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.
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.”