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Battle of Chickasaw Bayou
December 29, 1862
An Account by Pvt. Frank Mason, Company A, 42nd Ohio Infantry
Web Author's Notes:
The following is a detailed account written by Pvt. Frank H. Mason, Company A, 42nd Ohio. It is an excerpt from his book The Forty-Second Ohio Infantry: A History of the Organization and Services of That Regiment In the War of the Rebellion, published in 1876.

It should be understood that battle accounts written by the participants, generally some years after the events, often contain information conflicting with other accounts and, in many cases, reflect a more positive view of the actions of the soldier or his unit than actual facts may prove. When studying battles it is important for the researcher to review as many different perspectives and accounts as possible which will help formulate a more accurate picture. Pvt. Mason's account is somewhat favorable to his regiment, the 42nd Ohio, but is generally accurate and provides another colorful description of the bloody day experienced by DeCourcey's and other brigades at Chickasaw Bayou.

Excerpt from The Forty-Second Ohio Infantry: A History of the Organization and Services of That Regiment In the War of the Rebellion, 1876 - F. H. Mason, late Private of Company A - Cobb, Andrews & Co., Publishers (excerpt begins at page 160)

... The day before had been bright and warm, but the morning of the assault dawned raw and cloudy, with signs of rain. The ground over which the advance was to be made was that in front of the two left Brigades of Morgan's Division, commanded respectively by Gen. Frank Blair and Col. DeCourcy, and it was to those two Brigades that the assault was entrusted. Along the rest of the line, three or four miles in extent, a show of attack was to be kept up, and at one point in front of A. J. Smith's position a real effort was to be made to push across the bayou and seize a fortified knoll which commanded the direct road from Johnson's plantation along the foot of the bluff to Vicksburg. During the night of the 28th and the morning of the 29th, skirmishers had crept out and at some cost had examined the ground over which Blair and DeCourcy were to advance. Just in front, immediately at the edge of the wood, was a bayou filled with water too deep to be forded and flanked by steep banks. Along this bayou the artillery was ranged to cover with its fire the advance of the storming columns. Immediately beyond the first bayou lay a tract of rough, swampy ground perhaps fifty rods across, piled and strewn with fallen timber, the heavy swamp woods, having been cut down to impede approach and give range to the enemy's guns. Beyond the slashed timber and parallel with the first bayou lay a second and more difficult one. It was in fact a long pool and quagmire of varying width and unknown depth. The road by which DeCourcy's Brigade was to advance was a mere path through the woods, entirely obliterated by the fallen trees. Where this path struck the father bayou it turned abruptly to the left, followed the edge of the water about twelve rods, then turning sharply to the front, crossed the bayou on a rough log bridge or causeway, about ten feet in width, to the solid ground which sloped upward and forward to the base of the bluff. The whole distance from the starting point of the storming columns to the first trenches of the enemy was perhaps three-fifths of a mile. A careful examination of the ground convinced Gen. Morgan that any assault at that point must end in disastrous failure. The only chance of success had been lost by our three or four days of delay since reaching the mouth of the Yazoo, during which time the enemy had been reinforced until he out-numbered the attacking force. All this Gen. Morgan and his brigade commanders saw, and early in the day he sent Lieut. Dent, a staff officer, with a request that Gen. Sherman should come to the field. Together the two Generals rode up and down in front of the line, Morgan pointing out the difficulties of the advance, the fresh earthworks thrown up by the enemy during the night, and advised against what he and his officers considered a reckless and unavailing sacrifice of life. Gen. Sherman, disappointed and morose, looked at the ground, and then turning his horse, rode back, without saying a word, to his former position, a mile and a half to the right and rear of Morgan's line. This was about nine o'clock in the morning. The abrupt departure of Gen. Sherman from the point of attack left Gen. Morgan in doubt whether the assault would be attempted or abandoned. At all events he determined not to take the responsibility of what he felt sure would be a costly and fruitless experiment without direct and positive orders, and therefore waited in the hope that some other course would be adopted. But at noon an officer from Sherman's Staff came to Morgan and said, I came from Gen. Sherman and will give you his words. He said: 'Tell Morgan that I wish him to give the signal for the assault; that we will lose five thousand men in taking Vicksburg, and may as well lose them now.' To which Morgan replied: We will lose the men, but from this position we will not take Vicksburg.

Nevertheless, there was but one thing to do, obey orders, and Gen. Morgan gave the order to advance. The troops were formed in column of divisions and massed in the formation known as double column at half distance -- that is a close column in which the right company of each division marched forward by its left flank file right and the left hand company by the right flank file left. By this plan the troops were condensed into a narrow column to cross the slashing and the narrow causeway beyond, but ready to deploy into a column of divisions as soon as the open ground was reached.

DeCourcy's Brigade was arranged as follows: First in front, the Sixteenth Ohio, then the Twenty-Second Kentucky, thirdly the Fifty-Fourth Indiana, and last, the Forty-Second Ohio, which having been on duty all night, was by usage entitled to the reserve. The Brigade numbered that day not more than fifteen hundred men. Blair's Brigade, numbering perhaps two thousand, was about twenty rods to our left, formed in similar order and ready to advance by a route parallel to that of DeCourcy, the two Brigades being prepared to render mutual support.

At a given signal, the batteries of Morgan and Smith, posted along the line of the first bayou, opened simultaneously, working as rapidly as possible to keep down the enemy's fire. At the same moment the two assaulting Brigades started forward, each crossing on its narrow and frail bridge under the muzzle of the Union guns and advancing across the slashed timber. The enemy opened fire instantly and swept the whole valley with shells, shrapnel, canister and musketry. Marching in close order, the men climbed logs and tore through tree tops, pushing forward as best they might. The front regiments encountered the most difficulties, and three times during the passage of the fifty rods of fallen timber the Forty-Second and Fifty-Fourth had to lie down and wait for the leading regiments to get forward. [Note: This assertion is disputed by Sgt. Jesse Leasure, Co. G, 16th Ohio, who states, In the history of the next day Mason and Fry say the 42d Ohio and 54th Ind. had to stop three times to let the front line get forward. The truth is that after the assaulting column started, it never stopped till after we had crossed the bayou, and then for a moment only to adjust our column.]

During this part of the advance Col. Pardee was struck in the leg by a musket ball, but it was partly spent and lodged in his boot. His brother, George K. Pardee, received a ball in the breast, but the missile buried itself in a memorandum book carried in his pocket and George, though knocked down and left for dead, was not seriously hurt. Major Williams found a straggler from the Twenty-Second Kentucky behind a log, dragged him out and was leading him to the front, when, just as the Forty-Second reached the causeway across the bayou, a bullet killed the Kentuckian, and the Major dropped his prisoner, for whom there was no more fear in this world.

Meanwhile, the three leading regiments had executed the flank march along the bayou and crossed the narrow bridge. Reaching the solid ground beyond, they deployed in column of divisions and marched rapidly up the slope. The Forty-Second followed closely, but before it had advanced fifty yards beyond the bridge, the leading regiments began to melt away under the constantly increasing fire. The proposed point of attack upon the bluff proved to be the interior of an arc or semi-circle, so that as the storming Brigade advanced it found itself in the center of a converging fire; the column raked from batteries and rifle pits directly in front, the divisions enfiladed from either side by cannon posted at each extremity of the crescent. Bravely and determinedly the little column pushed forward, closing up the gaps torn in its divisions by the stead and deadly fire of an enemy now within easy range and perfectly protected. When within a few yards of the trenches at the foot of the hill, the Sixteenth Ohio, which had lost nearly all its officers, including its commander Lieut. Col. Kershner, and had been riddled until its ranks had nearly half melted away, broke and fell back against the Twenty-Second Kentucky. In a moment the utter hopelessness of the assault, which had been apparent from the first, overcame even the discipline of that veteran Brigade, and the leading regiments were thrown into confusion. The order was given to retire. Hardly a shot had been fired by the advancing column. The fire which it faced had been so terrible that it could not stop to fight at such hopeless odds. As the broken divisions turned to retreat, the Rebels poured out of their trenches and gathered in such of the Federals as had come too near to escape. [Note: This assertion is disputed by Sgt. Jesse Leasure, Co. G, 16th Ohio, who states, The rebels did not run out of their works and take us in, as Mason and Fry say, but a squad of cavalry came charging in...] The rest, leaving behind the dead and wounded, retired down the slope and re-crossed the causeway, the Forty-Second covering the retreat in good order. [Note: This assertion is disputed by Sgt. Jesse Leasure, Co. G, 16th Ohio, who states, The 42d did not cover our retreat in good order, either; for when I reached the causeway there was not a man of the 42d there, and they had not even carried off our wounded.]

On the left Blair's Brigade had gone through a precisely similar experience, with the exception that it had found even a worse crossing than DeCourcy's men and had been longer delayed in getting over the second bayou. Gen. Blair attempted to cross the slough on hose-back, but his horse was mired, and the General, drawing his pistols from his holsters, leaped off and floundered through the mud and water with his men. Like DeCourcy's, Blair's advance had nearly reached the enemy's line, but it was one man against three, and both were obliged to retire.

In his Memoirs Gen. Sherman attributes the repulse to the failure of Morgan to support Blair's attack with DeCourcy. The fact was that both Brigades were pushing to the same point, DeCourcy slightly in advance, and both retreated at the same time. The statement that DeCourcy's men could not be moved forward, is answered by the fact that numbers of the Sixteenth Ohio fell within sixty yards of the rifle pits. More than this, Blair lost in the assault five hundred and five men, while DeCourcy, with inferior numbers engaged, lost five hundred and eighty.

The discomfited Brigades returned to their position in the woods, and for the remainder of the day the fighting was confined to the artillery. It was a disastrous and hopeless repulse, as we all knew, and the night, which set in with heavy and continuous rain, was one of gloom, discomfort and discouragement. All night long a heavy gun on the heights flashed out at regular intervals, sending a shell over into our drenched and cheerless camp. The night was spent in wondering where the next shell would strike. ...

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