Continuing from yesterday’s post on the Confederate defenses of Vicksburg, now let me turn to the big guns… and those with some real “names.” During the siege of Vicksburg not all the pressure the defenders came from the land approaches. With Federal gunboats still working along the Mississippi, the Confederates had every reason to retain the batteries at the city’s riverfront. Those heavy guns would parry any attempt by the Federals to take the city by riverine assault.
Colonel Edward Higgins commanded the river batteries. In his consolidated report of the siege, filed on July 25, 1863, he offered a list of cannons under his command and their dispositions:
The line of batteries extended along the river front, commencing at a point above Fort Hill, on the right of my line, to a redoubt which terminated the extreme right of the rear lines and met my left, a distance of 3 miles, and consisted of 8 10-inch columbiads, 1 9-inch Dahlgren, 1 8-inch columbiad, 1 7.44-inch Blakely gun, 1 7-inch Brooks, 1 6.4-inch Brooks, 3 smooth-bore 42-pounders, 2 smooth-bore 32-pounders, 8 banded and unbanded 32-pounder rifles, 1 18-pounder rifle, 1 20-pounder Parrott, 1 Whitworth, 1 10-inch mortar, 1 8-inch siege howitzer, making in all 31 pieces of heavy artillery, besides 13 pieces of light artillery, which were placed in position to prevent a landing of the enemy on the city front. These batteries were divided into three commands, as follows: The upper batteries, from Fort Hill to the upper bayou, were worked by the First Tennessee Artillery, under Col. Andrew Jackson, jr. The center batteries, or those immediately on the city front, were under charge of Maj. F. N. Ogden, Eighth Louisiana Artillery Battalion, to whose command was attached Capt. S.C. Bains’ company, of Vaiden Light Artillery. The lower batteries were in charge of the First Louisiana Artillery, under Lieut. Col. D. Beltzhoover. A portion of the Twenty-third [Twenty-second] Louisiana Volunteers was joined to Lieutenant-Colonel Beltzhoover’s command.
The batteries offered an impressive weight of fire, on paper at least. Keep in mind that some of these guns arrived at at time that other sectors, namely Charleston, were also requesting heavy guns.
On May 18, 1863, Federal gunboats appeared both up and downstream of Vicksburg, seemingly prepared to rush up with the anticipated infantry assault. The following day, positions on the north end of the river batteries came under fire of Federal sharpshooters. Responding to that threat, traverses went up overnight to the side and rear of the four gun water battery. Throughout May 20 and 21, Federal gunboats and mortar boats maintained fire on the batteries but with little effect.
Timed with army assaults on the lines, again the navy moved up to bombard the river batteries. Higgins reported:
On the 22d, at 9 a.m., four iron-clads and one wooden gunboat engaged the lower batteries, and after an engagement of one hour and a half were repulsed. Two of the iron-clads were seriously damaged. This engagement was creditable To the First Louisiana Artillery, who, with ten guns, mostly of small caliber, contested successfully against thirty-two heavy guns of the enemy. Our casualties were only 2 wounded during the fight; one 10-inch columbiad and the 18-pounder rifled gun were temporarily disabled. The Blakely gun burst at the muzzle.
The siege had just began and three of Higgins’ best guns were on the disabled list. All three were eventually returned to service. The Blakely, soon obtaining the nickname “Widow Blakely” as it was the only weapon of that type in the lines, was repaired by cutting down the cracked muzzle. The 18-pdr rifle was likely the famous “Whistling Dick,” and likewise returned to service.
On May 23 Higgins released eleven of his light field pieces to reinforce the landward defenses (and thus those guns appear on the table shown yesterday). With pressing needs in the siege lines, later more of the guns and crews shifted to the landward side. The two Brooke rifles burst during the siege. For the rest of the siege, the remaining heavy guns worked against the gunboat threat and also fired counter-battery against Federal weapons on the Louisiana shore. (And I plan to examine some of the more interesting of those exchanges in line with 150th anniversaries, with this being a “setup” post in that regard.)
According to Higgins’ report, the last shots from the river batteries came at 5 p.m. on July 3.
(Higgins’ report comes from OR, Series I, Volume 24, Part II, Serial 37, pages 336-340.)