- 15 May 2021 13:56
May 16, Saturday
General Pemberton, having dispatched troops south toward Raymond, Mississippi, is shaken from his decision. He receives another, more urgent message from Johnston, who is still north of Jackson, calling once again to move toward him. This time Pemberton decides to follow orders. He instructs the troops already marching south to turn northward and rendezvous with Johnston’s force at the town of Clinton. They are about halfway there when the Federal intercept them, at a hill on the farm of a man named Sid Champion. Pemberton has 23,000 men at Champion’s Hill to face the 32,000 Federals of McCLernand’s and McPherson’s corps. Sherman’s corps is en route from Jackson, and Grant has galloped ahead to take command of the battle. Although the Confederate defense has to be hastily improvised, the terrain Pemberton selects can scarcely be better. He deploys his three divisions a mile east of meandering Baker’s Creek to cover the bridges on the Jackson and the Raymond roads. His line, taking the shape of a fishhook, extends from the Raymond road four miles northeast to the crest to where the Jackson road crosses Baker’s Creek. Major General Carter L. Stevenson commands Pemberton’s left, and Major General William W. Loring the right. Champion’s Hill is the key to the position. It is one of the highest points in this section, and commands all the ground in range.
The battle begins in the south, where Major General Andrew Jackson Smith’s Federal division, marching west on the Raymond road, comes under the fire of Loring’s artillery. Both sides deploy skirmishers, and a hot fight ensues. But the bloodiest encounter is to the north. Grant intends the bulk of McClernand’s XIII Corps to strike the angle of Pemberton’s line at Champion’s Hill from the east, while Logan’s division of McPherson’s corps attacks from the north. As usual, McClernand displays little initiative, and only one of his divisions comes into action. Fortunately for the Federals, this division is commanded by the ambitious and combative Brigadier General Alvin P. Hovey, who fought so hard at Port Gibson. At 10:30 am, hearing the opening volleys of Logan’s troops to his right, Hovey sends his two brigades in a headlong charge up Champion’s Hill. Holding the Confederate left, General Stevenson’s line is stretched so thin at this point that some regiments are separated by as much as 300 yards. Taken by surprise, the Confederates give way. Driving the enemy before them, General George F. McGinnis’ Federal brigade crests the hill and comes face to face with half a dozen Confederate artillery batteries. Just before the guns spew out their lethal charges of canister, McGinnis orders his regiments to fall prone. The iron balls whistle harmlessly overhead, and before many of the Confederate gunners can reload or limber up, the blue ranks are upon them.
By 1 pm, the Confederate left is crumbling. Realizing that his army faces disaster, Pemberton issues a frantic call for reinforcements from Bowen’s and Loring’s divisions to the south. Both generals refuse to respond, protesting that there are masses of Federal troops to their front. Pemberton repeats his orders, and at 1:30 Bowen marches toward the sound of the guns. Incredibly, Loring refuses to move. Bowen then launches a counterattack against Hovey’s troops on Champion’s Hill, with Colonel Francis M. Cockrell’s Missouri brigade on the left and Brigadier General Martin Green’s Arkansas brigade on the right. Screaming the rebel yell, Bowen’s men strike with “terrific fierceness,” and soon it is Hovey’s bluecoats who are falling back. Hovey’s division retreats “slowly and stubbornly, contesting with death every inch of the field they had won.”
Grant, meanwhile, orders the nearest troops to hand—two brigades from XVII Corps under Colonels George Boomer and Samuel Holmes—to rush to Hovey’s aid. Although the soldiers have traveled twelve miles under the hot sun they start on the run; knapsacks, haversacks, blankets, everything except their guns and cartridge boxes are thrown to the side of the road. As they move up, scores of wounded men—“almost whole companies”—are streaming down off the hill. The men do not seem demoralized. Some of them are laughing, and yelling at at the newcomers, “Wade in and give them hell!” As the Federal reinforcements approach the summit, they see a solid wall of men in gray, their muskets blazing in the Federals’ faces and their artillery batteries roaring as if it’s the end of the world. For over an hour, the two sides load their guns and kill each other as fast as they can.
On the Federal right flank atop Champion’s Hill, the men of the 34th Indiana are in their first big fight. Some of the soldiers, badly shaken, are starting for the rear when General Logan appears on the field. He reins up in front front of the outfit, shouting that he has been wounded five times and never turned his back to the foe yet. When the adjutant of the 34th protests that “the Rebels are awful thick up there,” Logan roars, “Damn it, that’s the place to kill them—where they are thick!” The men of the 34th rally, and Logan leads them forward.
Around 2:30 pm McClernand finally bestirs himself and orders Brigadier General Peter J. Osterhaus’ division forward. Hovey has driven Pemberton’s left flank back until the Confederate line faces almost due north; now Osterhaus’ advance from the east threatens Bowen’s right flank. It is crucial that Loring’s division come into action. But it is only after Pemberton personally delivers the order to his recalcitrant subordinate that Loring gets moving, and now it is too late. The defense of Champion’s Hill has collapsed, and the men are “rushing pell-mell from the scene of action.” All attempts to rally them are in vain. Realizing that all is lost, Pemberton issues orders for a general retreat. But Logan’s Federals have cut the Jackson road, and the only route of escape across Baker’s Creek is on the Raymond road bridge on Pemberton’s southern flank. Pemberton orders Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman to hold his position one mile east of the crossing “at all hazards.” Had the Federals facing Tilghman’s brigade launched an attack, the Confederate army might well have been destroyed. As it is, the battle sputters out in an artillery duel. One of the last casualties is the brave Tilghman. He is dismounted beside a battery and is sighting one of the guns when a Federal shell explodes nearby. A jagged iron fragment tears through Tilghman’s chest, killing him instantly. Although most of Pemberton’s defeated army safely crosses the Raymond road bridge, Loring and the 6,500 men of his division are cut off. Heading south through the thick woods and swamps bording Baker’s Creek, Loring searches in vain for a ford. Along the way he abandons all of his artillery and most of his supplies. Eventually he turns east.
The battlefield is a scene of carnage, littered with the bodies of soldiers and horses, the wreckage of cannon, and spent ammunition. It has been the bloodiest and most decisive engagement thus far in the Vicksburg campaign. Federal effectives for the battle of Champion’s Hill or Baker’s Creek numbered about 29,000, with 410 killed, 1,844 wounded, and 187 missing for 2,441 casualties. Confederate effectives are estimated at under 20,000, with 381 killed, about 1,800 wounded, and 1,670 missing for a total of 3,851 casualties. Many more on both sides will die of their wounds. Following the battle, as Alvin Hovey rides along the depleted ranks of his division, he spies the flag of his old regiment, the 24th Indiana. “Where are the rest of my boys?” he asks the few men gathered around the colors. “They are lying over there,” replies a soldier, pointing to the corpse-strewn hillside. Hovey turns his horse and rides away, weeping.
To get his troops back to Vicksburg, Pemberton has to cross the Big Black River, ten miles west of Champion’s Hill. To cover the retreat, earthworks have been erected on the east bank near the town of Bovina, where the Southern Mississippi Railroad crosses the river, and he places a newly arrived Tennessee brigade, commanded by Brigadier General John C. Vaughn, behind the earthworks. General Stevenson’s exhausted men, who bore the brunt of the early fighting at Champion’s Hill, are sent over the bridge as soon as they arrive; others cross on a little river steamer. Safe on the other side, they fall to the ground and sleep. Bowen’s men, tired but alert, are added to the force defending the earthworks. This is Pemberton’s last hope of delaying Grant’s march on Vicksburg, and he takes pains to make his position a strong one. From a bow-shaped parapet of logs and cotton bales along the river, the defenders command a shallow bayou littered with fallen trees, and an open field beyond.
Fighting elsewhere includes skirmishes near Carthage, Missouri; at Elizabeth Court House and Ravenswood, West Virginia; Tickfaw Bridge, Louisiana; Berry’s Ferry and Piedmont Station, Virginia; and Charles Town, West Virginia.
Democrats protest the conviction of Vallandigham.
The expert is more aristocratic than the aristocrat, because the aristocrat is only the man who lives well, while the expert is the man who knows better.
—G. K. Chesterton