This week, we observe two critical moments in the sesquicentennial of the Civil War: the Union victory at Gettysburg and the Confederate surrender of Vicksburg. While 165,000 soldiers clashed in Pennsylvania, my third great-grandfather, Alcander Morse, and his 37th Illinois regiment were part of the 77,000 Union troops encircling the city of Vicksburg.
Morse enlisted alongside his friends and stepbrother in Boone County, Illinois in August 1861. By the summer of 1863, he had survived the Union victories at Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove in Arkansas, and was moving along the Mississippi River on foot and by transport ship until the regiment arrived at Vicksburg on June 14. From this position, Morse and the 37th faced Confederate batteries and encountered Rebel prisoners and deserters. On one quiet morning, Morse and his buddy traveled to the front “to see the Boys fire at the Reb’s. our Rifle Pits are just close Enough to their front so I can fire in with my old five shooter with the 100 y.d. sight raised.” Occasionally, he left his post to visit friends and family in nearby regiments and to gather the “ripe & penty” blackberries and plums that grew in the area.
While he often spoke with the confidence and bravado frequently found in the writings of western soldiers, he was also rather affected by what he witnessed in his role as besieger. “still the seige continues with unabated fury,” he wrote. “O, they must have the Horrors in there, the shell & shot flying about their ears continualy & on short Rations at that I am sure if I had to pass through what they do I should want a full stomach to steady my nerves.”
What follows is the account of the days leading up to the surrender of the city:
30th this last day of June is a beautiful day all seems unusualy quiet, still the seige continues & will most likely until the Stars & Stripes float in all their magnificence over Vicksburg the stronghold of the Reb’s we have U.S. Grant at our head a man that never tires & with him at our head we know that Vicksburg is ours
1st last night it rained a thing we very much needed to preserve the Health of the troops all is quiet up to this time 6.A.M. later at 8.A.M. a fierce cannonading commences & is kept up for about two hours then all is quiet as before
2d beautiful weather all is quiet go the 95 Ill. visiting have a pleasant visit come back in the Evening
3d splendid morning all are preparing for a grand charge on the Rebel works on the morrow (Ever Glorious 4th of July) new Bateries are being planted nearer their works & all is being done that is possible to insure our success ten A.M. all is quiet not a gun is to be heard an armistice has been agreed upon at 3.P.M. the two Com’d’g. Gens (Grant & Pemberton) are to meet we all go half way & meet the Rebs & have a chat they look rough Enough still they will own nothing but without doubt they must give up soon on account of food
4th the Ever Glorious fourth has dawned but what do we hear the heavy boom of cannon the fierce rattle of musketry the shouts of charging Legions; O, no it is the shout of victory it is the booming of cannon in honor of the Great Victory acheived by U.S. Grant the Pet of the Army of the Tennessee a man that prepares to do a thing before he does it or commences & then goes unfalteringly forward never once halting until his end is is accomplished this is indeed a glorious day to the Arms of the U.S.
5th we are now camped inside the Rebel works the prisoners are still inside of us Gen. Grant with his untiring zeal left with all the available forces for the Big Black to try & take in Joe Johnston if possible if not to drive him off. he just waited long enough to fulfil his promise (of eating supper in Vicksburg the 4th of July) then he started off post haste
More of Alcander Morse’s experiences at Vicksburg, as well as the entirety of his war diary can be found here.
(As for Gettysburg, when word reached Morse on July 10, he wrote, simply, “We have good news from the Army of the Potomac.”)