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First Assault On Vicksburg
May 19, 1863
as described by John C. Pemberton III
Web Author's Notes:
The following is an interesting description of Grant's first assault on Vicksburg written by the grandson of Confederate General John Clifford Pemberton, John C. Pemberton III, in his book Pemberton: Defender of Vicksburg, published in 1942.

The First Assault on Vicksburg

At 2:00 P.M. on May 19 Grant made his first assault on Pemberton's lines, advancing in a straightforward fashion along the main roads, 'the natural avenues of approach.' This time, however, as Grant's troops struck the main line of Pemberton's defense, it was to be no run-over affair. There were two bloody assaults -- and two bloody repulses. The Union advance had re-acquired the disadvantages of a frontal attack. Until now Grant had benefited from three distinct advantages: from the element of surprise and uncertainty, from a divided command among the Confederates, and from the dislocating effect of being on the Confederates' rear and hence across their communications with their base at Vicksburg. Now the strategic situation was far different. As another has so wisely pointed out, 'Like snow which is squeezed into a snowball, direct pressure has always the tendency to harden and consolidate the resistance of an opponent, and the more compact it becomes the slower it is to melt.

The charges of the Federals had come on in four lines. Mainly they had been directed against Smith's division, but part of the brunt had been borne by the Sixth Missouri of Bowen's command. It is true, some of the attackers got so close that grape and canister were substituted for shell in the Confederate guns and several Union flags were actually planted on the face of the works. But the final results was a severe repulse and the loss of two stand of colors. Grant's account of these happenings is brief and inadequate: 'The enemy had been much demoralized by his defeats at Champion's Hill and the Big Black,' he relates, and then explains: 'I believed he would not make much effort to hold Vicksburg. Accordingly at two o'clock I ordered an assault. It resulted in securing more advanced positions for all our troops where they were fully covered from the fire of the enemy.' On the other hand, Sherman's statement is franker in admission of rebuff. He states: 'Our lines connected, and invested about three-quarters of the land-front of the fortifications of Vicksburg. On the supposition that the garrison of Vicksburg was demoralized by the defeats at Champion Hills and at the railroad crossing of the Big Black, General Grant ordered an assault at our respective fronts on the 19th. My troops reached the top of the parapet, but could not cross over. The rebel parapets were strongly manned, and the enemy fought hard and well. My loss was pretty heavy, falling chiefly on the Thirteenth Regulars, whose commanding officer, Captain Washington, was killed, and several other regiments were pretty badly cut up.

The assaults of the nineteenth finally ended, Pemberton dispatched a courier to the President with this telegram: 'We are occupying the trenches around Vicksburg. The enemy is investing it, and will probably attempt an assault. Our men have considerably recovered their morale, but unless a large force is sent at once to relieve it, Vicksburg before long must fall. I have used every effort to prevent all this, but in vain.

Twenty days since his crossing of the Mississippi, one hundred and eighty miles of marching done, five battles fought and won, found Grant 'in continuous line from the Walnut Hills to a considerable distance below the Baldwin's Ferry Road, communication with the fleet opened on the Yazoo, and a base of supplies established on its bluffs; a base with no long line to protect.'

'Pemberton was now completely surrounded. Porter's fleet commanded the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers. The corps of Sherman, McPherson and McClernand from right to left closed the avenue of escape to the east and south.' But Pemberton did not know it, nor did Davis, Johnston--or Lee. The Union had forged one more link in a chain of events all pointing in the same direction. Johnston held the only key to relief, if he would but use it.

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