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The 46th Mississippi Infantry Regiment:  A Regimental History

A Lauderdale County Web Exclusive
by Bill White

46th Regiment, Mississippi Infantry

Part II:  Vicksburg


Vicksburg

On 30 January 1863, Colonel Claudius W. Sears arrived to complete the new Regiment’s complement of officers.  Although, even here too there was controversy among the officers who quickly partitioned for COL Sears removal; he was able to retain command and became a trusted leader. William H. Clark was Sears’ Lieutenant Colonel and William K. Easterling, his Major.  Reviewing the configuration of the regiment, the companies at the time of the regimental commissioning were the following:

  • Company A - The Gaines Invincibles of Wayne County.

  • Company B - The Covington Rebels of Covington County.

  • Company C - The Yazoo Pickets of Yazoo County.

  • Company D - The Rankin Farmers from Rankin County.

  • Company E - The Jeff Davis Rebels of Yazoo and Warren Counties.

  • Company F - The Lauderdale Rifles of Lauderdale County.

  • Company G - The Singleton Guards of Smith County.

  • Company H - The Raleigh Farmers of Smith County.

  • Company J - The Southern Rights of Newton County.

  • Company K - The Kemper Guards (also know as the Mississippi Rangers) of Kemper County.



    MG S. D. Lee
    Brigade Commander

On 6 November 1862 Brigadier General Samuel Dill Lee was assigned command of the Brigade.  On 4 December he was promoted to Major General and Chambers commented in his diary that he (BG S. D. Lee) had made a very favorable impression on the men.  As the 6th Battalion, Mississippi Infantry, the newly formed group had been a part of the command of Gen. M. L. Smith, commanding at Vicksburg.  After the arrival of MG S. D. Lee it formed part of his brigade.

MG Lee’s command consisted of the 4th Mississippi Regiment, the 46th Mississippi Regiment, the 17th Louisiana Regiment, the 26th Louisiana Regiment, the 27th Louisiana Regiment, the 28th Louisiana Regiment, the 31st Louisiana Regiment, as well as Drew’s Battery and Bowman’s Battery Light Artillery.  However, by the end of December, the brigade would have been augmented by three additional infantry regiments, two cavalry companies and a third artillery battery.

On or about 12 December 1862 Companies C and E of the 46th Regiment were detached and ordered to Chickasaw Bayou.  Perhaps the command had developed intelligence that suggested that Union forces were about to attempt to sweep north of the city and mount an assault on the fortifications rear.   The two detached companies having had two weeks to prepare began to engage the enemy’s pickets (first wave of skirmishers, feeling out the defenses to determine the placement of enemy fortifications or personnel) on Christmas Day and on into 26 December 1862.

On 27 December 1862 the Regiment was ordered to the scene of battle at Chickasaw Bayou, several miles north of the city.  The Ordinance Sergeant was on leave and Chambers was assigned this duty.  He was not able to rejoin the regiment until 29 December 1862 at which time he learned that CPT Paul Hamilton, BG S. D. Lee’s assistant adjutant general, had been killed.

As it turned out the losses were not nearly as devastating as Chambers had been lead to believe and he was pleased to join the unit which remained for the most part intact and participate in the fight.  The 46th Mississippi Regiment was commended by General Pemberton as one of the commands entitled to the highest distinction in the defeat of Sherman by Gen. S. D. Lee's command at Chickasaw Bayou.  The two companies dispatched earlier were assigned to the command of CPT. J. B. Hart, of E Company, and, working as a single unit, were near the positions of the 17th Louisiana and Wofford's howitzer, in the fight at Lake’s Plantation.  BG Lee reported that, on 28 December, at Blake's levee, the enemy advance had been stopped by Colonel Withers, with the Forty-sixth Regiment and Johnston's section of artillery. The 46th Mississippi had a total of nine companies in the fight, under MAJ Easterling.  The casualties were only 1 wounded on the day.  At the Confederate fortifications along the levee COL Withers said that Union troops were held all day, unable to advance, through the efforts of the Forty-sixth Mississippi, Lieutenant Johnston's section and Bowman's Battery.



LTG John C. Pemberton

According to Chambers, on 21 February 1863 COL William Edwin Baldwin was promoted to Brigadier General and assigned command of the brigade.  Baldwin was the former commander of the 14th Mississippi Regiment and had been captured at Fort Donelson in February of 1962.  His actual date of rank was 19 September 1862.

On 25 March the regiment was ordered to the lower Deer Creek area, in Issaquena County, Mississippi.  The regiment undertook a fairly long march arriving at the banks of the Yazoo River where they embarked on a steamer called the “Dew Drop.”  After moving as far upstream as practical they debarked and proceeded on foot to the Paxton Plantation about 6 miles distant.  After another brief but difficult marine transport the unit arrived at their destination, a point about a mile from Deer Creek.  Already on site were the 3rd Louisiana Regiment, 26th Louisiana Regiment and the 1st Mississippi Infantry Battalion.  The enemy had been sighted 10 miles distant but was withdrawing and the units would not engage.  The next morning, Saturday, 28 March 1863 the expedition began its return to Vicksburg which turned out to be quite protracted because of the volume of troops to be moved down the waterway and the scarcity of useful vessels.  COL Sears was directed to report to BG Hebert and upon his return he indicated that the 46th would stay put for the moment.  On 1 April a Federal gunboat cruised up the Yazoo River far enough to fire several cannon rounds into the general vicinity of the regiment without causing much damage.

On or about 16 April, the regiment was ordered back to Vicksburg from its position on Hayne’s Landing.  However, Company E was detached and left on Deer Creek as scouts.  They would not rejoin the regiment for 7 months.  It would not be until November 1863, that E Company after having participated in the Battle of Jackson and the campaign leading to the Battle of Chickamauga would again return to the unit.

After dark on the evening of 29 April the regiment with the entire brigade started a march of over 150 miles to Port Gibson and back.  They marched until about 2 am and camped for the night.  By noon of the next day they had reached the Big Black River where the steamer “Charm” ferried the brigade across.  The next morning, about 2:30 am the regiment rested at Big Bayou Pierre, about 8 miles from Port Gibson.  Shortly after continuing their journey later that morning the troops could hear the cannon fire and report of small arms coming from the front.  Of Port Gibson, Chambers says “[It] is one of the wealthiest, as well as one of the most beautiful towns in the state.  It stands on a level plain, the streets are broad and regularly laid out, and some of the buildings are handsome and costly.  But I had no time the observe anything.” After a false start the unit was assigned to a defensive position to the left of the main road, near a small stream and received small arms and artillery fire almost immediately.


Admiral Porter's fleet runs the blockade at Vicksburg.  April 1863

The unit had engaged the leading edge of Grant’s army on the Rodney road.  The 46th Mississippi having been briefly held in reserve was quickly moved forward in support of an artillery battery.  Later they were repositioned for a direct assault on the enemy, however, the order was withdrawn when it became evident that the regiment was already facing a superior force, something on the order of 5 to 1 greater than the defenders and that this was an advance party with strong support to their rear.

Eventually 4 companies of the regiment reinforced the 17th Louisiana, the regiment that was most intensely engaged.  About midnight on 1 May 1863 the brigade began a hasty withdrawal.  The 46th Mississippi provided protective and covering fire for the brigade in retreat.  The regiment for the most part had caught up with the main body of the brigade arriving at their camp in Vicksburg about 4 pm on 4 May 1863.  About midnight the orders were given to open the lines and the regiment’s Company C passed through with Federal cavalry close on their heels.  They had been the rear guard and had been in close contact with the enemy throughout, at one time having been completely surrounded but were nonetheless able to fight through.

The brigade suffered 60 killed and wounded in the action.  After action reports mention favorably CPT. S. D. Harris, the brigade Inspector-General, Lieutenant P. Hamilton, his aide, and CPT. A. B. Watts, who had three horses shot out from under him, and was seriously wounded.

William Pitt Chambers shares an interesting, if tragic story about this engagement.  A soldier named Easterling (Z. A. Easterling not MAJ William K. Easterling) who had been ill was unable to keep up during the quick march (double-time) movement into the city and to their positions beyond, came straggling in exhausted and sat down under a tree to catch his breath.  As the unit came under intense fire from an adjacent hillside, Easterling reached for his weapon which he had propped against the tree.  “…he took his gun by the muzzle to draw it to him.  The hammer struck the tree, the cap exploded and the whole charge struck his right arm literally tearing it to fragments from the wrist to above the elbow.  Never will I forget the horror-stricken face as he cried, ‘Oh! Pitt, I have ruined my arm!’  Seeing his clothes burning I called Crawford who stood near him to extinguish the flame.”  Chambers concludes saying “He was placed on a litter, borne to the rear and I never saw him again.”

Much later on 6 December 1864 Chambers would visit the family of Easterling where he learned that his arm had been amputated.  He had recovered from the amputation and returned home where, a few months earlier, in September, he had cut his knee with an axe.  The wound had become infected and he later died from gangrene which had set into the wound.



The Siege of Vicksburg

After the return of the regiment to Vicksburg from the Port Gibson engagement, the brigade was once again on the move.  They were ordered to Hall’s ferry, where they remained until 15 May, when they moved on to Mount Alban.  The brigade commander, General Baldwin, had been assigned to command the forces on the Big Black River.  On 16 May the 46th Mississippi advanced to Bovina.  That night news came of the disaster at Baker's Creek.

After the fall of Jackson, Grant advanced from that city toward Vicksburg in an effort to insert his force between GEN Pemberton and GEN Johnston preventing the joint action of the two units against the Federal forces.  The Confederate effort to combine forces and move against Grant was blocked at Champion Hill (or Baker’s Creek as it was known to the southerners.)  Confederate losses were huge, including most of the 4th Mississippi Infantry Regiment, a total of nearly 3,900 causalities, including nearly 2,000 captured or unaccounted for.

After this, the brigade was advanced to the Big Black Bridge, a railroad crossing, to cover the crossing of the retreating troops.  By noon on 17 May the Confederate forces were in full retreat moving to sustainable positions back in Vicksburg.

The brigade, again provided the rear guard action during the march to Vicksburg.  The next day, 18 May, found the brigade in position at the outer line of earth works north of the city.  Here they would repulse an assault before being withdrawn to the inner line at a position where the brigade right was fixed near a structure called the Riddle house.

As GEN Grant approached the city from the east, he was convinced that the Confederate forces were so demoralized after their recent losses and hasty withdrawl that they would fall easily before his superior forces.  Twice that day, 19 May 1863 he would throw his troops against the Confederate lines defending the city; twice he would be beaten back with heavy losses.  He would try again a few days later on 22 May 1863 and this assault would also be thwarted.  Realizing at last that he could not take the city by force, he settled for laying siege to the city and he waited.  It would be nearly two months before the city capitulated.

Of the action on the Big Black River, COL Sears was in command of the regiment and was commended for his actions by the brigade commander, GEN Baldwin, who also took notice of the performance of their duties of LTC Easterling and MAJ Clark with an “honorable mention.”

On 1 July 1863 GEN Pemberton would hold a high level conference with his officers to consider the feasibility of breaking the siege by fighting their way out of Vicksburg.  When he was advised that the men were too weakened by lack of food to mount an offensive, he made his decision.

At 3 pm on the afternoon of 3 July 1863 Grant and Pemberton met under a white flag on the battlefield.  Although Grants demand of unconditional surrender was immediately rejected, soon the two generals agreed on terms.  The Confederate forces would be allowed to march out of the city having been paroled and agreed not to engage further in the conflict until they had been exchanged.  On 4 July 1863 the city surrendered.

Of the surrender General Baldwin wrote the following: "My command marched over the trenches and stacked their arms with the greatest reluctance, conscious of their ability to hold the position assigned them for an indefinite period of time. During the whole siege the entire command had exhibited the highest degree of patience, fortitude and courage… The loss in killed and wounded was severe."

The division departed Vicksburg at 4 pm on 11 July 1863 on the Baldwin’s Ferry Road.  The Order of March was as follows: the first to leave was Baldwin's Brigade, followed by Shoup's Brigade, Vaughn's Brigade, and Harris' State troops.  Next would be the division under the command of GEN. Shoup.  GEN Smith would remain at Vicksburg to fulfill the capitulations.

The regimental colors of the 46th Mississippi Infantry Regiment, originally the flag of the Gaines Invincibles, traditionally now the property of the victorious Federal forces as spoils of war, were quietly concealed by CPT Sublett.  He wrapped it around his body under his shirt and smuggled it out of Vicksburg. The paroled men were furloughed for sixty days, to report at Enterprise.

October 24 the Fourth and Forty-sixth and General Pemberton and staff were announced exchanged.

(To see the text of William Pitt Chambers Vicksburg Parole -- Click here.)

 

Proceed to Part III:  Meridian is Destroyed!

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