A Hoosier’s view of Champion Hill

Hometown newspapers are a treasure trove of Civil War source material. I first appreciated how rich a vein they could be when I was researching my work on Chickamauga, and now they are a mainstay of my work on other battles.

Since on Saturday May 16, it will be the 157th anniversary of the pivotal battle of Champion Hill, the battle that decided the fate of Vicksburg, I thought I would share one such account. This letter was written by Capt. Francis M. Redburn, commanding Company K of the 24th Indiana. It was penned on June 14, 1863, a month after the battle, while Redburn and his men were toiling away in the trenches surrounding the besieged fortress. It was published in the July 25th, 1863 edition of the Princeton, Indiana, Clarion Ledger.

Redburn’s narrative encompasses all of the campaign up to that point, but since his regiment was in the thick of it at Champion Hill, the meatiest portion of his account covers that fight. I have excerpted the pertinent paragraphs:

* * * *

“Early on the 16th of May we took up our line of march from Bolton’s Station, on the road leading to Edward’s Depot. Gen. Hovey’s division had the advance, and the 24th the advance of the division. About 10 o’clock A.M. we found the enemy in position on Champion Hill. This hill is very high and steep, and on either side it is broken by narrow and deep ravines which reach about half way up its sides. These ravines afforded most excellent position for the enemy. The hill was covered with heavy timber and thick underbrush—upon the whole it was the strongest natural position for defensive operations I ever saw.

An excerpt from the American Battlefield Trust map of Champion Hill, showing the 24th Indiana, Hovey’s division

When the line of battle was formed the 24th occupied the right, in an open field. Companies A, G, and K were immediately thrown out as skirmishers. We had to advance about 300 yards across an open field and attack the enemy on his own ground and under cover. We very cautiously approached near the wood and then by rapid and hard fighting we drove the enemy from his first position and then gained shelter which enabled us to operate more successfully.

We continued to drive the enemies skirmishers until we had possession of the greater part of the right side of the hill, when we were ordered to report to the regiment, which had advanced to the woods, which was promptly obeyed, being the most hazardous skirmishing I ever did. The whole line now advanced, and the 28th Wisconsin made a gallant charge, directly up the hill, the 24th sweeping the hill on the right. This charge was conducted in gallant style, being a complete success, capturing two pieces of artillery, two hundred and fifty prisoners, one stand of colors, and one Colonel.

Just after this we received orders to move to the left to support the 11th Indiana, which was heavily pressed. We moved at a double-quick about three hundred yards to the left, when we became engaged with an overwhelming force, which we stood and fought for near one hour, within fifty yards of the enemies main line, exposed to the most desperate and destructive fire I ever witnessed. Our support on either side was driven back. Still we stood and fought five times our number, but were soon flanked on either side and were compelled to fall back or surrender.

This was a terrible hour for the 24th. Officers and men were falling fast along the whole line and the enemy was within thirty yards, pouring in a galling fire on us. Still there was no panic. The men moved back slowly, leading and firing as they went. When we had fallen back about fifty yards we rallied and stood about fifteen minutes, when we were driven back [again.] We made the second stand about seventy-five yards farther back, and fought about twenty minutes when we were again forced to fall back. The third and last stand was made on the summit of the hill, where we rallied the men of the various regiments in one common line to make a final stand. At this time we were reinforced by two regiments of Gen. Quimby’s division.

To hold the summit of this hill we were the last and only hope of the 12th [Hovey’s] division. Immediately to our rear was a large open field. [A] rout, not a retreat, across that field would have been certain destruction. There we fought and continued to rally and fight for one terrible hour. Finally victory crowned our efforts and the hill was ours.

No troops ever behaved more gallantly or exhibited better courage than the 12th division did on this occasion—every man seemed determined to conquer or die. I hope and trust that I may never witness another such scene. The ground on which we fought was literally covered with the dead and wounded—it was truly a bloody field. The 24th lost in killed and wounded two hundred and one. The loss of the division was over fourteen hundred.

Our brigade was left behind to take care of the wounded and bury the dead. This required several days’ labor. As soon as we had accomplished the work assigned us, and had paroled all the wounded rebels in the vicinity, we moved on the line in front of the enemies works [at Vicksburg.]”

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Francis M. Redburn survived the siege of Vicksburg. He resigned his commission on October 9, 1864, and was mustered out in New Orleans. He moved to Missouri where he studied law, and got married in 1866. He built up a private practice and held various public offices, including the “police Judge” for the city of Jasper.  After several earlier unsuccessful candidacies, he was elected circuit judge of Jasper County in November, 1902, but died of typhoid-pneumonia on 7 November, as the final election counts were still being counted. Though he was aware of his win, he never took office.

 

About Dave Powell

I'm a middle-aged guy with a fascination with the American Civil War, and especially the battle of Chickamauga. In my day job, I am president and an owner of CBS Messenger, a courier company in Chicago, but whenever I can am off pursuing all things Chickamauga. I am also a wargamer, having designed more than fifteen boardgames on various battle topics. Join me as I ramble about things that hold my attention.
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