The Fight at Coleman’s Plantation and all Mississippi Soldiers
by Gordon Thorsby
An interesting battle involving black and white soldiers, was in Mississippi at the battle of Coleman’s Plantation in Jefferson County on July 4, 1864. This was the first time that white Mississippians fought black Mississippians.
A Union force of consisting of Alfred Ellet’s Mississippi Marine Brigade George Currie’s Mounted Marines, John R, Crandall’s Battalion of Cavalry with a mountain howitzer, and the 48th and 52nd United States Colored Infantry, took part in a raid to Claiborne and Jefferson County. Their objective was to tie down as many Confederate forces as possible in the area. These included Confederate Col. Robert C. Wood’s Mississippi brigade of infantry and cavalry and prevent them from being used against a Union raiding force that was advancing on Jackson at the same time in what is known as the Tupelo Campaign of 1864.
The Union troops drew 10 days rations, entrenching tools and regimental wagons but when they showed up to board the transports, commanders were surprised to see 30 wagons. The wagons had all the appearances of a cotton raiding mission with the wagons potentially compromising security of the troops. They left Vicksburg, cruised downstream and entered Rodney on 7/3. The troops continued on to the Coleman Plantation where the home stood north of the Rodney Rd. Cavalry was position to screen out front, the marine brigade behind them, and the 48th and 52nd U.S.C.T in the crossroads as a supporting role.
The morning of July 4 was cool but not for long. It became Mississippi hot and humid and the conditions required troops to halt frequently on the march. Currie’s mounted infantry proceeded up the Port Gibson Rd. three miles passing abandoned plantations when a messenger approached Curry to countermarch as quickly as possible. Crandall’s Cavalry had become hotly engaged on the Gallatin Rd. A Confederate force of 400 men led by Wood ambushed the Union raiders near Coleman’s Plantation.
Meantime the 48th and 52nd were summoned and with Crandall’s cavalry, had broken the Confederate roadblock and pushed back Wood’s men 1/2 mile. Wood now called for reinforcements from Red Lick to assist him and with the added force, halted the Union advance. Currie now add his mounted infantry and casualties mounted on both sides.
Crandall gave the signal and the 48th and 52nd charged. Wood’s men fired one volley and retreated. After a continued advance, Ellet’s force broke off the fight and returned to Coleman Plantation. Unfortunately for the bluecoated troops, so did the Confederates under Wood and new fighting erupted near the plantation. Currie detected that sporadic firing may mean a feint. Ellet dismissed the advice and ordered additional companies from the 48th and 52nd add to the picket line. It was not long after that an elderly negro warned of a large, mounted Confederate force moving into Ellet’s rear. Ellet realized his poor judgment but before he could fully react, the federal troops were caught in a crossfire. Currie now advised of the 48th and 52nd, already formed and ready on a nearby ridge, be brought up and formed for a stronger defense.
Fighting raged all day long on July 5. Late in the afternoon, the Confederate attack was finally smashed in a cornfield near the Rodney Road. Wood’s Confederates attacked through a field of tall corn and fighting was at close range. The marines retreated in the attack and Wood assaulted the 48th and 52nd several times but the veterans in gray and butternut could not dent the Colored infantry. One regiment of USCT (not known which) even surged forward calling, “Fort Pillow! Remember Fort Pillow! No quarter! No quarter!.” They were referring to the Fort Pillow massacre.
It was 12 miles to Rodney and the 48th and 52nd were the rearguard for most of the way. The troops and the wagons managed to drag their way into Rodney with many of the bluecoated soldiers straggling into the town by the next morning. Ellet’s force suffered (according to records) 21 killed and 33 wounded and/or missing. Confederate losses were possibly up to 150 men (undocumented). The fleet cast off on July 6 at 10 PM and proceeded up the river. It stopped in Grand Gulf and docked at Vicksburg on July 8. The Vicksburg Daily Herald, stated, “The colored troops fought like tigers often clubbing the enemy down with the buts of their muskets. No cowardice was shown by any of the command, and all acted with the most determined bravery & coolness.” – July 7, 1864.
One of the Confederate Officers involved admitted that the black soldiers had fought well. In a letter dated July 9, 1864, Major Elijah A. Peyton, commanding a battalion of Confederate Mississippi cavalrymen at Coleman’s wrote: “After dark we pursued the enemy to within two miles of Rodney, driving him to his Gun Boats. The Negro Troops contested obstinately Every inch of ground.
In Edwin Bearrs’ note on the fight:
“The fight at Coleman’s Plantation on 7/4/1864 was a savage affair. In the engagement, two Negro regiments, the 48th and 52nd U.S.C.T acquitted themselves with honor as they held their ground in the face of slashing attacks by Wood’s veterans.”
One man in the 52nd was William T. Montgomery. He had been a slave on the Hurricane Plantation, MS, belonging to Joseph Davis, older brother of Jefferson Davis, President of CSA.
“The Tupelo Campaign,” Bearss Edwin, Department of the Interior, 1969.
Official Records, War of the Rebellion.