I received a really nice message from Sheilah Broughton, who is the G-G-G niece of Colonel William W. Witherspoon, who commanded the 36th Mississippi Infantry. I have had a interest in the 36th Mississippi for a number of years, as I had a G-G-G uncle, James M. Godwin, who served as a private in Company I, “Stephens Guards,” of the 36th Mississippi.
In her note Sheilah asked about where the 36th Mississippi was stationed during the siege of Vicksburg, and I thought the answer would make an interesting post for the readers, so here we go.
Raised in the spring of 1862, the 36th Mississippi was a veteran regiment by the time of the siege of Vicksburg, having been blooded in the battles of Iuka and Corinth in 1862. When the 1863 campaign for Vicksburg kicked off the regiment was part of Brigadier General Louis Hebert’s brigade, which consisted of the following units: 3rd Louisiana Infantry, 21st Louisiana Infantry, 7th Mississippi Infantry Battalion, 36th Mississippi Infantry, 38th Mississippi Infantry, and the 43rd Mississippi Infantry.
Hebert’s brigade was stationed just north of Vicksburg at Snyder’s Bluff while battles of Port Gibson, Raymond, Jackson, Champion Hill and Big Black River were fought. After the Confederate defeat at Champion Hill on May 16, 1863, General John C. Pemberton sent orders for the troops stationed at Snyder’s bluff to march to Vicksburg. Hebert quickly complied with this order, and marched his men into the Vicksburg defenses.
Hebert was ordered to the earthworks in rear of the city and charged with defending the line of entrenchments between the Graveyard Road and the Jackson Road. Hebert deployed his brigade in the following order from left to right: the 36th Mississippi held the Stockade Redan, a large earthwork fort guarding the Graveyard Road; next came the 7th Mississippi Battalion, 37th Mississippi, 38th Mississippi, and 43rd Mississippi; the 3rd Louisiana held a redan north of the Jackson Road, and the 21st Louisiana anchored the brigade right flank in the Great Redoubt on the south side of the Jackson Road.
Because the Graveyard and Jackson Roads were natural avenues of approach to the city, the section of line held by Hebert’s men was destined to be the scene of some of the most intense fighting of the siege.
On May 19th, Union forces assaulted the Confederate defenses, and the Stockade Redan was a focal point of the union attack. Sergeant George Powell Clarke, a member of Company C “Harper Reserves,” of the 36th Mississippi wrote this account of the attack:
“At 10:00 A.M. the firing ceased and the Federals advanced in two lines of battle, halted about 300 yards from our position to reform their lines. Numbers of battle flags could be seen just behind the hill, waving in the morning breeze. We could plainly hear when the order was given to advance; the flags were seen mounting up the hill, and soon the long, glittering line of bayonets came in sight, as with martial tread this tremendous war machine marched to the attack. On reaching the top of the hill and coming into plain view, they gave a prolonged yell, and broke into a double quick towards our lines…At the proper time our batteries opened on them with with grape, canister, and shrapnel shells, which told fearfully on their crowded ranks. When they had reached within fifty yards of our lines we opened upon them with musketry, using the ‘buck and ball’ cartridge with murderous effect…But they were brave men and did not falter, though hundreds were falling all around them, until within a few feet of us. They then wavered, rallied once, but finally gave way and retreated to their own position.” – REMINISCENCE AND ANECDOTES OF THE WAR FOR SOUTHERN INDEPENDENCE by George Powell Clarke, pg. 100
The Union forces attempted a second assault on Vicksburg’s defenses on May 22, but met with the same result. Sgt. Clarke wrote that when the Yankees attacked,
“A withering fire of musketry, grape, canister and shells greeted them as they came in sight, and men fell like grass before the reaper…Here, now, the eye witness could have seen war in all its awful sublimity and grandeur.”
After the failure of the May 22 assault, General Ulysses S. Grant decided to besiege the city and starve the Rebel garrison into submission. For the 36th, the war became a waiting game in the trenches with the threat of death a constant companion.
On June 2, 1863, the 36th Mississippi was moved to a new position line the line on the brigade right flank. If you tour the Vicksburg National Military Park, the marker for this position is located about 200 yards south of the Louisiana State Memorial. The regiment remained in this position for the remainder of the siege.
The siege of Vicksburg ended on July 4, 1863, and the survivors of the 36th Mississippi stacked their muskets and marched out of the earthworks they had defended so well. The regiment had suffered terribly during the siege: of the approximately 300 men in the unit when the fighting began, 28 were killed and 72 wounded.