April 4, 1863 (Saturday)
When last we left Union General Grant, he had figured out that directly attacking the Confederate defenses at Vicksburg was an incredibly bad idea. In light of this, he believed that he could get the bulk of his army below Vicksburg by marching them from Milliken’s Point to New Carthage – both on the western side of the Mississippi.
Sent to see if this was even possible was General John McClernand and his XIII Corps. They had started off on March 31 under the watch of General Peter Osterhaus, a Prussian who graduated from the Berlin Military Academy and served in the Prussian Army before emigrating to America. As Osterhaus’ troops (of McClernand’s Corps) picked their way south, they discovered Confederate cavalry in the small town of Richmond, along the road to New Carthage.
The vanguard and the Rebels fought it out before the latter scurried for safer ground. Their presence, however, convinced both Osterhaus and Mcclernand that if the road from Milliken’s Point to New Carthage was to be kept open, Richmond had to be held.
For Vicksburg, Richmond played an important role into getting much-needed supplies into the besieged city. And so reinforcements were called up to hold it and Osterhaus’ own cavalry continued on towards New Carthage. The infantry, however, had to wait for a bridge to be built across Roundway Bayou, near Richmond.
While they waited, the cavalry tussled with the Rebels at a plantation near New Carthage. They returned to Richmond, where General Osterhau made his headquarters, and reported the road to their destination was blocked. Determined not to be held up by a few Rebels, Osterhaus, on the morning of this date, went with several regiments of cavalry and a few of infantry across the new bridge which had just been finished the day before.
The Federal troops observed stark contrasts between the plantations barely touched by war, and those bearing the brunt of it. As they march south, the white people, their lives tied to the institution of slavery, were beaten. Some had burned their plantations rather than have them fall into Union hands. The escaped slaves, however, were excited and jubilant to see the Yankee soldiers, greeting them with tears in their eyes.
When they reached the plantation in question, the Rebels wisely retreated to another plantation two miles north of New Carthage. But, due to flooding, the road had been completely submerged. Curious as to where the Rebel camp was, Osterhaus and some cavalry continued on, bypassing the flooded road and plantation. After pushing forward six or so miles, he discovered what he was looking for atop a hill on the Perkins Plantation, along the Mississippi River.
Taking in the situation, Osterhaus saw plenty of water separating them from him. There may be various Rebel scouting parties here or there, but any sizable Confederate force was no threat at all to him. The scouting parties, however, were more than enough to keep the lead flying through the air. As both Osterhaus and McClernand looked for dry routes into New Carthage, it seemed like enemy pickets were everywhere.
McClernand noted that there was more than enough dry land around New Carthage to camp an entire army. Getting the men there, however, was no easy task. McClernand sent a message to Grant asking for a transport and a gunboat. In the meantime, Osterhaus wanted to secure a foothold at New Carthage, but the Rebels had absconded with all the boats.
Just then, five escaped slaves entered Union lines. They reported a craft eight miles before New Carthage which had been hidden by the Rebels, who also guarded it. Finding them more than willing to retrieve it, General Osterhaus sent them and twenty of his cavalry the following day (that is, 150 years ago tomorrow).
The Federals, led by the escaped slaves, captured the boat, but were cornered by a mess of Rebels across a bayou from them. Somehow or another, they were able to dislodge themselves and the boat, making it back to New Carthage without injury.
And so the expedition to secure New Carthage for the Federals was going fairly well. Before long, thought McClernand, the small town would be the base of operations for Grant’s entire Army of the Tennessee. 1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 24, Part 1, p490-492; Part 3, p170-171; Vicksburg by Michael B. Ballard. [↩]