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Sketch of the Third Battery of Maryland Artillery.

By Captain W. L. Ritter.

Paper no. 2.

For Vicksburg, Mississippi.

With the 20th of December came an order for the brigade to proceed to Vicksburg, where it arrived on the 2nd of January, 1863. On the 23d, three guns of the battery were sent to Warrenton, a few miles down the river. Two days later one section, under Sergeant Langley, was sent down the river on secret service, on the steamer Archer. At this time Lieutenants Rowan and Patten, who had accompanied the wagon train overland, had not yet arrived with the horses belonging to the battery, and Captain Latrobe and Lieutenant Erwin were away on leave of absence. [393]

The Archer went up the Red river to fort Da Russy, and on the 27th the battery fired fifteen rounds into the De Soto, which had been captured by the enemy but a few days before, while stopping to take in wood.

Three days after, a twelve-pounder howitzer, with a gun detachment under Sergeant Toomey, was sent up the Mississippi to General Farguson's command on Deer Creek. Thus the battery was divided into three parts, scattered up and down the river. Meanwhile Lieutenants Rowan and Patten having rejoined the battery with the horses, it was now again ready for the field. The guns at Warrenton were at this time placed under the command of Lieutenant Patten.

Early on the morning of the 2nd of February, the ram, Queen of the West, passed the batteries at Vicksburg, and proceeded down the river. As she passed Warrenton, Patten opened on her without effect; but as she returned on the 4th, Sergeant Ritter hailed her with about sixty rounds of shot and shell, eliciting the compliment from her commander, that “those guns at Warrenton annoyed him more, on his return, than the seige pieces at Vicksburg.” A few days later, the Queen of the West again passed down, during the night, and went up Red river to Fort De Russy, where she was captured by the Confederates.

Sergeant Langley's section was now transferred from the Archer to the Queen of the West; and immediately after, the latter, with the Grand Era and the Webb, proceeded up the Mississippi to the Grand Gulf, where, on the 24th, they captured the iron-clad Indianola. This vessel was a formidable craft, armed with eleven-inch guns, and had just run the blockade at Vicksburg.

Captain James McCloskey, of General Richard Taylor's staff, commanded the Queen. The entire Confederate fleet was commanded by Major J. L. Brent. A correspondent speaking of this affair says:

In closing we cannot refrain from mentioning specially the command of Sergeant E. H. Langley, of the 3rd Maryland Artillery. He had detachments for two guns, (thirteen men,) on the Queen, and was in command of the two Parrott guns. He himself took charge of the eighty-six pounder bow-gun, with which he remained during the action, neither he nor his men leaving their much exposed position. While the bow of the Queen was yet resting against the side of the Indianola, his guns were still manned and fired. Aside from the courage thus shown, his skill and judgment in manoeuvring his piece in so contracted a space, is certainly deserving of the highest praise.

The officers and crew of the Indianola were made prisoners, and the [394] vessel formed a valuable addition to the small Confederate fleet on the Mississippi. Her subsequent career, however, was a brief one, as she was fired and abandoned by a Lieutenant of infantry, who, with a small detachment, had been placed in charge. The enemy above Vicksburg had set adrift an imitation ironclad, made of a coal barge, with pine logs for guns. As it floated down near the Indianola, the Lieutenant in charge became alarmed at the approach of so formidable a craft, and decamped after setting fire to his vessel.

Admiral Porter was much chagrined at the loss of this fine ironclad, of which so much had been expected, and thus announced his loss:

United States Mississippi squadron, February 27th, 1863.
To Secretary Gideon Wells:
Sir — I regret to inform you that the Indianola has also fallen into the hands of the enemy. The rams Webb and Queen of the West, attacked her, twenty-five miles from here, and rammed her until she surrendered, etc.

Lieutenant Patten, on March the 1st, was ordered to Red river, to take command of the section of the 3d Maryland aboard the Queen of the West. He found her at Shreveport, Louisiana. In the April following, the Queen, with the Lizzie Simmons as a supply boat, made an attack on the Federal fleet in Grand Lake, Louisiana, and during the engagement was set on fire by a shell from the enemy. The crew jumped over-board, and attempted to swim ashore. Many were drowned, as the distance they had to swim was about four miles. The fire soon reached the magazine of the Queen, when her eventful career was ended by an explosion, blowing her into fragments.

Many of the crew were killed in the action, some were drowned, as related above, and others were picked up by the enemy; among these was Captain Fuller, the commander of the Queen. Only four of the Third Maryland made their escape. I subjoin a list of its losses, in this disastrous affair of April 14th, on Grand Lake.

Killed in the action, or drowned in endeavoring to escape from the burning Queen: Lieutenant William T. Patten, Sergeant Edward H. Langley, Corporals Joseph Edgar and Michael H. O'Connell, Privates Thomas Bowler, S. Chafin, Edward Kenn and H. L. McKisick.

Lieutenant Patten was drowned. He was from Port Deposit, Cecil county, Maryland. In March, 1858, he went into business at Cleveland, Tennessee, and in 1860 removed to Alabama, where he remained [395] till the beginning of the war. He then joined the Third Alabama, which was ordered to Virginia in May, 1861. In September of that year he was transferred to the Third Maryland. His death was deeply regretted by his comrades, as that of a good soldier, a gentleman, and best of all, a Christian.

Sergeant Langley was a brave soldier, and had rendered most efficient service in capturing the vessel on which he met his death.

Captain Latrobe left the service on the 1st of March, 1863, and Lieutenant Claiborne succeeded to the Captaincy. On the 17th of March, Orderly Sergeant William L. Ritter was elected to fill the vacancy occasioned by the resignation of Holmes Erwin, Junior Second Lieutenant. On March 21st, Lieutenant Ritter was promoted to Senior Second Lieutenant, and Patten to Junior First; at the same time Sergeant Thomas D. Giles was elected Junior Second Lieutenant, to fill the vacancy caused by Lieutenant Ritter's promotion.

The battery remained encamped at Jett's plantation until General Grant crossed his army at Grand Gulf; when it accompanied Pemberton's army to meet him at Baker's Creek, and was engaged in the battle fought there. On the 18th of May it returned with the army to Vicksburg. There were no casualties in the battle of Baker's Creek, except the capture of private Henry Stewart, who afterwards died at Fort Delaware.

During the seige of Vicksburg several of the men were wounded, and two were killed, Captain Claiborne and private John S. Cosson.

Captain Claiborne was struck by a piece of shell, on the 22nd of June, and fell without uttering a word. He was a fine officer, and a braver one never drew blade in any cause. In him the South lost a generous, gallant and magnanimous man. He was a native of Mississippi, a grandson of General F. L. Claiborne, of Natchez, well known among the early settlers of Alabama, and a cousin of Ferdinand C. Latrobe, ex-Mayor of Baltimore. During his early youth his father removed to New Orleans, where the son was educated. At the outbreak of the war he joined Captain Gladdin's company of Cresent City Rifles, and served for a time at Pensacola, and afterward in Virginia. In September, 1861, he was transferred to the Third Maryland. His wound was through the heart and he died instantly.

Lieutenant Rowan was promoted to the Captaincy, on the 30th of June, and Lieutenant Ritter was made First Lieutenant, Lieutenant Giles Senior Second Lieutenant, and Sergeant J. W. Doncaster, Junior Second Lieutenant.

When, on the 4th of July, Vicksburg surrendered, three officers and [396] seventy men of the Third Maryland Artillery fell into the enemy's hands. Five of their guns, one hundred and thirty horses and mules, and all the appliances of a six-gun battery were also given up.

The detached command.

Only one gun, under command of Lieutenant Ritter remained. To trace its history, it will be necessary to return to a point three months previous to the fall of Vicksburg, when, on the 2nd of April, Lieutenant Ritter was ordered to the command of Toomey's detachment of the Third Maryland, and Johnston's detachment of Corput's Georgia battery, previously commanded by Lieutenant T. Jeff. Bates, of Waddell's Alabama Artillery. This section, with one of a Louisiana battery under Lieutenant Cottonham, and one of Bledsoe's Missouri battery, were all under the command of Lieutenant R. L. Wood, of the Missouri Artillery, and were part of a force under Brigadier-General Ferguson, which had for several months been operating along the Mississippi. Their employment was to harrass the enemy, by firing into their vessels of war and transports. When in March, 1863, Porter's fleet of five gunboats entered Black Bayou in order to flank the Confederate batteries at Snyder's Bluff, General Ferguson met him at Rolling Fork; and after an engagement lasting three days, drove him back, inflicting considerable loss.

The greatest execution in this battle, strange to say, was done not by the Confederate artillery, whose shot rolled harmlessly upon the backs of the ironclads, but by the sharpshooters. These were mainly Texans, who acted with characteristic daring. They approached the very bank of the stream, and fired into the port-holes of the vessels, as soon as these were opened by the Federals for a shot at the Confederate artillery. The enemy labored under the additional disadvantage of being unable to depress their pieces sufficiently to reach their antagonists, so that their shell damaged only the tree tops. Harrassed and annoyed past endurance, they at length withdrew.

During April, nothing of special note occurred. Steel's command of Federals employed itself in its usual manner, in burning dwellings, barns and gin-houses along Deer Creek.

On the 29th of April, Lieutenant Ritter, with his section of artillery, was ordered to join the force under Major Bridges, at Fish Lake, near Greenville, Mississippi. He arrived there on the 1st of May, and the next day proceeded to the river to fire upon the boats which were continually passing. The object of the Confederates was to prevent, as [397] much as possible, reinforcements from reaching General Grant at Vicksburg.

Soon after the arrival of Ritter's section, a transport appeared in view, ascending the river. Lieutenant Ritter opened fire on her, some of the shells exploding upon her deck, and others passing through her. She got by, but cast anchor a few miles up the river to repair damages. A swamp prevented further attack on her at her anchorage.

The firing had scarcely ceased, when a gun-boat came in sight. The section took position behind the levee, where it would be sheltered somewhat during the engagement which was now anticipated. Lieutenant Ritter had taken the precaution to cut abrasures in the levee, so that he might thus protect his guns in an emergency.

Approaching within range, the gun-boat proceeded at once to open fire on the Confederates. The latter replied with shot and shell, and the engagement lasted about half an hour, when the enemy steamed away. It was afterwards ascertained that the vessel was iron-plated only about the port-holes, for the protection of her gunners, and that some of the shells had passed through her.

About the 1st of May, Lieutenant Cottonham's section was ordered to Vicksburg.

On the morning of the 4th, one of Major Bridges scouts brought the news that a transport, heavily laden with stores, was coming down the river. Lieutenant Ritter masked his guns at a point where the current ran in near the bank, and a waited the vessel's approach. Soon the black smoke of a steamer was seen rising above the tree tops, beyond Carter's Bend, a few miles off, and shortly afterwards she was in sight. On the vessel came, anticipating no danger. The cannoneers were ordered to their posts, the guns were loaded, and as the boat came within range, the order “fire” was given.

The stillness of the calm summer morning must have seemed to the crew rudely broken, when in quick succession the shrill report of the rifle-piece and the loud roar of the twelve-pounder howitzer broke upon their ears. The first or second shot cut the tiller-rope, and another broke a piston-rod of one of the engines. The crew, dispairing of escape, hoisted a white flag of surrender, and brought the boat ashore.

Major Bridges and Lieutenant Ritter were the first to board the prize, which was found to be the Minnesota. The crew met them at the head of the saloon steps, and politely requested their captors, in true Western style, to “take a drink,” which was as politely declined.

The prisoners, seventeen in number, were sent ashore, and the Confederates [398] took possession. The boat was found heavily laden with Sutler's stores — flour, bacon, potatoes, pickles of all sorts, sugar, coffee, rice, ginger, syrup, cheese, butter, oranges, lemons, preserves, canned oysters, whiskey, wines, musquito nets, clothing, stationery, tobacco, etc., etc. To needy Confederates, nothing could have been more acceptable. They sat down to a luxurious dinner, which was in preparation at the time of the attack, and relished it, perhaps, more than those for whom it had been intended. Part of the festivities consisted in breaking a bottle of wine over Black Bess--Lieutenant Ritter's iron twelve-pounder — to a shot from which Major Bridges attributed the speedy surrender of the Minnesota. She had long been familiarly known to the battery by this name, but only now received her formal christening. After everything which would be of service had been brought ashore, the steamer was fired. Her value was estimated at $250,000.

About 5 P. M., that day, the enemy's gun-boats appeared, and, without notice to the women and children upon them, began to shell the neighboring plantations.

On the 6th, the section was ordered to return to Rolling Fork, and upon its arrival, Lieutenant Ritter was complimented by General Ferguson and Lieutenant Wood, on his management of his guns. On the 14th, both sections of artillery, and Major Bridge's battalion of cavalry, were ordered to Greenville, and on the 16th proceeded to their old camp at Fish Lake.

The morning of May 18th, 1863, dawned with splendid promise. The sun rose bright and clear, chasing away the mist and fog that hid the face of the Father of Waters, and stirring to activity the contending hosts that were set in battle array along his whole course. The Confederates encamped at Fish Lake were still jubilant over their recent success with the Minnesota, and the captured stores enabled them to indulge in luxuries to which they had long been strangers. Grouped about their fires, they drank their morning coffee with all the relish due the genuine berry. Chatting over the details of their recent exploit, some sitting, and some reclining on their elbows under their bivouac shelters, they sipped the aromatic beverage with great enjoyment. If their inner-man was well-to-do, their outer-man had no less reason to rejoice in his surroundings. Their camp was snugly inclosed on all sides by a deep and primitive forest of cottonwood, magnolia and live oak. The magnolias were in full bloom, and while one variety filled the air with its delightful odor, another attracted the eye by the size of its flowers. The flora of the Mississippi Valley, as is well known, is far [399] more rich and splendid in tint than that of the Atlantic slope; and what with the abundance of flowering trees, interspersed with others whose foliage exhibits every variety of color and form — the profusion of bright green mosses and twining vines — the dense undergrowth of berries and vigorous shrubbery, the whole produces upon the mind a strong impression of the magnificent prodigality of nature. Add to it the enchanting effect of the sunlight of a bright May morning, and the scene becomes one of indiscribable beauty.

The Marylanders of Major Bridge's command were surrendering themselves to the charm of this romantic situation, when an order was received which made them oblivious of it all. The news had came in through the scouts that lined the river for many miles above, that a number of transports laden with reinforcements for General Grant's army at Vicksburg were coming down, and would reach Carter's Bend that morning. Immediately all was life and bustling activity, and the soldier's peculiar feeling of quiet delight at the approach of danger, took the place of the more amiable sentimentality of a few moments ago.

Major Bridges' force consisted of one section of artillery, commanded by Lieutenant Anderson, and another by Lieutenant Ritter, each with about twenty-five men, and a small squadron of Texas Rangers; the whole command numbering about two hundred and fifty men. Getting his men speedily in motion, he proceeded rapidly up the Greenville road, eight miles, to a point above Carter's Bend. The Mississippi here makes a detour of fifteen miles, and then returning upon itself, forms a peninsula, the neck of which is but a mile across. It was thought best to take this position above, rather than the one below the bend, as in case of success there would be an opportunity to fire a second time below at the vessels that had been disabled in the first attack.

The four pieces of artillery were placed on the river bank, unprotected, but masked by the thick brush that grew along the water's edge. The dismounted calvary acting as sharpshooters, and supporting the Maryland section, were disposed to the right and left along the river. The levee was about a hundred and fifty yards in the rear, and beyond that were the open fields of Carter's plantation. Thus disposed, the Confederates awaited the enemy's approach, beguiling the time by picking the luscious blackberries found here in great profusion.

They had not long to wait, as the Federal vessels soon appeared. The Cresent City, a side-wheeler, which had formerly plied between New Orleans and Memphis, led the van. She was now employed as a transport, and was laden down with troops. They covered the entire [400] hurricane-deck, and the water-deck below. Packed and crowded in a way that only pleasure seekers can enjoy, the steamer presented the appearance of a vessel chartered for a holiday excursion. Behind the Crescent City, at a distance of about half a mile, was a gunboat, and following that at regular intervals, four more transports. The number of troops aboard the five vessels was estimated at about four thousand infantry and calvary.

The decks of the first transport presented a scene of mirth and jolity. As the vessel drew near the Confederate battery, the latter suddenly opened a raking fire of shell and canister, which put an end to the idle dream of peace and safety. Men careless a moment before, now jumped and rushed, with yells of pain and fright, to the opposite side of the boat, thus careening it fearfully and exposing its hull to the artillerists on shore. The latter proceeded at once to fire shell into it, till the Federal officers, with a deal of swearing and yelling, got the men back and righted the boat again. Meanwhile the sharpshooters were not idle, and being good marksmen, picked off a great number. The Third Maryland fired sixteen rounds before the Cresent City got out of reach. The infantry aboard returned the fire, and wounded three Confederates. It was ascertained afterwards from a citizen who was in the vessel during the engagement, that she lost two hundred and sixty, killed and wounded. As soon as the gunboat came within easy canister range, the artillery was ordered to withdraw behind the levee in the rear.

While this was going on below, the transports above came to the shore, threw out their stages, and speedily landed a force of calvary and infantry, to capture the pestilent Confederates. The latter withdrew their artillery at once across the open fields in the direction of Greenville, while Major Bridges with the sharpshooters, remained at the levee to cover their retreat. To cover his own, he ordered Lieutenant Ritter to halt his section of artillery at a bridge across a bayou half a mile in the rear, and await further orders. He himself withdrew by another road over a bridge half a mile further up the bayou, while the enemy, in line of battle, advanced along both roads. As there was no force to hold the upper bridge, the way was open to Lieutenant Ritter's rear; and yet no “further orders” came. The Federal force had actually crossed the upper brigde, and were nearing their line of retreat, when the Third Maryland limbered up and passed down the road at a gallop. At the same moment, seeing their peril, Major Bridges ordered a countercharge of his calvary, on the other road, and thus held the enemy in check until the section was beyond the danger of capture. [401]

Passing through a strip of woods into an adjacent plantation, the Confederates drew up in line to await the enemy. As they did not appear, the retreat was continued by the artillery.

The latter had not proceeded far, however, before a hurried order was received: “Form battery and load with canister, as the enemy will soon be upon us.” Major Bridges still lingered in the very presence of their advance, being so close as to be summoned by them to surrender, but emptying his revolver into their faces by way of reply. He then came dashing back to the artillery, which let him pass with his Texans, and then opened on the Federals with eight rounds, sweeping the road clear for a distance of more than three hundred yards. The effect on them was decisive: they were thrown into the greatest confusion, many saddles were emptied, and their advance checked. A magnificent horse that had lost his rider came dashing through the smoke of the guns into the Confederate lines, and was captured.

There was another road leading to the only bridge over Black Bayou, in the Confederate rear, and fearing lest the enemy should anticipate them in reaching it, the artillery limbered up again, and set off at a gallop, not stopping till they had made the six miles intervening, and crossed that stream. White balls of foam from perspiration had formed on the backs of the artillery horses, from the severe exertion they had undergone. The cavalry picketed both roads, and skirmished for a couple of hours with the enemy's advance. The latter at length retired to Greenville, burning the town and the neighboring residences, in revenge for their losses in the fight. The Confederates followed, and returned at night-fall to their camp at Fish Lake.

Next day Major Bridges learned that the enemy held Haynes's Landing and Snyder's Bluff, and were likely to attempt his capture by sending troops up the Yazoo river in his rear.

The same evening, orders were received from General Ferguson to leave the Mississippi; to take the command across to Yazoo river; and, if it was not possible to save the guns, to run them into the river.

The situation demanded deliberation, and Major Bridges called a council of his officers.

The Missourians and Texans were for crossing the Mississippi; but Major Bridges declared this to be impracticable. Some favored the route by Bolivar and Grenada. Finally it was determined to cross the country by the most direct route to Fort Pemberton, at the intersection of the Yallabusha and Tallahatchie rivers.

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