Thomas J Higgins

Thomas J Higgins

Civil War (Union) · US Army · Sergeant

    When his regiment fell back in the assault, repulsed, this soldier continued to advance and planted the flag on the parapet, where he was captured by the enemy.

      Higgins entered the Union Army at Barry, Illinois in 1862, and was a private in Company D of the 99th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The 99th Illinois was part of the Army of the Tennessee under General Ulysses S. Grant which besieged the Confederate stronghold of Vicksburg, Mississippi beginning on May 18, 1863.

      On May 22, Grant launched a major assault against Vicksburg. Higgins volunteered to act as the color bearer for his regiment on that day as the acting color bearer had been previously wounded. Higgins' regiment, the 99th Illinois, and four other Union regiments attacked a section of the Vicksburg defenses held by the 2nd Texas Infantry, which succeeded in repulsing the attack. According to one of its members, Charles I. Evans, after the assault was beaten back, a color bearer (Higgins) continued to advance towards the Confederate lines. Seeing this, "at least a hundred men took deliberate aim at him, and fired at point-blank range", yet Higgins was not hit. When they saw that he did not falter, the Texans then ceased firing and cheered on Higgins to keep coming, who safely reached the breastworks and was congratulated by them.

      Higgins was then interrogated by the Vicksburg garrison commander, General John C. Pemberton, but refused to give him any solid information about Grant's army. He was paroled and exchanged a few days later, rejoining the 99th Illinois. He stayed with the regiment until the end of the war.

      At the request of his captors, Higgins received the Medal of Honor, receiving it on April 1, 1898.

      Higgins died on August 15, 1917, and was buried at Holy Family Cemetery in Hannibal, Missouri.

      Medal of Honor Citation:
      Rank and organization: Sergeant, Company D, 99th Illinois Infantry. Place and date: At Vicksburg, Miss., May 22, 1863. Entered service at: Barry, Pike County, Ill. Birth: Canada. Date of issue: April 1, 1898.

      When his regiment fell back in the assault, repulsed, this soldier continued to advance and planted the flag on the parapet, where he was captured by the enemy.

      Private Charles I. Evans of the 2nd Texas Infantry witnesses Thomas J. Higgins during the attack.

      _After a most terrific cannonading of two hours, during which the very earth rocked and pulsated like a thing of life, the head of the charging column appeared above the brow of the hill, about 100 yards in front of the breast works, and, as line after line of blue came in sight over the hill, it presented the grandest spectacle the eye of a soldier ever beheld. The Texans were prepared to meet it however, for, in addition to our Springfield rifles, each man was provided with five additional smooth-bore muskets, charged with buck and ball.

      When the first line was within fifty paces of the works, the order to fire ran along the trenches, and was responded to as from one gun. As fast as practiced hands could gather them up, one after another, the muskets were brought to bear. The blue lines vanished amid fearful slaughter. There was a cessation in the firing. And behold, through the pall of smoke which enshrouded the field, a Union flag could be seen approaching._

      As smoke was slightly lifted by the gentle May breeze, one lone soldier advanced, bravely bearing the flag toward the breast works. At least a hundred men too deliberate aim at him, and fired at point-blank range, but he ever faltered. Stumbling over the bodies of his fallen comrades, he continued to advance. Suddenly, as if with one impulse, every Confederate soldier within sight of the Union color bearer seemed to be seized with the idea that the man ought not to be shot down like a dog. A hundred men dropped their guns at the same time; each of them seized their nearest neighbor by the arm and yelled at him: "Don't shoot at that man again. He is too brave to be killed that way." when he instantly discovered that his neighbor was yelling the same thing at him. As soon as they all understood one another, a hundred old hats and caps went up in the air, their wearers yelling at the top of their voices: "Come on, you brave Yank, come on!" He did come, and was taken by the hand and pulled over the breast works, and when it was discovered that he was not even scratched, a hundred Texans wrung his hands and congratulated him upon his miraculous escape from death. That man's name was Thomas J. Higgins, color bearer of the Ninety-ninth Illinois.