The Mississippi Civil War Sesquicentennial continues and in the coming months we will be highlighting Museum Division collections related to 1863 and the Civil War. Special thanks to Nan Prince, assistant director of collections, for writing this series.

May 16, 1863 – The Vicksburg Campaign:  The Battle of Champion Hill

Coat worn by John McDonnell. Accession number: 1960.16.3 (Museum Division collection)

Coat worn by John McDonnell. Accession number: 1960.16.3 (Museum Division collection)

President Abraham Lincoln called Vicksburg, Mississippi, “the key” to winning the Civil War, and General Ulysses S. Grant launched the Vicksburg Campaign in the spring of 1863. The campaign was a series of battles and maneuvers that led to the eventual siege and surrender of the Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River.

The Battle of Champion Hill, which began on the morning of May 16, became the most decisive battle of the Vicksburg Campaign. After fierce fighting against Grant’s troops centered around Champion Hill, Lt. General John C. Pemberton decided to withdraw his army towards his base of operations, Vicksburg, and moved towards the Baker’s Creek Crossing on Raymond Road, the only escape route left for his troops. Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman’s brigade was ordered to protect the crossing at all costs. Company G, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery (Cowan’s Battery), part of Tilghman’s Brigade, positioned their guns to protect the road, which was held until late afternoon when the Union army seized the bridge and marched on to occupy Edwards.

Pemberton and his army were in full retreat to Vicksburg. Tilghman’s Brigade, along with the rest of General William W. Loring’s division, was cut off from Pemberton’s troops, and this proved to be a devastating loss. Of Grant’s 32,000 troops engaged at the Battle of Champion Hill, 410 were killed, 1,844 were wounded, and 187 were missing at the end of the day, but the victory was decisive and paved the way for the eventual success of the Vicksburg Campaign. Pemberton’s losses were severe with 381 killed, 1,018 wounded, and 2,441 missing out of the 23,000 in the battle. In addition he lost several vital pieces of artillery and Loring’s entire division.

Haversack worn by John McDonnell. Accession number: 1960.16.1 (Museum Division collection)

Haversack worn by John McDonnell. Accession number: 1960.16.1 (Museum Division collection)

Pictured here are the uniform coat and haversack worn by John McDonnell, who served with Company G, 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, which was engaged in the fighting at Baker’s Creek Bridge. This type of coat is known as a “Columbus Depot Jacket” and was one of the most common jackets worn by Confederates in the western theater.

The shell fragments, six pound cannonball, and minie ball bullets pictured below were found on the Champion Hill battlefield.

Artifacts from Champion Hill Battelfield. Accession numbers: 1970.14.4, 1962.586.12a, 1977.1.6, and 1977.6.2a-c (Museum Division collection)

Artifacts from Champion Hill Battelfield. Accession numbers: 1970.14.4, 1962.586.12a, 1977.1.6, and 1977.6.2a-c (Museum Division collection)

Below is a link to previous blog posts describing the restoration of the Coker House which is located on the Champion Hill battlefield. The Coker House sustained artillery fire from both sides and served as a field hospital during the battle.

http://mdah.state.ms.us/senseofplace/tag/coker-house/

Source: “Champion Hill,” Vicksburg National Military Park, National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov/vick/historyculture/champhill.htm.