Repost: Some Champion Hill Thoughts
- My first question was on the 47th Indiana Infantry in Slack's
Brigade. The brigade was formed to the east of the Jackson road two
regiments deep one hundred yards advanced from the Champion House
facing south towards Champion Hill. The leftmost regiment of
McGinnis' brigade also formed on the east side of the Jackson Road.
About one hundred yards south of Slack's Brigade, a creek spilling
off the western face of Boll's Hill abuts the ridge on which runs the
Jackson Road, closing to within 200 yards of the road itself before
turning from due north to east by northeast. This turn in the creek
is pronounced, with banks that drop as much as 10-40 feet from the
Champion Ridge down to the sandy creekbed below. South of this
point, below the actual Champion Hill peak, the creekbed is much less
pronounced, with banks that drop only about 5-10 feet.
Hovey's Division made a very deliberate and careful advance upon the
Confederate lines, creeping up the hill until the entire slope was
enveloped. However, the 47th Indiana reported seeing the enemy off
to its left, changing face, and most likely advancing across this
creek. Smith doesn't attempt to resolve the question about why the
47th, Slack's rightmost regiment, would have been the regiment that
engaged the Confederate skirmishers to the federal left.
Assuming that two companies of skirmishers were deployed in front of
the regiments, that would mean that 8 companies of men from McGinnis'
Brigade and 16 companies of men from Slack's Brigade were attempting
to squeeze through a gap merely 200 yards across. Assuming an
average company population of 40 men in double line with each man
occupying a yard, this means that only 10 companies can pass through
this gap at a time.
Mississippi terrain, in general, is fairly clear near the ridges and
becomes gradually more choked with weeds the closer one gets to the
creeks running along the bottom. In addition, the Champion Hill
ridge is cut with ravines formed by ditches running off the ridge.
Traversing these ravines becomes almost impossible at points farther
away from the road. So Slack's Brigade would have naturally been
moving at a much slower pace than the leftmost regiment of McGinnis.
Additionally, the rough terrain would have naturally extended Slack's
alignment. So by the time the 47th Indiana reached this 200 yard
gap, it seems safe to assume that the 47th probably occupied 200
yards by itself.
This seems key to what happened to Slack's Brigade. McGinnis'
Brigade advanced more quickly than the 47th Indiana and 24th Iowa,
who in turn advanced more quickly than the 28th Iowa and 56th
Indiana. So the brigade lost its formation of
and became aligned as
The 47th must have followed McGinnis' men through this gap, then
attempted to move to the left as it entered the weed-choked
bottomland on the other side. The 47th reported the presence of
enemy troops to its left, changed facing, and pursued the enemy
fruitlessly into the brambles. What it appears had happened was that
the 47th had chased the skirmishers of Cumming's Brigade who had
followed the natural path to Champion Hill down the northwestern
slope of Boll's Hill. This path of movement intersects the path
marched by the 47th IN at the point where the gap between the Jackson
Road and the creek begins to open up into the weed-choked bottom land
between Champion Hill and Boll's Hill 300 yards northeast of the
angle in the Confederate line.
This is a bit key to the engagement, because the skirmishers at that
point appear to have fled to the top of Boll's Hill and formed into
line of battle facing Osterhaus' advance units. Osterhaus, being
confused by the fact that he was facing line of battle to both the
west and north, deployed at least an entire regiment facing towards
~300 skirmishers formed on Boll's Hill, and seemed loath to progress
westward until this position had been cleared, presumably by the 7th
Smith seems to downplay the distance that the 47th travelled in
pursuit of the skirmishers, and also seems to me to have misplaced
them once redirected. The official report of the 47th states that
after pursuing the elusive enemy for some distance, the regiment was
marched by the right flank at double quick time, crossed the Jackson
Road under fire, and reached the top of the hill in time to engage
the enemy as it held a strong position behind some houses and
outbuildings. This seems to place the 47th in the fight for the
Austin Ridge rather than the peak of Champion Hill.
If true, that would mean that the entire remained of Slack's Brigade
had time to march past the 47th in similar terrain, reform near the
cornfield north of the middle road, and assault the 56th and 57th GA
positioned at the crossroad. That seems to indicate that advance
elements of the 47th could have been within 600 yards of advance
elements of the 7th Kentucky on Boll's Hill.