness while the shells were flying. By the light of lamps they mended, patched, and darned for the soldiers, knitted them socks, and rendered every other service that brave and tender women learn to perform in the hour of danger. I saw one bright young bride, whose arm had been shattered by a piece of shell and afterward amputated; and a man who was there during the siege said, on July 26th: “We noticed one man with his wife in his arms — she having fainted with fright at the explosion of a shell within a few feet of her. A shell burst in the midst of several children [421] who were making their way out of danger, and the dirt thrown up by the explosion knocked three of them down, but fortunately did no injury. The little ones picked themselves up as quick as possible, and wiping the dust from their eyes, hastened on.”

The women nursed the sick and wounded, ate mule and horse meat, and bread made of spoiled flour, with parched corn boiled for coffee; but they listened to the whistling shells undaunted, nothing fearing except for the lives of those who were fighting far and near.

General Grant telegraphed to Washington, on June 8th, “Vicksburg is closely invested. I have a spare force of about 30,000 men with which to repel anything from the rear;” and on the 11th, General Johnston telegraphed to Richmond: “I have not at my disposal half the troops necessary. It is for the Government to determine what Department, if any, can furnish the reinforcements required. I cannot know here General Bragg's wants compared with mine. The Government can make such comparisons.”

As already stated, General Johnston had been assigned to the command of a geographical department that included the State of Tennessee, and therefore General Bragg's command was subject to General Johnston's orders; but General Johnston seemed to regard [422] it differently, and telegraphed the Secretary of War on June 12th: “I have not considered myself commanding in Tennessee since assignment here, and should not have felt authorized to take troops from that Department after having been informed by the Executive that no more could be spared. To take from Bragg a force which would make this army fit to oppose Grant, would involve yielding Tennessee. It is for the Government to decide between this State and Tennessee.”

On the 15th he telegraphed, “I consider saving Vicksburg hopeless.” To this last despatch the Secretary of War replied on the 16th: “Your telegram grieves and alarms us. Vicksburg must not be lost, at least without a struggle. The interest and honor of the Confederacy forbid it. I rely on you still to avert the loss. If better resource does not offer, you must hazard attack. It may be made in concert with the garrison, if practicable, but otherwise without. By day or night, as you think best.” And again, on the 21st: “Only my convictions of almost imperative necessity for action induces the official despatch I have just sent you. On every ground I have great deference to your judgment and military genius, but I feel it right to share, if need be to take, the responsibility and leave you free to [423] follow the most desperate course the occasion may demand. Rely upon it, the eyes and hopes of the whole Confederacy are upon you, with the full confidence that you will act, and with the sentiment that it were better to fail nobly daring, than, through prudence even, to be inactive. I look to attack in the last resort, but rely on your resources of generalship to suggest less desperate modes of relief. ... I rely on you for all possible to save Vicksburg.” On June 27th, General Grant telegraphed General Halleck: “Joe Johnston has postponed his attack until he can receive 10,000 reinforcements now on their way from Bragg's army. They are expected early next week. I feel strong enough against this increase, and do not despair of having Vicksburg before their arrival.”

After being besieged for forty-seven days and nights, the brave troops, exposed to burning sun and drenching nights, confined to the narrow limits of the trench, with their limbs cramped and swollen, and growing weak and attenuated, felt and knew the end was near. They had repulsed the enemy's repeated assaults, and driven him discomfited from the trenches; they had taken five stand of colors as trophies of their prowess, but now the time had come when man could do no more. They were physically unable to [424] make a sortie, and all hope of outside relief from Johnston was gone. General Pemberton therefore resolved to seek terms of capitulation, and the city surrendered to General Grant on July 4th.1

General Grant immediately telegraphed to Washington. “The enemy surrendered this morning. ... General Sherman will face immediately on Johnston and drive him from the State.”

On July 17th, General Johnston abandoned Jackson and retreated into the interior.2

1 On May 9, 1864, General Pemberton resigned his commission and expressed his willingness to serve in the ranks; the President conferred on him a lieutenant-colonelcy of artillery.

2General Johnston is retreating on the east side of Pearl River, and I can only learn from him of such vague purposes as were unfolded when he held his army before Richmond.” -Letter of President Davis to General Lee, July 21, 1863.

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