A Celebration of Women Writers

"Part VII, Chapter 89." by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-)
From: This country of ours; the story of the United States by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-) New York, George H. Doran company, 1917.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


CHAPTER 89
LINCOLN–GRANT'S CAMPAIGN–SHERIDAN'S RIDE

THE victory of Gettysburg which had been so dearly bought was not very great. But hard upon it came the news that on the 4th of July Vicksburg had surrendered to General Grant. And taking both victories together the people of the North felt that now they had cause to hope.

 

After the capture of New Orleans in April, 1862, Farragut had sailed up the Mississippi, and except for Vicksburg the whole valley was in the control of the Federals. Farragut would have attacked Vicksburg also but his land force was not strong enough, and Halleck, who was then commander-in-chief, did not see the great importance of Vicksburg, and refused to send soldiers to aid him.

 

The Confederates, however, knew the importance of holding the city, for it was the connecting link between the revolted states which lay east and those which lay west of the great river. Through it passed enormous supplies of food from the West, and great quantities also of arms and ammunition, and other war stores, which came from Europe by way of Mexico.

Importance of Vicksburg

So while the Federals neglected to take Vicksburg the Confederates improved its fortifications until they were so strong that it seemed almost impossible that it should ever be taken.

 

At length Grant was given supreme command of the western army, and he, well knowing the importance of Vicksburg, became intent on taking it. Again and yet again he tried and failed. Indeed he failed so often that people began to clamour for his recall. But President Lincoln turned a deaf ear to the clamour and decided always to "try him a little longer" and still a little longer. And Grant justified his trust.

Grant's efforts to take it

Finding it impossible to take Vicksburg by assault he determined to besiege it. In a brilliant campaign of less than a fortnight he marched a hundred and fifty miles, and fought four battles. Then he sat down with his victorious army before Vicksburg, and a regular siege began.

 

Vicksburg was now completely surrounded. On the river the fleet kept watch, so that no boats carrying food, ammunition, or relief of any kind could reach the fated city. On land Grant's army dug itself in, daily bringing the ring of trenches closer and closer to the Confederate fortifications. They were so close at last that the soldiers on either side could hear each other talking, and often friendly chat passed between the "Yanks" and the "Johnnies" or Southerners.

Siege of Vicksburg begins, 18th May

"Yanks" and "Johnnies";

"When are you coming into town, Yank?" the Confederates would ask.

 

"Well, Johnnie, we are thinking of celebrating the 4th of July there," the Northerners would reply.

 

And at this the Johnnies would laugh as at a huge joke. No 4th of July would the Yanks celebrate in their city.

 

Regularly, too, the Confederates would pass over the little Vicksburg paper, the Daily Citizen, to their enemies. This paper appeared daily to the last, although paper grew so scarce that it sometimes consisted only of one sheet eighteen inches long and six inches wide. At length printing paper gave out altogether, and the journal appeared printed on the plain side of wall paper.

 

Day was added to day, and week to week, and still the siege of Vicksburg lasted. All day cannon roared, shells screamed and whistled, and the city seemed enveloped in flame and noise. The streets were places of death and danger, and the people took refuge in the cellars of the houses, or in caves which they dug out of the clayey soil. In these caves whole families lived for weeks together, only creeping out to breathe the air during the short intervals, night and morning, when the guns ceased firing.

terrors of the siege;

Food grew scarcer and scarcer until at length there was nothing left but salt bacon, the flesh of mules, rats, and mouldy pea flour. The soldiers became no longer fit to man the guns, their rations being no more than a quarter of a pound of bacon and the same of flour each day. Water too ran short, and they were obliged to drink the muddy water of the Mississippi.

 

Like pale specters the people crept about, and many, both soldiers and citizens, died from starvation and disease brought on by starvation. At length Vicksburg seemed little more than one great hospital, encircled by fire, made hideous by noise. Human nature could endure no longer, and on the morning of the 3rd of July white flags appeared upon the ramparts.

surrender;

Immediately the roar of cannon ceased, and silence fell on city and camp. After the six weeks' inferno it seemed to the racked nerves and aching ears of the inhabitants as if the silence might be felt, as if the peace wrapped them about like a soft robe. The relief was so great that many who had endured the weeks of torture dry-eyed now burst into tears. But they were healing tears.

 

Under a lonely tree, a few hundred yards beyond the Confederate lines, Grant met General John C. Pemberton, the defender of Vicksburg. The two men had fought side by side in the Mexican War, and had been friends. Now although divided by cruel strife they shook hand as of old. But memories of bygone days did not soften Grant's heart. His terms were hard. Once more he demanded unconditional surrender. And Pemberton, knowing that resistance was impossible, yielded.

 

Next day the surrender was accomplished, and thirty thousand men became prisoners of war. Before noon the Union flag was flying over the Court House. Thus the "Yanks" celebrated the "glorious Fourth" in Vicksburg, as they had said they would do. But there was no noisy rejoicing. The Federals took possession almost in silence, for they had too much admiration for their gallant foe to wish to give them pain. One cheer indeed rent the air, but it was given for the glorious defenders of Vicksburg.

Federals enter Vicksburg, 4th July

The whole North was now united in passionate admiration for Grant. Cheering crowds followed him in the streets. Fools and wise men alike were eager to know him, to boast that they had spoken to him or touched his hand. Yet at first sight Grant seemed to have little of the hero about him. He was an "ordinary, scrubby looking man, with a slightly seedy look," said one who saw him in those days. "He did not march nor quite walk, but pitched along as if the next step would bring him to his nose." But his eye was clear and blue, he had a determined look, and seemed like a man it would be bad to trifle with.

Grant's appearance

This shambling, scrubby looking man, with the clear blue eyes, was now the idol of the people. Lincoln too saw his genius as a leader, and willingly yielding to the popular demand made him commander-in-chief of all the United States armies.

Grant made commander-in-chief, March, 1864

Before long Grant had made his plans for the next campaign. It was a twofold one. He himself with one army determined by blow after blow to hammer Lee into submission while Sherman was to tackle the other great Confederate army under Johnston.

 

In the beginning of May, Grant set out, and on the 5th and 6th the battle of the Wilderness was fought not far from where the battle of Chancellorsville had been fought the year before. Grant had not meant to fight here, but Lee, who knew every inch of the ground, forced the fight on him.

Battle of the Wilderness, May 5th and 6th

In the tangled underwood of the Wilderness artillery and cavalry were of little use, and the battle became a fierce struggle between the foot soldiers of either army. The forest was so thick that officers could only see a small part of their men, and could only guess at what was going on by the sound of the firing, and the shouts exultant or despairing, of the men who were drive to and fro in the dark and dreary thickets. In the end neither side gained anything except an increased respect for the foe.

 

Grant's aim was to take Richmond, the Confederate capital, and after the battle of the Wilderness with that aim still before him he moved his army to Spotsylvania. He was hotly pursued by Lee and here on the 10th and 12th of May another stern struggle took place.

Battle of Spotsylvania, 10th and 12th May

The fighting on the 10th was so terrible that on the 11th both armies rested as by common consent. Next day the battle began again and lasted until midnight. It was a hand-to-hand struggle. The tide of victory swung this way and that. Positions were taken and lost, and taken again and after twenty-four hours of fighting neither side had won. Only thousands of brave men lay dead upon the field.

 

Still intent on Richmond, Grant moved southwards after this terrible battle, followed closely by Lee. Everyday almost there were skirmishes between the two armies, but still Grant pressed onward and arrived at length within a few miles of Richmond. Here at Cold Harbor Lee took up a strongly entrenched position from which it seemed impossible to oust him, except by a grand assault. Grant determined to make that assault.

 

Both officers and men knew that it could not succeed, but Grant commanded it and they obeyed. Yet so sure were many of the men that they were going to certain death that it is said they wrote their names and addresses on slips of paper which they tacked to the backs of their coats, so that when their bodies were found it might be easily known who they were, and news be sent to their friends.

Battle of Cold Harbor, June 3rd

At half-past four in the grey morning light eighty thousand men rushed upon the foe. They were met with a blinding fire and swept away. In half an hour the attack was over. It was the deadliest half hour in all American history, and eight thousand Union men lay dead upon the field.

 

"Some one had blundered." Grant had blundered. He knew it, and all his life after regretted it. "No advantage whatever was gained," he said, "to make up for the heavy loss we suffered."

 

In this terrible campaign he had lost sixty thousand men. He had not taken Richmond. He had neither destroyed nor dispersed Lee's army. Still he hammered on, hoping in the long run to wear out Lee. For the Confederates had lost heavily, too, and they had no more men with which to make good their losses. On the other hand the gaps in the Federal army were filled up almost as soon as made. "It's no use killing these fellows," said the Confederates, "a half dozen take the place of every one we kill."

Grant's losses

But the people of the North could not look on calmly at these terrible doings. They cast their idol down, and cried out against Grant as a "butcher." They demanded his removal. But Lincoln refused again to listen to the clamour as he had refused before. "I cannot spare that man," he said, "at least he fights."

 

Grant was terrible only for a good end. He was ruthless so that the war might be brought the more speedily to a close. And Lincoln, the most tender hearted of all men, knew it. Undismayed therefore Grant fought on. But his army was weary of much fighting, disheartened by ill success, weakened by many losses. New recruits indeed had been poured into it. But they were all unused to discipline. Months of drill were needed before they could become good soldiers. In June then Grant settled down to besiege Petersburg, and drill his new men the while, and not till the spring of 1865 did the army of the Potomac again take the field.

Siege of Petersburg begins

Meanwhile there was fighting elsewhere.

 

On the part of the Confederates there was a constant endeavour to take Washington, and in July of this year the Confederate army actually came within a few miles of the city. There was great alarm in the capital, for it was defended chiefly by citizen soldiers and fresh recruits who had little knowledge of warfare. But just in time Grant sent strong reinforcements from the army of the Potomac and the Confederates marched away without making an attack. They only retired, however, into the Shenandoah Valley, and their presence there was a constant menace to Washington. Early in August therefore General Sheridan was sent to clear the enemy out of the valley, and relieve Washington from the constant fear of attack.

Philip H. Sheridan, 1831-88

He began his work vigorously, and soon had command of most of the roads leading to Washington. But he knew that General Jubal A. Early who commanded the Confederate troops was a skilful and tried soldier, and, to begin with, he moved with caution. For some weeks indeed both commanders played as it were a game of chess, maneuvering for advantage of position. But at length a great battle was fought at Winchester in which the Confederates were defeated and driven from the field. Three days later another battle was fought at Fisher's Hill, and once again in spite of gallant fighting the Confederates were beaten.

Battle of Winchester, September 19th

Fisher's Hill

After this battle Sheridan marched back through the valley, destroying and carrying away everything which might be of use to the foe. Houses were left untouched, but barns and mills with all their stores of food and forage were burned to the ground. Thousands of horses and cattle were driven off, and the rich and smiling valley made a desolation, with nothing left in it, as Grant said, to invite the enemy to return.

 

Having finished this work Sheridan dashed off to Washington, to consult with the Secretary of war about his future movements. The Confederate army had meanwhile encamped again near Fisher's Hill. And Early, hearing of Sheridan's absence, determined to make a surprise attack on the Federal army.

 

In the darkness of the night they set out, and stealthily crept towards the Federal camp at Cedar Creek. Every care was taken so that no sound should be made. The men were even ordered to leave their canteens behind, lest they should rattle against their rifles. Not a word was spoken as the great column crept onward, climbing up and down steep hillsides, fording streams, pushing through thickly growing brushwood. At length before sunrise, without alarm or hindrance of any kind the Confederates reached the camp of the sleeping Federals.

Battle of Cedar Creek, Oct. 19th;

Each man was soon in his appointed place, and in the cold grey dawn stood waiting the signal. At length a shot rang out, and with their well-known yell the Confederates threw themselves into the camp.

 

As quickly as might be the Federals sprang up and seized their arms. But they had been taken utterly by surprise, and before they could form in battle array they were scattered in flight.

the battle lost;

Before the sun was well up the Federals were defeated, and their camp and cannon were in the hands of the enemy. Meanwhile Sheridan had reached Winchester on his return journey from Washington. He had slept the night there, and had been awakened by the sound of firing. At first he thought little of it, but as the roar continued he became sure that a great battle was being fought–and he was twenty miles away! He set spurs to his horse, and through the cool morning air,

"A steed as black as steeds of night,
Was seen to pass, as with eagle flight.
As if he knew the terrible need,
He stretched away with his utmost speed."

Sheridan's ride;

Mile after mile the great black horse ate up the roads. The sound of firing grew louder and louder, and at length men fleeing in rout and confusion came in sight. There was every sign of a complete defeat. Wounded, unwounded, baggage wagons, mule teams, all were fleeing in confusion.

 

It was a grievous sight for Sheridan. But he refused to accept defeat. Rising high in his stirrups he waved his hat in the air, and shouted cheerily, "Face the other way, boys. We are going back to our camp. We are going to lick them into their boots."

Sheridan stays the rout;

At the sound of his voice the fleeing soldiers paused, and with a mighty shout they faced about. Even the wounded joined in the cheering. The beaten, disheartened army took heart again, the scattered, disorganized groups were gathered, a compact line of battle was formed, and at the end of two hours the men were not only ready but eager once more to grapple with the foe.

 

Then the second battle of Cedar Creek was fought. At ten o'clock in the morning the Federals had been defeated. By five in the afternoon the Confederates were not only defeated, but utterly routed. Their army was shattered and the war swept out of the Shenandoah Valley for good and all. Then Sheridan marched his victorious troops to join Grant before Petersburg.

the battle won;

Sheridan joins Grant

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

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Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom