Battle of Milliken's Bend
The Battle of Milliken's Bend, fought June 7, 1863, was part of the Vicksburg Campaign of the American Civil War. Confederate Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton and his army were besieged in Vicksburg, Mississippi, by Union commander Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and the Army of the Tennessee.
In an effort to cut Grant's supply line and relieve the city, the Confederates attacked the Union supply area at Milliken's Bend up the Mississippi. The Milliken's Bend area, 15 miles to the northwest of Vicksburg, had until recently served as a staging area for Grant's Vicksburg Campaign. It was a site of supply depots and hospitals, many of which were manned and guarded by US Colored Troops, some of whom were recently recruited freedmen.
Although a relatively small battle, it was distinguished by the prominent role played by the United States Colored Troops who, despite lacking much military training, fought bravely with inferior weaponry and finally drove off the Confederates with help from gunboats.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis was under heavy political pressure to come to the aid of the besieged Pemberton and his 40,000 troops, bottled up in Vicksburg by Grant's 60,000 troops. Under the belief that Grant's supply lines were vulnerable on the west bank of the Mississippi, on the Louisiana side across from Vicksburg, Davis instructed Trans-Mississippi Department Commander Lt. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith to send troops to break up that supply line. Unknown to either Smith or Davis, Grant had recently shifted his supply lines to the east bank of the Mississippi above Vicksburg.
Smith ordered Maj. Gen. Richard Taylor to mount this attack. He assigned Maj. Gen. John George Walker's Division of Texans, known as Walker's Greyhounds, to Taylor's command for that purpose. Taylor objected, citing the marshy nature of the terrain and the uncertainty that the supply line still existed. He preferred instead to take Walker's troops south to attack a vulnerable New Orleans, poorly defended after the movement of most of Nathaniel P. Banks' Army of the Gulf to Port Hudson. Smith rejected Taylor's plan, and Taylor reluctantly left with Walker and his men, going down the Red River from Alexandria to the Ouachita River, and from there north toward Richmond, Louisiana.
On the morning of June 6, Union Colonel Hermann Lieb with the African Brigade and two companies of the 10th Illinois Cavalry made a reconnaissance toward Richmond. About three miles from Richmond, Lieb encountered enemy troops at the Tallulah railroad depot and drove them back but then retired, fearing that many more Confederates might be near. While retiring, a squad of Union cavalry appeared, fleeing from a force of Rebels. Lieb got his men into battle line and helped disperse the pursuing enemy. He retired to Milliken's Bend and informed his superior by courier of his actions. The 23rd Iowa Infantry and two gunboats came to his assistance.
Walker proceeded east from Richmond at 7 p.m. June 6. At midnight, he reached Oaklawn Plantation, which was situated about 7 miles from Milliken's Bend to the north and an equal distance from Young's Point to the south. Here, he split his command. Leaving one brigade in reserve at Oaklawn, he sent one brigade under the command of Brig. Gen. Henry E. McCulloch north to Milliken's Bend, and a second brigade under the command of Brig. Gen. James M. Hawes south to Young's Point.
Around 3:00 a.m. on June 7, Confederates appeared in force and drove in the pickets. They continued their movement towards the Union left flank. The Federal forces fired some volleys that caused the Rebel line to pause momentarily, but the Texans soon pushed on to the levee where they received orders to charge. In spite of receiving more volleys, the Rebels came on, and hand-to-hand combat ensued. In this intense fighting, the Confederates succeeded in flanking the Union force and caused tremendous casualties with enfilade fire. The Union force fell back to the river’s bank. About that time Union gunboats Choctaw and Lexington appeared and fired on the Rebels. The Confederates continued firing and began extending to their right to envelop the Federals but failed in their objective. Fighting continued until noon when the Confederates withdrew. The Union pursued, firing many volleys, and the gunboats pounded the Confederates as they retreated to Walnut Bayou.
The Confederate attempt to help lift the Siege of Vicksburg had failed.
Grant praised the performance of black U.S. soldiers at the battle, observing that "This was the first important engagement of the war in which colored troops were under fire," and despite their inexperience, the black troops had "behaved well." Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana wrote, "the sentiment of this army with regard to the employment of negro troops has been revolutionized by the bravery of the blacks in the recent battle of Milliken's Bend." Having seen how they could fight, many officers were won over to arming them for the Union. Even Confederate commander Henry McCulloch said the former slaves fought with "considerably obstinacy."
U.S. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton also praised the performance of black U.S. soldiers in the battle. He stated that their competent performance in the battle proved wrong those who had opposed their service:
Many persons believed, or pretended to believe, and confidently asserted, that freed slaves would not make good soldiers; they would lack courage, and could not be subjected to military discipline. Facts have shown how groundless were these apprehensions. The slave has proved his manhood, and his capacity as an infantry soldier, at Milliken's Bend, at the assault upon Port Hudson, and the storming of Fort Wagner.
- Grant, Ulysses S. (1885–86). "Chapter 37". Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant. New York: Charles L. Webster & Co. Retrieved December 10, 2015.
On the 7th of June our little force of colored and white troops across the Mississippi, at Milliken's Bend, were attacked by about 3,000 men from Richard Taylor's trans-Mississippi command. With the aid of the gunboats they were speedily repelled. I sent Mower's brigade over with instructions to drive the enemy beyond the Tensas Bayou; and we had no further trouble in that quarter during the siege. This was the first important engagement of the war in which colored troops were under fire. These men were very raw, having all been enlisted since the beginning of the siege, but they behaved well.
- War of the Rebellion: The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I. Vol. XXIV, pt. 1. War Dept. p. 106.
- War of the Rebellion: The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I. Vol. XXIV, pt. 2. War Dept. p. 467.
- The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of War. 1899. p. 1,132.
- Hargrove, Hondon B. Black Union Soldiers in the Civil War. p. 108. Retrieved March 16, 2016.
- Barnickel, Linda (2013). Milliken’s Bend: A Civil War Battle in History and Memory. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.
- Bigelow, Martha M. "The Significance of Milliken's Bend in the Civil War", Journal of Negro History 45, no. 3 (July 1960): 156-163; via JSTOR.
- Blessington, J.P. The Campaigns of Walker's Texas Division. NY: Lange, Little and Co., 1875.
- Glatthaar, Joseph T. Forged in Battle: The Civil War Alliance of Black Soldiers and White Officers, NY: Free Press, 1990.
- Hollandsworth, James G., Jr. "The Execution of White Officers from Black Units by Confederate Forces during the Civil War", Louisiana History 35, no. 4 (Fall 1994): pp. 475–489; via JSTOR.
- Parrish, Michael T., Richard Taylor: Soldier Prince of Dixie, University of North Carolina Press, 1992.
- Lowe, Richard G. "Battle on the Levee: The Fight at Milliken's Bend." In Black Soldiers in Blue: African American Troops in the Civil War Era, edited by John David Smith, 107-135. University of North Carolina Press, 2002.
- Lowe, Richard G. Walker's Texas Division, C.S.A.: Greyhounds of the Trans-Mississippi, LSU Press, 2004.
- Sears, Cyrus. Paper of Cyrus Sears (The Battle of Milliken's Bend), Columbus, OH: F.J. Heer Printing, 1909.
- Waldrep, Christopher. Vicksburg's Long Shadow: The Civil War Legacy of Race and Remembrance, Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2005.
- Wearmouth, John, ed. The Cornwell Chronicles: Tales of an American Life... Bowie, MD: Heritage Books, 1998.
- Winschel, Terrence J. "The General's Tour: Grant's March Through Louisiana: Opening Phase of the Vicksburg Campaign." Blue and Gray Magazine 13, no. 5 (June 1996): 51-61.
- Winschel, Terrence J. "To Rescue Gibraltar: John Walker's Texas Division and Its Expedition to Relieve Fortress Vicksburg." Civil War Regiments 3, no. 3 (1993): 33-58.
- CWSAC Report Update
- National Park Service battle description
- National Park Service, Vicksburg
- Milliken's Bend: A Civil War Battle in History and Memory
- The Battle of Milliken's Bend: The Central Role of Black Troops in the Siege of Vicksburg at the Wayback Machine (archived February 24, 2005)
- PBS' Timeline: African Americans in the Civil War; see June 7, 1863: Milliken's Bend-Louisiana
- Battle of Milliken's Bend - Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL newspaper)