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Second Assault On Vicksburg
May 22, 1863
by Pvt. Frank H. Mason, 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry
Web Author's Notes:
The following is a description of the second assault on the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, Mississippi, written by Pvt. Frank Mason of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry, brigaded with the 16th Ohio.

The Second Assault on Vicksburg

[regarding the two days of rest and replenishment provided to the Union troops by Grant after the first assault on May 19]
It was evident that before attacking such a position, thus defended, Grant's army must have sleep and food. Orders were given to this effect. From the new base at Haines' Bluff came trains of wagons bringing rations, clothing, soap, shoes and other luxuries to which the men had long been strangers. Empty barrels were sunk in the ground for wells, springs were sought out, and while some regiments held the advance line, others back in the ravines bathed, changed their soiled clothing, ate and slept. Two days and nights of this set the army fairly on its feet again, and on the 22d the grand final assault was ordered.

The wisdom of this attack has been seriously questioned. In view of its result, it was of course unfortunate, but it is only truth to say that the army desired it and believed that it would succeed. Gen. Grant under-estimated the strength of Pemberton by nearly ten thousand men, and he did not know, as we found to our cost, that the outer line of the enemy was commanded by a second or inner one, and that to hold a captured salient would prove more difficult and dangerous than to take it. He knew that Johnston was organizing a formidable army at Canton (Clinton?) to attack his rear; the sooner Vicksburgh were captured the sooner he could turn upon that new army and destroy it or drive it from the State.

Ten o'clock a.m., of the 22d was therefore announced as the hour for the grand assault. The artillery was to open vigorously at an early hour, breach the works if possible, and dismount such guns as were exposed through embrasures. The infantry was to advance from the nearest cover in columns of platoons, moving at quick time, with only canteens, ammunition and one days rations; not a gun was to be fired until the outer works had been stormed, and between the columns strong lines of skirmishers were to advance and scale the intervening parapets.

The momentous day came, and at dawn the artillery opened. The cannonade was terrific. Admiral Porter, with his mortar fleet and three gunboats, was playing upon the doomed city from the river. Along Grant's line, thirty field batteries blazed and roared from half-past three in the morning until ten. Under this terrific fire the sharp-shooters of the skirmish line crept forward so close that they commanded the enemy's artillery. The gunners could not expose themselves long enough to load their pieces. The watches of the officers had been set with that of Gen. Grant, and at the stroke of ten the bombardment ceased, and the assaulting columns sprang forward. There was a minute or two of ominous silence, broken only by cheers here and there, as the men climbed up out of the ravines, and rushed across the exposed ground to the ditch. Then, all in a moment, the Rebels' parapet became a fringe of gray and steel, from which streamed a livid sheet of fire. Twenty thousand foes, a double rank along the whole front of the Federal army, rose up behind that parapet, and at from ten to sixty yards poured a withering volley into the advancing columns. Field guns, double-shotted, were run out over the parapet and fired, and heavy ordnance swept the ridges with canister, raising great clouds of dust that covered the assailants as with a pall of death. Prodigies of valor were performed. In front of Carr's Division, Lawlor's Iowa men climbed over the parapet into a large lunette, but it was commanded from the interior line, and every man who entered it was shot down. Sergeant Joseph Griffith of the Twenty-Third Iowa alone survived, and came out covered with blood and dust, bringing a Rebel lieutenant and thirteen men as prisoners. Nearly every Brigade of Osterhaus' Division reached the ditch, but the double line of Rebels within killed them as fast as they could climb the parapet. In several cases they held the ditch until night, defending their lives by watching with uplifted muskets the appearance of a Rebel head, and making it a mortal peril to fire upon them.

The Forty-Second bore an interesting part in the events of that day. on the previous evening, Capt. Barber was detailed, with his Company (H) and Company E, to go at dawn the next morning, and, under cover of the artillery fire that would open at daybreak, explore the ground over which Lindsay's Brigade was to charge, clear up to the enemy's ditch. He had tried to do this the evening before, but the Rebels were too prompt, and by running out their picket line just at sunset, covered the ground upon which Capt. Barber wished to operate. Setting out the next morning, therefore, he proceeded with the two Companies--about seventy men--to the head of the ravine up which Lindsay's Brigade was to advance. When about four hundred yards of the enemy's line, the valley makes a sharp curve, and from that point the men, emerging from behind a clump of willows, were exposed to concentric fire from the works above. nevertheless, they got across safely, the bombardment restraining the fire of the enemy. Capt. Barber and his men reconnoitered the head of the ravine thoroughly, climbing up the ridges to within fifty yards of the Rebel parapet. Just as he was about to return in person to give his report to Gen. Osterhaus, Capt. Barber was shot through the right leg, the ball cutting off both bones below the knee and making immediate amputation necessary. He was taken down the hill and carried to the rear, his men, under a sergeant, holding the advanced position until the assaulting column arrived.

At ten o'clock, the Brigade, headed by the Sixteenth Ohio, moved up the valley to the assault. Rounding the clump of willows at the bottom of the ravine, the column was met by a terrific fire, but pressed on to where the shape of the ground afforded partial protection. It was arranged that the Sixteenth Ohio should mount the hill to the left at the head of the ravine, the Forty-Second should take the center, the Twenty-Second Kentucky the right, while the Forty-Fourth Indiana should act as support, and reinforce promptly whichever regiment should first cross the parapet. From the nature of the ground, the Sixteenth, as brave a Regiment as ever marched, having the shortest distance to go, reached the point of attack first. Its skirmishers quickly climbed the hill, and made a dash for the ditch. Their appearance was the signal for a terrific volley from the Confederates. The skirmish line was swept away in a moment. The head of the regiment appeared over the crest of the hill, but was literally blown back. The whole surface of the ridge up to the ditch was raked and plowed with a concentric fire of musketry and cannister at pistol range. No man, no company could live to reach the ditch. The few survivors of the skirmish line took refuge in a rugged gorge cut by the water, and held that position. They could neither advance nor retreat.

The experience of the Forty-Second was similar, except that its advance was checked by the experience of the Sixteenth. Lieut. Col. Pardee was in command, Col. Sheldon being off duty by reason of illness and his wound received at Thompson's Hill. Marching quickly across the exposed place in the valley, the Forty-Second climbed the hill, meeting just such a fire as had checked the Sixteenth. The skirmishers rushed out upon the exposed ground, but were instantly covered and hidden by the dust raised round them by the terrible rain from the enemy's artillery. It was seen in a moment that the point of attack assigned to Lindsay's Brigade was a re-entrant angle of the enemy's line, and that the head of the ravine was the focus of a converging fire from three points, armed by heavy batteries. As a result, there was no part of the enemy's ditch in that quarter which, if captured, could be held for a moment. Every part of it was enfiladed from the hostile parapet, which was too high to be climbed without bridges or scaling ladders. Col. Lindsay, up at the extreme font, saw that no column could live to reach the ditch, nor if it did reach that point, could escape. At some places in the enemy's line there were exterior angles at which the ditch offered some protection, but there was no such point in his front. He could see to the right the heroes of Carr's Division retiring from their superb assault, leaving the ground blue with the dying and dead. The parapet in Lindsay's front was manned by Wall's legion of Texas troops, one of the finest divisions in the Confederate service, and they were so massed that by exchanging places they were able to pour down a continuous fire. To push his remaining regiments into such a death-trap, to continue an assault that was already failing along the whole line, would be a needless and unsoldierly sacrifice, and the Forty-Second, after the repulse of its skirmishers, was not again ordered to attack.

The skirmishers, though losing several men, had been momentarily fortunate. The distance was so short that the canister, not having range to scatter, struck in masses, and the enemy's musketry fire was too high. In the midst of a perfect hail-storm of shot they were, for the moment, miraculously preserved. The Regiment lay down behind the crest of the ridge and awaited new orders. It held the point all day under the hot sun, keeping up a sharp fire whenever a Rebel head appeared, and meeting considerable loss.

The assault, which at several points was renewed in the afternoon, failed along the whole line. The enemy's works were of immense strength, the difficulties of approach were too great for any courage or discipline to surmount, and the garrison, if we had but known it, was almost equal in numbers to the assailants. It only remained, therefore, to hold what ground had been gained and conquer Vicksburgh by siege.

Although the losses of the National Army in the assault of the 22d of May had been fully three thousand men; though the ground between the hostile lines was left strewn with Union dead festering in the sun, the troops were neither dismayed nor discouraged. They had come to take the citadel that obstructed the freedom of the Mississippi; and if men enough could live to do it, they, like their commander, were ready to work and fight until the grand purpose was accomplished. Bringing away their wounded on the night of the 22d, the three corps settled down in that torrid climate, without adequate water, or any comfort beyond the barest necessities of existence, to a siege which lasted forty-seven days. Ground was cleared for camps as near to the front as tenable locations could be found; dwellings were dug in the hillsides and roofed with cane, and every precaution taken to promote, as far as possible, the health and comfort of the men.

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