Lieutenant S. E. M. Underhill

Volunteer Aide-de-camp of Brig. Gen. S. D. Lee,

Former British Officer

Champion Hill Battle and Vicksburg Siege

By Sue Burns Moore


Lieutenant Underhill Delivers Dire Message to Emma Balfour

Colonel E. M. Underhill
65th Alabama Infantry

Alabama Dept. Archives and History

     In her beautiful Vicksburg home located in the heart of the town, next door to Confederate General Pemberton’s Headquarters in the Willis-Cowan House, Mrs. Emma Balfour, wife of Dr. William T. Balfour, began her diary on Saturday, May 16, 1863, the day of the Battle of Champion Hill, with the words, "All has been uncertainty and suspense."

By morning of the next day, she knew the worst and painfully wrote, "My pen almost refuses to tell of our terrible disaster of yesterday….  We are defeated – our army in confusion and the carnage awful!  Lieut. Underhill came into tell of it – he thinks Gen. [Stephen D.] Lee killed. Gen. Stephenson was in command of the whole & Gen. Lee’s brigade four times met the shock of battle – going where they were most hotly pursued….The whole battery was captured – big guns and nearly all the men that were left…. By this time there was great confusion – the slaughter dreadful.  Gen. Lee repeatedly rallied his men…all to no purpose. Just then he sent Lieut. Underhill to order up ammunition & as soon as he left, he was cut off from his Gen., but he could see him, the last man in the field, still trying to rally the fleeing men & the bullets falling in a shower around him.  One horse had been killed under him (his large bay).  He had mounted another.  When Lieut. U. looked – or as soon as he could see – he looked and he [Gen. Lee] was not to be seen – so he thought he must have fallen immediately.

"He wept as he related all this, said he never say such daring, such generalship – but alas it was of no avail. He said he was not ashamed of his tears, for God never made a purer, braver, or nobler man.  I, too, wept, but not only for him, indeed all individual feeling seems merged in grief and interest for my country….  Lieut. U. has promised (he returned at once) to look out for Gen. Lee, Duncan Green, & Winston Reese diligently.  I know I can rely upon him, and if living, though wounded, to have Underhill get them, and at any rate to send me written intelligence of them during the day.

"Later…Lieut. U. has just come to tell me that he has seen Major Gillespie just come from the Big Black – Gen, Lee is alive & unhurt!  See how God shields the brave!  He with our army has fallen back to Big Black where the fight is still going on…."

Thirty thousand Rebel soldiers now poured into the besieged town overnight, and Emma closed her Sunday’s diary entry lamenting, "What is to become of all living things in this place when the boats commence shelling, God only knows…. Shut up as in a trap, no ingress or egress…  I feel that we have not provender to feed them for long." She was right, and by the time the 47-day-siege ended, U. S. General James B. McPherson had made her home, Balfour House, his headquarters. From the Letters of Emma Balfour, 1847-1857 (and annotated diary) by Gordon A. Cotton, The Print Shop, Vicksburg, MS, 2006.



Balfour House, Headquarter for Maj. Gen. James B. McPherson

By James Butters - Library of Congress.  William T. Balfour House, located at 1002 Calhoun Street in Vicksburg, Mississipp
 Built in 1836, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places



Lieutenant Underhill – Volunteer Aide-de-Camp of General Stephen D. Lee


Lieutenant Stephen Edward Monaghan Underhill, who was most often known as Edward, but who also signed his name as "S. M. Underhill" or "E. M. Underhill," was born in Dunse (now Duns), the county seat of Berwickshire, Scotland, in the Scottish Borders, on November 9, 1841, where his father, Stephen, was superintendent of police. Census records reveal that Edward was educated as a lawyer.

According to Bruce Allardice in Confederate  Colonels, young twenty-two-year-old Underhill "resigned a commission in the British Army to join the Confederate military. In January 1863 he came through the blockade at Charleston, SC. Underhill went to Mississippi and became a volunteer aide on the staff of General Stephen D Lee."

Brig. Gen. Stephen D. Lee wrote Confederate War Secretary, J. A. Seddon, on July 20, 1863, from Enterprise, Mississippi : "I have the honor to request the appointment of Lt. S. M. Underhill of the English Army as 1st Lt. of Cavalry and Artillery in the Provisional Army of the C. S. Lt. Underhill has been on my staff as a Volunteer Aide since February last, was with me in the Battle of Baker’s Creek [Champion Hill] and during the siege of Vicksburg – he behaved with distinguished gallantry and rendered efficient service to our Cause – he is an enthusiast in our cause – is an energetic an officer as I have ever met and is perfectly reliable – he has certainly won a commission in our service.  He is well educated. It would be highly gratifying to me should this appointment be made – he was paroled as a Volunteer Aide in Vicksburg."  S. M. Underhill received his official appointment from Secretary Seddons on the 29th July 1863. At least three times, Lieutenant Underhill was commended by General S. D. Lee in the Official Record for his gallantry or efficiency in action, including at Champion Hill and in the siege of Vicksburg.



Lieutenant Underwood wrote the following article for his native country’s press which was picked up and reprinted by the Evening Post, New York, New York, on September 7, 1863. The spelling and punctuation are original.


"A Rebel Account of the Siege of Vicksburg"


Curious Particulars

The Edinburgh Scotsman publishes an interesting account of the siege of Vicksburg, written by an English officer in the rebel service, Lieutenant Underhill, aide-de-camp of the rebel general S. D. Lee, from which we take the following curious and interesting particulars. It will be seen that he throws the blame of defeat on General Johnston.

The Battle of Champion Hills

 "After long and harassing marches over dusty and hilly roads, under a burning sun, and with very scanty rations, the Confederate troops, wearied almost to death, bivouacked at 1 A. M. on Saturday, May 16, in a cornfield, some five miles beyond Edward’s depot, a station on the Vicksburg and Jackson Railroad, and about twenty-nine miles from the former place.  In about two hours after bivouacking, viz., about 3 A. M., a courier arrived from General Johnston, with a dispatch to the effect that he was marching towards us at the head of ten thousand men; that we were to effect a junction with him at any risk, and that for that purpose General Pemberton was to retire a few miles and take up and hold a position which was designated.

"The wearied army was aroused and put in motion, and the wagons were started on their way back towards Vicksburg. By 8 A. M. the Confederate army under General Pemberton, consisting of General Stevenson’s division (four brigades, equal 6,000 men), Bowen’s division (two brigades, equal 4,000 men,) and Loring’s division (two brigades, equal 5,000 men,) (in all say 15,000,) had taken position in line of battle on the crest of an ampitheatre of hills, the troops facing towards the converse side.  This semicircular line crossed, and of course commanded, the Raymond road, whereon the federals were known to be in force.  Upon this road, accordingly, about 8 A. M., heavy skirmishing commenced, and was vigorously sustained along the whole line held by Stevenson’s division until about 10 A. M., when the enemy advanced in force on the left division, and consequently on the brigade of General Lee.

"The policy of the enemy seemed to be continually to flank the left of our army.   As their purpose became gradually developed, corresponding movements were made by the Confederate Generals.  Attack after attack, and charge after charge, was successfully repulsed by the Confederate soldiery, notwithstanding the great disparity of the contending force, until it became evident that without reinforcements it was impossible to hold the line and protect the flank of Stevenson’s division.  Despatch after despatch having been sent, representing the state of affairs, was replied to by promise after promise of aid, none of which were kept.

"At last the crisis came, the federals, massing all of their forces upon the left, charged, in column of three divisions.  Our troops stood manfully up to their work, throwing in a withering fire upon the advancing enemy.  The first and second line broke, but the third, sweeping steadily on, overwhelmed our wearied and now much weakened regiments, and in a moment the scene was one of utmost confusion.  Here and there a group could be seen fighting hand to hand, but by far the majority were retreating in disorder through the magnolia groves in their rear.

"A prolonged and hearty cheer, or rather yell, to the right of Stevenson’s retreating division – followed by hurried movements among the federal forces – broke upon the ear.  It was Bowen’s Missourians charging and driving the enemy, whom they repulsed with heavy loss; moreover capturing our guns which we had earlier lost.  This movement infused new vigor into the discouraged southerners, and they were rallied and led to charge with partial success. All our artillery was once more recaptured, and our original line having been regained, was once more held by Stevenson’s four brigades, who poured a deadly fire into the confused and disordered enemy.  I have heard the most competent judges affirm, and federal generals admit, that the Yankees were at this juncture so thoroughly demoralized that, had Loring’s fresh troops been thrown in, they would have turned the tide of the fight, and the victory would have been ours.

"But the golden opportunity was neglected; Loring’s division lay idle on the right, where they never fired a shot.  The federals were rallied; their reserves were brought up; they charged again with desperate determination; our musketry rattled, their bayonets gleamed, the two lines closed, there was a moment of intense and unbearable suspense, of wild hope and fervent trust, but, alas! for the Confederate cause, without foundation; for the next instant, the whole Confederate line, bursting into retreat, quitted the field in disorder, leaving the enemy in possession of the field, of all the dead and the wounded, of several hundred prisoners, who after gallantly fighting to the last, were surrounded and taken; and last, though not least, of twenty pieces of artillery; in fact, of almost every gun that pertained to Stevenson’s division.  I should here remark that, had it been possible, our guns would before the crisis have been moved off the ground; but the wooded nature of the line precluded this, and moreover the enemy’s fire had killed nearly all our horses.

"The retreat now became a disgraceful sight; a complete sauve qui peut [‘Save yourself"], until, thanks to the almost superhuman exertion of Generals Lee, Barton, &c., order was in a measure restored.  General Pemberton now directed a general retreat towards our intrenchments at Big Black, Loring’s division taking one way, Pemberton, heading the remainder of Stevenson’s and Bowen’s divisions, back the other.  The victorious enemy pressed hard upon our retreating column, burning every house, every hut, as they swept along, until at dark our vanquished, discomfited army proceeded to snatch a few hours’ sleep behind our intrenchments at Big Black.  These intrenchments having been intended to protect the trestle work of the railroad bridge, were of course on the further side of the river from Vicksburg.  The Confederate forces were thus on the same side of the river as their enemy, and had the river in their rear.  The federal pickets had been posted around the intrenched position of the Confederate army, so as completely to bar ingress and egress on their side.

"At daybreak on Sunday, May 17, all the wagons and stores having safely crossed, and being well on the way for Vicksburg, Vaughn’s brigade of Tennesseans, fresh from camp, with Bowen’s brave Missourians, and twenty pieces of artillery were left to hold the intrenchments, and the remainder of the army was withdrawn to the other bank.  Fighting commenced at about six.  The enemy’s repeated charges were invariably repulsed with heavy loss, until about nine o’clock a sudden and unaccountable panic seized on Vaughn’s Tennesseans, and they en masse ran from their works, over which the enemy instantly swarmed in immense force.  By far the greater part of Vaughn’s brigade fell prisoners to the enemy, as did also many of the Missourians, who, being now attacked from two sides, found themselves unable to maintain their ground, and accordingly rejoined the main army, the enemy gaining and retaining possession of upwards of twenty pieces of artillery.  Another defeat for General Pemberton – another victory for General Grant.

"General Pemberton now ordered an immediate retreat to our intrenchments round Vicksburg, which was at once entered upon.  The railroad bridge and trestle work were set on fire, and the destruction of the military pontoon bridge immediately commenced.  Snyder’s Mill, twelve miles from Vicksburg – a position which protected the right flank of Vicksburg – was evacuated.  Some of the guns were removed, and the remainder destroyed, and the garrison, consisting of Forney’s division (More’s and Hebert’s brigades) was marched into town.  Snyder’s was a naturally strong position on the Yazoo river, protected on either flank by impregnable swamps, and its fortifications consisted of some very heavy batteries and a strong raft chained across the river.  By three P. M., the army was safe within the intrenchments of Vicksburg, save one regiment of General Lee’s brigade, the Twenty-third Alabama (Colonel Beck), which in the confusion had been overlooked, and had remained on this side of the Big Black, concealed amid the tree and undergrowth.

Grant’s First Assault

"The first night under arms in the trenches was a very quiet one.  On Tuesday the enemy appeared in force on the left of our line and, rushing on, attempted to carry our works by storm.  As good fortune would have it, they selected our strongest position and our choicest and freshest troops for their attack.  The Yankees charged valiantly on the Mississippi and Louisiana troops of Baldwin’s and Sharp’s brigades (Smith’s division), and were everywhere repulsed with frightful loss.  They never got nearer than within say two hundred yards of our works, but they left the ground literally blue with their killed and wounded.  Our lines by evening completely invested.  After the first two weeks General Grant, apparently despairing of carrying our works by storm, set about making regular approaches, which were pushed with the utmost zeal and assiduity.  By the fortieth day the enemy were at many points within fifteen feet of our works, and these points were the scene of one continual encounter with hand grenades.  The loss on both sides from casualties was very serious.

Praise of Yankee Artillerist

 "Our land front works consisted of one single line of earthworks, running along a continuous ridge from a point about a mile and a half above Vicksburg to about the same distance below, the curve inward increasing the extent of the line from four miles to five miles in all.  At short intervals we had little redoubts, or forts, in which light artillery had been placed; but after the first and second days’ experience it became evident to everyone that they were rather an element of weakness that otherwise.

"The enemy, who had access to all the appliances and improvements that science has invented to carry on modern warfare, can boast first class guns, the best of ammunition, and magnificent artillerymen.  Besides this, they have everything they require in abundance, not to say profusion.  For instance, whenever we dared to fire a shot from, say a 12 pounder howitzer,  the enemy would concentrate upon it perhaps ten to fifteen 20 pounder Parrott guns, and would maintain a time of perhaps two to three hours’ duration, throwing several hundred shot and shell into, around, or over the offending battery.  They fired with the utmost precision, and they had attained such an excellent position, and such close proximity, that their rifled projectiles flew in many cases eight through ten feet of earth, to strike and burst on whatever might be in the work.  We had no recourse but to run the guns out of the works to keep them from being disabled, and reserve them to the canister or grape in the event of a charge being made.

"All the ladies and children, inhabitants of the town, resided within the walls, having had no opportunity to escape.  Their lot was a dreadful one.  Ladies brought up in the lap of luxury, whose slightest wish they had been accustomed to have obeyed as if it was an autocrat’s decree, who had lived in little palaces – as southern houses certainly are – and who had always been surrounded by every luxury that taste, or refinement or wealth could desire and procure, had now to leave their comfortable homes, betake themselves to dark unwholesome caves and caverns dug in the sides of the numerous ‘bluffs’ of the Hill City, sleep on the damp floor, and eat their scanty ration of bacon and pea-bread, and latterly of mule meat, from a plate they’re required to hold, the scanty dimensions of the cave not warranting the luxury of a table.

Famine Setting In

 "About the thirty-fifth day provisions began to get very scarce, and the advent of Johnston’s relieving force was anxiously and momentarily looked for.  Mule meat was the common fare for all alike, and even dogs became in request for the table.  Bean meal was made into bread and corn meal into coffee, and in these straits the garrison patiently dragged on the weary length of one day after another under a scorching sun, the stench from the unburied corpses all around alone causing the strongest minded, firmest nerved to grow impatient for the day of deliverance.  The enemy pushed their works, they blew up several forts, and with them their entire garrison, and they attempted to charge, but the meagre and famished , yet steadfast, garrison still defiantly held the key of the Mississippi from the ruthless grasp of her northern invaders, and again and again hurled back their formidable columns to the cover of their earthworks.  But everything must have an end.  General Pemberton learned from General Johnston that he could not afford him relief, and as the garrison was too famished and reduced to cut its way out, he determined to capitulate."

The writer says that when the siege began, there were in Vicksburg but ten percussion caps per man.


S. E. M. Underhill Parole, Vicksburg, July 5, 1863


According to his Compiled Service Record, after Lieutenant Underwood was paroled from Vicksburg, he continued to serve as an aide and drillmaster under the command of General Lee until August 4, 1864, when he was transferred to General D. H. Maury’s command when Maury relieved General Lee. On August 14, he awaited orders from General Higgins to serve as a Lieutenant of Cavalry.  Bruce Allardice writes in Confederate Colonels, "Shortly afterwards he was assigned to command of newly-organized Alabama Senior Reserves, and the record becomes confusing. Underhill was appointed Major of William M Stone's 1st Alabama Reserve Battalion. By October 1864 the battalion was increased to a regiment known as the 4th Alabama Reserves, Stone and Underhill becoming Colonel and Lieut. Col respectively. Members were supposed to be between the ages of 45 and 50. Stone resigned on Jan 22, 1865, Underhill taking his place as Colonel."  Then, according to the official records, on May 10, 1865, Colonel E. M. Underhill [age 24],  signed his parole and surrendered as Colonel, commanding the 65th Alabama Infantry, to U. S. General Canby at Meridian, Mississippi. His service had been in Mississippi and Alabama - primarily defending Mobile and bay forts.

After the war, Underhill remained in Mobile. On August 25, 1868, in Washington, Texas, he married Bessie Gaines Lipscomb, granddaughter of Texas Supreme Court Justice and former Secretary of State of the Republic of Texas, Abner S. Lipscomb. Judge Lipscomb studied law under John. C. Calhoun, eventually becoming Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and a state legislator for a time before moving the family from Mobile to the Republic of Texas in 1839. Evidently Underhill met Bessie earlier in Mobile, because the Mobile Tribune of August 24, 1867, reported that E. M. Underhill’s boat the Bessie, sailed by W. Carroll, measuring 18 feet and ten inches, had come in second and won third prize in the Mobile Regatta.

So when Bessie went to live in Mobile with her new husband, it must have felt like coming home to her prominent Gaines relatives who still lived in Alabama. In 1868 and 1869, according to ads in the Mobile Register, Underhill was the secretary of the Mobile Democratic Club.  In the 1870 census of Mobile, Edward was listed as an accountant, and in 1879, he served briefly as Mobile’s Chief of Police. By the 1880 census, the Underhills were parents of three children, and his occupation was listed as "farmer."

On June 13, 1896, in New Orleans, Louisiana, S. E. M. Underhill became a naturalized citizen of the United States.  He swore that he had been a resident of New Orleans for five years, and that he had originally applied for citizenship in Mobile County, Alabama.

On September 20, 1902, he applied for a Confederate pension, stating that he, now indigent, had been a resident of Travis County, Texas, for more than five years and had been "since 1880 till 1897 continuously occupied in operating Texas railroads." He had suffered a broken hip which had disabled him, and his doctor certified that he was paralyzed on one side and suffering from a progressive paralysis. Colonel D. C. Stith attested to his knowledge of Underhill’s Confederate service, saying "The Applicant & myself served together on the Staff of Gen. S. D. Lee together in the Civil War."

Colonel Stephen Edward Monaghan Underhill died in Austin, Texas, on February 6, 1904, of apoplexy, and the result of his infirmities from his first stroke suffered in 1902.  He was buried the following day in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin beside Judge Lipscomb. His obituary in the Dallas Morning News, February 7, 1904, reads as follows: "Special to the News – Austin, Tex., Feb. 6 – E. M. Underhill died at his home in this city after a lingering illness at the age of 63 years.  He was a Confederate soldier, having served as Lieutenant Colonel of an Alabama regiment.  Deceased became well known in this state through his connection with the Railroad Commission and the suits against the Southern Pacific for rebating.  He has served the Southern Pacific as general auditor at New Orleans for many years and left the company because of differences.  Upon coming to Texas, he was employed as expert in the office of the Railroad Commission, and his experience as a railroad auditor gave him such knowledge of records that he secured data of the rebate suits and convictions which occurred at that time.  Having served in the Confederacy, he will be buried in the State Cemetery in this City."


S. E. M. Underhill Petition for Citizenship


The Letter to His Mother

      This extraordinary letter, written by former English army officer Stephen E.M. Underhill to his mother in Coldstream, Scotland in the waning days of the siege of Vicksburg, gives a lengthy account of Underhill's experiences during the Vicksburg campaign while serving as an aide-de-camp to Brigadier General Stephen D. Lee. The 21-year-old Underhill resigned his commission in the British army and entered the Confederacy through the blockade at Charleston, South Carolina in January 1863, journeyed to Mississippi and gained an appointment to Lee's staff. Underhill gained favorable notice from Lee for his "gallantry and efficient service" during the campaign and following his parole at Vicksburg, he was commissioned as a first lieutenant of cavalry and eventually became colonel of the 65th Alabama Infantry.

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