|THE ALABAMA 37TH REGIMENT OF VOLUNTEER INFANTRY,
CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA:
A NARRATIVE HISTORY & CHRONOLOGY
PART V: May - August 1863
May 1, 1863 - Advancing on the Rodney Road toward Port Gibson, Mississippi, Grant’s force runs into Confederate outposts after midnight and skirmish with them variously at Thompson’s Hill, Anderson’s Hill and Magnolia Hills. After 3:00 a.m., the fighting stops. Union forces advance on the Rodney Road and a plantation road at dawn. At 5:30 a.m., the Confederates engage the Union advance and a full-scale battle follows.
From one source, elements of the 37th Alabama appear to be involved in each of the day’s skirmishes, but it also appears more likely that the majority of the regiment’s strength remains in the vicinity of the Yazoo north of Vicksburg.
Elements of the 37th Alabama may be engaged in the "Battle of Port Gibson"
Reinforced Division & four brigades:
Brigadier General John S. Bowen, Commanding
Moore’s Brigade: Brigadier General John C. Moore
Confederate losses (wounded or killed): 787
The Federals force the Rebels to fall back. The Confederates establish new defensive positions at different times during the day but can not stop the Union onslaught and leave the field in the early evening. The way to Vicksburg is open.
May 3-4, 1863 - Detached elements of the 37th Alabama may again skirmish with Federal troops at Forty Hills and Hankinson’s Ferry.
Following the Union occupation of Jackson, Mississippi, both Confederate and Union forces make plans for future operations. Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston retreats with most of his army, up the Canton Road, but orders Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding about 23,000 men, to leave Edwards Station to attack the Federals at Clinton, Mississippi.
Pemberton, feeling that Johnston’s plan is too dangerous, decides instead to attack the Union supply trains moving from Grand Gulf to Raymond.
May 6, 1863 - Private Alonzo O. Witter (Co I) dies of unknown cause at Baughan’s Station, MS.
May 16, 1863 - Pemberton receives another order from Johnston repeating his earlier directions. Pemberton is already on the Raymond-Edwards Road with his rearguard at the crossroads one-third mile south of the crest of Champion Hill. When he orders a countermarch, his rear, including his many supply wagons, is now - awkwardly - the advance of his force.
Moore’s Brigade, including the 37th Alabama, appears to be part of 10,000 men held in reserve to defend Vicksburg, rather than taking the field with the rest of Bowen’s division, but some accounts do include the unit as taking part in the fight at Champion Hill and Baker’s Creek. Perhaps some elements of the regiment are detached from the rest of the command.
At about 7:00 a.m., Union forces engage the Confederates and the Battle of Champion Hill begins.
Pemberton draws up into a defensive line along a crest of a ridge overlooking Jackson Creek, unaware that a Union column is moving along the Jackson Road against his unprotected left flank.
Confederate Brigadier General Stephen D. Lee’s men are posted atop Champion Hill where they can watch for Union troops moving to the crossroads. Lee spots the Federals and they soon see him. If this force is not stopped, it will cut the Confederates off from their Vicksburg base. Pemberton receives warning of the Union movement and sends troops to his left flank. Union forces at the Champion family’s house move into action, place artillery and begin firing.
When Grant arrives at Champion Hill, around 10:00 a.m., he orders the main attack to begin. By 11:30 a.m., Union forces reach the Confederate main line and about 1:00 p.m., they take the crest while the Rebels fall back in disorder.
The Federals sweep forward, capturing the crossroads and closing the Jackson Road escape route. Bowen’s division, to which the 37th Alabama had been attached, then counterattacks, pushing the Federals back beyond the Champion Hill crest before their surge comes to a halt.
Grant then counterattacks, committing fresh forces that have just arrived on the field. Bowen’s men are unable to stand up to this new assault. Pemberton orders his men from the field to the one escape route still open: the Raymond Road crossing of Baker’s Creek.
Confederate Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman’s brigade forms the rearguard, and is ordered to "hold at all costs," which soon includes the loss of Tilghman himself. In the late afternoon, Union troops seize the Baker’s Creek Bridge and, by midnight, occupy the town of Edwards. The Confederates are in full retreat towards Vicksburg. If the Union forces can catch the Rebels, they will certainly destroy them.
May 17, 1863 - Reeling from the defeat at Champion Hill, the Confederates reach the Big Black River Bridge the night of May 16-17. Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton orders Brigadier General John S. Bowen, with three brigades, to man the fortifications on the east bank of the river and slow the Union pursuit.
Three entire divisions of Union Major General John A. McClernand’s XIII Corps move out from Edwards Station the morning of the 17th. This corps encounters the Confederates behind breastworks and takes cover as Confederate artillery begins firing. Union Brigadier General Michael Lawler forms his 2nd Brigade, Carr’s Division, which surges out of a meandering scar, across the front of the Confederate forces, into the Confederate breastworks, held by Vaughn’s East Tennessee Brigade. Out numbered three-to-one, confused and panicked, the Rebels begin to withdraw across the Big Black on two bridges: the railroad bridge and the steamboat dock moored across the river. As soon as they cross, the Confederates set fire to the bridges, preventing close Union pursuit.
The fleeing Confederates who arrive in Vicksburg later that day are disorganized. The Union forces capture approximately 1,800 troops at Big Black, a loss that the Confederates can ill afford. This battle seals Vicksburg’s fate - the Confederate force is now completely bottled up at Vicksburg.
Outside the city, stragglers and detached groups are rounded up by the Federals. Private E.D. Murphree (Co K) is among the first. He is captured at Chickasaw Bayou on May 19.
Several other members of the regiment are reported as POWs at Yazoo City, MS on May 21:
- Private James Beard (Cos A & C)
- Private Edgar W. Green (Co B)
- Private William A Jones (Co H)
- Private James Moorman (Co I)
- Private Thomas Moorman (Co I)
- Private Richard D. Riviere (Co C)
- Private Lafayette A. Stanford (Co A)
- Private James D. White (Co D)
- Private G.W. Wright (Co H)
May 18-July 4, 1863 - The 37th Alabama is besieged at Vicksburg Mississippi
Forces of Vicksburg: Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, Commanding
Forney’s Division: Major General John H. Forney
Moore’s Brigade*: Brigadier General John C. Moore
37th Regiment of Alabama: Colonel James F. Dowdell
*Moore’s Brigade losses (siege) : 121 killed, 304 wounded = 425
Regimental losses: 16 killed, 38 wounded
The bombardment of Vicksburg continues day and night for 47 days. The Union gunners stop shelling only to take their meals. Food and water inside the city become scarce. Soldiers are forced on short rations, often a few ounces of flour ground from peas, and a one-inch square of bacon are expected to last a man for five days. One account out of the 37th Alabama makes reference to a poor, shell-shocked dog that wandered haplessly into the Regiment’s lines and ended up as a stew for the starving men.
Photo at left of a portion of the line occupied by the 37th Alabama at Vicksburg courtesy of Charles R. East.
May 22, 1863 – A Federal assault against the portion of Confederate lines occupied by Moore's Brigade is launched. Private S.L. Burney (Co G) later described the action, including hand-to-hand combat in his memoir of circa 1913:
"... On May 22nd, they made a tremendous assault on Moore's Brigade, composed of the 37th Alabama, 40th and 42nd Alabama, 2nd Texas and one Mississippi regiment ... This assault was made I was told by one entire division, some 15 or 16 thousand men. The greatest pressure was against the 2nd Texas and 40 and 42 Alabama regiments. At this point, their line was only 150 yards distant. At a given signal they bounded at our men in a dead run, but their ranks were literally cut to pieces by our infantry and artillery. The field guns were double charged with canister put up in tin cans containing about 75 balls to the can. As they leave the gun the box is ripped and the mortality is fearful at so short a range and in the dense masses in which they came at our men. Officially, 16 members of the regiment are killed and 38 more are wounded during the Vicksburg siege. Actually, at least 37 men died from the results of the actions in the field or from wounds or disease more than 100 others are hospitalized from wounds, malnutrition or disease.
Notwithstanding this fearful slaughter, some of them reached our trenches, only to be knocked in the heads with butts of guns or run through with bayonets. These charges were repeated several times. They only got possession along the line at one point, opposite the 42nd Alabama. and held this only a few minutes. Colonel Pettus of the 42nd Alabama called for volunteers to retake the fort which they did in gallant style killing and capturing all that had entered. This put an end to their efforts for by this time the ground was literally blue with their dead and wounded men. Those dead men lay just where they fell for three days. The weather being hot, this was fearful to bear.
General Pemberton sent to Grant a flag of truce with the request that he bury his dead. This was accepted and an armistice was declared for a few hours to permit them to perform this sad and awful task. Permission was granted to some of us to view the burial, myself among the number. They went to work with pick and shovel. They would dig along side of a dead man, push his body in with the shovel and cover much too shallow, I thought. The part of the burial ground visited by me was at the fort on the line of the 2nd Texas. This was indeed a veritable slaughter pen. It was said that in front of this fort and regiment lay 800 dead men and I am sure it looked so to me.
While here a man of the burial party from Illinois was recognized by one of our men from LaFayette, Alabama who had moved from LaFayette just about one year before the war began. I remember his asking about several men in LaFayette, among them Tip Marable. Here he was fighting probably some of his kinsmen. A man from the 2nd Texas told me that a color-bearer of an Illinois regiment succeeded in planting his colors on the brink of a ditch they were in. They just reached out and pulled him in saying that he was too brave a man to kill. This was magnanimous and the act of a brave man. ..."
Known Regimental Dead at Vicksburg, MS
(KIA = Killed in Action, DOW = Died of Wounds, DOD = Died of Disease, DUC = Died of Unknown Cause)
- Private Beverly Amos (Co K) KIA/DOW June 30
- Private Emanuel Antley (Co A) DOD July 2
- Private Benjamin Bryan (Co C) KIA June 11
- Private Henry Bryan (Co C) DOW June 29
- Private Hughey F. Cooley (Co B) KIA June 29
- Private J.M. Floyd (Co F) KIA
- Private G.B. Franklin (Co C) WIA/DOW May 22
- Private Andrew J. Grantham (Co C) KIA May 21
- Private Ephriam Hammock (Co B) KIA "in trenches"
- Private Matthew Hammond (Co I) KIA
- Private Nute Hammonds (Co G) KIA
- Private Mark Holton (Co A) on list of KIA, DOW, DOD
- Private James W. Ivy (Co C) KIA May 31
- Private Joseph Jarrell (Co I) DUC June
- Private Joseph Jones (Co K) DOW June 25
- Private Toliver Jones (Co I) DOW July 13
- Private Richard Kent (Co G) DOW - shot in collar, died in hospital
- Private Matthew Kerby (Co K) KIA/DOW
- Private Johnathan Logan Kerr (Co B) KIA
- Private David Kilpatrick (Co C) DOW/DOD July 15
- Private James H. Lett (Co I) DOW June 6
- Private B.G. Merrell (Co C) KIA June 12
- Private Miles Moore (Co I) DOW
- Private George Nunn (Co I) DOW
- Private Stephen Seats (Co B) KIA
- Private W.H. Sessions (Co F) DOD
- Private John T. Shaver (Co I) DOW
- Private William W. Shaver (Co I) DOW/DOD July 21
- Private Flavis G. Singleton (Co E) KIA
- Private Hamilton A. Stanley (Co H) KIA
- Private Thomas N. Tucker (Co I) DOD July
- Private Gideon Wall (Co C) DUC June 17
- Private Edmun G. Welch (Co B) KIA
- Private Henry B. Wooddy (Co I) DOD May 8
- Private Thomas P. Wright (Co F) DUC May 20
- Private James Wynnes (Co K) KIA
This marker located on the Vicksburg battle field
denotes the artillery support within Moore's Brigade
by Sengstack's, Tobin's, Landis', or Wall's battery.
Two artillery pieces were manned at the point of the
line occupied by the 37th Alabama,
image courtesy Charles R. East
July 4, 1863 - Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, Commanding the Vicksburg defense surrenders his entire army to U. S. Grant. Pemberton, himself a northerner, believes he can negotiate better terms with Grant on such an auspicious day as this.
The 37th Alabama is among the nearly 23,000 soldiers surrendered at Vicksburg, Mississippi, on July 4, 1863, the same day as the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
At right, photo of cannon near the line occupied by the 37th Alabama at Vicksburg courtesy of Charles R. East.
Following the rules of war common for the period, the men captured at Vicksburg, including John Malcolm Culpepper, are paroled and released after signing the following document:
VICKSBURG, MISSISSIPPI, JULY 9 1863. -----------------------------------------------------------------
To all Whom it may Concern, Know Ye That:
I John M. Culpepper a Private of Co. B Reg’t 37th Ala Vols. C.S.A., being a prisoner of War, in the hands of the United States Forces, in virtue of the capitulation of the city of Vicksburg and its Garrison, by Lieut. Gen. John C. Pemberton, C.S.A., Commanding, on the 4th day of July, 1863, do in pursuance of the terms of said capitulation, give this my solemn parole under oath -----
That I will not take up arms again against the United States, nor serve in any military, police, or constabulary force in any Fort, Garrison or field work, held by the Confederate States of America, nor as guard of any prisons, depots or stores nor discharge any duties usually performed by Officers or soldiers against the United States of America, until duly exchanged by the proper authorities.
/s/ John M. Culpepper
Sworn to and subscribed before me at Vicksburg, Miss., this 9th day of July 1863.
/s/ Jm. [?] P. Davis 23rd Reg’t Indiana Vols.
Lt. Col. AND PAROLING OFFICER.
His own brother, William Araspes Culpepper may have missed out on the carnage of Vicksburg, but John Malcolm and his cousins William Washington Culpepper and Robert Jefferson Culpepper are among the survivors from the 37th Alabama at Vicksburg, both of whom sign parole documents on July 9 as well.
The rag-tag members of the regiment march out of Vicksburg and stack their weapons. The Union troopers are astonished, and quietly humbled, by the sight of the thin relics of humanity who’ve defended the city under their relentless barrage. More than 230 men (see list at bottom of page) in the regiment are captured and paroled. Another 100+ are paroled while sick or wounded in various hospitals at Vicksburg (see list below).
On the heels of the siege of Vicksburg, Colonel James F. Dowdell resigns his commission. He has no choice. A medical court rules him physically unable to return to active service. Lieutenant Colonel Alexander A. Greene takes over command of the 37th Alabama Regiment. Captain John O. Davis (Co B) who had the bones of his right wrist shattered by a bullet also resigns his commission, stating in his resignation that the wound " ... fractured radius and part of bone (was) taken away ... ". Lieutenant James H. Johnson is given command of Company B.
The Regiment is ordered to report to parole camp at Demopolis, Alabama, but the men have other ideas. They are ready to go home. Sensing the men’s reluctance to go into parole camp, an order is given granting them an extended leave. Traveling by whatever means they can, the men scatter in the general direction of Alabama.
Eating off the land, most often, meals of boiled unripe corn, the men are sustained until they can reach their homes.
Those too sick to leave Vicksburg on their own travel by boat to the hospital ports of Enterprise, Mississippi and New Orleans, Louisiana, and then travel on to Fort Morgan and Fort Gains in Alabama and eventually to Mobile.
Known Regimental Dead (Post Siege) in August-September 1863
- Private James Bracken (Co C) DOW/DOD Aug 14 at Mobile, AL
- Private Gabral Bryan (Co B) DOW Sept 18 at Enterprise, MS
- Private Newton T. Culbreath (Co G) DOW Sept 18
- Private Francis Marion Fargason (Co B) DUC at Vicksburg Aug 13
- Private Davis Floyd (Co B) DOW Sept 18
- Private Elisha Hand (Co B) DUC Aug 1
- Private William Looser (Co I) DUC Aug
- Private Jedidiah Owen (Co C) DUC Aug 14 at Fort Gains, AL
- Private Levi N. Owen (Co C) DUC Sept 14 at Fort Gains, AL
- Private Jno. E. Riley (Co A) DOW Sept 18 at Enterprise, MS
- Private John M. Smith (Co G) DOW/DOD aboard the steamer H. Chouteau at New Orleans LA on July 27
bound for Mobile, AL
- Private Thomas Moorman (Co I) DUC Aug 22 at Demopolis, AL
- Private James McDonald (Co I) DOD in Sept on a train en route to Hospital at Lauderdale Springs, MS
- 2nd Lieutenant John Gilchrist Purcell (Co E) DOD (Typhoid) 27 Sept 1863 at Robeson County, NC
234 known Survivors of Vicksburg Siege from 37th Alabama Infantry, paroled and released:
106 more known sick and/or wounded Survivors of Vicksburg Siege from 37th Alabama Infantry, paroled while hospitalized:
NEXT: History - Part VI
37th Alabama Regiment of Volunteer Infantry CSA
2300 Cottondale Lane Little Rock, AR 72202
© Copyright 2007 C.C. (Chip) Culpepper