Black Soldiers in Blue: African American Troops in the Civil War Era

By John David Smith | Go to book overview

3
BATTLE ON
THE LEVEE
The Fight at
Milliken's Bend

Richard Lowe

The Union victory in the vicious little battle at Milliken's Bend, Louisiana, in June 1863 shocked Confederate soldiers and civilians and pumped new enthusiasm into the ranks of “Western Federal armies. A new weapon—African American soldiers—was unsheathed at Milliken's Bend, and the black recruits, most of them field hands only a few weeks earlier, fought like veterans in the bloody hand-to-hand engagement on the banks of the Mississippi River. The use of African American soldiers in combat at Milliken's Bend and at Port Hudson, less than two weeks earlier, was the first sign that the war west of the Appalachians had entered a new phase. From the late spring of 1863 forward, black Americans would play an increasingly important role in the subjugation of the Confederacy.

Despite its significance as a new departure, Milliken's Bend has traditionally been ignored or given only scant treatment in comprehensive surveys and general reference works on the American Civil War.1 On the other hand, studies that focus on black soldiers or the engagements in which they fought and some more recent histories do consider the battle in more detail.2 Both the older, brief treatments and the more recent, more detailed studies agree that one remarkable feature of the story of Milliken's Bend was the inexperience of the black soldiers in blue that day in June 1863. Organized into regiments only weeks earlier, and with little drill or experience to prepare them for combat, these former slaves fought stubbornly in a handto-hand struggle on the Mississippi River levee north-west of Vicksburg. A

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