The Battle of Champion's Hill, The Confederate View

        Pemberton's plan of campaign was to defend Vicksburg first and last, leaving Jackson to be defended by Adams, reinforced from Port Hudson and from the other departments. He expected to hold the Big Black river and fight Grant at Edwards on the Jackson railroad or at the river bridge, a few miles west, and at those points massed his main strength. He also, throughout the campaign, believed that Grant would attempt to maintain a line of communication with Grand Gulf, which could be broken, compelling Grant to retreat as in the previous year from Oxford. He posted forces on the Warrenton and Hall's ferry roads, and on the Baldwin's ferry road, and such cavalry as could be obtained, under Col. Wirt Adams, was ordered to harass the enemy and report his movements. Pemberton was confirmed in his expectation of a battle at Edwards by the apparent movements of his antagonist, who threatened Edwards with McClernand's corps. But at the same time Grant sent Sherman's corps to Clinton, and McPherson's to Raymond. On the 11th, General Tilghman, stationed at Baldwin's ferry, reported that the enemy was pushing back his skirmishers; and Pemberton, in anticipation of a battle at Edwards, ordered Gen. W. H. T. Walker, who had been sent with his brigade from Bragg's army to Jackson, to join Gregg, the united force to strike the Federal rear after battle was joined.
        General Gregg with his Tennessee brigade, about 3,000 strong, reached Raymond from Jackson on the evening of the 11th, and found the people in consternation on account of the news of a Federal advance. He was advised of the approach of the enemy by his cavalry pickets, but not informed of his numbers, and was led to believe by the orders from Pemberton that it was only a marauding excursion. The Federals arrived and opened an artillery fire at 10 o'clock, May 12th. Gregg moved forward to support his pickets, and presently, judging that only one brigade was before him, disposed his regiments to make an attack both in front and flank, hoping to capture the enemy. His men advanced and drove back the first lines before them, but soon perceived that they were assailing overwhelming numbers. The fight was kept up gallantly for three hours against Logan's division, supported by the remainder of McPherson's corps, and then Gregg withdrew in good order, the retrograde movement being gallantly covered by a few companies of Kentucky cavalry and Captain Bledsoe's battery. The battle of Raymond was reported by the Federals as a very considerable affair, and they had to mourn the loss of 66 killed, 339 wounded and 37 captured. The Confederate loss was also severe, 73 killed, 251 wounded, and 190 missing, among the killed and wounded being a number of gallant officers. Gregg, reinforced by 1,000 men under Walker, encamped that night five miles from the battlefield, and on the 13th fell back to Jackson, where the remainder of Walker's brigade increased the force to 6,000.
        Gen. Joseph E. Johnston arrived at Jackson on the evening of the same day, and assumed chief command in the State. He sent a note to Pemberton which was delivered on the morning of the 14th, containing these words- "I have lately arrived and learn that Major-General Sherman is between us with four divisions at Clinton. It is important to re-establish communications, that you may be reinforced. If practicable, come up on his rear at once. To beat such a detachment would be of immense value. The troops here could co-operate. All the strength you can quickly assemble should be brought. Time is all important."
        Grant, immediately upon being informed of McPherson's success at Raymond had abandoned his plan of attack on Pemberton and began a movement of his entire army to strike the Confederate force at Jackson before it could be reinforced from other quarters. Consequently McClernand withdrew from before Edwards, and sent part of his corps to Clinton and part to Raymond, and an immediate attack on Jackson was ordered by Sherman from Clinton and by McPherson from Raymond. This was all done on the 13th, and at nine o'clock, on the same morning that Pemberton received the order to march against Sherman at Clinton, McPherson and Sherman were attacking the pickets at Jackson.
        On receiving the order from Johnston, Pemberton replied that he would at once move his whole available force, about 16,000, from Edwards, leaving Vaughn's brigade, about 1,500, at Big Black bridge, and 7,500 men under Smith and Forney on the Vicksburg river lines. Tilghman's brigade, about 1,500, would follow in rear of Pemberton's column.
        But before this movement was executed, Pemberton held a council of war, in which, he says, "a majority of the officers present expressed themselves favorable to the movement indicated by General Johnston. The others, including Major-Generals Loring and Stevenson, preferred a movement by which the army might attempt to cut off the enemy's supplies from the Mississippi river. My own views were strongly expressed as unfavorable to any advance which would separate me farther from Vicksburg, which was my base. I did not, however, see fit to put my own judgment and opinions so far in opposition as to prevent a movement altogether, but believing the only possibility of success to be in the plan of cutting the enemy's communications, it was adopted." Pemberton thereupon ordered an advance toward Raymond, intending to strike the main road at Dillon's, about ten miles from Edwards, and he sent a message to Johnston informing him, stating as his object "to cut the enemy's communications and force him to attack me, as I do not consider my force sufficient to justify an attack on the enemy in position or to attempt to cut my way to Jackson." He also expressed a wish that Johnston would unite with him at Raymond.
        Johnston, meanwhile, discovered soon after ordering Pemberton to attack Sherman at Clinton, that the latter intended to attack him (Johnston) at Jackson; and at 3 a.m. on the 14th, General Gregg, having been informed that Jackson must be evacuated, was ordered to hold back the Federals until Gen. John Adams should prepare his train and retreat on the Canton road. At 3 a.m. Gregg marched out for this purpose toward Clinton, while Colonel Colquitt, with Gist's brigade, supported by Walker's, took an advanced position on the Raymond road. The Federal attacks were made almost simultaneously by McPherson on the Raymond road and Sherman on the Clinton road, but they were both held back, the troops behaving with the utmost coolness and courage, until 2 o'clock p.m., when the trains being on their way from the city, the Confederates withdrew in good order. There was much spirited fighting and the Federal loss was 42 killed, 241 wounded and 7 missing; the Confederate loss 17 killed, 64 wounded and 118 missing.
        Johnston now sent a second message to Pemberton (May 14th), saying: "The body of troops mentioned in my note of last night compelled Brigadier-General Gregg and his command to evacuate Jackson about noon to-day. The necessity of taking the Canton road at right angles to that upon which the enemy approached prevented an obstinate defense." He also stated that, being reinforced by the brigade of Gist, from Beauregard's department, and Maxey's brigade, he hoped to prevent the enemy from drawing provisions from the east, and continued: "Can he supply himself from the Mississippi? Can you not cut him off from it? and above all, should he be compelled to fall back for want of supplies, beat him? As soon as the reinforcements are all up, they must be united to the rest of the army. I am anxious to see a force assembled that may be able to inflict a heavy blow upon the enemy. Would it not be better to place the forces to support Vicksburg between General Loring and that place, and merely observe the ferries, so that you might unite if opportunity for fighting presented itself. If prisoners at Jackson tell the truth, the force at Jackson must be half Grant's army. It would decide the campaign to beat it, which can be done by concentrating, especially when the remainder of the eastern troops arrive; they are to be 12,000 or 13,000." This apparently approves Pemberton's move against Grant's communications. But Pemberton did not receive the letter until two days later.
        On the next morning, after the above second message to Pemberton was sent, Johnston, then ten miles north of Jackson, received Pemberton's notice of a move toward Dillon, and answered: "Our being compelled to leave Jackson makes your plan impracticable. The only mode by which we can unite is by your moving directly to Clinton, informing me, that we may move to that point with about 6,000. I have no means of estimating the enemy's force at Jackson. I fear he will fortify if time is left him. Let me hear from you immediately."
        Pemberton started out from Edwards toward Raymond on the morning of the 15th, Loring in advance with the brigades of Featherston and Buford, and Bowen following with the brigades of Cockrell and Green. Stevenson, with the brigades of Lee, Barton, Cumming and Reynolds, left Edwards in the evening. The road southeast from Edwards makes a Y before reaching Baker's creek, one branch going on toward Raymond and the other turning off toward Clinton. As the high water had destroyed the bridge and made the ford impassable on the Raymond road, the army was forced to take the Clinton road across the creek and then, after reaching Champion's Hill, it marched in column down a transverse road until Loring's division reached the Raymond road again. Night now came on and the army bivouacked in this position. On the morning of the 16th Pemberton received Johnston's third message, announcing the evacuation of Jackson and conveying the impression that Grant intended to keep his main forces there, and he immediately ordered the column to march in inverse order, Stevenson in front, eastward toward Clinton. But just as this movement began, Federal artillery opened on Loring.
        Johnston's first message had been sent in triplicate, and one of the couriers, a traitor, had delivered it to Grant on the evening of the 14th. Consequently the Federal commander, leaving Sherman to destroy Jackson as a railroad center and manufacturing city, hurried McClernand and McPherson toward Bolton. On the night of the 15th, when Pemberton's army was in bivouac beyond Baker's creek, Hovey's division was on his flank at Bolton, with Carr and Osterhaus and the advance of McPherson's corps near at hand, while Smith and Blair were not far from Loring on the Raymond road. All of these troops had orders to move with the utmost expedition to prevent any junction of Pemberton and Johnston. It was the advance of Smith's division, early on the 16th, that first warned Pemberton of his situation.
        Not regarding the early attack on Loring as more than a reconnoissance, Pemberton at first ordered a continuance of his movement toward Bolton, and Reynolds' brigade was detailed to protect the wagon train. But the demonstrations of the enemy soon becoming more serious, the line of march was transformed into a line of battle. The position on the transverse road happened to be a strong one, covering the approaches of all the Federal troops. Col. Wirt Adams, with his cavalry, had been skirmishing in front of Reynolds. Lee's brigade came up about 7:30 a.m. and most of Reynolds' brigade was sent toward Edwards to protect the train, and no longer participated in the fighting. Tilghman's brigade, which had been in the rear, was stationed before the bridge on the Raymond road. The position which Lee took involved him in heavy skirmishing, and the enemy developed toward his left flank, threatening the Clinton road into Edwards. Stevenson brought up Cumming to Lee's right, and Barton to the right of the latter.
        According to General Stevenson's report, "the enemy, in columns of divisions, moved steadily around our left, forcing it to change direction to correspond, and their movement was so rapid as to keep my line (a single one) in constant motion by the left flank." Finally Barton was sent to support Lee, who was fighting at the critical point. "About half past ten," according to Stevenson's report, "a division of the enemy in column of brigades attacked Lee and Cumming. They were handsomely met and forced back some distance, where they were reinforced by about three divisions, two of which moved forward to the attack, and the third continued its march toward the left, with the intention of forcing it. The enemy now made a vigorous attack in three lines upon the whole front. They were bravely met, and for a long time the unequal conflict was maintained with stubborn resolution. But this could not last. Six thousand five hundred men could not hold permanently in check four divisions, numbering from their own statements 25,000 men; and finally, crushed by overwhelming numbers, my right gave way and was pressed back upon the two regiments covering the Clinton and Raymond roads, where they were in part rallied.
        Encouraged by this success the enemy redoubled his efforts and pressed with the utmost vigor along my line, forcing it back. At this time (about 2:30 p.m.), Bowen's division, Green on the right and Cockrell on the left, arrived, gallantly charged the enemy, supported on the left by a portion of Cumming's and Lee's brigades, and drove them back beyond the original line. In the meantime the enemy had continued his movements to our left, and fell upon Barton in overwhelming numbers. He charged them gallantly but was forced back, and the enemy following up his advantage cut him off entirely from the rest of the division. It was here the lamented Maj. Joseph W. Anderson, my chief of artillery, fell in the fearless discharge of his duty. Here, too, the gallant Ridley [Samuel J. Ridley, captain Company A, Withers' light artillery], refusing to leave his guns, single-handed and alone, fought until he fell, pierced with six shots, winning even from his enemies the highest tribute of admiration."
        Barton, when cut off, crossed Baker's creek in rear of the battlefield and took position near Edwards, where he was joined by many of Cumming's men. Loring, meanwhile, had been ordered up with his division, but remained facing McClernand's division on the Raymond road, both the two officers incurring the criticism of their respective commanders for inaction. Buford's brigade arrived about 4 p.m., but then the enemy had taken the Edwards road and turned upon him two captured batteries. These Withers opened upon from a ridge opposite, and silenced them. Featherston also came up, and was put in position to cover the retreat which was now ordered.
        Major Lockett having provided a new bridge, and the ford being now passable on the Raymond road, the retreat was made that way, Tilghman's brigade covering the movement from McClernand. While engaged in this service the gallant Marylander was killed. After Lee had crossed, Bowen formed to cover the passage of Loring from the Federals, who had crossed the creek on the road direct from Champion's Hill and threatened to cut off the Confederate retreat. Bowen reported that he notified Loring to hurry, but according to the latter the enemy commanded the crossing before he could reach it, and consequently, abandoning his artillery, Loring took his troops down the creek to find another ford, and finally turned back and, marching all night, reached Dillon's at 3 a.m. Thence he went to Crystal Springs and united with Johnston at Jackson.
        Thus Loring's division was lost to Pemberton, except a part of Lowry's regiment, under Maj. J. R. Stevens, which had become accidentally attached to another command. The army train was saved by Reynolds' brigade, which was compelled to cross the Big Black at Bridgeport. There was no lack of heroic fighting in this disastrous battle on the part of the Confederates, and it may be said that the disparity of numbers did not necessarily involve so decided a defeat, provided the Confederate strength had been put on the battlefield, which was where Stevenson was. The Federal forces opposed to Stevenson were the divisions of Hovey, Logan and Crocker, and their strength, according to Grant, was 15,000 men. Stevenson confronted them until 2 o'clock, with no serious discomfiture, with 6,500. One of his brigades was guarding the train, and Bowen and Loring were not sent up till afternoon, Bowen alone arriving at 2:30, when it was evidently too late, and Featherston and Buford not until 4 p.m. The men in these commands demonstrated their readiness to fight as soon as they were permitted to reach the field. But it must also be remembered that two of McClernand's divisions were threatening the right of the army, and would have cut off its retreat. Tilghman alone was sufficient, it appears, to hold them back, but that could not have been known beforehand.
        Col. William T. Withers, commanding the First Mississippi light artillery, and chief of field artillery, was greatly distinguished in the battle; and the companies of his regiment engaged did gallant duty. Lieut. Frank Johnston was in immediate command of a section of the guns of Company A, Withers' artillery, and served them with great effect against the enemy when approaching in overwhelming numbers. In the early part of the day, at the first of the fighting, Johnston's section and Ratcliff's, the latter commanded by Allen Sharkey (who was subsequently killed in the general assault by the enemy during the second week of the siege of Vicksburg), were to the right of Champion's Hill. They were next moved to the left and supported the celebrated charge of the Missouri brigade. Thirty-nine out of forty of the battery horses of Lieutenant Johnston's section being killed, the guns had to be abandoned, of course, and about nine men, including Lieutenant Johnston, escaped and reported at Big Black that night. Of the services of Withers' First light artillery regiment in this fight, Major-General Loring said: "Upon the approach of W. S. Featherston's brigade, in rapid march, a considerable force of the retreating army having been rallied behind him, the enemy, who was advancing upon the artillery, fell back in great disorder, Colonel Withers pouring in a most destructive fire upon him. It was here that we witnessed a scene ever to be remembered, when the gallant Withers and his brave men, with their fine park of artillery, stood unflinchingly amid a shower of shot and shell the approach of an enemy in overwhelming force after his supports had been driven back, and trusting that a succoring command would arrive in time to save his batteries, and displaying a degree of courage and determination that calls for the most unqualified admiration." Company G, First Mississippi light artillery, Capt. J. J. Cowan, served with the division of General Loring. He was compelled to abandon his guns, but being supplied with others he continued to serve in this division with gallantry and efficiency till the close of the war. Company B, Capt. A. J. Herod; Company F, Capt. J. L. Bradford; Company K, Capt. George F. Abbey, served in defense of Port Hudson. The remaining six companies of the light artillery served during the siege of Vicksburg and were distributed along the line. Almost all the artillery horses of the companies engaged were killed in the battle of Champion's Hill, and nearly all the guns fell into the hands of the enemy.
        The loss of Stevenson's division at Champion's Hill was 233 killed, 527 wounded and 2,103 captured; also 11 cannon and 2,834 small-arms. Bowen's division lost 65 killed, 293 wounded, 242 missing, and saved its artillery. Tilghman's Mississippi brigade lost 5 killed, 10 wounded, 42 missing; Buford's brigade lost 11 killed and 49 wounded; Featherston's brigade 2 wounded and 1 captured. On the Federal side the main loss was sustained by Hovey's division, which lost a third of its numbers. The total Federal loss was 410 killed, 1,844 wounded, 187 missing.
        Pemberton said: "Had the movement in support of the left been promptly made when first ordered it is not improbable that I might have maintained my position, and it is possible that the enemy might have been driven back; though his vastly superior and constantly increasing numbers would have rendered it necessary to withdraw during the night to save my communications with Vicksburg." On the other hand, Grant declared: "Had McClernand come up with reasonable promptness, or had I known the ground as I did afterward, I cannot see how Pemberton could have escaped with any organized force."
Source: Confederate Military History, Vol. 7(Mississippi), Chapter IX

This page last updated 02/16/02