Sons of Union Veterans

of  the Civil War

Sgt. Jacob Overturf, Camp #4

Broken Arrow, Ok

“Forlorn Hope”

 

The Dictionary defines Forlorn Hope as;

1. A small troop picked to make an advance attack, or the first attack; a storming party.

2. Any dangerous or hopeless venture.

        On May 21 Federals troops made their first failed first assault on Vicksburg.  General Grant had encircled the city on three sides with a line of battle twelve miles long, and on the Mississippi, which formed the fourth side, were Admiral Porter's warships. The strength of the enemy had been greatly underestimated, and it was decided to make an attempt to carry the city by storm, in order to avoid the tedium of a siege. The enemy's lines ran along the top of a bluff, and the point of attack selected was to the south of one of the forts ( Stockade Redan ).  This fort, which was protected by a ditch twelve feet wide and five or six feet deep, rose about ten feet above the level and sloped up gently towards the enemy's guns.  The face of the fort was perpendicular, the earth having been tamped, instead of being allowed to adjust itself. The point of attack was in front of the Second Division of the Fifteenth Army Corps.

 

On the afternoon of May 21st, each regimental commander of the division explained the plan of operations to his men and called for volunteers. One hundred and fifty men were required for a "Forlorn Hope" to lead the general assault and prepare the way for the real attack. As these men would be certain to draw the enemy's fire, there was little probability of any of them returning alive, and on that account it was decided not to order any man to go, but to depend entirely on volunteers. Each regiment was to supply its quota, and in view of the terrible risk to be incurred, orders were given that none but unmarried men were to be accepted. The men responded promptly to the call, and in such numbers that twice as many volunteered as were required, those who had first offered their services being accepted.

 

The work assigned to the "forlorn hope" was to build a bridge over the ditch which protected the front of the enemy's fort, plant their scaling ladders against the embankment, and it was expected that by the time this was done, the supporting brigades would be ready to carry the works by a grand assault.

 

On the following morning the storming party was led through a ravine to the Jackson Road, which crossed the enemy's lines at right angles. In this ravine, out of sight of the enemy, was a pile of roughly hewn logs, another of lumber, and a. number of scaling ladders. The advance party was to carry the logs, two men to each log, make a dash for the enemy's entrenchments and throw the logs across the ditch to form the ground work of a bridge. The second detachment was to follow close up with the lumber, which was to be thrown across the logs to make sure footing for the stormers. The third detachment was to bring up the scaling ladders, rush across the bridge, and plant them against the enemy's works.

 

The moment the "forlorn hope" emerged from the ravine, they came within view of the enemy, who opened so heavy a fire on them that their works were covered with clouds of smoke. The gallant little band advanced at a dead run, but, in the eighty rods of open ground which lay between them and the fort, about half of them were shot down. When the survivors arrived at the ditch, they found it impossible to build a bridge, as so many of the logs had been dropped by the way, and it was equally impossible to remain where they were, exposed to the enemy's fire. There was nothing for it but to jump into the ditch, and seek shelter.  The other brigades advanced to the support of the stormers, but were driven back by the heavy fire.

 

The assault had now failed at every point, although Admiral Porter's ships had kept up a heavy bombardment, and the Federal troops were obliged to withdraw and seek cover, from which they kept up a heavy and well sustained fire. All this time the men in the ditch, unable to either retreat or advance, held their position with the utmost tenacity and weakened the fire of the rebel guns by shooting down the gunners. In order to dislodge them, a gun loaded with grape was dragged to a position where it would enfilade the ditch, but sharpshooters shot down the gunners, before a single round could be fired. Others attempted to take their places, but it was certain death to approach the gun, and it was abandoned.

 

The Confederates finding it impossible to depress their guns sufficiently to reach them, dropped 12-pound shells among them, but the fuses were cut too long, and consequently did not explode for about ten seconds. This gave the stormers time not only to get out of the way, but even to toss some of the shells back over the parapet, otherwise not a man would have survived. As it was, the bottom of the ditch was strewn with mangled bodies, with heads and limbs blown off.

 

All day long, from 10 o'clock in the morning until darkness fell, the unequal fight went on; then the little body of survivors crept out of the ditch, carrying with them their flags, riddled with bullets, and made their way back to their own lines. Of the storming party 85 percent were either killed or dangerously wounded, and few of them escaped without a wound of some kind.

 

Pvt. Uriah Brown, 30th Ohio Infantry, Co. G, was one of the sections that carried the logs. His captain was shot dead at his side and his lieutenant dangerously wounded, but he kept on till he reached the ditch. He threw his log across, but found it too short to reach to the other side. He was shot down and tumbled into the ditch. When he came to his senses and found the enemy dropping shells into the ditch among the wounded men, he set to work to drag them into sheltered positions. He had got three of the wounded into a safe place. He lay quiet for a time, but the longing to get back came over him and he climbed out of the ditch and crawled for fifty yards exposed to the terrible fire, till he found a place of safety behind a little knoll. Two wounded men were lying near by, moaning in pain, and he crept out and dragged them under cover, gave them water and lay down beside them till nightfall, when he assisted them back to their own lines.

 

Jacob Sanford, Commissary Sergeant, 55th Illinois Infantry, tells that while with the storming party, he came out with no injury more serious than a sprained hip caused by grape shot striking the plank he 'was carrying. He had been very near death more than once, however, for he had two bullet holes through his hat, nine through his blouse. The bullets in passing through his hat, had carried away locks of hair with them in their course.

 

Following the failed assault on May 22, a forty-seven day siege was laid against the city, which finally surrendered to Union forces on July 4.

 

Stockade Redan viewed from the Confederate topside.

Troop emplacements East of Vicksburg showing Stockade Redan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Vicksburg

Battlefield

Home           Camp Info            Sgt. Overturf             Membership