1st Missouri Brigade at Champion Hill

Updated: 6 days ago

Last week, I finished Tim Smith's excellent book, Champion Hill: The Decisive Battle for Vicksburg (Link at bottom of page), and was blown away by the story of the Missouri Brigade commanded by Francis Marion Cockrell. To learn more about the storied action of this brigade on May 16, 1863, I delved into Cockrell's official report. It doesn't disappoint. His elite brigade was practically thrown to the wolves as it staved off complete collapse and disaster on the Confederate left flank, only to be chewed up by fresh Union brigades. To their credit, they did not break and run, but fell back in good order in the face of vastly superior numbers, while holding out as long as possible in hopes that their success could be exploited. Cockrell wrote a report that covered Champion Hill (or Baker's Creek as he calls it) to the end of the siege of Vicksburg. Since I am only focusing on the Champion Hill portion, that is all that will be featured here. The rest of the campaign will be covered in a future post.



Reports of Col. Francis M. Cockrell, Second Missouri Infantry, commanding First Brigade, Bowen's Division


Demopolis, Ala.,

August 4, 1863.


Major:


Herewith I send you my official report of the battles of Baker’s Creek, Big Black, and the siege of Vicksburg. I beg the leniency of the lieutenant-general for not having sent it sooner. 1 hope it is in time yet. It is very difficult to make out reports extending through so long a space of time. The movements of the First Brigade (Missouri Volunteers) during this siege from point to point, and portions of it being thrown to the support of every brigade occupying a line of trenches, and the many varied incidents connected therewith, would alone make a large volume. I have condensed as much as I could.


In my reports of Baker’s Creek and Big Black I have been more particular in stating in full various matters, such as the manner of bivouacking the night previous to the battle; the movements of the enemy in my front next morning up to the time I was ordered to re-enforce General Stevenson; my call for re-enforcements, and answer of the lieutenant-general [Pemberton] as to what troops were expected to re-enforce my line, and the affair at the crossing of Baker’s Creek, and my delay there until the gaining of the road by the enemy, causing me to travel my course alone for some distance. I did this because I felt it to be my duty toward the lieutenant-general. I have prepared the whole report in a great hurry, and send it to you as soon as completed.


I have the honor, major, to be, most respectfully, your obedient soldier,

F. M. COCKRELL,

Colonel.

[Maj. R. W. Memmingker, Assistant Adjutant-General.]


Van Dorn pattern flag of the 4th Missouri Infantry. Courtesy of Greg Biggs.

Demopolis, Ala., August 1, 1863.

Major: In consequence of the death of my gallant and lamented division commander, Maj. Gen. John S. Bowen, I respectfully beg leave to submit to you the following report of the part taken by the First Brigade (Missouri Volunteers), Bowen’s division, composed of the following-named infantry regiments, to wit: The First Missouri Infantry, composed of the First and Fourth Regiments, consolidated; the Second Missouri Infantry; the Third Missouri Infantry: the Fifth Missouri Infantry; the Sixth Missouri Infantry; Captain [Henry] Guibor’s battery; Captain [John C.] Landis’ battery, under command of Lieutenant [John M.] Langan, and the Wade Battery, under Lieutenant [Richard C.] Walsh, in the battles of Baker’s Creek and Big Black, and during the siege of Vicksburg.


This brigade bivouacked near the battle-field of Baker’s Creek on the night of May 15 last, and immediately threw forward to the distance of over 100 yards a strong line of pickets, and early on the morning of the 16th instant changed position to the front and left of the first line, and threw forward far in advance of the battle line five companies of skirmishers: Captain [Martin] Burke’s company (D), First Missouri; Captain [T. B.] Wilson’s company (G), Second Missouri; Captain [Patrick] Canniff’s company (F), Fifth Missouri; Captain [W. C.] Adams’ company (G), Third Missouri, and Captain [Jepthah] Duncan’s company (E), Sixth Missouri, all under command of Lieut. Col. F. L. Hubbell, of the Third Missouri Infantry. Our cavalry soon engaged the enemy a mile or more in front of this brigade, and slowly retired to the rear through my line. Soon after this a line of the enemy appeared about 1,200 yards in my front, when Lieutenant Langan and Lieutenant Walsh opened on them and drove them from the field, and immediately the enemy brought forward a battery, and replied lively to our batteries, disabling one of Lieutenant Langan’s 12-pounder guns and killing 4 men by the explosion of one shell, and very soon afterward disabling the other 12-pounder gun. Both these disabled guns were carried safely from the field. The enemy’s battery soon withdrew, and we remained in the same position unengaged with the enemy until about or after 1 p. m., when I received an order directly from Lieutenant-General Pemberton to move and re-enforce Brigadier-General [S. D.] Lee, on the left of Major-General Stevenson’s line. I moved in quick and double-quick time toward the designated line, but before arriving there I received another order to move to Major-General Stevenson’s right, and, moving by file right, I attempted to gain that portion of his line; but in consequence of his troops giving way, and the exposure of my line moving by the left flank to the fire of the enemy, rapidly advancing, I immediately on the left, by file into line, formed the brigade in line of battle under a heavy fire, resting the right of the Fifth Infantry on the left of General Cumming’s brigade, which had been giving way, but had apparently rallied behind a cut in the road near Captain [James F.] Waddell’s battery, then rapidly firing, and moving to the left of my line to place the Second Missouri Infantry in position. And before having completed this I received information from Captain [R. L.] Maupin, acting on my staff, that the right of the brigade was failing back, and hastening thither I found that this brigade on my-right had almost wholly disappeared, and that the enemy had captured Captain Waddell’s battery and were occupying the ground and road just previously occupied by this brigade of Major-General Stevenson’s division, and were firing a most destructive enfilading fire into the brigade from right to left, and that in consequence of this fearful fire portions of the Third and Fifth Missouri Infantry Regiments had fallen back a short distance. I ordered them to regain their first line, which was quickly done. Then I ordered the brigade to charge the heavy, strong lines of the enemy, rapidly advancing and cheering, flushed with their success and the capture of our guns; and in the most gallant, dashing, fearless manner, officers and men with loud cheers threw themselves forward at a run against the enemy’s hitherto victorious lines. And just at this time the First Missouri infantry, coming up, was placed on the extreme right, and most gallantly charged a very superior force of the enemy immediately in their front, at the same time being exposed to such a destructive raking fire from the enemy on their right-all the troops on the right having fallen back— that Colonel [A. C.] Riley had to change the front of his two right companies. Soon the enemy’s lines in front of this brigade were checked, and after a very stubborn resistance and a very destructive fire from my whole line, firing continuously in its rapid advance, they were severely repulsed and driven back. At this time Lieutenant-Colonel Hubbell, with the before-named five companies of skirmishers, who withdrew from the front of my former position after the brigade had moved, came up, and, forming in rear of center of the brigade line, most cheeringly joined in the charge and overtook our lines.



Fresh troops of the enemy were rapidly thrown in front of our lines, and were immediately engaged and repulsed. This fearful strife was kept up uninterruptedly for two and a half hours. The soldiers of this brigade fired away the 40 rounds of ammunition in their cartridge-boxes, and instead of abandoning the field took from the cartridge-boxes of their fallen and wounded soldiers, and even stripped the slain and wounded of the enemy, with whom the ground was thickly strewn, of all their cartridges, many of them firing 75 to 90 rounds. Captain Waddell’s battery was recaptured, and this gallant, fearless officer immediately, with the assistance of one or two men, opened his battery on the fleeing enemy. A battery of the enemy attempted to check the impetuous advance, and was quickly charged and captured, but could not be brought off on account of the horses being killed. When all the ammunition in cartridge-boxes and that gathered from the slain and wounded of friend and foe was exhausted, the troops gradually began to fall back.


In the early part of the engagement, I sent two of my staff officers for ammunition, but the ordnance train could not be found. Colonel [James] McCown, of the Fifth Missouri Infantry, sent his major after ammunition, but he likewise failed. Col. A. C. Riley, of the First Missouri Infantry, in his official report to me, states that his ordnance sergeant started to him to supply ammunition fired away by his men, but was ordered across Baker’s Creek by General Stevenson. Captain Guibor’s battery, under Lieutenant [William] Corkery, was placed in position on the left of the brigade, and did effective service in saving the left of the brigade from being flanked. Lieutenants Langan and Walsh, with their batteries, did good service on the right of the brigade in checking the enemy in his attempt to gain the rear of our right flank.


At this time I received notice through Captain [W. B,] Pittman, of Brigadier-General Green’s staff, that there was an order to retreat, which I delayed communicating, hoping that Major-General Loring’s division might still arrive in time to push forward the successes and advantages so gallantly and dearly won, having met with and been informed by the lieutenant-general commanding, in answer to my request for re-enforcements, that he had not a man until General Loring should arrive.


In the mean time the enemy were rapidly advancing on the right, in order of battle almost perpendicular to our own, and I was thus forced to withdraw, which was done in good order. Retreating to and crossing Baker’s Creek, I there received an order from General Bowen to remain in position, so as to protect the crossing and enable General Loring’s division to cross over, and then to move on to Big Black. While delaying here, the enemy, having crossed the creek above us, advanced and placed a battery in position to command the road from this crossing to Edwards Depot, and immediately a brisk fire was opened from this battery.


A short time after this battery began to fire, I heard commands given to troops at the crossing, indicating that they were marching back. I immediately hastened to the crossing, and found Major-General Stevenson and staff and Colonel [T. M.] Scott’s Twelfth Louisiana Regiment going back with the belief that the enemy had gained the road and cut them off. I informed General Stevenson that this brigade was there and what my orders were. He and Colonel Scott’s regiment immediately crossed over, and Colonel Scott moved on. After this regiment passed, seeing no other troops coming to cross (not even stragglers), and believing that the enemy probably occupied the road to Edwards Depot, I moved the brigade, leaving the road to Edwards Depot to my right, and after marching under cover of darkness through plantations, along and across ravines, and leaving Edwards Depot to my right, I intersected the road from Edwards Depot to Big Black, and then marched inside, and by direction of Brigadier-General Vaughn bivouacked in rear of the defenses south of the railroad. Soon after leaving my position at the crossing of Baker’s Creek, I saw Colonel Scott’s regiment marching back, and was informed that General Loring had ordered this regiment back to his division, south of Baker’s Creek. I ordered the batteries of this brigade not to halt at the crossing, but move rapidly to Big Black, and not a gun was lost.


In this battle this brigade suffered heavy losses in killed, wounded, and missing, as will appear by the following statement:


Among the killed and wounded were many of our best officers. All the killed fell at their post in the full and fearless discharge of their whole duty.


Among the slain of this well-embattled field must ever be held in lively remembrance the brave and fearless Captains [W. C. P.] Carrington and [Norval] Spangler and Lieutenant [T. J.] Dobyns, of the First Missouri Infantry, and Captain [William P.] Mcllvane, of the Third Missouri Infantry; and among the wounded (who afterward died), Lieut. Col. F. L. Hubbell, of the Third Missouri, commanding five companies of skirmishers, and Captain [H. G.] McKinney, of the Fifth Missouri Infantry, and Lieutenant [R. S.] Rankin, of the First Missouri Infantry.


I cannot speak with too much praise of the gallantry, coolness, and dashing, fearless, and even reckless impetuosity shown by the officers and soldiers of this brigade in forming their line of battle under heavy fire, with the troops on their right and left falling back past them in disorder and confusion, and an enemy greatly outnumbering them rapidly advancing, cheering and flushed with their hitherto successful charges and their capture of the guns, and then, in the midst of these, in throwing themselves into the breach with continued cheers, and driving the enemy back 500 to 600 yards, and recapturing Captain Waddell’s battery and a battery of the enemy.


With special commendation I mention the names of Colonel Riley and Lieutenant-Colonel [Hugh A.] Garland, of the First Missouri Infantry, and Lieutenant-Colonel [Pembroke S.] Senteny and Major [T. M.] Carter, of the Second Missouri Infantry, and Colonel [W. R.] Gause and Major [J. K.] McDowell, of the Third Missouri Infantry, and Colonel McCown, Lieutenant-Colonel [R. S.] Bevier, and Major [O. A.] Waddell, of the Fifth Missouri Infantry, and Major [Stephen] Cooper, commanding the Sixth Missouri Infantry.


Capt. Upton M. Young, acting with me, was severely wounded at the post of duty and danger.


My acting adjutant (J. M. Flanagan) and my acting aide (R. L. Maupin) merit special mention for their coolness and discretion amid dangers.


This portion of Colonel Cockrell's report can be found in:

The War of the Rebellion: a compilation of the official records of the Union and Confederate armies

Series 1: Volume 24: Part.2: Reports.


If you would like to learn more on the Battle of Champion Hill, I highly suggest purchasing Tim Smith's book, Champion Hill: The Decisive Battle for Vicksburg, published in 2006 by Savas Beatie. It may be one of the finest battle studies I have read. Click the image to purchase directly from the publisher.



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