General George F. McGinnis’ Brigade at the Battle of Port Gibson
Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s final campaign to take Vicksburg, Mississippi began on April 30th, 1863, when the Union 13th Corps under Major General John McClernand, and one division of the 17th Corps were transported across the Mississippi River to Bruinsburg, Mississippi. The landing was uncontested and as soon as the men were issued food and ammunition, the 20,000 strong Union force marched inland.
It didn’t take long for contact with Confederate forces. Around midnight on May 1st, leading elements of the Union advance engaged Confederates about five miles from the town of Port Gibson. The two sides exchanged fire until about 3 a.m. and then rested on their arms.
Fighting resumed at dawn. Confederate forces numbered somewhere between 6800 and 8000, most of whom had hurried south from the garrison at Grand Gulf, about 10 miles north, plus a brigade from Vicksburg. The Confederate general in charge was Brigadier General John S. Bowen, the commander of the Grand Gulf garrison. The superior number of Union troops slowly pushed back the Rebel defenders. The road the Federals were advancing upon split and McClernand sent one of his divisions plus the 17th Corps division to the left while the remainder of the 13th Corps went right.
Brigadier General George F. McGinnis’ brigade, of Brigadier General Alvin Hovey’s 12th Division of the 13th Corps was one of the units sent to the right. McGinnis’ brigade consisted of the 11th, 24th, 34th, and 46th Indiana Infantry regiments, plus the 29th Wisconsin Infantry; also, the 2nd and 16th Batteries of Ohio Light Artillery. The brigade was heavily engaged, and its casualty list was one of the longest, with 30 killed, 187 wounded, and 1 missing. McGinnis filed this detailed after action report on his brigade’s fighting at the Battle of Port Gibson:
HDQRS. FIRST BRIGADE, TWELFTH DIVISION,
THIRTEENTH ARMY CORPS, ARMY OF THE TENNESSEE,
In the Field, May 6, 1863.
SIR: I have the honor to submit the following report of the part taken by the First Brigade in the battle of Port Gibson, Miss, on the 1st instant:
My brigade consisted of the following commands, viz:
The Eleventh Indiana Infantry, Col. Daniel Macauley, 519 men; Twenty-fourth Indiana Infantry, Col. W. T. Spicely, 546 men; Thirty-fourth Indiana Infantry, Col. R. A. Cameron, 607 men; Forty-sixth Indiana Infantry, Col. T. H. Bringhurst, 423 men; Twenty-ninth Wisconsin Infantry, Col. Charles R. Gill, 533 men; Second Ohio Battery, First Lieutenant Beach commanding, 100 men; Sixteenth Ohio Battery, Capt. J. A. Mitchell, commanding, 111 men. Total, 2,839.
About 7 a.m. I received an order from Brig. Gen. A. P. Hovey, commanding our division, to form my brigade in line of battle, holding two regiments in reserve. The order was immediately executed. My first line was composed of the Twenty-fourth, Thirty-fourth, and Forty-sixth Indiana; my second of the Eleventh Indiana and Twenty.ninth Wisconsin, with directions to hold themselves about 200 yards in the rear and act as support to the first line. One section of the Second Ohio Battery was all the artillery I had with my command at the commencement of the battle, in consequence of a lack of transportation upon our leaving Perkins’ plantation, La. As soon as our lines were formed, we advanced about three-fourths of a mile over a surface of country which under any other circumstances would have been pronounced impassable. High hills, in many places almost perpendicular, deep ravines, thickly covered with cane and vines, interfered very much with our advance. After advancing about half a mile, at the request of General Benton, commanding First Brigade, Fourteenth Division, the Twenty-fourth Indiana Infantry was detached from my brigade for the purpose of supporting General Benton’s right, which brought on the action, and had been hotly engaged for some time. The Twenty-fourth moved up to its position in gallant style, and after a short but very sharp engagement the enemy retreated from that part of the field, upon which the Twenty-fourth rejoined the brigade. The balance of my brigade moved rapidly to the front, and were soon within range of a rebel battery, supported by a brigade of infantry. The Thirty-fourth Indiana, being in advance, was ordered by General Hovey to charge the battery. A gallant effort was made to execute the order, but such a fearfully destructive fire was poured upon them that Colonel Cameron, very properly and with much coolness and judgment, halted his command, and protected them from the enemy’s fire behind the brow of the hill. At this juncture the Eleventh Indiana, which had been in reserve, moved to the front in double-quick, and as soon as a portion of its right was in line with the Thirty-fourth and left of the Forty-sixth Indiana, another gallant charge was made upon the battery, which was double-shotted and just upon the point of being fired. The gunners and horses were shot down, and the brigade in support turned their backs upon us and fled in confusion from the field.
The result of this gallant dash, in which the Thirty-fourth, Eleventh, and Forty-sixth Indiana participated, was the capture of 2 12-pounder howitzers, 3 caissons, 3 wagons loaded with ammunition, 3 stand of colors, several horses, and over 200 prisoners. Company K, of the Eleventh Indiana, was detailed to man the guns, who turned them upon the enemy and delivered a few effective shots.
After a short halt, to enable all to rest and procure water, I received an order from General Hovey for another advance. In this movement the Thirty-fourth and Forty-sixth Indiana were held in reserve within supporting distance of the first line. After advancing about 1 mile, we again met the enemy, who had been re-enforced, and were strongly posted on the opposite side of a deep ravine.
My command was immediately ordered forward to support the Second Brigade, Colonel Slack, and took up a position in the ravine and on the brow of the hill, and opened
their fire upon the enemy. At this point the conflict was terrific, and was kept up without any intermission whatever for an hour and thirty-seven minutes, when the enemy, finding that they could not drive us from our position, retreated in dismay, and made no further resistance on that part of the field.
During this last engagement I received information that the rebels showed signs of an intention to attack and turn our right. I immediately directed Colonel Cameron, of the Thirty-fourth Indiana, to occupy and hold the hill to the right, and sent to his assistance one section of the Sixteenth Ohio Battery, and informed General Hovey of what I had done. A concentrated fire from sixteen guns of the division continued for over an hour, dislodging the enemy from their position and driving them from the field.
After this engagement had been continued for an hour, I received a message from Colonel Gill, of the Twenty-ninth Wisconsin, informing me that his regiment had suffered severely, and asking to be relieved for a short time. Having no regiment of my own command unemployed, I called upon General Benton for the required assistance, who generously tendered the services of the gallant Eighth Indiana, Colonel Shunk, and, although they were short of ammunition, they went in with a will and rendered the necessary relief, and fought gloriously and victoriously during the remainder of the engagement.
The Twenty-fourth Indiana and Twenty-ninth Wisconsin stood the brunt of the engagement, occupying the front and most dangerous position. It was here that their heaviest loss occurred.
Owing to the nature of the ground over which we moved in the early part of the engagement, it was utterly impossible for the section of the Second Ohio Battery, commanded by Lieutenant Guthrie, to follow us. As soon, however, as he could get his guns in position, he opened upon the rebels and did gallant service during the day.
Two sections of the Second Ohio Battery, First Lieutenant Beach commanding, and the whole of the Sixteenth Ohio Battery, Captain Mitchell, which had been left at Perkins’ plantation, for reasons before stated, arrived upon the battle-field about 10 a.m. They were immediately put to work, and did good service during the balance of the day.
The expressions of admiration of the manner in which the two batteries were handled–the precision and rapidity with which they fired–were frequent and well deserved. Officers and men are entitled to much praise for their good conduct.
At about 4 p.m. my brigade was again ordered to advance, in support of a brigade of General Smith’s division. After advancing a short distance, we were ordered to halt, and soon after were ordered into position for the night.
When all–officers and men, and the different commands of my brigade performed their whole duty, it would appear unjust to discriminate. I cannot refrain, however, from special mention of the Twenty-ninth Wisconsin, not that they fought longer and more gallantly than others–not that they are more brave or better disciplined–but that it is a new regiment, and this was the first time that they had been engaged with an enemy or that any of their men had ever been under fire. They fought like veterans, and suffered severely, as their report of casualties will show.
Captains Caven and Ruckle, of the Eleventh Indiana, are deserving of special mention for gallant conduct in the charge upon and taking of a rebel battery. I regret that commandants of other regiments engaged in that
affair have not seen proper to make special mention of the principal actors of their commands engaged in it.
To Colonels Spicely, Cameron, Macauley, Gill, and Bringhurst, all of whom were on foot, like myself, in consequence of an order prohibiting us from bringing our horses across the river, I am much indebted for valuable assistance, and the prompt and energetic manner in which they executed all orders.
I would also make honorable mention of Capts. J. H. Livsey, W. S. Marshall, and Lieut. D. J. Wells, of my staff, all of whom were very efficient in transmitting orders, more especially as they were also on foot.
My command moved from the Mississippi River at 3 p.m. on April 30, and marched until 5 a m. 1st instant, carrying their knapsacks, four days’ rations, and 100 rounds of ammunition per man.
I herewith transmit the reports of regimental and battery commanders, with a list of killed and wounded.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
GEORGE F. McGINNIS,
Brigadier-General, Commanding First Brigade.
Capt. JOHN E. PHILLIPS,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Twelfth Division.
There was some dispute over who captured the two howitzers in the charge upon the battery, with various units and their commanders claiming varying degrees of participation and credit. The regimental historians of the 46th Indiana probably put it best by writing that “portions of the Eleventh, Thirty-fourth, and Forty-sixth Indiana charged upon and captured the battery. This capture has been claimed by each regiment, severally, but it was their joint work. Whoever did the work, it was well done”.
The 29th Wisconsin, which had 10 killed and 65 wounded, the second highest regimental casualties of all Union regiments engaged at Port Gibson, had a close call in the brigade’s final action of the day. Colonel F. M. Cockrell’s brigade of Missouri regiments charged over a ridge, launching a furious counter attack, and attempted to surround the 29th. Colonel Charles R. Gill of the 29th recalled that “after changing direction to the left, in an open ravine, and before the left wing was yet upon the new direction, the regiment was assailed by a heavy fire from the enemy on the top of the ridge, across the ravine, and also from the woods on the right. They were forced to halt in this position. The ground on the left did not permit the left wing to form in line to repel the attack. The right wing was faced by the rear and opened fire…Here they kept up an incessant fire for over an hour, subject to a heavy fire from the enemy on the opposite ridge…”. But the regiment held its ground, and with its ammunition running out, the 29th Wisconsin was relieved by the 8th Indiana.
Without adequate reinforcements, Bowen had to withdraw the Confederate forces from the field. With the Union victory at the Battle of Port Gibson, Grant firmly established the Union presence in Mississippi, and more of his army crossed over. The Confederates were forced to abandon their garrison at Grand Gulf, which had successfully resisted Union naval attacks from the river. The Rebel commanders now had to figure out a way to stop the Federal land onslaught that threatened Vicksburg.
The Campaign for Vicksburg, Volume II by Edwin C. Bearrs
History of the Forty-sixth Regiment Indiana Volunteer Infantry by the 46th Indiana Infantry Regimental Association
The Military History of Wisconsin in the War for the Union by E.B. Quiner
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion Series I, Volume XXIV, Part 1
The Vicksburg Campaign by Ulysses S. Grant. In Battles and Leaders of the Civil War Volume III, edited by Clarence C, Buel and Robert U. Johnson