Under the Guns….

In late June 1863, the Civil War’s two most decisive military campaigns were heading toward their final climatic acts in Pennsylvania, and a thousand miles away in Mississippi where Union Major General Ulysses S. Grant siege grip on Vicksburg had some 30,000 Confederates holed up in Vicksburg with their backs up against the mighty river. There was no avenue of escape for Confederate General John Pemberton’s army nor for the city’s civilians who were living in makeshift caves dug into the clay bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River.

Many of the war’s most memorable memoirs or wartime accounts were written decades after the guns fell silent, which can call into account an author’s accuracy of memory or motivating factors for publishing those war memories experienced so long ago.

One account written by a native Iowan and then Pennsylvanian in the later years of her life is Under the Guns: A Woman’s Reminiscences of the Civil War by Mrs. Annie Wittenmyer is a gem of a book that contains some 60 short vignettes of her experiences has a nurse and staunch advocate for the proper care of wounded of both northern and southern soldiers. A staunch Unionist, she became great friends with Mrs. Julia Grant, during the Siege of Vicksburg, and when Mrs. Wittenmyer wrote her marvelous book in 1895, Mrs. Grant wrote a glowing introduction to the volume. Long out of print, the first edition is a rare find, but happily in the past five years, independently published paperback copies of the book are now available along with Kindle versions.

One of the best vignettes details General Grant every day riding along the sieges lines surrounding Vicksburg to make sure his chokehold on the city was intact. Well within Confederate siege guns and sharpshooter sights, Grant rode quickly with his trademark cigar clenched in his teeth. Most days riding in tow, was Fred Grant, Grant’s 13-year old son, facing the peril with his father under the guns. And it would be just the two of them, no staff officers or soldier guards. It’s a stunning risk by Grant taken by the war’s biggest risk taker and Mrs. Wittenmyer paints the picture brilliantly in her treasured volume.

Annie Wittenmyer

Often, it is Confederate General Robert E. Lee who is labelled as audacity personified and perhaps no day was that on better display than July 3, 1863 when Pickett’s Charge in ended in Confederate doom along Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg. A day later, arguably the war’s most audacious campaign closed when Pemberton surrendered to Grant on Independence Day. And Mrs. Wittenmyer ably describes that scene as well with vivid descriptions and telling prose. She writes, “Fred D. Grant ought in some marked way to receive public honor for his wonderful heroism at Vicksburg.”

Illinois Memorial
Vicksburg NMP, MS (Photo by Chris Heisey)

9 Responses to Under the Guns….

  1. The female Nurses and Volunteers of the Sanitary Commissions were underappreciated Heroes of the Civil War, who faced death from disease and mishap on a daily basis; and who persisted valiantly, nonetheless. Mrs. Wittenmyer faced death at Vicksburg while providing relief to wounded and sick soldiers. She may have witnessed the Mine Explosion on 1 July 1863 that sent the Black man, Abraham, over the lines into Northern held territory… and Freedom (although she gets the date wrong in her book.) She met and became familiar with Generals U.S. Grant and James Birdseye McPherson at Vicksburg (and writes about them in her book.)
    After the War, Annie Wittenmyer returned to Iowa and established the Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home. By the time it closed in 1975, the Annie Wittenmyer Home had helped over 12,000 orphans.
    Thank you, Chris Heisey, for introducing this remarkable woman to ECW.
    Mike Maxwell

  2. Chris:

    Very interesting article.

    Vicksburg wasn’t the only time Grant displayed courage under fire.Here are just a few of many other examples:

    As a young second lieutenant in the Mexican War he repeatedly defied enemy fire with acts of bravery, first fighting under Taylor and later under Scott.

    At the Battle of Belmont, he was the last man to board a steamboat transporting his retreating troops. Moments earlier, he was nearly captured by Rebs.

    He and Sherman were so anxious to get atop the ridges overlooking the Yazoo River and Vicksburg after their troops had surrounded the Rebs that they spurred their horses toward the summit before their troops had secured the area. Rebel bullets whizzed by as they galloped to the top.

  3. Cannot help but always be struck, no matter how many times 28 June at 0300 hrs approaches, with the enormity of the task given General Meade by Major Hardie on behalf of the President, in the cool morning darkness along the Taneytown Road. I stop each 28 June and wonder what those few moments must have been like. And of his two colleagues whose place upon the great stage approaching would radically change, Reynolds and Hancock, one the last part played and the other to be known as “the finest officer in the Union Army in the immediate presence of the enemy.”

    1. This is where I think the movie Gettysburg by sticking just to Killer Angels missed a great dramatic opportunity. The ride by Meade to HQ must have been the most lonely ride imaginable. It doesn’t seem like Meade was a Hooker intimate, and had little knowledge of what the disposition of troops was nor Hooker’s operational plans. He had always been pretty much in Reynolds shadow, but Reynold’s refusal put the spotlight on him. I guess that shows he did have a certain amount of ambition. All of which could have made for good movie making.

  4. Thank you Chris. Finally a story about history we can ENJOY and learn from again on this site

    1. You know, Tom, you can always skip over the pieces you don’t want to read. 😉

      1. lol well that is how you can get out flanked . As for our current person in question blogs your correct and i will That . being said I still should be able to comment as much as she has right to write . This is a very emotional subject that goes beyond CONFEDERATE STATUES, AS WE ARE SEEING…. AS A VETERAN I SEE ARLINGTON .FLAGS .

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