- Historic Sites
The Siege Of Vicksburg
June 1976 | Volume 27, Issue 4
On the 25th the Federal dead and some of their wounded … were still in our front and close to our lines. The dead had become offensive and the living were suffering fearful agonies. General Pemberton, therefore, under a flag of truce, sent a note to General Grant proposing a cessation of hostilities for two and a half hours, so that the dead and dying men might receive proper attention. This was acceded to by General Grant, and from six o’clock until nearly dark both parties were engaged in performing funeral rites and deeds of mercy to the dead and wounded Federal soldiers. …
The truce ended, the sharpshooters immediately began their work and kept it up until darkness prevented accuracy of aim. Then the pickets of the two armies were posted in front of their respective lines, so near to each other that they whiled away the long hours of the night-watch with social chat. …
The events of the 2 7th of May were varied by an attack on our river batteries by the fleet.
The battery that was attacked by the Union gunboat Cincinnati responded with a vengeance. According to a writer for the fleet’s small newspaper (published on board Admiral Porter’s flagship):
Said battery … sent some ugly customers after our gunboat, which vessel retired on finding the place too hot for her, having first received three or four shots in her bottom [and others elsewhere]. Not wishing to be [further] annoyed by the enemy, she wisely sunk in three fathoms of water … when the officers and crew coolly went in to bathe.
About fifteen men were drowned. Prior to this about twenty-five had been killed or wounded.
By this time General Grant had given up the idea of trying to take Vicksburg by assault:
I … determined upon a regular siege. … Officers and men … went to work on the defences and approaches with a will. With the navy holding the river, the investment of Vicksburg was complete. … The enemy was limited in supplies of food, men, and munitions of war. … These could not last. …
My line was more than fifteen miles long, extending from Haines’ Bluff [in the north] to Vicksburg, thence to Warrenton. The line of the enemy was about seven. In addition to this, having an enemy at Canton and Jackson, in our rear, who was being constantly reinforced, we required a second line of defence facing the other way. I had not troops enough. … General Halleck [in Washington] appreciated the situation and, without being asked, forwarded reinforcements with all possible dispatch [bringing Grant’s total force up to about 75,000 men].
The enemy’s line of defence followed the crest of a ridge from the river north of the city eastward, then southerly around to the Jackson road, full three miles back of the city, thence in a southwesterly direction to the river. Deep ravines … lay in front of these defences. … The line was necessarily very irregular. …
The work to be done, to make our position as strong ‘against the enemy as his was against us, was very great. … We had no siege guns except six thirty-two pounders. … Admiral Porter, however, supplied us with a battery of navy guns of large calibre, and with these, and the fieldartillery used in the campaign, the siege began.
The enemy did not harass us much while we were constructing our batteries. Probably their artillery ammunition was short; and their infantry was kept down by our sharpshooters, who were always on the alert and ready to fire at a head whenever it showed itself above the rebel works.
The labor of building the batteries and intrenching was largely done by the pioneers, assisted by Negroes who came within our lines and who were paid for their work; but details from the troops had often to be made. The work was pushed forward as rapidly as possible, and when an advanced position was secured and covered from the fire of the enemy, the batteries were advanced.
The Federals shelled not only the Confederate lines but also the city itself. A resident named Edward S. Gregory wrote:
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. … Just across the Mississippi … mortars were put in position and trained directly on the homes of the people. … 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. …
… the women and children of Vicksburg took calmly and bravely the iron storm. …The ordinary atmosphere of life, the course of conversation, the thread of every human existence took in … the momently contingency of these messengers of thunder and murder. … How many of them came and burst, nobody can have the least idea. … 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. …