At 10:00 a.m. the primary assault against the largest of the 14 rebel forts – The Great Redoubt - was spearheaded by John Dunlap Stevenson's 3rd Brigade, of Major General Logan's division, was lead by the 7th Missouri “Shamrock” Infantry regiment, under Captain Robert Buchanan. In the first rush up the Jackson Road, rebel fire killed and wounded so many men that 100 yards from the ditch, the regiment was effectively cut in two and forced to ground.
Urged on by Captain Buchanan, the 7th continued to advance on their hands and knees until they reached the comparative safety of the ditch. Once there it was discovered their 17 foot scaling ladders having been lowered into the 8 foot deep trench – invisible from the distance - no longer reached the crest of the redoubt. Still the 7th Missouri stayed where they were for an hour, while six color bearers, one after another, were shot trying to keep their flag flying on the slope. After suffering 272 causalities, Captain Buchanan was given permission to withdraw.
The initial reports from all three corps commanders - Sherman, McPherson and 3 miles to the south McClernand (above) – were identical: troops advancing, heavily engaged. Grant had learned to trust the accuracy of Sherman's and McPherson's reports. But as recently as the Battle of Champion Hill, McClernand had misled Grant. On 16 May, the Illinois political general had been ordered to launch his assault against the rebel left flank at 10:00 a.m. Instead, despite repeated urging from Grant, the XIII Corps did not advanced until hours later. What ever the reason for the delay, Grant had learned not to believe McClernand's situation reports.
The sole justification for the assaults of 10:00 a.m. Thursday, 22 May, 1863, had been that the defeat at Champion's Hill and the debacle of the Big Black River crossing, might have so shaken Pemberton's army, that another quick shock might cause it to shatter. That idea had to be tried. An hour later the argument had been rebuked. Grant decided that Vicksburg would not be carried in a classic Napoleonic sweeping charge, with flags flying forward and bayonets fixed. Instead Grant was ready to shift to a methodical siege. But his troublesome child, Major General John Alexander McClernand was essentially trying to manipulate Grant into expending the lives of his soldiers.
At 10:30 a.m., McClernand reported, “I am hotly engaged, If McPherson were to attack it would make a diversion”, Grant rode rode down the line far enough to visually confirm that McClernand's troops were actually attacking. But after observing the smoke and gunfire, he sent a message advising McClernand to draw upon his own corps before asking for reinforcements from others. Then Grant returned to Sherman's Corps.
Just before noon, McClernand issued another situation report, but this one phrased so as to put additional pressure on Grant. Ever the politician, McClernand's missive read, “We have possession of 2 forts and the stars and stripes are flying over them. A vigorous push should be made all along the line.”
The two forts McClernand was referring to were the The Railroad Redoubt and to the north, the smaller half moon shaped Texas Lunette. Both were open to their rear, and from trench lines Confederates were pouring fire into the interior of both forts, preventing any Yankees from entering them. Union flags had been planted on their forward slopes, and a hand full of brave men had perched at the lip of those fortifications. But federal troops did not possess either fort. Once again McClernand was misleading Grant. And Grant sensed it.
Looking for support of his skepticism, Grant (above) handed the note to Sherman. After reading it, the red head mused that McClernand wouldn't make up “a thing like that.” Then Sherman offered to make an additional attack on the Stockade Redoubt. Grant recognized the sacrifice Sherman was asking his soldiers to make, and reluctantly granted McClernand's request. It would take time to move Sherman's reserves into position, and it would take even more time for McPherson's men to change their direction of attack to support McClernand against the Texas Lunette. Against his better judgment Grant ordered all 3 of his corps to launch another assault at 2:00 p.m.
For this second assault against the Stockade Redoubt, Sherman sent the 2nd Brigade of McArthur's division under the soft spoken 29 year old railroad engineer, Brigadier General Thomas Edwin Greenefield Ransom (above) . His father had been a hero of the Mexican War, killed at Chapultepec when Thomas was just 14. Quite spoken in private, in combat E.G. Ransom was,"rash”, and had already been shot 3 times in this war, most recently a head wound at Shiloh. McClernand had seen him there, "...reeling in the saddle, and streaming with blood....” while preforming “prodigies of valor." Sherman was more prosaic, calling Ransom, “...one of the best officers in the service; been shot to pieces, but it doesn’t hurt him.”
This attack was spearheaded by the 300 men of the 72nd Illinois, aka 'The First Chicago Board of Trade Regiment,' led by the popular , fiercely antislavery 42 year old Lieutenant Colonel Joseph C. Wright. At the stroke of 2:00 p.m, according to the second in command Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Stockton, “the word came to ‘go!' Up we started and rushed ahead with a yell, and were greeted with a most murderous volley”.
As man after man fell in crumpled bloodied forms, the 72nd swept forward, into and up from the ditch, to within 15 feet of the crest of the rebel redoubt. The regimental colors were planted on the slope, “but we could not go forward,” said Stockton, “the fire was too severe, men could not live; we laid down and only the wounded fell back, while shot and shell from the right and left and our own batteries in the rear, whose shell fell short, did terrific work. Men fell ‘like leaves in wintry weather.’”
Colonel Wright was urging his men on when a piece of lead tore into the elbow of his sword arm, shattering the bones. He fell, and the heart went out of the 72nd. Colonel Stockton assumed command. By 2:20 p.m., the regiment had suffered 20 dead, 71 wounded and 5 missing – one quarter of their strength. Along with the 72nd, the assault had included the 11th Illinois – 3 killed, 30 wounded and 9 missing – the 95th Illinois – 18 killed, 83 wounded and 8 missing - the 14th Wisconsin – 14 killed, 79 wounded and 4 missing, and the 17th Wisconsin - 2 killed, 12 wounded and 6 missing. Ramsom's brigade had suffered 360 causalities, almost 60 men killed outright, in just 20 minutes of combat.
Lieutenant Colonel Wright would be carried to the rear, and treated by doctors, who quickly amputated his right arm to prevent blood infection. Recovering from the shock within 2 days, Wright regained his spirits and reminded a reporter he could still command. “I have one arm left,” he said, “with which I can guide my horse. The carrying of a sword is only for effect, anyhow.” Two weeks later he left Mississippi by boat and then by train for home. But once back in Chicago the stump of his arm became infected, until he was beset by delusional fevers. With his wife and 2 children at his bedside, Joseph C. Wright died on the morning of 6 July, 1863. One more causality in the war required to defeat slavery.