Report of Brig. Gen. Stephen O. Burbridge, U. S. Army,
Commanding First Brigade, Tenth Division, including operations April 13-May 24.MAY 16, 1863.
Battle of Champion's Hill, or Baker's Creek, Miss.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXIV/2 [S# 37]
HDQRS. FIRST BRIG., TENTH DIV., THIRTEENTH A. C.,
Camp, Rear of Vicksburg, Miss., May 24, 1863.
Capt. J. HOUGH,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Tenth Division.
In compliance with an order from division headquarters, I herewith submit the following report of the proceedings of my brigade since leaving Milliken's Bend, La.:
On April 13, I received orders to have my brigade prepare two days' cooked rations and be ready to march at a moment's notice.
On the morning of the 14th, received orders to march, and by 4 p.m. was ready for the road, and marched to Oak Grove plantation, where we encamped until next morning.
On the 15th, resumed our line of march, and proceeded as far as Holmes' plantation, about 15 miles from last camp. Here we remained until Friday evening, April 24, when we moved to Smith's plantation, distant about 7 miles, arriving there about 11 p.m., and remained there until about 2 p.m. on Sunday, the 26th, when we embarked on board transports in Roundaway Bayou, the course of which we followed until we finally entered the Mississippi River opposite Carthage; thence proceeded down the river to Perkins' plantation, arriving there about 9 p.m., during a very severe storm.
On Tuesday, April 28, I received orders to embark four of my regiments and the Seventeenth Ohio Battery on transports and barges, to proceed to a point as near Grand Gulf as practicable, to act under Brigadier-General Osterhaus, commanding Ninth Division, Thirteenth Army Corps, and as a reserve to his division. I accordingly took with me the Sixteenth and Sixty-seventh Indiana, Eighty-third Ohio, and Twenty-third Wisconsin Regiments, and embarked upon barges and transports, leaving transportation of every description, even my own and field officers' horses, and proceeded to Hard Times Landing, opposite and above Grand Gulf, and remained during the unsuccessful attempt of the gunboats to reduce Grand Gulf on Wednesday, April 29.
Being personally on the gunboat General Price, which had in tow a transport containing two of my regiments, we stood out in the stream in constant readiness to avail ourselves of any advantage which might be gained by the gunboats.
The attempt to reduce the principal batteries proving a failure, we disembarked and marched across the Bend, to a point below Grand Gulf, where we encamped for the night.
On the 30th, we re-embarked (the gunboats and transports having run the blockade during the night) and proceeded to Bruinsburg, where we drew six days (two-thirds) rations, and about 11 p.m. took up our line of march for Port Gibson, Miss. Marched steadily all night, and about sunrise heard heavy and rapid cannonading in front, and shortly afterward learned that our advance was warmly engaged with the enemy.
Pressing vigorously on, we reached the scene of the engagement about 7 o'clock, when I immediately formed in line of battle in rear of General Hovey's division, our division constituting the reserve.
The part taken by my brigade in the battle of that day, while it did not lead to much loss, was very exhausting from the necessity of rapidly shifting ground with a part or the whole of the brigade, as the weak points of our lines successively presented themselves.
I continued thus supporting the line until ordered with my brigade farther to the left, to relieve the Second Brigade, under Colonel Landram, who had fought desperately through the day, when we advanced farther to the front than any other troops, driving the enemy from the hill. Night putting an end to that day's fight, our men sank exhausted upon the ground. They had marched all night and fought all day under a burning sun, and without having had a mouthful to eat since the previous evening.
Next morning, May 2, by order of General McClernand, I took the advance with my brigade, and proceeded cautiously into Port Gibson, where I had the pleasure of raising the Stars and Stripes to their wonted place of honor. The rear guard of the enemy were retreating out of town, having fired the bridge over South Fork of Little Bayou Pierre. I had the Seventeenth Ohio Battery to open upon them, but they succeeded in making good their retreat, as we had no means of pursuit.
We remained at Port Gibson until the morning of the 3d instant, when I was ordered to take my brigade to the hills back of the town, as there were symptoms of the enemy coming in on our rear. Remaining in that position until I was satisfied there was no enemy near, I took up my line of march toward Willow Springs. Late in the afternoon we crossed Big Bayou Pierre and went into camp at this place until the morning of the 7th instant, when we marched to a point half a mile beyond Cayuga, where we remained until the morning of the 12th instant, when we countermarched to Cayuga; thence bearing left in a westerly direction for about 10 miles, where we encamped for the night in line of battle near Fourteen-Mile Creek, 6 miles from Edwards Station.
Next morning (13th) we marched back to the Jackson road, a distance of about 6 miles.
Here we remained until the 15th, when, following General Blair's division, we marched to Raymond, about 15 miles, getting into camp at 9 p.m.
At daylight on the 16th, we marched out on the Vicksburg road toward Edwards Station, my brigade being in the advance. About 6 miles out from Raymond we came upon the enemy's pickets, when our line of battle was quickly formed, with heavy skirmishing parties in front. The batteries were thrown into position and shelled the enemy's forces very successfully. We skirmished along gradually, driving the enemy before us, while our main force followed along the road until we reached a water-course, across which the bridge had been broken down by the retreating enemy. Finding the enemy was in retreat but a short distance ahead, and apprehending they might avail themselves of some prominent hills, from which they could sweep the plain we were in, I pushed my brigade rapidly ahead until the skirmishers began to find it a hot contest, and as we rose to the crest of the hill had abundant reason to congratulate myself upon my speed, as the enemy had rallied and planted their battery on the second hill, not having had time to form on the first. They poured in a most terrific fire of shot, shell, grape, and canister, but my men were well protected by the crest of the hill, and my sharpshooters kept the enemy so much annoyed they had to abandon some of their guns. After repeated application to General Smith for re-enforcements, both of infantry and artillery, I finally succeeded in obtaining the Nineteenth Kentucky and Seventy-seventh Illinois, of Colonel Landram's brigade, who were ready and impatiently awaiting orders to move forward. I also obtained four guns of the Seventeenth Ohio Battery, which had been preceded by part of the Chicago Mercantile Battery, both of which did admirable execution.
Receiving orders from General Smith through one of his staff to halt, I did so, holding the position I had gained. It was my conviction at the time, confirmed by all I have learned since, that, properly supported by General Blair's division, we could have captured the whole rebel force opposed to us, and reached Edwards Station before sunset.
From prisoners taken next day, we learned that after the loss of General [L.] Tilghman, who was killed by a shot from our batteries, they had attempted to run off their artillery; but failing to do so, abandoned it, since which time we have obtained the guns, twelve pieces. Also the whole rebel force retreated in great disorder, it being impossible for the officers to again form their men into line.
The night after the battle the men lay upon their arms, hourly expecting an attack. The night passed quietly, however, and at daylight we moved on in line of battle, but soon had abundant evidence that the rebels had skedaddled most hurriedly, leaving arms, ammunition, &c., strewn by the roadside. Forming again in column, we moved on through Edwards Station without further interruption.
As we approached Big Black River, heavy firing became very audible, and I received orders from General Smith to move rapidly forward and take position on the left of General Osterhaus' division. This done, we were ordered forward in line of battle. Arriving at the edge of the forest through which we had advanced, I found we could not advance across the open field without changing front, as the enemy would have an enfilading fire upon my line. I rapidly changed front, so that my left would cover the enemy's works on the left of the cotton-gin. I then ordered a charge across the field, which was gallantly executed. When my skirmishers arrived within 200 yards of the enemy, a white handkerchief was displayed on their intrenchments, upon which Lieutenant Conover, my acting assistant adjutant-general, and Captain Keigwin, acting aide, who were in advance of the skirmishers, rode forward and received the surrender of the forces and colors of the Sixtieth Tennessee Regiment (rebel), under command of Lieutenant-Colonel [N.] Gregg, and reported them to me. About the same time our forces took possession of the whole line of the enemy's works, they retreating across the Big Black River and setting fire to the bridge.
As it now became necessary to build a bridge before we could cross, we remained encamped in the enemy's works until the next day, Monday, May 18, when we moved forward at about 11 a.m., my brigade again taking the advance. We proceeded very cautiously, apprehending an attack every moment, never dreaming the enemy could have abandoned, without another effort, the exceedingly advantageous position and fortification afforded by the natural conformation of the ground.
We soon learned from negroes there was no enemy between us and Mount Alban, a small place about half-way between Black River and Vicksburg, which information we found correct. About half a mile beyond Mount Alban we found a bridge so burned and broken as to be impassable. Examination showed it would cause considerable delay to repair it so that artillery could pass over in safety. We therefore made a considerable detour to the left, taking a route through the country which in the course of a couple of miles struck the Baldwin's Ferry road, which was the route we were seeking. Proceeding slowly and cautiously, we encamped that night about 2½ miles from the enemy's works in rear of Vicksburg.
Tuesday morning, May 19, we again moved toward the fortifications, until, when within 1½ miles, their skirmishers began to appear. I immediately formed my four regiments in line of battle on the right of the Vicksburg road, the Sixteenth Indiana and Eighty-third Ohio in front, supported by the Sixty-seventh Indiana and Twenty-third Wisconsin, and, covered by the crest of the hill, the Seventeenth Ohio Battery. I threw out a heavy force of skirmishers under command of Major Red-field, Sixteenth Indiana, who gradually drove back the enemy's skirmishers until finally I advanced my brigade to a ravine running at right angles with the railroad, and in the rear of the hill on which is the cot-ton-gin. As the enemy were driven farther in, we advanced until within about 400 yards of the forts.
On the 20th, received orders to be in readiness to charge the enemy's works at 2 p.m. At the given signal the brigade, with tremendous cheering, rushed over the crest of the hill in front of them, and, taking a moment's breathing time, commenced the ascent of the next hill. Finding it unadvisable to advance in line of battle, on account of the greater exposure, I ordered the regiment forward by companies as skirmishers, in which way we succeeded in finally driving the greater part of the enemy's sharpshooters within the intrenchments, my men lying immediately under the works, and effectually silencing the enemy's artillery. We maintained that position, keeping up a constant fire at every head that showed itself, until 10 o'clock at night, when we were relieved by General Benton's brigade. It was fully 2 a.m. on the 21st before I succeeded in withdrawing all my men. During all that day (21st) my men rested, occupying themselves in putting their arms in thorough order.
On the morning of the 22d, I received orders to prepare for an assault on the enemy's works at 10 a.m., to support General Benton's brigade. At the hour designated I had my four regiments arranged in order, the Sixty-seventh Indiana occupying the road passing down the hill to the right of the burnt chimneys; the Twenty-third Wisconsin immediately in its rear; the Sixteenth Indiana on the hillside of the ravine to the right, and in front of said road, supported by the Eighty-third Ohio. I advanced the regiments, with a yell and a rush, over the hill into the last ravine, and immediately commenced advancing up the hill, upon which is the fort we were attacking, three regiments of my command, the Sixteenth Indiana, Eighty-third Ohio, and Sixty-seventh Indiana on the right of General Benton's brigade, my left resting on the road, and the right extending along the crest of the hill and in front of the fort, and not more than 20 steps from it.
By 10.30 a.m. we had silenced their batteries to a great extent, and the regiments had their colors flying against the walls of the fort. There being some symptoms of an attempt to turn our flanks, I sent four companies of the Twenty-third Wisconsin to support the Sixty-seventh Indiana on the right, and the remaining six companies to the left, in support of the Sixteenth Indiana.
While this was being done I received orders from General Smith to send two regiments of my command to support General Benton's left; but as this would reduce my force one-half, and leave my front terribly exposed, I immediately sent to General Smith representing these facts. His answer was, "It is an order from General Carr, and must be obeyed? I again sent an aide to urge the state of the case, and received permission from General Smith to retain my position, but shortly received an inquiry from General Carr why the regiments were not forthcoming. I then went myself to see General McClernand, and represented to him that it would be the destruction not only of my regiments, but of the whole front. General McClernand, while assenting to my statements, referred me to General Carr, who commanded the advance. Notwithstanding my representations, General Carr renewed his order concerning the regiments, and telling him I obeyed his order under protest, 1 returned to my command, and with a heavy and foreboding heart gave the requisite orders for the Twenty-third Wisconsin and Sixty-seventh Indiana to withdraw from the ground which had been gained with so much labor and maintained with so much valor, thus leaving my two remaining regiments, Sixteenth Indiana and Eighty-third Ohio, unsupported.
As I had anticipated and feared, the rebels, finding the fire slackened and the line weakened in their front, opened a most destructive fire. On consultation with General Benton, I determined to take the responsibility of replacing my regiments without delay, but the work was now most difficult, as the rebels had the advantage and seemed determined to keep it. Just as I had ordered my regiments back, a message came from General Carr, telling me to use my discretion about withdrawing my regiments. Such a message ten minutes before, or such consent when I pleaded for it, would have saved a hundred lives.
After repeated applications, I succeeded in getting permission to carry a piece of artillery to my front line. Accordingly, a gun from the Mercantile Battery was taken by a squad of the Twenty-third Wisconsin close up to the point held by the Sixteenth Indiana, and supported by the latter regiment not more than 25 or 30 feet from the fort, against which it did admirable work. By this time the guns of my command had become so foul by constant firing that I was compelled to use caliber .54 in place of .58, the caliber of the arms. A brigade was sent us from General Quinby's division, but, owing to their incautious manner of approaching, drew from the enemy a most galling fire of musketry and artillery, followed by an attempt of the enemy to charge, probably with the view of capturing the gun we were using so effectively. The brigade re-enforcing us broke and retired in great disorder. My brigade, now greatly reduced in strength, manfully held its ground, and the Sixteenth Indiana prepared with fixed bayonets to receive the threatened charge, which, however, did not come. It was now night, and hostilities for the most part ceased. We drew off our men, after having maintained the ground for nearly ten hours' continuous fighting.
I am of the opinion that, had we been re-enforced at 12 m., or the demonstration kept up along the line to our right, thus preventing the enemy from massing directly in our front, we could have gained a lodgment in the enemy's works.
Since that time to the present date (May 24), nothing has transpired, the men quietly resting on the days succeeding the fight.
The Seventeenth Ohio Battery, attached to my brigade, in the actions of the 20th and 22d was almost entirely detached from my infantry, and hence they have not been hitherto mentioned as frequently, perhaps, as was their due, and I take this opportunity to bear willing testimony to the brilliancy of their work. Being frequently at the batteries with them, I repeatedly observed the unwavering assiduity with which the officers watched for a chance to injure the enemy and the promptitude and enthusiasm with which the men responded to every call made upon them.
1 cannot close without commending with highest praise the gallantry of my staff officers--Lieutenant Conover, acting assistant adjutant-general; Captain Keigwin and Lieutenant [Thomas J.] Elliott, aides-de-camp, and Lieutenant [George W.] Richardson, acting inspector-general--who, through this long series of actions, have rendered efficient aid and service in the fatiguing duties of the field, or the more exciting but more dangerous scenes of the battle.
Lieutenant [Joshua W.] Tolford, acting ordnance officer, with untiring energy kept not only my brigade but the whole division fully supplied with ammunition, and has since received merited promotion. Lieutenant [George W.] Friedley filled the double capacity of acting quartermaster and acting commissary of subsistence with entire satisfaction, even in those places where it was difficult, almost impossible, to obtain supplies.
Where every officer and man acted with such bravery, it is difficult to particularize, and I can only mention some instances of individual gallantry which came under my personal observation. Colonel Lucas, Sixteenth Indiana, showed distinguished courage in all the fights, more particularly on the 22d, when, notwithstanding he was wounded three times, he continued to cheer on his men with unabated vigor. For cool, resolute courage, Major Redfield, of the Sixteenth Indiana, has stood Conspicuous throughout the campaign. Colonel Guppey, Twenty-third Wisconsin, worked with the skill of a thorough soldier and the bravery of a man who does not know fear. Lieutenant-Colonel Buehler, Sixty-seventh Indiana, remained with his men in the hottest of the fierce carnage of the 22d, and, in fact, the officers of all the regiments heroically did their duty. I am largely indebted to Major Montgomery and Captain De Gress, Sixth Missouri Cavalry, the latter of whom was wounded while carrying messages for me during the assault of the 22d; also Lieutenant Kensler, Sixteenth Indiana, wounded while acting aide-de-camp on the same day.
I have had the honor heretofore to forward a report of the killed and wounded of my brigade, a copy of which is appended as part of this report ; also a report of the prisoners captured during this campaign.
I am, sir, your obedient servant,
S. G. BURBRIDGE,
Brig. Gen., Comdg. First Brig., Tenth Div., Thirteenth A, C.
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