Lt. General John C.
Pemberton described his preparation for the battle at Champion Hill
"I think it due to myself, in bringing this
portion of my report to a conclusion, to state emphatically that the
advance movement of the army from Edwards Depot on the afternoon of May
15 was made against my judgment, in opposition to my previously
expressed intentions, and to the subversion of my matured plans. In one
contingency alone I had determined to move toward Jackson; the safety of
Vicksburg was of paramount importance; under no circumstances could I
abandon my communications with it."
On the 10th, information was received from a scouting party that visited Cayuga and Utica, where the enemy had recently been, that his cavalry force was about 2,000, and that he was supposed to be moving on Vicksburg. My dispositions were made accordingly, and every effort was used to collect all the cavalry possible. Such as could be obtained were placed under the command of Col. Wirt Adams, who was directed to harass the enemy on his line of march, cut his communications wherever practicable, patrol the country thoroughly, and to keep Brigadier-General Gregg (who had just arrived with his brigade from Port Hudson and was then at Raymond) fully advised of the enemy's movements.
On the 11th, Brig. Gen. John Adams, commanding at Jackson, was directed to hurry forward, as fast as they could arrive, the troops from South Carolina, to re-enforce Brigadier-General Gregg at Raymond. At this time information was received from Brigadier-General Tilghman that the enemy was in force opposite Baldwin's Ferry, and Gregg was notified accordingly, and informed that the enemy's movements were apparently toward the Big Black Bridge, and not, as had been supposed, against Jackson.
On the 12th, the following was addressed to Major-General Stevenson:
In consequence of this information, Brigadier-General Gregg was ordered not to attack the enemy until he was engaged at Edwards or the bridge, but to be ready to fall on his rear or flank at any moment, and to be particularly cautious not to allow himself to be flanked or taken in the rear. Thus it will be seen that every measure had been taken to protect Edwards Depot and Big Black Bridge, and, by offering or accepting battle, to endeavor to preserve my communications with the east.
At this juncture, however, the battle of Raymond was fought by a large body of the enemy's forces and one brigade of our troops under the command of Brigadier-General Gregg.
I have received no official report of that affair, and hence cannot say how it was fought or by whom the engagement was brought on. Unofficial information represents Brigadier-General Gregg and his small command to have behaved with great gallantry and steadiness, but after an obstinate conflict of several hours they were finally overwhelmed by superior numbers and compelled to retire. The command was withdrawn in good order, and retired to Jackson.
On the 14th, a large body of the enemy made their appearance in front of Jackson, the capital of the State. After some fighting, our troops were withdrawn, and the enemy took possession of the place; but as General Johnston was commanding there in person, his official report, which has doubtless gone forward, will furnish all the information required.
On the 12th, the following telegram was sent to General J. E. Johnston:
The same dispatch was also sent to His Excellency President Davis on the same date.
The divisions of Major-Generals Loring and Stevenson moved from the line they had occupied between Warrenton and Big Black Bridge to Edwards Depot, General Stevenson being directed to keep well closed upon the rear of General Loring's column.
On the evening of the 12th, I moved my headquarters to Bovina, to be nearer the scene of active Operations.
The command arrived at Edwards Depot on the 13th, and was placed in position, covering all approaches from the south and east, in the following order, viz: Bowen on the right, Loring in the center, and Stevenson on the left. This position was occupied from the night of the 13th until the morning of the 15th.
On the 13th, the following dispatch was sent to General Johnston:
On the morning of the 14th, while on my way to Edwards Depot from Bovina, I received the following dispatch, dated May 13, from General Johnston, then at Jackson:
I have lately arrived, and learn that Major-General Sherman is between us, with four divisions, at Clinton. It is important to re-establish communications, that you maybe re-enforced. If practicable, come up in his rear at once. To beat such a detachment would be of immense value. The troops here could co-operate. All the strength you can quickly assemble should be brought. Time is all-important.
I immediately replied as follows:
The "detachment" General Johnston speaks of in his communication consisted of four divisions of the enemy, constituting an entire army corps, numerically greater than my whole available force in the field; besides, the enemy had at least an equal force to the south, on my right flank, which would be nearer to Vicksburg than myself in case I should make the movement proposed. I had, moreover, positive information that he was daily increasing his strength. I also learned on reaching Edwards Depot that ore division of the enemy (A. J. Smith's) was at or near Dillon's. This confirmed me in the opinion, previously expressed, that the movement indicated by General Johnston was extremely hazardous. I accordingly called a council of war of all the general officers present, and placing the subject before them (including General Johnston's dispatch) in every view in which it appeared to me, asked their opinions respectively. A majority of the officers present expressed themselves favorable to the movement indicated by General Johnston. The others, including Major-Generals Loring and Stevenson, preferred a movement by which the army might attempt to cut off the enemy's supplies from the Mississippi River. My own views were strongly expressed as unfavorable to any advance which would separate me farther from Vicksburg, which was my base. I did not, however, see fit to put my own judgment and opinions so far in opposition as to prevent a movement altogether, but believing the only possibility of success to be in the plan of cutting the enemy's communications, it was adopted, and the following dispatch was addressed to General Johnston:
Pursuant to the plan laid down in this dispatch, the army was put in motion on the 15th, about 1 p.m., in accordance with the following order, viz:
A continuous and heavy rain had made Baker's Creek impassable by the ordinary ford on the main Raymond road, where the country bridge had been washed away by previous freshets. In consequence of this, the march was delayed for several hours, but the water not falling sufficiently to make the creek fordable, the column was directed by the Clinton road, on which was a good bridge, and, after passing the creek upward of 1 ½ miles, was filed to the right along a neighborhood road, so as to strike the Raymond road about 3 ½ miles from Edwards Depot. The march was continued until the head of the column had passed Mrs. Elliston's house, where it was halted, and the troops bivouacked in order of march. I made my headquarters at Mrs. Elliston's, where I found Major-General Loring had also established his.
The divisions of Generals Stevenson and Bowen having been on the march until past midnight, and the men considerably fatigue--desiring also to receive reports of reconnaissances made in my front before proceeding farther--I did not issue orders to continue the movement at an early hour the following morning.
Immediately on my arrival at Mrs. Elliston's on the night of the 15th, I sent for Col. Wirt Adams, commanding the cavalry, and gave him the necessary instructions for picketing all approaches in my front, and directed him to send out scouting parties to discover the enemy's whereabouts. I also made strenuous efforts to effect the same object through citizens, but without success. Nothing unusual occurred during the night.
On the morning of the 16th, at about 6.30 o'clock, Col. Wirt Adams reported to me that his pickets were skirmishing with the enemy on the Raymond road some distance in our front. While in conversation with him, a courier arrived and handed me the following dispatch from General Johnston:
I immediately directed a countermarch, or rather a retrograde movement, by reversing the column as it then stood, for the purpose of returning toward Edwards Depot to take the Brownsville road, and thence to proceed toward Clinton by a route north of the railroad. A written reply to General Johnston's instructions, in which I notified him that the countermarch had been ordered and of the route I should take, was dispatched in haste, and without allowing myself sufficient time to take a copy.
Just as this reverse movement commenced, the enemy drove in Colonel Adams' cavalry pickets, and opened with artillery at long range on the head of my column on the Raymond road. Not knowing whether this was an attack in force or simply an armed reconnaissance, and being anxious to obey the instructions of General Johnston, I directed the continuance of the movement, giving the necessary instructions for securing the safety of the wagon train. The demonstrations of the enemy soon becoming more serious, orders were sent to division commanders to form in line of battle on the cross-road from the Clinton to the Raymond road, Loring on the right, Bowen in the center, and Stevenson on the left. Major-General Stevenson was instructed to make the necessary dispositions for the protection of the trains then on the Clinton road and crossing Baker's Creek. The line of battle was quickly formed, without any interference on the part of the enemy. The position selected was naturally a strong one, and all approaches from the front well covered. A short time after the formation of the line, Loring's division was thrown back so as to cover the military road, it being reported that the enemy had appeared in that direction. The enemy made his first demonstration on our right, but after a lively artillery duel for an hour or more, this attack was relinquished, and a large force was thrown against our left, where skirmishing became heavy about 10 o'clock, and the battle began in earnest along Stevenson's entire front about noon.
Just at this time a column of the enemy were seen moving in front of our center toward the right. [John C.] Landis' battery, of Bowen's division, opened upon and soon broke this column, and compelled it to retire. I then directed Major-General Loring to move forward and crush the enemy in his front, and directed General Bowen to co-operate with him in the movement. Immediately on the receipt of my message, General Bowen rode up and announced his readiness to execute his part of the movement as soon as Major-General Loring should advance. No movement was made by Major-General Loring, he informing me that the enemy was too strongly posted to be attacked, but that he would seize the first opportunity to assault, if one should offer. The enemy still making strenuous efforts to turn Major-General Stevenson's left flank, compelled him to make a similar movement toward the left, thus extending his own line and making a gap between his and Bowen's divisions. General Bowen was ordered to keep this interval closed, and the same instructions were sent to General Loring in reference to the interval between his and General Bowen's division.
General Stevenson having informed me that unless re-enforced he would be unable to resist the heavy and repeated attacks along his whole line, Bowen was ordered to send one brigade to his assistance, which was promptly brought forward under Col. F. M. Cockrell, and in a very short time his remaining brigade, under the command of Brig. Gen. Martin E. Green, was put in, and the two together, under their gallant leaders, charged the enemy, and for the time turned the tide of battle in our favor, again displaying the heroic courage which this veteran division has made conspicuous on so many stricken fields.
The enemy still continued to move troops from his left to his right, thus increasing his vastly superior forces against Stevenson's and Bowen's divisions. Feeling assured that there was no important force in his front, I dispatched several staff officers in rapid succession to Major-General Loring, ordering him to move all but one brigade (Tilghman's, which was directed to hold the Raymond road and cover the bridge and ford at Baker's Creek) to the left as rapidly as possible. To the first of these messages, sent about 2 p.m., answer was returned by Major-General Loring that the enemy was in strong force in his front, and endeavoring to flank him. Hearing no firing on the right, I repeated my orders to Major-General Loring, explained to him the condition of affairs on the left, and directed him to put his two left brigades into the fight as soon as possible. In the transmission of these various messages to and fro, over a distance of more than a mile, much valuable time was necessarily consumed, which the enemy did not fail to take advantage of.
About 4 p.m. a part of Stevenson's division broke badly and fell back in great disorder, but were partially rallied by the strenuous exertions of myself and staff, and put back under their own officers into the fight, but observing that large numbers of men were abandoning the field on Stevenson's left, deserting their comrades, who in this moment of greatest trial stood manfully at their posts, I rode up to General Stevenson, and informing him that I had repeatedly ordered two brigades of General Loring's division to his assistance, and that I was momentarily expecting them, asked him whether he could hold his position; he replied that he could not; that he was fighting from 60,000 to 80,000 men. I then told him I would endeavor myself to find General Loring and hasten him up, and started immediately with that object. I presently met Brigadier-General Buford's brigade, of Loring's division, on the march and in rear of the right of Bowen's division.
Colonel Cockrell, commanding the First Missouri Brigade, having in person some time previously urgently asked for re-enforcements, which (none of Loring's troops having came up) I was then unable to give him, one regiment of Buford's brigade was detached at once and directed to his support; the remainder of Buford's brigade was moved as rapidly as possible to the assistance of General Stevenson.
Finding that the enemy's vastly superior numbers were pressing all my forces engaged steadily back into old fields, where all advantages of position would be in his favor, I felt it to be too late to save the day, even should Brigadier-General Featherston's brigade, of General Loring's division, come up immediately. I could, however, learn nothing of General Loring's whereabouts; several of my staff were in search of him, but it was not until after General Bowen had personally informed me that he could not hold his position longer, and not until after I had ordered the retreat, that General Loring, with Featherston's brigade, moving, as I subsequently learned, by a country road which was considerably longer than the direct route, reached the position on the left known as Champion's Hill, where he was forming line of battle when he received my order to cover the retreat.
Had the movement in support of the left been promptly made when first ordered, it is not improbable that I might have maintained my position, and it is possible the enemy might have been driven back, though his vastly superior and constantly increasing numbers would have rendered it necessary to withdraw during the night to save my communications with Vicksburg.
Early in the day Major [Samuel H.] Lockett, chief engineer, had been instructed to throw a bridge across Baker's Creek, on the Raymond road. The stream had also fallen sufficiently to render the ford practicable. The retreat was ordered to be conducted by that route, and a staff officer immediately dispatched to Brigadier-General Tilghman, who was directed to hold the Raymond road at all hazards; it was in the execution of this important trust, which could not have been confided to a fitter man, that the lamented general bravely lost his life. He was struck by a fragment of shell and died almost instantly.
Although, as before stated, a large number of men had shamefully abandoned their commands, and were making their way to the rear, the main body of the troops retired in good order.
On reaching the ford and bridge at Baker's Creek, I directed Brigadier-General Bowen to take position with his division on the west bank, and to hold the crossing until Loring's division, which was directed to bring up the rear, had effected the passage. I then proceeded at once to the intrenched line covering the wagon and railroad bridges over the Big Black, to make the necessary arrangements for holding that point during the passage of the river.
In his official report, Major-General Stevenson says:
The entire train of the army, under the judicious management of Col. A. W. Reynolds, commanding Tennessee Brigade, of Stevenson's division, was crossed without loss, though the movements of the enemy compelled Colonel Reynolds' brigade to cross the Big Black above the railroad bridge.
On reaching the line of intrenchments occupied by Brigadier-General Vaughn's brigade of East Tennesseeans (Smith's division), he was instructed by myself in person to man the trenches from the railroad to the left, his artillery to remain as then posted, and all wagons to cross the river at once Special instructions were left with Lieut. J. H. Morrison, aide-de-camp, to be delivered to Generals Loring, Stevenson, and Bowen, as they should arrive, and were delivered to all except General Loring, as follows:
General Loring's to cross and occupy the west bank. Brigadier-General Bowen's division, as it should arrive, was directed to occupy the trenches to the right and left of Vaughn's, and his artillery to be parked, that it might be available for any point of the lines most threatened.
General Stevenson's division, arriving very late in the night, did not move beyond Bovina, and I awaited in vain intelligence of the approach of General Loring. It was necessary to hold the position to enable him to cross the river, should the enemy, which was probable, follow him closely up.
For this purpose alone I continued the troops in position until it was too late to withdraw them under cover of night. I then determined not to abandon so strong a front while there was yet a hope of his arrival.
I have not up to this time received General Loring's report of the share taken by his division in the battle of Baker's Creek, nor have I yet been informed of the reason why he failed to rejoin the army under my command.
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