Not every battle in the Civil War was significant merely in terms of its size or tally of casualties. On this date of June 7, 1863 – 150 years ago today – was fought the relatively small battle of Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana. This was at the location of a Union Mississippi River supply depot 15 miles to the northwest of Vicksburg that was critical for the ongoing Union siege operation of U.S. Grant.
At a time when the political climate of the country involving the unpopular nature of the draft and the Vallandigham affair (check back here in 5 days for details!) were causing hostility towards the whole issue of slavery and emancipation, African-American troops would make a significant contribution as combatants at Milliken’s Bend. Colonel Hermann Lieb with the African Brigade and two companies of the 10th Illinois Cavalry were driven into Milliken’s Bend from a reconnaissance by the Confederate forces of Maj. Gen. Richard Taylor – specifically a division of Texans under John Walker, known as Walker’s Greyhounds.
Even as the Rebels were getting the best of the battle by flanking and laying down an enfilading fire, the Union gunboats Choctaw and Lexington appeared and fired upon the Rebels. Fierce fighting continued for a time, with the Confederates ultimately retreating and unsuccessful in their primary effort. However, the Union casualties were about 650 to less than 200 for the Rebels (though I have seen widely varied casualty counts for the latter). But among the Union dead and wounded were many colored troops. Assistant Secretary of War Charles A. Dana wrote, “The bravery of the blacks completely revolutionized the sentiment of the army with regard to the employment of negro troops.”
And a Captain M.M. Miller wrote, “I never more wish to hear the expression, ‘The niggers won’t fight.’ Come with me 100 yards from where I sit and I can show you the wounds that cover the bodies of 16 as brave, loyal, and patriotic soldiers as ever drew bead on a rebel.”