In late June of 1862 the 9th Connecticut arrived opposite Vicksburg along with regiments from four other Union states. They were put to work in the summer heat to dig a canal through a hairpin curve in the river, change the course of the Mississippi and leave Vicksburg unimportant militarily. A recently discovered hand drawn map by Col Cahill sent to his wife in New Haven is attached.
With many soldiers already ill, Thomas Murray, the Irish Ninth’s historian wrote, “Here the Ninth again suffered greatly. There was nothing to eat but pork and hard-tack; no water to drink but the muddy water of the Mississippi. The swamp reeked with malaria, and the men slept upon the mud. The supply of quinine, that panacea for all the soldiers aches and ills, was exhausted; there was little medicine of any sort. Almost all of the ninth was at one time on the sick-list with fever caused by exposure and privation.”
“During the continuance of this work, a force of twenty picked men, under Captain Healy and Lieutenant Patrick T. Claffee, [ Waterbury, CT ], was crossed over the river under cover of darkness, and remained in the swamp under the guns of Vicksburg for eight days”.
Speaking of the 9th’s heavy loss by disease, Capt. O’Brien wrote: “We could not give a funeral escort to the dead; the few who were able to do guard and picket duty could not attend to any extra duty. Gen. Williams was not in sympathy with his men. He extracted the most rigid discipline. Notwithstanding the great amount of sickness prevailing, he ordered the brigade to parade every day, in marching order, with knapsacks packed. I saw men drop out of line exhausted, and when we returned many of them would be dead. The drill and parading was done when the thermometer registered 110 to 115 in the shade.”
As the death toll quickly rose, Pvt Charles Mulvey, from Cheshire, CT, died of disease opposite Vicksburg on July 21, 1862. Born in County Leitrim, Ireland, he enlisted in Company B as a 38 year old the previous November. The 1860 Cheshire census lists him as a miner living with his wife Mary and children Philip, Margaret and Mary Ann.
On July 24, my ancestor, 34 year old Pvt John Marlow from Company C died of typho-malaria opposite Vicksburg. He was born in County Tyrone, Ireland and left a wife, Bridget, and five children in New Haven ( William, John, Ellen, James and Owen ).
Historian Murray goes on to state, “The poor fellows died at the fearful rate of a score per week; and out of the * * * Connecticut members present, the state catalogue of troops shows that one hundred and fifty three died during this season, - a mortality not equaled by any other of our regiments within a similar period.”
“After a month of this deadly service, the engineers discovered that the water was falling and would not flow through the canal; and the work was abandoned”. The Vicksburg National Cemetery, the nation’s largest Civil War Cemetery, stands today with over 17,000 Union graves.
Next month’s blog will include the first week of August, 150 years ago, when the Ninth was sent downriver and Col Cahill assumed control of seven regiments upon the death of Gen Williams to repulse a Confederate attack to retake Louisiana’s capital, Baton Rouge.