Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant

By eleven o’clock the skirmishing had grown into a
hard-contested battle. Hovey alone, before other troops could
be got to assist him, had captured a battery of the enemy. But
he was not able to hold his position and had to abandon the
artillery. McPherson brought up his troops as fast as possible,
Logan in front, and posted them on the right of Hovey and across
the flank of the enemy. Logan reinforced Hovey with one brigade
from his division; with his other two he moved farther west to
make room for Crocker, who was coming up as rapidly as the roads
would admit. Hovey was still being heavily pressed, and was
calling on me for more reinforcements. I ordered Crocker, who
was now coming up, to send one brigade from his division.
McPherson ordered two batteries to be stationed where they
nearly enfiladed the enemy’s line, and they did good execution.

From Logan’s position now a direct forward movement carried him
over open fields, in rear of the enemy and in a line parallel
with them. He did make exactly this move, attacking, however,
the enemy through the belt of woods covering the west slope of
the hill for a short distance. Up to this time I had kept my
position near Hovey where we were the most heavily pressed; but
about noon I moved with a part of my staff by our right around,
until I came up with Logan himself. I found him near the road
leading down to Baker’s Creek. He was actually in command of
the only road over which the enemy could retreat; Hovey,
reinforced by two brigades from McPherson’s command, confronted
the enemy’s left; Crocker, with two brigades, covered their left
flank; McClernand two hours before, had been within two miles and
a half of their centre with two divisions, and the two divisions,
Blair’s and A. J. Smith’s, were confronting the rebel right;
Ransom, with a brigade of McArthur’s division of the 17th corps
(McPherson’s), had crossed the river at Grand Gulf a few days
before, and was coming up on their right flank. Neither Logan
nor I knew that we had cut off the retreat of the enemy. Just
at this juncture a messenger came from Hovey, asking for more
reinforcements. There were none to spare. I then gave an order
to move McPherson’s command by the left flank around to Hovey.
This uncovered the rebel line of retreat, which was soon taken
advantage of by the enemy.

During all this time, Hovey, reinforced as he was by a brigade
from Logan and another from Crocker, and by Crocker gallantly
coming up with two other brigades on his right, had made several
assaults, the last one about the time the road was opened to the
rear. The enemy fled precipitately. This was between three and
four o’clock. I rode forward, or rather back, to where the
middle road intersects the north road, and found the skirmishers
of Carr’s division just coming in. Osterhaus was farther south
and soon after came up with skirmishers advanced in like
manner. Hovey’s division, and McPherson’s two divisions with
him, had marched and fought from early dawn, and were not in the
best condition to follow the retreating foe. I sent orders to
Osterhaus to pursue the enemy, and to Carr, whom I saw
personally, I explained the situation and directed him to pursue
vigorously as far as the Big Black, and to cross it if he could;
Osterhaus to follow him. The pursuit was continued until after
dark.

The battle of Champion’s Hill lasted about four hours, hard
fighting, preceded by two or three hours of skirmishing, some of
which almost rose to the dignity of battle. Every man of Hovey’s
division and of McPherson’s two divisions was engaged during the
battle. No other part of my command was engaged at all, except
that as described before. Osterhaus’s and A. J. Smith’s
divisions had encountered the rebel advanced pickets as early as
half-past seven. Their positions were admirable for advancing
upon the enemy’s line. McClernand, with two divisions, was
within a few miles of the battle-field long before noon and in
easy hearing. I sent him repeated orders by staff officers
fully competent to explain to him the situation. These
traversed the wood separating us, without escort, and directed
him to push forward; but he did not come. It is true, in front
of McClernand there was a small force of the enemy and posted in
a good position behind a ravine obstructing his advance; but if
he had moved to the right by the road my staff officers had
followed the enemy must either have fallen back or been cut
off. Instead of this he sent orders to Hovey, who belonged to
his corps, to join on to his right flank. Hovey was bearing the
brunt of the battle at the time. To obey the order he would have
had to pull out from the front of the enemy and march back as far
as McClernand had to advance to get into battle and substantially
over the same ground. Of course I did not permit Hovey to obey
the order of his intermediate superior.

We had in this battle about 15,000 men absolutely engaged. This
excludes those that did not get up, all of McClernand’s command
except Hovey. Our loss was 410 killed, 1,844 wounded and 187
missing. Hovey alone lost 1,200 killed, wounded and
missing–more than one-third of his division.

Had McClernand come up with reasonable promptness, or had I
known the ground as I did afterwards, I cannot see how Pemberton
could have escaped with any organized force. As it was he lost
over three thousand killed and wounded and about three thousand
captured in battle and in pursuit. Loring’s division, which was
the right of Pemberton’s line, was cut off from the retreating
army and never got back into Vicksburg. Pemberton himself fell
back that night to the Big Black River. His troops did not stop
before midnight and many of them left before the general retreat
commenced, and no doubt a good part of them returned to their
homes. Logan alone captured 1,300 prisoners and eleven guns.
Hovey captured 300 under fire and about 700 in all, exclusive of
500 sick and wounded whom he paroled, thus making 1,200.

McPherson joined in the advance as soon as his men could fill
their cartridge-boxes, leaving one brigade to guard our
wounded. The pursuit was continued as long as it was light
enough to see the road. The night of the 16th of May found
McPherson’s command bivouacked from two to six miles west of the
battlefield, along the line of the road to Vicksburg. Carr and
Osterhaus were at Edward’s station, and Blair was about three
miles south-east; Hovey remained on the field where his troops
had fought so bravely and bled so freely. Much war material
abandoned by the enemy was picked up on the battle-field, among
it thirty pieces of artillery. I pushed through the advancing
column with my staff and kept in advance until after night.
Finding ourselves alone we stopped and took possession of a
vacant house. As no troops came up we moved back a mile or more
until we met the head of the column just going into bivouac on
the road. We had no tents, so we occupied the porch of a house
which had been taken for a rebel hospital and which was filled
with wounded and dying who had been brought from the
battle-field we had just left.

While a battle is raging one can see his enemy mowed down by the
thousand, or the ten thousand, with great composure; but after
the battle these scenes are distressing, and one is naturally
disposed to do as much to alleviate the suffering of an enemy as
a friend.

CHAPTER XXXVI.

BATTLE OF BLACK RIVER BRIDGE–CROSSING THE BIG BLACK–INVESTMENT
OF VICKSBURG–ASSAULTING THE WORKS.

We were now assured of our position between Johnston and
Pemberton, without a possibility of a junction of their
forces. Pemberton might have made a night march to the Big
Black, crossed the bridge there and, by moving north on the west
side, have eluded us and finally returned to Johnston. But this
would have given us Vicksburg. It would have been his proper
move, however, and the one Johnston would have made had he been
in Pemberton’s place. In fact it would have been in conformity
with Johnston’s orders to Pemberton.

Sherman left Jackson with the last of his troops about noon on
the 16th and reached Bolton, twenty miles west, before
halting. His rear guard did not get in until two A.M. the 17th,
but renewed their march by daylight. He paroled his prisoners at
Jackson, and was forced to leave his own wounded in care of
surgeons and attendants. At Bolton he was informed of our
victory. He was directed to commence the march early next day,
and to diverge from the road he was on to Bridgeport on the Big
Black River, some eleven miles above the point where we expected
to find the enemy. Blair was ordered to join him there with the
pontoon train as early as possible.

This movement brought Sherman’s corps together, and at a point
where I hoped a crossing of the Big Black might be effected and
Sherman’s corps used to flank the enemy out of his position in
our front, thus opening a crossing for the remainder of the
army. I informed him that I would endeavor to hold the enemy in
my front while he crossed the river.

The advance division, Carr’s (McClernand’s corps), resumed the
pursuit at half-past three A.M. on the 17th, followed closely by
Osterhaus, McPherson bringing up the rear with his corps. As I
expected, the enemy was found in position on the Big Black. The
point was only six miles from that where my advance had rested
for the night, and was reached at an early hour. Here the river
makes a turn to the west, and has washed close up to the high
land; the east side is a low bottom, sometimes overflowed at
very high water, but was cleared and in cultivation. A bayou
runs irregularly across this low land, the bottom of which,
however, is above the surface of the Big Black at ordinary
stages. When the river is full water runs through it,
converting the point of land into an island. The bayou was
grown up with timber, which the enemy had felled into the
ditch. At this time there was a foot or two of water in it. The
rebels had constructed a parapet along the inner bank of this
bayou by using cotton bales from the plantation close by and
throwing dirt over them. The whole was thoroughly commanded
from the height west of the river. At the upper end of the
bayou there was a strip of uncleared land which afforded a cover
for a portion of our men. Carr’s division was deployed on our
right, Lawler’s brigade forming his extreme right and reaching
through these woods to the river above. Osterhaus’ division was
deployed to the left of Carr and covered the enemy’s entire
front. McPherson was in column on the road, the head close by,
ready to come in wherever he could be of assistance.

While the troops were standing as here described an officer from
Banks’ staff came up and presented me with a letter from General
Halleck, dated the 11th of May. It had been sent by the way of
New Orleans to Banks to be forwarded to me. It ordered me to
return to Grand Gulf and to co-operate from there with Banks
against Port Hudson, and then to return with our combined forces
to besiege Vicksburg. I told the officer that the order came too
late, and that Halleck would not give it now if he knew our
position. The bearer of the dispatch insisted that I ought to
obey the order, and was giving arguments to support his position
when I heard great cheering to the right of our line and, looking
in that direction, saw Lawler in his shirt sleeves leading a
charge upon the enemy. I immediately mounted my horse and rode
in the direction of the charge, and saw no more of the officer
who delivered the dispatch; I think not even to this day.

The assault was successful. But little resistance was made. The
enemy fled from the west bank of the river, burning the bridge
behind him and leaving the men and guns on the east side to fall
into our hands. Many tried to escape by swimming the river.
Some succeeded and some were drowned in the attempt. Eighteen
guns were captured and 1,751 prisoners. Our loss was 39 killed,
237 wounded and 3 missing. The enemy probably lost but few men
except those captured and drowned. But for the successful and
complete destruction of the bridge, I have but little doubt that
we should have followed the enemy so closely as to prevent his
occupying his defences around Vicksburg.

As the bridge was destroyed and the river was high, new bridges
had to be built. It was but little after nine o’clock A.M. when
the capture took place. As soon as work could be commenced,
orders were given for the construction of three bridges. One
was taken charge of by Lieutenant Hains, of the Engineer Corps,
one by General McPherson himself and one by General Ransom, a
most gallant and intelligent volunteer officer. My recollection
is that Hains built a raft bridge; McPherson a pontoon, using
cotton bales in large numbers, for pontoons; and that Ransom
felled trees on opposite banks of the river, cutting only on one
side of the tree, so that they would fall with their tops
interlacing in the river, without the trees being entirely
severed from their stumps. A bridge was then made with these
trees to support the roadway. Lumber was taken from buildings,
cotton gins and wherever found, for this purpose. By eight
o’clock in the morning of the 18th all three bridges were
complete and the troops were crossing.

Sherman reached Bridgeport about noon of the 17th and found
Blair with the pontoon train already there. A few of the enemy
were intrenched on the west bank, but they made little
resistance and soon surrendered. Two divisions were crossed
that night and the third the following morning.

On the 18th I moved along the Vicksburg road in advance of the
troops and as soon as possible joined Sherman. My first anxiety
was to secure a base of supplies on the Yazoo River above
Vicksburg. Sherman’s line of march led him to the very point on
Walnut Hills occupied by the enemy the December before when he
was repulsed. Sherman was equally anxious with myself. Our
impatience led us to move in advance of the column and well up
with the advanced skirmishers. There were some detached works
along the crest of the hill. These were still occupied by the
enemy, or else the garrison from Haines’ Bluff had not all got
past on their way to Vicksburg. At all events the bullets of
the enemy whistled by thick and fast for a short time. In a few
minutes Sherman had the pleasure of looking down from the spot
coveted so much by him the December before on the ground where
his command had lain so helpless for offensive action. He
turned to me, saying that up to this minute he had felt no
positive assurance of success. This, however, he said was the
end of one of the greatest campaigns in history and I ought to
make a report of it at once. Vicksburg was not yet captured,
and there was no telling what might happen before it was taken;
but whether captured or not, this was a complete and successful
campaign. I do not claim to quote Sherman’s language; but the
substance only. My reason for mentioning this incident will
appear further on.

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