May 19th assault on Stockade Redan


Dec 16, 2014
Vicksburg Miss.
Vicksburg National Military Park
May 19, 1863 - A Leaden Hell

Pemberton’s army suffered a crushing defeat at Champion Hill on May 16, and another the next day at the Big Black River. After the defeat at the Big Black, many regiments lost all cohesion and military discipline. Throughout the afternoon of May 17, the defeated Confederates slowly limped back into Vicksburg as officers began rallying their troops and preparing them for the blue tidal wave that was bearing down on the city.

The city possessed strong landward defenses and marching into the entrenchments had a strong effect on the morale of the men who had suffered through the recent defeats. In addition, Pemberton had two fresh divisions on hand, those of generals Martin L. Smith and John H. Forney, that had not seen combat in the previous two battles and whose morale was still intact.

Stretching approximately eight miles in length, the entrenchments ran from Fort Hill north of the city to South Fort, where they anchored on the Mississippi River. Placed at strategic locations along the line were nine earthwork forts, providing additional support along the natural avenues of approach Grant’s army would use to advance on the city.

Pemberton had about 30,000 soldiers and 172 cannon to defend these entrenchments. When the men filed into the trenches, Pemberton assigned Smith’s division to hold the left of the line, Forney’s division in the center, and Carter L. Stevenson’s division to the Confederate right. John S. Bowen’s battle-hardened veteran division was held in reserve to be committed to the line as needed.

While Pemberton was busy preparing his army for the inevitable Union arrival, Grant’s emboldened army was marching steadily toward Vicksburg. The lead units reached the outskirts of the city near dusk on May 18. Grant worked through the night getting his men into position for an attack the next day. He deployed his forces for action with Sherman’s XV Corps on the Union right, McPherson’s XVII Corps in the center, and McClernand’s XIII Corps on the left. Although his army was still in motion and not all his troops would be up in time to take part in an assault on May 19, Grant was determined to make the attack with those troops he had on hand. As he later wrote in his memoir, he thought: “The enemy had been much demoralized by his defeats at Champion’s Hill and the Big Black, and I believed he would not make much effort to hold Vicksburg.” Over the next four days, Grant learned just how critically flawed this assumption was.

Grant scheduled the May 19 assault for 2:00 p.m., and with many of his troops out of position for the attack, the effort largely fell to the XV Corps, with support from units of the XVII Corps. The focal point of the assault was the Stockade Redan, the earthwork fort protecting the Graveyard Road entrance to Vicksburg.

Following a three-round volley by the Union artillery, at 2:00 pm Maj. Gen. Frank Blair’s division shouldered their arms and marched toward the Stockade Redan complex. Moving into the ravines on either side of the Graveyard Road, the troops not only had to contend with Confederate musketry and artillery fire, but also the difficulty of moving over broken terrain, with obstacles such as abatis (felled trees) and trip wires placed by the Confederates to impede their progress.

Despite the fire lashing their ranks, the Federals pressed home their attack. The first unit to reach the Stockade Redan was the 1st Battalion, 13th United States Infantry, led by Capt. Edward C. Washington, the grandnephew of George Washington. Picking its way through the ravines north of the Graveyard Road, the unit was the first to plant its flag on the Confederate works after seventeen color bearers were cut down. Of the 250 men it took into the fight, seventy-one were killed or wounded. Among the casualties was Captain Washington, who was mortally wounded in the assault. Because of the bravery and sacrifice they displayed on May 19, the 1st Battalion, 13th U.S. Infantry was granted the honor of inscribing “First at Vicksburg” on its flag. The unit later took the phrase as its official motto, which is still in use to this day.

Although some Federals reached the Stockade Redan, once there, they were pinned in the ditch fronting the earthwork by the hailstorm of musketry and artillery directed at them by the Confederates. Union assaults along other sections of the front suffered a similar fate, with most pinned down by fire long before they reached the Confederate fortifications.

Only after darkness fell were many of the stunned survivors of the assault able to extricate themselves from their forward positions and retire to safety. The May 19 assault ended in failure for the Federals, with the Confederates handing them a sobering defeat. But this setback was another pragmatic lesson to General Grant, who was already planning a second assault on the Vicksburg defenses.

“The heads of columns have been swept away as chaff thrown from the hand on a windy day.” – General Sherman

With one hundred and fifty-seven killed, seven hundred and seventy-seven wounded, Sherman and McPherson’s troops paid a heavy price.

#vicksburgnps #158yearsagotoday #vicksburgcampaign

[image description one: modern day color photo of Graveyard Road at Vicksburg National Military Park. Pictured, the road, grassy slope, and deep ravines. The Confederate fort, Stockade Redan, can be seen at the top of the photo.]

[image description two: modern day color photo showing bronze relief plaque of Captain Edward C. Washington located on Graveyard Road.]

[image description three: modern day color photo of bronze plaque commemorating the position of the 13th US Infantry during the assault.]

[image description four: color line map showing the layout of the Confederate defenses around Vicksburg in May of 1863]

[image description five: color line map showing the location of Stockade Redan assault. Also shows Federal Units during the assault. Confederate positions are depicted in red, and Federal in blue.]