Garth Hagerman Photo/Graphics
Garth Hagerman Photo/Graphics

Civil War Journal of Samuel Oliver Bereman, page 4

In the 4th Iowa Cavalry
May 16-May 31, 1863s.o. bereman

May 16th 1863

Our co. was detailed for patrol guard last night after we had gone to bed. We had to ride all night through the city. A large number of soldiers had become drunk and were engaged in plundering and burning the town. It was charged particularly upon two Iowa regts. who were kept here as prisoners after the battle of Shiloh. They were said to have been treated very badly - kept in the Penitentiary &c. and they had a spite at the place.

It is a grand yet sad sight to see a city on fire at night. Whole blocks were on fire at once. The flames continued to rage all night in spite of our best endeavors to prevent it. Occasionally some high wall would fall with a terriffic noise. A most thrilling incident occurred, which served to render the sight more interesting. A soldier had become beastly intoxicant and had laid down in front of a large 4 story brick building which was soon wrapped in flames. As the timbers were burned away the wall began to totter and sway as if shaken by a mightier wind. It was now noticed for the first time that this soldier was lying within reach of the wall, & if it fell outward would crush him to death. What was to be done? Was there no one to arouse the unconscious soldier? It was extremely dangerous to venture within reach of the trembling wall - besides the heat was almost intolerable across the street. Is there no help? Yes one brave man darts across the street - grasps him by the arm - shouts in his ear - half rouses, half drags him away just as the mighty mass falls with a terrible crash! He is saved.

"Out of the jaws of death - Out of the mouth of Hell." Morning dawned & the flames were still raging. Left Jackson this morning and took up our line of march towards Vicksburg. Marched 23 miles and camped at Bolton Station on R.R. The advance army had a hard battle at Champion Hill today. Havent heard the particulars but our troops gained the day (as usual). The loss was very heavy on both sides, the enemy losing heavily in prisoners also. Well I am hungry tonight from the fact that I havent had any thing to eat but a small piece of fat meat.

May 17th

Our men gained another victory today at Black River Bridge - capturing alot of prisoners & artillery. Our regt. went on to Bridgeport six miles above the Bridge where we found about a dozzen Rebs. on the opposite of the river behind brestworks. We skirmished with them a while & then Gen. Blair's Div. of Infty. came up and fought them, about six hours before they raised the "white flag". Our regt. and the 6th Mo. were then sent back on another road. Went 12 miles and camped. Lieut. Gardner arrived from home today, & brought us some mail. Our co. on picket tonight. - Feel awful hungry. We drew some ham today out of a smoke house by the side of the road which helped us some, but we have no bread of any kind.

May 18th

Started on this morning and went ten miles. Found some rebs. & had a fight with them. Routed them with a loss of three men wounded. We then countermarched & went to Bridgeport, crossed the river, went three miles & camped. We killed some sheep tonight, & drew a little flour but have no way to cook it. So made a supper off fresh meat & coffee.

May l9th, 1863

Went on to within 4 miles of Vicksburg and went into camp. We were told it was much healthier out here than closer to the city! Got all the mulberrys we could eat, but it dont last long. In the afternoon our regt. went up to Haines Bluff - on the Yazoo River, about ten miles north of this. Found the place evacuated with the exception of a dozzen men who were guarding some large guns which had been left in their works all of which we captured & turned over to some Gunboats that came up while we were there. Got back to camp at ten oclock at night very hungry and tired. We drew a little more flour and managed to cook some of it but had'nt half enough. Heard heavy firing towards Vicksburg all evening. Our forces have invested the city and are closing in all around. It is a very strongly fortified place, & will hold out several days no doubt.

May 20th

Layed in camp, all day. The firing continued steady all day, guess Vicksburgers are having a hot time. Ran out of rations again. I dont suppose we will get any more till we take Vicksburg or get communication opened above the city.

May 21st

Moved our camp a mile nearer town. Sergt. Vanorsdol and I went down to the lines where they are fighting. They seem to be taking it rather cool considering the weather. They fight by turns - the same as we go on guard. We went around to the extreme right where the 25th Iowa is stationed. The 15th Corps Gen. Sherman is on the right resting on the river above the city, the 13th Corps Gen. McSernand occupies the extreme left to the river below & the 17th Corps Gen. McPherson holds the center. The are said to have 40 000 men under Gen. Pemberton.

May 22nd

Our co. was ordered out on picket. Went out six miles on the road to Bridgeport. Heard the heaviest firing we have heard yet. Our men made a charge on the rebel works but were driven back with heavy loss.

May 23rd

Lieut. Gardner with fifteen of the co. were sent out to Black river to guard the ford. About 3 oclock in the afternoon we received orders to report to the regt. at Haines Bluff distant 20 miles. James Ritcheson and myself were sent off to a farm house a mile distant, after some more of the boys who were after forage for the horses but not finding them we returned to find the co. gone. We started in the direction of the Bluff expecting to overtake them, but got off the track and got lost. There is no direct road, we traveled by-roads & across fields until darkness warned us that it was unsafe to travel longer. We were still 8 or 10 miles from our destination when we left the road we were on & went down into a deep ravine where we could secrete ourselves from any straggling rebs. Knowing that there were many in the neighborhood. We tied up our horses - ate a hardtack and some milk that we had procured at the farmhouse and made cheerless bivouac.

May 24th

We arose at daylight - not to the sound of the revealie however but silently saddled up - without any breakfast & started on to Haines Bluff. Saw a few straggling rebs. near a farm house - but not desiring an intimate acquaintance in our present condition we gave them a wide berth & they did the same thing - making for the brush in the opposite direction. When we got to the Bluff we found that the command had gone & not deeming it safe to follow we returned to our old camp near Vicksburg. Heard that Freeman was killed.

May 25th

Layed in camp all day. There is a part of the regt. here, it is called by the active men of the regt. the "4th Battallion". (There are but 3 battallions in a regt.) There are always some who are really sick - some who "play off" & are hardly ever on duty &c., & aint heard much firing at Vicksburg for several days.

May 26th

Heard the regt. had returned to Black river & so several of us went out and joined them. We have been reinforced by the 2nd Ill. Cavalry who are also camped here. Heard heavy firing at Vicksburg all day.

May 27th

Started N.E. towards Yazoo City. Were joined about noon by Gen. Blairs Div. of Infty. Marched 20 miles and camped near one Mr. Grant. He is a noted old rebel, and has a very fine looking daughter who is also a rebel. They have some jewelry and other things hidden out in different places - some in the garden - some in the field &c. But the boys found them. The young lady said (& with a great deal of truth) that "it was no use to hide any thing from the Yankees!" The things were returned to the owner (except some hams). They were looking for gold which they thought was hid out.

May 27th [sic; presumably the 28th]

Marched 18 miles, are camped in a large orchard. We ran onto the rebel pickets this evening. There were three deer in the orchard - pets I suppose. The boys got excited & chased them down on foot & killed them.

May 29th

Went on to Mechanicsburg where we found some rebels & had a pretty brisk skirmish with them till our Infty. came up when they left. We had several men wounded in our regt. some pretty badly. The rebels also lost several men. We lay here awhile when our co. was sent out to reconnoiter the road. We were ordered to go three miles if we met with no opposition. We had gone nearly that distance without seeing or hearing of a rebel when as we neared the end of a lane beyond which was heavy timber, suddenly there arose in our front a host of rebs. within a dozzen yards of us and commenced a steady fire into our ranks. Being taken at such a disadvantage in a long lane with high fences on each side - (and nothing is a greater disadvantage than being surprised or ambushed as we were) having only about twenty five men & they not half armed - is it a wonder that we were driven back in confusion?

But only about a hundred yards where we got behind a small hill which partly shielded us when we turned about and returned the fire. The rebels soon mounted their horses and left. (they were dismounted and lay hid in the brush) We had three men wounded one of them mortally. Bro. Wm. was among the no. of wounded. We also had several horses shot. Will. Atwood had his horse killed which makes the 2nd one he has had shot under him, some one remarked that "the third time was the charm & the next time it would be him." Alas! it proved to be too true. As soon as the rebels left we fell back a quarter of a mile to the forks of the road where there was a house, took our wounded into the yard, got mattreses and pillows from the house, washed their wounds & sent back word of our adventure to the command which soon came up, and camped here for the night. Our wounded were taken back to Mechanicsburg in an ambulance, and at night Sergt. Vanorsdol & I went back to act as nurses during the night. Wm. is wounded in three places - through the arm, the shoulder & the side. Isaac Vaughn is shot through the lungs & cannot live long.

May 30, 1863

The whole command started back towards Vicksburg. Only went 15 miles. Very hot and dusty, pretty hard on the wounded. There six of -all of our regt. One each of cos. A. B. & M. & three of co. "K." With several others I was detailed to go with the ambulances & take care of the wounded.

May 31st

Started early & went on ahead of the command with the "Hospital train". Got to the landing at Chicasaw Bayou on the Yazoo river at three oclock P.M. We procured a tent and some clean clothes, had the wounded dressed & sanitaries for them when they felt much better. Got a late northern paper, the first I have seen since we left Helena - Saw an account of the "taking of Vicksburg" by Gen. Grant, but I am inclined to doubt the truth of the report from the simple reason that I can hear them firing down there yet!