Chapter 3: Mining & Assaulting
For some two weeks after the investment, the Federals were engaged in making a complete system of fortifications, planting batteries, and making their position secure from possible attack; after which they turned their attention to making gradual approaches to our works. This was done on regular military lines, that is, by ditches run in a zig-zag manner, so as to afford as much shelter as possible from our fire.
They would select some point in a ravine out of our view to begin, and would then carry their trench forward over the ridge as far as practicable in face of the fire encountered, when the direction would be changed. These changes were necessarily frequent, and the reaches of greater or less length according to the conformation of the ground over which they extended.
The enemy would if possible, select a point on which we could not bring our artillery to bear, and when it became necessary for them to drive the trench across a space covered by our rifle fire, they would roll ahead of the trench. These were called fascines, and though the Mauser, Krag-Jorgensen, or Lee-Metford of today would shoot through two or three of them together, one of them was a perfect protection against the guns of those days.
The first approach was made against the position held by the 3rd Louisiana Regiment, situated just to the left of what is known as the Jackson Road, and about four hundred yards east of our position. This approach was begun some ten days after the investment, and though the enemy encountered many difficulties, met many checks and lost many men, it was steadily pursued till they reached our works about June 1st. They then tunneled under the works and formed a mine, with the intention of creating a breach, through which they hoped to enter by a charge made immediately after the explosion.
Our men of the 3rd Louisiana knew perfectly well what they were doing, and had made a new line of works just in rear of the old ones, but the explosion came before they expected, while they were still in the old works, and many were killed and wounded. This was a piece of inexcusable carelessness on the part of somebody, and it was well known to officers and men alike, that the works were mined and likely to be blown up at any moment. the responsibility should have been located by court-martial, and the responsible party punished.
The Federals had calculated that the explosion would create considerable confusion in
the Confederate ranks, and having massed thousands of their finest troops opposite this point, expected to carry it with a rush before the Rebs could recover. But they reckoned without their host; the smoke of the explosion had scarcely cleared away before every southerner was again in his proper place, the muzzle of his gun pointing grimly in the direction of the foe; and when the lines of blue which had moved promptly forward at the sound of the explosion came within range, they were met with a shower of lead that prostrated them by hundreds.
These Federals were as brave Americans as the country ever produced, seasoned veterans of many hard-fought campaigns, and they were not to be stopped by one volley, however withering it might be. They continued to advance steadily in the face of the leaden storm, brave forms dropping at every step, the line gradually thinning, wavering and quivering like the folds of a stricken monster, but pressing ever forward till it struck our works, when like a wave striking the beach, it went to pieces and disappeared. Few of those who reached our line lived to return; some saved their lives by prostrating themselves on the outside at the foot of the parapet, and then calling out that they surrendered.
One brave color bearer scaled the works of the 3rd Louisiana, and planted his standard on top, only to fall dead beside it a moment afterwards. This charge extended from the position of the 3rd Louisiana, to Fort Lee just south of the A. & V. R. R., and the fighting raged furiously all along the line. A part of the enemy actually effected a lodgment in Fort Lee, but after the failure of the general assault, were easily driven or captured without loss to us.
Editor’s Note: Martin seems to have confused the fighting at the 3rd Louisiana Redan that took place on June 25, 1863, with the May 22, assault on the Vicksburg defenses. The fighting on June 25 was confined to the immediate vicinity of the 3rd Louisiana Redan. It was during the May 22 assault that the Union forces were able to effect a lodgment in the Railroad Redoubt (which Martin calls Fort Lee).
Some of them remained in the trench on the outside of the fort, refusing all overtures, till our men began to throw hand-grenades on them, when some of them came over, while others scampered down the hill and either escaped or were killed in their flight. This was as gallant a charge, and as heroic defense as can be found in the annals of warfare. The Spartans at Thermopylae showed no greater devotion than did the sons of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, who on this awful day stood at bay and rolled back the furious assaults of Grant’s veteran and hitherto invincible army. Had their military career begun and ended here, the historian would have awarded them imperishable renown.
On this day, an assault was also made on our position, but it was disconnected from that made on the points before mentioned, and as it was easily repulsed and was not persisted in, the supposition was, that it was merely a demonstration, to prevent us from reinforcing the points seriously assailed. The enemy’s loss was however quite severe, the heaviest being in front of our regiment, in the hollow at the point marked H, and was begun just at the foot of the ridge running toward our lines, as shown by the dotted line J on the diagram.
We had no artillery which could be brought to bear on this point, and being protected by their fascines and the lay of the ground from our rifle fire, they made rapid progress. It became imperative that something should be done to check them, and a sortie was being discussed, when Captain Wofford came to the rescue with a suggestion that settled the matter.
That night, the two embrasures in Redoubt D, were closed by a solid bank of dirt many feet thick, and a new embrasure opened just at the left of our company at the point K, in which was planted a 12-pound “Napoleon” Gun, bearing directly on the head of the
Federal trench. As soon as it was light enough to see, this gun opened fire. The first shot was too high, passing away above the trench and exploding some distance beyond it, but the second struck the fascines, scattering them in every direction, and exploding as it entered the trench, killing twelve or fifteen men.
The working detail at once bolted for their works, but as they were exposed to both shell and rifle fire from the start, not many of them lived to reach shelter. This ended the approach business at this point, not attempt being made to enter the trench again. The Federals could not see the gun we used from any of their batteries, but they located it by the smoke and fresh bank of dirt, and on this latter they opened fire with about thirty pieces of cannon, and only ceased firing when they had reduced it to the general level of the ground.
This was the most terrific cannonade I ever saw concentrated on one particular point, but it did us no harm, as after accomplishing its work, our gun was rolled down the hill out of harm’s way, and we retired to our bomb proof under the hill. This was the last attempt to approach on our part of the line, or indeed on any other part, so far as we then knew or believed.
The Federals claimed after the siege that they had us mined at seven different points and were ready to explode the mines, but it does not seem likely to me that so many approaches could have been made, without our men having knowledge of some of them. The assault above described, was also the last attempt to take the city by storm. Grant had tested our mettle, had needlessly sacrificed some thousands of his best troops, and had learned what he should have known to begin with, that such fortifications as those at Vicksburg, manned by veteran southern soldiers, were not to be successfully assaulted.
The Federal dead, killed in the above described assaults, were permitted to lie on the field for three days without burial, until the stench from the decaying bodies became insupportable to our men, and General Pemberton in the name of humanity, demanded a truce in order that burial should be given them. This cost Grant the respect of our entire army, both officers and men. To think that he would allow the bodies of these brave soldiers, whose lives were sacrificed through his incompetence or ignorance, to lie festering and rotting in the southern sun, was enough to shock humanity. It did undoubtedly cast a cloud over his hitherto spotless reputation, and it should have earned for him the disgust and detestation of all decent people both north and south.
If Grant ever gave any excuse for this unqualified piece of brutality, I have not seen it; but I imagine he wished to keep the northern people in ignorance of the terrible check he had met with, and failed to ask a truce because it would have [been] construed as an acknowledgment of defeat. War had horrors enough without adding such unnecessary and brutal chapters as this.
Grant was in many respects a good man, and he earned the good will of the southern people, when he told the government that the surrender at Appomattox was made to him as General of the Army, that he had full and complete power to arrange the terms, and that they should be observed to the letter; but, the foregoing incident shows him to have been utterly lacking in the finer feelings of human nature.
End of Chapter 3