From: Los Angeles
150 Years Ago Today:
The most important Civil War battle that is not a famous name was fought at Champion's Hill, Mississippi. So far, everything had been going well for Grant's army, but he was still in a very high-stakes gamble. As long as his men kept moving, they took food from the local farms, but if they stopped they would soon exhaust what was available. More, now that they had abandoned their supply lines, there was only enough artillery ammunition for one day of serious battle. And they were about to finally meet the main body of Confederates under John Pemberton.
Early in the morning, the two sides made the initial contact:
Smith's division on the most southern road was the first to encounter the enemy's pickets, who were speedily driven in. Osterhaus, on the middle road, hearing the firing, pushed his skirmishers forward, found the enemy's pickets and forced them back to the main line. About the same time Hovey encountered the enemy on the northern or direct wagon road from Jackson to Vicksburg. McPherson was hastening up to join Hovey, but was embarrassed by Hovey's trains occupying the roads. I was still back at Clinton. McPherson sent me word of the situation, and expressed the wish that I was up. By half-past seven I was on the road and proceeded rapidly to the front, ordering all trains that were in front of troops off the road. When I arrived Hovey's skirmishing amounted almost to a battle.
McClernand was in person on the middle road and had a shorter distance to march to reach the enemy's position than McPherson. I sent him word by a staff officer to push forward and attack. These orders were repeated several times without apparently expediting McClernand's advance.
--The Personal Memoirs of General U. S. Grant
In the late morning, one Northern division (Hovey's) managed to push back the Southerners opposing them, and capture a number of guns and several hundred prisoners. But the attack was not coordinated with the rest of the army, and a Confederate counter-attack pushed them back and recaptured the guns (for the moment). The battle continued to rage, and the Union division would lose a full third of its strength before the day ended. The issue was very much in the balance.
But in the afternoon, the Confederate position began to crumble. Why this happened is not really clear: the Northerners had the edge in numbers, but only by about three to two, which was generally not enough to overcome a good defensive set-up. Possibly the weight of Federal artillery made itself felt, or possibly Pemberton was showing weakness as a battlefield commander, while Grant's active presence encouraged his men. Whatever the cause, a Union charge using the troops from Sherman's corps that had just come up to the field broke through the Rebel line, and in Grant's words, "the enemy fled precipitately".
Pemberton ordered retreat, assigning a brigade under Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman as a rearguard. Interestingly, the escape route had been blocked for a time by Northern troops, but Grant had pulled them away to reinforce a badly mauled unit elsewhere. The Confederate rearguard managed to hold the road open, but at the cost of a number of casualties including Brigadier Tilghman himself, killed by artillery fire. The retreat soon degenerated into a rout.
Map by Hal Jespersen, www.cwmaps.com
The Battle of Champion's Hill was the biggest battle of Grant's Vicksburg Campaign. It was also the most decisive. The tally of casualties was bad enough for the Rebels; they had lost 381 killed, 1,018 wounded, and 2,441 missing or captured, while the Union losses were 410 killed, 1,844 wounded, and 187 missing. But the actual cost was greater than that, for Southerners had abandoned a good deal of equipment, and a full division had retreated the wrong way. (It eventually marched all the way back to Jackson, effectively out of the campaign.) Most of all, their unit cohesion had been broken, and they needed time to re-group. It was time that Grant had no intention of giving them. He pushed the pursuit as hard as he could, until it became too dark for men to see the roads they marched on.
In the meantime, back at the city of Jackson, Sherman and his corps had been completing the job of destruction. He had already sent one division on the road, which reached Champion Hill just in time, when he received orders to hurry the rest of his command to Grant's force. Sherman's men hastily finished their work:
Just as I was leaving Jackson, a very fat man came to see me, to inquire if his hotel, a large, frame building near the depot, were doomed to be burned. I told him we had no intention to burn it, or any other house, except the machine-shops, and such buildings as could easily be converted to hostile uses. He professed to be a law-abiding Union man, and I remember to have said that this fact was manifest from the sign of his hotel, which was the "Confederate Hotel;" the sign "United States" being faintly painted out, and "Confederate" painted over it! I remembered that hotel, as it was the supper-station for the New Orleans trains when I used to travel the road before the war. I had not the least purpose, however, of burning it, but, just as we were leaving the town, it burst out in flames and was burned to the ground.
--Memoirs of General W. T. Sherman
< Message edited by Capt. Harlock -- 5/16/2013 4:50:45 AM >