Indiana Magazine of History Image
Indiana Magazine of History Logo

Hoosier Soldiers at Vicksburg  

 

Purpose of Lesson: This lesson is meant to be used as a supplement to teaching students about the Civil War. Students will learn about the Vicksburg campaign by reading letters from three Hoosier soldiers.

Objectives: At the end of this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Understand the strategic importance of the capture of Vicksburg for the outcome of the Civil War
  • Describe the opinions and experiences of ordinary soldiers in a Civil War campaign

Correlation to Indiana Standards (for Eighth Grade Social Studies)

Social Studies

8.1.22 Describe the importance of key events in the Civil War, including the battles of Antietam, Vicksburg , and Gettysburg , and the Emancipation Proclamation and Gettysburg Address (1861 to 1865).

8.1.27 Recognize historical perspective by identifying the historical context in which events unfolded and by avoiding evaluation of the past solely in terms of present-day norms.

8.1.31 Examine the causes of problems in the past and evaluate solutions chosen as well as possible alternative courses of action. Consider the information available at the time, the interests of those affected by the decision, and the consequences of each course of action.

8.2.4 Define and explain the importance of individual and civic responsibilities.

Historical and Methodological Context for the Lesson:

Vicksburg was important to the enemy because it occupied the first high ground coming close to the river below Memphis. From there a railroad runs east, connecting with other roads leading to all points of the Southern States. A railroad also starts from the opposite side of the river, extending west as far as Shreveport, Louisiana. Vicksburg was the only channel, at the time of the events of which this chapter treats, connecting the parts of the Confederacy divided by the Mississippi. So long as it was held by the enemy, the free navigation of the river was prevented. Hence its importance.

Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant (1885-86)

Grant's post-war memoirs reveal why, just one week after he was given command of the Army of the Tennessee, the general begin to implement his first attack on Vicksburg.

Grant's first offensive in December 1862 reached Oxford, Mississippi, but Union forces retreated after Confederate raiders came in behind them and destroyed Grant's supply depot at Holly Springs, just south of the Tennessee/Mississippi border. During the winter of 1862-1863 Grant made four more efforts by reach Vicksburg by river and was defeated each time by a combination of terrain, climate, and Southern forces. The army lost many men -- through death, hospitalization, and home furlough -- due to a variety of sicknesses.

By mid-April 1863, many Southerners, military and civilian, believed that Vicksburg could not and would never be taken by Union forces. The city was protected by a nine-mile-long line of nine forts that seemed impenetrable. On the night of April 16, many of the city's prominent civilians and military officers were dancing at a ball when loud explosions interrupted. Grant had begun what was to be his successful campaign to capture Vicksburg.

On the night of April 16, 11 Union transports and gunboats sailed past the city's defenses and, despite heavy fire from the shore, only one ship was destroyed. A few nights later 6 transports and 12 barges made the same trip; half of the barges and 1 transport were sunk, but the others reached safety south of the city. Grant could now implement his plans: one part of the army would march south toward Vicksburg on the west side of the river (and then cross on the waiting ships) while troops under Sherman and R. H. Grierson fought their way toward the city in two diversionary actions. This time Grant did not rely on a supply outpost—Union troops were ordered to take what they needed from the barns, fields, orchards, homes, and shops of Confederate citizens. By the time Grant reached his ships, Union troops were able, after a failed attempt at one point, to make an unopposed landing on the east side of the river at Bruinsburg, Mississippi, on April 30.

After direct assault on the city failed, Grant reluctantly but determinedly settled in for a siege. Gen. Pemberton, in command of the troops that defended the city, begged for reinforcements to break through the Union line, but there was no large-scale force available. Soldiers and civilians starved, and the city suffered week after week of Union artillery bombardment. On July 3, Pemberton sent envoys to Grant, asking for terms of surrender. The city surrendered on July 4, 1863 – just one day after the Union's dearly won victory at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. One of the few remaining supply lines of the Confederacy was now in Northern hands. Josiah Gorgas, chief Confederate ordinance officer, wrote in his diary:

Events have succeeded one another with disastrous rapidity. One brief month ago we were apparently at the point of success. Lee was in Pennsylvania, threatening Harrisburgh and even Philadelphia. Vicksburgh seemed to laugh all Grant's efforts to scorn . . . . Now the picture is just as sombre as it was bright then. . . . Yesterday we rode on the pinnacle of success—today absolute ruin seems to be our portion. The Confederacy totters to its destruction.

[quoted in James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, p. 695]

ornament


Lesson Activities and Assessment:

1. Give each student a copy of the set of letters and a study guide. As a homework assignment, they should read the letters and then fill out the study guide. The final question assigns a one-page essay, which should be handed in during the next class.

2. The next day in class, based on student answers to their study guides and your own knowledge, construct a timeline of the Siege of Vicksburg. Discuss the strategic importance of the city to both the South and the North, and then discuss their/your choice of other questions from the study sheet.

 

William H. Jordan was born in Manchester, Dearborn County, Indiana . In 1862, like thousands of other Hoosier men, he enlisted to fight in the Civil War. Jordan was elected a second lieutenant in his 16th Volunteer Infantry Regiment and one year later was promoted to first lieutenant. His letters indicate that he often worked on his company's payrolls and that later in the war he commanded an ambulance corps. He was mustered out of his regiment in 1865 at the end of the war.

The first three letters below deal with a failed assault on Vicksburg in January 1863.

Primary Source 1 Printer Friendly Icon   Printer Friendly Excerpt      

12 Miles up Yazoo River, Thursday January 1, 1863

Dear Mother

This is the first opportunity I have had to write since we left Memphis and there is but a poor prospect of this going north for some Time as navigation is said to be closed above us but I will write every Time I have a chance and report our progress in Dizie.

We left our Camp at Memphis at 11 P.M. Saturday Dec. 20th marched to the river below town and embarked on the J. C. Snow one of the best of Mississipi River Boats. Our load consisted of Gen. Burbridge and Staff the 16th and two Companies of the 6th Missouri Cavalry. We laid at the whatf until noon Sunday when the division being all loaded we started down the river. Our division was on 15 Steamboats and our Regt being on the 6th we could at times see the whole line and after we were joined by the other divisions the sight was certainly worth three years of a mans life --- to see seventy Steamboats plowing their way in single file down the river is not an every day occurrence and not likely to occur again in this generation at least. It was splendid to say the least.

Our first days run was to Friars Point a little town which some of the Iowa Regts burnt the next morning besides sacking the stores and capturing all the chickens. This burning houses is I am glad to say not approved of by either Gen. Sherman or Gen Burbridge although Gen Sherman has issued an order to burn all houses where they fire on our troops. We left Friars Point about 8 AM Monday morning and run to Gaines' Landing Ark by 2 PM where we landed and the men went ashore to cook and wash, besides which they burnt the houses only one of which was worth more than five dollars. In the night we sent out a party to a house after Guerrillas. They brought in three and quite a number of horses and mules, besides some darkies that the officers made them leave behind.

We left Gaines Wednesday morning and did not stop again until we got to Millikins Bend.


Primary Source 2 Printer Friendly Icon   Printer Friendly Excerpt      

1 PM Saturday

I will now try to finish my letter without making another break ---- when I had written my account of our campaign as far as Gaines I was called off to make Pay Rolls for the Company since which every thing has been bustle and excitement and all the events of a great retreat.

We landed at Millikens Bend in the night and early next morning were ordered to cook two days rations and be ready to march in two hours. Accordingly we got every thing ready and when our time was up our Brigade was on the march through the Louisiana swamps and Bayous. We walked tne walked for twenty five miles when we struck the Vicksburgh and Texas Rail Road at Dallas Station where we Bivouacked for the night. A detail was son made to tear up the Rail Road track which was done for several miles – our Adjutant got up an expedition of his own in the night and captured a Confederate Calalryman besides taking another Town. That was our Christmas. Friday morning we burnt the Bridge at Dallas, saw a few Guerrillas in the woods, fired three or four shells at them and by 11 AM were on our way back to the boats. Had a hard march and by 10 PM were safe aboard and felt quite at home.

Saturday we ran down to the mouth of the Yazoo and 12 miles up that river to Old River where the boys went ashore and cooked 3 days rations --- in the night we marched six or seven miles through mud and swamps to our advanced lines – early Sunday morning our Brigade was in line and on the move. We formed in line under the Bluffs and laid in the woods and listened to the Battle on our left where Morgans Division was trying to cross the Bayou on a Bridge. It was a well fought Battle not any particular advantage being gained by either side. Sunday night and Monday our Company was on duty as Picket Guard and Skirmishers. The night was very quiet but early next morning work commenced on our left gain. Our forces had built a bridge and a breastwork of logs to defend it. The Rebels had an earthwork on the other side of the Bayou within two or three Hunderd Yards of ours and they fired away at each other all day doing some of the heaviest musketry firing I ever heard and an occasional shell dropped into the woods where we were lying. Kept our Brigade in a high state of excitement all day --- During the day two Companies of the 8th Missouri Regt crossed the bridge under fire and laid down under the enemys intrenchments where they were obliged to lay all day as they were not strong enough to take the fort and could not get back to the bridge without drawing the fire of other earthworks --- they lay so near the enemys works that when a gun was put over the top of the Breastwork they could catch it with their hands --- when they came back that night they left 26 of their number on the field – that night was the last firing of the Battle of Vicksburgh. Next morning we went to building breast works and taking up heavy seige guns. Wednesday I came down to the Boat and spent New Years day working on Pay Rolls. After dark orders came to be ready to move and every thing was loaded onthe Boats --- About 10 O clock here they came Officers and men, Seige Batteries and Field Batteries, Generals, Escorts and Wagon trains in a long line and on to the boats and everything quiet again until morning and that ended the siege of Vickburgh --- Yesterday as we watched the long line of Steamers shoving out one by one under the protection of the Gunboats there was many a sad looking face and many acurse for these soldiers will swear when out of humour ---

Gen. Burbridge is on our boat and I thought as I met him yesterday that for one day at least I did not envy him his position --- to night we are back to Millikins Bend going I Know not where but will write again as soon as I have time.

Wm. H. Jordan


Primary Source 3 Printer Friendly Icon   Printer Friendly Excerpt      

Steamboat J. C. Snow

Arkansas River, Jan 17th 1863

Dear Mother

The last time I wrote you I think we were at the mouth of White River expecting to go up to St Charles but the result proves that there are very few in this army that know with any certainty the plans of its commanders.

We had everything ready to move on Friday the 9th and started up White River as we expected but had gone but a few miles when we went through a cut-off or bayou into Arkansas River then up the River to within a few miles of Arkansas Post which the Confederates under Gen. Churchill had strongly fortified and were supposed to hold with a large force --- Saturday we landed and our Regiment formed on the Bank of the river.

[The next page of the letter describes the battle for the fort
and how the Union forces eventually prevailed.]

We stayed at and near Arkansas Post until to-day when we came down the river. We were in the Arkansas when I commenced this letter but at present are tied up in the Mississippi near Napoleon. I don't know what we will do next some think we will try another trip to Vicksburg, others that we wil go some place up the river. For my part I don't pretend to Know . . .

There has been a great deal of sickness in our own and other Regiments since we went to the Chickasaw swamps. Our Company is not much more than half fit for duty but none I think are at all dangerous most of them very slight cases --- My own health has held out remarkably . . . .

. . . . If we stay as far south as we are at present I wish you would send me a paper occasionally as they are a very scarce article in this country. For instance we have heard for some days rumors of a battle in Tennessee but do not know the result.

Write as often as you can.

Wm H Jordan

 

Lieutenant Jordan 's health did not hold out for much longer. Two letters dated early June 1863 were written to Jordan in Indiana, where he was recovering from illness. By this time, the 16th Indiana was one of many Union regiments dug in at the Siege of Vicksburg. The letters, written by fellow soldiers James Stevenson and John Sims, tell of the weeks just before the fall of the city.




Primary Source 4 Printer Friendly Icon   Printer Friendly Excerpt      

Near Vicksburg, June 8 1863

Lieut Wm H. Jordan

Dear Sir

I have just received your Kind letter dated May 27th which encourages me and the company in the hope of your recovery and my desire to See you again among us in good health.

The balance of Co E is in Hospitals and are --- as far as I can learn --- doing well. You left us in a dark and gloomy time and I Supposed that few would leave that place alive --- but we Shortly after got permition to remove to Millikens Bend and from the time we left Youngs Point the health of the company improved. But Some could not recover and have Since died. I suppose that you have been informed of the deaths that have occured in our co from time to time. . . .

We have Vicks[burg] Surrounded and their communication cut off from every point. We are within 100 yards of their fortifications and are daily closing in our lines.

We drove the entire Rebel force from Port Gibson to the city and whiped them at every point. The 16th took the advance and was constantly in the field and front Fighting all day and doing “Picket duty” at night --- And whent he charge was ordered on the 22ndd we advanced against the fortifications and held our ground till relieved. It was a hot place – and had it not been for our incessant firing we would have all been cut to pieces --- We were within Speaking distance of the enemy and So close that I threw a piece of Shell in among them. Four of our Co were wounded . . . . All are doing well. . .

We will take Vicksburg – unless a large army is Sent to our rear – if so they will be forced to give up other important points – The boys and rebel Pickets talk while on duty. A few evenings Since I was on Picket and after we had been firing at each other all day the rebs quit firing at night and in a little while one came out and asked us to quit firing for they were tired and wanted to get Supper. Another asked us what we were doing – the boys told him that we were guarding Prisoners . . . .

I do not advise you to return untill you are well. . . .

I am yours Respectfully, Jas Stevenson

 

Primary Source 5 Printer Friendly Icon   Printer Friendly Excerpt      

Near Vicksburg, Miss, June 13th 1863

Lieut Jordan

Dear Sir

Your kind Letter is Before me and although I have A Very Pore Chance to write I shall endeavor to answer it.

I Dont know as I can tell you any News as you have got all the Purticulaurs By way of the Paper about our fighting. Their has Been Nothing Don Since the 22th worth mentioning. I tell you Lieutenant we have Seen the Elephant this trip. We have got So used to Balls and Shells that if we are Asleep it Dosnot wake us up. Their has Scaircly Been a Day Passed Since the first Day of May But we have heard the Balls whistle over our heads. We have Been very Lucky in our Company. We have had None killed and But four wounded. Fred Dixon two forefingers off his Right hand, Jim Parsons first finger off, Robert Russel Badly the Ball Struck him in the left Side and Came out at his back the Ball Passing through his Left Lung. He is Pretty Bad But the Doctors think he will git well. They Seam to have A Spite at me they give me A Slight wound above my Right elbow. I Cant See what they have against me. I never Don them any harm. I allways knew the Rebs was Cairless how they Shot But they was more So the Day of the Charge than ever. But I was very fortunate to git off as well as I Did for had it Come with A Little more force it would have Ruined my arm entirely . . .

I Sopose you know more about the movements of the army than I Do for you know A soldier knows But Litle about what is gowing to Be Don. All we know is what we See and that Dosnot extend A greate ways for we are Cept Pretty Close. We are Laying in A Bigg hollow about nine hundred Yards from the Fort. Our Pickets is within two hundred Yards in Places, we have Been Diging Rifle Pitts ever since the Day of the Charge, we Ceep working A Little Closter evry Day or two. I Cant tell how Long it will take to Siege the Place. Two and three Rebs Comes over Per Day and Gives themselfs up. Some of them Say they Canot hold out But A few Days while others Say we Can never take the Place But I feel Confident that we will have the Place and that Before A greate while. I understand that General Burnside arived hear Last Night with his force from up the River. The Reble Prisoners tells us that their onley hope is in an attact in the Rear But if any thing of the kind Should happen I guess old Grant will Be able for them. I hope So at Least. I never want to have to make another trile at it, when we Leave this old hollow I want to go Right into the Citty of Vicksburge.

. . . . I wish you was hear with us. We have A Greate Deal of Sport with our hardships. You Spoke of Sending in your resignation Papers. If your health will allow it I want you to Come Back But if your health is to Pore to Stand the hardships of A Soldiers Life I would Be the Last Man to insist on your Coming Back . . . .

Please write soon and often

Jno Sims to Lieut Jordan


Jordan's health improved and he was back with his regiment by early August. His next letter to his mother was sent from Vicksburg, dated August 17, 1863 .

Jordan's regiment spent the remainder of 1863 and all of 1864 in Louisiana. In early 1865 Jordan was captured by Confederates. He and other officers were eventually paroled. He rejoined the 16th Indiana in New Orleans and was mustered out of the Army at the end of the war while still in that city.

Jordan returned to Indiana and worked as a druggist for thirty years in Lawrenceburg. He died in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1911.

Optional Extended Lesson Activities:

1. Take your class to the library and/or a computer lab. Have arranged ahead of time a selection of books and/or web sites with other primary sources on the siege of Vicksburg. Each student will choose one primary source to contrast with the set of Union soldiers' letters from Indiana. For example, students might choose the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant for a command view of the campaign; students might also choose the diary or letters of a Confederate soldier who was defending Vicksburg. Assign a two- to three-page essay comparing and contrasting the different views of the Vicksburg campaign.

Sources and Other Recommended Readings:

“The Sixteenth Indiana Regiment in the Last Vicksburg Campaign,” ed. by Willie D. Halsell, IMH, 43 (March 1947), 67-82

Mark M. Boatner, ed., The Civil War Dictionary , rev. ed. (New York: David McKay Company, Inc., 1988) [a concise summary of the entire Vickburg campaign with good maps]

National Park Service website for Vicksburg National Military Park. [The “For Teachers” section includes a number of printable park brochures, including a list of all of the regiments in the siege and an illustrated summary of the city's surrender]