William Henry Ward
Service/Branch: United States Army
Entered Service: Adrian, Michigan on June 15, 1861
Unit: Company B, 47th Ohio Infantry
Discharged: August 9, 1864
Service Notes: Company B, 47th Ohio Infantry, was organized at Adrian, Michigan by William H Ward and accepted for service by the Governor of Ohio.
MEDAL OF HONOR DETAILS
Location of Action: Vicksburg, Mississippi
Date of Action: May 3, 1863
Date Award Issued: January 2, 1895
Citation: Voluntarily commanded the expedition which, under cover of darkness, attempted to run the enemy's batteries.
One of the most desperate feats of the war was the attempt of Captain William H Ward, of Company B, Forty-seventh Ohio Volunteers, to run the gauntlet of the Confederate batteries at Vicksburg on the night of May 3, 1863. There were three barges loaded with stores for General Grant's Army, but between them and their destination lay the enemy's batteries mounting more than one hundred guns, many of them of the heaviest caliber. The Mississippi River makes a double bend at this point, like the letter S, and from the moment the barges entered the first bend, till they emerged on the open river below, they would be under the concentrated fire of the guns every foot of the way, and it seemed impossible that anyone could live under such a terrible fire.
The strength of the position was not unknown to Captain Ward, for he had several times from a distance watched the batteries in action when the ironclads were attempting to run the blockade. What he had seen instead of deterring him only made him more anxious for a closer acquaintance, and when a call was made for volunteers to take the barge down the stream, he was the first to offer himself. There was no lack of volunteers, and where only thirty five men were required, ten times that number were willing and anxious to go. One man, Addison J Hodges was so eager to go that he actually offered a comrade a dollar to let him go in his place.
Previous expeditions had run the gauntlet of these batteries with more or less success, but always on the darkest of nights and convoyed by armor clad gunboats. On this occasion a full moon and a clear sky made the night as light as day, and there were no gunboats to shelter the barges from the enemy's fire. There was only one little tug, the George Sturgis to tow the barges, and any accident to her would wreck the whole expedition. This did not discourage the gallant little band, and the account of the adventure is entertainingly given by Captain Ward as follows:
"We cast off from Milliken's Bend, La. about fifteen miles above Vicksburg at ten o' clock PM. The trip down the river was uneventful until two o' clock in the morning, when a rocket sent up from one of the Confederate batteries warned the enemy of our approach, and we were soon under a heavy fire. It was a wild ride we had from this time on."
"Battery after battery opened on us, as we came within range, until it seemed that the guns were being played upon like the keys of a piano, and to say that the rain of shot and shell was terrific, but faintly describes the situation. The scene was indescribably grand and awe inspiring, as we steamed slowly past the city amid the roar of more than a hundred guns with their death dealing missiles whistling and shrieking over and around us, and exploding on board while the patter of bullets from the infantry resembled a fall of hail stones. The barges were large and unwieldy; and as we could make only about six miles an hour at best, the enemy's gunners were able to get our range accurately. We had been struck many times, but not seriously damaged. The little tug seemed to bear a charmed life, for we passed several times within a hundred yards of the heaviest batteries."
"We had now been under fire three quarters of an hour, and had reached a point below the city where ten minutes more meant safety. The steady puff-puff of the little tug gave assurance that all was right and we were beginning to indulge in mental congratulations on the success of the expedition when a roar like the bursting of a volcano caused the barges to rock as if shaken by an earthquake, and in an instant the air was filled with burning coals flying timbers and debris. A plunging shot from a heavy gun stationed on an eminence far in the rear had struck the tug and penetrated to the furnaces where it exploded, blowing the boilers and machinery up through the deck, and completely wrecking the vessel."
"The blazing coals fell in a shower over both barges setting fire to the bales of hay in hundreds of places at once. The enemy sent up a cheer upon witnessing our misfortune, and for a few minutes seemingly redoubled their fire. The tug went down like a plummet while the barges were soon blazing wrecks, drifting with the eddying current of the river. No recourse remained, but surrender and the waving of a handkerchief from a soldier's bayonet caused the firing to cease. The flames compelled the survivors to seek safety by taking to the water, and having no boats we floated off on bales of hay and found them surprisingly buoyant. The wounded were first cared for and then all took passage on the hay bale line."
"The enemy now hailed us from shore, ordering us to come in and surrender, but on iearning that we had no boats, sent their own to our assistance capturing all but one of the survivors. That one, Julius C. Conklin by name, was the only man in the party who could not swim. He managed with the aid of a piece of wreckage to reach the Louisiana shore unobserved by the enemy and rejoined his company two days later."
"When all had been rescued and assembled in the moonlight under guard of Confederate bayonets, the roll was called, and just sixteen, less than half our original number, were found to have survived. Some of the scalded men were piteous sights to behold, the flesh hanging in shreds from their faces and bodies as they ran about in excruciating agony, praying that something be done to relieve their sufferings. These with the wounded were speedily sent to a hospital, where some of them died the next day."
"It is not often, even in a soldier's life, that one is compelled to face death in so many forms as beset our little party on that memorable night, shot and shell, fire, water, and a boiler explosion, with its attendant horrors. Our captors treated us with marked consideration, affording every courtesy consistent with the rules of war, and we were the recipients of many attentions from soldiers and citizens who seemed to marvel at the temerity of our undertaking. We were held prisoners in Vicksburg for two days, when General Grant having crossed the river, and defeated the enemy near Grand Gulf, Mississippi began to threaten the city from the rear. We were then paroled, and hurriedly forwarded to Richmond, Va. where after an eventful journey, through the Confederacy we duly arrived and were assigned quarters in that famous Confederate hostelry, Libby Prison. Here we remained about six weeks, before we were exchanged, and we were only able to rejoin the regiment in the trenches before Vicksburg on the evening before the surrender, just in time to be in at the death."
"Language fails to describe my feelings when with a few companions I entered the city the next morning, July 4th, immediately after the surrender under circumstances in such marked contrast with my forced advent of a few weeks before. Now, no hostile demonstrations of any kind greeted us. The great guns were still, the hostile flags were furled, and Old Glory floated proudly from the public buildings, while our late foes were quietly resting in their camps awaiting the pleasure of the victors."
Excerpted from: Deeds of Valor, Walter Frederick Beyer & Oscar Frederick Keydel, Perrien-Keydel Co., 1902, Pages 176-179.
Birthdate: December 9, 1840
Birthplace: Adrian, Michigan
Spouse: Martha J. Kost Ward
Died: April 11, 1927, age 86
Buried: Highland Park Cemetery, Kansas City, Kansas