|William Lee is in the back row, 2nd from the right.|
James Lee is in the back row, 2nd from the left.
William Lee grew up in the northwest corner of Arkansas, in Benton County. Anyway, in October of 1861, when William was 17, he and his older brother James went to Bentonville and enlisted. They were in Company F of the 15th NW Arkansas Regiment. They fought in several battles, including Corinth, Elkhorn, Hatchie Bridge, and maybe Shiloh. But we don't know all the details because Mom only got as far as getting the muster rolls from the National Archives.
Anyway, after a while, what happened was that the part of the Confederate Army that William and James were in, which was commanded by Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton, ended up in Jackson, Mississippi. But then Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant's Army of the Tennessee came in and fought them and captured the city of Jackson. So the rebels started backing up toward Vicksburg. Or maybe you're supposed to say "falling back" instead of "backing up." I don't know a whole lot of military terms.
While they were going towards Vicksburg, they fought a couple of big battles, and one was called Champion's Hill. The Confederates were outnumbered there, and they lost the battle, so they went on to the Big Black River, where they used a bridge and a boat to cross the river. Then when they all got across, they burned the bridge and the boat. Which was supposed to make it harder for the Union soldiers to get over the river.
But the Union soldiers still caught up with them, and a lot of rebel troops died, either because they got shot or because they drowned. Besides which, 1,700 soldiers were captured, including my mom's great-great uncle, James Lee, who was a 2nd lieutenant. So after that, Lt. James Lee spent the rest of the war as a prisoner, first at Johnson's Island, Ohio, and later at Ft. Delaware.
Meanwhile, Mom's great-grandfather, Pvt. William Lee, went with the rest of General Pemberton's army to Vicksburg. You may already know that Vicksburg is right on the Mississippi River, and one reason you may know this is because Vicksburg got flooded recently, and so did a bunch of other cities along the Mississippi. And back in Civil War days, Vicksburg was very important to the South because they wanted to keep control of the river. But of course, the North also wanted to control the river, and that's what General Grant was up to with this whole campaign. He was trying to win Vicksburg so that the North could say which boats got to go up and down the Mississippi.
Since Vicksburg was such an important city, it already had lots of forts and trenches and all kinds of stuff that was needed to defend it. So the rebels went right in and got busy with the defending. General Grant thought he could beat them anyway, but he tried twice, and he couldn't do it because too many of his men got killed. So he decided to make a siege instead. Which meant he put soldiers all around the city so that nobody could go in or come out. And no supplies or food could get in either. Plus out in the river, there were these boats with iron sides and big cannons on them.
The siege started on May 18, 1863, and all the soldiers who were defending Vicksburg, including Mom's great-grandfather, and all the people who lived in Vicksburg, were just kind of stuck there. And besides the soldiers, it was mostly women and children and old people who were there because all the men were off someplace fighting in other battles.
The Union troops and the Union battleships were all the time shooting bombshells at the town, and people were afraid that their houses would get hit and fall down on them and kill them. So they started digging caves into the hillsides of the town, with a lot of help from their slaves, and they lived in the caves where it was safer. Some of these caves had several rooms, and they had all the nice furniture from the people's real homes.
|Living in a cave at Vicksburg|
But after a while, there was no more food to eat. And people ate whatever animals they had there, including rats. I don't know if they ate dogs or not, but sadly, I think they might have. Then finally, everyone got so hungry, and the situation got so bad that General Pemberton told General Grant that he would surrender, which he did on July 4, 1863.
When the Union won Vicksburg, that was pretty much a turning point in the war, especially since it happened just one day after the Union won at Gettysburg. The South got kind of cut in half because they couldn't get troops or supplies or anything across the Mississippi anymore between the east and the west parts of the Confederacy.
|Currier and Ives print|
The terms of the Vicksburg surrender made all the rebel soldiers be "on parole," and each soldier had to sign a paper that said he would never, ever fight against the U.S. Army again. General Grant decided to do things this way instead of taking all the Confederates prisoner, because having so many prisoners to deal with would be a big pain in the butt and would slow his army down.
|Mom has a copy of the parole paper that her great-grandfather signed,|
but she was too lazy to dig it out.
So all the soldiers signed a paper, and then they got to leave Vicksburg. A lot of them joined another unit later and did some more fighting. But we think that Pvt. William Lee must have gone home to Arkansas and stayed there because there is no record of him fighting anymore. Then when the war ended in 1865, James Lee also went home to Arkansas.
William Lee got married to a woman named Sarah, and they had seven children. They named the oldest one Robert Edward Lee. It's pretty easy to guess how they came up with this name for their son! Mom likes to tell people that she is related to Robert E. Lee, which she is, but it's not the Robert E. Lee.
The fourth child of William and Sarah Lee was Mom's grandmother, Nancy Idella Lee. But everybody called her Della. She died before Mom was born, so Mom never got to meet her, but at least she has some pictures of her.
So that's your history lesson for today. Just remember that if you want to avoid having to eat rats, you should stay out of any towns that are under siege!