The Civil War – Vicksburg and Brandy Station

Submitted by C. J. Johnson

 

In an effort to aid Vicksburg, Confederate troops led by General Henry McCulloch attacked the Federal post at Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana, across the River from Vicksburg. Earlier, the outpost was important to General Grant as an supply point, but now it was a recruiting station for black soldiers.

The Union force at Milliken’s Bend was composed of four Infantry regiments of “African Descent” [A.D.] led by white officers, and a part of the all-white 23rd Iowa Infantry, recently sent as reinforcements. Most of the A.D. troops had been soldiers only a few weeks. They faced Confederate veterans.

The National Park Service comments, “On June 6, Col. Hermann Lieb with the African Brigade and two companies of the 10th Illinois Cavalry made a reconnaissance toward Richmond, Louisiana…Lieb encountered enemy troops at the Tallulah railroad depot and drove them back but then retired, fearing that many more Rebels might be near.

…Around 3:00 am on June 7, Rebels appeared in force and drove in the pickets. They continued their movement…but the Texans soon pushed on to the levee where they received orders to charge… the Rebels came on, and hand-to-hand combat ensued. In this intense fighting, the Confederates…caused tremendous casualties with enfilade fire. The Union force fell back to the river’s bank.

About that time Union gunboats Choctaw and Lexington appeared and fired upon the Rebels. …Fighting continued until noon when the Confederates withdrew.”

The Union troops fought hard, especially the A. D. regiments. McCulloch noted they fought “with considerable obstinacy.” This was one of the earliest battles in which black troops fought. They proved they could fight hard. In the Eastern Theater, Yanks and Rebs were engaged in the Battle of Brandy Station, which was “the largest cavalry battle ever fought on the North American continent. Of the 20,000 soldiers involved, about 17,000 were of the mounted branch. Brandy Station is also the first battle of the war’s most famous campaign – Gettysburg,” per the National Park Service. According to History.com, following the early May win at Chancellorsville, “Confederate General Robert E. Lee began to prepare for another invasion of the North by placing General J.E.B. Stuart’s cavalry at Brandy Station… to screen the rest of the Army of Northern Virginia as it started toward the Blue Ridge mountains.

Stuart used this time at Brandy Station to stage a grand parade in order to boost morale and show off his dashing troopers to local residents. Unbeknownst to Stuart, his pompous display was observed by uninvited Union cavalry and infantry under the command of General Alfred Pleasonton, who lurked across the Rappahannock River.

On June 9, Pleasonton struck the surprised Rebels in a two-pronged assault. After initially falling back, the Confederates eventually rallied, and the battle raged all day around St. James Church. The battle’s key moment came when Union troops headed to seize Fleetwood Hill, an elevation from which the Yankees could shell the entire battlefield. Confederate Lieutenant John Carter struggled to mount a cannon on the hill and fired a single shot that stopped the Union troopers in their tracks…Carter’s heroic act saved the day for Stuart…

The battle continued until late afternoon, with many spectacular cavalry charges and saber fights in addition to hand-to-hand combat by dismounted cavalry. In the end, Stuart’s forces held the field.

Although it was technically a Rebel victory, the battle demonstrated how far the Union cavalry had come since the beginning of the war. Stuart’s cavalry had been the master of their Union counterparts, but its invincibility was shattered on that muggy Virginia day.”