American Civil War: Battle of Champion Hill

Ulysses S. Grant
Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant. Photograph Courtesy of the National Archives & Records Administration

 Battle of Champion Hill - Conflict & Date:

The Battle of Champion Hill was fought May 16, 1863, during the American Civil War (1861-1865).

Armies & Commanders:

Union

Confederates

Battle of Champion Hill - Background:

In late 1862, Major General Ulysses S. Grant commenced efforts to capture the key Confederate fortress of Vicksburg, MS.

Situated high on the bluffs above the Mississippi River, the town was critical to controlling the river below. After encountering numerous difficulties in approaching Vicksburg, Grant elected to move south through Louisiana and cross the river below the town. He was assisted in this plan by Rear Admiral David D. Porter's flotilla of gunboats. On April 30, 1863, Grant's Army of the Tennessee began moving across the Mississippi at Bruinsburg, MS. Brushing aside Confederate forces at Port Gibson, Grant drove inland. With Union troops to the south, the Confederate commander at Vicksburg, Lieutenant General John Pemberton, began organizing a defense outside of the city and calling for reinforcements from General Joseph E. Johnston.

The majority of these were sent to Jackson, MS though their travel to the city was slowed by damage inflicted to the railroads by Colonel Benjamin Grierson's cavalry raid in April.

With Grant pushing northeast, Pemberton anticipated that Union troops would drive directly on Vicksburg and began withdrawing back towards the city. Able to keep the enemy off balance, Grant instead attacked towards Jackson with the goal of cutting the Southern Railroad which connected the two cities.

Covering his left flank with the Big Black River, Grant pressed ahead with Major General James B. McPherson's XVII Corps on the right and issued orders for it to proceed through Raymond to strike the railroad at Bolton. To McPherson's left, Major General John McClernand's XIII Corps was to sever the Southern at Edwards while Major General William T. Sherman's XV Corps was to attack between Edwards and Bolton at Midway (Map).

On May 12, McPherson defeated some of the reinforcements from Jackson at the Battle of Raymond. Two days later, Sherman drove Johnston's men from Jackson and captured the city.  Retreating, Johnston instructed Pemberton to attack Grant's rear. Believing this plan to be too dangerous and that it risked leaving Vicksburg uncovered, he instead marched against Union supply trains moving between Grand Gulf and Raymond.  Johnston reiterated his order on May 16 leading Pemberton to plan a countermarch northeast towards Clinton.  Having cleared his rear, Grant turned west to deal with Pemberton and begin the drive against Vicksburg.  This saw McPherson advance in the north, McClernand in the south, while Sherman, having completed operations at Jackson, brought up the rear.

Battle of Champion Hill - Contact: 

As Pemberton contemplated his orders on the morning of May 16, his army was strung out along the Ratliff Road from its intersection with the Jackson and Middle Roads south to where it crossed the Raymond Road.  This saw Major General Carter Stevenson's division at the northern end of the line, Brigadier General John S. Bowen's in the middle, and Major General William Loring's in the south.  Early in the day, Confederate cavalry encountered Union pickets from Brigadier General A.J. Smith's division from McClernand's XIII Corps near a roadblock Loring had erected on the Raymond Road.  Learning of this, Pemberton instructed Loring to hold off the enemy while the army commenced its march towards Clinton (Map).

Hearing the firing, Brigadier General Stephen D. Lee of Stevenson's division, became concerned about a potential threat up the Jackson Road to the northeast.

  Sending forward scouts, he deployed his brigade on nearby Champion Hill as a precaution.  Shortly after assuming this position, Union forces were spotted advancing down the road.  These were the men of Brigadier General Alvin P. Hovey's Division, XIII Corps.  Seeing the danger, Lee informed Stevenson who dispatched Brigadier General Alfred Cumming's brigade to form on Lee's right.  To the south, Loring formed his division behind Jackson Creek and turned back an initial attack by Smith's division.  This done, he assumed a stronger position on a ridge near the Coker House.

Battle of Champion Hill - Ebb and Flow:

Reaching the Champion House, Hovey spotted the Confederates on his front.  Sending forward the brigades of Brigadier General George McInnis and Colonel James Slack, his forces began engaging Stevenson's division.  Slightly to the south, a third Union column, led by Brigadier General Peter Osterhaus' XIII Corps division approached the field on the Middle Road but halted when it encountered a Confederate roadblock.  As Hovey's men prepared to attack, they were reinforced by Major General John A. Logan's Division from XVII Corps.  Forming on Hovey's right, Logan's men were moving into position when Grant arrived around 10:30 AM.  Ordering Hovey's men to attack, the two brigades began advancing.  Seeing that Stevenson's left flank was in the air, Logan directed Brigadier General John D. Stevenson's brigade to strike this area.  The Confederate position was saved as Stevenson rushed Brigadier General Seth Barton's men to the left.  Barely arriving in time, they succeeded covering the Confederate flank (Map).

Slamming into Stevenson's lines, McInnis and Slack's men began push the Confederates back.  With situation deteriorating, Pemberton directed Bowen and Loring to bring up their divisions.  As time passed and no troops appeared, a concerned Pemberton began riding south and rushed forward Colonel Francis Cockrell and Brigadier General Martin Green's brigades from Bowen's Division.

  Arriving on Stevenson's right, they struck Hovey's men and began driving them back over Champion Hill.  In a desperate situation, Hovey's men were saved by the arrival of Colonel George B. Boomer's brigade of Brigadier General Marcellus Crocker's division which helped stabilize their line.  As the rest of Crocker's division, the brigades of Colonels Samuel A. Holmes and John B. Sanborn, joined the fray, Hovey rallied his men and the combined force counterattacked.

Battle of Champion Hill - Victory Achieved:

As the line in the north began to waver, Pemberton became increasingly irate at Loring's inaction.  Possessing a deep personal dislike of Pemberton, Loring had realigned his division but had done nothing to shift men toward the fighting.  Committing Logan's men to fight, Grant began to overwhelm Stevenson's position.  The Confederate right broke first and was followed by Lee's men.  Storming forward, Union forces captured the entire 46th Alabama.  To further worsen Pemberton's situation, Osterhaus renewed his advance on the Middle Road.  Livid, the Confederate commander rode off in search of Loring.  Encountering Brigadier General Abraham Buford's brigade, he rushed it forward.

As he returned to his headquarters, Pemberton learned that Stevenson and Bowen's lines had been shattered.  Seeing no alternative, he ordered a general retreat south to the Raymond Road and west to a bridge over Bakers Creek.  While beaten troops flowed southwest, Smith's artillery opened on Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman's brigade which was still blocking the Raymond Road.  In the exchange, the Confederate commander was killed.  Retreating to Raymond Road, Loring's men attempted to follow Stevenson and Bowen's divisions over the Bakers Creek Bridge.  They were prevented from doing so by Union brigade that had crossed upstream and had turned south in an attempt to cut off the Confederate retreat.  As a result, Loring's Division moved south before circling around Grant to reach Jackson.  Fleeing the field, Stevenson and Bowen's divisions made for defenses along the Big Black River.

Battle of Champion Hill - Aftermath:

The bloodiest engagement of the campaign to reach Vicksburg, the Battle of Champion Hill saw Grant suffer 410 killed, 1,844 wounded, and 187 missing/captured while Pemberton incurred 381 killed, 1,018 wounded, and 2,441 missing/captured.  A key moment in the Vicksburg Campaign, the victory ensured that Pemberton and Johnston would not be able to unite.  Forced to begin falling back towards the city, Pemberton and Vicksburg's fate were essentially sealed.  Conversely, having been defeated, Pemberton and Johnston failed to isolate Grant in central Mississippi, cut off his supply lines to the river, and win a key victory for the Confederacy.  In the wake of the battle, Grant was critical of McClernand's inaction.  He firmly believed that had XIII Corps attacked with vigor, Pemberton's army could have been destroyed and the Siege of Vicksburg avoided.  After spending the night at Champion Hill, Grant continued his pursuit the next day and won another victory at the Battle of Big Black River Bridge. 

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