Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Battle of Milliken's Bend

The Battle of Milliken's Bend took place on June 7, 1863, as part of the Vicksburg campaign. It was an attack launched from the west by Confederate Major General Richard Taylor (the son of a US president) against a Union post on the Mississippi River commanded by Col. Hermann Lieb, an immigrant from Switzerland. The US soldiers were largely African-American, recently recruited and minimally trained. Lieb was white, like the vast majority of officers who commanded black troops during the Civil War.
The attack was repelled, with assistance from two Union gunboats in the river. Grant writes in his Memoirs: "This was the first important engagement of the war in which colored troops were under fire. These men were very raw, having all been enlisted since the beginning of the siege, but they behaved well."
The Civil War practice of appointing white officers to command black troops contributes to blacks being under-represented in books and blogs such as this one, which tend to focus on military leaders. Yet the black combat experience was particularly intense. The men and their white officers were  often subjected to brutality, including murder, if they surrendered. Much of the fighting at Milliken's Bend was hand-to-hand. 
One way of capturing the black Civil War experience is through fiction, such as in the distinguished and highly readable novel Where I'm Bound by Allen Ballard, professor emeritus of history at UAlbany in upstate New York.
Ballard was also gracious enough to praise The Last Circle of Ulysses Grant for "bringing to life for the modern reader the whole era of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Conner, moreover, in poignant and clearly written prose, introduces us to the loving family and former comrades-in-arms who surrounded and comforted Grant during his last days. Civil War buffs and lovers of historical fiction alike will definitely enjoy this fine addition to the literature on a true American hero."
(The photo shows me giving a talk Friday at the Northshire Bookstore in Saratoga Springs, NY.)

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