Union Army Marches into Battle in Mississippi

Our last letter from “E” (Erasmus Anderson) was written on April 28, 1863, just over 151 years ago. It is clear that Pvt. Erasmus Anderson had his hands full during the remainder of April and the month of May. It is no surprise that we have no extant letters from that period, as the army was, at long last on the march. Today and next week, we will follow as the Union Army marches and fights its way toward Vicksville, Mississippi.

Battle of Champion Hill

“This painting of the Battle of Champion’s Hill was made by Kurz and Allison, copyrighted in 1887.” mkwe.com

The day after Erasmus finished that last letter to his wife, the Union army started south in a large loop that would take them across the Mississippi River and up the East side toward Vicksburg, Mississippi, General Grant’s major objective. Before they got there, they would fight the Battle of Thompson’s HIll, The Battle of Champion’s Hill and The Battle of Big Black River Bridge.

While “E” correctly surmised that the Union Army plan was to go from the Perkins Plantation in Louisiana to Grand Gulf MS, that goal turned out to be impossible. The soldiers heard four solid hours of thundering shooting during which, according to Theodore Walbach, gunboats “engaged in a furious fight with no profitable result on our side.” The troops marched still farther south on the Louisiana side of the river.

On the next day, April 30, all available boats gathered to ferry the troops farther south, where they landed at Bruinsberg Mississippi. According to Wolbach, they drew five days of rations in preparation for the next trek, and set off marching East, up and away from the loathesome, malarial swamps into forested highland. Along with apprehension of what lay ahead, there was satisfaction in seeing the abandoned plantations, finding buildings to sleep in and hidden stores,helpfully pointed out by slaves who had been left behind.

Wolbach shows the contrast of hardship and pleasure that could be had on this march. “Before entering fairly into this campaign, the regiment had been stripped of every sick, or convalescent man.  Every unnecessary encumbrance had been left behind.”  They marched all day, “Ofen passing between long rows of rose hedges that were now in bloom and filled the air with its baking fragrance.”

The objective was Thompson’s hill, about two or three miles west of Port Gibson. For a colorful, detailed report of that night and the next day, see Cpl. Wolbach’s Camp and Field.

Union Army march

Route of boats and march from Perkins Plantation to Thompson’s Hill. Photo from mkwe.com

The Union Army marched into the night, until at about 2:00 a.m. of May 1st, they heard firing. Everyone dropped to the ground to wait for daylight. Given what was coming the next day, one hopes they were able to get some rest.

In award-winning understatement, Wolbach says,

When it was light enough to find water, many of the boys commenced making coffee in their tin cups and little cans.  But the situation was getting a little too exciting for elaborate breakfast.”

At 8:45, the 16th Ohio along with other regiments were order to the front–center of the line. Throughout the day, the 22,000 Union Soldiers fought their way up the hill as 6,000 Confederate Soldiers tried to defend their territory.  By nightfall, it was clear that, as the Civil War Wiki Net says, “Grant was loose on the the Mississippi.”

General Grant showed up to observe the battle, riding a borrowed mule because most horses had been left behind.  His twelve year old son, Fred, was with him, and volunteered to help pick up the wounded and the dead.  He found he wasn’t up to the task, and later wrote about the experience, callling himself “the most woebegone twelve-year-old boy in America.”

Battle of Thompson's Hill

Port Gibson Historic Marker

The next morning, Union generals, prepared to fight on, discovered that the Rebels had abandoned the bridge crossing Bayou Pierre and evacuated Grand Gulf.  Grant indeed had a toehold, finally, in the heart of the South.

Erasmus escaped injury. He was not among the 131 Union Army soldiers killed, or 719 wounded.

 

Union Army March

Union Army march route from Thompson Hill to Rocky Springs, MS. Map from mkwe.com

On May 3 the soldiers marched through the scent of magnolias in blossom and the sight of mutilated corpses of Southern bodies to a spot just east of Rocky Springs, MS, where they camped and rested all day on May 4. Erasmus would no doubt have noted the beautiful weather and the fine farmland they were in, and noticed as did Cpl Wolbach that the farmers had a problem with erosion. The soldiers take advantage of the respite to forage, and for some that means looting, according to Wolbach.

They continue on marches toward Fourteen Mile Creek with a few high points along the way. Mail received. Generals Grant and McClelland reviewed the troops, and as they were bivouaced along the Jackson Road, they watched General Sherman’s troops march by.

 

Union Army March

Union Army Route from Rocky Springs toward Bolton MS. Map from mkwe.com

By May 13 they have reached Raymond Mississippi and spend a rainy night. They march at midnight and spend another day in the rain. There are skirmishes along the way, and they have to loop back to take a different road. Another serious battle comes at Champion Hill on May 16. Wolback says they face the enemy with a Union force of 10,000 muskets and eight batteries of field artillery, now nearly due East of Vicksburg.

In General Grant’s memoirs he says “We had 15,000 men absolutely engaged.” The Civil War Trust’s website says 32,000 Union men faced 23,000 Confederate soldiers. On the Union side there were 410 killed and 1844 wounded.   2000 Confederate soldiers were taken prisoner. Once again, although Erasmus would have been ‘absolutely engaged’ for several hours of skirmishing and four hours of heated battle, he escaped personal damage.

 

Civil WarHistorical Marker

Battle of Champion Hill Historic Marker

At the end of the day, the 16th OVI moved on to Edward’s Station,a railroad station where they slept for the night. From Edward’s Station, they would follow the enemy and fight one more battle before finally reaching their goal–Vicksburg.

See Erasmus Anderson’s last surviving letter:At the Perkins Plantation

See the next step of the War: From Battle to Battle E Marches to Vicksburg

See A Summary of the series of letters:The End of the Erasmus Story

Notes:

Once again, I have relied on the 16th OVI website maintained by Michael K. Woods. From that site, I get the reports of Cpl. Wolbach, called Camp and Field, which were published some twenty years after the war in the Holmes County Republican.  For this report, I also took advantage of Wood’s collection of narratives about various battles, and his detailed maps.

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