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Milliken's Bend

A Civil War Battle in History and Memory

Linda Barnickel

Publication Year: 2013

At Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana, a Union force composed predominantly of former slaves met their Confederate adversaries in one of the bloodiest small engagements of the war. This important fight received some attention in the North and South but soon drifted into obscurity. In Milliken’s Bend, Linda Barnickel uncovers the story of this long-forgotten and highly controversial battle. The fighting at Milliken’s Bend occurred in June 1863, about fifteen miles north of Vicksburg on the west bank of the Mississippi River, where a brigade of Texas Confederates attacked a Federal outpost. Most of the Union defenders had been slaves less than two months before. The new African American recruits fought well, despite their minimal training, and Milliken’s Bend helped prove to a skeptical northern public that black men were indeed fit for combat duty. Soon after the battle, accusations swirled that Confederates had executed some prisoners taken from the “Colored Troops.” The charges eventually led to a congressional investigation and contributed to the suspension of prisoner exchanges between the North and South. Barnickel’s compelling and comprehensive account of the battle illuminates not only the immense complexity of the events that transpired in northeastern Louisiana during the Vicksburg Campaign but also the implications of Milliken’s Bend upon the war as a whole. The battle contributed to southerner’s increasing fears of slave insurrection and heightened their anxieties about emancipation. In the North, it helped foster a commitment to allow free blacks and former slaves to take part in the war to end slavery. And for African Americans, both free and enslaved, Milliken’s Bend symbolized their never-ending struggle for freedom.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Awards, Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication, Quotes

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations, Maps, and Tables

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xvi

“The only certainty is overwhelming ambiguity,” writes Tim O’Brien in his Vietnam War classic, The Things They Carried. He could have been writing about Milliken’s Bend.
My journey began with misinformation. “Taken prisoner and murdered by the rebels, July, 1862.” So read the entry next to “Corodon” [Corydon] Heath’s name on the “Shober broadside,” a copy of which was sent to me in late 1991


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pp. xvii-xxiv

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1. “The Dark Pall of Barbarism”: Emancipation as War Crime

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pp. 1-11

With us it is a question of self-preservation. Our lives, our property, the safety of our homes and our hearthstones, all that men hold dear on earth, is involved in the issue.”1
Perhaps no voice summed up the Southern psyche better than that of Stephen Hale, secession commissioner from the state of Alabama to Kentucky. In late December 1860, he laid out the stakes for Gov. Beriah Magoffin...

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2. “Eternal Vigilance”: The Insurrectionary Menace and Vigilante Response

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pp. 12-25

The belief in nearly omnipresent insurrectionary plots instigated by “outside agitators,” coupled with the blazing rhetoric of secessionist fire-eaters, led to predictable and understandable fear in the hearts and minds of white Southern planters. The rhetoric that reached its zenith in 1859, 1860, and 1861 may have been extreme, but it was nothing new. Any detailed examination of events during the summer of 1863 in northeastern Louisiana...

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3. “All Is Uncertain”: Civilians in Louisiana and Mississippi

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pp. 26-47

Despite the fears and rumors, when no large-scale multistate insurrection plot materialized in the wake of John Brown’s raid, a sense of normalcy began to return. Planters on both sides of the Mississippi River continued to grow their wealth. Landholdings in the four Louisiana parishes running along the Mississippi River from the Arkansas border to the arch of the “boot” of Louisiana (Carroll, Madison, Tensas, and Concordia) were valued...

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4. “The Triumph of a Noble Purpose”: Emancipation Comes to Northeast Louisiana

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pp. 48-82

In the spring of 1863, as the Union Army of the Tennessee gathered its strength in northeastern Louisiana along the banks of the Mississippi River, commanding general U. S. Grant was confronted with a problem. Hundreds, then thousands, of former slaves flooded into Union lines. Grant seized the opportunity to use the men among them as laborers on one of several canal operations on the west bank of the river as he sought to create a...

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5. “I Cannot Tell How It Was I Escaped”: The Bloody Battle at Milliken’s Bend

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pp. 83-111

The texans’ spirits were high. With over 350 miles behind them in slightly more than a month and after more than a year in the service, most of it spent in fruitless marching and countermarching, they had met the enemy and forced him to flee. In all of their travels across Arkansas and Louisiana, McCulloch’s Brigade of Walker’s Division had not yet had the opportunity to meet the Yankees. They did so, for the first time, on May 31...

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6. “A Disagreeable Dilemma”: The Fate of Union Prisoners, Black and White

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pp. 112-138

Rumors about the execution of Union prisoners taken at Milliken’s Bend began almost immediately and would persist for the rest of the year. The Louisiana swamps and bayous became a fitting metaphor as the rumors became a tangle of fact, fiction, and half-truths. Even the generals had difficulty sorting out the facts, and report after report would appear to be about one incident but would turn out to be about another. Not surprisingly...

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7. “This Battle Has Significance”: Milliken’s Bend and the Wider War

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pp. 139-148

Milliken’s bend, although one of the smaller actions of the war, nevertheless is important for three main reasons. First, along with Port Hudson and Fort Wagner, Milliken’s Bend helped change attitudes and answered in the affirmative the question of whether black troops would fight. Secondly, it was sometimes invoked to aid recruiting, particularly among literate, free blacks in the North, showing them that if former slaves were...

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8. “We Intended to Fight for the Country”: The Limits of Freedom, 1863–1865

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pp. 149-156

As the authorities in Washington and Richmond bickered, the shattered soldiers in the African Brigade were busy regrouping. Col. Hermann Lieb returned from his recuperation a month after Milliken’s Bend in mid-July to find his regiment in shambles. Both his major and lieutenant colonel were absent, and Lieb reported to Adjt. Gen. Lorenzo Thomas that “the order, discipline, and spirit of the regiment” were in “deplorable condition...

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9. “A Terrible Aftermath of Injustice”: Violence in the Postwar Era

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pp. 157-164

Peace did not come to northern Louisiana after the war. Within months of the cessation of hostilities, the city officials in Monroe enacted repressive measures against the freedmen. Among their first acts was implementing a registration policy for persons of color who lived in the town or operated a business there. The resolution was adopted on June 19, 1865, and African Americans were granted less than a week to comply. Individuals...

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10. Forgetting and Remembering Milliken’s Bend

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pp. 165-182

Milliken’s bend was never a prominent battle, not even during the war. A few newspapers, North and South, carried short reports, often only a paragraph or two. Even the abolitionist press gave it less attention than Fort Wagner and Port Hudson. To two nations consumed with news of Lee’s advance into Pennsylvania and the siege at Vicksburg, Milliken’s Bend...

Appendix A. Unit and Biographical Sketches

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pp. 183-199

Appendix B. Federal Casualties at Milliken’s Bend

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pp. 200-206

Appendix C. Report of Col. Isaac F. Shepard to Adjt. Gen. Lorenzo Thomas

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pp. 207-210

Appedix D. Reports Investigating the Death of Capt. Corydon Heath

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pp. 211-214


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pp. 215-216


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pp. 217-246


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pp. 247-272


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pp. 273-287

E-ISBN-13: 9780807149935
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807149928

Page Count: 320
Publication Year: 2013