July 4 in Vicksburg

For decades, Vicksburg, Mississippi did not celebrate July 4. In 1945, as part of a wave of patriotism washing across the country, they held a “Carnival of the Confederacy.”  That celebration lasted a couple of years. Then in 1947, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower spoke in Vicksburg on July 4. And still, July 4 remained a subdued holiday in Vicksburg, through the late 1990’s.

On July 4, 1863, Confederate Gen. John C. Pemberton surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. For 47 days, the small city of 5,000 endured the Yankee siege. Although reduced to eating rats and mules, the Confederates believed they could have held out another week. But, Gen. Pemberton, a native of Pennsylvania, believed Gen. Grant would offer better terms on July 4. Although from the North, Pemberton had sided with the Confederacy during the war. His two younger brothers both served in the Union army. But, the career US Army officer had married a woman from Virginia and had spent much of his career in the south.

The Civilians

The soldiers on both sides suffered during the siege. But, it was devastating for the civilians. Much of the town is situated atop hills and bluffs overlooking the Mississippi river. Vicksburg was a thriving river port before the war. The union army was dug in, in the low lying areas surrounding the town. So, as they were shooting up hill, it was inevitable that the town bore the brunt of shot and shell.

Mary Longborough, a resident of Vicksburg, kept a diary that was later published as My Cave Life in Vicksburg. Her eyewitness accounts attest to many poignant incidents that occurred during the siege of the city:

One afternoon, amid the rush and explosion of the shells, cries and screams arose—the screams of women amid the shrieks of the falling shells. The servant boy, George…found that a negro man had been buried alive within a cave, he being alone at that time. Workmen were instantly set to deliver him, if possible; but when found, the unfortunate man had evidently been dead some little time. His wife and relations were distressed beyond measure, and filled the air with their cries and groans.”

Unexploded Ordnance

The families pitched tents in the ravines for protection. One family and their Negro servant (to use the contemporary term) pitched a tent a few hundred yards from their house in one such ravine. In the morning, as young Lucy McRae woke, she watched as a spent artillery ball rolled into their tent. She screamed. Her mother shouted to Rice, the negro servant, to take down the tent. The mother, the various children and Rice dashed to a wooden bridge to get back to town. Rice dropped the tent. The mother dropped the basket with their meager provisions. They tried to stay beneath a dirt embankment. Jumping behind trees, fences, diving into trenches, shells exploding over their heads. The children were crying, the mother praying. They finally approached the Glass Bayou bridge, indicating the edge of town. A mortar shell landed on the far end of the bridge. Mother shouted, “run!” The children all ran to their cave, where they felt safer. Finding their home later, they saw it had been struck several times, but remained intact. A minie ball had creased William’s, the father of Lucy, whiskers while he sat in the hallway of the house, but he was otherwise unhurt. This was day 34 of the siege.

That was the siege for the civilians. Today, the Vicksburg July 4 celebration is larger celebration, but these sorts of memories endure.

See a picture of the cave homes here.

Source:

A.A. Hoehling, Vicksburg: 47 Days of Siege (Penn.: Stackpole Books 1996), p. 193-195.

Shooting at the Catholic Church

The siege of Vicksburg lasted 47 days. The Union forces had a clear view of the town established at the top of the hills above the Mississippi River. By Day 42 of the siege, the  Federals knew the daily habits of the town folk. The town generally avoided church. Because, church services would expose folks to enemy shot and shell. But, on the 42nd day of the siege, June 28, 1863, the Catholics wanted to attend Mass. Vicksburg, being a busy river port, had a healthy Irish population.

For reasons unknown, perhaps simple boredom, the Federals trained a battery of Parrott guns on the church early that morning. The Parrott guns were the rifled cannon pieces, more accurate than the traditional guns. The Union forces may have simply observed an unusually large number of persons in the streets. In any event, they opened up on the congregation. Several persons were struck by shrapnel. No one was killed. But, Michael Donovan, an elderly and respected member of the city, sustained lacerations to his arms as he emerged from the church. A shell penetrated the church, but miraculously did not detonate.

Source:

A.A. Hoehling, Vicksburg: 47 Days of Siege (Penn.: Stackpole Books 1996), p. 237-238.

Cow Peas

By May 31, 1863, Day 15 of the siege of Vicksburg, the Confederates were reduced to eating ground up cow peas (black-eyed peas) as a substitute for flour or corn meal. Baking this concoction resulted in the hardest of hard-tack on the outside. But, inside, it would be nearly raw. It was not a popular food item with the soldiers. The Union soldiers learned about the new rations, perhaps from deserters. As often occurred between the two opposing armies in close quarters, the Union soldiers would harangue the besieged Confederates. “Come over,” they would urge, “and join us for a good cup of coffee and a biscuit.” Some of the Confederates would respond that the Federals need not worry, they still had many mules to fall back on for sustenance.

A.A. Hoehling, Vicksburg: 47 Days of Siege (Penn.: Stackpole Books 1996), p. 83-84.

The Vicksburg Women

During the 47 days of the siege, the Vicksburg women would gather on the hilltops to watch the battle and cheer their Southern heroes. One such day was May 27, 1863, when the Confederate river batteries engaged the ironclad, the Cincinnati, as it steamed down river to join the gunboats below Vicksburg. The river batteries, the parrott gun known as “Whisttling Dick,” sunk the Cincinnati. Hundreds of ladies gathered on the highest hills to watch the combat, despite orders to the contrary. In a city of 5,000, that was likely the full complement of Vicksburg womanhood. But, to be fair, during a siege, amusement was rare.

As the valiant vessel went down, the brave ladies cheered and waved handkerchiefs. Many soldiers found inspiration from the courage of these women. A large number of valued goods, including hay, clothing, whiskey, a medical chest, letters, photographs were rescued from the vessel by the desperate Confederates. Some Confederates hoped the Federal doctor who penned an affectionate letter to his wife escaped unhurt from the boat.

A.A. Hoehling, Vicksburg: 47 Days of Siege (Penn.: Stackpole Books 1996), p. 65.

July 4 at Vicksburg

For decades, Vicksburg, Mississippi did not celebrate July 4. In 1945, as part of a wave of patriotism washing across the country, they held a “Carnival of the Confederacy.”  That celebration lasted a couple of years. Then in 1947, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower spoke in Vicksburg on July 4. And still, July 4 remained a subdued holiday in Vicksburg, through the late 1990’s.

On July 4, 1863, Confederate Gen. John C. Pemberton surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. For 47 days, the small city of 5,000 endured the Yankee siege. Although reduced to eating rats and mules, the Confederates believed they could have held out another week. But, Gen. Pemberton, a native of Pennsylvania, believed Gen. Grant would offer better terms on July 4. Although from the North, Pemberton had sided with the Confederacy during the war. His two younger brothers both served in the Union army. But, the career US Army officer had married a woman from Virginia and had spent much of his career in the south.

The Civilians

The siege was tough on both the Confederates and the Federals. But, it was devastating for the civilians. Much of the town is situated atop hills and bluffs overlooking the Mississippi river. Vicksburg was a thriving river port before the war. See above picture of the busy Vicksburg port. The union army was dug in, in the low lying areas surrounding the town. So, as they were shooting up hill, it was inevitable that the town bore the brunt of shot and shell.

Mary Longborough, a resident of Vicksburg, kept a diary that was later published as My Cave Life in Vicksburg. Her eyewitness accounts attest to many poignant incidents that occurred during the siege of the city:

“One afternoon, amid the rush and explosion of the shells, cries and screams arose—the screams of women amid the shrieks of the falling shells. The servant boy, George…found that a negro man had been buried alive within a cave, he being alone at that time. Workmen were instantly set to deliver him, if possible; but when found, the unfortunate man had evidently been dead some little time. His wife and relations were distressed beyond measure, and filled the air with their cries and groans.”

Unexploded Ordnance

The families pitched tents in the ravines for protection. One family and their Negro servant (to use the contemporary term) pitched a tent a few hundred yards from their house in one such ravine. In the morning, as young Lucy McRae woke, she watched as a spent artillery ball rolled into their tent. She screamed. Her mother shouted to Rice, the negro servant, to take down the tent. The mother, the various children and Rice dashed to a wooden bridge to get back to town. Rice dropped the tent. The mother dropped the basket with their meager provisions. They tried to stayed beneath a dirt embankment. Jumping behind trees, fences, diving into trenches, shells exploding over their heads. The children were crying, the mother praying. They finally approached the Glass Bayou bridge, indicting the edge of town. A mortar shell landed on the far end of the bridge. Mother shouted, “run!” The children all ran to their cave, where they felt safer. Finding their home later, they saw it had been struck several times, but remained intact. A minie ball had creased William’s, the father of Lucy, whiskers while he sat in the hallway of the house, but he was otherwise unhurt. This was day 34 of the siege.

See a picture of the hillside caves here.

Source:

A.A. Hoehling, Vicksburg: 47 Days of Siege (Penn.: Stackpole Books 1996), p. 193-195.

Union Forces Targeted the Catholic Church

The siege of Vicksburg lasted 47 days. The Union forces had a clear view of the town established at the top of the hills above the Mississippi River. By Day 42 of the siege, the  Federals knew the daily habits of the town folk. The town generally avoided church. Because, church services would expose folks to enemy shot and shell. But, on the 42nd day of the siege, June 28, 1863, the Catholics wanted to attend Mass. Vicksburg, being a busy river port, had a healthy Irish population.

For reasons unknown, perhaps simple boredom, the Federals trained a battery of Parrott guns on the church early that morning. The Parrott guns were the rifled cannon pieces, more accurate than the traditional guns. The Union forces may have simply observed an unusually large number of persons in the streets. In any event, they opened up on the congregation. Several persons were struck by shrapnel. No one was killed. But, Michael Donovan, an elderly and respected member of the city, sustained lacerations to his arms as he emerged from the church. A shell penetrated the church, but miraculously did not detonate.

A.A. Hoehling, Vicksburg: 47 Days of Siege (Penn.: Stackpole Books 1996), p. 237-238.

Here Come the Yankees

The citizens of Vicksburg knew the Federal troops were drawing closer and closer to the river port town over the early months of 1863. On May 18, it became clear just how close the Yankees had come. On that day, the folks of Vicksburg gathered on the hill-tops of the town with their spyglasses. They were watching a black object upriver advance toward the town. Suddenly, a shell came rattling toward the town. The citizens retreated to their homes as the gunboat acquired a better range and began to shell the town. The Yankees were announcing their arrival. The shelling on the town continued into the night.

The next morning, the shelling resumed. Women and children were seen running out of town by all available roads. Mrs. Gamble, who lived on the edge of town, was killed just as she passed through her gate. No apparent reason prompted the Union shelling. The Confederate forces were dug in outside the town.

A.A. Hoehling, Vicksburg: 47 Days of Siege (Penn.: Stackpole Books 1996), p. 15.

July 4 in Vicksburg

For decades, Vicksburg, Mississippi did not celebrate July 4, at all. In 1945, as part of a wave of patriotism washing across the country, they held a “Carnival of the Confederacy.”  That celebration lasted a couple of years. Then in 1947, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower spoke in Vicksburg on July 4. And still, July 4 remained a subdued holiday in Vicksburg, through the late 1990’s.

On July 4, 1863, Confederate Gen. John C. Pemberton surrendered to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant. For 47 days, the small city of 5,000 endured the Yankee siege. Although reduced to eating rats and mules, the Confederates believed they could have held out another week. But, Gen. Pemberton, a native of Pennsylvania, believed Gen. Grant would offer better terms on July 4. Although from the North, Pemberton had sided with the Confederacy during the war. His two younger brothers both served in the union army. But, the career US Army officer had married a woman from Virginia and had spent much of his career in the south.

The siege was tough on both the Confederates and on the Federals. But, it was devastating for the civilians. Much of the town is situated high on hills and a bluff overlooking the Mississippi river. Vicksburg was a thriving river port before the war. See the picture above. Because the town was situated high atop hills, the Union forces, dug into the low lying areas, was always shooting up hill. The town became the inevitable target of Union shot and shell.

Mary Longborough, a resident of Vicksburg, kept a diary that was later published as My Cave Life in Vicksburg. Her eyewitness accounts attest to many poignant incidents that occurred during the siege of the city:

“One afternoon, amid the rush and explosion of the shells, cries and screams arose—the screams of women amid the shrieks of the falling shells. The servant boy, George…found that a negro man had been buried alive within a cave, he being alone at that time. Workmen were instantly set to deliver him, if possible; but when found, the unfortunate man had evidently been dead some little time. His wife and relations were distressed beyond measure, and filled the air with their cries and groans.”

The families pitched tents in the ravines for protection. One family and their Negro servant (to use the contemporary term) pitched a tent a couple hundred yards from their house in one such ravine. In the morning, as young Lucy McRae woke, she watched as a spent artillery ball rolled into their tent. She screamed. The mother shouted to Rice, the negro servant, to take down the tent. The mother, the various children and Rice dashed to a wooden bridge to get back to town. Rice dropped the tent. The mother dropped the basket with their meager provisions. They tried to stay beneath a dirt embankment. Jumping behind trees, fences, diving into trenches, shells exploding over their heads. The children were crying, the mother praying. They finally approached the Glass Bayou bridge, indicating the edge of town. A mortar shell landed on the far end of the bridge. Mother shouted, “run!” The children all ran to their cave, where they felt safer. Finding their home later, they saw it had been struck several times, but remained intact. A minie ball had creased their father’s whiskers while he sat in the hallway of the house, but he was otherwise unhurt. This was day 34 of the siege.

That was the siege for the civilians. Today, the Vicksburg July 4 celebration is larger, but these sorts of memories endure.

For more information and a picture of the cave homes, see the Abbeville Institute website here.