“The Battle of Vicksburg”

Author: unknown
Earliest date: 1928 (Randolph)
Keywords: death battle separation Civilwar
Found in: US(So)

Description

"On Vicksburg's globes and bloody grounds A wounded soldier lay, His thoughts was on his happy home Some thousand miles away." The dying man recalls mother and sweetheart and prepares for the end

Supplemental text

Battle of Vicksburg, The
  Partial text(s)

          *** A ***

The Vicksburg Soldier

From Arthur Palmer Hudson, Folksongs of Mississippi and Their Background,
p. 261. From Mrs. Tobe Young, Bryant, Mississippi.

On Vicksburg's bloody battlefield
  A wounded soldier lay,
His thoughts around his happy home
  Some thousand miles away.

(3 additional stanzas plus a fragment)

Notes

This song is a clear rewrite of the Mexican War song "On Buena Vista's Battlefield." The choice of Vicksburg is perhaps curious; although the Vicksburg campaign led to even more deaths by disease than usual, battle casualties were relatively light compared to the great battles in Virginia and Tennessee. On the other hand, the "Buena Vista" song seems to have spawned other Civil War pieces, e.g. about Shiloh (see Fuson's "Shallows Field," which I lump here but which Roud splits off; it's his #4284)

And it should be admitted that Vicksburg was important -- arguably the single most important Union victory of the war. In the early spring of 1863, the Union war effort seemed stalled. In Virginia the Army of the Potomac had had a two to one advantage in manpower at Chancellorsville, but still managed to lose. William S. Rosecrans's Army of the Cumberland, operating in central Tennessee, had been inert since the bloody draw of Stones River/Murfreesboro.

That left only the western army of Ulysses S. Grant. And even he seemed to be stuck; Vicksburg, high on a bluff above the Mississippi, was too strong to bypass and too tough to attack from the river and too well-masked to be reached from the north.

Finally Grant ran his river fleet past Vicksburg, marched his army south of the town on the western bank of the Mississippi, and crossed to attack Vicksburg from the south and east. It meant that, for several days, he had no supply line, but he was able to carry what his scavengers could not find. The Confederate general Pemberton, who had done little to prevent Grant's crossing, fought a small battle, was beaten, and retreated into the Vicksburg defences (against the orders of the theater commander, Joseph E. Johnston, who correctly saw that if Pemberton went into Vicksburg, both the town and the army would be lost; if he abandoned Vicksburg, at least the army would be saved).

Grant encircled the town, and began to starve it out; had the defenders had more supplies, they might have held out indefinitely, but by July 1863, they were starving. Pemberton surrendered on July 4, 1863 -- the day after the end of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Grant had captured the third-largest army in the Confederacy. He had also eliminated the strongest fortress guarding the Mississippi. Within days, there would be no Confederate forces left along the river; the Confederacy would be split in two -- meaning that men and supplies from Texas and Arkansas and western Louisiana could no longer reach the armies further east. It was not immediately decisive, but it was a deadly blow -- far more deadly than Gettysburg, which was strategically very nearly a draw(Lee was forced out of Pennsylvania but still had his army intact).

It's one of those little ironies that Gettysburg, the most written-about battle of the Civil War, has almost no place in traditional song, and Vicksburg, the most decisive battle, has only a slightly stronger place in the folk repertoire. - RBW

Historical references

Cross references

References

  1. Randolph 225, "The Battle of Vicksburg" (1 text, 1 tune, plus a fragmentary text of the original song, "On Buena Vista's Battlefield")
  2. Hudson 120, p. 261, "The Vicksburg Soldier" (1 text)
  3. Fuson, p. 93, "Shallows Field" (1 text, clearly this song although the battle site is "Shallows Field"="Shiloh's Field"; this may come from confusion with "The Drummer Boy of Shiloh")
  4. ST R225 (Partial)
  5. Roud #4500
  6. BI, R225