Battle of Champion Hill (May 16)
Early on the morning of May 16, 1863, General Grant received news that Confederate forces were at Edwards Station preparing to march east. Ordering his columns forward, his army marched westward from Bolton and Raymond, the blueclad soldiers slogging over rapidly drying roads in three parallel columns. About 7 a.m., the southernmost column made contact with Confederate pickets near the Davis Plantation and shots rang out. The battle of Champion Hill — the most decisive engagement of the Vicksburg campaign — had begun.
Once contact had been made, Confederate commander, Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, quickly deployed his three divisions. The Confederate battle line, three miles in length, ran from southwest to northeast along the military crest of a ridge overlooking Jackson Creek. The crest of Champion Hill, on the left of the line, was picketed as a security measure. Pemberton's position was suited for defense and was especially formidable against attacks via the Middle and Raymond roads. He was unaware, however, that a strong Union force was pushing down the Jackson Road toward his unprotected left flank. If unchecked, these Federals would capture Edwards and cut the Confederates off from their base of operations — Vicksburg.
Shortly after 9 a.m., a courier brought warning of the Federal advance along the Jackson Road. Confederate troops were shifted to the left to cover Champion Hill and protect the vital Crossroads. As the Southern troops hastened into position on the crest of Champion Hill, Union soldiers near the Champion House swung from a column into a double line of battle. Artillery was wheeled into position and unlimbered. The bloodshed began in earnest when the guns roared into action.
Grant arrived near the Champion House around 10 a.m. After surveying the situation, he ordered the attack. Two Union divisions —10,000 men in battle array — moved forward in magnificent style with flags flying. The long blue lines extended westward beyond the Confederate flank. To meet this threat, Confederate troops shifted farther to the west, creating a gap between the forces defending the Crossroads and those defending the Raymond Road.
By 11:30 a.m., the Northerners closed in on the Confederate main line of resistance. Cheering loudly, they stormed the position. Fighting was intense as the battle raged on Champion Hill, with the lines swaying back and forth as charge and countercharge were made. But the strength of numbers prevailed, and the blue tide swept over the crest of Champion Hill shortly after 1 p.m.
The Confederates to the Jackson Road in disarray, followed closely by the hard-charging Federals. The powerful Union drive captured the Crossroads, thereby severing the Jackson Road escape route on the right. Confronted by disaster, Pemberton ordered his two remaining divisions to counterattack. Leaving one brigade to guard the Raymond Road, the Southerners marched from their right along the Ratliff Road toward the Crossroads. With characteristic abandon the 4,500 soldiers of Brigadier General John S. Bowen's division attacked, hitting the Federals with fury and determination near the Crossroads. At the point of bayonet, they drove the blue-clad troops back three-quarters of a mile, regaining control of Champion Hill. Insufficient numbers, however, caused the attack to falter just short of the Champion House.
To prevent a breakthrough of his lines, Grant ordered up fresh troops to drive back the Confederates. Additionally, Federals along the Middle and Raymond roads intensified their drive. All morning they had operated under instructions to "move cautiously," but now threw themselves forward into battle. In a matter of moments, Confederate resistance was shattered, and Pemberton ordered his army from the field.
With only one avenue of escape open to them, the Confederates fled toward the Raymond Road crossing of Bakers Creek. Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman's Brigade, acting as the rear guard for the Confederate army, was ordered to hold its ground at all cost. In so doing, General Tilghman was killed. His brigade, along with the rest of Major General William W. Loring's division, was cut off from Edwards and eventually made its way to Jackson by a circuitous route.
The victorious Federals gained control of the Bakers Creek bridge late in the afternoon, entering Edwards about 8 p.m. This smashing victory cost Grant 410 killed, 1,844 wounded, and 187 missing, out of 32,000 men. But the victory at Champion Hill foreshadowed the ultimate success of his campaign.
May 16, 1863, was a disastrous day for Pemberton. His army lost 381 killed, 1,018 wounded, and 2,441 missing out of the 23,000 men he led into battle, coupled with the loss of 27 vital artillery pieces.
Last updated: April 7, 2017