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Battle of Champion's Hill or Baker's Creek, MS
in the American Civil War

Union Battle Summary

Champion's Hill, Miss., May 16, 1863. Parts of the 13th, 15th and 17th Army Corps. On the 13th Gen. Johnston reached Jackson. His idea was that the Confederate forces east of Vicksburg should be united and a battle fought which would decide the fate of that city. To this end he sent a despatch to Gen. Pemberton, then at Bovine, directing him to attack the Federals at Clinton (about 10 miles west of Jackson), and promised to cooperate in the movement. Pemberton's idea was that he should remain near Vicksburg, in order to defend the place and at the same time be near his base. He therefore called a council of war and laid Johnston's suggestion - it could hardly be called an order - before his officers. A majority expressed themselves in favor of it and Pemberton sent a reply to Johnston, closing with these words: "In directing this move, I do not think you fully comprehend the position that Vicksburg will be left in, but I comply at once with your order." Subsequently he sent another despatch, announcing his intention to move on the morning of the 15th, via Dillon, on the Raymond and Port Gibson road, in an effort to cut off the Federal communications, and added: "I do not consider my force sufficient to justify an attack on the enemy in position or to attempt to cut my way to Jackson." Although an order was promulgated on the evening of the 14th for the troops to be ready to move early the next morning, it was 1 p.m. before the advance guard left Edwards' station, near the point where the Vicksburg & Jackson railroad crosses the Big Black river. This delay of more than 24 hours prevented the successful culmination of Johnston's plans, for on the 14th he was compelled to evacuate Jackson and fall back on the Canton road.

Having driven Johnston from Jackson, Grant disposed his forces so as to prevent his forming a junction with Pemberton, and at the same time made preparations to attack the latter. From the Bolton and Raymond road three roads led to Edwards' station. On the 15th the troops were moved westward to occupy these roads. At 6 a.m. on the 16th Hovey's division of McClernand's corps (the 13th) was at the cross-roads just south of Bolton, with Logan's and Crocker's divisions of McPherson's corps (the 17th) a short distance in the rear. These three divisions were to move on the north road to Champion's hill. ON the middle road were Osterhaus' and Carr's divisions of the 13th corps, and on the south road was A.J. Smith's division of the same, supported by Blair's division of the 15th. Thus arranged the whole army moved forward, ready to assume either the offensive or defensive as circumstances might require.

Pemberton's forces encamped on the night of the 15th on a cross-road south of Champion's hill. About 6:30 a.m. on the 16th a courier arrived with a despatch from Johnston, in which he said: "Our being compelled to leave Jackson makes your plan impracticable. The only mode by which we can unite is by your moving directly to Clinton, and informing me that we may move to that point with about six thousand." Having wasted over a day in trying to get to the Federal rear to cut off communications, Pemberton now decided to follow Johnston's suggestions. Accordingly orders were issued for the trains to clear the road so that the troops could countermarch to Edwards' station, from which place they were to move over the Brownsville road to join Johnston. But it was too late. Before the movement could be executed Smith's advance was driving Loring's pickets on the Raymond road. Pemberton selected a strong position on the hills along the right bank of Baker's creek with Loring's division forming his right, Bowen's the center and Stevenson's on the left. His line was hardly formed before Hovey's skirmishers had engaged those of Stevenson near the foot of the hill on Champion's plantation, from which the battle takes its name. About 10 o'clock Grant joined Hovey, who was then forming his men for an assault on Stevenson's position, but the commanding general directed him to wait until word was received that McClernand was ready. McClernand had been delayed in driving in the enemy pickets and artillery. At 9:45 a.m. he sent a messenger to Grant to inquire whether he should bring on an engagement. That despatch was not received until noon. Grant promptly sent back orders for him to attack in force, and later sent word to "push forward with all rapidity." The attack was not made until 2 p.m., and was not then as vigorous as it might have been.

Meantime McPherson's men had reached the field and Hovey's two brigades were deployed on the left of the road, Logan's division being formed on the right. At 10:30 Hovey's skirmishers advanced steadily up the slope, followed by McGinnis and Slack with the two brigades, and in a little while the engagement became general. Stevenson was forced back for over 600 yards, losing 11 pieces of artillery and about 300 prisoners. The Confederates were rallied under cover of the woods and in turn advanced, forcing the Federals back down the hill. Boomer's brigade of Quinby's (Crocker's) division and two regiments, the 10th Mo. and 17th Ia., were now sent to Hovey's assistance, but the whole line, reinforcements and all, was forced back to a point near the brow of the hill. Up to this time the irregularity of the Union lines prevented the use of artillery in enfilading the enemy's, but when the retreat was checked Hovey ordered the 1st Mo. and part of the 16th Ohio batteries in position on his right; two sections of the latter and the 6th Wis. battery on the left, and for a little while poured an incessant shower of shot and shell into the enemy, not only checking his advance, but also turning it into a retreat. With a cheer the Union forces advanced and this time held the position that had been so hotly contested three times within as many hours.

While these events were transpiring on the hill Smith's and Leggett's brigades of Logan's division had advanced against the northern slope of the hill on the right of Hovey. As they advanced the 3rd brigade, under Gen. Stevenson, was thrown still further to the right, made a quick march across a ravine, cut off Barton's and Lee's brigades from the main body of the confederate left and captured 7 pieces of artillery. This action turned the tide of battle. Barton's brigade was driven across Baker's creek, while Lee's and Cumming's fell back in disorder toward the Raymond road. In the heat of the engagement on the hill Pemberton ordered Loring to send reinforcements to Bowen and Stevenson. Buford's brigade was first moved to the left, closely followed by that of Featherston, but neither reached the scene in time to prevent the disaster. Loring was then ordered to form his men between the Clinton and Raymond roads to cover the retreat. The two brigades were recalled to join Tilghman's, which was resisting the attacks of Osterhaus and Smith, in which Tilghman was killed. The whole division was cut off from the main body and compelled to make a long, circuitous detour to the south, and the next day reported to Johnston his arrival at Crystal Springs, "without baggage, wagons or cooking utensils." The next day part of Pemberton's command made a feeble stand at Big Black river (q.v.), after which the remnants of his shattered army retired to Vicksburg and the siege commenced. In this engagement at Champion's the Union losses were 410 killed, 1,844 wounded and 187 missing. The Confederates lost 380 killed, 1,018 wounded and 2,441 missing. In his report Pemberton says he had 17,500 men engaged at Champion's hill, though subsequent estimates place the strength of his army at nearly 24,000. The Union forces numbered about 32,000, though all were not actively engaged, the brunt of the battle being borne by Hovey and Logan. This engagement was the turning point of the Vicksburg campaign, and had Pemberton promptly obeyed Johnston's order of the 13th, thus effecting a union of the two armies, the history of that campaign might have been differently written.

Source: The Union Army, Volume 6, Cyclopedia of Battles, 1908


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