National Geographic : 1963 Jul
Siege and Fall of the City BOOMING cannon rattle the windows of a Vicksburg church, where worshipers gather on Sunday, May 17. The preacher calmly finishes the service. Will the women meet and prepare bandages for the wounded, he asks, dismissing the congregation. Bands Play "Dixie"; the Agony Begins Retreating Confederates fall back into the city. "A woeful sight," writes a Vicksburg woman, "humanity in the last throes of en durance. Wan, hollow-eyed, ragged, footsore, bloody, the men limped along unarmed.... At twilight two or three bands on the courthouse hill... began playing 'Dixie'... and drums began to beat." Pemberton, facing a Union Army of 48,000, throws 31,000 men into a defense line over looking the river and curving around the city on the crest of a broken ridge. On May 19 Grant tests the enemy line, sending Sherman against the Stockade Redan. When that at tack fails, Grant determines to make a gener al assault along the entire line. On May 22 his lieutenants synchronize their watches and at 10 a.m. the bluecoats surge forward (pages 48-9). But withering fire forces them back. Thereupon, Grant decides on "a regular siege, to out-camp the enemy," as he put it. yet to me, because I've lost my nerve.... Now I... realize that something worse than death might come; I might be crippled." When terror subsides, she adds, "I must summon that higher kind of courage-moral bravery - to subdue my fears of possible mutilation." In the trenches, ammunition-short Confed erates spenddan day-and-night watches in the face of an unending barrage of artillery and small arms fire that sounds like "the nailing on of shingles," writes a Southern soldier. Federals dig closer. One looks up from his pit at night and marvels at a "wonderful spec tacle," the naval bombardment. He could "see the fuse from the shells ... the comet or star-like streams of fire and then hear them coming down into the doomed city." Enemies Fraternize by Night By day, soldiers on both sides fight with unrelenting ferocity, but at night anger dies and they become just men again, weary, lone ly, and far from home. Pickets in blue and gray, only yards apart, talk to one another, trade coffee for tobacco. "What are you doing over there?" shouts a Southerner. "Guarding 30,000 Johnnies in Vicksburg, and making them board themselves," answers a Yankee.