Monday, July 1, 2013

Notre Dame at Vicksburg (and...Vicksburg at Notre Dame)! Part I

The 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg has justly received significant attention this week but it may have taken a bot of the air out of another important anniversary: the 150th anniversary of the surrender of Confederate forces at Vicksburg, Mississippi, to the Union army under Ulysses S. Grant, after a nearly 50-day siege.

In 1995, I had the great pleasure of traveling to Vicksburg National Military Park with a group that included my best friend, Curtis Fears.  It was a memorable trip - seeing the battlefield, the monuments, the cemetery, the USS Cairo, and staying the night in a historic home.

The siege and surrender of Vicksburg was also memorable for Fr. Joseph C. carrier, a priest fromthe University of Notre Dame that was serving as a chaplain with the Union army.

You can read some introductory material about Fr. Carrier in a previous post here.

Below is an excerpt about Fr. Carrier's experiences at Vicksburg from my book, Notre Dame and the Civil War: Marching Onward to Victory (The History Press, 2010):

The Chaplain and the Beleaguered City
An Excerpt from
by James M. Schmidt
Fr. Joseph C. Carrier

Ellen Sherman, wife of William T. Sherman, asked Father Sorin to send one of his priests to her husband’s army. Her brothers, General Hugh Boyle Ewing and Captain Charles Ewing (the general’s foster brother and brother-in-law, respectively), were also in the army at Vicksburg. As devout as their sister, they had both expressed a wish to have a priest assigned to Grant’s army, which was without a Catholic chaplain in all its ranks. Father Sorin sent Father Joseph C. Carrier immediately to oblige her fervent hope that the chaplain would “get down there in time to prepare many a poor soul for the last dread journey.”(1)

The general had explained in his letter from Vicksburg to his son, Willy, at Notre dame, that a costly battle with the Confederates could be avoided if “their provisions will give out, for no person can get out or in Vicksburg without our consent, and if they have nothing to eat, they will starve or give up.” Only days later, the Confederate army at Vicksburg did surrender, after a forty-seven-day siege. Father Carrier got a firsthand look at the conquered city the day after the surrender. He secured a souvenir—the last issue of the city’s newspaper, printed on wallpaper—which he sent to Father Sorin as “a memento of a beleaguered but now fallen stronghold…[to] show all future generations to what extremities the Confederates were reduced.”(2)

"Dugouts" in Vicksburg
Of the city, Father Carrier wrote to Father Sorin that “there is not one single house in the whole city which has not been more or less damaged,” adding that “[it] really saddens one to see so many ruins.” He located the Catholic church in Vicksburg, which he happily reported “was but slightly injured.” Indeed, one Vicksburg citizen remembered that while the “soaring light spire and gold cross” of the church was one of the most prominent features of the town, it was “never defaced by the fire of the enemy,” though he was not sure “whether this was chance or intention.” (Surely General Sherman did not have such “control” over cannonballs; it’s equally sure that he would not risk the ire of his devout wife or his zealous but genial chaplain by purposely aiming at the church tower!) Father Carrier met Father Henzi, the weary but friendly assistant pastor—a fellow Frenchman—who “had lived for fifteen days in his cellar…for fear of the shells.”(3)

Upon returning to camp, Father Carrier learned that the army was departing right away. “It really had been painful for me to pull down my tents and leave my nice cozy quarters! I had become strongly attached to the place,” Father Carrier recalled. The days-long march in the hot and humid Mississippi clime was debilitating. Absent their wagons, “we had neither tent nor beds but we had the canopy of heaven…and the bare ground,” Father Carrier wrote Father Sorin. Food was also scarce—“not a cracker to crack,” he wrote—but Father Carrier took it all with good cheer. “Bah! This is for a follower of the Holy Cross a mere bagatelle [trifle],” he wrote Father Sorin, adding, “We…resumed our march, strictly fasting, although it was neither Lent, nor ember day, nor vigil.” The Union army chased remnants of the Confederate army out of Vicksburg and then encamped on the Big Black River.(4)


(1) Letter, Ellen Sherman to William T. Sherman, June 8, 1863, William T. Sherman Family Papers (hereafter CSHR), 2/107, University of Notre Dame Archives (UNDA).
(2) Letter, William T. Sherman to William T. Sherman Jr., June 21, 1863, CSHR 2/170, UNDA; David P. Conyngham, “Soldiers of the Cross,” David Power Conyngham Papers (CCON), 1/08 (un-paginated typescript), UNDA
(3) Conyngham, “Soldiers of the Cross.”

Next: A very special letter written by Gen. William T. Sherman  to his son Willy, who was then a student at Notre Dame in the minim (elementary) program!

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