American History Stories—Volume IV - Mara L. Pratt

Siege of Vicksburg.

Now that the North had come out fairly, and had, by freeing the slaves, declared one grand principle of Right, we might well expect success to be found on their side; for although it doesn't always look so to us, Good does govern, and it gains the victory in the end. In any struggle the man or woman, boy or girl, who knows that his side is the right side, will feel more courage to go on, more surety of success.

And now we shall begin to hear more about Gen. Grant.

Grant's soldier's were mostly men from States up and down the Mississippi. Now, this river, they said, belonged to them. To shut it up, to cut off their trade, would ruin their part of the country; their farms would be of no value, their flocks and herds, their manufactories would be of no value, all because there would be no way of sending their produce to other markets.

"We will fight for this river," said they, "till our blood flows with it; to the Gulf of Mexico!"

New Orleans you know, had already been taken by Farragut and Butler. Not far from New Orleans, up the river, was the city of Vicksburg. This was held by the Confederates, and was said to be so strongly fortified that no army in the world could take it from them.

[Illustration] from American History Stories - IV by Mara L. Pratt


"But it must be taken," said Grant. "Holding New Orleans is of no use, if the Confederates just above can keep us from going up and down the river."

"But Farragut and Porter tried to take it after New Orleans; didn't they batter away at it with cannon ball and bomb-shell until they were tired out?" said the doubting ones.

"That makes no difference," said Grant and his men; "Vicksburg must be taken!" The city was built on high bluffs which rose straight up from the low flat river bed. All around it were swampy lands, with creeks and little bays, and muddy places where a man would sink in mud over his head; more than this, there were dense tangled forests of hanging moss and brush, with every where fallen trees lying across each other in a way to make it seem almost impossible for an army to get across.

But Grant, only knew one thing—that the Unionists needed to hold that city. He didn't say very much—Grant never did say very much—but he could think, and think, and think; and after Grant had thought, there was pretty sure to be something done.

The year before, when Farragut had tried to take the city, he had begun cutting a canal through towards it. If this canal could now be finished, ships and gunboats could get around behind the city, and so attack it from the rear.

The soldiers began working at this canal. For several days the work went on, the courage of the workmen rising with every spadeful of earth they threw up; but one day, the ungrateful river, which they were working so hard to save from Confederate hands, overflowed, and away went the banks of the canal, the workmen themselves having to run for their lives.

"The good old river will protect us," said the Vicksburg people; but I'm afraid the river neither knew nor cared very much about either Unionists or Confederates; for it seemed always ready to cut its pranks and capers, first on one side, then on the other.

After this, Grant gave up the canal plan. He had another however, and began at once to carry it out. Marching towards the city to attack it from the rear, he learned that a Confederate force was behind him.

"I leave no enemy in the rear," said Grant. "I do not propose to be shut in here like a rat in a trap," said he; so back he marched, to attack the enemy in the rear. The enemy, however, knew too well they could not withstand an attack, so they fled. The Union soldiers ran up the Union flag on the state-house of the city which the Confederates left, sang a good old battle-song, and then marched back again to meet the enemy coming from the opposite direction.

Half-way between Jackson and Vicksburg, the armies met in battle. The Confederates, driven back into the city, shut themselves up, and waited to see what Grant would do.

Grant made one attack on the city, but it was useless. Now if that other army did not come and attack them, Grant was sure that he could in time starve out the city. So he settled his army round about, and the whizzing of bombs and shells into the city was the only sign of war.

Inside the city the people had dug caves, and had taken their food and furniture into them, that they might be safe from the shells.

In time, however, provisions began to grow scarce. The people had already begun to eat horses, and rats even. Their only hope was that some Confederate force would come and attack Grant. Grant's only hope was that some Confederate force would not come to attack him.

No force came; and in July a white flag was seen floating from the walls of the city. This of course meant, "We can hold out no longer."

On the Fourth of July, the Confederate army marched out, each man throwing down his gun and knapsack as he passed. The Union soldiers stood quietly by as the beaten army passed; but when later they marched into the city, and ran up the Union flag, then cheer on cheer rent the air. This was the happiest "Fourth" the country had seen for a long time.

All this time Gen. Banks had been besieging Port Hudson, just below Vicksburg. But as soon as word came that Vicksburg had surrendered, the commander within Port Hudson knew that all was over. He, too, surrendered; and now the Mississippi was free from its source to its mouth. Every point was in the hands of Union soldiers; and from every fort and from every city floated the Union flag.