Redans and field artillery: The defenses of Vicksburg, Part 1

From an artillery perspective, the siege of Vicksburg offers interesting characters such as “Whistling Dick” and “Widow Blakely” But the heaviest burden for the defense of the city fell to field artillery batteries facing the Federals entrenched around the city. The transition of field artillery to garrison roles brings the requirement for something more than field expedient earthworks.

The man tasked with building those works was Major Samuel H. Lockett, Chief Engineer for Lieutenant-General John C. Pemberton. Lockett started his task by improving and repairing existing works constructed the previous December. Working under Lockett was a team of engineer officers, sappers, miners, and contract labor –

The working force under my control was as follows:

Twenty-six sappers and miners, of Captain Wintter’s company; 8 detailed mechanics and foremen; 4 overseers for negroes; 72 negroes hired, 20 being sick; 3 four-mule teams, 25 yoke of draught oxen.

An accurate return of the intrenching tools was never obtained, from the fact that they were always employed and so much scattered. The number, however, was not far from 500 of all kinds.

The work on the lines was generally done by fatigue parties detailed from each command to work within the limits of its own line.

Lockett’s engineers began directly working to improve the lines on the night of May 17. The following day most of the artillery was in positions, though not fully prepared positions.

Between the 18th and 22d, the enemy succeeded in establishing their line of circumvallation at about the distance of 800 yards, extending from our extreme left to in front of the square redoubt (Fort Garrott) on the right of Brigadier-General Lee’s line. The fire of their artillery and sharpshooters soon became quite annoying, and showed the necessity of erecting numerous traverses to prevent enfilading fires, and the importance of having covered approaches from the rear. All of these improvements were made as rapidly as possible by the engineers, with fatigue parties working at night.

These improvements came none t0o soon:

On the 22d, the enemy’s artillery fire was very heavy along their whole line, and a determined assault was made on the Graveyard, Jackson, and Baldwin’s Ferry roads, and along the whole of General Lee’s front on the right of the railroad. A breach was made in the redoubt near the railroad (Fort Pettus), and many other of the raised works were considerably battered. All damages were repaired, however, at night, and the morning of the 23d found our works in as good condition as at the beginning of the enemy’s operations.

The enemy, being apparently satisfied with their attempts at carrying our works by assault, now commenced their regular approaches, and soon had possession of a line of hills on the main roads, not exceeding 350 yards distance from our salient points. These hills they crowned with heavy batteries and connected as rapidly as possible with their second parallel.

Up to this time, Major-General Ulysses S. Grant’s troops ran a string of victories across central Mississippi. Lockett’s work allowed the Confederates to stop these otherwise unchecked Federal advances. With that, the Vicksburg Campaign transitioned to a bona fide siege.

In Lockett’s entrenchments were 102 cannons. Colonel William T. Withers provided a detailed list of the weapons in the siege lines to the rear of Vicksburg:


Notice the most numerous type was the 6-pdr field gun. While useful at the shorter engagement ranges, in particular countering the sappers working forward on the parallels, those guns still lacked the throw weight needed. On the other hand, those fifteen 12-pdr howitzers fired a useful projectile, and their higher angle trajectory came in handy. Vicksburg’s defenders placed most of the heavy smoothbores and rifled guns on the waterfront. The defenders on the land side had precious few heavy rifles. And the defenders’ only mortar faced the river.

Those 102 cannons, in positions laid out by Lockett’s engineers, became the focus of six weeks of siege operations. The pick, axe, and shovel rivaled the musket in importance during late spring 1863.

(Lockett’s report is from OR, Series I, Volume 24, Part II, Serial 37, pages 329-331, with the full report continuing to page 335. Wither’s table is part of his report on page 336.)