Report of Brig. Gen. Abraham Buford, C. S. Army, commanding Second Brigade.
MAY 16, 1863.--Battle of Champion's Hill, or Baker's Creek, Miss.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXIV/2 [S# 37]
HEADQUARTERS BUFORD'S BRIGADE, LORING'S DIVISION,
June 16, 1863.
GENERAL: I have the honor to make the following report of the operations of my brigade (the Third Brigade of the division) in and around Edwards Depot, on Saturday, May 16, and on the march from Baker's Creek to Jackson, Miss.:
My brigade consisted of the following regiments: Twelfth Louisiana Regiment, Col. Thomas M. Scott commanding; Fifty-fourth Alabama Regiment, Col. Alpheus Baker commanding; Seventh Kentucky Regiment, Col. Ed. Crossland commanding; Ninth Arkansas Regiment, Col. I. L. Dunlop commanding; four companies Third Kentucky Regiment, Maj J. H. Bowman commanding; Thirty-fifth Alabama Regiment, Col. Edward Goodwin commanding; Snodgrass' Alabama regiment, Col. John Snodgrass commanding, and Twenty-seventh Alabama Regiment, Col. James Jackson commanding, making an aggregate of 3,005 effective men. The Pointe Coupée artillery, consisting of two companies (A and C, four guns each), was also attached to my brigade, under command of Captain [Alcide] Bouanchaud. The Eighth Kentucky also belonged to my command, but, having been mounted two days previous, were detached. We were encamped at Mr. Ratliff's, about half a mile in rear of Mrs. Ellison's, on the Raymond road.
On the evening of May 15, the Thirty-fifth Alabama Regiment was detailed for picket duty, and was in advance some 2 miles.
About 8 o'clock on the morning of May 16, the report of artillery announced that the enemy were advancing immediately in front of the division, which formed the right wing of the army, my brigade being on the left of the right wing. Dispositions were at once made to meet the advance, and I was ordered to form a line of battle on the ground on which I had bivouacked, it being a covered position, approached through an open field, and quite defensible. My right rested on the road, and my left extended to an open field through which the cross-road passed on which we had marched the evening previous. My line was scarcely formed when I was ordered by Lieutenant-General Pemberton to advance and occupy the ground on which Brigadier-General Green, of General Bowen's division, had formed his brigade, which was in my front and to the left. Informing you of the order, I advanced from the covered position I held, and formed, as ordered, on a commanding eminence in the middle of a field, and over which the enemy must advance. The position was a very strong one and tenable. My line had not been entirely rectified when I received orders to fall back with my brigade some half a mile and establish a line beyond the junction of the military road with the road leading to Raymond by Mrs. Ellison's, my right to rest on the road and extending to the right of General Bowen's division. I was here joined by the Thirty-fifth Alabama Regiment, which had been ordered to fall back before the enemy. I formed the line as directed, which enabled me to hold one regiment in reserve. This position was in the midst of a dense timber, opening on a grove around the residence of Mr. Ratliff. My artillery was placed in position on the right and left of the road by Captain [A. A.] Bursley, chief of artillery of division, and was detached from my command during the day. I here received a request from General Bowen so to alter my line by moving to the left as to unite with his right, as he had moved to the left to join General Stevenson's right. Informing you of the request, I was ordered to comply therewith, which I did, extending my line some 600 yards, and throwing forward into line the regiment I had intended to hold in reserve.
In about twenty minutes I received information from General Bowen that he had advanced hair a mile to the left and front, followed by an order from General Pemberton to throw my line forward, so as to rest on the right of General Bowen's position. Transmitting the order to you for information, I promptly complied with the same, my new position being about 100 yards in rear of my first one, on a line with the skirmishers of the First and Second Brigades, my own skirmishers (whom I had placed under command of Lieutenant-Colonel [J. W.] Rogers, of the Ninth Arkansas) being some 500 yards in advance.
I here remained until about 3 p.m., when, from the heavy firing in the direction of the left, it was evident; that the enemy had massed his threes and was throwing them on the left wing of the army. About that time I was informed that General Bowen's division had been moved still farther to the left, and I was ordered by you to proceed without delay to the left of General Bowen's division. I placed my brigade at once in motion by the left flank and at the double-quick. My command double-quicked the distance (about 2 miles) under a scorching sun, through corn and rye fields, in about half an hour, when I arrived about the rear of the right wing of General Bowen's division, which was falling back in disorder before an overpowering force of the enemy. I was ordered by General Pemberton to hold the road immediately in rear of General [.S.D.] Lee's brigade, at a point about half a mile from the negro cabins.
Across this road our men were hastening in wild disorder and in consternation before a very heavy fire of the enemy. I immediately entered the road, and was advancing on it in column when my front (the left) was brought under a most galling fire from the enemy's sharpshooters, and their line, some 200 yards distant, posted in a heavy thicket of timber and undergrowth, unexposed to view. I found that the enemy held possession of the road, and that I must retake it in order to comply with the command of General Pemberton. It would have been a wanton destruction of life to have formed a line of battle with my brigade in its then position, marching as it was by the left flank on the road, and a portion of which had already changed direction to the left, in order to enter it, under the heavy fire of the enemy hidden from view, exposed, too, to an enfilading fire from a battery which had been established by the enemy on a commanding eminence at short range, and at the same time my column was continually broken by men of other brigades, who, driven back, were rushing pell-mell from the scene of action and resisting all attempts made to rally them.
My command being thus fully exposed to the enemy, I changed direction of the head of the column to the left,, about 150 yards from the crest of the rise in the road occupied by the enemy, to a covered position, and formed the brigade. Two of my strongest regiments were detached from the rear of my brigade as it passed the cabins--one by order of General Pemberton, the other by order of General Bowen. The strength of my brigade at this critical moment was thus unceremoniously and materially reduced, this being done without my knowledge, and without any report bring made to me of the fact by the generals who gave the orders. I waited the approach of the enemy, who must advance through an open, clear space. The enemy, however, halted in the road and established a battery. To have charged him from my position, with my brigade reduced in strength and over an open space of several hundred yards, would have cost it half its numbers. I therefore moved the brigade by the right flank to a position protected by timber to the ground occupied by the enemy, with the view of moving against the position held by him in the road. I had not completed the disposition of my command when I discovered that the enemy were rapidly turning both the right and left flanks of the position I held, as well as that occupied by him, against which I proposed to move. In all probability I might have taken the position at a great sacrifice, but it would be untenable, and I would have been forced to have given it up almost immediately, besides running the risk of having my entire brigade captured, as I was entirely without support, my strength reduced nearly one-third by the regiments being detached, and as all the troops of our center and of the left wing were leaving the field in great disorder. I therefore threw my brigade back about a quarter of mile from the negro cabins, and in the direction of Edwards Depot, on a commanding position, where I joined you with General Featherston's brigade.
I was ordered to move my brigade into position, so as to move against the enemy's right and pierce his line, and thus, by a vigorous and well-directed attack, force him to abandon the field, it having been reported that his center was falling back, and thus retrieve the day. I was joined here by the Twelfth Louisiana and Thirty-fifth Alabama Regiments, and moved rapidly forward, and was forming in position, when I was informed by one of my staff officers that you had received positive orders to withdraw the forces from the field, and had commenced retiring. I immediately ordered the brigade to march by the left flank, and rejoined you then on the retreat toward Baker's Creek. Being informed that a section of artillery, with a support of infantry, had been detailed as a rear guard, 1 moved forward, but was soon informed that the enemy was pressing on my rear both with cavalry, infantry, and artillery, and that one piece of the Pointe Coupée Battery had been abandoned, as the horses were killed by the sharpshooters, so as to render it an impossibility to remove it. This battery had been brought from its original position to the left, and ordered by Colonel [W. T.] Withers, chief of artillery of department, to send four pieces to Vicksburg, and follow in retreat in rear of the brigade with the remainder, but had not as yet reported to me. The artillery and infantry ordered to protect the rear, after allowing a portion of my brigade to pass, had, for some reason unknown to me, moved forward, and thus left my rear exposed. I immediately posted the Twelfth Louisiana Regiment, with a section of artillery from the Pointe Coupée Battery, in line, with orders to repel the advance of the enemy, and made dispositions to support them. The enemy charged forward, but were met by the fire of the Twelfth Louisiana and the artillery, which effectually checked the ardor of his pursuit, and caused him to follow our immediate rear with great caution.
I was then ordered to move to the rear of General Featherston's brigade, which had been placed in position to meet any advance of the enemy, and form in his rear, to support Cowan's battery, of Withers' artillery, which was engaging a battery of the enemy and protecting the retreat of Tilghman's brigade.
General Tilghman having gallantly lost his life in directing the fire of his artillery, I would offer my tribute of respect to his gallant bearing, and his noble devotion and untiring energy in behalf of our cause, alike on the field of battle and in the private circle.
I formed a line in rear of the battery on a commanding position (here losing several wounded, and Captain [W. A.] Isbell, of the Twenty-seventh Alabama Regiment, killed), ordering the Twelfth Louisiana Regiment to proceed to my rear and form at right angles to the road, and hold it, so that we could gain the ford; now about a mile distant.
A message was brought from General Bowen that he had been forced to abandon his position at the ford, as the enemy were flanking him and were between him and Edwards Depot. I was ordered to proceed to the ford and support General Bowen while he drew off. The Twelfth Louisiana Regiment, which had been ordered to form in my rear, as stated above, had received orders from General Stevenson to move forward to the ford in advance of my brigade, and, as I learned several days afterward, had already crossed the creek under a heavy fire of artillery. From the firing on our right it was evident that the enemy had obtained possession of the bridge across the creek on the upper road, and was endeavoring to reach Edwards Depot, and thus cut off our retreat. General Bowen had retired, and, when near the ford, it was clearly perceptible that the enemy, with his artillery, was raking the same, and at the same time advancing his columns in that direction. Finding that it was impossible to cross the creek under the fire of the enemy and the dispositions of his infantry, you ordered me to turn my column to the left, and, by going through a plantation, seek a ford lower down. Sending for the Twelfth Louisiana Regiment to rejoin the brigade immediately, and by no means to attempt to cross the ford, as the enemy was in possession thereof, I turned the column to the left, passed through the plantation, and endeavored to find the ford, but could not. It was then determined to try to reach a ford still lower down, distant 2½ miles, and under the guidance of Dr. Williamson, whom I had secured, moved forward. To his knowledge of the country and the plantation roads we are largely indebted for our safe deliverance.
As the enemy were pressing us in front, in rear, and on the flank, it became necessary to move with great caution, and only over neighborhood roads and paths long unused. It soon became evident that the artillery could not travel over the paths which necessity forced us to take. Some of the pieces were, therefore, abandoned after using all possible means of saving them which the retreat, nature of the ground, and the presence of the enemy permitted. They were abandoned, however, only after rendering them useless to the enemy.
We moved until near the ford we sought, and to gain which we had marched 10 or 12 miles instead of 2 or 3, and to a point where we had information that we could secure a guide. From him we learned that the ford was impassable, and that he could not pilot us during the darkness of the night to the fortifications near Big Black Bridge without crossing the lines of the enemy. The large fires on our right evidenced that the Yankees were at their usual work of arson in and around Edwards Depot.
A consultation was called by you and the facts laid before us. I expressed the opinion that to reach Vicksburg we must cross the Big Black River at some of the lower ferries, undoubtedly in presence of the enemy, and to reach even the nearest ferry we would have to march during the entire night, and if we crossed in safety would be in danger of being cut off. Oar men were somewhat demoralized, our artillery abandoned, the troops intensely fatigued; we had but a few rounds of ammunition, the greater part of which would be ruined by swimming the river, as we had no means to build a bridge or boat. We had information that the enemy was crossing the river at several of the lower ferries, and the guide had declared it was impossible to pilot us to the fortifications without penetrating the lines of the enemy; hence our only feasible way of escape and to save the division was to move to the rear of the enemy and pass on his flank in the direction of the Jackson and New Orleans Railroad.
By neighborhood roads we moved daring the night, passing the flank of the enemy, hourly expecting an attack, hearing the enemy conversing as we passed along, and crossing ravines and creeks, which proved the impossibility of moving artillery, and about 3 a.m. Sunday morning reached Dillon's, on the road from Grand Gulf to Raymond, and but a few miles distant, from the battlefield. We thence marched to Crystal Springs, on the Jackson and New Orleans Railroad, near which we camped on Sunday night.
We had marched steadily for twenty-four hours, a distance of 40 miles, stopping but short intervals to rest, and without provisions. The men were so exhausted that they fell as they came into camp, and nature sternly demanded rest and sleep.
On Monday we moves toward Pearl River, and thence continued the march to Jackson, which we reached on Wednesday, May 20. The troops of this brigade bore the march with great fortitude, making little, if any, complaint.
My entire loss in killed and wounded during the engagement of Saturday was 11 killed and 49 wounded. Among the former were Capt. W. A. Isbell, Company G, and Lieut. T. S. Taylor, of Company I, Twenty-seventh Alabama Regiment, and Lieut. George C. Hubbard, acting as first lieutenant of Company F, Thirty-fifth Alabama Regiment. The latter officer, being on a visit to the regiment, was assigned temporarily to duty by request of the captain. These officers are worthy all commendation as such, and their loss is felt.
Among the wounded was Col. A. Baker, commanding Fifty-fourth Alabama Regiment, who was wounded early in the engagement near the negro cabins.
I would call attention to the accompanying report of Colonel Scott, commanding Twelfth Louisiana Regiment; of Colonel [Edward] Goodwin, commanding Thirty-fifth Alabama Regiment; and of Captain [Alcide] Bouanchaud, commanding Pointe Coupée Artillery. These Were detached from my command during the greater portion of the engagement. These officers sustained the high reputation they have won on other fields. For particular mention of officers under their commands I refer to the reports.
The other regiments were directly under my immediate observation during the whole day, and I was more than gratified at the gallant bearing of the commanding officers, as well as that of the other field and company officers. To say that I am proud to command the brigade evinces but slightly the high regard and estimation I have for the troops. Their quickness of motion, their ardor, powers of endurance, and steadiness exhibited during the engagement of Saturday and on the retreat are worthy of mention.
In conclusion, I would mention in a grateful manner the obligations I am under to the members of my staff for their efficiency and promptness in carrying out my orders.
I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,
This page last updated 10/28/01
RETURN TO BATTLE OF CHAMPION'S HILL OFFICIAL RECORDS PAGE