In 1972, a new stone was set at the grave of Joseph Stephen LaBille in the Catholic Cemetery. The reason? Actually, there were two – the veteran’s marker set at his grave in 1911 did not reflect the fact that he had been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and his name was misspelled as LaVille.
LaBille’s Medal Of Honor was awarded for his actions on May 22, 1863, when the 26-year-old was laying within 4 feet of Confederate troops at Stockade Redan, Vicksburg, Miss.
Vicksburg is situated high on the bluffs at a bend in the Mississippi River. William Tecumseh Sherman called the Mississippi the “spinal column of America,” and, indeed, Vicksburg was one of the two strategically vital cities of the Confederate supply line, the other being the rail center at Chattanooga, Tenn.
Virtually impregnable from its riverside, Vicksburg’s eastern land-based fortifications extended nine miles and had nine strong points; Stockade Redan was one of these.
Grant’s first attempt to take the city by frontal assault was on May 19, 1863. More than 3,000 Union soldiers were killed or wounded on this day.
The 6th Missouri (LaBille was a Private in Co. C) was part of the XV Army Corps under General Sherman. The XV Corps, along with the entire Federal Army under General U.S. Grant, had made two frontal assaults on Vicksburg, the first occurring on May 19 and the second on the 22nd of May 1863.
Stockade Redan was located on the north and east end of the Confederate defensive line of works that surrounded the land side of Vicksburg. The only access to the city from this point was by way of the Graveyard Road, which was bordered by deep ravines. Confederate guns completely covered the road, preventing Union incursion.
The front of the fort was a deep ditch that protected it from attempts to climb the wall and enter the stronghold. The embankment of the Confederate fort was so steep that it was not possible for the Confederates to depress their guns to shoot at the troops just below their position.
The volunteer storming party of which Pvt. LaBille was a member was composed of two officers and 50 men from each brigade of the Second Division. Units included were the 113th and 116th Illinois Infantry, and the 6th and 8th Missouri Infantry, as well as the 13th U.S. Infantry.
Here, we will let Joseph take over the story.
“On the morning of May 22, 1863, Lieutenant George H. Stockton of our company asked me if I did not wish to volunteer to go to a storming party to keep a certain fort from firing cannons while our army made a charge on the enemy’s works.
“He told me that he had volunteered to go and wanted one man from our company to go with him, and that I would go where he did. So, early in the forenoon, we reported for that purpose and soon after made the charge.
“The Lieutenant, a brave fellow, fell wounded along the way. I went within 10 to 15 yards of the fort when a ball passed so close to my eyes that it completely blinded me. I ran against the bank earth where a wounded soldier was sitting. He grasped me by the coat and told me to sit by him, that there was not much danger there. I bathed my eyes and in a few minutes I recovered my eyesight. Thus, the boys got on top of the fort before I did. Then I made a dash for the top of the fort and got there.
“We lay flat on the top, keeping our muskets always ready. We lay there in the hot burning sun within 3 or 4 feet of the enemy, keeping them from firing their cannons.
“After we had been there some time the commanding officer in the fort said to us, ‘Say boys, I mean you Yankee boys, you must be a brave lot of men to have come where you are. You are entirely at our mercy, but if you want to surrender to us, we will treat you with the very best we have in Vicksburg. You can come in at the right angle of the fort; there is a cannon hole to let you in.’
“I am not positive, but I think it was a man belonging to our regiment who cried out, ‘Poke your head here and we will show you whether we came here to surrender to you or not.’ The Rebel officer then threatened to make a charge on us; some of our men told him to charge and be done.
“Sometime in the afternoon, our army made the charge but did not succeed in reaching us, though we kept the fort silent. We remained there until dark when a lieutenant of some other regiment came and told us to make our way back the best we could.
"I do not know how the other boys got back but I got across the ditch and jumped a fence. While I jumped the fence I was fired at and had a very narrow escape.
“I got lost but finally found my company between twelve and one o’clock that night. I was reported killed but the boys were happy to see me alive again. I never found out how many were killed and wounded, but most of them were mowed down before we got to the fort.”
The Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest decoration for valor that can be awarded to a member of the Armed Forces of the United States. The award presented to Joseph LaBille was for “individual gallantry at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty.”
Some years before his death, on Aug. 8, 1911, Joseph told his story to Joseph B. Mitchell who later published a book, “The Badge Of Gallantry: The Civil War Medal Of Honor Winners Recall Their Moments Of Battle.”
Mitchell saw Joseph’s description of the battle of Vicksburg as one of the most accurate, unenhanced descriptions of the battle.
Joseph Stephen LaBille was born on Aug. 9, 1837, in Belgium, to Jean Baptiste Labille and Josephine Schnommberg of Habay-la-neus in the province of Luxembourg and came to America with his father in 1851.
Joseph’s military service started on June 25, 1861, when he enlisted at St. Louis in the Union Army for a three-year stint. He was mustered out at Big Shanty, Ga., in June 1864, and two months later was married to Mary Jane DeCourcey in Louisville, Ky.
They were parents of five children: Rudd Stephen, Josephine, Joseph Henry, Lida Elen and Alfred Leroy LaBille.
In 1888, Joseph applied for a pension from Perry County, Ind., stating that he had been a watchmaker before the war and now was a laborer because he could no longer travel from place to place to mend clocks, jewelry and watches."
He claimed two-thirds disability and received a monthly pension of $15.
The family returned to Vandalia, and this is where the old soldier lived out his life.
After Joseph’s death in 1911, his wife, Mary, was given a $12 a month pension on his service.