Civil War – Life inside a siege: A look at Vicksburg

From the National Park Service comes a look at life inside Vicksburg during those miserable, frightening days and nights of the Siege. “… citizens who had chosen to remain and Confederate soldiers defending the city coped as best they could.

Along with Grant’s artillery, positioned in a semicircle connecting the northern, eastern, and southern flanks of Vicksburg, David Porter’s Union gunboats almost continuously lobbed shells into the city from the river.

When the shells came screaming overhead, people scattered, breathing a sigh of relief if the missiles went on past, for fragments usually fell forward. Sometimes the results were tragic as private homes and civilians fell victim to the deadly Union fire.

Certain days would live on in the memory of the besieged, such as May 29, when the shelling ‘seriously damaged many buildings, killing and wounding a large number of soldiers and citizens.’ Homes used as hospitals occasionally got hit…

Many residents cut caves into the hillsides and took up residence there for the duration of the siege. During lulls in the artillery barrage, people emerged from the caves and cellars and carried on lives seemingly as if nothing were wrong. But at the first sound of gunfire, they went scurrying for cover, and Vicksburg once more resembled a ghost town.”

In the diary of Mary Ann Loughborough are these glimpses of life in the caves of Vicksburg. “It was about four o’clock, one Wednesday evening—the shelling during the day had gone on about as usual—I was reading in safety, I imagined, when the unmistakable whirring of Parrott shells told us that the battery we so much feared had opened from the intrenchments. I ran to the entrance to call the servants in; and immediately after they entered, a shell struck the earth a few feet from the entrance, burying itself without exploding. I ran to the little dressing room, and could hear them striking around us on all sides. I crouched closely against the wall, for I did not know at what moment one might strike within the cave…

Sitting in the cave, one evening, I heard the most heartrending screams and moans. I was told that a mother had taken a child into a cave about a hundred yards from us; and having laid it on its little bed, as the poor woman believed, in safety, she took her seat near the entrance of the cave. A mortar shell came rushing through the air, and fell with much force, entering the earth above the sleeping child—cutting through into the cave—oh! most horrible sight to the mother—crushing in the upper part of the little sleeping head…”

The NPS continued, “As time dragged on, Pemberton continually cut rations, trying to stretch his supplies as long as possible. Mule meat became normal fare. Pemberton later recalled, ‘I am gratified to say it was found by officers and men not only nutritious, but very palatable, and [in] every way preferable to poor beef.’

Grant’s army kept up the pressure on Pemberton, ever extending his lines and tightening the noose around Vicksburg to keep the Confederates from getting supplies of food or ordnance… Grant also ordered mining operations.

On June 25 and July 1, his engineers exploded mines, severely damaging the 3rd Louisiana Redan on the Jackson road and causing numerous casualties among the Confederates in that sector. In the words of a Louisianan, ‘It seemed as if all hell had suddenly yawned . . . and vomited forth its sulphurous fire and smoke upon them.’”