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  4. Blog Divided » Post Topic » The Battle of Milliken’s Bend: June 7,

But they engaged attacking Confederates in fierce hand-to-hand combat, fighting with bayonets, fists, and rifle butts, or firing their weapons at extremely close range. Finally, with their backs to the Mississippi, they received the support of a Navy gunboat, and their line held. Brigadier General Henry McCullough, who commanded the Confederate forces, later noted that his "charge was resisted by the negro portion of the enemy's force with considerable obstinacy, while the white or true Yankee position ran like whipped curs almost as soon as the charge was ordered.

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Heaviest hit was the 9th Louisiana Infantry. Almost 45 percent of the unit's men were killed or mortally wounded -- the highest percentage of a regiment killed in a single battle in the entire war. Like most African American units, the 54th was led by a white man, a blue-blood named Robert Gould Shaw, who had years of military experience but little of it in battle.

Two sons of abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass also joined the regiment, as did a grandson of Sojourner Truth. Fort Wagner, an island stronghold that protected the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, presented a significant obstacle to Union forces. Defended by the sea, a marshy shoreline, Confederate artillery batteries on nearby islands, and a three-foot moat, it was close to impregnable. A first Union assault, on July 10th and 11th, had ended in failure.

About the battle

Shaw volunteered his men to lead the second attack on Wagner, and on the night of July 18, in complete darkness, they started across the sand in the face of rebel artillery. Shell blasts tore huge holes in the ranks, but the men closed them and marched on, eventually breaking into a charge. Deadly Confederate fire raked the attackers from three sides, but a number of troops breached the fort's outer walls before being driven back.

Wounded numerous times, Shaw fell dead just outside. Owing to his association with black soldiers, Confederates denied Shaw an officer's burial, declaring "We have buried him with his niggers. The following spring, the Confederate Congress passed a law that allowed the death penalty for white officers of black units and provided for captured black soldiers to be returned to slavery. Both of these declarations violated international law, and the Confederates did not enforce them.

But the sentiment the new laws aroused -- along with the ingrained hostility of many Confederate soldiers -- set the stage for wartime atrocities. The most notorious incident occurred at a small Federal outpost north of Memphis, Tennessee.

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More than half of the soldiers were black. The superior Confederate force overwhelmed the fort's defenders; Union casualties were high. But after the Federals surrendered, Forrest's men shot and killed a number of unarmed soldiers and officers, both black and white. If the Confederates hoped such executions would have a chilling effect, the opposite was true. After the "Fort Pillow Massacre," many African American troops fought with extra vigor, to avoid capture and avenge their murdered comrades. But Major General George Meade overruled him, fearing that if a slaughter ensued, he would be blamed for using black troops as cannon fodder.

When ignited, the gunpowder blew a huge gap through the Confederate line, creating a huge crater in the earth, but almost nothing else went as planned. Union officers had failed to create a plan for getting troops over the physical barricades that existed beyond the breastworks. The Confederate defenders quickly reorganized and directed heavy fire into the crater, which had now become a deathtrap.

Union commanders then sent in the African Americans of the Fourth Division. They fought valiantly, moving beyond the trapped soldiers and nearly breaking through the line before being forced to retreat. The bravery of many African American soldiers was anchored in a deep faith in God and dedication to the cause of liberty. In a letter to a friend, one black sergeant wrote "If I fall in the battle anticipated, remember I fall in defense of my race and my country.

Blog Divided » Post Topic » The Battle of Milliken’s Bend: June 7,

Although one arm of the assault succeeded, the rest was repulsed. This day, June 7, , they were to perform a service for their race and to write the name of Milliken's Bend into history. Neither Grant nor Sherman gave Milliken's Bend much attention in their autobiographies. Yet, only six-months before crossing the River south of Vicksburg, near Port Gibson, Milliken's Bend had served as headquarters for the newly-appointed commanding general of all U. As late as January 20, , Grant ordered all his troops to Milliken's Bend and Young's point, 11 miles to the south.

Grant even tried to launch an assault on Vicksburg from Milliken's Bend, but was repulsed savagely at Chicasaw Bayou. After Admiral Porter ran his ships past the Confederate batteries south of Vicksburg, Grant decided to abandon his supply base at Milliken's Bend and take a chance of living off the land on the east side of the Mississippi. Some of the other generals, Union and Confederates, thought that both Grant and Sherman had gone crazy.

But Lincoln liked their spirit.

And when they kept winning battle after battle, Grant became Lincoln's top general, in charge of all military operations. Black historian Benjamin Quarles was one of the first scholars to record the events that developed after Grant left his base at Milliken's Bend. The Black volunteers were destined to go into battle exactly sixteen days later.

Battle of Milliken's Bend

Unknown to Grant and Sherman was the Confederate strategy for providing a back-door exit for Gen. Pemberton's forces, according to Quarles, 'if he found it necessary to move them out of the city and across the river. Thanks to the persistence of Gen. Benjamin F. Butler, the man who coined the term 'contraband of war' to characterize the Black slaves set free by his men, Black soldiers and officers were mustered into the U. The man who ultimately convinced Lincoln of the great importance of recruiting Black soldiers was Gen.

Lorenzo Thomas, Adjutant General of the Army. Urging Lincoln to lease the liberated plantations in the Mississippi Valley over to the former slaves and to recruit Black natives of the region as soldiers. Thomas set up the model for what became known as the Freedman's Bureau, an organization critical to Black economic survival during Reconstruction. By the spring of , however, the government had definitely decided to use the Negro in all cases whatsoever for the benefit of the government. And it was at Milliken's Bend, said Bigelow, 'that the ex-slaves got their first baptism of fire - the first real chance of ex-slaves to prove whether they would fight or not! Following the same line of rebel logic as Quarles, Bigelow also pointed out what would have happened if the Confederates had retaken the west bank of the Mississippi. Then if General Grant's position on the Yazoo should be taken or broken by General Thomas Eggelston Johnston, the force west of the river would be ready to cooperate with the Vicksburg garrison.

The most vivid account of the Milliken's Bend action remains that of Benjamin Quarles. The sympathetic reader can almost feel the bullets and bayonets clashing day and night between Black ex-slaves and their former bosses and social oppressors. Marching at night to escape the sun's strong rays, Brigadier General Henry E.

McCulloch planned an attack before dawn in order to lessen the amount of assistance the fort's defenders could receive from the gunboats. The Confederates hoped to have driven the Union soldiers into the river by 8 a. The Rebel skirmishers pressed forward, driving the enemy pickets in front of them. Half an hour after the pickets were driven in, the confederates appeared in force, marching on the left in close column. Their advance was slowed up by Black skirmishers, whom they drove back, hedge by hedge, over ground made rough by running briars and tie-vines. When the Rebels finally gained an open space from which to launch they assault on the mostly Black garrison, they all vowed to give the Black troopers and their white cohorts 'No quarter.

The Union troops, however, were just as determined to yield not an inch of territory to the Rebels.


Their orders were to hold their fire until the Rebels were in close musket range. The first Rebel charge was easily repulsed by the Black defenders of the little town of Milliken's Bend. But because of the faulty construction of many of their weapons and also because of their lack of battlefield experience, some of the Black troops had trouble reloading.

In fact, one Black regiment had only gotten their rifles the day before the battle. There upon ensued a bloody hand-to-hand fight which ranked as one of the most bitter knock-down-and-drag-out struggles during the course of a war famous for its hard-fought actions. It was a contest between enraged men fighting with bayonets and musket butts.