“In The Iron Grip of Grant:” A Lady’s Reminiscence of the Siege of Vicksburg

Having a strong interest in the Civil War history of Vicksburg, I’m well acquainted with the published letters, diaries, and reminiscences written by the civilian inhabitants of the city. Emma Balfour’s diary, Mary Loughborough’s book, My Cave Life in Vicksburg, and Lucy McRae’s published reminiscences are just a few of the better known civilian accounts of the siege of Vicksburg. One writer who had escaped my attention until recently however is Theodosia F. McKinstry, who had her reminiscences of wartime Vicksburg published in 1927She lived through the siege of Vicksburg as a teenager, and her memories of 47 days spent under fire make for compelling reading.

Theodosia was born on August 28, 1844, in Vicksburg; her parents were Laurence and Jane Houghton, both natives of New York. Her father, Laurence, moved to Vicksburg about 1836, and he did not pick the location by chance; his own parents, Daniel and Lydia Houghton, immigrated to frontier Mississippi in the 1820s and settled at Vicksburg. The move proved to be ill-fated, however, and Daniel died at Vicksburg in June 1825. On the death of her husband, Lydia moved back to New York. (The Ancestors of Ebenezer Buckingham, Published in Chicago by R.R> Donnelley & Sons, 1892, pages 114-115).

Lawrence S. Houghton was a lawyer by trade, and he prospered at Vicksburg in his chosen profession. He became a Justice of the Peace, and later was elected to three terms as a Probate Judge for Warren County.

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Laurence S. Houghton’s Advertisement in the Vicksburg Daily Whig, May 7. 1856.

By 1860, Laurence Houghton had built a comfortable life for himself and his family. In the 1860 U.S. Census for Warren County, he listed a personal estate worth $1,500, and had real estate holdings of $1,800. According to the census, Laurence and Jane had six children living at home: five girls and one boy. The oldest child was Theodosia, age 15, and interestingly enough she had a personal estate valued at $35.00 listed on the Federal census.

The good times, however, could not last, and the Houghton’s were soon caught up in the whirlwind of war that would eventually find them under siege and living in a cave. The following account was written by Theodosia many years after the war, and published in the July 1927 issue of Holland’s Magazine – I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

One Christmastide, years after the siege of Vicksburg, my husband, who wasn’t a

Edward Gregory

Civilians Under Fire at Vicksburg (The Annals of the Civil War, Alexander K. McClure, editor)

‘caveman’ at all, my daughter in her early teens, and I – guide of these two Northerners – started on an eager search for the cave where I had lived. It had utterly vanished. My daughter, brought up on my descriptions of it all through her ‘tell-me-a-story’ age, was bitterly disappointed. ‘Never mind,’ consoled her father, ‘the cave is still here, only the dirt has been taken away around it.’

If only Vicksburg had kept a few caves to show visitors to-day, sixty-four years beyond those exciting weeks between May 18 and July 4, 1863! It would make past events very real to be able to see what sort of temporary homes the yellow-clay hills and ridges of Vicksburg provided in storm and stress. But caves are too handy for gamblers, pirates, thieves, trouble makers generally; it was thought best not to keep them.

There had been a year of danger. Long before, Porter had brought his mortar fleet up to

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Admiral David Dixon Porter (The Photographic History of the Civil War in Ten Volumes: Volume Six, The Navies)

within range of the city, and for days would rain shells down upon us. All the women and children ran to the country back of the city, and I well remember the scene on the old Jackson road that early morning in the spring when the bombardment commenced.

The flight was a panic. Many were in their night clothes, not daring to wait to dress when the bursting shells drove them from their beds. But our fleeing family had a wonderful refuge awaiting us, for two and a half miles away, in a beautiful plantation home, lived our friends, the Shirleys. My family and another family shared a negro cabin in the yard of the big white house. I, however, stayed in the house with the daughter, Alice Shirley. Little did I dream that later on this stately residence was to become a target, a landmark for both armies, honeycombed with bullets during the siege, and that finally, some forty years later, it would be considered important enough to be bought by the Government and restored perfectly. ‘The white house’ was referred to again and again in official orders and reports during and after the siege. Comrades of both armies greatly desired its restoration. Now it is a highly important feature of the Vicksburg Military Park. So, if I cannot inspire awe by showing my real cave any longer, at least I can point with pride to a tangible and impressive reminder (and what a contrast in architecture!) of my war days in Vicksburg.

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Modern photo of the Shirley House – the exterior has been restored to its pre-war appearance. (www.americanexpeditioners.com/vicksburg-military-park.php)

The withdrawal of Porter’s fleet allowed us to return to our home, where we remained until the following May. As you know from your history, Admiral Porter and his fleet came back in ’63. In preparation for great danger, caves had been dug in the hills of Vicksburg. A neighbor of ours had kindly offered to share his with us, laughingly saying it would be a delightful residence. There was no thought then that we should have to live in one, but it was constructed as a temporary place of shelter should the shells fly too thickly. It was a long, narrow cave in the shape of a half-moon, with two entrances, for if only one entrance were left, a shell might fill it up and we should be buried alive. We had frequent recourse to it for months before May, on days when the bombardment was severe, but it was some time before we had to take up quarters in it for forty-eight days and nights!

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Illustration of the Vicksburg Caves                                                                           (The Valentine Democrat, Valentine, Nebraska, April 9, 1896)

We became more indifferent to death as the siege progressed. People do, you know, when it is so near them. Life is so cheap when it is daily going. No matter, was the thought, to-morrow we may be killed, and so life went on with no calculations for the morrow. Confederate officers were frequent callers at our home, and sometimes it grew very social under our roof surrounded by death. And then bang would go the signal gun, the officers would fly to their posts and we to our caves, for the bombardment had commenced again. That was a gallant young officer who had command of the signal gun. They brought him to our home hallway, the first officer who fell in the siege.

Whistling Dick, the long Whitworth gun which was the terror of the Northern fleet, was on

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Mortar Scows firing on Vicksburg (Famous Leaders and Battle Scenes of the Civil War, 1896, by Frank Leslie)

an eminence near our home. It commanded up and down the river and was the most destructive gun. We learned soon to distinguish the sound of the different kinds of shells from the fierce screeching of the great mortar shells to the almost musical tone of the James and Hotchkiss shells that rained down upon us. We heard and saw them from our cave dwelling for many days. You have never seen the grandest exposition of fireworks unless you have seen a bombardment by night from mortars, the great masses of fire crisscrossing over the city, bursting in mid-air and raining death below. We noticed the grandeur of it even while knowing it might be a message of death to us.

One evening, during a lull in the firing, we were seated at the supper table, which was not bountifully spread, when a shell suddenly fell and exploded before the dining room door. We rushed out to the cave, and from it we did not go again for forty-eight days. The Federals had surrounded the city entirely, the siege had commenced in earnest, and we were in the iron grip of Grant. Our cave was one of the few completed and was crowded as full as it could hold. That first night it had to give protection to seventy-five. I don’t know where the extra people went after that – to hastily prepared shelters behind the hills or to quickly dug caves farther out perhaps. A young bride came there who had been married that day amid the din of war – the serenade of her wedding night the boom of guns out at the front, where her bridegroom stood amid the ranks of death. Another bride of only two weeks was also one of our company. Poor girl, she went out in the iron hail to meet her husband and was shattered by a bursting shell and doomed to years of suffering before death relieved her.

Ah! what a night! The batteries on the shore belched shot and shell at the fleet; the fleet

Porter's Fleet

Porter’s Fleet Shelling Vicksburg (Harper’s Encyclopedia of United States History, Volume 10, 1912)

replied with iron hail. The great guns on the hill-tops roared. In the rear of the city the field guns were at it; the volleyed musketry quivered the air. There was battle all around us; the air was full of death; the earth shook with the roar of guns. To the rear of the city stood two armies face to face. One wore the Blue and one the Gray. In Northern homes the women were praying and working for the Blue. In our damp, close cave we were working and praying for the Gray. Why, I knew that in the ranks of the Blue, school friends of years before, whom I had known in a little tree-clad village of the North, where I had spent happy school days. And I knew in the ranks of the Gray there were those who only a few hours before had been guest under my father’s roof, the friends of our house and companions of my youth. And Blue and Gray were out there; the one giving his life for his nation, the other giving his life for his home. The blue wave dashed upward on the earthworks and the blood-crested wave rolled back again from the gray beach of the human sea.

Day after day the guns roared and volleyed, and the dead came back, and the living went out. Day after day we waited. A friend was brought in and so great was the love of him that he was buried in the city cemetery while the shells shattered the tombstones all about the burial party. There was death in our cave, and a table that was there was made into a coffin. Near by we buried her, the daughter of one of our city’s clergymen. For food we had corn meal and molasses and occasionally a rarity of meat. To be sure, it was mule meat, but then it was a luxury. Still, life went on somewhat as usual. Even our old cow, Sukey, came to the door of the cave to be milked. She didn’t come for many days, naturally, for the soldiers, I suppose, had to have her killed for beef. During intervals in the firing one might sit by the doorway and read, and I remember finishing an engrossing story there – a more cheerful one, I hope, than the thrilling story reverberating around us. And one Sunday morning I remember, we had a very special occupation – a strange kind of fancywork. Some messengers sent from the army left at our cave – and at all the other caves – small red-flannel gun bags to make.

Really our cave was pretty dark – one couldn’t see upon going in out of the light, and it was

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Entrance to one of the Vicksburg Caves (New York Public Library Digital Collections)

 

never light enough to read. There was no wood-work of any kind about it, and naturally so few conveniences that you may wonder how we managed to cook, to eat, to wash our faces, and to dress. Across from the cave was the home of a lady we knew. She had said, before she left the city for safety, that we might use her premises. So, when we didn’t make a little bonfire outside the cave for our cooking, we used her stove whenever it was safe to go over. And we got our drinking water from her cistern. We used to eat at a little stand just outside the entrance to our cave – when it was safe. Meals had to be irregular.

As to dressing and undressing – mostly, we didn’t! Whatever we managed to do in the morning to make ourselves a little presentable was achieved through a bit of looking- glass and a tin wash basin arranged outside. Naturally, when the cave had been dug, dirt was thrown up at the side of the entrance. In the ridges of this dirt pile, the wash dish and piece of mirror could rest – a primitive beauty parlor, indeed!

The drinking water that we kept inside was always put in a square place cut out of the side wall. Another square furnished a place for reading matter. There was a smaller cut in the wall for the little tin pan of tapers. Our candles (always made by good old ‘Aunt Cynthy’) were all used up before we moved into the cave. I remember so well how some of the last batch looked when we burned them. Down the sides ran a streak of something red. ‘Blood fum de daid hosses on de battlefield!’ exclaimed Aunt Cynthy, who seemed convinced of the source of her candle grease.

I shall never forget our salt. It came from Louisiana, and was deep pink; it looked beautiful enough for a ‘pink-tea’ accessory. Certain other trifling details of our daily life, however, escape me. For instance, what did our dog, Bulger, get to eat? Our half barrel of molasses, corn bread, and sweet-potato coffee couldn’t have interested him much. But Bulger wouldn’t stay out – he knew where he belonged even in those terrifying days.

I would sometimes run the risk of hasty trips to our home. On one such trip I found two wounded men in gray being cared for in our front room – a Captain Hatch and a Confederate soldier. I do not know the fate of the soldier, but Captain Hatch we saw again under happier circumstances. For on the evening of the Fourth of July, when we were able to return to that much-damaged home and enjoy our first peaceful, adequate supper, Captain Hatch was a guest.

Right here I may as well describe the condition of our house at the close of the siege. It was

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Theodosia McKinstry posing with the coverlet damaged by a shell during the siege of Vicksburg. (Holland’s Magazine, July 1927)

purely luck that it wasn’t demolished, for the house next door, the residence of Mrs. Prosser, a widow, was literally torn to pieces. Our back yard was strewn with bits of the Prosser furniture, broken crockery, and ornaments. Not that our house escaped damage. Our dining-room chimney was all knocked in. A piece of mortar shell that exploded above the house crashed through the roof with such force that it came down into the bedroom below, through the bed, down through the parlor beneath, and still on to the basement, where it buried itself, its force pretty well spent. So, when we returned home at last, we could gaze up at the sky as we stood in our plaster-littered parlor. And what was that bit of dark blue something, hanging through the hole above us? A few ravelings, evidently. A bit of the dark blue coverlet which was on the bed above. What a tear that piece of shell had made in it! Yes, it was better to have been uncomfortable in an old chair in the cave than lying in that bed. The coverlet was one thing that didn’t ever have to be mended. It’s the kind of hole that one preserves to show to one’s grandchildren.

Another of my souvenirs is our clock. Such a beautiful French clock, with its ornate pendulum and alabaster pillars! It ‘carried on’ during the siege, because probably it was wound occasionally, on our hurried trips to the house, but the glass globe covering it was shattered. Its alabaster pillars suffered accident long after the war, but the clock will still go. It is a hundred and twenty-five years old now, I think.

In our yard the Minie balls could have been gathered up literally by the peck. But far more

Hotchkiss Shell

3-Inch Hotchkiss Shell with Percussion Fuse Found at Vicksburg (www.pintrest.com)

impressive as souvenirs were the big shells that one might pick up around the city – a Hotchkiss shell was beautiful, and I carried one with me when, after the death of my parents, I went North to live with my grandmother. The dangerous element had been all taken out, of course – a soldier had done that at my request. But grandmother was decidedly afraid of it. ‘It may explode yet!’ she evidently reasoned, and solemnly buried it ‘way in the back part of her vegetable garden. Will anyone ever find it, I wonder, and imagine a bombardment of that peaceful Northern village?

But now let me return to the cave, and the end of the siege.

At length one day there came a lull in the storm. It was the third of July, 1863. We were ready to bear all dangers to get a breath of fresh air and stretch our cramped limbs, and with my mother I started for our home, to find it pierced with shells and shattered, but still habitable.

A quartermaster came riding down the street. You can stay there if you wish to-night’ he said; ‘there will be no firing.’

What did it mean? We climbed a hill and looked toward the army in the rear of the city.

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Headline from the Republican Democrat (Ravenna, Ohio), Announcing the Surrender of Vicksburg (July 8, 1863)

The smoke had cleared away; the guns were silent. The silence seemed intense and ominous and unnatural after the days of battle. A long line of white flags was waving between the armies. A truce was declared. Out from the caves poured the people, wan, emaciated, and some near death. A surrender was rumored and received with sullen denial. Death was preferable.

‘I would rather have lived on rose leaves and held out,’ declared Mrs. S. ‘Yes, but at least you have the rose leaves – we haven’t.’ someone reminded her charming old garden with roses white, pink, crimson, and yellow, in Southern luxuriance.

So, my mother and I had one less night of cave life than the rest of the family. In spite of the assurance of the quartermaster, and the white flags, we wondered if the strange silence really meant safety. Were the besiegers getting ready to blow up the town with liquid fire the next day? We had heard vague hints of it. But we were so very, very tired! So, we stretched a mosquito bar over four chairs and slept on the floor. My father had come over to the house in the evening, given reluctant consent to our staying, and returned to the cave to be with the children.

But the next morning the sun shone brilliantly, and up the streets came the tramp of marching feet and the hoof beat of cavalry. Between the lines of Blue marched the unarmed ranks of Gray. There were sphinx-like Grant, and stern Sherman, and dark Logan on a coal-black horse, and knightly McPherson at the front. The Confederate flag still floated from the courthouse on the summit of the hill. The troops marched on upward. The flag fell, the Stars and Stripes floated there, and Vicksburg was taken.

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The Fourth Minnesota Infantry Entering Vicksburg, July 4, 1863. Painting by Francis D. Millet (Minnesota Historical Society)

We kept close in the house that day, as did all citizens, for the streets were full of soldiers. Blue and Gray strolled along arm in arm and told their stories of the siege and sang through the streets: ‘To-day we’ll be friends and to-morrow we’ll fight.’ Union officers whom we had known before the war came to bid us greeting, and Confederate officers, our neighbors and friends, came to bid us good-bye. And many we had known came not at all, but out in the trenches found peace in the din of war. And that was the Fourth in Vicksburg, sixty-four years ago.

General Grant, in his memoirs mentions the Vicksburg caves, of course: ‘Many citizens secured places of safety for their families by carving out rooms in the embankments. A doorway in these caves would be cut in a high bank, starting from the level of the road or street, and after running in a few feet a room of the size required was carved out of the clay, the dirt being removed by the doorway. In some instances I saw where two rooms were cut out, for a single family, with a doorway in the clay wall separating them. Some of these were carpeted and furnished with considerable elaboration. In these the occupants were fully secure from the shells of the navy, which were dropped into the city night and day.’

vicksburg-siege-caves

Cave Dwellers at Vicksburg (The Youth’s History of the United States)

Carpets? Perhaps there were some – but one may suppose only for special days. For Vicksburg rains seemed a little wetter and much more generous than other rains, and I remember the dismal condition of our cave and of ourselves during one hard storm! Ours was a brag cave, too – arched, and with its greater and lesser entrance. Yet always water seemed to be seeping through, and what pleasure would there have been in a wet carpet? My mother and the younger children had what might be called a room, or alcove, where the cave rounded at the back. There they could lie down at night. The alcove was large enough for three or four boards, and a brown blanket over them made the bed. I can visualize that brown blanket now, for every single morning it had to be hung out to dry. Our hands in the morning would be beaded with moisture, and my dress would be as wet as if it had been sprinkled. After the storm I have mentioned, we had planks down the middle of the cave.

I cannot remember that I did anything at night except sit in an old chair and sleep as best I could. But youth can always sleep. My father, too, seemed to manage his nightly rest in his broken-armed rocker. Aunt Cynthy, our cook, and Bulger, our dog, were inside near the smaller entrance. Considering there were three good-sized families in the cave, we adjusted ourselves fairly well.

Perhaps people away from Vicksburg in 1863 wondered whether the exact day of surrender was part of a plan. That may have been the case – General Grant, however, was of the opinion that Pemberton commenced his correspondence on the third to prevent the capture taking place on the Fourth of July. Pemberton reported that he selected the Fourth, feeling sure that he would get better terms, since it would be highly pleasing to the Northern army to take possession of so great a stronghold then. Naturally, I do not know. The thing of particular interest to us just then, I suppose, was to get something to eat. Our food was all gone, and everybody in Vicksburg was in the same condition. During the last days of the siege we had really eaten next to nothing. My father and the other citizens took their baskets and went down to the boats which the Northern army at once sent to our relief. I was told that there were thirty of these boats, flags flying, one following another, with provisions for the citizens. So, for our Fourth of July supper we had plenty of everything to make an acceptable meal. It seemed like a banquet.

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Generals Grant and Pemberton met between the opposing lines to discuss terms for the surrender of Vicksburg (Civilwardailygazette.com)

Just a few years ago I spent a few days in July in Vicksburg. I wanted to be there over the Fourth. Such a quiet Fourth! Banks and post office were decorously closed, but there certainly wasn’t any celebration – any noisy rejoicing. Nor will there be, I think. The city remembers without comment its day of the white flag of surrender, just then, although, like the rest of the South, it is splendidly loyal to the Star-Spangled Banner.

After reading Theodosia Houghton’s reminiscence, I did some research on her family, and

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Advertisement for a Union Meeting to be Held in Vicksburg – (Vicksburg Whig, November 28, 1860)

found some very interesting things. Her father, Laurence, was a Unionist in Mississippi at a time when being so could be dangerous to one’s health. After the election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860, many Mississippians were loudly advocating secession, but Houghton put his name, along with other Pro-Union citizens, on an article in the Vicksburg Whig calling for a “Union Mass Meeting” to be held in Vicksburg on November 29, 1860. In this article the signers called for an assembly of their fellow citizens who wanted to ‘…maintain the integrity of the State, to avert the horrors of civil discord and to prevent rash, ruinuous, expensive and illegal actions…We repeat, let all come and devote a short time to the service of the State. If we must be involved in a common ruin let us meet it manfully. But a bright destiny awaits the country if the people will assemble and take wise and prudent counsel together. Let the voice of the people be heard on the all-important questions now at issue.’ (Vicksburg Whig, November 28, 1860).

Although he had Unionist sentiments, and did not support the secession of Mississippi from the Union, Laurence had a large family to support, and kept his job as probate judge of Warren County. In the eyes of the United States government he was serving in an official capacity for the Confederate States of America, and this would cause him no small amount of trouble after Vicksburg was captured.

The powerful Federal artillery being thrown into Vicksburg during the siege made quite an impression on Theodosia, and she was probably chagrined to find out after the surrender that her own cousin, Howard Bass Cushing, was one of the cannoneers firing the deadly ordnance into the city. Howard was a private in Battery B, 1st Illinois Light Artillery, and

Howard B. Cushing

Wartime photo of Howard B. Cushing (findagrave.com)

after the siege ended he actually lived with the Houghton’s in Vicksburg while recovering from an illness. (Cushing of Gettysburg: The Story of a Union Artillery Commander, page 261.) Howard was not the only artilleryman in his family; his brother Alonzo commanded Battery A, 4th United States Artillery, at the Battle of Gettysburg – the young man was killed at his guns on July 3, 1863. Alonzo H. Cushing was awarded the Medal of Honor on November 6, 2014, for his gallant service at the Battle of Gettysburg. In November 1863, Howard B. Cushing was given a commission in the United States army and assigned to his brother’s unit, the 4th United States Artillery. He survived the war and remained in the army, only to be killed by Apache Indians near Tucson, Arizona, on May 5, 1871. (Cushing of Gettysburg: The Story of a Union Artillery Commander, page 261.

The Houghton family had survived the siege, but with the Federals in control of Vicksburg, Laurence Houghton faced possible punishment for his service as a probate judge under the Confederate regime. On July 17, 1862, the United States Congress had passed a confiscation act that allowed the Federal government to fine or imprison individuals that aided the Confederacy. For simply trying to keep his family fed, Houghton faced financial ruin and incarceration by the government he had supported so vocally. (“Federal Confiscation” The Encyclopedia of the Confederacy, Volume 1, pages 389 – 391.

To fix the predicament he now found himself in, Laurence Houghton decided to go right to the top; on August 29, 1863, he wrote the following letter to President Abraham Lincoln:

Vicksburg, Miss.

August 29th 1863.

My Dear Sir,

I feel a delicacy in Presenting the accompanying sheets to you, being a stranger to you in Person, and likewise unknown to fame. I am now the Judge of the Probate Court, and have been for some years past, And having a familiarity with the circumstances and condition of Our People, I feel that I can at least write understandingly of their wants and necessities, And that I well know what are the claims of most individuals in this community! The Office which I hold is a Salaried Office at two thousand Dollars pr Annum, with Perquisites Ordinarily amounting to from $600 00 to $1000 00 Per Annum additional, this Salary is now about worthless — from the fact that the Taxes are collected in worthless currency.

I do not write you, asking or seeking for anything Personal, farther than your forgiveness for acts which could not be avoided — to wit; Holding the Office which I now hold Under state Authority, and which I was compelled to do or starve a large family. Otherwise I have given no aide or comfort Voluntarily to the Confederacy. I have first, last and all the time, been a Union Man, and have been so well endorsed, that I do not think a Man here either civil or Military doubts it. Still the fact that I hold Office as judge makes me liable Under the Provisions of the Confiscation Acts, — And this being the case, I humbly ask your Pardon & Pray that you will be Pleased to grant it to me, if upon Proper enquiry you are satisfied of honesty of Purpose.

I shall be obliged to you, if you will direct, sent to me sheet acts of Congress in Relation to Confiscation, Income Tax, or any laws which my aid me in giving information to Persons, Or in Preparing matters under any of those laws.

I Am Very Respectfully

L. S. Houghton

(L.S. Houghton Letter to Abraham Lincoln, August 29, 1863, The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress)

Not content with just one letter, Houghton fired off a second letter to Lincoln, also dated August 29, 1863. In this letter he points out the strong Unionist sentiment in Vicksburg before the war, and their efforts to oppose secession:

Dear Sir,

I take the liberty of addressing a few thoughts for your consideration; as bearing upon the People of this vicinity: I will be brief, as I know your time is too much occupied to consider a lengthy disertation!–

To begin then, I will state in a few words what is born out by a history of the time to wit; That this City and County was one of the strongest in its adhesion to Union sentiments of any in the South, and so it continued to be until it was overwhelmed by the Force of Arms! Even then the sentiment did not die out, but being overpowered, it had to lie quiet and bide its time.

When the election for President had taken place in 1860 — which resulted in the choice of yourself for that high station, the Union Party here were ready and willing to accept the choice, and to sustain you in upholding the integrity of the Government: This was well Understood, not only here, but throughout the State! But Sir secession and rebellion, was a foregone conclusion in the hearts and minds of the Party who — (unfortunately) had control of Our state Government. The Papers representing the dominant Party at once set to work to mislead and madden the ignorant Portion of Our People, And the various branches of the state Government was turned loosed to aid in bringing about a state of feeling which should end in a determination to separate from the Parent Government for imaginary injuries. In Pursuance of this Gov Pettus1 convened the Legislature, (whose sentiments he well knew) and in a most hurried manner a Law was Passed calling a Convention, and ordering an election of Members to the same, Only twenty days notice being given from the Passage of the law to the day of election this gave no time for Understanding or any consideration by the People as to the questions involved: While every Neighborhood was supplied with leading democratic Secessionists to Poison the minds of the People and induce them to vote for Persons who were Pledged in advance to separate this State from the Union. The result — is known to you, hence I need not further alude to it. While all this was going on steps were taken to fortify this Place in a Small way, and thus to begin offensive operations at a Point known to Gov Pettus & his co laborers as one most violently opposed to their Policy. Notwithstanding all these preparations, and the scurrilous abuse heaped upon the Union Party here as submissionists, they kept a lively opposition at this Point until New Orleans fell. This so maddened the State authorities, that they determined to make this a strong Point of resistance for a two fold object, — One was to stop the Navigation of the River, and the other, (as well understood, by private intimations given out,) to cause the destruction of this City, — as a Punishment for its continuing its opposition to the Patriotic Movement in the South! We had a large Military force Placed here, and we were soon informed that if we did cease our opposition we should be imprisoned, shot or sent out of the Country. Very soon they begun to arrest Persons, some were imprisoned while others were sent off, and many others were warned.– this very soon had in Part the effect desired by our rulers, it Prevented open opposition. in fact, it silenced the voice; and Probably — about One fourth of the Union Party from fear of consequences, and from doubts as to the ability of the United States as a Government to sustain itself– Went Over to the Party in Power here, and soon became active Participants in the rebellion. The remainder stood silent, but stood firmly as ever by their first love, and Patiently waited the hour that should deliver them from this dreadful bondage!

The Season of deliverance has come at last; But it has found us exhausted! And worst of all — misunderstood! Unfortunately to the Victorious army now here, all of us appear alike, and they seem Unwilling to regard any as Union Men, and hence all must be treated quite alike!– This does not seem just to those who have born so long the scorn and contempt of the Oppressor of Secession, and I think calls for a change of System that will cheer up & sustain those who are, and have been loyal to the Union, and to give encouragement to those but lightly involved — to fully return to their allegiance.

I Come now to the Practical Point, And that, is, What can be done for those who are worthy of consideration, and who have been steadfast & true to the Government?–

I should say first make them self sustaining in allowing them the use & control of their Property, and in Permitting them to trade & manufacture in subjection to such necessary regulations and restrictions as may be necessary to prevent aid or comfort to those in rebellion!

Many of Our Union Men here were in the Mercantile & others branches of business and in the

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Vicksburg Union League Celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s Reelection (The Vicksburg Herald, Nov. 30, 1864)

Course of their business had outstanding a large amount of indebtedness and they in turn were quite largely indebted to those furnishing them facilities. When this rebellion broke out collections could not be made on account of stay laws enacted by Our Legislature and those in business were forced to dispose of their stocks or the fruits of their labor or industry for that which had been made the Currency of the Country, and When this Currency became Plentiful & a doubt of its being good for anything, seized the minds of all — then it was that Stay laws were needless, as all Persons rushed to Pay his debt in this worthless Currency. business Men at once foreseeing the end of this, made haste to invest their money so collected in Sugar, Cotton and Tobacco, laying it by to enable them to sell the same when a change took Place, and thereby enable them to Pay their Creditors, Put a stop to interest and also to begin life again. this Property is all, or Nearly all, Seized by the Military Authority and a receipt given for the same Payable after the War, and this too when said Property has not been abandoned or in any way Voluntarily turned over. To me, this does not seem fair to the Man who has stood firmly by his Country, And who has done all that could be done to keep himself unspotted from the Pollution of Rebellion. I know several Union Men who are thus situated! and who in Consequence thereof are reduced to the Position of mere mendicants, having nothing in the way of money that will Pay current expenses of their living, their stocks taken from them, and unable to do any business for the reason that their means of doing business is taken from them, And because they are not allowed to trade or Manufacture even for Purposes of this vicinity.–

I write this to urge upon your consideration the Propriety of doing something to relieve this Community, a majority of whom I still think, have held themselves aloof from acts of Rebellion, and who stand ready to give all the aid in their Power to the Union.

They look to you for such relief as it may be in your Power to afford them consistent with your views of Propriety.

Asking On behalf of these People a consideration of this Letter, and at the same time asking Pardon for the length of the Epistle,

I Am Dear Sir

Your Obt Sevt

L. S. Houghton

Vicksburg, Miss

August 19th 1863

(L.S. Houghton Letter to Abraham Lincoln, August 29, 1863, The Abraham Lincoln Papers at the Library of Congress)

To prove his loyalty to the Union, Laurence Houghton went before the Assistant Provost

Fold3_Page_4_Case_Files_of_Applications_from_Former_Confederates_for_Presidential_Pardons_Amnesty_Papers_186567

Oath of Allegiance taken by Laurence Houghton at Vicksburg in December 1863.(Confederate Amnesty Papers, Fold3.com)

Marshal at Vicksburg in December 1863, and took the oath of allegiance to the United States. Houghton’s efforts were ultimately successful; on February 8, 1864, Abraham Lincoln issued the judge a pardon. (How Lincoln and a Confederate Judge Left Winona a Treasure; by Dennis Challeen; http://www.winonadailynews.com)

In the midst of his political problems, Laurence Houghton was hit with a string of personal tragedies; just weeks after the siege of Vicksburg ended, his daughter Laura, age two, died on July 20, 1863. Less than four months later Laurence lost another daughter, Lydia, who died shortly after her birth, November 8, 1863. That same month Houghton lost his wife, Jane, who passed away on November 28, 1863. (The Ancestors of Ebenezer Buckingham, page 115).

The widowed judge was left with six children to raise, but he also found time for political activity as well; he was one of the founding members of the Mississippi Union League, a organization made up of citizens loyal to the United States Government. On February 24, 1864, Houghton sent a letter to President Lincoln, enclosing the “Preamble and Resolutions” of the organization.

Vicksburg Union League Letter, LOC

Letter from Laurence S. Houghton to Abraham Lincoln Concerning the Mississippi Union League (Abraham Lincoln Papers, Library of Congress)

By the time the war ended in 1865, Laurence Houghton was suffering from poor health, and he

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Obituary of Laurence S. Houghton (The Vicksburg Herald, January 4, 1866)

decided to move his family north to recover. The Houghton family settled in Winona, Minnesota, but unfortunately the change in location did nothing for Laurence’s health. In fact, his condition worsened, and he passed away on December 14, 1865. With both of their parents dead, the Houghton children moved to Fredonia, New York, their father’s birthplace, where they still had family. (The Ancestors of Ebenezer Buckingham, page 114-115.

Theodosia Houghton prospered in Fredonia; she married newspaper editor Louis McKinstry on October 8, 1868, and in time the couple had two daughters, Grace and Arabelle. Theodosia died on September 2, 1940, less than a week after her 96th birthday.  In her obituary it was noted that “She was with her father’s family in Vicksburg during the thrilling days of the siege in 1863 and was often heard to tell of the experiences of that time, when in common with other citizens, the family lived in caves.” (Dunkirk Evening Observer, September 4, 1940.

For anyone wanting to read more of Theodosia’s wartime reminiscences, there is a longer and more detailed memoir entitled “My Days of Danger in Vicksburg” available here: http://jacksonvilleuniversity.contentdm.oclc.org/cdm/ref/collection/p15428coll2/id/302.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One thought on ““In The Iron Grip of Grant:” A Lady’s Reminiscence of the Siege of Vicksburg

  1. I LOVE your blog! I found it via a mutual friend’s posts on fb. I’ve shared your blog info on my pages, twitter, etc. I hope you’ll consider joining us at https://www.facebook.com/groups/CivilWarBloggersNetwork/
    I’m not trying to shamelessly promote my group…I really want you to join! You’ll see, I share everyone’s info, posts, etc. and am really trying to help bloggers grow their followings. Regardless of joining or not, you are on my radar and I’m going to keep right on promoting you just as if you did!
    Great work!
    Meshea Crysup, Founder Rediscovering Historic Vicksburg & Civil War Bloggers…Network

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