W. L. TRUMAN
CHAPTER 13 – Action at the Big Black
After dark all of the army passed over Big Black river, except the 1st Mo. Brig. and one or two others. Cockrell’s 1st Mo. Brig. occupied the trench, on the right of the RR bridge. Vaughn’s Miss. Brig., held the center, some of his troops being on both sides of the RR and Gen Green with part of his Brig. was on the left extending to the river. The bridge was nearer the river on the left of our line. My battery, Wade’s now commanded by Lieut Walsh, a talented, brave, competent officer, who had been in command since Capt. Wade’s promotion to Col. of Artillery, was the only battery on the right of the bridge. I cannot say as to the left of the bridge, but likely there was one battery on that side.
Sunday, may 17th, 1863. There was a heavy fog this morning, which passed off about two hours after sunrise. The enemy advanced his skirmish line on the RR soon after daylight, as there were brier and bushes and timber at that point, right up to our line of battle, or trench occupied by our line. The skirmishing increased and became quite lively at the RR.
My battery and Cockrell’s brigade which was always called our brigade and the 1st Mo. Battery always called Wade’s 1st Mo. Battery. Their battery were sitting down laughing and talking and at the same time keeping a sharp lookout for the enemy’s skirmish line, in our front which we expected would run up on our skirmish line, before a great while. But while listening to the heavy skirmish at the RR., and wondering what it would amount to, a volly was fired from our works right at the RR bridge, and then our line at that point gave way, and fled. We had no reserve force at hand, to rush forward a reestablish our line, and in less than two minutes, the enemy rushed through the gap and commenced firing down our line right and left.
Cockrell’s Brig. were blue with rage, at such cowardice and it left us battery boys in a bad fix, as our horses were across the river a half mile in the rear, and no chance of getting our battery out of this scrape. Sarjent Lawrence Murphy of my gun, as soon as he saw the line break, made a run for the horses, so as to get our guns away, but he could not make it in time. Gen. Cockrell ordered his skirmish line in. There was no enemy in our front and not a man in the 1st Mo. Brig. had seen a Yank in their front or fired a shot, neither had our battery seen anything to fire at, when the skirmish line had all gotten in.
Gen. Cockrell ordered his brigade out of the trench; the brigade stood in line facing the rear, he then ordered his right to left obleke march. The whole brigade moved in a perfect line, and paid no attention seemingly, to the minie balls flying down the line. Capt. Walsh ordered us to spike our guns, which we did. It was easily done, as we had several small hand-saws files in the limber of each piece, for such emergancy as that, and all we had to do, was drive the small round end into the vent, and break it off and then the gun was useless until sent to the shop and drilled out. We battery boys certainly hated to walk off and leave our guns. We would not have felt so bad, if we could have taken our guns like the Infantry boys, but to march along empty handed, men without a job, made us feel mean, but all of our brigade boys knew how it felt, as they were eye witnesses to the affair, and they knew that their battery would stand by their guns, as long as the brave old Mo. Brig. stood by them.
Vaughn’s Brig. had gotten one hundred yards from the works before Cockrell’s Brig. made a start, some few men started on the RR bridge, but did not get far, before they were all shot down, not one escaped. Most of the others that did try to get away, did so. Green’s Brig I think were cut off from the crossing, where Cockrell’s men crossed. The steam boat pontoon, which was the only crossing, and those that did not swim Black river were captured. Col. Elijah Gates, the brave old hero that he is was captured with part of his men, but he made his escape that night, and joined the river and came into Vicksburg.
After Gen. Cockrell marched his brigade one hundred yards or more in perfect order, he ordered them to double quick to the crossing, and his line on the right were coming at a left obleke, before they got to the river all order was lost, but after taking a rest on the other side of the river, everything was gotten in order again, and the old 1st Mo. Brig. took up its march towards Vicksburg. We battery boys followed along, empty handed, but we felt sure we would find work in the city.
Capt. Landis’ Mo. Battery was in position across the river near the RR bridge, and opened fire on the enemy at the break near the bridge, and held them back until all that made for the crossing were over. After I crossed I rested near Capt. Landis’ Battery, while he was firing, and witnessed the burning of the boat. I did not see a single man killed or wounded in Cockrell’s Brig., on that sunday morning. Our four guns were all that were lost, on the right of the bridge. No one can properly call the Big Black river bridge affair a battle, it was nothing more than a skirmish, by a few regiments, at most, at a point, where they could get within a few yards of our line unseen, but the pressure by the enemy at that point, was certainly an unexpected success. The break of one company, or at most one regement, anywhere on the line, would have caused the whole line to fall back, as there were no reserve. One brigade should have been in reserve to meet such a contingency as that.
I would say that the enemy captured about eight cannons and several hundred prisoners at Black river RR bridge, without a fight. The cannons being abandoned, for the want of horses to take them away. The loss of the enemy, I would judge from the amount of firing to be about twenty killed and wounded, about the same on our side. I think Green’s Brig. were like Cockrell’s, never had a chance to fire a gun, and perhaps the largest part of Vaughn’s Brig. were in the same fix. I am sure that part of Vaughn’s Brig. joined Cockrell’s 1st Mo. Brig. on the left, had no enemy in their immediate front when the break occured at the RR bridge.