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Ulysses S. Grant Follows Up on African American Troops’ First Battle at Milliken’s Bend: “Drive the enemy from Richmond. Reinforce Mower all you can and send him to do it.”
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Grant was determined to take Vicksburg, and retaking the surrounding countryside in Mississippi and across the river in Louisiana were critical parts of his plan. Here, he moves around troops to further his design after an important showing by the USCT a few days earlier. In his Memoirs, Grant observed that “This was the first important engagement of the war in which colored troops were under fire,” and he praised their actions.

ULYSSES S. GRANT. Autograph Note Signed, to Elias S. Dennis, June 13, 1863, 1 p. 7¾ x 2½ in.

Inventory #24508       Price: $4,000

Complete Transcript

                                                                        June 13th 1863

Brig. Gen. Dennis, Millikins Bend

            Drive the enemy from Richmond. Reinforce Mower all you can and send him to do it.

                                                                        U. S. Grant

                                                                        Maj. Gen.

Historical Background

During the Vicksburg Campaign, Brigadier General Elias S. Dennis led troops in the Battle of Port Gibson and the Battle of Raymond. Placed in command of the District of Northeast Louisiana in May 1863, he commanded a detached brigade of five Illinois regiments and a brigade of six regiments of Louisiana and Mississippi African American soldiers led by white officers. On the morning of June 6, Dennis’ African Brigade and two companies of the 10th Illinois Cavalry made a reconnaissance toward Richmond, Louisiana, about twenty miles west of Vicksburg.  They encountered Confederate troops and drove them back, then retired to Milliken’s Bend, about fifteen miles upriver from Vicksburg, to report.

Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Trans-Mississippi Department, had ordered General Richard Taylor to attack Ulysses S. Grant’s supply lines to relieve pressure on Vicksburg and the Confederate army besieged there.  Early in the morning of June 7, 1863, Confederates attacked the Union forces at Milliken’s Bend, primarily the African Brigade and the 23rd Iowa Infantry. In fierce hand-to-hand fighting, the Union forces retreated to the river where two gunboats fired on the Confederates and halted their advance. Union casualties numbered more than 650. Despite their inexperience, the raw and ill-equipped African American soldiers fought well. Indeed, a white Union soldier from New Hampshire wrote his sister that the USCT “fought like tigers.” Their performance helped convince doubters that African Americans could fight, and their stand foiled the Confederate attempt to lift the siege of Vicksburg.

In this message, written less than a week later, Grant orders Dennis to send General Joseph Mower’s Eagle Brigade to pursue the Confederates and drive them from Richmond, Louisiana. General William T. Sherman sent Mower’s Eagle Brigade from the Vicksburg trenches to coordinate with General Alfred W. Ellet’s Marine Brigade.  Under Mower’s command, they succeeded in taking the city, which sat along an important supply line to Vicksburg from the west, two days later, on June 15, 1863.  

Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) was the leading Union general of the Civil War and the 18th President of the United States. Born in Illinois as Hiram Ulysses Grant, he was nominated to West Point by his congressman as Ulysses S. Grant, knowing that he was called Ulysses and that his mother’s maiden name was Simpson. He graduated from West Point in 1843 and served in the Mexican War, but at the start of the Civil War, he was a little-known grocer in Galena, Illinois. In June 1861, he was appointed colonel of the 21st Illinois Infantry and quickly rose to prominence in the western theater. His victories at Forts Henry and Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga earned him fame and steady promotion. In March 1864, he was named lieutenant general (the first since Washington) and general-in-chief of all Union armies. On March 8, Grant went to Washington and met Lincoln for the first time. Grant remained in the Eastern Theater to oppose Confederate General Robert E. Lee. After the difficult Overland Campaign, the Siege of Petersburg, and the climactic Appomattox Campaign, Grant forced Lee to surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. He was commanding general of the U.S. Army after the war, and was elected as a Republican to the presidency in 1868 and 1872.

Elias S. Dennis (1812-1894) was born in New York but moved to Illinois in 1836. Dennis served in the Illinois House of Representatives from 1842 to 1844 and the Illinois Senate from 1846 to 1848. When the war began, Dennis became lieutenant colonel of the 30th Illinois Infantry. Promoted to colonel in May 1862 and to brigadier general in November 1862, he commanded a brigade in the Army of the Tennessee. Placed in command of the District of Northeast Louisiana, he commanded Union militia in Louisiana until the end of the war. For twenty years after the war, he lived in Louisiana, where he married a plantation owner. He returned to Illinois in 1887.

Joseph A. Mower (1827-1870) was born in Vermont and served as a volunteer in the Mexican War before entering the regular army in 1855. During the Civil War, he became colonel of the 11th Missouri Infantry and fought at the Battle of Corinth, where he was wounded and briefly taken prisoner. Promoted to brigadier general in November 1862, he commanded a brigade in the siege of Vicksburg, where he impressed General William T. Sherman. After Mower participated in the Red River campaign and gained promotion to major general, Sherman ordered him to join Union forces in Atlanta. Mower commanded a division during the March to the Sea and the subsequent campaign through the Carolinas.

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