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My Union Ancestor

 

JOHN BURRIS TAYLOR

Co. D, 13th Illinois Infantry

3 x great-granduncle of Tad D. Campbell, PCinC
2 x great-granduncle of Howard D. Campbell

John Burris Taylor was the eldest of ten children of Robert A. and Susanna M. (Robinson) Taylor. He was born February 12, 1838 in Hempfield Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.

About 1854-56, the family left Westmoreland County and settled in Dubuque County, Iowa.

Just over a month after the Confederate capture of Fort Sumter, John B. Taylor joined up with the 13th Illinois Infantry.

John's reasons for joining an Illinois regiment, rather than one from Iowa, are unknown. His residence at enlistment was recorded as Port Byron. This community on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River is only about sixty miles down river from Dubuque County, Iowa where he resided a year earlier with his parents. Perhaps no Iowa units were being raised in the Dubuque area at this early stage of the war. In 1860 John had been working as a schoolteacher, so another possibility is that he was continuing with this vocation at Port Byron when the war broke out.

Whatever his reasons, John Taylor enlisted and was mustered in as a Corporal in Company D, 13th Illinois Infantry on May 24, 1861. Coincidentally, this was the same day that Col. Elmer Ellsworth was shot and killed in Virginia as he attempted to remove the Confederate flag from atop a tavern. Col. Ellsworth was the first Union officer killed and quickly became a martyr for the northern cause.

The rendezvous of the 13th Illinois was at Camp Dement in Dixon, Illinois, it being the first three-year regiment from that state to be mustered into Federal service. On June 16th they were ordered to Caseyville, Illinois, ten miles east of St. Louis, and on July 5th they passed through St. Louis to Rolla, Missouri where they remained until October 1861. They were the first regiment to cross the Mississippi into hostile Missouri.

During the time stationed at Rolla, the regiment was engaged in guarding supply trains to and from General Lyon's army and in suppressing guerilla bands in that part of the state. In the fall of 1861 it was part of General John C. Fremont's force that went to Springfield, Missouri in pursuit of General Price and his pro-Confederate Missouri State Guard. On the evening that the 13th Illinois joined Fremont's army at Bolivar, they received a great honor. Because of the splendid shape of the regiment after a day's march of forty-two miles, the General himself nicknamed them "Fremont's Grey Hounds."

While serving with Fremont, the men saw action at Wet Glaize on October 13 and at Linn Creek on the 15th. They then returned to Rolla on November 10 and remained there until March 1862, having been in battle at Salem, Missouri on December 3rd.

On March 6, 1862, the regiment was ordered to join General Curtis' army, 250 miles southwest of Rolla, at Pea Ridge, Arkansas. They then accompanied Curtis on his memorable march from Pea Ridge to Helena, Arkansas on the Mississippi River, arriving at the latter place on July 14th.

They remained on duty at Helena until December 1862, when they joined Major General William T. Sherman on his Yazoo River Expedition, as part of the larger Vicksburg Campaign.

Sherman had been ordered to prepare an amphibious expedition up the Yazoo River to thwart the rumored construction by the rebels of several ironclad gunboats. The Federal troops began landing at Milliken's Bend on the Mississippi River, ten miles northwest and up river from Vicksburg, on Christmas Day, 1862. As the soldiers looked across the low-lying swampland, they surely must have seen the Confederate rifleman and artillery overlooking them from the bluffs above. These bluffs were known as Walnut Hills or Chickasaw Bluffs.

Sherman's plan entailed a frontal assault to cave in the center of the Confederate line atop the bluffs. Once accomplished and his men were upon the Walnut Hills, Sherman would have two choices. He could turn right and attack Vicksburg directly, or he could move left and go after the Confederate forts on Snyder's Bluff. On the 27th, Sherman's troops pressed forward through the swampland under heavy artillery fire, probing for a weakness.

The first attempt to secure the bluffs was made on the 28th when Brigadier General Frederick Steele's division advanced on the Confederate right. Abatis (trees felled in the direction of the enemy) and heavy artillery fire prevented Steele's men from reaching the bluffs.

On December 29th, Sherman ordered his troops forward at two points, the first being directly in front of Brigadier General George W. Morgan. The second point was where the Chickasaw Causeway approached the Walnut Hills. The latter assault was led by Colonel John DeCourcy's brigade in the center, Brigadier General Francis P. Blair on his left, with Brigadier General John M. Thayer in support. Among the troops under Blair's command was the 13th Illinois, including Corporal John Taylor, and he was killed in this battle on December 29, 1862.

As soon as they heard the artillery's signal to advance, the commanders ordered their men forward toward the bluffs. Morgan was never able to get his troops across the bayou, but the brigades at the other point of attack did. This would prove to be unfortunate.

Blair formed his command in double line of battle, with the first wave being composed of the 13th Illinois on the right and the 31st Missouri on the left. The wildly cheering brigade surged to the attack. Although they were subjected to a storm of shells and minie balls, Blair's courageous troops charged their way through the abatis, forded the stream, and scaled the steep bank. They routed the rebels from their advance rifle-pits and closed in on the main Confederate line of defense, held by several Tennessee regiments. The troops were met with a murderous fire so severe that it decimated the Union ranks. Blair shouted words of encouragement to his men, but the cost of these gains was too much. Corporal John Taylor was among the hundreds of valiant soldiers that were killed during that desperate charge. Only a small number of Union troops reached the rebel line and were too few to dislodge the hard-fighting Confederates. Within minutes, Blair's attack had been repulsed. The remaining Federals recoiled, veered to the right, and escaped across Chickasaw Bayou on a pontoon bridge that had been constructed the night before.

By January 2, 1863 Sherman had realized defeat and withdrew his troops back to the mouth of the Yazoo River. There he learned that Grant's overland advance on Vicksburg had been halted and that Grant had turned back to Memphis.

The failure of the assault at Chickasaw Bayou upon the Walnut Hills and of his own march against Vicksburg frustrated Grant's attempts to take the city by direct approach. This eventually led to the prolonged siege of Vicksburg by the Union Army in 1863.

John B. Taylor's brothers, William S. Taylor and Arthur S. Taylor, both served in Company B, 38th Iowa Infantry and died of disease during the war.

Copyright © 2001-2015 — Phil Sheridan Camp 4, Dept. of CA & Pacific, SUVCW
Created 27 Jun 2001; Revised 25 Aug 2015

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