One of the newest of the approximately 1300 Civil War monuments at or near Vicksburg National Military Park is the African American Monument. Located on Grant Avenue on the park road tour near the Kansas Memorial, this monument features three bronze figures on a granite base and honors the contribution of African American soldiers in the Vicksburg Campaign. It was paid for by the State of Mississippi and the City of Vicksburg and dedicated in February of 2004.
Two of the figures on the monument are black Union soldiers, representing the 1st and 3rd Mississippi Infantry Regiments, African Descent, units that fought in the Vicksburg Campaign. One soldier is wounded and is being assisted by another soldier and a civilian field hand. The soldier is looking forward to the future and the field hand is looking back at his former life as a slave.
Almost all of the African American soldiers who participated in the Vicksburg Campaign were former slaves from Mississippi and Louisiana; others served in the Port Hudson Campaign that was going on at the same time down the Mississippi River at that Louisiana Confederate stronghold. There were many in the military and government who questioned whether these men would fight when they first entered the Army in 1863 after the Emancipation Proclamation cleared the way for the enlistment of black troops (in segregated units under white officers), so early on the troops were used as laborers, as garrison troops, or in other non fighting duty generally away from the action.
The 1st and 3rd Mississippi were two of the African American units assigned to the Union post at Milliken’s Bend, about 15 miles up the Mississippi River from Vicksburg, and on the west bank of the river in Louisiana. The post was staffed by mostly Black troops who were poorly armed and had little training, with one White regiment also present. On June 7th, 1863, while the Siege of Vicksburg was underway down river, Confederates attacked Milliken’s Bend as part of an attempt to draw off Union forces and relieve pressure on the besieged city. The fighting was intense and at times hand to hand, and the Black troops fought hard and held on until artillery fire from gunboats on the river compelled the Confederates to withdraw. Federal casualties were reported as 101 killed, 285 wounded, and 266 missing or captured, with about 90 percent of the losses occurring in the African American regiments.
The brave effort by the African American troops, at Milliken’s Bend helped convince the skeptics that Black troops would indeed fight, a point reinforced at the Battle of Fort Wagner near Charleston, S.C. a few weeks later. The Union now had another significant source of manpower, and nearly 200,000 African American soldiers and sailors served in the Union Army and Navy.