In the first decade of the 20th century, Simeon R. Martin of Vicksburg began writing a memoir about his service to the Confederacy during the Civil War. Martin explained in the introduction his reasons for writing of his wartime exploits:
As it may be a matter of interest to my descendants, especially my own children in after years, I propose to give a brief outline of my participation in the greatest war of modern times, viz: ‘The War Between the States,’ or as our friends the enemy term it, ‘The War of the Rebellion,’ together with my impressions of men and measures during that fateful period, and such comments as shall occur to me during the course of the narrative.
When he completed his manuscript, Martin had it privately published under the title, “Recollections of the War Between the States,” and distributed the copies to the members of his family. The old soldier never intended for his work to be published, and in relating to his children his wartime experiences, Martin pulled no punches. He presented the men with whom he served as they were, the heroes and cowards, rascals and colorful characters.
In describing the horrors he witnessed on the battlefield, Martin told his children of the blood and gore and didn’t try to gloss over the butchery of war. He has seen some terrible sights during his years in the army and felt that his children should not have a false idea of what Civil War combat was like. In speaking of the war he said, “It means misery, heart-breakings, desolation and death. This it the true picture, but it is not always thus painted.”
Simeon R. Martin began his military career in the spring of 1862 when he enlisted in a local company, the “Southern Rights,” that was forming in Union, Mississippi, a small town in Newton County. During the summer of 1862 this company along with several others were attached to the 6th Mississippi Battalion, which was later reorganized into the 46th Mississippi Infantry Regiment, the Southern Rights being designated as Company I.
The 46th Mississippi first saw action just north of Vicksburg at the battle of Chickasaw Bayou, December 27-29, 1862. The regiment was not heavily engaged, however, and casualties were very light. For the men of the 46th Mississippi, the 1863 Vicksburg Campaign was their bloody introduction to the horrors of modern warfare.
Martin’s memoir covered all four years of his wartime service, but for this work I have chosen only the chapters relating to the Vicksburg Campaign. As even this portion of the memoir is quite lengthy, I will post the work chapter by chapter as I have time. The narrative begins with the battle of Port Gibson, Mississippi, on May 1, 1863, and concludes with the surrender of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863.
The words in this memoir are Simeon Martin’s; the only changed I have made are to paragraph the material to make it easier to read and to place the events mentioned in chronological order to ease the flow of the narrative.
In the beginning of his memoir Martin wrote a few notes about the men in his company that he served with. Some of the comments are funny, some are sad, more than a few depict his comrades in an unflattering light, but they help to put a face to the men that made up the Southern Rights, and where possible I have included these comments in the text.
Martin had a quick wit, an engaging writing style, and an honesty that sets his work apart from many other Civil war memoirs. I hope you like it as much as I did.
Chapter 1 – Port Gibson
After Chickasaw Bayou, nothing of importance transpired in the vicinity of Vicksburg till late in April 1863, when the Federals succeeded in running several boats by our batteries. This was done one very dark morning just before daylight. Our regiment was picketing the river that night and we saw the whole thing, or as much of it as could be seen, which was not a great deal.
I don’t know what the matter was, and have never hear it explained, but the fire of our batteries seemed wholly ineffectual, and so far as we knew inflicted no damage on the passing boats. The passing of these boats changed the whole appearance of things, and it was not evident that we should soon have more fighting to do. Grant now having ample facilities for crossing his troops over the river, it was to be supposed that he would lose no time in moving south and endeavoring to approach the city from the rear.
After the fleet succeeded in passing Vicksburg, Grant marched his army across the neck of land west of the city and down the river to a point opposite Bruinsburg, where he crossed over and established a base. As soon as he had sufficient troops and supplies brought up, and he began the movement to the rear of Vicksburg by way of Port Gibson.
Our command was ordered out to meet this movement, and we came in contact with Grant’s advance, three or four miles west of Port Gibson on the morning of the first day of May 1863. We took up position just at the intersection of the roads leading to Bruinsburg and Grand Gulf, our regiment being formed along a ridge to the left of the first mentioned road, to support Bledsoe’s Missouri Battery.
We had not been in position many minutes before the Yankees came in range, and the shells and minnie balls began to whistle round in unpleasantly close proximity to our various anatomies. The Federals ran a battery of five guns, up within about eight or nine hundred yards of us, and opened fire on two guns of the Missouri battery above mentioned, which were situated just at the right of the regiment, and then the fun began. As we were slightly below the brow of the ridge, they couldn’t see us at all and were not firing at us but at the guns; but this was little consolation to us, as the fragments of bursting shells scattered in every direction and occasionally wounded some of our men.
This is the most trying ordeal that troops can be subjected to, to have to lie still under fire which they cannot return, with nothing to do and nothing to think of, except how long it will probably be before their turn comes to die or suffer mutilation. Rush them into action in a charge or place them where they have an equal chance with the enemy, and they will think little of the danger, but to remain idle under fire, with no protection, will try the nerves of the finest troops on earth.
Fortunately we remained here but a short time. The two Missouri guns were manned by young fellows, none of them seemingly more than eighteen or twenty years old, but they were the coolest lot of fellows and the finest gunners I saw in action during the war. The shells were coming round them thick and fast, bursting, tearing up the ground and making a terrible noise, but they paid no more attention to them than if they had been base-balls.
They worked their guns with clock-like regularity, aimed with care and precision and every shot seemed to count. We could see their shells bursting right in the midst of the Federal batterymen, and it was not more than fifteen minutes from the beginning of the duel, before the Yankees moved off with three of their guns, the other two being dismounted, and leaving several men and horses dead. Not one of our guns or gunners were touched, the only casualty in the battery being an Irishman who was down under the hill holding horses, and he was wounded only in the pants, which had the effect of making him swear vociferously.
After the Federal position had been abandoned by their battery, we were advanced about a quarter of a mile to the front, down the Bruinsburg Road, and took position in an open field in full view of the enemy, and exposed to an open fire from both artillery and small arms. Many blunders are made in war, and this was one of them, and a fatal one for many of our men. This field was not more than two hundred yards wide, with timber on both sides of it, in which we could have had good shelter from the enemy’s fire, and yet we were kept there for a full half hour, in a bare level field, with not a tree, stump or anything else to shelter us, exposed to a merciless fire of shells, grape, canister and minnie balls.
It was here that Sam Smith was killed and John Campbell wounded, and where I had another narrow escape myself. After we had suffered severe loss, in killed and wounded, we were finally withdrawn into the road where we where sheltered by the high banks. We were then deployed as skirmishers and advanced to the front through the timber till we were in sight of the enemy, when we began firing, and kept it up till night pretty much in the same position. This was a hot place too. We were very near to the Yanks, not more than a hundred yards or so away, and in some places much nearer. Many were killed here on both sides, and at one time a few of the Yanks wandered into our line and were captured.
Editor’s note: Martin had this to say about Sam Smith: “Enlisted at Union and killed at the battle of Port Gibson, May 1st 1863. The bullet that killed him would undoubtedly have killed me, but for the fact that it struck him first. John Campbell had just been hit by a piece of shell, and as he was near to us, Sam and myself both raised up to see if he was badly hurt, when a minnie ball struck Sam, going through his head and killing him instantly. My head was just behind his, and the ball also struck it but not with sufficient force to penetrate, my head being to some extent protected by a stiff piece of leather in the top of my cap.”
Martin also said this about John Campbell: “Enlisted at Union, was with the command at all times and places and was always ready for duty. Was wounded at Port Gibson May 1st, 1863, and killed in the second days battle at Nashville, Tennessee, in December 1864. John was a good man and brave soldier. He opposed me for the Lieutenancy when I was elected and took his defeat with very bad grace, in fact was never cordial to me afterward, but this made no difference in my intercourse with him, I was always his friend and sincerely regretted his death.”
About nine o’clock that night, we were withdrawn and retreated, passing through Port Gibson and going down in the direction of Grand Gulf, as it was feared that Grant might send a column in that direction; but as he did not, after remaining in the neighborhood for two days we were brought back, crossed the Big Black at Baldwin’s Ferry and camped in the woods this side, where we remained for several days. When we moved from this camp, we went up the Black River to the railroad bridge, where we were on the day of the battle there, but in which we did not take part.
That night we were marched back to Vicksburg and occupied our old quarters. We were tired to death and it was a great relief to get back to our tents, beds, and extra clothing. We had carried no change of clothing with us, and were all very dirty and in bad shape generally. The first thing I did was to take a good bath and put on clean clothes, and then without waiting for anything to eat, I lay down on my cot about sundown and I don’t think I turned over or moved till sun-rise next morning, when the drum beat for roll call.
In the meantime the rest of our army had fallen back on the east side of Big Black, pursued by the enemy and had fought disastrous battles of Baker’s Creek, Champion Hills and Big Black, being finally forced across the latter stream at the railroad crossing and driven back to Vicksburg, reaching there the same night we did, viz: May 17th, 1863. After a good night’s sleep, we spent the next day in cleaning up our equipments, putting our clothing in order and resting.
About four o’clock in the afternoon, we were formed in line, marched leisurely to the
north of the city cemetery and took position as skirmishers about a quarter of a mile in front of the breast-works, which had been prepared for the defense of the city some time before. We had not been in this position for more than twenty minutes before the Federal skirmishers were in touch with us, and we were hammering away at each other for dear life.
End of Chapter 1