The Battle of Champion Hill
Since Edwards was not incorporated as a town until 1871, it is difficult to trace any of its history prior to the Civil War. A short paragraph in the booklet, CHAMPION HILL!, by Herb Phillips, best describes Edwards prior to this time... "when the Vicksburg-Clinton Railroad was built through the tiny community, in the 1830s, the citizens voted to change the name of their town from Edwards to Edwards Station so honoring the railroad. It remained Edwards Station through the Civil War, but reverted to its original Station-less name shortly after the war. At the time of the Battle of Champion Hill there were only some 360 white persons living in the Edwards Station area. The slave census figures are too faint on the official record to be legible." Another old document, found in the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, describes Edwards during the Civil War as being... "only a small village with most of its citizens living on surrounding plantations."
In spite of the lack of information regarding this area during early times, we do know that the Edwards Station, as well as the Big Black River, played an important part in the War Between the States. In the book, War on the Mississippi, one entire chapter is entitled THE SWEEP TO THE BIG BLACK. This fascinating chapter relates - in detail the final stages of the war as General Grant began his 19-day campaign starting with the Bruinsburg landing and ending with the siege of Vicksburg. Within this time frame, Grant fought and won five battles; captured nearly 5,000 prisoners; burned Jackson and destroyed its rail network; and hurled Confederate General Pemberton's army back inside the fortress city of Vicksburg.
One of the most decisive battles of Grant's 19-day campaign was fought May 16, 1863, four miles from the Edwards Station on a site called Champion Hill. After a day of intense fighting that began around 11:15 a.m. and lasted until dark, the beaten Confederates suffered 381 killed, 1,018 wounded and 2,441 missing. Years later, reflecting on the Confederate loss, Pemberton's engineering commander, Samuel Lockett, stated... "Pemberton moved out from Edwards Station in obedience to a dispatch from General Johnston, ordering him to attack in the rear a force which he supposed General Johnston was going to engage in front. Instead of this, he encountered Grant's victorious army returning exultant and eager for more prizes, from the capture of Jackson." Lockett also remembered that General Pemberton was in a depressed state of mind immediately following the battle. After riding, in silence, along the muddy road away from Champion Hill, Pemberton finally turned to him and said: "Just 30 years ago I began my military career by receiving my appointment to a cadetship at the U.S. Military Academy; and today - the same date - that career is ended in disaster and disgrace."
Pemberton's adversary, Union General A.P. Hovey, later wrote his memoirs of Champion Hill saying.. "It was, after the conflict, literally the hill of death; men, horses, cannon, and the debris of an army lay scattered in wild confusion." Hovey also commented that he never forgot the "great American fighting spirit of the competing armies" at -the site of what he proclaimed to be "the decisive encounter of the Vicksburg campaign, and of the war."
In order to return the remainder of his troops to Vicksburg, Pemberton once again crossed the Big Black River near the Edwards Station. A Confederate veteran wrote about that night to never be forgotten... "the midnight hour was near at hand when the men sank heavily to rest behind the breastworks which protected the bridge over the Big Black. Other units were ordered by Pemberton to continue on across the bridge, and these exhausted men trudged on until their strength gave out between one and two in the morning. It was a nightmare ... a day and a night of nightmare." After crossing Pemberton ordered the bridge, as well as a little river steamer to be burned. A few men drowned trying to swim the river and those that were left behind were taken prisoner. As the Union troops pursued the defeated Confederate army across the Big Black - where the bridge had been burned - they performed a great engineering feat! In one single night they built four Inflatable bridges so their army could cross the river and make the final advance toward the capture of Vicksburg!
Tourists often visit Edwards in order to visit the famous Champion Hill Battleground and to reenact Civil War history. Don Garrett of the Jackson Civil War Roundtable commented.. "if Champion Hill was in Virginia, it would be as big and important a national military park as Manassas, or Chancellorsville!" As it is the only monument to be found on the famous battleground site is the monument to General Tilghman. Even the road signs and markers - BATTLE OF CHAMPION HILL - are old and in need of replacement. Gordon Cotton, Director of the Old Courthouse Museum in Vicksburg best summed it up when he said... "It's human nature that we'll wish we had done much, much more to preserve Champion Hill after it's too late, and most everything there is gone."
*Historical votes taken from CHAMPION HILL!, Herb Phillips and WAR ON THE MISSISSIPPI, Time Life Series, by Jerry Korn.
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