A short time afterward Grant rode rapidly to the front himself, arriving on the field about ten o’clock.
Continuing Fall of Vicksburg,
our selection from A Campaign Life of U. S. Grant by Charles A. Dana and by James H. Wilson published in 1868. The selection is presented in five installments for 5 minute daily reading. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Fall of Vicksburg.
Time: May 16, 1863
Place: Vicksburg, Mississippi
Grant in person left Jackson on the morning of the 15th, and encamped that night at Clinton. Before daylight on the 16th he was informed by two citizens just from Vicksburg that they had passed Pemberton’s entire army, estimated at twenty-five or thirty thousand men, the evening before, at Baker’s Creek, and still marching toward Bolton. Their information was so explicit and circumstantial that Grant dispatched a staff officer at once to McPherson and McClernand with orders to prepare for a general battle, but not to bring on the action till all the troops were thoroughly in hand. A short time afterward he rode rapidly to the front himself, arriving on the field about ten o’clock. He found Hovey’s division with artillery posted and drawn out in line of battle at Champion’s plantation, on the Ed wards Depot road, two miles east of Baker’s Creek; McPherson’s corps was in readiness to support Hovey; McClernand, with Carr and Osterhaus, occupied a position on the same line, on the middle road from Raymond to Edwards’s Depot, but about a mile and a half to the left of Hovey; while Blair and A. J. Smith were still farther to the left, converging on the same point. Sherman at the same time was well on the way from Jackson.
Grant threw forward Logan’s division to the right of Hovey, and gave the latter orders to advance. The skirmishing had already become pretty hot, and by twelve o’clock the troops of both armies were in full battle array. A prelude of sharp skirmishing, with an occasional shot from the cannon of either side, introduced the terrible shock of arms that followed. The Confederates held the advantage in position, their lines being formed along the heavily wooded ridges lying in the bend of Baker’s Creek. Their center on the main road held Champion’s Hill, the key point of the field. Upon this point Hovey impelled his enthusiastic men with terrible vigor, and by two o’clock had carried it in the handsomest manner, capturing four guns and several hundred prisoners. The enemy did all in his power to withstand the onset, but was steadily pressed back. Logan advanced almost simultaneously with Hovey, pushing through an open field, along the northern slopes of Champion’s Hill, and also driving back the enemy in his front. In the meantime, the enemy had rallied in Hovey’s front and, being strongly reinforced, threw themselves upon him with great determination, in their turn pressing him back and threatening to wrest from him the heights he had gained at such a fearful cost.
At this critical juncture McPherson, who had fortunately brought forward Crocker’s division and posted it behind the interval between Hovey and Logan, under Grant’s direction, ordered it at once to the support of Hovey, whose hard-pressed regiments were now greatly fatigued and some of them entirely out of ammunition. Boomer’s brigade, on the left, was marched rap idly by the flank to the top of the hill, and reached it just in time to catch the full force of the Confederate onset. For fifteen minutes the rattle of musketry was incessant. At the same time several batteries had been collected near Grant’s headquarters, and converging their fire upon the woods from which the enemy was emerging, Boomer was enabled to drive them back with great loss. McPherson and Logan were meanwhile swinging the right of the line well forward, steadily driving the enemy, and finally overlapping his left and striking him in the flank and rear, capturing two batteries and nearly a thousand prisoners. This movement, in connection with Boomer’s splendid assault, resulted in driving the enemy from the field, broken and routed. By four o’clock they were fleeing in confusion rapidly toward Vicksburg. McClernand, although frequently ordered, did not succeed in getting either Carr or Osterhaus heavily engaged. Smith and Blair were too far to the left to produce any decided effect, although their artillery and skirmishers were engaged with Loring’s division for a short time. Ransom marched across the country toward the heaviest firing and joined McPherson after the action had ceased.
The victory could scarcely have been more complete, and, as has been seen, it was gained almost entirely by three divisions -— Hovey’s, Logan’s, and Crocker’s -— not exceeding fifteen thousand men in all, while the Confederates could not have been fewer than twenty-five thousand. The Southern historians excuse this defeat also on the ground that they were vastly outnumbered; and it is true that Grant had in the short space of twenty-four hours transformed the rear of his army into the full front of it, concentrating about thirty-five thousand men in all within supporting distance of each other, but it is also true that he won the battle with less than one-half of this force. His combinations were admirable; nothing in warfare was ever more praiseworthy, and had McClernand forced the fighting in his immediate front, as did Hovey, Boomer, and Logan, under Grant’s immediate super vision, it is difficult to see how any part of the enemy’s forces could have escaped. As it was, they lost about 500 killed, including General Tilghman, 2,200 wounded, and 2,000 prisoners, besides 18 guns and a large number of small arms. Grant’s loss (mostly in Hovey’s division and Boomer’s brigade) was 426 killed, 1,842 wounded, and 189 missing; total, 2457.
The pursuit was continued to Edwards’s Depot that night, the leading troops capturing at that place an ammunition-train of ten or twelve railroad-cars. At dawn of the 17th the pursuit was renewed in the direction of Vicksburg; and by seven o’clock McClernand’s advance, under Osterhaus and Carr, came up with the Confederate rear-guard posted in strong intrenchments nearly a mile in extent, covering the railroad and military bridges across the Big Black. These divisions were developed without delay under a strong fire from the Confederate artillery, during which Osterhaus was wounded. Carr held the right, his right brigade, commanded by General Lawler, resting upon the Big Black. After some desultory artillery firing and skirmishing, Lawler found a weak place on the extreme left of the enemy’s works, and lost no time in leading his brigade, composed of Iowa and Wisconsin men, to the assault. Advancing across an open field several hundred yards in width, they received a deadly fire, but without faltering they rushed gallantly through the ditch and over the breastworks, sweeping away all opposition and capturing eighteen guns and nearly two thousand prisoners. In this gallant affair Colonel Kinsman of the Twenty-third Iowa was killed, and Colonel Merrill of the Twenty-first was wounded -— both, while cheering forward their men in the most conspicuous manner.
We want to take this site to the next level but we need money to do that. Please contribute directly by signing up at https://www.patreon.com/history