The Battle of Champion Hill
Military Park, Mississippi
Harper's Weekly sketch of the Battle of Champion Hill. (Mississippi Department of Archives & History)
Events preceding the battle of Champion's Hill emphasized the opposing tactical views held by the two Confederate commanders. Pemberton believed the retention of Vicksburg so imperative that no move that might endanger the city should be considered. It was Johnston's view that Admiral Porter's successful passage of the batteries and Grant's approach from the rear had already doomed the city, and that it was consequently valuable only for the military supplies and troops which it contained. Johnston believed that the South's only chance to prevent loss of the Mississippi was for Pemberton and himself to join forces and fight the great battle, which might smash and destroy Grant's Army.
On the morning of May 14, Pemberton, at Edwards Station, received the dispatch from Johnston (a copy of which Grant had already intercepted) informing him of the position of Union troops at Clinton, between the two Confederate forces, and ordering him "if practicable, come up on his [Grant's] rear at once." Pemberton considered the order "suicidal." Convinced that Johnston's recent arrival on the field and separation from the main body did not give him sufficient information to survey the situation accurately, Pemberton called a council of war and placed the order before his commanders. Although a majority of his council favored obedience to Johnston's order, Pemberton was unwilling to endorse a movement which might endanger Vicksburg. It was decided to move instead against Grant's supposed communications which were believed essential to the Union Army's existence away from the river.
On May 15, Pemberton marched to the southeast with 17,000 men, his route further separating him from Johnston to the north. Grant, meanwhile, prepared to head westward, his line of march threatening to pierce the gap between Johnston and Pemberton and beat both of them in the race for Vicksburg. On the morning of the 16th, a second order was received from Johnston ordering Pemberton to move to the north and join Johnston. This order was obeyed, but as Pemberton's troops were countermarching they were struck by Union troops.
The battle of Champion's Hill centered around a crescent-shaped ridge of about 75 feet elevation near the Champion plantation home and involved three parallel roads leading from Edwards Station to Raymond. Each of Pemberton's three divisions - led by General Bowen, General Loring, and Maj. Gen. Carter L. Stevenson - covered one of these roads. The battle opened shortly before noon on the 16th when Brig. Gen. A. P. Hovey's Union Division, supported by Logan's Division, attacked along the north road which passed over the slope of Champion's Hill. From the crest of the hill, Stevenson's Confederate Division opened a heavy fire on the advancing Union lines which steadily mounted the ridge, driving the Confederates back and capturing 11 guns. To meet this threat to the Confederate left flank, Bowen's Division was shifted to the north to prevent a breakthrough. Re-forming his lines, Bowen counterattacked the ridge position. He dislodged the Federal infantry, driving them from the slope, and recaptured all but two of the lost guns.
Grant, in turn, was now compelled to reinforce his hard pressed right, and at 3:30 p.m. massed Union batteries concentrated fire on the ridge. The Federal infantry followed with heavy and repeated attacks along the entire line, and for the third time the hill changed hands. Pemberton was unable to rally his troops against these attacks, and the divisions of Bowen and Stevenson began to retreat toward Baker's Creek. Loring was detailed to hold the road open for the withdrawal of the Confederate Army. Before Loring could rejoin the main body, after its crossing of the stream the Union Army secured the crossings. Loring was thus cut off, and he was only able to join Johnston after a long 3-day march around the Union Army. Pemberton retreated toward Vicksburg and that night took position at Big Black River, 12 miles east of the city.
The battle of Champion's Hill (or Baker's Creek) was the bloodiest action of the Vicksburg campaign. The numbers actually engaged were relatively equal, although a large Union reserve was close at hand. Pemberton lost nearly 4,000 men, not counting the entire division of Loring which was lost to his army. Grant listed casualties of 2,500, with Hovey losing one-third of his entire division killed and wounded.
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