Doc. 8.-fight at Milliken's Bend, Miss.
Account by an eye-witness.
Milliken's Bend, June 13.First allow me to describe the ground occupied by our troops. The camp is along the bank of the Mississippi River, and at this point the levee is not more than one hundred and fifty yards from the river. The encampment is between the levee and the river. Breastworks have been thrown up on the right and left, and a few rifle-pits dug along the levee; and this constituted our defensive work. The levee is about eight feet high at this point, and back of it is a plantation covered with hedges, fruit and ornamental trees, in the immediate vicinity of our camp and to the rear. For some days previous to the attack we had known that a force of rebels were in the vicinity, estimated from one thousand five hundred to ten thousand strong. The colored troops were only partially organized regiments and had all been armed within a week to meet this emergency. With such raw material you may be sure a battle was any thing but desirable to the officers of the colored regiments. Our force consisted of the Ninth Louisiana, Colonel Seibs; the Eleventh, Colonel Chamberlain; and the First Mississippi, only one hundred and fifty men, and one hundred and sixty from the Twenty-third Iowa. Our entire force engaged was about one thousand four hundred, of which one thousand two hundred and fifty were colored. About three o'clock in the morning our pickets were driven in, and fifteen minutes later the enemy appeared and formed in line of battle on our left front. They formed for bayonet-charge three lines deep with a reserve. Six regiments were brought into action, commanded, as we learn, by McCulloch, brother of Ben McCulloch, killed at Pea Ridge. With yells that would make faint hearts quail, on double-quick they charged our little band. They met the shock like heroes, reserving their fire until the foe was within one hundred yards, then a terrible volley broke the first line of the enemy, and made the whole column tremble for a moment, but rallied by their officers, with redoubled yells onward they rushed. A hedge at the base of the levee furnished a screen, behind which for a moment they halted, closed their lines and then rushed up the levee. Our men stood up bravely to the work, but were overpowered by numbers. At this moment the conflict was terrible. The whiz of bullets made the air vocal with dread music. Whoever has been in battle knows well the fiendish scream. In ten minutes not less than three hundred of our brave men were either killed or wounded. Our own fallen covered the levee on one side, and the enemy on the other. For a few moments our men held their own ground, but the enemy were three to our one, and our left were compelled to fall back. This they did, continuing the fire, which prevented the enemy following us up. Our right held the works at that point and opened a raking fire on the enemy. The left and centre fell back to the river one hundred and fifty yards and opened fire from the cover of the river-bank. Thus posted, the battle continued from four to eleven A. M. Soon after our forces fell back, the gunboat Choctaw opened on the enemy with shell. The range, however, was short, and for some time all the damage done to the enemy was the arousing of their fears. Soon, however, on our right a flanking movement was disconcerted by a few well-directed shells. The gunboat doubtless did much to save the day. About eleven o'clock our men on the left were rallied to a charge, and the whole line of the enemy gave way. The gunboat now threw shell thick and fast into their retreating ranks, and soon their retreat became a rout and they ran for shelter to hedges and timber in the rear. At half-past 11 o'clock the battle was ended and the work of gathering in the dead and wounded commenced. I was on the field during the whole time of the engagement, and watched with interest the conduct of officers and their commands. It was a fight for which we were all unprepared, and hence concert of action could not be expected. Each regiment, and I may add, each company and man fought on his own hook. Had our forces been drilled men, we would have called them whipped in detail, the work wasn't done, and the enemy were repulsed with heavy loss. I will speak of the officers of the Eleventh Louisiana, as I was  with this regiment. Every officer, so far as I can learn, did his duty on that trying day. The Colonel brought his command into action, when the enemy were pressing with his whole force upon our line. For a little time he held the enemy in check, but the number of the enemy and the exposed position of his men, the enemy now occupying our left, made it necessary for him to fall back to the river. In falling back his horse was shot, and he was injured in the hip. He remained, however, a half-hour longer on the field, and then went on board the gunboat and gave direction for throwing their shells. The Lieut.-Colonel, Cyrus Sears, commanded the right and held his position and remained on the field during the battle. The Major William Cotton, a brave officer, was mortally wounded, early in the engagement, and borne from the field. The Adjutant, Thomas Free, conducted himself most praiseworthily, and as he is a citizen of Tama County, I may speak freely of him. He was in the thickest of the fight executing orders and cheering on the men to duty. It is a marvel how he passed through the battle of that day untouched, but so it is, save a few bullet-holes in his clothes. He is a brave, spirited, efficient young officer of whom Tama County may feel proud. The line officers without exception did their duty, and to this fact I attribute our success. Tauntingly it has been said that negroes won't fight. Who say it, and who but a dastard and a brute will dare to say it, when the battle of Milliken's Bend finds its place among the heroic deeds of this war? This battle has significance. It demonstrates the fact that the freed slaves will fight. The enemy were at least three thousand strong, mostly Texan troops, infantry, while we were but one thousand four hundred, and yet for eight long hours we contested the field, and finally drove the enemy in such hot haste that he had left one hundred and fifteen of his dead for us to bury. Could we have had a small cavalry force, we might have added many prisoners to the successes of the day; as it was, we only took a few. Our many dead and wounded shall tell how bravely they fought, how dearly they won the battle-field of Milliken's Bend on the seventh of June, 1863. Allow me to say, that the Twenty-third Iowa honored itself and the State it represented on this bloody field. Iowa has never been dishonored on the field of battle. May her proud fame remain untarnished! The Twenty-third Iowa had one hundred and sixty men in battle, lost twenty-five killed, twenty-six wounded, three missing. Now come the colored regiments; they are yet unorganized, only eight companies having been mustered in, and may be considered raw material. The Ninth Louisiana went into action with about five hundred men; killed sixty, wounded one hundred fifteen. Eleventh Louisiana went into action with about six hundred; killed forty, wounded one hundred and twenty-five, missing one hundred and thirty-one. First Mississippi went into action with one hundred and fifty; killed two, wounded twenty-one, missing three. I believe there were a few men of the Thirteenth Louisiana in the engagement, mixed with the other regiments. Total engaged, (colored,) one thousand two hundred and fifty; (white,) one hundred and sixty; killed, one hundred and twenty-seven; wounded, two hundred and eighty-seven; missing, one hundred and thirty-seven; whole number engaged, one thousand four hundred and ten. Total loss, five hundred and fifty-one. Here is a total loss of near forty per cent and a loss in killed and wounded of thirty per cent nearly, and yet the battle is won. Now let the friend and the enemy of the colored man figure up the per cent loss of the great battles of this war, and decide each for himself, whether Milliken's Bend shall find a place among the records of heroic deeds and battle-fields. Our figures are our arguments that colored men will fight, and they need no comment. We leave them as the battle-field gave them, mournfully brave. The enemy's loss as ascertained from prisoners was not less than two hundred killed and four hundred to five hundred wounded. In the charge when the struggle was terrific, they had the open field while our forces occupied the breastworks. It is but reasonable to suppose therefore that their loss would exceed ours. Then again when they retreated the gunboat shelled them for a mile and a half and a number were killed and wounded by shell. I think their loss will exceed seven hundred, and I base my estimate on statements of prisoners and others. A prisoner said the rebel commander expected to capture the post with ease, and was severely chagrined at being defeated. He said it was the severest fight he had ever been in. It is rumored that Kirby Smith commands the rebel force and that he said he would take the d — d nigger camp or wade in blood to his knees. It was first reported that the rebels shot all the prisoners taken when they got to Richmond, ten miles from here. We have since learned that the proposition was made and the Louisiana troops were for executing it, but that the Texan troops drew up in line of battle and declared it could not be done while they bore arms. Good for Texans. The threat is not executed. The officers are kept in close confinement and the prisoners are treated with rigor. I understand, however, they will be regarded as prisoners and exchanged the same as white soldiers. A rebel force is still hovering about the vicinity of Richmond, said to be six thousand strong. We may be attacked again, but I doubt not we will give a good account of ourselves if so. Two additional regiments have come into this camp since the battle, and in several particulars we are better prepared to inspect rebel troops. Yours,
Cairo, June 15, 1863.The battle of Milliken's Bend occurred on Saturday and Sunday, the sixth and seventh inst., the first attack having been made on the afternoon  of Saturday, closing with the retreat of the rebels before nightfall. I gather the following in regard to the affair from an officer of the steamer Dunleith, just from the scene of action. It would appear that the Union forces at Milliken's Bend were under the command of a colonel of Iowa volunteers — supposed to be the Twenty-third--and his force consisted of two Iowa regiments and one or two colored regiments, new in the service, and short in point of numbers, and no heavy or even light artillery of any importance with which to repel an attack. But hearing early on Saturday that the rebels, under General Henry McCulloch, brother of Ben McCulloch, were concentrating near him, with a menacing front, toward Milliken's Bend, the commander sent out some cavalry with orders, to reconnoitre and report. The cavalry dashed out from the works early in the day, and soon returned with a full confirmation of the report previously brought in, in regard to the proximity of the rebels and their designs upon the little garrison at the Bend. The rebels were said to be about five thousand strong, and late from Alexandria, La., but more recently at Richmond upon the Shreveport Railroad. This force of from five to six thousand, it was supposed, General McCulloch had divided into three parts, sending one part to Young's Point, another to Lake Providence, and with the third was about to attack the Union forces holding Milliken's Bend. This third force was estimated at some three thousand. The approach of the rebels, momentarily expected — and prepared for as well as the limited supply of ammunition and arms would permit — at last became apparent. Pickets, thrown out for the purpose, came in saying an immense army was coming. The commander sent out detachments of white troops to repel their approach, detailing a regiment of negroes to act as reserves, the orders being, if the white troops could not stem the current, to fall back upon the support of the colored troops, and then unitedly oppose the advance until no longer able to withstand the men brought against them. This programme, in a measure, was most promptly carried out. The troops advanced, met the enemy, engaged him in force and with effect with musketry, and, as the colonel had anticipated, found that our strength was not adequate to the undertaking, being greatly outnumbered by the rebels. But both fought for an hour most stubbornly. The Iowa troops were loth to retreat at all and obtain the support of their colored reserves, and the loss on the rebel side, said to have been one hundred in this early affray, attests their valor and efficiency. But the rebels pressed our men gradually back, in good order, however, until the blacks were reached, when they came in with a will. The spirits of the retreating and outnumbered Iowans were raised; they rallied, they stood their ground; the negroes came up with volley after volley, delivered with good effect and rapidity; and after a short battle, in which the blacks lost a number — but the rebels more — the rebels fell back, finally broke, and retreated in disorder. The Union forces were in too small number to pursue, and had no cannon with which to cut up their then rear guard. Hence, the retrograde was made without great loss to the enemy. After the last of the rebels had disappeared, it being night, pickets were placed, scouts sent out, and every preparation made to be ready in the event of a return of the rebels. It was rightly supposed that, having felt their strength, and knowing that our men were without guns and in small force, the enemy would not long delay a second attempt to occupy Milliken's Bend. But this was the end of the attack for that day. A steamer from below chanced to come in sight just at dark, going to Helena. She was hailed, informed of the attack, and sent back for aid of some kind. Just at the break of day, the dark sides, huge wheel-houses, and yawning ports of the gunboat Choctaw were discerned by the guard. Here was help, indeed. With such support the garrison could never be taken without immense loss to the captors. The Choctaw took her position with reference to the point from which the rebels must necessarily attack, and remained until sunrise, awaiting in ominous silence the expected advance. Sunday morning had hardly been ushered in, and the sun had been out of his eastern bed but half an hour, when the scouts and pickets of the garrison came in in great haste to report that the enemy had again commenced an advance movement, headed toward the Bend. On this occasion, understanding well his strength, and conscious of the support his iron-clad helpmate would bring, the commander of the post gradually drew in all his pickets, not leaving a man outside of his hastily built earthworks. When the advance of the rebels made their appearance there was not a man to be seen — all that confronted them was silence and apparently deserted breastworks and rifle-pits. But, fearful of deception, the rebel commander had recourse to a ruse for the comparative protection of his advance upon the works. All the mules belonging to his command, and all he could steal from adjoining planters along the route, were brought to the front. Extending from the centre to each wing of the approaching host, covering the soldiers from the bullets of the Yankees — from the sight of their sharp-shooters — was a line of living, moving breastworks — the bodies of the devoted mules. As they drew nigh the Union defences the enemy opened heavily with musketry. Their first volley was the signal for the Iowans and the colored regiments to make their appearance. They rose as though by magic from behind their protection, took deliberate aim wherever a rebel could be seen, and dropped their bullets surely and certainly into the bodies of such as were foolish enough to disdain a shield of mule muscle and mule bone; and yet the living line kept up its snakelike advance. Taking the hint, perhaps, from the rebel commander at the siege of Lexington — when the gallant Colonel Mulligan and  his Irish brigade were defeated by the approach of men behind revetted bales of hay, which they rolled before them as they neared the Union ranks — McCulloch expected to gain Milliken's Bend by substituting mules for hay. If so, he nearly set himself down an ass in the estimation of those he proposed attacking. A bale of cotton or hay might make a breastwork of considerable value, but the mules, unless moved forward sidewise — and the animal is known to be stubborn — presented but slight obstacle to the sharp eye of an experienced rifleman. Hence the rebels fell in considerable numbers from the first volleys of our troops. Still they advanced. But now came the turn of the rebels to be surprised. When within a short distance of the works the gunboat, until the moment partially concealed by the smoke of the battle, opened with heavy guns, sending a continuous line of ten-inch shell into the serried columns of the enemy. It was an astonisher. It was worse than the negro reserves of the previous day. It was paralyzing. To make the matter worse, the same negro regiments, taking advantage of their surprise, were again upon them, scaling the works from within, rushing down upon the mules, frightening them out of the little sense nature had endowed them with, and in turn attacking the soldiers with bayonet and clubbed musket, came the black besom of destruction, like unto a small, dark colored, mighty, destructive hurricane. Rebel nerve could never withstand all of this. After a few volleys — after an ineffectual attempt to drive back the negro assailants — after imploring his men in vain to stand up to it and fight or “die in the last ditch,” McCulloch, if it were McCulloch, was compelled to sound the retreat and withdraw, leaving a heap of dead men and mules lying stark upon the field. The colored regiment had thus far not met with any considerable loss. But with great lack of caution their colonel led them forward in pursuit of the fleeing foe, until they were in full range of the guns of the Choctaw, and, sad to relate, a goodly number of the brave blacks, who had literally saved the fortunes of the day for the Federal arms, were cut down and instantly killed by our own shell. A signal stopped the firing as quickly as possible, but not until dreadful havoc had been made. But the rebels were, it is now supposed, most effectually whipped, and so badly crippled by loss of dead and wounded, that they would not return to the attack. Our loss is put down at about one hundred, killed, wounded, and missing, during the two fights. That of the rebels was twice the number. Had it not been for the unfortunate occurrence of the Choctaw, our loss would have been very small indeed. Over one hundred dead were left by the enemy unburied, unattended to, upon the field. They took off nearly all their wounded.
Twenty-Second day in rear of Vicksburgh, June 9, 1863.Two gentlemen from the Yazoo have given me the following particulars of the fight at Milliken's Bend, in which negro troops played so conspicuous a part: My informant states that a force of about one thousand negroes, and two hundred men of the Twenty-third Iowa, belonging to the Second brigade, Carr's division, (the Twenty-third Iowa had been up the river with prisoners, and was on its way back to this place,) was surprised in camp by a rebel force of about two thousand men. The first intimation that the commanding officer received was from one of the black men, who went into the colonel's tent, and said: “Massa, the secesh are in camp.” The colonel ordered him to have the men load their guns at once. He instantly replied: “We have done did dat now, massa.” Before the colonel was ready, the men were in line, ready for action. As before stated, the rebels drove our force toward the gunboats, taking colored men prisoners and murdering them. This so enraged them that they rallied and charged the enemy more heroically and desperately than has been recorded during the war. It was a genuine bayonet charge, a hand-to-hand fight, that has never occurred to any extent during this prolonged conflict. Upon both sides men were killed with the butts of muskets. White and black men were lying side by side, pierced by bayonets, and in some instances transfixed to the earth. In one instance, two men, one white and the other black, were found dead, side by side, each having the other's bayonet through his body. If facts prove to be what they are now represented, this engagement of Sunday morning will be recorded as the most desperate of this war. Broken limbs, broken heads, the mangling of bodies, all prove that it was a contest between enraged men; on the one side from hatred to a race, and on the other, desire for self-preservation, revenge for past grievances, and the inhuman murder of their comrades, One brave man took his former master prisoner, and brought him into camp with great gusto. A rebel prisoner made a particular request, that his own negroes should not be placed over him as a guard. Dame Fortune is capricious! His request was not granted. Their mode of warfare does not entitle them to any privileges. If any are granted, it is from magnanimity to a fellow-foe. The rebels lost five cannon, two hundred men killed, four hundred to five hundred wounded, and about two hundred prisoners. Our loss is reported to be one hundred killed and five hundred wounded; but few were white men.