Thursday, June 27, 2013

Gettysburg 150th Part 3 - John Batdorff and Henry McDaniel

June 27, 2013

John G. Batdorff
2nd Lieutenant
John George Batdorff
149th Pennsylvania
Stone's Brigade, Doubleday's Division, Reynolds' 1st Corps

John Batdorff was born in 1839 and raised by his grandparents near Myerstown in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania.  There is but little information about his upbringing in rural Pennsylvania, but by the outbreak of the Civil War many men from his area had enlisted in the newly formed state regiments.  Batdorff enlisted with the 149th Pennsylvania (2nd Bucktails) in August of 1862 as a Second Lieutenant, the regiment being raised by Colonel Roy Stone, a member of the original 'Pennsylvania Bucktails.'  Early service with the 149th PA kept Batdorff and his comrades on duty in the Washington Garrison until February of 1863 when the regiment joined the First Corps, Army of the Potomac.  They were involved in the Chancellorsville Campaign, but very lightly engaged and still untested in battle.

As the army marched to Gettysburg in pursuit of Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, they would soon get enough battlefield experience to last more than a lifetime.  The 149th PA arrived on the battlefield late in the morning of July 1 and took position near the McPherson Farm buildings along the Chambersburg Pike.  Maneuvering into a number of different lines, Batdorff was a busy soldier that morning assisting in getting Company C into its proper place in line.  Like the building of a massive thunderstorm on a hot and humid summer evening, both armies were extending their lines and awaiting the culmination of the buildup of troops.  It was only a matter of time until the thunder once again started to roll on that first day of July, 1863.

149th PA Monument on McPherson's Ridge...the
Lutheran Theological Seminary in the distance
When the storm broke, the 149th PA and its sister regiments found themselves in a very unstable part of the Federal battle line.  They got hammered from both the north and the west by Confederate batteries which were belching forth a fierce-some fire.  Outnumbered and outflanked, the Federal position could not remain and after a desperate fight that lasted for what must have seemed like an eternity to the men wearing their buck-tails aloft, it was time to get out!

Lieutenant Batdorff faced the dangerous obstacle of retreat like everyone on the line and this story comes out of that harrowing experience.  "Captain John Bassler of the 149th Pennsylvania Infantry was wounded in the thigh during the Union Army's hectic retreat on the first day of the Battle.  Second Lieutenant Batdorf came to his rescue - but Bassler found it impossible to walk even with this assistance.  Batdorf then told him to "get on my back."

"As they trotted toward safety, Rebel bullets zipped by, no doubt encouraging Batdorf to even greater efforts with his heavy burden."

"Later, within Yankee lines, Lieutenant Batdorf jokingly said that Bassler must not give him too much "credit for disinterestedness; that his object in carrying me on his back was to shield himself from the Rebel bullets!"

Descriptive list written and kept in the field desk of Captain
John G. Batdorff for Private Jonathan Witman, who also
served at Gettysburg and was unscathed, only to be wounded
at the battle of the Wilderness in May of '64. (author's collection)
Batdorff was later wounded on July 3, but survived his wounds to be promoted to Captain of Company C, in which capacity he served until the end of the war.  The regiment was engaged in the Overland Campaign and the actions around Petersburg, losing many more men to the Confederate lead storms.  After the war Batdorff returned to Millbach in Lebanon County, Pennsylvania where he resumed his activities as a well-known farmer and eventually became the County Treasurer, living out his days near his boyhood home.  "He was widely known and universally liked...He was a loving husband and father, and a true friend. In politics, he was a staunch Republican, and in the last days of the nineteenth century, he was honored by his party with election to the office of county treasurer, which he filled to the complete satisfaction of the taxpayer. He was a member of the Lutheran congregation at Millbach, and stood high in the councils of the church. His wife, who was Miss Elizabeth Illig, and a daughter, Miss Carrie Batdorf, at home, survive. He was the last of his family, his sister, Mrs. Albert Karmany, of Myerstown, preceding him in death six years ago. He was aged 65 years."  He died in 1905 after a life of dedicated service and bravery.

Sources: Gregory A. Coco, On The Bloodstained Field I&II, p.12, 2013.  Historical Data Systems, Inc.  Lebanon Daily News, 15 September 1905.

Monument to the 149th PA on Cemetery Ridge marking their position on July 3 at Gettysburg...
Batdorff was wounded somewhere in this area during Pickett's assault.

Post-war image of Major McDaniel
Henry Dickerson McDaniel
11th Georgia
Anderson's Brigade, Hood's Division, Longstreet's Corps

Major Henry McDaniel was one of those young officers thrown into the cusp of regimental command because of the mounting losses on July 2 at Gettysburg.  His regiment was the 11th Georgia and a part of George 'Tige' Anderson's Brigade.  At 26, the young man led his regiment through the fray at Gettysburg's infamous "Wheatfield."  The attack was very deadly and through extraordinary circumstances McDaniel managed to do not only a competent job, but one which warrants consideration in his rise to the occasion.  His official report was written only five days after the guns fell silent at Gettysburg and is in my opinion, one of the more detailed accounts we have of Anderson's Brigade's actions in 'The Wheatfield.'

"JULY 8, 1863.
CAPTAIN: I have the honor to report the part borne by the Eleventh Georgia Regiment in the engagement near Gettysburg, Pa., on the 2d instant.

The regiment went into action under command of Col. F. H. Little. He having been severely wounded during the action, the command devolved upon Lieut. Col. William Luffman. Fear the close of the battle, Lieutenant-Colonel Luffman took command of the brigade, when the command of the regiment devolved upon myself.

The scene of action was reached by a march of several miles, under a burning sun, and for the distance of 1 mile under a terrific fire of the enemy's batteries. Advancing to the crest of the hill where the Emmitsburg pike enters the woods in front of the enemy's position, along a ravine near the base of the mountain, the regiment bore unflinchingly, with the remainder of the brigade, the severe enfilading fire of the enemy's batteries upon Cemetery Hill until ordered to advance.

17th Maine Monument at left...This is the original stone wall along
the southern edge of 'The Wheatfield' that Major McDaniel
and his men of the 11th Georgia fought over against the
17th Maine and later, units of the 2nd Corps. 
The Eleventh Georgia is the right center regiment of the brigade, and went into action in its place. The advance was made in good order, and, upon reaching the belt of woods in front, a vigorous fire was opened upon the enemy, followed up by a vigorous charge, which dislodged them from the woods, the ravine, and from a stone fence running diagonally with the line of battle. This formidable position was occupied by the Eleventh Georgia, and a galling fire opened upon the enemy's front and flank, causing his line to recoil in confusion. At this juncture, Brigadier-General Anderson came in person to the regiment (a considerable distance in advance of the remainder of the brigade and in strong position, which was at the time held and might have been held against the enemy in front), and ordered Colonel Little to withdraw the regiment to the crest of the hill, on account of a movement of the enemy in force upon the left flank of the brigade. The regiment retired in good order, though with loss, to the point indicated.

After a short interval, a second advance was made to the stone fence, but, after a furious conflict, the failure of support on the right forced the brigade back a distance of 100 yards. The third advance was made in connection with the entire line on that part of the field, and resulted, after a conflict in the ravine of half an hour, in the rout of the enemy from the field. This rout was vigorously pressed to the very foot of the mountain, up the sides of which the enemy fled in the greatest confusion. The loss of the enemy was here very great, his dead lying upon the field by the hundred. Nothing but the exhausted condition of the men prevented them from carrying the heights. As it was, with no support of fresh troops, and with the knowledge that the enemy was pouring re-enforcements from their right into the ledges of the mountain, it was found impracticable to follow him farther.

In this charge, large numbers of prisoners taken by men of this command were sent to the rear, but no guards were kept over them specially, and it is impossible now to ascertain the number. The regiment retired with the line to the ravine, and went into bivouac for the night, the pickets of the brigade holding the field. The rout of the enemy was manifested in the fact that no attempt was made to follow our retreat, and scarcely any effort to annoy us in retiring.

The regiment lost many valuable officers and men. Among the killed are Capt. M. T. Nunnally, Company H; Capt. John W. Stokes, Company B, and First Lieut. W. Holmes Baskin, Company K, who fell gallantly at their posts. A complete list of the casualties is herewith transmitted. From this it appears that the number of killed was 23, of wounded 171, and of missing 5; total, 204.

I take pleasure in testifying that the behavior of officers and men was satisfactory and worthy the proud name heretofore won by the troops of this army.
I am, your obedient servant,
Major, Commanding Eleventh Georgia Regiment.
A. A. G., Anderson's Brigade. "

McDaniel was wounded and then captured at a temporary hospital near Funkstown, Maryland only a few days after writing this report.  He was taken to a Federal prison camp.  He survived the war and had a remarkably vivid career in politics after the war which included governorship of the state of Georgia.  He also became a millionaire and died at age 89 in 1926.

Sources: Milan Simonich, Gettysburg: Profiles in Courage / Henry D. McDaniel, Pittsburgh Post Gazette,  July 6, 2003. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the  Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, 1880-1901, Washington, D.C., Ser. 1, Vol. xxvii, Pt. 2, p. 401-403.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Gettysburg 150th Part 2 - The Story of John Callis and Thomas Kenan

June 26, 2013
Today's officers share in a unique story that truly illustrates the 'small world' we all live in.  It is one of my personal favorites from the greater Gettysburg story and it sheds light on the ties that bind us all.

Raleigh, NC, 22 August, 1893.

Gen.  John B. Callis, Lancaster, Grant County, Wisconsin.
My Dear Sir :—Upon a recent visit to Gettysburg and going over the ground where the first day's battle as fought, I was forcibly reminded of the circumstances under which I met you, and which have been related by me to others, numbers of times in the last thirty years.

You and I were in opposing commands. You were Lieutenant-Colonel of the Seventh Wisconsin, and I was Colonel of the Forty-third North Carolina Infantry, Daniel's Brigade, Rodes' Division, Ewell's Corps. After the engagement had continued for some time the Union forces fell back and occupied Seminary Ridge, and later in the afternoon this became the point of attack by the Confederates and was carried by them. The firing having ceased and comparative quiet restored, Lieutenant Shepherd, of my regiment, reported to me that among the wounded in our front was Lieutenant-Colonel Callis, of the Seventh Wisconsin, and that he(or his father's family) "was from Fayetteville, X. C, Shepherd himself being also a Fayetteville man. This fact no doubt interested him. Thereupon I went forward and found you lying a little beyond the crest of the ridge, and about the spot where I stood the other day at Gettysburg.  After some conversation and doing what I could in your behalf, I caused you to be carried to the building near by, in which the wounded Union soldiers were placed for immediate treatment. I think it was the large brick Seminary building. And shortly afterwards one of my men handed me a pair of splendid spurs which he said you had presented to me. I sent them home and have prized them highly ever since. I well remember telling you that "You are now my prisoner, and I'll treat you well ; I may be yours later on." And so it happened, for I was wounded on Gulp's Hill on 3 July, taken off the field, placed in an ambulance and captured on the retreat on the night of 4 July, with many other wounded Confederates, and was a prisoner until the war closed.

43rd NC Monument along E Confederate Ave near Culps Hill
I hope we will meet at 'Gettysburg again, not on a hostile, but on a friendly historic field, when our performances will be impressed with a character different from that of 1863. A committee has been appointed by the government, charged with the duty of marking the lines of the Confederate troops in the interest of history, and I have been in correspondence with Colonel Bachelder, its chairman, in reference to that matter. I may therefore go to Gettysburg again, and, if so, will write you, and request your presence at that time.

I will be pleased to learn your military career after the time referred to above. The Adjutant-General of your State, upon my application, gave me your address.
Yours truly,
Thos. S. Kenan

To this letter the following reply was received:

Lancaster, Wis., 3 September, 1893.

Colonel Thos. S. Kenan, Raleigh, N. C:
My Dear Colonel:—Your favor of a recent date is before me and its contents highly appreciated. It contains convincing evidence of the fact that we met in deadly combat on the historic field of Gettysburg 1 July, 1863, over thirty years ago—I now carrying a souvenir in the shape of a minie ball in my right lung, and you bearing honorable scars, evidencing the fact that we both fought desperately for the causes we individually thought just. And now after thirty years we are exchanging friendly greetings. Thus it is ‘paritur pax belIo.’  I have always admired a gentleman who never forgets that he is a gentleman no matter what his environs may be, and must say that I took you to be such, when you kindly treated me as your prisoner of war on the field at Gettysburg, hence the presentation of my spurs, I thinking I would have no more use for them. I was doubtless somewhat delirious with pain when you came up to me, but the facts were so indelibly fixed on my mind that they are as fresh to me as though they were of yesterday, and are as follows: On the morning of 1 July, 1863, about 9:30 o'clock, the Iron Brigade, composed of the Second, Sixth and Seventh Wisconsin, Nineteenth Indiana and Twenty-fourth Michigan, charged General Archer's Brigade on Willoughby's Run and captured General Archer and most of his brigade. In this charge my horse was killed and I was slightly wounded, and not taking time to shed my spurs, I went in on foot. We held Willoughby's Run until 3 o'clock in the afternoon, when Ave found ourselves in the little end of a "V" being flanked on the right and left by A. P. Hill's and Ewell's Corps. General Reynolds, of our first corps having been killed and General Meredith, commanding our brigade, and most of our field officers, having been wounded or killed in the morning, what was left of our brigade was in a tight place. We moved by the right of companies to the rear, making the Seminary on the Ridge our objective point. Being closely pursued by the Confederates, we faced, wheeled into line and fired; then again by the right of companies to the rear, loading on the march, and, as before, wheeled into line and fired. We executed the same movement with terrible effect.

Worm fence along Herbst Woods with McPherson Barn in the distance.
Many a brave North Carolinian bit the dust in that movement before we reached the Seminary. At this juncture I was shot in the right breast, the ball entering my lung, and here it still remains. Captain Hobert, of my regiment, made a detail, with himself, to take me off the field. They carried me over the pike into a field near the old railroad grade, where they were compelled to surrender and were taken prisoners to the rear, leaving me where you found me. The first thing I remember, I was surrounded by private Confederate soldiers, who were curiously examining my uniform, they taking my coat off, in the side pocket of which was my pocket book containing $220 in greenbacks and gold, with papers by which I might be identified should I be found dead on the field. They went and sat down on the railroad grade near by and were examining the contents of the pocketbook when an officer came to me and saw my condition. He interrogated me as to my rank, regiment, name and nativity, and in stooping over me to catch my words I though I could see signs of pity depicted on his face, which gave me hope. I asked him to unbuckle the spur from my boot. He did so and seeing the other foot bootless, he asked its meaning. I told him some of the men had pulled it off without unbuckling the spur and that it nearly tore the leg off. He looked around and found the boot with the spur on it; he took it off and threw the boots and spurs by my side, asking at the same time if they had taken anything else from me. I told them they had taken my coat and money. He inquired who they were, and I, pointing to them on the railroad grade, said, "There they are now." He looked and saw them and ordered them to restore the pocketbook and money, which they did—he placing the book and money in an inside pocket of my coat. I told him to take the money and send it to my family, as I feared it would be an incentive for the men to finish me and take the money as soon as his back was turned on me. He replied, "I will see that you are taken care of," and I soon found myself in charge of two Confederates, one a German and one an Irishman, with a negro to bring water and pour on my wounds, and faithfully too, they did their whole duty. I looked around and found that you were not in sight. I told the men that I was glad that I had given you my spurs as a partial reward for your kindness, and the Irishman replied, ''Yis, sor, he's a mighty foine man, so he is sor." And the German said, ''Yah, he bin so better as glide." I think this was the first thing that provoked a smile since I had been shot. You know it rained that night, which was a God-send to me, for it cooled the fever that was burning in me. In this condition I lay on the field until the afternoon of 3 July, when the Confederates commenced falling back over me, and I fearing the cavalry and artillery might crush me, begged the men to take me to some place of safety, and they took me to a little house just across the pike and left me on the porch until the owner of the house came, who was a kind-hearted old Pennsylvania German, and he took me in and placed me on a straw bed in the corner of the room. The two men having heard that you were killed dodged into the cellar and remained there all night. On the morning of the 4th, General Buford's Cavalry came in pursuit of the Confederate forces and his chief surgeon caused me to be taken into the city where I received the best of care in a private house for three months before I could be removed to my home. * * (Here followed an account of his subsequent military services, promotion to Brigadier-General and election to Congress in 1868.)

Monument to the 7th Wisconsin at the edge of Herbst Woods
I have told the story of the spurs and your kindness until it has become a "campfire story" all over the State, and told it as I relate it to you ; and I wish there were more frequently such interchange of friendly greetings between ex-Confederate and Union soldiers as this between you and me.

I was born in Fayetteville, NC, 3 January, 1828. When I was ten years old my father removed to Benton county, Tennessee, and in 1840 to Lancaster, Grant county, Wisconsin, while it was a Territory. After I was of age I was actively engaged in business pursuits until 1861, when the call to arms was sounded in tones of thunder from the mouth of the first gun that was fired on the proud emblem of our nationality, then floating over the walls of Fort Sumter. I then conceived it to be not only my privilege, but my patriotic duty to abandon my business, my home and my family for a time and go to battle for the Nation's safety. My father, whose memory I revere, viewing the situation from a Southern standpoint, but at the same time being honest in his convictions, advised otherwise, saying that I was going to war  with my own flesh and blood, as all of our relatives lived in the South, but I followed the dictates of my own convictions and went, and ever since have been proud of having done my duty. * * *

Keep the spurs. Colonel, with my blessing, but I hope the occasion may never come for you to use them so vigorously that you will think yourself criminally guilty of cruelty to animals, as I have, many times. Pardon me, if I have deployed my skirmish line of thought on untenable ground, in this my disconnected answer to your tersely written communication on 22 August. With assurances of my highest regard and sincere desire for mutual and perpetual good feeling and friendly relations, I am very respectfully yours,
John B. Callis.
P. S. —I shall be more than glad to meet you at Gettysburg as indicated in your favor, my health permitting.

The ill health of General Callis prevented his meeting Colonel Kenan at Gettysburg as proposed, and he died in the year 1897.

From: Histories of the Several Regiments and Battalions from North Carolina in the Great War 1861-65. Volume V.  Thomas Kenan and John Callis. pp 611-616.  1901.  Also reprinted in North Carolina Remembers Gettysburg.  Michael C. Hardy. pp 92-97. 2011.

Thomas Kenan
43rd North Carolina
Daniel's Brigade, Rodes' Division, Ewell's Corps

Thomas Stephen Kenan was born in Kenansville, North Carolina in 1838 and was an 1857 graduate of the University of North Carolina.  He and his brother were involved in a local militia unit at the outbreak of the war.  The company, of which Kenan was Captain, became part of the 12th North Carolina before being consolidated into the new 43rd North Carolina.  Kenan was elected Colonel and led the regiment through all its travails up to Gettysburg.  On the morning of July 1 the regiment was heavily engaged against the Stone's Bucktail Brigade and portions of Cutler's Brigade.  The regiment was not engaged on the second day of the battle, but moved to the Confederate left to support Johnson's Division's attack against Culps Hill where they were again engaged on the morning of July 3.  Kenan survived not only Gettysburg, but the entire war.  Afterwards he was engaged in politics through the state General Assembly of North Carolina, UNC's Board of Trustees and a number of other posts.  He died in 1911.

Lieutenant Colonel
John Benton Callis
7th Wisconsin
Meredith's Brigade, Wadsworth's Division, Reynolds' First Corps

John Callis was born on January 3, 1828 in Fayetteville, North Carolina and had a fluid life as a youth, moving to Tennessee and later Lancaster, Wisconsin.  In his antebellum adult days he moved to California as a mercantile and was involved in the mining business.  He later returned to Wisconsin where he enlisted in the 7th Wisconsin as a Lieutenant at the outbreak of the war.  As a result of attrition, Callis became the commander of the 7th Wisconsin in the famed Iron Brigade during the Maryland Campaign in 1862.  At Gettysburg on July 1 he was severely wounded in the chest and his recovery was a long road.  He never again served in the field with the Army of the Potomac, taking command as superintendent of the War Department in Washington D.C. at the end of the war.  After the conflict he moved around a bit and became a congressman before his death in 1898.


Joseph Barnett Family History:

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Gettysburg 150th Part 1 - Colonel Daniel Christie and Captain John Phillips

As the 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg draws near, we will begin a post highlighting the individuals involved with the campaign. On each day you will be introduced to one Union soldier and one Confederate Soldier who made history at Gettysburg 150 years ago.  The focus (as you will see) is on the line officers of the respective armies.  These are the men who were directing the battle, from company level to regimental level, on the front lines of the action.  Keep in mind as you read about these fascinating and courageous individuals, that very real bullets and artillery shells were flying about them and they shared in the same breadth of human emotions that each and every one of us experiences at every moment of every day.  These are the men that decided the fate of the nation at Gettysburg on July 1-3, 1863.

June 25, 2013

Colonel Christie
23rd North Carolina
Iverson's Brigade, Rode's
Division, Ewell's Corps

Sounds of strenuous battle reached us early on the morning of Wednesday, 1 July, as we pressed forward towards Gettysburg, the obscure Dutch town so soon to be made famous. Our brigade(Iverson's) led Ewell's corps and was the first to become engaged as he hurried forward to succor A P Hill, then hard pressed. At Willoughby Run our Field Officers dismounted. Approaching from the north by the Heidelburg road till within about a mile of the field of battle, we filed off by the right flank to the Mummersburg road. As we emerged from the woods and moved down the slope to the latter road twenty pieces of artillery opened up on us with grape, from the left, inflicting some loss.

The Mummersburg road here runs east and west. Very close to the road on the south side stands the Fourney house. This house stands in the northwest corner of the Forney field, which extends about half a mile from the house along the Mummersburg road, and is about a quarter of a mile broad. Across this road near the Forney house the brigade was formed facing east. Along the path or eastern side of the field and on a ridge ran a stone fence, which formed part of the enemy's line. Behind this fence, alone, lay hidden from view, more men that our assaulting column contained. A body of woods extended from the southeastern corner of the field for about two hundred yards along its southern side.

The brigade about 1,450 strong, advanced under artillery fire through the open grass field in gallant style, as evenly as if on parade. But our brigade commander(Iverson) after ordering us forward, did not follow us in that advance, and our alignment soon became false. There seems to have been utter ignorance of the force crouching behind the stone wall. For our brigade to have assailed such a stronghold thus held, would have been a desperate undertaking. To advance southeast against the enemy visible in the woods at that corner of the filed, exposing our left flank to an enfilading file from the stronghold was fatal. Yet this is just what we did. And unwarned, unled as a brigade, went forward Iverson's deserted band to its doom. Deep and long must the desolate homes and orphan children of North Carolina rue the rashness of that hour.

View from Oak Ridge towards Oak Hill:  Christie and the 23rd
advanced from left to right on the right-center part of the
brigade line moving against Union Soldiers hidden behind
a stone wall out of view from this angle to the right.
When we were in point blank range of the dense line of the enemy rose from its protected lair and pointed unto us a withering fire from the front and both flanks. For Battle's brigade, ordered to protect our left flank, had been thrown into confusion by the twenty pieces of artillery and repulsed by the right wing of the Federal line just as we came up. This effected, the enemy moving under cover of the ridge and woods, disposed his forces to enfilade our right from the woods just as our left was enfilade from the stone fence.

Pressing forward with heavy loss under deadly fire our regiment, which was the second from the right, reached a hollow or low place, running irregularly north, east and southwest through the field. We were then about eighty yards from the stone fence to the left and somewhat further from the woods to the right, from both of which, as well as from the more distant corner of the filed in  our front, poured down upon us a pitiless rifle fire.

Unable to advance, unwilling to retreat, the brigade lay down in this hollow or depression in the field and fought as best it could. Terrible was the loss sustained, our regiment losing the heaviest of all in killed, as from its position in line the cross enfilading fire seems to have been the hottest just where it lay. Major C C Blacknall was shot through the mouth and neck before the advance was checked. Lieutenant Colonel R D Johnson was desperately and Colonel D H Christie mortally wounded, as the line lay in the bloody hollow. There too, fell every commissioned officer save one; the recorded death-roll footing up 54 killed and 82 wounded. The real loss was far greater, almost surely 50 percent, greater. Captain G T Baskerville, Company I, Lieutenant C W Champion, Company G, and Adjutant Junius B French were killed. Captain A D Peace, Company E, and Lieutenant Wm H Mundy were wounded. Captain H G Turner, Company H was wounded and captured. Captain Wm H Johnston, Company K was captured.

Looking across 'Iverson's Pits' towards the stone wall from which Union
soldiers blasted the brigade and Christie's 23rd North Carolina
The carnage was great along our whole line, which, except the Twelfth Regiment on the right, was at the mercy of the enemy. The Twelfth, under Colonel Davis, protected somewhat by the lay of the field and being further from the stone wall, refused both wings and fighting to the right, left and front, gallantly beat off its assailants till help came....

Daniel Harvey Christie was born in Federick County, Virgina, 28 March 1833 and was educated at a military school. He became a citizen of Henderson, NC in 1857. The breaking out of the war found him in charge of the Henderson Military Institute which he had established. His gallant conduct and wounds at Seven Pines and Cold Harbour have already been mentioned.

Although the later wound was very severe within sixty days he returned to his command and devoted himself diligently to the work of recruiting and disciplining his regiment. At South Mountain his management of his regiment was such as to elicit from General Garland words of the highest praise for himself and his regiment, a few minutes before Garland fell. After Sharpsburg he commanded Anderson's brigade till Colonel Bryan Grimes reported for duty. At Gettysburg, his last battle, Christie's conduct was especially gallant. Here he held his men in position under a most terrific fire for an hour till the whole regiment was killed, wounded or captured, except a Lieutenant and sixteen men. He was in the act of leading a charge against the stone fence when he fell, with his men and officers thick around him. Colonel Christie was buried at Winchster, another Colonel of Twenty-third being laid by his side a year later.  (From "Twenty-Third Regiment," Turner and Wall)

Captain Phillips
Company B, 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry 
Farnsworth's Brigade, Kilpatrick's Division, Pleasanton's Cavalry Corps

John Wilson Phillips was born in 1837 and enlisted with the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry in 1862, commanding Company B as its Captain.  The regiment had but little experience when the Gettysburg Campaign began and even missed action at Brandy Station.  On June 30 that all changed.  

The 18th PA received the brunt of Stuart's ambush at Hanover, PA as they were in the rear of the column.    After a long and vicious fight, the Pennsylvania regiment had lost 3 men killed, 24 wounded and 57 missing or captured.  Phillips survived this action, but there was still more to come.  Engaging little during the first two days at Gettysburg, the regiment was called to the left as a part of Elon Farnsworth's Brigade on July 3.  Late in the evening the regiment participated in the infamous attack against well positioned Confederate infantry of Hood's Division by division commander Judson Kilpatrick.  They charged down Bushman Hill and did not make it far.  Phillips recalled that "Shells were flying thick and fast over our heads as we went, cutting off an occasional limb from the trees, and a rattling fire of musketry was coming from the front.  Too high firing of the enemy alone saved  us from terrible loss.  Owing to the brush and thick woods, we did not discover until we had gone almost through the timber and could begin to see in the opening beyond, that the enemy were lying behind a stone fence that skirted the woods and separated them from the fields."  

Area into which Phillips and the 18th PA
charged from treeline in right-center
distance towards the stone wall
As Phillips and his men came closer to the stone wall occupied by Texans, they were hit with another sheet of flame and Phillips went down being hit by a spent ball in the side of the head.  He momentarily lost his senses, but was helped to the rear by men in his company.  During this futile charge across the open fields of the Bushman Farm the 18th Pennsylvania lost another 22 men, although the casualties should have been seemingly higher.  

Once General Lee's Army of Northern Virginia started its withdrawal over South Mountain, the Union Cavalry was again engaged almost daily with southern vanguards in the rear of the column.  On July 7, a severe action took place at Hagerstown, Maryland in which the 18th Pennsylvania was again heavily engaged with Confederate cavalry and infantry.  Phillips once again led a charge in the narrow streets of the town and somehow managed to survive unscathed.  It was a hotly contested fight in which the famed Captain Ulric Dahlgren led Company A in a charge to the town square and was severely wounded in the foot.  The regiment again lost heavily with 8 men killed, 21 wounded and 59 missing or captured.  Through the entire campaign in Pennsylvania the 18th lost 194 men and went from greenhorns to veterans. 

18th PA Cavalry Monument on  Bushman Hill at Gettysburg
The 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry had greatly distinguished itself during the Gettysburg Campaign and Captain Phillips was recommended for promotion.  It would not come until April of 1864 when he became the unit's Major.  In this new position he led the regiment through many engagements both light and deadly.  He was wounded again at Hanover Court House in May of 1864 and captured in November of that same year near Cedar Creek.  He was released in March and was once more wounded before the close of hostilities, also being promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, at which rank he ended his military career.  Phillips published his diary after the war and transplanted to California where he died in 1896.

Historical Data Systems, Inc.
History of the Eighteenth Regiment of Cavalry, Pennsylvania Volunteers.  Potter, Rodenbough, Seal.  1910.    
Gettysburg's Forgotten Cavalry Actions.  pp 44-47. Eric J. Wittenberg. 2011

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Battle of Champion Hill with the 'Hawkeyes' of the 5th Iowa Infantry

Recently Vicksburg National Military Park celebrated the 150th Anniversary of the Vicksburg Campaign along the mighty Mississippi.  The Vicksburg Campaign stands as one of the most striking and brilliant campaigns in United States Military history and its significance and bearing on the outcome of the war were monumental.  President Lincoln could not have been more on the mark when he said, "See what a lot of land these fellows hold, of which Vicksburg is the key! The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket...We can take all the northern ports of the Confederacy, and they can defy us from Vicksburg."1

General U. S. Grant (Library of Congess - LOC)
 Although many other eastern battles receive more notoriety, we need to try and understand the entirety of the war in its proper perspective.  Vicksburg is truly a highlight that necessitates an understanding.  It might be said best in the book Last Chance for Victory by Scott Bowden and Bill Ward; "...while the South could very well lose the war in the West, it could never win it there."  By contrast, the North could win the war in the west, not as a means to total victory, but in order to better close the contest in the east and elsewhere.  General Ulysses Grant had control of the armies in the west and it was through his model leadership that total Confederate collapse in the western theater became a reality.2

With this week's blog we will focus in on the major battle of Grant's Vicksburg Campaign that spelled disaster for the Confederacy, Champion Hill.  In trying to understand the events we will follow in the footsteps of the 5th Iowa Volunteer Infantry.  They were typical of the units grinding out the campaign under Grant and provide a good blueprint for the events that took place, having participated from start to finish in the numerous actions that culminated in the capitulation of Vicksburg.  


The 5th Iowa Infantry mustered into Federal service on July 17, 1861.  For these Iowa Hawkeyes, as they made their way to mustering camp, they could count themselves as the nation's first defenders.  Organized under Colonel William Worthington and Lieutenant Colonel Charles Matthies, the regiment's first experiences came on the Missouri frontier in search of rebel bands and gorilla groups terrorizing the countryside.  During this time Colonel Worthington moved up to brigade command and Matthies took the reigns of the regiment.  They spent a quiet first winter in various positions that included guarding different railroad lines.  In May of 1862 the regiment was involved in the move against Corinth where Colonel Worthington was killed.  Matthies became Colonel and Ezekiel Silas Sampson of Company F became the new Lieutenant Colonel.3 

At Iuka, Mississippi the 5th Iowa was heavily engaged for the first time losing 220 of the 480 men they took
Lt. Colonel Ezekiel Silas Sampson
(Author's Collection)
to the field.  The regiment received high regards from a number of high ranking officers and Colonel Matthies was promoted to Brigadier General.  The nemesis of attrition reared its head in the 5th Iowa as it did in units all across the Civil War Landscape throughout the long conflict.  Whether by promotion, casualty, or disease, new positions needed to be filled.  New destinies awaited their victims.  With vacancy in regimental command, Lt. Colonel Sampson bumped upward and took command of the regiment.  Sampson was a lawyer before the war in Sigourney, Iowa and had the respect of the entire community.  At age thirty-one, he now commanded many of his antebellum friends and associates.  Like many line officers in the war, he previously had no military training, but learned the trade through experience and the tutelage of his senior officers.  It was in short order for his limited military experience to be put to the test.  Even as we in many cases provide constructive criticism to the efforts of commanders fairly liberally, it is necessary to keep in mind this one hinging fact.  The majority of the men fighting the Civil War on the front line were 'citizen-soldiers,' not West Point graduates.4    

The regiment took part in a number of small engagements around Corinth and was soon attached to Seventh Division of the Seventeenth Army Corps under Major General James McPherson in the Army of the Tennessee.  Spending the rest of the winter in camp, the regiment waited for the spring thaw and the promise of a new campaign against the remaining Confederate hubs of the region. 


After such great progress in the west, General Grant had started looking towards the 'Gibraltar of the West' in late 1862.  In Grant's first attempts at the city it seemed as though he might not ever reach the isolated citadel.  In December of that year he sent General Sherman down the Yazoo River and made a probe at Vicksburg from the north, intending to draw away Confederate units, allowing Sherman to attack the lightly defended city.  This ended in disaster for Sherman at Chickasaw Bayou.  On top of that the Confederate commander had dispatched cavalry to cut Grant's supply lines and wreak havoc on Federal columns. 
Lt. General John C. Pemberton

John C. Pemberton was the Lieutenant General in command of Confederate forces at Vicksburg and thus far had nobly resisted Grant's strikes against his front.  Although a born Pennsylvanian and under some suspicion from his colleagues because of his command capabilities, 'West-Pointer' Pemberton seemed to be one step ahead of every move made by Federal forces.  

Continuing to seek routes into Vicksburg over the bayous north of the city, Grant was foiled over and over again.  The press began to chide Grant and the seemingly lacking initiative in his army.  All the while he was formulating a new thrust at the target.  Just when many in the east started to count him out, his army emerged from the hot, humid bayous on a new front.

On April 30, Grant had landed his army on the Confederate side, or eastern shore, of the mighty Mississippi River at Bruinsburg.  Gun-boats under David Porter had run the gauntlet past Vicksburg and unleashed a hail of shells upon Grand Gulf to the south, Grant's initial crossing point.  Because resistance was so staunch there, Grant crossed a little farther south at Bruinsburg.  He continued his drive into the Mississippi heartland and on May 1 dashed into the defenses of Port Gibson.  It fell with 1,500 casualties suffered by both sides.  This loss to the Confederates made Grand Gulf untenable and General Pemberton was sure Grant's next move would be to strike across the Big Black River and his fortress at Vicksburg to the north.   
Vicksburg Defenses Map - 1877 (LOC)


Pemberton could not have been more mistaken.  Grant planned to do the unexpected.  Instead of moving directly on Vicksburg he chose the indirect course which would quell any reinforcements that might aid Pemberton at Vicksburg.  He continued east, using the Big Black River as a natural shield and set the state capital of Jackson in his sights.  Confederate General Joseph Johnston was ordered by President Jefferson Davis to relieve Vicksburg and take command of the dire situation.  Unfortunately for Pemberton who thought help was on the way, although probably an accurate summation by his counterpart, Johnston felt the situation in Vicksburg was already beyond saving.  

Continuing his dash inland in a 'blitzkrieg' style, Grant smashed into part of General John Gregg's force southwest of Raymond on May 12, only a bit over ten miles from Jackson.  Gregg had moved his Confederates from Port Hudson, Louisiana towards Jackson in a relief effort and now found themselves in a bully of a fight that lasted nearly six hours.  Although  Gregg's men fought tenaciously, they were forced to withdrawal to Jackson after a combined 1,000 casualties for both sides.  

By this point, Pemberton had started moving his army from Vicksburg towards Bolton Depot and Clinton to link up with Johnston's army.  In a series of unfortunate events for Pemberton, by May 14 Jackson had fallen to Grant's force and General Johnston began moving his army north and away from Pemberton's force.  The state capital of Mississippi was once again in Federal hands.  Grant wasted none of his man-power there and vacated the city once the Confederates had withdrawn far enough to the north.  Now the trap had been sprung.

General Grant turned his forces west to meet Pemberton and the stage was set for the conflict to decide the fate of the 'Gibraltar of the West.'  As Grant's forces reverted from Jackson towards Vicksburg, Pemberton's troops were caught on the east side of the Big Black River.  The consequences of this geographic roadblock would be immense.


Colonel Slack, 47th IN sketch
Early in the morning on May 16 General Pemberton received a dispatch from General Johnston that was nearly two days old.  It ordered him to reunite with Johnston at Canton.  In pursuance to these orders he put his army in motion.  Major General Carter Stevenson's Confederate division was ordered to guard the Jackson Road in allowance for the rest of the army to pass behind it.  Unbeknownst to Stevenson and his men, Grant's army was in motion on three parallel roads moving in the direction of the Big Black River and Vicksburg.  At eight in the morning on May 16, Grant's skirmishers under General Hovey met those of General Stevenson near the Champion House and the decisive battle of the campaign had begun, only twenty miles from the prize...Vicksburg. 

For the 5th Iowa, the campaign had to this point been far from expensive.  Although a bit arduous from the long hours of marching, the 5th had played a minor role in the engagements already enacted.  The extent of their casualties before May 16 tells the story as they had a total of four men wounded at Jackson.  Although far more exciting than the normal rigors of non-campaign camp-life, the current campaign began to spring to life for the 'Hawkeyes' early that morning on May 16.  Regimental Adjutant Samuel "Marsh" Byers relates...."my regiment was up and getting breakfast long before daylight. The breakfast consisted of some wet dough cooked on the ends of ramrods; nothing more.  Troops were hurrying past our bivouac by daylight. Once I went out to the roadside to look about a bit. It was scarcely more than early daylight, yet cannon could occasionally be heard in the far distance, something like low thunder. As I stood there watching some batteries hurrying along I noticed a general and his staff gallop through the woods, parallel with the road. They were leaping logs, brush, or whatever came in their way. It was General Grant, hurrying to the front. Shortly came the orders, "Fall in!" and we too were hurrying along that road toward Champion Hills."5

Lt. Colonel Sampson assembled the men quickly.  The 5th Iowa was then on the road and moving to the sound of the guns, not knowing to what end the day's travails would lead them.  For Lieutenant John Campbell of Company B the morning was filled with understandable, but not unnerving anticipation.  "After marching about 3 miles, we heard the booming of cannon ahead, and we concluded that our regular “every-other-day-fight” had begun. After pushing in about a mile, we came to our hospital and our brigade was formed in line on “double quick.” Logan’s Division was ahead of our – our other brigades in our rear."  As Colonel Holden Putnam of the 93rd Illinois wrote in the official report for the brigade...."we pushed steadily onward until 12 m. Was ordered into position by the division commander on the south side of the road at Champion's Hill and in the rear of General Hovey's division, then fiercely engaged with the enemy. We moved steadily forward in two lines about 700 yards, when orders were received to halt, and move by the right flank across the main road to the balance of the Seventeenth Army Corps."6

Shortly after the initial skirmish, the Confederate forces of Stevenson's Division formed into a strong defensive position around Champion Hill, just north of the strategic intersection of the Jackson, Ratliff and Middle Roads.  Whoever held the hill, controlled the roads, and upon this precipice did the fighting sway in earnest. Early on, General Alvin Hovey's Division drove the Confederates back before Barton's Brigade strengthened the Confederate left, stalling the Federal advance.  General Stevenson says in his official report..."At about 10.30 a.m. a division of the enemy, in column of brigades, attacked Lee and Cumming. They were handsomely met and forced back some distance."7 
Lt. Dwight, 20th OH sketch of Champion Hill
The Federal threat was now temporarily stifled.  General Stevenson says in his report..."they [Hovey's Division] were re enforced, apparently by about three divisions, two of which moved forward to the attack and the third continued its march toward the left, with the view of forcing it."  Major General John Logan's Division was the reinforcement seen by Stevenson.  Behind him was Marcellus Crocker, the division to which the 5th Iowa belonged.  Logan's Division moved against the Confederate left, applying severe pressure.  Although the threat was worrisome, two more Confederate brigades were just arriving in the center to add to the Confederate sway.8

Cockrell's Missourians and Green's Arkansas brigade then smashed straight north up the Jackson Road from the vital intersection back towards Champion Hill.  This proved to be a deadly stroke against Hovey's men who were forced to withdrawal and by late morning the key high terrain was back in the possession of Confederate troops.  Colonel Putnam of the 93rd Illinois, Boomer's Brigade says..."orders were again countermanded, and Colonel Lagow, of Major-General Grant's staff'. brought orders from General Grant for us to move instantly to the support of General Hovey's division, then being forced back by a superior force of the enemy."  Although both sides had by this time suffered many casualties, the heat of the battle was just about to climb another notch.9

In the ranks of the 5th Iowa intensity was ramping up as well.  "Marsh" Byers recalled, "At the left of the road we passed a pond of dirty water. All who could broke ranks and filled canteens, knowing that in the heat of the fight we would need the water terribly. I not only filled canteen, I filled my stomach with the yellow fluid, in order to save that in the canteen for a critical moment. Just then there was in front of us a terrific crashing, not like musketry, but more like the falling down of a thousand trees at once. Our brigade, a small one, was hurried into line of battle at the edge of an open field that sloped down a little in front of us then up to a wood-covered ridge. That wood was full of the Rebel army. Fighting was going on to the right and left of us, and bullets flew into our own line, wounding some of us as we stood there waiting."  Lieutenant Campbell of Company B relates, "We had been there for a short time, however, before we became aware from the firing, that the rebels were driving Hovey back. Logan, at the same time was entering the woods and attacking the rebels on the right of our line. The firing growing nearer and nearer, it was not long before Hovey soon sent for 'help,' and our brigade was divided and the 93rd Illinois and the 5th Iowa were sent up the hill to reinforce him."  From head of the regiment, to rank and file, all were now aware of the impending role that was next required.10

Crocker's Division was next to go in and "Marsh" Byers provides plenty of details on the action that followed for the men of the 5th Iowa.  "Then General Grant himself rode up behind us, and so close to the spot where I stood, that I could have heard his voice. He leaned against his little bay horse, had the inevitable cigar in his mouth, and was calm as a statue. Possibly smoking so much tranquillized his nerves a little and aided in producing calmness. Still, Grant was calm everywhere; but he also smoked everywhere. Be that as it may, it required very solid courage to stand there quietly behind that line at that moment. For my own part, I was in no agreeable state of mind. In short, I might be killed there at any moment, I thought, and I confess to having been nervous and alarmed. Every man in the line near me was looking serious, though determined. We had no reckless fools near us, whooping for blood. Once a badly wounded man was carried by the litter-bearers - the drummers of my regiment - close to the spot where the General stood. He gave a pitying glance at the man, I thought, - I was not twenty feet away, - but he neither spoke nor stirred. Then I heard an officer say, "We are going to charge." It seems that our troops in front of us in the woods had been sadly repulsed, and now our division was to rush in and fight in their stead, and the commander-in-chief was there to witness our assault. Two or three of us, near each other, expressed dissatisfaction that the commander of an army in battle should expose himself, as General Grant was doing at that moment. When staff officers came up to him, he gave orders in low tones, and they would ride away. One of them, listening to him, glanced over our heads toward the Rebels awhile, looked very grave, and gave some mysterious nods. The colonel who was about to lead us also came to the General's side a moment. He, too, listened, looked, and gave some mysterious nods. Something was about to happen.

"My time has probably come now," I said to myself, and with a little bit of disgust I thought of the utter uselessness of being killed there without even firing a shot in self-defense. The suspense, the anxiety, was indeed becoming fearfully intense. Soon General Grant quietly climbed upon his horse, looked at us once, and as quietly rode away. Then the colonel came along the line with a word to each officer. As he [Lt. Colonel Sampson]came near me he called me from the ranks and said: "I want you to act as sergeant-major of the regiment in this battle." I was surprised, but indeed very proud of this mark of confidence in me. "Hurry to the left," he continued. "Order the men to fix bayonets - quick!" I ran as told, shouting at the top of my voice, "Fix bayonets! Fix bayonets!" I was not quite to the left, when I heard other voices yelling, "Forward! Quick! Double quick! Forward!" and the line was already on the run toward the Rebels. I kept up my shouting, "Fix bayonets!" for by some blunder the order had not been given in time, and now the men were trying to get their bayonets in place while running. We were met in a minute by a storm of bullets from the wood, but the lines in blue kept steadily on, as would a storm of wind and cloud moving among the tree-tops. Now we met almost whole companies of wounded, defeated men from the other division, hurrying by us, and they held up their bleeding and mangled hands to show us they had not been cowards. They had lost twelve hundred men on the spot we were about to occupy. Some of them were laughing even, and yelling at us: "Wade in and give them hell." We were wading in faster than I am telling the story.

On the edge of a low ridge we saw a solid wall of men in gray, their muskets at their shoulders blazing into our faces and their batteries of artillery roaring as if it were the end of the world. Bravely they stood there. They seemed little over a hundred yards away. There was no charging further by our line. We halted, the two lines stood still, and for over an hour we loaded our guns and killed each other as fast as we could. The firing and the noise were simply appalling. Now, I was not scared. The first shot I fired seemed to take all my fear away and gave me courage enough to calmly load my musket at the muzzle and fire it forty times. Others, with more cartridges from the boxes of the dead. In a moment I saw Captain Lindsey throw up his arms, spring upward and fall dead in his tracks. Corporal McCully was struck in the face by a shell. The blood covered him all over, but he kept on firing. Lieutenant Darling dropped dead, and other officers near me fell wounded.
Harpers Weekley drawing of the Battle of Champion Hill
I could not see far to left or right, the smoke of battle was covering everything. I saw bodies of our men lying near me without knowing who they were, though some of them were my messmates in the morning. The Rebels in front we could not see at all. We simply fired at their lines by guess, and occasionally the blaze of their guns showed exactly where they stood. They kept their line like a wall of fire. When I fired my first shot I had resolved to aim at somebody or something as long as I could see, and a dozen times I tired to bring down an officer I dimly saw on a gray horse before me. Pretty soon a musket ball struck me fair in the breast. "I am dead, now." I said, almost aloud. It felt as if someone had struck me with a club. I stepped back a few paces and sat down on a log to finish up with the world. Other wounded men were there, covered with blood, and some were lying by me dead. I spoke to no one. It would have been useless; thunder could scarcely have been heard at that moment. My emotions I have almost forgotten. I remember only that something said to me, "It is honorable to die so." I had not a thought of friends, or of home, or of religion. The stupendous things going on around me filled my mind. On getting my breath a little I found I was not hurt at all, - simply stunned; the obliquely-fired bullet had struck the heavy leather of my cartridge belt and glanced away. I picked up my gun, stepped back into the line of battle, and in a moment was shot through the hand. The wound did not hurt; I was too excited for that.

The awful roar of battle now grew more terrific, if possible. I wonder that a man on either side was left alive. Biting the ends off my cartridges, my mouth was filled with gunpowder; the thirst was intolerable. Every soldier's face was black as a negro's and, with some, blood from wounds trickled down over the blackness, giving them a horrible look. Once a boy from another part of the line to our left ran up to me crying out: "My regiment is gone! What shall I do?"

There was now a little moment's lull in the howling noise; something was going on. "Blaze away right here," I said to the boy, and he commenced firing like a veteran. Then I heard one of our own line cry, "My God, they're flanking us!" I looked to where the boy had come from. His regiment had indeed given way. The Rebels had poured through the gap and were already firing into our rear and yelling to us to surrender. It was surrender or try to get back past them. I ran like a race-horse, - so did the left of the regiment, amid a storm of bullets and yells and curses. I saved my musket, anyway. I think all did that, - but that half-mile race through a hot Mississippi sun, with bullets and cannonballs plowing the fields behind us, will never be forgotten. My lungs seemed to be burning up. Once I saw our regimental flag lying by a log, the color-bearer wounded or dead. I cried to a comrade flying near me, "Duncan Teter, it is a shame - the Fifth Iowa running."

Only the day before Teter had been reduced to the rank for some offense or another. He picked up the flag and with a great oath dared me to stop and defend it. For a moment we two tried to rally to the flag the men who were running by. We might as well have yelled to a Kansas cyclone. Then Captain John Tait, rushing by, saw us, stopped, and, recognizing the brave deed of Corporal Teter, promoted him on the spot. But the oncoming storm was irresistible, and, carrying the flag, we all again hurried rearward. We had scarcely passed the spot where I had seen Grant mount his horse before the charge when a whole line of Union cannon, loaded to the muzzle with grape-shot and canister, opened on the howling mob that was pursuing us. The Rebels instantly halted, and now again it seemed our turn." 11

The brigade had outrun its supports!  Reforming to the rear, the whole Federal line now continued a concerted thrust against the Confederate positions from the high ground around Champion Hill.  This was too much for Pemberton's hard fighting Confederates.  The swaying battle now took a turn for the worse against the Confederates.  General Stevenson says in his official report, "I met the lieutenant-general on the field, and stated to him that unless Loring's division was brought up we could not hold the field. He replied that it had been repeatedly ordered to come forward, and that he would go in person and hasten their movement.  About 4 p.m. Buford's brigade, of Loring's division, arrived, but not until the enemy had taken possession of the Raymond road and turned upon him two captured batteries. Several pieces of Withers' artillery from a ridge nearly opposite opened a brisk fire and soon silenced them. About this time I received orders from the lieutenant-general commanding to withdraw the troops in order to Big Black Bridge."12


Soon the Confederate flight began and there was no stopping the stampede.  Lieutenant William Drennan who was in charge of the ordnance trains for Loring's Division wrote this in a letter to his wife, "I had not gone far before I met bodies of men - some without hats - their guns thrown away - and looking as if they had just escaped from the Lunatic Asylum, and on my urging them for God's sake not to fly the field in that manner - would invariably reply that "they were all that was left of their company."  I exhorted and plead with numbers to return - that by their efforts united with those who had gone to their assistance, that the day would yet be ours and the tide of battle turned - but nothing but a drawn sabre or a presented bayonet will halt men fleeing from the battle field.  As I rode on further, I saw large numbers wounded - and in every conceivable manner.  The Earth in some places red with blood - and here and there a mangled soldier who had ceased to feel either the pain of his wound or the sting of defeat - and was sleeping the sleep that knows no waking."13 

The Federals, now on a six brigade front over a mile in length continued pressing forward, south down the Ratliff Road, driving everything in their front.  The rout was now completed.  Division commander, Marcellus Crocker, paints the picture well.  "At this critical moment Colonel Holmes arrived in the field with two regiments of the Second Brigade, the Seventeenth Iowa and Tenth Missouri, and, being informed of the position of affairs, proceeded with the greatest alacrity and enthusiasm to the front, relieving Colonel Boomer, who by this time was entirely out of ammunition, and charged the enemy with a shout, who broke and fled in the greatest confusion, leaving in our possession the regimental flag of the Thirty-first Alabama, taken by the Seventeenth Iowa, and two guns of his battery. This ended the fight. Our right, under General Logan, had already driven them, and when they broke on the left the rout was complete. That night we encamped near the battle-field."  Finally after hours of fighting, Boomer's Brigade, including the 5th Iowa, was pulled up and the battle was over.14

It was a costly victory, but one that warranted a complete effort which was fulfilled by the men of Grant's tough army.  "Marsh" Byers helps us to understand the aftermath and gives us this depiction of the field of conflict.  "Six thousand blue and gray-coated men were lying there in the woods, dead or wounded, when the last gun of Champion Hills was fired. Some of the trees on the battlefield were tall magnolias, and many of their limbs were shot away. The trees were in full bloom, their beautiful blossoms contrasting with the horrible scene of battle. Besides killing and wounding three thousand of the enemy, we had also captured thirty cannon and three thousand prisoners.

When the troops went off into the road to start in pursuit of the flying enemy, I searched over the battlefield for my best friend, poor Captain Poag, with whom I had talked of our Northern homes only the night before. He lay dead among the leaves, a bullet hole in his forehead. Somebody buried him, but I never saw his grave. Another friend I found dying. He begged me only to place him against a tree, and with leaves to shut the burning sun away from his face. While I was doing this I heard the groaning of a Rebel officer, who lay helpless in a little ditch. He called to me to lift him out, as he was shot through both thighs, and suffering terribly "Yes," I said, "as soon as I get my friend here arranged a little comfortably." His reply was pathetic. "Yes, that's right; help your own first." I had not meant it so. I instantly got to him and with the aid of a comrade, pulled him out of the ditch. He thanked me and told me he was a lieutenant colonel, and had been shot while riding in front of the spot where he lay. I eased his position as best I could, but all that night, with many other wounded soldiers, blue and gray, he was left on the desolate battlefield.

Now I realized how terrible the fire had been about us, - for some comrades counted two hundred bullet marks on a single oak tree within a few feet of where the left of the regiment had stood loading and firing that awful hour and a half. Most of the bullets had been fired too high, else we had all be killed. Near by lay the remains of a Rebel battery. Every horse and most of the cannoneer lay dead in a heap, the caissons and the gun carriages torn to pieces by our artillery. Never in a any battle had I seen such a picture of complete annihilation of men, animals, and material as was the wreck of this battery, once the pride of some Southern town -its young men, the loved ones of Southern homes, lying there dead among their horses. That was war!"15

The fighting at Champion Hill had lasted for nearly seven hours and the casualties reflect not only the duration of battle, but attest to the intensity of the action.  Over 6,000 dead, dying and wounded men littered the battlefield.  In the 5th Iowa, numbers were comparable.  The regiment lost 19 men killed and 75 wounded of the 350 men they took into action, a nearly twenty-seven percent casualty rate.16 


Siege of Vicksburg Map, Badeau 1864 (LOC)
The story of Champion Hill does not end there.  As many Confederate units escaped across the Big Black River, one was trapped.  Loring's Division became separated during the crossing and fighting broke out as the Federal troops surrounded them.  Deciding that Pemberton's cause was lost, Loring decided to move away from Vicksburg and escape to the southeast.  The division made good its escape towards Crystal Springs depriving Pemberton of another large chunk of the once formidable force he had under his command.  

Champion Hill sealed the fate of the Confederate citadel.  It was now only a mere matter of time.  Pemberton's remaining forces headed for the fortifications around Vicksburg to await the dashing Federal onslaught.  Meanwhile Grant continued the push and reached the outer defenses by May 18.  He ordered assaults on May 19 and 22 in which the attacking columns suffered severe casualties, before finally realizing that siege was the only option.  At the end of June, Pemberton received a message at his headquarters saying, "...If you can't feed us, you had better surrender us, horrible as the idea is, than suffer this noble army to disgrace themselves by desertion.  I tell you plainly, men ar not going to lie here and perish, if they do love their country dearly.  Self-preservation is the law of nature, and hunger will compel a man to do almost anything.  You had better heed a warning voice, though it is the voice of a private soldier...Signed, Many Soldiers."  After delaying the inevitable and harboring thoughts to continue, Pemberton finally took the advice of his men and subordinates.  After 47 days of siege, Vicksburg fell to Grant and his victorious army on Independence Day, the 'Glorious Fourth of July.'  The Mississippi River was, with the capitulation of Port Hudson, Louisiana on July 9, finally back in Union hands.  The Confederacy was cut in two in disastrous fashion and the Union stranglehold on inbound supplies tightened to a death grip.  The implications of this catastrophe in the west were far-reaching and never again would the Confederacy have the ability to wage war as it did before that time.  Indeed with the Union victory at Gettysburg in combination with Grant's recent successes, the situation definitely appeared to be shifting all across the board in favor of the Union.17   

For the men of the 5th Iowa, the war was not over.  There was still a lot of fighting to be done.  The 'Hawkeyes' would eventually move east with Grant and the rest of the army to take part in the Chattanooga Campaign where they were again victorious late in 1863.  At Missionary Ridge, Lieutenant Colonel Sampson led the regiment against the north side of the heights where they received the brunt of the powerful counter-attack by the fiery Patrick Cleburne and lost heavily.  Serving until 1864, many of men left the army at the end of their terms of service, having been involved in most of the major actions in the western theater of operations.  Those that decided to continue were mustered into the 5th Iowa Cavalry.  Many never made it home, but there were also survivors who returned home to tell the stories of the battles that had since gone down in the annals of American history.  Of all their battles though, these tough westerners were always proudest of their service in the Vicksburg Campaign and the Battle of Champion Hill, the defining victory.  Veterans of the unit would reunite for years after the war on the fields of Vicksburg.  They would commemorate the deeds of their fallen comrades and reminisce about the days gone by in solemn tribute to all they had born witness to, almost as if it were only a dream.  These old men were no mere witnesses though, they were the starring actors of the drama, even as citizen-soldiers.  "Grant's crown of immortality was won, and the jewel that shone most bright in it was set there by the blood of the men of Champion Hills."18


1. Vicksburg National Military Park. "Vicksburg is the Key!." (accessed May 15, 2013).

2. Bowden, Scott and Ward, Bill. Last Chance For Victory: Robert E Lee and the Gettysburg Campaign. P33. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2001.

3. Historical Data Systems, "Regiment History - Fifth Infantry IOWA." Accessed June 2, 2013.

4. Ibid. "Lieutenant Colonel Ezekiel Silas Sampson." Accessed June 2, 2013.

5. Bearss, Edwin. The Vicksburg CampaignGrant Strikes A Fatal Blow. P556. Vol. II. Edited by Morningside. Dayton, OH: Morningside House, 1986.  Byers, S.H.M. The Battle of Champion Hill - May 16, 1863, "The Story of Champion Hill From The Diary With Fire and Sword by Major S. H. M. Byers 5th Iowa Infantry." Last modified 2002. Accessed June 2, 2013.

6. Campbell, John Quincy Adams. The Battle of Champion Hill - May 16, 1863, "Another Letter from Quincy." Last modified 2002. Accessed June 2, 2013.  Putnam, Holden. The Battle of Champion Hill - May 16, 1863, "Colonel Holden Putnam 93rd Illinois Official Report." Last modified 2002. Accessed June 2, 2013.

7. Stevenson, Carter. The Battle of Champion Hill - May 16, 1863, "Major General Carter Stevenson Official Report." Last modified 2002. Accessed June 2, 2013.

8. Ibid.

9. Putnam, Holden. The Battle of Champion Hill - May 16, 1863, "Colonel Holden Putnam 93rd Illinois Official Report." Last modified 2002. Accessed June 2, 2013.

10. Byers, S.H.M. The Battle of Champion Hill - May 16, 1863, "The Story of Champion Hill From The Diary With Fire and Sword by Major S. H. M. Byers 5th Iowa Infantry." Last modified 2002. Accessed June 2, 2013.  Campbell, John Quincy Adams. The Battle of Champion Hill - May 16, 1863, "Another Letter from Quincy." Last modified 2002. Accessed June 2, 2013.  

11. Ibid.

12. Stevenson, Carter. The Battle of Champion Hill - May 16, 1863, "Major General Carter Stevenson Official Report." Last modified 2002. Accessed June 2, 2013.

13. Drennan, William. Editor Matt Atkinson. Lieutenant Drennan's Letter: A Confederate Officer's Account of the Battle of Champion Hill and the Siege of Vicksburg. P18. Gettysburg, PA: Thomas Publications, 2009.

14. Crocker, Marcellus. The Battle of Champion Hill - May 16, 1863, "Major General Marcellus Crocker Official Report." Accessed June 2, 2013.

15. Byers, S.H.M. The Battle of Champion Hill - May 16, 1863, "The Story of Champion Hill From The Diary With Fire and Sword by Major S. H. M. Byers 5th Iowa Infantry." Last modified 2002. Accessed June 2, 2013. 

16. Bearss, Edwin. The Vicksburg CampaignGrant Strikes A Fatal Blow. P651. Vol. II. Edited by Morningside. Dayton, OH: Morningside House, 1986.  Historical Data Systems, "Regiment History - Fifth Infantry IOWA." Accessed June 2, 2013.

17. Bearss, Edwin. The Vicksburg CampaignUnvexed To The Sea. P1282. Vol. III. Edited by Morningside. Dayton, OH: Morningside House, 1986.
18. Byers, S.H.M. The Battle of Champion Hill - May 16, 1863, "The Story of Champion Hill From The Diary With Fire and Sword by Major S. H. M. Byers 5th Iowa Infantry." Last modified 2002. Accessed June 2, 2013. 



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