A Union regiment enough, an Illinois unit that fought at Vicksburg was known as the “Moral Regiment”(or “Teachers Regiment”). However, as the diary of Sergeant composed only of men with high moral character? Oddly William Murray shows, even the Moral Regiment had its questionable adventures.
Colonel C.E. Hovey, president of Illinois State Normal University, organized the 33rd Illinois Volunteers in August 1861, with hopes of mustering a regiment made up exclusively of teachers from the schools and colleges of Illinois. However, Hovey had to alter his plan when enlistments lagged. To fill the incomplete roster, he called for men with “excellent morals and temperate habits.” Thus the Moral Regiment was born.
Sergeant William Murray, a 21-year-old teacher from Virginia, Ill., was one of the first to enlist. Murray was a skillful writer who kept a careful diary detailing travels and travails of the Moral Regiment. He never missed a day’s entry. It is through Murray’s eyewitness accounts that today’s Civil War aficionados can relive the humorous and harrowing events of the Moral Regiment during the Vicksburg campaign.
The regiment left St. Genevieve, Mo., on board the steamboat Illinois, and disembarked at Millikens Bend, La., on March 26, 1862. Their destination: Vicksburg, Miss., the impregnable Confederate redoubt overlooking the Mississippi River. Their task: To silence the enemy cannons and win the Mississippi for the Union, cutting the Confederacy in two.
May 12, 1863, near Edwards Depot
We have been marching again today & are not laying in the face of the enemy who are in force between here & the Depot. We have been advancing slowly and feeling our way. I suppose the ball will open in the morning. We do not fear the result.
May 13, 1863, encamped near Raymond
After marching & countermarching, we are at last on the road to Jackson. Vicksburg seems to be ignored just now. Skirmishing has been frequent today and we don’t know what moment we may be called upon to face the foe. The roads are awful dusty and we almost suffocate on the march. We are quartered for the night in some Negro huts.
May 14, 1863, six miles from Jackson
Today will ever be memorable as one of the most disagreeable in my Soldier life. It has rained all day & we have tramped through mud & rain. We are wet, tired & hungry—no shelter and liable to be called out at any moment. I rec’d a letter from my old friend, Bettie R., which is gratefully rec’d—also one from Tom Summers. God only knows when I will have an opportunity to answer them.
May 15, 1863, about three miles from Raymond
We did not go on to Jackson but countermarched and are tonight 3 miles West of Raymond. It has been a toilsome march, but we all feel in good spirits over the news just rec’d. It is almost too good to be true. Official dispatches to Grant say Richmond is ours. Hooker’s army beat the rebels and captured their capital. Grant’s Headquarters are now in Jackson and our Corps is on the road to Vicksburg.
May 16, 1863, Champion Hills, 12 noon
I was on guard last night & today we have been marching as usual. The Enemy is on our front and Osterhaus is engaging them. We are drawing 80 rounds of cartridges to the man. A battle is to be fought without doubt. Evening—The battle has raged furiously all evening. It has been one of the fiercest battles of the War. We have driven the enemy from the field. The dead and wounded literally cover the ground.
May 17, 1863, Big Black River
8 A.M. We are near the Big Black River where fighting is going on. Our Div. is in advance—I went back last night with prisoners and have not caught up with the Regt. yet.
7 P.M. Night has put an end to another scene of bloodshed. Our victory has been a glorious one. One of our Divisions—the gallant 14th—has captured the enemy’s works—a line of earthworks more than a mile long—from 2,000 to 5,000 prisoners and 17 pieces of artillery. The enemy have fallen back across Black River and burned the bridge. Our losses have been severe. We expect to be in Vicksburg in a few days.
May 18, 1863
We rec’d a mail last night. I rec’d letters from E.E.C.—E.A.B.—Maggie & one from my dear young friend, Will Brooks. These letters have given me great encouragement and I hope to live to see the writers—God bless them everyone. I suppose we will cross the river this morning and attack the enemy.
8 o’clock in the Evening. We crossed the river but the enemy had gone. We are near the enemy’s works. The enemy has fallen back to the protection of his numerous forts which surround the city.
May 19, 1863, Rear of Vicksburg
I have been unwell all day and have not been with the Reg’t. Our force is distributed in front of the enemy’s works & are getting positioned & are preparing for an assault. Gen. Sherman has got between Vicksburg and Haines Bluff & I suppose captured the latter place. We can now get supplies by way of Yazoo Riv. Cannonading has been very heavy all day from our Regt. pieces & gun boats & the Rebs have replied with their guns from the forts. The Infantry have not been engaged.
May 20, 1863
Today has been an exciting one to those of us nearest the enemy. We have all been out as sharpshooters, laying on the hills in front of the Fort & shooting at every Reb that showed his head above the breastworks.
By this means, we have silenced and kept silent the enemy’s guns. We have lost quite a number of men—but have probably saved a larger number by keeping their guns silent. The fortifications in front of us look really formidable—fort after fort can be seen—bristling with cannon—with rifle pits stretching in almost every direction. The Rebel flag can be plainly seen flaunting in the breeze. If we have to storm the works, we will have a hot time of it.
Capt. Kellogg was killed today while our Brigade was charging for a position nearer the works. Have been unwell for some days past.
May 21, 1863
We have gained nothing yet—except communication has been opened with the North by way of Yazoo River. This is important for we can now get provisions & reinforcements and lay regular siege to the Rebels. Our sharpshooters still keep popping away at the Rebel works. Jo Johnston is said to be at Jackson with 3,000 men and marching to attack our rear. Unless he wants to get decently “whaled,” he had better turn his face in some other direction.
May 22, 1863
Today has witnessed another bloody engagement. At 10 A.M., a charge was ordered by Carr’s & Osterhaus’ Div’s. The charge has been made and our forces occupy several of the enemy’s works— Sherman is on the right, McPherson the center, and McClernand the left. We have gained at least a foothold. I do not know if the charge has been made along the entire line or not.
May 23, 1863
The charge upon the works yesterday was a useless sacrifice of life—for we have gained nothing as far as I can learn. The enemy still occupy the works in front of us. Had we been properly supported in the charge—we might have taken possession of the works and held them. I have not been with the Co. today on account of sickness, but will try to join it tomorrow. We have heard the roar of cannon and shriek of shell constantly for 5 days.
May 24, 1863
We are lying on the Eastery side of a hill and west of us and not more than 300 yards are the Rebel Forts. Shot and shell are flying over us. I received a letter from Mother dated May 12, all were well at home. The charge was made all along our lines, and our men were everywhere repulsed with heavy loss. Our whole loss will not fall short of 5,000 killed, wounded & prisoners.
May 25, 1863
The work of starving the Rebels at Vicksburg has commenced—we are confident of ultimate success. This evening a flag of Truce came from the enemy and for three or four hours all was quiet along our lines. We met the Rebels on the hills between us, and had a chat with them. It seemed strange that men, who an hour before had been trying to kill each other, should meet on such friendly terms. We shook hands and talked about the war, in good humor.
May 26, 1863, siege of Vicksburg
We stood in the rifle pits this forenoon. I fired some 50 rounds. We kept the enemy in the rifle pits before us pretty still—they firing only occasional shots. All their shots were too high or too low, none of them striking our breastworks. I believe we can beat them shooting.
May 27, 1863
Still the work goes bravely on—Today has passed like yesterday. Last night it was thought the Rebs would try and cut their way through our lines. Every preparation was made to give them a warm reception should they try that game—and we lay down with accouterments & guns by our side. But the morning dawned and they were still inside their works.
Part of the 16th Army Corps has arrived and is on our left. Weather indicates rain tonight. It is a grand sight to watch our mortar boats at night throwing shell into the city. If it remains cloudy tonight, will be favorable for watching them.
May 28, 1863
I rec’d 2 letters today, one from W.A.O., and one from Will Brooks. A shell from one of our guns exploded a magazine in one of the Rebel forts. We lay on our guns again last night, expecting an attack from the enemy. I wrote 2 letters today, one to Mother and one to my dear little friend, Will Brooks.
May 29, 1863
I was awakened this morning by heavy cannonading by our Batteries. For half an hour it was terrific. It seemed that the guns along our entire line were belching forth their compliments to the Rebels over the way—not a gun replied from the enemy’s works. With artillery they are as silent as the grave but their sharpshooters keep sending their respects to us in the way of Minnie balls. We have had several fine showers, which have cooled the air. Commenced to write a letter today to E.E.C. Don’t feel very well today.
May 30, 1863
Today makes the 12th one we have been engaged in besieging Vicksburg— and yet they hold out. We continue to entrench and strengthen our position. I finished a letter to E.C. today and took it to the office. Our wounded are to be sent up North tomorrow. We were in the rifle pits all evening—I fired about 60 or 70 rounds.
May 31, 1863
Was on guard last night at Benton’s Hdqrs. This morning at 3 o’clock our batteries opened on the Rebel works—the cannonading was very heavy for half an hour. I wrote a letter today to Bettie Ragan in answer to one received on the 14th of May.
June 1, 1863
Today ushers in the month of June. One month ago we commenced our campaign in this State—3 months ago tonight Will Brooks and I talked together in Virginia. Our work goes on steadily and surely. The weather is very warm and we almost melt laying here on the hillside. I wrote a long letter today to my friend Annie B.
June 2, 1863
Weather clear and warm today. Last night was one of excitement—we thought the Rebs were coming out of their works to give us battle—and in a few moments we were in a line of battle—but they came not. They had fired upon our fatigue party at work in the rifle pits and drove our pickets in. After remaining in line a while we went to bed. Just after dusk last night we had quite a conversation with the Rebs and some pretty sharp questions and replies passed.
June 3, 1863
This evening at 5 o’clock the Rebels opened on us with shot and shell which continued for an hour—but without inflicting any damage excepting it made us take shelter under the hills. We were again in the rifle pits yesterday evening. The Rebels are encouraged to hold out with the assurance that Gen. Johnston is coming to their relief with 100,000 men. Weather indicates rain, cloudy but very warm.
June 4, 1863
Gen. Benton has gone home on account of ill health and Col. Washburne of the 18th Ind. takes command of the Brigade. The work here goes on slowly. News from the East indicates that the Rebels are about to take the offensive and move on Washington. Weather clear & very warm. Wrote today to W.A.O. and Mrs. K. Rebs tried shelling us again today but soon gave it up.
June 5, 1863
Our Co. was in the rifle pits all night last night—our guns kept throwing shells at the enemy all night. I don’t think they can hold out much longer, nothing would give me more pleasure than to see the white rag go up on the Rebel works. I wrote to Maggie today and also to Tom S. Our Regt. has gone to the rear to wash clothes and have a general cleaning. Weather still clear and warm.
June 6, 1863
We lay in the rifle pits again last night—but nothing unusual occurred. The Rebs were as quiet as a grave and we continued to drop shell in among them all night. We have large fatigue parties at work every night on a tunnel by which we expect to blow up one of the forts. Our position is becoming stronger every day and I hear we are also fortifying in the rear and we expect in a short time to be impregnable to any attack. Weather exceeding warm. Have been unwell today and am not able for duty.
June 7, 1863
Everything has been unusually quiet today along our lines—it may be the calm that precedes the storm. It seems to me the weather is warmer than I have ever seen it—it is hot enough to almost roast a fellow on this hillside. I am still unwell. Rec’d a letter from Mother today dated 28 May—it was very interesting indeed and gave me much encouragement.
June 8, 1863
The day has closed. “Downward sinks the setting sun—Soft the evening shadows fall—Light is flying, day is dying— Darkness stealeth over all.” It has been very quiet today, but everything seems to be working well. Yet a few days more of anxious waiting and watching and success must crown our efforts. Troops are being sent to the rear which seems to indicate that work is expected. We have heard of a fight at Millikens Bend—Rebs defeated.
June 9, 1863
I arose this morning after a refreshing night’s rest—and after eating breakfast— wrote a long letter to Mother giving an account of how we pass the time down here. Today is the twenty second in the Siege of Vicksburg and the city holds out yet. We did not expect to stay here so long when we came—but time passes very quickly with us.
June 10, 1863
Early this morning the sky was overcast with clouds and by 8 o’clock the “Windows of Heaven” were opened and what was so much needed came in abundance. It has been raining all day and without tents we are getting a thorough soaking. Sgt. Pattison of the Peoria Battery was shot this evening while standing on the R.Road. Has been more firing than usual today.
June 11, 1863
Last night we lay in the rifle pits—I shall not soon forget it. The pits were almost filled with mud & water—and to add to our discomfort, the rain came down in torrents. We did not get much sleep but passed the long weary watches of the night in thinking of the work before us, of home, friends, etc. I am reading the “Throne of David” by J.H. Ingraham, and am very much interested. The weather is clear and much cooler than before the rain.
June 12, 1863
Another day has passed and darkness is covering the earth. The weather is more pleasant since the rain. I have been on fatigue today—working in the rifle pits. Wrote to Rev. Jesse Rosson. Firing has been brisk today along the line.
June 13, 1863
Went to the rear today to wash our clothes and persons. Firing has been pretty heavy on our right. The Rebels opened on us with a mortar—but only fire 2 or 3 shots when our guns got range of it & silenced it.
June 14, 1863
And this is Sunday—the day appointed for rest—but no rest comes to us—it is just as other days. The enemy opened on us today with shell and their sharpshooters gave us a shower of bullets—the firing for a while was very rapid but we soon silenced the enemy’s guns. A.R. King of the 28th Ill. came up to see me today. Our company goes in the outer rifle pits tonight and will remain 24 hours.
June 15, 1863
In the advance rifle pits—We came out here last night about 9 o’clock—about 11 o’clock the enemy from the fort in front of us fired a volley at our fatigue party— Killing one & wounding two—I was laying on the parapet as sentinel and the balls came singing over which made me get into the ditch in a hurry.
7 o’clock P.M.—The sky has become overcast with clouds and appearances indicate rain. We have done little shooting today in the pits, but the artillery has been pretty busy.
June 16, 1863
The weather has been cloudy & cool with a light shower. Our men begin to talk of the probable time of the surrender of Vicksburg—all seem to think that the place will surrender by the 4th of July. I do not think they will give up until every hope of assistance from the rear has vanished—and by that time—and probably before—we will have forced them out of their first line of works. Wrote a letter to H.B. Elliott today.
June 17, 1863
Last night the Rebels commenced throwing shell at us—most of them however passed over without exploding—our Batteries soon silenced them. Everything seems to be working in fine order for the reduction of the Stronghold. My old friend, John Madden, visited me today— he is Sergt. Maj. of the 32nd Ill. Vols. The weather continues cool and cloudy.
June 18, 1863
Today has been of comparative quiet. Our Co. was in the pits this forenoon when a bullet from the enemy struck our 2nd Lieut., E.L. Higgins, inflicting a severe wound in the face. I was on fatigue duty last night in the advance ditches— and only a short distance from the enemy’s forts. They have built a wire fence around the fort on the left of the road. I rec’d a letter from Mother last night and was shocked to hear of the death of my old friend and schoolmate, Cyrus H. Aler, of the 114th Ill., also of the death of U. Pedeso and Wilson Downing—God pity their afflicted relatives. The letter was dated June 9th.
June 19, 1863
I have just returned from a visit to the 11th, 28th and 32 Ill. Regts., also Ridgen Batt’y—I had a very pleasant time among my old friends. Tom Metster looked well and was the same Tom—altogether I had a very pleasant time. Heavy guns are being mounted and we are approaching nearer and nearer every day with our ditches.
June 20, 1863
Noon—This morning the guns along the line opened at 4 o’clock and firing has continued without intermission until an hour since. We have been under arms all morning and it is rumored that our assault is to be made during the day. 8 P.M.—No assault has been made that we have heard of. Received a letter from C.W. Shaw & answered it.
June 21, 1863
Another Sabbath has come and gone— but unlike the Sabbaths of other days we have heard no church bells—we are not blest with the rest and quiet that Sabbaths were wont to bring—everything goes on as on other days. I wrote a letter to Mother today. Weather cool and Cloudy. Have moved my lodgings to an old tent shared by Jo Sheeler, Jo Williamson, Tom Eyre, E. Dye, W. Mattson and my humble self.
June 22, 1863
Today has passed like many other preceding it and nothing unusual has occurred. I received a letter from C.W. Shaw and wrote an answer—also wrote to Gen. Roson. Our Co. goes in the rifle pits again tonight, our duty is hard although not as hard as it was a week since.
June 23, 1863
The Pay Master has arrived and payed all the Co’s in the Regt. except “K” Co. We will be payed in the morning—drawing two months pay—at the end of this month we will be entitled to 2 months more pay. Think we will have some rain tonight.
June 24, 1863
We have been payed today and the boys are feasting on the good things which the Sutler sells. The Rebs made a demonstration on our left last night— tried to drive our men out of the rifle pits—but did not succeed. The gun boats and mortars on the river are more active today than usual. Rec’d a letter from Tom S. last night and ans’d today—also wrote one to Cousin Marion.
June 25, 1863
2 o’clock P.M.—We are ordered under arms—an assault is to be made by McPherson this afternoon—our Regt. is held as reserve. I hope we may meet with success—God give us victory.
6 o’clock P.M.—At half past four the ball was opened by Logan and instantly every gun on the line was pouring shot and shell into the Rebel works. Logan exploded a mine under one of the forts.
June 26, 1863
The assault of yesterday—so far as we can learn—has accomplished little towards driving the enemy from the works. Logan is still hammering away at the big fort and his men are laying on the side of the works and trying to dig it down. We were in the advance pits where the assault was made and opened on the works with our rifles. The weather is extremely warm. We lay in the rifle pits all night.
June 27, 1863
Last night the mail arrived and brought me two letters—one from Isabel and one from Will Brooks. Heard of the death of Jordan Lummers. I had my likeness taken yesterday and sent it home today. I ans’d both letters rec’d yesterday. Weather so very warm as to almost melt a fellow. The siege is progressing favorably.
June 28, 1863
Another Sabbath has visited us—but is so different from what Sundays should be—yet this has seemed more like Sunday to me than such days usually seem— everything has been more quiet. Was working at the rifle pits all last night—we were in plain view of the Rebs and they fired at us several times—but did not hurt anyone. Today they have been using hand grenades against our men who are working very near one of the forts. The weather is warmer than ever.
June 29, 1863
We went to the rear today and drew clothing and washed. A mail from the North brought me 7 numbers of the New York Ledger from Mrs. Martha Kendall. The Rebs are becoming desperate apparently for they are wasting a great deal more ammunition shooting at us—than is at all necessary.
June 30, 1863
Today is the last day of June. I wish it was the last days of this unholy Rebellion—If the enemy should give up now—what a glorious “Fourth” we would have—I hope the enemy—here at least—will surrender in time for us to celebrate the “4th” in the City of Vicksburg. Wrote to W.A.P.
July 1, 1863
Rec’d letters from Maggie, Marion and one from Cousin Harry Cribbes in Scotland—ans’d the two first. This is the 1st of July—4 months ago tonight was spent very pleasantly in company with my young friend, Will Brooks—we then promised to remember each other on the first night of every month particularly—I wish I could see him and all the dear ones at home tonight instead of being here listening to the rattle of musketry and roar of cannon all the time.
July 2, 1863
I am writing this on picket about 2 miles from camp. This is the picket guarding the rear to prevent a surprise by some of Johnston’s Rebel Cavalry—who are said to be on this side of Black River. Our guards are thrown out in line forming a chain guard—effectively preventing the ingress or egress of anyone without a proper pass.
July 3, 1863
Came off Picket this morning. We have had another flag of Truce & cessation of hostilities. The object of the flag of Truce was, they offered to surrender on certain conditions—I understand Grant made them about the same reply he did at Donelson. They are almost “played out” when they begin to talk of capitulating. General Mart Green, Reb of Mo., was killed on the 29th. Tomorrow is the glorious “4th” of July.
July 4, 1863
The struggle is over at last and Vicksburg is ours. The surrender was made at 8:45 A.M. today. It would be useless to describe or attempt to give a description of the scene that followed. Thank God that the contest is over. Many of our troops have marched in—our Div. is under orders to march for the rear. I got but a poor view of the city and can say but little about it—I had hoped for some rest but “forward” seems to be the word. This has been a glorious “4th” to us—we will not soon forget it. I wrote to Mother and Will Brooks today.
July 5, 1863, Big Black River
We left our camp in front of the works at Vicksburg this morning about 5 o’clock and arrived here about 2 p.m. We have had a hot dusty tramp. I suppose we were ordered to reconnoiter towards Jackson in search of Gen. Jo Johnston. But it’s now reported that Sherman defeated Johnston yesterday and that the pursuit is over. Don’t mind the idea of going to Jackson—rather like it.
July 6, 1863, camp near Edwards Depot
We left our camp on the other side of the river about 1 o’clock P.M. but owing to something being out of fix with the bridge, did not get over till nearly night. We passed the old battle ground. The trestle work on the bridge has all been destroyed by fire—Heard that the enemy weren’t at or near the Depot but think we will not find him nearer than Jackson which is about 30 miles from this place.
July 7, 1863, camp near Bolton
We have been advancing very slowly and cautiously today. Osterhaus has the advance. We expected a fight in the afternoon and formed in line of Battle, but nothing has been seen except a few struggling Cavalry. We are 16 miles from Jackson. Today has been very warm and marching uncomfortable.
July 8, 1863
We have lain here all day. It is now near 5 o’clock and we are to march at that time for Clinton, distant some 9 miles. We had a heavy rain last night and I got “soaked” through & through. The Corps of Sherman has arrived—the 9th Army Corps is on our left. We are all to unite at Clinton.
July 9, 1863, camp near Clinton
We are one mile from Clinton on the Jackson road—been laying here since yesterday morning. Osterhaus has the advance—and is driving the enemy’s skirmishers before him. Saw the 14th and 114th Regts. Rumors of our going back to Vicksburg are floating around Camp.
July 10, 1863, before Jackson
We have arrived here at last, driving the enemy before us until he has taken shelter within his fortifications. He has earth works and rifle pits extending round in front of the City. We are maneuvering for positions. Suppose we will play Vicksburg here a while. We are about 11⁄2 miles from the City. Gen’l Sherman commands our Troops—Joseph E. Johnston the Rebels.
July 11, 1863, before Jackson
Rec’d letters from Emma, Bettie & W.A.O. We have done little today except to skirmish. We are on the right. The enemy have come out of their works several times today, but have been driven back each time—They are determined to defend the City—Have a strong force and it is possible that the bloodier battle of the War may be fought before Jackson. The 9th A. Corps is reported to have crossed Pearl River and will attack the enemy in the rear. Should a battle be fought here, we trust in God to defend the Right. Our Army everywhere is reported to be pushing the enemy. Rosecrans, Prentiss & Meade, all victorious. While Banks has taken Port Hudson with 14,000 prisoners. At Vicksburg, we captured 32,000 prisoners & 190 pieces of arty.
Originally published in the February 2006 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.