June of 1863 was a time of anxiously waiting. At home, where every bit of news from the front was anxiously followed, it seemed like a stalemate. In South Carolina the 39th was anxiously waiting to see battle, as was the 100th in Tennessee.
The 20th and McAllister’s Battery, then known as the 1st Illinois Artillery, Co. D were in Mississippi anxiously awaiting the end of a month long siege now known as the Battle of Vicksburg.
McAllister’s Battery, from Plainfield, was the first of the Will County units to see action. When the call came in April of 1861 the Battery had already been drilling for 5 years in anticipation of being needed for just such an occasion. After the first three months of enlistment were up, Ed McAllister mustered in many of them into the 1st Illinois Artillery, Co. D. In June of 1863 they found themselves a part of the siege of Vicksburg.
General Grant and the Army of the Tennessee had a goal of controlling shipping on the Mississippi. Vicksburg is located on a bluff on a series of double back bends on the river, which gave the Confederate artillery several chances to gun down any Union boat and protect rebel shipping.
In May of 1863 Grant had surrounded and entrapped the Confederate army, under the command of Lt. Gen. Pemberton, in Vicksburg. A small fort, known as Fort Hill lay outside the city and was also occupied by the rebels. It was there that McAllister Battery was placed.
The rebels held out for 40 days, and during that whole time they and the citizens of Vicksburg were bombarded day and night. During this siege there was time for tricks and strategies. We read in George Woodruff’s “The Civil War Years in Will County” the following description from the point of view of McAllister’s Battery.
“During the siege the boys used to amuse themselves by plugging up the pipe holes, through which the enemy used to fire on our men whenever exposed. Many a brave boy had fallen before their deadly aim from these loopholes.”
“The boys got so perfect in their gunnery, that they seldom failed to plug up the holes as fast as they made their appearance. The rebs then tried the trick of raising their hats on a stick, and drawing the fire of our men, and then taking their chance to shoot our men. It took a practiced eye to tell whether the hat held a stick or a head. So our boys, having soon learned the trick, would fire a blank from one gun, and when the hat appeared the second time, let fly a shot or shell from the other gun. All these, and many other devices and tricks, and counter tricks were played during the siege.”
“While this was going on, the sappers and miners were burrowing underground, like moles, preparing a mine to blow up Fort Hill, with the expectation that by this means they could force an entrance into the city.”
Lieut. Emmit Hill from Plainfield was a member of McAllister’s Battery. Woodruff tells his story, “Lieut. Hill had been a member of the battery when it used to play war in Plainfield, and when the war broke out was attending a commercial college in the city of New York. Capt. McAllister sent him, in a playful manner, a summons to appear and take his place in the battery. Lieut. Hill obeyed the summons, and served in the three months organization, and afterwards in the three years’ service.”
On June 17th Lieut. Hill, and a group of men under him, was ordered to an exposed position to act as gunner. He was at it an hour before anyone was hit. Woodruff tells us, “Lieut. Hill was himself hit by a musket ball, which entered his head a half inch back of, and a fourth inch below his right eye, passing out one half inch in front of his left ear. He was immediately taken to a hospital.”
“When Lieut. Hill was brought to the hospital, the attending surgeons said that the man must die; could not possibly recover, and declined to do anything for him, as being of no use. A brother of his from Bolton’s battery came over to see him, and he was not satisfied to let the matter go so. He went to see General Logan about it, who, sent over his own surgeon, who dressed the wounds, and his brother and a man from battery D was detailed to take care of him. He recovered (with the loss of an eye) to the great surprise, and perhaps the disgust of the surgeons.”
The siege of Vicksburg was to end on July 4th 1863 when Pemberton finally surrendered to Grant and the Mississippi River became the possession of the Union.