A Terrible Day Which Cost the Confederacy Vicksburg

By P. MITCHELL, Corporal 16th Ohio Battery, New Carlisle, Ohio

The National Tribune, Washington DC
Thursday, August 3, 1899


For many years I have been a constant reader of THE NATIONAL TRIBUNE, and in all that time, so little has been written on the campaign about Vicksburg that I have wondered at the silence. I have wondered because, from beginning to end, there was everyday material out of which to weave as thrilling and heroic stories as were ever written of men and war.

Of all the campaigns made for the preservation of the Union, it certainly was one of the most important and successful; important, indeed, for at that time the Nation, staggering under the calamities of the Fall and Winter before, felt that the very life of the Republic was in mortal peril, and any reverse to our arms then would have been ruinous to our cause. The year before had been one of blunders at the War Department and of great disasters in the field. The Army of the Potomac had been driven from before Richmond, and from the Rapidan, and had finally been shattered into disheartened fragments on the heights of Fredericksburg. Buell had been forced back from Chattanooga to Nashville. Morgan been compelled to evacuate Cumberland Gap. Sherman had but recently been repulsed with great loss at Haines's Bluffs.



And following close in the footsteps of all these reverses and disasters, there had just passed a Winter -- terribly trying and fatal to the soldiers in the Southwest. At Helena and along the river banks at Milliken's Bend, thousands had succumbed to fevers and other diseases incident to army life and to a country full of miasmatic swamps. The roll of drums, beating the dead march, and the volleying of musketry over the graves of our comrades were music most common to our ears, and echoing toward the Northland, fell like a pall over the souls of our people These with hearts filled not only with sorrow for their dead, but with infinite dread for the safety of the Union, longed for a change in that awful tide that seemed to be swiftly bearing the Nation to its downfall and ruin. Then, after all these calamities, and in the face of the gloom that enshrouded the souls of the people, it can be fully understood how important was this great campaign. That it was completely successful is a matter of record, a record that fills up some of the brightest pages in the history of our country To condense and emphasize the truth it must be said of this campaign that it was wonderful in conception, execution, and its vast and far reaching results.

I will write briefly of only one day and one battle of this campaign, and the few that preceded both. From the night of April 30, 1863, until mid-afternoon of May 16, it was a question whether success would crown our efforts, or defeat bring disaster to our arms. On that April night our army, the flower of the West and the Northwest, having stripped itself like an athlete with the Thirteenth Corps leading, crossed the Mississippi and with the same corps still leading on that ever memorable May 16th met and crushed the rebel army -- the most complete and disastrous defeat of the entire war. Never more from that eventful day was there any doubt as to the final triumph of the Union arms. No longer, from that time until the rebels furled their banners in defeat forever at Appomattox, was there any doubt as to the safety of the Republic.


The Count of Paris, a brilliant Frenchman and unbiased historian, present with our army there has declared the battle of Champion's Hill the first great decisive battle of the war; and, in truth, the real turning point in that awful conflict between the North and the South. History has not given this battle the prominence and the place on its pages that it deserves. At it, our army, inferior in numbers and position, met the rebels at the high noon of their success, and defeating and scattering them in pitched battle, opened up an easy road to Vicksburg and its certain capture. This capture, letting the great river run untrammeled and unvexed to the sea, cut in twain the Confederacy and sealed forever the doom of that iniquitous rebellion.

To appreciate the situation and fully understand the importance and true greatness of this battle, it is necessary to relate briefly a little of the history that immediately preceded and led up to it. It is a matter of record that the rebel General Pemberton had under his command some 82,000 men at the time our army crossed the river at Bruinsburg -- 60,000 of these were at Grand Gulf, Jackson, and Vicksburg -- all in close and easy support, while the remainder of his forces were at neighboring and not far away points. And it is also a matter of record that Gen Grant had with him, up to and including May 10, only about 40,000 men.

The rebels were in their own country, a country intensely loyal to their cause, and admirably situated for defense. Our army, meeting in almost every living creature an enemy, was forced to advance over a country exceedingly difficult for the conduct of on offensive campaign. But Grant, with the daring of a Napoleon, exercising the most bewildering and masterful strategy after defeating them in detail at Port Gibson, Raymond, Jackson and minor points, finally faced them in full force on the rugged hills overlooking and commanding the approaches to the valleys of Baker's Creek.

During all this time Pemberton out-generaled, mystified, and confused, holding together his main army, kept rushing up and down the banks of the Big Black; thinking to give us battle at its crossings or cut us off from our base at Grand Gulf. Confounded and bewildered, he let pass, in my opinion, one golden opportunity at the crossing of Fourteen Mile Creek on the afternoon of the 12th.

On that day and afternoon McPherson, with one wing of the army, was far to the east battling with Gregg at Raymond, while Sherman with the center, was pushing on to his support. Hovey's Division, at that time the only one hugging the Big Black, crossed this creek and found himself facing Pemberton's main army only two miles south of Edwards's Station. The men of this the Twelfth division will never forget that day and afternoon for to them it was one of long-drawn-out surprise. The very atmosphere seemed to be burdened with danger The battle roll of rebel drums sounding faintly through the throbbing air warned us of the force in front.


The opposing skirmishers far out, seeking closest cover, plied their vengeful trade while the artillerists anxious and expectant cutting their fuses short and shorter, flung their shells across the wooded hills or along the deep and gloomy ravines between. But the day and the afternoon wore away -- the dreaded and the expected never happened, and Pemberton's opportunity, with all its possibilities, was lost to him forever. Toward evening our entire division, quietly and without confusion, withdrew from the danger in front and marched rapidly to our right and into the night, when, after crossing a deep-banked creek, we again went into line of battle Now Gregg was defeated, Sherman but a little east, the other divisions of our own corps in easy support, and the danger of isolation no longer menaced us. But all night long, with guns unlimbered and ready for action, our cannoneers crouched about their pieces vainly trying to protect themselves against the effects of a terrific wind and rainstorm.

The lightning zig-zagging across the inky heavens, dazzling, and blinding in its brilliancy, made thrice dark the deep, impenetrable darkness that followed. The thunder, peal on peal, rolled with terrific bellowing across the gloomy woods in front. The great trees and massive limbs swayed and tossed in the fury of the storm, and the rain dashing down in pitiless fury beat upon the unprotected men and shivering horses. But the long night wore away, and finally came morning, and sunshine, and the singing of birds in a neighboring orchard; and then came hardtack, coffee, and cheer, and further marching on cast to and beyond Raymond History tells us that this same morning our baffled enemy, thrown far to the left and rear, trying to redeem the mistake of the day before, pushed south, but finding Baker's Creek bank full and impassable, was compelled to march back north again.

Dr Cannon in his story of "Inside of Rebeldom" tells of the frequent rains and of nights spent in vain attempts to keep dry or warm. He also tells of how they raced up and down the Big Black in confused and exhaustive effort trying to locate those pesky Yanks. Well, while they were thus wasting time and strength in hurrying up and down to defend points not seriously threatened, our own army, now well in hand, was hurrying on toward Jackson.

My own division leisurely marched east to Clinton and finding it was not needed to assist in the capture of the capital turned short to the left and came back on the Vicksburg road. Marching west on this road some miles on the evening of the 15th we went into camp directly south of Bolton's Station.

McPherson's Corps with Logan's Division leading, took position the same evening in our immediate rear. At the same time Carr and Osterhaus were some three miles south, while Smith with Blair to the rear, was still further southwest. All these four last named divisions, some miles north west of Raymond, were on two roads running toward Edwards's Depot. One of these roads struck the Jackson and Vicksburg road, near and to the southwest of Champion's Hill, while the other further west, ran directly into the station. Pemberton baffled in his attempts to cross Baker's Creek south, countermarching, did finally cross it a few miles east of Edwards's by means of a bridge on the main road.


It was then his evident intention to turn south again, attack our supposed rear at Fourteen Mile Creek, and if possible cut us off from our also supposed base at Grand Gulf. But here, this evening of the 15th, he received the related order of his chief, Joseph E Johnston, to join him at Clinton where, with united forces, it was proposed to give us battle.

At that time, unknown to both, we had already occupied and passed through Clinton, and unknown to Pemberton, Johnston was then defeated and retreating north to Canton. Then, at last when too late, entirely ignorant as to the true situation, Pemberton decided to obey the orders of his superior; and, with this intention in view, he started early on the morning of the 16th east on the Jackson road. But, just as early our own eager army, on this same beautiful and fateful morning started west on the same and converging roads.

The result was a meeting of the hostile forces, and Pemberton, whether by accident or desiqn, selected an admirable field for defensive battle. He occupied the rugged hills and steep heights known as Champion's Hills. Deep ravines and gullies scarred and seamed its eastern slopes, over which towered and grew massive timber and almost impenetrable underbrush. All these, rendering it extremely difficult to penetrate with troops, made it an ideal place for defensive action The hill proper, bald at its top, is one of the highest in that section, and commanded a view of all the country east, over which our division had to march to make the attack. Now, comrades, to settle a dispute let me say to you that, as you came marching down the Jackson road that morning, you passed the Champion House. It was on a knoll, a little to the left of the road and was about a mile east of the hill. This house with the yard and surrounding buildings was used as a field hospital for Hovey's Division. Its appearance, location, and use are forever stamped on my mind. In the morning, our battery, stopping in a little glade opposite, stripped for battle and through all the night following, in the Champion yard, I waited with and cared for a mortally wounded brother.

That night, seeing and hearing more of human misery than in all my life before, I had impressed on my mind to the fullest much that is gloomiest at night time, much that is most terrible in war. I can yet hear the scream of night birds, the mournful hoot of gloomy-voiced owls, the flap of leathery-winged bats that took airy rounds above; while, the tumult and crash of battle having ceased, the very air about me seemed burdened with the moans of the wounded, the agony of the dying, and the awful stillness of those that neither moaned, moved, nor breathed -- a stillness that told me that to some had come.

"The first dark night of nothingness,
The last of danger and distress."


PART 2 >>>


Contributed by Sue B. Moore, Researcher, Longview Texas.

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