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. 



1 comment:

  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.


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