The 13th and 18th Mississippi regiments were awakened well before sunrise on Thursday, Dec. 11, 1862. They formed in the dark on Marye’s Heights. Then they were rushed down to the city where Union engineers were attempting to throw three pontoon bridges across the river.
“They had the bridge[s] halfway across the river by daylight,” wrote Private Mike Hubbert of the Minutemen of Attala, “when they were fired on by the 17th and 21st Miss. Regiments and driven back.”
Spartan Band quartermaster clerk William H. Hill wrote in his diary that “[The enemy] then opened fire with the 146 guns of heavy artillery from the opposite side of the river.”
The men of the 13th and 18th regiments ran “nearly all the way at the double-quick,” Spartan Band Private Albert Wymer Henley recorded.
“As we neared the city we were met by many females who had been roused from their slumbers by the picket firing and shelling, hurrying out of town to seek asylums of safety beyond the reach.”
The 13th “reached the market square as the clock struck 6 a.m., halted and loaded…” Henley wrote.
“The enemy’s batteries were bursting all over the city. The lurid blaze as they exploded, filling the street with a red, unearthly glaze, [filled] the soldiers with fearful foreboding.”
The 13th and the 18th took up position at the “upper end of [Caroline] street,” Henley continued.
There, Hill said, they “were so situated that they could not fire on the enemy, but had to take their fire all day. Several were killed and a large number were wounded mostly by bricks and splinters from the houses.”
Several times they shifted position, from Caroline Street to Princess Anne Street, as the 7th Michigan Volunteer Infantry crossed the river on pontoon boats and marched into the town.
Meanwhile the Union engineers finished their construction of the pontoon bridges, allowing the rest of the 3rd Brigade of Sedgwick’s Division, troops from Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania, to cross the river and enter the fight.
“After the enemy had crossed,” Private Mike Hubbert of the Minutemen of Attala wrote in his diary, “our brigade fell back in town and gave them battle.
The fight lasted from 3 p.m. until dark. Our men fought bravely and against largely superior odds. They killed many of the enemy while our loss was comparatively small. Our brigade fell back out of town and their place was filled by Gen. Cobb’s Georgia Brigade. Barksdale’s Brigade was the only troops engaged today.”
In a letter home, according to Jess N. McLean, Winston Guards Private William Little Davis recalled:
“We secured ourselves behind houses and at street crossing and ‘woe is be’ to the bluecoat who showed his face. We killed lots of them in backyards and outhouses. On[e] Yankee regiment formed a pretty line and were advancing up a street a little before dark [.] Our boys, who were laying on the ground on the next street, quickly rose and pored a deadly volley into their midst causing the greatest confusion. The Yankee officer cried to his men to ‘charge the rebels.’ Our boys, one and all, cried out ‘come on.’ It finally got so dark that we had to fire at the lights of the enemy’s guns.”
17th Regiment Private Robert A. Moore recorded:
“[About 41/2 p.m.]…we were forced to retire down the river bank but held [the] Yanks out of the city until 8:00 P.M. when we retired & left the city in the hands of the Abolitionists. All agree that the bombardment has been the most terrific they were ever under….The city is badly riddled & partly burnt.”
Jess N. McLean found records showing 102 men of the 13th Regiment were killed, wounded, and missing in the urban fighting.