Report of Brig. Gen. Winfield S. Featherston, 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 FEATHERSTON'S BRIGADE,
May 28, 1863.
Maj. GEORGE McKNIGHT,
SIR: In obedience to the order of Major-General Loring of this date, I beg leave to submit the following report of the operations of my brigade on Baker's Creek, near Edwards Depot, on the 15th and 16th of this month:
On Friday, the 15th, about 3 o'clock in the morning, the troops on the south side of Big Black River, encamped around Edwards Depot, were marched in the direction of Clinton on the road leading from Edwards Depot to Clinton. Major-General Loring's division was in front, forming the right wing of the army. My brigade formed a part of this division. We were moved some 4 miles on this road in the direction of Clinton, crossing Baker's Creek on a bridge and then turning directly to the right on a cross-road leading to the main thoroughfare from Edwards Depot to Raymond. After reaching the main road from Edwards Depot to Raymond, Loring's division was halted for the night and bivouacked on the sides of the, road. One regiment and five companies from a second were placed on picket duty from my brigade during the night. The divisions of General Stevenson and Bowen were in the rear of General Loring's, and bivouacked for the night, one on the Clinton and Edwards Depot road, and the other between that and the Raymond and Edwards depot road. The distance between these roads where our troops encamped was about 3 miles.
About 8 o'clock on the morning of the 16th, one of the enemy's batteries opened fire on our regiments on picket duty. This battery was planted on the Raymond road, about 2 miles from where our troops were bivouacked, in the direction of Raymond. My brigade was immediately put in line of battle on the right of the Raymond road, and General Buford's brigade on the left. This was done in obedience to an order from General Loring. General Pemberton rode up while the line of battle was forming and approved the movement. Our batteries were placed in position on an eminence near the road, just in front of the infantry. At this time General Loring rode up from the front, and ordered the line of battle to be changed to a high hill or continuous ridge some 600 yards in rear of our line as then established. Upon this ridge or hill Loring's division was placed in line of battle--Tilghman's brigade on the right of the division and on the right of the Raymond road; my brigade, on the left of Tilghman's and on the right of the Raymond road; Buford's brigade on the left of mine and on the left of the Raymond road. General Buford's left wing connected with General Bowen's right, in the direction of the Clinton road. Very soon after this line was formed (about 11 o'clock in the forenoon), the enemy made their appearance in our front, sending forward a line of skirmishers on foot as well as one on horseback. These skirmishers were met by our line of skirmishers in our front, and very soon fell back to the woods from which they emerged. General Pemberton was present when this line of battle was formed, and then went to the center or left of the line. In this position our division remained until about 12 o'clock, when an order came from General Pemberton, directing General Buford to be moved farther to the left, in the direction of the Clinton road, that he might take the position of General Bowen's division, which had been ordered to the support of General Stevenson's division, on the Clinton road. I was ordered to move my brigade to the left at the same time, and take the position vacated by General Buford's brigade. This order was promptly obeyed by General Buford and myself. My brigade remained in this position until 2 or 3 o'clock in the evening, within hearing of the guns on our left, where the battle was progressing. Up to this time no other demonstration had been made by the enemy on the Raymond road except the one already mentioned.
About 2 or 3 o'clock in the evening I received an order from General Pemberton, through General Loring, to move my brigade to the left, to the Clinton road, to the support of Generals Bowen and Stevenson, then engaging the enemy at that place. This order was promptly obeyed; General Loring and myself rode at the head of the column. We had a guide, who carried us the nearest way. We traveled through the woods and over very rough ground a distance of about 2 miles before reaching the scene of conflict. The march was as rapid as possible under the circumstances; the troops moved at a double-quick the most of the way. Upon arriving on the field, we found a large number of stragglers going to the rear in great confusion. General Buford's brigade had arrived on the field some thirty minutes in advance of mine. My brigade was halted near the Clinton road, and near where General Buford had formed a line of battle. Here we found no one to give us directions or to tell us what to do. General Pemberton was not there, and no one present could tell us where he was. Neither of the major-generals who had been conducting the battle was present on this part of the line. General S. D. Lee came up with a part of his brigade, and attached them to the left of mine. The troops on this part of the line were then all placed in line, and ordered by General Loring to move on the enemy in front. After this line was formed, and before the advance was made, an order came from General Pemberton to General Loring, as I learned from the latter, informing him that he had ordered his troops to fall back to Edwards Depot, and directing General Loring to protect his retreat with his division. General Lee was ordered to move with his brigade as rapidly as practicable to the ford on Baker's Creek, where the road from Raymond to the depot crosses it. I was ordered soon after to place my brigade in line of battle, so as to hold the enemy in check, and to hold my position until our troops had all passed me in the direction of the depot. This order was obeyed; the regiments were placed in line so as to cover the different avenues of approach. Three pieces of artillery were held in the rear, and kept playing upon the enemy, who were cautiously advancing in our rear, as well as on our right and left flanks. As our army advanced in front, my brigade, with the artillery, was moved to the front and placed in new positions. This was done twice. In our last position the enemy advanced on our rear, as well as on the right and left flanks, and a brisk skirmish ensued, in which they were held completely in check until the brigade and artillery were withdrawn slowly and in good order.
During this skirmish, and, in fact, the entire day, my brigade behaved well. All orders were promptly obeyed, and an eagerness to meet the enemy was manifested during the engagement by the whole command. The three pieces of artillery used by me to protect the retreat belonged to Captain [Alcide] Bouanchaud's battery. They were well served; both skill and courage were shown by the officers and men attached to these guns.
My last position on the field was not abandoned until I was ordered by General Loring to do so, and move my command toward the depot as rapidly as practicable. I moved my command to the Raymond road, and turned toward the ford on Baker's Creek, but found on going some half mile in that direction that the head of our column (Loring's division) had turned to the left, leaving the main road, and were then passing southeast through an open field in a direction down Baker's Creek. I followed the column with my brigade. General Buford's brigade was in front. I rode to the head of the column, and learned from General Loring that the enemy were in possession of the ford on Baker's Creek, where we expected to cross on the Raymond road. This occurred about sunset or perhaps a little later. I learned from General Loring that he had procured the services of Dr. Williamson as a guide, and intended to find a crossing somewhere below on Baker Creek, and then endeavor to cross Big Black at the railroad bridge, or some place south of that, and join the main body of our troops on the other side. Dr. Williamson was an old citizen of the country, living at Edwards Depot, and knew well the character of the country and the fords and ferries on Big Black and Baker's Creek. He was intelligent and reliable. As our column moved off from the Raymond road to the southeast, we discovered a little after sunset a large fire at the depot, which was supposed to be the depot buildings fired by the enemy. Dr. Williamson led the column by a blind path through a very rough country down Baker's Creek to Mr. Harvey's, near the ford, on the road leading from Edwards depot to Auburn. Here we halted, and consulted with Mr. Harvey as to the propriety of crossing Baker's Creek at this ford. Mr. Harvey informed General Loring that sixty regiments had passed down the creek that day or the day before. Harvey was unwilling to pilot our column from Baker's Creek to Big Black. He professed not to be able to do so. Dr. Williamson was unable to pilot us beyond this point, and thought it impossible for us to get through the swamp on this side of Big Black so as to strike the stream anywhere below the bridge, unless we went as low down as Baldwin's Ferry. At this ferry we had no means of crossing the stream provided we could reach it without encountering a heavy column of the enemy. Upon consulting with General Buford and myself, General Loring determined to take the road to Crystal Springs and thence to Jackson as the safest and surest. Such seemed to be the opinion of all that were called into the consultation. The column was then moved forward all night on Saturday and all day on Sunday.
Sunday night it was halted near Crystal Springs and rested until 10 o'clock on Monday, when the march was continued by easy advances to this place. The march from the battle-field to Crystal Springs running through the entire night and day was a very hard and laborious one, but borne by the troops with fortitude and determination. I was then and am now of the opinion that--this division having been thrown in the rear and held there protecting the retreat until the enemy had gained possession of the ford on the Raymond road and of the bridge on the Clinton road--the only direction in which we could move so as to save the division, or at least to prevent great loss, was the road taken to Crystal Springs. To have attempted to march into our lines at Big Black without a guide, and without the means of crossing Big Black when we reached it, would have been very hazardous.
List of casualties in Featherston's brigade in the engagement on Baker's Creek on the 16th instant: John McCrossen, Company D, Twenty-second Mississippi Regiment, mortally wounded ; John Berry, Company F, Twenty-second Mississippi Regiment, slightly wounded; Captain [R. H.] Crozier, Thirty-third Mississippi Regiment, captured and paroled.
I am, major, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. S. FEATHERSTON,
This page last updated 10/28/01
RETURN TO BATTLE OF CHAMPION'S HILL OFFICIAL RECORDS PAGE