" The rebel army thought nothing of stealing food and good drinking water from the citizens of Vicksburg. The rebel army authorities put 100 men in charge of securing homes and lives, but "over seventy-five of the men selected" for the policing duty were Creoles who spoke little or no English, and the troops pretty much took what they wanted. Many people became refugees and moved into tent cities outside the range of the Union guns. "There was something tangible about stealing a pig or helping oneself to a buck of water," Walker explained on page 123.
Prices for food and other necessary items went through the roof during the build-up to the battle. Brandy was $40 a gallon on December 3; on December 29, "when Sherman was knocking on the gates of the city," brandy went up to $60 a gallon (p. 128). On December 20, the Vicksburg City Council voted to spend $3,500 to move "poor families out of the city in case of bombardment." When Confederate president Jefferson Davis arrived in Vicksburg on December 21, the troops were made to stand for about seven hours, and "it was the lat time they would gather together."
Sherman tried to break through the flanks on December 29, but as they attempted to wade through the swamp then climb the bluffs, the Confederates "swatted them back like flies." And the plan to have Grant attack to the south of Vicksburg failed, and Grant moved his troops back into Tennessee. The troops of Sherman were chased up the Yazoo and subsequently routed, and the victorious rebels took money out of the dead Union soldiers' pockets and returned to Vicksburg to instantly beef up the economy with federal dollars. But Grant had made progress, and he had created refugees too; "Port Gibson, Reymond, [Ft.] Jackson, and Champion's Hill - at each place a victory, and at each place refugees and stories" (p. 158).
On May 22, after many days of constant assault on Vicksburg, and with his army surrounding the city, Grant's renewed assault was beaten back. He would wait it out. His attacks had been repulsed repeatedly, but he was in a great position to starve the city. "...By the first of June, [Grant's siege] was thrust full blown and danger-laden into the beleaguered city. This new factor was the mounting threat of starvation, a period which came closer with the passage of each day" (p. 179).
There was a "gnawing at empty bellies" and there was an "erosion of morale and temper as the hungry people found themselves turned into objects of profit by black marketers and hoarders." Then on June 1, 1863, a fire raged through the business district of Vicksburg; ironically, it wasn't shelling from Grant's army that set the blaze, but rather "the matches of some outraged citizens." The gutted stores were owned by merchants "suspected and accused of profiteering," Walker wrote on page 179; "...it was common knowledge that the firs was set by persons who were incensed by the merchants speculation on foot."
So there were two enemies; there was Grant, and there was the dynamic of the people turning against one another because of scarcity of food and services. Water became scarce as the shelling continued into June. Hungry soldiers "were promising mutiny unless they were fed," Walker continued on page 195. Hungry soldiers also began just entering private homes and taking food, "fruit, vegetables, chickens," and people had no choice but to tolerate the looting. This was a pathetic situation for Pemberton, the general in charge of the Confederate troops trapped in Vicksburg. He had 20,000 troops at one point but now they were being "reduced by disease and starvation" according to Patricia L. Faust, Civilwarhome.com). while Grant's land-based army hammered Vicksburg for 47 days straight, General Porter's gunboats delivered shells from the river.
Many Vicksburg citizens moved into caves in the outskirts of town; "For some people the sense of confinement [in caves] was even worse than the menace of falling shells," writes author Jerry Korn in the book "War on the Mississippi" (p. 140). "Caves were the fashion - the rage," according to Mary Loughborough on page 139 of Korn's book. By the end of the siege, over 500 caves had been dug in the yellow clay hills around Vicksburg.
Some of the caves were "no larger than a fireplace" (p. 139) while others were "equipped with furniture brought from the houses, and with rugs covering the dirt floors." And while all this was going on in and around Vicksburg, general Joseph Johnston was said to be raising an army of up to 30,000 men in Jackson, Mississippi. Grant knew what Johnson was probably planning - an attack on Grant's rear, a way to break the siege of Vicksburg. But in response to Sherman's fear that Johnston wanted to break through federal lines and join the troops in Vicksburg, Grant, with an estimated 90,000 men, is quoted as saying (p. 142 of Korn's book):
No. We are the only fellows who want to get in there. The rebels who are in now want to get out, and those who are out want to stay out. If Johnston tries to cut his way in we will let him do it,...that will give us 30,000 more prisoners than we now have."
By June 29, there were reports from rebel couriers who had made it through Grant's lines that General Johnson's troops was fifty to sixty thousand strong, "...and were stretched from Jackson to Canton, Mississippi," writes A.A. Hoehling in Vicksburg: 47 Days of Siege. Those reports turned out to be false, of course, but rumors are always part of war zone environments, and this war zone was particularly susceptible to rumor.
Hoehling writes (from the point-of-view of the rebel soldiers) on page 250 that there were "...four and five thousand sick and wounded solders in different hospitals in Vicksburg," and above each hospital there was a yellow flag indicating it was a hospital. But "the enemy, forgetful of or disregarding all rules of civilized warfare, exhibited a refinement of cruelty in firing at our hospitals." The enemy "deliberately fired into them, killing and wounding several of the unfortunate beings," Hoehling adds. The Washington Hotel, which had been converted into a hospital during the siege, was struck by a "twelve inch mortar" (p. 250).
The excuse given by the Union troops for this apparent lack of humanitarian spirit was that the guns that had fired on hospitals "...were manned by raw troops, and served the double purpose of annoying the city...but General Grant never countenanced or gave his consent to the hospitals being shelled."
There were threats of mutiny: "Our rations have been cut down to one biscuit and a small it of bacon per day, scarcely enough to keep soul and body together...if you can't feed us, you'd better surrender us, horrible as the idea is..." some of the starving rebel soldiers wrote. "This army is now ripe to mutiny unless it can be fed" (Chapter IX, Confederate Military History, Vol. 7, "The Vicksburg Campaign"). After Pemberton received that threat of mutiny, and could clearly see that his troops were starving, the rebels had been shooting the fattest mules in the days leading up to the end of the siege, and butchering and cooking them, and Hoehling wrote that the meat tasted as good to the men as the most tender venison.
Meanwhile, Grant's own version of how it all ended is poignant; "On the 3rd [of July], about 10:00 o'clock a.m., white flags appeared on a portion of the rebel works," Grant writes in "It was a glorious sight to officers and soldiers on the line...and the news soon spread to all parts of the command." It was a wonderful experience for Grant's soldiers who, Grant writes, had been subjected to "long and weary marches, hard fighting, ceaseless watching by night and day in a hot climate, exposure to all sorts of weather, to diseases," and, Grant added, not as a corollary but as a point that was important, "to the gibes of many Northern papers that came to them, saying all their suffering was in vain, Vicksburg would never be taken..." And, he concluded, after discussing the actual details of the surrender by the rebels, "the Union [was] sure to be saved."
Arnold, James R. Grant Wins the War: Decision at Vicksburg. New York: John Wiley & Sons,
Confederate Military History, Vol. 7, Chapter IX. "The Vicksburg Campaign." The Siege of Vicksburg (May 18 - July 4, 1863). Retrieved 23 Nov. At http://www.civilwarhome.com/siegeofvicksburg.htm.
Faust, Patricia L. "The Battle of Vicksburg." Historical Times Encyclopedia of the Civil War. Retrieved 20 Nov. 2006 at http://www.civilwarhome.com/battleofvicksburg.htm.
Grant, Ulysses S. "The Vicksburg Campaign." The Siege of Vicksburg. Retrieved 22 Nov. 2006 at http://www.civilwarhome.com/siegeofvicksburg.htm.
Hoehling, A.A. Vicksburg: 47 Days of Siege. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall,