Inside the Louisiana Redan, 26 year old Sergeant William Henry Tunard, of “K” company – the Pelican Rifles – of the 3rd Louisiana Tigers was keeping a diary. And on Monday, 25 May, 1863, he recorded that it was “Another clear and hot day...In the afternoon a flag of truce was sent into the lines, requesting a cessation of hostilities for the purpose of burying the dead. The effluvia from the putrefying bodies had become almost unbearable to friend an foe, and the request was granted, to continue for three hours.”
The bodies had lain in the Mississippi heat and humidity for 3 days. Any truce to remove the dead would involve burial parties from both sides. And that would have provided the rebels with a better view of Grant's army - after throwing themselves against the rebel forts now reduced to barely 40,000 men. The need to keep his weaknesses from prying rebel eyes drove Grant to refuse earlier offers from local rebel commanders. Only when the First Parallel of Yankee fortifications had been completed, did Grant request a cease fire. By then any wounded who could not crawl to safety, had long since succumbed.
During the following week, the citizens of Vicksburg felt the Union hold on their city grow subtly tighter. That week General Pemberton cut the soldiers rations in half. On 28 May, Dora Richards recorded that she had heard that “expert swimmers were crossing the Mississippi on logs to communicate with the outside world. But she did not bother to record the news, if there was any. Her concerns like those of all prisoners, had shrunk to her immediate surroundings. She noted, “I am so tired of corn-bread...that I eat it with tears in my eyes. We are lucky to get a quart of milk daily from a family near who have a cow they hourly expect to be killed.”
Every morning Dora handed $5 to her slave cook Martha, before sending her to find a food. Hours later the terrified woman would return with a shrinking piece of mule of horse meat for Dora's husband. Being Yankee sympathizers, the couple had few friends they could ask for help. “The shells seem to have many different names,” noted Dora.” I hear the soldiers say, “That’s a mortar shell. There goes a Parrot. That’s a rifle shell.” They are all equally terrible.”
The Richards were one of the shrinking number of residents who chose to remain above ground in their rented home. One night, as Dora's husband was watching the glowing fuses of shells falling on the city, he suddenly shouted, “Run!” “I started through the back room”, wrote Dora, “...when the crash came that threw me to the floor. It was the most appalling sensation I’d ever known. … Shaken and deafened, I picked myself up....we found the entire side of the room torn out.”
Dora and her little family kept a private cistern for water. A second they surrendered to soldiers, “My heart bleeds for them. They have nothing but spoiled, greasy bacon, and bread made of musty pea flour, and but little of that. The sick ones can’t bolt it. They come into the kitchen when Martha puts the pan of cornbread in the stove, and beg for the bowl she mixes it in....they look so ashamed of their poor clothes. I know we saved the lives of two by giving a few meals…”
Looters set a fire in Vicksburg's business district, to cover their crimes. Edward Sanford Gregory, a 20 year old resident, watched as the flames went out of control. “There was nothing to do except to remove the articles of value from the houses within its range. A great crowd collected, notwithstanding the concentration of the mortar fire; and yet there were no remembered casualties. The whole block was burned, of course; and the wonder is, only one.”
Then on at Midnight on Sunday, 30 May, 1863 the nature of the siege abruptly changed. Privileged daughter of the Confederacy, Emma Balfour (above), recorded the event. “At (midnight)... the guns all along the lines opened and the parrot shells flew as thick as hail around us!”
Emma in a lived in a mansion (above) at the corner of Crawford and Adam's streets, atop Vicksburg's highest ridge line, with her husband, physician and plantation and slave owner, Dr. William Balfour. The couple had hosted the Christmas eve ball in their residence. As befitting their social status, they had refused to occupy one of the 500 caves carved out of the loam, and were lying in their 2nd floor beds when the general bombardment suddenly commenced.
“We came down in the sitting room,” Emma wrote, “...we remained there till a shell struck in the garden against a tree...We got thoroughly worn out and disheartened and after looking to see the damage, went into the parlor and lay on the sofas there until morning, feeling that at any moment a mortar shell might crash through the roof....”
The Balfour's mansion stood next door to the Willis home (above), taken over by General Pemberton as his headquarters. Looking out at her neighbor's home Emma noted, “People were running in every direction to find a place of safety. The shells fell literally like hail. Mrs. Willis’ House was struck twice and two horses in front of her door were killed. General Pemberton and his staff had to quit it.”
The shelling held Mrs. Balfour in dreadful fascination. The shells, she wrote, “...came rushing down like some infernal demon, seemed to me to be coming exactly on me...They come gradually making their way higher and higher, tracked by their firing fuse till they reach their greatest altitude—then with a rush and whiz they come down furiously...
"Then lookout, for if they explode before reaching the ground which they generally do, the pieces fly in all directions—the very least of which will kill one and most of them of sufficient weight to team through a house from top to bottom! The parrot shells come directly so one can feel somewhat protected from them by getting under a wall, but when both come at once and so fast that one has not time to see where one shell is going before another comes—it wears one out.”
Come the dawn, the artillery continued their heavy work. And under their cover the sap lines began reaching out from the First Parallel for the rebel forts. John Alexander McClernand (above), being a natural born politician and a Major General by convenience, could not let lose the opportunity to raise the moral of his XIII Corps soldiers with a message he titled General Order 72. It was not an order. It was a prolonged pretentious platitudinous palaver filled promulgation of meadow muffins. As political speak it was harmless enough. As a military order it was suicide.
It began, “Comrades, As your commander, I am proud to congratulate you upon your constancy, valor, and successes. History affords no more brilliant example of soldierly qualities. Your victories have followed in such rapid succession that their echoes have not yet reached the country. They will challenge its grateful and enthusiastic applause. Yourselves striking out a new path, your comrades of the Army of the Tennessee followed, and a way was thus opened for them to redeem previous disappointments.”
The rest of the Army of the Tennessee followed the path blazed by the XIII Corps? What about Chickasaw Bayou? Where was the XIII Corps at Chickasaw Bayou? And where was the XIII Corps for four hours at Champion's Hill? Beyond that, a reasonable argument could be made that the bloodletting of 22 May had been brought on by the delay of XIII Corps in destroying the rebel left at Champion's Hill. And half of the horror of that day, caused by McClernand's childish seeking of glory.
Continued General McClernand's praise for his men, “...you were the first to...plant our colors in the State of Mississippi....you came up to the enemy near Port Gibson...by vigorously pressing him at all points drove him from his position, taking a large number of prisoners and small arms and five pieces of cannon. General Logan’s DIVISION came up in time to gallantly share in consummating the most valuable victory won since the capture of Fort Donelson.”
According to the verbose Major General, the victories at Raymond and Jackson were the result of the heroic actions of the XIII corps, with a little help from the rest of the army. And at Champion's Hill? Said McClernand, “... after a sanguinary and obstinate battle, with the assistance of General McPherson’s corps, beat and routed him, taking many prisoners and small arms and several pieces of cannon.” With the assistance of XVII Corps? In fact the attack failed to obliterate the rebel army because XIII Corps delayed their assault for 3 to 4 hours.
The boast too far was yet to come, but McClernand made it in the very next paragraph. “On the 22nd... you assaulted the enemy’s defenses in front at 10 a. m., and within thirty minutes had made a lodgement and planted your colors upon two of his bastions....only gained by a bloody and protracted struggle....the largest success achieved anywhere along the whole line of our army. For nearly eight hours, under a scorching sun and destructive fire, you firmly held your footing...
"How and why the general assault failed, it would be useless now to explain. The Thirteenth Army Corps, acknowledging the good intentions of all, would scorn indulgence in weak regrets and idle recriminations. According justice to all, it would only defend itself. If, while the enemy was massing to crush it, assistance was asked for by a diversion at other points, or by re-enforcement, it only asked what in one case Major-General Grant had specifically and peremptorily ordered, namely, simultaneous and persistent attack all along our lines until the enemy’s outer works should be carried, and what, in the other, by massing a strong force in time upon a weakened point, would have probably insured success.”
And there it was. The attack on 22 May had failed because General Grant (above) had delayed in supporting McClernand's assaults. McClernand had not actually said that, but he implied it. And in politics, implication is conviction. And what was the effect of Grant's lack of support for the brave and noble soldiers of McClenand's XIII Corps? “The enemy’s odious defenses still block your access to Vicksburg. Treason still rules that rebellious city, and closes the Mississippi River against rightful use by the Illinois who inhabit its sources and the great Northwest. "
And then he signed the knife sticking out of Grant's back, just in case anyone doubted who had placed it there - Abraham Lincoln's good friend, "JOHN A. McClernand, Major-General, Commanding. (above)”