Battle of Champion Hill (May 16, 1863)
Battle of the Big Black River Bridge (May 17, 1863)
Although the Vicksburg Campaign encompassed much more than than the 45 mile stretch between Jackson and Vicksburg, two crucial Civil War battles took place in this area that may very well have changed the way history reads today. Playing a pivotal point in the ultimate defeat of Vicksburg, the Battle of Champion Hill was fought on May 16, 1863 and the Battle of the Big Black River Bridge, on the following day.
Though officially recognized, these crucial battles are not well known in history books. Making matters more difficult, in the research and writing of these historic sites, is the fact that road names have been changed, most of the sites are not well marked, and many are situated on private property.
Following the Union occupation of Jackson, Mississippi, both Confederate and Union forces made plans for future operations. Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston retreated, with most of his army, up the Canton Road; but, he ordered Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding about 23,000 men, to leave Edwards Station, located about 27 miles west of Jackson, and attack the Union troops who were then situated at Clinton, about 10 miles northwest of Jackson.
General Ulysses S. Grant received word that the Confederate forces were preparing to march east. Early in the morning of May 16, 1863, he ordered his columns forward, marching westward from Bolton and Raymond. About 7:00 a.m., the southernmost column made contact with Confederate pickets near the Davis Plantation and shots rang out. The Battle of Champion Hill — the most decisive engagement of the Vicksburg Campaign — had begun.
When the guns ceased firing and darkness fell that night, many thought that it was the end of the Battle of Champion Hill. But, the battle echoes kept rolling on as the weary, outnumbered, and defeated Confederates retreated toward Vicksburg to regroup. In the dark of night, they attempted to make their way across the Big Black River Bridge, eight miles west, where another battle occurred and more men and vessels met their demise.
The Union victory at the Battle of Champion Hill resulted in an estimated casualties of 2,457 Union and 4,300 Confederate. At the Big Black River Bridge, the battle resulted in an estimated 273 Union casualties and 2,000 Confederate. Both the Federal and Southern troops would then make their way to Vicksburg, where the Union fought to take the “fortress” town in a long battle between May 18th and July 4th, 1863. Here again, the Union would be victorious.
In the meantime, the area east of Vicksburg was devastated as depots, railroads, ferries, road bridges, and private homes had been burned.
For Civil War buffs, touring this area can be frustrating or interesting — like a scavenger hunt, depending upon how you look at it. There are very few historical markers or monuments in the area, and of those that exist, many are deteriorating and in need of repairs or updates. We were unable to find any type of “tour guide” or map — official or unofficial. Old maps exist, but all of the road names have changed. Many of the roads themselves are poorly maintained. And finally, many of the sites are on private property and are inaccessible. However, with research, we were able to find a number of these sites, and have provided a map for those wish to take a look at where these pivotal battles leading up to the defeat of Vicksburg took place. (See map HERE.)
Of the Champion Hill area, the battlefield and some of the original roads are very well preserved. However, there are no original buildings. Thousands of acres of the core battlefield are privately owned and another 800 acres of the outlying area is owned by the State of Mississippi. An additional 402 acres have been protected by the Civil War Preservation Trust through conservation easements and land purchases. There are hopes that parts of these properties may become an extension of the Vicksburg National Military Park.
A private tour of the Champion Hill Battlefield can be arranged with a descendant and owner of the property. ($25/person, minimum of two as of February, 2013) By all accounts, this is an excellent tour given by the great-great grandson of the original owner of the property.
Champion Heritage Foundation
P.O. Box 336
Raymond, Mississippi 39154