The Battle of Champion's Hill, The Union View
Grant's army was at last on hard ground. A footing had been gained on the east bank of the river, the enemy had been in a measure surprised, his flank had been turned, and his troops were scattered. It was an opportunity to strike hard and strike quickly in order to gain decisive results--one of those opportunities, the seizure or neglect of which marks the difference between a great and an incompetent leader. It was no longer a question of going to Banks' assistance, or of diverting troops on any side issue; the opportunity could only be improved by a prompt movement between the enemy's forces, dividing them and beating them in detail. Grant was equal to the emergency; and eighteen days from the time the first regiment landed at Bruinsburg, the Confederate forces at Jackson had been defeated and driven off, while those near Vicksburg had been routed and shut up within their fortifications, never to come out, except as prisoners. The deeds of these eighteen days challenge comparison with the most brilliant campaigns of history.
Pemberton's returns for the last day of March showed an effective strength, as already stated, of 50,000 men. This included the Port Hudson garrison, all of which, except 6,000 effectives, had now been recalled to Vicksburg. But at Pemberton's urgent request, Gist's and Walker's brigades, numbering 5,000 men, from Beauregard's command, in South Carolina, were ordered to his relief on May 5th, and 3,000 cavalry, from Bragg's army, were sent from Tennessee to Northern Mississippi. He thus had an available force of over 50,000 men for the defence of the short line from Vicksburg to Jackson. Grant's return for the month of April showed the effective strength of the force operating against Vicksburg to be 50,068. These numbers were not actually present on the east bank of the river. McArthur's division of McPherson's corps was still up the river, one brigade being left at Lake Providence throughout the campaign, and the other two not coming up in lime to be of service prior to the assaults at Vicksburg. Blair's division of Sherman's corps was also left behind to guard the roads from Milliken's Bend, but rejoined the army the day before the battle at Edwards' Station. After deducting these divisions, the force with which Grant began the campaign was about 41,000, and at no time prior to the siege had he over 45,000 available. These divisions in rear, however, being occupied in guarding his communications, it is proper that they should be counted as part of his effective strength.
The numbers were therefore practically equal. The advantages of position were all on the side of the Confederates, they being in their own country, with which they were perfectly familiar, and which afforded admirable opportunities for defence, while the Union forces were entirely ignorant of the country, and were dependent for supplies upon seventy miles of wretched road, through overflowed lands, passing within a short distance of the Confederate position, and thus open to attack at all times. On the other hand, those who fought for the Union had an enormous advantage in their naval resources, which gave them unquestioned command of the river navigation, and without which the campaign never could have been prosecuted in the manner that it was prosecuted. At the time of the Battle of Port Gibson, the armies on both sides were scattered, one corps of Grant's army being at Milliken's Bend, seventy miles from Bruinsburg, and one-third of Pemberton's being at or near Jackson, forty-four miles by rail from Vicksburg.
It was thus about an even thing on both sides, all things considered, except the quality of the commanders. Here the difference was enormous. On the Union side were the foremost chiefs--Grant, Sherman, and McPherson--which the Northern armies produced throughout the whole war. Johnston and Pemberton belonged to a different category. Johnston's abilities were undoubtedly great, and it is universally conceded that he showed great ability in extricating an army from a dangerous position; but he seldom struck back, and he lacked that divine fire which gains battles. On the Peninsula, in Mississippi, in Georgia, and in North Carolina, he had as good opportunities as ever fell to Lee or Jackson, but he never dealt any such blows as those of Gaines' Mill, Chancellorsville, Manassas, and the Wilderness. His mind inclined more to disputatious writing than to bold and vigorous movements in the field, and, in the midst of his campaigns, he found time to write letters of interminable length, for the purpose of showing that the responsibility for his failures rested with Jefferson Davis, or with some one else, but not with himself.
Pemberton did not belong to the grade of second-rate generals even. He had seen no active service in the Civil War prior to his assignment in Mississippi, in October, 1862, and his appointment to that important command was then an anomaly; his conduct of that command made the anomaly only more striking, and he was never again employed as a general.
On the evening of April 29th, after the unsuccessful naval attack on Grand Gulf, Grant had written to Sherman that he felt confident of effecting a crossing the next day, and he therefore desired Sherman to cease his demonstration against Haines' Bluff and join him as quickly as possible with two divisions, leaving the third to guard the road for the present. Sherman received this near Haines' Bluff, May 1st, and immediately sent back orders for Steele's and Turtle's divisions at Milliken's Bend to take up their march for Hard Times. During the night he withdrew down the Yazoo River with Blair's division, and the following day reached Milliken's Bend. Leaving Blair's division to guard the road, he went on in person, overtook his other two divisions, and reached Hard Times on the 6th. While on the march he received an order from Grant, dated at Grand Gulf, May 3d, directing him to organize a train of 120 wagons, bring them to Perkins' plantation and thence ferry them over the river to Grand Gulf, where they were to be loaded with 100,000 rations from the transports. This would give five days' rations for Sherman's corps after crossing the river, and two days' for McClernand and McPherson in addition to the three days' which they had already drawn. These five days' rations for the whole command were all that they received until a base was established at Chickasaw Bayou nearly three weeks later. The troops virtually lived on the country until Vicksburg was invested.
In order to avail himself of the services of McArthur's division of McPherson's corps and Blair's division of Sherman's corps, orders were sent, on May 5th, by Grant to Hurl-but at Memphis to send forward Lauman's division of the Sixteenth Corps to Milliken's Bend as soon as transports could be obtained.
On May 2d, at Port Gibson, Grant received a letter from Banks, sent by Farragut on the ram Switzerland from the mouth of Red River. The whole subject of the projected co-operation between Grant's and Banks' armies will be fully discussed in a subsequent chapter. It is only necessary to say here that when Grant determined on March 29th to move across the peninsula from Milliken's Bend and turn the Confederate left flank, it was his intention to prosecute a campaign along the Big Black against Vicksburg after crossing the river. But on April 10th he received a letter from Halleck, dated April 2d, calling special attention to the necessity of co-operating with Banks. Halleck said: "If he cannot get up to co-operate with you on Vicksburg, cannot you get troops down to help him on Port Hudson ?" This letter caused a modification of Grant's plans. He still determined to cross the river at or near Grand Gulf, but once across he proposed to send an army corps down the east bank of the river to Bayou Sara, near Port Hudson, to cooperate with Banks in the reduction of that place. McClernand was notified on April 12th that his corps would make such a movement, and on the 14th a despatch was sent to Banks informing him of the project. But Banks did not receive the despatch until May 5th, and the letter which was now received from him, and which was dated April 10th, was not in answer to this despatch, but to a previous letter of Grant's dated as far back as March 23d, in which Grant had proposed sending a corps by the Lake Providence route, which at that time seemed to be favorable. Banks stated that he intended to return to Baton Rouge by May 10th, in order to co-operate against Port Hudson, and that he had 15,000 men available for field service. It was now May 2d. To send troops to co-operate at Port Hudson on the 10th and to await their return, even if successful, was to lose a month at least in exchange for a reinforcement of only 15,000 men. It was to wait for the enemy to collect his scattered troops and to draw reinforcements from other points, as, according to rumors which Grant received, he was already doing. To have carried out any such arrangement would have been to throw away an opportunity which Grant's army had been working for months to obtain, and which was at last within their grasp. There could be no question of Grant's duty in the premises; it was to follow up promptly the advantage he had gained at Port Gibson, and to use all his force to beat the enemy nearest to him. All idea of detaching any troops at present to Banks' assistance was therefore abandoned.
From the 3d to the 6th of May McClernand's and McPherson's corps lay at Willow Springs and Hankinson's Ferry, waiting for supplies and for Sherman's corps. On the 7th, Sherman being across the river, the advance was resumed. Reconnoitring had been carried on during the last three days, but nothing definite had been developed. At that time, Grant's information as to the enemy's position and movements was simply that the force at Hankinson's Ferry had retreated toward Vicksburg; and there were rumors that a force was being collected at Jackson. His intention, therefore, was to advance along the line of the Big Black toward Edwards' Station, midway between Vicksburg and Jackson, keeping a close watch of the ferries, so as to prevent any attack on his left flank; he would thus move with his main body between the enemy's forces, and would be in a position to attack either one of them as soon as their presence should be developed. But while keeping his main force in the centre of the theatre of operations, McPherson was to .be thrown out somewhat in advance on his right flank, so that, without getting out of reach of supports, he could reach Jackson as quickly as possible, break up any force in that vicinity, destroy the railroad, and rejoin the main body between Edwards' Station and Bolton. McPherson was therefore ordered to take the road from Hankinson's Ferry, through Rocky Springs, Utica and Raymond, to Jackson. McClernand was to follow the direct road to Edwards' Station, through Rocky Springs, Cayuga, and Auburn; one division being thrown out on a parallel road to the left, nearer the Big Black. Sherman was to follow McClernand, and, in case the roads permitted, to come up abreast of him. The troops marched forward under these instructions, halting for the nights as follows:
May 7th: 13th Corps (McClernand) at Rocky Springs; 15th Corps (Sherman) at Grand Gulf; 17th Corps (McPherson) at Rocky Springs.
May 8th: 13th Corps at Big Sandy; 15th Corps at Hankinson's Ferry; 17th Corps at Rocky Springs.
May 9th: 13th Corps at Big Sandy; 15th Corps at Hankinson's Ferry; 17th Corps 7 miles west of Utica.
May 10th: 13th Corps at Big Sandy; 15th Corps at Big Sandy; 17th Corps at Utica.
May 11th: 13th Corps at Five Milo Creek; 15th Corps at Auburn; 17th Corps 5 miles northeast of Utica.
May 12th: 13th Corps at Fourteen Mile Creek; 15th Corps at Fourteen Mile Creek; 17th Corps at Raymond.
On the night of the 11th Grant had his army well in hand, and the orders for the next day were to move forward into position on Fourteen Mile Creek, about seven miles south of the railroad, McClernand on the. Telegraph road from Auburn to Edwards' Station, with one division thrown out to the Big Black at Baldwin's Ferry, and Sherman on the road from Auburn to Raymond; McPherson was to push forward rapidly into Raymond, in the hopes of capturing some commissary stores there, the army being in need of rations.
McPherson moved out accordingly before 4 A.M. on the 12th, Logan's division in the lead, followed closely by Crocker's. The enemy's videttes were soon seen falling back before them, and about 9 A.M. stronger bodies of the enemy were encountered. Logan thereupon formed one of his brigades (Dennis')in line of battle across the road, the other two brigades marching by the flank in rear of it. The only cavalry regiment present with the army accompanied McPherson's command, and it was now thrown out on the flanks, with orders to explore every lateral road on which the enemy might be posted. In this formation Logan continued his advance for about two hours. About 11 A.M., he came to a small stream crossing the road, about two miles from Raymond, and on the hills beyond it the enemy was discovered in force, the infantry drawn up in support of two batteries, which were posted in a position to enfilade the road and the bridge over the stream. A halt was made, and the ground was reconnoitred. It was evident that the enemy intended to dispute the passage. Logan was at once ordered to attack him, and orders were sent back for Crocker to hasten his march and come up as a reserve. The enemy's force consisted of Gregg's brigade, which had come from Port Hudson to Jackson, in pursuance of Pemberton's orders of April 28th, and had moved out to Raymond to cover Jackson, and to fall upon Grant's flank should he attack Edwards' Station The brigade numbered, including some State troops picked up at Jackson, something over 3,000 men.
Logan's division was at once formed by deploying J. E. Smith's brigade on the right of Dennis', and placing DeGolyer's (8th Michigan) battery on the road in the centre. The infantry advanced, preceded by skirmishers, and a severe engagement was soon in progress. Stevenson's brigade was then deployed on the right of Smith's, and the line continued to advance, passing over some open ground, and gaining possession of a piece of woods across the creek, in close proximity to the enemy's position on the hills. The fight continued for two or three hours, the line gradually advancing until, during the afternoon, the leading brigade of Crocker's division came up and deployed in support of Dennis' brigade. The enemy then abandoned the field and retreated rapidly toward Jackson. Logan's division followed in pursuit, passing through Raymond at 5 P.M., and pursuing the enemy for some distance beyond the town, but being unable to overtake them the men were halted and went into camp for the night. Crocker's division was but slightly engaged in this affair, losing but two men. Logan lost 65 killed, 335 wounded, and 32 missing; total 432. Gregg's loss, according to his own report, was 73 killed, 229 wounded, and 204: missing--total 505. Two disabled guns were captured.
The defence made by the enemy at Raymond induced Grant to believe that their force in the vicinity of Jackson might be stronger than he had supposed; reports reached him moreover that reinforcements were arriving at Jackson, and that Johnston was daily expected at that point to take command in person. He therefore decided, before moving up against Edwards' station, to make sure of Jackson, which would be a dangerous point on his flank or rear if it remained in the enemy's possession; and as McPherson's corps might not be strong enough to get possession of it at once, single-handed--its fortifications being reported strong --he determined to move his whole force in that direction. On the evening of the 12th, therefore, orders were given (countermanding previous orders of the same date, to move up to the railroad) for McPherson to push forward at daylight toward Clinton and thence to Jackson; Sherman to move to Raymond and thence by Mississippi Springs toward Jackson; and McClernand, with three divisions, to follow Sherman by the road on the north side of Fourteen Mile Creek, sending his other division back to Auburn to meet and escort the trains which were coming up from the river at Grand Gulf. The sharp skirmishing which both McClernand and Sherman had had during the day in getting possession of the crossings of Fourteen Mile Creek on their respective roads was a strong confirmation of the numerous reports that Pemberton was concentrating his Vicksburg troops at Edwards' Station, but before attacking them Grant desired to first dispose of the troops at Jackson and destroy the railroad at that point.
Before following the manner in which the movement on Jackson was executed, it is necessary to notice the Confederate movements during the past ten days. On May 1st, Pemberton telegraphed to Johnston, then with Bragg's army at Tullahoma, Tenn., that Grant's army had crossed the river, and that a furious battle had been raging all day at Port Gibson. Johnston answered on the following day: "If Grant crosses, unite all your troops to beat him. Success will give back what was abandoned to win it." Pemberton however, was on the ground and his judgment of the situation was different from Johnston's. He coincided in the ,opinion expressed by Jefferson Davis, that for lack of supplies Grant's army could not live more than a few days away from the river and that it would soon return toward Warrenton. He thought it probable, however, that a raid might be made on Jackson. Acting upon this judgment he made the following dispositions. The troops arriving from Port Hudson and any reinforcements that might come from South Carolina were to stop at Jackson and defend that place. The three divisions, Bowen's, Loring's, and Stevenson's, that had moved out toward Grand Gulf were to retire and take up a position as follows: Bowen's at Bovine Station to defend the railroad bridge; Loring's on the Hall's and Baldwin's Ferry roads, to defend those ferries; and Stevenson's from the Hall's Ferry road to Warrenton, to resist an attack along the river. These positions were taken up by May 7th, and were reported to Johnston and to Jefferson Davis. Grant's movements were watched as carefully as possible, but both sides were so remarkably deficient in cavalry that each was largely in the dark as to the other's movements. On May 11th, the presence of a considerable Union force (one of McClernand's divisions) at Baldwin's Ferry convinced Pemberton that Grant could live away from the river, and led him to believe that Edwards' Station was to be the point of attack. Pemberton therefore ordered Bowen to advance to Edwards' Station, and Loring and Stevenson to move up and join him. Walker, who had just arrived at Jackson, from South Carolina, was ordered to advance toward Raymond in support of Gregg, who had moved there the previous day. If the enemy attacked in heavy force they were to fall back within the fortifications of Jackson; if he moved toward Edwards' Station they were to attack his flank and rear. Walker did not leave Jackson until the 12th, and on that day Gregg was entirely overpowered by McPherson. On the same day there was considerable skirmishing on Fourteen Mile Creek, only five miles south of Edwards' Station, between the heads of column of McClernand's and Sherman's corps, and a brigade sent forward in observation by Bowen. This convinced Pemberton that he was to be attacked in force the next morning between Fourteen Mile Creek and Edwards' Depot, and Loring and Stevenson were urged on and came up with Bowen, forming line of battle south of Edwards' Station on the morning of the 13th. Instead of attacking, however, Grant's whole force moved off toward Raymond and Jackson.
While these events were in progress Johnston had received orders from Richmond on May 9th to "proceed at once to Mississippi and take chief command of the forces there." He arrived at Jackson on the evening of the 13th and found the two brigades of Gregg and Walker just returning from Raymond. Gist's South Carolina brigade and Maxey's Port Hudson brigade were expected to arrive the next day. The total strength of these four brigades was about 12,000 men. He also learned that Pemberton was at Edwards' Station but that a large Union force was at Clinton, cutting off any communication with him. He hastened to telegraph a few words to Richmond conveying this information, and adding, "I am too late." He seemed to foresee disaster, and desired to clear himself in advance of any responsibility for it, rather than to bend his whole energy to avert it.
Meanwhile, in pursuance of Grant's orders of the night of May 12th, already referred to, McPherson had moved from Raymond to Clinton on the 13th, and from there toward Jackson on the 14th. Sherman had moved through Raymond to Mississippi Springs on the 13th, and thence toward Jackson on the 14th, communicating with McPherson on the other road, so as to approach Jackson about the same hour. McClernand had moved to Raymond on the 13th, and sent one division forward as far as Clinton on the 14th. Sherman and McPherson approached Jackson in a pouring rain, about 10 A.M. on the 14th. Hearing of their approach from his videttes, Johnston posted one brigade on each road --Walker toward Clinton, and Gregg toward Raymond--in intrenchments which had previously been constructed on high ground commanding the approaches over open fields; He instructed them to make enough of a defence to gain time for him to remove stores and valuable property by the railroad leading northward toward Canton.
Gregg made but a feeble resistance. After some preliminary artillery firing, Sherman moved a portion of his men around the enemy's flank, and, at 1 P.M., they reached the enemy's intrenchments to find them deserted. About 250 prisoners were taken, together with all their artillery (18 guns), and much ammunition and stores. Sherman lost less than 30 men.
Walker made more of a fight. He occupied a fine position on the crest of a semi-circular ridge, his flanks protected by woods, and in front of him a gently sloping open field terminating, about one-third of a mile distant, in a boggy creek lined with thick willows. His artillery commanded the bridge over this creek. McPherson arrived in front of this position about 9.30 A.M., but the rain fell in such torrents that his attack was delayed for an hour and a half by the fear of spoiling their ammunition if the men opened their cartridge-boxes (this was before the days of metallic cartridges). Crocker's division had the advance this day, and, during this hour and a half, his men were moved into place, the three brigades being deployed in line, with one brigade of Logan's division in reserve. At 11 A.M., the rain having partially ceased, skirmishers were sent forward, and advanced as far as the creek, but were unable to move through the open field beyond it. They were then recalled, and a charge was ordered. The whole division moved forward in a superb line, driving the enemy's skirmishers out of the creek, and advancing under fire across the field. When they were about half way across it, the enemy broke from their intrenchments and made a hasty retreat. They were pursued about a mile and a half, during which Crocker's men fell somewhat into disorder, and were finally brought to a halt by some artillery posted in an inner line of works close to the town. While they were re-forming, the Confederates made their escape over to the Canton road. In this engagement McPherson lost 265 men, and he gives the enemy's loss at 845, a large portion of whom were prisoners, and 17 guns. The Confederate reports make their losses a little less than 400. McPherson's and Sherman's troops entered Jackson about the same time, between 3 and 4 P.M. Pemberton's attempt to defend Jackson against a "raid" by a detachment out of supporting distance had led to complete, disaster, viz.: the defeat of two brigades with heavy loss, the loss of 35 guns, the capture of Jackson, and the destruction of the railroads and all public property at that place.
Grant entered Jackson with Sherman's troops, and there learned that Johnston had ordered Pemberton to move out to attack his rear. He immediately determined to attack Pemberton before Johnston, circling around to the north, could come to his assistance. His troops were in compact shape, well in hand for such a movement. McClernand had two division:, at or near Raymond, one at Clinton, and one on the road between Auburn and Raymond, bringing up the trains. Blair's division of Sherman's corps and one brigade of McArthur's division, of McPherson's corps, had come up with these trains from Grand Gulf. This gave five and a half divisions, all within ten miles of the railroad between Bolton and Edwards' Station. They were all ordered to move on converging roads toward the latter point. McPherson was to leave Jackson, at daylight on the 15th, for Bolton, and Sherman was to complete the work of destruction at Jackson, and follow McPherson in the afternoon.
On the same day that Johnston's troops were driven out of Jackson (May 14th) most important events had transpired in Pemberton's camp. On his arrival the previous evening Johnston had sent a somewhat vague despatch to Pemberton, referring to the presence of Sherman's [McPherson's] corps at Clinton, stating the necessity of establishing communication between their forces, and saying: "If practicable, come up in his rear at once; to beat such a detachment would be of immense value. The troops here could co-operate." This despatch was carried by an officer around McPherson's flank, and delivered to Pemberton at Bovine about 7 A.M. on the 14th. Pemberton immediately replied: "In directing this move I do not think you fully comprehend the position that Vicksburg will be left in; but I comply at once with your order." The troops were ordered forward from Edwards' Station. Pemberton, however, continued to meditate on the order, and a fatal divergence of views between himself and Johnston was soon developed. Johnston's idea was that every man between Jackson and Vicksburg should be united, to fight a battle on which the fate of Vicksburg would depend, believing that any attempt to cover Vicksburg by a detachment would result in the loss of Vicksburg and detachment both. Pemberton's whole idea was to defend Vicksburg to the last, and to make no move which would uncover that place. About noon, therefore, before his troops had got in motion, under his orders of the morning, he suspended these orders, and called a council of war; read Johnston's letter to his generals and asked their views. The numerical majority of them were in favor of Johnston's proposition, but the two senior generals (Loring and Stevenson)preferred a movement against Grant's communications in rear of Raymond, in the hope of cutting off his supplies and compelling his retreat. Pemberton personally was in favor of making no movement at all, but of awaiting an attack on chosen ground; but as his officers were "all eager for an advance," he waived his judgment. But the movement toward Clinton he would not make, for he considered that "suicidal." He therefore determined to move against Grant's communications. As Johnston says in his "Narrative," "Although averse to both opinions, General Pemberton adopted that of the minority of his council, and determined to execute a movement which he disapproved, which his council of war opposed, and which wan in violation of the orders of his commander." It was an awkward see-saw--Johnston moving out of Jackson toward the north and west in the hope of joining Pemberton, and Pemberton moving from Edwards' Station toward the south and cast, against the communications of an army that was living on the country. Conflicting plans and lack of leadership had brought things to a bad pass for the Confederates, on this night of May 14th. Pemberton had 23,000 men (his report says 17,500, but his last previous returns give 23,701)--to wit, Loring's, Stevenson's, and Bowen's divisions--at Edwards' Station; he had left 9,000--Forney's and Smith's divisions--at Vicksburg, defending the batteries from Snyder's Bluff to Warrenton, which batteries were now not threatened, nor was this force strong enough to defend them if they had been seriously attacked; in the vicinity of Jackson were 12,000 men under Johnston, part of them just defeated in two engagements and part of them just arriving in railroad cars. Reinforcements to the extent of 5,000 additional men had just been ordered from the East, and double that number were promised at an early day. Here, then, were 44,000 men (and more to come) scattered over a territory 50 miles long by 20 broad, and divided into three detachments, no two of which wore in supporting distance. Moreover, the enemy, with an equal force of 44,000 men, all within a few hours' march of each other, was between the two principal detachments, greatly outnumbering each of them, though not more numerous than all the detachments combined. There never was a more striking instance of the wisdom of keeping an army united and the folly of dividing it into detachments to defend several points at once.
At 5.40 P.M. on May 14th Pemberton sent a despatch to Johnston by an officer, stating his intention to move against Grant's communications. The orders for this movement were immediately issued. Loring's division was to form the right, Bowen's the centre and Stevenson's the left The troops were to move with the right in front, preceded by a detachment of cavalry; they were to follow the roads leading from Edwards' Station toward Raymond as far as Ellis-ton's plantation and then turn south so as to strike the Auburn and Raymond road at Dillon's. Grant's wagon train was in fact in the vicinity of Dillon's on this (lay, but it was well guarded by McClernand's and Blair's troops. Pemberton's order prescribed that the movement should take place in the morning of the 15th, but the troops were not in motion before 1 P.M. A considerable delay then followed in consequence of the heavy rain of the day previous. The roads were muddy and the ford at Baker's Creek on the direct road to Raymond was not passable. The troops were therefore moved up the creek to the Clinton road, which crossed the creek on a bridge. Crossing this bridge and moving forward about two miles to the forks of the road south of Champion's Hill, the head of column turned to the right through a cross road which brought them to the direct Raymond road near Elliston's. Along this cross-road Pemberton's army passed the night. At 6.30 A.M., on the 16th, a courier arrived from Johnston, bringing an answer to Pemberton's despatch sent after the council of war on the 14th. Johnston's reply was dated on the Canton road, ten miles from Jackson, 8.30 A.M., May 15th. It was as follows: "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, and informing me that we may move to that point with about six thousand." This was a reiteration of the previous order to effect a junction on the north of the railroad, which Pemberton had submitted to a council and had decided not to follow, because he considered it "suicidal." Having moved in an opposite direction for the purpose of attacking the enemy's rear, and having come into such proximity to the enemy that his advance was already skirmishing, Pemberton now determined to obey the order! Directions were given to get his trains out of the road, countermarch his columns to Edwards' Station, and there take the road to Brownsville in order to join Johnston. The movement was, however, impossible, for the enemy was already upon him.
On the 15th McClernand's divisions had moved as follows: Hovey's from Clinton to Bolton, Osterhaus' from Raymond to the cross roads half way to Bolton, Carr's from Raymond to the first cross roads northwest of that town, A. J. Smith's (followed by Blair's of Sherman's corps) from Auburn to Raymond. On the same day McPherson's corps had marched from Jackson to within a few miles of Hovey's bivouac at Bolton. On the night of May 15th, therefore, Grant had seven divisions, about 32,000 men, in close supporting distance between Bolton and Raymond, occupying all the roads which converged from these points on Edwards' Station. Grant in person reached Clinton from Jackson at 4.45 P.M. on the 15th, and immediately sent orders to McClernand to move forward cautiously, feeling the enemy if he encountered him, but not to bring on an engagement unless he felt entirely able to contend with him; also to order Blair to move forward with him.
Grant passed the night at Clinton, and at daylight the next morning two men, employees on the railroad, who had passed through Pemberton's camp the day before, were brought to his headquarters. They stated that Pemberton had 80 regiments, estimated at 25,000 men in all, and that he was moving to attack Grant's rear. Grant thereupon sent a courier with an order to Sherman to bring one of his divisions with the utmost possible speed to Bolton, and to follow with the other as soon as possible. He also ordered McPherson to move on rapidly beyond Bolton in support of Hovey, and McClernand to establish communication between the divisions of Blair and Osterhaus, and keep it up, moving forward cautiously, lie then rode to the front.
It will be seen by looking at the map that from the direct road from Raymond to Bolton (about 8 miles long), there are three roads leading to Edwards' Station. They were known as the direct Raymond road, the middle Raymond road, and the Clinton road. The first diverges about one mile out from Raymond, and leads direct to Edwards' Station, crossing Baker's Creek at a ford; the second diverges about two miles farther, and joins the third on the southern side of Champion's Hill; the third passes half a mile south of Bolton, and is the direct road from Clinton to Edwards' Station. Champion's Hill--then a portion of the plantation of a Mr. Champion--is not more than 70 or 80 feet in height, but it is quite a prominent feature m an otherwise fiat landscape. Its northern side is abrupt, cut up with steep ravines, and heavily wooded. The eastern and southern slopes are more gentle and are partly open. The Clinton road, coming in a westerly direction, strikes the northeast slope of the hill near the point where Champion's house then stood, then turns sharply to the south, passing around the eastern slope of the hill till it meets the middle road, then turns sharply to the west again and goes on to the bridge over Baker's Creek, at the foot of the western slope. On the morning of the 16th the position was as follows: Hovey's division was on the Clinton road, moving west from Bolton to Champion's Hill, with McPherson's corps a few miles behind them; Osterhaus, followed by Cart, was on the middle road, moving northwest to the same point; and A. J. Smith, followed by Blair, was on the direct Raymond road, near Elliston's, moving forward toward Edwards' Station. On the Confederate side Loring was on the Raymond road near Elliston's, skirmishing with A. J. Smith, Bowen was in the centre, on a small cross-road leading to Champion's Hill, and Stevenson was on the left, at the junction of the Clinton and middle roads. All three were under orders to countermarch to Edwards' Station. It was soon found, however, that the Union troops (McClernand's) were pressing their rear so closely that the order to countermarch could not be carried out. It was necessary to stop and fight. Orders were therefore given to form line of battle behind a creek running in front of the cross road above mentioned. This position was assumed between 9 and 10 A.M. As the skirmishing and artillery firing increased in amount on the Raymond road as soon as the enemy made a stand, McClernand sent word to Grant at 9.45 A.M. to ask if he should bring on a general engagement. Grant had ridden forward from Clinton early in the morning, and near Bolton had found McPherson's corps repairing a bridge, and the road in front of them blocked with Hovey's wagons. These were quickly moved out of the way and McPherson's corps resumed its advance. Grant came up with Hovey's division not far from Champion's house about 10 A.M. Hovey's skirmishers were already in contact with the enemy, and he was forming his men in readiness to bring on an action at any moment, but Grant directed him not to attack until he heard from McClernand.
About noon McClernand's 9.45 A.M. despatch was received, asking if he should bring on an engagement. From the bearer Grant learned that McClernand was between two and three miles distant. Grant sent a written reply at 12.35 P.M., directing McClernand to attack the enemy in force, if opportunity occurred. Subsequently verbal messages were sent, directing him to push forward with all rapidity. These orders did not reach McClernand until after 2 P.M. He immediately ordered Smith and Osterhaus to "attack the enemy vigorously, and press for victory." But the attack was by no means vigorous.
On the other flank, McPherson's corps had reached the field about 11 A.M., Logan's division in the lead, with Crocker a short distance in the rear. As soon as Logan arrived, Hovey's two brigades were deployed on the left (southeast) of the Clinton road, and two brigades of Logan's division formed on the right of the road, the third brigade being held in reserve. Hovey's men immediately advanced, and, swinging their left flank forward, they began climbing the eastern front of the hill under a heavy fire. The troops opposed to them were two brigades of Stevenson's division. While Hovey had been forming his men and waiting for the arrival of McPherson, Stevenson had noticed the concentration on his left flank, and had taken the brigade (Barton's) on his extreme right and sent it in rear of his line to the extreme loft to take position in the woods on Champion's Hill facing north; the other two brigades (Lee's and Cumming's) had been marched by the left flank along the road, and had taken position around the northeast point of the hill, where the Clinton road ascends it, and from there to the left; his fourth brigade (Reynolds') had gone back with the trains toward Edwards' Station. Hovey's attack led against the right flank of Stevenson's new position, and the men gradually fought their way up the hill, driving back Cumming's brigade fully 600 yards, and capturing 11 guns, the horses of which had nearly all been killed by the well-directed fire of Hovey's batteries posted near Champion's house. While Hovey was making this attack, two brigades (J. E. Smith's and Leggett's) of Logan's division had advanced against the northern slope of the hill on Hovey's right. They gradually and steadily drove the enemy before them as they climbed the wooded slope; and, when their attack was well advanced, the third brigade (Stevenson's) of this division, which had been kept in reserve for about an hour, was brought up on their right and sent across a ravine, penetrating between Lee's and Barton's brigades, cutting off the latter from all communication with the rest of his division, and capturing 7 guns.
Hovey maintained his position until about 2 P.M., when the enemy was heavily reinforced, and he was driven back. In moving over to the left during the morning, Stevenson had notified Pemberton that the main attack was evidently to be on his left flank, and, if successful, it would cut off the line of retreat to Edwards' Station. He therefore intended to move as rapidly as possible to meet it, but, in so doing, he would necessarily leave a gap between his division and Bowen's. On receipt of this, Pemberton ordered Bowen to follow Stevenson, and keep this gap closed. Shortly after 2 P.M. Bowen closed up with Stevenson, and found Hovey's men in possession of the crest of the hill and of the captured guns. The leading brigade (Cockrell's) was immediately sent into action against Hovey, followed quickly by the other brigade (Green's). Overpowered by superior numbers, Hovey's men were forced to give way; they fell back slowly, fighting desperately for every foot, but were gradually driven down the hill, and back through the open fields around Champion's house, losing all but two of the eleven guns which they had captured. But by this time Crocker's division had come up, and, on an appeal from Hovey to Grant for reinforcements, this division was ordered to support Hovey. These two divisions now moved forward again, driving the Confederates before them, and for the third time contesting the possession of the slope of the hill. In sight of this advance, Cumming's brigade, of Stevenson's division, broke and fled; Bowen's Missouri troops made a desperate fight, but were finally forced to give way, losing five of the guns which had previously been lost and recaptured. They made their retreat through a cross-road near that where they had first formed in the morning, and, reaching the direct Raymond road, they retreated to the ford over Baker's Creek. Stevenson's division was completely routed and broken up; Barton's brigade retreated across Baker's Creek by the bridge on the Clinton road, hotly pursued by Logan's men, and Cumming's and Lee's brigades fled in confusion to the Raymond road, and thence to the ford.
When the attack became so decided on the left flank, Loring was at first ordered to send one, and then a second brigade to the assistance of Stevenson and Bowen. Buford's brigade moved first, followed by Featherston's with Loring in person; the third brigade (Tilghman's) was left on the lower road to confront Smith's and Blair's divisions. The two brigades did not reach the forks of the Clinton and middle roads before the entire left flank was routed. Loring was then notified to form his men between the Clinton and Raymond roads, to cover the retreat of Bowen's division and pick up some of Stevenson's fugitives. In this position he was attacked by Osterhaus' division and soon gave way. He fell back again to the Raymond road, and there met Tilghman's brigade, which had made a gallant attack against Smith's division, in the course of which Tilghman had been killed; the brigade had been repulsed and was now falling back. Loring then retreated along the Raymond road toward the ford on Baker's Creek, having received word from Stevenson and Bowen that they would hold the ford until he arrived. But they were unable to keep their word, for about sunset, a portion of Cart's division, which had moved rapidly forward and crossed at the bridge on the Clinton road, began taking a position which would command the Raymond road. Stevenson and Bowen moved off hastily while there was yet time, and when Loring reached the ford he found the Union troops on the opposite bank. He then turned back in search of another ford lower down the creek, and wandered about on unknown roads during several hours of the night, abandoning all his artillery--only to learn when he did find a ford that the Union troops were already in Edwards' Station, thus completely cutting him off from the rest of the army. He therefore moved off to the south, and on the following day reported to Johnston his arrival, "without baggage, wagons, or cooking utensils," at Crystal Springs, on the New Orleans Railroad, 25 miles south of Jackson. Bowen's division, and the remnants of Stevenson's, made their way back to the Big Black River.
The rout of Pemberton's army was complete. But if McClernand had acted with the energy shown by McPherson, and the three division commanders with him, Logan, Hovey, and Crocker, every man in Pemberton's army would probably have been captured. Hovey's and Logan's divisions brought on the battle by an energetic attack, and when Pemberton threw his whole force upon them, the three together bore the brunt of the battle. McClernand had four divisions--more than half of the army--on the middle and Raymond roads. Had he thrown his men in with the vigor displayed by Hovey and Logan, he would have brushed aside the small force in front of him, and cut off the retreat by the Raymond road to the ford, in the same manner that Logan cut off the Clinton road to the bridge. Pemberton would then have been confronted with superior forces on three sides, and an impassable stream on the fourth, and in the demoralized condition of his men that evening, he would have had no option but to surrender. That these four divisions under McClernand's command were not energetically employed is abundantly shown by the following table of losses.
Killed Wounded Missing Total Hovey's division 211 872 119 1,202 Logan' s division 48 326 29 403 Crocker's division 123 539 0 662 Osterhaus' division 14 76 20 110 Carr's division 1 0 2 3 A J Smith's division 0 24 4 28 Blair's division 0 0 0 0 397 1,837 174 2,408
The Confederate losses were reported as follows:
Killed Wounded Missing Total Stevenson's division 233 527 2,091 2,851 Bowen's division 131 430 307 868 Loring's division 16 61 43 120 380 1,018 2,441 3,839
But if Pemberton's army was not captured it was very thoroughly routed, with the loss of 24 pieces of artillery; its wagons were saved, owing to their early departure during the morning under the orders for a retrograde movement to join Johnston.
Source: Excerpt from "The Mississippi" by Frances Vinton Greene, Excerpt from Chapter V, The Campaign In Rear Of Vicksburg.
This page last updated 02/16/02
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