Memoir Chapter 12

MEMOIRS OF THE CIVIL WAR
W. L. TRUMAN


CHAPTER 12 – Champion Hill

It was now plain to all that Gen. Grant would land his army in Miss. unless Bowen could beat him back immediately; his little army was marched south of Port Gibson the same night, and made preparations to meet Grant early the next morning. Wade’s Battery moved down the right bank of the bayou Pierre and placed in position, after dark. The moon soon rose and the night was bright and beautiful. We were expecting a gunboat up the bayou that night, we stood guard all night, but no boat came. The fight commenced early the next morning May 1st, 1863, and was kept up regularly until evening. Wade’s Battery was in position until evening on the bayou, then was ordered around through Port Gibson to the field where the fighting had been going on since morning. Just as we got under fire Gen. Bowen ordered a retreat and his little army left the field in perfect order and fell back and took a position north of bayou Pierre. Bowen’s command had made a good fight and did all that a few brave troops could do. The odds against them at the start were more than a match for him and the enemy’s force were being increased every hour or every trip of the transports.

The Missourians never failed to drive the force in their front. When our little army was about to be surrounded on our front by overwhelming numbers, and it was Gen. Cockrell who took charge of the 3rd and 5th Infantrys of the 1st Mo. Brig. and charged, and checked the advance of Grant’s left wing and perhaps saved Gen. Bowen’s army from capture. If it had not been for that daring charge it is thought Grant’s left wing would have captured the bridge across bayou Pierre, Bowen’s only way of escape, as he had no pontoons.

Our total loss is put at six hundred and seventy, and the Federals at about nine hundred and thirty. Gen. Bowen’s entire force was five thousand five hundred men about four thousand were on the field of battle. Gen. Grant must have had from ten to twenty thousand, Gen. Tracy of Ala. was killed. My battery was placed in position at the bridge, where it was supposed the enemy would attempt to cross. Our line was not molested during the night, but the noise of the enemy was heard.

May 2nd. Early this morning firing commenced upon our lines from the enemy’s batteries and kept up during the day, without no attempt to advance so far as we could see. It was learned that Gen. Grant had found a crossing higher up and was crossing in force and pushing ahead to cut off Bowen, before he could unite with Pemberton’s force. My battery received orders this morning to distroy the suspension bridge in front of our position. It was a hard job, and one of the most unpleasant I had ever engaged in. The bridge was a fine steel one and the masonry of the best, and it gave me pain to assist in tearing down the pillows of stone, so the bridge would fall into the bayou. I thought at the time that the order should never been given, that the enemy could not cross while we held our present line of battle, and when we left the enemy would not need it but for a few days, and then the public would have a crossing as before; it turned out that the enemy crossed without it, and it was a useless distruction of valuable public property.

We retreated on the night of the 2nd and 3rd, after destroying our siege guns at Grand Gulf and on the 3rd, in the evening we met Gen. Lowring’s Division coming to our support, but as he could do us no good, being so late, he countermarched back to camp of Black river. At the battle of Port Gibson we lost, as reported six hundred and seventy brave, true, unflinching soldiers, that can never be replaced and gained nothing in return, because we fought the enemy’s main army with less than one fourth of ours. Gen. Pemberton, the Chief in Command is the only man responsible for such a course, he was out generaled by Gen. Grant, and distroyed in detail. No other way could Grant beat Pemberton, and he knew it, that is if he would attack Grant with his twenty-five thousand men, and have every man to do his full part, and stake the issue of the campaign on the results, victory complete would be with our army, but the truth of the whole matter is Pemberton is no match for Grant, as a general. All our wounded were left in the hands of the enemy, and Gen. Grant refused to let us bury our dead, but had it done himself.

We moved quietly to Black river, and rested and took our ease, fished and read the daily papers, and all about the bloody battle of Chanselorsville, and the wounding of Gen. Stonewall Jackson, by his own men, and of the death of that great General on May 10th, 1863. Our whole army is very sad over the death of Gen. Jackson and so many of his brave men. The death list is awful; we are looking for a scrap with Grant soon.

The Big Black river runs almost south and makes a bend east at the RR bridge in the shape of a horseshoe, and at the convex the river was seperated about one half of a mile by land and over three miles around the bend by water the Vicksburg and Jackson RR crosses Big Black river in this bend on a bridge made of tresle work about a quarter of a mile long. The tressle being some twenty-five feet high at the river and runs back until it strikes the high ground, which is at the heel of this horseshoe bend, and right across this heel from river to river, our infantry had cut a ditch some three feet wide by two feet deep, and threw all the dirt to one side, called a ditch or trench for our infantry. There was one place only, on our right for a battery, by digging a small half circle with the ditch on the outside. The ground from river to river is level and clean, having been planted in cotton last year. We have orders to move tomorrow. It is time we should be ready for business.

May 15th. We moved out to Edwards Depot, viz, Pemberton’s army of three divisions, about eighteen thousand. We took the Raymond road from the depot, crossed Baker’s creek after dark and moved slowly, stopping every few minutes, was certain the enemy was close, by our cautious movements. At last, about ten o’clock or later a hault was made until daylight. We gave our battery horses something to eat, without unharnessing; we lay down in an old cotton field by the roadside and took a good nap. Skirmishing began about daylight, in our front, just a shot here and there, at first to warn us that we had slept almost within Grant’s lines, and soon a battery in our front opened on us, and we unlimbered, went into battle and commenced to reply to the enemy, without moving twenty feet from where we had haulted for the night. Capt. Landis’ Battrey came up and took position to the right of Wade’s and to the rear, and our eight guns soon made it too warm for Mr. Grant’s boys, and they ceased firing. A column of infantry soon came into sight, marching in the road directly in our front, and we threw a few shells right up their lines, and they scattered into the woods on the other side of the road, and we saw nothing more of them. Landis had a caison blown up, and dreadfully burned two men, perhaps fatally. Bowen’s Division occupied the center, Lowring the right, and Gen. Stevenson our left. Our left was hotly engaged, about eleven o’clock for quite a while, but our center and right were only skirmishing. Gen. Lowring was ordered to support our left.

Wade’s Battery had limbered up and moved near the Champian House [note 1], and had stopped right by Gen. Pemberton, a courrier arrived and reported that Gen. Lowring said that the enemy were in his front in force, and he said he could not come. Pemberton was much excited and his face was very much flushed and he sent the courier back again, with orders for him or certain of his brigades to come immediately, as the left under Stevenson was hard pressed and must be re-inforced. The enemy had broken our left and part of the line was falling back rapidly, and the minie balls began to whistle around us, and then a battery on the opposite hill, to the left of our center, where Stevenson’s line had broken, opened fire with rifle guns. Wade’s Battery was rushed forward to the left of the house and went into battery in an old cotton field, and commenced firing within thirty minutes. The enemy was knocked out of the ring, and we were ordered to cease firing.

Gen. Bowen’s Division was marched past our battery to the right and formed a line of battle a quarter of a mile long, and immediately moved forward to the woods on the hill occupied by the enemy. Some of the men that had been forced back, rallied and joined Bowen’s line on the left and moved with his line to the charge. When the firing commenced, Bowen ordered the charge, and with a yell his whole line moved on double-quick with fixed bayonets. They received the enemy’s firing without a hault, and then the enemy wheeled and fled, under a heavy fire. He soon rallied on another line of fresh troops and the contest renewed, and a second and third time the enemy’s fresh troops were forced back. The fighting was in the woods and no artillery was used, and the long continuous, incesant roar of musketry was fearful beyond description. For more than three hours did Bowen’s Division in this furnace of death, beat back more than three times their number, and with proper support on each wing of our army, victory would have been with us. As it was Bowen, had broken Grant’s center, and had followed up the broken column of Grant so far, that both flanks were exposed and attacked and a retreat was ordered and he had to fight his way back, on his flanks with some loss in prisoners.

The charge of Gen. Bowen’s was a bloody affair, and proved the merit of the Confederate soldiers. During the whole four years of that bloody war, I never heard such a long continuous roar of musketry, as took place in that charge. It seemed to us battery boys, that Bowen would never get back; we could tell he was gradually driving the force in his front, as the musketry contest was receding, but the roar was continuous, and we knew as we could see the strong force on his left. It was the enemy’s right wing closing in on Bowen’s left flank, which had no protection and the same thing was being done on Bowen’s right flank. But on his way back, he met and brushed aside these forces as he had those in his front, and came out in good condition, with more than one third of the best soldiers in the World’s History, left on the field of carnage. This charge had checked the enemy’s advance, so that Pemberton could extircate most of his army by way of Edward’s Depot, to Vicksburg. Wade’s Battery was ordered to limber up and move from the field about sunset, with the retreating forces. The burning of some cars loaded with shells at Edward’s Depot was a grand and solemn sight.

Our flag-bearer, the fearless Frank E. Dey, had his horse killed under him near the Champion House, but the beautiful Wade’s Battery flag never ceased to wave. The enemy that engaged in the artillery duel with us near the Champion House, threw several shells directly through the house, which was full of our wounded and floated the yellow hospital flag. I could hear the cries of our wounded boys, as those missels of death sped among them. This was a cruel and unmerciful act. The house was not in range of our battery, by some thirty yards or more, No. 1, on gun No. 3, had his hands nearly blown off today, by his sponge staff, as he shoved in his sponge vent, not being properly served, and explosion of gas was the result, blowing the sponge staff through his hands, tearing off the flesh and mangling them dreadfully. In leaving the field we passed Gen. Tilghman’s Brig. in line on the road side, they had seen no fighting that day and were going to bring up the rear. They were engaged after we passed, and their bold stand saved part of Pemberton’s army and they got into Vicksburg.

 


Notes

      1. Probably the Ratliff House, although possibly the Isaac Roberts House

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