Description of Vicksburg


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Civil War Harper's Weekly, August 2, 1862

This site contains online editions of the Harper's Weekly newspapers published during the Civil War. These newspapers contain rich content related to the war, and the people who fought it. We are hopeful you find this archive beneficial to your study and research.

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Vicksburg Description

Description of Vicksburg

Morgan's Kentucky Raids

General Couch

Fort Powhatan

Fort Powhatan

New Orleans

New Orleans Flag Presentation

General Dix

General Dix

California Joe

California Joe


City of Vicksburg

Harrison's Landing

Harrison's Landing

Ladies of New Orleans

Ladies of New Orleans

Army Cartoon

Army Cartoon






[AUGUST 2, 1862.



WE reproduce on page 484 a drawing of the CITY OF VICKSBURG, Mississippi, which has been bombarded by Commodore Porter's mortar-fleet, and Commodore Farragut's gun-boats and ships of war. The city is thus described:

Vicksburg is the first point at which the rebels commenced the erection of works for blockading the Mississippi, and it is quite fitting that she should be the last stronghold to fall. The Vicksburgians were foremost in the inception of the rebellion, and the vote cast here for the secession of Mississippi was almost unanimous.

The city made prompt and liberal appropriations for putting the city in a condition of defense, and it was solemnly resolved that no boat should be allowed to pass in either direction that should not first acknowledge the supreme power of the Davis confederacy.

The city of Vicksburg is situated on the Walnut Hills; a range of wooded summits about for hundred feet high, and presents a fine appearance when viewed from below. From the tops of these elevations the flat, alluvial country around can be seen for a long distance in every direction, and with its forests of oak and cotton-wood, interspersed with extensive plantations, forms a picture of great panoramic beauty. The main portion of the city lies near the water, and above it the hills are crowned with elegant private residences, or made conspicuous by the high walls of the public buildings. The Court-house, a huge structure of light gray limestone, crowns the summit of one of the hills, and is visible for a long distance up and down the river. The streets rise from the river with an abrupt and difficult ascent, and are cut with a regular grade, through the bluffs and hills, directly to the edge of the levee. The town, when viewed from the opposite bank, appears as if the houses were built upon terraces one above another, and the lower doors of one habitation are oftentimes visible over the roof of the building in its immediate front.

Above and below Vicksburg the hills are crowned with the batteries that the rebels have erected to dispute our advance, the most of them being placed at the lower end of the town, as if the most danger were apprehended from that quarter. One tier of batteries is placed near the top of the bluff and another about half-way from the summit to the water. A single row of water-batteries, mounting in all some twenty guns, is located near the brink of the river, and is probably designed to repel all attacks that might be made at short range. The batteries on the summit of the hill cause our navy men more trouble than those lower down, as none of our guns can be elevated sufficiently to reach them, while their shot, with light charges of powder, can be made to plunge through our decks, and disable whatever boats or vessels come within their reach. The batteries above the town are mainly placed on the upper hills, though one mounting four rifled guns is placed almost at the very water's edge, in position to sweep the river both above and below.

On page 481 we give an illustration of CUTTING THE CANAL, from a sketch by our artist, Mr. Theodore R. Davis. The correspondent of the Chicago Tribune thus describes the work and its progress:

It is not a canal, but simply a ditch. When we arrived here it had been completed only through that portion of the neck which is inside of the levee, or embankment, to prevent the river's, overflow. It was then about fifteen feet wide, and three, or three and a half feet deep. This, it was supposed, was of sufficient depth to allow the water of the river to flow through, but when the levee at each end of it was cut through, it was found to be above the level of the water. The river had fallen some during the process of digging, but not enough to account for so great a shortcoming.

The mountain would not come to Mohammed, and some wiseacre determined to make it come by placing an old stern-wheel boat at the lower side of the entrance to the canal, to work her wheel, and so paddle the water up into it, which succeeded in wetting the bottom of the canal just entomb to make it muddy, but no more. This experiment of me king water run up hill not proving very successful, it was determined to deepen the ditch. The bottom being, as I said before, about fifteen feet wide, the one half of this bottom, longitudinally, was dug five feet deeper, the entire length of the canal, the earth being thrown up on the other half of the original bottom, and so that a transverse section of the canal would show like this:

By this means a small thread of water, about a foot wide, was decoyed into it, where it remains at present, looking very much bewildered, as though it did not know where to run to. The entire south side of the canal is now composed of loose earth, thrown up from the deepening, and should the river rise sufficient to shake a current through the canal, I think this loose earth would be undermined by the current, and coming down would soon fill it up sufficiently to stop the current. The labor of widening the canal would almost be equal to that of digging a new one.

Independent of this, another fact is to be taken into consideration. The course of the Mississippi is deflected by the range of the Walnut Hills, upon which Vicksburg is built. In front of Vicksburg the river is narrower than usual, and consequently deeper. I am told on good authority that it is 200 feet deep for more than a mile above and below the steamboat landing at that place. I have also been informed that soundings were made by the flag-.ship Hartford during her passage on the 26th, with over 100 feet of line, without finding bottom, and where the Hartford is now anchored. which is above the deepest portion of the bend, and where the river is much wider, and consequently more shallow, I saw the lead cast myself in thirteen fathoms of water. Now, even with a free strong current running through the canal, it certainly must take several months for the river to cut itself a new channel 200 or 300 feet deep, and for the sediment in the mean time to fill up the deep channel in front of Vicksburg, and so "leave it out in the cold." River steam-boat men, of whom there are a number here, object to the canal on still another score. They say that all the wonderful cut-offs that have been made in the course of the river have begun at a point where the main current of the river has impinged against the shore of some bend, but the upper end of this canal is unfortunately located in an eddy, the current striking the shore nearly half a mile below. As for he number of contrabands at work on the canal, there are not several thousand, as I see stated in some prints, though the number has been increased lately, and our soldiers, I am glad to see, have been relieved from digging, and set to overseeing the work. This is as it should be, only that the number of contrabands should be increased, and made to do something when they are at work. Their present number does not exceed 700, but can easily be doubled or trebled.




NOW that the progress of recruiting and the natural elasticity of the American mind have dispelled the gloom which settled on the spirits of the public after the check before Richmond, it may be timely to draw attention to the fact that whatever may occur in Virginia, whatever

checks our arms may encounter in the prosecution of the campaign in that State, and whether we take Richmond or no, the fate of the rebellion has been already finally determined, and its collapse is a mere question of time.

General Scott's plan for the overthrow of the great insurrection was to shut up the rebels; to close their ports, hold fast the Potomac and the Ohio, and to leave them to repent at leisure. That eminent soldier and statesman knew that an independent nation could not survive confinement within prescribed limits, and that, after a few months trial of Japanese fare, the Southerners would be thankful for readmission to the world at any cost.

General McClellan improved upon this plan by adding to it the bisection of the Confederacy on the line of the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, from Memphis on the Mississippi to Charleston on the Atlantic.

These plans have been measurably carried out. The coast blockade is so perfect that even the British are learning to their cost that it is effective. We hold beyond dispute the line of the Potomac, and further west, we are in force on a line from Cumberland Gap to Memphis—considerably south of the line traced by General Scott. The Mississippi River is so far ours that no craft but our own can navigate it, and no bodies of troops or cargoes of supplies can cross it without permission from our gun-boats. Finally we have prosecuted the work of bisection from Memphis to Decatur, and almost within sight of Chattanooga, which, we trust, will soon be ours likewise.

Let us suppose that we conclude to stop fighting here, and merely to hold what we have got. The "Southern Confederacy" will then resemble a fly under an inverted glass, with the additional comfort of having part of its body under the edge of the glass and severed from the rest. How long can the fly thrive in this agreeable position?

It is proper that we should thoroughly beat the rebel army in Virginia and take Richmond, and both of these things will be done in due time. But if we did neither, the rebel Confederacy would none the less collapse within a given period. Passion, brutalized fury, and the dread of negro equality may for a time sustain the rebels in their present absorbing devotion to the war; but a day must come when every Southerner will realize that there is something better to be done in the world than hopelessly fighting and starving. It might take months, or even a year or two; but at last the absolute necessity of intercourse with the foreign world, and the impossibility of living without industry, trade, civilization, letters, and the comforts and luxuries of life, would overpower the wicked impulses of treason and awaken the South to common sense.

Southern sympathizers lay stress upon the guerrilla raids in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia. These are annoying; but practically they do more harm than good to the rebels. No great cause was ever helped by guerrilla warfare. It injures the non-combatant more than the soldier; women and children more than men. It exasperates the people of the country in which it is carried on. It partakes of the nature of private robbery and murder, and its authors are naturally classed with robbers and murderers. The raids of John Morgan and his compeers are converting the sometime neutrals of Kentucky into violent Northerners: a few more attacks on peaceful villages, a few more attempts to impede the navigation of the Mississippi and Ohio, and every man in that region will be, in spirit, a Parson Brownlow.


CONGRESS adjourned on 17th, after a session of rather more than seven months, and thus the Cromwell who, according to Mr. Fernando Wood, was to clear the Halls at the point of the bayonet, has missed his opportunity.

There were many foolish speeches made during the session, and some foolish acts or parts of acts passed. Several members were so nearly allied in sympathy to the rebels that they would have been more at home at Richmond than at Washington. And, on the other hand, the majority comprised a few extreme men, whose unpracticable theories and unyielding partisanship have undoubtedly done harm to the national cause.

But, on the whole, the work of Congress has been thorough and wholesome. No Congress since the Revolution has borne so weighty a responsibility; it must be admitted that, in the main, it has been faithfully discharged.

The most important acts of Congress—its fiscal measures—were referred to in our last number. Experience alone can decide upon their merits, but we think they will stand the test. They certainly provide the Government with money to carry on the war, and, if efficiently administered, will secure a revenue which will protect the national credit from disgrace.

Next to these in immediate importance, and superior to them in their ultimate influence upon the destiny of the nation, are the various measures referring to slavery. That institution has been assailed at every point. In the first place, it has been entirely abolished in the District of

Columbia. Next, it has been prohibited in the Territories of the United States, present and future. Finally, a resolution of Congress tenders to any State which proposes to abolish slavery an indemnity sufficient to recompense slave-owners for the loss of their slaves. Besides these sweeping enactments, the Senate has ratified a new treaty with Great Britain concerning the slave-trade, by which that iniquitous traffic will at last be thoroughly suppressed. Last of all, our army has been directed to receive within its lines all fugitive slaves, and not to surrender them to their owners; the President has been authorized to employ, in any capacity he chooses, either in the military or naval service, all such fugitive slaves; and the slaves of all open rebels have been declared forfeit, and the President has been directed to set them free. The opponents of slavery—the cause and mainspring of the rebellion—can not complain that Congress has been overindulgent to the institution.

An important complement to the anti-slavery legislation of the last session has been the reorganization of the Supreme Court. Under the late pro-slavery Administrations the Supreme Court was the most reliable instrument of the slaveholders. Their influence at Washington always prevented the North from obtaining a fair representation therein; and when they needed assistance the Supreme Court was always ready to render it—as in the famous Dred Scott case. Congress has remedied this by reapportioning the United States Judicial Districts according to population; giving to the free North six of the nine Justices who will now constitute the Supreme Bench. If any of the anti-slavery measures of Congress are charged with unconstitutionality, they will now obtain a hearing from a tribunal not hopelessly biased against their spirit and their purpose.

Most ample powers have been placed in the hands of the President for the prosecution of the war. There is, practically, no limit to the number of volunteers which he may call into the field, and to the number of vessels of war which he may equip and send to sea; and, besides this, a new Militia Act empowers him, in case of need, to call out the entire militia of the North—amounting, in round numbers, to four millions of men. If, therefore, in future contests with the rebels we should be outnumbered the responsibility will rest upon the President. The new Militia Act will probably have the effect of convincing the few remaining partisans of intervention in Europe that they had better give up the idea.

The Confiscation Act defines the crime of treason against the United States, and pronounces various penalties for those adjudged guilty—from death to a fine. It likewise declares that their movable property and their life-interest in their real estate shall be forfeit to the United States. As the President, however, is empowered to pardon convicts and release the penalties of the Act, it will not probably be very rigorously executed. As soon as the rebel armies are thoroughly beaten a general amnesty—excepting the ringleaders—will be a matter of course.

Other important measures passed at the late session are the Homestead Law and the Pacific Railroad Act. The first will exercise a powerful influence upon the increase of our population, and will have a tendency still further to shift the seat of empire toward the Northwest. The latter will unite us still closer to our Pacific States, and will obviate the risk we now run of being at some time or other obliged to seize the Isthmus of Panama in order to preserve our communication with California. Many years will elapse before the railroad is built. But that it will be built no one who has studied the stupendous railway enterprises of the West can doubt.

Congress did not pass a Bankrupt Bill, which was much desired by merchants; and Mr. Chase's new Banking Law was likewise left over, we think wisely. A new banking system can not well be introduced in time of war. When peace has been restored it will be time enough to reform our banks. We can not say, either, that we regret the failure of the bill to admit the new State of Western Virginia. To say nothing of the constitutional difficulties, it is quite possible that, by the time Congress again meets, the whole of Virginia may be in the Union, and her people may be ready to adopt the Constitution now offered by the western portion of the State.



THERE are many who think these are the darkest days of the war. Very well; may we never see any darker! We are as strong as ever, and the rebellion is no stronger. The change is in our perception of its magnitude. It is not a riot, as we half thought—it is a revolution.

There have indeed been plenty of people who said that it was much more formidable than was supposed. When the 75,000 men were called for in April a year ago General Banks, for instance, said that there should have been a summons for 500,000. He thought so, because he had lived with the rebel leaders in Washington, and he knew what manner of men they were. He knew that their plans were profound, and that their programme at

that time, when the actual temper of the North was unknown, had a certain promise of success. Fernando Wood thought so, too, when he suggested that the city of New York should secede from the State, and when he insisted that arms should be sent to the South. The 14th of April, 1861, was the darkest day this country will ever know, for all that Sunday it groped in doubt whether it was a country. The consciousness of its own unity and purpose which the next week revealed was the grandest of discoveries—it was the rehearsal of ultimate victory.

Well, neither that consciousness nor that purpose have changed; but the conception of the means necessary to attain that purpose has been enlarged. That is all. We thought at first that the appearance of resolution might do a great deal. Then that the recapture of forts and navy-yards would answer. Then that more ships would settle the matter by blockading the rebels into starvation. Then, after Bull Run, that we must have more men. Then that there might be foreign interference. Then that there must be a policy which struck at the very root and secret of the difficulty. Then came approaches to that policy. The Message of the President; the debates upon confiscation and emancipation; the modification of Hunter's order. Then a general conviction that the rebellion was waning, and that a vigorous blow at Corinth and Richmond would virtually end it. Then came the alarm in the Shenandoah, and at last the delay at Richmond. And then—what? Weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth? Not a bit of it. But a grimmer vow that we would conquer at any cost, and that if in saving our country and its Government we happened to do a great act of justice, we would not cry very bitterly.

If there were any where the least disposition to yield, except among those who have never had any serious conviction either of the necessity or the character of the war, we might truly call the day dark. And if delay, or disaster even, could fatally dispirit us, we ought to submit at once to the degradation and national annihilation which attend compromise and defeat. But if in a war with a foreign power we could show the great results of our arms which the last year shows against the rebellion, what should we think of him who doubted or despaired?

The year has revealed a character in the nation of which it is idle to anticipate any thing but a steadier purpose and a stronger blow until the great work is accomplished.


THERE are a great many friends of the President, and loyal supporters of the Government, who are and have been exceedingly troubled by what is called his Border State policy. If the Border men are loyal, these persons have said, let them support the Union at any cost; if they are not, the sooner we are rid of them the better.

The argument is apparently conclusive; but how if they are not wholly loyal but may be made so? how if there are loyal men enough in those States to save them to the Union, provided that the matter is wisely managed? Are those States not worth saving; and if so, must there not be some consideration of their actual position? They are between the two sections. Their prejudices draw them one way, their interests another. Their heads turn Northward, their hearts Southward. Are they not worth saving?

They have been the battle-ground. Do we prefer to have it moved from Virginia into Pennsylvania, from Kentucky into Ohio, from Missouri into the Northwest? With the Border States partly with us our hands have been pretty full; how if they had been unitedly against us? And if we can hold them fast, not by the arms of our soldiers but by the will of their own citizens, have we done nothing toward the final subjugation of the rebellion?

"Oh! then you would sacrifice the country and liberty to the testy whim-whams of the Border States!" No; perhaps not. To beg a question is not to argue it. Nor, because a man may be willing to say thank you for an article, does it follow that he is ready to pay a million of dollars for it. The question is not whether the country is to be given over to the Border States, but, simply, on what honorable common ground can all loyal citizens in all the States stand, and which will secure the adhesion of those States to the Union. If there is no such ground—amen; they must do what seems wisest. If there is, what is wisest for us?

The President thinks there may be such aground. He thinks that a system of compensated emancipation is the security of the loyalty of the Border States; and if those States will assent, there is no question that the President is right. If Kentucky so strongly, and Tennessee so lightly, lean to us now, for what conceivable reason should they lean to the rebels when their slave system is gone? It is the social sympathy, and common political action, and partial identity of civilization and interest which make them doubtful now. Take those away, and why should they be doubtful any longer?

If they decline, they know the ground that the President and the country will take. The President is reported to have said, "You must fish, cut bait, or go ashore." He will do for them all that can fairly be done. If they want more they must take their chance. And if they call this coercion, the reply is short and clear: "It is coercion, to prevent your coercing the country into ruin." It is the business of this nation to coerce all opposition to its unity and existence, just as it is its duty to subjugate the Davis rebels; and if the Border States say there are some measures for the maintenance of the Union to which, although strictly military, they will never consent, the war—will be greatly prolonged.


CONGRESS has adjourned, and every loyal man ought to be gratified with the work it has done. (Next Page)





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