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Second Assault On Vicksburg
May 22, 1863
by Violet Snow
Web Author's Notes:
The following excerpt is another interesting description of Grant's second assault on Vicksburg written by Violet Snow, a freelance journalist, and obtained from the Opinionator blog of the New York Times. Journalist Snow is the great-great granddaughter of William Morgan Davies, a private in the 95th Ohio Infantry, and some information in her writing comes from Pvt. Davies who was present during the assaults and siege of Vicksburg and was later captured and sent to Andersonville Prison. Snow includes additional quotes from Ephraim McDowell Anderson, a corporal in the Confederate First Missouri Brigade.

The Second Assault on Vicksburg

Both armies spent the next two days reinforcing their positions, the Federals establishing their artillery while the Confederates enhanced the fortifications, all the while trading gunshots. Davies noted:

A portion of the Regt was engaged in firing from behind logs… I saw men picked off by the Rebel sharpshooters many of them.

Grant was determined to try again. He knew troops under the Confederate general Joseph Johnston were somewhere to his rear, possibly obtaining reinforcements to bring to the relief of Vicksburg. If the Union forces could capture the city immediately, Grant would not need reinforcements himself, and he could turn around and mop up Johnston's command. But even more important was his troops' expectation that they could take the city. They had to try one more time, he felt, or they would be unwilling to settle in to the tedium of a long siege.

The second assault began at 10 a.m. on May 22, and is believed to be the first battle ever initiated by reference to synchronized watches. In the din of a preliminary bombardment from ships on the river, the generals would not have been able to hear the usual starting signal, a series of cannon volleys.

Once again, the Confederates easily defended their ramparts. As the battle proceeded, Anderson saw a group of Yankees reach a ditch immediately in front of a parapet and plant a flag, which the rebels promptly seized. Many of the Union soldiers were shot, but some of them huddled beneath the parapet, which protected them from gunfire. They remained there till nightfall, when the sound of approaching rebel soldiers sent them running back to their lines.

In midafternoon, when the fighting had died down, Grant received a message from General McClernand saying his men had succeeded in planting the Union colors on a rampart, and he believed that, with help from other divisions, he could overrun the fortification. Grant, who distrusted McClernand, hesitated to comply, but Sherman insisted that the report should be credited and offered to make another attack.

Davies, who was once again positioned away from the front line, remarked, a diversion was made by Sherman in favour of General MacClernand who had gained some advantage. … This was a useless charge. Great many men killed and wounded … this day's attempt ended similar to the 19th. The natural difficulties was too great and the Rebels stood to their post bravely.

After each of the assaults, the Yankees collected their dead and wounded under cover of darkness, but there were some men lying too close to the fortifications to be reached by their compatriots without getting shot. Grant, not wishing to appear weak, refused to request an armistice to gather in the bodies. Anderson blamed him for the suffering of a man lying near the parapet, who could be seen raising and lowering his arms and legs at intervals for two days, until he died. Anderson also wrote that some Union wounded were taken into the Rebel hospital and treated with the care that we would give our own men.

By May 25, the corpses were reeking, and the Confederate general John C. Pemberton demanded an armistice for the burial of the Union dead. Anderson's description is poignant:

The enemy came forward with shovels and spade and covered most of the bodies where they lay, by simply throwing a bank of dirt over them; I observed two men carried back into their lines, that still had life in them. All the soldiers came out of their works and hiding-places, and gave us a good opportunity to look at them. Many gibes and cuts were exchanged between the lines … I saw a young soldier of our command meet a brother, on half-way ground, from the Federal lines, where they sat upon a log and conversed with one another until the armistice was over. During the time, we received some papers from the Federals, and several of the boys exchanged tobacco for coffee with them. The dead being buried, in an instant every one on both sides disappeared, and where the breastworks a moment before were alive with men, nothing could now be seen but white puffs of smoke, the blaze of artillery, the flash of musketry, the glitter of bayonets and flags drooping upon their standards in the calm, serene atmosphere.

Davies, in his terse style, accounts for this episode with a single sentence: A flag of truce was granted to the Federals to bury their dead them that was killed in the late fighting.

Grant's memoir does not mention the incident at all.

Having incurred 4,141 casualties in four days, Grant now resigned himself to a siege and set his men to digging trenches and building breastworks that would allow them to fire on the fortifications at close range while protected by earth.

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