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Battle of Champion's Hill
May 16, 1863
by Pvt. Frank H. Mason, 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry

Web Author's Notes:
The following excerpt is a description of the Battle of Champion's Hill, as told by Pvt. Frank H. Mason, Company A, of the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry in his post-war book titled A History of the Organization and Services of That Regiment in the War of the Rebellion, published in 1876.

The Battle of Champion's Hill

[Gen. A. J.] Smith, on the Southern road struck the enemy first at seven in the morning of the 16th, and after a little skirmishing pushed up a battery and opened fire briskly. The enemy, on his way to Clinton by way of Raymond, thinking he had struck the whole of Grant's army, withdrew, turned Northward by a lateral road and sought to escape by the Northern route across Champion's Hill and join Johnston at Clinton. Inevitably, Pemberton's advance ran directly into Hovey. Hearing Smith's guns away to his left, Osterhaus pushed forward, the Forty-Second Ohio deployed as skirmishers, and encountered a strong Rebel skirmish line in the margin of the woods which cover Champion's Hill. The skirmishers were driven in, uncovering the enemy in heavy force. McClernand's orders were to feel the enemy sharply, but not to bring on a general engagement unless he was sure of success. Meanwhile, he was to establish communication with Hovey on the right, and Blair and Smith on the left. The responsibility which he felt in this situation was too much for McClernand. It made him over-cautions, and prevented him from pushing Osterhaus and Carr as they should have been pushed on that day. Instead of pushing Osterhaus, who had the advance on the center road, McClernand held him back, and endeavored to establish communications with Hovey, who, away to the right, was by eleven o'clock furiously engaged. Logan came up on Hovey's right, went in impetuously, moving far enough round to the right to leave space for Crocker, who also attacked with splendid spirit.

Nothing in the War surpassed the fighting of those three Divisions from eleven in the morning until three in the afternoon. Hovey charged up the hill with fearful loss, capturing a battery of five guns. McClernand's failure to attack vigorously left the enemy in his front to mass toward the left and wreak his whole fury upon Hovey and Crocker. Hovey's captured battery was lost, then re-taken, captured and re-captured not less than four times, the Rebel and Union dead being piled around it in heaps.

Champion's Hill is a rough, irregular mound, two hundred feet high, bald at the top, but densely wooded on its slopes, and cut and scarred into rugged ravines, filled with a dense undergrowth, and almost impassable. The hill is two miles in length from North to South, by a mile in width; and the roads upon which McPherson and McClernand respectively were advancing, met at its summit. Upon this hill was Pemberton, with eighty regiments of infantry and ten batteries of artillery -- about thirty thousand men. He had, in fact, more men than he could use to advantage, and the density with which his troops were massed only aggravated their slaughter. By two o'clock Logan had pushed his Division clear round the Northern point of the hill, reaching to and occupying the road to Edwards' Station, Pemberton's only avenue of retreat. He soon captured a battery in reserve, standing in the road, when Grant, not knowing the splendid advantage Logan had gained, and fearing he had gone too far, recalled him to form a junction with Crocker's right. Before he had done so, however, Grant threw Smith's and Holmes' Brigades of Crocker's Division into the gap on Hovey's right. The two fresh brigades attacked with superb valor. Hovey's exhausted men were inspired with new courage; Logan charged gallantly up the hill, and after a desperate struggle of forty minutes, the whole left wing of Pemberton was broken and thrown pell-mell over against Osterhaus and Carr, who by that time, two hours too late, had advanced determinedly and become hotly engaged. McClernand, unaware of what had taken place on the right, mistook the horde of fugitives for a massing of the enemy upon him; and instead of charging and completing the wreck of Pemberton, simply held his ground, firing rapidly, but permitting the broken Rebel army to escape down the Southwestern slope of the hill towards Edwards' Station.

...both of McClernand's Divisions on the center road felt that they had played a subordinate part in a battle which ought to have captured Pemberton's army. Over all the Northern half of Champion's Hill the carnage had been terrible. Hovey had lost, in killed and wounded, forty-four per cent of his Division. Thirty pieces of cannon, part of them dismounted and cut to pieces by the Federal artillery, were captured, with many battle-flags, and thousands of small arms. The dead and dying, Union and Rebel intermingled, strewed the ground. Grant lost four hundred and twenty-six killed, and eighteen hundred and forty-two wounded. The Confederate loss was nearly four thousand killed and wounded, and three thousand prisoners, of whom Logan's Division captured thirteen hundred.

McClernand's two Divisions came up over the hill, Carr's Division, on the right, being stretched across the road coming up from the Southeast. Grant met Carr at the fork of the road, told him that the enemy was in full retreat, and to march by the flank with all speed in pursuit. The order was promptly executed. Osterhaus, on Carr's left, also go into the road as quickly as possible, and the two Divisions, maddened by their comparative inactivity during the day, set off at double-quick after Pemberton. Five miles away, on the road to Edwards' Station, they struck the rear guard and attacked it sharply. A horse battery was rushed up to the front, and, advancing by sections, shelled the flying column. A body of Rebels, probably a regiment, was seen in a meadow nearly a mile to the left of the road, trying to escape across Baker's Creek. McClernand, having no cavalry, sent a gun to shell them. A bronze twelve-pounder from an Ohio Battery went down a farm road through the meadow to within half a mile of the fugitives, unlimbered, and sent three shells into a thicket wherein the Rebels had taken refuge. One of those shells, as was afterwards learned, killed Gen. Tilghman, one of Pemberton's most valuable officers.

It was now six o'clock in the evening. Carr and Osterhaus were pushing the retreating army to Edwards' Station. The enemy retired stubbornly, and it was sunset before the Station was reached. As the pursuers entered the village, a train of cars standing on the railroad, loaded with bacon, meal and artillery ammunition, burst into flames. Carr was sent through the town, and as it was now dark, the pursuit was necessarily suspended. Osterhaus' Division bivouacked in and about the Station, holding the roads which led North and South, and acting as support to Carr, in case he should be assailed from the front. For three days not a ration had been issued to the Union troops. The men had marched and fought without a murmur, but they were now on the very verge of famine. A party of Osterhaus' men, including a number from the Forty-Second, attacked the burning train. In some of the cars shells were bursting and cartridges exploding, but in others were bacon and hams roasting and burning. They had learned to despise danger, and the hungry men broke open the burning cars, speared the roasting meat with their bayonets, and bore it off in triumph. McClernand and his staff found in a house a jar of mouldy crab-apple "preserves," and upon this they fed. Hovey's Division of heroes--the half of it that was left--remained on the battle-field to collect the wounded and bury the dead. Large field hospitals were established upon and near Champion's Hill, and in these the surgeons of the whole army worked nearly all night, for they had the wounded of both armies to care for on that field.

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