ILLINOIS in the CIVIL WAR

part of a volume entitled History of the Ninety - Third Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry: From Organization To Muster Out --Statistics Compiled by Aaron Dunbar Sergeant, Company " B", Revised and Edited by Harvey M. Trimble, Adjutant

Submitted by Jeffrey MacAdam, to whom every reader should be grateful.

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CHAPTER IV. THE VICKSBURG CAMPAIGN--BATTLE OF JACKSON, MISS.--BATTLE OF CHAMPION HILL, MISS.-- CHARGES AT VICKSBURG, MISS.-- THE SIEGE OF VICKSBURG, MISS.

Note: This web page is the second of three for chapter 4.

THE BATTLE OF CHAMPION HILL, MISSISSIPPI.

May 16th, A. D. 1863, was destined to be a memorable day in the history of this regiment. The morning was beautiful and cool. The natural surroundings foretold nothing of the field of blood only a few miles distance.. and yet, as it is remembered now, from out all the surrounding beauty there came no smile. If the birds sang, their notes were mournful. The murmuring streams sang only the requiems of those who stopped to quench their thirst.. a somber hue o'erspread the verdant green of fields and woods. The sunlight was lusterless and cold. All nature seemed waiting, in fearful suspense, until the catastrophe of that day should transpire and be passed.

Just at sunrise the Ninety-Third Illinois resumed its march toward Vicksburg. After numerous delays along the road, the command had marched no more that three or four miles when the sound of cannon, in front, foretold the battle. After marching eight miles, the scene of the conflict at Champion Hill, Mississippi, was reached. The battle was fought about three and a half miles southeast of Edward's Station, south of the Vicksburg & Jackson Railroad, on the hills and through the ravines along the left bank of Baker's Creek. There was a road, running in a course north-northwesterly, from Raymond to Bolton, the latter being a small railroad station. Departing from or crossing that road, at different points between Raymond and Bolton, were three other roads, running toward Edward's Station. The longest of these three roads left the Raymond and Bolton road a little more than a mile north of Raymond and ran in a tolerably direct line to Edward's Station, the course being about west-northwest. The middle road was about two miles farther north, and the third about four miles north of the middle one and about one mile south of Bolton. The middle road intercepted the south one a half mile east of Edward's Station. The north road intercepted the middle one about three miles farther east.

The enemy's position was on a ridge, or, rather, a succession of hills, covered with heavy timber, and in some places, with an undergrowth almost as dense as a jungle. The highest and most southerly of those hills was called Champion Hill. The north road mentioned above, the general course of which, from the point of its departure from Raymond and Bolton road, was almost due west, turning sharply to the left, and describing a curve much like the upper half of an elongated letter S, ran up the ridge, and around on the left of and near to the crest of Champion Hill, passed over the ridge, and described a curve much like the lower half of an elongated letter S, turned again to its westerly course, and intercepted the middle road at the last turn about a half mile south of Champion Hill. The enemy's forces had reached that point, and were met there, early in the morning, by General Osterhaus' division of General McClernand's corps. That division, supported by the division of General Carr, of the same corps, had reached there by the middle road. Gen. A. J. Smith's division had previously met and skirmished with the advance guard of the enemy on the south road. That division was supported by the division of Gen. Frank P. Blair, who was then under orders to intercept and join General Sherman's forces at or near Bolton. General Hovey's division, General McClernand's corps, had moved westward on the road, and soon met the enemy, in strong force, on the ridge and hills on the left bank of Baker's Creek, at or near the point where the road turned to the left, as above indicated. Baker's Creek, south of the railroad, flows almost due south, bearing a little to the west, and empties into Fourteen Mile Creek.

miniature map of battlefieldMap of Battlefield at Champion Hill [53Kb, JPG]

General Hovey immediately disposed his division, extending his line of battle southward, in such manner that he was at once ready to attack or defense. General McPherson's corps was moving on the north road, to the support of General Hovey's Division. General Logan's division, of that corps, had the advance, and, on reaching the field, went into position on the right of General Hovey's division, extending the line up Baker's Creek. Thus, it will be observed, the divisions of Generals Hovey and Logan formed the right of the Federal forces, the divisions of General Osterhaus and Carr the center, and the divisions of General A. J. Smith and Blair, the left. The left of General Hovey's division was separated, a full half mile or more, from the right of General Osterhaus' line but the dense jungle on the eastern and southern slopes of Champion Hill.

General Pemberton was intending to move his army northward, on the east side of the Big Black River, with the view of joining forces with Gen. Joseph E. Johnson, in compliance with his orders, dated on the 14th, and received by General Pemberton early on the morning of the 16th.* [see note] Hence, it was that, although Gen. A. J. Smith's division, on the south road, first met and skirmished with the enemy, the brunt of the battle finally fell upon the positions occupied by the divisions of General Hovey and Logan, on the right of the Federal lines. Those divisions blocked General Pemberton's intended movement.

When the Third Brigade (of which the Ninety-Third Illinois formed a part) reached the field, the battle had already been in progress for nearly three hours. For two hours it had been furious. General Logan's division, on the extreme right, had gained considerable ground, and was still heavily pressing the enemy's left. But for two hours General Pemberton had been massing his forces against General Hovey's division, making a desperate effort to break the lines and cut through on his course northward. That division had gained some ground during the first hour of the battle, and, although now greatly outnumbered by the enemy, was still holding it. As soon as the Third Brigade arrived at a point near the first turn of the north road, it moved into the dense woods on the left of the road, and, extending its line of battle beyond the left of General Hovey's division, attempting to move up the southeast slope of Champion Hill, with the view of striking the enemy's right flank.

After a half hour or more had been spent, struggling and floundering and tearing through the dense jungle of undergrowth and tangled vines which covered that slope of the hill, the brigade was withdrawn, and moved into an open field on the right of the road. Could that movement have been continued, an effective blow would have been delivered; but it was simply impossible. The Ninety-Third Illinois was again on the left of the brigade, the Twenty-sixth Missouri on the right, and the two Iowa regiments in the center. The brigade remained in the open field but a short time. About 2 o'clock, a brigadier general, (said to have been General McGinnis), came dashing down the road, from the hill, spurring his horse at every jump, approached the brigade commander, Col. George B. Boomer, and said to him: "For God's sake, put this brigade into this fight." Instantly the voice of Colonel Boomer rang out: "Attention, brigade! Shoulder, arms! Left, face! Forward, march! Right shoulder shift, arms! Double quick, march!" and up that hill, left in front, the brigade flew. When the command had passed around the turn in the road and was approaching the crest of the hill, "Shoulder, arms! By the right flank, march!" came from Colonel Boomer. And now, in line of battle, still at double-quick time, down the slope of the hill, the brigade rushed into the thickest of the fight. The left of General Hovey's division was just beginning to break, under the repeated onslaughts of greatly superior numbers.

The coming of this brigade, and its vigorous participation in the battle, checked the advancing lines of the enemy, and restored the broken lines of General Hovey's division. But the Confederates still continued to mass their forces for the purpose of turning the left of this position. The battle was a continuous flame of fire from thousands of muskets. At the end of twenty minutes, a heavy force of the enemy passed around to the left of the brigade and poured a galling fire into the ranks of the Ninety-Third Illinois. The line must, of necessity, recede. Up the steep slope the left fell back, changing front to conform to the new position gained by the enemy. On this new line, for twenty minutes more, the battle increased in fury every minute. Volley after volley was poured into the ranks of the Confederates as they came up the slope. But on they came, in constantly increasing numbers. Another column was passed around the left, and the Ninety-Third Illinois was again raked with an enfilading fire. The regiment again retired, and changed its front as before.

In both these retrograde movements, the line of the brigade was made to conform to the movements of the Ninety-Third Illinois, the extreme right representing a pivot on which it swung. The situation was now extremely critical. The Second Brigade of the division was an hour behind when the Third Brigade went into action. Forty minutes of that hour had elapsed. The left of the Ninety-Third Illinois was then in the road, a considerable distance down the slope, northeast of the crest of that hill. The two changes of front were nearly equal to the fourth part of a circle. And this position must be held for twenty minutes more against an exultant foe. Captain Lloyd and a large number of men were already killed, and nearly, if not quite, a hundred officers and men wounded. Nearly one-third of the entire regiment, and nearly half of Company K, on the extreme left, had fallen on the first and second lines. The conflict had been unequal from the first; but now it was thousands against hundreds.

The enemy, at this critical junction, brought a battery, fairly flying, to the crest of the hill, and began to plant it within less than forty rods from the line of this regiment. Two guns were planted. Two charges of grape and canister were fired from one of them and one charge from the other. For ten minutes the battle was more intense, if possible, than at any time before. Then, for ten minutes more, it gradually decreased in fury. Some of the enemy's forces were evidently being withdrawn. General Logan's division was heavily pressing its advantage in front of the Confederate left, and getting dangerously near the road on which General Pemberton's army, if defeated, must return to Vicksburg. At this moment the Second Brigade of General Crocker's division, of General McPherson's corps, reached the field, and two regiments of it made a brilliant charge upon the right of the Confederates line and the battery mentioned above. Their yell was the first notice to the contending forces of their presence, and it was a most glorious shout. Up the hill they swept, onto the enemy's right, battery and all, just before they were ready to withdraw their remaining forces.

The two planted guns of the battery were captured, their lines were broken, and the enemy fled precipitately from the field. The retreat soon became a rout, and a mad rush to get back to the west bank of the Big Black River. General Logan's division at once secured a position so close to the road which was General Pemberton's only line of retreat, that General Loring's division was cut off from the remainder of the Confederate army, lost all its batteries, and barely escaped capture by passing out, in a southerly course, between the division of Gen. A. J. Smith and the Big Black River. The divisions of Generals Carr and Osterhaus immediately pursued the flying Confederates, and continued the pursuit until 9 o'clock that night. A great battle was ended.

The Third Brigade, with the Ninety-Third Illinois forming its extreme left, with every man engaged, and wholly without support, had most desperately fought the enemy, who at no time had less than two, and a part of the time four, well formed lines, for a whole hour. During this time it was twice terrifically enfiladed on the left, and forced to fall back and change its front under fire. It was a test of endurance and discipline and courage that brought great praise, and made the brigade famous throughout the army. It was no light honor to bear such reputation in an army so illustrious as the Army of the Tennessee.

After the battle was over, Lieut. Col. (Afterward Colonel) B. D. Dean, then in command of the Twenty-sixth Missouri, who had experienced hard fighting before, at Corinth and Iuka, paid the Ninety-Third Illinois a very high and well- deserved compliment. He said that when he saw the massive forces of the enemy in front of the extreme left of the brigade, while on the first line of battle, and realized that a movement was being made to turn the left of the line, he became extremely solicitous as to whether or not the Ninety-Third Illinois would be equal to the emergency. He rode, as rapidly as possible, toward the left, to render aid, if necessary, and reached a good point of observation just in time to witness the first retrograde movement and change of front made by the regiment. When it was completed, he immediately returned to his own command, fully satisfied that the left was in safe keeping, and wondering why he had ever doubted it. When the emergency arose the second time, he said, that although he watched it with much anxiety, he entertained no fear that the regiment would break or yield until it should be literally swept from the field. Neither the one thing nor the other happened.

Considering the numbers engaged, and the duration of the battle, the losses were very great, and clearly show that the divisions of General Hovey and Logan and Colonel Boomer's Brigade, containing no more than 14,000 men, practically fought the battle on the Federal side. General Grant estimated the Confederate forces engaged at 25,000. As reported, General Hovey's division lost 211 killed, 872 wounded, and 119 missing, which must have been fully one- fourth of his entire force engaged. General Osterhaus' division lost 14 killed, 76 wounded, and 20 missing. Gen. A. J. Smith's division lost 24 wounded, and 4 missing. General Logan's division and Colonel Boomer's brigade, both of General McPherson's corps, lost 201 killed, 870 wounded, and 46 missing. The loss of the two regiments that made the charge just at the close of the battle is not known, but it was very small, not exceeding 10 or 12 men. The total loss was 426 killed, 1,842 wounded, and 189 missing, making 2,457 in all. The Confederates lost 500 killed, 2000 wounded, and 1,800 captured, making 4,300 in all, and also lost fifteen or twenty cannon, several thousand muskets, and large quantities of supplies and munitions.

The Ninety-Third Illinois lost Capt. David Lloyd and 37 men killed, 33 officers and men mortally wounded, 82 officers and men wounded, not mortally, and 1 officer and 10 men missing. The total loss was 164. Three of those missing were never heard from afterward. There were present with the regiment a little less than 500 officers and men when it went into action. The loss was thirty- three and two-tenths percent of the number engaged. This regiment contained, when it went into battle, about three and a half percent of the entire number engaged on the positions occupied by the right wing of the army, where the principal part of the fighting occurred. Its loss was about six and two-thirds percent of the entire loss on the Federal side. These facts are wholly sufficient, without comment, to show the vital importance of it responded to the emergencies of the hour.

After the battle was over the decimated ranks were closed up, the regiment re- formed, cartridge boxes refilled, and the march toward Vicksburg resumed. There was some delay before the command moved. This afforded a little time in which those who survived eagerly sought their friends who fell. It was not long, but sufficient to bind up many wounds, and to say the last goodbye to those whose wounds were mortal. Between 9 and 10 o'clock that night, after moving two and a half miles, the regiment went into camp. Some returned to the battlefield to render further aid to wounded comrades; some, exhausted, laid down and slept. All were sad.

Why the divisions of General Osterhaus and Carr, the center of the Federal army, and the divisions of Generals A. J. Smith and Blair, the left wing, were not put into action, has never been satisfactorily explained, so far as is now known. General Grant was on the right, with General Hovey and Logan and McPherson, from the beginning to the end of the battle. The positions of his forces were most advantageous, and his plan of battle was beyond criticism. Shortly after noon, he sent orders to General McClernand, directing him to advance his forces as rapidly as possible. At least one, and perhaps two, of his divisions were within sight of the battle fully two hours. Had General Osterhaus and Carr's divisions advanced, at any time between 1 and 3 o'clock, they could have struck the right flank of the Confederate forces that engaged General Hovey's division and Colonel Boomer's brigade, and between 2 and 3 o'clock could have struck a considerable part of those forces well in the rear, and quickly relieved General Hovey's division and Colonel Boomer's brigade. Had Generals A. J. Smith and Blair advanced their divisions, at any time during the same period, they could have struck the Confederate rear a full mile from the right of their line, that was so engaged, literally cut their army in two, and caused the certain capture of at least half of it.

Earlier in the day, General McClernand had shown his knowledge of the situation by his expressed solicitude that General McPherson's forces should vigorously support General Hovey's division. Not- withstanding this, two of his divisions, during two full hours, were not only in hearing of the battle, where the forces of General Hovey and McPherson were fighting to the death, but actually in sight of it. That these divisions were not vigorously brought into action was wholly inexplicable. When General Grant called for an explanation, no satisfactory one was given. General Grant would have been justified had he relieved General McClernand of his command that evening, instead of a few days later, at Vicksburg, after he had committed another blunder that cost the army very dearly, and included the loss of about one hundred brave men of the Third Brigade. Perhaps General Grant never doubted his fidelity. But certain it was that his military career was most unfortunate for himself and disastrous to the army.

General Quimby reached the field while the battle was in progress, but did not assume command of the Seventh Division until the next day. Without disparagement of General Quimby, because he was a brave and able commander, the entire command regretted General Crocker's departure. He was kind, brilliant and courageous, and had endeared himself to all by the exercise of those qualities. But his health was then failing, and he died, of consumption, before the close of the war.

At 9 o'clock the next morning, the regiment was again formed to move forward. Then tears came, unbidden, to the eyes of brave men. The fearful losses of the previous day had not until then been fully realized. That short line told all. The command marched about six miles that day, and camped near Big Black River. On the 18th, the regiment crossed that river, on a bridge made of cotton bales, lashed together, marched eight miles, and went into camp twelve miles from Vicksburg. On the 19th, after a march on nine miles, the command arrived, about noon, within a half mile of the enemy's works at Vicksburg, was immediately formed in line of battle, and advanced about a quarter of a mile under fire of the Confederate artillery. The position was south of the public highway leading into the city from Jackson. One man was mortally wounded. On the 20th, in the forenoon, the line was again advanced about two hundred yards. One man was slightly wounded. In the afternoon, the command moved some distance to the left, but no nearer the enemy's works. On the 21st, no change of position was made. During the day, the line was lightly shelled by the Confederate batteries.


Footnotes

* [Return to text] --General Pemberton afterwards claimed, that this order was not received by him until the evening of the 16th, after the battle of Champion Hill was fought and lost to him.

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