Memoir Chapter 14

MEMOIRS OF THE CIVIL WAR
W. L. TRUMAN


CHAPTER 14 – Vicksburg

We entered the city by the Jackson road, and went into camp near the cemetery, which was our headquarters during the seige. The next morning Lieut. Walsh, now commanding, was ordered to take charge of a thirty-two pound rifle gun, on our right. He ordered Sarjent Murphey, (my sarjent) to take his men, of gun No. 1, and take charge of that gun. The gun had to be hauled with oxen some three miles to the place and we were from early morning until four o’clock Monday evening getting it to the place. And the fort; what kind of fort was it? I will tell you what kind of forts we had all around our line at Vicksburg, for the artillery, and the kind of breastworks we had for the infantry to live in, day and night, for about forty-eight days.

In the first place I will state that I was led to believe, and so was our armies, and the whole South, by the awful lies published almost daily, for months in our papers, with flaming headlines, that Vicksburg was the second Gibralta; that no expense or engineering skill had been spared in its defense. That it had several lines of defense, each stronger than the other, and many masquerade batteries around the lines, and that the supply of ammunition and provisions were abundant for all purposes, that the place was impregnable; that no number of Yanks could ever capture it, and every other lie necessary to deceive. And well do I remember my feelings that Sunday evening as I marched along with Cockrell’s Brig. to the city of Vicksburg; with all those lines well fixed in my mind, believing without a doubt, that they were true. When we came to the first line I saw several redoubts about a quarter of a mile or more apart, they were about half finished and built upon high ridges, with a small narrow ditch, running from one to the other. I said to myself, and very likely most of our men, that that was certainly a new outer line, recently started and was not finished for want of time, but that it may now be used temporarily as an out post. There was not, as I could see a rifle pit anywhere in front of that line, and no abattis or obstruction of any kind and never had been. We gave that line very little attention as we passed, expecting in a few minutes more, that our eyes would rest upon those towering fortresses, and strong ramparts, with their headlogs, and row of rifle pits and impenetrable abattis and buried mines and torpedoes, and masqued batteries.

I must confess that I felt a little shaky, for fear that when we came near to the things, that some of our careless boys might get out of the road, and run into the secret or concealed wires and set off the infernal machines, and blow up what was left of Wade’s Battery and Cockrell’s Brig. We continued to strain our eyes to the right, center and left, as we moved forward for a view of those powerful works of defense, that we had been told made Vicksburg a Gibralta. The town was in full view and no embattlements yet, but still our faith had not failed, because we believed our news papers would not publish a statement so continuously without they knew it to be true. We arrived at the suburbs of the city, and passed within its limits, before our eyes were opened to the awful deception practised upon our army and the Confederacy, by those news paper lies. I have not gotten over it until this day.

The Northern troops also, I think, had read those lies, and believed them; judging from the spasmodic manner of their attack. Well, the truth of the whole matter is, Vicksburg was like Athens, the soldiers were her breastworks. The line of incomplete works, the make shift, that I have mentioned, were the only breastworks, around the city of Vicksburg. The artillery breastworks, called redoubts, were made in a half circle, the dirt thrown from the outside, about four feet thick and two and a half feet high, with no embrasures on any of them, and as a matter of course, the moment the cannoneers stood up to work their guns, they were at the mercy of the enemy’s sharp shooters, who were within thirty yards of those redoubts, and our line of battle, in many places. I was inside three of those artillery redoubts during the seige, and they were all alike, gave no protection to the men, while firing, and none to the gun at any time. There was a trench two feet deep by two and one half, or three feet wide, running from one redoubt to the other, in many places; this little narrow trench was the home of our line of battle for forty-seven days. During rain and storm; mud and water, day and night, under a mid-summer’s scorching sun, without any relief. Think what it is to remain cramped up, in such a place, in mud and water, and under a summer’s sun, but our Confederate soldiers were willing to suffer anything, even death, cheerfully, for their righteous cause.

On May 19th, our left wing had a little round with one or two brigades of the enemy. Part of Gen. Cockrell’s men and Col Marks’ Louisiana Regiment repulsed them with heavy loss, our loss was small.

May 22nd. Grant made a more determined fight, especially on our left, where he met Cockrell’s Brig. again, and as the grand old 1st Mo. was making her first fight behind weak breastworks, she found no trouble in repulsing, as many lines of battle as Grant chose to send forward. He sent only three, and then concluded he had enough. The fight on that day was not at all general, as our right wing where I was stationed, with our big gun, never fired a shot. Our center had some fighting and the Northern Troops did succeed in getting possession of one point just a few minutes, when Green’s Brig. came up and swept them out, with heavy loss. Well, this partial battle on the 22nd day of May, gave them enough, and they concluded to starve us out, which they succeeded in doing. If Price’s corps had found such works at Corinth as we had at Vicksburg, Gen. Rosecranz would have had no show at all. The 1st Mo. Brig. would never make a hault at such works in a charge. The two lines of breastworks that Price’s Corps run over at Corinth, were formidable affairs, and defended by a brave and powerful army. The great difference in stamina of the two armies was clearly marked again at Vicksburg.

June 19th. We fired our big gun two or three times at a squad of the enemy, building works about a half mile off, and would have fired more, but received orders to cease firing and husband our ammunition.

In a few days the enemy moved up one night, and built a line of works, within musket shot of us, on an opposite ridge, and we begged Capt Walsh to let us fire and knock the works to pieces, but he said that he could not disobey orders. Many hard and uncomplimentary things were said of Pemberton; that he was a traitor and was going to sell us out; that he wanted the enemy to come up close and get well fixed, so he could dismount our guns. He soon had a battery playing upon us, and his sharp-shooters, in rifle pits, not more than fifty yards off, keeping up a continual popping. This was the result of not firing our big gun, because ammunition was scarse.

I borrowed a minie rifle with ammunition from one of our Infantry boys, and tried my hand, as a marksman at the enemy’s heads in the rifle pits. I was a splendid shot with a squirrle rifle, at home, but never knew what success I had with a minie rifle, at a Yanks head, but I know the Lord never let them hit mine although the calls are close. There was an infantry man with me, he was a Mississippian, strongly built, and had red hair. We were firing at three Yanks in a rifle pit close by, and they were continually firing also at some one, it was not long before my comrade received a minie ball, right between his eyes, which passed out some where near the edge of his hair, taking out some of his brain. I examined the wound, and found that some of the white brains were protruding from the wound. He did not seem to realize that he had been hit, said he did not feel uncomfortable, but I insisted that he should go to the rear and have his head attended to, and after talking awhile, he put his gun on his shoulder and quietly walked to the rear. I do not know his name, or command and of course never learned how it went with him.

After being at the re-doubts, about a week, Capt. Walsh went to the camp, at the cemetery on the other side of the city to see about the other boys, we tole him we were going to give that battery in our front a few rounds while he was gone. He said he did not care how much we fired while he was away, but he could not tell us to do it, so after he left Sarjent Murphey ordered us to pitch into that battery, and feel of it awhile, as it had been trying to wake us up for several days. We were soon at it, and after the first round it seemed like all the sharp-shooters on the enemy’s picket line turned loose on us, it was a perfect hailstorm of minie balls, around our gun. Our whole bodies were exposed while working the gun, and after the fourth round, Murphey ordered us to cease firing, as we had not men enough left to work the gun. Peter Bush, our corporal, who did the aiming of the gun, lay dead, shot through the head with a minie ball, and several others wounded. I got a hole through my sleeve and one through my cap, it seemed a miracle that we were not all killed in one minute as the balls struck the cannon in every place, by the dozens.

We had waited too long, the enemy had gotten up close to us built strong breastworks, and now had every advantage, and as our artillery works gave no protection to the men while firing, we could not use our big gun, even if we had been allowed to, without great sacrifice of valuable men. The next day the enemy opened fire early, with his battery on our position, and as our breastworks were so low, the big gun was their mark and one of their solid shot knocked a wheel off and disabled the useless thing.

In the evening Capt. Walsh took us back to camp, we had been stationed near the extreme right of our line. I noticed only one other of the so called re-doubts to our right, which had fired a few shots like ours before. I suppose it was ordered to husband its ammunition; the same order prevailed all around our lines. There had been no battle fought any where in sight or our hearing on our right, that is we heard no musketry that sounded like a battle. Nothing during the first two weeks of the seige, as the batteries were not allowed to fire, the enemy’s batteries did not trouble us a great deal. On May 22nd, news came down the line that they were fighting on the left and center, but we never caught a sound of the musketry. The artillery was heard daily on the left.

There has been a strong body of the enemy in front of our lines, on the right, since the 19th. They have breastworks, and plenty of artillery, yet they never once offered battle, by coming out of their works.

Gen. Grant attempted to capture Vicksburg, by assault on the 22nd, it was a very lame affair. Grant had plenty of soldiers, the best the North had, they were flushed with victory, and there was not an obstruction of any kind, between his powerful victorious army, and the city of Vicksburg, which was right before their eyes, except one line of Confederate soldiers, lying cramped up in a narrow ditch, with loaded muskets, with bayonets on them, in their hands, and yet, taht ditch Grant’s best picked soldiers could not pass, even when the location of the ditch was all in his favor. Now we have a National Park at Vicksburg, and many monuments erected to commemorate the bravery and daring charges made by Gen. Grant’s men, in their futile efforts to pass over that little ditch so as to go into Vicksburg. I passed over the ground, the day I enetered Vicksburg, and again on the day of hte truce, to bury Grant’s dead; and I saw nothing between Vicksburg and Grant’s army, but the ditch, with Confederate soldiers, as I have stated; and the truth compels me to say that I cannot see where the great National Honor comes in for his men. If the Northern States and the National Government wishes to build monuments to perpetrate the memory of the utter defeat of the best part of Grant’s army, by a few brave Confederate soldiers, under adverse conditions, Vicksburg is the place to build them.

On the left of our line, was a stockade, some seven feet high, with loopholes all around for small arms, made of slabs, set upright. I went into it, and examined it on the evening of the 17th, and concluded it was built to resist a cavelry raid. It was untenable for any other purpose, our infantry ditch joined it on either side. I thought at the time, if our infantry went into that, and the enemy’s battery commenced to open on it, the men would all be killed by the splinters. This has been designated by the enemy, as the Stockade Fort on our line. I saw the thing during the seige and it had been knocked all to pieces by the enemy’s shells and a ditch had been cut around it. Our batteries were all silent during the seige, except when some movement by the enemy required us to fire, which was seldom the case.

Wade’s battery boys lounged in camp, or went into the city, or would visit the firing line and take a look at the enemy’s works, and sharp shooters awhile, just to pass off the time. I noticed in walking around our firing line, in our center, an artillery redoubts, like the one we had occupied with the big gun. It was not occupied by artillery or infantry, and I concluded it would be a fine place for me to do all the sharp-shooting I wanted, by making some little improvements. I saw what was needed and went back to camp near the cemetery, got two empty sacks and two sticks about the size of my arm, and about as long and a shovel. After dark I repaired to the place, filled my sack with sand and unaided got them both on the tops of the parapet, put my two sticks under them, to make my loop hole, and my job was finished. I had a head protection, secure against minie balls.

I went back to camp and stretched myself on my bunk, and watched for hours the deadly missels sent forth from the enemy’s morter fleet, as they assended in groups of a dozen or more, and whistled and played with each other, until they started on their downward course for the city of the Hills, and the awful meteoric grandure of those twelve or thirteen shells, that weighed more than two or three hundred pounds each, bursting nearly at the same time, from one two and three hundred feet in the air, and then to hear the different sounds of the thousands of pieces, descending in the darkness, on missions of death, and as they tear through the roofs into the sleeping beings and hear the screams of a woman or child, in their death agonies, or the dying groans of a soldier, as they gave up their souls to God. You would have seen and heard enough to satisfy you along that line, for all eternity.

June 10th. We are on half rations, we can hardly live on full rations viz, one half pounds of bacon and one pint of unbolted meal, now to cut the rations in half showed us that the end of the seige, was not far off. After breakfast, I borrowed a gun and with plenty of cartridges buckled around me, I went to my fort, all alone. One of the enemies rifle pits, about forty yards off was covered by my loop-holes, and I spent several hours, firing at the men in that pit. Some of the infantry were firing from their works, at the pits also. The men in the pits were continually raising their hats on a stick or ram-rods just above the pit to draw our fire, and we could never tell whether we were shooting at a man’s head or an empty hat. I had worked hard loading and shooting in the hot sun, until twelve o’clock, had fired about twenty shots, at as many heads as bobbed up out of the pit, and still they bobbed. I had heard old negroes tell about a black cat having nine lives, I had strange thoughts about those Yanks, in that pit. I was a fine marksman and was sure, I had hit nine heads out of twenty shots, or had hit one head nine times, but as the deadly rifle continued to belch forth from that particular pit, and the heads bobbed as usual, I saw my efforts to silence a Yankee rifle pit, was hopeless and I quit and returned to camp, thoroughly disgusted with “Blackcat Yankees.”

A few days later Rhodahaver and Chas. Stell, the latter who was a New Jersey Yankee, but a member of Wade’s Battery, they concluded they would pass around the firing line and try and get a few good shots at the Yanks. Rhodahaver had no cautiousness about him, I had a hard time making him protect himself from the sharp-shooters, while on the right of our line. The results of this trip was, Rhodahaver was killed and the same ball passed through Stell’s cheek from one side to the other, knocking out several of his teeth.

We are trying to exist for awhile on cowpea meal, the only was to cook it is to make a mush and boil the water out , until it can be cooked, like bread. Two or three of our boys moved a pile of old lumber today and killed two or three rats, which they dressed and ate, and boasted of the delicacy.

June 25th. Soome little excitement today, caused by blowing up of a redoubt near the Jackson road, on our line. The enemy charged into the crater, but were driven back by Cockrell’s men in a few minutes, and made to pay dearly for their temerity. The 2nd Mo. Reg. was held in reserve under the hill just back of the redoubts, when blown up, and Gen. Cockrell was standing at the time, not far from the redoubt, and when he saw the enemy rush into the breach and others coming, it is said he ran to the top of the hill overlooking his old regiment, and yelled at the top of is great deep voice, “come up Second Missouri and die.” The brave boys grabbed their guns and scrambled up that hill with a yell, and rushed into the opening, drove out the enemy, and established our line, and this was the last of the petty efforts made by Gen. Grant, to enter Vicksburg, by assault.

June 27th. Our brave and noble Gen. Martin E. Green, of North Missouri was killed today by a sharp-shooter. He was such a good noble Christian man, and every Missourian dearly loved him. How sad to think we will see the brave old man no more among us; the state of Missouri will mourn his loss.

Capt. Walsh has eight or ten of us out near the so called Stockade Fort, to dig a mine under the Yankee works to blow them up, but we are not doing much as we do not like this kind of warfare, especially the chance of being buried alive. We stay in the trenches, with our infantry and throw handgranades over into the Yankee works. I helped bring a two hundred pound shell into our works tonight. Four of us rolled it on a blanket, and each man took hold of a corner of the blanket and we rolled it on top of our works, set the fuse on fire and rolled it down into the Yankee’s breastworks, or trenches, just below our works. It bursted and shook everything around us, and terrified the Yanks so badly that they quit the mining job at this place.

Today I heard some Yanks talking just outside our works, and I peeped over and saw a Yankee officer sitting with his back to me, about fifteen feet away, I could have easily shot his head off, but did not have the heart to do such an act, so I let him live. I believe he was a good man and the Lord protected him, and put it into my heart to spare his life. This shows how God often saves men from instant death and they do not know it. Therfore we should praise Him always. Eight months ago, I leaned upon the wheel of my gun, as Bowen’s Division moved forward to the charge, I closed my eyes in silent prayer; I was immediately out of self and talked with God, and heard as it were, the voice of a great multitude and Oh, the gloroius silvery tones of the voices. I was immediately aroused by some one, and opened my eyes on the same sincursed earth, and the awful [scenes sorrows] of that hour. What is was I heard?. I will never know in this life, nor can any human soul give me a satisfactory explanation, unless thay will say, it was not of earth. The reader may laugh and scoff but I know it was grand and indesciable and is ever with me.\gn\

July 1st. We have worked some today, on the mine. It is supposed we have twelve feet further to dig, before we will be under the enemy’s works and then we will lay the mine. We have hundreds of pounds of artillery powder, the fruits of Pemberton’s economy and we expect to burn half ton of it in our mine. The army is now eating the horses and mules, that we have in this place. We can imagine the condition these poverty stricken animals are in. We hear talk of surrender. All hope of being relieved by Gen. Johnston has vanished. We have heard much talk along that line, but none of us really ever believed that he could do it. The satanic fire-works of the morter fleet, continues day and night, without the slightest entermission. Their men are certainly relieved every few hours day and night. They have thirteen morters, as I have counted nearly every night, cluster after cluster of thirteen in number, coursing through the heavens on their mission of death and arson. The former was seldom accomplished, considering the number of shells that were thrown and the latter never but twice and of but little value. If we suppose that six shots were fired from each gun, in an hour, which is a very low estimate, we have eighteen hundred and seventy two of these two hundred pound shells, dropped in the city every twenty-four hours, and that fiendish work has continued for some forty days or more. Not withstanding the enemy knew, that they were dropping those destructive missels in the very homes of our women and children. The Lord protected the homes and although the weather was dry, and the building heated under a scorching sun, not a building, if I remember correctly, was set on fire by those shells during the seige, except two out buildings, and perhaps, fifty would cover the list of killed and wounded, by the morter fleet. I have walked the streets of the city, on several different occasions during the seige, and I noticed considerable business being transacted daily, under this storm of iron hail. How strange to relate and yet so true.

July 2nd. We have worked steady today on one of our mines. The work is slow and laborious; we are relieved every twenty minutes, have a candle to see how to work, and twenty minutes is as long as we can stay without fresh air. The dirt is put into sacks and dragged off.

Four o’clock P.M., we have the news that Pemberton will ask for a truce tomorrow, to make terms of surrender. The news is sad indeed. The Missouri boys say they will fight their way out, if Gens. Cockrell and Bowen will lead them and thousands will follow them. We could make it if we were not hedged in by Big Black and Yazoo rivers, which we cannot cross. Our doom is fixed.

July 3rd, 1863. We worked hard all day yesterday and all of last night to finish our mine. About two hours before daylight, we concluded we were about under the enemies works, and as we have orders to cease firing at daylight, at which time a white flag will go up, for a truce, to see if terms of a surrender can be agreed upon. We are six feet under the surface, our hole is 3 ft, x 3 ft, x 40 ft long, we layed our mine with only two hundred lbs of powder, not half the amount we wanted, but we had no time to go to headquarters for more, as daylight was near at hands, and we must see the fruits of our labors, by that hour. We had no orders to fire the mine, and our officer did not know we had it ready, but without orders, at the break of day, we lighted our slow match and hunted our holes a safe distance away. It was fifteen minutes and good daylight before the explosion came, tons of earth was lifted ten feet or more in the air, and about thirty feet of the enemie’s works was leveled to the surface, but not a dead Yank did we see, and but little excitement among them. It appeared to us, they had gotten news of our evil intentions, to pay them back in their own coin, and had moved out into another line further back. A spy had told them.

There was a fine looking intelligent Irishman, that spent two days with Lieut Walsh, and other Irishmen in my company and brigade, last week. He claimed to have escaped from Grant’s army by floating down the river on a log and was rejoiced to be with his friends here. After I had heard him talk awhile I felt sure he was a spy, but did not say anything to any one about what I thought of him, as my officers and our other Irish boys seemed to have such a good time with him. But he disappeared a few days before the surrender, and was not seen any more. He was the man I am sure, to give the information, as I know that Walsh told him. He was without a doubt, in my mind a spy, and that impression has never left me.

The white flag was raised early by Pemberton’s orders, and firing ceased all along the line. Gen Bowen and some of his staff, went out to confer with Gen. Grant, the terms of surrender were agreed upon. We are to go home and remain until exchanged, which is much better than going to prison. We have eaten every mule, dog, cat, and rat, we can find in this city, but if it was necessary we could hold out three or four days yet. We see no hope of being relieved by Gen. Johnston, and as a surrender must come, we all think we can get better terms, by letting it come on the fourth, that the Yankees may have a jubilee over it at home. If it was not for the fear of going to prison, not a man, private or officer, would agree to give them such pleasure.

July 4th. Grant rode into the city this morning, with his staff, and a small body of troops, hauled down the beloved flag from the Court House, the only emblem of true and pure Democracy on earth today, and run up instead, a flag which we also once loved, when it represented the rights of the States, as guaranteed by the Constitution of the once United States. But today we hate that flag because it is the standard of government that has trampled under foot every right belonging to the Southern States. Her invading armies have destroyed the cities farms, villages, and private homes of our people, and robbed us of our property of every kind, they couldn’t burn, and what is worse insulted our pure Southern women, whom we all love dearer than life, therefore we cannot look upon that flag with any degree of allowance, because of what it represents. We feel our humiliation, although we have done our whole duty as soldiers. The enemy have been very quiet, and showed us the respect due brave men. Gen. Grant’s son, named Fred, was riding with him on a fine horse. He was honored, as I noticed, with the rank of Maj. He seemed to be about fourteen years of age. I am sorry to say there are Missouri troops with Grant, and they found some of their relatives in our Missouri Brigade. Grant’s commissary issued us rations for supper, as we had nothing to eat, and we had one square meal, just what the Yanks have all the time I suppose.

 


Notes

Return to Table of Contents