Champion Hill, May 1863

The Battle of Champion Hill was the pivotal battle of Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign and Confederate defeat at Champion Hill would result in the siege of Vicksburg and the loss of the city which critically overlooked the Mississippi River. Yet for all its strategic importance the Battle of Champion Hill remains a relatively underrated engagement infrequently studied and even more infrequently refought on the wargames table. We always here of refights of Gettysburg or Antietam yet Champion Hill, for many, is unknown.

The following is a short summary of our refight of the battle. The scenario is based on that in the Volley & Bayonet scenario book “Battles of the American Civil War”. I have updated the scenario a little as a result of my own reading and by viewing various maps, though the latter have often proved contradictory. The scenario starts around 10am with the Rebel forces generally deployed in their historical positions. Two Union divisions are deployed forward on the Clinton Road not far from Champion Hill. Additional Union divisions are advancing on the Clinton, Middle and Raymond Roads, though their arrival will take time and be spread over the course of the day. Eventually some 22,000 Confederates would be deployed against 32,000 Union troops.

The initial Union forces on the Clinton Road include Hovey’s and Logan’s Divisions. Around 10am Grant orders a tentative advance towards Champion Hill with Logan’s Division moving to the right in an attempt to outflank the Rebel positions. Neither Union division was ordered to bring on an early engagement, rather Grant was determined to deploy as many of his troops before taking the offensive.

Elsewhere Osterhaus pushed his division along the Middle Road where it soon became entangled in the rugged wooded ground that lay several hundred yards east of the crossroads, which marked the intersection of the Clinton and Middle Roads as well as the Ratliff Road that followed the high ground southwest. Below, the general situation in the north with Confederate positioned on Champion Hill and Osterhaus advancing on the crossroad via the Middle Road.

As something of a counter to Osterhaus’ advance along the Middle Road Pemberton continued to move Bowen’s Confederate Division towards this section of the battlefield. Historically as the troops moved passed Pemberton’s Headquarters, located at the Roberts House along the Ratliff Road, the stirring sound of ladies singing “Dixie” was heard. Designed to encourage the advance of Bowen’s 5,000 strong division one wonders if the same occurred as the miniatures marched past in our refight? Either way Rebel morale seemed high.

On the Raymond Road Smith’s and Blair’s Divisions, part visible above, marched with singularity of purpose towards the Rebels deployed astride the Raymond Road where the road rose towards the southwestern, and much lower end, of Champion Hill. Here Loring had deployed his three brigades of his division along the wooded ridge that generally followed the Ratliff Road. Below, a view of Loring’s Division with Union forces just visible across Jackson’s Creek.

Around 11am Smith began to deploy and began an intermittent bombardment of the Rebels using the greater range of his rifled artillery. Over succeeding hours Blair’s division would extend to the right.

By 1pm, and with no communication from Grant on the overall operation, McClernard ordered a probing advance against Loring’s left with Blair’s Division. He hoped that this would pin Loring’s Division in place should Grant determine to attack. However, no sooner had one brigade crossed Jackson Creek that it received a swift Rebel response. But it was not from Loring, rather from a portion of Bowen’s Division.

It will be recalled that Bowen had previously moved north to reinforce the flank of Stevenson’s Division facing Grant. Deployed near the Middle Road, and not as yet occupied by Union forces, Bowen now dispatched one of his brigades south, specifically that of Brigadier General Martin B Green. Green’s brigade, comprised of Arkansas men, drove into the flank of Blair’s Division, in particular Smith’s Brigade which comprised regiments from Illinois and Missouri. Despite a determined resistance Smith’s Brigade fell back. Blair caught off guard initially now however ordered a strong counterattack. Yet despite the attack comprising two fresh brigades, and supported by artillery, the Union attack was thrown back by Green’s single Rebel brigade. Clearly the tunes of Dixie had bolstered morale! Now, as the Union brigades were forced back in disorder Loring’s three brigades launched a series of attacks decimating Blair’s Division. Below, Blair’s Division is attacked by Loring’s three brigades.

By 3pm Blair’s Division had collapsed and any chance of an offensive along the Raymond Road was lost.

As stragglers from Blair’s shattered division poured back across Jackson’s Creek, intent on saving their lives, Grant finally decided to unleash his attack in the north. For several hours he had been building up his forces and engaging in a long range bombardment of Rebel forces on the crossroads, where you will recall the Clinton and Middle roads converged. Now at 4pm the Union divisions in the north began their advance. The attacks comprised two parts.

The first centred on the Rebel left which stretched generally northwest along the Middle Road towards the Bakers Creek crossing. The attack by two brigades of Logan’s Division fell on Lee’s Brigade, of Stevenson’s Division. Lee’s troops, comprising five regiments from Alabama, were unable to halt the advance and were soon driven back. Below, two brigades of Logan’s Division attack Lee’s Brigade.

Simultaneously Osterhaus ordered his brigades forward the 1st Brigade, under Brigadier General Theophilus Garrard. This brigade fell on the right flank of Stevenson’s Division formed around the crossroads. The position was held by Cumming’s Brigade who, being subjected to a ferocious fire from rifled musket and artillery, were also forced back. Below, Garrard’s Union brigade on the right, surges forward.

Stevenson tried desperately to hold the line but the weight of the Union attack was overwhelming. As troops retreated cohesion was lost. Sometime after 5.30pm, having suffered unprecedented casualties, Stevenson’s Division collapsed. Casualties were particularly high among Cumming’s and Reynolds’ brigades. Below, the position of the Rebel positions around the crossroad just prior to Stevenson’s collapse.

Bowen now tried to reform a new line but Carr’s Division was now engaging them frontally while Osterhaus troops pressed their flank, seen below.

Unable to repel their opponents initial attacks or disengage, Bowen’s two brigades surged forward in desperate but unsuccessful counterattacks. By 6.30pm the division had collapsed and with it any hope of Rebel victory.

Pemberton, with no other option, ordered the retreat towards Vicksburg. True to history Loring began to retire his relatively unscathed division. The battle had taken a very different path to the historical engagement, yet the result was mostly the same. Stevenson’s and Bowen’s divisions were decimated while Loring’s Division, who failed to support the action in the north, was mostly untouched. That said Loring’s determined action about the Raymond Road had provided a bloody repulse to the overconfident Blair. Now with Rebel forces falling back on Vicksburg the critical siege would soon be underway.

The game involved four players, one Confederate and three Union. Each Union commander commanding the troops advancing along one of the three roads. The miniatures are all from Heroics & Ros 6mm ACW range and are based for Volley & Bayonet half scale, where 1″ represents 200 yards. Each game turn still represents an hour. Terrain is mostly homemade with trees and fences from Irregular Miniatures.