A letter from Private Schuyler Coe to Mr. and Mrs. Henry Hicker of New York describing action around Vicksburg, Mississippi.
Camp on the Miss. cut off opposite Vicksburg
Thursday, January 29th 1863
Mr. and Mrs. H. Hicker,
Your kind letter rec'd a long time since deserved an earlier reply. I have thought of you often but have been very negligent in my writing.
We have had stirring times in our department these last two months- about the 1st of December we left Memphis with General Sherman's Army and marched to Wyatt on the Tallahatchie River some fifty five miles from Memphis and ten or twelve from Holly Springs. The rebels 30,00 strong evacuated two days before we arrived going southwards towards Grenada & Jackson. Then two divisions of Sherman's army joined Grant's (who was acting in connection with us) and our division returned with Sherman to Memphis. Here we found General's Morgan and A.J. Smith's divisions waiting for us. On the 20th of December we embarked for Vicksburg.
The army consisted of four divisions under Generals W. L. Smith and J.S. Smith. Morgan and Steele the latter joining us at Helena, the whole under the command of General Sherman. We entered the Yazoo River rim up about 10 or 12 miles and landed on Saturday morning December 29th. The division marched by different roads and after some heavy skirmishing with Rebel Scouting parties, took position Saturday night on the bank of the bayou which skirts the base of Walnut Hill in the rear of Vicksburg. The bayou was from 4 to 8 rods wide and very deep, with a levee on the opposite side some 12 feet high making a splendid entrenchment behind which the Rebel Sharpshooters were placed in great numbers. And in the face of the hill behind theme were batteries "too numerous to mention". The ground from the bayou to the Yazoo river was an immense swamp where at high water as we could see by the trees the water rose and covered it. Twelve feet deep, but at the time we were there the river being low the ground was firm enough that we could bear our artillery and wagons. Our line of battle was formed on the bayou. A. J. Smith's division having to right, W. L. Smith next, Morgan next, and Steele on the left. Saturday night after dark our battery was ordered in through the woods to the edge of the bayou to support Genera Dave Stewarts brigade. A sweet time we had getting our position hauling our guns by hand to the edge of the bayou to as not alarm the Rebels pickets and sharpshooters who were about 10 rods from us on the other side. At 4 o'clock in the morning General Stewart (who was drunk as the devil) ordered us to open fire with the whole battery at once firing three rounds from each gun. It was very dark and we had not the remotest idea what the nature of the ground was in front so we fired away at random. A Rebel battery replied to us almost immediately. But, fortunately for us their shots were high. The shells crashed through the trees over our heads and falling among the Infantry in our rear killing two or three of them. We kept firing at intervals until a little after daylight when much to out delight we saw General W. S. Smith riding up to see what we were doing. He rode to the edge of the bayou with Captain Barrett of our battery when he had not been there a minute when he received a musket ball in the thigh and was forced to return to the boats. Leaving our division under command of Brig. General Stuart, the hero of the Chicago Burch divorce case, perhaps you remember?
Sunday and Monday our artillery were pretty steadily employed exchanging with the Rebel batteries. On Sunday Morgan's Division crossed the bayou and drove back the enemy but were obligated to fall back to their original position again. On Monday a reg't from our division (the 6th Mo.) crossed the bayou on a narrow bar of sand but could not get over the levee and returned with a loss of 16 men killed. Tuesday there was no fighting, at night. Our folks threw up on the edge of the bayou and on Wednesday a flag of truce was sent over from us asking permission to send over and get the bodies of the 6th Mo. which lay on the other side and also to bury our dead that were killed in Morgan's charge. No fighting on Wednesday on Thursday morning (New Years) we discovered a new Rebel Battery which they had put up in the night about noon they fired a few shots at us which burst directly over our battery but to high as we did not reply the soon ceased firing. The Reb's had a regular celebration on New Year's night we could hear them singing and cheering. At about 8 o'clock we rec'd orders to pick up our things and be ready to move out in a short time. At 10 o'clock our whole force had left the bayou and by daylight were safe on board the boats. Our retreat to the boats was the most orderly and decidedly best managed thing I ever heard of. And I think reflects almost as much credit on General Sherman as a victory. Everything was saved even to the shovels and picks which were scattered all along the line of our works and all done so quietly that the Rebel pickets on the other side of the bayou never suspected we had left until morning.
Our battery did not have a man hurt even though we fired 240 rounds during the six days we were before Vicksburg. Our whole loss I think was 1,000 to 1,500 in killed, wounded, and missing. The heaviest loss was in Morgan's division. General Sherman in an order read to us after we got on the boats. (after thanking the officers and soldiers for their bravery and patience) The movement on Vicksburg was to been a combined one, we were there on time the others failing to arrive and leaving our force alone was not strong enough to take the place we withdrew in good order. He does not say who the others were but I presume he means Grant and Banks.
So, all things considered I do not feel that there is any disgrace in our being obligated to fall back from Vicksburg for if the "Powers that be" know anything at all of the strength of the place and expected Sherman with 4 divisions probably 28,000 fighting men in all, to tell to take it alone they are greater fools than I believe them to be. But enough of Vicksburg, I have a victory to tell of, one of which is much more pleasurable then talking about a repulse. We left the Yazoo River on the 2nd of Jan and General John A. McClerand met us at the mouth of the river and took command of the expedition. I do not think McClerand half as competent a General as Sherman. However he has command, the four divisions are divided into Corps d' Armee, Sherman has command of one composed of our division and Steele's and Morgan. The other composes of A. J. Smith and his own divisions. When leaving the Yazoo the spirits of the army were at a decidedly low ebb, and it was thought advisable to try and raise them by a victory so an expedition was planned up the Arkansas River. On January 9th we entered the "Ark" and sailing up (by steam) some sixty miles landed on Saturday on the west bank about two miles below Arkansas Post. So called from having formerly been an old U.S. Military Post and the Capital when Ark' was a territory. The town boasts of some half dozen houses mostly old government structures. On the river here the Rebs had constructed a strong fort and in log barracks about it. They had from 7,000 to 8,000 troops quartered. Saturday and Sunday forenoon was spent in getting our troops into position so as to completely surround the fort and grounds behind it where the Rebs had thrown up entrenchments. At 2 o'clock Sunday PM all our artillery (which made a complete line around the rebel entrenchments) and the gunboats opened fire on the poor Rebs and for 30 minutes poured a tempest of iron hail into them. Then the Infantry advanced and in two hours and a half the Rebs run up the white flag. Our battery was first inside their works and we captured a splendid regiment flag of a Texas reg't. The fruits of the victory were 7,000 prisoners 8,000 stands of arms, 20 pieces of artillery and a considerable quantity of Army stores and medicines.
The casements over their guns in the fort which were made of two thickness of squared timbers pleated by RR ties were ripped all to bits by the fire of the gunboats. And their three heavy siege guns were all disabled, two of them were broken right off a couple of feet back from the muzzles. The Rebel troops were mostly Texans and fought bravely. But our numbers together with the gunboats could not but insure us victory. Our folks after removing the artillery and stores destroyed the fort and leveled the fortifications, burned the barricades, and returned to Napoleon on the Mississippi where we had two or three days rest. While we were up the Arkansas another expedition under General Sherman came down the Mississippi from Helena or Memphis and meet up the White River Arkansas, to St. Charles and other points where the Rebels had fortifications but 2 hear they did not accomplish anything as the Rebs evacuated all the points taking everything with them. The Reb General in command of Arkansas Post was named Churchill. Receiving under currents we again steamed down the Mississippi and landed on the west side of the river about five miles above Vicksburg. Marching a mile and a half down from our boats we came to the famous canal. Our forces dug last spring to turn the waters of the Mississippi away from Vicksburg and make it an "inland" city. From the accounts I saw of this canal in Frank Sislies and other papers last summer I formed magnificent ideas of it which I came to see it collapsed instantly. The river opposite Vicksburg makes a short bend and runs back some five miles nearly parallel with its course before it reaches the city making a narrow peninsula. The ditch crosses the peninsula some three miles from its terminus opposite Vicksburg and is only a mile and one third long. When we came here it was a simple ditch about six feet deep and six feet wide and if the Great Father of nature had ever disgraced himself by excepting it for its future bed. As it was when we found it, I should of been tempted to have walked home instead of gratifying him by floating up on his bosom.
Well, our division was ordered to encamp along the canal sitting across the peninsula and our battery is placed in position commanding the ground towards Vicksburg. Steel's divisions are entrenched along the river from the mouth of the ditch down about two miles then Morgan's two divisions have thrown up entrenchments from Steel's right clear across the peninsula. The gunboats protect us along the river bank on the other side so all sides are guarded. I think I will stick in a little plan of our position for you. From where we are Vicksburg is in plain view beautifully situated on the high bluff. They have thrown a few shells at us but cannot quiet back us, they fall about 1/2 mile short our troops are digging away on the canal trying to make it so that our gunboats can pass through and attack the batteries from below. For the gunboats as you may have heard are much more effective in battle when they can lay with their heads up stream. I cannot make up my mind weather the ditch will increase or not, time will show. I hear General Grant and his whole army are coming down here. If so, General Grant will have command. I do not think we shall attack Vicksburg again in sometime if the canal works me may run our transports through our land below the city or the high ground which would give us a much better chance against their batteries.
This is the most miserable place (except the Yazoo swamp) we were ever in, and I have the worse cold I ever had. I have rec'd no letters from you since the one rec'd in November, write me soon. Mother writes me that Edward is a Suffolk doing duty though not very strong. I got a letter from Father last night with PSs from Mother and Amanda. It was dated Jan. 9th a whole sheet from father was not that grand he is in ecstasies over Seymour's speech. He promises to send it to me. I saw a Memphis paper of the 25th today, it says a part of Burnside's forces have crossed the Rapahadock, Rosecrantz did some bully fighting did he not? Now I think the length of this letter should alone in part for my long silence. I have no time to read this over so will leave you to correct the mistakes. Direct to S. P. Coe Taylor's Battery, Cario, Ill. With best love to yourselves and children.
I remain your affect & brother
S. P. Coe
Remember me to Eddy