Federals Close in on Jackson

By the morning of May 13, Major-General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal Army of the Tennessee had advanced deep into central Mississippi. Grant was targeting the state capital of Jackson, but his ultimate goal was to turn east and capture Vicksburg, one of the last Confederate strongholds on the Mississippi River. Grant’s army was situated as follows:

  • Major-General James B. McPherson’s Seventeenth Corps advanced from Raymond to Clinton, an important center on the Jackson & Vicksburg Railroad, 10 miles northwest of the Mississippi capital of Jackson.
  • The vanguard of Major-General William T. Sherman’s Fifteenth Corps reached Raymond, southwest of Jackson.
  • Major-General John A. McClernand’s Thirteenth Corps was at Edwards Station, on the railroad west of Clinton, 16 miles east of Vicksburg.

Grant directed McPherson to move east toward Jackson, wrecking the railroad as he went. Sherman would take the road from Raymond to Jackson and arrive outside the capital at the same time as McPherson, only farther south. McClernand was to feint against Confederates at Edwards Station and then move toward Raymond.

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, already in poor health due to wounds suffered the previous year, was exhausted by the time he got to Jackson on the night of the 13th.

Johnston received a dispatch from Lieutenant-General John C. Pemberton, commanding Confederate forces in Mississippi. Pemberton still believed that Grant’s main thrust would come against Edwards Station. Pemberton wrote, “With my limited force I will do all I can to meet him. That will be the battle-field, if I can carry forward sufficient force, leaving troops enough to secure the safety of this place.”

There was much panic among the residents of Jackson when Johnston arrived. Government officials and records had already moved east to Enterprise, leaving behind Governor John J. Pettus to try to keep order. Johnston took up headquarters at the Bowman House, where he was briefed on the situation by Brigadier-General John Gregg. Following the battle at Raymond on the 12th, Gregg had pulled his forces back to Jackson, believing that the main Federal thrust would come from Clinton. This left the road from Raymond to Jackson open.

Confederate Gens Joseph E. Johnston and John Gregg | Image Credit: Wikipedia

Gregg had only 6,000 men to defend Jackson. Reinforcements on their way from Tennessee and South Carolina would raise this number to 12,000, but it would still be no match for the 25,000 Federals approaching the capital. Defensive works hastily built by citizens and slaves were not strong enough to withstand a full enemy assault.

Pemberton’s main force was at Edwards Station, ready for battle. When Johnston realized that Grant’s army separated the Confederates at Jackson from Pemberton’s force at Edwards, he 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.”

But Johnston hoped that he might be able to at least hold off Grant’s force 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 co-operate. All the troops you can quickly assemble should be brought. Time is all-important.”

Johnston gave this vital order to three different messengers to ensure that it got past Grant’s Federals. But one of the messengers was a spy who brought the order to Grant. Pemberton received the order as well, and he responded by sending Major-General William W. Loring’s Confederates west toward Jackson to confront the Federals in his path and “fall on their rear and cut communications.” 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. But Johnston expected Pemberton to join forces with him, even if it meant losing 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 decided to evacuate Jackson. Gregg was to delay the Federal advance long enough for the rest of the Confederates to withdraw. Grant issued orders for McPherson and Sherman to advance on Jackson early the next morning.


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