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1863 December 12: Captain Maxson Describes Skirmish Involving the 6th Mississippi Infantry’s Black Soldiers

December 14, 2013

A letter from the captain of the 12th Wisconsin Infantry’s Company A, Orrin T. Maxson.  Maxson was Edwin and Homer Levings’ captain.

NATCHEZ, Miss., Nov. 12, 1863.

Ed. JOURNAL:—When at Prescott last summer, I related to you the circumstance of a man coming into our lines and giving himself up.  He possessed  rare talent, and was prepared to estimate coming events connected with the Rebellion, better than most well informed men.  Thinking his Address to the citizens of Arkansas, might be of interest, and coming from a Member of the Rebel Congress, coupled with his statement that he belonged to a Union organization which numbered, as he then stated to me, a very respectable minority of the Confederate Congress, large numbers of men of wealth and position in the South, whom he represented as then inside our lines ;  and now that his position is before the public, I send the accompanying Address, which I clipped form the Natchez Courier.—[The Address referred to, is printed on the fourth page of this paper.—Ed]

As I stated to you last summer, Unionism in the Rebel States, means not only the sustaining of the Government, but the utter annihilation of the cause of the war.  A man here claiming to to be Union, but holding to keeping Slavery, is classed among the doubtful.  Those men in our country who will dig the deepest pit for Northern Copperheads, are the very men for whose prospective support the Copperheads have lost all.

A little affair came off just outside our lines yesterday, in which the Sixth Miss. Regt. (colored,) figured.

Capt. Hitchcox and 36 of his men were sent into the country as guard to a forage train, the Capt. and the two Lieuts., comprising all the white men of the Co., going along.  After going five or six miles beyond our lines, the Capt. and Lieuts. being mounted, rode in advance a mile or two, as rebel cavalry were in the vicinity, the Capt. taking a side road while the Lieuts. rode together.  The Lieuts. were soon confronted by 63 Cavalry, and not relishing Libby Prison, they turned and got up good speed for their train, hotly pursued by the Rebs.  On reaching hailing distance of the Corps de Africa, they shouted “Into Line,” which was instantly obeyed, and the teams started for town.  The rebs did not slacken their speed, but rode right on to the line, depending on their superior numbers and prestige of white over black men, to crush the negro squad.  To their chagrin and disappointment, the line preserved itself, except in cases where the weight of the horses upset a darkie.  They met more than they had contracted for.  The blacks received them on their bayonets after having poured a volley into their ranks.

During this scene an incident occurred worthy of note.  One of the darkies having been rode down, and struggling under the horses’ feet, sadly bruised, being observe by the Capt. of the Rebs, the Capt. made at him with the exclamation, “You d—-d black son of a b—-h, if you are not dead, I will finish you,” when the wounded darkie raising his gun, shot the Capt. through the head, and as he fell, commenced using the butt of his gun on him, exclaiming, “If you’re not dead, I’ll kill you.”

The Rebs were repulsed and fell back to the crest of a hill, where for a short time skirmishing was kept up.  The negroes then fell back to place a bridge between them and the enemy.  On reaching the new position, they discovered the enemy had divided and passed around through some timber to reach their rear, cut off their retreat and place them between two fires.  A double quick was ordered, so our men gained a point in the road beyond where the rebels were compelled to enter it ;  when a halt was ordered and line formed, at which point they received two charges similar to the one mentioned.  Finding they could not terrify or scatter the darkies, they left the field.

The darkies exhibited a courage not often seen in such an exposed position and against two to one. They exhibited much the traits of the wounded wolf.— One of the officers told me he actually saw them eat the blood of the slain.— Such was their fury they would have died sooner than have left the Rebs in possession of the field.  Seven dead Rebs were picked up on the field, three mortally wounded, and one wagon load of wounded carried away.  One prisoner, a Major, was brought in, though they had seen one of their own men taken a few rods to the rear and brutally murdered. [______],¹ who had received two gun shot wounds, one through the ankle and one slivering the leg below the knee, was borne off the field on the back of one of his sable comrades.  The negroes lost four killed and seven wounded.  The wounded are having a regular camp-meeting shout and sing over their success in having been hit in battle of Massa Lincoln’s war.

The weather is still warm, few nights cold enough to give a white frost ;  the gardens are filled with fresh flowers.  It averages warmer than May in Wisconsin.  Our troops are in fine health and spirits, and the boys so accustomed to army life as to enjoy it.  Many would re-enlist if their time was out now.  We are under marching orders, and expect to go up river soon.

Yours, O. T. MAXSON.

1.  This little portion at the bottom of the newspaper was folded when microfilmed, so one or more words are blocked out.

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