Correspondence from Captain M.M. Miller to His Aunt, June 1863
BATTLE OF MILLIKEN'S BEND
Captain M. M. Miller
Commander, Company I, Ninth Louisiana Infantry (Colored)
NOTE: The following letter written by Captain M. M. Miller to his Aunt in Illinois was recorded at footnote a, Section VII - General Results, of the report by the Office of American Freedman's Inquiry Commission, New York, June 30, 1863. Commissioners - Robert Dale Owen, James McKaye and Saml. G. Howe. - Bennie J. McRae, Jr. Researcher
a - At the moment of writing this the newspapers of the day arrive, containing the following private letter from an actor in the fight at Milliken's Bend, and an eyewitness of the desperate valor of the negro troops there engaged. It appeared originally in the Galena (Ill.) Advertiser, and bears the marks of truth and accuracy.
"THE GREAT GALLANTRY OF THE NEGRO TROOPS AT MILLIKEN'S BEND.
"We publish below a very interesting letter of Capt. M. M. Miller, of this city, of the Ninth Louisiana (colored) Regiment. Captain M. is a son or W. H. Miller, esq., for many years a citizen of Galena. At the time of the breaking out of the rebellion he was a student in Yale College, and had nearly completed his course. He left his studies, however, and returned home; enlisted as a private in the celebrated Washburne Lead Mine Regiment, from whence he was taken and made captain of a colored company. His statement can be relied on as literally true. and we venture to say the history of the world shows no more desperate fighting than that done by his company at Milliken's Bend. Every man in his company was either killed or wounded, and many of them in a hand-to-hand bayonet struggle:
'MILLIKEN'S BEND, June 10, 1863.
'DEAR AUNT: We were attacked here on June 7, about 8 o'clock in the morning, by a brigade of Texas troops, about 2,500 in number. We had about 600 men to, withstand them, 500 of them negroes. I commanded Company I, Ninth Louisiana. We went into the fight with 33 men. I had 16 killed and 11 badly wounded, 4 slightly. I was wounded slightly on the head, near the right eye, with a bayonet, and had a bayonet run through my right hand near the forefinger; that will account for this miserable style of penmanship.
'Our regiment had about 300 men in the fight. We had 1 colonel wounded. 4 captains wounded, 2 first and 2 second lieutenants killed, 5 lieutenants wounded, and 3 white orderlies killed and 1 wounded in the hand and two fingers taken off. The list of killed and wounded officers comprises nearly all the officers present with the regiment, a majority of the rest being absent recruiting.
'We had about 50 men killed in the regiment and 80 wounded, so you can judge of what part of the fight my company sustained. I never felt more grieved and sick at heart than when I saw how my brave soldiers had been slaughtered, one with six wounds, all the rest with two or three, none less than two wounds. Two of my colored sergeants were killed, both brave, noble men; always prompt, vigilant, and ready for the fray. I never more wish to hear the expression, "The niggers wont fight." Come with me 100 yards from where I sit and I can show you the wounds that cover the bodies of 16 as brave, loyal, and patriotic soldiers as ever drew bead on a rebel.
'The enemy charged us so close that we fought with our bayonets hand to hand. I have six broken bayonets to show how bravely my men fought. The Twenty-third Iowa joined my company on the right, and I declare truthfully that they had all fled before our regiment fell back, as we were all compelled to do.
'Under command of Colonel Page I led the Ninth and Eleventh Louisiana when the rifle-pits were retaken and held by our troops, our two regiments doing the work.
'I narrowly escaped death once. A rebel took deliberate [aim] at me with both barrels of his gun, and the bullets passed so close to me that the powder that remained on them burned my cheek. Three of my men who saw him aim and fire thought that he wounded me each fire. One of them was killed by my side, and he fell on me, covering my clothes with his blood, and before the rebel could fire again I blew his brains out with my gun.
'It was a horrible fight, the worst I was ever engaged in, not even excepting Shiloh. The enemy cried, "No quarters," but some of them were very glad to take it when made prisoners.
'Colonel Allen, of the seventeenth Texas, was killed in front of our regiment, and Brigadier General Walker was wounded. We killed about 180 of the enemy. The gun-boat Choctaw did good service shelling them. I stood on the breast-works after we took them, and gave the elevations and direction for the gun-boat by pointing my sword, and they sent a shell right into their midst, which sent them in all directions. Three shells fell there and 62 rebels lay there when the fight was over.
'My wound is not serious, but troublesome. What few men I have left seem to think much of me because I stood up with them in the fight. I can say for them that I never saw a braver company of men in my life.
'Not one of them offered to leave his place until ordered to fall back; in fact, very few ever did fall back. I went down to the hospital three miles today to see the wounded. Nine of them were there, two having died of their wounds. A boy I had cooking for me came and begged a gun when the rebels were advancing, and took his place with the company, and when we retook the breast-works I found him badly wounded with one gunshot and two bayonet wounds. A new recruit I had issued a gun to the day before the fight was found dead, with a firm grasp on his gun, the bayonet of which was broken in three pieces So they fought and died defending the cause that we revere. They met death coolly, bravely; not rashly did they expose themselves, but all were steady and obedient to orders.
'So God has spared me again through many dangers. I cannot tell how it was I escaped.
'Your affectionate nephew,
M. M. MILLER.'"
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SOURCE: United States War Department. THE WAR OF THE REBELLION: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series III, Volume 3. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901.