But it wasn't called the Gibraltar of the Confederacy for nothing. Only Richmond was better defended in the whole Confederacy. Protected by many forts surrounding over 1/2 of the city, deep trenches and rifle pits all along three sides, the river on the forth and sharpshooters all along the walls as well as many cannons along those same barriers. On 18 May Grant's troops tempted those defences and got burned badly enough to back away.
There were several battles during this campaign, and one of these would be on the 22nd, when part of the troops from Union General Blair's division were to advance on what was called the Stockade Redan. Blair's boss... General Grant (future President) had a dilemma. He could take a second stab at the forts or site back and wait out the Confederates who would run out of ammunition and other supplies and eventually would have to give in. But that could take months. So he instead elected to move quickly with another advance. He ordered Blair onto the redan.
Plans were drawn up to deal with the obstructions facing them at the redan. There was a road called the Graveyard Road, (after a near bye graveyard) that passed the redan and on into the very city Grant wanted... Vicksburg. But the redan had built a fortification right on the road and protected it with the armaments at the redan. And all around this was a very high wall made of very hard clay. The only way to conquer this was to blow them down or scale them. The ground being too open for cannon foder, he elected to scale them. But that took a plan for 3 groups of 50 men. The first would be UNARMED and carry long longs, one man per end, over some 500 feet under very heavy fire. These would be thrown across a ditch some 6 feet deep and ten feet wide that surrounded two sides of the Redan. A natural and very steep bluff was on a third and the edge of the city on the forth.
Once this was accomplished a second crew of UNARMED soldiers 50 strong, would come right behind with long planks that would straddle all of the logs forming a make-shift bridge. And finally a third crew of 50 would run across the new bridge with ladders that would be placed up against the walls. Once all this was done the troops would race across the bridge, scale the walls and take the fort. So they thought!
The commanders of several regiments that would play a role were ordered to seek 2 volunteers from each company under their commands. These men could not be married. Nor could they be ordered to participate. This was clearly a most dangerous mission and there were no secrets that most were not expected to live out the day. The mission, if they would take that one step forward, was nothing sort of a Forlorn Hope, all hope would be lost for most. But that and the nice inducement of a 60 day furlough when it was over was enough for over 300 brave soldiers to step forward. But only 150 could go. The first taking that step would be the ones selected. Those chosen also had to be at least 20 years of age.
Frederick Rock would be one of those men. He was born in Germany in February of 1840 and moved to the US when only 6 years old, probably with an older brother William. Having lived in the Cleveland area for some time he moved to Canada to raise cattle before 1860, but returned to the US to sign up with the 37th Ohio in the Fall of 1861 as a Private. His brother William was in the same company and was a Sergeant, but was not known if he was or was not involved in this battle. He certainly was not in the attack against the redan on the 22nd. .
When the troops were given the go ahead, the first group of 50 were expected to advance without weapons and run as fast as they could carrying logs that had to be more than ten feet long so as to straddle the trenches. As soon as they rounded a corner they came into the open fields and very heavy cannon and small arms fire and also a barrage of shots from sharpshooters. The field was immediately blocked out of view by clouds of smoke from the firing at the Union soldiers. Within minutes many of the brave lads were dead or wounded and screaming in pain on the field. Many of the logs were dropped or shattered into slinters and for those who got to the trenches, few had logs long enough or still intact and worthy of straddling the trenches. But soon the second group were sent out... almost the same fate...and then the third. Within minutes several dozen lay dead on the field and the rest took whatever cover they could get. But those still alive were in a mess. They couldn't go forward, nor could they retreat. Many just jumped into the ditch or hide behind whatever portions of the logs or planks they could find.
Troops that were supposed to advance didn't because of the mess in front of them. Those in the pits soon found that the enemy were lobbing cannon balls at them to boot. But due to the closeness, the enemy cannons could not be dropped down enough to do harm so they hauled out of the protective barriers a cannon but were very quickly picked off by Union sharpshooters. Some of the cannon balls were lobbed probably by hand, over the enemy parapet at the union men in the trenches . But the fuses had timings that were too long. So the union men did the expected. They simply picked them up and threw then back at the enemy. One civil war story has men writing ... Return to Sender... on a cannon ball.
The union men were forced to lay low under very heavy fire for almost 12 hours and only managed to sneak away in the darkness of night. Of 150 men, only 53 came back to friendly lines. Frederick Rock was most fortunate and was one of the few who made it through the horror.
The union attempt was a absolute failure and the men had to dig in for a 47 day siege that ultimately resulted in aver 29,000 Confederates surrendering to Grant's men. But not before 8,000 men would have become casualties.
A year later Rock left his regiment and may have come back to Canada to clean up any business arrangements he had. He may have also stayed in Canada for several years but ultimately moved back to the US. In the 1875 era he was living again in Cleveland and working as a night watchman and as a laborer but later moved to Florida. When he was released in absentia, from the army in 1865, he was listed as a deserter, and when he applied many years later for a pension was declined due to this.
On 24 May 1863 General Blair wrote his superiors recommended several individuals, and all of those who took part in the attack on the redan for a Medal of Honor. But nothing happened with this until 1894 when a total of 97 medals were issued for actions on that one day back in May of 1863. It was the second largest one day amount of medals awarded in the history of the medal.
Though others who deserted had their medals cancelled and could not get pensions in many, but not all cases, somehow Rock was awarded a medal and it was sent off to him after it was authorized on 10 August 1894.
This monument was erected at the Vicksburg National Park in honour of the 37th Ohio, many of whom fought and died there.
Quebec born Frank Blois, whom earlier posts at this site have mentioned, also earned his Medal of Honor at Vicksburg, but it was a few days later and he was a sailor serving on the USS Cincinnati at the time.
Thomas Higgins, yet another Quebecer also earned His Medal of Honor at Vicksburg, and it was on the very same day as Pte Rock but in another area of the battle.
Both of these Medals were awarded for bravery in battles that happened on today's date.... a date that is exactly 150 years ago today.