Lieut. Col. Cyrus Sears, 49 USCI

Credit: Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum, Harrogate, TN

The Wyandot Pioneer, Upper Sandusky, Ohio
June 12, 1863

CAMP CORRESPONDENCE

We are permitted to make the following extracts from a private letter written by Lieut. Col. Sears, dated Milliken’s Bend, La., May 26, 1863:

“I suppose you would like to know all about the progress

of the siege of Vicksburg, but I can only give you a few items. Of the ultimate success of the siege, I have little doubt, but I have no idea how long we will have to wait. Our own lines and those of the enemy, are in many places, within fifty yards of each other, deep ravines intervening. Woe unto the man who raises his head on either side. Thousands have been in the trenches without leaving for bed and board, for five days.

We have them completely invested, and they can procure no supplies or reinforcements, except through our lines. – Some prisoners report supplies very short, whilst others declare they have enough to last them a year. Of course, you understand that we have already driven them in from all their outposts, and that they are now concentrated within their inner and strongest works.

Grant’s advance from Perkin’s Landing to Jackson, and back to Vicksburg, has been most brilliant. The charge of the 1st and 2d Brigades, 7th Division, at Jackson, was probably never excelled. – Our troops cleaned out that place, and of course lived high. I like to see the traitors suffer, but such actions demoralizes our army, and should be prohibited.

When I left the field of hostilities yesterday, at 5 o’clock P. M., Generals Grant and Pemberton were conferring under a flag of truce, sent by the latter, and the breastworks on both sides were covered with the opposing forces, enjoying a short breathing spell. What the subject of conference was, I did not learn, bust as there was heavy firing this morning, evidently, the fight is not yet ended. I spent last week at Grand Gulf, recruiting. It is a fine country thereabouts, but the town has disappeared. It contained formerly about one thousand inhabitants.

There is no doubt the negro will fight. As some evidence of this, take a little incident which occurred on Friday last, between one of our recruits, and one of the 10th Illinois cavalry.

Our darkey got a pass to go for blackberries – came across cavalryman in the woods – cavalryman thought he would amuse himself with Sambo, who was unarmed – cavalryman drew his revolver, cocked and aimed it at Sambo, took him prisoner, and talked the loudest kind of secesh to him. Having drawn from Sambo that he was a recruit in our regiment, he told him he would take him into the rebel camp and scalp and hang him. He did not scare Sambo very much, who watched his chance, snatched cavalryman’s revolver, from him, and made him march before him into camp, he leading cavalryman’s horse with his left and keeping the revolver ready drawn and cocked in his right hand. In this style he delivered him over to our regimental Adjutant, to whom cavalryman acknowledged the corn, and admitted that in attempting to play off on Sambo, he had for once made a d—-d fool of himself.

The Adjutant put two negroes on guard over him, kept him till morning and then sent him in their charge to his own camp.

The conversation between the captor and captured was rich, and showed that Sambo understood the duties of a soldier, and was not to be fooled with.


Bucyrus Journal, Bucyrus, Ohio
June 26, 1863

FROM LIEUT-COL SEARS.

HEAD QR’S LA. REG’T VOLS. OF AFRICAN DESCENT, MILLIKEN’S BEND, LA., June 9th, 1863.

EDS. BUCYRUS JOURNAL – Gentlemen: – Having a few items of news which I

think would interest your readers, through the assistance of your columns I have concluded to furnish them the same.

All newspaper readers are no doubt pretty well posted concerning the origin and history of the African Brigade, the head quarters of which are established at this place.

The organization is one of the results of Gen. Thomas’ visit to this Department, and was commenced about the first of May last, when the officers of my regiment left the 7th Division, 17th Army Corps, at Perkin’s Landing, and returned to this place to commence our organization.

On Sunday morning last my regiment had eight minimum companies mustered in, and was nearly 600 fighting men strong. The balance of the force present consisted of the 9th La. And 1st Miss. regiments of African descent, numbering in the aggregate about 500 men, the 23d Iowa (skeleton) regiment of 150 to 200 men, and a gunboat.

The negro troops were upon an average, the rawest of recruits, having been kept so constantly on fatigue that they have not had the benefit of the small amount of drill that regiments are usually allotted while recruiting. For the past ten days we had been kept almost constantly on the alert, day and night, by secesh and rumors of secesh, and demonstrations of secesh rapidly accumulating in our rear, until on Saturday, the 6th, when assurance of danger was made doubly sure by a brisk skirmish between a reconnoitering force (blacks) under Col. Seib, of the 9th La., and the enemy’s advance, some two mile in our rear, and in which he repulsed the enemy and reported his men as having conducted themselves in the most satisfactory manner.

From this and all else we could learn, an attack upon the next morning was considered next to inevitable, and we were ordered to be in position at 3 A.M. accordingly.

Our defence we had long since determined should be from within our camp which is surrounded by the river; the bog and earth works of our own construction, much in the form of an elongated half hexagon. We were ready according to orders, except the 23d Iowas which was a little slow.

Before it had go fairly into position, (on the left flank and angle,) and when it was quite dark, the enemy in overwhelming force charged upon this regiment, and very suddenly drove it from its position in confusion, after which it was not heard of in action. This flank was protected by cotton bales lain upon the bog, which when gained, were quite as available for foes as friends.

From behind these the African left now received a raking flank fire, from which they were not the least protected; also the fire from the balance of the rebel brigade in front. Circumstances considered, they made a desperate resistance selling their lives, and inflicting wounds, man for man, throughout the engagement. But our left was soon compelled to give way, and in much confusion, of course. It now sought shelter behind the river bank, under protection of the gunboat.

There was nothing of us now left in original position, except 3 companies of my regiment, placed on the right angle and flank, under my immediate command, and now had to sustain the whole brunt.

To meet the unexpected exigencies of the case I had now placed about one-half of this force on the outside of our defense. These men were seen from the gunboat and mistaken for a portion of the enemy flanking us. Consequently, in addition to our legitimate calamity, we were shelled from the gunboat, which sent three shots among us before we could communicate the mistake. The last of these shots killed four men within ten feet of me.

It now required a desperate effort to prevent a panic in this quarter, but by the use of swords, revolvers, boot toes, &c., with the officers under my immediate command, who conducted themselves most gallantly, I succeeded in holding my men till their ammunition was entirely exhausted, when I took them off under the river bank, and under cover of the same, half a mile below to the main body of the brigade.

Ammunition was at hand here, and the gunboat and undismayed contrabands dared the “rebs” to show themselves over the bog, but it seemed they did not dare. whenever a head was shown over the bank, a volley was fired at it, and so with those shown above the bog. This state of things continued for about two hours, when at about ten A.M. the enemy skedaddled, taking most of their wounded with them.

From our prisoners we have now learned some facts concerning the troops by which we were attacked. It was Texas Brigade, under command of Brig.-Gen. McCullough, (a brother of old Benis,) at the lowest estimate 2,800 men strong. They fought us under the black flag, which they kept conspicuously displayed during the engagement, and as might be expected, committed all the barbarities that circumstances permitted, such as firing upon our surgeons and hospitals, and bayoneting or braining all of our wounded who came within their reach.

They burned a cotton-gin, a couple of miles distant and we were pretty reliably informed that they tied a dozen negro soldiers to it and burned them with it; also that they hung a large number of prisoners and designed serving all the same way. I hope the proper authorities will enquire into the case and reciprocate. ‘An eye for an eye,’ &c.

So near as can be judged, the casualties of killed and wounded were about equal on each side. – We had a large infantry picket out, from most of which we have not heard. It was probably surrounded by the enemy’s cavalry, of which they had some 500.

The casualties of my regiment were as follows, as near as I have been able to gather them:

Killed – 1 Captain, 2 Lieutenants, and 36 enlisted men.

Wounded – 7 colored officers, (among them many mortally,) and 123 enlisted men. Missing – 205; making a total of killed, wounded and missing 338. The missing are slowly coming in; perhaps 125 to 150 will cover that branch of our loss.

The results of this engagement, disastrous as it was, so far as I can learn, have raised the fighting standards of Sambo in the estimation of outsiders very materially.

Gen. Dennis, in command of the Division, paid us a visit the evening of the battle, and complimented. He said that we had not only done well, but that we had accomplished wonders, under the circumstances. Of course this was gratifying to us.

Give ‘Sambo’ a chance, and he will make a soldier – a good soldier – and that quicker than “any other man.”

Very respectfully, yours, CYRUS SEARS, Lieut.-Col. 11th La. Vols.

P.S. The fatigue party from my regiment, sent out for that purpose, buried 27 of the enemy in front of our camp; they were horrid looking objects. Ash cake and a little meat constituted the contents of their haversacks.

C.S.


Bucyrus Journal, Bucyrus, Ohio
October 15, 1864

From Lieut. Col. Cyrus Sears. –

VICKSBURG, MISSISSIPPI,

September 24, 1864,

MESSRS EDITORS: – Enclosed, I send you a late Order of our District Commander, which you are at liberty to publish.

No doubt your paper has some readers who are still curious to know what kind of soldiers, those “niggers” make in camp. – Certainly every person in the least posted must ere this have become satisfied of their elative fighting qualities, and this Order will tend to enlighten them concerning their relative soldierly qualities in other respects. The facts therein stated have long been patrent to every observing man at this Post. Nevertheless we, – the officers of these roops – hardly expected to get so frank an acknowledgement of them, from those entirely disconnected with the organization, especially, when we considered the mountain of prejudice against it, from all sides, less than one year ago. We therefore, feel somewhat flattered by this order, and regard it as no slight compensation for our persevering exertions during the past eighteen months, and the proof of something of a triumph over obstacles and opposition, that seemed for a time almost insurmountable, and destined to disgrace, if not to annihilate us.

Gen. Dana is regarded as a real live commander, who puts everything through on the shortest and fastest time for the good of our cause, without special regard for the toes of those who stand in the way. He is therefore very popular with his command, and proportionately unpopular with rebels, and those Union spectators who, vulture like, follow the army to feast upon the vitals, and heart’s blood of their country. – Under this General’s Command, all abuses are being corrected with astonishing rapidity, and peace, plenty, patriotism, and a determination “never to give up the ship,” abound upon our front lines.

Respectfully yours,
CYRUS SEARS.

The Order referred to is as follows:

HEAD QUARTERS DISTRICT OF VICKSBURG,
VICKSBURG, Miss, Sept. 12, 1864

CIRCULAR:

The following extract from the report of Colonel L. H. KERR, Eleventh Illinois Cavalry, Field Officer of the Day, under date of Sept. 10th, is published for the information of this command:

“I find that the health of the colored troops is much better than that of the white, but am unable to assign any reason therefor.”

“I also feel it my duty to report that in respect shown, and attention to saluting officers, and in the details of camp life, the colored troops of this command excel the white.”

The probable reason of difference in health, mentioned in Col. KELR’S report, is on account of greater attention being paid to duty by officers of colored Regiments, han by officers of white Regiments.

BY COMMAND OF MAJ. GEN. N.J.T. DANA:
H.C. RODGERS, Assistant Adjt’ Gen.
OFFICIAL: R.G. CURTIS, A.A.G.


In 1908 Sears also wrote the Paper of Cyrus Sears Late Lieut.-Col. of the 49th U. S. Colored Infantry Vols. of African descent – originally 11th La. Vol. Infantry – A.D.

Return to Civil War Letters from Officers in the U.S. Colored Troops for more letters written by the men who led Black soldiers in the United States Colored Troops