Vivid Experiences at Champion Hill, Miss.
from the Confederate Veteran, January 1910
Just at sunrise on May 16, 1863, three days before General Grant invested Vicksburg, the left wing of Grant's army opened the engagement at Champion Hill with artillery which lasted some time before a general engagement followed with musketry front all along the line. I belonged to Company F, of the 19th Arkansas Regiment, commanded by Col. Tom P. Dockery, then attached to Green's Brigade and Bowen's Division.
When the Federal battery opened we were lying just over the brow of the hill on our extreme right, where we had lain since about two o'clock that morning. The firing commenced from the batteries which were in our immediate front, and we moved out on top of the hill and a little to our left in plain view of the batteries, but did not answer them. They were not firing at us, but at some troops that were marching to the attack near the Champion negro quarters and about the center of our line. Some general and his staff were near by watching the maneuvering of Grant's army. The hill was high with a plain view and about half a mile or more southeast of the negro quarters on the road leading toward Grand Gulf.
I could not see that their batteries were doing any great damage. However, it was one of Colonel Dockery's hobbies to volunteer to take some battery or storm some difficult stronghold with his legion, as he often called the old 19th Regiment, which was a good-sized one then.
The Colonel had just volunteered to take his regiment and capture that battery. He was refused, but shortly got a job without volunteering. There was some heavy fighting going on near the center at this time, and occasionally a courier would come dashing up. By this time several officers had congregated near us, with Colonel Dockery in their midst. He had just ridden back to where we were when some fellow came down the road as if racing for life. He rode up to the little bunch and halted. Colonel Dockery was given orders to take his regiment and reenforce (somebody) in the center. As the adjutant rode off Colonel Dockery, as cool as an ice-berg, gave the command: "Attention, load at will; load." My heart got right in my mouth, and I believe every other fellow was in like condition; but not a word was spoken by any one. The next order was: "Forward, double-quick, march." As we passed the squad of officers one of them said: "Turn in at those quarters." When we got there, Colonel Dockery had preceded us and was sitting on his horse as cool as ever and gave a ringing command, "Halt on the right; by file into line; double-quick, march;" and quickly we were in line and facing a regiment of thoroughly routed soldiers. I should like to know who they were. The next command was: "Fix bayonets and hold fire until ordered." With a forward march we passed those troops that were falling back, and then we were ordered to charge. We had caught the enemy with empty guns, and they gave way easily. We were charging up the long slope from the negro quarters to the highest peak of Champion Hill and almost parallel with the public road to Bolton. At the top of the hill we met another long line of blues climbing the steep hill. They were within eighty feet of us when we gained the top of the hill, and without orders it seemed as if every mail in our ranks fired at once. Never before nor since have I ever witnessed such a sight. The whole line seemed to fall and tumble head-long to the bottom of the hill. Ill a moment they came again, and we were ready and again repulsed them. And again and again for several hours in this way we held them at bay, when we charged them and gained the top of the next hill, the spindle top to which place Gen. S. D. Lee always contended the Arkansas troops advanced.
Last February on my way from New Orleans I stopped off at Edwards, three or four miles west of the battlefield and in company with Captain Montgomery, of that place, visited the old battlefield. Captain Montgomery informed me that prior to the death of General Lee he, General Lee, and a Federal general, whose name I have forgotten, went out there to look over the field. General Lee contended that the Arkansas troops ascended to the top of the second and last high hill, when the Federal officer contended that we got no farther than where we had contested our ground so long on the top of the first hill. I could convince him that we advanced to the top of the last hill.
When we reached there we were ordered to fall back, as we were being flanked by Logan's Division. About twenty of us, mostly from my company, were left to cover the retreat, being sharpshooters. We stopped ill a hollow that headed up near the Bolton road. After waiting until the command was clearly out of sight, six of our number. Hat Hogg. Billy Watts, Joel Moody, Frank Smith, a half-blood Indian by the name of Busic, and I, went out where we could see over the hilltop. A regiment of Federal infantry was just filing out of the big road to our right and about eighty yards away and advancing at trail arms ill an oblique direction toward us, their commanding officer riding just in front and to our right. When they had covered about half of the distance between us, Billy Watts knelt beside a little oak tree and fired, when the officer fell as if (lead or mortally wounded. Each of us singled out a man and fired. Immediately I primed my gull, a Springfield rifle, and was loading it and watching for another shot and walking backward down the hill, dragging my gun butt on the ground, intending to get my man when they came over the hill, and had just rammed the ball home when my foot came in contact with a root of a huckleberry bush that had been rooted up and I fell sprawling with my head down hill and before I could recover they were upon us. They fired a volley just as I fell, and I have always felt that the fall saved my life. The next instant they were at us with bayonets. I raised on my right elbow just as a big fellow was in the act of thrusting his bayonet through me and fired. The muzzle of my gun was within four feet of his breast and loaded with a Springfield rifle ball and a steel ramrod.
I had fallen within ten feet of the hollow where we had previously been. With what strength I had left I sprang over the precipice of the cave; but before I could scramble down the lifeless corpse of my antagonist preceded me with a heavy thud in the slush below. In the next minute we were prisoners of war and passed by where Billy Watts had killed the officer just as they were conveying him off. I noticed then that it was not over forty yards from where he fell to the public road leading to Bolton.
We were carried in that road and taken to a ginhouse about three hundred yards in the direction of Bolton. A negro cabin now stands on the spot where the ginhouse was. It is about two hundred yards from where we were captured and in a line from where we fired our last volley.
About two hundred yards from where we were captured and in a line from where we fired our last volley we passed General Grant and his staff. General Grant was dressed in a fatigue suit with a blouse coat, similar to those worn by the private soldiers. He wore no insignia of rank. After some little stops, he rode up the hill in the direction where we were captured. From the direction we fired and the time that elapsed after our last volley I am satisfied that General Grant and his escort were in range of our rifles and in line with that volley.
Now if that Federal general of whom Captain Montgomery, of Edwards, Miss., spoke as saying we did not reach the top of the last hill toward Bolton will call to memory the above incident, he will be convinced that we captured the last hilltop before we were made prisoners and that that officer was killed by the last firing on the field.
Perhaps some of those fellows who captured us are still living and will concur in what I have said. Comrades Hogg and Moody are still living in Union County, Ark. Moody received a wound through his right shoulder by one of the last guns fired, fell in the cave below, and was made prisoner with the rest of us.
I should like to know about the officer who was killed and the regiment that captured us. I think he was a colonel and of Ohio or Pennsylvania troops.
While visiting there last February, after the lapse of forty-five years, I found the field well preserved and could locate all the surroundings. The tree where Billy Watts knelt when he killed that officer is green and still standing. I should like to hear front or about Billy Watts. He belonged to Company G, 19th Arkansas Volunteers, while I belonged to Company F. We went to prison together and were confined first at Camp Morton, Ind., for about a month, and were sent from there to Fort Delaware for three months, thence to Point Lookout, Md., and were paroled at City Point, Va., December 27, 1863. I rejoined my command near Camden, Ark., while General Steele was in possession of that place.
When I returned to my command I found Colonel Dockery promoted to brigadier general, promoted for bravery at Champion Hill, Farmington. Corinth, Hatchey Bridge, Iuka, all of which battles were inscribed on our battle flag. It found a watery grave in the hands of Captain Godbold who perished with it in the Big Black River on the morning of May 17, 1863, as our command was falling back into Vicksburg No officer was truer or braver than Captain Godbold, and he sacrificed his life rather than see his colors in the hands of the enemy. Heaven bless that noble soldier!
The Natchez Democrat says of General Dockery's war record: "A more gallant soldier never wore the gray. With his own means he equipped the 19th Arkansas Regiment. He became its colonel, and served with distinction in Cabell's Brigade at Corinth. Miss. His men were devotedly attached to him and were fond of telling that he never said 'Go on,' but 'Come on,' in the thickest of the battle. He was in Bowen's Division at Vicksburg, and there he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. He was one of the leaders at the battle of Baker's Creek and Big Black; but perhaps he served with most credit for unflinching bravery and military skill at Champion Hill. Here his men did notorious fighting and were cut to pieces. The General had two fine horses shot under him and barely escaped himself. He was known afterwards as 'the hero of Champion Hill'."
General Dockery was loved by his friends and dreaded by his enemies. His Christian spirit reminds us that the loving and the daring and the bravest are the tenderest.
He died in New York City on Saturday, February 26, 1898, and was laid to rest in the Natchez Cemetery March 5. The pallbearers were Confederates - viz.: Capt. James W. Lambert, T. Otis Baker, S. E. Reamble, and Maj. John Rawls.
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