Engineers in Union blue and Confederate gray played a prominent role in the Vicksburg campaigns of 1862-1863. Although their contributions have largely gone unnoticed in published works on the campaign, the stories of these men and the fatigue parties that toiled under their supervision are worthy of note and will be detailed in this series of articles.
Part Five: The Line of Defense
The naval siege of Vicksburg ended in Union failure. It was then realized by both Union and Confederate authorities that if Vicksburg was going to fall it would be at the hands of a massive, combined land and naval effort. Fortunately for the Confederates, the river batteries at Vicksburg were strong and would be strengthened by the addition of several batteries. But the land approaches, including the railroad access, were open and thus vulnerable. The decision was made by the Confederate high command to construct a line of defense around the city that would guard all land approaches to Vicksburg. The task of design and construction of what became known as the rear line of defense was entrusted to Maj. Samuel H. Lockett, the army’s chief engineer.
Lockett was born in Mecklenburg County, Virginia, in 1837, but the family moved to Marion, Alabama, when he was quite young. He attended Howard College, now Samford University, near Birmingham, and went on to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point standing second in the class of 1859. With the outbreak of hostilities between the states, he resigned his commission and was appointed a captain of engineers in Confederate service. Initially assigned to the staff of Gen. Braxton Bragg, Lockett was promoted to major and made chief engineer for the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, which included the Mississippi River bastions of Vicksburg and Port Hudson, Louisiana. These posts gave the Confederates control of a 200-mile stretch of the Mississippi and guarded the all-important mouth of the Red River, which funneled supplies from the states of the far South to those east of the Mississippi River. Tremendous quantities of Texas beef, Louisiana sugar and salt, Arkansas hogs, and lead from Missouri were conveyed along the Red River to sustain Confederate armies in the field and provide food to the civilian population that was in growing want of sustenance.
Following departure of the Union fleets, the young engineer set about his task with vigor. Reconnoitering through the hills and hollows around Vicksburg, he recalled, “No greater topographical puzzle was ever presented to an engineer.”
“At first it seemed impossible to find anything like a general line of commanding ground surrounding the city,” Lockett later wrote of his effort. “The difficulty of the situation, was greatly enhanced by the fact that a large part of the hills and hollows had never been cleared of their virgin forest of magnificent magnolia-trees and dense undergrowth of cane.”
Lockett, however, realized that Vicksburg was a natural fortress. The area’s rugged topography, with its series of narrow ridges fronted and backed by deep, steep ravines, made Vicksburg strong by nature. The Confederate engineer planned to make it even stronger through the construction of field fortifications.
The line as designed and constructed under Lockett’s supervision consisted of nine major forts that covered the road entry points as well as the railroad access. These works were connected by a continuous line of trenches and rifle-pits. This formidable defense line, which extended for more than eight miles, was anchored on the river both above and below Vicksburg. The works erected by Lockett would ultimately be manned by a garrison of 30,000 troops, mount 172 big guns, and pose the major obstacle to Union domination of the Mississippi River.