The Assault on Vicksburg Part 1

Vicksburg  had a population of 5,000. It set on a 200 foot bluff on the east bank of the Mississippi river  below , the river  jagged into a steep hairpin curve.   Between there and Memphis, TN the bluffs ran far inland and the land around the rive, if it could be called land, was swampy soggy and soft. The ground was often flooded and covered with water and was deemed impassable for an army. The Yazoo river blocked the land approach from the north and in every other direction the a hostile people populated the are. From 1862 the CSA  installed cannon  batteries below the town to command the river approach from the south  and later batteries were added above above the town.    If an invading force wanted to travel the river, they had to run a stretch of river while looking into the bores of the defenders batteries.

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Vicksburg was rightly seen as the most critical piece of the war.  Without Vicksburg and control of the river, federal troops would make no real progress in the war allowing the CSA the full run of their territory. Troops could be moved west to eat and back as well as supplies.  It was key to take Fortress Vicksburg to win the war.

After a brilliant and amazing campaign still studied to this day, General U.S. Grant and his army had closed within  shouting distance of the fortresses works.  With the clock ticking and troops being sent to relieve reinforce and Johnston presumably massing an army in Grant’s rear to relieve the now surrounded fort it was time to take by force the objective of months of  fighting, marching and maneuvering.

the morning of 19th of May, Grant decided to order a general assault.  After the long hard months of fighting, it was thought that with the sudden assault from all direction, the confederates’ will to stand and fight would fail under the pressure of the army that had cornered them after the long campaign.

On the right , Sherman was in command and was to learn that confederate soldiers had not and would not give up as easily as hoped.  Facing Sherman’s troops was a the Stockade Redan complex.  In the front of the complex was a revine  covered with fallen trees  as an obstacle.  The union troops charged into it during the assault and quickly found it had to keep organized. Once caught in the killing zone, the rebel troops poured merciless rifle and cannon fire into them. Men quickly took cover among the fallen trees and were pinned to the ground unable to  move as ball, canister and shell racked them.

Further to the right of the assault on the complex, the men of the 13th Infantry came out from behind a hill hiding them while they had formed up for the attack. Running double time rushed them head long into a beaten zone of rebel fire  of canister and shell fire.  As they attempted to rush forward men fell by the score,  arms torn off by canister while shot blasted ragged holes through chests. Cannon shell removed legs and flung screaming regulars in the air while other men fell dead instantly in a small mercy.   Those that made it across the ravine found themselves caught in a crossfire from the Stockade and men in a lunette on the left of the stockade.

“Color SGT James E Brown was shot through the head and killed. Another soldier instantly piked up the colors, and was immediately killed . In all. five different men were killed or wounded as the sought to carry the colors forward” 

The men closed to within 25 yards of the Redan, succumbed to the blister fire and pressure and fell back to the cover in the fallen trees and timber in the ravine.  After the first assault the 13th’s flag was found to have 55 holes shot through it with the battalion losing 13 percent of its strength. For its bravery  Sherman authorized the unit to insert “First at Vicksburg  into the colors.

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It soon became clear the assault in front of Sherman was not going to carry through the rebel works.  The General realized he could not withdraw his troops safely until after dark. The men began to fire by volley to keep the rebels on the parapet down. The rebels showing their usual cleverness took the shells from cannon and cut the fuse short and rolled the shells down the works into the ravine among the Federal troops shattering tree limbs and human limbs. The union troops sometimes catching them and tossing them back, more often the fuse ran out and  tore arms from the men.

As the day wore on into evening, the men’s steady firing had them soon running low on ammunition. Volunteers jumped up and ran and dashed between the fallen trees in the ravine to take ammunition from the dead, dodging ball and shot to fill pockets and hats with ammo to keep the firing up.

Orion P Howe, a 14 year old musician in the 55th Illinois, volunteered to go to the read and order up fresh supplies. While running thought the timber he caught a minnie ball in his leg. undaunted, he staggered on. At the point of exhaustion he reached General Sherman himself and reported the critical ammunition shortage. Sherman called for volunteers to lug heavy boxes of cartridges forward and every man of  the nearby  Company C, 12 th Iowa, stepped forward. Musician Howe was subsequently awarded the Medal Of Honor for his service on that bloody day”

With the ammunition the union troops held off until night and under the cover of darkness withdrew. The first attempted assault to take Vicksburg had been a failure  other than to gain a few advanced artillery and staging positions. But more was to come.

*quotes from Americans at War