Americans Under Siege
 
From: bernhard1848@att.net
 
It is unimaginable today that Americans were under siege some 147 years ago and reduced to eating vermin and insects to survive — though peace would return if they were willing to surrender their liberty and hard-won political heritage of independence from the Founders. Ironically, the terrorized and starving Americans in Vicksburg finally surrendered to their Northern tormentors on the 4th of July, America’s independence day.
 
Bernhard Thuersam, Director
Cape Fear Historical Institute
www.cfhi.net  
 
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Americans Under Siege:
 
(This diary of an unknown Union lady, caught in the siege, tells of the hardships and perils that the civilian inhabitants endured)
 
“May 28: Since that day the regular siege has continued. We are utterly cut off from the world, surrounded by a circle of fire. Would it be wise like the scorpion to sting ourselves to death? The fiery shower of shells goes on day and night. People do nothing but eat what they can get, sleep when they can, and dodge the shells. There are three intervals when the shelling stops, either for the guns to cool or for the gunners’ meals…At all the caves I could see from my high perch, people were sitting, eating their poor suppers at the cave doors, ready to plunge in again. I think all the dogs and cats must be killed or starved: we don’t see any more pitiful animals prowling around…”
 
The confinement is dreadful. I am so tired of corn-bread…we are lucky to get a quart of milk daily from a family near who have a cow they hourly expect to be killed. I send five dollars to market each morning, and its buys a small piece of mule-meat. Rice and milk is my main food; I can’t eat the mule-meat. Martha runs the gauntlet to buy the meat and milk once a day in perfect terror. A pair of chimney swallows have built in the parlor chimney. The concussion of the house often sends down parts of their nest, which they patiently pick up and reascend with.
 
June 7: This place has two large underground cisterns of good, cool water…One I had to give up to the soldiers, who swarm about like hungry animals for something to devour.  Poor fellows! My heart bleeds for them. They have nothing but spoiled, greasy bacon, and bread made of musty pea-flour, and but little of that.
 
To-day one crawled on the gallery to lie in the breeze. He looked as if shells had lost their terror for his dumb and famished misery. I’ve taught Martha to make first-rate corn-meal gruel, because I can eat meal easier that way than in hoe-cake, and I fixed him a saucerful, put milk and sugar and nutmeg – I’ve actually got nutmeg! When he ate it the tears ran from his eyes. “Oh, madam, there was never anything so good! I shall get better.”
 
June 25:  A horrible day. We were all in the cellar, when a shell came tearing through the roof, burst up-stairs, tore up that room, and the pieces coming through both floors down into the cellar, one of them tore open the leg of H’s pantaloons.  On the heels of this came Mrs. J. to tell us that young Mrs. P. had had her thigh-bone crushed. When Martha went for the milk she came back horror-stricken to tell us the black girl there had her arm taken off by a shell. Every night I had lain down expecting death, and every morning arose to the same prospect…I might be crippled, and not killed. Life, without all one’s power and limb’s, was a thought that broke down my courage.
 
July 3:  To-day we are down in the cellar again, shells flying as thick as ever; provisions so nearly gone…that a few more days will bring us starvation indeed. Martha says rats are hanging dressed in the market for sale with mule-meat: there is nothing else.” 
 
(A Union Lady Suffers Through the Siege of Vicksburg, The Blue and the Grey, Volume II, Henry Steele Commager, editor, Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1950, pp. 665-667)