After a series of battles in central Mississippi in May 1863, Union forces backed a Confederate army into the port stronghold of Vicksburg on the Mississippi River bluffs. A premature May 19 attack on the fortifications left a thousand Union soldiers dead and wounded. On May 22, Major General Ulysses S. Grant ordered his troops to make a second and broader assault. Private Edwin A. Loosley fought in the 81st Illinois Infantry, part of Major General James B. McPherson’s 17th Army Corps, at the center of the May 22 assault. On June 1, Loosley described the battle in a letter to his wife Ann.
“[W]e went up at a double quick, formed into line, and lay down in a hurry when the rebels opened onto us the most terrific fire that troops ever sustained. They threw bushels of grape and canister from both flanks while infantry in front was pouring deadly volleys at us. All the time we were ordered not to fire a shot till we got into the rebel works and there we lay shot down like dogs by scores without the power of returning a shot in a complete trap. We were there about 10 minutes during which time 2 out of every 3 in our Company was shot…. I was to the left of the company and in a few minutes everyone in both ranks to my right for 10 yards was hit, the last one of them, leaving me solitary and alone and company ‘C’ on my left suffered nearly as bad. I would not have given a counterfeit 5 cent piece on the Southern Confederacy for my life one minute the balls were so thick. I lay there very patiently waiting for the ball to come and do its work but it did not come though they were all around me. I could have picked up a hat full of balls without getting up. They hit the ground under me and hit my clothes over me and several spent balls hit me but did not damage. After about half the regiment was killed and wounded we were ordered to charge which we did. We got about 30 yards of the rebels when we were ordered to retreat and then there was some tall running done you may be sure. The attempt to storm was a failure all round the entire lines and our loss was fearful.” Among the three thousand Union casualties was the commander of the 81st Illinois, James J. Dollins of Benton. “Our Colonel was shot through the head the top being shot off. There we lost a leader. He was the soul of bravery and honor and I felt that I lost a friend when he was gone.” Edwin, a baker before and after the war, had served Dollins as a cook. (Edwin A. Loosley Papers, SCRC.) See John Y. Simon, “An Illinois Soldier at Vicksburg,” Manuscripts, XIX, 3 (Summer 1967), 23-31.
After the second assault failed Grant and his army dug in. The siege of Vicksburg had begun.