Following the American Civil War Sesquicentennial with day by day writings of the time, currently 1863.

A Soldier’s Story of the Siege of Vicksburg–Osborn H. Oldroyd

JUNE 24TH.— Awaiting orders to march is as tiresome as waiting at a station for a train. We were ready for marching orders again this morning, but failed to get them.

Friction Tube for Firing Cannon -- A Soldier’s Story of the Siege of VicksburgThe weather is hot. Some of the rebel prisoners have said we could not stand this heat, but I guess the Yanks can stand it if they can, and if it should actually get too hot, we will just cool their country off. The nights are pleasant enough and we are thankful for the comfort of the sleep which they allow us. We have a chance out here to forage a little, and though but little, any change from army rations becomes agreeable.

It is amazing what progress soldiers make in foraging. They began committing such depredations as to cause an order on the subject to be issued, and on the eighth of May last the commanding General required a general order, prohibiting foraging, to be read throughout the army five times a day. Not long after that, two soldiers of the 13th corps were arrested and brought before General A. J. Smith, at his headquarters in a fine grove of stately poplars, where the General was informed by the guard that the men had been caught in the act of stealing chickens. The gallant General appeared to be revolving the heinousness of the charge as he looked aloft among the poplars, and presently the guard inquired what should be done with the men, when the General, after another glance upward, turning to the guard, replied, “O, damn ‘em, let ‘em go. There ain’t any tree here high enough to hang ‘em on.”

JUNE 23d.—We halted this morning at six o’clock, and but a few minutes elapsed before two-thirds of the regiment were fast asleep. A few very hungry ones, only, made coffee and took breakfast.

We find ourselves again on the road to Jackson, but what our final destination is, no one knows except the stars in front. We surmise our course to be through Johnston‘s army, if we can find it.

Dog, or Shelter Tent. -- A Soldier’s Story of the Siege of Vicksburg The “blarsted” bugle blasted us out on the road again at seven. I believe I, for one, would rather have spent my hour in eating than sleeping. However, we trudged our eight miles at an easy pace and halted again. The birds were singing merrily, with no sounds of war to interfere. It is rumored that we are out hunting the paymaster instead of Johnston.

JUNE 22D.—Johnston is getting lively again, and beginning to kick up a dust in the rear; so we have orders to move tonight, with three days’ cooked rations. One regiment from each brigade in Logan‘s division constitute our expedition, which, I think, will find him, and if we get sight of his army, somebody will be likely to get hurt.

It is now just a month since we made the charge on the enemy’s line which proved to us so disastrous, and our cannon now are too close to act on Fort Hill, so a wooden gun has been made, which, charged with a small amount of powder, throws the shell inside the fort—a new device, but working well, for it can drop its missile where the cannon cannot.

We have eaten pretty well in camp to-day, and cooked everything we had on hand, since we may not get so good an opportunity again upon the march. When hard tack was first issued there was but one way to eat it, and that was dry, just as it reached us. Practice, however, taught us to prepare a variety of dishes from it. The most palatable way to dispose of hard tack, to my taste, is to pulverize, then soak over night, and fry for breakfast as batter-cakes. Another good way is to soak whole, and then fry; and still another is to soak a little, then lay it by the fire and let grease drop on it from toasted meat, held to the fire on a pointed stick. This latter is the most common way on a march. Sometimes the tack is very hard indeed by the time it reaches us, and it requires some knack to break it. I have frequently seen boys break it over their knees. Just raise your foot up so as to bring the bent knee handy, and then fetch your hard tack down on it with your right hand, with all the force you can spare, and, if not too tough, you may break it in two. But one poor fellow I saw was completely exhausted trying to break a hard tack, and after resorting to all the devices he could think of, finally accomplished it by dropping on it a 12-pound shell. The objection to that plan was, however, that the fellow could hardly find his hard tack afterward.

At midnight we crept out of camp unobserved—everything being quiet except now and then a shot on picket line.

JUNE 21ST.—To-day again church bells at the North are calling good people to worship, and to hear words of cheer and comfort to the soul. The prayers of our patriotic mothers and fathers that will go up to-day for the suppression of this rebellion will surely have a hearing.

We had inspection of arms and quarters at nine this morning. Of course everything was in good order, but if such a thing should take us by surprise some time, our beds might be found not made, and things in general upside down. When notice of this inspection was given, or rather an order to prepare for it, one of our boys remarked, “This must be Sunday;” and he added, “I guess I won’t wait for this inspection,—I’ll take my girl to church.” If his girl had been here the whole company would doubtless have wanted to go to church, too. “Though lost to sight, to memory dear.” We can talk to the sweet creatures only through the dear letters exchanged; but a love letter brings a very bright smile to a warrior’s face, and the sunshine that prevails in camp after the reading of the mail from home, is quite noticeable. Dear girls, do not stop writing ; write letters that are still longer, for they are the sweetest of war’s amenities, and are the only medicine that has kept life in the veins of many a homesick soldier. When the mail comes I cannot help wishing everybody may get a letter; but alas! some must miss hearing their names read, and oh! the sadness that creeps over them when the last name has been called and the last letter handed out to some one else. They are sadder than if wounded by a bullet. If wounded, a surgeon may prescribe; but what prescription for the failure of a letter from home? Our mail is by no means daily, and if it comes at all, its favors are few and far between. Indeed, each time it comes we get to feeling as if it may never come again. And so it may prove, in fact. The disappointed one carries his strangled hope into the next day’s fight, falls, and dies, perhaps, from some wound that otherwise might prove slight, for his heart is broken.

This afternoon I stood on a little hill just back of a regiment adjoining, talking with a friend there, when crash through his brain went a rebel bullet. He had just alluded to the horrors of the daily strife. Relieved from further duty here, he went to answer roll-call in a better army, to which his honorable discharge from this ought surely to admit him. He answered the first call of his country, and had served faithfully through two years of hardship and danger. I personally know that he fought well, and his name should not fail to be enrolled somewhere in the records of his country.

JUNE 20TH.—This morning our whole line of artillery—seven miles long—opened on the doomed city and fortifications at six o’clock, and kept up the firing for four hours, during which time the smoke was so thick we could see nothing but the flash of the guns. No fog could have so completely hid from view objects around, both close and familiar. Had the rebs made a dash for liberty then, they could not have been discovered until they were right upon us. But they did not do it. Our infantry was all called out in line of battle, and we stacked arms till the firing ceased. O, what a calm after that terrific bellowing. There was every variety of tone to-day from the dogs of war—from the squeak of a little fiste to the roar of a bull dog. The sound of some brass pieces was so loud as to drown the reverberations of the larger guns, and not a return shot was fired.

Poor fellows, how tamely they took it! They had nothing to say—at least that we could hear. Several of our boys laid down and slept during the firing as soundly as if they had been on their mothers’ feather beds at home. When the clouds cleared away I thought the stars and stripes never looked so beautiful. Even if the defenceless women and children in Vicksburg are protected, or feel as if they were, such a screeching of shot and shell must prove a terror to them, and my heart has not yet grown so hardened that I can not feel for them.

There is a good deal of complaint, in our company at least, about the coffee we get. It seems not quite so good as that we have had, and I suspect it has been adulterated by somebody who is willing to get rich at the expense of the poor soldier, whose curses will be heaped strong and heavy on anybody who deteriorates any of his rations, and particularly his coffee. The only time a soldier can not drink his coffee is when the use of that ration is suspended. In fact, there is nothing so refreshing as a cup of hot coffee, and no sooner has a marching column halted, than out from each haversack comes a little paper sack of ground coffee, and a tin cup or tin can, with a wire bale, to be filled from the canteen and set upon a fire to boil. The coffee should not be put in the water before it boils. At first I was green enough to do so, but soon learned better, being compelled to march before the water boiled, and consequently lost my coffee. I lost both the water and the coffee. It takes but about five minutes to boil a cup of water, and then if you have to march you can put your coffee in and carry it till it is cool enough to sip as you go. Even if we halt a dozen times a day, that many times will a soldier make and drink his coffee, for when the commissary is full and plenty, we may drink coffee and nibble crackers from morning till night. The aroma of the first cup of coffee soon sets the whole army to boiling; and the best vessel in which to boil coffee for a soldier is a common cove oyster can, with a bit of bent wire for a bale, by which you can hold it on a stick over the fire, and thus avoid its tipping over by the burning away of its supports.

JUNE 19TH.—For a month we have been watching our enemy vigilantly, and a panorama, consisting of a great variety of war scenes, has, during that time, passed before us. We have had charging, digging rifle-pits, blowing up forts and firing all sizes of cannon, to say nothing of percussion shells, spherical Whitworth Projectile - Siege of Vicksburg, June 1863case shot, time shells, parrot, grape, cannister, shrapnel, etc., the memory of which will be vivid to all, both blue and gray, who have seen the show around Vicksburg. The terrible noises, too, that have rung in our ears, must echo for years to come. I may add our endurance of this southern sun, at times being short of rations, and at no time out of danger, yet all the time nearly uncomplaining—every one trying to make the best of it, and all as merry as the Shell with fuse - A Soldier’s Story of the Siege of Vicksburg situation would admit. Each day some of the boys have come in relating new discoveries on reconnoisance, and I do not think there is a foot of ground about these hills that has not been explored, a well or spring that has not been tested, or a single object of interest of any kind that has not been worked till it grew stale. Then each man has had his peculiar view of how a siege like this ought to be conducted—that is, from the standpoint of rank and file.

However, we are all agreed that the quiet man in command of our forces is still able to anticipate the requirements of our situation. I call him quiet, for that is just what he is. There is no dash or glitter about him, but he is marked by a steady nerve, and piercing glance that seems to be always on the alert. Many a second lieutenant has fallen a victim to the sharpshooter because of his fresh uniform, while officers of more experience have escaped under slouched hats and old blouses. There seems to be no limit, however, to the experience of some of them.

A cook of the 96th Ohio happened to be cooking beans the other day, when Gen. A. J. Smith, commanding a division of the 13th Army Corps, came around on camp inspection. After being properly saluted by the cook, the general began a colloquy as follows:

Gen. Smith.—What are you cooking?

Hand-grenade thrown from Fort Hill - A Soldier’s Story of the Siege of VicksburgThe Cook.—Beans, sir.

General Smith.—How long do you cook beans ?

The Cook.—Four hours, sir.

Gen. Smith (with a look of withering scorn).—Four hours! You cook ‘em six hours!

That cook’s beans were tender enough that day.


“Once again the fire of hell

Rained the rebel quarters,

With scream of shot and burst of shell,

And bellowing of the mortars.”

Janes shell, before application of packing and after application of packing, ready for use. (Vicksburg, June 1863)JUNE 18TH.—I was relieved from guard at 9 A.M. and returned to camp. There has been very heavy firing all day, and it is rumored that Pemberton will try to break through our lines; but if he tries that game he will find it dangerous enough. It is no easy matter to climb over the bulwark of steel now encircling this city.

The weather is getting altogether too hot for comfort. A few sun-strokes have occurred, but without proving fatal so far. One poor fellow even dropped at midnight, when I presume the surgeon’s diagnosis must have been—moonstruck. There are more ways than one of shirking a battle, for which purpose some are even willing to part with a finger or toe.

Aiming at the Court House, Vicksburg, June 1863

If the rebels are short of provisions, their ammunition seems to hold out, for they are quite liberal in their distribution of it. But when Sherman begins firing from the east, McClernand from the west, McPherson from the rear, and the mortars from the north, then look out for big fire-works. The cannon are all pointed towards the town, but some of the shells fall far short of it. When these burst in mid-air, we can see a small round cloud of smoke left behind, and then there is a sharp lookout for fragments to be scattered in every direction. Our artillerymen have had such good practice during the siege, that they can generally drop a shell wherever they want to.

A game of euchre, with a shell for trumps. - Seige of Vicksburg, June 1863 Boys at the front have time for sport, which is not to be interrupted even by stray shells. I noticed four of our boys playing euchre, when a shell from the enemy came careering just above their heads ; but they treated it with entire indifference. Another group I saw playing “seven-up” under a blanket caught at the four corners in the hammers of muskets stuck in the ground, and thereby forming a very good shelter from the sun. A shell burst right over this group, scattering its fragments all around, but even this failed to disturb the game, further than to call forth the timely comment, “Johnny passes.”

A Soldier’s Story of the Siege of Vicksburg 31JUNE 17TH—I was detailed to the charge of a squad of men to guard rebel prisoners in the corral at Logan‘s headquarters. They were not hard to guard, for they think themselves in pretty good hands, and surely they seem to get better grub here than in their own lines. Some of them are deserters, and upon such I look with contempt. I am ready to share my rations with an honest prisoner, but have no use for a man who enlists in a cause, and then deserts his comrades when they get into a tight place.

If what they say is true, the garrison over there is already familiar with mule meat and scanty meal rations. If they have had to eat mules such as we have killed in the trenches, I pity them, for they are on a tough job. Several cows which I suppose had served families there with milk, we had to kill for browsing too close to our lines.

I am pretty well convinced Pemberton would not hold out much longer but for the help he expects from Johnston. If that, however, is all the hope they have, they might as well surrender at once, for if Johnston should come, he can not do them any good.

A ball struck a little drummer boy a while ago, and he limped off, whimpering: “I wouldn’t care a darn, but my other leg has been shot already.” Some of the boys went to his assistance, and then they had to hurry towards the hospital, for the rebels got range of them and began firing quite briskly.

I was quite amused to see one of the prisoners brought in today, eating his supper. We gave him all he could eat, and that was no small amount. But he was certainly a very hungry man, and if he is a fair sample of those remaining in Vicksburg, Uncle Sam’s commissary will have to endure quite a burden, for after the surrender, no doubt, Grant will have to feed them all.


* Shenkle’s Projectile – This projectile, as shown in No. 1, is composed of a cast-iron body.  The expanding portion is a paper-mache wad, which being forced on to the cone, is expanded into the rifling of the bore.  On issuing from the bore, the wad is blown to pieces, leaving the projectile entirely unencumbered in it’s flight through the air (No.2.)

JUNE 16TH.—We were relieved before daylight, and returned to camp pretty tired. I did not feel well last night, and having had no chance to sleep, I am a little the worse for wear this morning.

There was not much firing done during the night, but we had to keep a good lookout, as there are apprehensions of an outbreak. I do not often go star-gazing, but last night I sat and watched the beauty above. Daytime is glorious, but when night unfurls her banner over care-worn thousands among these hills, and the stars come out from their hiding places, our thoughts seek loftier levels. It was just as though one day had died, and another was born to take its place. Not a breeze stirred the foliage, except as fanned by the whirling shells. My thoughts were of home, and of the dear sister there, bedridden, with but little hope of health again. Her dearest wish, I know, is to see her only brother once more before she passes away to that heavenly peace for which she is destined. Through these terrible two years past, thoughts of home and a safe return to an unbroken family circle, have been my constant guiding star.

JUNE 15TH.—Our regiment went into the rifle-pits again before daylight, at which time the din of musketry and cannonading from both sides had begun, and will cease only when darkness covers the earth.

We are now so close to Fort Hill that a hard tack was tossed into it by one of our boys, and then held up on a bayonet there, to satisfy us of its safe arrival. Some of the boys have become reckless about the rifle-pits, and are frequently hit by rebel bullets. Familiarity breeds a contempt of danger.

Some of the boys wounded at Raymond have got back to us, and are now ready again to do their part. They are, however, more timid than we who have been at the front so long. It is fun to see these new-corners dodge the balls as they zip along. But they, too, will soon become accustomed to flying lead.

Several of the boys have been hit, but not hurt badly, as the balls were pretty nearly spent before reaching them. Those returning from Raymond say they have marked the graves there, but I fear it will not be long before the last vestige of the resting places of our late comrades will be lost