Report of Brig. Gen. A. Cumming, C. S. Army, commanding Third Brigade.
MAY 16, 1863.--Battle of Champion's Hill, or Baker's Creek, Miss.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXIV/2 [S# 37]
HEADQUARTERS THIRD BRIGADE, STEVENSON'S DIVISION,
Enterprise, July 22, 1863.
SIR: I have the honor to make the following report of the operations of this brigade, commencing with the battle of Baker's Creek and terminating with the capitulation of Vicksburg:
On the afternoon of May 15, the brigade left the line of battle for the two days previous established in front of Edwards Depot, and proceeded in the direction of Raymond, crossing Baker's Creek at the bridge over that stream. A short distance beyond the bridge the line of march led from the Raymond road into a neighborhood road passing to the right, and at about a mile distant from the point of separation of the two roads the brigade was halted, bivouacked for the remainder of the night along with two other brigades of the division, no line of battle being here established.
Shortly after sunrise on the morning of May 16, orders were given to his division by Major-General Stevenson to retraverse a portion of the route passed over the previous night. This division, being the left of the army, the movement was commenced by its left brigade S. D.] Lee's), in rear (right)of which followed the Third Brigade. The regiments were promptly brought into position and the line established, moving by the left flank. When the brigade had proceeded about two-thirds of the distance toward the Raymond road, its left being about 500 yards from that road, it was halted by order of the major-general. The brigade line was established on a succession of slight ridges overlooking a clear field. Strong parties of skirmishers were at once thrown out beyond this field, with directions to penetrate the woods on the other side and engage and hold in check those of the enemy. This they did under the efficient management of Lieutenant-Colonel [J. F. B.J Jackson (Thirty-ninth Georgia) commanding. Shortly after these dispositions were made, word was sent me by General Lee that, in consequence of the passage of the enemy toward his left, he was extending his line in that direction, coupled with the request that I would move by the flank to preserve the interval between us. The major-general (present with me) directed this to be done, and I moved on the required distance. After making two or more of such moves (my left having by this time crossed the Raymond road), I was informed by the major-general that Lee had bent the left of his line toward the rear, the two branches making an angle more or less obtuse, and was directed to accord my movements wit his.
Having sent forward an officer of my staff to notify the officer commanding the skirmishers of the change of direction of the line, and to direct him to make their movements to correspond, I at once proceeded from the center to the extreme left of my brigade, to superintend the change. The directions above referred to were communicated to the officers in command of the skirmishers, but owing to the distance of this line in advance, the inability in a wooded country of determining the point at which the change of direction should be made, and especially to the fact that they were unable to keep up communication with the skirmishers of Lee's brigade, they were unable to follow up the movement, and later in the day were forced, after a gallant contest, in which they suffered severely, to retire toward the right.
In its movement by the left flank the brigade had entered a wood rather open for the first few hundred yards, but gradually becoming denser. Arrived at the point where the brigade on my left had filed to the left, it was found that the angle formed by the two branches of the line was nearly a right angle. Here my left regiment (the Thirty-ninth Georgia) was promptly turned into the new direction. The whole of this regiment and four companies of the next (the Thirty-fourth Georgia) had succeeded in getting upon what may be termed the second front of the square, when the halting of Lee's brigade necessitated the same on my part.
It should here be stated that the three left regiments (the Thirty-ninth, the Thirty-fourth, and the Thirty-sixth) had each three companies at the front as skirmishers, in addition to which the Thirty-fourth and Thirty-sixth had each one company absent on detached service, thus leaving only six companies of these regiments in line. A halt having been made as above stated, and the two sides of the square faced outward, notice was at this moment given me that Lee (whose brigade was concealed from my observation by the density of the wood) was moving forward. I immediately advanced the second front, with a view to keep abreast with the supposed movement. Tim brigade had advanced but a few paces when I was informed that the reported movement by Lee had not been made. A halt was at once called, and the line, somewhat disordered as [by] the broken and wooded character of the ground traversed, rectified. In this position the second front of the brigade was drawn up on a succession of ridges and knolls heavily timbered, beyond which, at a distance generally of about 50 yards, the ground fell off abruptly. While thus engaged in rectifying the line, the battle broke upon us, and without previous intimation received, the skirmishers having been unable for the reasons hitherto given to keep pace with the movement of the line, and being no longer interposed between it and the enemy, though of this I was not informed until afterward.
Favored by the broken and wooded character of the locality, the enemy advanced two very full regiments (the Seventh and Eleventh Illinois) upon that portion of my line forming what I have termed its second front. Each of these regiments would seem to have been formed into a double column, occupying a half regimental front, and their whole line to have extended from the point of the angle to about the right of the Thirty-ninth Georgia. Approaching unseen to within a distance of less than 50 yards, the enemy poured in a very heavy and destructive volley, which was at once replied to with effect. About the same moment the enemy appeared in front of and opened fire upon the first front of my line (a brisk and effective fire), but not so near and destructive as that on the second front. On this (second) front the portions of the regiments engaged held for a time their position against the greatly superior force of the enemy, incited by the encouragement and example of their respective commanders--Colonels McConnell and Johnson--the former of whom fell here, severely wounded. But apprised now of the exact position occupied by a section of Captain Johnston's battery (to which had been added a piece from Waddell's battery), which position was about opposite the left of the Thirty-fourth Georgia, the enemy's right regiment, by an oblique movement, placed itself in rear of the regiment already confronting the Thirty-fourth Georgia, and the two united bore down upon this regiment and the right of the Thirty-ninth. The position of the Thirty-fourth Georgia on the new direction was unable to withstand the charge of so overpowering a force, and it, together with the right (Thirty-ninth Georgia), was compelled to give way. Throwing myself at the point at which the break had been made, efforts were made to rally the broken line; but the enemy having obtained possession of the batteries and following up closely their advantage, these efforts proved unsuccessful, and the whole of the second front fell back. By this retrograde movement, the right of the Thirty-fourth Georgia and the Thirty-sixth Georgia Regiments, which had in the mean time been engaged with the enemy in their front, were uncovered, and the colonel of the latter regiment ([Jesse A.] Glenn), finding that the enemy had penetrated in his rear as far as his colors, gave the order to fall back. This regiment was rallied and held its position against the enemy, advancing in its front, till, threatened with being flanked on its right, it was again compelled to fall back to a new position. In a similar manner the two right regiments (Fifty-sixth Georgia, Colonel [E. P.]Watkins, and Fifty-seventh Georgia, Colonel [William] Barkuloo) were compelled in succession, by the uncovering of their left and the pressure of the enemy on their front, to fall back, which they did, holding the enemy in check at various points, when they were able to make a stand. In this movement Colonel Watkins, who had left his sick-room at Vicksburg to take command of his regiment in the fight, was severely wounded.
With these operations ends what may be termed the first phase of the battle so far as concerns this brigade.
Barton's brigade, originally on my right, had in the mean time been moved toward the extreme left, thus leaving my right entirely exposed. This compelled the two right regiments, when they finally fell back, to proceed as far as the farm house in front of our first position before commencing their reorganization. The other regiments of the brigade fell back and reformed on the Raymond road, the two left regiments (the Thirty-ninth and Thirty-fourth Georgia) making no stand till they reached that road. Here portions of my three left regiments were rallied, together with portions of one or more of Lee's regiments and a line was formed along this road. While engaged in forming this line we were not pressed by the enemy, who would seem to have been similarly occupied.
About this time a Missouri brigade approached the battle-field from the right, and went in on the ground previously occupied by the extreme right of my brigade. As soon as they had completed their reorganization, the Fifty-seventh Georgia Regiment, and shortly afterward the Fifty-sixth, now commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel [J. T.] Slaughter, accompanied this movement, and went in on the right of the Missourians. These regiments here hotly engaged the enemy, and, particularly in the movement which drove him for a time, advanced considerably beyond the line on which they had first encountered him in the morning. They only withdrew on the general order being given to this effect.
The three regiments which formed on the Raymond road as their second line having been brought into some kind of order, and Barton's brigade, on the left, having gone in and engaged the enemy, these regiments immediately thereupon advanced into the wood in their front, and formed abreast with Barton, engaging the enemy on ground near that originally held by Lee. The contest here was sharp and severe for a time, but of short duration. The enemy, flushed with his previous success, and in number much superior to ours, drove our men apparently along the whole division front; slowly at first, afterwards more rapidly, till on reaching the road the flight became precipitate. On this occasion scattered bands of them crossed the road in close pursuit of the fugitives. After this it became impossible to rally them again, though strenuous efforts were made to do so several hundred yards from the road. In this, as in the first and more successful effort to rally, I was greatly assisted by Captain Johnston, whose battery was lost in the first action. The flight was continued toward the lower bridge over Baker's Creek, at which point the greater portion of the army crossed. Crossing with several members of my staff and officers of artillery at a point between the bridges, I repaired to the upper bridge and reported to General Barton, whom I found there. Remaining there until nearly sunset, the bridge was then destroyed, or partially so, and we fell back toward Edwards Depot. Here, with portions of two brigades assembled, the enemy's advance was held in check till the train was destroyed and the army had nearly passed the depot by the other road. We then continued the retreat unmolested to the other side of Big Black.
I received valuable assistance from the members of my staff, who were all at different times in the hottest parts of the fight.
The regimental commanders and field officers, though their efforts were unsuccessful, without an exception acted with great courage and judgment, as did also, as a general thing, the company officers.
The list of casualties has hitherto been given. To recapitulate, I make the following statement: The brigade went into action about 2,500 strong. Its losses are as follows: Killed, 142; wounded, 314; missing, 539; total, 995. Of the number reported missing it is probable about 200 were killed or wounded.
This brigade took no part in the battle of Big Black. Leaving Bovina on Sunday, it entered Vicksburg the same evening (May 17).
On the morning of the 18th, it moved into the trenches, where it remained without relief for forty-seven days, until the capitulation of the city on July 4. Its right rested on and included the Hall's Ferry road, its left extending the square fort held by General Lee's right. No assault was made by the enemy along the brigade front during the continuation of the siege. An almost unremitting fire of sharpshooters was kept up during all hours of daylight during the whole time, varied by occasional brisk cannonading. The enemy's rifle-pits in time were so extended as to almost entirely envelop the brigade front, and were generally about 150 yards distant. At the redoubts on the Hall's Ferry road, however, they had approached much nearer, and were in possession of the foot of the slope on which one of the redoubts was constructed, about 70 yards distant, at which point they were shielded by the configuration of the ground from the fire of the work.
Sorties were made upon this point at two different times, Lieutenant-Colonel [C. S.] Guyton, Fifty-seventh Georgia, commanding on each occasion, and on each a degree of success was attained, in the second the enemy being badly beaten, leaving 8 or 10 dead on the field, and losing about the same number (one a lieutenant-colonel) in prisoners. It was finally deemed advisable, however, to leave the point to be occupied by them.
At the time of the capitulation they had commenced to mine at this point, as also at another in front of the Fifty-sixth Georgia. At the first named of these points we were constructing a counter-mine.
The list of casualties has been heretofore given. They are as follows: Total killed and wounded, 171, of which number about 43 were killed.
Brigadier-General, Commanding Third Brigade.
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