The Vicksburg Dead
by Jens Rushing
3rd Place - Best Interior Art - 2010
In May of 1863, General Grant rolled down the Mississippi with his seventy
thousand. He wanted the river, and he only had to take Vicksburg to make it his.
I was serving with the 3rd Tennessee when General John C. Pemberton picked me
for his aide, on account of my good looks and superior penmanship. I wager there
were plenty of folks who would jump at the chance, but not me. I figured my best
chance of getting through the battle would be to catch a round in the leg or maybe
take a tumble down some stairs and sit it out in the hospital. No, as Pemberton's
right hand, I'd have the privilege of dodging shells on the field while seventy
thousand Yankees gunned for me, lunged at me with bayonets bristling, and
generally made my life hell.
Imagine my relief, then, when there was no real battle. No, Vicksburg sat high on a
bluff, with guns overlooking the river, and it was a damned tough nut to crack.
Grant sent just two regiments, and the Louisiana boys waited for them at the redan
north of town and blew them to hell. The Union troops dug in and started shelling,
none of their shells coming anywhere near the mark. We got comfortable, too.
They attacked again three days later, on May 22nd.
Maybe they learned a thing or two from their first licking, but they came on hot, and
the fighting was fierce. I sat on my mare, saber at my side, wondering nervously if
Pemberton would jump into the melee and I'd have to go after him.
But there was no need. Our men in grey beat them back without too much trouble.
Laid out four thousand of them.
"They'll think twice, oh, yes," Pemberton chuckled, tugging on his beard. "Now
we just wait for Johnston to bring more men from Tennessee, and he'll rout them
right out, eh, Ashby?"
Well, it was yours truly who a few days later bravely dodged enemy fire to retrieve
Johnston's message from a fallen courier. The gist was: "Sorry, old boy, but we're
terribly busy in Tennessee. Advise surrender."
Pemberton turned six shades of red and ripped it up. "That coward! That -
blackguard! Abandoning us to Grant!" He bellowed loud enough to make the
windows rattle, "Never! I'll fight him to the last man."
Pemberton was born in Pennsylvania, you see. He married into the Confederacy.
I'm sure Johnston and Jackson and the others never let him forget it, either. So he
couldn't surrender, or there'd be all sorts of talk about his true colors.
"Bravo, General," McNoughton, the major general, said. "Death before dishonor."