Tuesday, July 2, 2013

In the Trenches at Vicksburg on July 2, 1863

Union Siege Gun at Vicksburg, Mississippi
150 years ago today, as the 15th Alabama and 2nd Maine faced off on the slopes of Little Round Top at Gettysburg, the Confederate soldiers at Vicksburg, Mississippi, endured another day of bombardment and trench warfare.

The previous day, July 1, 1863, Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton - the Confederate commander at Vicksburg - firmly concluded that the city could not hold out much longer.. In a dispatch from headquarters that day, he polled his subordinate generals about the prospect of trying to break out of Vicksburg through the surrounding Union army of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant:

"Whistling Dick" - A Confederate Gun at Vicksburg
Unless the siege of Vicksburg is raised or problems are thrown in, it will become necessary very shortly to evacuate the place. I see no prospect of the former, and there are many great, if not insuperable, obstacles in the way of the latter. You are, therefore, requested to inform me with as little delay as possible as to the condition of your troops, and their ability to make marches and undergo the fatigues necessary to accomplish a successful evacuation. - Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton, CSA (July 1, 1863).

The generals commanding sections of the Confederate lines around the city responded on July 2, 1863, 150 years ago today:

Mississippi River at Vicksburg
...My men are very cheerful, but from long confinement (more than forty-five days) in the trenches on short rations, are necessarily much enfeebled, and a considerable number would be unable to make the marches and undergo the fatigues which would probably be necessary to a successful evacuation of this city. If pressed by the enemy, and it should be necessary to place the Big Black in our rear in one march, the chances are that a large number of them now in the trenches could not succeed. I believe, however, that most of them, rather than be captured, would exert themselves to the utmost to accomplish it. - Maj. Gen. C.L. Stevenson, CSA (July 2, 1863).

Union Siege Battery at Vicksburg
...I concur in the unanimous opinion of the brigade and regimental commanders, that the physical condition of our men are not sufficiently good to enable them to accomplish the evacuation. The spirit of the men is still, however, unshaken, and I am satisfied they will cheerfully continue to bear the fatigues and privations of the siege. - Maj. Gen. J.H. Forney, CSA (July 2, 1863).

...There are about 3,000 men in my division, including State troops, in a condition to undertake a march of 8 or 10 miles a day in this weather, if there is an opportunity of resting at intervals. Out of these 3,000, only about 2,000 are considered reliable in case we are strongly opposed and much harassed. A secret evacuation I consider almost impossible...I believe that General Johnston has or will fight Grant, and my hope has been that he would be successful and in time to relieve us. At present, however, I see no chance of timely relief from him, and his dispatches have never indicated a hope of being able to raise the siege. Under these circumstances, I deem it best to propose terms of capitulation before being forced to do so from want of provisions. - Maj. Gen. M.L. Smith, CSA (July 2, 1863).

Stockade Redan, Confederate fort at Vicksburg
...[M]y men are in as good, if not better spirits, than any others in the line, and able to stand as much fatigue, yet I do not consider them capable (physically) of enduring the hardships incident to such an undertaking. Forty-five days' incessant duty day and night, with short rations, the wear of both mind and body incident to our situation, has had a marked effect upon them, and I am satisfied they cannot give battle and march over 10 or 12 miles in the same day. In view of the fact that General Johnston has never held out the slightest hope to us that the siege could be raised; that his demonstration in our favor to relieve this exhausted garrison would of necessity be sufficient to raise it, I see no alternative but to endeavor to rescue the command by making terms with the enemy. - Maj. Gen. J.S. Bowen, CSA (July 2, 1863).

View of the battlefield from the Confederate trenches
The receipt of these opinions from his commanding generals, 150 years ago today, convinced Pemberton that he had no hope of fighting his way out of Vicksburg. While his army clearly could continue to hold out, the generals for the most part concurred in their belief that Gen. Joseph E. Johnston would not be able to help them.

Johnston was then trying to put an army together to save Vicksburg, but men and supplies were scarce and his task was simply impossible.

Looking down the Confederate lines at Vicksburg.
As Pemberton reviewed his situation, the outlook was bleak.  Throughout the day on July 2, 1863, soldiers huddled in their trenches and civilians - including many women and children - hid in caves they had dug beneath their homes - as Union artillery continued to bombard the city. As Chamberlain and the 2nd Maine fought gallantly against the Alabamians of the 15th on Little Round Top, at Vicksburg generals Grant and Sherman bombarded civilians.

The next day, July 3rd, would be the day on which Pemberton made his most important decision of the Battle of Vicksburg.

Please click here to read the next post in this series on the 150th anniversary of the surrender of Vicksburg.

To learn more about the Siege and Battle of Vicksburg, please visit www.exploresouthernhistory.com/vicksburg1.

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