The American Battlefield Trust's map of the Railroad Redoubt at the Siege of Vicksburg on May 22, 1863
The city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, had long been the target of Union General Ulysses S. Grant before May of 1863. Now the principal Federal commander in the Western Theater found himself at the doorstep of the strategically important city.
An initial assault on the cities defenses failed on May 19. Undaunted, Grant renewed his efforts to capture the city on May 22. This assault focused on a railroad redoubt along the Southern Railroad of Mississippi. While the rail line itself had been severed east of the city by Grant's troops, the line offered a potential weak point jutting out from the Confederate lines.
On the morning of May 22, Union artillery bombarded the Confederate works for some four hours. Around 10:00 am, the Federals launched a massive three-pronged assault on the Confederate works. One of the Confederate defenders, Lt. J.M. Pearson of the 13th Alabama described the Union attack, saying, “…they seemed to be springing from the bowels of the earth, a long line of indigo, a magnificent line in each direction…It was a grand and appalling sight.”
The Federals managed a short-lived penetration at Railroad Redoubt. Men of the 21st and 22nd Iowa breached the fort’s wall, gaining, for a few crucial moments, a lodgment in the city’s defenses. Scaling ladders were used to surmount the Confederate works in some places, as that proved very formidable. More Federals from Wisconsin and Illoins came to the aide of their comrades. Confederate Brig. Gen. Stephen D. Lee desperately attempted to get his men to counterattack, to no avail. He turned to Col. Thomas N. Waul, commander of the famed Waul’s Texas Legion who, with some nearby Alabamans, counterattacked.
In a desperate hand-to-hand struggle, the Iowans were driven back at the point of bayonets when no reinforcements were at hand. One of the Iowans that lay badly wounded on the fields was Sgt. Leonidas Mahlon Godley of the 22nd Iowa. "First Sergeant Godley led his company in the assault on the enemy's works and gained the parapet, there receiving three very severe wounds. He lay all day in the sun, was taken prisoner, and had his leg amputated without anesthetics." Godley survived his wounding and was later the recipient of the Medal of Honor.
The mounting casualty lists on this day of battle convinced U.S. Grant that it was time to initiate siege operations.