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Reminiscences of the siege of Vicksburg. Paper no. 2.

By Major J. T. Hogane, of the Engineer Corps.
The first man killed in Vicksburg was a Major of infantry belonging to General Vaughn's command. I had just reported to General Vaughn for duty as engineer officer of the line under command of [292] Major-General Smith, and as a social recognition, he told me the news of the Major's death, how that he had crept between the opposing lines to relieve a wounded man, and there met his death. The angel of charity certainly had not far to come to meet him and to offer him the hand of fellowship. This fight was on the north side of Vicksburg, and outside the works proper. In company with a Lieutenant of engineers, I inspected the line of works to which I had been assigned, and was pleased with the strength of the natural position until I came to a depression in the line commanded by adjoining points. I asked the officer if he thought we could hold that position. ‘Why not?’ he asked, and a smile irradiated his face. Asking the question more strongly and more to his personal satisfaction, I told him that if there was any other line I would like to see it, and so we rode to what he designated as the Fort Hill line. After a careful inspection, I decided that it was the strongest position, and though only provided with a stockade and three lunettes, yet it was better to build new works than to take the rain of bullets in rifle pits unfit to protect the troops. Accordingly, and in consequence of the urgency of the case, I sent a dispatch to General Pemberton direct, recommending the second line. At midnight, the order to fall back was issued, and the troops fell into line of battle on the Fort Hill ridge. I rode along the line, staking out in a hurried manner the line of the rifle pits, telling the men we would rectify mistakes another time. The gray dawn, and the morning odor of the spring verdure, brought peace and pleasant thoughts. It tempted my mind to wandering in memory into the meadows and gardens of old Missouri, where home, and home interests, had made life an enchantment. War was forgotten, there was such contentment in the spring air, the winter had passed away, the plumes of the blue-green grass waved in the bright sunlight in harmonic swaying with the delighted nerves. The toil of military service, the mind's review of foregone sieges with all their horrors and rigorous sufferings passed from the heart. I was brought back to the present by an admonition from an officer that the yanks were going to open fire. On casting my eye over the distant ridge, just abandoned, I could see the deploying Federal troops pursuing the advantage they supposed they had gained. Soon, firing commenced on the fatigue details sent out over our line to secure some tools which had been brought from Snyder's Bluff. By night the artillery was placed in position, and the rifle pits were dug to the right depth, and on proper lines to suit [293] the ground. Next day the United States troops formed a close investment; we were really besieged, and the outer world became a sealed treasure to the sixteen thousand unfortunate Confederates inside of Vicksburg. It was lucky for the ‘amour propre’ of our General-in-Chief, that his peer, Grant, did not mass his troops into columns of attack, and walk right in on the Jackson road the second day he drew up his sixty thousand men before the city, which he could have done if he had pushed his artillery in to take our works in reverse. Of course he would have had to sacrifice men, but not near as many as he lost in his charges on the stockaded breastworks to the left of the same road, and by disease in his camps. The morning the charges were made, I started by the way of the graveyard valley to the right of our line near the Jackson road, and met a soldier, about fifty years old, shot through both cheeks; the blood had clotted his long beard, and he was then trying to staunch the flow of the crimson flood. In his disengaged hand he carried a shotgun that had been struck by a ball, and the barrels splintered by it. I condoled with him about his wound, and asked him where he was going. He replied that he was going to get another gun. Of such was the Southern soldier made. A little way further up the valley I came across a Missouri Major, trying to get a piece of artillery to the stockade; he had got the gun in a ditch, and from want of concert between Major, mules, drivers, and drink, that all hands seemed to be filled up with, it seemed likely that the gun would remain in status quo. I volunteered to assist; the Major met me half-way by offering the bung-hole of his little keg of whisky. As an amendment, I proposed to lubricate the mules by giving the drivers a drink, which was agreed to. After getting the mules stretched out into line, I instructed the drivers to whip up when the Major sounded his yell, and never to stop until the gun landed in the rear of the works. One old white-haired darkey, whose temples sported a silk plug hat, who was riding the lead mule, allowed ‘he'd go with that dar gun to them folks fighting sure.’ Well, he did it, but just as he got to the works the gun upset, and niggers, Major, and Engineer officer ‘dissolved into thin air;’ that is, they ceased putting on any heroic airs. It was hot at that point, for the Federals were making their second charge on the stockaded breastworks built across the valley of death. The rattle of minnie balls, the bursting of shrapnel shells was sharp and continuous. The dust flew in specks where the leaden messengers hit the ground, the whole air was full of excitement. I saw but one [294] place where things and men looked cool, that was where the men lay behind the works systematically shooting through the crevices of the timbers, so I lay for a spare interval, and went down on my knees with the rest of the boys. Blood being up I borrowed my neighbor's gun and covered the coat of blue in the ravine below me, but was suddenly thrown out of employment by the owner of the gun claiming his property. Poor fellow, it was the last sound of his voice that ever vibrated the air, for when he again took aim a crimson spot in the centre of his forehead gave exit to, and set the imprisoned spirit free to enter upon the work of peace instead of the work of hate and war.

General Grant had missed his chance. If he had pushed pellmell into Vicksburg with Pemberton's rear guard, the contractors might have suffered, but his reputation or his men would not.

There were many funny incidents that occurred in spite of the increasing stringency and restrictive orders about food and work on the fortifications. On that part of the line in charge of BrigadierGen-eral Baldwin, a Mississippi militia company was on duty, commanded by no less than a General officer. This company, either from zeal or inexperience, kept on night after night, adding depth to the rifle pits it defended, until, in the gloom of night if you wanted an officer you had to telegraph, by voice, to the far deep. After a few nights' work, I instructed the General to employ the energy of his men in filling up the caverns, hinting that, in the far bowels of the earth he might find it as hot as on the surface. After they took a rest there was less complaint about the disappearance of tools. The field of observation of any one man on a battle-ground is necessarily limited, and however violent and momentous the action may be as a whole, he can only act as the historian of what he individually sees or hears.

In a siege, prolonged over considerable time, the mental impressions of the acts seen, are of those salient transactions distinctly important, or that have the elements of tragedy or of fun in them. One part of the fun was to stand by a member of the signal corps and let him tell you what ‘they,’ the feds, were telegraphing by their flag signals. On Fort Hill we had a signal corps operator who was very skilled in reading the signal messages of Commodore Porter's fleet to General Grant's headquarters and vice versa; in fact, there seemed to be no difficulty in interpreting the intentions of the Federals at any of the signal stations. He reported that it was a part of Grant's plan to make a charge up the river road that ran between Fort Hill and the water batteries. So to make our outside [295] friends comfortable and give them a warm reception, I had caused to be constructed three deep ditches across the road, the bottom of each chasm being armed with chevaux de frise, and the intervals filled with mines. Field guns to enfilade the gorge and batteries with cotton bales for epaulments, were rapidly built to maintain our supremacy in the coming fight. After all, the Federal battalions did not risk defeat by another course of charges, but contented themselves by burning up the cotton walls of the advanced open lunette. This was one of the great events that ‘Old Father Time’ placed back in his rear pocket, thinking perhaps that it was better to put an entire new play on the stage. The only one graceful favor that General Pemberton had the power to render was the consent he gave to a truce to bury the ‘braves’ who had fallen in the charges upon our lines. The time was given and the dead were put out of sight. They had lain thickly where they fell, so much so that the ground took the color of the Federal uniform. ‘'Tis pity, pity 'tis, 'tis true.’ The burning of the building in which was stored war material and provisions, was one of the most exciting events of the investure. It rose to a point of being sublime, for it was a strife between puny man and the raging elements of nature on a grand scale, and added to this a first-class battle. It rose from an incipient fire to a light sheet that blinded the eyes. It showed the mastery of man over himself and nature. The flashing of the Yankee guns at quick intervals brightened the glare of the flaming buildings. The rain of iron fell with a clang on the paved streets, startling the men who were running, laden with a burden of provisions or ammunition, from the burning commissary depot to a more safe place of deposit for the supplies.

Like a swaying pendulum, in automatic precision, the details ran to and fro amidst the squares that shot and shell made, indifferent to danger, only intent to obey the orders of the officers, and do the duty set before them. The tempest of battle gathered force as the heat of the flames grew greater. The heat scorched the devoted soldiers, the light increased until it was as the light of day, and the men showed only as dots on the field of conflict. After awhile the blazing embers fell, the light grew grey and dark, then sank to a glimmer, leaving the starlight alone to relieve the gloom, made darker by contrast. The worn men staggered to their wretched quarters in the trenches or sand hills, to suffer, to sleep the sleep of exhaustion, utterly indifferent to the blazing worlds overhead, the fluttering haze rising from the river, or the still [296] threatening guns that kept up a fire on the iron swept area of the now consumed depot. Of all the cannonading that General Grant ordered, the least effective, for the cost, was the bombardment by the fleet of mortar boats. When the fleet commenced throwing the thirteen-inch shells, it dwarfed all other menaces to our lives; but we soon became used to watching the course of the shells as shown by the glow of fire made by the fuse, and learned to dodge the spot where it would fall. They did more damage to houses than to the citizens or people. My first notice of the thirteen-inch shell practice was brought about by a practical joke played on me by the boys. Mrs. Captain Winters had cooked a first-class dinner for a few of us, from material that we had clubbed together out of our scanty resources. In the midst of the eating it was reported that one of the boss shells had taken the ear off my horse. So, being curious to see such a close shave, I ran out to investigate. I found one ear of the quadruped tied down with a string. I also found on the return trip, my share of the sweet potatoe pie eaten up. I was shelled out in earnest. A few days after that, Captain W. and his accomplished lady were sitting in a room, of the then engineer headquarters; two of their children were eating a lunch in the dining-room. Without warning, a thirteen-inch shell burst through the ceiling and partitions, and exploded in an adjoining parlor, throwing the plaster debris over the children When I got to the spot, Mrs. W. was backing out from under the table with her children, unhurt. It was no unusual thing for the fronts of houses to be blown out by the explosion of these shells, but I knew of but one instance where life was lost. It occurred one evening about dusk. The mortar had been evidently trained to throw its shell to the court-house, but falling to the South, struck an iron balcony of the hospital building, that was crowded with wounded convalescents. It was distressing to hear the cries of the poor fellows as they fell to the ground, victims of a cruel and spiteful fate. The horses and mules soon learned to calculate, from the sound the shells made, where they were going to fall, and gave a wide berth to exploding missiles. Lucky was the officer who had a servant sufficiently courageous to lead his favorite horse to spots of comparative safety, between extreme danger line and absolute protection from the breast works, and where the Bermuda grass flourished. It was a picture of content to see nigger and horse in the evening—one having got his fill of grass, the other his fill of sunshine and rest. After all the care and devotion I gave to my steed, one of Grant's [297] pilferers borrowed him the day of the surrender. If the mules had a hard time to make a living, it was worse for the men. The animals got little, but it was natural food; the men got little, and it was of a kind disgusting to the sharp-set hunger, that insufficiency both in quality and quantity made chronic. With the fertile valley of the Mississippi and Yazoo to draw from, millions of bushels of corn could have been stored in Vicksburg— abundant rations for the army and its animal equipment, and of a wholesome kind. Two days after we were closed in, Federal prisoners and our surplus mules were driven out because corn was scarce, and as time wore on, the bread of the period, issued to the men, was a cold glutinous paste, a compound of pea meal and flour. Was—finish the query with reference to General Pemberton or his Commissary General, to suit your own fancy. A personal loss was felt by every Missourian the day that General Green was killed. He had been cautioned not to expose himself several times, and, a few minutes before he was hit, had remarked that the bullet was not moulded that would kill him. His death put another name upon the tablet of eternity that was already emblazoned with the names of thousands who had died for love of country.

When the Yankees blew up the mine in which so many Missouri troops lost their lives, the severed lines of others of their comrades kept back the surging numbers that mounted the parapet of the works. Like the knights of St. John, led by the grand master at Rhodes, they were in every gap and point of danger, making successful resistance the master of danger.

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