On the occupation of Vicksburg by the Seventeenth Corps, the remaining Corps of the army, viz: the Ninth, Thirteenth, Fifteenth, and the First Division of the Sixteenth, moved toward the Big Black to engage Johnston, who at once retreated to Jackson, closely pursued by our forces, under command of Major General Sherman. The First Division of the Sixteenth Corps was temporarily attached to the Ninth Corps, which moved on the extreme left of the army, the Fifteenth Corps occupied the centre, and the Thirteenth Corps the extreme right. Some skirmishing occurred at the crossing of the Big Black, in which our Division suffered a slight loss, the wounded being sent back to Snyder's Bluff. The pursuit continued without any engagement till Johnston had retired within his strong defenses around Jackson. These had been constructed during the progress of the (p91) Siege of Vicksburg, and were very formidable, far more so than those of Vicksburg itself, with this difference, that the natural position of the latter place rendered it almost impregnable, while Jackson was without these advantages. Hence the fortifications of the enemy had been made very strong, and extended in a semi-circle of several miles around the city on the west, from Pearl River above to that stream below. General Sherman arrived in front of the place on the 11th of July, and made disposition of his troops for the siege.
Our lines being formed, the batteries opened fire upon the enemy on the 12th, eliciting a brisk reply. Lively skirmishing continued along the lines, and Brigadier General Lauman, commanding a Division of the Thirteenth Corps, made a rash assault on the right, meeting a severe repulse, and suffering a heavy loss. For this unauthorized act he was immediately relieved, and subsequently placed under arrest, by order of General Grant. The fighting continued for four days, during the first three of which the Regiment was under fire, behind works most of the time, suffering a loss of ten men, wounded, on the 14th. Most of these were slightly wounded. The three following were admitted to hospital, Davis Catlin, Company G, Sergeant James A. McDowell and James Hays, (p92) Company K. On the 15th the fighting was unusually severe, our Division suffering heavily. The Regiment was this day in reserve. Our loss did not exceed a thousand in killed and wounded in the operations before the city.
Johnston evacuated his position on the night of the 15th, retreating toward Meridian. Had he remained another day a severe battle would have been fought, as a force was ready to cross the river and cut off his retreat, while a strong demonstration was to be made upon his front. No effort at pursuit was made. Our forces occupied the city on the 16th of July, and held possession till the 23rd. The place had suffered severely during the presence of our army in May, and the ruthless hand of war now added to the scene of desolation. The business portion of the town and many of the suburban residences had been destroyed by fire, while others were despoiled of their magnificence. The furniture which adorned the costly mansions was scattered through our camps, where it was left on our return to Vicksburg. Parlor carpets were removed to give an air of comfort to the tents, and the massive mirrors, that could not be removed, were shivered into ten thousand fragments. All this was unauthorized, but almost unavoidable in a large army. Not only in the city, but throughout the surrounding country, the scene of desolation prevailed. The wealth of this lovely Capital (p93) and the fertile region in which it nestled, as a bright gem, was made the sport of the flames, or appropriated by the army. Forage, in great abundance, was collected, and the soldiers feasted on all the delicacies which the rebel citizens had laid by for future use. All kinds of preserved fruits and dainty stores from the well-filled larder, and products from the barn-yard and garden were pouring into camp, from all directions. For a distance of fifteen miles, on every side, the country was scoured by persevering foragers, and all available supplies for the army were gathered in. This was necessary to subsist the troops and to impoverish the enemy; and was but the introduction of a system which Sherman's army subsequently carried into full operation in Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. Had this system been sooner introduced the end of our trials might have been attained at an earlier day. The soldiers pause3d not to inquire concerning right of property, when long and dangerous service for the salvation of their country secured to them the opportunity of enjoying a full meal, such as they had never failed to receive in the bountiful homes they had left, to engage in the work of suppressing rebellion and punishing treason. Where they succeeded in the former, by driving the armed rebels into the interior, and opening the garnered treasures of a cultivated region to their control, they summarily (p95) entered upon the work of penal infliction, and punished rebellion in the most effectual manner, by consuming the supplies which gave strength to an armed foe. It would have been useless to reason with these men on the injustice and cruelty of such a course, for their quick discernment saw the intimate connection between treason and its punishment. If they were the defenders of the nation's life, they claimed the privilege of striking at the stomach of the rebellion, when they could no longer reach its heart. In cutting the communication between the producer and the armed traitor they were rendering a no less efficient service than when striking at the life of their foes. For this object they fought in the presence of the enemy, and foraged and destroyed his property when they could no longer reach him. It is true that the practice of indiscriminate foraging was calculated to inculcate habits of selfishness and thieving for personal advantage, but the same objection may be made against war in all its features. It fosters a spirit of avarice in the people, and thousands have accumulated wealth at home through the use of means far less honorable, because wholly unnecessary to the safety of the nation, than that of indiscriminate foraging. We would much prefer to forage from the enemy of our country, for our own advantage, than to wring from the brave soldiers who return to their homes, or from their (p95) wives and children in their absence, the scanty pittance they received from the Government for breasting the dark torrent of treason. And those who have condemned, in loudest terms, the system of foraging and destruction in an enemy's land, are doubtless the very men that would rob the wife and children of the soldier, who have sent the husband and father forth to protect these worse than traitors against similar destruction. The man who can practice extortion upon his best friends would make an efficient "bummer" on an enemy's soil, and enjoy the profits with great quietness of conscience, if, indeed, he should be possessed of such a feature of humanity, which may reasonably be doubted. The man who can buy at discount the orders of his country for relief of soldiers families, and sell them at par, or draw the cash upon them, would not scruple to fill his coffers with the avails of indiscriminate foraging from a public enemy. Yet this very class, who would rob their country's defenders, after accumulating vast wealth in consequence of the inflated prices occasioned by the war, can now make a public subscription of more than $60,000 for the perjured and baffled traitor, General Lee. On consistency! what a jewel thou art! The morality of those who denounce war against treason is of a most remarkable character. While throwing to the breeze the emblem of sorrow over the grave of our martyred (p96) Chief, they cast opprobium upon the punishment of the foul crime of treason, and pay an exorbitant premium for the exhibition of great skill and perseverance in the prosecution of rebellion against the authority of him whose death they profess to lament. Reversing the motto of freedom, they cry, "Not a cent for defense against our common foe, but thousands for tribute to his admirable genius." For the toil-worn or wounded soldier of the Union they have no words of sympathy or free-will offering, but for treason they have a crown of gold and noble praise.
The First Division was transferred to the Fifteenth Corps, July 22nd, 1863, in which it became the Fourth Division. This Corps consisted of the following Divisions, viz: First, Brigadier General Joseph P. Osterhaus; Second, Brigadier General Morgan L. Smith; Third, Brigadier General John L. Smith; Fourth, Brigadier General William S. Smith. The army commenced the return march, July 19th, the Ninth Corps returning to Mill Dale, the Thirteenth to Vicksburg, and the Fifteenth to the Big Black, at Messenger's Ferry, where it was stationed as a corps of observation for the months of August and September. The season was far advanced, and the heat at mid-day was intense, to avoid which the troops moved at an early hour. The Fifteenth Corps left Jackson July 23rd, evacuating the city to the enemy, who soon re-occupied (p97) the place. The rebel cavalry had been hovering near during our occupation of the city, and picked up our foragers as they had opportunity, and on our withdrawal from Jackson they continued close upon our rear. Our first day's march of ten miles was easily accomplished during the forenoon, and a refreshing rest afforded in the evening. But the toils of the following day will never be forgotten by those who shared in them. In the midst of clouds of dust which were impenetrable, and without water, of which the country was almost destitute at that season, through that long summer day the army continued its march till near nightfall, having traveled twenty-three miles. The regiments came into camp and stacked arms with less than one fourth of their number present, the rest having given out on the way, some of whom were almost helpless from fatigue and illness. The ambulance train and empty wagons were crowded to their utmost capacity, and thousands were still left behind, who continued to pour into camp during the evening. Some remained in the rear till morning, while a number fell into the enemy's hands. The enfeebled were brought up by ambulances sent back for that purpose. What rendered this day memorable to some is the fatigue to which they were subjected in bearing the wounded, on litters, nearly the whole of this distance. Those suffering from amputated limbs, who could not be (p98) conveyed in ambulances, were thus removed in comparative comfort to themselves, but it was an arduous duty for the detail that bore them. The scene at hospital each night, when the wounded and sick were strewed over the ground in the shady grove, after the long and laborious ride in ambulances and wagons, was a striking one. The number of patients continually increased, in consequence of the miserable character of the water we were obliged to use, and the fatigue of the march. The prevalence of fevers and diarrhea that followed was great, and many who went out from the vicinity of Vicksburg in accustomed health, returned to die of these diseases. On the 25th the troops marched to the Big Black, and were ordered into camp, the Fourth Division being assigned a position on a bluff overlooking the low-lands along the river, at Messenger's Ferry eighteen miles northwest of Vicksburg. The camp and garrison equipage was ordered up from Snyder's Bluff, and arrived on the 27th of July.
During the absence of the troops from camp the sick and convalescents had remained at Snyder's Bluff, to which point all those unfit for duty were sent back on advancing from Oak Ridge, with the wounded from the skirmish on the Big Black. The record of this part of the period spent in the rear of Vicksburg is akin to that of the preceding winter at Grand Junction. The place, and all its (p99) associations, will not fail to recall sad memories in the minds of the troops quartered there in June, but more especially of those who were so unfortunate as to be detained there by wounds or disease during the month of July. No description can depict the character of this region of death, which seemed to be infected with a poisonous influence from the sluggish and turbid Yazoo. A miasmatic atmosphere, exceeding all we had ever witnessed before, not only tended to produce disease but to depress the spirits. A more unfavorable place for a hospital could scarcely be found than that selected upon the bare hill-side near the river, where the sick and wounded of our Division were collected. Many of the number died, and of those who survived comparatively few were soon restored to duty. It is painful to dwell on scenes of suffering and death. But a record of the soldier's life and trials would be imperfect without a picture of the hospital and the grave, to which many of our comrades have been born, noble sacrifices upon the alter of their country. The recollection of such scenes will never be effaced from the memory of one who has seen and deplored the inevitable fate to which so many have been brought.
The courage which sustains the soldier on the field of strife is all needed to preserve a cheerful flow of spirits in the confinement of weary months of pain, and a man who is brave in the face of (p100) danger may be distinguished by his power of endurance in suffering. To lose courage in the sick ward is to lessen the promise of recovery, and nothing is more depressing to the patient than home-sickness, while cheerfulness and fortitude have proved the salvation of many a poor sufferer. No human resolution can conquer disease, unaided, but a contented mind is always favorable to the exercise of the healing art. The influence of kindness and love cannot be overestimated, and those who have well fulfilled the mission of faithful attendants upon the sick and wounded in our hospitals have won for themselves the gratitude of hearts strengthened to resist and overcome all the infirmities of a sick-bed.
The following list comprises the names of all who
died during the interval between our arrival at this point and our return
to the Big Black:
June 19th -- Alfred H. Ballard, Company E.
July 11th -- Trevis H. Brown, Company I.
July 12th -- Isaac Hendershott, Company F.
July 15th -- Simon Lloyd, Company I.
July 16th -- John W. Bunnell, Company D.
July 18th -- Reuben Marshall, Company E.
The first of these men died during the second week of our stay at this place, and was buried amid the roar of a fearful cannonading at Vicksburg, rendering the scene deeply impressive to us, who had so frequently laid our dead to rest in the quiet of our camps in Tennessee. John W. Bunnell was accidentally killed at Jackson, by falling from a hay-loft, where he was sleeping on the night of the evacuation. The remaining four died during the absence of the Regiment at Jackson. They were with difficulty buried. In the absence of able-bodied men to dig the graves, a few convalescents and negroes were obtained, and the sacred dust laid to rest. Tevis H. Brown was a good man and feared not to died, though far from his dear family, in an enemy's land. The memory of his dying injunctions to his pious wife and daughters will ever be cherished by them as a precious legacy. (p102)