Battle of Milliken's Bend, June 7, 1863
In the spring of 1863, Gen. Richard Taylor desired to use Maj. Gen. John G. Walker's Texas Division in an advance on Berwick Bay, overrun the LaFourche, and threaten New Orleans. Taylor, however, was overruled by Kirby Smith who directed him to strike at the Federals in Madison Parish. Taylor opposed the idea and later wrote,
"Remonstrances were to no avail. I was informed that all the Confederate authorities in the east were urgent for some effort on our part in behalf of Vicksburg, and that public opinion would condemn us if we did not try to do something." Taylor insisted, "that to go two hundred miles and more away from the proper theatre of action in search of an indefinite something is hard; but orders are orders."
In accordance with his orders, Taylor reluctantly directed the Texans to Richmond, LA. Taylor himself went on ahead of the Texans and reached Richmond at dusk on June 5. He immediately set about gathering information concerning the enemy dispositions and troop strengths at Milliken's Bend and Young's Point. Much of the data gained by Taylor was provided by Lt. Col. Isaac F. Harrison of the 15th Louisiana Cavalry Battalion. Some of it was correct and some was not. Harrison, for example, underestimated enemy troop strength at both points; faulty intelligence played a key role in the Confederate plan of action.
The Texans tramped into Richmond at 10:00 a.m. on June 6, where they cooked rations and rested for several hours. Walker was informed of the enemy's dispositions and briefed on the plan of action. Taylor's plan called for Walker's Division to launch simultaneous assaults on the enemy at Milliken's Bend and Young's Point, while a combat patrol led by Col. Frank Bartlett of the 13th Louisiana Cavalry Battalion attacked the Federal enclave at Lake Providence.
On June 6, as the Confederates planned for action, the Federals at Milliken's Bend made a reconnaissance in the direction of Richmond. The Federals had been monitoring the increased Confederate activity and feared an attack on Milliken's Bend was imminent. Consequently, Brig. Gen. Elias S. Dennis, commander of the District of Northeast Louisiana, ordered Col. Hermann Lieb to make a reconnaissance toward Richmond.
Lieb was a feisty soldier. Born in Switzerland, he emigrated to the United States and settled in Illinois. At the outbreak of the war, he enlisted for ninety days as a private in Company B of the 8th Illinois Infantry. Upon reorganization of the regiment as a three-year unit in July of 1861, Lieb was elected captain, and the following year was promoted to major. He saw action at Fort Donelson and at Shiloh, and during the Louisiana operations, he was colonel of the 9th Louisiana Infantry (African Descent), commanding the post at Milliken's Bend.
At 2:00 a.m., on June 6, Lieb moved out with his own regiment and several companies of the 10th Illinois Cavalry. His force pushed to within three miles of Richmond when they made contact with Confederate forces. After driving in the pickets, Lieb became apprehensive and decided to return to Milliken's Bend. Half-way back to the post, Lieb's men were surprised to see the Illinois troopers dashing up in their rear, hotly pursued by Confederate cavalry. Reacting quickly, Colonel Lieb deployed his regiment into line. A single volley sufficed to drive off the Southerners.
Convinced that his post was in danger, Lieb requested reinforcements. In response to the colonel's urgent request, the 23d Iowa (a white regiment) was hurried from Young's Point to Milliken's Bend, and the ironclad Choctaw was sent by Admiral Porter to provide additional support. That night, the Federals fortified their camp by constructing abatis and barricades of cotton bales. His confidence bolstered by these preparations, Lieb had his men under arms at 3:00 a.m. on June 7.
The Confederate plan of action called for a night march. The Texans left Richmond at 6:00 p.m. on June 6, in hopes of arriving at the enemy camps at sunrise. One Texan recorded the march with these words:
At Oak Grove Plantation the road forked, the left leading to Milliken's Bend, the right to Young's Point. Walker sent McCulloch's Brigade toward Milliken's Bend and Hawes' Brigade toward Young's Point, while he remained at Oak Grove with Col. Horace Randal's Brigade.
McCulloch's Brigade, 1,500 strong, arrived within 1.5 miles of Milliken's Bend at 2:30 a.m., when it was fired upon by enemy pickets. McCulloch quickly deployed his brigade into line of battle with Col. Richard Waterhouse's* 19th Texas Infantry on the right, Col. R. T. P. Allen's 17th Texas Infantry in the center, and Lt. Col. E.P. Gregg's 16th Texas Cavalry (dismounted) on the left, while Col. George Flournoy's 16th Texas Infantry was held in reserve.
The Confederate cavalry scouts in front fell back precipitably when fired upon. In the darkness and confusion, the cavalrymen were then shot at by McCulloch's skirmishers. Fortunately, no men were injured.
As the Federal pickets began falling back, Lieb placed his men on the levee behind cotton bales. His units consisted of the 8th, 9th, 11th, and 13th Louisiana Infantry Regiments (African Descent), 1st Mississippi Infantry (African Descent), and the 23d Iowa Infantry, totaling 1,061 men. The Black troops were recently recruited, poorly trained, and poorly armed. In many cases, they were also poorly led. But, they had the advantage of position, and were supported by the guns of the powerful ironclad Choctaw.
McCulloch placed his Texans into line of battle astride the Richmond road and drove the Federals from hedgerow to hedgerow. One Texans wrote, "It was impossible for our troops to keep in line of battle, owing to the many hedges we had to encounter, which it was impossible to pass, except through a few gaps that had been used as gates or passageways." Once passed the hedgerows, McCulloch reformed his brigade within twenty-five paces of the main Federal line. Shouting, "No quarter for the officers, kill the damned abolitionists," the Texans scaled the levee and closed on the enemy. A withering volley stunned the Southerners, but the poorly trained blacks were unable to reload their cumbersome weapons before the Texans were upon them. McCulloch reported, "The line was formed under a heavy fire from the enemy, and the troops charged the breastworks, carrying it instantly, killing and wounding many of the enemy by their deadly fire, as well as the bayonet." The brigadier noted, "This charge was resisted by the negro portion of the enemy's force with considerable obstinacy, while the white or true Yankee portion ran like whipped curs almost as soon as the charge was ordered."
Clubbed muskets and bayonets were freely used as the Texans surged over the cotton bale barricades atop the levee. Joseph P. Blessington of the 16th Texas recalled, "The enemy gave away and stampeded pell-mell over the levee, in great terror and confusion. Our troops followed after them, bayoneting them by hundreds." Sweeping through the Federal encampment, McCulloch's men raced toward the second levee next to the river. Their efforts, however, were driven back repeatedly by the rapid fire of Choctaw's big guns.
Unable to cross the levee, McCulloch's men mopped-up isolated pockets of resistance and plundered the Federal camp. The brigadier sent an urgent request to Walker for reinforcements, but before help arrived, McCulloch spotted a second gunboat, the Lexington, coming upriver. Realizing that his troops were no match for gunboats, and without waiting for Walker's arrival, McCulloch ordered a withdrawal to Oak Grove Plantation.
In the engagement at Milliken's Bend, McCulloch's Brigade suffered losses of 44 killed, 131 wounded, and 10 missing. The Texans, however, inflicted 652 casualties on the Federals of which number 101 were killed, 285 wounded, and 266 captured or missing.
Did You Know?
President Abraham Lincoln, in speaking of Vicksburg's importance, is reputed to have stated early during the Civil War, "See what a lot of land these fellows hold, of which Vicksburg is the key, the war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket."