The Battle Of Champion Hill

Now, at last, Grant turned to head straight for Vicksburg, 35 miles to the west. His first objective had been achieved - he had got his army between Johnston and Pemberton. Grant's men were full of confidence, beginning to realize that this was a remarkable campaign. One gunner wrote: 'If there ever was a jubilant army, Grant's army in Jackson was that night.' But Grant allowed little time for celebration. He had the Confederates split and reeling, but he knew that they had reinforcements hurrying from the east and he meant to complete the job before they could intervene. He was helped in this by another bit of luck. A Federal spy, travelling in Confederate gray, brought him a copy of a message from Johnston ordering Pemberton to meet him, with all the force at his command, on the railway line between Vicksburg and Jackson. Grant acted to spoil this move immediately. The morning after the taking of Jackson two of his army corps were on the march again - McPherson's to the Clinton area, McClernand's six miles farther west. Sher

Battle Mine Creek

man's corps stayed behind, briefly, to complete the destruction of Jackson as a military base.

Pemberton had been casting about south of the Big Black River, hoping to catch Grant in the rear. Now he received Johnston's summons to a meeting on the railway and turned north. On the morning of 16 May his leading units made contact with Grant's vanguard to the east of Edwards Station. Pemberton deployed his troops in defensive positions on the slopes of a rough and wooded eminence called Champion Hill, which commanded the direct road to Vicksburg.

Grant was advancing westwards along the line of the railway and immediately south of it, with McPherson's corps on his right, McClernand's on the left, and Sherman's coming up quickly behind them. His forces totalled about 29,000 men, tough and fit and buoyant. In a sense, this was the moment Pemberton had been waiting for, the confrontation with Grant's army, but he was considerably outnumbered, having left more than 10,000 men

Info The Battle Grand Gulf

An artist's impression of one of the actions in the Hat tie of Champion's Hill. John Logan leads his men into the attack.

Battle Mine Creek

Stevenson's Division xxxx PEMBERTON

Bowen's Division

Loring's Division

Baker's Creek

Bowen's Division

Loring's Division

Baker's Creek

Battle Grand Gulf Pictures

Subsequently, Logan's advance is weakened as about 4p.m. Pemberton's forces are routed back reinforcements are sent to towards Vicksburg; Hovey, lessening the Loring's Division loses

Hovey's initial thrust gains crest of Champion Hill.

1 Stevenson, reinforced by Bowen, retakes the hill.

3 Crocker and Logan attack on Hovey's right.

4 Logan begins to outflank the Confederate left.

Subsequently, Logan's advance is weakened as about 4p.m. Pemberton's forces are routed back reinforcements are sent to towards Vicksburg; Hovey, lessening the Loring's Division loses threat to the Confederates' line of retreat. At touch and is cut off, retreating to the south.

Battle Grand Gulf
To Raymond

THE BATTLE OF CHAMPION HILL

16 May 1863, as seen from the south-east

Battle Champion Hill

4 General Jumes H. McPherson, llie able commander oj Grant's XVII Army Corps, in conference with two of his engineer officers.

behind to protect Vicksburg. He had slightly fewer than 22,000 men on Champion Hill, many of them weary from days of ineffectual marching and counter-marching.

But the place Pemberton had chosen to make his stand was a good one. The summit plateau of Champion Hill stands some 140 feet above the surrounding countryside, commanding a wide prospect in all directions. It is rough ground, split by many gullies and steep-sided ravines, much of it thickly vegetated. It was difficult for the Federal troops to see exactly where the enemy's guns were, impossible to assess the strength of his defences. The battle of Champion Hill was comparatively short, but because of the nature of the terrain it was confused and messy, decided in the end not by any brilliant stroke of generalship but by sheer weight of numbers. It was the fiercest and bloodiest engagement of the whole Vicksburg campaign.

The first Federal troops to come under fire were men of the 12th Division of McClernand's corps who, for some reason, were marching ahead of McPherson's army corps on the right of the line. The division was commanded by Brigadier General Alvin P. Hovey, an Indiana lawyer before the war and now an experienced and capable commander. He quickly deployed his regiments into line about a mile to the west of Bolton Depot and launched an up-hill attack.

There was some initial success. They advanced about 600 yards and men of the 24th Iowa Brigade seized an enemy battery and took prisoners after a bayonet charge. Moments later, though, the Confederates counter-charged and drove them back down the slopes again. A vicious, to-and-fro dogfight ensued in which Hovey became very hard-pressed.

McPherson's corps was close behind and John Logan's division moved into line on Hovey's right. Grant himself was soon on the scene and he got Logan to send a brigade to help Hovey. Another division, that of Brigadier General Marcellus M. Crocker, a sickly man but full of fight, soon joined in. By coincidence, it was these two div isional commanders, John Logan and Marcellus Crocker, who had been most actively involved in the fight for Raymond only four days earlier. Grant thought highly of both of them: 'I regarded Logan and Crocker as being as competent division commanders as could be found in or out of the army and both equal to a much higher command. Crocker, however, was dying of consumption when he volunteered. 1 lis weak condition never put him on the sick report when there was a battle in prospect, as long as he

4 General Jumes H. McPherson, llie able commander oj Grant's XVII Army Corps, in conference with two of his engineer officers.

could keep on his feet. He died not long after the close of the rebellion.'

The battle proper began at about midday and went on for almost four hours. The most intense fighting was concentrated at the northern end of the line where I lovev and Crocker were bearing the brunt. As Crocker's division moved into the front line, Logan pushed farther round to the west in an attempt to outflank the Confederate line. Grant, with his staff, had joined Logan and for a short time in the early afternoon, although they did not realize it, they had Pemberton virtually trapped. Grant described it in his Memoirs: 'I found him [Logan] near the road leading down to Baker's Creek... Neither Logan nor I knew that we had cut off the retreat of the enemy. Just at this juncture a messenger came from I lovev, asking for more reinforcements. There were none to spare. 1 then gave an order to move McPherson's command by the left flank around to 1 lovev. This uncovered the rebel line of retreat, which was soon taken advantage of by the enemy.'

1 lovev, w ith active support from men of Logan's and Crocker's divisions, had been launching repeated attacks on the Confederate defences, which were also under heavy, enfilading bombardment from two of McPherson's batteries to the north. Just before 4 p.m. the defence collapsed and the Confederates' retreat soon turned into a chaotic rout. Pemberton said: 'We lost a large amount of artillery. The army was much demoralized; many regiments behaved badly.' Colonel Edward Goodwin of the 35th Alabama Regiment described the scene in these words: 'At this time our friends gave way and came rushing to the rear panic-stricken. I brought my regiment to the charge bayonets, but even this could not check them in their flight. The colours of three regiments passed through... We collared them, begged them, and abused them in vain.' Colonel Goodwin was in Pemberton's First Division, commanded by Major General W.W. Loring, which completely lost touch with Pemberton's force in the retreat and took no further part in the Vicksburg campaign.

Grant sent two divisions of McClernand's corps, neither of which had been involved in much of the fighting, in hot pursuit of the enemy. It was an undoubted victory for Grant and it left the way open for his march on Vicksburg, but he was far from satisfied w ith the results of the day's work. In the first place, as he soon realized, he had momentarily been in a position to surround and capture Pemberton's army and had failed to do so. It would have meant a much longer and costlier fight on Champion Hill but would have spared him the long weeks of the siege of Vicksburg. In Grant's view no victory was complete if it did not involve the destruction of the enemy's army. Secondly, Grant was very far from pleased with the conduct of that persistent thorn in his side, Major General John A. McClernand.

Of his total force of nearly 30,000 men, Grant had only managed to get about half into the actual fighting. Although it was at the front, in the central and southern sectors, McClernand's army corps was remarkable chiefly for its inactivity - except for Hovey's division. It was not for want of asking. In his Memoirs Grant wrote: 'McClernand, with two divisions, was within a few miles of the battlefield long before noon, and in easy hearing. I sent him repeated orders by staff officers fully competent to explain to him the situation. These traversed the wood separating us, without escort, and directed him to push forward; but he did not come.'

According to Grant, McClernand not only made no effort to get into the thick of the fight, he actually sent orders to Hovey to pull out of it and rejoin his corps. Grant told Hovey to stay where he was. Hovey lost one-third of his division in the fight - 108 men killed, 365 wounded, 93 missing. He called Champions Hill 'a hill of death' and said, 'I never saw fighting like this.' The total Federal losses were 410 killed, 1,844 wounded and 187 missing.

Things were much worse for Pemberton, however. He had lost 3,800 men altogether and 27 guns. And his army was badly shaken.

Big Black River

The pursuit of the fleeing Confederates was maintained until after nightfall, by which time they were across the Big Black River, some seven miles west of Champion Hill. Vicksburg was now little more than 20 miles away and Grant, ever impatient, got his men moving before 4 o'clock next morning. In the vanguard was Brigadier General Eugene A. Carr's div ision of McClernand's corps, and they soon came

Swampy ground

Confederate entrenchments

To Vicksburg

Confederate entrenchments xxxx es |5?3

PEMBERTON

Lawler's Brigade:

I 23 Iowa xx

3 II Wisconsin

4 22 Iowa CARR

Swampy ground

Confederate stockades defending

To Jackson

OSTERHAUS

THE ACTION AT BIG BLACK RIVER

Big Black River

Vicksburg

-Jackson railroad

Landram 's Brigade:

19 77 Illinois

20 19 Kentucky

21 97 Illinois

22 48 Ohio

THE ACTION AT BIG BLACK RIVER

17 May 1863, as seen from the south-west, showing the Federal troop dispositions for the assault on the Confederate rearguard defensive line guarding the river crossings

Big Black River

USIXI10

SMITH

Vicksburg

-Jackson railroad

Ijnds zy's Brigade: I 4 42 Ohio (skirmishing)

15 114 Ohio

16 54 Indiana I 7 16 Ohio

18 22 Kentucky

Landram 's Brigade:

19 77 Illinois

20 19 Kentucky

21 97 Illinois

22 48 Ohio

Bi rbridce's Brigade: 23/6 Indiana

(skirmishing) 24 83 Ohio IS 23 Wisconsin

26 67 Indiana

27 60 Indiana

28 96 Ohio

Garrard's Brigade: 9 49 Indiana I 0 69 Indiana I I 118 Illinois 12 7 Kentucky I 3 120 Ohio '

To Jackson xxxx usIXIxm

McCLERNAND

Benton's Brigade:

5 33 Illinois (skirmishing)

6 99 Illinois

7 15 Indiana

8 8 Indiana

OSTERHAUS

Information About The Black Mine
4 Their rapid advance involved Grant V men in a lot of improvised civil engineering, especia Ily bridge building. McPher-son x men are here depicted crossing the bridge they had hurriedly thrown across the Big Black River.

up against the Confederate force with eighteen guns, that Pemberton had left to delay the advance and give him time to get the greater part of his army safely behind the Vicksburg defences.

There were three bridges across the river close together at this point, two road bridges and one carrying the railway line. The Confederate force was small, but they were holding a strong position from which they could fire on the Federal troops as they attacked across open and watery land. There was no doubt that in the end Grant's vastly superior numbers would prevail but he made careful dispositions for the attack, with McClernand's 9th Division, commanded by Brigadier General Peter J. Oster-haus, on the left, and the 14th Division, commanded by Brigadier General Eugene A. Carr, on the right. On the extreme right of the line was Carr's 2nd Brigade, led by a remarkable and unmistakeable figure, Brigadier General Michael k. Lawler. His men were mostly from Iowa but he came from Illinois where he had been a farmer before the war. He was a very big man in all ways, so fat that he could not find a long enough sword-belt and had to hang his sword from a shoulder-strap. But Grant said of him: 'When it comes to just plain hard fighting I would rather trust old Mike Lawler than any of them.'

In his Memoirs Grant described an odd incident which he said took place while he was completing 60

his dispositions: an officer from Banks' staff came up and presented me with a letter from General Halleck, dated the 11th of May. It had been sent by the way of New Orleans to Banks to be forwarded to me. It ordered me to return to Grand Gulf and to co-operate from there with Banks against Port Hudson, and then to return with our forces to besiege Vicksburg. I told the officer that the order came too late, and that Halleck would not give it now if he knew our position. The bearer of the dispatch insisted that I ought to obey the order, and was giving arguments to support his position when I heard great cheering to the right of our line and, looking in that direction, saw Lawler in his shirt sleeves leading a charge upon the enemy. I immediately mounted my horse and rode in the direction of the charge, and saw no more of the officer who delivered the dispatch.'

Grant of course was writing more than twenty years after the event, and was a dying man, so it is hardly surprising if he confused details. The only order dated 11 May from Halleck to Grant that can be found in the official records is nothing like as definite as Grant remembered. It merely states that '...if possible, the forces of yourself and of General Banks should be united between Vicksburg and Port Hudson so as to attack these places separately with combined forces.'

It was General Lawler's impetuous charge, made before the order to attack had been given, that broke the Confederate resistance. The end of their defensive line was smashed, and the rest of the Federal line charged. The Confederates ran, set fire to the bridges and tried to escape. But the Federals took 1,700 prisoners and the eighteen guns. Lawler lost 27 men killed and 194 wounded. Grant immediately set his men to improvising new bridges. By now they were experienced at makeshift structural engineering and their bridges were ready by nightfall. Large bonfires were lit on the river bank and by their cheerful light, one by one, the regiments filed across. Grant sat on a log by the river, smoking cigars, and watching with quiet satisfaction as the last obstacle between him and the city of Vicksburg was crossed. His old comrade-in-arms, General Sherman, was with him.

Next morning, 18 May, McClernand and McPherson's army corps marched the last seven miles due west that brought them up against the Vicksburg fortifications. Sherman marched farther north to take possession, virtually unopposed, of the high ground north of the city - the heights he had failed to gain five months before in his attack on the

Chickasaw Bluffs. The vital thing from Grant's point of view was that this meant he could now reestablish a secure line of supply and communication, by means of Porter's boats on the Rivers Yazoo and Mississippi. In effect it also meant that there was no further danger of Johnston and Pemberton joining forces against him. For Grant's soldiers, it meant, too, that they could now look forward to plentiful supplies of bread and coffee. On the whole they had fed well on the march from Bruinsburg to the gates of Vicksburg, but they had missed their bread and coffee.

Grant went to see Sherman that same day. It was Sherman who had been most apprehensive about the idea of a long march through enemy country without a supply line of any kind. Now he apologized. He told Grant: 'Until this moment, I never thought your expedition a success. I never could see the end clearly, until now. But this is a campaign; this is a success if we never take the town.'

▼ Grant '.v men approaching the eastern outskirts of the city of Vicksburg.

Battle Mine Creek

HflliS

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