Summary Statement, 1st Quarter, 1863 – First Illinois Artillery Regiment

Assignments for individual batteries in the 1st Illinois Light Artillery Regiment for the first quarter, 1863 reflected the reorganizations completed during that winter for the western armies.  When the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Corps reorganized into manageable formations, the batteries shifted with their supported infantry brigades to serve under new corps banners.  To grasp these changes, one must dig past the basic details offered in the summary pages.  A third of the regiment reported at Young’s Point, Louisiana, just up the river from Vicksburg:


Here they joined an assembly of forces under Major-General Ulysses S. Grant arrayed to capture Vicksburg. Historian Marion Bragg, charged with recording the historic place names along the Mississippi River, described Young’s Point in 1977:

Youngs Point, on the Louisiana side of the river just above Vicksburg, is today one of the most tranquil places imaginable.  Nothing disturbs the quiet of the rural countryside but the occasional throb of a diesel towboat gliding past the point, or the chug of a farmer’s tractor in one of the nearby bean or cotton fields.

In 1863, Youngs Point was literally covered with thousands upon thousands of Federal soldiers, and a whole fleet of Union Navy vessels were tied up in the willows along the shore….

A contrast in times. Those four Illinois batteries were but loops in a spring being coiled that winter.

OK, so I got to foist one of my unused sesquicentennial post illustrations upon you to preface this post.  Let’s get back to the battery summaries:


Again, we must look below the surface of the administrative details to see the changes from the previous quarter:

  • Battery A: At Young’s Point with four 6-pdr field guns and two 12-pdr field howitzers. Captain Peter P. Wood commanded this battery.  As part of the transformation of Thirteenth Corps, it remained under Sherman’s portion of the army, assigned to Second Division, Fifteenth Corps.
  • Battery B: Also reporting at Young’s Point, but with five 6-pdr field guns and one 12-pdr field howitzer. And this battery was also assigned to Second Division, Fifteenth Corps with the reorganization.  Captain Samuel E. Barrett commanded.
  • Battery C:  At Murfreesboro, Tennessee with two 12-pdr field howitzers and four 3-inch Ordnance Rifles.  Assigned to Sheridan’s division under the old Fourteenth Corps, the battery followed that division to become part of the Third Division, Twentieth Corps (NOTE: An earlier designation separate from the merged corps from the Army of the Potomac in 1864.)  Lieutenant Edward M. Wright commanded.
  • Battery D: Reporting at Berry’s Landing, Louisiana.  I place this landing just upriver of Helena in Arkansas, rather than Louisiana.  But, of course, there could be several landings by that name.  The battery reported four 24-pdr field howitzers. With the reorganization of Thirteenth Corps, Captain Henry A. Rogers’ command went to Third Division, Seventeenth Corps.
  • Battery E: Another reporting at Young’s Point, this battery with four 3.80-inch James Rifles.  A reduction from six rifles reported the previous quarter.  Captain Allen C. Waterhouse commanded.  With the reorganization, this battery went to Third Division, Fifteenth Corps.
  • Battery F: No report. The battery was stationed at Memphis through the winter of 1863, presumably still with James rifles.  However, it was under First Division, Sixteenth Corps.  Captain John T. Cheney commanded.
  • Battery G:   Serving as siege artillery at Corinth, Mississippi. Lieutenant Gustave Dechsel commanded the battery.
  • Battery H: At Young’s Point with two 20-pdr Parrott Rifles. Lieutenant Francis De Gress’ battery was assigned to Second Division, Fifteenth Corps.  The battery retained two 20-pdr Parrotts.  And those big Parrotts would see much service during the war.
  • Battery I: No report.  Captain Edward Bouton commanded this battery which was assigned to First Division, Sixteenth Corps.
  • Battery K: Memphis, Tennessee with with ten Union Repeating Guns.  But as noted earlier, that column was likely being utilized by the clerks to track Woodruff guns.  Lieutenant  Isaac W. Curtis’ battery was assigned to the Sixteenth Corps and would later see action in the cavalry operations of the Vicksburg Campaign.
  • Battery L: New Creek, (West) Virginia, with two 12-pdr Napoleons and four 3.80-inch James Rifles.  Captain John Rourke commanded this battery, assigned to First Division, Eighth Corps.
  • Battery M:  Reporting at Chattanooga, Tennessee (reflecting location when the return was received in February 1864) with two 12-pdr Napoleons and four 3-inch Ordnance Rifles. The battery was posted to Franklin, Tennessee during the winter of 1863.  Captain George W. Spencer commanded.

The guns of the 1st Illinois Artillery would make an impact later in the spring and summer months during the Vicksburg Campaign.  So what ammunition did they report on hand?  Starting with the smoothbores:


Yes, we have some of the extra columns here, reflecting ammunition for the big howitzers:

  • Battery A: 375 shot, 314 case, and 117 canister for 6-pdr field guns; 122 shell, 153 case, and 36 canister for 12-pdr field howitzers.
  • Battery B: 450 shot, 430 case, and 133 canister for 6-pdr field guns; 30 shell, 110 case, and 17 canister for their lone 12-pdr field howitzer.
  • Battery C: 132 shell, 180 case, and 50 canister for 12-pdr field howitzers.
  • Battery D: 336 shell, 225 case, and 83 canister for 24-pdr field howitzers.
  • Battery L: 70 shot for 6-pdr field guns; 136 shot, 192 shell, 554 case, and 132 canister for 12-pdr Napoleons. Why 6-pdr shot? Well, my guess is those were used with the James Rifles.
  • Battery M: 50 shot, 150 shell, and 200 case for 12-pdr Napoleons.

Moving next to the rifled projectiles, we start with the Hotchkiss-patterns:


Three lines to report:

  • Battery C: 234 canister, 95 percussion shell, 210 fuse shell, and 242 bullet shell in 3-inch rifle caliber.
  • Battery L: 156 shot, 40 percussion shell, 156 fuse shell, and 28 bullet shell in 3.80-inch (James) caliber; Also reporting 150 fuse shell in 3-inch.  And I still cannot offer an explanation for the later type in this battery.
  • Battery M: 450 shot, 168 canister, and 250 fuse shell for 3-inch rifles.

On the next page of the summary, we can focus on just the James and Parrott columns:


Again, three batteries to consider:

  • Battery E: 480 shell and 160 canister of James-patent in 3.80-inch rifle caliber.
  • Battery H: 114 shell, 48 case, and 73 canister for 20-pdr Parrott.
  • Battery L: 320 shot, 36 shell, and 19 canister of James-patent for 3.80-inch rifles.

And the last page of rifled projectiles:


One line:

  • Battery L: 316 Schenkl shells for 3.80-inch James rifles; 172 Tatham canister for 3.80-inch rifle.

Now on to the small arms:


Considering by battery:

  • Battery A: Three Army revolvers, forty-four Navy revolvers, and four horse artillery sabers.
  • Battery B: Twenty-seven Navy revolvers and six cavalry sabers.
  • Battery C: Eight Navy revolvers and thirteen cavalry sabers.
  • Battery D: Fifteen cavalry sabers.
  • Battery E: Ten cavalry sabers.
  • Battery H: Thirteen Navy revolvers and nine cavalry sabers.
  • Battery K: Twenty-two Burnside’s Carbines and 101 cavalry sabers.
  • Battery L: Seventeen Smith’s Carbines, Twenty-eight Army revolvers, and 148 cavalry sabers.

Those last two lines deserve some discussion.  Battery K served alongside cavalry.  Battery L, on the other hand, was guarding the railroad in West Virginia.  Interesting to see those batteries reporting quantities of carbines.

Keeping in sequence, we’ll turn to the 2nd Illinois Light Artillery next week.

Richard, the Widow, and some other cannon: Named guns at Vicksburg

A few days back, I posted about Widow Blakely, a 7.5-inch rifled gun imported from England and used by the Confederates in defense of Vicksburg.  I originally used this photo to illustrate the post:

Whistling Dick, ca. 1863

The photo is often captioned as “Whistling Dick” of Vicksburg fame, which it is not.  However, as reader D. Dickens pointed out, it is not the “Widow Blakely” either!  A mistake which I should have avoided simply by referring back to my original notes on this photo!

Alas, having found myself spinning even more confusion into what is already a confusing story, I pulled the image out of the post – I’d already seen where my miss-identification was carried onto another forum.  That said, I need to clear this up!

The gun in the photo, which you see reproduced often, is a 32-pdr Navy Gun.  The same gun appears in other wartime photos:


Here, from my archive of 35mm photos, is a similar gun posted outside the Vicksburg visitor center (in the 1990s, however the gun was on a siege carriage at some point):

Banded and Rifled 32-pdr with trimmed muzzle at Vicksburg

Notice the loop cascabel, rear sight arrangement, band extending back to the rear sight, the front sight block over the trunnions, and the truncated muzzle.  This gun has marks indicating proofing in 1849.

In Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War, Historian Warren Ripley noted this particular gun came to the park from a Vicksburg cemetery which it had guarded since at least 1874.  Although provenance is not always enough to establish fact, three tons is a lot to move about.  I’ve never researched the full history of the gun, but believe there’s enough similarities between the wartime photos and the gun located at Vicksburg today to apply a “very likely” tag here.

There are several “sisters” to this gun, which I shall christen “Miss Identified.”  One sister is at Fort Branch, North Carolina:

NC 28 Jul 12 130
Banded and Rifled 32-pdr at Fort Branch

Another “sister” is at the Washington Navy Yard:

WNY 10 Apr 10 310
32-pdr Navy Gun of 57cwt, Banded and Rifled, from CSS Teaser

That particular gun was captured by the US Navy on board the CSS Teaser in July 1862.  And that 32-pdr is right next to the Widow Blakely’s sister…

WashNY 21 July 272
7.5-inch Blakely at the Navy Yard

…affording me a rather nice segue!

Widow Blakely Vicksburg
Widow Blakely at Vicksburg

We can say the bands on the Widow Blakely and “Miss Identify” are of two different types of construction.  The Blakely’s were done in England of course.  The 32-pdr bands were done by the Confederacy, likely Tredegar in all three cases.  In fact, there’s good reason to believe the 32-pdrs were among those guns captured at Gosport Navy Yard in April 1861.

But the muzzle of the two guns – Blakely and “Miss Identify” – which are similar enough to fool even this old cannon hunter.  Both have a few feet trimmed off to include the muzzle swell.  Because both guns were damaged at Vicksburg (or at least in the vicinity of Vicksburg), very likely the work was done by a local vendor.  If so, the odds on favorite is A.M. Paxton & Company.   I’ve mentioned that firm in connection with finishing done on Quinby & Robinson guns.  While the firm of A.B. Reading and Brothers sent most of their machinery to Georgia well before the siege of Vicksburg, Paxton apparently retained enough for work supporting the besieged garrison.

Page 80

That’s $2,000 for “Foundry work” through July 4, 1863.  Paxton’s account was not completely settled, even a year later.

I think we can establish, with little doubt, that Widow Blakely and “Miss Identify” were at Vicksburg at the time of the garrison’s surrender.  And the two guns, with only slight hesitation in regard to the 32-pdr, are at Vicksburg today.  But what about “Richard”… I mean Whistling Dick?

First, let us agree beyond a shadow of a doubt, the wartime photos captioned “Whistling Dick” are indeed NOT that famous gun.  The similarities between the gun in the photos and the surviving 32-pdar are far too close.  And we can rule out “Richard” being a 32-pdr.  In his official report of the siege, Major Samuel Lockett gave a very precise identification of the type of gun (emphasis added):

On the 29th, the usual repairs and improvements continued along the whole line: a new battery made in rear of the line left of Hall’s Ferry road; the new battery in rear of General Lee improved, and “Whistling Dick” (an 18-pounder rifled piece) put in position, and a new battery started in rear of General Moore’s center, but the working party was driven off by the enemy’s sharpshooters, and the work stopped.

While not attributing a name to the piece, Colonel Edward Higgins report indicates only one rifled 18-pdr was in the Vicksburg siege lines. That 18-pdr was temporarily disabled on May 22, at the same time the Widow Blakely suffered its burst muzzle (go figure!).  The 18-pdr was repaired and, as Lockett indicated, sent from the water batteries to reinforce the siege lines on May 28, 1863.

Do we have photos of Whistling Dick?  Not that I know of.  Lack of a post-surrender photo would lend credence to a Confederate veteran’s 1900 account.  Alfred Leach claimed the gun was dumped in the Mississippi the night before the official surrender.  Why, with over a hundred other guns in the lines, this particular gun was dumped, I cannot say.

Alternatively, I would offer that, as with so many other weapons captured at Vicksburg, the rifled 18-pdr might have remained in the city.  Federals later used the 10-inch columbiads, 32-pdr smoothbores, and other smaller pieces in the city garrison lines.  However weapons requiring non-standard projectiles – such as the Widow Blakely, Whistling Dick, and “Miss Identify” – were shunted to the side. The Widow went to West Point, was incorrectly cited as Whistling Dick, until corrected in the 1950s.  “Miss Identify,” as mentioned above, probably stayed in Vicksburg guarding a cemetery until relocated to the park in the 1960s.  But “Richard” is lost to the ages.  A famous gun, and a rare 18-pdr siege gun at that (only one cataloged survivor of the type today), discarded without a trace.

So there you have it.  My penance for an earlier mistake with the wartime photo.  Let us remove the confusion about Whistling Dick, Widow Blakely, and that “other” gun.

Sources:  See Ripley, Artillery and Ammunition of the Civil War (Forth Edition), pages 30-32. Ripley cited Edwin Bearss, “The Vicksburg River Defenses and the Enigma of Whistling Dick” from The Journal of Mississippi History, Vol. XIX, No. 1, January 1957, page 21. 

Imported seacoast rifles from England: Introducing the Widow Blakely and her sister

UPDATE: I’ve revised this post to remove a wartime photo hastily added which I identified as the Widow Blakely. Such was not the case.  Please see my follow up post for the details about the guns in question.

Most cannon serve somewhat anonymously, maybe at best with an officer recording a registry number or weight. But on occasion a weapon appears with a very distinctive name. Typically, those named guns have a story to tell. That’s the case with this particular gun.

The “Widow Blakely” was one of several “named guns” in the Vicksburg defenses. The name derived from that particular weapon being the only Blakely cannon in the Vicksburg siege lines. Colonel Edward Higgins cited the gun as a “7.44-inch Blakely Gun” in his report of the siege.

The Widow Blakely’s origin parallels the heavy caliber James rifles and other similar conversions. In 1860, British Captain Theophilus Alexander Blakely patented a system to modify old smoothbore guns into rifles, with a breech band added for strength. The conversion required the breech moldings turned down, to allow a breech band slipped over to reenforce the critical section of the gun. The bore was also enlarged and rifled to complete the conversion. On the surface, the system was not much different than similar conversions made in America. One major difference, which may have been more semantics, was Blakely’s use of a steel band (the term “steel” being used to describe several variations of metal composition during the Civil War).

In 1861, Confederate agents in England secured some of these Blakely conversions. Several variations in caliber appear among the records and surviving weapons. But concentrating for now on the Widow Blakely, the firm of Fawcett, Preston & Company secured British naval 42-pdr, of 57 cwt, smoothbore guns from Low Moor Iron Company. And it is important to note, these were likely not Royal Navy guns, but rather pattern guns produced by Low Moor and seconded for conversion.

The 42-pdrs started out with a 7-inch bore. The conversion reamed out an additional half inch with the rifling process. For some reason, which is not entirely clear, Confederate records cite the weapons as 7.44-inch. The guns were 124 inches in overall length, including a breeching loop.

Most likely the gun that became the Widow Blakely arrived in Savannah via the blockade runner Bermuda in September 1861. However a very similar gun was also purchased by the state of Virginia and used in the state’s defenses along the Potomac River. It was captured the following spring by Federal forces, and is today part of the Washington Navy Yard trophy collection.

WNY 10 Apr 10 295
7.5-inch Blakely at Washington Navy Yard

The gun bears the trunnion stamp of Low Moor.

WNY 10 Apr 10 297
Low Moor Trunnion Stamp

The breech reinforcement was built up with three separate rings.

WNY 10 Apr 10 296
Breech Band on 7.5-inch Blakely

The muzzle betrays the gun’s origin as an old smoothbore design.

WNY 10 Apr 10 299
Muzzle of 7.5-inch Blakely

The rifling, which still stands out clearly, was a triangular 12 groove.

WNY 10 Apr 10 300
Rifling of 7.5-inch Blakely

Do be mindful of those renting space there at the top groove.

This is what the Widow Blakely originally looked like, more or less.

WashNY 21 July 272
7.5-inch Blakely at the Navy Yard

But, as mentioned above, the Widow Blakely suffered a mishap. A premature shell explosion damaged the muzzle. With heavy ordnance in short supply, the Vicksburg defenders cut the muzzle back a couple feet to repair the gun. There’s reference to its use as a mortar, although I’d say the employment was much closer to that of the columbiads.

The Widow is still there at Vicksburg, having spent some time at West Point’s trophy yard.

Widow Blakely Vicksburg
Widow Blakely at Vicksburg

From the trunnions back, the Widow matches well to her “sister” gun at the Washington Navy Yard.

Water batteries against gunboats: Defenses of Vicksburg, part 2

Continuing from yesterday’s post on the Confederate defenses of Vicksburg, now let me turn to the big guns… and those with some real “names.” During the siege of Vicksburg not all the pressure the defenders came from the land approaches.  With Federal gunboats still working along the Mississippi, the Confederates had every reason to retain the batteries at the city’s riverfront.  Those heavy guns would parry any attempt by the Federals to take the city by riverine assault.

Colonel Edward Higgins commanded the river batteries.  In his consolidated report of the siege, filed on July 25, 1863, he offered a list of cannons under his command and their dispositions:

The line of batteries extended along the river front, commencing at a point above Fort Hill, on the right of my line, to a redoubt which terminated the extreme right of the rear lines and met my left, a distance of 3 miles, and consisted of 8 10-inch columbiads, 1 9-inch Dahlgren, 1 8-inch columbiad, 1 7.44-inch Blakely gun, 1 7-inch Brooks, 1 6.4-inch Brooks, 3 smooth-bore 42-pounders, 2 smooth-bore 32-pounders, 8 banded and unbanded 32-pounder rifles, 1 18-pounder rifle, 1 20-pounder Parrott, 1 Whitworth, 1 10-inch mortar, 1 8-inch siege howitzer, making in all 31 pieces of heavy artillery, besides 13 pieces of light artillery, which were placed in position to prevent a landing of the enemy on the city front. These batteries were divided into three commands, as follows: The upper batteries, from Fort Hill to the upper bayou, were worked by the First Tennessee Artillery, under Col. Andrew Jackson, jr. The center batteries, or those immediately on the city front, were under charge of Maj. F. N. Ogden, Eighth Louisiana Artillery Battalion, to whose command was attached Capt. S.C. Bains’ company, of Vaiden Light Artillery. The lower batteries were in charge of the First Louisiana Artillery, under Lieut. Col. D. Beltzhoover. A portion of the Twenty-third [Twenty-second] Louisiana Volunteers was joined to Lieutenant-Colonel Beltzhoover’s command.

The batteries offered an impressive weight of fire, on paper at least. Keep in mind that some of these guns arrived at at time that other sectors, namely Charleston, were also requesting heavy guns.

On May 18, 1863, Federal gunboats appeared both up and downstream of Vicksburg, seemingly prepared to rush up with the anticipated infantry assault.  The following day, positions on the north end of the river batteries came under fire of Federal sharpshooters.  Responding to that threat, traverses went up overnight to the side and rear of the four gun water battery.  Throughout May 20 and 21, Federal gunboats and mortar boats maintained fire on the batteries but with little effect.

Timed with army assaults on the lines, again the navy moved up to bombard the river batteries.  Higgins reported:

On the 22d, at 9 a.m., four iron-clads and one wooden gunboat engaged the lower batteries, and after an engagement of one hour and a half were repulsed. Two of the iron-clads were seriously damaged. This engagement was creditable To the First Louisiana Artillery, who, with ten guns, mostly of small caliber, contested successfully against thirty-two heavy guns of the enemy. Our casualties were only 2 wounded during the fight; one 10-inch columbiad and the 18-pounder rifled gun were temporarily disabled. The Blakely gun burst at the muzzle.

The siege had just began and three of Higgins’ best guns were on the disabled list.  All three were eventually returned to service.  The Blakely, soon obtaining the nickname “Widow Blakely” as it was the only weapon of that type in the lines, was repaired by cutting down the cracked muzzle.  The 18-pdr rifle was likely the famous “Whistling Dick,” and likewise returned to service.

On May 23 Higgins released eleven of his light field pieces to reinforce the landward defenses (and thus those guns appear on the table shown yesterday).  With pressing needs in the siege lines, later more of the guns and crews shifted to the landward side.  The two Brooke rifles burst during the siege.  For the rest of the siege, the remaining heavy guns worked against the gunboat threat and also fired counter-battery against Federal weapons on the Louisiana shore. (And I plan to examine some of the more interesting of those exchanges in line with 150th anniversaries, with this being a “setup” post in that regard.)

According to Higgins’ report, the last shots from the river batteries came at 5 p.m. on July 3.

(Higgins’ report comes from OR, Series I, Volume 24, Part II, Serial 37, pages 336-340.)

Redans and field artillery: The defenses of Vicksburg, Part 1

From an artillery perspective, the siege of Vicksburg offers interesting characters such as “Whistling Dick” and “Widow Blakely” But the heaviest burden for the defense of the city fell to field artillery batteries facing the Federals entrenched around the city. The transition of field artillery to garrison roles brings the requirement for something more than field expedient earthworks.

The man tasked with building those works was Major Samuel H. Lockett, Chief Engineer for Lieutenant-General John C. Pemberton. Lockett started his task by improving and repairing existing works constructed the previous December. Working under Lockett was a team of engineer officers, sappers, miners, and contract labor –

The working force under my control was as follows:

Twenty-six sappers and miners, of Captain Wintter’s company; 8 detailed mechanics and foremen; 4 overseers for negroes; 72 negroes hired, 20 being sick; 3 four-mule teams, 25 yoke of draught oxen.

An accurate return of the intrenching tools was never obtained, from the fact that they were always employed and so much scattered. The number, however, was not far from 500 of all kinds.

The work on the lines was generally done by fatigue parties detailed from each command to work within the limits of its own line.

Lockett’s engineers began directly working to improve the lines on the night of May 17. The following day most of the artillery was in positions, though not fully prepared positions.

Between the 18th and 22d, the enemy succeeded in establishing their line of circumvallation at about the distance of 800 yards, extending from our extreme left to in front of the square redoubt (Fort Garrott) on the right of Brigadier-General Lee’s line. The fire of their artillery and sharpshooters soon became quite annoying, and showed the necessity of erecting numerous traverses to prevent enfilading fires, and the importance of having covered approaches from the rear. All of these improvements were made as rapidly as possible by the engineers, with fatigue parties working at night.

These improvements came none t0o soon:

On the 22d, the enemy’s artillery fire was very heavy along their whole line, and a determined assault was made on the Graveyard, Jackson, and Baldwin’s Ferry roads, and along the whole of General Lee’s front on the right of the railroad. A breach was made in the redoubt near the railroad (Fort Pettus), and many other of the raised works were considerably battered. All damages were repaired, however, at night, and the morning of the 23d found our works in as good condition as at the beginning of the enemy’s operations.

The enemy, being apparently satisfied with their attempts at carrying our works by assault, now commenced their regular approaches, and soon had possession of a line of hills on the main roads, not exceeding 350 yards distance from our salient points. These hills they crowned with heavy batteries and connected as rapidly as possible with their second parallel.

Up to this time, Major-General Ulysses S. Grant’s troops ran a string of victories across central Mississippi. Lockett’s work allowed the Confederates to stop these otherwise unchecked Federal advances. With that, the Vicksburg Campaign transitioned to a bona fide siege.

In Lockett’s entrenchments were 102 cannons. Colonel William T. Withers provided a detailed list of the weapons in the siege lines to the rear of Vicksburg:


Notice the most numerous type was the 6-pdr field gun. While useful at the shorter engagement ranges, in particular countering the sappers working forward on the parallels, those guns still lacked the throw weight needed. On the other hand, those fifteen 12-pdr howitzers fired a useful projectile, and their higher angle trajectory came in handy. Vicksburg’s defenders placed most of the heavy smoothbores and rifled guns on the waterfront. The defenders on the land side had precious few heavy rifles. And the defenders’ only mortar faced the river.

Those 102 cannons, in positions laid out by Lockett’s engineers, became the focus of six weeks of siege operations. The pick, axe, and shovel rivaled the musket in importance during late spring 1863.

(Lockett’s report is from OR, Series I, Volume 24, Part II, Serial 37, pages 329-331, with the full report continuing to page 335. Wither’s table is part of his report on page 336.)

150 years ago: Battle of Big Black River Bridge, and I have nothing for you!

Looking back 150 years ago, in the aftermath of the battle of Champion Hill Federal troops in Major-General John McClernand’s Thirteenth Army Corps pursued Confederates west towards Vicksburg. A little over half way to Vicksburg, McClernand’s lead elements ran into a Confederate defense setup along the Big Black River, covering the railroad bridge.

This is one of my favorite battles in the Vicksburg campaign. Not for any particular reason. I’ve simply found it fascinating. I wanted to post something proper for the battle. But this morning the combination of pollen blooms and the hot-cold-hot spring weather has withered my ability to focus on writing. I don’t even want to dig out my 1990s photos of the battlefield.

So let me offer up instead an excellent set of photos from Bruce’s Civil War Album showing the landscape as it appears today. Big Black River Bridge was fought in the bottom lands with meander scars, bayous, and cypress stands factoring into the troop movements. The critical moment of this battle occurred on the Federal right where Brigadier-General Michael K. Lawler mounted a brigade assault.

photo of Michael Kelly Lawler (1814-1882)
Brig. Gen. Michael K. Lawler

Lawler’s assault – with the 21st Iowa, 23rd Iowa, and 11th Wisconsin with the 22nd Iowa the reserve – is a good example of a successful brigade level attack. Artillery support was ample. And reinforcements arrived where needed, at the time needed. All in contrast to some other brigade level attacks that we might consider.

Recalling the success, Major-General Ulysses S. Grant later wrote “I heard great cheering to the right of our line and, looking in that direction, saw Lawler in his shirt sleeves leading a charge upon the enemy. I immediately mounted my horse and rode in the direction of the charge.” Grant was too often the beneficiary of such unexpected success on the battlefield. Seems to me there was more than just luck and happenstance at work.

Some Confederates made their way over the river and back to Vicksburg, but about 1,700 were captured. In addition to the troops, Lawler’s men captured six 12-pdr howitzers, three 12-pdr Napoleons, three 6-pdr guns, and six 10-pdr Parrotts. Eighteen guns at the Big Black. Just days earlier at Raymond, Federals captured a similar number of guns. Add to that Confederate artillery losses at Jackson and Champon Hill. Yes, out west the Confederates were shedding an Army’s worth of artillery in the course of a campaign.

Sorry for a non-substantial post today. If I feel better this evening, I’ll do Lawler’s assault the justice it deserves. Until then, you might consider this “alternative” version of the Battle of Big Black River Bridge:

Oh, I long for the simple days where a pair of dice and an Avalon-Hill box were sufficient.

Vicksburg Sesquicentennial Schedule

Let me, somewhat belatedly, mention the ongoing schedule of events for Vicksburg’s sesquicentennial. Vicksburg National Military Park has a page detailing the events, which started in April, running through July. Back on April 30, the park began “State Memorial Days” with observances for each state with soldiers participating in the campaign. These run through May 28 (with a couple doubled up).

Interpretive events on Sunday, May 19, and Wednesday, May 22, highlight the days of major assaults on the works. The Memorial Day weekend is packed with living history displays, interpretive events, and concerts. The city of Vicksburg hosts a Memorial Day program including a parade.
The listing of events concludes on July 3 with a luminary, with 20,000 candles, throughout the park.I would love to attend, at a minimum, the Memorial Day events.

But work schedules will not permit. Looking at the schedule, I find interesting the contrast to the eastern theater events from the last couple of years. And to some degree even the western theater events at Fort Donelson, Shiloh, and Stones River. Up to this point in the sesquicentennial, for the most part, we have looked back at individual battles – maybe strung together with campaigns, such as Seven Days or Second Manassas or Antietam – with the peak focus on a handful of days. With Vicksburg, much as we may see for the Overland Campaign, Petersburg, and Atlanta Campaign, there’s a long running “even” spanning weeks. There’s several challenges there. Not the least of which is capturing the moments without saturating the audience.