Say What Saturday: The Fight to Hold Champion Hill

alan polk

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The below account describes the fate of two Confederate organizations, the Botetourt (Virginia) Artillery and three regiments of Cumming’s Georgia brigade, atop the crest of Champion Hill on May 16, 1863.
Since little is known about the battle, I will give a brief description. I apologize for the length of this piece beforehand, but I had an abundance of time during this pandemic. For those who want to skip to the main action, just scroll down to Part 2 – W. Alan Polk

PART I


1.​

On May 15, 1863, three Confederate divisions, under the command of Lieutenant-General John Pemberton, marched out of Edwards Depot with the intent of getting astride Grant’s line of communication. The target was a place called Dillon’s Plantation on the Cayuga-Port Gibson Road, some nine or ten miles to the southeast.

Hardly a regiment in the column looked the same – butternut, yellow, or white uniforms were nearly as common among the units as grey – giving the army a multihued appearance as it clanked along the dirt road. But the men were well armed and marched as one beneath battle flags snapping in the breeze.

Heavy rains the day before, however, had inundated the countryside and flooding caused long delays. As a result, the army did not get far, moving no more than four or five miles as the crow flies. By the time it crossed the only remaining bridge over Bakers Creek, it was nearly dark.

Once across the rain-swollen stream, the army turned south at an intersection where the bulk of the army camped along the Ratliff Road – a country path of over two miles distance running north and south. The head of the column camped at its juncture with the Raymond Road while the rear of the column bivouacked all the way back at the intersection where three roads converged: The Jackson, Middle and Ratliff roads. History would come to call this juncture “the crossroads.”

And, so, this is how it came to be that some 24,000 butternuts found themselves bivouacked in line of march instead of line of battle, with both flanks dangling in the air and a flooded creek to their backs.

Across the way, General Grant was wise to the movement and had been converging on Pemberton’s army all day by three main roads. By nightfall, a large portion of Grant’s army was in position and camped within cannon shot of the Rebels.

Years later, some Confederates would claim to have seen the enemy’s campfires twinkling in the east. If so, not a soul told Pemberton that night.

The wolf was in the henhouse.

2.
Dawn next morning sized up to be an easy one for the Confederates. With a cloudless sky and the land beaming under the new-green shine of spring, the day’s march looked to be unhurried, if not leisurely.

But not long after the first blush of daylight, the scattered popping of muskets could be heard in the distance, wafting in the air from the east. Future historians would come to know that it meant certain trouble, or that a spy had betrayed the Confederates. But at the time, Yankee cavalry were known to be hovering around in the distance like wolves sizing up its prey.

To most butternuts that morning, it was an issue for pickets. So, other than a few sidelong glances in that direction, soldiers continued kindling campfires and waiting for the march to be taken up again.

What the men did not know, however, was that earlier that morning Pemberton had received a disturbing message - not about the enemy, of which he had heard nothing, but from General Joseph Johnston.

The dispatch informed Pemberton that Johnston’s army had abandoned Jackson, the state capital, and was withdrawing north toward Canton.

Infuriated that Pemberton was moving south toward Dillon’s Plantation, in completely the opposite direction from his own army, Johnston’s message ordered Pemberton to cease his movement to Dillon’s and to form a junction with his army in Clinton, Mississippi.

Pemberton would obey, but it meant he would have to recross Bakers Creek first.

It is about this time, however, that Pemberton first heard the crackle of enemy gunfire to his east.

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(Rough sketch showing Pemberton’s line of march from Edwards Depot to his camps east of Bakers Creek.)

There was a problem though – and not a single thing to do with the enemy. Reversing the line of march was proving more troublesome than expected.

What was once the rear was now the front. This meant the army’s supply train - nearly four hundred wagons loaded with tons of ammunition and provisions – was blocking the withdrawal.

The roadbed leading back to the creek was like a deep gulley, and the supply wagons, parked in the roadbed the night before, were still jammed between its narrow embankments facing east. There was no other bridge available to get west of the creek (the Raymond Road bridge had been washed away days earlier).

To get the lengthy supply train turned around and headed in the right direction, the embankments had to be cut down and widened first. Until then, the army was trapped east of Bakers Creek.

As if matters could not get any worse, the random musket fire in the east had swelled into a roaring clatter, with thumps of artillery mixed in for good measure. Soon, Confederate patrols operating on the Middle and Raymond roads began sending back troubling reports: Sizable enemy infantry and artillery were on the move.

Despite this growing alarm, the order to continue the retrograde movement across the creek stood firm. Panicked soldiers, armed with picks and shovels, hacked away at the road’s embankments while desperate teamsters whipped and cursed mules to get the wagons turned.

No firing had been heard north of the crossroads all morning, but the last thing the Rebels needed was for roving Yankee cavalry to swing around and attack the trapped wagons or burn the bridge in the army’s rear.

To add security to the withdrawal, General Stevenson’s chief of artillery ordered the Botetourt (Virginia) Artillery to move north of the crossroads to a ridge that locals called Champion’s Hill.

The Botetourt Artillery had already experienced its share of fighting during the campaign. At the battle of Port Gibson, the battery had lost some 40 soldiers and four of its cannons. Unfortunately, the Virginians had not been rearmed since then, leaving it with only two guns.

Nevertheless, the men complied with the order and rumbled about a half-mile up the Ratliff Road to Champion Hill.

The battery dropped trail on its crest, just west of the Jackson Road. The hill was a commanding position, but it was heavily timbered in places and scarred with deep ravines. Visibility, especially to the Virginian’s north, was limited.

The men milled about the hill waiting for word that the wagon train had been turned and that the army was about to move across Bakers Creek.

3​

Things began heating up for Pemberton. Strong skirmishing was going on along the Middle Road and the booming of artillery was increasing on the Raymond Road. In fact, four divisions of McClernand’s corps were moving along those roads.

Although Pemberton was unaware of the full extent of the threat bearing down on his army, he began to deploy his divisions to delay the enemy’s advance so the army could continue its retrograde movement.

Accordingly, he formed his divisions in line of battle, facing east along the Ratliff Road: Loring on the right, astride the Raymond Road, Bowen in the center, and Stevenson on the left, astride the Middle Road.

For the Virginians who were relaxing around their guns on Champion Hill, everything was quiet for the moment. No word of enemy activity up the Jackson Road was received.

But all that changed when Confederate cavalry came jingling up the road from their front.

Francis Obenchain, a sergeant in the Botetourt Artillery, recalled that one of the passing troopers calmly “told us the enemy was advancing.” Curiosity, probably more than surprise, caused a few of the men to creep forward through the trees to get a better look north of Champion Hill.

What they saw was spine-chilling. In the open fields to the north, they could see a full Federal division with thousands of bayonets glistening under the flash of hot sun.

They watched as the division uncoiled like a giant serpent, spreading out on each side of the Jackson Road, preparing, evidently, to attack the hill. The force proved to be General Alvin Hovey’s 12th division, from Major-General John McClernand’s 13th Corps.

The Virginians did not wait around to observe the scene for long. They jumped to their guns and prepared for action. If there was any saving grace at all, it was that they were atop a commanding knoll, partially hidden in timber.

Within minutes, officers were calling out distances, gunners punched fuses, and rounds of case-shot were sent screeching toward the blue formations.

At that critical moment in time, the only thing holding Pemberton’s left flank was two worn out smoothbores perched atop a ridge in the Mississippi countryside.

PART II

1.​
General S.D. Lee was busy skirmishing on the Middle Road when he got wind of the threat to his north. Realizing his flank was being turned, he acted on his own initiative. He immediately ordered his brigade out of line and had his men double-quick the 400 yards to Champion Hill.

When Lee arrived, the commander of the Botetourt Artillery, Captain J.W. Johnston, was more than thrilled to see the general. The Virginia guns were still booming away to the north.

Lee galloped up to the captain and hollered above the racket: “I am moving my brigade up on this high ground to protect the army’s left flank.” Lee’s brigade was still trekking up the ridge behind him. “They can’t get here fast enough, general.” Johnston replied.

Dismounting from his horse, Lee approached the crest to size up the problem. When he peered through the trees, he quickly saw that the situation was much worse than he thought.

There was not just one Federal division out there but two - some 10,000 bluejackets on the swarm.
This second division belonged to Major-General Logan of McPherson’s 17th Corps – their flags proudly unfurled and popping in the wind.

Narrow-eyed, Lee realized that Logan’s division was moving west, extending Hovey’s right flank, and he knew that if the movement went unchecked, Logan could eventually march unopposed into the army’s rear and capture the only bridge across Bakers Creek.

It became painfully clear to Lee that he would have to move his brigade to the left, farther west along the timber-covered ridge to mirror Logan’s movements. He simply had no choice. Doing so, however, would leave the Botetourt Artillery unsupported against Hovey’s division.

Lee blurted out the obvious: “We are not strong on this flank, and your position is not a good one for artillery, Captain.”

It was an understatement, indeed. Fearing that his only support was about to leave, Captain Johnston reminded Lee that Hovey’s entire division, probably 5,000 men, was at the bottom of the hill, about to attack his position.

“I will see that your guns are supported,” Lee responded above the din of artillery. The general mounted his horse to leave but briefly turned in his saddled to give one last order to the battery commander: “Hold your position.”

With that, Lee tapped his spurs and disappeared with his men into the thick timber on the Virginian’s left.

2.​

Back on the Ratliff Road, Major-General Carter Stevenson was in a fit. He was left with only two brigades to manage the disaster that was now developing to his north. With no reserves, he pulled Barton’s brigade off the Ratliff Road (sending it rearward some 1 ½ miles) to extend Lee’s left flank against Logan.

He then ordered General Cumming, whose brigade had just replaced Lee’s on the Middle Road, to scramble a portion of his brigade north to Champion Hill.

This put Cumming in a difficult position. His brigade would have to be in two places at once: The Middle Road, to defend against a Union advance from the east, and Champion Hill, some 400 yards away, to defend against Hovey’s advance from the north – and to do it with five regiments.

And so it was: Cumming left the 56th and 57th Georgia regiments (with six guns of Waddell’s Alabama Battery) to man the crossroads and took the remaining three regiments – the 34th, 36th and 39th Georgians - through the woods and then up the back slope of the long ridge toward Champion Hill. It was a leg-throbbing march through briars and thickets.

When Cumming reached the hill with his lead regiment (39th GA), he went in search of Lee’s right flank on the western end of the ridge.

Seeing this, and in desperate need of help, Captain Johnston pleaded with the men who were following Cumming to lend a few men to support the guns. They shrugged him off and continued west along the ridge, ducking into the scrub brush and thickets to find Lee’s flank.

General Cumming guided the 39th deeper into the woods and got near Lee’s right flank, but not close enough to see it. The terrain atop the ridge was thick and broken: “The line was drawn up on a succession of ridges and knolls heavily timbered,” Cumming would later report, “beyond which, at a distance generally of about 50 yards, the ground fell off abruptly.”

Time was running out for the Confederates. General Hovey had formed and was already advancing by brigades: McGinnis’s brigade was on the west side of the Jackson Road and Slack’s brigade on the east side of it. “As my division ascended the hill,” Hovey recalled, “its line conformed to the shape and became crescent-like, with the concave toward the hill.”

All along the hill, Cumming’s regiments scrambled to form some sort of defense. By manning the crest of the knoll, the line eventually formed two sides of a square with the men facing out: the 39th, and four companies of the 34th, faced north against McGinnis, while the 36th and the other four companies of the 34th faced east against Slack. The line conformed to the knoll and was essentially bent in the shape of a right angle.

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(Rough sketch of Cumming’s position atop the crest of Champion Hill.)

The Botetourt Artillery was positioned between the 39th Georgia on its left and the four companies of the 34th Georgia on its right. The battery was completely unsupported, and its own men were without small arms to defend the guns in case of close action. It was a mess.

Frustrated, Sergeant Obenchain tried to do what Captain Johnston had been unable to do earlier. He scurried over to the colonel of the 36th Georgia and made a passionate appeal for support:

“Colonel, I have tried to explain to the others passing by here. The enemy has formed by the thousands down the hill to the north. . . our guns do not have any infantry support, and if they attack we will lose them. We need your help.”

It worked. The colonel agreed to send a company to support the guns while the rest of the Georgia regiments completed their dispositions along the crest.

To the Virginians’ surprise, additional help arrived. Two guns from Waddell’s Alabama Battery suddenly rumbled up from the crossroads and dropped trail some ten feet to the right. There was little time to celebrate. In fact, the two units barely had time to speak to one another before the battle broke open in earnest.

Unfortunately, it would be the first test for the Georgians holding that hill. Before this fateful day, not a single man in Cumming’s regiments had experienced combat beyond the level of skirmishing. Worse still, General Cumming had been commanding the brigade for only three or four days. He barely knew his own field officers.

At this critical moment, no one, not even the men themselves, knew how they would react. It was, indeed, a sad circumstance. Three rookie regiments were about to receive their first baptism by fire facing down an entire enemy division.

3.​

And then it came in all its splendid horror. With full-throated roars, 5,000 Yankees surged up the slope. The crest of the hill erupted in a frenzy of smoke and flame.

Atop the beleaguered ridge, Georgians tore and rammed cartridges as fast as they could, firing their muskets down into the hoards ascending the slope.

The Botetourt Artillery and Waddell’s Battery switched to canister and blasted cans of cast-iron balls, shotgun-like, between the trees and toward the rising blue tide.

Unionists from Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Iowa hunched over against the storm, dribbling casualties as they came through the timber. “The thick growth of underbrush and vines, ravines, and hills made it very difficult to advance,” Colonel Slack remembered.

Yet the bluejackets came on, “loading and firing as they advanced.” Trees splintered, men fell, but Hovey’s columns did not waver.

Slack’s brigade slowly moved around the eastern slope, enveloping the hill like an inland tide while McGinnis’s men struck headlong against the north face of the hill.

The incline steepened, the footing hard; the men’s eyes glancing upward toward the enemy one second, then back down to keep their footing the next. Up on the crest, they could catch glimpses of the Georgians between trees, black against the skyline, loading and firing.

Some bluecoats returned the favor: One of the Yankees shuffling up the hill described a particular scene:

“You note [a Rebel] striving to find shelter behind a slender tree - he is reloading, and hastily withdrawing his rammer, uncovers the upper part of his body – instantly you aim and fire, and . . . he falls backward, throwing the useless gun over his head . . ..”

As Slack’s men attacked the eastern slope, General McGinnis’s men had worked their way up the northern face to within 75 yards of the crest.

A sulfuric haze of gun smoke enveloped the hill. But up there, General McGinnis could see the artillerymen, ghost-like in the smoke, loading rounds and about to fire a volley of canister.

He ordered his men to the ground just before the lanyards were pulled. “As soon as the volley of grape and canister had passed over us,” McGinnis wrote, “the order was given to charge.” His men leaped from the ground and mounted the crest, where they reformed and advanced across the wooded hilltop.

Cumming was dumbstruck. “Approaching unseen to within a distance of less than 50 yards,” he recalled, “the enemy poured in a very heavy and destructive volley.” The 39th Georgia, along with the artillery, and the four companies of the 34th Georgia, now faced the brunt of McGinnis’s brigade.

Company commanders did their best to stem the blue tide. With no rhetorical flourish at all, the inexperienced Georgians were fed into the meat grinder. They fell in windrows.

Clots of the enemy, now better oriented and still bloody-minded, caught a break between sheets of smoke and saw the Botetourt and Waddell’s guns to their left. Two Yankee regiments moved on the oblique and rushed the artillery, where it quickly became hand-to-hand.

Federals and Confederates swirled cheek by jowl, slinging musket butts and cracking skulls. Even the bayonet was deployed – one of the few times such weapons were used during the war.

For the Virginians and Alabamians, it was too late to move the guns – not now – all the battery horses were being shot down, still tethered to limbers, wailing, twisting in agony.

The Confederate line facing north broke all to flinders – first at one place then another.

Cumming, whose horse had been shot, rushed on foot to the point of the breach. But the situation was beyond fixing. It was now an individual’s fight where Confederate soldiers fought for their own self-possession. The smoke was heavy, and the men were barely visible in the haze. Musket fire became pink flashes in the thick smoke. All control was lost.


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(Harpers Weekly sketch of General McGinnis’s men assaulting the guns of Botetourt Virginia Artillery and Waddell’s Alabama Battery.)

Miraculously, Obenchain found himself standing amidst a clump of mangled bodies with throngs of victorious Yankees surrounding him.

But Yankee adrenaline was still surging; they quickly turned on the wounded battery horses tangled in their harnesses: “Some they shot and some they bayoneted,” the sergeant recalled.

Nearby, wounded Georgians squirmed in pain on the forest floor. The Federals were still brandishing their blood-stained bayonets. Obenchain tried his best to prevent more killing: “I begged them not to murder the men.”

Whether such appeal worked, he does not say. Around this time, however, McGinnis’s men realized the eastern side of Cumming’s square was still fighting – shooting down into Slack’s men as they neared the east crest of Champion Hill.

Distracted by new prey, McGinnis’s men rushed to aid their comrades and left Obenchain standing near the captured guns all alone. Surprised by his luck, he quickly took advantage of the distraction and slid into a nearby ravine and made his escape down the back slope through thick canebrake.

4.​

Sergeant Francis Obenchain found his way back to the crossroads just in time to watch the destruction of the 56th and 57th Georgia regiments, along with the four guns of Waddell’s battery, which had been left by Cumming on the Middle Road earlier. In fact, most, if not all, of the company commanders of the 57th Georgia were killed in the fighting.

Both Lee and Barton were driven from the field also.

Reinforcements did arrive, but it was too late to help Pemberton’s army. Bowen’s division tried to save the day – and they almost did. The Missourians and Arkansans – sharply dressed in grey uniforms and armed with Enfield rifles – came on the run, battle flags tilted. They swept through the crossroads and retook Champion Hill.

But without support, Bowen’s men eventually ran out of ammunition and had to withdraw from the field.

By the end of the day, Cumming’s brigade no longer existed as a combat unit and the Botetourt Artillery was a battery in name only, having lost all its guns.

Sergeant Obenchain would eventually make it across the Jackson Road Bridge later in the day, while General Cumming took to the woods and crossed over a snake-infested Bakers Creek. Both would retreat into Vicksburg.

- W. Alan Polk

Sources:

War of the Rebellion: The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 128 Vols (Washington, D.C., 1890-1901), Series 1, Vol. 24, Parts I and II

Michigan, Hudson Gazette, July 25, 1863

Sandersville, The Central Georgian, June 3, 1863. (Thanks to Laura Elliot for access to this newspaper.)

Due to the pandemic, the archives at VNMP was closed. Consequently, I was unable to retrieve original copies of Francis Obenchain’s letters. All quotes are taken from Timothy Smith’s, Champion Hill (see citation below).

Bearss, Edwin. The Vicksburg Campaign. Vol II. Dayton: Morningside House, Inc., 1985

Grabau, Warren. Ninety-Eight Days: A Geographer’s View of the Vicksburg Campaign. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 2000.

Smith, Timothy. Champion Hill: Decisive Battle for Vicksburg. El Dorado Hills: Savas Beatie LLC, 2012
 
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luinrina

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What @rebel brit said. Great read that brings back fond memories.

firstly is the old Ratliffe Rd now renamed the Military Road? and second, where on your map were we when I took this pic of the memorial to Ed Bearss.
I think you're a little too far southwest. At the juncture of D J Johnson Road and Billy Fields Road on Google Maps is a sign "The Crossroads", which would mean Billy Fields Road to the East was Middle Road and to the west became Jackson Road, and D J Johnson Road was Ratliff Road. A bith north of "The Crossroads" sign is a sign for "Hill of Death". Google Maps shows a picture of a historical marker telling about Hovey - which fits to Alan's post about the murderous action on Champion's Hill.

I'm not sure about the Ed Bearss marker but I think it was at the Crossroads too.

Here's the picture I took of Alan telling us of the actions at the Crossroads, just south of Champion Hill:
IMG_4792.JPG
 

RobertP

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Just excellent, Alan. I’ve never really completely understood the battle, it just always seemed like a confused mess and not explained clearly by the accounts I’ve read. This is a great help.

I’m intrigued by Pemberton’s plan to
move his army south to Dillon’s Plantation. Wouldn’t that have opened the door to Vicksburg? And also, Johnston’s order for Pemberton to join him at Clinton once he became aware of that move. Since he was evacuating Jackson for Canton, how would that be accomplished.?
 

rebel brit

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I think you're a little too far southwest. At the juncture of D J Johnson Road and Billy Fields Road on Google Maps is a sign "The Crossroads", which would mean Billy Fields Road to the East was Middle Road and to the west became Jackson Road, and D J Johnson Road was Ratliff Road. A bith north of "The Crossroads" sign is a sign for "Hill of Death". Google Maps shows a picture of a historical marker telling about Hovey - which fits to Alan's post about the murderous action on Champion's Hill.

I'm not sure about the Ed Bearss marker but I think it was at the Crossroads too.



Many thanks Lu, unless Alan tells us otherwise I think you're spot on.
In regard to the Ed Bearss Monument I checked my pics and you're right, it's located at the D.J Johnson Rd Junction /Crossroads.

IMG_4084.JPG
 

Pete Longstreet

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Alan, an excellent read and it brought back some great memories from last years trip.
I've just looked on Google maps to help get my bearings, 2 questions, firstly is the old Ratliffe Rd now renamed the Military Road? and second, where on your map were we when I took this pic of the memorial to Ed Bearss.
View attachment 358809
Like Foote, I could listen to Bearss talk about the war, all day, everyday.
 

3rdIndianaCav

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Pvt. John W. Kron, Co. F, 23rd Indiana Inf. (LtC Wm. P. Davis), 1st Brig. (J.E. Smith), 3rd Div. (John Logan), 17th Corps (McPherson)

It looks like the 23rd Indiana was in support of Rogers' D Battery of the 1st Illinois Light Art. and positioned behind the guns. They briefly came up against Lee's Alabama brigade, mainly Beck's 23rd Alabama as they tried to take Rogers' battery. This would have been around noon. The 23rd Indiana and 45th Illinois fired en masse into the 23rd Alabama halting their advance.

About 45 or so minutes later, Barton's Georgia brigade assaulted Smith and Leggett's brigade. The 23rd Indiana was almost directly opposed to the 41st Georgia. Barton's brigade was decimated and retreated in a rout.

Unfortunately, I have not found a lot of detail on either of these two engagements involving the 23rd Indiana. It was likely during one of these two that John W. Kron was shot through the right lung. He died 10 days later.
John W Kron.jpg
 

alan polk

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I’m intrigued by Pemberton’s plan to
move his army south to Dillon’s Plantation. Wouldn’t that have opened the door to Vicksburg?

The plan to move on Dillon’s was conceived through council of war in Edwards. At the time, Grant was moving toward Jackson but had left a couple divisions (AJ Smith and Blair) Southwest of Edwards on Grant’s line of communication.

If Pemberton had moved directly east toward Clinton as Johnston initially ordered, (there was an earlier message from Johnston telling Pemberton to move to Clinton) it would have indeed left the back door of Vicksburg open to AJ Smith and Blair.

This is why Pemberton decided to give AJ Smith and Blair battle near Dillon’s. The plan relied on Johnston holding Jackson though. Instead, Johnston gave up Jackson without much of a fight (combined with a spy who told Grant that Pemberton was advancing from Edwards) This freed Grant to move west from Jackson to intercept Pemberton.



And also, Johnston’s order for Pemberton to join him at Clinton once he became aware of that move. Since he was evacuating Jackson for Canton, how would that be accomplished.?

Yes. This did not make sense. In order to keep my post from turning into something much longer than it is, I kind of glazed over that.

But Pemberton realized it did not make sense at the time he received this message on the morning of Champion Hill. Johnston did not explain how his army would be able to meet Pemberton’s in Clinton if Johnston’s army was simultaneously moving north to Canton. The whole thing was a mess!
 

bdtex

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Great job @alan polk . I saw this last night but waited until this morning,the anniversary of the battle,to read it while drinking coffee. The way you described the maneuvering and deployment of the troops prior to the fight breaking out...I could feel the excitement and anxiety building up. There's a little guilt that goes with feeling that too. I've walked that ground and I read Tim Smith's book before doing it. It was a pretty savage fight. Some of that ground changed hands 2-3 times. It was the last day on earth for a lot of those men. Some of 'em are still there in burial trenches.

When I did the private tour with Sid Champion in February 2017, a timber company had just been in there harvesting some timber. The ground all around the hill was probably as close as it could be to the conditions at the time of the battle. The thickets, briars, ravines etc.....it still looks like that. I'll never forget that day. Thanks for taking me back there.
 

alan polk

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Great job @alan polk . I saw this last night but waited until this morning,the anniversary of the battle,to read it while drinking coffee. The way you described the maneuvering and deployment of the troops prior to the fight breaking out...I could feel the excitement and anxiety building up. There's a little guilt that goes with feeling that too. I've walked that ground and I read Tim Smith's book before doing it. It was a pretty savage fight. Some of that ground changed hands 2-3 times. It was the last day on earth for a lot of those men. Some of 'em are still there in burial trenches.

When I did the private tour with Sid Champion in February 2017, a timber company had just been in there harvesting some timber. The ground all around the hill was probably as close as it could be to the conditions at the time of the battle. The thickets, briars, ravines etc.....it still looks like that. I'll never forget that day. Thanks for taking me back there.
Thank for the kind words, @bdtex. Yes, few words can describe the struggle and bloodshed that occurred there. Maybe one day it will develops into a park. As you know, the battlefield is still in the middle of nowhere- which is a good thing. It is downright eerie today to stand at such a nondescript place like the crossroads - with no other human around for miles - knowing the horror which swept over that place long ago.
 

bdtex

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As you know, the battlefield is still in the middle of nowhere- which is a good thing. It is downright eerie today to stand at such a nondescript place like the crossroads - with no other human around for miles - knowing the horror which swept over that place long ago.
Yep. Except among diehards like us, Champion Hill gets little attention. Some folks driving through there would have no idea what happened there unless they stop and read the markers. Standing there at the crossroads you can still see part of the old Jackson Road roadbed. Even though the Champion family sold off a chunk of the hill to a gravel company, it's still a prominent topographical landmark. I'm glad development hasn't taken over the battlefield. As I recall,the State of Mississippi owns most of the battlefield acreage around the land still owned by the Champion family.
 

3rdIndianaCav

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Pvt. John Polk Deatrick (Detrick), Co. K, 59th Indiana Infantry (Col. Jesse Alexander), 1st Brigade (Sanborn), 7th Division (Crocker), 17th Corps (McPherson).

The 59th Indiana and 4th Minnesota were tasked with protecting DeGolyer's Battery, 8th Mich. Art., the 59th Indiana on the left and 4th Minnesota on the right of the Battery. They remained there until they were called up to support the left of Leggett's brigade. There they found the lonely 46th Alabama (Lee's brigade) which had gotten separated and far in front of their other regiments. The 59th Indiana and 4th Minnesota fairly surrounded the 46th Alabama forcing the surrender of nearly the entire regiment. The 59th Indiana came away with the colors of the 46th Alabama.

Perhaps John Deatrick was able to take some joy from the capture of the enemy flag or from the remembrance of seeing the flag of the 59th Indiana waft from the top of the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson. Doubtful either were much consolation as John lay dying for the next 12 days from the gunshot wound he received during the fighting described above. He would die on May 28 (the Indiana archives has it incorrectly as July 1).

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Ole Miss

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@alan polk congratulations on a well researched and written thread. Champion Hill was a nasty fight that took place in a phone booth sized area. With so many units jammed together, it was a confused melee as you mentioned with the various colored uniforms in a dusty road environment.
This is a difficult battle to explain but you have done very well as mentioned by @RobertP above.
I certainly hope you and your family are staying safe during this scourge hitting us now.
Regards
David
 

bdtex

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I forgot to mention that the maps you included were helpful. It's been over 3 years since I have done any in-depth reading about Champion Hill and I had forgotten how far left the Confederates had to extend their line to keep it from being turned and cut off. Also, I remember from my reading that like a lot of Civil War battles, there were moments when it came close to being a complete rout for both sides.
 

alan polk

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@alan polk congratulations on a well researched and written thread. Champion Hill was a nasty fight that took place in a phone booth sized area. With so many units jammed together, it was a confused melee as you mentioned with the various colored uniforms in a dusty road environment.
This is a difficult battle to explain but you have done very well as mentioned by @RobertP above.
I certainly hope you and your family are staying safe during this scourge hitting us now.
Regards
David
Thank you, sir! We are well. I hope you and your family are doing okay as well. I’m hoping I will be able to make the September trip to Shiloh but not sure yet. It’ll be good to see you and the others again!
 

bdtex

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Alan, an excellent read and it brought back some great memories from last years trip.
I've just looked on Google maps to help get my bearings, 2 questions, firstly is the old Ratliffe Rd now renamed the Military Road? and second, where on your map were we when I took this pic of the memorial to Ed Bearss.
View attachment 358809
That was not there when I visited in February 2017. Ed's wife was a Friend of Champion Hill too. The Friends of Champion Hill erected a memorial marker for her near the Champion Family Cemetery.

2017-02-11 10.10.50.jpg
 
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