FREDERICK DENT GRANT AT VICKSBURG *** This article is the second in a series covering Frederick Dent Grant’s memories of his father. The first appeared in the April Newsletter.
Frederick Grant especially enjoyed recalling his experiences as a twelve-year-old boy accompanying his father during the Vicksburg campaign. The article reprinted below appeared originally in The Outlook for July 2, 1898, though the reference to General Grenville M. Dodge near the end suggests that it was prepared originally as a speech for a veterans’ organization. Frederick Grant drew on his memories of the Vicksburg campaign in brief remarks to the Society of the Army of the Tennessee in 1894, 1905, 1906, and 1909, though only in 1907 at the meeting held in Vicksburg did he make a formal address, and then he relied completely on his earlier article in discussing his own role. The latter speech was printed in the Report of the Proceedings of the Society of the Army of the Tennessee, and reprinted in the Confederate Veteran for January, 1908. Frederick Grant’s memories of Vicksburg made a final appearance on January 22, 1911, in the New York World Magaaine, then were reprinted in the Literary Digest on April 27, 1912, sixteen days after his death. The earliest of all these accounts appears to be the most complete as well as the most readable.
I have always appreciated the good fortune which enabled me to be with my father and his able lieutenants in the field during our great struggle for National existence, and to see for myself the men and the events that made so famous the chapters of our history for the years from 1861 to 1865.In March, 1863, while I was at school at Covington, Ky., my father gave his consent to my joining him at Young’s Point, near Vicksburg. I was stimulated to haste by my desire to possess myself of a beautiful Indian pony which Colonel [Maj. Theodore S.] Bowers, of father’s staff, had provided especially for me.
Arriving at Young’s Point, I found my father’s headquarters on a steamboat at the levee. I also found my precious pony, had him saddled and bridled immediately, and joined my father on a trip of inspection to the canal. Here he found that the enemy was throwing up fortifications on the opposite side of the river, which so commanded the canal that its use would be impracticable. We returned to headquarters, stopping for consultation with several generals on the way. Here I first saw General Sherman, for whom my father had such unbounded admiration. Later, father went on board Admiral Porter’s flagship, the Benton, for a consultation with his naval coadjutor. I accompanied him; but on board, the Admiral, doubtless remembering the old saying that “little pitchers have long ears,” called a man to show me all over the ship–everywhere but in the cabin. Not then appreciating the reasons for this special courtesy, I enjoyed my explorations very much. It was during my absence that my father proposed the passage of the Vicksburg batteries.
The transports were protected with bales of hay packed around the boilers; calls were made for volunteers to man the boats; and the troops were reviewed. The call for boat crews was most eagerly responded to, especially by the men of General [John A.] Logan’s division. Some of the men advanced the most extraordinary reasons for being selected for the service, and their courage and persistency seemed truly marvelous to me. Colonel W. S. Oliver’s Eighth Missouri Regiment volunteered almost en masse.
On the 16th of April, 1863, General Grant and Admiral Porter held a final consultation. About 10 P. M. all lights were put out, and the fleet started down the river. Suddenly a rocket went up from the shore; a cannon blazed forth from Warrentown [Warrenton]; and a shot passed directly in front of our boat. We stopped; a lurid flame sprang up from a house at De Soto, opposite Vicksburg, then another on the river front, and soon fires were burning along the whole front of the city, and the river was lighted as if by sunlight. Six gunboats, looking like great black turtles, followed by three fragile transports, moved directly toward the Confederate batteries, which now opened fire. The Benton and the other gunboats responded, and, steaming up near the city, sent shot [pg. 3] and shell pouring into Vicksburg. The transports kept over toward the Louisiana shore, and one–the Henry Clay–was set on fire by a red-hot shell, and burned to the water’s edge. The people of Vicksburg lined the hills, and manifested great excitement. On board our boat my father and I stood side by side on the hurricane deck. He was quietly smoking, but an intense light shone in his eyes. The scene is as vivid in my mind to-night as it was then to my eyes, and will remain with me always.
As soon as our fleet passed the batteries, and firing had ceased, father’s boat steamed back to Milliken’s Bend. The first step of the great campaign had been successfully accomplished.
A few days later I accompanied my father, with eight officers of his staff and an escort of twenty cavalrymen, on a ride of thirty miles to visit McClernand at New Carthage. It was a hard day’s journey. At the crossing of a slough, where there was but a narrow bridge, my father made one of his daring leaps, putting his horse at the opposite bank, which he just managed to reach. The rest of us preferred to wait our turn at crossing by the bridge, over which a wagon train was slowly passing. We remained that night at New Carthage, my father spending the time conversing with McClernand. The following day we returned to Milliken’s Bend.
From there father moved to the head of the army, which now had advanced to Hard Times. The problem now presented itself of getting the troops across the Mississippi River.
On the 29th of April our gunboats steamed down to Grand Gulf, and engaged the enemy’s batteries for about five hours. Father was on board a little tug, which moved about amid the fleet. I had kept close to him and saw all that was going on. After a trip to the Louisiana shore we went on board the Benton, and, as we entered the porthole, I was sickened with the scenes of carnage. Admiral Potter had been struck on the back of the head with a fragment of shell, and his face showed the agony he was suffering, but he planned a renewal of the conflict for that night, in order to permit our transports to run past the Confederate batteries. During this interview with the Admiral he asked me if I wanted to stay with him, and suggested that I might fill the place of a gunner he had lost. The scene around me dampened my enthusiasm for naval glory, so I replied: “I do not believe that papa will allow me to serve in the navy.”
Our troops now moved down the western bank of the Mississippi, to De Shroon’s plantation, where the negroes turned out to welcome us with great rejoicing, deeming us the messengers of the Lord bringing them freedom.
The following day, April 30, we went on board the General Price, formerly a Confederate ram, and moved down to where Bruinsburg had stood. Now not a house was to be seen; fire had destroyed the whole town. The crossing of the troops continued vigorously, and, tired of watching them, I fell asleep on deck. Awakening the next morning, I found that my father had gone to the front, and the sound of cannon announced the progress of a battle. General Lorenzo Thomas told me that father had given strict orders that I should not be allowed to go ashore, but he finally permitted me to join a party in chasing a rabbit on the land, [pg. 4] and I took advantage of that permission to push my investigation over the hills. I fell in with a wagon train and secured a ride on a mule; and after going some distance in that way I joined a battery of artillery on its way to the front, and later followed a passing regiment–the Seventh Missouri–which was soon in battle. Presently my father appeared. My guilty conscience so troubled me that I hid from his sight behind a tree. Within a short time a mighty shout announced the victory of our troops, and the horrors of a battle-field were brought vividly before me. I joined a detachment which was collecting the dead for burial, but, sickening at the sights, I made my way with another detachment, which was gathering the wounded, to a log house which had been appropriated for a hospital. Here the scenes were so terrible that I became faint and ill, and, making my way to a tree, sat down, the most woebegone twelve-year-old lad in America.
Soon an approaching horseman hailed me with a shout: “Why, hello, is that really you?” The horseman was an orderly from my father’s escort, and, dismounting, he proceeded to make me comfortable, putting down his saddle for a pillow, and advising me to go to sleep. This I did but my sleep was broken by dreams of the horrors I had witnessed. Suddenly I heard the orderly cry out: “Look here, your father has come.” About fifty yards off sat my father, drinking coffee from a tin cup. I went to him, and was greeted with an exclamation of surprise, as he supposed I was still on board the boat. In after years he often told the story of my following him to the battle of Port Gibson with more interest and satisfaction than he manifested to me at that time.
The next morning the burning question was that of transportation. Horses were scarce, but I succeeded in getting a mount. Two enormous white artillery horses had been captured the day before. I secured one of them, and Mr. Charles A. Dana, Assistant Secretary of War, the other. Mr. Dana, however, had the advantage of riding the horse with saddle and bridle; I had to content myself with improvising a harness made of a clothes-line and the tree of a side saddle without stirrups. Badly equipped as I was, many others were worse off in the beginning of the campaign. At any rate, the sight of a small boy on the big white horse made some sport on the road for the soldiers I passed or those who passed me.
At Port Gibson General Logan came to see father, who complimented him highly on his operations of the previous day. On leaving, General Logan turned to me and said: “Come, my boy, and I will show you the prettiest fight you will ever see.” We went down to the lower suspension bridge, to secure the crossing, as my father had ordered.
I returned to Port Gibson, and, finding that my father had left, I followed the troops which were crossing the bayou. I rode on quite a distance, and then, stopping at a house where some officers were sleeping on a porch, I crawled in for a nap between two of them. They awoke, and “said things;” but when I mentioned my name, one of them–Colonel (afterward General) [John B.] Sanborn–welcomed me kindly and lent me part of his overcoat for a pillow. Becoming very cold toward dawn, I went indoors, found a bed with two occupants, and crept in between them. I [pg. 5] slept well, but by daylight I found that my bedfellows were two large negroes. Somehow I had thought that the room seemed close.
It was now the 3d of May, and I found my father at the North Fork, watching the crossing of the troops. Finding that I was lame from the falling of my horse the day before, father, who was ever kind and thoughtful, insisted that I should take his mount, a horse belonging to General A. J. Smith. All of father’s horses were at this time on the other side of the Mississippi. We moved toward Hankinson’e Ferry. At the forks of the road it became necessary to clear away a body of the enemy a troops. With slight loss and the capture of some prisoners this was accomplished, and we moved into Grand Gulf. Here we found our old friend the Benton, and the gallant Admiral, who welcomed us most cordially. He gave father a bundle of dispatches, including one from General Banks, who said that he could not reach Port Hudson as soon as he had expected, and that he would have fewer troops than he had counted upon. General Grant immediately began to write dispatches, a task at which he continued till two o’clock in the morning, when he borrowed a change of linen, ordered his horse, and started for [James B.] McPherson’s quarters. The next day Colonel [Clark B.] Lagow, in whose charge I had been left, started on after father, and we overtook him at Rocky Springs. Near here, General Sherman, with the Fifteenth Corps, joined us, and he and father had some long conversations.
From the 7th to the 12th of May General Grant was constantly in communication with Sherman, McPherson, and McClernand, riding around from one to the other. This made his headquarters so uncomfortable and his mess so irregular that I, for one, did not propose to put up with such living, and I took my meals with the soldiers, who used to do a little foraging, and thereby set an infinitely better table than their commanding General. My father’s table at this time was, I must frankly say, the worst I ever saw or partook of.
On the 12th of May the Union army was pushed forward, and at Fourteen Mile Creek [Peter J.] Osterhaus had a skirmish to clear the road. We heard the sounds of battle away off to the right, and later we learned that McPherson had won the day at Raymond.
I had struck up a friendly acquaintance with one of the orderlies called “Pony.” At Fourteen Mile Creek he and I rode out on an independent trip, and, seeing ten or twelve horses tied up in front of a house, we conceived the idea of capturing the mounts, and possibly the riders also, who were inside the house. Not until we had gone too far to retreat did the idea occur to us that the would-be captors might possibly become the captured. It was with great relief that we saw a man wearing a blue uniform come out of the house, and we then discovered that the party we had proposed to capture was a detachment of Sherman’ a signal corps. Later on, trying to get back within our own lines, we had some difficulty in convincing the pickets that we were entitled to pass.
The next day I went over the battle-field of Raymond, and here again I saw the horrors of war, the wounded and the unburied dead.
We spent the night at Raymond, and then started for Jackson, the capital of Mississippi. While passing through a piece of dense woods on [pg. 6] the way, the enemy’s sharpshooters opened fire on us. One of the staff shouted to my father that they were aiming at him. His answer was to turn his horse and dash into the woods in the direction whence the bullets were coming. Colonels [James H.] Wilson and Lagow, I, the orderlies, and the escort followed, and in skirmishing fashion we advanced till we came to a large house, where we halted. Sherman’s corps now came up, and McPherson was already engaged. Generals Grant and Sherman were on the porch of the old house when our line was broken by artillery fire and our men began a retreat. The two generals immediately mounted, rode among the men, and reformed them. Meanwhile [James M.] Tuttle’s division had passed through the dense woods and had captured the enemy’s breastworks, and, wheeling to the left, advanced up the line of intrenchments. Father accompanied them.
Thinking the battle was ended, I rode off toward the State House, where the Confederate troops passed me in their retreat. Though I wore a blue uniform, I was so splashed with mud, and looked generally so unattractive, that the Confederates paid no attention to me. I have since realized that even had I been captured, it would not have ended the war.
At this time I saw a mounted officer with a Union flag advancing toward the Capitol. I followed him into the building and entered the Governor’s room, which had been hastily abandoned. Finding what I supposed to be the Governor’s pipe lying on the table, I confiscated it, primarily and ostensibly for the National service, but secondarily and actually for my own private and individual use. It had the advantage of being still loaded and lighted.
Returning to the street, I saw the officer whom I had followed in the act of raising the Union flag over the building. He proved to be Captain, afterwards Colonel, Cornelius Cadle.
Father and his staff, advancing at the head of the army, soon reached the State House, where I joined them, and went with them to the Bowen House, the best hotel in Jackson, where we took the room in which General Joseph E. Johnston had slept the night before.
At Jackson we captured an important prisoner who was carrying dispatches from Johnston to Pemberton. The information gained from these dispatches caused some activity at headquarters, and the next day–May 15–the army started off in the direction of Vicksburg.
That night, while sleeping in the room with my father at Clinton, I was awakened by a great knocking. Colonel Lagow announced the arrival of a messenger from McPherson, and father seemed surprised at the news he received. He gave orders for an early start in the morning, went back to bed, and was soon sleeping quietly again. After a light breakfast before daybreak, we moved rapidly to the front, General Grant keeping well ahead of the rest of us. At Champion’s farm we came upon the enemy, and were soon in the midst of terrific firing. The staff officers were dispatched to various points, and very soon father and I were left alone. Our line broke, and was falling back, when father moved forward, rallied the men, and passed over from Hovey’s division to McPherson’s corps, putting the latter into action. There were now 15,000 men in our line, [pg. 7] which was about three miles long, and the battle raged fiercely along its whole extent. McPherson, dressed in full uniform, was mounted on a beautiful black horse. “Fighting Jack” Logan, also in full uniform, was mounted on a white horse, and as they passed to and fro, exposing themselves recklessly, they made a most “superb” picture.
General Grant rode to all parts of the field, giving orders to the generals, and dispatching his staff in all directions. Hovey was sustaining the heaviest part of the encounter. Suddenly hearty cheering was heard on the right of the line, and father moved over in that direction, to find 3,000 prisoners taken, with eighteen guns.
After the battle of Champion’s Hill, while riding toward Edwards Station, father suddenly turned back, and I went on into a house filled with Confederate wounded. They were not feeling very friendly toward the Yankees, and they threatened to kill me. Of course I decided not to intrude, and I passed on. Further down the road, some of our own men, who did not know me, attempted to take me prisoner. Soon, however, an old soldier recognized me, and called for “Three cheers for young Grant,” which were given with a will, and I began to feel more comfortable. About midnight I returned to the field, and reached a house in which I found my father and several of his staff officers, most of whom were greatly elated over their victory. I slept in the room with my father that night; he, even after the great battle and victory of that day, and with the expectation and cares of another battle on the morrow, was, as ever, most considerate of the comfort and welfare of his young son.
The next morning we made an early start, and moved toward the Big Black River. When we halted near the railway bridge, General Grant and his staff occupied the porch of a fine plantation house.
Our troops were now moving on the enemy’s line at a double quick, and I became enthused with the spirit of the occasion, galloped across a cotton-field, and went over the enemy’s works with our men. Following the retreating Confederates to the Big Black, I was watching some of them swim the river, when a sharpshooter on the opposite bank fired at me and hit me in the leg. The wound was slight, but very painful; and I suppose I was very pale, for Colonel Lagow came dashing up and asked what was the matter. I promptly said, “I am killed.” Perhaps because I was only a boy the Colonel presumed to doubt my word, and said, “Move your toes”–which I did with success. He then recommended our hasty retreat. This we accomplished in good order.
After the capture of the fortifications, May 17, our army bridged the Big Black and crossed during the night.
On May 18 we reached the summit of Walnut Hills, just behind Vicksburg, whence we could see the Mississippi and Chickasaw Bayou, where Sherman had fought in December. Sherman was greatly elated over the success of the present campaign, and so expressed himself enthusiastically. Several outworks were captured that day.
During the 19th father spent much of his time with McClernand on the extreme left. He feared lest Pemberton might make his escape through this thinly guarded part of our line. The 20th and 21st were spent in skirmishing and in advancing our lines as much as possible. On the 22d [pg. 8] the great assault was made upon the fortifications. Early in the day General Grant had a narrow escape from a shell which was fired directly down a ravine which he had just entered. He was unhurt, however, but was covered with yellow dirt thrown up by the explosion. On this day I saw a sight that will probably never again be witnessed in this country–an artillery duel extending over seven miles in length. Beneath the smoke of this cannonade the Army of the Tennessee could be seen moving to the assault upon the enemy’s lines, which became a sheet of fire from the forts and rifle-pits. At one point our flag was planted right at the base of the enemy’s parapet.
An incident of this day’s work was illustrative of youthful heroism, and of my father’s tender nature. A small boy, with blood streaming from a wound in his leg, came running up to where father and Sherman stood, and reported that his regiment was out of ammunition. Sherman was directing some attention to be paid to his wound, when the little fellow, finding himself fainting from loss of blood, gasped out, “Caliber 56,” as he was carried off to the rear. At this moment I observed that my father’s eyes were filled with tears.
The wound I had received early in the campaign now began to trouble me very much, and, under Dr. [Henry S.] Hewitt’s expressed fears of having to amputate my leg, I remained much at headquarters. Because of this I saw a great deal of my father’s methods, his marvelous attention to detail, and his cool self-possession. I also witnessed the devotion of his men to him, and the enthusiasm with which they greeted “the old man, as they called him, when he passed along the lines. Father was a splendid horseman, and visited many points of his army every day.
General Sherman commanded the Fifteenth Corps during part of the siege of Vicksburg, and the remainder of the time he had command of the troops placed from Haines’s Bluff to the Big Black. His personality is too well known for me to describe it here, but it is a pleasure for me here to bear witness to my father’s affection for Sherman, and his esteem for his soldierly qualities. Indeed, it gave General Grant more pleasure to see Sherman honored and rewarded than it did to receive such tributes himself. Sherman was impetuous in action, brilliant in conversation, and thoroughly versed in the art of war; but he was always thoroughly subordinate and ready to obey promptly any order given to him. Two hours’ notice was amply sufficient for him to get under way to execute any desired movement. On the 15th of May he was at Jackson, Miss., and that night General Grant, desiring him to move to the front, sent him orders to that effect. On the afternoon of the 16th he arrived at Bolton with the head of his corps, having marched twenty-five or thirty miles that day; and he would have been in the battle of Champion’s Hill had the enemy waited on the field a little longer. I had the pleasure of being under fire with General Sherman several times, and, like his troops, I was inspired with great enthusiasm.
The next officer in rank, the commander of the Seventeenth Corps, was Major-General James B. McPherson, the Bayard of the Army of the Tennessee. Mounted on horseback, young and handsome, always splendidly dressed and most courtly in manner, he was the very impersonation of a [pg. 9] knight. General Grant always regarded McPherson as the most promising officer of his age in the army, and on his death father said that he had lost one of his best friends and the country one of its ablest defenders. McPherson’s troops loved him, and one needs hear but once the cheers given by the “Army of the Tennessee,” whenever his name is mentioned in its presence, to appreciate the love and devotion with which his memory is still cherished. His very taking off was illustrative of the man. When ordered to surrender before Atlanta, he courteously lifted his hat, bowed low, wheeled his horse, and dashed into the woods. But the volley that instantly followed was but too well aimed, and he fell. To me he was particularly kind, and I grieved deeply over his death.
Among the division commanders whom I was fortunate enough to see upon the field of battle were Generals Logan, [Frederick] Steele, John E. Smith, [Marcellus M.] Crocker, A. J. Smith, Tuttle, Osterhaus, [Francis P.] Blair, [Thomas E. G.] Ransom, and [Charles E.] Hovey. I have heard my father say that with such officers an army must be irresistible. There were others, besides those I have mentioned, whose names and memories are alike honored for their services in defense of their country, one of the most distinguished of whom was our honored companion, General G. M. Dodge.
The siege of Vicksburg continued after the assaults of the 23d of May, without much excitement except such as was caused by reports that Johnston was about to attack our rear. General Grant, however, made a personal inspection trip (upon which I accompanied him) back to the Big Black, and found everything secure and well guarded under the watchful care of General Sherman. The siege went on. Our parallels slowly but surely approached the doomed city. Deserters came in more frequently, and reported the desperate condition of the garrison. Rumors also came to us that Johnston was going to make a determined effort to relieve Pemberton. These reports led to another rumor that our troops would celebrate the Fourth of July by a grand storming of the works. Doubtless this rumor found its way into the beleaguered city, for on the morning of the 3d of July a flag of truce was announced. General Grant betrayed no excitement, but in the afternoon he rode out with his staff to a point opposite Fort Hill, I accompanying them. Soon a white flag appeared over the enemy’s works, and a party of Confederates was seen approaching. Firing ceased, and, under an old tree, General Grant met his opponent. The other officers separated into groups and conversed, while the works on both sides were lined with soldiers.
The consultation of the commanding generals lasted a short while, and presently both parties retired to their own quarters. Father was immediately joined by the largest assemblage of general officers which I had ever seen–the heroes of this most brilliant campaign and siege–deciding upon and settling the fate of their foes. They had conquered and taken in their power the largest number of men, the greatest quantity of war material and spoils, ever surrendered in battle.
After conversation General Grant dispatched a note to the defender of Vicksburg, and the group of officers dispersed. I remained in the tent, sitting on my little cot and feeling restless, but scarcely knowing why. Father sat at his table writing. Presently a messenger handed [pg. 10] father a note. He opened it, gave a sigh of relief, and said, calmly, “Vicksburg has surrendered.” I was thus the first to hear officially announced the news of the fall of the Gibraltar of America, and, filled with enthusiasm, I ran out to spread the glad tidings. Officers rapidly assembled, and there was a general rejoicing.
The next day, the glorious Fourth, as father was starting for the front on the Jackson road, the booming of guns was heard, apparently on our right. General Grant looked vexed, and was about to order the arrest of General Steele, whom he supposed to be responsible, saying that he “ought to know better than to allow any triumphing over conquered countrymen,” when Steele himself rode up, the firing was definitely located on our left, and the salutes were stopped. Soon after, the Confederates were seen filing out of their works and stacking their arms–3l,600 brave men surrendering 172 cannon and 60,000 muskets to the conquering but lenient Army of the Tennessee.
The arms being given up, the troops passed back into the city, and General Grant, at the head of the Army of the Tennessee, moved forward to take possession. His reception by General Pemberton was most frigid. With a group of Confederate officers, Pemberton was seated on the porch of a large house, but when father expressed a desire for a glass of water, he was allowed to go to hunt for it in the kitchen. This surly reception to the man who would not allow his men to celebrate their victory was deeply resented by the members of General Grant’s staff, but father was satisfied with his success in capturing Vicksburg, and manifested no resentment.
The Confederate officers who thus received him gratefully appreciated, later on, the clemency they experienced at the fall of Vicksburg, and expressed this appreciation in the most touching manner during General Grant’s last illness, at the time of his funeral, and at the dedication of his tomb.
Passing through the city, where the Union flag had already been hoisted over the courthouse, General Grant went on board the Benton, where Admiral Porter congratulated him upon the victory. The next day he established headquarters at the house of a Mr. Lum, who soon became his warm friend; and during my father’s last illness some of the most beautiful letters received by us were from members of this charming Vicksburg family.
This ended my connection with the army for a while. From the result of exposure I had contracted an illness which necessitated my withdrawal into civilian life again, and on the 8th of July I was sent home to recuperate. I did not rejoin my father until after the battle of Chattanooga.
I remember with the utmost interest my life in camp, and with deepest affection the men whom I met in the army. Much of my time was spent among the private soldiers, who were never too tired or too worn out to comfort and pet the young boy–the son of the “old man.” Young as I then was, my camp life was of such nature–I saw so much of the hardships, the self-denials, the sufferings and labors of both privates and officers, that my proudest moments are when I am associating with the old warriors, the veteran comrades of my father.