Brig. Gen. Peter J. Osterhaus, commanding Ninth Division, Thirteenth Army Corps
HEADQUARTERS NINTH DIVISION,
Big Black River Railroad Bridge, Mississippi, May 26, 1863.
Peter J. Osterhaus
Peter J. Osterhaus
On May 3, the line of march was taken up again for Willow Springs, and the corps went into camp at the forks of the roads to Jackson, Vicksburg, and Grand Gulf.
On the morning of the 5th, my command was ordered to proceed on the Jackson road. Being in the front, the Second Illinois Cavalry was attached temporarily to it. We had passed Rocky Springs and Big Sandy Creek when my advance was halted by a fire from a rebel picket. I ordered the Second Illinois Cavalry to attack, which they did boldly, Lieutenant Stickel dashing on the enemy, who proved to be in number superior to his company; but his attack was so energetic and quick that the rebels could not find time to form. The lieutenant and his men were among them with drawn sabers and drove them for 5 miles, killing and wounding 12 and taking some 30 prisoners.
This is without doubt one of the most brilliant cavalry engagements of the war, and Lieutenant Stickel deserves the highest praise for skill and bravery shown.
My division encamped on both sides of the Big Sandy Creek, covering all the roads leading to the Big Black River ferries and to the enemy's line in front and flank.
The whole army corps came up during the next few days, and after having had the honor of a review by Generals Grant and McClernand on May 9, we again moved forward on the 10th toward the enemy's lines. The whole Thirteenth Army Corps marched on the Jackson road, and when on Five- Mile Creek was ordered into bivouac, the Forty-ninth and Sixty-ninth Indiana being thrown forward as advance guard beyond Auburn (old) to the fork of the roads to Edwards Station and Raymond. My scouts brought information of the enemy's cavalry appearing near Fourteen-Mile Creek, and we consequently marched for that point on May 12, General Hovey's division leading. This general's approach compelled the rebel force to yield their position to us. They fell back on the Edwards Station road, while our corps received the general's order for the next morning to march toward Raymond, but, if possible, on a road hiding this movement of the corps from the observation of the enemy. Such a road was found and made practicable by the corps of pioneers attached to the army corps. Soon after midnight my division was at Raymond, where I received orders to garrison the place. I took such measures as secured it against any surprise of the enemy. All the other United States forces concentrated here advanced farther on the Jackson road.
I had to remain at the post of Raymond only until 4 a.m., May 15, when the general commanding the army corps ordered my division, except two regiments--the Fifty-fourth Indiana and the One hundred and twentieth Ohio Infantry, which were to be left as garrison--to march toward Bolton Station, on the Jackson and Vicksburg Railroad. At 8 o'clock Captain Campbell, of the Third Illinois Cavalry, captured that place, destroying the bridges on the railroad and on the public roads leading to it, and took some prisoners.
All reports and information obtained here confirmed the fact that large bodies of rebel forces were within a few miles of us and prepared to give us battle. They were formed east of Edwards Station, defending all the roads converging at that important railroad station. In order to take up the position assigned to me in the order of battle by the general commanding the army corps, I left Bolton, marching back on the Raymond road about 3 miles, where I took a road branching off there for Edwards Station, and bivouacked on the same ground which the enemy's cavalry had just left. Cavalry vedettes and patrols thrown forward developed the enemy in immediate vicinity. His pickets fell back, but a large body of mounted infantry appeared soon after and pressed into the line of my infantry pickets. The regiment in reserve, Forty-second Ohio, advanced at once to support these pickets, and after a lively engagement the enemy's forces retired and left us without further annoyance for that evening.
The plan of attack for the
next morning placed me in the center of our line; General Hovey, Twelfth
Division, on my right, on the direct Bolton and Edwards Station road;
General Smith, Tenth Division, on my left, on the Raymond and Edwards
Station road; and General Carr, Fourteenth Division, following me as
reserve on the same road I was marching on.
The casualties on May 1 and the garrisoning of Raymond reduced my division as follows:
With this force of 2,704 men, I entered upon one of the most difficult terrains (grounds) for the passage of troops which can be imagined. A chaos of ravines and narrow hills, sloping very abruptly into sink-hole-like valleys, diverge in all directions. All is covered densely by trees and brush, except the public road, which winds its track in bizarre curves, and follows the hills and valleys, without permitting at any point an open view of more than 50 or 100 yards. This very broken terrain has, on the south side of the road, a general tendency to slope off, being about 1 mile wide. It terminates at a narrow little creek. Passing over this stream, the land becomes smoother again, and opens on large fields, which extend all across from the creek to the road direct from Raymond to Edwards Station, on which General Smith's division was marching. The space between the road occupied by me and the Bolton and Edwards Station road, on my right, on which General Hovey's division was advancing, is, from its described nature, utterly impracticable for any military movements, except in a dispersed and loosely connected line of skirmishers.
From General Hovey's
division I was about 1 mile off, while General Smith's column was at
least 4 miles separated from me to my left and to the rear. His progress
was checked more vehemently than that of General Hovey's and my own.
The Third Illinois Cavalry, commanded by Captain Campbell, led the way carefully, and, supported by the skirmishers of the Seventh Kentucky, we advanced into the timber and against the enemy, who had again selected one of his favorite positions in the brush to give us battle. The ground now became so rough that I had to withdraw the cavalry (Third Illinois), and afterward employed it in finding my connections with General Smith on my left, and in watching the enemy's movements toward that flank of my position. I have derived a great deal of good from the captain's zeal.
The Seventh Kentucky, with the Forty-ninth Indiana Infantry and one section of Lanphere's battery, formed the advance, and, driving the enemy's skirmishers from one ravine to another, they advanced slowly against his main position, about 1 mile beyond the position occupied by the Second Brigade in the field. I found a comparatively good range for the section of artillery, and concluded to place it in battery there, supported by two companies of infantry, and keeping them in readiness for any emergency, the pieces loaded with canister, in order to secure a rallying point in case my advancing infantry had to fall back. The Seventh Kentucky on the right and the Forty-ninth Indiana on the left of the road advanced about 1 mile beyond this section of artillery, when the fire and resistance of the enemy became very fierce. I dispatched immediately the Sixty-ninth Indiana and One hundred and eighteenth Illinois Infantry to deploy on the left of the road to re-enforce these regiments. Gallantly the line so strengthened advanced, forcing several of the enemy's positions by their impetuous charges up and down the hills.
By this time General Hovey was also engaged, and apparently the main forces of the enemy were concentrated against his and my positions. The artillery played heavily on us, but without any injury to the troops, the very broken ground and thick timber exposing them only to very short range of infantry.
We advanced until we came to a clearing again in the timber. Here the road on which General Hovey was advancing runs into the road I was fighting on, and here the enemy made a most desperate attempt to prevent the junction of the divisions. We could see his columns advancing in great numbers, and I considered it prudent to strengthen my line by adding the Forty-second Ohio Infantry to the First Brigade, and the One hundred and fourteenth Ohio Infantry (both of the Second Brigade) to support the artillery (one section) in lieu of two companies of the Forty-ninth Indiana, which I ordered to join their regiment in front.
Fearing the enemy might try to benefit by the open ground on my left flank, described above, and the backward position of General Smith, I made a reconnaissance in that direction, and found large numbers of them (infantry and artillery) massed on a commanding elevation, apparently in expectation of General Smith's attack. Occasionally the enemy threw shell in the direction of their march.
In order to secure my flank, and co-operate with General Smith, I ordered Colonel Lindsey, with the two remaining regiments of his brigade (Sixteenth Ohio and Twenty-second Kentucky Infantry), to take a position in the edge of the timber and open fire against the enemy's position. These two regiments were by no means adequate to repel or resist the numerous force of the enemy, and I therefore applied to Major-General McClernand for re enforcements from General Carr's division, which was in my rear, and on the ground occupied until lately by the Second Brigade. A regiment was ordered to the support of Colonel Lindsey, and this excellent officer deployed his line and attacked the enemy vigorously. Debouching from the timber; he charged the retreating infantry to the very muzzle of the battery covering them.
The promised support was not yet on hand to follow up this attack; therefore the colonel ordered his regiments to fall back into the timber again and await re-enforcements.
I refer to the colonel's report, and take great pleasure to commend the action of that meritorious officer. The direction of the enemy's retreat on that flank was such that he fell (rather unexpectedly to both parties) on the left of the First Brigade, which was advancing and fighting on the main road under General Garrard. Though I had advised this officer of the operations on the left, the information could not be communicated in time to the troops on his left, therefore the appearance of the enemy on their flank stopped for some time the advance of our troops.
General McClernand, who saw the effect of this presumed flank attack, immediately strengthened General Garrard's position by two regiments of General Carr's division. At the same time General Lawler's brigade (also of General Carr's division) was ordered to support Colonel Lindsey. The enemy, becoming convinced of the small force under the colonel, had opened a raking artillery fire on him. A few rounds from General Lawler's artillery were enough to silence his guns and compel him to remove them to safer quarters. Thus strengthened on all sides, the whole line advanced, and after a short but very brisk fire the enemy, already nearly broken by the severe assaults made by my troops, yielded his position.
The main army of the enemy made for Big Black River Railroad Bridge, but a large body of his right wing tried to make good its retreat in another direction. They were perseveringly followed by Colonel Lindsey and General Smith, whose division fell in with Colonel Lindsey's brigade during the pursuit. Thousands of the enemy were found scattered everywhere, and fell into our hands as prisoners of war. In one instance, Colonel Lindsey, with the Sixteenth Ohio and Twenty-second Kentucky Infantry alone, took more prisoners than the whole number of his brigade combined; also a number of cannon and small-arms became ours. We pressed the enemy to Edwards Station, where our army corps bivouacked for the night.
At 4 o'clock next morning (May 17) the line of march was taken up again, General Carr's division leading. Our onward march was not interfered with until the head of the column debouched from a piece of timber land, about 2 miles east of the Big Black River Railroad Bridge. General Carr's division at once deployed on the right of the road, while I executed the order to deploy my division on the left of the road, connecting with General Carr. I ordered Colonel Lindsey (Second Brigade) forward, and he deployed into line as soon as the terrain permitted this maneuver to be executed, while the First Brigade (General Garrard's), deployed by battalion in mass, formed the second line. Ad-vices from the left informed me that large numbers of the enemy were on that flank, and I accordingly had the First Brigade change front to the left, so that it formed an obtuse angle to the line of the Second Brigade. Skirmishers thrown out in front and flank engaged the enemy at once. We advanced over the open ground to within 500 yards of the enemy's works protecting the Big Black River Railroad Bridge. Before attempting a farther advance against the fortifications, which appeared to be very extensive and very strongly garrisoned, I ordered the First (Foster's) Wisconsin Battery forward. My first intention was to plant it at the salient point formed by the lines of the Second and First Brigades, but a closer survey of the grounds and the enemy's works caused me to bring this heavy battery to the right of the Second Brigade, and near the railroad, where it had a direct fire on the strongest part of the enemy's works, and on that point where the greatest masses of the enemy appeared to concentrate.
My movements must have attracted the attention of the enemy. He opened a heavy fire on us before we had the pieces in battery, and while I was directing Captain Foster where to plant his first piece, the first shell exploded in our midst, disabling Captain Foster and myself and exploding the limber-box of the piece. I was now able to remain on the field but a short time, during which the gallant men of Foster succeeded in bringing their pieces in position, while the enemy played on them most terribly. I was compelled to yield the command of the Ninth Division to General A. L. Lee, and it is to his report I refer for the part taken by the command in the storming and taking of the Big Black River fortifications, with all their cannon, ammunition, and several thousand prisoners.
[portions after May 12, 1863 are not included by the editors]
I annex some sketches prepared by the topographical engineer, F. Tunica, attached to the Ninth Division: No. 1, showing the whole route made by command since leaving Carthage, La., to our position in the rear of Vicksburg, Miss;(*) No. 2, topography of the battle-field of Big Black River Bridge, May 17.(+)
I hope to be able to procure also topographical sketches of the battlefield of Champion's Hill and the scene of the operations of the Ninth Division in the rear of Vicksburg, Miss.
Submitting all this to you,
I am, colonel, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
P. J. OSTERHAUS
Lieut. Col. WALTER B. SCATES, A. A. G., Thirteenth Army Corps.
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