A Union soldier and Confederate lady at Vicksburg, 1863
This unique book offers two entirely different views of the important and pivotal siege of Vicksburg during the American Civil War. Grant, in command of the Army of Tennessee crossed the Mississippi and drove Pemberton’s Confederate forces into defensive positions about Vicksburg and then put the city under siege. The action was fought between May and July, 1863 and resulted in a Confederate defeat which, together with Lee’s defeat at Gettysburg, is generally considered to be a turning point in the war that led to the re-establishment of the union of states. This book, however, does not concern itself with momentous events or the machinations of grand tacticians, instead it looks at the siege from the perspectives of two, quite different, individuals. One is a resident of the besieged city, a woman of Confederate sympathies, who gives a moving and often gruelling account of what it was like to live under the constant Union Army assault. Many of the civilian population were forced to adopt a troglodyte existence by the continual assaults and Mary Loughborough’s account brings the times into sharp focus. The second account here comes from the pen of a Union soldier on the other side of the battle-lines. Vicksburg was no ‘easy nut to crack’ and Federal losses were heavy, so this is an account from the sharp end of war.
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>From gentlemen who called on the evening of the attack in the rear of the town, we learned that it was quite likely, judging from the movements on the river, that the gunboats would make an attack that night. We remained dressed during the night; once or twice we sprang to our feet, startled by the report of a cannon; but after waiting in the darkness of the veranda for some time, the perfect quiet of the city convinced us that our alarm was needless.<br>
Next day, two or three shells were thrown from the battlefield, exploding near the house. This was our first shock, and a severe one. We did not dare to go in the back part of the house all day.<br>
Some of the servants came and got down by us for protection, while others kept on with their work as if feeling a perfect contempt for the shells.<br>
In the evening we were terrified and much excited by the loud rush and scream of mortar shells; we ran to the small cave near the house, and were in it during the night, by this time wearied and almost stupefied by the loss of sleep.<br>
The caves were plainly becoming a necessity, as some persons had been killed on the street by fragments of shells. The room that I had so lately slept in had been struck by a fragment of a shell during the first night, and a large hole made in the ceiling. I shall never forget my extreme fear during the night, and my utter hopelessness of ever seeing the morning light. Terror stricken, we remained crouched in the cave, while shell after shell followed each other in quick succession. I endeavoured by constant prayer to prepare myself for the sudden death I was almost certain awaited me. My heart stood still as we would hear the reports from the guns, and the rushing and fearful sound of the shell as it came toward us.<br>
As it neared, the noise became more deafening; the air was full of the rushing sound; pains darted through my temples; my ears were fall of the confusing noise; and, as it exploded, the report flashed through my head like an electric shock, leaving me in a quiet state of terror the most painful that I can imagine—cowering in a corner, holding my child to my heart—the only feeling of my life being the choking throbs of my heart, that rendered me almost breathless. As singly they fell short, or beyond the cave, I was aroused by a feeling of thankfulness that was of short duration. Again and again the terrible fright came over us in that night.<br>
I saw one fall in the road without the mouth of the cave, like a flame of fire, making the earth tremble, and, with a low, singing sound, the fragments sped on in their work of death.<br>
Morning found us more dead than alive, with blanched faces and trembling lips. We were not reassured on hearing, from a man who took refuge in the cave, that a mortar shell in falling would not consider the thickness of earth above us a circumstance.<br>
Some of the ladies, more courageous by daylight, asked him what he was in there for, if that was the case. He was silenced for an hour, when he left. As the day wore on, and we were still preserved, though the shells came as ever, we were somewhat encouraged.<br>
The next morning we heard that Vicksburg would not in all probability hold out more than a week or two, as the garrison was poorly provisioned; and one of General Pemberton’s staff officers told us that the effective force of the garrison, upon being estimated, was found to be fifteen thousand men; General Loring having been cut off after the battle of Black River, with probably ten thousand.<br>
The ladies all cried, “Oh, never surrender!” but after the experience of the night, I really could not tell what I wanted, or what my opinions were.<br>
How often I thought of M—— upon the battlefield, and his anxiety for us in the midst of this unanticipated danger, wherein the safety lay entirely on the side of the belligerent gentlemen, who were shelling us so furiously, at least two miles from the city, in the bend of the river near the canal.<br>
So constantly dropped the shells around the city, that the inhabitants all made preparations to live under the ground during the siege. M—— sent over and had a cave made in a hill nearby. We seized the opportunity one evening, when the gunners were probably at their supper, for we had a few moments of quiet, to go over and take possession. We were under the care of a friend of M——, who was paymaster on the staff of the same general with whom M—— was adjutant. We had neighbours on both sides of us; and it would have been an amusing sight to a spectator to witness the domestic scenes presented without by the number of servants preparing the meals under the high bank containing the caves.<br>
Our dining, breakfasting, and supper hours were quite irregular. When the shells were falling fast, the servants came in for safety, and our meals waited for completion some little time; again they would fall slowly, with the lapse of many minutes between, and out would start the cooks to their work.