After the surrender of New Orleans the 9th Connecticut (CT’s Irish Regiment) had been stationed at Camp Parapet a few miles upriver from the city for nearly a month where the soldiers experienced considerable sickness, attributed mainly to the water from the Mississippi River. By June 1 the regiment embarked for Baton Rouge, the state’s capital, which had already surrendered to Farragut’s navy. Captain Cahill wrote his wife in New Haven that “we are on the move again. This time to Baton Rouge to join 4 other regiments under Brig Genl Williams”. At Baton Rouge Sergeant Tallmadge wrote in his diary of a visit to the state capital where he saw life size paintings of Washington and Zak Taylor, marble statues and the grounds decorated with flower beds.
On June 17th the regiment left Baton Rouge on the steamers Diana, Sallie Robinson and Burton. The latter contained Company B with ten soldiers from Cheshire: Martin Burke, Farrell Brennan, John Dawson, George Hoey, John Lynch, Alexander Mercier, William Moon, Charles Mulvey, John Mulvey and Michael Reynolds. The word spread fast that they were to be part of the first campaign against Vicksburg, considered the Gibraltar of the South and the key to the complete control of the Mississippi.
Captain John Healy from Company C wrote that along the route the Burton landed the Irish Ninth on June 18 at the plantation of rebel Col Allen where they stayed for two days. Sergeant Tallmadge related that the Sallie Robinson stopped at the plantation of a Mr. Williams who owned some 900 slaves. His diary went on to state that he slept in a bed for the first time since he left home in Tariffville, CT. The next night they joined the Seventh Vermont at the plantation of a notorious rebel by the name of Stephens where they found livestock and food supplies to the delight of the hungry soldiers.
Sixteen miles south of Natchez they were put ashore to find a battery that had been firing on the troop transports. After a march through deep ravines and steep hills they found the enemy camp empty but returned with firearms, a caisson and provisions. On June 24 they were put ashore again, this time at Grand Gulf MS, to march 15 miles driving the enemy before them where they entered and razed the town before returning to the ships.
Arriving at Vicksburg on June 25th they found that Farrugut’s blue water fleet was forced to stop short of the Confederate batteries set high on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi. Even with Porter’s mortar fleet and soldiers from five regiments it became apparent that the Union force was inadequate to demand surrender much less mount an attack on the fortress. The Ninth Connecticut was put to work along with soldiers from MA, VT, WI and MI on a new plan, to dig a canal through a hairpin curve in the river, change the course of the Mississippi and leave Vicksburg unimportant militarily. The canal was originally named after Gen Williams, but renamed after Grant a few months later. In the summer heat the soldiers with the help of slaves from nearby plantations began to dig in swamp like conditions as enemy fire along with malaria, dysentery and heat stroke began to take its toll.
Next update we’ll take a look at the unsuccessful first campaign against Vicksburg and the effect on Connecticut’s Ninth.