Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Vicksburg Campaign - a storm attempt

by Don Wheeler, Jacob Wheeler, and Shelby Foote

The fact that the Confederate Army had held Vicksburg, Mississippi from the start of the war into 1863 had posed problems for the Union Army. Although the Union had successfully captured the Mississippi River north and south of the town, it couldn't make complete use of the river as a supply route. Vicksburg carried the nickname "The Gibraltar of the West" because of huge defensive advantages it had. Situated on a steep bluff overlooking the river, it was nearly unapproachable.

In fact, the Union Army failed in multiple attempts over more than a year's period of time to even get close. Finally, General Grant found a successful method, and it was time for the approach to the city itself. (The events described happened almost exactly 150 years ago in May of 1863).

From Shelby Foote's The Civil War: A Narrative
Their belief that they would carry the place by storm, here and now, was matched by (Ulysses S.) Grant, who issued his final orders before noon. "Corps commanders will push forward carefully, and gain as close position as possible to the enemy's works, until 2 p.m.; at (which) hour they will fire three volleys of artillery from all the pieces in position. This will be the signal for a general charge of all the army corps along the whole line." A closing sentence, intended to forestall the lapse of discipline that would attend a too-informal victory celebration, expressed the measure of his confidence that the assault would be successful, bringing the campaign to a triumphant close today: "When the works are carried, guards will be placed by all division commanders to prevent their men from straggling from their companies."

They were a confident bunch. They had some reason to be - as my great-great-grandfather, Jacob, described the approach of his unit, The Chicago Board of Trade Regiment, to the attack point:
It was said that General Grant, after Jackson was taken, and it was taken quick, telegraphed to Vicksburg to send on all the reinforcements they could spare; and signed some Secech (Confederate) General's name to it. They obeyed promptly by sending 40,000 men and a long train of ammunition, which was burnt by them to keep it falling into our hands. It was a shrewd Yankee trick and it paid off. We fell on them with nearly double their numbers - captured 72 pieces of artillery and a great number of prisoners.

We stopped the chase at
10:00 o'clock at night. They stopped about 3 miles ahead of us and built large campfires, but started on the run long before day with our folks after them. They succeeded in getting most of their troops over the Black River, but not before we captured 17 pieces of Cannon and 3000 troops, besides drowning 2000 of them. We were so close to them that they could not get all their troops over before they burned the bridge. If it was not for the river, we would have been in Vicksburg as soon as they were. During the night we built several bridges and early in the morning started for here (the rear of Vicksburg).

We have now got them surrounded. We occupy the center, the Left of our Army rests on the
Mississippi River and the Right on the Yazoo River. We are on the left of Sherman's Corps. It is the strongest point of their fortifications...
It looked like a promising situation, but as was often the case in the Civil War, things did not always go as planned.

From Shelby Foote's account:
At the appointed hour, the guns boomed, and the blue clots of troops rushed forward, shoulder to shoulder, cheering as they vied for the honor of being the first to scale the ridge; whereupon, as if in response to the same signal, a long low cloud of smoke, torn along its bottom edge by the pinkish yellow stabs of muzzle flashes, boiled up with a great clatter from the rebel works ahead. The racket was so tremendous that no man could hear his own shouts or the sudden yelps of the wounded alongside him. What was immediately apparent, however, amid a confusion of sound so uproarious that it was if the whole mad scene was played in pantomime, was that the assault had failed almost as soon as it got started...

...Emerging into the open, an Illinois captain saw "the very sticks and chips, scattered over the ground, jumping under the hot shower of rebel bullets." Startled, he and his company plunge forward, tumbled into a cane-choked ravine at the base of the enemy ridge, and hugged the earth for cover and concealment. All up and down the line it was much the same for those who had not scattered rearward at the first burst of tire; once within point blank musket range, there was little the attackers could do but try to stay out of sight until darkness gave them a chance to pull back without inviting a bullet between the shoulder blades.

This was, of course, Jacob Wheeler's outfit - and his account is even more graphic:
On the 22nd we made a charge on their works, but were repulsed. The air was literally filled with shot and shell. They had a fire on us from three different directions and it was fearful. It is a miracle to us all, how any of us escaped alive. Our Regiment had 106 killed and wounded in less than half an hour. Our Lt. Colonel lost an arm. LT. Whittle of our Company was hit in the arm - he had an artery cut. The captain of Company K lost an arm. Company G lost their Lieutenant; so did Company E lose theirs. Their Captain had a ball through his face. Our Company had five killed and nine wounded: one was Will Maugle; Joe Ebersoll was badly wounded in the left shoulder - both from our town. All the rest of the Ottawa boys were all right.

The boy that stood before me had both of his legs shot off, the boy that stood by the side of me had his head shot off, and the one who stood behind had his bowels thrown all over him.

It was a fearful scene, but I understand there will be no more charges. We intend to take the place by siege.

Which they eventually did. Confederate General Pemberton, seeking good terms, surrendered Vicksburg on July 4 of that year.
Donvila0 comments Links to this post

What do you think it symbolizes?