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Civil War Series

The Campaign for Vicksburg

   

At dawn on May 16, Pemberton received Johnston's message announcing the fall of Jackson and ordering him to move toward Clinton and a junction with Johnston's small force. How Johnston expected that to happen when he was moving the Jackson army northeast away from Clinton he did not say. In any event Pemberton ordered an about-face to get his army moving northwest to Brownsville, where he would then turn toward Clinton.

THE BATTLE OF BAKERS CREEK, MAY 16. (LC)

But it was too late. Pemberton's pickets clashed with the advance of McClernand's corps down the Raymond Edwards road and the Middle road, the latter located between the Jackson-Edwards and Raymond-Edwards roads. Pemberton, making poor use of cavalry to screen his advance, had been caught off guard and would now have to fight it out with the Union columns on his front. He posted his three divisions in defensive positions along Jackson Creek ridge.


In contrast to the bungling on the Confederate march to battle, Grant continued to manipulate his corps with great skill.

In contrast to the bungling on the Confederate march to battle, Grant continued to manipulate his corps with great skill. While McClernand assembled his troops and marched to the coming fight, McPherson sent his corps down the Jackson road, approaching the Bakers Creek area just east of Edwards practically unnoticed. The Union marches were brisk and without any hint of the problems that plagued the Confederates.

May 16 promised to be a hot day and would test the endurance of many soldiers, blue and gray. Men on the Rebel left and Yankee right fought a particularly exhausting fight in a series of charges and countercharges.

Action on this sector of the battlefield developed as the Confederates sparred with McClernand's corps. Stephen D. Lee, commanding a brigade in Stevenson's division, received word of McPherson's approach on the Jackson road well beyond Pemberton's left. The Jackson road veered to the southwest over a lofty eminence known locally as Champion Hill. The initial phase of the day's fight would be fought in the area of this hill that gave the battle its name.

Pemberton shifted his left to meet the threat posed by McPherson but waited almost too long in sending reinforcements to meet the aggressive attacks by Logan's and Hovey's divisions. The hard-charging bluecoats moved forward about 10:30 A.M. and by 1:00 P.M. had practically wrecked Stevenson's division.


(click on image for a PDF version)
BATTLE OF CHAMPION HILL, MAY 16, 1863, 10:30 A.M. TO 1:00 P. M.
Union troops advance toward the Big Black. The two armies meet on the Raymond and Middle roads. Pemberton posts his army from the ridge overlooking Jackson Creek over to the Jackson road. The extension of his line is made necessary by the approach of Logan's and Hovey's divisions. Lee's brigade rushes to meet the Yankees. Hovey and Logan attack. Lee sees that he is overwhelmed by superior Federal numbers. Barton's brigade is sent to Lee's left, but the Union onslaught is too much and Pemberton's left begins to collapse. With his left battered and forced back, Pemberton is in danger of losing his entire army.

Belatedly recognizing the dilemma on his left, Pemberton ordered Bowen and Loring to send help to Stevenson. Both insisted that it was too dangerous on their own fronts to weaken their forces. This was only partially true because McClernand had not shown the fighting spirit of McPherson. The hesitation of the two Confederate generals indicated the absence of a good working relationship with the commanding general. Loring and some of his brigade commanders had been observed earlier openly laughing at Pemberton's orders.

THIS 1887 KURZ AND ALLISON PRINT SHOWS LOGAN RALLYING HIS MEN AT CHAMPION HILL. (COURTESY SPECIAL COLLECTIONS LIBRARY, DUKE UNIVERSITY)

Finally Bowen rushed his troops to Champion Hill, the "hill of death" Hovey called it, just in time to prevent the collapse of the Rebel left. In one of the most brilliant charges of the war, Bowen's division, led by Francis Cockrell and his Missourians, crashed through Hovey's brigades and reached the crest of Champion Hill. Cockrell held a magnolia flower in one hand and his sword in the other as he cheered his troops on. Bowen's success threatened the right wing of Grant's army. But as in the other recent battles, Grant had reserves to throw into the breach, while Bowen looked in vain for support to hold his position. Pemberton desperately needed the two divisions he had left in Vicksburg.


(click on image for a PDF version)
BATTLE OF CHAMPION HILL, MAY 16. 1863, 1:00 P.M. TO 5:30 P.M.
With the most immediate danger on his left, Pemberton sends word to Bowen and Loring to rush reinforcements to the Jackson road. Bowen's charge sends the Yankees reeling over Champion Hill. Union reinforcements arrive and blunt Bowen's attack. With no support from Loring, who had refused Pemberton's order, Bowen retreats. His right saved, Grant gets his troops on the Middle and Raymond roads in motion. The pressure threatens Bowen's flank and prevents Loring from assisting him. Pemberton is convinced the day is lost and orders a withdrawal. The route across Bakers Creek via the Jackson road is cut off by the Federals, and the Confederates are forced toward the Raymond road route back to the Big Black. Loring's troops fight a fierce holding action so the army can escape.

Bowen had to retreat, and Grant at last spurred McClernand into action to prevent Pemberton from shifting any more troops from his right to the Champion Hill area. The heavy Federal pressure forced Pemberton to order a retreat. Loring's division held long enough to give Bowen's and Stevenson's divisions time to escape across Bakers Creek to their Big Black entrenchments. During the holding action by Loring, Pemberton's former friend, Lloyd Tilghman, was struck and killed by a Union artillery shell. Loring decided that he might get cut off by advancing Union troops of Eugene Carr's division if he tried to follow the other Confederate divisions. He led his division south and northeast back toward Jackson, where he ultimately linked up with Johnston.

During the battle at Champion Hill, Pemberton had on hand 23,000 to Grant's 32,000 (Sherman arrived too late to participate in the fight). Confederate losses totaled 3,800 while Grant counted about 2,400 casualties.

UNION TROOPS PURSUE CONFEDERATES RETREATING AT CHAMPION HILL. (FRANK AND MARIE WOOD PRINT COLLECTION)

Champion Hill was the decisive battle of the Vicksburg campaign and one of the most significant struggles of the Civil War. Had Grant lost, he would have probably been cut off from his base at Grand Gulf and the very existence of his army threatened. But as subsequent events proved, when he won at Champion Hill, Grant won Vicksburg.

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