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Report from 56th OVI

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Chip Horr


Contributing Columnist


Although the Siege of Vicksburg, Miss. was officially dated May 18 to July 4, 1863, beginning in late 1862, Union Major General Ulysses S. Grant made several earlier attempts to take Vicksburg. The following report is from “An Historical Sketch of the 56th Ohio Volunteer Infantry” by Thomas J. Williams, 1st Lt of the 56th OVI. Colonel Peter Kinney (1805-1877), a Portsmouth native, organized the 56th Ohio Volunteer Infantry at Camp Morrow in Portsmouth and became Colonel of the Regiment. During this writing, the regiment was attached to the XIII Corps, Army of the Tennessee. Company C was recruited from Jackson and Scioto Counties.


“Feb. 11, 1863, we were ordered to march (north from Helena, La.) with two days’ rations. We went aboard the steamboat Moderator, and lay at the wharf all night. On the next day we ran down into the Yazoo Pass and on into Moon Lake. We landed where the Coldwater River ran out of this lake, and encamped in some old plantation buildings, on the Monroe plantation. In this region there was a good deal of cotton, and considerable effort was made to secure it. On Feb. 15 a select number of Company C went on a scout to locate some of it. We went out some distance to a large plantation. Captain Williams was in command, and while he was talking to a white man in charge we investigated and found they had lots of good things to eat, and we were anticipating quite a feast.


“But one of the boys saw at a distance through the trees a body of cavalry approaching. From their clothes and the distance we could not tell whether they were of the enemy or our own forces. When they saw us they halted and got ready for action. We fell back in the direction of our camp through a large cotton field. In the center of this field was a large cotton gin, which we aimed to reach; but they came down upon us fast and furious. We halted and formed into a hollow square twice as they were about to charge us. One of their scouts got up close enough to see us plainly, and he shouted that they were Union troops of the Sixth Missouri cavalry. They greatly admired our action in forming into square and waiting to be charged, with the odds so largely against us. Moon Lake, where we were, was a small body of water near the Mississippi river. The levee was cut and the river at high flood ran into the lake, and it was deep enough for our largest boats. Where we were camped was where the Yazoo Pass left the lake. The water from this pass ran into the Coldwater River, and it emptied into the Tallahatchie River, and it into the Yazoo River, which entered the Mississippi above Vicksburg a few miles. A large expedition of our forces, with many gunboats, went down by way of this pass in an endeavor to find a route to the rear of Vicksburg. But on the Tallahatchie the enemy had constructed a strong fort in a dense swamp that could not be reached from our side.


“On March 21, Company C was sent to guard the steamboat Curlew, loaded with ammunition, down this waterway. We found the pass very crooked, and we bumped against trees every few yards. On the 22nd we passed the steamboat Luella, sunk. On the 23rd we met the Hamilton Belle going up stream; nothing but woods to be seen, hardly any houses in sight. On the 25th we passed where the regiment camped last fall, and on the 26th we passed several boats and arrived at our headquarters at noon on the 27th. And after dark the boat we were on took on a lot of cotton and ran down to within a mile of Fort Pemberton, and landed the cotton for our forces to build fortifications with. The night was as dark as pitch and the rain fell in torrents, and dreadful thunder and lightning added to the tumult. The only thing out of the ordinary while here was seeing Colonel Pyle of a Missouri regiment separate two of his men, who were engaged in a fight. The Colonel was 6 feet four or 5, a large and very strong man. He walked up to the fighters, took each of them by the back of the neck, pulled them apart, and then bumped their heads together several times, and then flung them to either side. The Colonel was a minister, and did not believe in that sort of fighting. He was afterwards promoted to Brigadier General, and some of us had the pleasure of hearing him preach in New Orleans, at Christ Church, on Sunday, Oct. 2, 1S64.”

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