June 19th, 1863
General Grant fanned himself with a dirty slouch hat, looking for all the world like a private soldier rather than the overall commander of the siege. To General Hickenlooper, he looked fully improper for the position he held. But, he also recognized fully that appearance was utterly deceiving in this untidy man, and anyone who mistook him learned that lesson harshly. The general retuned his crisp salute, but did not rise and instead gestured to one of the folding chairs seated about the table strewn with papers and a map of the siege works. Hickenlooper always found it interesting how tidy the general’s headquarters were in contrast with the man himself. He cleared his throat.
“Thank you for seeing me, General Grant.”
The bearded man chewed his cigar and nodded.
“Of course, General Hickenlooper, after all it was I that ordered you to report here this morning to brief me on the progress of the engineering.”
Hickenlooper cleared his throat again, and proceeded to give his report.
“Yes, General. If I may direct your attention to the map?” He detailed the progress, giving General Grant an overview of the drive to push the sap into the enemy works. There had been increasing attempts on the part of the enemy to forestall their efforts, but so far they had prevailed. Reports from Lieutenant Russel suggested that the sap would likely reach the outer ditch of the enemy fortification by the 22nd, after which they might begin mining the wall. So far the work had gone well, the only recent casualties in the first weeks of June during an unexpected enemy salvo of artillery.
“How long do you think the gallery for the mine would take to dig -- assuming the enemy doesn’t discover and counter-mine our position?” asked General Grant staring at the map. Hickenlooper thought for a moment before at last answering.
“Best case scenario would be two days -- if we dig night and day. Three would be more likely.”
General Grant nodded. “Then by the 25th of June, the powder might be loaded-- and if the mine opens the enemy line as I expect, we might take this section and flank these.” He traced out his thoughts upon the map with his sun-browned finger, deep concentration upon his face. At last he stood up, repositioned the stub of his cigar between his teeth, and tapped the table top. “Very good, General Hickenlooper. You have until the 25th; six days from now.”
The empty space left behind by the loss of Franklin affected each of them differently, but profoundly. Considering the amount of action that they had seen, it was surprising how few men they had lost to battle. Knapp supposed this was why many of them had yet to cultivate fully the hard, fatalistic attitude you found amongst those companies upon whom the war’s harvest had fallen heaviest. Not that Franklin’s death had reduced them to weeping either, rather that a silence and reverent resistance to mirth settled into their duties. Killmartin grew irritable; Anderson took renewed interest in reading his soldiers hymnal. Knapp felt a sudden urgency to write home, and to say in those letters things he realized he sometimes neglected. Of all of them, it was Hastings who seemed affected most -- though given his close relationship with their fallen comrade this made sense. For Hastings, his grief took the odd turn in having encouraged a change in nature which was quite astounding. Though he had never run, Hastings had long struggled with his courage in battle, yet now he was often the first to volunteer for every duty and detail regardless of risk or peril. Knapp tried to talk with him about this, but the other man simply refused to discuss his motivations. Common opinion, when the mess discussed their friend and his recent drive towards martial perfection, was that Hastings would work through this -- given time.
“What’s the real harm,” commented Anderson, “if Hasty takes every work detail or guard? He’s in no more or less danger in such work as he would be in camp.” The logic seemed to suffice, until word came that Hastings had volunteered to work at the sap.
“He’s lost his mind, or he’s trying to get himself killed!” spat Anderson as he, Knapp and Killmartin sat discussing it in camp. It was the 21st of June, and as the siege wore on the signs became more and more obvious that the enemy couldn’t hold on forever. Bat as the potential for an end dawned, so too did a the potential for rash and sometimes even suicidal behavior amongst the rank and file. For the rebel part, their men became increasingly trigger happy -- taking shots at anything that moved. In response, some enlisted men on the Federal side took perverse delight in drawing fire. Often this was done safely, with someone’s cap on the end of a ram rod -- but not always. Gambling and fighting became common place, as men sought outlets for the growing stress.
“You think he wants to kill hisself over Franklin?” posed Killmartin as he smoked his pipe. Anderson just shrugged.
‘Who knows, but working the sap? That’s crazy,” Knapp shook his head, and tossed a twig into the remaining embers of a nearby fire. He started to speak twice before he finally got it fully out.
“Crazy, suicidal or whatever it might be, Hastings has made his choice. We all know that he has not always faced his duty with a firm resolve, but face it he has. I think we need to support him.”
“Even if he gets himself killed?” asked Anderson with passion. Knapp shrugged, and shook his head.
“I am not saying we allow Hastings to go stick his head in the bore of a parrot rifle; but if he feels the need to risk himself working the sap, then I don’t think that he is risking any more than anyone here.” Anderson looked as though he might argue the point, but then relented. Killmartin smiled around the stem of his pipe.
“This is why we call ye our Da, Gus! Ye gots a way about speakin’!” he said, patting Anderson on the shoulder. Knapp smiled and shook his head, feeling the weight of Killmartin’s words. They were like his sons, but there should have been more of them sitting here. The first man lost from their mess was William Thompson, killed during the Big Black River campaign. Knapp realized how difficult it was to even remember his face now, even though it had been a mere three months since he’d fallen. Then Gregg Alexander, in the first charge against Vicksburg -- followed then by Franklin. They had been seven, and now only four of them remained. Knapp knew that even those losses were paltry compared with what some regiments had absorbed, but then that didn’t matter to them. Loss was loss. Besides, given the terrible law of average which existed in war, given enough time the fatal musket lead or well aimed shell would find them all. How long could this war go on before there was no one left alive who had begun it?
Knapp rubbed his forehead with his hand and closed his eyes. He knew better than to allow himself to think that way -- you simply couldn’t -- not if you wanted to keep from going mad. He suddenly realized Anderson had asked him a question, and he chided himself mentally for getting lost in his own thoughts so much of late. “I’m sorry, I was thinking and wasn’t paying attention.”
Anderson smiled, and lifted the kettle they made coffee in. “That’s alright Gus, been plenty to think about of late. I asked if you wanted some coffee, as I was thinking of getting the fire stoked and start a kettle.”
“That would be good, thanks.”
Anderson smiled and turned to start to where the woodpile was located back towards the provost post when the enormous guns on the riverside of Vicksburg began to open fire. Despite being so far, their report was terrible and several men ducked before regaining control of their reflexes.
“Sounds like them Navy lads is making a run by the batteries!” commented Killmartin helping Anderson back to his feet. Anderson swore when he realized he had spilled the coffee water upon reflexively dropping for cover at the sound of the guns. He set off towards water, passing Hastings who stopped briefly in the company street to talk out of earshot. When he joined them in by the tent, Hastings chuckled.
“Anderson told me about the guns and spilling the coffee water. Poor fellow, couldn’t quite bring myself to tell him he spilled a portion such that he looks like he’s wet himself!” Killmartin sniggered and shook his head. Knapp wondered how awfully Anderson might be made to suffer for jokes and commentary once some of the other men saw him. Hastings took a seat across from Knapp and looked him in the eye. A smile crept across his face and he shook his head.
“So, when do you plan to try to talk me out of working the sap?”
Knapp shrugged. “I don’t. We’re all worried a bit for you, but no one plans to try to talk you out of what is yours to decide.”
Hastings crossed his arms and nodded. “I appreciate that.”
“As long as ye aint tryin’ to get yerself killed! If ye are then I plan to box you about!” put in Killmartin suddenly.
Hastings laughed, and shook his head as he took on a more serious look. “I want to help bring this siege to an end. Franklin died because of this damnable city, and I want to know I truly did something to make a difference.”
Knapp nodded, and Killmartin patted Hastings shoulder. “It’s a good reason lad, but ye get yerself killed an’ I’ll kill ye.”
They laughed together, and as they drew apart Anderson returned.
“Why didn’t anyone tell me I had spilled water all down the front of my trousers!?”
Hastings saluted when he was brought before the lieutenant, but the hard faced man shook his head. “No need for that here in the sap, we all are toiling in the dirt here. Welcome to the crew.” The lieutenant shook his hand with a serious grip, and introduced him around. He met Sergeant Morris, a solidly built little man with a handle bar mustache and coal black eyes. He said nothing, but nodded. This man, thought Hastings, was the steam boiler for this group, if the lieutenant was the engineer. In turn he was greeted by the energetic welcome of privates Brown, Congden, Williams, Fitzallen, Best, Cliff and McNeil. He went on to make the acquaintance of eight other privates and three corporals but hardly learned the names of but a handful. He was assigned to filling grain sacks with earth from the digger’s positions, and then carry it to the rear where the they could be deposited in a trench. Hastings was told that men from the lines to either side of the sap would then empty the sacks and then return them to the trench to be refilled. The work was strenuous, dirty and dull - -but Hastings still found excitement in seeing the progress being made. Filling a sack with a short spade, Hastings hummed to himself. A man with a dirt streaked face wielding a short handled pick-axe halted a moment to wipe his face and jerked a thumb towards Hastings.
“Hey, Davis! This new fella is singing, what’da make of that?” Another one of the diggers shook his head but continued working.
“What’s wrong with singing!? So, he likes his work!” said another one of the diggers nearby. The man who had spoken first turned and pointed his tool towards Hastings.
“So, what’s your name songbird?” Hastings smiled and swung his full sack of dirt over his shoulder.
“Hastings. What’s yours?” The other man shook his head and resumed his work. One of the other men carrying the sacks matched pace with Hastings and turned to smile at him. “I’m Wade -- Josiah Wade -- you’re new on the sap?”
Hastings nodded but said nothing, Wade went on. “Don’t worry about Jones -- that fella what called you songbird -- he just likes to give everyone spit and hellfire when he first meets ‘em. He don’t mean nothing by it.”
“Thanks, but don’t worry too yourself too much -- I didn’t take offence.”
Wade seemed satisfied, and the pair chatted all the way back to the drop and back. Wade, it seemed, had been working the sap since the start. Work had been perilous at first, but as they proceeded and the ramparts were improved, things got much better. Not that the rebels ceased to try to slow their work, but at least now it was less frequent. The latest method the rebels were trying was to roll explosive artillery shells down from their fort walls to explode at the base of the ramparts of the sapper works. While the chances of destroying the ramparts was small, the affect of the sudden violent explosion rattled the nerves of those working and often halted progress for several minutes. “The only thing that really gives it away is the ‘woosh-hiss’ sound you hear over and over as the shell rolls down the redoubt” explained Wade, hefting dirt into his grain sack.
“How often do they hurl these things at us?” asked Hastings, feeling a slight nervous tension gnawing within himself.
“Once or twice a day, but this one time the rebels threw nine of them at us in one session. That was a rough day.” The pair of men slung their sacks once again and carried the dirt away. They worked steady for six hours before taking a break for lunch, brought by orderlies for the cooks. The food wasn’t fancy, but ample and filling. Best of all was simply a moment of rest, as Hastings was realizing he wasn’t in as good a shape as some of the men working the sap. His shoulders ached, but he felt good being here. He wondered how Knapp and the others were doing back on the line, and if they had been rotated out for rest or not. In his new work here at the sap, Hastings was expected to work 16 hours, and for now he was assigned to the day shift. Every other week, the shifts were switched, and then he would face the diggings at night. He was thrust from his thoughts when he heard the unmistakable ‘woosh-hiss’ he had been warned of, and Sergeant Morris shouted, “Cover!” Hastings became one of several bodies which dove into the dirt at the floor of the sap, the dreaded sound growing louder as the shell rolled down until suddenly the air split with a thunderous explosion and the ground shook beneath them. Hastings immediately began to feel dirt rain down upon him, and he covered his head as best he could with his arms for protection. He couldn’t at first believe how loud the blast had been, nor that the ramparts of the sap works could possibly remain intact. At last he slowly got up onto his knees and looked about, dirt and sand falling from his hair. The sound of the nearby Federal batteries could be heard plainly, shelling the enemy line ferociously as a corrective action for the attempt against the sap. Being closer than he was used to, Hastings found the sounds of arching shells a bit unnerving, but everyone else seemed happy enough. Wade stood up next to him and shook dirt from his shirtsleeves before helping Hastings to his feet.
“Don’t worry; our boys will keep any more of those ear-poppers from being rolled down at us for a bit. Back to our work,” he said, playfully cuffing Hastings in the arm and resuming the task of filling his sack with soil. Overhead Federal artillery rounds sailed past like terrible dark phantoms, crashing down with a rumble like thunder.
General Hickenlooper observed the work through his field glasses from the battery which bore his name, smiling to himself over the successes of his efforts. The sap had reached the outer ditch of the enemy fort, and all within schedule. The general lowered his glasses and waved over Major Lipton. “Major, what is our inventory for powder and fuse?” Major Lipton withdrew a small journal from his coat pocket, and consulted it briefly.
“Sir, with the bombardment that our batteries have been delivering, the artillery supply seems to be insufficient for our needs. However, I took the liberty to inquire with the Navy, and thanks to a lull in their action we can easily victual our needs from their stores.”
General Hickenlooper smiled and resumed the use of his field glasses. “Very good Major Lipton! The engineers have been conversing of this, and they are about due for a final answer as to exactly how much powder will be needed for the mine to serve its purpose. See to it, and report back.” Major Lipton saluted, and made his way to carry out his instructions.
Digging by lamp light was troublesome, Hastings thought as he jolted his shoulder when the shovel stopped shorter than expected. It was his luck that he joined the sap work just as his crew switched to the night shift, but he wouldn’t complain. No one here complained over the work they did, they had volunteered for this duty. For Hastings, this was a tribute to his friend. Franklin had looked after him, helped him to overcome when all he wanted to do was run. Hastings pushed the shovel into the soil and knew his friend would be proud of him; he faced his fear squarely and chose not to allow it to rule his life anymore. He was about to trust the shovel forward once more, when Sergeant Morris shouted for everyone to take cover. Hastings dropped down, seeing the sergeant snatch up a smoking sphere before hurling it out and over the rampart where it exploded. With a sudden rush of awareness, Hastings realized the enemy had hurled a lucky grenade into the sap and the sergeant had acted to save their lives. The explosion echoed a moment, and roused the awareness of every soldier along the line. A star shell exploded overhead as the batteries sought a better view of the ground, bathing everything in a sudden flickering white light. When he started to rise up, a hand shot over to hold him in place, and looking over Hastings saw Wade shaking his head at him.
“Don’t move yet, not until they give us the all clear and Sergeant Morris tells us to go back to work. If them damn Rebels decide to try their luck at taking the sap, you don’t want to be in the way -- do you?” Hastings was confused, and most have looked it, because Wade went on in explanation. “We don’t carry no weapons here,” he said in a loud whisper “so General Leggett’s boys back behind us covers from their trenches -- as do the guns from that battery up there. If ever the Rebels rush us, you best dig down! There will be a hailstorm of lead flying above us, and that’s no mistake!”
Sergeant Morris had been looking back towards the main line and the battery beyond, when he turned and called out that it was safe to resume their work. Hastings was tempted to ask what system must be in place to decide when it was safe to work or not, but their task awaited and no one seemed willing to wait. The illumination provided by the star shell faded, returning all to the faded yellow dimness of the oil lamps. When at last the time came for a break, Hastings’ arms and shoulders felt heavy like stone and his joints burned. There was hot food provided by grumbling cooks which seemed like a sumptuous banquet, though in truth it wasn’t any different fare than he’d normally had in the Army. Work, he thought to himself as he stuffed warm bread into his mouth, made even the most average foods splendid -- when allowed to enjoy them on a break. Wade sat across from him in the gallery, and opened up a letter which he fished from the pocket of his trousers.
“Wafs dat?” asked Hastings through his food stuffed mouth. Wade looked up once, brushed dirt from his chin, and smiled sadly.
“A letter from my wife; she left me you see, I guess I don’t really know why I keep it.”
Hastings stopped chewing and coughed, then swallowed hard. He wasn’t sure quite what to say, as Wade’s words had confounded him. The other man, looking jaundiced in the gentle flicked of the lamp light, frowned and lay his head back against the rampart wall.
“I’d find fault,” he continued, “if I didn’t understand how it came to this. We’re all just so far away! How can anyone expect things to remain as they left them?” Hastings just nodded, several other men nearby looked over and were watching Wade now. For his part, Wade just sighed as he looked over his letter with sad eyes before refolding and replacing it in his trouser pocket. Hastings resumed eating, but the rapidly cooling stew no longer seemed to carry the grandness it had before. This mood had spread, and a great many men who had been engaged in lively conversation now spoke quietly. Hastings was not married, nor even attached to anyone waiting for him back home beyond his parents and siblings. He had never before felt fortunate for this, until now. He looked over at Wade, who was now eating quietly. Another good reason to push hard and finally secure this cursed town, though Hastings to himself. It would be a solid step towards ending this war, and sending all of the men like Wade home again. He vowed to watch after Wade, and to keep him from trouble as best he could. Thoughts such as those he held were understandable, but to some they could be seen as counter to Army interests and a dangerous influence upon morale. Hastings took another spoonful of stew, chewing through a spongy chunk of gristle feeling sorrow and pity for his new friend.
When they returned to work, with only a few hours left of the shift, the diggers struck tenacious red clay mixed soil with their spades and picks. Measurements were taken, and with great excitement word went around that there could not be more than 150 feet before they would be ready to start the gallery for the mine’s main powder charge. Orders were given for all to observe as much silence as was possible, to ensure the best chance for Sergeant Morris to hear any enemy counter-mining of their position. As the sun began to rise and the 25th of June dawned, the sap had at long last reached its apex.
When their relief came, no one wanted to go back to camp. Every man who had worked the sap knew this was the seminal moment for the mine, and so the lieutenant relented. Word had been sent ahead that the sap was ready for the powder, and in short order five stout wagons arrived full of 10 pound kegs of powder--each marked with the brand of the Navy. Hastings and Wade hefted one of these kegs down from the wagon; aware of just of much destructive energy was in their hands. Counting 21 more kegs beside their own, Hastings gave a low whistle for the awe of it all. Planks were laid down onto the floor of the sap, firming their path underfoot as each of the kegs was carried into the works. The first eight were directed by the gruff sergeant Morris to be placed at the extreme end of the sap, where the gallery had proceeded downward under the enemy lines. The remaining 14 would be arranged in the lateral galleries of the mine, a total of 2200 pounds of powder. Hastings and Wade stepped back and out of the way as the remainder of the eight kegs were settled in place, when suddenly Sergeant Morris held up a hand and said, “Quiet! Listen!”
All went still, and each of the men in that cramped tunnel strained to listen. At first, Hastings heard nothing, but then the hair stood up on the back of his neck. It was muffled, but he could hear digging, followed by a voice.
“That’s it boys! We got to be getting’ right close now!”
The Federals looked to one another, no one daring to move for a moment. Sergeant Morris indicated of to their left, and then held his finger to his lips to encourage silence. They made their way out of the tunnel, and the sergeant hurried off to report the enemy counter-mine. If they succeeded in tapping the Federal mine -- or breaking through from the Rebel tunnel -- all the work at the sap would be for nothing. Hastings knew too that if the Rebels did break through, they would surge into the Federal works and weaken the entire line. Shortly the sergeant returned with Lieutenant Russell, who went into the mine. He returned after several moments of tense silence, and conferred quietly with Morris. The lieutenant turned and left and the sergeant gathered them together.
“Alright boys, we need to work like we’ve not worked before. If those bastards tap our work, we’re done. The lieutenant will be sending some men from the line down shortly to keep an eye on the gallery, and we need to cap this mine. Let’s go.”
They went as one and gathered tools, half of their number making the trek back to where the removed soil had been deposited in sacks. As they prepared to work, armed soldiers arrived along with a naval lieutenant who was in charge of laying the double strand of safety fuse into the mine. He vanished into the tunnel before them, followed by a sergeant from the Pioneers carrying a large spool of fuse. After only a few moments, the pair marched out with the sergeant following the grim faced Navy man as he played out the parallel lines of fuse. As they continued on and away from them, Sergeant Morris ordered them to work quietly, and every man set to his task. Hasting moved to empty his heavy sack of earth in the slowly filling entrance to the tunnel when there was a sudden “FA-FOOM!” as an explosion erupted from somewhere ahead of the mine. Soil rained down from the roof of the tunnel, but held. Their armed guards had all thrown themselves down, and were asking after the source of the explosion when a fast moving “Woosh-Hiss” sound was heard and everyone else dropped. The artillery shell rolled from the enemy fort erupted with sharp violence, and dirt rained down on them.
“By GOD! What in hell was that!” shouted one of the soldiers brought up from the line with a look of terror. Sergeant Morris rose up, calling on the workers to resume their duty.
“They’re trying to prevent us proceeding lads! They know what we’re up to, but not exactly where, so we need to finish before their aim bets any better!” said Morris is a loud whisper, pushing men to their places. Another grenade went off to the right of the previous explosions, but aside from a slight cringe every man stayed on at their work. There was musket fire from behind them as the Federal lines began to do their best to buy them some breathing space; shortly came the “thump” sounds as the improvised wooden mortars opened up from further back along the sap. Hastings ran back to collect another load of soil, praying as he went that the mortar crews would aim carefully. If they dropped short and hit the mine, he doubted there would be enough of any of them to bury back home -- if at all.
General Grant looked North and South of the battery “Hickenlooper”, feeling a sense of awe at the sight of columns of blue winding their way to take positions on either sight of the sap. Word had come the day before that work on the mine could be concluded by 3 PM on the 25th, and so the reserves had been called up. The batteries were firing at a leisurely pace, helping to cover the final work on the mine. The general called for his field glasses, and they were handed over by his aide. He chomped his cigar thoughtfully.
“The orders for support of the advance have been issued, and accepted?”
The colonel on his left nodded. “Yes general, I saw to it myself, Sir.”
General Grant resumed scanning the lines with his field glasses. Everything then was set, and everyone knew their role. God willing, the plan would run smoothly and all of his commanders would follow the plan. In the end, it often came down to adherence to the given commands, and simple timing. The general handed the field glasses back, drew his pocket watch. The smooth, cool metal of the casing made him think a moment of home and his darling wife. The watch had been a gift from her, a token of her love and unwavering trust in him. Even in the face of failures, she had stood by him -- her strength was his strength. He looked at the watch face, and cleared his throat as he replaced it in his vest pocket. The hour was two o’clock, which meant that the fuse was to be lit in a quarter of an hour. The fuse was cut for 45 minutes, and so the assault would begin after 3 PM. The guns of the battery barked, one after another discharging with echoing roars of smoke and belching fire. General Grant scanned the battlements of the enemy fort, noting movement of troops and materiel suggesting they were trying to limit the casualties as best they could along the section of line facing the mine. Well, though the general, the point wasn’t necessarily to kill enemy soldiers with the mine, but to gain entry and achieve purchase on the enemy fortifications. With good fortune, the enemy garrison would surrender once they realized that Vicksburg was indefensible. If not, then the Federals would have little choice but to show them the error of their ways.
They had heaped soil over the opening to the mine, and then further reinforced the mound with heavy timbers roughly hewn and brought up for this express purpose. When at last all was done, they were drawn back to a place pf safety. Sergeant Morris waved to Lieutenant Russel as they passed him at the touch point for the fuse. Russel nodded in return, holding a pocket watch in one hand and the braided ends of the double fuse in the other. Excitement welled up in Hastings, and he stole a glance back as the man standing next to the lieutenant -- a sergeant-major he had never before seen--moved on a word from Russel and touched a smoldering wick to the fuses. The sudden hissing sound and jumping sparks gave surety to the endeavor, as the fuse ignited and slowly burned towards the powder charges. Hastings knew that in a short time, the terrible result of their labors would be seen and felt by all -- and perhaps today would be the last day before Vicksburg fell. They ran back up along the sap, until at last they reached the main lines where the reserves were being drawn up. Hastings cast an eye about, wondering if he might see Knapp and the others, but there were too many men and no faces he immediately knew. By this point, Lieutenant Russel and the unnamed sergeant-major joined them, moving to the front of the platoon sized column of men who had worked the sap. They were led up the hill towards Hickenlooper battery, where the sappers were drawn up into formation to the rear of the guns which were in furious operation. General Grant approached the lieutenant, followed by another general whom whispers in rank said was the fella for whom the battery was named. General Grant shook the hands of Russel, Morris and the sergeant-major. At last the bearded general turned to the formation and removed his hat. He looked them over a moment before replacing his hat and speaking in a strong, gravely voice.
“Gentlemen, I thought it appropriate that given that this sap was the result of your considerable labors, you ought to be afforded a good view when the mine discharges. I do not know if this plan will carry the city, but I do know that irrespective of outcome your efforts will certainly prove instrumental in the history of this action.” He took a pocket watch from his vest, and looked at it a moment before nodding to the assembled men on his way back to a spot along the parapet. Lieutenant Russel and the sergeant-major were invited along by General Hickenlooper, leaving Sergeant Morris with the formation. He ordered them to in-place rest, and made sure every man was well and not in need of anything. It was then for the first time since meeting him, that Hastings saw something more to the intensity and seriousness of Sergeant Morris. As all around them the guns roared and the muskets rattled, Sergeant Morris smiled as he shared quiet words with each man. Every other eye not engaged in the violent salvo was drawn over to where the fuses burned steadily closer to destruction-- but Sergeant Morris was focused on these men. He was more than the driving energy behind the work that soon would be blown to oblivious before them, but he had also been the heart. Hastings realized suddenly that Franklin had been a similar sort of man, and felt deep within him a pang of sorrow for his friend. Along the parapet, General Hickenlooper tapped his foot with nervous energy as he checked again the time.
“Ten minutes.” He said, trying to keep the excitement from his voice.
Knapp, Killmartin and Anderson sat quietly listening to the booming of artillery and musket fire further up the line as time ticked away. Word had gotten out that the mine would blow at three o’clock, and even though their unit was to remain where they were, everyone was on edge. Knapp wondered how Hastings was fairing, and hoped he was alright. The build-up for the rush into whatever hole the mine created in the enemy works was incredible to watch. Reserve units which had been taken off the rotation through the fortifications, had marched by most of the late morning as they headed to the staging areas near the “White House.” Of course as soon as the enemy saw that, they began to let loose at every point along the lines, though now the firing had ceased everywhere but immediately opposite the sap works. Killmartin tore some cloth into a strip and drew his ram rod. He tied the strip over the bulbous end and ran the dry patch down his barrel a dozen times before removing it with a satisfied grunt.
“With this humidity, ye’s are wise to keep ahead of the foulin’ -- lest ye find yerself unable to fire when ye needs to!”
Anderson rolled his eyes, but said nothing. Killmartin tossed the blackened rag over the parapet, and wiped his hand on his trouser leg. Knapp reached into his breast pocket and drew out his watch. It was five minutes to three. He looked up towards where the sap was along the line, and watched the smoke and flash of fire as the guns and muskets continued to blaze away at one another.
“Where do you suppose Hasty is now?” asked Anderson suddenly, taking a look over the rampart before sitting down under cover.
“Faith! No where nears the sap I hope, what with that fuse burnin’!” said Killmartin, wiping away powder residue from the bore of his weapon with his pinky finger.
“Just listen to them cracking away at each other,” said Anderson with a frown, “I hope there’ll be someone left of our boys to even make a charge of the breach!” As Knapp was about to answer, he halted and turned back to look toward the North. All along the fortifications, other men where stopping and craning to look towards where the sap was. Not quite all at once, but quickly enough that it was startling, the noise of musketry and artillery began to cease. When at last the final cannon fired, an eerie and unnatural quiet settled around them. Knapp checked his watch once more, as the oppressive stillness continued. When he spoke, his voice seemed loud and out of place despite his trying to be quiet.
“Just over a minute to three o’clock.”
Hastings felt the nervous anticipation of the blast compounded ten-fold by the terrible stillness as the weapons of war went silent all around him. Everyone seemed to be watching and waiting for the explosion -- on both sides. For thirty days, the noise of war had been heard with regularity around the besieged heights of Vicksburg, and now there was a nothingness which seemed to go beyond silence. Hastings thought of his friends a moment, and then suddenly -- terribly -- the stillness ended in what started as a low rumble and then grew louder rapidly. As he watched, the high redoubt and its adjoining works rose into the air in a geyser of dirt and spouting flame before pulverized dirt began to cascade down in every direction. As though a spell had been broken, the explosion reignited the guns and muskets on both sides as the salvo erupted more violently than before. A great cry went up then from the massed soldiers below in the Federal lines, and a massive wave of blue washed forward through the still dissipating clouds of dust. The line rushed into and around the wide crater of the breach, surging towards the interior lines beyond. General Grant shouted at his men excitedly, and Hastings found himself cheering the others. His ears rang with a hot buzzing, tears welled in his eyes. As shells burst and smoke billowed like lingering phantoms, the blue mass charged forward -- eager and determined that they would see the fall of Gibraltar.
July 6, 1863
General Hickenlooper set down his pen, and sighed. He looked out through the open door towards the siege works, which now were being remodeled to provide defensive positions for the Federals in the event of a rebel army showing up to take Vicksburg back again. He stared a long while at the expanded sap, thinking of that valiant but failed first attempt in June. The throngs of men had run head long into interior lines well supplied with cannon and men, and no cover upon leaving the crater created by the first mine. The 31st and 45th Illinois boys had given it their all, but in the end they were forced to settle for securing the crater of the breach, and using this area to continue the effort at sapping the enemy lines. In the end, the city had surrendered, but the work done in the sap had surely helped to expedite such a decision on the part of the Rebel General Pemberton. Was it some divine message that the city had fallen on July the 4th? It was reported that that devil Lee had been truly beaten in Pennsylvania on the very same day, and speculation was still rife amongst the staff officers here as to what that would truly mean for the war given the simultaneous loss of Vicksburg to the enemy. Hickenlooper stood, walking to the doorway to stand there a moment in the early July sun before stepping down into the battery he had been so proud of. The fortifications were being dismantled by the men who had built and manned them, the guns having already been limbered and carted away. He returned several salutes and went to stand quietly over looking the trenches and the surrendered city of Vicksburg. The National Colors were flying proudly over the courthouse, and the sound of celebrating soldiers could be heard on the breeze. Brevet Brigadier-General Andrew Hickenlooper smiled. They have earned it, he thought to himself.