Memoir Chapter 11

MEMOIRS OF THE CIVIL WAR
W. L. TRUMAN


CHAPTER 11 – Grand Gulf

Our camp is one mile from Grand Gulf (a misnomer as there is no Gulf or anything that resembles a gulf), the Mississippi river makes a bend here and in the bend is the mouth of Black river, around the bend the river makes a straight course for some ten miles south almost to Rodney; it is broad and beautiful and perhaps has a feint resemblance to a gulf.  The little village by that name, was burned in the spring of 1862, by the Federal fleet. It was situated one mile below the mouth of Black river on a piece of level land, some five acres or more, hemmed in on the river bank by a bluff and hills. I would judge the place had contained some fifty houses, built on brick pillows about five feet high, showing that the place was subject to overflow during high water. This was the shipping and receiving point for a scope of country, and for the beautiful town of Port Gibson some five miles inland; a town of culture, fine schools and churches, and brave patriotic women, whose noble patriotic deeds of love and mercy and hospitality to the Missouri soldiers will be told by the survivors to their children and children’s children. Not a few may find their way back to this bright spot, in search of a pardner for life.

There is, or has been a narrow gage RR from the town of Port Gibson to the landing at Grand Gulf. The bluffs back of the village and landing were selected for our batteries, and three siege guns, and four ten pound parrot guns, were placed in position and were soon ready for any emergency. Wade’s battery of the four ten pound parrots, were first put in position, and were ready when Farragut’s flag ship the Hartford and gunboat Albatross came, they had run by our batteries at Port Hudson and were on their way to Vicksburg. We were mounting siege guns, but they were not ready when he came up on Mar. 19th.

My Corporal, Peter Bush an Irish man, who had been a sailor on the Hartford, had many thrilling tales to tell us of the destructive power, of her many guns, her sweeping broadside, and unerring aim of her gunners, until we thought when the Hartfort passed up the river we would fight our last fight, and I can testify, when she hove in sight on the morning of the 19th, Peter Bush had a bad case of “Buckague,” and as he did the sighting on our gun it is not likely that my gun at least did any damage, although some of our shots did execution as the Hartfort landed some two miles above us and buried two men. She then moved up to Vicksburg; it was said (although I cannot vouch for it), that Commodore Farragut, ran by the batteries of Vicksburg also and joined Com. Porter, and after remaining a few days, he ran back by the batteries at Vicksburg at night, and we were notified to look out for him, as he was on his return trip. He passed us going down the next night. We had our three siege guns now ready had built a brick furnace and had quite a number of balls kept heated to a red heat, so as to fire red hot balls from one of the siege guns; several were fired at the Hartfort as she passed down the stream, but none took effect. This was the greatest feat ever knowwn in the history of the world, where a wooden ship run by at close range heavy batteries with perfect impunity time and again, without receiving any material damage. But on this night of Mar. 31st, while firing on the Hartfort, and Albatross, one of our ten pound parrot guns bursted and killed one man Thomas Dugan, a nice intelligent Irishman, and we had several wounded of Wade’s battery. The wounded were sent to Port Gibson, where they received royal attention, and were soon able to report to duty.

We soon mounted two siege guns, about one fourth mile further up the river close to the mouth of the Black river, these two guns were on a bluff, right at the edge of the river and were dangerous things to a passing boat, if well handled. So we now have all told, five seige guns, and Wade’s field battery of but three guns, after one bursted, and part of the 1st Mo. Brig. of Infantry, to fill five miles in less then five and a half hours, and as the last of them were disembarking at Grand Gulf, the enemy hove in sight, threw a few spiteful shells and withdrew.

April 5th, 1863. Gen. Cockrell was ordered yesterday to cross the river into Louisiana with two or three regements of his brigade guard, some crossings on a certain bayou, to prevent the enemy from crossing. He did not finish until today as it was a slow business to cross on flat-boats, with oars. We have no ferry boat. If they should meet a large force of the enemy over there, they stand a chance of being captured.

April 16th. All quiet in camp, and the boys are having a pleasant time especially the officers with the girls. Our Missouri boys have gotten back from their Louisiana raid, all safe; we were uneasy for fear something would happen to them. Heavy firing has been going on during the last few days, between the Yanks fleet and our batteries. In speaking of the Missouri boys over in Louisiana, Col. Bevier in his history of the 1st and 2nd Mo. Brig. says;

      “During the night of April 14th, heavy cannonading was heard at Vicksburg, and on the morning of the 17th Gen Cockrell received information that a fleet of gunboats had passed the Vicksburg batteries and were on their way down to cut off his retreat. At the same time an exhausted courrier from Gen. Bowen dashed up ordering him to retreat with all possible haste. His force was then bivouaced on the beautiful ‘Perkins Place’ near the placid waters of Lake St. Joseph, around which it was necessary to pass. It was a hot and sultry day, the sun beaming down with fierce Southern ardor and the broad level road, deep with sand and dust. It was a race against the gunboats, but the men made it nobly.”

See Note 1Grand Gulf, Apr 18th. The enemy attacked us early and they did their best for more than one hour to silence our guns, came close down to us and were repeatedly struck by our balls. They withdrew without receiving much damage, so far as we could see, but our loss in the death of our beloved Col. Wade, is indeed sad, and all of our Missouri soldiers feel his loss. He was a noted personage, and I believe every Missouri soldier knew him where-ever they saw him. He was very popular with the officers and privates, and was honored for his merit and brave soldierly qualities. About the last shell the enemy fired, bursted right in our midst, a piece struck Col Wade just above his forehead, at the edge of his hair and carried away a piece of his skull, without breaking his brain, but leaving it exposed. He was standing very near me and as he fell, I sprang to his assistance; as I knelt by him and he looked me in the eyes and smiled, he moved his lips several times, and tried so hard to tell me something. His eyes gently and slowly closed and with the smile still on his face, he passed from earth, into the presence of God.

These three or four gunboats anchored above, just out of range of our heavy guns, for more than a week; firing a few shots every day at the negro labors. We have them working on our underground magazines, and they are kept so badly frightened that but little work is accomplished. There is really no danger, as the shells fall short, falling in the river, nevertheless, those poor scared negroes, will turn loose their wheel-barrows full of dirt, and roll down into the ditch together, when they hear that unearthly noise of the big shells, greatly to the amusement of the looker on, I think the enemy is enjoying the performance also. I noticed a negro running down the bluff towards the river today, he was going at a rapid rate, when his neighbor up the river sent the frightening message over his way, and without checking his speed went to the ground on his face, and when he ceased to bound and rebound, layed quiet for some time, then like a flash, he was up and off; I will say that he ran, because he could not fly. At night the negroes were made to camp near the river, under our batteries, in the place where the village once stood, and shelter was made for them. They would build fires and fiddle and dance until a late hour at night, they were in sight of the enemy and they perhaps thought they were infantry encamped there, and the other night two or three boats ran down within close range, before they were discovered and opened fire upon the negroes at the same time, our batteries on the bluff above opened on the boats, and the negroes were caught between two fires, but for a moment, when they charged up the bluff, passed through and over the guns, cannoneers and everything else in the was of their flight and made for the cane-break, like wild beasts of the forest; and they were never gotten back to their work again. The boats were soon driven off, no one was hurt, not even a negro, but we surely had fun in witnessing and telling of the wonderful performances of those negroes and their yells and prayers, as the huge shells would plough the earth around them.

April 29th, 1863. Commodore Porter, made another attempt a few nights ago to pass the Vicksburg batteries and succeeded in passing several gunboats and a few transports with but little loss. This is the second result from Commodore Farragut daring feit, the wonder of the world, in passing powerful batteries with a wooden ship, without damage. Today Com. Porter with about nine gunboats made a combined attack on our battery at Grand Gulf, which lasted from ten o’clock until one o’clock PM, before they drew off up the river with the exception of one gunboat that floated downstream and was landed on the opposite side. The shot that disabled that boat was fired by Corporal Leland’s squad, who had charge of one of Capt. Grason’s seige guns after his gun was disabled that day. Leland and squad belonged to Wade’s battery. Frank Dey pulled the lanyard; Leland remarked, “Now Frank I have a good bead on that porthole of the gunboat, now fire,” At the jerk of the lanyard, the huge shell entered the porthole and exploded. Our infantry in the trenches at the foot of the bluffs, gave a yell at our success. Frank Dey, who fired the gun, was told by W. Harpell of New York City, in 1871, that he was abord and that the ball killed thirteen and wounded many, and disabled the machinery so badly, that the boat had to go with the current. Our loss was several wounded. Lieut. R. Walsh, who was in command of the battery, would always stand with both feet far apart, and on that day one of those large shells passed between his legs below his knees, making the flesh blue on both limbs, without further damage.

Two seige guns at the upper battery, were never damaged or silenced. One gunboat ran up under the two guns so closely, that neither could get their guns to bear on the other, and it was thought the boat would land men and spike the two guns, but the Missouri Infantry, that were some forty yards in the rear of the guns, rushed to the support of our two guns, and poured the minie balls into the port holes and every other opening, so fast that the boat closed all openings and made for the middle of the stream, and up the river without being much damaged. The boats were frequently hit, but their iron armor would save them. After their gunboats ceased firing and went up the river, out of range; they lashed four or five transports to as many gunboats and returned and ran by our guns after dark, and landed on the opposite side some distance below, and soon commenced to load the transports, with troops and land them on the Mississippi shore below the mouth of bayou Pierre.

 


Notes

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