Grant discussed the situation at Vicksburg with his senior officers; it was a rare instance where he came close to a council of war, and he was persuaded to try another assault. Sherman felt that his first try against the Stockade Redan, on the northeast side of Vicksburg, had been handicapped by the lack of time to prepare and lack of knowledge of the terrain. The abatis all around the fortifications, constructed of downed trees tangled together with telegraph wire, disrupted the order of march and exposed his troops to sniper fire. Sherman determined to send in columns on a narrow front to punch through at a single weak point, then reinforce the break.
Unfortunately, the small column presented a tempting target for all the sharpshooters along the parapets. Sherman’s troops took heavy casualties and had to fall back. The repulse of this second attempt was enough to convince everyone that a siege was necessary.
On the 21st, General Grant issued his orders for a general assault by all the army at 10 a. m. on the 22nd, the assault to be rapid by the heads of columns. I placed Blair’s DIVISION at the head of the road, Tuttle’s in support, and left General Steele to make his attack at a point in his front about half a mile to the right. The troops were grouped so that the movement could be connected and rapid. The road lies on the crown of an inferior ridge, rises over comparatively smooth ground along the edge of the ditch of the face of the enemy’s bastion, and enters the parapet at the shoulder of the bastion. No men could be seen in the enemy’s works, except occasionally a sharpshooter would show his head and quickly discharge his piece. A line of select skirmishers was placed to keep them down; also a volunteer storming party of about 150 men, carrying boards and poles to cross the ditch. This, with a small interval, was followed by Ewing’s brigade; this by Giles SMITH’s, and Kilby SMITH’s bringing up the rear of Blair’s DIVISION.
All marched by the flank, following a road selected the night before, by which the men were partially sheltered until it was necessary to take the crown of the ridge and expose themselves to the full view of the enemy, known to be lying concealed behind his well-planned parapet. At the very minute named in General Grant’s orders, the storming party dashed up the road at the double-quick, followed by Ewing’s brigade, the Thirtieth Ohio leading. The artillery of Wood’s, Barrett’s, Waterhouse’s, Spoor’s, and Hart’s batteries kept a concentric fire on the bastion, which was doubtless constructed to command this very approach.
The storming party reached the salient of the bastion and passed toward the sally port, when rose, from every part commanding it, a double rank of the enemy, that poured on the head of the column a terrific fire. It halted, wavered, and sought cover. The rear pressed on, but the fire was so terrific that very soon all sought cover.
The head of the column crossed the ditch of the left face of the bastion and climbed upon the exterior slope, where the colors were planted, and the men burrowed in the earth to shield themselves from the flank fire. The leading brigade of Ewing being unable to carry that point, the next brigade of Giles SMITH was turned down a ravine, and by a circuit to the left found cover, formed line, and threatened the parapet about 300 yards to the left of the bastion, and the brigade of Kilby SMITH deployed on the off slope of one of the spurs, where, with Ewing’s brigade, they kept up a constant fire against any object that presented itself above the parapet.
About 2 p. m. General Blair reported to me that none of his brigades could pass the point of the road swept by the terrific fire encountered by Ewing’s, but that Giles SMITH had got a position to the left, in connection with General Ransom, of McPherson’s corps, and was ready to assault.
I ordered a constant fire of artillery and infantry to be kept up to occupy the attention of the enemy in our front. Under these circumstances Ransom’s and Giles SMITH’s brigades charged up against the parapet, but also met a staggering fire, before which they recoiled under cover of the hillside.
At the same time, while McPherson’s whole corps was engaged, and having heard General McClernand’s report to General Grant, that he had taken three of the enemy’s forts, and that his flags floated on the stronghold of Vicksburg, I ordered General Tuttle to send directly to the assault one of his brigades. He detailed General Mower’s, and while General Steele was hotly engaged on the right, and I could hear heavy firing all down the line to my left, I ordered their charge, covered in like manner by Blair’s DIVISION, deployed on the hillside, and the artillery posted behind parapets within point-blank range.
General Mower carried his brigade up bravely and well, but again arose a fire more severe, if possible, than that of the first assault, with exactly a similar result. The colors of the leading regiment, the Eleventh Missouri, were planted by the side of that of Blair’s storming party, and remained there till withdrawn after nightfall by my orders.
McClernand’s report of success must have been premature, for I subsequently learned that both his and McPherson’s assault had failed to break through the enemy’s line of intrenchments, and were equally unsuccessful as my own.
At the time we were so hotly engaged along the road, General Steele, with his DIVISION, made his assault at a point about midway from the bastion and Mississippi River. The ground over which he passed was more open and exposed to the flank fire of the enemy’s batteries in position, and was deeply cut up by gullies and washes; still, his column passed steadily through this fire and reached the parapet, which was also found to be well manned and defended by the enemy. He could not carry the works, but held possession of the hillside till night, when he withdrew his command to his present position. These several assaults, made simultaneously, demonstrated the strength of the natural and artificial defenses of Vicksburg, that they are garrisoned by a strong force, and that we must resort to regular approaches.
Our loss during the day was severe, and the proportion of dead to wounded exceeds the usual ratio. The loss in my corps for the attack of May 22 will not fall much short of 600 killed and wounded.
Our skirmishers still remain close up to the enemy’s works, while the troops are retired a short distance in the ravines, which afford good cover. Strong working parties are kept employed in opening roads to the rear and preparing covered roads to the front. By taking advantage of the shape of the ground, I think we can advance our workyards of the redoubt which commands the road, after which the regular sap must be resorted to. Captain Jenney, engineer of my staff, has organized the parties, and will set to work immediately at two distinct points, one in Blair’s and the other in Steele’s front.
Our position is now high, healthy, and good. We are in direct and easy communication with our supplies, and the troops continue to manifest the same cheerful spirit which has characterized them throughout this whole movement.
I have as yet received no detailed reports of my DIVISION commanders. Indeed, our means of transportation have been so limited and our time so constantly employed that but little writing has been done; but as soon as possible I will supply you with accurate reports of all the details of events herein sketched, with names of killed and wounded, and the names of such officers and men as deserve mention for special acts of zeal and gallantry.
I have sent in about 500 prisoners, with lists of their names, rank, regiments, &c., and now inclose the papers relating to those paroled at Jackson, MISS.
I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,
W. T. SHERMAN,