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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Vicksburg: A family's Heritage- A Father and Sons Journey

In June of this year I was forced to make a humbling journey. My best friend growing up, Major Robert Lemire, had passed away and my youngest son and I trekked to Mississippi for the funeral. Bob and I had been friends for over 30 years. I was blessed to be accompanied by my son. Not only did we do some needed bonding but he acted as a support system for me in this trying time. In an effort to make some part of this trip a little less solemn, we made a side trip to the Vicksburg National Battlefield as we started home.

Vicksburg holds a special place for our family because my Great (insert many here) Grandfather Captain William Cundiff and his brother Lt. Thomas Cundiff participated in the battle. Their moment of glory came on May 22, 1863 when as members of the 19th Kentucky Volunteers they assaulted the Confederate fortifications at the Railroad Redoubt. For those who are not familiar with this term, it refers to an earthen field fortification usually defended by artillery. The men of the 19th, along with the rest of Landrum’s and Lawler's brigade were the only Federals to break the Confederate lines at Vicksburg by assault. After capturing the redoubt, they held the ground for 5 long hours until finally being forced out by a brigade of brave Texans. Had they held the breach, Vicksburg would likely have fallen two months earlier.

The May 22nd attack was the second assault on the Confederate city. The day before, General Grant had ordered a grand assault all along the city’s defenses in an attempt to take the town by storm. With this assault’s failure, he decided to launch one more grand attack on the 22nd. As dawn broke on the next day the troops of Landrum’s (77th Ill, 97th Ill, 130th Ill, 48th OH and 19th KY) and Lawler’s (21st IA, 22nd IA, 23rd IA, and 11th WI) Brigades moved into positions. When all was ready, the Federal guns opened up on the Confederate works. Hearts crowed with fear, the Union troops prepared to once again crash their wave against the rocky Confederate coast.

The men of the 19th were from the towns and farms around Somerset, Kentucky. With farming as the primary occupation, they had grown accustom to hard work. Mustered in October 1861, the regiment had participated in the Cumberland Gap Campaign and was now engaged in Grants Vicksburg endeavor. Their commanding officer, William J. Landrum, had been promoted to Brigade command and along with the members of his brigade, he stepped off at 10 AM to assault the fortifications.

The terrain in front of the Confederate Lines consisted of rolling hills with a deep valley just before the trenches. Mounting a bayonet attack against the trenches, the men of Landrum’s and Lawler’s Brigades pushed the 31st Alabama and two other regiments out of the works. With the Colors planted on the crest they held the fort for several hours. Finally, a push by a Texas regiment forced the federals to retire about 5 pm.

So with the sun shining in our faces, my son and I climbed the works once again and stood where our family fought. It was a very proud moment being able to share this piece of family history with my son. We may never be able to make the trip to Vicksburg again but Chris and I were able to share a close moment on those works.

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