June 25, 1863: Mine Exploded at Vicksburg

I have always been somewhat bemused by the fact that vast attention is paid to the Battle of the Crater at the seige of Petersburg on July 30, 1864, while the mine explosion at Vicksburg on June 25, 1863 tends to be overlooked in popular memory of the War.  Both efforts were unsuccessful, both mine explosions producing a breach in the Confederate lines that Union troops were ultimately unable to exploit, with Confederate troops rallying and sealing the breach.  It is true that the Battle of the Crater was a much larger operation involving four times the explosives with divisions involved as opposed to regiments at Vicksburg.  The use of black troops in the Battle of the Crater and the slaying of some Union prisoners and their officers by Confederate troops, also helped ensure maximum press coverage.  Still it is surprising to me how little attention is paid to the Vicksburg mine even in fairly extensive histories of the War.  Here is Grant’s memories of the mining operations at Vicksburg in his Personal Memoirs:

From the 23d of May the work of fortifying and pushing forward our position nearer to the enemy had been steadily progressing. At three points on the Jackson road, in front of Leggett’s brigade, a sap was run up to the enemy’s parapet, and by the 25th of June we had it undermined and the mine charged. The enemy had countermined, but did not succeed in reaching our mine. At this particular point the hill on which the rebel work stands rises abruptly. Our sap ran close up to the outside of the enemy’s parapet. In fact this parapet was also our protection. The soldiers of the two sides occasionally conversed pleasantly across this barrier; sometimes they exchanged the hard bread of the Union soldiers for the tobacco of the Confederates; at other times the enemy threw over hand-grenades, and often our men, catching them in their hands, returned them.

Our mine had been started some distance back down the hill; consequently when it had extended as far as the parapet it was many feet below it. This caused the failure of the enemy in his search to find and destroy it. On the 25th of June at three o’clock, all being ready, the mine was exploded. A heavy artillery fire all along the line had been ordered to open with the explosion. The effect was to blow the top of the hill off and make a crater where it stood. The breach was not sufficient to enable us to pass a column of attack through. In fact, the enemy having failed to reach our mine had thrown up a line farther back, where most of the men guarding that point were placed. There were a few men, however, left at the advance line, and others working in the countermine, which was still being pushed to find ours. All that were there were thrown into the air, some of them coming down on our side, still alive. I remember one colored man, who had been under ground at work when the explosion took place, who was thrown to our side. He was not much hurt, but terribly frightened. Some one asked him how high he had gone up. “Dun no, massa, but t’ink ’bout t’ree mile,” was his reply. General Logan commanded at this point and took this colored man to his quarters, where he did service to the end of the siege.

As soon as the explosion took place the crater was seized by two regiments of our troops who were near by, under cover, where they had been placed for the express purpose. The enemy made a desperate effort to expel them, but failed, and soon retired behind the new line. From here, however, they threw hand-grenades, which did some execution. The compliment was returned by our men, but not with so much effect. The enemy could lay their grenades on the parapet, which alone divided the contestants, and roll them down upon us; while from our side they had to be thrown over the parapet, which was at considerable elevation. During the night we made efforts to secure our position in the crater against the missiles of the enemy, so as to run trenches along the outer base of their parapet, right and left; but the enemy continued throwing their grenades, and brought boxes of field ammunition (shells), the fuses of which they would light with portfires, and throw them by hand into our ranks. We found it impossible to continue this work. Another mine was consequently started which was exploded on the 1st of July, destroying an entire rebel redan, killing and wounding a considerable number of its occupants and leaving an immense chasm where it stood. No attempt to charge was made this time, the experience of the 25th admonishing us. Our loss in the first affair was about thirty killed and wounded. The enemy must have lost more in the two explosions than we did in the first. We lost none in the second.

From this time forward the work of mining and pushing our position nearer to the enemy was prosecuted with vigor, and I determined to explode no more mines until we were ready to explode a number at different points and assault immediately after. We were up now at three different points, one in front of each corps, to where only the parapet of the enemy divided us.

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  1. I’m surprised that in general the Battle of Vicksburg doesn’t get more attention from amateur Civil War historians. An excellent case could be made that it was the more decisive of the two battles, Gettysburg being the other, that concluded in early July, 1863. After Vicksburg, the Confederacy was split in two. And they lost control of the Mississippi. As such their chances of prevailing were nil, whereas at Gettysburg; win, lose or draw, the Union would have still had a decisive advantage, especially in terms of manpower and manufacturing.

  2. “I’m surprised that in general the Battle of Vicksburg doesn’t get more attention from amateur Civil War historians.”

    Agreed. It was a fascinating campaign. The War in the West receives more attention now, but still not a fraction of the attention that the War in Virginia receives. The War in the trans-Mississippi Theater remains almost completely overlooked after more than a century and a half. The study of the Civil War is a vast sea, but certain parts of that sea remain largely terra incognita.

  3. “The War in the trans-Mississippi Theater remains almost completely overlooked[.]”

    Well, you can’t blame Sergio Leone for that.

  4. It nearly escaped me.

    One hundred and forty-three years ago today, Custer and all attached 212 US Seventh Cavalry troopers (maneuvering down a coulee to the Little Big Horn R. opposite the Hostiles’ camps) were killed in a two-hour (estimated) fight with 2,000+ Cheyenne and Sioux warriors.

    Meantime several miles away, Reno and Benteen led 410 troopers and held out for 14 hours against the 2,000 childish savages. In that fight, approximately four-percent of the US troopers were killed.

    The other noteworthy Plains Indian fight (US Cav or civilian) where all the whites were killed was the Fetterman fight (north central Wyoming), which lasted 20 minutes and all 83 were KIA, on 20 December 1866.

    When the whites had opportunity to set up defenses and held together, they generally survived (the hostiles withdrew) with KIA rates ranging from 4% to 12%.

    It’s getting late fir me to visit those fields.

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