5.20.2011

Vicksburg, Mississippi

Awaiting the Aftermath of Another Siege
THIS ONE BY MOTHER NATURE
A brief re-visit to the historic city by P. Davidson-Peters

As I sat listening to the soft falling rain from my home office in Arizona this Thursday, I was all too aware of residents in the Mississippi River Valley who were experiencing the most significant flooding the area had seen since 1927 when 246 of Vicksburg's residents lost their lives.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, this historic city was proudly referred to as the “Queen City of the Bluff” by its residents. Perched upon a string of hills and overlooking the Mississippi River, Vicksburg was protected during the war by its natural defenses of bayous and bogs. Capturing it, in order to gain complete control of the river, had become crucial for the Union who had already secured it north of the city at Fort Pillow and south at New Orleans. The undertaking of it, however, had eventually led to the death of more than nineteen thousand soldiers.

T.A. Moore & his letter dated 26 Feb 1863 from Yazoo Pass
I first read about the Vicksburg Campaign in letters which had been written by my 2nd great-grandfather, Thomas A. Moore.  A private in the 33rd Missouri Infantry under the command of Colonel Pile, he was among those troops who had attempted this feat referred to in our American history as the Yazoo Pass Expedition. He had first mentioned the operation in his letter of January 9th of 1863 when he sent the following to his wife: “We have just got orders to go to Vicksburg we leave in the morning - our troops have Retreated from there and they tried it again There was a deadly slaughter.

By March 24th Tom was situated above Fort Pemberton and wrote that he had been “almost bare footed having worn those old Boots that I had at home ever since until about aweek since” and is so sick he could barely walk but assured her that her letters would nearly cure him. Of the war he added: “we are going to have a very hard battle here to morrow or next day we did fight four or five days Not the men but the gunboats.” He went on to say that the fort would be hard to take, and that during the engagement a few days earlier the “powerful gunboat chilacothe” had been struck thirty-eight times in a few minutes with large shot from the fort causing an explosion that killed three men and wounded fourteen.

As he had noted, this expedition up the Yazoo Pass to take Fort Pemberton had been unsuccessful.  Explaining this military operation in greater detail in a letter he had addressed to his brother dated April 23rd from Helena, Arkansas, he wrote: “We have recently Returned from an expedition in Yahoo pass the fleet consisted of many steamboats and afew musquito and two gun Boats the Chilacothe and Baron de Calb* with this fleet we left for our destination our intention was to get in the Rear of Vicksburg we entered the cut eight miles from Helena the 15th of February passed through that into moon lake a Beautiful lake known for ages by that name perhaps by its peculiar Shape from this we went into the pass which is sixteen miles … we were four days getting through this We then came into a small Stream called coldwater from this into tallahachee down tallachachee until we were stopt by the Rebs We was about half our distance to vicksburgh The Rebs had a stony fort in the Bend of the river which at this point ran around its the Shape of a horse Shoe They called it fort pemberton after ascertain general The gun Boats picked in after a couple or three days fight was forced to retire The infantry could not help them at all the fort being surrounded by water … the fort could not be taken without great loss of life.”

The battle for Vicksburg had raged on.  Toward the end of May the Union troops had begun a four-hour artillery barrage while gunboats commanded by Rear Admiral David D. Porter pounded away at the Vicksburg entrenchments.  After what would become the bloodiest battle of General Grant's campaign, the Union had still been unable to break through the fortifications; but the strategy and tenacity of Grant's maneuvers had won him respect and admiration from his superiors, fellow officers, soldiers, and citizens.

By June, Grant's troops had been able to surround Vicksburg with more than 70,000 troops.   Having seen their approach to the city, the residents fled their homes and burrowed into the hillsides outside the city. As the troops dug in within twenty yards of the Rebels' parapet and hurled three-pound dartlike hand grenades at them, the residents remained confined to their cramped and nearly intolerable quarters in the hillsides.  It paid off.  Despite the forty-seven day bombardment, lack of food and water, fewer than a dozen Vicksburg citizens had been killed by time Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton finally surrendered the city on the 4th of July.

Today, the raging Mississippi has forced more residents to evacuate than the 30,000 prisoners Grant could have taken into custody. Once a formidable but natural barrier to the Union forces and their ironclads, the river has turned face and has been inflicting its own fury despite efforts by the Corps of Engineers who have attempted to divert the flood waters. Nearly eight and a half decades since the flood of 1927, Vicksburg has found itself waiting once again for waters to recede and life to return to a new normal. Some are predicting relief by mid-June, but while we await the aftermath of Mother Nature, we can be somewhat reassured its outcome by the city's history of hardship and endurance.

Notes:
Except to capitalize a sentence break, I have left T.A.'s words intact, but corrected and have given explanation below to the two gunboats mentioned.   As always, comments and emails are welcome.





*Chillicothe was an iron-clad river gunboat named fro the capital of Ohio from 1803 to 1810. After she was damaged as noted by Moore, she was repaired at Mound City, Illinois and returned to duty on the Mississippi on 06 Sep 1863.

*Baron de Kalb was in iron-clad river gunboat named for General Baron de Kalb who had served and died as a major general in the American Revolution. The gunboat was sunk July 13, 1863 by a Confederate torpedo (mine) in the Yazoo River of Mississippi.

Thomas Anderson Moore – born in Ohio in 1838, was with the 33rd Missouri Infantry at Helena, Arkansas on 04 Jul 1863 where the regiment was engaged in a fierce battle. He was listed in the Missouri Democrat newspaper among those Killed and Wounded as “T.A. Moore, Co. K, gun shot wound over right temple, pronounced mortal.” Despite the severity of his wound which had “fractured his skull, carrying away a great portion of the frontal bone,” T.A. Moore survived. After months of recuperation, he returned to St. Louis and there lived as a self-employed house carpenter, devoted husband, and father. He was widowed in 1890 but declared in his Application for Pension that he would never marry again. True to his word, T. A. Moore died unmarried in 1915 at the age of seventy-six years and was laid to rest at Bellefontaine cemetery where the old worn stone marks his grave site. 

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