AFTER MORE THAN a year of trying to overtake the stronghold of Vicksburg, Mississippi, the U.S. Army finally managed to surround it beginning on May 18, 1863.
General Ulysses S. Grant could not take the city by direct assault, so he resorted to a protracted siege and bombardment with more than 200 guns. His batteries were supported by Admiral David D. Porter’s fleet with dozens of heavy naval guns.
“The place was a perfect pandemonium,” a Southern sergeant recalled.
Porter’s heaviest weapons were 13-inch mortars, which could throw a 200-pound shell up to three miles. They blew up entire buildings. Major Lockett, chief engineer of the Confederate Army of Mississippi, measured a crater left by a naval mortar round. It was 11 feet deep.
In anticipation of a siege, several Vicksburg’s civilians had already dug caves in which to shelter, but they were not yet accustomed to such bombardments. All realized that a direct hit from one of the Yankee mortar shells would bury them alive.