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Battle of Champion's Hill
May 16, 1863
by Francis Vinton Greene

Web Author's Notes:
The following is a description of the Battle of Champion's Hill, as written by Francis Vinton Greene from Campaigns of the Civil War: The Mississippi, published Scribner & Sons, 1882.

The Battle of Champion's Hill

On the 15th McClernand's division 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 15, therefore, Grant had seven divisions, almost 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 that 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. He then rode to the front.

It will be seen by looking at the map 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 70-80 feet in height, but it is quite a prominent feature in an otherwise flat 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 turn 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 a 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 Carr, 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 center, 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 crossroad 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 the 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. dispatch 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 11:00 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 left 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 to 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 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 communications 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 the left during the morning, Stevenson had noticed 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 3:00 P.M. Bowen closed up with Stevenson, and found Hovey's men in possession of the rest 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 formed to give way; they fell back slowly, fighting desperately for every front, 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 slop 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 crossroad 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 words, for about sunset, a portion of Carr'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 front, in the same manner that Logan cut off the Clinton road to the bridge. Pemberton would 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.

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.

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