The Forlorn Hope at Vicksburg

“The forlorn hope.” The very words are chilling and evoke a desperate and deadly military enterprise which has little or no chance of success; a guaranteed ticket to the grave. On May 22, 1863 outside Vicksburg, Mississippi, 150 volunteers from General Frank Blair’s division of William T. Sherman’s 15th Army Corps signed up for just such a desperate endeavor. The men were to carry logs, planks, and ladders. Their mission was to approach Stockade Redan near the northeast corner of the Vicksburg fortifications and bridge the ditch in front of the fort so that the onrushing Union infantry behind them could reach the works. The end goal was worth the sacrifice: the capture of Vicksburg was the primary aim of Grant’s army and here existed an opportunity to seize the jewel prize of the campaign.
The Forlorn Hope at Vicksburg on May 22, 1863 

          Among the 150 volunteers were two men from Co. I of the 30th Ohio Volunteer Infantry: Corporals William Archinal and William Campbell. Archinal went with the first detachment that carried logs; Campbell was in the second detachment which carried timbers to place on top of the logs. The third detachment carried the ladders to scale the walls of Stockade Redan.

The fate of the two men diverged on the slopes of the fort: Archinal was carrying a log with another soldier when the soldier was shot and dropped to the ground. The sudden fall of his comrade led Archinal to fall and hit his head on a stone which knocked him out. When he awoke, he was under intense crossfire and hugged the ground until nightfall. He tried to crawl away, but the Confederates saw his movement and took him prisoner. Campbell, however, survived the mission and made his way back safely to Union lines that night as is recounted in his letter below.
Corporal William Campbell
Co. I, 30th Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Archinal’s account of the Forlorn Hope was included in Beyer and Keydel’s Deeds of Valor, but I think Campbell’s account is seeing print here for the first time since publication in 1863. Both men were awarded the Medal of Honor in 1894 for their participation in this attack. Campbell’s letter was written two days after the event and was published in the June 12, 1863 issue of the Tuscarawas Advocate from New Philadelphia, Ohio. Archinal’s account from Deeds of Valor follows Campbell’s in this post.

In the field, rear of Vicksburg, Mississippi
May 24, 1863

          On the 22nd we were ordered to make a charge on the Rebel fort which is about 60 yards from where we are now. Before starting a squad of 150 men was raised whose duty it was to go in advance of the column and make a temporary bridge across the ditch in front of the fort for the column to cross on. This squad was called the storming party and was composed of volunteers, as they would not ask anyone to go against his will. William Archinal and myself were the two who went from my company.

At 10 a.m., the signal was given to start forward. We picked up our timbers and went in on a run. When we reached the ditch, a glance showed us that it was too wide for us to bridge, so we ran on past the fort to a rifle pit about 40 yards in the rear of the fort. But when we reached it, we found that the ditch was as wide as the one at the fort, which was about 30 feet. So we were obliged to drop our timbers and get down in the ditch for shelter. But here the Rebels had a crossfire on us from the fort, so we ran along the ditch back to the fort, where we found shelter under its walls. Here we went to work with our bayonets digging little steps in the wall so we could climb up.

It was not until we started back to the fort that we thought of looking back for the column that followed us to the attack; we saw that they had not got more than halfway to the fort before the road [now aptly called Graveyard Road] was blockaded with the dead and wounded so that they could not advance, and were obliged to seek shelter in a deep ravine at the side of the road. About one half of our storming party was also killed and wounded, so it was impossible for us to go over; but as we were at the fort and could not get away without running the same risk we did in getting there, we determined to do the best we could until dark.

So after making a few steps in the wall with our bayonets, we climbed up and planted the stars and stripes on the top of the fort. [Private Howell G. Trogden of the 8th Missouri Infantry carried the flag of his own regiment and planted them in the fort.] The Rebels inside tried several times to take it down, but as fast as they showed their heads above the inside of the wall, we shot them down, so they were obliged to let it float. But it so happened that we had planted it near the mouth of a cannon, and as they kept throwing grape and shot at our men, the flag was riddled to pieces. But still we kept it up and at night brought the fragments away.
May 22, 1863 assault on Stockade Redan; the 30th Ohio was part of Hugh Ewing's brigade which attacked right up the Graveyard Road. 

At 2 p.m., another brigade making a charge, thinking that by having our brigade in the ravine to keep up a heavy firing they could get through. But the result was the same as with us; they were cut to pieces. We can throw stones from our rifle pits to the fort in front of us. We are under cover of the hill which we have made pretty safe. The Rebels are hemmed in on all sides and must sooner or later surrender.

From W.F. Beyer and O.F. Keydel’s Deeds of Valor:

When the storming party withdrew, they left behind them William Archinal, who had been stunned by a fall and who was afterwards captured by the enemy. Archinal and another man had been carrying a log between them and had neared the ditch, when his comrade was shot. His sudden fall and the consequent dropping of his end of the log threw Archinal to the ground, where he struck his head against a stone and became unconscious. His adventure is best told in his own words:

When I came to my senses, I was lying on my face with the log across my body and showers of bullets whistling through the air and dropping all around me. These bullets I found, came from my own division and to save myself from being shot by my own comrades., I wriggled from under the log and got it between me and them. It was providential for me that I did so, for I could hear the bullets striking the log in dozens. Sometime during the afternoon, one of our cannon shells struck the log close to my head; the log bounded in the air and fell a little way from me, but I crawled up to it again and hugged it close. The firing continued incessantly all day until nightfall when it gradually slackened and finally died away altogether. I thought I could make my way back to my regiment, but as I was raising the butt of my gun which was slung on my back, I attracted the attention of the enemy above me. Half a dozen rifles were pointed at me and I was ordered to surrender, which I did, considering the discretion the better of valor.

When I was taken into the fort, a Rebel officer came up to me, slapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘See here young man, weren’t you fellows all drunk when you started this morning?’ I replied, ‘No sir.’ He said ‘Well they gave you some whiskey before you started didn’t they?’ I answered ‘No sir, that plan is not practiced in our army.’ He asked me ‘Didn’t you know it was certain death?’ I replied, ‘Well, I don’t know I am still living.’ He said, “yes, you are living, but I can assure you very few of your comrades are!’

I was then placed in charge of a guard, taken to the city, and put into the yard of the jail where I met some 50 or 60 of our men, taken at different points during the day. The jail yard was enclosed by a high brick wall with large sycamore trees growing inside. I was nearly dead from fatigue, so I immediately crawled into one of the tents put up for our accommodation and was on the point of dropping off to sleep when our mortar boats opened fire on the city. Of course, there was no sleep for us that night.


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