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Siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi
May 23 to July 4, 1863
by Cpl. Theodore Wolbach, Company E
Web Author's Notes:
The following excerpts are from a description of the siege of the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, Mississippi, written from the perspective of the 16th Ohio, by Cpl Theodore Wolbach of Company E. Wolbach and the 16th Ohio participated in the siege until June 8, 1863, when the their Ninth Division, under Gen. Osterhaus', was sent about 10 miles east to Big Black River to guard against an attack from the rear by Confederate General Joe Johnston, who had a large force in the area. Wolbach's colorful history of the 16th Ohio can be read (additional chapters being published frequently) here.

The Siege of Vicksburg

On the 23rd there was a short suspension of hostilities to enable our forces to remove the dead that lay in the more exposed places. While this was in progress the opposing armies had a chance to rise up out of the earth and engage in a social chat. The artillerymen in our front were Mississippians. They were dressed in good grey uniforms and were a little saucy. The infantry were Texans, dressed in butternut--belonging to Wayl's Legion--had been organized at camp Groce, near Tyler, Texas. A more illiterate set of men and boys were never brought together. They asked curious questions of the Wah. Wanted some of our coffee but had nothing to swap for it, as grub was short. Intellectually there was a contrast noticeable between them and their comrades the artillery boys, though every man was a good soldier and a dead shot.

When the truce ended the opposing armies vanished behind their defences and the ugly work was resumed. The friends of a few minutes ago suddenly again became man hunters. Men from the western wilds and Kentucky mountains mingling with comrades from the denser populated districts, scattered among the ditches and gopher holes, and with the eagerness of hungry panthers watched for a victim wherever a gun-barrel glistened or an object moved above the hostile works.

Recurring to these seige [sic] operations, the order of minor events are jumbled in the memory. Sometimes, for amusement, the boys held their caps up on ramrods or sticks to have holes shot through them. If the rebels didn't fire at them the boys often got careless and poked up their heads to take a look. Eli Stewart, of Co. B, in doing this had a bullet put through him. In three weeks he was around again and in a short time was as sound as ever.

Lowery, of Co. I, while getting water at an exposed spring back of the lines, received a rifle ball in the pelvic region. The surgeons with difficulty extracted the ball. This man, at Chickasaw, was saved from death by a memorandum book in his blouse pocket. A bullet struck it with sufficient force to crush almost through it.

Sergeant James McBride, of Co. H, got struck on the head. Though stunned and bleeding his wound was not serious. When the stretcher bearers were taking him to the rear, he recovered consciousness, leaped from the stretcher and made his way to the surgeon without assistance.

John McCluggage, of Co. E, while raising his rifle to take aim, had a bullet strike the gun stock near the rear band, forcing its way through between the ramrod and barrel and making a painful flesh wound in the left hand.

A Co. A man, lying in bivouac back of the trenches was wounded in the foot by a descending bullet from the rebel lines.

Our artillerymen were obliged, on account of the nearness of the position, to cut their fuses short. Through lack of care or otherwise, some shell exploded close to our infantry. In a few cases men were wounded by them. One man severely by the leaden band of a conical case shot.

The rebel gunners, once in a while, seemed to get very gritty, and a field piece would be poked through an embrasure and worked rapidly for a short time. These little spurts of pluck was always the signal for a concentration of fire that never failed to drive the gun back out of sight.

The rebels tried their skill in what might be called mortar practice, and if they had known how it annoyed our boys they surely would have done more of it. They would elevate a gun back of their lines and with a light charge pitch a shell over our heads into the ravines where the men off duty were generally taking a rest. When these shell exploded high in air it was impossible to dodge the pieces. A 16th boy lying on a rubber blanket jumped up in alarm and the next instant a piece of shell struck where his body had been. The derisive utterance bold as a sheep was a common remark among the soldiers if they doubted the prowess of any one, but one day, during the seige [sic], there occurred something that placed the sheep in a more honorable light than it had heretofore had the credit of. A small flock of sheep got between the lines to the left of us, and cantered down to the right, between us and the enemy. Heralded by cheers and shots as they progressed, they passed over the ridges and out of sight without losing any of their number.

An officer belonging to some staff, picked his way up to our front line leading his horse. While talking to the soldiers the horse took fright, broke away from him, and galloped into the enemy's line.

A regiment that came up on our left rear to extend the line of investment, created an excitement in our brigade on the evening of their arrival, by snapping caps. We could not at first make out where the noise emanated from or what it meant.

The siege was pushed with vigor, caution and skill. Every morning found progress made. Our working parties had either got closer to the enemy or strengthened the old works. Head-logs were put up--notched on the under side. Through these loop-holes the boys pointed their rifles and waited for a shot. To further screen our riflemen, brush was placed over the logs. In spite of all these ingenious devises for protection, the lynx-eyed rebel sharp-shooters continued to pick off our men. When a man was shot, his gun was seldom carried back with him. These pieces were often loaded heavily and mounted on the works by some fun-loving fellows and pulled off with a string. The gun never failed to turn a back somersault or spring back lively and sometimes exploded. Occasional visitors, generally officers from military organizations in the rear, wanted a rifle to try a shot. It so chanced that a heavily loaded rifle was lying handy one day when a fellow came up and wanted to try his hand. Some wag lent him the doctored piece and quietly slid out. The gun was poked under the head-log and the spectators interested awaited developments. When the discharge, that rivaled that of a ten pounder rang out, and the fellow stepped back with an expression that partook of fright, there was more than one sunburnt face broke into a grin.

In the darkness of night the firing resembled a pyrotechnic display. The musketry had the sharp flash and snap of fire crackers, while the field guns might have been compared to huge roman candles, and the mortars sent their hissing fuses far up in the ether, where the big iron globes exploded with a flash like a sky-rocket that for a moment illuminated the landscape below. Failing to explode they descended and buried themselves in the earth with a thud.

June 2nd we received some luxuries from home consisting mainly of canned stuff and dried fruit which was gladly accepted and relished.

Reports were reaching us from the rear and it was a matter of daily talk that Gen. Joe Johnston, with a large force, was going to make an attempt to break up the seige [sic]and extricate Pemberton's army. Many deserters came out from the garrison at night and their reports were always favorable to us. Rations were scant and many men were getting worn out and sick from the exposure, perpetual vigilance, and lack of sleep.

Since the 19th of May we had changed our camp several times. When we moved it was without wagons or the usual work of staking off a camp. After the order was given we folded our pup-tents and blankets, fell into ranks and marched away to the new place, and in a short time were established.

Those that were killed were generally buried in the rear and not far from the front line. In the little nooks sheltered from the enemy's view, little hillocks of fresh earth marked the last resting place of many a valiant Federal. As the living soldier passes the grave of a comrade a shade of sadness may, for a moment, come over his feelings but is quickly dispelled as he moved on to mingle in the exciting scenes of the hour. Near by, in the bivouac, under anything that will screen them from the rays of the sun, men with cards are engaged at poker, seven-up, euchre, &c. Such pastimes as the soldier readily resorts to. Chuck-a-luck is also popular, and clusters of men are anxiously crowding each other to see the figures as the dice are thrown on the board. Other games are in vogue and now and then a little racket intrudes itself. The restraining power of the average soldier, over the inclination to violence was, ordinarily, good, but sudden gushes of anger, under extraordinary provocation, sometimes led to violence.

One warm June day, a fine looking young soldier of Co. H was seen hurrying through the bivouac. His face was covered with blood from a gash in his forehead. It seems he and a messmate had a dispute as to who should get some drinking water. Soap claimed it was the duty of the cook to provide water, while the cook claimed it was hard enough to be cook without being required to do more. In the heat of passion Soap grabbed his sabre, his opponent reached for another from a stack of guns, and struck Soap on the forehead with the hilt. Soap fell down the hillside, rolling over the pup-tent and upsetting the bean-pot of the Wapakanetta boys. The trouble lasted but a minute. Soap went to the surgeon's tent, had his head plastered up, went back to his messmates, and he and his opponent were afterwards better friends than ever. If a man blustered up and showed he was ripe for a muse his bravado was hooted down and he was generally glad to subside, and be careful in the future that he gave no more such unpopular exhibitions.

June 4th we moved camp for the last time while participating in the siege. The site was a little south of and close to the railroad. It was selected more for its safety from the rebel fire, than for beauty of location or comfort. It was in a deep ravine with steep sides, running north and south. The boys terraced the slopes for level places to sleep on. A field hospital on an elevation to the rear of us was marked by the usual red flag that floated conspicuously above it. Before we had fairly settled down in the new place we received some attention from Whistling Dick, (the rebel cannon that I have previously mentioned.) The watchful gunners had probably caught sight of the moving troop and concluded to annoy them a little. About half a dozen shell came screaming over to us as fast as the active artillerymen could load and fire. They grazed the crest of the hill, throwing showers of yellow earth over us, and bounding beyond us exploded or fell spent on the earth near the hospital. Whistling Dick was most advantageously posted and admirably worked. It commanded the river above the city as well as the country back of it. Our gunboats and land batteries had found, at serious cost, that it was a powerful antagonist. On the 28th of May it had sent a shot through the heavy iron plating of the gunboat Cincinnati over a mile away, sinking the boat.

Reinforcements far overbalancing our losses were arriving from the north. Negro troops, as fast as they could be organized and equipped for service were placed on duty. Warrenton, Milliken's Bend, and other places not liable to be attacked in force were garrisoned by black soldiers mainly. At Milliken's Bend, during the siege, the 23rd Iowa Infantry, in conjunction with some new negro regiments, sustained a fierce attack by an overwhelming body of Dick Tayler's Trans-Mississippi army, and with the aid of a gunboat gallantly repulsed them. The vigilance and energy of the besieging army continued unabated. Every night new approaches were thrown up. In some instances the enemy were forced to make counterworks to thwart our men in the new advantage gained. Huge fascines were made of the long straight cane that grow plentifully in the ravines. These bullet-proof bundles were rolled forward where the ground was favorable, and wherever they stopped, the pick and shovel were industriously applied and soon a formidable bank of earth was the result. The sleepless vigilance which our foeman were forced to observe, sent many of them to the hospitals or invalid camps back toward the river in the deep ravines.

Affairs beyond the Big Black in our rear demanded increased attention and stronger force to keep the wily and skillful Joe Johnson at bay, and prevent a serious interruption of the siege that was bound before long to decide the fate of Vicksburg.

One of the great wants of Pemberton's besieged army was percussion caps. This was not generally known to our men at that time, but subsequent writers have told the story of how, daring and ingenious rebels, at momentary hazard of their lives, with caps concealed about their persons, crept through our lines.

Our regiment received orders several times to march to Black River, but they were always countermanded. Finally, on June 8th, we moved in that direction.


Rumors from Vicksburg increased our interest in matters there, as time progressed. The cannon firing could be distinctly heard in our camps. Reports were so varied from that direction that some days we were very undecided as to what the final result would be, but somehow the feeling would work to the surface that Vicksburg and Pemberton's army would be our game before long. Johnson might augment his forces still more, but before he could raise the siege he would have to do some pretty tall fighting. The Federal force observing Johnson was a clever little army of itself. Beginning at Haine's Bluff, on the Yazoo, was the 9th corps, under Gen. John G. Parke; on their right Tuttle's Division of Sherman's 15th corps; then McArthur's Division of McPherson's 17th corps; next Osterhaus' Division of Ord's 13th corps, which held the extreme right.

Perhaps twenty-five thousand would not be too large an estimate of the effective number of the combined forces enumerated. It was commanded by Gen. W.T. Sherman.

Up to the 1st of July, the rebels east of us had felt our lines repeatedly for vulnerable points, and found them too strong to invite attack in front. To the right of our division the ferries of Black River were unguarded and invited a flank movement, but Johnson was too good a general to undertake it while Grant's veteran army was so well in hand. Had Johnson crossed below us and been defeated the pursuing forces would have crowded him into the river and everyman of his west of the Big Black, would have been captured.

July 3rd we got vague rumors from Vicksburg. There was a cessation of hostilities, and Grant and Pemberton met and talked between the lines. Terms of capitulation were partly agreed on, and the next morning, July 4th, they were completed. History has told the rest a thousand times--how the city, surrounded by vast fortifications, and garrisoned by thirty thousand men, fell into our hands. O, how we did long to be at the other end of the ten miles that separated us from the scene of a glorious ending of a desperate campaign and siege. We felt that we had a good claim for a share of the honor. We did have a sort of a jubilee and yelled a little, but before we could get reconciled to the new state of things, we got orders to be ready to move across the Big Black and go for Johnson [Gen. Joseph Johnston, C. S. A.].

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