Vicksburg During The Siege
Edward S. Gregory
On January 24,1862, a fleet bearing the united forces of Generals Grant and Sherman, descending the Mississippi from Memphis, appeared before the "terraced city of the hills"-the name given Vicksburg, according to local tradition, by Daniel Webster.
The disastrous experiment made in the previous December by General Sherman of approaching the town on the Yazoo line--was not repeated. The troops were disembarked on the west bank of the river, and began to dig a canal across the isthmus which the great bend of the river opposite Vicksburg makes; the original idea of which scheme of isolation had occurred to General Williams the year before. Demonstrations in other directions were not neglected, meanwhile. Nine gunboats, carrying 4,000 men, in March made a move down the Tallahatchie, but were repulsed by General Loring at Fort Pemberton. General Pemberton, in command of the Department of Mississippi, was induced for a while to think that the city was in no immediate danger, and that a large part of General Grant's army had been sent to join Rosecrans. He soon had occasion to alter his mind in this connection, and the troops which he had dispatched to General Bragg, at Chattanooga, were promptly withdrawn.
Early in April, a new plan of campaign was adopted by General Grant. He struck work on the canal. His new scheme was to march his troops down on the west bank of the river to some suitable point below Vicksburg, and throw them over in transports that were to pass the batteries under veil of night. Already, in March, the "Hartford " and "Albatross," of Farragut's squadron, had passed the Port Hudson guns. On the night of April 16th, a Federal fleet of gunboats and three transports, towing barges, ran by the batteries at Vicksburg and moored at Hard Times, La. (thirty miles, say, below the city), where the forces had arrived. On the night of the 22d six more transports and barges followed. The damage done by the Confederate artillerists on these two occasions summed up as follows: One transport sunk, one burned, six barges rendered unserviceable. We shall hear more fully of these feats hereafter. The rigor of the game began when, on the 29th of April, Admiral Porter opened the guns of his ships on the Confederate entrenchments at Grand Gulf, the Thirteenth Corps (McClernand's) being held in readiness to cross over when these were silenced. At sunset the guns were still vocal, and General Grant determined to land at Bruinsburg, which was ten or twelve miles lower down. Gunboats and transports gave the batteries the slip at night in numbers sufficient to ferry over a division at a time. More than twenty vessels of different descriptions had then passed the Confederate fortifications.
On April 30th the four divisions of McClernand's corps crossed, and on the 1st of May moved, and in brief time encountered the Confederate command of General Bowen, consisting of the brigades of Green and Tracy, four miles from Port Gibson. The Confederatos were choice men, and fought gallantly against great odds; but on the next day General Bowen was forced out of Port Gibson, and retired across the suspension bridge of the Bayou Pierre to Grand Gulf. His stay here was transient, seeing that his flank was almost immediately turned. On the 3d he marched to Hankinson's Ferry, on the Big Black, and there met Loring and his division, sent from Jackson by Pemberton, whose headquarters were at Edwards' Depot. On the 30th of April, General Sherman, commanding the Fifteenth Corps, after a slight feint on Haines' Bluff, on the Yazoo, returned to Milliken's Bend and proceeded to the main body. On the 8th, the three corps met at Willow Spring, where McClernand and McPherson (commanding the Seventeenth Corps) had been waiting since the 3d. On the same day they advanced, on parallel roads, northeast; but the Thirteenth shortly turned off toward Edwards' Depot; while the Seventeenth, followed by the Fifteenth, kept their faces toward Jackson. The latter column, on the 12th, encountered the single brigade of Gregg at Raymond and drove it away-not till after a stout resistance. McPherson then moved on Clinton-a station on the railroad ten miles west of Jackson--interposing between Vicksburg and General Joseph E. Johnston (who had arrived in Jackson on the 13th and assumed command), and breaking the line of Confederate communications.
Prior to his departure from Tullaboryia for the scene of war, General Johnston had sent an order to General Pemberton in these words:"If Grant's army crosses [the Mississippi], unite all your forces to beat him. Success will give you back what you abandoned to win it." One dispatch had been received from General Pemberton, bearing date the 12th, and beginning: "The enemy is apparently moving in heavy force toward Edwards' Depot, on Southern Railroad." The "movable army" of Pemberton, consisting of the divisions of Bowen and Loring, which had come up from Grand Gulf, and Stevenson, who was detached from the garrison of Vicksburg, leaving the two divisions of Forney and M. L. Smith in loco, was now at Edwards' Depot, eighteen miles east of Vicksburg; and headquarters were at Bovina, a station some four miles west.
On the 13th, General Johnston rent a dispatch to the War Department in these words: "I arrived this evening, finding tile enemy in force between this place and General Pemberton. I am too late." These were ominous words. Through Captain Yerger be dispatched that order to General Pemberton which has been the bone of contention in all the subsequent discussions on the responsibility of failure. It directed the latter to come up, if practicable, on the rear of McPherson at Clinton at once. "All the strength ,you can quickly assemble should be brought. Time is all important." This was put into Pemberton's hands at 1 o'clock on the morning of the 14th. He answered at once, signifying his purpose to obey, though he did not think his force justified attacking. But immediately he summoned a council of war, to which the question was submitted for discussion, and a majority of the major generals present sustained the execution of the order; others said "nay." General Pemberton concluded that he would obey the order in this wise: He would set off for Clinton, which was twelve miles east, by moving on Dillon's, which was eight miles south. By this route he might break the communications of the enemy, and force them to attack. If his luck was good, he might proceed to Clinton, or else take advantage of any improved posture of affairs that the movement might bring about. On the morning of the 15th, the three divisions set out on their march, being compelled to make a tedious detour because of the destruction by flood of a bridge over Baker's creek, which runs a little east of Edwards' Depot, in a southwesterly course, to the Big Black river. That such was to be his mode of obeying the order, General Pemberton had written General Johnston in a note dated the 14th, at 5 P.M.; which contained, however, no reference to the council of war. It was part of the tragedy of errors which the whole campaign illustrated, that this answer reached General Johnston before the note previously sent.
Meanwhile, no grass was growing under Sherman's feet. On the 14th, Johnston, bearing that the Fifteenth Corps was twelve miles from Jackson, on the Raymond road, and that both it and McPherson were moving on Jackson, sent out one brigade to meet each corps, and evacuated the city, which was promptly entered. McClernand, who had been near Edwards' Depot, having received orders to that effect, joined the main body in the neighborhood of Jackson, out of which General Johnston had marched with his little army, then 6,000 at most, toward Clinton, twenty odd miles north. Ascertaining the Federal concentration, he dispatched an order to Pemberton on the same day, informing him of the situation of affairs and the disposition of forces, and asking if he could not close their communications with the river, and above all beat them if for want of supplies they were compelled to fall back. It was part the second of this tragedy of errors that Pemberton received this communication not till after the battle of Baker's creek, when too late to affect his action.
The battle of Bakers creek happened in this wise: When General Johnston, on the 15th, received General Pemberton's second note of the day before, disclosing his designs on Dillon's, Johnston instantly replied that "the only mode by which we could unite was his [Pemberton's] moving directly to Clinton and informing me [Johnston], that I might meet him there with 6,000 men." Hardly had -Pemberton got well clear of Baker's creek when this order reached him. He reversed his columns and prepared to obey it promptly, and dispatched a courier so to inform General Johnston. Just at this point a new factor appears, in the shape of Grant, who had heard in Jackson of Pemberton's designs to attack him piecemeal and who bad conceived the design of reversing the operation. McPherson, McClernand, Blair and Hovey were ordered on the 15th to march to Bolton's Depot, eight miles east of Edwards' Depot. Returning to Edwards' Depot, General Pemberton formed his line of battle-remaining, General Johnston contends, for five hours in front of a single Federal division, which he might have crushed. Battle was delivered by Grant on the 16th, with all his force. The, Confederate resistance was spirited, but unavailing. General Pemberton lays the blame of defeat on Loring, who declined to reinforce the Confederate left. For this same inaction General Loring is equally praised by Johnston. The field was lost, and Loring, after guarding the retreat of the army across the creek, and seeing the bridge burned, moved out by a wide detour and joined General Johnston with his division. Next day the Federals, crossing Baker's creek on pontoon bridges, renewed the battle at the Big Black river, east of which Pemberton had stationed Bowen, while Stevenson was bivouacked on the other side. The Confederates were disheartened and divided, and the fight soon became a flight. Eighteen Confederate cannon were captured. The remnant of Bowen's command was conducted from the field by Stevenson. Grant followed swiftly, and the pickets of the advance were before Vicksburg on the 18th. On the next day the investment was complete.
On the 17th, Johnston, marching his two brigades on the road from Livingston to Edwards' received Pemberton's account of events, including the council of war on the 14th, and the battle at Baker's creek. The action at the river was progressing at the moment of General Pemberton's latest communication. Hearing immediately afterward of the abandonment of the Big Black, General Johnston orders Pemberton: "If Haines' Bluff is untenable, Vicksburg is of no value and cannot be held. * * * Evacuate Vicksburg, if not too late, retreating to the northeast." Expecting that this order was obeyed, Johnston marches to the northwest to meet the garrison. On the 18th he received a dispatch from Pemberton, at Vicksburg, announcing his retreat into the entrenchments, and adding that the order of evacuation had been submitted to a council of war, and while it was holding the enemy's guns opened. "I have decided to hold Vicksburg as long as possible. I still conceive it to be the most important point in the Confederacy." Johnston answers Pemberton encouraging him to hold out-" I am trying to get together a force to help you" -and orders Gardner to evacuate Port Hudson. Before this order could be repeated Port Hudson was invested by the whole force from Baton Rouge. Thus far the preliminary narrative, which has been condensed to the exclusion of many important points among them the discussion between General Johnston and the administration as to the authority of the former over the army in Tennessee to order reinforcements from it to Mississippi. How far results were affected and responsibility fixed by these disagreements, and that between the generals in the field, may be considered on a later page.
It may be well credited that the garrison and the populace had not been indifferent while these great actions sped. That a crisis impended, every man and woman felt; and that the odds were greatly against us was equally evident. Still the people would not harbor the thought of defeat, and they were equally unprepared for the siege. The city had been bombarded once before; an ordeal invoked by the defiant reply of the mayor speaking for the citizens, when S. P. Lee demanded their surrender after the fall of New Orleans. When, therefore, the sudden unfolding of a ball of dense white smoke in the sky above them gave sign on the 18th that the enemy had arrived, the fact did not frighten the brave community, however much it may have surprised them. At first the depressing shadow of exclusion, with constant peril of death and the corrosion of anxiety and of imminent famine, was relieved by the excitement of battle; for on the 19th and 20th sharp attacks were made on the lines, which were repulsed with great slaughter of the Federal column. The novelty of the situation sustained the spirits of the people still longer, and their courage was never dimmed. But the sickness of hope deferred was of gradual growth, while the sordid conditions of life, made necessary by the exigencies and exposure which were incident to the siege, had their own sad effects of steady and hard attrition. Just how and by what distinct stages a 11 city full of stirs-a tumultuous city-a joyous city," such as the Jerusalem of the prophet's vision, takes on itself the aspect of a camp or a trench, devoid of the attendants of home and ease, and marked by every feature of war's worst exactions and destructions, nothing short of a diary of contemporaneous experience could describe. It answers the purpose of a picture to select any period when the siege was well advanced and distinctly charactered; when the life of the people had become adapted to it, and when the full consequences of such abnormal influences were developed.
I have spoken of the element of danger. The Federals fought the garrison in part, but the city mainly. Even the fire on the lines was not confined to them in its effects, for hardly any part of the city was outside the range of the enemy's artillery from any direction except the south. Shot from opposite quarters might have collided above the city. But the city was a target in itself, and was hit every time. Just across the Mississippi, a few days after the lines were closed, seven, eleven, and thirteen inch mortars were put in position and trained directly on the homes of the people; and if any one of them was silent from that time till the white flag was raised any longer than was necessary to cool and load it, I fail to recall the occasion. Twenty-four hours of each day these preachers of the Union made their touching remarks to the town. All night long their deadly hail of iron dropped through roofs and tore up the deserted and denuded streets. It was a feature of their practice that early in the night their favors would be addressed to one part of the city, and afterward changed so as to reach the cases of persons in other parts who had gone to bed in fancied security. Those Who could forget the deadly design and properties of these missiles might admire every night the trail which they made across the western heavens; rising steadily and shiningly in great parabolic curves, descending with ever-increasing swiftness, and falling with deafening shriek and explosion; hurling in many a radius their ponderous fragments. It is believed by the expert that a mortar shell is the most demoralizing agency of war. Throughout the war the Confederates had the same horror of them that the other side felt for masked batteries and Black Horse cavalry. For forty days and nights, without interval, the women and children of Vicksburg took calmly and bravely the iron storm which, in less volume and in a few minutes, turned back the victorious column of Beauregard from Pittsburg Landing. They wreaked their worst and utmost on the town, bringing out the most vicious of all war's aspects. That the ordinary atmosphere of life, the course of conversation, the thread of every human existence took in for nearly two months the momently contingency of these messengers of thunder and murder, is past ordinary comprehension. How many of them came and burst, nobody can have the least idea. An account says that on June 22d 150,000 shells fell inside of the city; but this was probably an exaggeration. They became at last such an ordinary occurrence of daily life that I have seen ladies walk quietly along the streets while the shells burst above them, their heads protected meanwhile by a parasol held between them and the sun.
Nothing was spared by the shells. The churches fared especially severely, and the reverend clergy had narrow escapes. The libraries of the Rev. Dr. Lord, of the Episcopalian, and of Rev. Dr. Rutherford, of the Presbyterian church, were both invaded and badly worsted. One Baptist church had been rendered useless for purposes of worship by the previous shelling. But what mattered churches, or ally-sacred place, or sacred exercise at such a time? There was nothing more striking about the interior of the siege than the breaking down of the ordinary partition between the days of the week, as well as the walls which make safe and sacred domestic life. During those long weeks there was no sound or summon of bell to prayer. There was no song of praise. The mortars had no almanac, and the mortars kept at home a perpetual service of fast and humiliation.
I have spoken of the wretched expedients to which families resorted in the hope of safety. Vicksburg hangs on the side of a hill, whose name is poetical--the Sky Parlor. On it thousands of people assembled to see the great sight when the Federal ships went by on the night of the 16th of April; at which time the houses of De Soto were kindled on the other side, lending a lurid background to the dark shadows of the boats, while the fire of the batteries made the, river a mirror of flame I But the Sky Parlor was reserved for other uses. Its soil was light and friable, and yet sufficiently stiff to answer the purpose of excavation. Wherever the passage of a street left the face of the bill exposed, into it and under it the people burrowed, making long ranges and systems of chambers and arches within which the women and young took shelter. In them all the offices of life had to be discharged, except that generally the cooking stove stood near the entrance, opportunity to perform -upon it being seized and improved during the shells' diversions in other quarters. Sometimes the eaves were strengthened by pillars and wooden joists, and beds and furniture were crowded in them. Whether they were really effective as against the largest she@ dropped directly above, I cannot tell. Stories were told, more than once during the siege, of people who had been buried alive by the collapse of caves; but they probably were not true. They made good shelter against the flying fragments of the bombs, and this was no small matter. It was rather a point of honor among men not to bide in these places, which were reserved for the women and children. Under all circumstances of difficulty, the modesty of these was supported in the half-exposed life of the caves with a pathos which affected me more deeply than any other circumstance of the siege. Another refuge of a few young ladies in the neighborhood of General Smith's headquarters, which had been a bank, was a vault in its cellar. One night, when more than a dozen of them were huddled in it, a shell struck the brick arch squarely and burst the same moment. None of the pieces penetrated; but would the whole bomb have gone through, was the question. And suppose it had, and had then burst? I believe the vault was never again occupied by the ladies. Considering the constant danger and the many narrow escapes, it is a great wonder that the casualties among the non-combatants were so few. I know of but one, and that was not fatal; the loss of tn arm by Mrs. Major Reid, while bringing her children under shelter from a sudden storm of shells. There were doubtless others, but I have sought in vain to obtain the facts and names. Inside and outside the lines there were many exaggerated stories in this connection. One of the mortalities published was that of Mrs. General Pemberton, who was at Gainesville, Alabama, the while.
How these people subsisted was another wonder. The straits to which the garrison were reduced are known, in part. "After the tenth day of the siege," says the report of General Stephen D. Lee, "the men lived on about half rations, and less than that toward the close." The ration has been described to consist of one-quarter pound of bacon, one-half pound of beef, five-eighths quart of meal, beside an allowance of peas, rice, sugar, and molasses. Of this, anon. The citizens must have had less; and where they got that from was a mystery. Business, of course, was suspended. There were some stores that had supplies, and at these prices climbed steadily in a manner suggestive of the prophecy of Jerusalem's undoing. A barrel of flour at last came to sell for one thousand dollars-an immense figure then; but worse than the figure were the two later facts-that nobody had the money and then nobody had the flour. Some people eked out their supplies by cooking the tender sprouts of the common cane, of which there was an immense " brake " just below Vicksburg. I have reason to believe that few applications, and these only by the poorest people, were made to the military powers for help throughout all this trial. Sympathy and patriotism must have improvised a practical communism. The cruise and barrel had a little dust and unction to the last.
How about the mule meat? everybody will inquire, while rations are being treated. Both horse and mule meat were extensively sampled during the siege, though not in the way that by many may be imagined. On account of the want of provender nearly all the horses of the garrison were turned out of the lines, and as the other side could not safely take them unless they strayed within reach, many of them were killed by the crossfire. Early in the siege, when some of the men complained of the scanty ration, General M. L. Smith, I believe, who had seen the thing done on the Plains, issued a circular to his brigades, recommending that the experiment of horse meat be tried to piece out supplies. I was on hand that very evening, when somebody, waiting till dark, slid over the works and cut a steak out of a horse that had been shot that day beneath them. It was cooked at General Vaughn's fire, and everybody tasted a little; but the flesh was coarse and nobody hungered for any more. Some of the soldiers did like it and eat it; not to speak of rats and other small deer which the Louisianians, being Frenchmen, were said to prepare in many elegant styles for the table. When Pemberton was thinking about forcing his way out, he had half a dozen fellows, men who looked like Mexicans or Indians, cutting mule meat at the old depot of the Southern Railroad. and Jerking it over slow fires to make it handy and lasting. One morning, for trial, I bought a pound of mule meat at this market, and had it served at breakfast for the mess. There was no need to try again. On the day of the surrender, and only .then, a ration of mule meat was actually issued; but nobody need eat it, as General Grant issued abundant supplies of the best that his army had.
Another expedient, amiably intended by General Pemberton to. reinforce his commissariat, became unhappily famous at the time by the name of pea bread. It has been mentioned that part of the siege ration was the common stock pea. It occurred to the General, or to some profound commissary, that this could be ground up and mixed with meal and issued as the "staff of life." But the scheme did not succeed for the best of reasons, to wit: that the meal part was cooked an hour or so before the pea part got well warmed. The effects on the human system of a hash composed of corn bread and rare pea bread combined, may probably be imagined, without any inquiry of the doctors. From that time the soldiers had their peas and meal served them at separate courses.
One great trouble in the trenches, not so great in the town, was the scarcity and bad quality of the water. The use of the cisterns, on which the people in that country have to rely, was confined to the citizens necessarily; and the drink of the soldiers had to be hauled in barrels from the river. It was muddy and warm, and not wholesome for many reasons, and caused many of the disorders which prevailed with effects so fatal. As to spirituous drinks, I believe the city was as bare of them as Murphy himself could wish. Even Louisiana rum, the poison that had once been so abundant, withdrew its consolations from the beleaguered city. Of ice, also, there was never a pound in the city during all the war.
A state of siege fulfils, in more ways than would be imagined by the uninitiated, all that is involved in the suspension of civilization. Its influences survive; its appliances vanish, The broader lines of the picture have been drawn; the instant danger, the hovering death, the troglodyte existence, the discomfort, hunger, exposure. These are things which affect the needs of life; but to them men become more easily habituated than to the absence of many really dispensable comforts and pleasures. I have said all partitions were broken down-as completely as in that valley residence of a Revolutionary general of Virginia, in -which the apartments assigned to his guests were indicated by chalk lines upon the floor. Home was a den shared with others, perhaps with strangers. All of the Invasions into normal restraints and sanctities that this implied was known, perhaps, only to those -who could not undress to rest or Change their clothing except by arrangement. That people had to wait on themselves was a matter of course, and by comparison a minor hardship. It has been said there was no business, no mails, no open stores, no hotels, or places of congregation and discourse; no passage of vehicles, no social pastimes, no newspapers, no voice of the Sabbath bell. When the weight of anxiety that rested on the hearts of the people is duly reckoned, and with it the total lack of all means by which anxiety is usually diverted and the tension of thought relieved, it is a great wonder that many did not become insane. That they did not, gives another proof of the heroic texture of the beleaguered population.
It is not quite true that there were no papers. Three copies. of the Citizen were published by Mr. John J. Shannon, an old gentleman, in whom, however, there was no lack of ardor and courage. The Whig office was burned just before the siege, and the Citizen's quarters were struck by the Shells time and again, its type scattered, its floors flindered; but the semi-occasional issue was continued to the last. It was printed on the back of wall-paper, and its circulation was limited. Sometimes papers were handed across the lines and sent to headquarters and afterward, by regular grade, through the circle of headquarter attaches. Every one was worn to a frazzle, though the news it contained was not generally of a kind to encourage perusal. In this state of suspended animation, it is really wonderful how people continued to drag out their endurance from one hopeless day to another. Perhaps the very vigilance they had to exercise against the shells and the activity necessary to avoid them, kept the besieged alive. Every day, too, somebody would start or speed a new story of deliverance from without, that stirred up, although for a fitful season only, the hearts bowed down by deep despair. Now it was E. Kirby Smith, and now Joe Johnston, who was at the gates. The faith that something would and must be done to save the city was desperately clung to till the last. It probably never had deep roots in the reason of the generals, the men in the lines, or the people. But at such times men do not reason. The hand of Fate seems to rest upon them. Powerless to resist the tide of events, their only refuge is in the indulgence of a desperate hope, whose alternative is despair and madness.
There were, it is true, occasional breaks in the heavy monotone of time and things. One of these was the sinking of the gunboat "Cincinnati," on May 26th. With notable audacity this vessel attempted to run suddenly upon and close with the batteries at the north end of the city, which were manned by a gallant command of Tennesseans, and constituted the protection of the garrison's extreme left wing. As soon as she began steaming down the river, and even before she had passed the bend, the "Cincinnati" became the target of a concentrated and powerful cannonade, which was made none the less steady and effective by the Federals' own heavy fire. Before she reached the middle of the stream it was evident that her vitals were wounded. Reversing her course, she steamed heavily up the current, but only succeeded in running ashore on tho west bank, a little above the extremity of the isthmus. Forty of her people had been killed or hurt. The glory of this victory was short-lived, seeing that the heavy rifled-guns of the steamer were promptly removed from her decks and remounted near the spot of the wreck. They. were her avenging spirits; if not doing more damage, certainly causing more fear, by the intense and hideous hiss of their conical balls' passage and explosion than even the heaviest of the smooth-bore mortars effected.
A great fire broke out on the night of June 6th-the Federal accounts say caused by the explosion of their shells. There was nothing to do except to remove the articles of value from the houses within its range. A great crowd collected, notwithstanding the concentration of the mortar fire; and yet there were no remembered casualties. The whole block was burned, of course, and the wonder is only one.
On the 21st of June, a mine constructed in McPherson's front was sprung under that part of the Confederate line occupied by Hebert's Brigade of Louisianians-immediately under the Thirty first Regiment, I believe. The mine was a failure, and the truthful chroniclers of the time report did more harm to the diggers than the under-dug. Hebert's men had their revenge, too, on the troops that had been moved up close to take advantage of the panic that did not ensue; among other things, rolling down on their heads bombs with fuses cut short, which barely had time to leave the Confederates' hands before they burst.
A Lynchburg man performed, late in the siege, a feat never heretofore recorded, and of courage worthy of the honest Irish blood that flowed in his veins. Major Mike Connell, having resigned his commission in a Memphis regiment as having passed the age of service, undertook to convoy a large purchase of sugar from somewhere in Louisiana to its owner in Virginia. Ile had maneuvred it as far as Vicksburg, and there the siege settled on it. After awaiting its issue from week to week, being satisfied that he could accomplish no good by remaining, and was only one more mouth to be fed out of next to nothing, Major Connell decided to make his escape. He intimated his purpose to the numerous Virginians in the city, and to other friends, and received from these a great budget of letters, which was all his load. Waiting for a stormy night, he laid himself flat in the bottom of a dug-out, just large enough to hold him, and was pushed out to take the chances of the Mississippi's arrowy current. He drifted, by good luck, between the gunboats and the guard-boats around them, and late next day was swept by a turn of the stream to the east bank near Rodney, and struggled through swamps and across bayous to terra firma. Borrowing somebody's mule (on what terms history is silent), lie made his way painfully across the country to the nearest station on the Mobile and Ohio Railroad, whence he took cars for Mobile. His letters were mailed, and a six weeks' brain fever was the penalty paid for his hardihood. Not many letters have seemed to come so nearly out of the grave as did these missives to their astonished recipients.
Other people went and came between the garrison and the world outside. Others started who never reached their destination; some were captured and some deserted. General Johnston had ten dispatches from Pemberton during the siege, but the number received from him was smaller. How these messengers made their way in and out I have no means of knowing; perhaps through the woods, and between the intricate system of hills and vales that surround the city, and perhaps in disguise as citizens of the country. One of the deserters was a youth named Douglass, a native of Illinois, who had lived several years in Texas, and was supposed to be 11 loyal "-Our way. It was he who refreshed the correspondents with the news that Mrs. Pemberton (in Alabama) had been killed by a mortar shell. There were reports from time to time of the flitting of Lamar Fontaine, one of the numerous poets for whom the authorship of "All Quiet Along the Potomac Tonight " is claimed, between the garrison and the outside world. I do not know if they were true or not.
Once in a while authentic information, from official sources, of the enemy's proceedings reached General Pemberton in a way they did not suspect. Just prior to the siege the alphabet of the Federal Signal Corps was communicated to Captain Maxwell T. Davidson, the very valuable officer in command of the Signal Corps of M. L. Smith's Division, from the Bureau at Richmond, and was required to be committed to memory by his men. It may be said, apropos, that we always had the Federal alphabet during the war; and I suppose they had ours. The Confederate signal station on the Devil's Backbone, a high hill running along the river to the north of the city, commanded a Federal signal station on the isthmus, and every motion of its :flags and lamps was readily seen by the officer in charge of the former-an alert and intelligent Creole named Mathew H. Asbury. Asbury made the watching of the Federal flags the business of his life, and hardly every missed a communication of those exchanged between General Grant and Admiral Porter. By this means the first intelligence of Banks' attack upon and repulse from the works of Port Hudson was received and communicated to headquarters. A more noticeable feat remained to be achieved by the gallant Louisianian. After Pemberton's last proposition was submitted to Grant, there elapsed an interval during which its fate was uncertain. The bombardment was still suspended. This was the -night of July 3d, and an ominous and awful quiet reigned over all the scene-less welcome, no doubt, to the hearts of many than the utmost fury of the bombardment. Suddenly the lamps flashed, and then began swinging, and their message was traced letter by letter and word by word-not only by the eyes for which it was designed, but by others, if possible, more keen and eager. It said, in effect, to Admiral Porter (being sent by the general in command), that a council of the generals was, in the main, opposed to the paroling of the surrendered garrison, and thought it would be better to send the whole party North; but that he, General Grant, had ruled otherwise, on the principle that the garrison was probably demoralized enough to spread the same feeling wherever they -went in the South; and that he could not spare sufficient guards and transports to send them to Northern prisons, because their absence would interfere with his proposed advance into the country. (I do not pretend to give the words.) Asbury mounted a horse and dashed into town, and found a grave council of generals in silent session at Pemberton's headquarters, awaiting the verdict. With intense feeling lie laid, before them the intercepted dispatch which fulfilled their hopes or their fears. With never a word more the council of war broke up-the stroke had fallen. When the garrison marched out, Captain Davidson concealed the sheets containing all the dispatches intercepted during the siege between his cap and its lining, but lost them in after years, and was unable to respond to my desire to have their very language for this paper.
The Signal Corps headquarters in the city was a room in the courthouse, and its station was the cupola of the same. The court' house was set on the highest point of the town, and the cupola formed the most prominent feature of its river facade, except, perhaps, the soaring light spire and gold cross of the Catholic church, which was, I believe, never defaced by the fire of the enemy. Whether this was chance or intention is another study. I suspect Porter's Pats and Mikes didn't want to hurt it. Far otherwise with the Temple of Justice. The Federal papers say it was the general centre of their fire, and so say I, who was in it. The building and grounds were struck twenty-four times or more, and yet but one shell was fatal in its effects. That came at midnight, crushing through the roof, and, passing below to the marble pavement of the ground floor, exploded and flung two. poor fellows against the wall with such mutilation that their mothers would not have known their dead darlings. They were Mississippi militiamen. Their comrades above suffered only less cruelly. The heavy shell passing through the court-room, which was packed with sleeping men, struck squarely a massive iron railing that inclosed the seats of the lawyers and witnesses, and scattered its fragments on every hand. Legs were broken, heads crushed-all manner of injury inflicted. This one shell killed and disabled fourteen men; and, by strange fatality, two more men of those who went out to bury the two first killed, lost their lives on their way to the graveyard. This enclosure, also-the beautiful City Cemetery-was riddled by the plunging shot. That was, doubtless, an accident of war. It was cleared that the Federals did fire on the Marine Hospital, which was full of wounded men, and over which the yellow flag was hoisted. It was struck frequently, and wounded men wounded anew; but whether by aim or accident I do not know.
No history of the siege would be complete without some detailed allusion to the ceaseless generation of sensational reports within and without the city, both North and South. Considering the fertility of inventions then displayed, it is a wonder that the coming American novel has never come. There may have been something in the sulphurous atmosphere more favorable to the stimulation of genius than belongs to the ordinary environment. Munchausen was prosaic to the fellows who wrote and talked and were believed at that time. The Richmond papers pathetically complained of the "telegraphic genius at Jackson." The telegraphic geniuses at Young's Point and Milliken's Bend were far greater masters of the art of fiction. I will mention a case that preceded the investment. On the 3d of May, the tug Sturgis, with two barges, loaded with 400,000 rations and medical supplies, was ordered to pass the batteries, and tried to do so, carrying a picked guard. The late A. D. Richardson, representing the New York Tribune, Junius Henri Browne, of the Times, and somebody else of the World, volunteered for the passage. At 12.45 the tug was exploded by the batteries' fire, several men killed, others drowned, and the Scribes and Pharisees, clinging to bales of hay, with which the barges were fortified, drifted to land, were picked up and conveyed to a room in the courthouse with other victims. They were treated as handsomely as circumstances allowed, and Richardson, in particular, a hearty fellow, made almost too good an impression, for he -,vas so thoroughly full of faith in the resources of the Union and in the approaching downfall of Jeff Davis, that he cast a shadow of doubt over some young Confederates' breasts. They were all soon exchanged, going home by way of Richmond. They saw a few things from the windows of jails and cars, and wrote to their papers from Fortress Monroe most astonishing letters, containing revelations which they could hardly have been possessed of, unless they were members of the Cabinet of Mr. Davis.
Another correspondent of the Tribune essayed to describe the passage of eight gunboats on the 16th. He was evidently not so venturesome as Richardson, and his picture reads as those pictures look of shipwrecks, which no soul survives, in the illustrated papers, "by our special artist." His coquetry with truth consisted in describing, as a mysterious and dreadful beacon that rose out of the earth at Vicksburg, the homely burning of some shanties in De Soto, which were set on fire to assist the aim of the artillery. The scene was terrific, and, no wonder, took on it for this correspondent a supernatural expression. But the war maps that were published were the greatest feats-quite distancing the creations of Ptolemy and Psalmanazar. The Herald had one representing "rebel batteries in the streets," "rebel redoubts" on the same, "masked batteries" lying around loose, a tall signal station whose architect was the artist, and the Marine Hospital at the wrong end of the town. And every day some new version of victory thrilled across the wires. One hundred women were killed the first day, was one statement; a woman and two children fell at the first fire, said another. General C.C. Auger telegraphed, on the 23d of May, that "deserters report that General Pemberton has been hanged by his own men!" 3,600 shells lodged in the town in one hour, said somebody else. One paper gave a detailed statement of the amputation of General Sherman's leg. Another said "the citizens demand the surrender of Vicksburg, and Pemberton refuses!" Another said Pemberton had answered with profane violence the charge of his men shooting poisoned balls. In the city the reports took shape mainly with reference to the supposed movements of Johnston and E. K. Smith. One day the forces had gone to Memphis, to cut Grant off from his supplies, a report that provoked a poem from a gallant, gay boy named Cannon (afterward killed), which had this refrain:
"Damn Memphis and strategy-Vicksburg's the place,
And I am, dear Joseph, your Cannon, in haste."
Next time it was Milliken's Bend that had been captured (there was a fight there). And then Kirby Smith had crossed the river at Natchez, and had a division at Young's Point. And so on, over and over, like the dreams of fever. General Johnston appears, from his dispatches, to have really believed that assistance could be expected from the Trans-Mississippi Department; a strange delusion which might even appear, in the minds of the prejudiced, an attempt to transfer the responsibility of events. One of the rumors that somehow reached us in Vicksburg was that Virginia had elected a Union State ticket, and was making ready to desert the Confederate cause. The joke of this story consists in the circumstance that Governor William Smith, known as " Extra Billy," bravest of soldiers and staunchest of rebels, headed the ticket described as "Union."
In order that the circumstances under which the surrender was finally made, and the train of events which served to make it inevitable may be fairly judged, I condense the dispatches. exchanged between Generals Johnston and Pemberton after the siege began. The first of the series has been given. On May 25th, General Johnston wrote that he was coming, and asked Pemberton what route he ought to take. On the 29th he wrote that he was too late to save Vicksburg, but would assist in saving the garrison. On June 3d, Pemberton wrote that he had heard nothing from Johnston since May 29th; that the man bringing musket-caps had been captured, and that he hopes General Johnston will move on the north of Jackson road. On the 7th, Johnston again: wants to know how co-operation can be effected. On the same day Pemberton writes of the enemy's entrenching, the good spirits of the men, and that he had twenty days' provisions. On the 10th, Pemberton says the enemy is bombarding night and day with seven mortars and artillery, and that he is losing many officers and men. He will hold out while he has anything to eat. Activity is urged by General Pemberton in a dispatch of the 15th.
On June 14t]i and 15th, General Johnston writes Pemberton that he can only hope to save the garrison, and asks for the details of a plan of co-operation. He also holds out the hope of General Dick Taylor's reinforcing the outside army with 8,000 men from Richmond, La. On the 21st, Pemberton suggested as his plan that Johnston should move at night to the north of the railroad while he marched by the Warrenton road, by Hankinson's ferry, to which Johnston was to send two brigades of cavalry and two batteries. Snyder's Bluff was also suggested as his objective point. By verbal message General Pemberton said the army for his relief ought not to be less than 40,000 men. General Johnston asserts that his force never amounted to more than two-thirds of this minimum. On the 22d, however, he still engages to make a trial, but recommends that General Pemberton cross the Mississippi river rather than surrender. On that date, General Pemberton asked General Johnston to treat with Grant for the surrender of the place without the troops. On the 27tb, General Johnston declines to negotiate, and makes another flourish of Kirby Smith. No other dispatches were received. After dispatching Pemberton that he would advance to see what could be done on the 7th of July, he examines the country to the north of the railroad, and is satisfied that nothing can be effected. When he has just begun the like examination of the southern line, he hears on the 4th of the surrender of the town 'and its defenders. General Johnston was again too late.
On the 3d, the white flag went up for a parley. The first proposition of General Pemberton, which was delivered by Major General Bowen and Colonel Montgomery, suggested that the terms of surrender should be left for decision to three commissioners on either side. General Grant, courteously receiving the flag-of-truce, made answer, rejecting the proposal of commissioners as unnecessary, and suggesting a personal conference with the general of the defense, whose gallantry and stubbornness he highly lauded. At three o'clock P. M. the two commanders met in what is described by some correspondent, who, perhaps, never saw the place, as "a small vale, where the apricots and fig-trees had bloomed in happier times." The same correspondent says the two men had been personal friends in the same " happier times." Certainly the bearing of General Grant was all that magnanimity and the sympathy of the brave could inspire. General Pemberton's proposition, however, that the men should march out, was met with the blunt qualification, "not except as prisoners of war." After the conference between the generals, Grant's ultimatum was sent by General Logan and Lieutenant Colonel Wilson. Pemberton's proposed amendments were that the men should stack arms and march out, and that the rights of the citizens should be guaranteed. Grant rejected the amendments, contending that every officer and man should be paroled over his own signature, and he would not be restricted with respect to the citizens. He allowed each soldier, however, to carry his private kit, the officers their sidearms, and the field officers their horses. These terms were accepted, and the white flag remained on the works.
The suspension of the firing had prepared the minds of the men and citizens for the event which many had long perceived to be written in the book of Fate. Yet was there great reaction and great sorrow when the iron crown of the Mississippi, a fortress maiden as Namur and defiant as Ghazi Schumla, became the enemy's prize. During the night many officers went wandering sadly around the town, taking a last look at its honorably scarred homes and ploughed streets, and making farewell to the heroic citizens whom they knew. A load was no doubt lifted from the hearts of the surrendered; but a new load, that seemed even heavier, was deposited in its place. What feeling the people had, made no public demonstration; for they prudently returned to their homes, and made the best shift that the time allowed, reserving their sorrow for their own home-circles. When the poor wasted garrison rose out of the long imprisonment of the trenches to stack the weapons they had used so well, many reeled and staggered like drunken men from emaciation and from emotion, and wept like children that all their long sacrifice was unavailing.
To Logan's Division was assigned the duty of taking possession of the captured town. The boys in blue entered by the north end of Cherry street, and made a grand procession as they stepped by in extended line, their flags waving, their officers glittering in full uniform, and the air torn with the glad shouts that went up from victorious throats. Logan himself stood on the east portico of the court-house and looked with swelling pride and profound gratification on the scene so picturesque and historic. He dropped some emphatic exclamations as to the joy it gave him to hear the boys cheer. By-the-by, the fact has never been published, but is no less true, that a company of Illinois soldiers, on the Southern side, once constituted part of the Vicksburg garrison, though it went to pieces long before the siege. Some of -their unassigned officers-I well recollect one named Parker-may still-have been there.
In the main, nay, almost without exception, during the five days occupied by the paroling of the garrison, the Federal army of possession conducted itself in an exemplary manner. The men who had leave to go over the city expressed the greatest curiosity as to the caves and other objects of interest, and were mad to lay hands on relies. The wall-paper copies of the Citizen were in great demand. A general officer, who, I think, was Grant, accompanied by a full suite, some of whom were full of other exhilerations than success, went up to the cupola of the court-house, and when they came back, the staff were vociferously chanting the "Star Spangled Banner", and brandishing as a trophy an old signal flag that had been carelessly left there. I well remember the silent general in the midst of them, who ii,6u8t have been Grant. During all this time I heard but two phrases of o:ffense to the Confederates, and one of these offenders was a drunken newsboy, selling copies of Harpers Weekly, whose front page was garnished with a picture of Beall's execution. The other, an officer, walking up the iron stairway of the courthouse, and, noticing the name of the Cincinnati maker moulded on it, damned the impudence of the people who thought they could whip the United States when they couldn't even make their own staircases.
The paroling of the men in duplicate was rapidly effected by means of printed forms and a full staff of clerks, who filled in the names and commands of the soldiers and officers. One of these duplicates was retained by the prisoner, the other for the government by the paroling officials. The examination of knapsacks made on the lines was carelessly done, and with many apologies, by officers who seemed to be ashamed of the service. During the five days full rations had been issued by the commissaries of General Grant to the whole garrison, sick and well, the whole amounting to thirty-one thousand people, of whom but eighteen thousand were effective. They consisted mainly of hard-tack and rich Western bacon; and many a Confederate can say, on the conscience of his stomach, that he never ate anything that tasted better.
The armies parted with mutual good will, as is the case with foemen who axe worthy of each others' steel. But the discontent of the disarmed captives began to gather volume, and to speak in no bated breath, very soon after the lines were passed. The march, owing to the feeble state of the men, was very painful and tedious. Jackson was left to the north, and the column's first sight of streets was when, after four days, the town of Brandon, ten miles east of Jackson, was reached. It had been generally supposed by the men that their paroles gave them the right to go-home as soon as they could get there, and without restrictions. Many had already deserted to the Trans-Mississippi, despite the aid of Federal guard-boats to check the stream. But when, at Brandon, it was learned that the cars would not receive them to take them home, and that they were to march to Enterprise, and there go into parole camp, their indignation burst all bounds. Efforts were made, by moving the switch, to throw the trains, on which General Johnston was removing supplies from Jackson, from the track; and the officers had to draw and threaten to use their side-arms before the mob could be subdued., One man got up in the plaza of Brandon and offered to be one of fifty to go and hang Pemberton, the traitor. What further befell these mad patriots I cannot, as a spectator, narrate, for a sick leave enabled me to depart on the last train from Jackson that went east riding to Enterprise on the top of a freight car, at the end of a long train, and exposed to worse risk, I believe, for those forty miles than even in the Vicksburg courthouse. I ought to remark that one pleasing feature of the march through Mississippi was the habit which women and children bad of coming out to the fences and inquiring what made us surrender Vicksburg.
The demoralization of the garrison extended beyond the State. At Demopolis the guard of the provost marshal came down to the wharf to stop the prisoners who had gotten so far, and to put them in parole camp at that point. The prisoners attacked them, broke through the line, and flung some of them into the gutter. They soon yielded to reason, however, and surrendered their paroles to the provost marshal. And this was the last I saw of the ill-starved garrison until, at Enterprise, Mr. Davis told them that Bragg would pave Rosecrans' way in gold if he (Bragg) could get the Federal general to attack him on Lookout Mountain-with more of the same sort; and where Johnston, following, spoke more to the point, in saying: "Soldiers! I hope to see you soon, with arms in your hands, in the presence of the enemy!"
Who was to blame? The answer is, everybody-nobody. There were great adverse odds to begin with. General Grant, according to Badeau, had 130,000 men at his disposal with which to effect the reduction of Vicksburg; while the electives of Johnston and Pemberton combined-and they were never combined-never reached one third that number. General Johnston was too sick when he arrived at Jackson to take command in the field, an illness which ,infected the very life-blood of our enterprise," like the Earl of Northumberland's. General Johnston covers the whole ground in saying of General Pemberton, "His design and objects and mine are founded on exactly opposite military principles." General Johnston was not in accord with the Richmond government, and General Pemberton was not in accord with General Johnston. Those whom God had put asunder, man had, joined together. Mistaking and mistrusting each other, neither one did as well as he might have done without the other. General Pemberton thought the objective of the campaign was to save Vicksburg, or make a fight for it, and in this was supported by the administration. General Johnston thought the safety of the army was the first consideration, that the enemy might still be confronted, no matter what position he might gain. Each accuses the other of slowness, and each, probably, is right. General Pemberton, brave man, stout fighter, doubtless, and faithful to the South as any native son-a fidelity never doubted by the intelligent among his men--,was deliberate, slow of assuming responsibilities, perhaps not equal to the movement and management of large bodies, and utterly devoid of personal magnetism. What character General Johnston has as a soldier, history has already, in part, decided, In military resources perhaps no captain of the South excelled him; but at Jackson he was flustered by a responsibility suddenly assumed, and for which his mind was not schooled; between which and the discharge of duties well grasped in advance, there is the same difference as between "two o'clock in the morning courage," and the ordinary daring of the soldier who obeys orders and feels the contact of his comrade's elbow.
General Pemberton is said to have felt keenly the injustice done him with respect to the fall of Vicksburg. At one time during the siege, when some exaggerated victory was reported in Richmond, the press almost smothered him with laurels. The Dispatch said that Beauregard and Lee had both urged his promotion, and that Johnston had fairly begged for him to be his chief-of-staff! But public sentiment told a different tale when failure befell his army. Assigned to command of the artillery around Richmond, he was greeted with jeers by the men as he rode down the lines. Ever since the war General Pemberton is said to have felt most deeply the odium attaching to him as the man who surrendered Vicksburg and sundered the South. It is a curious fact that no portrait of him appears among Confederate collections. I never saw him in person, but I do him the bare justice of recording my own conviction that his fealty to the cause which he espoused was beyond all peradventure of suspicion; that he did the very best he could; that he acted in accordance with his orders from Richmond; and that he departed no further from his immediate orders than did General Loring from his at Edwards' Depot, an act of independence for which General Johnston warmly lands the latter.
The effect of the surrender, North and South, was immense. At Washington Mr. Seward, in response to a serenade, was ready to swear that even old Virginia would soon be asking forgiveness on her knees. He never saw Virginia in that posture; but it may be doubted whether, after Vicksburg and the twin tragedy of Gettysburg, there was ever any vital hope in the Southern heart except among the soldiers. The army kept its high crest and stern front to the last, and died only with annihilation; but many a Vicksburg prisoner, gone home, spread the tale of disaster and the influence of dismay among simple folk whose faith never rallied. There were desperate battles afterward, and occasional victories, but their light only rendered deeper the advancing and impending shadow of ultimate failure. The world is familiar with the story. Magnifying, as they deserve to be, the heroism of the garrison, and the community of Vicksburg, and the "vindictive tenacity" with which Pemberton held it till the last spark of hope had faded, I believe that the surrender was the stab to the Confederacy from which it never recovered; and that no rational chance of its triumph remained after the white flag flew on the ramparts of the terraced city, and the dumb guns around it no longer spoke defiance to its foes.
Source: "Annals of the War"
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