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Battle of Champion's Hill
May 16, 1863
by Cpl. Theodore Wolbach, Company E
Web Author's Notes:
The following is a description of the Battle of Champion's Hill, written by Cpl Theodore Wolbach of Company E. Wolbach's colorful history of the 16th Ohio can be read here.

The Battle of Champion's Hill

The morning of the 16th was beautiful. Under other and less warlike circumstances our soldier duties would have seemed like holiday pastime. Well aware from the numerous reports of the previous day, that the enemy was near and a bloody collision was inevitable, we instinctively felt that the boom of cannon or the bang of musket would not excite much surprise were it to greet us any moment. There was battle in the air and the sensation seemed to pervade the nerves of the men. Moving out at an easy pace in a few hours we reached the vicinity of Champion Hill, an elevation whose sides were mainly covered with dense woods, much of it scrub oak. The Confederates numbering about twenty-five thousand, commanded by Gen. Pemberton, occupied the crest. Our army within striking distance about equaled theirs in number and it might have seemed unwise to attack, but there was no time to waste in waiting for reinforcements. Our division promptly deployed to the right and left of the road that we had been marching on. Artillery moved to convenient points in rear of the Infantry. Foster's twenty pounders were handy to our brigade. After a short interval of activity, rifle shots were heard off to our right. Presently there was a fearful crash as of many trees falling in the forest, followed by a terrific roar that seemed to make the earth tremble. Every man sprang to his feet and listened eagerly to the awful sound that none could mistake. Hovey had run on the enemy and was fighting him with heroic fury. For many minutes there was no abatement to the volume of musketry. Hovey's men were driven back, but meeting reinforcements they went in again and after a struggle that brought into requisition the highest heroism gained a dearly bought but admirable advantage, driving the Confederates back and capturing many prisoners and much artillery. Logan to the right of Hovey threw a part of his division into line, and resolutely attacked; and aided by Crocker's division drove back the left of the enemy's line. In front of us lay Loring's division, one of the finest in the Confederate service. For reasons never made known, they declined to attack us, or aid their suffering comrades in other parts of the field.

We were not destined to be inactive very long. Every regiment of Osterhaus' division was brought under fire before the engagement closed. Our regiment and the 22nd Ky. were sent away to the right front of the corps, and suddenly found themselves in the presence of a large but badly demoralized force of the enemy. Considerable firing was done and our two small regiments were forced back a short distance with some loss, but rallying they went in again and had the gratification of taking many prisoners. Loring had slipped away from the front of our corps and was endeavoring to cover the retreat of the rebel army that was making pell mell for Black River. Before night Loring found that his own retreat was cut off from the west and fearing the fate that had befell the rest of their army, he escaped to the south-west leaving all of his artillery in our hands. The scene from the center to the north part of the battlefield was horrifying. Some parts of the ground had been fought over several times; batteries had been taken again and again; thousands of soldiers of both armies commingled strewed the ground in every imaginable attitude of suffering and death. Artillery could not be used to good advantage in this battle. Much of the fighting was done in the forest by the infantry, and for long years the scarred trees will mark where the sturdy men of the west and the south faced each other. The left of the 13th corps, including Blair's division, had not entered into a general engagement with Loring, but the opposing lines grated harshly together and the fire flew wickedly at times leaving the ground thinly strewed with dead and disabled soldiers. Pollard's "Lost Cause" graphically presents the southern side of this woeful disaster to their arms. Gen. Joe Johnson had repeatedly, by courier, ordered Pemberton to attack the Federal forces before they could concentrate. But Pemberton seemed bewildered by the movements of his enemy and could not comprehend the propriety of obeying his superior's order, therefore hesitating until it was too late, and then undertook a movement of his own conception--to strike Grant's forces in the neighborhood of Raymond and cut off his communications. He had set his troops in motion and was about executing this plan when the Federal troops attacked him with such impetuosity that other arrangements became instantly necessary. Stephenson was the first to receive the attack and finding that his troops were about to break, dispatched to Pemberton that he was assailed by about sixty thousand Federal troops and could not hold out any longer without help. Loring and Bowen, each in command of large divisions, were appealed to for reinforcements. The latter sent two brigades, the former none. Loring has been bitterly censured, by southern writers, for disobedience of orders in this fight. Severely as he was criticised by the Confederate military, it did not dispossess him of his command; but somehow he remained in favor with the Davis administration until the end of the war, then went abroad and accepted service under the Khedive of Egypt and was made a pasha in the Egyptian army. During the short time that we were lying inactive in the early part of the engagement, some of the boys got permission to go up to the scene of action. Two of these, sergeant Thos. T. Dill and private John Jorden, reached the left of the 32nd O.V.I. as it was getting ready to charge the 1st Miss. Rebel battery. They went in with the regiment, charged the battery, and captured guns, horses and all. Many unharmed rebels crouching in ditches and depressions ready to surrender, were run over and left to others in the rear to care for. Long lines of knapsacks, left where the rebel infantry had stripped for the fight, were passed. Dill getting ahead espied a belated rebel soldier that was trying to get away. A smart run brought Dill close enough to cover him with his rifle and after a little sharp urging compelled him to surrender. A new German regiment of ours that fought on the right had been made the target of many a sportive remark by reason of their peculiar national ways. They wore Sibley hats and long dress coats, and the most of them smoked German pipes. They were a new organization, patriotic and well disciplined, but previous to this had not been tested in battle. To the witticisms of their comrades in other regiments they generally replied: "Shust you vait, ve shows you how to fight." And they kept their promise. On that dreaded day, at Champion Hill, the emulated the example of their ancient ancestors of the Teutoburg [sic] forest. The Germans for a time were so situated, by reason of the topography of the country, that they were out of sight of the troops to the right and left. The rebels detecting the peculiar new looking appearance of their uniforms quickly concluded that they were new troops and would be easy to break, attacked them with particular energy. Rolling volleys and clouds of smoke marked the alignment of the Germans until the repeated onsets of the enemy were repulsed with slaughter. Then from hundreds of deep Teuton chests went up a yell that proclaimed them veterans and silenced forever the satire of their neighbors. But the glory had been purchased at a ghastly price. Scores of the faithful regiment lay on the ground dead or wounded. After the battle a long trench was dug and the dead Germans with their dress coats neatly buttoned were laid side by side and buried with the honors of a war. Another new regiment of Iowa soldiers equally distinguished themselves by charging through a storm of canister and capturing a six gun battery and holding it until forced back by an overwhelming force of the enemy's infantry. But before relinquishing they shot down every horse to prevent the convenient removal of the guns. In advancing over the contested ground we fond many cartridges and bits of cartridge paper that was marked "Birmingham"--English bullets and English powder brought across the ocean by blockade runners to destroy the Federal Union. We found much ammunition that fitted our rifles and the powder was of a much better quality than our own. The panic stricken Confederates, fleeing in such haste, left their dead and wounded in our hands. The surgeons and the ambulance corps were busy collecting the wounded and caring for them in the temporary field hospitals, while others were doing the sad work of carrying the dead to places of interment. Some mischievous parties were searching the pockets and knapsacks of the dead Confederates. A few watches and much tobacco was found. Some of the rebel canteens contained highwines, probably procured on the march at some country distillery.

Late in the afternoon the divisions of Carr and Osterhaus were started rapidly after the retreating Confederates, who were crowding the road and wending through the bordering fields in their mad haste to get away from their elated and victorious pursuers. Minutes were precious and could not be wasted in brushing the dust from the uniforms or washing the sweat and powder-stains from the faces. Twilight and darkness came and burning wagons and other war material, fired by the exasperated foe, gave a lurid and inspiring tint to the thrilling scene of a mighty moving mass of men pressing rapidly westward.

Rolling on in strange confusion, Friend and foeman, foot and horse, Like some wild and troubled torrent Sweeping down its mountain course.

Some of the burning wagons were filled with ammunition, causing several dangerous explosions. In one of these, Capt. Thomas, of the 22nd Ky., was terribly scorched. His devoted comrades, loth to leave him to the uncertain care of strangers, wrenched a door from a building and tenderly bore him along with the marching column to our next bivouac, where he was left to be cared for appropriately. Many weeks afterward he came back to his regiment a badly disfigured man.

Osterhaus' division was halted at Edward's Depot. Carr's men extended from there to about a mile beyond; our advance being about five miles from the enemy's strong position at Black River Bridge. Many stragglers had been picked up and many more were scattered over the country to the right and left. A train of freight cars, at the depot here, were burning as we came up. Some of the cars were loaded with Confederate army stores. One was loaded with bacon, the next to it with fixed artillery ammunition. The encroaching fire set the shells to exploding and made the immediate neighborhood terribly dangerous, yet some reckless fellows remained at the bacon and saved much of it from being burned before the fierce heat drove them back. A great lot of baled cotton was licked up by the flames, but not before many of the boys had secured quantities of it to lie on.

The 16th was formed across the main road a few rods from the station. Some artillery was unlimbered and pointed westward, the cannoneers wrapping themselves in their blankets and lying close to their guns. When the fire had consumed everything that had been ignited, and nothing was left but the glowing embers, the majority of the soldiers were asleep, or at least quiet. There was no time during the night that some one was not moving about or groups conversing in undertones.

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