"In the interval between the assaults of the 19th and 22d, roads had been completed from the Yazoo River and Chickasaw Bayou, around the rear of the army, to enable us to bring up supplies of food and ammunition; ground had been selected and cleared, on which the troops were to be encamped, and tents and cooking utensils were brought up. The troops had been without these from the time of crossing the Mississippi up to this time. All was now ready for the pick and spade."***
[Siege of Vicksburg, By Kurz and Allison - Source: Library of Congress, Public Domain.]
Since we left my great great grandfather Dick Worden and his 24th Iowa Infantry Regiment at the beginning of the month, just after the battle of Port Gibson, he and his comrades had marched to Jackson, Mississippi's state capitol which was captured by Generals Sherman and McPherson's troops on May 14th.
Two days later the 24th Iowa (Hovey's Division, Slack's Brigade) had taken a very active part in what was a key battle of the Vicksburg campaign at Champion Hill after federal forces turned west to attack the "Gibraltar of the Confederacy." From Timothy B. Smith's 2006 book on the battle**** we learn of the atmosphere in camp before the battle as remembered by Quartermaster Sergeant Charles A. Longley of the 24th Iowa.*****
"[T]he men passed the time that morning by horsing around and telling jokes. 'But the jokes were not able-bodied nor the laughter natural,' he wrote. some men prayed and other made 'mental promises of amendment.'...Those who did not think prayer would save them scribbled small notes for comrades to carry back to loved ones--just in case. While the men occupied their time in the multitude of ways men do in advance of combat, 'the imperturbable face of the great commander appear[ed],' recalled Longley. Seeing Grant was 'a welcome though brief diversion.' The general took a look around, asked a question Longley did not hear, and rode on."For a description of the battle here's General Hovey recalling the events of that day for an inquiring reporter from the Indianapolis Journal in 1885:
“By the way,” Hovey said, “I think I can tell you something about Grant on another occasion. The battle of Champion Hills was one of the bloodiest of the war. The division I commanded belonged to McClernand’s corps. By a delay caused by my division being ordered to make a feint on the enemy’s lines near Baker’s Creek, while the main army passed round the west flank of the enemy toward Bolton Station, my division became detached from the main corps to which it belonged. We first came in sight of the enemy near what is now called Champion Hills. At that time, my division was on the extreme right – the main body of McClernand’s corps being something two or three miles to the left.
“As soon as the enemy was perceived, scouts were sent out to ascertain as far as possible his real condition. Gen. James R. Slack commanded one brigade in my division and Gen. George F. McGinnis the other. Here we waited some 30 or 40 minutes with the enemy’s cannons on the hill in full view. Gen. Grant rode up and I pointed out to him the enemy’s position. His headquarters were at the Champion’s house. I asked him if I should advance. He said, ‘Not yet; wait till McPherson comes up on your right and takes position to support you.’ Gen. McPherson’s and Gen. John A. Logan’s forces soon arrived, and as soon as they got in position I again asked Gen. Grant if I should make the attack to which he laconically answered, ‘Yes.’
“Slack’s brigade bore off to the left, and McGinnis’s to the right. McGinnis struck the battery full, but Slack diverged a little to the left. It was a close hand-to-hand fight between McGinnis’ boys and the rebels over the battery and the guns were ours. Both brigades then advanced to a second battery, perhaps a quarter of a mile in the rear of the one we had captured, and after a fierce fight took that also. But the enemy, reinforced, returned in great numbers and drove us back to the location of the first battery.
"We made a second charge and the second battery was again taken. Again with overwhelming force the enemy pressed my force back down from the brow of the hill beyond the first battery. This was a critical moment. My men were fighting stubbornly, but against almost overpowering odds. If the centre had been broken our army would have been divided into two parts. There were 28 [16 according to the Official Records] pieces of artillery under my command and again being reinforced I placed those 28 pieces on a mound in a graveyard, and with shot, shell, and canister poured an enfilading fire into the advancing hosts. The place was well timbered and thick with underbrush, but it was mowed almost as with a scythe. They couldn’t stand that fire and swung back. Logan came in on the right and took several thousand prisoners. The enemy gave way and Loring’s force broke off from the rebel line and rushed back to Jackson. This was as I said before, the bloodiest fight of the whole campaign."
[Battle of Champion Hill, Sketched by Mr. Theodore R. Davis. Harper's Weekly, Volume: 1863, Issue: 06/20, Page 393.
Source: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.]
General Grant's observations about Champion Hill, from his memoirs:******
"The battle of Champion's Hill lasted about four hours, hard fighting, preceded by two or three hours of skirmishing, some of which almost rose to the dignity of battle. Every man of Hovey's division and of McPherson's two divisions was engaged during the battle. No other part of my command was engaged at all, except that as described before. Osterhaus's and A. J. Smith's divisions had encountered the rebel advanced pickets as early as half-past seven. Their positions were admirable for advancing upon the enemy's line. McClernand, with two divisions, was within a few miles of the battle-field long before noon and in easy hearing. I sent him repeated orders by staff officers fully competent to explain to him the situation. These traversed the wood separating us, without escort, and directed him to push forward; but he did not come. It is true, in front of McClernand there was a small force of the enemy and posted in a good position behind a ravine obstructing his advance; but if he had moved to the right by the road my staff officers had followed the enemy must either have fallen back or been cut off. Instead of this he sent orders to Hovey, who belonged to his corps, to join on to his right flank. Hovey was bearing the brunt of the battle at the time. To obey the order he would have had to pull out from the front of the enemy and march back as far as McClernand had to advance to get into battle and substantially over the same ground. Of course I did not permit Hovey to obey the order of his intermediate superior.
We had in this battle about 15,000 men absolutely engaged. This excludes those that did not get up, all of McClernand's command except Hovey. Our loss was 410 killed, 1,844 wounded and 187 missing. Hovey alone lost 1,200 killed, wounded and missing—more than one-third of his division."The Civil War Trust has an excellent map of the Battle of Champion Hill here. At HistoryNet you can find a series of maps showing the progress of the battle. This site has photos of the historic markers relating to Champion Hill but we're a few days too late to attend this year's 153rd anniversary of the battle.
Having safely gotten my ancestor through the terrible events of this day, next week I'll examine what his experiences might have been before his regiment arrived in front of Vicksburg.
*According to Grant the Union army under his command now numbered 40,000 spread out along a line 15 miles long. The defenders' line was less than half that.
**Smithsonian Magazine has a video describing the siege here.
***From Personal Memoirs of U. S. Grant; Chapter XXXVIII SIEGE OF VICKSBURG. here.
**** Smith, Timothy B. Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg. El Dorado Hills, CA: Savas Beatie, 2006. 978-1932714197. (paperback, page 171)
*****He was in Company G; Dick Worden in Company C.
******Chapter XXXV. As you can tell from the text, Grant didn't like McClernand, a "political" general who didn't hesitate to go over Grant's head when he wanted to complain about something.
© 2016 Copyright, Christine Manczuk, All Rights Reserved.