First assault on town broke spirit of Union troops

Published 12:17 pm Wednesday, May 20, 2015

After weeks of overwhelming victory, the terrine, fortifications and weaponry used to defend the Gibraltar of the Confederacy hit the Union Army like a punch to the gut.

At 2 p.m., May 19, 1863, soldiers in a corps commanded by Union Gen. William T. Sherman attacked Stockade Redan along Graveyard Road, Vicksburg National Military Park ranger Dr. David Slay said during a program commemorating the 152nd anniversary of the attack.

“They thought when they got here to Vicksburg they would flex their muscles and the Confederates would just surrender,” Slay said. “They had no reason to believe they wouldn’t be successful.”

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But all the esprit de corps in the world couldn’t prepare the troops for what was awaiting at Vicksburg. Running up the road was out of the question.

It was immediately in the Confederate line of fire. A valley below provided the only cover but was filled with fallen trees and “all manner of obstacles,” Slay said.

“Outside of Richmond, this was the most heavily fortified place in the continental United States,” he said.

Men sneaked away into the woods to write their last will and testament before making the charge.

“They thought they were going to die. They had never seen anything like this. By 1864 fortifications like this become common place for them. They’re seeing them every day. But in 1863, this is all new,” Slay said.

A few soldiers made it to the wall of the redan but had no ladders with which to scale it.

They remained stranded there for hours, waiting on night to set in so they could retreat.

In all, 712 soldiers would fall in the assault on Stockade Redan.

“Most of that took place in a span of about an hour,” Slay said.

Among the wounded was Orion P. Howe, a 14-year-old drummer boy from Ohio. He had followed a regiment of Wisconsin troops into battle, though he wasn’t supposed to. When the men ran out of ammunition, he was sent to the rear to bring more. On the way to camp, Howe was wounded in the leg and refused to leave the battlefield before his mission was complete.

For his actions, Howe received the Medal of Honor.

He was the second youngest recipient of the award.