General Hugh Ewing’s Brigade in the Vicksburg Assaults of May 19th and May 22nd, 1863
On May 18th, 1863, Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Army of the Tennessee began arriving at Vicksburg, Mississippi. Grant’s Army had crossed the Mississippi River at Bruinsburg and Grand Gulf, Mississippi at the end of April and had fought its way northeast to Jackson, before turning west and then fighting its way to Vicksburg. Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederates garrisoning Vicksburg, had his defenses running in a curve around the city from the Mississippi River on the north end of town around to the east and then southwest back to the river. Grant placed Major General William T. Sherman’s 15th Corps on the Union right, on the north side of Vicksburg, with Major General James B. McPherson’s 17th Corps in the center of the Union line, to the left of Sherman and on the east side of town, and Major General John McClernand’s 13th Corps on McPherson’s left.
Grant wasted no time and ordered an assault for May 19th, even though not all of his troops had arrived. Grant later wrote that “the enemy had been much demoralized by his defeats at Champion’s Hill and the Big Black, and I believed would not make much effort to hold Vicksburg. Accordingly at 2 o’clock I ordered an assault”. Most of the units involved in the assault were Sherman’s, as his troops had been the first to arrive and were in position. The Confederate defenders were in fact not ready to give up and had plenty of fight left in them. The Rebels beat back the assault, inflicting heavy casualties on the attacking Federals.
With another Rebel army under General Joseph E. Johnston some 50 miles in the Federal rear, Grant was determined to make another assault when all three Union corps were in position. On May 22nd, a second assault was attempted along the entire front. It began with an artillery bombardment at daybreak by both land based batteries and Union gunboats on the river. The bombardment continued until 10:00 a.m., when the Federal infantry attacked. Although some of the assaulting Union troops from all three corps were able to place their flags on the Confederate parapets, they were unable to get any farther and breech the defenses. This assault of May 22nd again resulted in failure, and Grant’s decided to enact a siege. Grant received reinforcements from the Federal 9th Corps, Johnston never attacked, and supplies ran out in Vicksburg. Pemberton surrendered on July 4th.
One of the brigades in Sherman’s 15th Corps was under the command of Brigadier General Hugh Ewing. Ewing was quite familiar with his corps commander. After his father died, nine year old Sherman was taken into the home of family fiend Thomas Ewing, Sr., father of Hugh Ewing, and raised as a foster child. Sherman eventually married Ellen Ewing, sister of Hugh, making them brothers in law. Hugh’s brothers Thomas and Charles also became Union generals.
Ewing’s command was the 3rd Brigade of Major General Frank Blair’s 2nd Division of the 15th Corps. The brigade consisted of the 30th, 37th, and 47th Ohio Infantry regiments, plus the 4th West
Virginia Infantry. It had seen considerable action in the east as a member of the 9th Corps before being transferred to the 15th Corps in January 1863. The brigade participated in the assaults of both May 19th and May 22nd.
In the May 19th assault, Ewing’s brigade attacked the 27th Louisiana Lunette, just west of a larger fortification guarding the Graveyard Road called the Stockade Redan. The 47th Ohio and 4th West Virginia made several assaults against the Confederate works but were thrown back each time. The other two regiments were unable to advance due to the obstacle covered terrain in front of them, though they too took casualties from Confederate fire.
The 47th Ohio’s regimental historian described the May 19th assault:
We at once drew the enemies’ fire from our right, left, and front, but our line faltered not, but faced the furious storm of musketry and shot and shell and grape that greeted us. The deadly iron had thinned our ranks, but we kept on dashing forward, and when we gained the foot of the hill we sprang up its sides with a wild Yankee yell and gained the crest of the hill, where we charged the enemies’ works. Our flag was planted on the outside of the enemies’ works–we could do no more. A large part of the 47th occupied the ditch, but could not effect an entrance into the fort. The enemy, secure in its fortifications, lighted the fuses of large bomb shells , and threw or rolled them down into the ditch upon the men…We lay under the hill and could not withdraw until after dark…
The 47th Ohio had 13 killed,40 wounded, and six missing. The 4th West Virginia fared the worst in the brigade, with 27 killed and 110 wounded. Although the 37th Ohio had been unable to advance, the regiment still had 14 killed and 35 wounded. The 30th Ohio listed nine wounded.
Sherman tried a different approach in the May 22nd assault. General Blair’s division was to move forward down the Graveyard Road in column by regiment instead of in line of battle. The attack would be led by a 150 man detail rather ominously called the Forlorn Hope. The Forlorn Hope, consisting of 50 men from each of Blair’s brigades, carried boards and ladders to bridge the ditch in front of the Stockade Redan and scale the sides of the parapet. General Ewing’s brigade would then lead the rest of the division in the assault, with the 30th Ohio as the lead regiment, followed by the 37th Ohio, 47th Ohio, and 4th West Virginia.
At 10:00 a.m. the assault began all along the Vicksburg front. The Forlorn Hope led the way and reached the ditch in front of the redan, only to discover that many of the boards were too short
to bridge the ditch. Some men went into the ditch and up the sides of the parapet and succeeded in planting the flag on the parapet. The main body of Ewing’s brigade then followed. The 30th
Ohio attempted to advance through a narrow cut in the road, but it soon became clogged with the dead and wounded. The 37th followed, but stopped due to the difficulty in advancing past the blockage and heavy enemy fire. “To advance was almost sure death from the enemy’s cross and concentrated fire. I saw Gen. Ewing at the head of the Thirtieth Ohio, gallantly leading our brigade in that charge, and I greatly admired his personal bravery”. The 47th Ohio charged ahead, but became mixed up with the stalled 37th Ohio; the 47th and 4th West Virginia were then pulled out by General Blair and ordered to attack via another route to the left of the road. But despite providing better cover for the attackers, this route had more obstacles, which, coupled with heavy enemy fire, prevented any sort of effective charge upon the Rebel works. The Union attack was again thwarted.
Ewing’s brigade again suffered significant casualties. The 30th Ohio had six killed, 43 wounded, and 2 missing; the 37th Ohio had 10 killed and 31 wounded; the 47th Ohio lost six killed, 26 wounded, and 1 missing; and the 4th West Virginia ad 3 killed and 16 wounded.
General Ewing filed this report on his brigade’s action in the Vicksburg assaults of May 19th and 22nd:
HDQRS. THIRD BRIG., SECOND DIV., FIFTEENTH A. C.,
Battle-field, near Vicksburg, Miss., May 27, 1863.
SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the march of my brigade from Milliken’s Bend to this field, together with the part taken by it in the late actions:
We moved to Sherman’s Landing the 9th, assisted in making a road from thence to Bower’s Landing, finished it within two days, and on the 13th, being relieved by fresh troops, marched to the lower landing; reached Grand Gulf the evening of the 15th, and encamped on the Raymond road.
On the 17th, at noon, at the junction of the Gibson road, we took 203 prisoners, captured partly by the head of my column, chiefly by several gentlemen of General Sherman’s staff, Cols. J. Condit Smith, Morton, and others. They were stragglers of Loring’s division, which had taken the Gibson road during the night. Here, receiving orders from General Sherman, we took cross-roads for Bolton, and again, on falling into the track of our army, changed our course for Edwards Station, camping at night on the battlefield of the day before. During the night of the 18th we rejoined our division.
On the morning of the 19th, we took position on the right of the division, resting on General Steele’s left, and, at the signal, at 2 p.m., charged the works of the enemy in line of battle, the Thirty-seventh Ohio on the right, the Forty-seventh Ohio on the left, the Fourth West Virginia in the center, and the Thirtieth Ohio in reserve. The left of our line, under Colonels Parry and Dayton, reached the enemy’s intrenchments, and the colors of the regiments waved near them until evening. The right, on account of obstacles, was unable to cross the ravine, but covered the left in its advanced position by a heavy fire. Later, the remaining regiments were moved to the left, on the brow of the hill, prepared, on the agreed signal from the brigade on our left, to move over the track of the preceding portion of the brigade, and, joining them, renew the assault. I instructed the artillery to open on the works when our line began to ascend the opposite hill. They, however, opened heavily before the signal was given, and the troops already over, supposing the fire was to enable them to retire under cover, moved back; and’ the signal not being given, the charge was not renewed. From this to the 22d my front skirmished along the enemy’s intrenchment.
At 10.04 a.m. of the 22d, a storming party, composed of 50 volunteers from each brigade of the division, bearing the colors of my headquarters, and followed by my troops in column, charged down a narrow, deep-cut road upon a bastion of the enemy’s works. They were instructed to bear to the left, and cross the curtain if the ditch at the salient could not be bridged. They made a foot-path at the salient, by which Captain [John H.] Groce, commanding, Lieutenant O’Neal, [Private] Trogden, the color-bearer, and others, crossing, climbed half way up the exterior slope, and planted the flag upon it unfurled. The Thirtieth Ohio, next in order, moved close upon the storming party, until their progress was arrested by a front and double flank fire, and the dead and wounded which blocked the defile. The second company forced its way’ over the remains of the first, and a third over those of the preceding, but their perseverance served only further to encumber the impassable way. The Thirty-seventh Ohio came next, its left breaking the column where the road first debouched, upon a deadly fire. After the check, a few passed on, but were mostly shot. They fell back, and, with the remainder of the brigade and division, came over a better route.
I formed my troops as they came up on the brow of the hill running from the road to the left, parallel to and 70 yards from the intrenchments. Here we protected our advanced men and wounded until they were gradually withdrawn, and, with a heavy and well-directed and sustained fire, covered the after attempt to charge over the intrenchments made down the same road by the brigade of General Mower.
At night the wounded, dead, and colors were brought 70 yards back to the hill, where the brigade remains, intrenching and skirmishing with the enemy.
I have the honor to call your attention to the accompanying reports of regimental commanders, and bear testimony to the bravery of the following officers, in addition to those mentioned therein: Colonels Parry and Dayton, of the Forty-seventh Ohio and Fourth West Virginia; Lieutenant-Colonels von Blessing and Hildt, of the Thirty-seventh and Thirtieth Ohio, and Major Hipp, of the Thirty-seventh.Lieutenants [Emerson P] Brooks and Davis, of the Thirtieth Ohio, badly wounded in the charge of the 22d, deserve especial mention and promotion.
Captain Hayes, of the Thirtieth, killed near the intrenchments at the head of his men, was the model of a Christian soldier. He fell in the front rank of honor, where he lived and still lives.
I inclose a list of the volunteer storming party from this brigade, and ask that Captain Groce, who led the division party and was wounded on the parapet, and Lieutenant O’Neal, who charged by his side and was likewise wounded, receive such high promotion as their gallantry merits.
I recommend that First Lieut. J. H. Ralston, of the Fourth West Virginia Infantry, be reduced to the ranks, for absence without cause on the day of battle, and that Corporals Clendenin or Boley, who saved their colors, be commissioned in his stead.
Dr. [Joseph B.] Potter, brigade surgeon, earned high commendation by untiring attention to the wounded.
Captain [Theodore] Voges was completely successful in forwarding ammunition and supplies.
Captain Loftland, Lieutenants Fisk, McIntyre, and Odell discharged their duties with gallantry and energy.
Captain Cornyn and Lieutenant Headington I have the honor to recommend for promotion, for their gallant conduct in the second charge.
The brigade reached the field from Grand Gulf, by a forced march of 85 miles in three days, the midnight before the battle.
The troops bore themselves throughout with gallantry and spirit. Their general commanding believes that nothing but the broken and entangled nature of the ground over which they charged, with a want of previous knowledge of its condition, prevented them from successfully entering the enemy’s works.
Our loss in killed and wounded is as follows :
Engagements. Killed. Wounded. Missing. Total
Battle of 19th 50 190 6 246
Battle of 22d. 24 116 140
Total. 74 306 6 386
A complete list of the killed, wounded, and missing in action, by name, company, and regiment, is herewith inclosed.
I have the honor to be, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Maj. W. D. GREEN,
Asst. Adjt. Gen., Second Division, Fifteenth Army Corps.
The Campaign for Vicksburg, Volume III by Edwin Cole Bearrs
History of the Forty-Seventh Regiment Ohio Veteran Volunteer Infantry, Second Brigade, Second Division, Fifteenth Army Corps, Army of the Tennessee edited by Joseph A. Saunier, Regimental Historian
History of the Thirtieth Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry From Its Organization to the Fall of Vicksburg, Miss. by Henry R. Brinkerhoff
History of the 37th Regiment O.V.V.I, Furnished by Comrades at the Ninth Reunion Held at St. Marys, Ohio, Tuesday and Wednesday, September 10 and 11, 1889
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion Series I, Volume XXIV, Part 2
The Vicksburg Campaign April 1862-July 1863 by David Martin
The Vicksburg Campaign by Ulysses S. Grant. In Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume III, edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence C. Buel