Ira Blanchard
Sgt. Co. H, 20th Illinois Vol. Infantry

Blanchard's Memoirs of the Battle of Champion Hill

Excerpts from I Marched With Sherman
Published 1992 by J. D. Huff and Company, San Francisco, California

The reminiscences of Ira Blanchard were written from memory some twenty years after the close of the war. In the preface to his memoirs he states, "This little book is not designed to be a history of the great rebellion. It is intended to simply relate in the shortest manner possible the events I actually saw; the varied experiences I passed through while serving as a humble Sergeant of Co. "H" of the 20th Illinois Vol. Infantry which was the 1st Regiment of the 3rd Division of the 17th Army Corps."

On the 16th we came up with the enemy strongly posted at a place called Champion's Hill. As General McClernard's Corps were in the lead, he engaged the enemy long before we came up. The battle had been severe all the forepart of the day, and our troops had suffered much in trying to dislodge them from their strong position on the hills.

Our division was deployed on the right of the lines about 11 o'clock on ground which was clear of all timber, and we moved up to the brow of a ridge, beyond which the ground gradually descended down to a small stream which cut a deep channel through the low meadow land. Then back of this ground rose another ridge along which we could see their lines stretching along as far as the eye could reach.

As soon as we came into line, our batteries opened fire on their batteries on the opposite side of the field and quite a lively cannonade was kept up for some time while we lay down on the field and took breath.

General Grant made his headquarters at a house about a quarter of a mile back of the lines and with his perfect system of signals could watch every part of the field as closely, and give his orders as intelligently as though he was everywhere present. So, we watched the movements on that field during our fifteen minutes rest, and 'twas surprising to see the rapidity and exactness so vast an army could be handled. Orderlies flew with lightening speed from one part of the field to another. Guns were unlimbered in one place, deliver a few shots, then fly to a better position ammunition wagons were hurried up to supply the missiles of death; while ambulances were strung along to receive the wounded.

We were now face to face with Pemberton's entire army. Our three corps were also on the ground, and the prospect before us was a greater battle. The boys were in excellent spirits, though desperately hungry, and some even declared they would eat a "Reb before night."

General Logan must have found some whiskey somewhere for he was quite silly for him. When one of Grant's aids rode up to him and asked him where he could be found when the fight began, replied haughtily, "Where the bullets fly the thicket by G d."  When all was ready General Logan rode along the line of his division exhorting something like this:
"Boys we have got work in front of us. The rascals are all there waiting for us. Now all we want to do is get at them to make them 'git.'  We always make them 'git' when we get at them. You won't have to go alone, I'm going down with you. Now, forward; double quick."

At this regiments fixed bayonets, and holding their pieces high in the air, went forward with a yell. Our color Sergeant M. Morley, ran so fast with the colors that we had hard work to keep up with him, and keep in any kind of order. Thus we went down the hill on a dead run, right in the teeth of the enemy, never stopping to fire a shot, but pointing our bayonets as though to run them through the enemy rushed right up to them, who had now become terror-stricken at our boldness, crouched down in the channel of the creek, held up their hands and begged for mercy. And right there we took in a whole brigade of Georgia troops.

We did not stop but a moment with our prisoners, but rushed on for the second line a little back of the first on the ridge. We again continued the charge and ceased not to yell as we rushed up the hill. Here we meet some opposition and we emptied our guns into their ranks and rushed on as though nothing had happened. Their ranks break before us and they begin to scatter. Some of the boys rush for a battery at the brow of the hill, mount the horses and come galloping back with guns and all, swinging their hats.

As their ranks broke, their men went panic stricken across the fields into the woods hotly pursued by as many live Yankees as there were fleeing "Rebs" each Yankee intent on gobbling as many prisoners as possible.

We had chased them half a mile or more a halt was called, and looking round I saw we were far past the main body of the enemy, for the hill proper was yet literally covered with them. But we had completely annihilated their left wing, and outflanked them so effectually that they made a hasty retreat from their stronghold on the hill and left us masters of the field with about 3000 prisoners.

Then the boys of our brigade brought in their prisoners from the chase, scarcely anyone came back without two or three prisoners and one little old Dutchman of our company by the name of Jahle came strutting back with eight. We 'corralled' our prisoners, put a guard over them, and had a time of general rejoicing for the next half hour. After which we began to feel the pangs of hunger again, as we had had nothing scarcely for the last two days.

I picked out a clean looking "Reb" who had been shot down, and whose carcass lay stretched at full length on the grass, sat down beside him, and from his well filled haversack of corn bread and beef, made a sumptuous meal. When dinner was over I rolled the fellow over, unbuttoned his vest and took from the pocket thereof a copy of the new Testament, richly bound with pasteboard and read, "If thine enemy hunger, give him to eat; if he thirst, give him to drink" etc. The poor fellow was now obeying the spirit and letter of that command; now, if never before in all his life. Little did that man think when he was so carefully preparing that haversack with 3 days rations, that a 'blue-bellied yankee' would devour the contents thereof.

We camped near the field that night, and next day moved down towards the Big Black……

 Editor's note: Ira Blanchard was one of the few soldiers with the 20th Illinois who lived through the entire war. He was mustered out August 1, 1865.

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