Public attention was directed almost exclusively to the theatre of events on the Mississippi. The series of battles at Grand Gulf, Port Gibson, Raymond, Clinton, Edward's Station, Jackson, Bridgeport, Champion Hill, and Black River Bridge, had been attended with considerable loss on our side, but in each we had gained a decisive triumph, with the additional advantage of holding the enemy's line of communication, upon the retention of which our success alone depended. If the pending effort of Johnston to raise the siege, by compelling Grant to abandon his position in rear of Vicksburg, should prove successful, the advantages of the recent victories would be greatly diminished, if not entirely lost, for, with the restoration of his communications, the enemy could at once re-inforce and supply the garrison and endanger our own base of operations, which had been secured to us at Chickasaw Bayou, by the evacuation of the (p75) almost impregnable position at Haines' Bluff, on the withdrawal of the entire rebel force into the defenses around the city. Johnston's plan aimed to re-occupy the lost ground, by cutting off our communications, for which purpose he was threatening our right flank and rear from the Big Black. The absolute necessity of providing against the success of this plan led to the order for re-inforcements from Kentucky and Tennessee.
The army investing Vicksburg consisted of three Corps, disposed as follows; the Fifteenth, under Major General W. T. Sherman, on the right, the Thirteenth, under Major General John A. McClernand, occupying the center, and the Seventeenth, under Major General J. B. McPherson, on the left. The line thus formed extended from the river above the city, for a distance of fifteen miles, to the river below. This entire force was requisite to hold the fortified lines against the besieged, while our strength was insufficient for successful assault. The disastrous repulse of Logan's Division of the Thirteenth Corps, on the 22nd of May, had resulted in the supersedure of General McClernand by General Ord, and the prospect of success in a general assault was not sufficiently flattering to justify the attempt.
It was at this juncture that orders were issued for the immediate movement of re-inforcements to the scene of hostilities. The Ninth Corps was (p76) ordered from Kentucky, and the First Division of the Sixteenth Corps from Western Tennessee, the Third Division having preceded us from Helena, Arkansas. The First Brigade of the Division rendezvoused at Collierville, on the 24th of May, the Second at La Grange, and the Third at Moscow, remaining at these points till the 7th of June, at which time the troops marched to Memphis for embarkation. The entire Division embarked on the 8th, and sailed on the morning of the 9th. The Division consisted of three Brigades, commanded respectively as follows: First Brigade, Colonel John Mason Loomis, of the Twenty-sixth Illinois; Second Brigade, Colonel Walcott, of the Forty-sixth Ohio; Third Brigade, Colonel Cockerell, of the Seventieth Ohio.
The fleet consisted of fourteen steamers, and presented a beautiful spectacle to the beholder, as it moved down the river. The Regiment was favored with a passage on the Belle Memphis, a first class steamer, on which we made the voyage very pleasantly. Lieutenant Colonel Kempton resigned his position, in consequence of impaired health, and left us at Memphis. He died of disease, at Indianapolis, October 14th, 1863. He was an efficient and noble appearing officer, and had held command of the Regiment most of the time we remained in Tennessee. Major Goodnow was (p77) promoted to fill the vacancy occasioned by his resignation, June 9th, 1863.
The troops were in fine spirits, and a casual observer would suppose they were on a pleasure excursion, so full of life and animation was the scene. Thoughts of unseen dangers did not avail to disturb the quiet of the present. The mind was occupied by the thoughts suggested by the ever-varying panorama presented to the eye as we pursued our course. The mighty river on which De Soto, Hennepin, and La Crosse had gazed with glad surprise, and in whose turbid waters the first of these was buried, had never been closed to the growing commerce of the nation, till the hand of rebellion threw a massive chain across its sluggish current, and planted hostile batteries on the bluffs that command the stream. The cities and towns along its course, bustling with peaceful industry, and the beautiful things of life moving gracefully upon its broad bosom, bearing the rich productions of the great Northwest to the Gulf, and crowded with forms of intelligence and beauty strife, or, like the fleet that bore us on to our unseen destiny, bearing legions of armed men and all the horrid enginery of war to the field of conflict. One by one those cities and towns had been rescued form the hand of violence; the chain that had been forged by the hand of a generous Government, (p78) and seized by perjured traitors to bind the great artery of our commercial life and stop its mighty pulsations, had been removed by the same hand that wrought it; those batteries had been silenced by the more fearful gun-boats--the ruder dogs of war--and those floating palaces had been restored to their legitimate pursuits or employed in efficient service as transports and floating hospitals, under the folds of the old flag. From the mouth of the Ohio to Vicksburg, and from the Gulf to Port Hudson, the pulsations of a new life were beating with constant increasing vigor, and before us was the final accomplishment of the great work of opening the Mississippi. The frowning heights of the only remaining strongholds of the usurpers were to be assailed and reduced, and two armies were already closing, with fatal grasp, around the beleagured citadels. On the broad bosom of the Father of Waters we were being borne to the scene of our triumph. Gladly did noble hearts respond to the beautiful language of nature dressed in all her beauty, as she welcomed us to the honorable duty of bringing back to the paternal arms of the Government the broad and luxuriant Valley of the Mississippi, with all its garnered wealth of beauty and fertility. The language of the heart was but an echo to the voice of hope, whispering of returning prosperity under the benign influence of law, order, and common equality of rights. (p79)
In all these scenes there was an air of peace and harmony. In them was heard the voice of paternal love, while in man alone, in whose heart should be found a unison of fraternal feeling, we saw the spirit of enmity. We were not so differently constituted that we could not harmonize our interests. A spirit of jealousy, nursed into life and power, under a false conception of the duty of the Government, had transformed our former brethren into our most malignant foes. It was not through the jarring of individual interests, but of great principles, that we had reached the relative position of enemies. It was a contest of truth with error, both in law and morals, in which the adherents of right and wrong were but secondary in importance. Nature, science, law, morals, and religion are all arrayed on the side of truth, in whose defense we were engaged. Hence the difference in the value of motives by which men are impelled to action. Sincerity in error is not the equal of integrity in truth, and even the silent influence of nature impresses the heart of him who is engaged in a noble cause. Hence the dwellers in the lovely valleys among the mountains, before whom nature spreads a scene of mingled beauty and sublimity, are regarded as the firm adherents and defenders of truth. The mighty river, with its beautiful scenery, is also adapted to inspire noble sentiments and give new courage to those who maintain the (p80) right. The descent of the Mississippi was to us, on this occasion, suggestive of valuable thoughts in reference to the interests of our vast country, which are recorded on the page of memory if not in the journal of daily events.
On reaching the mouth of the Yazoo, the fleet moved up the sluggish and tortuous stream, amid walls of luxuriant verdure, festooned with Spanish moss, the view of which charmed the eye. After a brief delay at Chickasaw Bayou, the base of supply for our army, we moved on to our destination, and disembarked at Snyder's Bluff, on the 11th of June. The Third Division of our Corps, under Brigadier General Kimball, was already encamped at that point, and we were ordered into camp on their left, in the vicinity of the recently abandoned rebel works. Snyder's Bluff is a continuation of Haines' Bluff, and but a short distance below, on the east bank of the Yazoo. It was near this point that Gen. Sherman met with a severe repulse, in December previous, at which time a strong force of the enemy occupied the heights, which were considered the key to Vicksburg.
Strong defenses were already in progress of construction on our arrival, and a line of works was soon completed, crowning the summit of a range of hills a mile distant from the river. The arrival of a portion of the Ninth Corps, on the 16th of (p81) June, was soon followed by that of the entire command, under Major General Park. These troops were posted at Mill Dale, four miles to our right, and all was in readiness to welcome Johnston's advance for the relief of Pemberton. On the 22d he was reported to be advancing across the Big Black, and the First division was ordered to move the next day, leaving our camps, with the sick and convalescents, at the Bluff. Accordingly the troops marched early on the 23d, advancing ten miles and camping at Oak Ridge, where we remained, as a corps of observation, till the fall of Vicksburg. But no enemy made her appearance on the west side of the Big Black. We had secured the object sought, by preventing Johnston from making any effective demonstration upon our rear and base of supply, for the relief of the besieged garrison; and the hopelessness of a successful defense, with the complete exhaustion of supplies, induced General Pemberton to capitulate with General Grant for the surrender of his entire command, on the 4th of July. the conference between the two commanders took place under a large oak, in the rear of Fort Hill, east of the city, and on the scene of the fearful charge of May 22d. Our forces occupied the city the same day, and the main body of the army marched to meet Johnston. (p82)
The fall of Vicksburg was coincident with the triumph of our arms at Gettysburg and Helena, and with the abandonment of Tullahoma by Bragg, pursued by Rosecrans. The fall of Port Hudson completed the series of triumphs which rendered the first week of July, 1863, forever memorable in the history of the great contest. All loyal hearts were encouraged to hope for the early dawn of a honorable peace, while deep and fervent gratitude to Good inspired the hearts of those who had faith in "a Divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them as we will."
Our success at Vicksburg and that of Banks at Port Hudson gave back to its rightful possessors the great highway of the nation, never again to be wrested from its control. In addition to the permanent severance of the Confederacy, the capture of the entire garrison of the rebel stronghold was an event unprecedented in the history of the age, and at once elevated the hero of the occasion to the highest military rank and honor which a grateful country could confer upon him. The force under Pemberton consisted of eight Major Generals, twenty-four Brigadiers, three thousand officers of lower grades, and thirty-three thousand enlisted men, all of whom, with General Pemberton himself, were immediately paroled. There is good reason to believe that large numbers of these men were returned to the service without exchange, an (p83) act of bad faith in perfect keeping with the character of the rebel authorities. The capture of two hundred and sixty pieces of artillery, and sixty thousand stand of small arms, many of which were entirely new, added to the significance of the event, and entitles it to rank only second to the great final achievement at Petersburg, under the same distinguished commander.
Great complaint was immediately made by the rebel authorities and press, in consequence of the neglect of General Pemberton to provide a sufficient amount of supplies for a state of siege, previous to Grant's movement to the rear of Vicksburg. It was reported, upon rebel authority, and was generally believed by the people of the whole country, that the garrison was supplied for a much longer period than the result indicted. In consequence of the suspicion and blame cast upon him by all classes in the South, Lieutenant General Pemberton was returned to his former rank, as Lieutenant Colonel of Artillery, in which capacity he was serving at Salisbury, North Carolina, at the close of the war. Thus was the mighty man fallen, through the inevitable defeat of the conspirators in their boasted citadel of the Southwest.
It was stated by prisoners that there were not more than ten days rations of supplies in the Commissary's hands when Grant invested the city, and (p84) that the troops were at once reduced to quarter rations. When the public supplies were exhausted those held by the citizens were seized, and issued to the troops. The ration, as issued during the continuance of the supplies, consisted of three ounces each of flour, meat, peas, and rice, with meal occasionally, plenty of sugar, but no coffee. Flour was sold by speculators at one dollar per pound. When all public and private supplies had failed, as a last resort the half-famished mules belonging to the army were killed, and the flesh issued to the troops. Many refused to eat this food, though pressed by hunger. In passing through the city, a few days after the surrender, we saw one of the prisoners carrying to camp a refuse bone, which a hungry dog would scarcely have deigned to notice. Our soldiers generously shared their rations with their enemies, who confessed to us that the act produced peculiar feelings, many declaring that they would no longer fight against such men and in a hopeless cause, while others manifested a fixed purpose to sustain the failing fortunes of the Confederacy.
The officers were boastful and confident of ultimate success, having discovered that Vicksburg, like all other places that had fallen into our possession, was not of essential importance. The credulity of some of this class was surprising. A dashing young Lieutenant Colonel of an Arkansas (p85) regiment, and the son of a wealthy planter, declared that he had seen it stated in our Northern papers that the purpose of the Government was to enslave the whites and give citizenship to the negro in the South. When asked if the paroled prisoners would be allowed to go home till exchanged, he replied that they would be placed in paroled camps, but would soon be in the field again, as the Government was still able to effect an exchange, in consequence of their preponderance of prisoners for exchange under the cartel. He also very graciously informed us that the Southern confederacy had chiefly supplied its troops with arms out of those captured from us. It was intimated that not a few were stolen by Floyd before the war commenced. After communicating this valuable information the chivalrous descendant of the slave aristocracy, turned contemptuously upon his heel, saying as he did so, "My name is Thrasher, and 'thrashing' is my occupation." A bystander remarked, "The Thrasher is himself badly thrashed." Though in the active mood, he was in the past tense, and so was not a very dangerous enemy. It was not surprising that the ignorant masses of the South were deceived in reference to the issues involved in the great conflict, when some men were occupying official positions in the rebel army. (p86)
On being paroled the prisoners passed through our lines, under the direction of their officers. As they found opportunity, they would slip quietly away, one by one, till the officers were left to make their way home alone. A half-concealed pleasure was perceptible in the countenances and conversation of many of these misguided men at being thrown into our hands, and thus allowed to visit their homes, from which many had not heard for months.
Vicksburg presented a scene of desolation rarely witnessed. Business of all kinds had long been suspended, except in connection with military operations. Grass grew in the streets, which were barricaded to resist attack from the river. The buildings bore the marks of the bombardment by our gun-boats and batteries, the walls being perforated by solid shot, or thrown down by shells bursting inside. Numerous caves, or "gopher-holes," as the soldiers termed them, had been excavated in the sides of the cliffs throughout the city, to which the citizens retired during the periods of active operations by the fleet and army. The reign of terror during the siege must have been appalling, especially during the night, when the firing from the mortars was almost incessant, shaking the earth and heavens, and lighting the darkness with the glare of bursting shells. (p87)
For forty-eight days the work of bombardment and siege continued. Everywhere along the lines of fortifications encircled the city the marks of a fearful storm of shot and shell were plainly seen. The trees were stripped of their branches, and their trunks shivered by shot, as though a thousand bolts of lightning had spent their combined force upon them. The tortuous line of the enemy's works, with our own parallel lines, and the approaching line through which we reached and mined Fort Hill, presented abundant evidences of the vigorous defense made by the besieged, and of our own industry, skill, and perseverance. So vigilant was the eye of the sharp-shooter that it was almost certain death to expose the head above the entrenchments, and the appearance of a hand drew fire from a dozen rifles. The ground within the rebel lines of entrenchment was strewn with exploding shells, solid shot, and bullets of various kinds. The point of greatest interest was Fort Hill, which was blown up by Logan's Division of the Thirteenth Corps, on the 26th of May. More than one hundred of the enemy were killed and wounded on that occasion, and a breach was made in the enemy's line which well nigh secured an entrance for our troops. Among those thrown from the fort into our lines was a negro, who escaped almost wholly unharmed. When asked how he felt in his perilous flight he replied that he (p88) had little time to think, but as he was coming down he met his master going up. Many bodies were probably buried in the ruins. the assault at this point by Logan's Division, on the 22d of May was attended with severe loss. The charge and repulse only occupied fifteen minutes, during which time the Twenty-third Indiana lost nearly two hundred men in killed and wounded, other regiments suffering in about equal proportions to the number engaged. No general engagement took place during the siege, but it was believed to be the intention of General Grant to assault and carry the works of the enemy on the 4th, had Pemberton refused to capitulate.
In the direct operations against Vicksburg the reinforcements ordered from Kentucky and Tennessee had taken no part. But they had rendered success sure by guarding the rear against the threatened attack of Johnston, who might have succeeded in seriously impeding, if not to suspending the progress of the siege. Another feature of the great event is the presence of a considerable force of Eastern troops in the Ninth Corps, which tendered to conciliate the feeling of distrust and jealousy that had been awakened in the Northwest and in the East in consequence of the relative success of the Eastern and Western troops. to this may be added the fact that while the army under Grant, consisting entirely of Western troops, had invested and reduced (p89) Vicksburg, the army under Banks, composed of Eastern troops, exclusively, had invested, and soon after occupied Port Hudson, the last rebel position on the Mississippi. Henceforth neither section could claim the peculiar honor of restoring circulation to the great artery of commerce in the West, each having accomplished a noble work, in which there should be no rivalry between the descendants of the same ancestry. The noon-day of the great struggle had come, and the meridian light was dispensed with equal glory over all the loyal States of the Union. (p90)