Memoirs of General W.T. Sherman

Text to Speech

where the graveyard road entered the enemy's intrenchments, and at

another point in the curtain about a hundred yards to its right

(our left); also to make a strong demonstration by Steele's

division, about a mile to our right, toward the river. All our

field batteries were put in position, and were covered by good

epaulements; the troops were brought forward, in easy support,

concealed by the shape of the ground; and to the: minute, viz.,

10 a.m. of May 22d, the troops sprang to the assault. A small

party, that might be called a forlorn hope, provided with plank to

cross the ditch, advanced at a run, up to the very ditch; the lines

of infantry sprang from cover, and advanced rapidly in line of

battle. I took a position within two hundred yards of the rebel

parapet, on the off slope of a spur of ground, where by advancing

two or three steps I could see every thing. The rebel line,

concealed by the parapet, showed no sign of unusual activity, but

as our troops came in fair view, the enemy rose behind their

parapet and poured a furious fire upon our lines; and, for about

two hours, we had a severe and bloody battle, but at every point we

were repulsed. In the very midst of this, when shell and shot fell

furious and fast, occurred that little episode which has been

celebrated in song and story, of the boy Orion P. Howe, badly

wounded, bearing me a message for cartridges, calibre 54,

described in my letter to the Hon. E. M. Stanton, Secretary of War.

This boy was afterward appointed a cadet to the United States Naval

Academy, at Annapolis, but he could not graduate, and I do not now

know what has become of him.

After our men had been fairly beaten back from off the parapet, and

had got cover behind the spurs of ground close up to the rebel

works, General Grant came to where I was, on foot, having left his

horse some distance to the rear. I pointed out to him the rebel

works, admitted that my assault had failed, and he said the result

with McPherson and McClernand was about the same. While he was

with me, an orderly or staff-officer came and handed him a piece of

paper, which he read and handed to me. I think the writing was in

pencil, on a loose piece of paper, and was in General McClernand's

handwriting, to the effect that "his troops had captured the rebel

parapet in his front," that, "the flag of the Union waved over the

stronghold of Vicksburg," and asking him (General Grant) to give

renewed orders to McPherson and Sherman to press their attacks on

their respective fronts, lest the enemy should concentrate on him

(McClernand). General Grant said, "I don't believe a word of it;"

but I reasoned with him, that this note was official, and must be

credited, and I offered to renew the assault at once with new

troops. He said he would instantly ride down the line to

McClernand's front, and if I did not receive orders to the

contrary, by 3 o'clock p.m., I might try it again. Mower's fresh

brigade was brought up under cover, and some changes were made in

Giles Smith's brigade; and, punctually at 3 p.m., hearing heavy

firing down along the line to my left, I ordered the second

assault. It was a repetition of the first, equally unsuccessful

and bloody. It also transpired that the same thing had occurred

with General McPherson, who lost in this second assault some most

valuable officers and men, without adequate result; and that

General McClernand, instead of having taken any single point of the

rebel main parapet, had only taken one or two small outlying

lunettes open to the rear, where his men were at the mercy of the

rebels behind their main parapet, and most of them were actually

thus captured. This affair caused great feeling with us, and

severe criticisms on General McClernand, which led finally to his

removal from the command of the Thirteenth Corps, to which General

Ord succeeded. The immediate cause, however, of General

McClernand's removal was the publication of a sort of

congratulatory order addressed to his troops, first published in

St. Louis, in which he claimed that he had actually succeeded in

making a lodgment in Vicksburg, but had lost it, owing to the fact

that McPherson and Sherman did not fulfill their parts of the

general plan of attack. This was simply untrue. The two several

assaults made May 22d, on the lines of Vicksburg, had failed, by

reason of the great strength of the position and the determined

fighting of its garrison. I have since seen the position at

Sevastopol, and without hesitation I declare that at Vicksburg to

have been the more difficult of the two.

Thereafter our proceedings were all in the nature of a siege.

General Grant drew more troops from Memphis, to prolong our general

line to the left, so as completely to invest the place on its

land-side, while the navy held the river both above and below.

General Mower's brigade of Tuttle's division was also sent across

the river to the peninsula, so that by May 31st Vicksburg was

completely beleaguered. Good roads were constructed from our camps

to the several landing-places on the Yazoo River, to which points

our boats brought us ample supplies; so that we were in a splendid

condition for a siege, while our enemy was shut up in a close fort,

with a large civil population of men, women, and children to feed,

in addition to his combatant force. If we could prevent sallies,

or relief from the outside, the fate of the garrison of Vicksburg

was merely a question of time.

I had my headquarters camp close up to the works, near the centre

of my corps, and General Grant had his bivouac behind a ravine to

my rear. We estimated Pemberton's whole force in Vicksburg at

thirty thousand men, and it was well known that the rebel General

Joseph E. Johnston was engaged in collecting another strong force

near the Big Black, with the intention to attack our rear, and thus

to afford Pemberton an opportunity to escape with his men. Even

then the ability of General Johnston was recognized, and General

Grant told me that he was about the only general on that side whom

he feared. Each corps kept strong pickets well to the rear; but,

as the rumors of Johnston's accumulating force reached us, General

Grant concluded to take stronger measures. He had received from

the North General J. G. Parker's corps (Ninth), which had been

posted at Haines's Bluff; then, detailing one division from each of

the three corps d'armee investing Vicksburg, he ordered me to go

out, take a general command of all, and to counteract any movement

on the part of General Johnston to relieve Vicksburg. I

reconnoitred the whole country, from Haines's Bluff to the railroad

bridge, and posted the troops thus:

Parke's two divisions from Haines's Bluff out to the Benton or

ridge road; Tuttle's division, of my corps, joining on and

extending to a plantation called Young's, overlooking Bear Creek

valley, which empties into the Big Black above Messinger's Ferry;

then McArthurs division, of McPherson's corps, took up the line,

and reached to Osterhaus's division of McClernand's corps, which

held a strong fortified position at the railroad-crossing of the

Big Black River. I was of opinion that, if Johnston should cross

the Big Black, he could by the favorable nature of the country be

held in check till a concentration could be effected by us at the

point threatened. From the best information we could gather,

General Johnston had about thirty or forty thousand men. I took

post near a plantation of one Trible, near Markham's, and

frequently reconnoitred the whole line, and could see the enemy

engaged in like manner, on the east aide of Big Black; but he never

attempted actually to cross over, except with some cavalry, just

above Bear Creek, which was easily driven back. I was there from

June 20th to the 4th of July. In a small log-house near Markham's

was the family of Mr. Klein, whose wife was the daughter of Mrs.

Day, of New Orleans, who in turn was the sister of Judge T. W.

Bartley, my brother-in-law. I used frequently to drop in and take

a meal with them, and Mrs. Klein was generally known as the

general's cousin, which doubtless saved her and her family from

molestation, too common on the part of our men.

One day, as I was riding the line near a farm known as Parson

Fog's, I heard that the family of a Mr. Wilkinson, of New Orleans,

was "refugeeing" at a house near by. I rode up, inquired, and

found two young girls of that name, who said they were the children

of General Wilkinson, of Louisiana, and that their brother had been

at the Military School at Alexandria. Inquiring for their mother,

I was told she was spending the day at Parson Fox's. As this house

was on my route, I rode there, went through a large gate into the

yard, followed by my staff and escort, and found quite a number of

ladies sitting on the porch. I rode up and inquired if that were

Parson Fox's. The parson, a fine-looking, venerable old man, rose,

and said that he was Parson Fox. I then inquired for Mrs.

Wilkinson, when an elderly lady answered that she was the person.

I asked her if she were from Plaquemine Parish, Louisiana, and she

said she was. I then inquired if she had a son who had been a

cadet at Alexandria when General Sherman was superintendent, and

she answered yes. I then announced myself, inquired after the boy,

and she said he was inside of Vicksburg, an artillery lieutenant.

I then asked about her husband, whom I had known, when she burst

into tears, and cried out in agony, "You killed him at Bull Run,

where he was fighting for his country!" I disclaimed killing

anybody at Bull Run; but all the women present (nearly a dozen)

burst into loud lamentations, which made it most uncomfortable for

me, and I rode away. On the 3d of July, as I sat at my bivouac by

the road-side near Trible's, I saw a poor, miserable horse,

carrying a lady, and led by a little negro boy, coming across a

cotton-field toward me; as they approached I recognized poor Mrs.

Wilkinson, and helped her to dismount. I inquired what had brought

her to me in that style, and she answered that she knew Vicksburg,

was going to surrender, and she wanted to go right away to see her

boy. I had a telegraph-wire to General Grant's headquarters, and

had heard that there were symptoms of surrender, but as yet nothing

definite. I tried to console and dissuade her, but she was

resolved, and I could not help giving her a letter to General

Grant, explaining to him who she was, and asking him to give her

the earliest opportunity to see her son. The distance was fully

twenty miles, but off she started, and I afterward learned that my

letter had enabled her to see her son, who had escaped unharmed.

Later in the day I got by telegraph General Grant's notice of the

negotiations for surrender; and, by his directions, gave general

orders to my troops to be ready at a moment's notice to cross the

Big Black, and go for Joe Johnston.

The next day (July 4, 1863) Vicksburg surrendered, and orders were

given for at once attacking General Johnston. The Thirteenth Corps

(General Ord) was ordered to march rapidly, and cross the Big Black

at the railroad-bridge; the Fifteenth by Mesainger's, and the Ninth

(General Parker) by Birdsong's Ferry-all to converge on Bolton. My

corps crossed the Big Black during the 5th and 6th of July, and

marched for Bolton, where we came in with General Ord's troops; but

the Ninth Corps was delayed in crossing at Birdsong's. Johnston

had received timely notice of Pemberton's surrender, and was in

full retreat for Jackson. On the 8th all our troops reached the

neighborhood of Clinton, the weather fearfully hot, and water

scarce. Johnston had marched rapidly, and in retreating had caused

cattle, hogs, and sheep, to be driven into the ponds of water, and

there shot down; so that we had to haul their dead and stinking

carcasses out to use the water. On the l0th of July we had driven

the rebel army into Jackson, where it turned at bay behind the

intrenchments, which had been enlarged and strengthened since our

former visit in May. We closed our lines about Jackson; my corps

(Fifteenth) held the centre, extending from the Clinton to the

Raymond road; Ord's (Thirteenth) on the right, reaching Pearl River

below the town; and Parker's (Ninth) the left, above the town.

On the 11th we pressed close in, and shelled the town from every

direction. One of Ords brigades (Lauman's) got too close, and was

very roughly handled and driven back in disorder. General Ord

accused the commander (General Lauman) of having disregarded his

orders, and attributed to him personally the disaster and heavy

loss of men. He requested his relief, which I granted, and General

Lauman went to the rear, and never regained his division. He died

after the war, in Iowa, much respected, as before that time he had

been universally esteemed a most gallant and excellent officer.

The weather was fearfully hot, but we continued to press the siege

day and night, using our artillery pretty freely; and on the

morning of July 17th the place was found evacuated. General

Steele's division was sent in pursuit as far as Brandon (fourteen

miles), but General Johnston had carried his army safely off, and

pursuit in that hot weather would have been fatal to my command.

Reporting the fact to General Grant, he ordered me to return, to

send General Parkes's corps to Haines's Bluff, General Ord's back

to Vicksburg, and he consented that I should encamp my whole corps

near the Big Black, pretty much on the same ground we had occupied

before the movement, and with the prospect of a period of rest for

the remainder of the summer. We reached our camps on the 27th of


Meantime, a division of troops, commanded by Brigadier-General W.

Sooy Smith, had been added to my corps. General Smith applied for

and received a sick-leave on the 20th of July; Brigadier-General

Hugh Ewing was assigned to its command; and from that time it

constituted the Fourth Division of the Fifteenth Army Corps.

Port Hudson had surrendered to General Banks on the 8th of July (a

necessary consequence of the fall of Vicksburg), and thus

terminated probably the most important enterprise of the civil war-

-the recovery of the complete control of the Mississippi River,

from its source to its mouth--or, in the language of Mr. Lincoln,

the Mississippi went "unvexed to the sea."

I put my four divisions into handsome, clean camps, looking to

health and comfort alone, and had my headquarters in a beautiful

grove near the house of that same Parson Fox where I had found the

crowd of weeping rebel women waiting for the fate of their friends

in Vicksburg.

The loss sustained by the Fifteenth Corps in the assault of May

19th, at Vicksburg, was mostly confined to the battalion of the

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