Heaps of Human Bones: The Dead of Champion Hill

Today is the 145th Anniversary of Champion Hill, and even though I haven’t had the time to write a full article on the battle, I can’t let it pass without saying something. Growing up so close to this battlefield left it’s mark on me, and spurred the love of history that has led to a rewarding career. The following passage is taken from a longer article written by Benjamin F. Boring, who fought at Champion Hill with Company D, 30th Illinois Infantry. I think Boring’s account speaks volumes about the high cost of this battle:

I would like to know whose dead it was, and who buried them in the gullies on the hillside

B.F. Boring
Wartime image of Benjamin F. Boring (findagrave.com)

along the road sloping south from Champion’s Hill. This battle, you know, was fought on the 16th day of May. As I said once before, as soon as the formalities of the surrender at Vicksburg were over, the command to which my regiment belonged was sent back on the Jackson road after Joe Johnston, and pushed him beyond Pearl River again. I think it was about the 5th day of July we passed along the road across the Champion’s Hill battlefield, and at the mouth or lower end of these gullies lay heaps of human bones that had been washed down there from the gullies, where the dead had been thrown and buried instead of in graves on the top of the hill. These bones were entirely destitute of flesh and naked, except the feet still had the shoes on. I remember noticing how oddly the bones looked with shoes on, and how nicely the shoes were still tied.  (The National Tribune, April 5, 1894)

The 30th Illinois had seen plenty of fighting at Champion Hill; part of Leggett’s Brigade, Logan’s Division, XV Army Corps, the regiment had 9 killed and 49 wounded in the battle. (Ed Bearss, The Vicksburg Campaign Volume 2, page 650)

I found the following biography of Benjamin F. Boring on the Vigo County (Indiana) Library website:

Born March 16, 1840 in Marion County, Indiana, Benjamin Franklin Boring was the son of Elizabeth Buchanon and Thomas W. Boring, a travelling preacher. He was educated in Lawrence and Crawford counties in Illinois. At the age of 21, Boring was mustered into the Union Army on August 26, 1861 at Camp Butler, Illinois, for a 3 year term of service with Company D, 30th Regiment Illinois Volunteer Infantry. During the Civil War, his company was involved in many battles and skirmishes, including the battle of Britton’s Lane, the battle of Belmont (where Benjamin Boring was slightly wounded), the siege of Corinth, the battle of Champion Hills, the siege of Vicksburg and took part in Sherman’s push to Atlanta. Boring was mustered out of the army at the end of his term on August 27, 1864.

30th Illinois Infantry
Battleflag of the 30th Illinois Infantry

After his discharge, Benjamin Boring attended the Terre Haute Commercial College as well as received a teacher’s certificate which allowed him to teach school at the Durham schoolhouse, school district number 1, Honey Creek Township, Vigo County, Indiana (December 1864-March 1865). In May 1865, he received his diploma from the Commercial College and moved to Robinson, Illinois, where he sold goods in a store for Dorothy & Mills. When the store closed after his three month contract of hire expired, Boring moved back to Terre Haute and firmly established his teaching career. He taught again in Honey Creek Township, but eventually became the principal of Greenwood School in Terre Haute. By 1881, Boring worked for the Federal Revenue Department as a U.S. Storekeeper and Gauger. In the 1890s, he became a grocer and opened his own dry goods store (southwest corner of 1st and Boring) near his residence on the south side of Terre Haute.

On November 21, 1867, Benjamin Boring married Sarah Elizabeth Meredith; they had two daughters, Gertrude Meredith Boring (born 1869, who eventually married Charles Ehrmann) and Hortense Bonaparte Boring (born 1874). After the death of his first wife in 1902, Boring married Christina Elisabeth Noble on October 23, 1910. At the age of 79, Benjamin Boring died at his residence (Voorhees and Dilman streets) in Terre Haute on October 2, 1919.

The Vigo County Library has a large collection of letters and a diary kept be Boring in their holdings, and these documents are available online; they can be found here: https://www.vigo.lib.in.us/archives/inventories/wars/civilwar/boring.php. When I have time I plan to read through his correspondence, because to put it simply, the young man could write.

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