The Fall of Jackson

May 14, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals seized the Mississippi capital as part of their roundabout offensive against Vicksburg.

By this date, Grant had two corps within 10 miles of Jackson:

  • Major General William T. Sherman’s XV Corps was at Mississippi Springs, nine miles southwest
  • Major General James B. McPherson’s XVII Corps was at Clinton, an important railroad center 10 miles northwest

Grant directed McPherson to move east toward Jackson, wrecking the railroad as he went. Sherman would coordinate with McPherson so that both corps arrived outside Jackson at the same time. Grant’s third corps, Major General John A. McClernand’s XIII, would advance eight miles west of Clinton.

Confederate General J.E. Johnston | Image Credit:

General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Western Department, was on his way to Jackson from Tullahoma, Tennessee. Tullahoma was 300 miles from Jackson, but Johnston had to travel nearly 600 miles–through Atlanta, Montgomery, Mobile, and Meridian–to avoid Federal occupation forces along the way. Johnston was exhausted by the time he got to Jackson, where he learned that two of Grant’s corps were approaching.

Johnston also discovered that Grant’s army separated him from Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, whose main Confederate force was at Edwards Station, 16 miles east of Vicksburg. Johnston informed Secretary of War John A. Seddon, “I arrived this evening finding the enemy’s force between this place and General Pemberton, cutting off communication. I am too late.”

Brigadier General John Gregg, commanding the Confederates at Jackson, informed Johnston that he had just 6,000 men to defend the city. However, another 6,000 were slated to arrive from Tennessee and South Carolina on the 15th, giving Johnston enough men to hold off Grant’s 20,000, at least temporarily. Acting on Gregg’s false intelligence that Sherman was at Clinton (actually McPherson was there but would soon be heading toward Jackson), Johnston wrote Pemberton:

“I have lately arrived, and learn that Major-General Sherman is between us, with four divisions at Clinton. It is important to reestablish communications, that you may be reenforced. If practicable, come up in his rear at once–to beat such a detachment would be of immense value. Troops here could cooperate. All the troops you can quickly assemble should be brought. Time is all-important.”

Pemberton directed Major General William W. Loring to advance toward Jackson, confront the Federals in his path, and “fall on their rear and cut communication.” Based on Loring’s information, Pemberton reported, “From every source, both black and white, I learn that the enemy are marching on Jackson. I think there can be no doubt of this.”

Finally realizing Grant’s true objective, Pemberton expected Johnston to send troops west in compliance with President Jefferson Davis’s insistence that Vicksburg be held at all costs. However, Johnston still expected Pemberton to join forces with him while he abandoned both Jackson and Vicksburg. Pemberton replied, “I moved at once with whole available force, about 16,000… In directing this move, I do not think that you fully comprehend the position that Vicksburg will be left in; but I comply at once with your order.”

Heavy rain began falling that night as Johnston ordered Gregg to delay the Federal advance long enough for the rest of the Confederates to evacuate Jackson. The rain turned into a storm as the Federals approached the city on the 14th. Gregg had just two brigades to hold them off while Johnston sent the rest of the troops and vital supplies northeast. A Federal attack was delayed due to the storm, giving the Confederates time to dig trenches.

As the rain let up around 11 a.m., McPherson approached from the northwest and Sherman approached from two miles south. Both commands attacked the trenches facing them but were repulsed. Between 2 and 3 p.m., Gregg received word that Johnston and the rest of the Confederates had escaped to Clinton, on the Mississippi Central Railroad. Gregg ordered his troops to disengage and follow their comrades out of town.

Fighting outside Jackson | Image Credit:

When the Federals tried attacking with bayonets, they found the trenches empty. The fight had been unexpectedly hard, with the Federals sustaining 332 casualties (48 killed, 273 wounded, and 11 missing) and the Confederates losing 200. But Jackson had fallen, and Vicksburg was now cut off from supplies or reinforcements.

Many Jackson residents did not know the Confederates had abandoned the town until the Federal troops entered. The staff of the Memphis Appeal, which had relocated to Grenada, Mississippi, and then to Jackson after their city fell last year, now fled once more, this time to Atlanta.

Grant entered Jackson with Sherman around 4 p.m. and was greeted by his son Fred, who had come to the city with Assistant Secretary of War Charles Dana. Dana handed Grant a message from Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that indirectly referred to the problems Grant had been having with McClernand:

“General Grant has full and absolute authority to enforce his own commands, to remove any person who, by ignorance, inaction, or any cause, interferes with or delays his operations. He has the full confidence of the Government, is expected to enforce his authority, and will be firmly and heartily supported; but he will be responsible for any failure to exert his powers.”

Grant and Sherman toured the city and ordered female workers at a fabric mill to leave before Federals burned the factory down. Grant ordered his men to burn all manufactories that could be used for the war effort. Federal troops destroyed all railroad lines going in or out of Jackson and freed comrades held as prisoners on a dilapidated covered bridge over the Pearl River.

They also looted stores, buildings, and homes, freeing prisoners from the city jail to join the fray. The destruction was so complete that troops began referring to Jackson as “Chimneyville.” Grant rejected all civilian requests for protection. Arthur Fremantle, a British military observer, wrote in his journal about the scene:

“All the numerous factories have been burnt down by the enemy, who were of course justified in doing so; but during the short space of 36 hours, in which (Grant’s forces) occupied the city, his troops had wantonly pillaged nearly all the private houses. They had gutted all the stores and destroyed what they could not carry away. All this must have been done under the very eyes of Grant, whose name was in the book of the Bowman House… I saw the ruins of the Roman Catholic Church, the Priest’s house, and the principal hotel, which were still smoking, together with many other buildings which could in no way be identified with the Confederate Government.”

Meanwhile, Johnston wrote Pemberton, “I am anxious to see a force assembled that may be able to inflict a heavy blow upon the enemy. It would decide the campaign to beat it, which can only be done by concentration.” Pemberton began heading east to join Johnston but stopped when he received word that McClernand’s corps was blocking him near Raymond. Holding his first council of war, Pemberton asked his commanders whether they should comply with Davis’s order to hold Vicksburg or Johnston’s order to join forces.

Most officers favored Johnston’s plan, while Loring and Major General Carter L. Stevenson “preferred a movement by which the army might attempt to cut off the enemy’s supplies from the Mississippi River.” Pemberton agreed, thus ensuring that he would remain isolated between Jackson and Vicksburg, and Johnston would not have a force strong enough to confront Grant. Pemberton informed Johnston:

“I shall move as early to-morrow morning as practicable, with a column of 17,000 men, to Dillon’s, situated on the main road leading from Raymond to Port Gibson, seven and a half miles below Raymond, and nine miles from Edwards’s Depot. The object is to cut the enemy’s communication and to force him to attack me, as I do not consider my force sufficient to justify an attack on the enemy in position, or to attempt to cut my way to Jackson. At this point your nearest communication would be through Raymond.”

Grant’s capture of Jackson was the climax of a campaign in which his troops marched 130 miles in two weeks. He and his officers discussed their next move at the Bowman House, the hotel that Johnston had been headquartered the day before. Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut, commanding Grant’s corps at Memphis, had planted a spy within Johnston’s staff, and this spy divulged that Johnston was working to join forces with Pemberton.

Grant therefore planned to move west to block Pemberton’s path to Johnston, destroy Pemberton’s army, and capture Vicksburg. McPherson’s and McClernand’s corps would move out the next day. Sherman’s corps would stay behind and continue destroying Jackson.



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