The Memoir of Simeon R. Martin, Chapter 4

Chapter 4: Starvation & Surrender

After the events above narrated, the enemy settled down to steady siege work. Whenever possible, they would advance their sharpshooters nearer our lines, and they were continually adding new cannon to their already formidable array. They established a battery of six mortars on a float just beyond the bend of the river, and also a number of siege guns in the same vicinity, with all of which they shelled the city continuously day and night. Shells were dropping unceasingly in every part of the beleaguered space; we were literally girt about with a circle of fire, and there was no absolutely safe spot to be found. Our bomb proof came about as near as any, and we had one man killed in it.

During the siege of Vicksburg, mortar scows such as the one pictured here were anchored in the Mississippi River and fired into the city of Vicksburg. These were 13-inch mortars that fired a shell weighing over 200 pounds - The Federals fired over 7,000 of these shells into Vicksburg during the siege. Illustration from FAMOUS LEADERS AND BATTLE SCENES OF THE CIVIL WAR (1896) by Frank Leslie

About the middle of June, our rations began to run short First our meat gave out, and then the bread, reducing us to a diet of boiled peas and sugar. We tried grinding peas and making bread of them, but it didn’t work well, the peas would cook and form a crust on the outside, but would be raw on the inside of the loaf and would make the men sick.

During the last few days of the siege, we had nothing but cakes of sugar with once or twice a little mule meat. Mule meat from a good fat mule is very good; the flavor is exactly similar to that of beef and it cannot be told from the latter by the taste, the only difference being that it has a much coarser fiber than beef. We could have gotten on well enough on a diet of mule, it there had been a sufficiency of it, but there was not; all we got was from mules killed by the fire of the enemy; they were not slaughtered for food, and it was only occasionally that any of it came to our share.

For the last several days, we had nothing but a cake of sugar for our daily ration. This cake weighed perhaps a half-pound, and was made by putting sugar and water in a frying pan, warming it till it dissolved and then allowing it to cool and harden. This kept us from feeling the pangs of hunger acutely, but was not a diet to sustain strength and we grew very weak. When men get hungry they grow desperate and are ready for anything that promises a change. We were willing to make an assault on the enemy at any part of the line, or if that could not be done, then we were ready to surrender or do anything else that would get food for us.

The second day of July 1863, was ushered in by the enemy with the most furious cannonade of the siege, beginning early in the morning before it was light. They seemed to be firing from every gun they had in position, and the spectacle was grand and terrible beyond description. The detonations of the guns and bursting shells were so continuous, that we could scarce hear each other talk, and the burning fuses on the shells, looked like flaming stars crossing each other in every conceivable direction.

We naturally supposed that such a furious bombardment was preliminary to an assault, and we made every preparation for a desperate struggle. No assault was made however, and after it had been kept up for some two hours, slacked off till it was no heavier than the ordinary daily bombardment. If there was any particular reason for this remarkable cannonade, we never learned what it was. Perhaps it was intended as a kind of preliminary celebration of the glorious fourth, and a warning as to what we might expect on that day, provided we did not surrender in the meantime.

On the next morning, the 3rd day of July 1863, an armistice was asked by General Pemberton and the firing ceased all along the line. This was a great relief to us, as we could walk about, stretch our limbs and breathe the fresh air, without being herded up together like cattle; we had one day of perfect rest, the most of which we spent in walking about, or rolling on the grass under the shade of trees.

Illustration depicting the meeting between Generals Grant and Pemberton to discuss terms for the surrender of Vicksburg. Image from HARPER'S PICTORIAL HISTORY OF THE CIVIL WAR

The armistice continued all day, and toward evening it began to be rumored that a surrender had been agreed on, but nothing definite was known. At night there was still no firing, and everything was so unusually quiet and calm, that it was impossible for me to sleep, except in short naps.

The next morning we were formed in line, marched over the works in line of battle and stacked arms on the outside. Then we knew that we had indeed surrendered; and notwithstanding the desperate straits to which we were reduced, and the raging desire for food, there was not a man who did not feel the humility of the act, or who would not have preferred to charge the enemy’s works instead. The Federals had a great respect for this army of surrendered Rebels. This was shown by the fact, that when the capitulation was made, not a cheer was heard or the slightest demonstration made.

Illustration depicting the surrender of Confederate troops at Vicksburg on July 4, 1863. Image From HARPER'S WEEKLY, August 1, 1863

Very shortly after the surrender, many of the Yankee boys began coming over to our lines to see us, and to observe us meet each other with cordial hand-shakes, it could hardly be realized that we had for days and weeks been engaged in killing each other without mercy. Here again, was shown the respect, thoughtfulness and consideration which the Federals had for us. Not a word was said which could have wounded the feelings of the most sensitive person; on the contrary, they gave us praise for the gallant defense we had made, and seemed desirous only of cultivating feelings of friendship and good will.

Confederates at Vicksburg lounging outside of their entrenchments after the surrender of the city. Image from HARPER'S WEEKLY, August 1, 1863.

During our stay of something like a week in the city after the surrender, I never heard but one Yankee say anything that was in the least degree harsh or insulting, and he was a quartermaster who had not been within reach of our bullets. He was reproved by his own men, who suggested to him, that his opinion of the Rebs might undergo a change if he would get out and attempt to whip some of them, which he seemed to have no desire to do.

The Federals had just drawn rations that morning, and when they would come over to our lines, each one would empty out his haversack, and divide the contents with our hungry boys, who devoured them more like Hyenas than human beings. It took some time for the Federals to get up their commissary wagons and get in position to issue us rations, and it was late in the evening before we got any, but when we did get them they were good. They gave us plenty of everything they had, bacon, hardtack, flour, meal, and best of all coffee, something we had not tasted for many a long day.

While were were waiting to get our paroles, we camped on the bayou at the cemetery, where our wagon yards were during the siege. Our camp was full of Yankee visitors every day, and we had all sorts of fun. Our visitors were mostly boys from Indiana, great big strapping, fine looking good natured fellows, and the greatest lot for playing the fiddle and dancing that I ever saw in my life. Out of all that came, I don’t think there was a single one who was not a fiddler. Some of our boys offered a reward for a man from Indiana who could not play the fiddle.

While were were in camp, the boys having nothing to do, got into the ordnance stores of our army and had a great time with the powder. They would lay trains a hundred yards in length, with a big pile of powder every thirty feet or so, over which they would place a barrel or box. They would then fire the train and when the piles were reached, PLUFF and up would go the box or barrel into the air.. They also made a kind of crude Roman candles, by filling canes with powder, in alternate layers of wet and dry. There were thousands of these, and at night they were flying in every direction; I never saw a civic display of fire-works to equal it. We were all the time expecting an order from the Federal officers to stop this waste of powder, but none came, and our visitors enjoyed it as much as we did. Altogether we must have destroyed thousands of pounds of powder.

After the Federals had occupied the city, they enrolled some Negro troops, and the drill ground from one of the companies, was a level space right in the midst of our camp. Every evening when drill time came, the boys would go out and lie down on the grass to watch the drill. The instructor was an Irish captain, and the way he would put the niggers through would tickle the boys nearly to death. Instead of a sword, he carried a heavy walking stick, and when any of his recruits went wrong, he would lay it on them in good fashion. When they were marching to the front in line of battle, he would, contrary to custom, walk behind them, and if anyone of them allowed his gun to get out of position, he would yell out “hold up that gun you damd black scoundrel,” at the same time giving him a welt across the most prominent part of his rearward anatomy that would almost lift the nig off his feet; he would look at us and wink, whereupon the Rebel yell would burst out with great spontaneity.

The niggers did not enjoy these drills; it was evident that soldiering was not altogether the good thing they had supposed it to be, and my private opinion is, that if an opportunity had presented itself, the last one of them would have taken to the woods and let the Republic go to the devil.

It takes a long time to parole an army of twenty thousand men, as a separate paper has to be issued to each one, and our turn came near the last, but we were finally reached, provided the necessary billet-doux (as the boys called them) and having received three days rations, departed on our several ways home.

End of Chapter 4


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