It's unlikely the Jo Davis county courthouse (above) had ever heard a more rousing speech. And the speaker, handsome and profane lawyer, John Aron Rawlins, brought the crowd to its feet with an appeal for the “God of battles to aid the great cause of the North”. Immediately volunteers lined up to sign up. It was Thursday evening, 18 April, 1861. Just 48 hours earlier President Lincoln's call for 75,000 volunteers to defend the union had reached the lead mining boom town of Galena, Illinois.
It was a busy place in the 19th century. Every day 6 – 700 people arrived on the banks of the Fever River by boat, stagecoach or railroad. Most quickly moved on, but enough stayed for the town to boast the largest hotel west of Chicago - the 240 room DeSoto House (above) . It also supported 2 daily newspapers, a dozen mills, 7 breweries and 3 leather shops, including Grant and Perkin's of St. Louis, owned by Jesse Root Grant.
The Galena store (above) had been run for several years by Jesse's middle son, Samuel Simpson Grant, with his younger brother Orville. Samuel's elder brother, Ulysses, had arrived in Galena just the year before, broke and forced to return to the family business he had abandoned for West Point.
In fact, Ulysses (above) had been asked to chair the April courthouse meeting by dint of his experience in the Mexican War. Few outside the army knew that he had been forced to resign his commission because of excessive drinking. But now the teetotaler clerk Ulysses Grant struck up a friendship with the well spoken teetotaler lawyer, John Rawlings.
While Grant was easy going, the charismatic Rawlings had, in the words of one biographer, “Austere habits, severe morals, aggressive temper, inflexible will, resolution and courage.” Both men were Douglas Democrats, opposing the rebellious south without opposing slavery. And both men had loved ones who were being consumed from the inside by the Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Both wife Emily Rawlings and brother Samuel Grant would tragically die in September of 1861, freeing Grant from a life dependent on animal hides, and allowing Rawlings to run away to join Grant's military staff.
Grant's new purpose was to save the Union of the states, and Rawlings' was to save Grant. In the invasion of Mississippi, Rawlings gained a powerful ally in Julia Grant (above) and their son Jesse Root, who traveled with the general, even behind enemy lines. Ulysses never drank around Julia.
That left Rawlings,(above) as Grant's defacto Chief-of-Staff, to protect the general from political threats, like John McClernand. Grant referred to John Rawlings as the one indispensable man – including himself - in the army. Without his friend, General Grant would not have been half as effective a commander.
Grant's other ally in the investment of Vicksburg was a 330 year old orphan from Burgundy, France, named Sebastien Le Prestre de Vauban (above) – pronounced “vobah”. During the last half of the 17th century, as a favorite of the spendthrift Sun King, Louis XIV of France, Vauban built 150 fortresses across France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Italy, and captured half as many. It was said, "Whatever he invested, fell; whatever he defended, held.”
And his book, “On Siege and Fortification”, written in 1706, made the Marquis de Vauban the most famous military engineer of the gunpowder age. He died a year later in Paris suffering from “an inflammation of the lungs” - probably tuberculosis. His heart now rests in Paris, a few feet from the sarcophagus of his greatest admirer, Napoleon Bonaparte.
Vobahn invented the socket bayonet which fit over the end of all Yankee and rebel rifles, combining musketeer and pike man. The redoubt, the redan and the lenette were all Vauban's inventions. And he created the "Méthode” for destroying and capturing them all. First, just beyond the range of the defender's artillery, the besieging army would create parallel fortifications – known as the First Parallel. This would prevent the defenders from surprise charges out of their forts to disrupt the attacking forces. And it ensured the enemy could no longer be supplied with food or ammunition.
Engineers would then dig a series of zig-zag trenches, called “saps”, toward the enemy lines. The switch backs would prevent the defenders from firing down the entire length of any approach – what was called enfilading fire. Once within artillery range, the engineers – now referred to as “sappers” - would create The Second Parallel to protect the construction of advanced artillery batteries.
From these gunners and snipers would harass the enemy while “sappers” pushed ever closer to their forts. Occasionally a Third or even a Fourth Parallel might be required. But once the defender's artillery was suppressed, infantry would burst from the sap to breach the weakened redans and redoubts.
And the truth was, Grant's Army of the Tennessee did not have enough men for an effective siege of Vicksburg. Admiral Porter could relied upon to blockade the river side of the town, preventing supplies from crossing the Mississippi. But Grant's 35,000 troops could not extend their trenches 6 miles to effectively blockade the southern end of the rebel line around Vicksburg. And then there was the problem of Joe Johnston, gathering troops just 50 miles to the west in Jackson.
Still, just two eventful years after his Galena speech, and 3 days after the disastrous assaults of 22 May, on Monday, 25 May, 1863, 32 year old Lieutenant Colonel John Aron Rawlins issued Special Order Number 140. It read in full, “Corps commanders will immediately commence work at reducing the enemy by regular approaches.
"It is desirable that no more loss of life be sustained in the reduction of Vicksburg and the capture of the garrison. Every advantage will be taken of the natural inequities of the ground to gain positions from which to start mines, trenches or advance batteries.
"The work will be under the immediate charge of the Corps engineers, Corps Commanders being responsible that the work in their immediate front is pushed with all vigor. Captain F.E. Prime, Chief Engineer of the department, will have general superintendence of the entire work. He will be obeyed and respected accordingly. By order of Major General U.S. Grant. Signed, John A, Rawlings, Assistant Adjutant-General."
But if the siege of Vicksburg was going to succeed, it was clear to everybody – Grant, Rawlings, Pemberton, Joe Johnston, Abraham Lincoln and even Jefferson Davis – that the Yankees were going to need to find more men from someplace. And soon.