This letter was published in the Indianapolis Daily Journal on January 29, 1863 on page 1 columns 6 & 7. The spelling and punctuation of the letter are unchaged from the original publication.
The Battle at Vicksburg, as Seen by a Hoosier.
News from the Indiana regiments which took part in the great battle at Chickasaw Bayou, near Vicksburg, reaches us slowly. – To-day we publish a letter from Thomas F. Purnell, Quartermaster of the 54th, which gives a more accurate account than any we have yet seen:
Warren Co., Miss., 8 miles from
Vicksburg, Dec. 31.
Alfred Harrison, Esq.:
DEAR SIR- On the 24th Dec. we landed on the spot where I am now writing, 15 miles from the Mississippi river, on the banks of the Yazoo, at the mouth of the Chickasaw Bayou, having withdrawn thus far since the battle. The land is high and level; were are in an old field, surrounded by heavy timber. Morgan’s Division was the first to land, and the 54th Indiana was the first regiment on the shore. One company was immediately thrown out as skirmishers while the rest of the Brigades landed.
On the 21st we commenced moving through the timber, and came upon a large plantation in a high state of cultivation, with splendid improvements. The residence, two rows of white cabins, cotton house, barn, corn crib and other buildings gave it the appearance of a new Yankeee village. Part of the buildings were in flames, showing the result of a hasty flight by the proprietor and his family. Not a living thing was to be seen.
We moved cautiously down the banks of the Bayou, on one side the broad-spreading plantations, on the other heavy timber, with thick undergrowth. We halted on a high bank to await orders, when suddenly the enemy appeared in the woods opposite, firing one volley of musketry, then as suddenly disappearing. One man was shot-Wm. Long, a private, from Montgomery county, Indiana. In his breast pocket he had the miniatures of his wife and child, which will be safely returned to them. We buried him next morning, near the place where he fell, and marked the spot, so that his remains may be found when the opportunity presents itself for their removal.
We drove the enemy from one position to another until we occupied a low bottom, heavily timbered-the enemy occupying the hill side before us, inside of rifle-pits and fortifications, which they had constructed with great skill. The 54th , up to this time, being in the advance, had suffered severely.
On Saturday night we fortified and the morning found us in our intrenchments. On Sunday afternoon Gen. Morgan ordered DeCourcey’s (Ky.) brigade to advance and take the enemy’s intrenchments by a bayonet charge. Like a true soldier he obeyed, and at the word “advance fifty paces,” all moved forward with a firm even step. The movement was made in splendid style-not a man halted or wavered-the order was again given, “advance fifty paces and halt.” The whole line moved at once as before. The last order was given “advance to the enemy and take their works,” with a loud huzzah they all started forward amid the thunder of the enemy’s guns, while shell, canister and bullets fell upon us like hail. The enemy then appeared in force before our staggering column. How so many escaped is a miracle.-The havoc was terrible. The 54th went in with 725 men and could barely muster next moning 269. Other regiments suffered equally with ours. Four regiments, the 22d Kentucky, 16th and 42d Ohio, and the 54th Indiana, were terribly cut up; but braver men never entered the field of battle.
All except the 54th regiment had followed General Morgan in his Kentucky campaign to Cumberland Gap, but, rest assured, the 54th did not disgrace our noble State. Great praise was awarded by these old regiments to our new troops and young officers, calling us the brave 54th. Two of our Captains were thrown a considerable distance by the explosion of shells, escaping with slight bruises, and are yet with their companions. Col. Mansfield led the advance through a shower of bullets, and yet escaped without a scratch.
Since the battle our wounded have been coming in, and many whom we supposed killed were only stunned by the bursting of shells. We have not up to this time been able to get to the field to bury our dead, or take care of our wounded. Whenever we have sent a flag of truce, they have fired upon us until today, and now negotiations are being made between messengers, but as yet without any decisive answer. Such treatment needs no comment. The only prisoner taken from the 54th was young Hayden, our Adjutant. He was heavily clothed, and some of our men in the retreat saw him in the hands of the enemy. Like all the rest, he was brave to the last.
We still have a large army which has not been in the engagement, and trust yet to succeed, but by a different mode of attack.
Yours, Thomas F. Purnell
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