Black Soldiers and the Bloody Battle of Milliken's Bend
Part of the Vicksburg Campaign, the Battle at Milliken's Bend occured on June 7, 1863 and included hand-to-hand combat between Confederate troops and a newly formed "African Brigade." The following is Union Brigadier General Elias S. Dennis' description of the bloody battle and the role that a brigade of newly enlisted black soldiers played in the Union.
Commander of the District of Northeast Louisiana to the Headquarters of the Department of the Tennessee
Young's Point, La., June 12", 1863.
Colonel: I have the honor to report, that in accordance with instructions recieved from me, Colonel Leib, Commanding 9" La. A.D. made a reconnaisance in the direction of Richmond, on June the 6th starting from Milliken's Bend at 2 A.M. He was preceeded by two Companies of the 10" Illinois Cavalry, Commanded by Captain Anderson, whom he overtook three miles from the Bend. It was agreed between them that the Captain should take the left side of Walnut Bayou, and pursue it as far as Mrs. Ame's Plantation, while Colonel Leib proceeded along the Main Richmond road to the Railroad Depot, three (3) miles from Richmond, where he encountered the enemies Pickets and advance, which he drove in with but little opposition, but anticipating the enemy in strong force, retired slowly toward the Bend. When about half way back, a squad of our Cavalry came dashing up in his rear, hotly pursued by the enemy.– Colonel Leib immediately formed his regiment across an open field, and with one volley, dispersed the approaching enemy. Expecting the enemy would contest the passage of the Bridge over Walnut Bayou, Colonel Leib fell back over the bridge, and from thence to Milliken's Bend, from whence he sent a Messenger informing me of the success of the expedition, and reported the enemy to be advancing. I immediately started the 23" Iowa Vol. Inft. to their assistance, and Admiral Porter ordered the Gun-Boat "Choctow" to that Point.
At three (3) o'clock the following morning the enemy made their appearance, in strong force, on the Main Richmond road, driving the Pickets before them. The enemy advanced upon the left of our line–throwing out no skirmishers–Marching in close column, by division, with a strong Cavalry force on his right flank. Our forces–consisting of the 23d Iowa Vol. Inft. and the African Brigade, in all, 1061 men–opened upon the enemy when within musket-shot range, which made them waver and recoil; a number running in confusion to the rear, the balance, pushing on with intrepidity, soon reached the Levee, when they were ordered to “charge,” with cries of “No Quarters!” The African Regiments being inexperienced in use of arms–some of them having been drilled but a few days, and the guns being very inferior–the enemy succeeded in getting upon our works before more than one or two volleys were fired at them. Here ensued a most terrible hand to hand conflict, of several minutes duration, our men using the bayonet freely and clubbing their guns with fierce obstinacy, contesting every inch of ground, until the enemy succeeded in flanking them and poured a murderous enfilading fire along our lines–directing their fire chiefly to the officers, who fell in numbers. Not 'till they were overpowered, and forced by superior numbers, did our men fall back behind the bank of the river, at the same time pouring volley after volley into the ranks of the advancing enemy
The Gun-Boat now got into position and fired a broad-side into the enemy, who immediately disappeared behind the Levee, but all the time keeping up a fire upon our men
The enemy at this time appeared to be extending his line to the extreme right, but was held in check by two Companies of the 11" La. Inft. A.D., which had been posted behind cotton bales and part of the old Levee. In this position the fight continued until near noon, when the enemy suddenly withdrew. Our men seeing this movement, advanced upon the retreating column, firing volley after volley at them, while they remained within gun-shot. The Gun-Boat “Lexington” then paid her compliments to the “flying foe,” in several well directed shots, scattering them in all directions. I here desire to express my thanks to the officers and men of the Gun-Boats “Choctaw” and “Lexington” for their efficient services in the time of need. Their names will long be remembered by the officers and men of the “African Brigade,” for their valuable assistance on that dark and bloody field.
The officers and men deserve the highest praise for their gallant conduct, and especially Colonel Glasgow of the 23d Iowa, and his brave men, and also Colonel Leib, of the 9" La., A.D., who by his gallantry and daring, inspired his men to deeds of valor, until he fell, seriously, though not dangerously wounded. I regret to state that Col. Chamberlain, of the 11" La. A.D., conducted himself in a very unsoldierlike manner.
The enemy consisted of one (1) Brigade, numbering about 2,500, in command of General McCullough, and two hundred Cavalry. The enemies loss is estimated at about 150 killed, and 300 wounded. It is impossible to get anything near the loss of the enemy, as they carried killed and wounded off in ambulances. Among their killed is Colonel Allen, 16" Texas.
Enclosed please find tabular statements of killed, wounded and missing–in all 652. Nearly all the missing Blacks will probably return, as they were badly scattered
The enemy, under General Hawes, advanced upon Youngs Point whilst the battle was going on at Milliken's Bend, but several well-directed shots from the Gun-Boat's compelled them to retire.
Submitting the foregoing, I remain Yours Respectfully,
Elias S. Dennis
Source: Brig. Genl. Elias S. Dennis to Colonel John A. Rawlins, 12 June 1863, enclosed in Maj. Gen. U. S. Grant to Brig. Gen. L. Thomas, 16 June 1863, vol. 24, Union Battle Reports, ser. 729, War Records Office, Adjutant General's Office, Record Group 94, National Archives. Enclosures. Available online via the University of Maryland's Freedmen and Southern Society Project.