Wednesday, October 20, 2010
The Mississippi Bears
The true story of the Rebel Bears.
In 1901 when President Roosevelt came to Misissippi on his famous hunt, the legend of the Teddy Bear was born, but the true story of the Mississippi Bears did not really start there. The real story started with General Grant and the seige of Vicksburg. During the Civil War the Mississippi Delta was still a tremendous and forbidding wilderness with few towns or roads and in the winter it was nearly impassible. This helped protect the city of Vicksburg during the assaults it undertook as the Union army tried to take control of the Mississippi River and complete the blockade of the South.
The famous ditch known as Grant’s Canal was started in an effort to cut a loop out of the river and bypass the ferocious shore batteries established at Vicksburg. The Confederate Army was heavily entrenched and no end was in sight as General Grant gave the go ahead to restart work on the project once he took command of the Federal forces.
A large contingent of pressed labor and 3000 soldiers restarted the excavation under General Grant that had ended in July and by January of 1863 they had dug a large canal 18 feet wide and 13 feet deep. The Union army believed that if they cut open the channel the Mississippi River would flow through the gap changing the route of the River and bypassing Vicksburg completely. As the Confederates watched the work from behind the city walls, it began to look as if it would succeed.
Finally a small detachment of volunteers under the command of Colonel James Pembroke was selected to try and disrupt the heavily guarded canal. Colonel Pembroke had been recently hired at the University of Mississippi before it closed and had been named a Colonel in the Mississippi Rifles made up of Ole Miss students and other young 17-20 year old men from across the state that had been unable to enroll at the University because of the War.
Under cover of night some 200 of these Confederates crossed the river five miles below the work area and made their way into position for an attack at sunrise. They were 200 hundred against 3000 but hoped that the shock of an attack could halt excavation until the Spring thaw would cause the River to rise and put and end to the digging for at least another year.
As the Confederates prepared to sound the charge something totally unexpected happened on the south end of the canal. Workers digging into the bank broke through a large underground chamber and as it was just breaking day, one of the workers threw a torch into the black opening to see what was inside. This elicited loud growls and roars from the hole and three large, enraged black bears that had been hibernating came boiling out into the bottom of the canal. Terrified soldiers and workers scattered in all directions and seeing the disruption taking place, Colonel Pembroke sounded the charge. The Confederate forces easily reached the trench and fell in behind the angry bears that were working their way up the canal scattering men and horses in every direction. In less than an hour of hard fighting, the Confederates had control of the area and the bloody bears had disappeared back through their lines apparently unharmed. The terrified Yankees were forced to retreat upriver and never returned to finish their work because of their fear of the Rebel Bears.
For their heroism,, this unit became known as the Mississippi Bears or Rebel Bears and were known for their Tough and Ferocious nature and refusal to quit even when pitted against overwhelming odds.