JULY 2018

JULY 2018
One Hundred Years Later, Same Message. 1916 - 2017

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

VICKSBURG Chapter Sixty - Nine

Consciousness slowly returned to 22 year old Corporal William Archinal, of company “I” of the Ohio Volunteers. He had been lying dead to the world on the slope of the Stockade Redoubt since 10:15 that morning, when the Forlorn Hope had made their sacrificial charge. First returned the smell of the soft Vicksburg loam. Then came the deep ringing, like the cathedral bells of his Childhood in Frankfort am Main. Then came the red pain. His head hurt like hell. After a few long moments he heard a distant whine and chip, clip, chip. 
He wiped the brown earth from his eyes. Unfocused, he saw only the black gnarled pattern of of oak wood. And then he realized he was hearing the whine and snap of bullets and shrapnel cutting into the log. And abruptly William remembered where he was. The log. It was inches above his head. He had been in the lead, carrying it across the open ground. The shelling. The noise. The scream of the man behind him. The sudden shift in weight throwing him off balance, stumbling, throwing him forward. The ground suddenly falling away from his feet. The Forlorn Hope. Where the hell was he?
The butt of the fat 8 foot log had settled into the ditch, it's nose jammed into the slope of the Redoubt. William Archinal was lying face down in the dirt, the log inches above his head and the barrage of bullets. William realized the firing was coming from the Union lines. His lines. Friendly fire or unfriendly fire, he would be just as dead if it hit him. William struggled to wedge himself closer to heavy scent of the black oak, the musket slung across his back a burden that seem intent on holding him back. He felt the urgent need to get rid of it. But he dare not raise his head. Turning his face to breath in clean air, he saw blood on his hand.
As William slid his fingers to his forehead, he felt a stab of pain. Pushing through it, he felt the soft edges of a sticky wound. He could only think that when he had been flung across the ditch his head had hit a rock. That explained the head ache. His entire body ached. He could still taste the dirt on his lips. The ringing continued in his ears. But he was alive. And for the time being he was relatively safe. William wiggled himself into the dirt like a turtle hiding himself in the mud. Then he closed his eyes. He forced himself to relax. He forced himself to imagine the grey Fulda river and the silent forests of Hessen. And to wait for night fall.
Passing in and out of consciousness, Corporal William Archinal spent that endless, hot sticky Friday afternoon of 22 May, 1863, flat on his stomach beneath the log which was supposed to been a bridge. Finally, the sun began to soften. The shooting slowed and then stopped. He knew should have waited until it was fully dark, but he felt the urgent need to move. His mouth was dry as dust. And he had to piss. He might have just soiled himself, but he also worried that if he passed out again, he would not wake up until morning. And then he really would be a dead man.
William shimmied out from under the log. He held his breath. Then he flopped onto his back and waited for a response from the enemy. He had to get back to his own lines. He had to get help. He tried to stand but the musket strapped across his back made it hard to bend. So he rolled onto his side and unbuttoned the fly of his trousers. His urine made a soft, almost soundless impact on the soil. The relief was heaven for a moment. Then, buttoning up his trousers, William jammed his heels into the loam, allowing the slope to help him stand. And as he did he heard a voice close behind him. “If your finished pissing on Mississippi, Yank, you better just come on up here. We'll give you something to refill yourself, so you can do it again.”
A half dozen rifles were pointed at him. Another Johnny Reb said coldly, “Don't run, Yank. We'll cut you in half.” Deciding surrender was the better part of valor, William Archinal raised his hands and clambered up the slope, arms reaching out to help him to the top while relieving him of his musket and bayonet. They also removed his cartridge case, and rummaged through his pockets, taking all his ammunition and anything else of value. Then they offered him a canteen of warm water, which he almost emptied. Then they pushed him firmly down a ladder and into the fort.
Once inside, the rebels tied the corporal's hands behind his back. Immediately a strong hand clapped him on the shoulder, and William was abruptly faced by a smiling Confederate Colonel with a trim goatee – the commander of the 31st Mississippi regiment, 39 year old Colonel William Wallace Witherspoon. Out of habit Archinal came - as best he could – to attention and avoided the Colonel's eyes. Officers were mysterious creatures, even rebel officers, and you could never tell how they were going to react.
As if greeting an old comrade, the jovial enemy colonel asked, “Well, young man, weren’t you fellows all drunk when you started out this morning?” The Reb soldiers smiled shyly and looked at their shoes. William's wearied senses picked up again. As if on parade, he answered firmly, “‘No, Sir.” The rebel colonel insisted, “Well, they gave you some whiskey before you started, didn’t they?” The smiles on the gray clad enlisted men grew broader. The only thing Archinal was certain of was that he was not in on this rebel joke. He chose the truth and the safe response. ‘No Sir,” William said, “that plan is not practiced in our army.'”
The colonel leaned in close to William's face and spoke in a whisper. “Didn’t you know it was certain death?” he asked. The whiskey wafting off the Colonel's breath drove the Yankee to lean back slightly. It was the whiskey that spurred William to his impudent response. “Well, I don't know”, he said, as if talking to just another soldier. “I am still living.”
That set the Colonel back on his heels for a moment. Under the officer's stern gaze William regretted his words. This officer might have him shot right now. The men surrounding him had been killing Yankees all day. One more was unlikely to bother them. And while looking for a clue as to his fate in the Colonel's eyes, William realized they were perfectly clear. The man might smell of whiskey, but his eyes were sharp and judgmental After a pause, the Colonel bitterly replied, “Yes. You are living. But I can assure you that very few of your comrades are.” The colonel then ordered two of the soldiers to take William to jail, and then dismissed them all with a turn on his heel, and stalked away to deal with that ever problems an officer dealt with.
To his surprise, William was offended by the order. He had never been in jail before. And he felt treating a soldier like a criminal was a sign of disrespect. His guards did their best to get a rise out of him as they marched him up hill, past a cemetery and into the town. But Williams ignored them. By the number of partially repaired damaged buildings it was obvious the town had been shelled for some time. There were few civilians, black and white, on the darkening streets. They all carried bags and satchels. It was unclear where each was going, but they seemed to be in a hurry.
In the ravines between the terraced streets, Williams saw more civilians, women and children mostly, reading or talking, sitting on chairs and chaises around dining tables, children playing or napping at their feet, as if each tableau had been lifted from one of the fine homes standing unprotected atop the ridges. Every time the dull thud of a mortar bellowed from one of the gun boats in the river, the civilians would scurry back into the caves, or make themselves as small as possible against the buildings on the east side of the streets. William had a momentary pang of sympathy for young women he saw. Their faces and hands were soiled, the hems of their dresses tattered. He tried to image them at a gay ball, twirling to a minute. But then he pushed that out of his mind and concentrated on the terraced street grid, thinking that in some way it might be of use should he later escape.
They reached the highest ridge and began to steeply descend, street by street, toward the river. Then 3 blocks short of the muddy banks they approached an official looking structure surrounded by a 10 foot high wall. The sign arched over the narrow door read “Warren County Jail” (above).  Across a small interior courtyard rose a 2 story brick building with a slate roof. Inside  William was searched again and his head wound was noted before he was escorted out the back door, into the darkening court yard of a second smaller building. Here several tents had been pitched. In one William was able to find a rectangle of dirt and a blanket to cover himself. At last he was able lay down to rest.
Just as he was dropping off to sleep came another dull thud of distant naval mortars. His experience woke him back up, as this one was coming close. A few seconds later came the thundering crash as the 450 pound black powder shell landed nearby, from the sound of it in the street. William found the familiarity of the sound comforting. But as the methodical bombardment continued, a Rebel civilian in a cell in the main building began to beg for the gunners to please stop. And William thought kindly toward the poor fellow until one mortar round sheered across the slate roof of one of the the buildings with a clang, followed by another earth shaking crash. At that the frightened rebel became hysterical, sobbing in his supplications that Grant should burn the Gomorrah of Vicksburg and all the rebels in it right off the face of the earth. After that William wished the damn fool would just shut the hell up and let him sleep.
During the long hot afternoon, while Corporal William Achinal was passed out on slope of the Stockade Redoubt, the entire Federal army threw its strength against the Vicksburg defenses. Their efforts were summed up by Major General William Tecumseh Sherman. After watching a 4:00 p.m. assault intended to draw rebels away from General McClernand's attacks, “Cump” told Major General Frederick Steele, “This is murder. Order those troops back.”
This day cost Grant's army 502 men killed, 2,550 men wounded and 147 men missing. At least half of those casualties were suffered during the afternoon attacks, which were inspired by Major General Alexander McClernand's false reports of progress. At only 1 point, the Texas Lunette, were the defenders forced to call upon reserves to drive the Yankees back. Said Colonel Ashbel Smith of the 2nd Texas Infantry, Yankees bodies “lay so thick that one might have walked (200 yards along the Baldwin Ferry road) without touching the ground.”
About 9:00 a.m., Saturday, 23 May, 1863, a Confederate officer arrived at the Warren County Jail to record Corporal Archinal's parole. Later that morning he and other Yankees captured in the assault, were rowed across the Mississippi River to Union lines. He was now prohibited from participating in any military operations until a rebel of equal or greater rank was captured and paroled. The two men, who would never meet,  could then be exchanged, and “Go back to killing each other.”
-  30 -

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