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 10, 1899


Editor's note: Corporal Mitchell has mistakenly identified the guns captured on the crest of Champion Hill as the 6th Mississippi Battery -- no such battery was deployed in the Vicksburg Campaign.  The guns captured by the 11th Indiana and 29th Wisconsin were 2 guns of Waddell's Alabama Battery and 2 guns of Botetourt Virginia Artillery. 

I will return to the morning and the place where ready and waiting we saw Logan's gallant men hurry past file to the right and take position in the valley beyond. In the meantime the infantry of my own division having pushed forward in battle line to the immediate front had crossed the fields and commenced skirmishing with the enemy at the edge of the woods beyond. But before this we of the artillery tilting on our horses or standing at rest heard the commencement of the battle far to the left in the front of Smith's and Carr's Divisions.  


That these divisions with Osterhaus and Blair although on good roads and in easy distance, skirmished the day away and failed to advance until near night is a matter of history. Gen. McClernand who commanded them was evidently overcautious and for this reason failed to push them forward as they should have been pushed. This failure of his to advance promptly as ordered and attack vigorously allowed the enemy in his front to mass toward their left. If I refer only briefly again or not at all to the left wing of our army it will be because as a truth it had little part in the terrific contest that fell with such fury on the right. The men on the left were just as brave and gallant as those on the right, but on that day, hours, golden hours, hours big with the fate of our division, the whole army, and the Nation, glided by; and yet, singly, alone and almost unaided the right wing fought that battle to a finish.

From our position in the glade we could soon note the result of the inertness on the left for gradually the battle sounds came drifting way. The roll of musketry increased in and this mingling with the deep toned roar of the guns on the hill gave us due notice that the enemy was in full force and ready for battle.  

Then came the order to our Captain to hurry two guns of our battery to the front and into position in the immediate rear of the infantry line of our brigade. Ours was the First Brigade of the Twelfth Division of the Thirteenth Corps and was commanded by Gen. Geo. F. McGinnis. This brigade consisting of five regiments was formed from right to left in the following order 24th and 34th Ind., 20th Wis. and the 43rd and 11th Ind., with guns close to the left of the line.

The Second Brigade commanded by Col. Slack consisting of four regiments was on our left but I am unable to tell in what order they were deployed. When we unlimbered our guns and went into position we occupied a little knoll to the left of the road and close at the edge of the timber.

At that time, the desire being to delay the battle until more troops were in position, the men of our regiments were lying down seeking protection as much as possible from the enemy's fire. We of the artillery having been ordered not to fire, but wait events, lounged uneasily about our guns. The rebel sharpshooters securely hidden among the brush and gullies, made things exceedingly interesting to all of us. The battery on the hill roaring out its deep voiced epithets sent round after round of shrapnel and canister crashing tearing and ripping through the trees and brush about us.  

No other situation in battle is so trying to the soldier as to be compelled to receive the enemy's fire and not be allowed to return it. It is then that he is compelled to call to the defense of his manhood all the staying qualities of his nature. Not only were we then subjected to this trying ordeal but also forced to be helpless spectators to that harrowing panorama that always drifts from the front to the rear of every battlefield wounded torn and bleeding singly and in squads home walking some borne on stretchers some bravely defiant, halting; others unnerved with pain hastening flight some with faces flushed; others in which was fast gathering the ashen hue of death -- all passed in quick and startling review before us. But as if to give relief there suddenly burst on our vision the grandest and most exciting battle scene that was ever given me to witness.  


From our position on the knoll we had a clear and unobstructed view of the valley running down toward Bakers Creek in which deployed Logan's Division. The regiments of this division, with skirmishers well to the front, were then either standing at rest or slowly advancing into line. The scene was one of imposing grandeur as the sun flashed along the bright lines of steel and the soft morning air strung out in lazy motion the starry banners overhead.

While watching and admiring this magnificent war pageant suddenly there dashed out from the woods in their front a full brigade of rebels. These wildly yelling with battle-flags furling and unfurling bore down with desperate reckless fury on our lines in the valley. But the rebel officer who conceived or attempted to put into execution that charge certainly had never read the sign, "Beware of the buzz saw," for if he had, I feel confident he would never have charged Logan's Division with one brigade.  

Though this charge was made with superb gallantry and surprising quickness it was received and with a resistance that was simply appalling. For a few moments after leaving their cover, the rebels advanced against the withering fire of Logan's grand battalions, and then their stricken lines, breaking up into a disorganized mass, sought safety in confused and disastrous flight.  

I doubt if during the whole war any brigade, on either side, ever met with a more sudden, terrific and crushing defeat than did this one. But we were now suddenly changed from intensely interested spectators of this thrilling scene on the right to active participants in the conflict at our immediate front. Our brigade having been ordered to advance, we limbered up our guns and followed rapidly up the road. This road after running some distance west, turned to the southwest, and running this course for perhaps a half mile, finally ran up through and over the ridge of the hill by way of a rather deep cut. Indeed the road having been worn and washed by use, rains, and time were sunken below the surrounding level nearly the entire distance.

To this fact alone we of the artillery owed our entire escape from wounds and death until after our arrival at the top. The infantry, more exposed, suffered terribly from the shot and shell and canister that swept through their devoted ranks as they pushed up and across the rugged ridges. Indeed, from every gully and ravine and from under the shadows of all the great trees there flamed out and upon them a murderous fire; but, bravely facing it all, they pressed right on and on until, finally, with banners flying and bayonets fixed, they plunged into the smoke of the guns at the crown of the hill.  

Now, ever since that battle, even on and up to the present time, although nearly 40 years have passed, comrade after comrade has related, and still relates, how his regiment captured that battery, the famous 6th Miss [Waddel's Alabama Battery and Botetourt Virginia Artillery]. There was Capt. Gray, of Co. B, 10th Mo. and Comrade Frasher, of Co. D, 17th Iowa, who long ago told more or less minutely and elaborately how their regiments captured it. Then Comrade Condon, Co. A, 20th Ohio, told how, lying with his company immediately to the left of the 32d Ohio, he saw this regiment charge and capture it. And there have been others and still others making the same claim.  





Editor's note: Corporal Mitchell has mistakenly identified the guns captured on the crest of Champion Hill as the 6th Mississippi Battery -- no such battery was deployed in the war.  The guns captured by the 11th Indiana and 29th Wisconsin were: 2 guns of Waddell's Alabama Battery and 2 guns of Botetourt Virginia Artillery. 

Comrades, for every soldier of the three divisions on the right that day there was enough of desperate fighting for all, and for all enough of glory gained to render it needless to either reflect on the valor or honor of any.  

Then when I say that the 10th Mo. and 17th Iowa were not on the field of battle when that battery was captured, I simply state a truth; and when I say the 20th and 3d Ohio were not within a mile of it, I only state another fact; and when I assert emphatically it was captured by the men of the 11th Ind. and 20th Wis., I only desire that the honor, so valiantly and gloriously won, be given to those to whom it belongs. Comrades, read the official reports of the battle and you will find I am right. In this grand charge of Hovey's Division, three full rebel batteries were captured.  

As I have stated the 6th Miss [sic] battery of four guns occupying the crest of the hill was captured by the 11th Ind. and 29th Wis. The 46th Ind. rushing farther west to and beyond a cabin that I will speak of by and by, captured two guns; while the 24th Iowa, of the Second Brigade, charged and captured a battery of five guns occupying a position to the left of the road. But all this was accomplished only after the most desperate resistance of the enemy.  

At the crown of the hill, along the ridge and beyond, our gallant men, rushed through the smoke of the flaming guns shot, and bayoneted the gunners, crushed and overpowered the rebel supports and hurled the fragments of fleeing regiments down to and beyond the forks of the Raymond and Jackson roads.  

A glance at a map of this battlefield will show that the possession of the forks of these roads was of vital importance to the Confederates. It was in truth the very key to their line of battle. Its possession by us threatened the utter destruction of their army. Knowing this the enemy hurried forward overwhelming forces. and hurled them with desperate fury on our two exhausted and unsupported brigades. It is estimated that at this time our division, already depleted by hundreds of dead and wounded was outnumbered more than four to one.  

As it was, there then commenced one of the most terrific contests of the war, a contest that left hundreds more of our brave boys dead or wounded on this bloody field. By sheer force of weight and numbers the rebel masses, overlapping to right and left our little brigades, slowly pushed back our stubborn regiments. The men in gray facing in full ranks the storm of shot and shell and canister that greeted them, bought back all the ground they gained at a cost simply appalling.  

At this time the two guns of my battery having advanced gradually were at the right and left of the cabin to which I have already alluded My own gun was immediately to the right of this cabin which had the usual smoke-house so common in that country still a little to the right.  


We were splendidly situated for effective work, being on a little knoll, with a few acres of cleared land in our front, this land sloping down into a little valley, beyond which was a heavy growth of timber. When I say that our guns were back a little from the brow of the hill every old artilleryman will at once recognize this advantage of our position. Close to the right of the muzzle of my gun was a well over whose mouth hung a long sweep and attached to this by a rope was --  


"A moss covered bucket  
           An iron bound bucket"


-- or some other kind of an old bucket. But be it what kind or style matters little, only I know that, in the lull of the battle, it was used quite frequently by our soldiers, who, dashing from the front quenched their thirst there, and then, taking position in and about the cabins, awaited the advance of the enemy. Whether the people of that place were at home that day or not I am unable to say; but if they were I am quite sure their cellar accommodations were at a premium.  

Right here, in the tumult of battle, occurred one of those little things that remind us that it is indeed "only a step from the sublime to the ridiculous." For an hour without water, we had been loading and firing our gun rapidly, and as a consequence it had become so hot and foul as to be in a dangerous condition.  

Seeing this, I ordered one of the cannoneers to take the sponge bucket, fill it with water, and sponge out the gun Seizing the bucket which was swinging in place under the gun axle, he made a dash for the well, opening the bucket as he ran, when, as the lid of the same swung aside, up popped a fat yellow hen.  

To undertake to explain how that hen got in that bucket would be somewhat embarrassing, to the writer and for this reason, preferring to consider it only in the light of an incident, I will pass by that part of the story. But to say the least the situation was now both trying and perilous. Rations and yellow hens were scarce, but just then water was a positive necessity. Yet to secure the latter simply meant the loss of the former. The gnawing at the stomach of every boy in the squad was an appeal to save the hen. but the extreme peril menacing us demanded quick action. and the distressing sacrifice of the poultry was made.  

Poor, foolish thing, when tossed to the ground, instead of seeking safety back among our caissons, she ran fluttering and cackling over into the lines of a regiment of Hoosiers lying in a ravine a little to our right. Well, it is not hard to imagine the fate that awaited her there. With a sigh even now for her want of appreciation and judgment, and without any malice or the intent to demand pay for my property, I do wish some member of that regiment would give me its number; and, perhaps, it might ease his own conscience, even at this late day, to have him also frankly acknowledge his own individual responsibility in the matter of her capture.  

However, the loss of the hen, though a real calamity to the writer and gun squad, solved the water problem, and not a moment too soon.


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

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