Sunday, May 19, 2013

150-Years-Ago -- The Battle of Champion Hill, Miss.

Battle of Champion Hill, Miss. May 16, 1863.
(Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, June 13, 1863, p. 185.)

[Excerpted from National Park Service
Publication, “Vicksburg: The  Opening
Of the Mississippi 1862-63"]
On May 15 [Lt. Gen. J. C.] Pemberton marched to the southeast
from near Edward's Station with 23,000 men, his
route further separating him from [Gen. J.E.] Johnston to the
northeast. Meanwhile, [Maj. Gen. U.S.] Grant continued to push
westward toward Vicksburg, continuing to exploit
the wedge he had driven between Johnston's and
Pemberton's forces. On the morning of the 16th
Pemberton received a despatch from Johnston or-
dering him to move to the northeast and unite with
Johnston's force. Pemberton obeyed this order, but
as his troops were countermarching they were struck
near Champion Hill by forward elements of Grant's
advancing army.
Pvt. Henry Augustus Moore, 15th Miss
Inf.. The 15th Mississippi fought at the
Battle of Champion's Hill. (Liljenquist
Family Collection, Library of Congress

The Battle of Champion Hill centered around a
crescent-shaped ridge some 73 feet higher in eleva-
tion than the surrounding countryside near the Cham-
pion plantation home. At stake was the control of
three converging roads leading from the east toward
Edwards Station. Of Pemberton's three divisions,
Loring's covered the Raymond Road, Bowen's was
in position on Loring's left, and Carter L. Stevenson's
guarded the Middle and Jackson roads. The battle
opened in earnest shortly before noon on the 16th,
when Brig. Gen. Alvin P. Hovey's Union division
attacked along the Jackson Road (the north road)
which passed over the crest of Champion Hill.
General Logan's division drove against the ridge on
Hovey's right. From the crest, Stevenson's troops
opened a heavy fire on the advancing Union lines,
but were driven back in bitter fighting. Bowen's
division, shifted north to reinforce Stevenson's bal-
tered brigades, counterattacked on Hovey's front
and forced the Federals from the slopes and crest of
the hill.

Grant was now compelled to reinforce his hard-
pressed right. Massed Union artillery batteries opened
a concentrated fire on the ridge, followed by heavy
and repeated infantry attacks along the entire line.
For the third time the hill changed hands. Pember-
ton was unable to rally his troops against these
attacks, and the divisions of Bowen and Stevenson
retreated. Loring's division managed to hold the
Raymond Road open long enough for the rest of the
army to withdraw across Baker Creek, but was cut
off from the main body when Federal artillery
brought the crossing under fire. (Loring was finally
able to join Johnston after a long three-day march.)
Pemberton retreated toward Vicksburg and that
night took up positions along Big Black River about
12 miles east of Vicksburg.

The battle of Champion Hill (or Baker's Creek, as
it is sometimes called) was the bloodiest action of the
Vicksburg campaign. Federal troops on the field
numbered 32,000; Confederates totaled 23,000.
Pemberton lost nearly 4,000 men, not counting
Loring's division, which never returned to his army.
Grant listed casualties of 2,500, with Hovey losing
one-third of his division killed and wounded.

Not knowing that Loring's division had been cut
off, Pemberton intended to make a stand at the Big
Black River to hold the bridges open for Loring to
rejoin the main force. The Confederates had con-
structed a line of earthworks across the mile-wide
bottom land enclosed in a loop of the river. Now,
with their backs to the river, troops of Bowen's
division and Brig. Gen. John C. Vaughn's reinforced
brigade awaited the Union onslaught.

Before dawn on the 17th, the Union army contin-
ued its march toward Vicksburg. Grant, still hoping
to win the race for the city, had sent Sherman's corps
along a parallel route to the north. At mid-morning,
McClernand's corps sighted the Confederate line
and prepared to assault. Before the deployment was
complete. Brig. Gen. Michael Lawler's brigade
charged ''with a shout" and smashed the Confeder-
ate center held by Vaughn's Tennesseans. Other
Federal units drove against the ruptured line, causing
the Confederates to break and head for the bridges
in disonler. After his army's withdrawal, Pemberton
ordered the bridges burned, effectively halting Union
pursuit. In the confusion Grant captured more than
1 ,700 prisoners along with 18 artillery pieces.
Lt. Gen. Gen. J.C. Pemberton.
(Library of Congress)
As Pemberton's army fell back toward the de-
fenses of Vicksburg, Grant's engineers began con-
struction of bridges across the Big Black River.
Trees, cotton bales, and lumber from nearby build-
ings were used as bridging materials. The bridges
were completed by torchlight during the night. On
the following morning, May 18, McClernand's corps
crossed the river near the burned railroad bridge;
McPherson's corps crossed near Amsterdam. Sher-
man's corps, utilizing the only pontoon bridge carried
by Grant's army, crossed the river at Bridgeport.

The Union army, now within a few miles of its
long-sought objective, had in 18 days completed one
of the most noteworthy campaigns of the war.
Marching deep into enemy territory, it had success-
fully lived off the country while fighting and winning
five engagements and inflicting critical losses in men
and equipment, had prevented Johnston and Pember-
ton from joining forces, and had driven the Army of
Vicksburg into the defenses of the city.

By noon of May 18, with Grant's advance ex-
pected momentarily, Pemberton believed the de-
fenses of Vicksburg were strong enough to stand off
the Union army until Johnston received sufficient
reinforcements to raise the expected siege and pre-
vent the loss of the Mississippi River. There, while
inspecting his defenses, Pemberton received a des-
patch from Johnston advising him not to stay and try
to defend the city, which Johnston felt was already
doomed. Military necessity demanded, he wrote,
that ''instead of losing both troops and place, we
must, if possible, save the troops. If it is not too late,
evacuate Vicksburg and its dependencies and march
to the northeast."

Unwilling to yield the city without a fight, Pember-
ton assembled another council of war and placed the
order before his senior officers. They were of unani-
mous opinion that it would be "impossible to with-
draw the army from this position with such morale as
to be of further service to the Confederacy." As the
council reached its decision to remain and fight.
Union guns opened on the works. The siege of
Vicksburg had begun. 
(National Park Service)

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