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And Some Reflections Concerning
the ''Colored Troops," the Debt We
Owe Them, and How We Paid It.
Read Before the Ohio Commandery
of the I/oyal I^egion, Oct. 7th, 1908
I^ate X«letttenaut-Colonel 49th 17. S. Colored Infantry Vols,
of African Descent, Originally izth I,a. Vols. A. D.
^DIT^D BY ITS AUTHOR
Late Lieut.-Col. of the 49th U. S. Colored Infantry
Vols, of African descent — originally nth
La. Vol. Infantry — A. D.
Read Before the Ohio Commandery of the
Loyal Legion, October 7th, 1908,
and Edited by Himself.
THE F. J. HEER PRINTING CO.
OCT ?) i9rM>
On the subject stated, this paper was prepared and read on
due invitation of the Ohio Department of the Loyal Legion of
the United States. Immediately after its reading it was duly
complimented ; and, according to custom, on motion and without
dissenting voice, its publication by the Legion in due course was
ordered. Several days later I was surprised by a notice that a
brave and chivalrous member who had sat close by during the
reading, etc., and kept profoundly mum, had entered protest
against publication under the sanction of the Legion.
The story of the trial that ensued would be too lengthy for
profit. Of it suffice it to say: The Legion experienced a change
of heart and reversed itself — figuratively at least — washed its
hands of it and placed my paper on the index prohibitorius !
Ostensibly this remarkable change was on the ground that
something said of the 23d Iowa Regiment was in conflict with
the records of the War Department, which, true or false must
be held sacred by the Legion, — as intolerant, absurd and
obstructive of truth, it seems to me as oldtime insistence that
nothing should be printed, taught or said in conflict with "theo-
logical science." But, without spectacles, it seemed easy to read
between the lines of the discussion that the kick was largely, if
not mainly, on account of lingering prejudice against giving the
negro a "square deal."
Hence, having been led by said order to promise copies to
several of my friends, to explain my default, and also mindful
that many true and good things have been found in the publica-
tions condemned to that index and that the world is indebted to
heretics for every advance including the figleaf garment, I de-
cided to resign from the Legion and hazard the publication on
my own account, which was accordingly done.
For it, no favors are asked except on merit.
MILLIKEN'S BEND, ETC.
The story of the battle of MilHken's Bend, of June 7th,
1863, I beHeve has never been told by anyone who was present
throughout that event, or who had accurate knowledge of it.
It ought to be told. I have been waiting until my 77th
year for someone else to tell it. and only now attempt it for
fear it may be lost.
As preface and warrant for attempting it, I beg to submit
one of several similar documents showing that I was there from
start to finish :
"Camp 49, U. S. Colored Infantry,
ViCKSBURG. Miss., Nov. 20, 1865.
E. D. TOWNSEND,
Asst. Adjt. General.
General : —
I have the honor to state that, as the 49th U. S. Colored
Infantry, (Late nth La. Vols, of A. D.) is about to be mustered
out of service, I deem it my duty to furnish my humble testimony
to do justice to Lieut. Col. Cyrus Sears, commanding the same,
in respect to the part performed by him in the memorable
battle of Milliken's Bend, La., of June 7th, 1863 ; believing my-
self to be the only officer remaining in the regiment, who had
an opportunity of giving such testimony.
"\\'ithout wishing to detract in the least from the just
merit of anyone, I must state this fact, which could be affirmed
by hundreds of witnesses, that the written report of that battle
divided the chief credit of it between two officers, one of whom
was not in that part of the country at all, and the other of whom
to say the least, took but a very slight and short part in the
"On the other hand. Lieut. Col. Sears, whose conduct upon
6 The Battle of Milliken's Bend.
that occasion was most gallant and meritorious, received no
mention in that report at all.
"As commander of the right wing of his regiment, he not
only held his i)i>sition until long after all the other troops had
left tlieirs and taken a position immediately under the river
bank and protection of the gun boats, but until his ammunition
was exhausted and a detail which he sent for more, returned
"During ihib time, this officer repeatedly ran out where he
was openly exposed to the entire fire of the enemy, and rallied
the fleeing troops to the position assigned him. This I regarded
as the more creditable to him from the fact that he was the
only fiekl officer wdio was seen to make an effort of that kind.
I would further state that after conducting his command under
cover of the river bank and the gun-boats, he was, during all
the balance of the battle, in command of the entire forces there ;
all of his superior officers having taken refuge upon the boats
or elsewhere and left the troops to the fates.
"In my opinion, in the latter position, he did everything
that could be done to avert the calamity of the destruction of
our entire forces there engaged which was successfully achieved,
though almost miraculously so, it seems to me.
"I would further add, that Lieut. Col. Cyrus Sears is, in
my opinion, undoubtedly entitled to the chief credit of organiz-
ing his regiment, and of bringing it to whatever high state of
discipline it may have attained.
T am Sir,
\'<)ur ( )lK'(lienl hunil)le servant.
'^^'^''K-d) J.\MES P. Hall, Capt.
fotli U. S. Colored Infantry,
Comd'g Co. "F".
(I. ate Co. "!•■■■ nth La. XoL. of .\. j). i"
"I ccrtity tiiai the t«>rc<.;t)ing iwu pages are a correct copy
of the «)rigiiial letter in Capt. Hall's own hand writing which
1 recojiliize and id(iilif\.
The Battle of Milliken's Bend. 7
'"I further certify that the facts herein above stated are in
accordance with the uniformly expressed opinion of the officers
and men of this Command during the time that I was an officer
"I became identified with the Regiment officially Nov. 5th,
1863, and personally, early in January, 1864, and served with it
imtil the date of its muster out late in March, 1866. When I
first joined the Regiment, many of the Officers who participated
in the Battle of Alilliken's Bend, June Jth, 1863, were still
serving with the Regiment and their separate statements to me.
of this event, are in full corroboration with and substantially the
same as the written statement of Capt. James P. Hall.
Ch.\rles R. E. Koch,
Laic Capt. 40tli C. S. C. 1."
Col. Chas. R. E. Koch is now the Honorable Commander of
the Illinois Commandery of the Loyal Legion of the L^nited
States: also Secretary of the Illinois \'icksburg Military Park
Also — and I beg you to excuse any cheek implied in my
mentioning of it — I have here a Medal of Honor awarded me by
Congress "for distinguished bravery in the ])attle cjf luka, Miss.,
Sept. 19th, 1862" — the onlv such medal that has been awarded
for service in that battle.
Hoping }-ou may regard these as sufficient credential, I
venture upon my theme :
Officers were appointed and orders given them to organize
"Contraband" negro regiments at Milliken's Bend, La., May
The Battle of Alilliken's Bend was fought sixteen days later.
All veterans, at least, must know how inadequate were sixteen
days to recruit, muster, organize, arm, equip, drill — in short
to make soldiers of any material, UTider any circumstances.
While in the light of accomplished facts, all informed per-
sons, now admit that the material was good, to the same, it must
go with the merest suggestion, that the circumstances were worst
conceivable. Nothing in the past experience of those men tended
in the least to generate or foster any latent soldierly qualities,
8 '//;.• Battle of Millik-cit's Bend.
«)r to inspire pairiutisiii. At that time — to say it very con-
servatively — not one in fifty but ])ropliecied the experiment
woultl prove a failure ; and most projiliets had so much pride in
their prophecy in these days that they really hoped it might prove
true. Hence in the Ouartermaster's — and all other departments,
— ii was currently thouj^hi that the \V(jrst was "good enough"
for the "damn niggers." and. that, it was i|uite smart to give them
<>nlv the w<irst : and. with as much red-pepper in it, as practical.
With this material, organized under such circumstances, on
the I'liitm side, this battle was fought. Col. Herman Lieb, then
of the <)th La. V'ols. of African descent, was, until disabled, and
for a day ox two previous had been in command of the African
l)rigadc at Milliken's Bend. His official report (of which I be-
lieve there was never a printed copy) will hel]) the story. T say
heli>, liecause I flo not agree with him in all details.
, Leaving iMX-Iiminarie^ and selecting i)aragra])h to mv ])ur-
pose. he says :
"This report i>, in the ntaiii, a resume of regimental re-
]>orts, I myself having, during the early part of the action, re-
ceived a not Very severe but painful gunshot wound in the thigh
which incapacitated me for action. The command then devolved
upon Col. Chamberlain of the nth La." (my regiment) "wIk^
was nowhere to be seen on the field. Lieut. Col. Pavne of the
<jth La." ( Lieb's regiment) "then took command."
After mentioning his return to camp at 12:40 P. AI. from
a skirnu'sh of the day before, he says:
"I immediately dispatched a courier with intelligence to
(ien. Dennis (at N'oung's Poiut) who immediately started to my
assivlance the gun-l)oat Choctaw, and a (ktachmeni of the 23rd
Iowa Infantry. Shortly after my arrival in camp I proceeded to
d.ouble n>y pickets and sent a squad of moimted infantrv of m\
ngiment to act as vedettes.
"I immediatel\- issued orflcTs to tlir dilTerent regiments of
.\frican de.seeiu in my comiuand t.i be in line of battle behind
the intrt'nched works at 3 .\. M.. K-.iving \W j^rd Iowa, wlio
were without teiUs or other shelter, on board the trans])()rts until
3:53 A. M. when 1 ordered them to move in double quick time
within the breast \\<trks.
The Baitle of MiUiken's Bend. 9
"After a few minutes the pickets came in, reporting the
enemy rapidly advancing" in strong force on the Main Richmond
road, at the same time heavy firing was heard in that cHrcction
corroborating the report. I immediately disposed the forces in
the rifle pits as follows : The 9th La. Infantry, 285 strong, on
the extreme left, the ist Miss., 153 strong, the 13th La. In-
fantry, 108 strong-, and the 23rd Iowa, 105 strong, in the center,
and nth La., 395 strong, on the extreme right.
"The enemy advanced on the left of our line" (I say on our
whole line) "throwing out no skirmishers in front, with a strong
force of cavalry on his right flank, marching in close column by
division until within three-fourths of a mile of our works.
"My men were ordered to withhold their fire until the
enemy were within musket shot ; and the first volley was de-
livered when they were within that range, which made them
waver and recoil; a number running in confusion to the rear,
the balance pushing on with intrepidity, soon reaching the levee,
where a charge was ordered by their leaders, when they came
madly on with the cries — kill the d — d Abolitionists, spare the
Niggers. Our men being unaccustomed to the use of Muskets,
some having had but two days drilling, the most proficient not
more than three weeks" (hardly that within the sixteen days
mentioned) "the enemy succeeded in getting up to our works, a
number of them on top of the Bend" (levee) "before many of
our men succeeded in reloading their pieces, while many of them
(Austrian Rifles) failed to fire.
"A desperate hand to hand fight of several minutes duration
then ensued ; the blacks exhibiting unprecedented bravery, stand-
ing the charge nobly, until the enemy in overwhelming numbers
had succeeded in gaining a position on the levee at our extreme
left, from which they poured a murderous enfilading fire —
chiefly upon the officers — who fell in numbers ; but not until
overpowered by numbers and forced from their position, were
the blacks compelled to fall back, seeking shelter behind wagons,
piles of boxes, and other obstructions and behind the banks of
the river, pouring volley after volley into the ranks of the enemy.
"At this critical juncture, a broadside from the Choctaw
checked the enemy's '•>rogress, who soon disappeared behind the
10 The Battle of Millikcn's Bend.
levee, but keeping up a constant fire upon our men and apparently
extending their line toward our extreme right though keeping
up the heaviest fire on our left. They however attempted to
cross the levee on our extreme right but were held in check
by two comi)anies of the nth La. which I had posted behind
cotton bales and a i)art of the old levee." (I say by the whole
nth) "In this position the fight continued until near noon,
when the enemy suddenly withdrew. Our men seeing this move-
ment on the left rushed after them and poured volley after
volley into them while they remained within gun-shot range."
(I had a splendiil view of the situation and opportunity to
hear and see, but did not see this rushing nor hear these
"My entire force (»f oflRcers and men are deserving of special
notice as such hand to hand conflicts, such daring feats against
vastly superior forces of Texas troops, has never in tlie annals
of this war, been equaled. The endurance of the men after
l)eing wounded, their persistence in doggedly fighting after hav-
ing been driven from their breastworks, and their eagerness to
resume the conflict, can never be surpassed."
(To be candid, I don't remember that "eagerness," but that
we were glad to l)e the authors of the pattern followed by
Meade a short time afterward at Gettysburg : by letting the
enemy go in peace, kissing them goodbye, hoping they would
never call again and thanking God it was no worse.)
Lieb continues :
"The enemy hail in action one brigade of infantry and
ab<-)ut 200 cavalry, commanded by Brig. Gen. McCullough, or
nearly treble our number, with two brigades in reserve. His
loss is over 100 killed and a large number wounded. They
succeeded in getting the majority of their wounded oiT the fiel.l.
Among the killed is Col. .Mien of the i6th Texas."
From these extracts it would seem that the Battle of Milli-
kcn's Bend was quite "a hot little scrap." .Authorities have
settled that, other things equal, the per cent, of casualties re-
ceived in battle is the best test of the severity and gallantrv of
the fightinp:. Let Millikcn's Bend be judged accordingly.
By I.ieb's report his regimeiu wint in o action 28s strong,
The Battle of Milliken's Bend. 11
and had three officers and sixty men killed, and ten officers and
ninety men wounded. The ist Miss, went into action 153 strong
and had two men killed and twenty-one wounded. The nth
La. — my regiment — had two officers and twenty-one men killed
and 112 wounded out of 395.
Let us analyze and compare a little : As anyone can figure
from this, Lieb's regiment had over twenty-two per cent, killed,
and over thirty-five per cent, wounded ; the first Miss, one-third
per cent, killed and about fourteen per cent, wounded, while my
regiment — on the extreme right — had about six per cent, killed
and twenty-eight per cent, wounded, or thirty-four per cent'
killed and wounded. Lieb's report says nothing of the killed and
wounded in the 13th La., which he says went into the fight 108
strong ; says nothing of its killed and wounded for the very
good reason that he was mistaken about any such regiment being
there. Only the other regiments he mentions were "in it." And
he says nothing of the killed and wounded of the 105 strong
23rd Iowa. All he says about them after stating his disposition
of them, is this :
"The 23rd Iowa Infantry left the field soon after the enemy
had gained possession of the levee, headed by their Colonel and
were seen no more."
I think it may be taken for granted he wrote this of the
23rd Iowa from his own knowledge; and, therefore, that it took
place early in the engagement — before he was disabled.
Hence, on the Union side, the battle was practically fought
by the 9th La., the nth La., and the ist Miss. — all very raw
partially organized contraband regiments — assisted by the Lex-
ington and Chocktaw grm-boats.
Of these "contrabands," including their officers, according
to Lieb, there was an aggregate of 833, of whom thirty-nine per
cent, were killed or wounded, which, while not up to the record,
is a very high per cent., — over two per cent, above the loss of
the famous 600 at Balaklava.
But let us go back to Lieb's Ninth La., and see if it did
not make a record there it has never had credit for :
Fox's Regimental Losses, p. 30, credits the 1st ]\Iinn. at
Gettysburg with the high-water-mark loss in killed and mortally
iL' / //(• i-iiitti,- o[ Millihcii's Bold.
woumlcd. in a single battle, of 2i^ jxt c^ent. ; where, out of a
total of 262 in action, 94 were killed, or mortally tvonndcd, —
don't t)verlook the "niortally wounded.'"
As I have sh(»\\n. ai Milliken's Bend, the 9th La., out of
285, hail (V) killed — on the spot — while Fox, p. 521, gives 128
as its killed and mortally wounded, whicli figures nearly 45 per
cent. — and makes i>t Miimesota's 28 per cent, look considerably
like "thirty cents."
I'roperly you may (juery. wh\ did not Fox give honor
where honor was and is due?
Probably the reason is. Lieb's report contains the only
record number of the 9th La. engaged in the action ; and it ap-
pears to have never reached the War Department which dis-
claims having any record as to its number in action. So Fox,
whose book is founded on the official records of the war de-
partment, found nothing to figure that per cent. from.
To be candid, — and with due deference. I am of the opinion
that there are some mistakes in Lieb's report; — I know the 13th
i,a. wa> not there — I believe he has the casualties too high —
though, by no means high enough to rightfully deprive the 9th
La. oi the honor of having sustained the highest per cent, loss in
killed and mortally "n.-oundcd in a single engagement of the Civil
About that time mucii chaos prevailed at Milliken's Bend.
The newly made officers of these troo])s were kept at the verge
of "brainstorm" by the studied delays, slights, sneers, snubs, and
naggings of the Smart .\lecks of the departments; the camp
was full of negroes of all ages and sexes in the crudest con-
dition of ignorance, poverty, and great expectation ; some
mustere<l, armed and more or less equipped. A recruit having
a gun was "knocked out." when a "contraband," nuistered or
not. would grab his gun and "go in." Many such were killed,
nian\ wounded, etc. Lnder such circumstances it were strange
if the counts were not mixed; especially considering ihe very
short acquaintance of the officers with their men — and the fact
th:it all — contrabands looked alike to the unsophisticateil.
Milliken's Bend B.attle-ground. — ■ long since washed into the
•■•'•' 1' -MexiC" ! remember it, was located twelve to four-
The Battle of MiUikens Bend. 13
teen miles northwesterly of A'icksburg-, on the right Ixink of the
Mississippi. The Union forces there defended their camp-
ground; a level, unobstructed strip or plateau about 150 yards
wide and a short quarter of a mile long between the river's
bank and its levee. This bank from upper edge to water, was
then about fifteen feet hig-h; about half way, especially its up-
per half, too steep for convenient footing". The levee was full
six feet high, with sod covered sides sloping abotit forty-five
degrees, and wide enough on top for a good wagon road, which
it had. Directly outside this levee was a good 60 to 80 foot
wide road. At a point about opposite the center of our camp, at
about right angles, there came into this road, another road
from Richmond. Monroe, etc. The outside of the road beyond
the levee, was lined with a verv thick osage orange hedge,
averaging fifteen to twenty feet high — or more — impenetrable
to inen. From this main levee, at the north end of our camp, a
levee ran diagonally down-streamward to the river. North of
that was a woods. South of the hedge, bordering the main
levee, was one or more big cotton plantations, at that time oc-
cupied and managed by Judge Dent, a brother-in-law of General
The fields and Richmond Road were also more or less
bordered by hedges ; and about midway between this Richmond
Road and the extreme left of our line, a gap about one hundred
feet wide had been cut out of the main hedge and the brush
piled therein — • thus : A day or two before the battle, by Gen.
Shepard — then there in command, but who left before the bat-
tit — I, with a large detail, armed with axes, was ordered to
cut that hedge down along our entire front, "so it would not ob-
struct our fire." By the time we had cut this gap. it had forcibly
occurred to me that it was very bad tactics — that in l)attle this
hedge would prove a far greater obstruction to the enemy than
to us, so — and as I had earned my medal of honor from Con-
gress about a year before by flat disobedience of* orders — I
took the liberty of suspending the cutting, while I argued the
case with General Shepard. He ordered the work suspended.
Thus, he undoubtedly saved the "Union Bacon." For, it has ever
since been conceded by the informed, that but for that hedge.
14 7//C- Battle of MilUken's Bend.
the riiiun troojis \voul<l not only have been defeated, but probably
su tiered a fate like that at Ft. Pillow, long before any gun-
boat was ready for assistance.
The battle opened so early that the flashes of the first
several volleys were vividly visible along the whole line. I am
sure there was no gunboat ready for action before eight o'clock.
The eneni\ fought us under the skull, coffin and cross bones
( black I Hag. They captured our picket of two officers and
about fifty men. Beyond a doubt they murdered these officers,
an<l some of the men — as reported by our men who said they
witnessed the murder. And the rebel leaders regretted that all
were niH mas.sacred instead of captured. Rebel Gen. Taylor,
then commanding district of West La., in his official report of
this battle says :
'"A very large number of the negroes were killed and
woun<led. and unfortunately, some fifty, with two of their white
<jfficers. ca])tured ;" clearly indicating that the capture was con-
trary xo plan. (See War of the Rebellion Official Records, etc.
Series i. \'oI. 24. Part 2. p. ^^g — reports).
Rebel Gen. Walker, in his report (p. 466 same), conclusively
confirms this view, where he says: "I consider it an unfortunate
circumstance that any armed negroes were captured."
Of the efficacy of that hedge, Gen. McCulIough, in his
official report (p. 467, same) says:
".\ portion of the command was immediately thrown in line,
moved forward, and drove the enemy from his lurking place
to the next hedge about 600 yards farther; and thus the fight
of skirmishers continued from hedge to hedge and ditch to
<!itch until within twenty-five paces of the main levee on the
bank of the Mississippi River, where the charge was ordered.
Here we encountered a thick hedge, which could not be passed
except thnnigh a few gaps or breaches. These had to be passed
by the troops the best they could, never fronting more than half
a company, before a line could be formed to charge the levee,
which was the breastwork of the enemy."
In the same he com])Iiments the fighting of the negroes by
"Th«- line was formed imdcr a iu-.tw lire from the encmv.
The Battle of Milliken's Bend. 15-
and the troops charged the breastworks, carrying it instantly,
killing and wounding many of the enemy by their deadly fire,
as well as the bayonet. This charge was resisted by the negro
portion of the enemy's force with considerable obstinacy, while
the white or true Yankee portion, ran like whipped curs almost
as soon as the charge was ordered. There were several in-
stances in this charge, where the enemy crossed bayonets with
us or were shot down at the muzzle of the musket."
He winds up this report with this wail :
"Accompanying this report will be found a complete list
of killed, wounded and missing, made from the reports of my
regimental commanders. My loss is truly deplorable, and my
very heart sickens at its contemplation. But the scathing ordeal
through which my little brigade" (1500 he admits) "was com-
pelled to pass, has increased my confidence in and love for them,
and makes me anxious to see them have at least one fair chance
to meet the enemy where they can gain a complete victory to
compensate them for the gallant fighting they have done, and
always will do, when called upon to meet the foe."
Rebel Gen. Walker's report, commencing on p. 462 — same
— is no less complimentary to the prowess of the colored troops
and eflficacy of the hedge. There is no doubt then, that the
colored troops fought nobly, and, Othelo-like, "did the state
some service" at Milliken's Bend. No doubt fighting has seldom
been more strenuous.
More or less of the men captured on picket came scatter-
ing back until near Mar. 22nd, 1866, when the regiment was
mustered out — many of them from Texas where they had been
worked for the Confederacy, and whence they were released by
And how much did those gun-boats assist? I think but
very little ; because every rebel who had sense enough to be a
soldier must have known they could do them no harm without
injuring us more. There was the river bank, at least fifteen feet
high, then 150 yards beyond, the levee at least six feet higher;
the guns were but little above the water ; so, in order to shoot
over the bank and levee at all the boats had to be in mid river
or beyond. And the enemy were beyond the levee ; or, if on
16 The Battle of Mtl/ikcn's Bend.
top or inside, any shots at tlicni were likely to scare and damage
friends far nmre than foes; this even if friends were behind
the bank-< and foes in the camp-jj^round. I know shots from
them (hd kill and wound some of our men. The gunboat-men
mistook a botly of our men for rebels and made a target of
tliem for several shots, before we could signal tluni off. From
the fact that I was very unpleasantly spattered with blood,
brains and llesh of one of our men. who there had his head
shot off from one of our gimboats. I shall never forget that our
navy did some real execution at ■Milliken's licnd. 1 never heard
they killed or wounded any of the enemy. An ex-rebel ofificer
who was there, told nic- ihev did their side no harm except to
scare some. 1 Ic also declared they were beaten by that, to them
unknown. im])enetrable hedge. Tf they were after a victory by
charging over the levee, tlie time for it was during the at least
four hours before the navy seemed to be ready. If. as Col.
Lieb says, when "the enemy in overwhelming numbers had
gained position on our left and ])oured a murderous enfilading
fire chiefly uptju our officers, etc.. that compelled the blacks to
fall back and seek shelter behind wagons. ])iles of boxes and
other obstructions and l)ehind the banks of the river;" and
when, as he says, "at this critical juncture a broadside from the
Chocktaw checked the enemy's ])rogress." etc., must not the
I'nion have gotten it in the back as much as the rebellion in
the belly? Were we not in the fix of Lincoln's calf hung over
thf fence, "with dogs a-hold of both ends?"
W hat of Col. Chamberlain of my regiment, of whom Col.
Lieb said, "he was nowhere to be seen on the field?" lie was
a fine looker, of whom a captain said — "It was real poetrv to
>ee him draw his sword on dress i)arade." During the battle,
in citizen's clothes, he spent the time on one of those gunboats.
I filed charges against him and in due time he was out of the
service — for its good. I have nothing harsh to sa\ of liiin —
or any coward — more than for any cripple because he limps
and suffers. They can't help it. and are ecpially to be pitied.
Major Cotton, <tf my regiment, was killed while bravely
rallying trtxtps early in the battle, and eaeii and i'ver\ line officer
f\u\ hi- dutv noblv.
The Bii'ttlc of MUUken's Bend. 17
Col. Liel) has told his story, hut of the other field ofiicers I
only know that, after T had conducted my command behind the
river l)ank — ^ about nine o'clock — like Col. Chamberlain, "they
Avere nowhere to be seen on the field."
What of the 23rd Iowa? Gen. Dennis — who was not
there — gives them special credit for having exhibited splendid
prowess ; John McElroy — ■ who was not there — in an article in
the National Tribune a cou]>le of years ago, follows suit of
Dennis ; and C. A. Dana, Assistant Secretary of War, who was
not near, reporting to Secretary Stanton, goes them several bet-
ter, saying this regiment there had twenty-six killed and sixty
wotmded ! Fox and McElroy say the same, while the War De-
partment records say twenty-four killed and thirty-two wounded.
Some contend that a writer of Civil War history is bound
to follow War Department records, no matter how inaccurate
he may know or believe them to be. Believing this 20th century
is so enlightened and tolerant as to want the truth, or whatever
evidence there may be of the truth, no matter what it may con-
tradict, I venture some suggestions and evidence to show that
the War Department's count as above, and all commendation of
the conduct of the 23rd Iowa at MiUiken's Bend is unwarranted.
This I believe I am under obligation to do, not only in
the interests of true history, but far more to give the honor they
are entitled to, to the raw colored troops that fought there.
Surely it will go without argument that, if these troops made a
heroic fight alone, and notwithstanding they were early deserted
by the veterans they looked to for example, they were entitled
to a much higher degree of credit than if those veterans had
done their duty. Shall all light on this question be forever hid
under a bushel because it may contradict an old record, or dim
the glory of some not entitled to it, to ^ the detriment of those
who are ? Such is not my understanding of the 20th century
"square deal." Let the truth have a chance to prevail though the
Therefore, be it remembered: Col. Lieb, a brave and
honorable officer, commander of all the Union troops in the
battle, wlho had best opportunity to know, and strongest incentive
to correctly report the truth, in his official report says there
18 77; i' Battle of Millikcn's Bnul.
were but 105 of that 23rd in the battle. If the W ar Dei^artnient
record — twenty-four killed — is true, there were within a trifle
of twenty-three per cent, killed o)t the field. Fox, I believe, is
considered a high authority on Civil War statistics. According
to Fox's list, p. 28, there were but seven regiments that had as
many as twenty-three per cent, killed and mortally ivounded in
a single battle of that war; — the ist Minn, standing at the head
with twenty-eight per cent. — (don't forget the "and mortally
wounded''). Statistics show that the average of mortally
wounded is sixty-four per cent, as many as killed on the field.
Add sixty- four per cent, of twenty-four and there were thirty-
nine per cent, killed and mortally wounded in that 23rd, beat-
ing the record by nearly forty per cent. Does any sane man
believe it ? And nobody ever heard of it ! And though in that
list Fox includes regiments with losses as low as ten per cent.,
this 23rd is not included ! Is it suggested that in this instance
sixty- four per cent, is too high on mortally wounded? Cut it in
two — and C()nsideral)ly more — and still that 23r(l beat the
What furlluT? Willi his opi)ortuiiity aiirl incentive as
above. Col. Lieb says of that regiment's conduct in the battle:
"The 23rd Iowa Infantry left the field as soon after the enemy
had gained possession of the levee, headed by their Colonel and
were seen no more !"
I submit that on this point his report warrants no in-
ference but that he was an eye witness. Moreover, while with
great detail he mentions the killed and wounded of other regi-
ments, he mentions none for that 23rd, that, according to the
War Department records and Fox beat all records.
Speaking of the .same — Capt. Miller, otli La., savs : "The
23r(l Iowa joined my company on the right and I declare truth-
fully that, they had all fled before our regiment fell back." As
9th La. was Col. Lic-b's regiment, observe how Capt. Miller
.And 1 know that, like Held ortKHrs and Col. ('haniberlain
according to Col. Liib. (hning tlu- l.i^t half of the battle or more.
the 23rfl Iowa "was nowhere to be seen on the field."
Moreover, from directly after the battle to the end of my
The Battle of Milliken's Bend. 19
service nearly three years later, I had a good opportunity to
and talked to many — -including Capt. Miller and Col. Lieb —
concerning the conduct of the 23rd Iowa, and their uniform
testimony confirmed and reinforced the natural inference war-
ranted by the above quotations.
There is a more reasonable way of accounting for an error
in that record than impeaching the sanity or veracity of both
Col. Lieb, Capt. Miller and others ; Gen. Dennis was at Young's
Point the day of the battle ; that 23rd went directly from the
battle ground to Young's Point and there doubtless reported to
him. If their conduct was as reported by Col. Lieb and Capt.
Miller, it is not at all likely they so reported it to Gen. Dennis.
I think it is notorious that demoralization so affects troops, as
to incapacitate them for telling the facts about a battle in which
tlicv were demoralized. Moreover, Col. Lieb's report was the
only legitimate report of the battle. He was in command on
the 8th of June when it was made, so no one else had a right
to make it.
I understand and believe that regiment did much splendid
service before and perhaps after Milliken's Bend. So, if their
conduct there was as Col. Lieb intimates, I have an excuse for
them, namely : men are like horses, in that no one can tell what
they will do when confronted by strange conditions.
This regiment probably entertained the then almost uni-
versal belief tha-t negroes would not fight and reasoned accord-
ing to the then current fashion : "them damn niggers won't fight."
W^e and they are only a handful compared with the veteran and
merciless enemy hot after us under the "skull and cross bones
flag." If we stay we are sure to be murdered with no good to
the Union or anything. \\'e are good material that has done
the state much service — and will do it again if saved. — Let's
not throw it away, but be patriots and save it !"
I have tried to give that 23rd an impartial square deal
including all evidence in its favor — though only hearsay — and
hope the jury will render a verdict — as to them and the colored
troops at Milliken's Bend — accordingly.
I understand that under other circumstances, even Col.
Chamberlain had shown commendable grit and prowess. When
20 Thr Battle of Millilci'ii's l^ciui.
sifted then, this liatllc seems to liave been ftjiighl on the L'nion
side by about 835 very raw negro "contraband" troops, against
about 2000 (McCulloch athnits 1500 on the field and the lowest
of our official guess that I have discovered say 2500 ).
These few raw troops won a considerable victory. Even
modest, reticent, and very conservative Gen. Grant said of their
"In thi> battle, most of the troops engaged were Africans,
who had but little experience in the use of arms. Their conduct
is said, however, to have been most gallant, and I doubt not but
with good officers they will make good troops." p. 446 (same).
, Here — considerably to reinforce the lesson already given
on the fallibility of and curious in "official reports." let us in-
quire how many rebels were killed and wounded in this battle.
-McCulloch says only 44 killed and 131 wounded — hardly
enough out of even the 1500 which he admits, to justify his very
pathetic wail I have quoted from his report.
Dennis says, "The enemy's loss is estimated at about 150
killed and 300 wounded. It is impossible to get anything near
the loss of the enemy, as they carried the killed and wounded off
in ambulances." p. 448. That means all "carried off?"
C. A. Dana (then Asst. Secy, of A\ar) says (p. 96. Vol.
24. part 2, same) : "Of the rebels we buried 130." From so
high an authority this positive statement ought to "stand pat;"
but it don't.
.\dmiral Porter, who was on the ground in the afternoon
of the day of the battle, says, (p. 454, same), "The moment I
heard (»f it. (this battle), I went up in the Black Hawk and saw
quite an ugly sight. The dead negroes lined the ditch inside of
the parapet or levee and were mostly shot in the top of the head.
In front of them, close to the levee, lay an equal number of
rebels, stinking in the sun." On p. 453 he says they lost 98
killed, according to their own count, and a proportioned number
wounded. Gen. Ilalleck says loi kille<l, 285 wounded. (Part
I. same. p. 7). .\nd I say. the Lieut, sent out in charge of
the burial party, npttrtcd the biuial of 80 udd rebels ^ 1 have
forgotten the odd.
There is no doubt that the colored troops fought noblv at
The Battle of Milliken's Bend. 21
Milliken's Bend, as in over a hundred other battles, skirmishes
and scraps of that war; and I beheve it is recorded that they
never showed the wliite feather.
And what was the object of this battle? What was the aim
of the rebels there? Of course principally to aid Pemberton"s
army in Vlcksburg. According- to Admiral Porter (p. 454,
same) : "If the rebels could have had possession of the La.
side of the river, opposite Vicksburg", in six hours — at that
time — they could have moved Pemberton's entire army across
the river, and we could not have prevented it." If they could
have transported Pemberton's army, of course they could have
supplied it or reinforced it, for which there were many troops
close at hand. (p. 450, same). The records abundantly show,
that, had the rebels won at Milliken's Bend, they could hardly
have failed to have gained the very much more weakly de-
fended right bank of the river opposite \"icksburg — ^ \'oung's
Milliken's Beitd was, I believe, the first battle in whicli
"contraband troops" fought alone. True, ten days before, at
Port Hudson, in connection with a much larger force of veteran
wdiite troops to give them courage and confidence if need were,
they had fought as bravely.
To ignore the debt we owe them — under the code of
common humanity — for services rendered in saving the Union,
we owe our negro citizens a very large debt, which we have
been paying only in the coin of broken promises, inhuman neg-
lect and barbarous abuse.
The first bloodshed and the first life given for American
Independence was that of a negro. They have performed an
honorable and efficient part in all of our wars except Mexican,
from which they were barred by prejudice.
As Indian fighters and Spanish war soldiers their record
From first to last during the Rebellion, in round numbers,
they furnished 180,000 Union soldiers — as good as any — which
is praise enough: also 150,000 laborers in the different depart-
ments, who practically took the place of soldiers; and, as all
these came from the other side, they practically amounted to a
l>-_> The Battle of Millikoi's Bend.
I'liiDii Army of 660.000 men. Forty thousand more than twice
as many as were in the comljined armies of Aleade and Lee at
Gettysburg! Moreover, each and all. old and young, male and
female, of the millions of negroes that remained at home, were
ever loyal, and ever willing and anxious to aid our cause in
every way they were able to the extent of their power; thus, I
believe, they rendered our cause as great a service, as their
vast army in the field.
r.nt for I heir great aid. I believe ours would have been tlie
"lost cause."' And I believe whosoever is fully aware how near,
how z'ery near, in the "dark days of '64" with their great aid,
our cause came to being "the lost cause," must agree with me.
While the negroes were rendering this patriotic service, what
were their chief persecutors and their ancestors doing? Ninety-
nine-one hundredths of them were rebels in the South, or copper-
heads in the North ! Never a rebel or copperhead negro !
Let so high an authorit\ as the late Gen. Rutler suggest
our debt and (hu\ in lliis behalf. After describing the heroic
and bloody charge — as heroic and bloody, in proportion to
number engaged, as the annals of war disclose — by Birney's
division of over 3000 colored troops at Newmarket Heights. —
he describes their line of charge, thus :
"As I rode across the brook and up towards the fort along
the line of charge, some eighty feet wide and three or four
hundred yards long, there lay in my path five hundred and
forty-three dead and wounded of my colored comrades. .\s I .
guided my horse this way and that way. that his hoofs might
not ])rofane their dead bodies. 1 swore to myself an oath, which
! hope and believe I have kept sacredly, that they and their race
should be cared for and jirotected by me to the extent of my
power as long as I live." (Butler's Book. p. 733).
1 submit that every .American patriot should swear, register,
and >acredly keej) that oalli. Hut whai are we doing; or
standing idly and comjjlacently by and permitting, in that behalf?
L.eware of the self-executing law of retribution, under
which, in the l«»ng run ;it least, the wroiig-doer is alwavs worst
victim. I'-very intelligent person knows 'that, as to our ten mil
li<jns of negro citi.'.ens, all laws and constitutions gnaraiiUeing
The Battle of Milliken's Bend. 23
protection to life, liberty and property, are practically dead-
letters, and, therefore, that the collection of taxes from them
is obtaining money under false pretences — practical robbery.
What is all our constitutions where this guarantee is void, but
a club to obtain taxes and defenders under false pretences?
For its great wrong to the negro, our nation has already
sufifered very nearly to the limit of all it could bear.
In his masterly oration at Concord in '75, George William
Curtis truly said : "But slavery had not been the fatal evil that
it was, if with its abolition its consequences had disappeared.
It holds us still in mortmain. Its dead hand is strong as its liv-
ing hand was terrible. Emancipation has left us exposed to a
new and extraordinary trial of the principles and practices of
I plead for whites more than blacks. Undoubtedly our in-
justice by commission and omission, to the blacks, is at least a
very large source of the demoralization whence our disregard
of law and justice has sprung and so advanced that, in large
portions of our land, practical anarchy is so popular that
grafters, boodlers, robbers, night-riders, white cappers, bomb-
throwers, black-handers, incendiaries, lawless unions, lynchers,
red-handed and notorious murderers and perjurers, are not only
practically immune from punishment, but safer than honest
citizens at home in their beds — especially so, if these honest
citizens have ventured to criticise these lawbreakers.
In some localities — as just across the Ohio, according to
good newspaper authority, public officials — prosecutors and.
judges, have "given it up" and declared there is no use trying
to punish law-breakers, no matter how notorious or heinous their
crimes. In many localities that fact is notorious if not ad-
mitted. To cap the climax, a late United States Senator is now
notoriously, loudly and eloquently boasting that he organized
and lead a mob to lynch a negro, charged, not with the name-
less crime, but with murder — only charged, you observe — with
just what the Senator is virtually confessing he did — and boast-
ing that he would do again ! Also the recent attempt to
murder the governor of New Jersey with an infernal machine
L'4 The Battle of Millihen's Bend.
sent through the mails, for enforcing the laws — closely fol-
lowing the Governor Steucnberger precedent.
Here is one of last Saturday's sample packages that will
recommend to all effete monarchies the superior beauties and
amenities of our United States twentieth century superior
"\By .Issoiiated Press to State Journal.]
Hickman, Kv.. Oct. 4. '07. — Dave Walker, a negro, his
5-year-old daughter and his baby child were killed outright;
the mother, who was holding the baby in her arms, was fatally
shot, and three other children will probably die as a result of
a mob's visit to the Walker hunic near here late last night.
In addition, the oldest son is missing and is supposed to have
been burned with the negro's cabin, which was fired by the mob.
Walker had cursed a white woman and threatened a white man
with a pistol.
When the mob of al)oui 50 men ordered him to come from
his house, he replied with a shot. The torch was then applied
to the house, and as the occupants came out they were shot
Suppose every white family were exposed to peril of such
barbarous extermination whenever one of their members should
curse a black woman, or charge a black man with misdemeanor.
But I can't do that sample ju.stice, and give it up, with
the prophecy that not one of those diabolical fifty human fiends
will ever be seriously called to account for these unprovoked
ficTidish murders — at least so, as to the mother and children.
In the last twenty-five years we have had an average of
over one hmiiln-d hinn^'n lynchings per annum (and they are
rapidly increasing), over nine-tenths of them negroes; and,
with not suflicient punishiuent of their murderers to prove the
exception to tlu- ruK' thai they are immune.
(lovcrnnicnt by night-riders is ra])idly growing. We have
it for tobacco, fish and cotton. It looks as if it might be adopted
for corn, potatoes, i-lc, beconu- general — and take tlu' ])lace
<jf all other "government " soon.
The Battle of Millike n's Bend. 25>
And remember, practically all justification of these thous-
ands of murders, and their fiendish incidents has been in un-
sworn, ex-parte testimony, of interested, self-convicted mur-
derers; with no cross examination.
According- to so high an authority as very distinguished
Hon. Andrew D. White, within 132 years of our much boasted
experiment of a government of, by and for the people, we arc
having several times as large a proportion of unpunished mur-
ders as any of the leading nations of Europe. According to an
editorial in last ^IcClure. our leading cities are enjoying six to
eight times as many murders in proportion to population, as the
leading cities of Europe.
I have said that during the last twenty-five years our known
lynchings have averaged over one hundred per annum. The
same Hon. White, reports that investigation shows our total
murder rate is no less than 9000 per annvmi of late — over
one-third more than were killed on both sides in the battle of
Gettysburg ! While in Italy over sixty per cent, of murder
trials result in conviction, in the United States less than two per
cent, so result.
There is good authority that there has not been a lynching
in the English kingdom or any of her colonies within three-quar-
ters of a century.
The short of it seems to be, the people of the United
States, are the most lawless people of any on earth pretending to
be civilized, let alone Christianized.
Yes, here in this land of customary Fourth-of- July-spread
eagle eulogy of our government, life, the all-containing heritage,
ir. scarcely as safe as among barbarians. W^hat a terrible after-
math of our injustice, indifference and complaisance is this
saturnalia of crime.
That "nameless crime," is horrible, horrible, most horrible,
and no one, according to capacity, can go further in its con-
demnation than L Yet, those who are charged with it, whether
v/hite or black — as with all other crimes — should be lawfully
tried, and punished — ■ if found guilty.
And, is it not fair in this connection, to ask those sO'
supervirtuous — with their lips — where did those several mil-
20 The Battle of Milliken's Bend.
litms of iiiulattoes come from; and suggest, that, first, their
authors "pkick the beams out of their own eyes." etc. Is their
indjo^nation real, and from real ])rincii)le. or mily of a "stop thief
character." hut skin deep — thin skin at that ?
I am convinced that the negroes' loudly and much heralded
proneness to commit that crime is grossly exaggerated; and, be-
cause it has been found the handiest and most successful way
of excusing and justifying abuse, and inflaming prejudice.
Prejudice — the unreasoning evil-eyed monster from which
most and worst human ills and crimes are hatched ; that sets
caj)ital on labor, labor on capital ; white on black or yellow, and
black or 3'ellow on white ; party on party ; nation on nation ;
religion on religion; — in short, anybody on everybody they
imagine in their way; prejudice — that poisonous upas in whose
malignant shade reason abdicates, justice and charity are
paralyzed and anarchy and barbarism are enthroned.
But "'tis true, 'tis pity, pity "lis, 'tis true" that, in this
"land of Bibles," this so-called "Christian Country," we, the peo-
ple, have descended to so low a level in morals and law-enforce-
ment that, in any town or city. — as in anarchized Springfield —
third, the other day — any self confessed liar, by a word and
finger pointing at an innocent negro, with practical immunity,
may start a murderous incendiary — looting riot in which the
property, person and life of everyone, regardless of age, sex,
or color, is at stake.
How much better — how infinitely much better for the
whites, as well as the blacks — if by common-sense-treatment the
ten millions of negroes now here and the more rapidly coming,
shall be made the best of, instead of the worst — goes with the
merest suggestion. Without their fault they are here — to stay.
I have had considerable experience with negroes, both as soldier ^
and citizens, and have found them peculiarly responsive /";; kind,
to good or bad treatment.
Inferior race as they may be, and dtaibtless are — and con-
Mtlering their opportunities should be expected to be — under
very discouraging circumstances they have shown considerable
capacity to climb; such as amply justifies boosting ihem for
their own sake and ours. Only forty-five years ago, not one
The Battle of Millikens Bend. 27
per cent, of the "contraband" portion of them could write their
names, count their fingers, spell a b, or owned a dollar. Now
less than fifty per cent, of them are illiterate and they arc pay-
ing taxes on over five hundred million dollars of property, —
probably not half their real savings. I challenge the world's
history for a parallel in progress. It is evident to all who can
see that their sphere of usefulness and growth is not confined
to hewing wood and drawing water. Even now in respectable
numbers they are efificiently pursuing nearly every profession
and trade. And it is self-evident to all who can see that insofar
as any man, white or black, lacks that highest intelligence, in-
tegrity, industry and efficiency, he is or tends to be a clog, a
burden, a menace to society. Therefore in pleading for the
negro I plead even more for the whites.
Think of it: to-day, there is considerably less illiteracy
among our negro citizens than in several European "white-man's
governments," where the white men have had many centuries of
white man's chance to work out their salvation.
At worst then, there is some good stuff in the negro, worth
encouraging. Listen to this from the famous speech of a
famous Southerner, Henry W. Grady, in 1886 said:
"The relations of the Southern people with the negro are
close and cordial. We remember with what fidelity for four
years he guarded our defenseless women and children, whose
husbands and fathers were fighting against his freedom. To-
his eternal credit be it said that whenever he struck a blow
for his own liberty, he fought in open battle ; and when at last
he raised his black and humble hands, that the shackles might
be struck oft", those hands were innocent of wrong against his
helpless charges, and worthy to be taken in loving grasp by
every man who honors loyalty and devotion. Ruffians have
maltreated him, rascals have misled him !"
To-day the most prominent monument in the capitol of
Georgia is a monument to this same Grady — chiefly famous for
the speech from which I have quoted. Beyond a reasonable
doubt, whatever demoralization the negroes have since suffered,
i? largely the natural result of the maltreatment of the same
kind of ruffians and rascals ; and, for which, all so-called "better-
28 The Battle of Millikcirs Bend.
class" who have stood hy aiul tolerated it without protest, are
equally — or more — responsible. Behold the fruit of good
seed sown upon bad soil : One day, ten good, peaceable, law-abid-
ing citizens were murdered in cold blood, in that same city in
the shadow of Grady's monument, for no other reason than that
their skins were black ; and, though a score of their murderers
have been notoriously well known for over two years, not one
of them has been punished or brought to trial, or is ever likely
to be. — because their skins are white.
The late bloody rioting at the home city of the "great
Emancipator" furnishes a grewsome parallel. ShciDie.
I'inally. to quote from Cleveland's eulogy of murdcrcl
McKinley (our third president murdered within less than fifty
years, a world's distressing record, at least for modern times).
"If we are to escape further attack u])()ii our ])eace and securil\ ,
we must boldly and resolutely grapple with the monster of
We can't hold the negro down except nuich after the
manner of .\rtemus Ward holding his antagonist down: Ward
on his back in the mud. his nose between his antagonist's
tteth on to])!
Is it not then, high time, that every patriot should call a
stern and emphatic halt on our suicidal career, drop all inter-
fering business, enlist for during the war to save the Union
from destruction by practical anarchy, now so rampant — this
by giving and seeing that there is given, an impartial square
deal to every citizen without reference to color of hair, eyes
or skin, size of bank account, or religious professions ; but only
on the theory that ".\ man's a man for all a' that :" and, that, (^iily
a man is a man for all that ?
r)nly when wc shall have risen to tlie high plane of en-
lightened selfishness and moral grandeur implied in such ])lat-
fcrm, will we be eligible to worthy membership in. — to (juote
a dead soldier:
"The great church that holds tlu' world within it^ st;irlii
aisles, that claims the great and good of ever\- race and clime,
that linds with joy the grains of good in every creed, that lloo(U
The Battle of Milliken's Bend. 29
with light and love the germs of good in every soul," and ex-
cuses, aids and pities, as condition's victims, all who err.
Then, to call our country "The land of the free, the home
of the brave, the asylum for the oppressed," will not be a
mockery and a lie.
Sept. 22nd, 1908.
P. S. — The foregoing is my paper ; but, as it will show
the negro has soldierly capacity in other lines than fighting, and
as the sterling qualities of the late Major-General M. F. Force
are well known to nearly every comrade of this commandery as,
also, to the older citizens of this city and section, I beg to add
this postscript :
I was in command of the 49th Reg. U. S. Colored Infantry
(at first nth La.) about thirty months of about thirty-four
months of its service. I have here an indorsement from Gen.
Force dated April, 1866 — after his long and very distinguished
military service — in which he says :
"While I was in command of the western district of
Mississippi, I personally inspected the 49th U. S. C. I. and the
excellence of its discipline and police reflected the highest credit
upon Lieutenant Colonel Sears, then commanding. The regi-
ment habitually kept its arms in Better condition — (he under-
scored better) — than any other regiment I knew during the
You have my word for it, that late Inspector General U.
S. A., Gen. Macy, in '64, made a report corresponding with that
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