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1863 July 11: The Vicksburg Siege

July 9, 2013

By July 11, 1863, the Siege of Vicksburg had been over for a week, but The Prescott Journal was still publishing this letter, taken from an Indiana newspaper, on the siege itself and other events that occurred before the surrender of Vicksburg on July 4.  Since Prescott’s Lyon Light Guards (12th Wisconsin Infantry, Company A) were part of the Union forces at Vicksburg, readers of the Journal would naturally be interested in anything about the siege.

The letter writer begins, however, with the Battle of Champion Hill, which took place back on May 16, 1863.  It was a pivotal battle in the Vicksburg Campaign, a bloody but decisive Union victory.

THE VICKSBURG SIEGE.

Captain Ruckle, of our 11th regiment, has written home an account of some of the incidents of the fighting at and on the way to Vicksburg, and of the way our men are advancing to the rebel works, which we have not before seen published.  We condense such as we think will be of interest to our readers.  Of the battle of Champion Hill, he says :

“I am perfectly willing to confess that it came near curing me of all my ideas of fighting.—The fight at Port Hudson was only a pleasants [sic] days’ amusement by the side of it.  I shall never mention the battle of Shiloh again ;  for though the real tug of this fight didn’t last two hours, it was dreadful while it did last.  Our division for nearly that time was engaged with the main body of the enemy.  When the charge was ordered my position brought us directly in front of the battery, and the way canister flew was a caution to all sinners to say the shortest prayer they knew.  But by some strange good fortune we didn’t lose a man out of the company until after we had passed the guns.  The boys knocked the drivers off the caissons and gun teams, and fairly ran down to the ranks of the rebels infairly [infantry?], who were supporting the battery.  One of my men, James Brown, a big stout fellow, after firing one shot, clubbed his rifle and ran down into their ranks and knocked down two or three men with the butt of his gun, when his left arm was shivered to pieces by a shot fired almost against him.  He then took his gun in one hand and again struck out right and left with it, when he was shot through the knee.  As he fell, the rebels attempted to bayonet him, but Corporal Mathews jumped in between them, then drew it out and struck another, but missed him.

“Two or three times I saw our men and the rebels take opposite sides of the same tree to reload, but our men invariably beat them, and then there was sure to be a dead rebel on the other side of the tree.  At another time I saw one of our men and a rebel in a clear space, ten feet of each other, and as both had empty guns, and neither seemed anxious for a hand to hand fight, each undertook to reload.  It was the quickest piece of work I ever saw, but one man got ahead by firing his ramroad [sic] at the rebel and driving it clear through him, leaving it sticking in a tree just behind.”

Of the losses of his own company, he says “out of 46 men I had in the ranks that day, three were kiled [sic] on the field, and ninteen [sic] wounded, two of whom have since died.  Of the balance, eleven were wounded so seriously as to be unfit for service again, some of them having been hit two and three times each.  One man had six bullet holes through his trowsers [sic], but not a wound.”  The men lost, he adds, “were the best in the regiment.”  Of the nine corporals of the color guard, all picked men, only two came out unhurt.

His description of the works erected by our men, and their mode of carrying on the siege, is the most intelligible one we have seen, and we copy it in full :

“This country immediately back of Vicksburg is full of ridges, separated by deep narrow hollows of ravines.  Our batteries are planted on the summits of these ridges, and the infantry lie in the hollows behind or in front of them.—These hollows are nearly all connected with each other, and in this way we have an almost secure communication down the line.  Our regiment is now camped in one of these hollows or rather on the side of one, for we have cut steps on the hillside, so as to have level places to sleep on.  From the top of the hill above us, we can see, just across a wide hollow, the rebel lines.  In plain view there are not less than ten forts, all strongly built, with deep, wide ditches, and connected by lines of rifle pits, and on the hills behind there we can still see another line of earth-works.

“Our batteries are on the ridge I speak of, and on the line with them, and sometimes, where the ground is favorable, a hundred yards or so in front of them are the rifle pits full of their sharp shooting, and every piece of ground that can afford cover has one of our sharpshooters in it.

Cross Sections and Profiles of Works, Siege of Vicksburg, Miss. from “Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies,” plate 36, map 2 (see footnote 2)

Cross Sections and Profiles of Works, Siege of Vicksburg, Miss. from “Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies,” plate 36, map 2 (see footnote 2)

“To the right of our position, and directly on the side of the railroad, our batteries and rifle pits are within two hundred and fifty yards of the rebel lines.

“The shots fired from the rebel earth works knock twigs from the trees above our heads, and strike the oposite [sic] side of the hollow, but where we lie we are as safe as though we were at home, as long as we keep still.  The rifle pits where we do duty, are about a half a mile from here, to the left, and front, bu by the road we have to go it is near two miles, as we have to follow the hollows.  Since the pits were dug, we have shortened the road one half by cutting a cut through the bridge, and so got through into a hollow only seperated [sic] by a single ridge from the rebel works.

“The pits were first dug on our side of the hill, but every night they have been moved a little closer, till now we look down into the hollow seperating [sic] us from the forts and now we are within good rifle range.  Three regiments go one at a time from the division, and remain 48 hours at a time.  It is pretty good fun, but a man must be careful, for the rebels have some splendid shots among them.  We keep them down pretty close now though, and every man that sticks his head above the works has a dozen shots fired at him.  During the last few days both sides have made loop holes of sand bags and logs for sharpshooters to fire through, but our men keep the upper hand still, for whenever they see a flash from a port-hole a dozen shots are fired right at it.  The rebels have got so now that they will hardly fire two shots in succession from the same port hole.

“Our men, after loading, generally take a sight through one of our ports, and as quick as they see a head above the works, or the glitter of a gun barrel through their loop holes, or the flash of a rifle, they crack away ;  and as there is sometimes a dozen firing at the same mark,  some one hits it.” — Cor. Indianapolis Journal.

1.  Nicholas Randle Ruckle (1838-1900) was captain of Company E, 11th Indiana Infantry. He will be promoted to colonel of the 148th Indiana Infantry. Ruckle participated in the campaigns at Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Grand Gulf, Port Gibson, Champion Hill, and Vicksburg.
2.  Atlas to Accompany the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, published under the direction of Redfield Proctor, Stephen B. Elkins, and Daniel S. Lamont, Secretaries of War, by George B. Davis, Leslie J. Perry, Joseph W. Kirkley, Board of Publication ; compiled by Calvin D. Cowles (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1891-1895). Available in Special Collections, UWRF University Archives & Area Research Center (E 464 .U6), or digitally at Ohio State University’s eHistory.

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