It was no accident that they paid the battle hardened men of the 12th Division at 5:00am, Thursday, 30 April, 1863. And then they fed them breakfast. It put the troops in a good mood, and it did small harm. They had little opportunity to gamble or buy alcohol as they then went through the tedious procedure of being loaded on the 6 transports. A private in the 33rd Illinois Volunteers, Charles Wilcox, described the morning in extraordinary terms. "The sun arose throwing an impressive splendor....Every heart here is full of anxiety and emotion; wondering eyes... not altogether tearless, gaze upon the...troops whose courage and valor are sufficient...to redeem this lovely valley of the Mississippi from fiends and traitors who are desecrating it.” By 8:30am the entire division was steaming south on the Mississippi River. About 11:00am, they arrived off the run down dock of the "ghost town" of Bruinsburg Landing. It was an extraordinary moment in American history.
As 30 year old Lieutenant Commander James Agustin Greer guided the 200 foot long, 633 ton ironclad USS Benton (above) to the landing, there was not a rebel in sight. Wirt Adam's cavalry, which ought to have been picketing the place in strength, was 80 miles away trying to ambush the Illinois cavalry of Colonel Greirson. In there place were one or two scouts. Meanwhile, here in the mile wide Mississippi river floated six ironclads and six riverboat transports loaded with 40 year old Brigadier General Peter Joseph Osterhauser's 4,000 men.
There was no preliminary bombardment. That would have simply alerted General Bowen in Grand Gulf 12 miles upstream. There was however a band, playing "The Red, White, and Blue " - "Thy mandates makes heroes assemble, When liberty's form stands in view; Thy banners make tyrants tremble,When borne by the Red, White and Blue." The first men to step off the gangplank were Germans of the 46th Indiana Volunteer Infantry. These Hoosiers had formed up in Logansport in December of 1861, and had proven their bravery by carrying enemy works during the Arkansas Post expedition of January, and against Fort Pemberton in March.
They were followed by the 24th Indiana Volunteers, organized in the old territorial capital and Wabash River town of Vincennes , back in September of '61. They had proved their courage during the second day of Shiloh, in April of 1862, where their beloved Lieutenant-Colonel John Gerber was killed by a cannon ball. Said fellow Hoosier from Crawfordsville, General Lew Wallace, "Nobody died a more glorious death than Gerber. Yet, at Shiloh so many brave men died, and still so many glorious deeds were performed!”
But next off the USS Benton was the commander of Army of the Tennessee, Lieutenant General Ulysses Simpson Grant (above). His precipitous action betrayed his anxiety. He had reached the fulcrum of his gamble. If there was no road up the bluffs to Port Gibson and Grand Gulf as reported, then Grant's gamble had gone bust. Usually when under stress Grant was afflicted with migraines. He had one this morning. But a slave watching the federal army rush ashore confirmed the story. There were two roads that climbed the bluff, the left one led directly to Grand Gulf and to the right, the Rodney Road, led 20 miles north to Port Gibson on Bayou Pierre.
The 1,300 Hoosiers climbed the bluffs before pausing to eat their lunch under the shade trees in the front yard of perhaps the most magnificent and expensive planter's home in the south, Windsor House (above). The crown of a 2,500 acre plantation, the 4 story, 25 room Italianate and Gothic mansion had been constructed by slaves under the direction of artisans. It even had indoor plumbing, with a rain filled rooftop storage tank. And every room had its own fireplace.
This pinnacle of antebellum southern wealth, resting on the labor of thousands of human slaves, was the home of Smith Coffee Daniel II, and his wife and cousin Catherine Skinner Freeland. It had taken 3 years to build, and within months of its completion in 1861, the war exploded and Smith Coffee Daniel had died. He was just 34 years old. His widow and 3 children were still living here, when the Union Army landed on their doorstep. They retreated upstairs, leaving the first floor to the Federals. But it turned out, they Yankees were not staying long.
Behind the Hoosiers, the rest of General Osterhaus' division was unloaded, while one steamboat returned to Disharoon to pick up 2 days rations for the men. It seems the corps commander, Major General McClernard, had forgotten to issue rations before boarding his troops, Not until the hard tack and biscuits were distributed, about 4:30 that afternoon, did the march resume, This time the men of the 21st Iowa regiment were in the lead. When they reached the small white Bethel Church, the column took the southern road, which led toward Port Gibson.
One soldier from Illinois remembered the road led, “...by quiet farmhouses and cultivated fields, through pretty wooded groves and up quiet lanes, all bearing the marks of peace." At about 7:00pm, with darkness falling, two companies of the 21st Iowa were sent forward under Lieutenant Colonel Cornelius W. Dunlap, as a screen for the regiment, which followed close behind with artillery.
Just four years earlier the young Mr. Dunlop had been the editor of the new "Mitchell Gazette". The newspaper proved successful, but in 1861 Cornelius felt compelled to leave town. The young man then volunteered to defend the union. And his orders this night were to keep his men moving toward Port Gibson and the bridge over Bayou Pierre or "until fired upon."
Just about midnight, Friday, 1 May, 1863 the column crossed Willow Creek, and began a long climb up the slope of Thompson's Hill. As they neared the crest a 5 minute break was called and the weary Hawkeyes fell back on their packs in a narrow road cut. Standing in the road, the regimental surgeon, Dr. William L. Orr , was talking quietly with Colonel Samuel Merrill. Their conversation was cut short by a sudden crack of muskets from the crest of the hill. Instantly, Merrill threw his men into a quick line, and returned fire. They then pushed up the road at the double quick, They rebels had disappeared, but as the ground leveled out, they came upon a white 2 story farm house
It was the home of Abram Keller "A.K." Shaifer. Born in Maryland in 1774, he had once been a Justice of the Peace in Tennessee, a "trader" up and down the big river, and one time county sheriff. The old man had died in April of 1860, at the age of 89. His 60 year old widow Elizabeth still lived in the home with 5 children, the eldest of whom, 26 year old Abram Keller junior, was away serving in the Confederate army.
As the soldiers came stomping into the clearing, four women ran out of the front door and threw themselves into a carriage, before rushing off toward Port Gibson. And for the next 3 hours, Federal and rebel soldiers exchanged shots and artillery shells in the dark, Commanders on both sides fed men into the fight, extending battle lines, leading charges and retreats because of perceptions rather than tactical knowledge. The fight was confused, loud and deadly, complicated because most of the men involved had no idea what their battlefield looked like. It was not until after 3:00am that things began to quiet down, and Colonel Merrill and Lieutenant Colonel Dunlap and their Hawkeyes could get their first sleep in 24 hours.
Meanwhile, back on the river, the transports returned to Disharoon to load the men of 34 year old Brigadier General Eugene Asa Carr's division. By nightfall they would be joined in Mississippi by the division of 41 year old lawyer and Brigadier General Alvin Peterson Hovey - putting a total of 17,000 soldiers and 60 cannon ashore in a single day. It was a record not to be equaled by the U.S. Army until the invasion of French Morocco and Algeria in November of 1942. But after being constrained for so long, Grant rushed the transfer of men and equipment to Bruinisburg, ordering that operations continue even after night fall.
At about 3:00am on Friday, 1 May, 1863, just as the shooting was quieting down around the Shaifer house, the 315 ton, 150 foot long steamboat Horizon, captained by Richard Calhoon, was heading downstream for Bruinsburg, carrying the Swedes of Captain Frederick Sparrestrom's Battery G, 2nd Illinois Light Artillery, and towing a barge loaded with the batteries' ammunition caissons. At the same time, struggling upstream for Disharoon, was the empty 231 ton Monerator, captained by Mr. O. C. Williamson. Pressed into service despite her steering having been damaged by the Vicksburg guns on 22 April, the Monerator was barely being controlled against the swirling currents. And because the shoreline between the two landings was still in rebel hands, both ships were operating without running lights. About halfway between the two landings, the inevitable occurred.
In a slight flog the two ships stumbled into each other with a shock and splintering of wood. The Horizon was the larger ship, and traveling close to 10 knots at the moment of impact. The limping Monerator, making perhaps 2 or 3 knots at best, but riding empty and high she suffered no fatal injury. The heavily loaded Horizon was not so fortunate. Her engine compartment was breached and fire quickly spread throughout the ship
The burning Horizon was able to run herself aground near the mouth of Bayou Pierre. The entire crew were able to escape, as did all the Iowa men except for two privates. Nicolas Carlson and Francis Linderbeck. They drowned when the current eventually pulled the Horizon into deeper water before rolling her over and sending her 30 feet to the bottom of the river About 60 horses and mules also drown. Tents, cooking utensils, books, records and paperwork, cannons and caissons were all lost. After this disaster - the deduction of 20% of Grant's ferrying capacity - the remaining transports operated only during day light, slowing the buildup of Federal forces on the Mississippi shore.