Incoming shell! Whenever ten-year-old Lucy McRae heard that distinctive sound, she froze, allowing the explosive to fly on over her. Then she hurried into the safety of the family’s cave.
It was 1863 and Vicksburg, Mississippi, was being bombarded by Union artillery. It was located strategically on the Mississippi River. All along the waterfront, Confederate cannon prevented Union ships from taking control of the river and using it to invade the South. President Lincoln said that for the North to win the war, those cannons must be silenced. He selected General Ulysses Grant to force Vicksburg to surrender.
Grant’s army sieged the city of 5,000, cutting off food supplies and fresh water. Then he rained shells day and night on the Confederate troops defending Vicksburg and on its terrified civilians. But townspeople had no intention of giving up. Most of their men were off fighting, but those remaining were stalwart: there would be no surrender.
Instead, they dug more than 500 caves into the sides of Vicksburg’s many hills, where they took refuge. Everyone lived side by side, rich and poor, masters and slaves. Cooking tents were set up outside the entrances, and during lulls in shelling, residents hastily prepared whatever food they had. Lucy always stayed outside until the moment shelling started again.
The caves were hot, dark, dank, and crowded, and were home to spiders, scorpions, lizards, mosquitoes, and snakes. “It was living like tree roots,” one woman said. People brought in rugs, bedding, books and favorite artwork to make their surroundings more tolerable. Sometimes there were close calls when a shell hit a cave. Once Lucy was buried under a mound of sliding dirt for several minutes. When her frantic mother pulled her out, she gasped for air, her mouth and nose full of dirt.
Although the town was severely damaged by the shelling, because of the caves only a dozen people died in the forty-seven-day siege. Townspeople wanted to hold out, but daily rations of water and food were almost gone, forcing the city’ surrender on July 4, 1863.
The South’s loss of Vicksburg helped the North win the war. But the bravery of townspeople like Lucy, who held fast in the face of overwhelming odds, was never in dispute.
Howard Pyle painting of terrorized people spotting a rocket shell.
Photo of a cave entrance after the siege., Note the unexploded shells.
If you’d like to know more about the Siege of Vicksburg, Andrea Warren tells the whole story of Lucy and other children caught up in that dramatic event in her award-winning book Under Siege! Three Children at the Civil War Battle for Vicksburg. For more on her books, visit her website at AndreaWarren.com.
Andrea Warren is a member of Authors on Call. Here's a link to her interactive video conference: What Children Experienced in the Civil War: Three Young People at the Siege of Vicksburg. (Note to teachers: you may have to register at CILC to reach this website. It's free and it's a GREAT resource).
MLA 8 Citation
Warren, Andrea. "Living in Caves to Survive the Siege of Vicksburg." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 3 Jan. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/Living-in-Caves-to-Survive-the-Siege-of-Vicksburg.
Giving Voice to Children in History
Would parents willingly send their twelve-year-old son to war? During the U.S. Civil War, that’s exactly what General Ulysses Grant and his wife, Julia, did. Of course they expected Frederick to stay safely behind Union lines—only Frederick wasn’t the type to miss any excitement, and he ended up paying a big price for that.
It wasn’t unusual for officers to have a family member with them, for they often faced separations that could last months or even years. Grant knew the campaign to silence Confederate cannons along the Vicksburg, Mississippi waterfront that were preventing Union ships from taking control of the Mississippi River was going to be a long one. He was a devoted family man and became depressed if away from his wife and four children for very long. Julia suggested their eldest son keep Grant company. Frederick, who wanted to make the military his career, was thrilled.
I learned about Frederick while researching my book Under Siege! Three Children at the Civil War Battle for Vicksburg. He joined a boy and girl who were inside Vicksburg as my eye-witnesses to Grant’s brutal forty-seven-day siege in 1863 of that little river town.
And what an eye-witness he was! As the general’s son, he had his own uniform and pony. He accompanied Grant during daily troop inspections and shared his tent at night. He knew he was supposed to stay in camp, but he was so eager to be part of the action, and several times he put himself in harm’s way. That ended when he foolishly rode into battle, only to be shot in the leg by a Confederate sniper. Frederick realized that if his leg were to be amputated—common treatment for a bullet wound--he’d never be a soldier. Even though his leg became painfully infected, doctors were able to save it. But in his weakened condition he became ill with typhoid fever, a common camp disease.
He was still recuperating in his father’s tent when Grant received word of Vicksburg’s surrender. Frederick limped outside to excitedly announce the Union’s victory to the troops.
Luckily, Frederick fully recovered. He returned to school and later served as his father’s private secretary while Grant was President of the United States. He also joined the army, rising to the rank of general: the siege of Vicksburg had taught him a hard lesson about what it took to be a military man.
Period photographs, engravings, and maps extend this dramatic story as award-winning author Andrea Warren re-creates one of the most important Civil War battles through the eyes of ordinary townspeople, officers and enlisted men from both sides, and, above all, three brave children who were there. One of those children was Frederick Grant. Click here for more information about the book and all of the awards it has won.
Andrea Warren is also a member of Authors on Call. Bring her into your classroom via interactive video conferencing. Here’s where you can learn more about her and her programs.
MLA 8 Citation
Warren, Andrea. "Young Frederick Grant Goes to War." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 16 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/ young-frederick-grant-goes-to-war.
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