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Abraham - The Only Southern Winner at Vicksburg, Mississippi

February 25, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 194

On June 25, 1863, the great siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, had been underway for a month. The tedium of siege warfare was about to be broken, however, by a startling incident that occurred when a tunnel was dug beneath the Vicksburg defenses. Mines were placed inside, soon to be exploded. No one could have predicted the unexpected outcome of this military action.

General Ulysses S. Grant had led his troops across the Mississippi River at Bruinsburg, and after a series of battles had chased the Confederate troops under General Pemberton inside the confines of Vicksburg. Due to both natural and man-made defenses, the riverfront city was nearly impregnable. Fortifications stretched for seven miles along ridges, each end of which was anchored to 200 foot river bluffs. The forts themselves were connected by trenches. The South had worked on the city's defenses for a year, and the Federals were going to have a hard time taking it by force.

Inside the beleaguered city, residents had abandoned their homes and burrowed into the hills. Using mostly the labor of their slaves, they created homes of several rooms, often bringing in rugs and furniture to add to their comfort. Northern soldiers called the area the "prairie dog village." The shells lobbed by both land-based batteries and ships on the great river fell harmlessly beyond the hill homes. The siege stretched on with little action.

Fortunately for the North, an age-old weapon was at their disposal: hunger. By June, the inhabitants of Vicksburg were limited to half and then quarter rations. At last, they were reduced to eating mule meat and peas. Many felt the mule meat to be degrading to be eaten. The peas were mixed with cornmeal and formed into bread that had a texture like cannon powder. When baked, the peas took twice as long to cook than the cornmeal, producing bread that was half raw. The dejected residents said later that the bread resembled india-rubber and digested about as well, too.

At last, Grant grew impatient with waiting and ordered engineers to dig the aforementioned tunnel. Mines were carefully placed beneath the fortifications where oblivious Confederate soldiers stood, and the engineers left the tunnel, unrolling long fuses as they went. When all was ready, the fuses were lit, and a huge crater was blown in the ramparts. Union soldiers rushed in were soon engaged in deadly combat with the shocked Confederates.

The great explosion had an unintended consequence. A Southern slave named Abraham was lofted into the air and sailed right over the Union lines, landing with a thump among the amazed soldiers. He was unhurt and looked around him, realizing that he was, in an instant, free. An Iowa unit quickly claimed him as "spoils of war" and installed him inside a tent. Curious soldiers were charged five cents to see the "flying Negro." He was grateful to be freed and to be fed much better. Abraham became somewhat of a celebrity and eventually served in the U.S. Quartermaster Department.

The explosion itself was unsuccessful, for the Northerners in the crater were peppered with shot by the Southern soldiers above them. They were soon recalled, and Grant was given permission by Pemberton to gather his dead and wounded. After a second mine was exploded, Grant went back to his waiting game, richer by one unintentionally acquired slave. Vicksburg eventually surrendered on July 4, 1863.

Despite all the loss of life and misery, one man in particular came out a winner at Vicksburg. Through sheer luck, Abraham, a black slave, won his freedom in spectacular fashion. By being literally blasted to freedom, his emancipation came before Lincoln's Proclamation had taken effect.

Donna Gruber Adair is a former teacher of high school English and creative writing, with a degree in history. Her short stories and poetry have won awards. Her new book, An American Odyssey, tells the story of a real-life pioneer family on the frontier. It is available at in soft cover or for Kindle or at

An American Odyssey has been very favorably reviewed by both The Midwest Book Review: "Donna Gruber Adair does well in crafting a riveting story of the pioneers. 'An American Odyssey' is a fine and much recommended read, not to be overlooked." And from Kirkus Reviews: "A captivating generational tale of one family's pioneering travels during America's 19th-century westward expansion. Adair masterfully weaves pivotal events of the 1800s such as slavery, Bleeding Kansas and the Pike's Peak gold rush into the lives of this family, crafting a perfect mix of action, tragedy, and romance. It is a fitting, rousing tribute to the courage of ordinary families who made extraordinary sacrifices."

Source: EzineArticles
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Vicksburg Defenses


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