My First Confederate Christmas Ball
By Meshea Crysup
Editor’s note: The Confederate Ball is an annual fund raiser for the Old Courthouse Museum. The ball which originally took place in the Balfour home, now takes place in the Museum.
It was December 10th, 2016, at about 10 PM, moderately windy, rainy and in the forties—cold for the South—heavenly to me. Standing alone, taking in the commanding view one has from the Old Courthouse Museum’s outside stairs, out of my periphery, I caught a glimpse of a Confederate flag. Hopeless romantic that I am, it felt as if we were “sharing a moment”, and that flag seemed to be as thankful for the breeziness as I. Somehow both exhilarating and calming, the wind was whisking away all the negative energy in and around me—us—and replacing it with peacefulness and optimism. Basking in the much needed transformational moment, I lingered, smiling through tears, speaking aloud to no one, yet to all the world, “I truly love Historic Vicksburg.”
I had never been to a ball before, and certainly not a Confederate Ball! I envisioned a mix of formality and Southern charm.
· Ladies in Southern Bell ball gowns.
· Gentlemen in Confederate uniforms or period-appropriate formal wear
· Being introduced to the “in character” Host and Hostess.
· Live music of the era for dances, such as the Virginia Reel.
· Plenty of food and drink.
· Mingling, meeting new people, networking with fellow history lovers, gathering contact info, and, of course, “oohing and awing” over the dresses!
· Taking lots of pictures to post on Facebook and websites.
My expectations turned out to be mostly correct. Essentially, the evening progressed thusly:
In character, “Dr. William Balfour”, our host, gave a speech to set the stage for the evening before we all ascended the stairs to the ballroom. It was the Christmas Eve Ball, 1862, and one not to be forgotten…! He and his wife, Emma, then graciously welcomed each of us as we proceeded to file into the room, presenting or introducing ourselves in keeping with the traditions of the day.
There was a fiddler—or did Southern Gentry consider them to be violists?—along with a guitar player and other musicians playing rather softly. Food and drink, more modern than not, was in abundance for the expected cast of attendees in their finery. Not everyone was dressed period-appropriate, but their presence was just as appreciated regardless. Certainly, no one was made to feel unwelcome or out-of-place!
The dance maestro, while totally in character, encouraged and instructed the bravest attendees. A good number of us opted to watch, but all gradually loosened up and before long The Ball was a party. The number of dancers steadily increased while the chatter between non-dancers grew more and more relaxed.
At one point, Confederate bills were handed out to the attendees to add to the authenticity of the moment when Dr. Balfour gave a small speech and took up a collection for “our dedicated young men” prepared to defend Vicksburg. Some guests, especially those sporting various Confederate uniforms, let out “Rebel Yells” to show their support.
The historical facts are that, while all of the merriment was taking place at Balfour House, it was discovered that a fleet of nearly a hundred Union boats was on the Mississippi, approaching Vicksburg. Colonel Fall was the brave soul who took it upon himself to battle the elements of a rough, winter evening, and inform General Smith, who was at the Balfour Christmas Eve Ball, of the impending danger.
While it was only 9:30 for those of us attending the 2016 Ball, in 1862, it was actually just after midnight when Colonel Fall, delivered his dreadful news. General Smith, then boldly announced, “This ball is at an end! The enemy is coming down the river. All non-combatants must leave the city!”
It was quite chilling to hear those words, even though we knew it was a reenactment. After an appropriate amount of time, “our General Smith” added that we were all welcome to stay for one more dance. It was a welcome moment of levity, to be sure!
Of course, there were the usual surprises, which occur no matter what era one lives in or is pretending to live in.
· Attending without an escort.
· Dropping my shawl somewhere along the way.
· Feeling a bit awkward in spite of being thrilled to be there.
· A wardrobe malfunction with my dress. (Disappointingly, it kept me from feeling confident I would remain appropriately clad should I attempt to dance. “Dr. Balfour” refused, in the end however, to acquiesce to my protests. Thankfully, the dance went off without a hitch, meaning my gown did not go off, much to the relief I am sure of all attendees and not just me!)
The surprises were not all bad.
· I met an independent film maker who was documenting the ball. In fact, we have already touched base with one another, and she hopes to return for our Vicksburg Civil War Roundtable in January.
· I met several young couples who want our area historical organizations to provide more balls throughout the year to attend.
All in all, my first Confederate Ball was a success, and I am already thinking ahead to the next one.
· I will have a dress that is made for me!
· I will have a “spare escort” lined up!
· I will dance more than once!
· I will not feel awkward--just thrilled!
Upon hearing others behind me exiting the Old Court House Museum as well, reluctantly, I allowed my moment of commune with that lone Confederate flag to fade, and proceeded to my car. There were four or five ladies exiting a local bed and breakfast on one side of me, and a couple with two or three small children preparing to enter another local B&B on the other. Both groups gawked a moment at the site of a woman, alone, trying to get her hoop and ball gown to cooperate as she was entering her horseless carriage, a red Ford Escape, circa 2015. Smiling and nodding at both groups in turn, I said, “Have a good evening, Ya’ll, and enjoy your stay in Historic Vicksburg!”
Black Bart rides again! by Morgan Gates
I’ve labored long and hard for bread, for honor, for riches
But on my corns too long you’ve tread, you fine haired sons-of- bitches
A poem by the notorious outlaw “Black Bart” left behind after one of his robberies. Black Bart was arguably one of the more successful outlaws of the old west, he preyed on Wells Fargo stagecoaches for 8 years. During his career, he stole over $48,000, that is about $1,064,000 in 2016 dollars, quite a tidy sum, and he lived to tell the tale! How many people did he kill in his life you ask? We can’t be sure, but during his eight years as an outlaw, not a one! He used surprise and intimidation, stepping out of hiding his face covered by a hood he brandished a huge sawed off shotgun, he very professionally, would tell the driver in a firm but polite manner “throw down the box, please” he never robbed a passenger nor even fired his weapon and then as suddenly as he appeared he was gone. Black Bart became a legend in his own time, the newspapers picked up his story and his notoriety spread. Then as all thing must, one day his career came to an end, not in some bloody shoot out with a sheriff’s posse, nor double crossed and shot in the back as was Jesse James. One day an intrepid driver decided to fight back and fired a shot, that struck Black Bart in the hand and as he fled the scene he dropped a handkerchief, and for the first time ever there was a solid piece of evidence. Some good solid police work followed that connected the handkerchief to a laundry and then to Charles E. Boles a farmer turned prospector who once had an unpleasant incident with the Wells Fargo Company and vowed vengeance.
Bowles was convicted and sentenced to 6 years in San Quentin, end of story, right? Not quite! So how does a California bandit fit into a blog about Vicksburg you might well ask! Well it turns out Black Bart aka Charles Bowles did indeed visit Vicksburg, and unlike in his California career, here he was a violent man and did indeed fire his weapon and almost certainly killed people although it is impossible to say how many. You see Charles Boles in 1863 was a sergeant in the 116th Illinois Infantry 1st Brigade, 2nd Division, 15th Corps, of U.S. Grants Army of the Tennessee. He and his regiment were involved in the Assault on Stockade Redan on May 19th and the General Assault of May 22. It is a small world after all!
So what eventually happened to Charles Boles? He was convicted and sentenced to six years we said, but after serving only 4 years he was paroled. In November 1888, another Wells Fargo Stage was robbed by a hooded bandit and the culprit left a poem; although, Well Fargo claimed it was the work of a copycat. After his release from prison, he never returned to his wife although he did write to her complaining of being dogged by Wells Fargo Detectives. In February 1888, he got off a train in San Francisco and vanished! Neither Charles Boles nor Black Bart were ever heard from again! Some say he was paid off by Wells Fargo and moved to New York City and lived quietly for the rest of his life, others say he returned to prospecting in the wilds of Montana.
Here is what I would like to think: He stole a sizable fortune in his time, there is no record of the money ever having been recovered, and he was not a man prone to riotous living, I like to think he boarded a steamer bound for the South Pacific and lived a quiet yet prosperous life in Tahiti or some other tropical paradise. He essentially rode off into the sunset as any good outlaw should! (image by thinklink)
The Original Confederate Ball by Morgan Gates
On December 10th 2016 The Old Courthouse Museum will present its annual fundraiser “The Confederate Ball” this ball is more than just an event it is a historical reenactment of an actual ball that took place Christmas Eve 1862.
The Civil War is not quite two years old, Memphis and New Orleans have both fallen to the Union forces, but Vicksburg stands fast and has already survived a Naval bombardment in the spring and summer of that year. The city high on its bluffs is out of range of most of the naval cannon of the day. Vicksburg is an armed camp, but an uneasy peace has fallen over the city as the Navy pulled out late in the summer. As the time of “Peace on Earth” draws nigh the wife of a prominent local doctor, Mrs. Emma Balfour decides to spread a little joy among the brave defenders of the city by throwing a Ball for the Confederate Officers and their ladies.
It is Christmas Eve 1862, outside the weather has closed in, and a cold rain falls and splatters against the elegant Balfour home on the corner of Crawford and Cherry. Inside the ball is an elegant soiree, with the officers in dress uniforms and the ladies in their ballgowns. Food and wine flow freely and as small orchestra plays, the guests dance the Waltz, the Virginia Reel and other dances of the day. Major General Martin Luther Smith, A Confederate engineer and division commander is the leader of the rebel army at Vicksburg and the guest of honor at the ball.
About twenty miles above Vicksburg is the village of Lake Providence Louisiana, there two Confederates are spending Christmas Eve watching the Mississippi River. Well after dark a slave child runs in and tells them “I hears the pat-pat-choo-choo of a steamboat”! Perhaps these two men thought of shooing the child away and returning to their card game, but then thought better of it. They shrug on their great coats and walk down to the river bank, there they stand in the rain on this bitter winter night in near stygian blackness for quite some time, and then in the words of one of the men “the head of a huge fire breathing dragon, rounded the bend of the river some three miles up”. They watch in dead silence as a huge column of Union gunboats and transports slip by. The rhythmic sound of their steam engines break the silence as the coal sparks fly from their funnels! It is the Union River fleet heading for unsuspecting Vicksburg!
As the last behemoth passes, the men mount their horses and gallop to the nearest telegraph station. Where a desperate message races down the telegraph wires, Vicksburg must be warned, but the message cannot go directly to Vicksburg for no telegraph lines span the Mississippi! The other end of the line is a small village that once stood opposite Vicksburg on the western shore of the mighty river. After what must have seemed an eternity to the impatient observers, the telegraph operator on the other end of the link responds and the full warning is tapped out. A runner, transcribed message in hand, runs down to the water’s edge and climbs into a small wooden boat and begins rowing with all his might across almost a mile of choppy water and deadly currents that separate him from his objective. A red lantern swings in the bow to alert those guarding the eastern bank that he is friendly. Finally making the shore, his journey is not over, for the Balfour home is five blocks up the bluff. Finally, the disheveled and exhausted man rushes into the presence of Martin Luther Smith and places the message into his hand. The appearance of this unexpected messenger in the middle of this elegant party must has caused quite a stir, but as General Smith scans the message he holds up his hand and dead silence envelopes the room. This ball is at an end; the enemy is at hand. All my men report to your duty stations all civilians make plans to evacuate the city! With that statement the ball ends. The day after Christmas Union General William T. Sherman will attack the city from the north. For three days, the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou rages, but in the end, Sherman fails and the City will return to an uneasy peace!
The Confederate Ball is a reenactment of that fateful night, so long ago. A fundraiser for the Old Courthouse Museum, it takes place in the courtroom of this historic building, just four blocks from the site of the actual ball. Doctor Balfour will welcome his guests; a dance maestro will call the dances as a small orchestra plays. Food and wine will flow freely, and just at the proper time a messenger will interrupt the proceedings and General Smith will end the ball, just as he did in 1862! Call the Old Courthouse Museum 601-636-0741 for tickets or more information.
*Special thanks to Gordon Cotton who was perhaps the first to put this story together in his many writings, I hope that my version does honor to him and his.
The Vicksburg Campaign in a Nutshell -- Conclusion - by Morgan Gates
Pemberton’s exhausted and demoralized men will retreat to the Big Black River just a few miles west of the battlefield where a formidable ring of fortifications guard the eastern approach to the railroad bridge and the small steamer “Dot” has been converted into a raft bridge, but these men are broken by the carnage of the previous day, they will need time to recover and Grant does not intend to give them that time! Pemberton has lost men killed and wounded, and captured. Loring’s whole division is MIA, and a good bit of Pemberton’s artillery has gone over to Union. Only about a third of Grant’s forces on the field had been seriously engaged on the 16th and the men are buoyed by victory.
The very next day, May 17th, the boys in blue are moving at first light. Grant sends his glory hungry political general, McCernand and his large 13th Corp into the fight, this time with orders TO ENGAGE! On another day, this strong position might have cost the Union many causalities, but a belligerent Irishman named Lawler, finds a natural depression in the flat river flood plain that allows his men to get very close to the southern lines and as they burst out of the depression, the Rebel line breaks in a panic and the defense collapses, the bridges are burned and the men of the south retreat in disarray into Vicksburg. If Grant had had a few pontoon bridges to quickly bridge the Big Black, Vicksburg might have fallen that day, as it was he need time to build the bridges, and the Southern Army makes the safety of the Vicksburg fortifications.
As the 13th and 17th Corps cross the next day, the 15th Corps (they do have a pontoon bridge) has caught up. Sherman, with 2 divisions had been supervising the destruction of Jackson and has missed the actions on May 16th and 17th. The red-haired buckeye’s fresh troop push across the Big Black a few miles north of the other yanks with little resistance. Grant rides over to catch up with his BFF. Sherman’s men reach Vicksburg’s defensive perimeter a few hours ahead of the slower moving columns of McClearnand and McPherson.
By the afternoon of the 19th of May, they are on the Graveyard Road overlooking a menacing line of ravines and earthen forts, but Grant remembers the easy victory of the 17th and orders the assault to begin with only the 15th Corps men in position, but this time there will be no panicked retreat along the Confederate line, this time the response is a murderous hail storm of lead and iron for these are not the same beaten men but fresh troops anxious to spill Yankee blood, and spill it they will and by the time the sun mercifully sets almost 1000 men will lie dead and wounded on the battlefield. This brutal turn of events revitalized the spent Confederate survivors of Champion Hill and Big Black River and they return to their positions, ready for payback.
Grant will allow the rest of the army to get in position, get everybody rested and fed before ordering a second assault, on May 22nd which ends even more disastrously that the first. About 3500 men will lay dead and wounded at the end of that day. Why, you might ask would you order a second a second assault after witnessing the bloody results of the day before? Grant in his memoirs will justify his actions by saying he felt the men would not be satisfied to sit through a long and tedious siege without it. Is this true or is it just the ruminations of a dying old man justifying the mistakes of his youth, you be the judge, but even he will say that this was one of two assaults he wished he had never ordered.
Grant then settles into regular siege operations, isolated and cut off from help Pemberton’s days are numbered, Sickness, shellfire and sharpshooters thin his already shorthanded ranks. Joseph E. Johnson sent to Mississippi for the express reason of lifting the siege, sits in Canton Mississippi (only 50 miles away) throughout the early summer as his ranks swell and his resolve shrivels by the time he moves west it is too late. Facing the inevitable Pemberton, negotiates the best surrender terms he can for his brave men. Deliberately choosing the 4th of July in order to gain leniency, his men are granted parole (one of the last large uses of this ancient traditions by the way) and on Independence Day of 1863, old Glory flies once more over Vicksburg.
While I have tried to do justice to this pivotal campaign, in truth only the surface has been scratched. To better understand, plan a trip to Vicksburg. Allow at least a day to see the Vicksburg National Military Park and the City, if you want to follow the March up to Vicksburg at least one more, you won’t regret it. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on a arranging a guided tour.
The Vicksburg Campaign in a Nutshell part III - By Morgan Gates --The Confederate Commander Lt. General John C. Pemberton is a man ill-suited to his place in history, he is short on almost everything he needs to defend Vicksburg, and the shortage he is feeling the most is his lack of combat experience. Jefferson Davis has told him to hold Vicksburg at all cost, while his immediate superior General Joseph E. Johnson (CSA) keeps telling him to come out and fight Grant. He decides to hedge his bets and does both, leaving 12,000 men back to guard Vicksburg, he takes 23,000 Rebels out along the Jackson Road to meet Grant. Once past the Big Black (the southern and eastern boundary of the county in which Vicksburg is located) he decides to turn south and cut Grants supply lines. Grant however is traveling too light and too fast, and Pemberton is slowed in his march by lack of supplies and washed out bridges, as a consequence, the Confederate Army is strung out between three roads when first contact is made.
As we discussed in the last installment Grant’s vast army (32,000) is converging along three roads, the very 3 across which Pemberton’s is straddling…
Let me daydream a moment here, what would have happened if Pemberton had moved faster that day. Had his entire army on the Raymond Road, encountered the two Union divisions on that road, won the battle of Raymond Road, while the rest of the Union Army skirted past his rear and captured lightly defended Vicksburg??? Now back to our regularly scheduled post.
…contact on Raymond Road is first, stopping further movement by the Rebel Army. CSA Maj General General Loring’s Division engages in what turns into a day-long artillery duel along the Raymond Road. General Bowen’s (remember him from Port Gibson) Division is on the Middle Road facing McClernand’s men (McClernand a political General and Grant West Point don’t like each other). Grant has told him to advance cautiously and not to bring on a major engagement and he is following the letter of his orders, thus a small contingent of southern boys sent out by Bowen as a road block has pretty much stopped his advance. On the Jackson road, however things are about to get interesting!
The Dry spell that had contributed to the Battle of Raymond (May 12) had broken on May 14th as Grant’s troops advanced on Jackson, the runoff from this deluge has swollen normally placid Baker’s Creek into a raging torrent that has washed away the bridge on the Raymond Road shortly before Pemberton’s troops had tried to advance down it. This washout had forced Pemberton to backtrack and swing his army well to the north east and cross the bridge on the Jackson Road. That means when the battle begins the Confederates have the still swollen creek to their rear and you don’t need a degree from a military academy to know that is a bad thing! Fortunately for Pemberton the Union force to his right and center don’t seem to be in a hurry, his real problem is that his rear elements are almost to the crossroads of the Jackson and Ratliff Road, which turns almost 90 degrees to the right and intersects with the Raymond road a few miles to the west (see map) and Grant’s troops are coming down the Jackson road from the east. The Union couldn’t have been in a better position to turn Pemberton’s flank if Grant himself had planned it that way unfortunately Pemberton’s officers can’t see the approach because their view is blocked by a high hill immediately to the east named Champion Hill, over which the Jackson road extends. When one of Pemberton’s subordinates General Stephen D. Lee decides to send a scouting party up the hill “just in case” he discovers, (US) General McPherson’s men approaching the base of the hill, Lee hastily extends his overstretched brigade along with Barton and Cummings units to refuse the flank. In one of the most lopsided engagements imaginable these brave men are pushed off the hill by more and more Union troops as Pemberton, practically jumping up and down, desperately orders up reinforcements only to be rebuffed by his arrogant subordinate William Loring first then John Bowen. Bowen thinking better of his initial refusal sends his aggressive Missourians into the fray, where they bravely retake the hill only to finally run out of ammo and be pushed off the hill for good by even more fresh Union troops sent forward by the late arriving Grant. The loss of the hill means the crossroad and the Confederate line of retreat are lost and things are looking desperate indeed until the Confederate chief engineer Samuel Lockett gets a temporary bridge complete allowing the Rebels to retreat along another road. At about this same time the Union forces along the other two roads also start to advance, obstinate William Loring’s Division is holding the bridge and covering the retreat, but when the time comes for his men to retreat he says the fire is too heavy and leads his men off in a different direction. Loring’s Division will escape to fight another day, but they will never return to Vicksburg, and eventually Join Johnson north of Jackson.
Marker from Raymond Battlefield pictured
The Vicksburg Campaign in a Nut Shell – Part II by Morgan Gates
Ok, I lied this going to take more than two posts to half way do this justice…..
………….As a sizable portion of Grant’s Army pursues the fleeing Rebels north, Grant himself, with only a dozen cavalrymen his personal aide and his 12 year old son Fred, turn west toward the Mississippi and the now abandoned (he hopes) Confederate base at Grand Gulf (Grand Gulf was once a thriving small river town, but that day has already passed -- a post for another day). Grant was never one to be overly cautious, but more than once good luck or providence has smiled on him and he arrives to discover Rear Admiral Porter and the Union fleet are already there creating the supply base Grant will need to move toward Vicksburg.
Reconnaissance patrols fan out north and east; those going north find rough terrain and fight a large skirmish with the Rebel rear guard, but those going east find rolling farmland and no resistance. Grant will move his HQ to a house on the Big Black owned by a widow with the unusual name of Sailor Bagnell; there he will spend three days out of sight planning his movement toward Vicksburg. Grant’s critics have often said that he was on a 3 day bender during this time, but the paper trail belies these accusations. He is shifting troops shortening supply lines and preparing to swing his huge army well to the east of Vicksburg so he can strike the rail lines that had saved Vicksburg in December of 1862. His biggest corps John McClernand 13th will swing close to the Big Black River crossings to guard against Rebel incursions to his rear. His least experienced Corp commander 35 year old James McPherson and his 17th Corps swing well to east (out of harm’s way perhaps) and Sherman’s 15th Corps will go right up the middle, at least that’s the plan.
On May 12th the 17th corps plagued by lack of water and choking dust, it hasn’t rained in two weeks and all roads were dirt in those days. Encounters General Gregg (CSA) and 3000 rebel troops supported by 3 pieces of light artillery on the road outside the small central Mississippi town of Raymond. A temperature inversion prevents the dust and gun smoke from dispersing and the battlefield is quickly enveloped in a pall that hides the numbers on both sides. Gregg suffering from lack of proper reconnaissance thinks he is facing only a brigade, McPherson’s inexperience leads him to think he is facing the entire Confederate Army. Grant sitting miles away can tell from the sounds of the artillery that his boy General is not in as much trouble as he thinks he is and ignores McPherson’s pleas for help. McPherson’s experienced subordinates push the battle to its obvious conclusion and the Rebel’s retreat in good order but without stopping to partake of the picnic lunch the ladies of Raymond had prepared for them, the Yanks are happy to take up their slack though and this delay allows Gregg to escape to fight another day.
Grant realizing he has a threat to his rear in Jackson, sends 4 divisions to neutralize the threat, General Joe Johnson (CSA) beats a hasty retreat north leaving only a small rear guard to slow any pursuit. On May 14th William T. Sherman gets his first taste of the pyromania he is infamous for. Meanwhile the rest Grant’s army is converging on Edwards Station, a small plantation stop on the railroad less than 20 miles east of Vicksburg. The Army of the Tennessee, is too large to follow any single road of the day and two divisions (roughly 10,000 men) are on the Raymond-Edwards Road pushing north, two divisions are on the Middle Road moving NW, with 13th Corps commander John McClernand. The 15th Corps commander Sherman has two divisions with him in Jackson and the rest of the Army with 17th Corps commander James McPherson is pushing west down the Jackson Road. Grant is a few miles behind McPherson at Clinton. Lt. General Pemberton (CSA) beset by conflicting orders indecision has belatedly moved out along east on the Jackson Road to try to do something about Grant, and all hell is about to break loose……. (Continued)
Vicksburg Campaign map courtesy of NPS
The Vicksburg Campaign in a Nutshell: Part I by Morgan Gates --
The Campaign and Siege of Vicksburg is arguably one of the most complex of the War. To do it justice in a blog post (or two in this case) could be called a fool’s errand, but I’ve been called worse, so here goes.
In 1861 Winfield Scott, an old war horse of a chief general if ever there was one having been involved in hostilities in 1812 and the Mexican-American War, comes up with the Anaconda Plan (named for the South American snake). At the very beginning the North does not have the military assets to conquer the South; therefore, he hopes to strangle the South into submission by blockading ports and capturing river cities, thereby crippling the import/export economy of the fledgling Confederacy and forcing quick capitulation. The plan was going swimmingly with both New Orleans and Memphis back in Union hands by the summer of 1862 with relatively few casualties.
Flag Officer David Farragut steams up from New Orleans in the spring of 1862 in his flagship The Hartford. Standing off in the Mississippi Farragut demands Vicksburg’s surrender to which he receives the reply “Mississippians do not know how to surrender and refuse to be taught, but if Admiral Farragut wishes to come ashore and teach us he is welcome to try”! The on and off bombardment of the city throughout the spring and summer of 1862, is largely ineffectual as the majority of the city sits too high above the river for the limited elevation of his big guns. As the river stages drop sharply in late summer Farragut retreats. Vicksburg one, Farragut zip!
One day after Christmas of 1862, William T. Sherman attempts to deliver a belated lump of coal to naughty Vicksburg by attacking across the flooded swamps north of the city with 32,000 men, believing the bulk of (CSA) Lt. General Pemberton’s army to be tied up hundreds of miles north fighting U.S. Grant in North Mississippi. Both geography and history are against Sherman this Yuletide for Grant has been forced to abandon his southward push, when a daring (CSA) cavalry raid destroys his supply base in Holly Springs. The 3200 or so Rebs defending Vicksburg are dug in on the bluffs and the largely untouched railways to Vicksburg’s rear are quickly shuttling Pemberton’s army back to Vicksburg. Sherman retreats with heavy casualties on the 29th. Vicksburg one, Sherman zip!
Grant takes direct command of operations against Vicksburg in February of 1863, moving his headquarters from Memphis to swampy northeast Louisiana. He will spend a miserable winter (winters in the Deep South are cold and wet, not frozen) trying and discarding many plans. Two attempts to bypass Vicksburg are deemed failures and abandoned. Two naval expeditions to penetrate the deep swamps north of Vicksburg also fail. Grant must have hard dry ground on the eastern bank to land and march his sizable army on, and the only possible place he can find that anywhere even remotely close to Vicksburg is SOUTH of Vicksburg and that is his problem! He has almost free run of the west bank of the “Big Muddy” with only Mother Nature to slow him down, but you don’t wade, ford, or swim across the “Father of Waters” and the first bridge will not be built for another 11 years and it will be 500 miles to the north. Grant needs serious naval assets south of Vicksburg’s impressive water batteries, and the U.S. Navy doesn’t let him down running 7 ironclads and 4 transports by in the middle of the night on April 16th in a running night gun battle that surely would have put the bombardment of Fort McHenry to shame. Minus one lost transport on April 30th 1863 the fleet completes the largest amphibious landing between Xerxes invasion of Greece in 480 B.C. and the D-Day landings of 1942.
Pushing inland Grant’s vanguard encounters a CSA roadblock just after midnight on May 1st in the surreal landscape outside of the small town of Port Gibson. The battle begins in earnest at first light and lasts until dark as determined and highly outnumbered Rebel’s use the landscape as a force multiplier. By the time darkness falls Grant’s sheer numerical superiority finally prevails and the exhausted and depleted Confederates make a mad dash for the safety of the Big Black River Crossing at Hankinson’s Ferry (a sizable tributary of the Mississippi a few miles north of Port Gibson) in a chase scene that would do a Hollywood block buster proud, the Rebels barely escape across the Big Black and as the pursuing Yank’s crest the hill overlooking the Ferry they find (CSA) General John Bowen himself chopping furiously at the ropes securing the raft bridge crossing, (Can’t you just see your favorite Hollywood action star playing this role?) running for his life as bullets whiz by him he must abandon his gun belt and the matched set of LeMatte revolvers he had removed as he chopped away. Those revolvers are unaccounted for to this day and may yet languish in some Midwestern homes attic or basement…………..
(To be continued)
The Man Who was Blown to Freedom
By Morgan Gates -
After the bloody repulse of two Union assaults against the city on May 19th and again of May 22, Union General U.S. Grant realizes his only chance at taking Vicksburg is by siege. Siege is a tried and true and extremely ancient form of warfare, Sieges are mentioned in the Bible and as of this writing the Syrian city of Aleppo is under siege. The basic element of a siege is the cut off of resupply, reinforcements, and escape. Leaving those under siege with little option other than surrender or starvation; however, they are seldom that passive, and have traditionally included offensive elements as well. Bombardment has been part of the equation as well since ancient times, at first with primitive siege engines such as catapults and trebuchet, and later artillery. Various methods of actually breaching the defenses around these fortresses, or in Vicksburg’s case “Fortress City” were also employed.
At Vicksburg the Union Army began pushing a series of trenches toward the Confederate lines. Known as approach trenches or simply “approaches” these zigzag trenches were often 6-8 feet deep and nearly as wide. Thirteen different approaches crept closer to Vicksburg’s fortifications each day allowing the Union to emplace sharpshooters and artillery in advantageous positions. General John Logan’s Illinoisans dug their approach right down the Jackson Road ending just yards form the parapet of the earthen fort known as the 3rd Louisiana Redan. The 45th Illinois “the Lead Miners Regiment” then sank a mine under the fort and packed a ton of explosives in it and lit the fuse. Massive amounts of dirt, artillery pieces weighing upwards of a ton, and bodies rained down (6 members of the 43 Mississippi had been countermining when the explosion went off). As the dust cleared the boys in blue charged into the fort only to find the 3rd Louisiana ready willing and able to meet any threat they could throw at them. The fighting lasted through the night, for 26 hours this bloody close range catfight went on. Eventually though the Union had to admit defeat and the assault was called off, but even before the fighting had ended, another regiment, this time composed of former coal miners, began sinking another mine, their aim was to complete the unfinished work of destroying this fortification.
Samuel Lockett the chief Confederate engineer, soon ordered another countermine sunk in an attempt to thwart the Union mine. The shorthanded Rebels were unwilling to sacrifice more fighting men, so this time the dangerous work was conducted by slaves. The second explosion on July 1st pretty much destroyed the fort, but no assault followed and the Confederates were able to somewhat seal the breach (battered and bruised Vicksburg would surrender three days later). As tons of debris rained down all around the crater, the body of a slave laborer landed behind the Union lines. As the Yankees sought to remove the body, they discovered that this was no lifeless corpse he was still alive, and though badly bruised, he did not have even a broken bone. Astonished the blue coats asked him how far he the thought he had traveled, he responded
“must a been bout three mile Massa”!
His name was Abraham and he was known thereafter as -
“The man who was blown to freedom”!
The Remains of Logan's Approach in VNMP
by Morgan Gates - At 1117 Cherry Street stands stately At 1117 built 1851. Now any house this old in a town like Vicksburg has stories to tell and this one is no exception. Yes it took some damage during the siege as did just about all the antebellum buildings still standing did, though not as much as many, for it was too close to the county jail where the Confederates housed POWs. It once belonged to a bartender who loaned money to friends and business partners but the loans had to secured by COLLATERAL when one of his debtors defaulted he became a steamboat captain (a blog topic for another day perhaps), but perhaps the most interesting story has to do with a Union General and an unintended casualty of the Civil War. The General was not U S Grant, William T. Sherman or the several dozen other Generals that traipsed through the town at one point or the other, but with George Thomas (who did not serve here in the War), the “Rock of Chickamauga” whose brother Nathanial bought this house in 1869. The Thomas family was an old Virginia slave-holding family that was forced to hide in the woods during Nat Turners Slave Rebellion in 1831. This left him with not with a deep seated fear of slave rebellion as it did most Southerners but with a negative impression of slavery. Thomas was a West Point graduate and a member of the U.S. Army when the Civil War began, just as was his more famous contemporary Robert E. Lee, but unlike Lee he did not leave the U.S. Army for the Confederacy. When Virginia seceded from the Union George Thomas, remained in the United States Army, but he did so at great personal cost, for his sisters back in Virginia opened the family Bible, struck out his name and began telling their friends that he had died in 1861, just another unintended casualty of the Civil War.