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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

The Steel Guns at Baker's Creek

by Gordon Thorsby

The Battle of Baker’s Creek does not ring a bell to most readers of the Civil War but the Battle of Champion’s Hill does. They were one in the same.

What soldiers saw in battle were often to be etched in memories forever. The fight at Baker’s Creek was one such story.

The 20th Illinois was making a movement near the creek when they came under fire from what many described as the Rebel “Steel Gun Battery.” “Our position was immediately in front of the rebel battery. When we first took this position we lay down on our arms after returning from Jackson, Miss., out of sight with the enemy.” The 20th was part of the XVII Corps which too and burned Jackson to eliminate any threats from Gen. Joseph Johnston small Confederate force.

“McCallester’s Battery of 24-pounder howitzers commenced shelling the woods immediately on the left of our regiment, and in a very short time, the enemy came charging out of the woods like swarms of bees, and were repulsed three different times and driven back with great loss.” McCallister’s Battery was that of Battery D, First Illinois Light Artillery.

Private Benjamin Hearford continued, “At this juncture a rebel battery stationed near a log house on opposite side of the creed commenced playing on McCallester’s battery. Then the rebel infantry crossed the creek again under cover of the battery, with intent, no doubt to take McCallester in ‘out of the wet.” (The phrase meant to stop the awful shower of iron that the Union battery was sending.) The steel gun battery referred to was the 5th Arkansas Battery also known as the Memphis Appeal Battery. Why called steel might be because two of the four guns were steel 3” ordnance rifles. The other two guns were twelve pound bronze howitzers. “It was then [that] we received orders to charge them, which we did with a yell that seemed to send consternation through the enemy so that they fled like sheep, we pursuing them until after we passed Edward’s Station. There we halted and lay down to rest near the Jackson and Vicksburg wagon-road until the following day, when we…” continued the pursuit.

Hearford went on to describe that “rebels lay promiscuously about their guns” and he observed the battery’s dead commander. He also explained as they pursued through Edward’s Station he noticed a train of supplies on fire and that a number of men grabbed some of the hams laying so they could have ham and flapjacks the next morning.

In all of the death and insanity of the war, Benjamin F. Hearford of the 20th Illinois Infantry found a brief moment to set a memory.

Reference: National Tribune, 1888

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