Pemberton's March
from Vicksburg to Champion Hill

Lt. General John C. Pemberton described his preparation for the battle at Champion Hill
in the following excerpts from his Official Reports,
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies
,
by Robert N. Scott, Major, Third Art., and Bvt. Lieut. Col.. War Department, August 23, 1880.

 

  "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."
                                                        
General John C. Pemberton

 


The repulse of General Bowen at Port Gibson, and our consequent withdrawal to the north bank of the Big Black, rendered it necessary that I should as rapidly as possible concentrate my whole force for the defense of Vicksburg from an attack in the rear by Grant's army, which was hourly swelling its numbers. Orders, therefore, were immediately transmitted to the officers in command at Grenada, Columbus, and Jackson to move all available forces to Vicksburg as rapidly as possible.

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:

From information received, it is evident the enemy is advancing in force on Edwards Depot and Big Black Bridge; hot skirmishing has been going on all the morning, and the enemy are at Fourteen-Mile Creek. You must move up with your whole division to the support of Loring and Bowen at the bridge, leaving Baldwin's and Moore's brigades to protect your right.

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 enemy is apparently moving his heavy force toward Edwards Depot, on Southern Railroad; with my limited force I will do all I can to meet him. That will be the battle-field if I can carry forward sufficient force, leaving troops enough to secure the safety of this place (Vicksburg). Re-enforcements are arriving very slowly, only 1,5,00 having arrived as yet. I urgently ask that more be sent also that 3,000 cavalry be at once sent to operate on this line. I urge this as a positive necessity. The enemy largely outnumber me, and I am obliged to hold back a large force at the ferries on Big Black lest he cross and take this place. I am also compelled to keep considerable force on either flank of Vicksburg out of supporting distance.

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:

General Forney reports from Vicksburg this morning four transports loaded with troops arrived at Young's Point this morning. Five regiments and a battery passed down by Brown & Johnston's. Wagon trains continue to pass back and forth. My re-enforcements will be very small and arrive very slowly. If possible, Port Hudson should also be re-enforced. I have been forced to draw largely from there. I have no major-general to command brigades arriving in Jackson. I am in position with eight brigades near Edwards Depot.

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:

BOVlNA, May 14, 1863.
I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your communication. I move at once with whole available force (about 16,000) from Edwards Depot, leaving Vaughn's brigade (about 1,500) at Big Black Bridge. Tilghman's brigade (1,500), now at Baldwin's Ferry, I have ordered to bring up the rear of my column; he will be, however, from 15 to 20 miles behind it. Baldwin's Ferry will be left necessarily unprotected. To hold Vicksburg are Smith's and Forney's divisions, extending from Snyder's Mill to Warrenton, numbering 7,500 effective men. The men have been marching several days, are much fatigued, and I fear will straggle very much. In directing this move, I do not think you fully comprehend the position that Vicksburg will be left in, but I comply at once with your order.

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:

EDWARDS DEPOT, May 14, 1863.
I shall move as early to-morrow morning as practicable with a column of 17,000 men to Dillon's, situated on the main road leading from Raymond to Port Gibson, 7 miles below Raymond and 9 miles from Edwards Depot. The object is to cut the enemy's communications and to force him to attack me, as I do not consider my force sufficient to justify an attack on the enemy in position or to attempt to cut my way to Jackson. At this point your nearest communication would be through Raymond. I wish very much I could join my re-enforcements. Whether it will be most practicable for the re-enforcements to come by Raymond (leaving it to the right if the march cannot be made through Raymond) or to move them west along the line of railroad (leaving it to the left and south of the line of march) to Bolton Depot, or some other point west of it, you must determine. In either movement I should be advised as to the time and road, so that co-operation may be had to enable the re-enforcements to come through. I send you a map of the country, which will furnish you with a correct view of the roads and localities.

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:

SPECIAL ORDERS, No.--.
DQRS. DEPT. OF MISSISSIPPI AND EASTERN LOUISIANA,
Edwards Depot, May 14, 1863.

This army will move to-morrow morning (15th instant) in the direction of Raymond, on the military road, in the following order:

1. Col. Wirt Adams' cavalry will form the advance guard, keeping at least 1 mile in advance of the head of the column, throwing out one company in front of his column and a small detachment in its advance, besides the flankers upon his column, when practicable.
2. Loring's division will constitute the right and the advance in the line of march. He will throw a regiment of infantry, with a section of artillery, at least 200 yards in his front, with a company of infantry at least 75 yards in its advance, all with the necessary detachments and flankers.
3. Bowen's division will constitute the center, and will follow the leading division.
4. Stevenson's division will constitute the left, bringing up the rear of the column.
5. The artillery of each brigade will march in the rear of their brigade.
6. The ambulances of each brigade will follow in the rear of their brigade.
7. The ordnance wagons of each division will follow in the rear of their division.
8. The wagon train will follow in rear of the entire column.
9. Should Tilghman's brigade arrive after the departure of the column, it will constitute, with a field battery, the rear guard, following immediately in rear of the wagon train.
10. A company of Wirt Adams' cavalry will close the order of march.
11. The wagon train will follow in the order of division; that is to say, the wagon train of Loring's division on the right of the train; that of Bowen's division in the center, &c. Quartermasters, commissaries, and ordnance officers will remain with their trains unless otherwise ordered. Straggling, always disgraceful in an army, is particularly forbidden. 8tringent orders will be issued by the division commanders to prevent this evil. The rear guard is especially instructed to permit no one to fall to the rear under any circumstances.

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 miles, was filed to the right along a neighborhood road, so as to strike the Raymond road about 3 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:

CANTON ROAD, TEN MILES FROM JACKSON,
May 15, 1863-8.30 a.m.

Our being compelled to leave Jackson makes your plan impracticable. The only mode by which we can unite is by your moving directly to Clinton, informing me, that we may move to that point with about 6,000 troops. I have no means of estimating enemy's force at Jackson. The principal officers here differ very widely, and I fear he will fortify if time is left him. Let me hear from you immediately. General Maxey was ordered back to Brookhaven. You probably have time to make him join you. Do so before he has time to move away.

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:

On my arrival, about sunset, at the ford on Baker's Creek, I found that the enemy had crossed the bridge above, and were advancing artillery in the direction of the road on which we were moving. One battery had already taken position and was playing on the road, but at right angles, and with too long a range to prevent the passage of troops. Here I found on the west side the brigades of General Green and Colonel Cockrell, of Bowen's division, who had there halted and taken up position to hold the point until Loring's division could cross. I found Colonel [Thomas M.] Scott, of the Twelfth Louisiana Regiment, of Loring's division, halted about half a mile from the ford, on the east side, and directed him to cross. I there addressed a note to General Loring, informing him of what I had done, telling him of the change I had caused Colonel Scott to make in his position, stating that with the troops then there, and others that I could collect, I would hold the ford and road until his division could cross, and urging him to hasten the movement. To this note I received no answer, but in a short time Colonel Scott moved off his regiment quickly in the direction of his original position, in obedience, I was informed, to orders from General Loring. Inferring from this that General Loring did not intend to cross at that ford, he having had ample time to commence the movement, I suggested to General Green and Colonel Cockrell to move forward to the railroad bridge. My command reached that point at about 1 o'clock that night and bivouacked near Bovina.

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 Stevenson's division to cross the river and proceed to Mount Alban.

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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