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 17, 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. 



The enemy pressing nearer and nearer, seemed to be now concentrating rapidly toward our position. At the same time. The broken fragments of our skirmish line hurrying from the front gathered about us as if feeling intuitively that we needed their presence to defend us from the coming assault. And, we of the artillery keyed up to the highest resolve and greatest effort by the magnetic influence of our General, who was standing close by, worked our guns silently but with forcible quickness.


Suddenly from the woods on the opposite side of the little glade, not 80 yards, away there burst into full view the rebel battle line. This was our opportunity, and, with guns double-shotted we poured round after round of canister into their ranks. At the same time the infantry to the right and to the left and the rebels at the front added their firing to the thundering peal on peal from our guns that shook the very earth. The din and horrid uproar became terrific and the sulphurous smoke drifting slowly through the shadowy trees or hanging low in the soft hazy summer air added to the weird grimness of the contest. There seemed no cessation, no interval in the firing, no break in the mighty volume of terrible noises no advance or receding of the stubborn opposing forces.  

Standing there, each line through whoso ranks death was speeding with quick and awful footsteps was evidently animated by the same destructive purpose the annihilation of the other. About this time the rebels hurried up a couple of guns and attempted to come into action near the forks of the road but with startling quickness not being able to fire a single shot were then and there torn to pieces. Two of their horses harnessed together, terror stricken and riderless rushing almost on the muzzle of my gun, were secured by us and in a very little while put to good use.

Suddenly as had the first another rebel battle line, came out into the glade more around to the north and quite over reaching our exposed, flank. Halting for a moment they delivered a stunning blinding volley that aimed too high crashed through the trees overhead. To our admirable position was due alone our escape from the destroying effects of this terrific fire. Recognizing this, and also understanding that if the rebels gained the crest of the hill our destruction would be sure, we renewed with desperate energy our efforts to beat them back.

But both their lines, both to the front and right, outnumbering and over-reaching ours by far began, advancing. Pushing through a storm of shot and canister leaving behind hundreds of their dead and wounded, they came right on and on and into the smoke of the flaming guns and volleying musketry. I give these butternut clad men of the South due credit for the dauntless spirit that animated them, as they, without faltering steadily closing up their stricken and broken ranks, pressed up and through the withering fire that greeted them at every step across that little glade. 

This uneven and terrific contest could not last long. We were being outflanked, crushed and overpowered. Our Captain whose grand courage and brave words had directed and guided us so long and so well went down mortally wounded. Our last round of case shot and canister had been exhausted and we of the artillery in this supreme moment of peril found ourselves virtually helpless.

The infantry, our heroic supports as brave and gallant men as ever faced an enemy, answered with defiant cheers the long-drawn-out yells of the Confederates. The persistent advance of their lines angered and excited us to further resistance but our empty ammunition chests now forced us for the time to be simply spectators in that terrific war drama.


No pen can describe the din that seemed to rend and split the air. No time or distance can efface from my memory the wild and thrilling battle scene painted there for us under the shadows of the great oaks in the back yard of that little Mississippi house.

Our relief came when our Lieutenant dismounted from his wounded horse rushed through the smoke and ordered: "Quick boys out of here."  We, seizing the gun trail, whirled it round and behind the cabin, and then protected by its wall, limbered up and dashed away toward the rear. As we rushed out into the road, our other gun from the left of our position thundered by but its caisson and team seemed to be doomed to sure and speedy capture.

When in battery all artillery horses face to the front and in making a retreat it is of course necessary to make a turn This team of six horses referred to, in circling around had its swing driver shot from his saddle, and as a consequence this horse becoming frantic with fright, sprang up and over the outside tug, and at once checked every effort at further flight.

Then was exhibited one of the most dauntless acts of bravery ever witnessed -- an act that should long ago have placed a medal of honor on the breast of the gallant soldier who performed it. In the line of battle, elbow touching elbow, or under orders, or influenced by excitement, or by stress of necessity men, will often face and perform the most perilous duty. But this soldier, a private of my company, a magnificent specimen of manly strength, brave Joe Ross, taking in the situation, turned from his place of comparative security, and bounding back into the very face of the enemy, seized this terror stricken horse by the muzzle, forced him into place over the tug, sprang on his back, and brought the entire team and caisson back safe into our lines.

At the ridge we met another section of our battery coming to our support but Gen. Hovey, the commander of our division, being present here, seeing it would be impossible to check the advance of the enemy ordered, it to retire with us. But he, fearing the recapture of that 6th Miss battery [sic], ordered two of our Lieutenants to take a number of their cannoneers, and if possible either spike or run the guns to the rear immediately. These orders were acted on at once, and while the roar and crash of the battle came drifting toward the crown of the hill, they succeeded in drawing away two of the guns; but were compelled to abandon the other two, not until after they were, for the time, rendered useless. They were spiked by Lieut. Murdock and Private John Dice, of my company. To one of the other guns was hitched the two horses that we had captured a little before, and the so came off the field with our battery.

The other gun, a beautiful 12-pound Napoleon, was fast among several small trees, while close by stood a couple of large bay horses. How these had escaped harm is beyond comprehension. One of these small trees was cut away by Private Phil Hysner, of my company, and these horses were hitched to the gun. Vol Firman, one of our wild reckless boys sprang into the saddle and forced the team out and over the mass of dead and dying that thickly covered the ground all about there. Then, instead of coming back to escape by the cut in the ridge, he dashed over and down the rough hillside in the immediate front.  


Urging the horses to furious speed he came on down like a whirlwind, over logs, through brush and briars, across ditches and gullies, over and through a squad of rebel prisoners, crushing one poor fellow under the ponderous gun wheels, until he finally guided the good team out to the road and the field beyond, safe from all possibility of recapture. While all this was being accomplished, under the immediate commands of Lieut. Murdock and Mitchell, the remainder of the battery, moving tack on the road, met on the eastern hillsides the 10th Mo., 17th Iowa and other regiments of Crocker's hurrying into battle.

I shall always remember how glad we were to meet these gallant men; but I shall also always remember that, as they went up the hill with the rallying regiments of my own division, they were not met by a single shot from rebel artillery. When they reached the crown of the hill, without doubt they saw the terrible ruin there; without doubt they saw the riven and torn trees, the dead and dying artillerymen, the dead and dying horses, and the two silent, harmless guns, for I know they were all there, but others than their regiment's hours before had wrought the awful destruction.

Though all the scenes and incidents that I have described and related are stamped clearly and distinctly on my mind still not alone to my memory has all this been trusted. The old letters written on the hills about Vicksburg, the testimony of my living comrades and the official reports of the battle confirm all I have said as to who was the true and real captors of that 6th Miss. battery [sic]. I have been explicit and definite in the description of the capture and disposition of this battery and its guns for the simple reason that it has been so often and so persistently claimed by others. I, as well as any other soldier should be, have always been jealous of the honor and the credit due the soldiers of my brigade. The men of Crocker's Division were there, but not until after the teeth and claws of the lion had been drawn and clipped; not until after he had been shorn of his strength and rendered powerless to do harm.


As for the 20th and 32d Ohio, they being away off in the valley to the right with Logan, had from start to finish no part in its capture. The comrades who made such a claim were simply mistaken as to the location of this battery. They have confused its capture with The taking of some other on an entirely different part of the field. They should all remember that Gen. Grant reports the capture of 30 pieces of artillery at this battle, and remembering this, it would indicate that there was glory enough all along the lines without necessity on the part of any one to claim the honor and glory due and belonging to my brigade.

Our battery, after passing down the road to the east, and having been joined by several other batteries, took position on a knoll to the left; and with these, for nearly an hour, shelled the ravines, hills and woods beyond. Then the troops to the extreme right having been drawn back to support our weakened lines, the three divisions made a grand, vigorous and combined assault all along the front. They, excited by the enemy's stubborn resistance, and stimulated by the most exalted courage, dashed upon the rebel forces, routed and hurled their left wing in headlong defeat back to and beyond the defenses of the Big Black.

Loring's Division on their right unable to reach the crossing on Baker's Creek fled away out beyond and around the left flank of our army. Dr. Cannon, belonging to this division, admits their tremendous, demoralizing defeat, admits the loss of all their artillery and baggage, and further frankly admits that he even lost his socks in their grand rush to safety and the rear.

Well, I have heard of Phil Sheridan whipping a lot of Johnnies out of their boots up along the Shenandoah, but I believe Dr. Cannon's confession is the first and only recorded admission of any having been whipped out of their socks. As a solace, he asserts that the Confederates were outgeneraled and outnumbered. I will frankly admit the truth of the first statement, but will turn to the records for proof to the contrary as to their being out numbered.

These records show that Pemberton had with him some 80 regiments of infantry and 10 batteries, in all about 25,000 men; and Gen. Grant himself asserts that, leaving out the divisions on the left that virtually took no part in the battle, we had less than 15,000 actually engaged.

The simple truth of history is this: The rebels on their own chosen field, in a country with which they were perfectly familiar were most disastrously defeated by an inferior force. And as a result of that defeat they left behind 30 pieces of artillery, 10,000 stands of small arms much other war material, over 3,100 dead and wounded and over 3,000 prisoners.

Now, after all this had been accomplished by the three divisions on the right, and at about 4 o'clock in the evening as Gen. Grant tells us, he rode back to the left and rear, and met the advance skirmishers of the divisions on the left, just coming on the field by the Raymond road. Meeting Gen. Carr here he explained the situation to him and ordered him and Gen. Osterhaus to pursue the demoralized and fleeing enemy.  


This was done with vigor, and the pursuit was kept up until far into the night; while we of Hovey's Division, building our camp fires on the field of battle, settled down to the sad duty of counting and caring for our wounded and dead.

The uproar of the day ceased or grew faint in the distance, and the Summer night, drawing down its soft and dewy mantle, covered all, but could not conceal entirely the distress or horrors of the field. Of my own brave division more than 45 per cent or over 1,200 were either killed or wounded and as many more fell out of the other two divisions. This loss was certainly appalling, but who can measure the priceless value of that magnificent victory, who can justly estimate its far-reaching and mighty results? It certainly opened up an easy road to the outer defenses of Vicksburg, that great Gibraltar of the southwest; and just as certainly made sure not only its downfall and capture, but also the downfall and capture of Port Hudson.  

It was indeed the culmination of a series of brilliant victories that, in all, destroyed cut off, held at bay and useless, quite if not more man 100,000 men; thus preventing the reinforcement of the Army of Northern Virginia, and by so doing assuring victory, and not defeat at Gettysburg. Indeed, it is true that at Champion's Hill, down in the Mississippi Valley, and not up among the hills of Pennsylvania, was the rebellion met at the high noon of success; and at the former place, not the latter was the tide first turned in our favor in that mighty conflict for the preservation of the Union.  That it was preserved, that we are to day a united country, that we enjoy so much of peace and liberty that we are so proud of the old flag and all it so gloriously represents, is due, never let it be forgotten, is due alone to the grand patriotism and superb valor of the rank and file of the common soldiery of the North.



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

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