Expedition for Vicksburg - Marching Orders - Down the Mississippi - Milliken's Bend - Up the Yazoo - March Through the Swamps - First Attack on Vicksburg - Picketing - Evacuation - Up the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers - Arkansas Post - Battle and Capture of The Garrison - Loss in Killed and Wounded.
Another expedition was now organized, under Gen. Sherman, for Vicksburg, to proceed by boats down the Mississippi river. As we were not yet assigned to any Division, we had concluded that we would spend Christmas at Memphis, and had written home to that effect. But on the 19th of December Lieut. Col. Parker made a request of Gen. Hurlbut, Commander of the Post, to have the Regiment relieved of garrison duty, so as to join the expedition. Such requests are always granted, and on the following day we were ordered on board the steamer "City of Alton." We were placed in the second brigade, with the 19th Ky., 77th, 97th, 108th and 130th Illinois regiments, commanded by Col. W. J. Landrum, of the 19th Ky., and in the Division commanded by Gen. A. J. Smith.
The Regiment was in command of Lieut. Col. Parker. Col. Sullivan, who was still suffering from his wound, had been appointed president of a military board, and was left behind. Lieut. Quarterman was also left, with several members of the Regiment, who were unable for duty.
On leaving Camp Dennison for active service, the Regiment had thirteen teams and five ambulances. But now we were only allowed five teams and one ambulance, which was shortly after still further reduced to two teams.
During Saturday the troops embarked on the boats. That night they were paid two months' pay, and on Sunday, Dec. 21st, 1862, the Division left at 2 P. M. Memphis, where we had spent the last five months, was soon lost to view. The boat ran until 1 o'clock that night, then tied up at Friar's Point, twelve miles below Helena, Ark. Here the fleet of forty-five transports, loaded with troops, and several gun-boats, joined us. The whole fleet left on the following morning, stopping at sundown, twenty-five miles above Napoleon, Ark. - Leaving early the next day, we arrived at Milliken's Bend, La., early on Christmas morning, where we remained until the first brigade destroyed the Shreveport & Texas R. R.
Our next point was Vicksburg, which is located at the upper end of one of the great bends of the Mississippi river, on the south-east bank. It is situated on very high bluffs, which would almost bar a direct attack from the front. The hills extend north-east to Haines' Bluff, on the Yazoo river, about ten miles above where it empties into the Mississippi. Between these hills and the two rivers are the Yazoo Swamps, noted for their dense woods and low, marshy lands, part of which was once the old bed of the Yazoo.
On the 26th we proceeded down the Mississippi to the mouth of the Yazoo, and up that river about six miles, where we landed on the south bank, on the 27th, with two days' rations, and bivouacked for the night on the river bank. During the evening we received orders to move on the following morning (Sunday) at four o'clock. We were on the march with our brigade at the appointed time. After following up the Yazoo two or three miles, we turned to the right, and marched several miles through a thick-timbered swamp. At about 8 A. M. the booming of cannon and the crash of musketry on our left told us the battle had begun. - We formed in line of battle, marched to the left of the road and halted. The fighting on our left increased with every volley. The smoke and fog became so thick we could scarcely see twenty yards in advance. We remained there a short time, when we were ordered forward, and after passing the troops in reserve, we soon reached the skirmish line of the 77th Ills. We then advanced with them in line of battle, through a dense forest of live-oak and cypress, covered with Spanish moss. We drove the enemy's pickets about a mile, when we came in sight of their fortifications, situated on a high hill, in front of which they had cut down the timber. We remained in sight of their batteries until evening, when the Regiment returned to the Division, about one mile in the rear, and camped for the night, leaving the 77th Ills. on picket.
The battle on our left continued without any intermission all day. The next day, 29th, at daybreak, the firing was resumed on our left, and was kept up as on the previous day. We remained in reserve until evening, when two companies were ordered on picket in the rear. That evening a heavy rain set in and continued all night. The day following being too wet for military operations, we remained in camp.
Dec. 31st, the Regiment went on picket, occupying the position the 77th Ills. held on the 28th, with the right of the Regiment extending to the Mississippi river above Vicksburg. We relieved the old guards at 9 A. M. under a heavy fire. We spent a quiet day, except an occasional shot from the rebel pickets. That night we suffered from the cold weather, having left everything but our rubber blankets on the boat. In the absence of woolen blankets, the pickets in reserve made beds out of Spanish moss.
January 1st, 1863, we were relieved, and returned to camp in the rear again. New Year's day was spent in making shelter, gathering leaves and moss for beds, and cleaning our camp-ground. But we were not permitted to enjoy our comfortable booths. At 9 o'clock that evening, Companies C and K were sent to the landing, with orders to load all our stores by 4 o'clock next morning on board the steamer "City of Alton," as the army was to evacuate at that time. We labored hard all night, and at daylight the troops embarked on the boats, but the fleet did not leave until 10 o'clock P. M. Shortly after leaving, a violent rain-storm began and raged two days and nights. What our condition would have been had we remained in that dismal swamp, called by the soldiers "the valley of death," can better be imagined than described.
The campaign contemplated an attack on Vicksburg, by Gen. Grant's army marching through Mississippi from Memphis, and getting in the rear of Vicksburg, while Gen. Sherman, with 40,000 men, was to descend the Mississippi river, and attack from the north, on Chickasaw Bayou. But the day before Gen. Sherman left Memphis with his fleet, Holly Springs, Gen. Grant's base of supplies, with its immense quantity of military stores, had surrendered to the rebels without firing a shot, which compelled Gen. Grant to retreat. Gen. Sherman not being aware of this, made the attack alone. The enemy then sent their troops by rail to Vicksburg in such numbers that they soon outnumbered us. They being behind fortifications, had every advantage, which made it an unequal contest. After a loss of about 2,000 men, Gen. Sherman withdrew his army, and on the 4th of January, 1863, was relieved by Gen. McClernand, who assumed command and divided the army into two corps. Gen. Morgan commanded the first corps, to which our Division - A. J. Smith's - belonged. This Division afterward became the 13th Corps, and Gen. Sherman was placed in command of the second Corps.
Gen. McClernand soon after ordered the army to Arkansas Post. We now proceeded up the Mississippi with the fleet, arriving at the mouth of White river during the night of the 7th of January. We remained until the 9th, then started up White river. Upon reaching the cut-off, we crossed to the Arkansas, and passed up that river to within three miles of Arkansas Post, and tied up on the right bank at 10 o'clock A. M., Jan. 10th. The troops disembarked, with two days rations, and at 3 P. M. we started up the river. After marching an hour, we halted in a corn-field, and after partaking of a hasty supper, we resumed our march. In the meantime the gun-boats had opened a heavy fire on the rebel batteries, in the fort, which was continued for several hours without intermission. After passing the gun-boats, that lay in the bend of the river, just below, and in range of the rebel batteries, we entered a dense swamp. Night overtook us and then our march became difficult. Passing over logs, through mud and water, we halted at 9 P. M., in the rear of the rebel fort, and slept on our arms. The weather was cold, and being without blankets, and allowed no fires, we spent a very disagreeable night.
Sunday morning, Jan. 11th, our brigade was ordered to a position on the extreme left, within sight of the fort, and a few hundred yards from the river. Here we remained until 11 o'clock A. M., when, with two other regiments of the brigade, we were ordered back to the center of the Division, in reserve. At half-past twelve, the batteries being in position, opened, with the gunboats, a terrific cannonading, which continued half an hour before the infantry became engaged. We were then ordered to the right to support Gen. Burbridge's brigade. Here we left our haversacks and blankets, and advanced in the direction of the fort. Upon reaching the edge of the woods, we were halted.
We were now within reach of the enemy's fire, and now and then a shell would come crashing through the timber. Before us was a large, open field; on the opposite side, the rebel fort; to our right, their entrenchments. Half-way across the field was the first line of our infantry, fiercely engaged. We had halted but a few minutes, when Gen. A. J. Smith ordered us to the right. We had proceeded but a short distance, when some of the troops in front were thrown into confusion. At that moment Maj. Hammond, of Gen. Sherman's staff, came riding up and gave the command, "48th Ohio, by the left flank, double-quick, march!'' This put us in line of battle, facing the enemy. With a wild cheer, we started across the field, halting within twenty yards of the first line of battle, occupied at that point by the 23d Wisconsin. - We were halted and ordered to lie down, when we were informed that Col. Parker had been wounded in the arm, and that Capt. Peterson, of Co. K, was in command of the Regiment.
We remained here about fifteen minutes, when we moved forward and relieved the 23d Wisconsin, who were out of ammunition. This brought us within one hundred yards of the fort, and a field battery, just outside. This battery, and also one of steel guns, on the inside of the fort, were soon silenced by our unerring fire. Our batteries, which had been brought up, soon exploded the enemy's magazines and caissons, which sent the fragments flying to every part of their works. The gun-boats, having disabled the two large siege guns, that commanded their approach, passed the fort, and poured broadside after broadside into the enemy's rear.
The long lines of our infantry that stretched away to the right, had advanced under a heavy fire from the enemy, to within a short distance of their entrenchments, and were preparing for a charge, when the rebels, at 20 minutes past 4 P. M., raised the white flag. With a loud cheer, we started on double-quick to the fort. Our Regiment was among the first to enter, and our flag was the second planted on the rebel fortifications. Three of our companies were commanded by First Sergeants. The Regiment lost two killed and thirteen wounded.
The army captured about 5,000 rebel prisoners and all their military supplies. That night, we bivouacked on the battle-ground, and on the following day, after destroying the fortifications we camped in the woods, a short distance below the fort.
Jan. 14th, the Regiment was ordered on board the "City of Alton," and one company on picket. It rained all day, and continued until midnight, when it turned to snow. The pickets suffered more from exposure that night, than at any other time during their entire service.