Vermont and Vicksburg

Vermont State Militia Button featuring the state seal and motto of Freedom and Unity.


One does not typically associate the state of Vermont with the Vicksburg campaign. No troops from the Granite State were assigned to Grant’s army although there were two Vermont artillery batteries and the 8th Vermont Infantry with General Nathaniel Banks’ army then besieging Port Hudson downstream from Vicksburg. However, three brigade commanders of Grant’s army were native Vermonters including one of the best fighters in the army, General Joseph Mower, and based on what I found while perusing some of Vermont's wartime newspapers, there were some native Vermonters serving in both armies at Vicksburg. Among those discoveries was a letter from a soldier in the 15th Illinois Infantry and another (even more surprising) from a captain in the 40th Mississippi. 

The first letter was written by Private Joel Battie Buswell who was serving in Co. H of the 15th Illinois. Buswell wrote this letter in the midst of the siege back to his older brother James residing in Barton, Vermont.  The 15th Illinois was part of the Second Brigade (Colonel Cyrus Hall), Fourth Division (General Jacob G. Lauman), of the 16th Army Corps corps during the Vicksburg campaign. Buswell's account of the siege of Vicksburg was originally published in the July 10, 1863 edition of the Orleans Independent Standard

The letter from the captain in the 40th Mississippi follows in the second section. 

 

A company of unidentified Federal troops, possibly late war Western Federals, pose in line in this recently discovered image. For many soldiers, their first loyalty lay with their company and regiments but strong ties to their home or native states were also common. 

On half mile from Vicksburg, Mississippi

June 9, 1863

          I wrote to brother Chase the 16th of May but since then we have been very busily engaged in moving and fighting. Our division forms part of the line which surrounds the enemy’s works, We are on the extreme left and on the line just about half the time, or 24 hours out of 48. I have just come off the lines and avail myself of the opportunity to write hoping it may go up the river in the course of the week.

          Grant and his army have in the last month done all that could be expected. He has taken 64 pieces of field and siege guns and 8,000 prisoners and I judge about 20 deserters come over to our lines daily. The weather is extremely warm averaging about 90-100 degrees at midday. The country hereabouts is entirely of hills with now and then valleys but little wider than a road. The soil is sandy and abounds with insects called chiggers. They are within the dense canebrakes and are about the size of the point of a sewing needle covering one over with sores. Unit the day before yesterday I suffered much and found the remedy to be sweet oil applied externally in which they cannot work.

          The lines around this place are 15 miles or more in length, but the army is about half of what you Eastern people think it to be. I judge with the late reinforcements that there are no more than 75,000 fighting men and with this number the place is invested. The rear is twelve miles distant at Big Black River bridge; other roads and the Yazoo River are protected and if the enemy comes down upon us from the east in too great of numbers, what we must do is evident to us all, however terrible it seems to us. Nearly one half of the troops around this place and perhaps more must fall in storming the enemy’s works. If needs be, it will be the last resort and I blame not our generals. They have acted wisely, bravely, and nobly. The fault is in not putting the drafting law in force months ago so that all the old troops could have been sent to this place and the rear protected by the new regiments.



          In this case, this ungodly work of taking works which have been two years in construction would not have been necessary. I still have hopes it will not be necessary. If Hooker with his 120,000 heroes can keep the Virginia army there and Washington safe, and Bragg’s army happens to stay where it is, we will not storm the works; otherwise, I am fearful we will. Vicksburg will be taken anyhow and I have no doubt they would surrender within two weeks without such a sacrifice on our side if we had men sufficient to protect the rear and hold the place till their provisions are exhausted. They are now living on pea meal mixed with corn meal and a half pound of beef or one-fourth a pound of pork per day to a man. They have turned loose from their works towards our own lines all their mules, horses, and Negroes. They fully realize the importance of the place to them, and I doubt not will make almost any sacrifice to save it.

The cannonading has been terrible by us at times. But the Rebels live in caves to such an extent that it is not believed the place can be taken in that way. You may wonder how the Rebels are kept from opening their guns and sending grape and canister shells in our ranks. It is done by our keeping them from loading their guns and keeping them from showing themselves over their works where we are near them and where our lines are behind hills. We are in part their mercy, then again, every time they open upon our lines the gunboats and mortars attend to them until they cease. We are losing but few men.

We are in no very comfortable condition having but one shirt to our backs, clothes torn, ragged, and dirty without tents except a few old rags gathered up from Rebel encampments and but few cooking utensils and but little to cook. Sometimes a little beef, hard bread, coffee, and sometimes coffee and hard bread alone with now and then pork. The magnolia tree grows naturally here to the size of two feet in diameter. Canebrakes over hills thick as hair on a dog and many of the poles are 20 feet in length. The boys killed an alligator down at Grand Gulf and they are said to be in the Yazoo River but have seen none.

I have written this hoping it will give you an idea of what is going on near Vicksburg. It is hazardous times here just now and General Grant is successful so far in a great undertaking. It is a time when a man’s life needs to be insured by more than earthly power to be safe. I will not close without acknowledging the protection of Providence and live or die, sink or swim, I am in hopes to serve Him and receive his protection forever.

Joel B. Buswell, Co. H, 15th Illinois

 

40th Mississippi marker at Vicksburg

          “The following letter is an extract from a private letter written by a Rebel officer who was a commissary in the army of Pemberton to a relative residing in this town,” reported the Rutland Weekly Herald. The letter was written in early July after Pemberton’s surrender but before the paroled Confederates marched to Jackson, Mississippi. The article unfortunately doesn’t share the captain’s name or the name of the relative to whom he wrote the letter, but does relate that he was in the 40th Mississippi. The 40th Mississippi was part of General John C. Moore’s brigade of General John H. Forney’s division during the Vicksburg campaign.

          I am in the Confederate army as commissary of subsistence to my regiment with the rank of captain. My regiment is the 40th Mississippi, Colonel Colbert, General Moore’s brigade, General Forney’s division. I have been here six months but was at the battles of Iuka, Corinth, and Fort Pemberton on the Yazoo. Unexpectedly to me my health has been very good in the army and though I have had several narrow escapes I have never been injured by shot and shell.

This place, Vicksburg, surrendered on the 4th of July for the want of provisions after holding out for 48 days. The place was completely invested by the Federal army that it was impossible for anyone to pass in or out except by the river and then only in the night in the very smallest of boats made out of hollow logs or by floating on planks. During the siege of 48 days there were probably not more than 20 individuals who passed in or out. We were almost entirely dependent upon Federal papers for news from the outside and they were obtained from Federal soldiers by our pickets.


Provisions were scarcer than ever before known in America. At last the soldiers were nearly in starvation, eating everything that would bear eating at all no excepting rats. Mule’s steak was a regular dish for several days; fortunately for myself I had laid in a supply of good ham and flour the first day of the siege, so I did not suffer at all. Flour sold as high as $5 a pound, ordinary biscuits for $5 a dozen, fresh pork at $3 a pound, beef at $1.50 a pound, molasses at $10 a gallon, mile at $2 a gallon, butter at $2.50 a pound, eggs $2 and other articles in proportion. Such privations have not been witnessed before in many centuries and that, too, by a soldiery composed in many cases of the wealthiest sons of the South, the young men who spent their thousands every summer at Saratoga, Niagara, Nahant, New York, Newport, etc. in the good old times of yore.

We have been paroled and march towards Jackson tomorrow. We have been very kindly treated by the Federal authorities as no restrictions have been placed on us since the capitulation and the Federal government has fed us bountifully while the work of paroling is going on and given us rations to march out with. The total number of our forces here is a little over 27,000 sick and well. So strong is this place that had we an abundance of provisions we could have held it as long as we desired against 100,000 men. The troops of both armies are on the best of terms, camped side by side and were you to see and hear them converse, you would hardly believe that they were the same men who but a few days before were doing all in their power against each other.

I am tired of this war, however, and I hope it come to an end at no distant day. I find many Federals troops of the same mind, but God only knows when it will end.

 

Sources:

“A Barton Boy Before Vicksburg,” (Private Joel Battie Buswell, Co. H, 15th Illinois Volunteer Infantry), Orleans Independent Standard (Vermont), July 10, 1863, pg. 4

“Affairs at Vicksburg,” (Captain in 40th Mississippi), Rutland Weekly Herald (Vermont), July 30, 1863, pg. 4


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