Friday, June 7, 2013

Battle of Milliken's Bend

Map of the area

A few weeks ago Vicksburg, the last Confederate held point on the Mississippi River was surrounded by Federal forces. Two Union attacks were beat off with heavy casualties, but the city could still only last so long under siege. Jefferson Davis was desperate to break the siege. Davis ordered Kirby Smith, commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department, to strike Grant's supply line, which the Confederates believed was still on the western side of the Mississippi River. Richard Taylor, Smith's subordinate who had fought under Stonewall Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley Campaign, objected to the attack. He pointed out that the ground was difficult for maneuver, New Orleans would be more lightly defended, and that it was not known whether the Union supply line was still there (it had in fact been moved.) But Smith overruled him, and the attack went forward.

The Confederate troops detailed for the attack was the Texas division of Major General John Walker. On June 6th, as they moved toward Miliken's Bend, a former Union supply depot, they encountered small parties of Union skirmishers. The Federals guarding the area were the African Brigade under Colonel Hermann Lieb. Many of these troops were freed slaves recruited by the Union army. They had allowed them to join the army, but they didn't trust them for fighting. They were used for non-soldiering duties, like digging entrenchments. They were positioned at Miliken's Bend because the Union army was not expecting an attack there. Colonel Lieb's troops were untrusted, untested and inexperienced, but he didn't hesitate to put off a fight. Holding off the Confederate advanced, he retreated that night to Miliken's Bend and was reinforced by an Ohio regiment and two gunboats.
The Battle
The battle began in earnest at 3:00 am on June 7th, 150 years ago today. Pushing back Union pickets, they headed to the Federal left flank. Coming upon the Federal lines, the Texans were ordered to charge. Undaunted by Yankee volleys, they closed to hand to hand combat. As the battle raged, some Confederates were able to work their way around the Union left. Their enfilading fire devastated the Union line and forced it into retreat. But as the victorious Confederates advanced, they were met with fire from the Union gunboats, the Choctaw and Lexington. Their further attempts to advance being repulsed, the Southerners fell back around noon.

United States Colored Troops
The Battle of Miliken's Bend ended this attempt to raise the siege of Vicksburg. In this fight the black troops had proved their bravery to the Union high command. They had fought well and bravely, and had demonstrated that they could fight just as well as the white troops. 


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