The Fall of Jackson

Part of Major-General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal Army of the Tennessee was closing in on the Mississippi capital of Jackson as part of the larger campaign to capture Vicksburg, one of the last Confederate strongholds on the Mississippi River.

Jackson was defended by only two Confederate brigades under Brigadier-General John Gregg. Gregg was to delay the enemy advance while General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Western Department, evacuated the remaining forces to the northeast. From there, Johnston hoped to join forces with those of Lieutenant-General John C. Pemberton, which were west of Grant’s Federals near Vicksburg.

Heavy rain on the night of May 13 turned into a storm as the Federals approached Jackson the next morning. Major-General James B. McPherson’s Seventeenth Corps advanced from Clinton to the northwest, while Major-General William T. Sherman’s Fifteenth Corps advanced from Raymond two miles south. The advance was slowed due to the storm, which gave Gregg’s Confederates time to dig trenches.

As the rain let up around 11 a.m., the Federals advanced in earnest. Morale was high as the troops had been eager to capture the capital ever since taking Corinth about a year before. Men from both McPherson’s and Sherman’s corps attacked the trenches facing them but were repulsed. Between 2 and 3 p.m., Gregg received word that Johnston had evacuated the rest of the Confederates. Gregg therefore ordered his troops to disengage and follow their comrades out of town. The Confederates had put up a strong defense despite being heavily outnumbered, but now there was nothing more for them to do but withdraw.

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. Fred was nearly captured when he hurried into town before the Confederates had fully left. Luckily for Fred, nobody seemed to notice him. Dana handed Grant a message from Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton that indirectly referred to the problems Grant had been having with his Thirteenth Corps commander, Major-General John A. 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 while they freed 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.”

Johnston moved his Confederates toward Canton, northeast of Jackson. He still hoped to unite forces with Pemberton, whose Confederates were around Edwards Station between Jackson and Vicksburg. He wrote Pemberton, “As soon as the reinforcements are all up, they must be united to the rest of the army. I am anxious to see a force assembled that may be able to inflict a heavy blow upon the enemy. Can Grant supply himself from the Mississippi? Can you not cut him off from it, and above all, should he be compelled to fall back for want of supplies, beat him.”

Pemberton received Johnston’s initial order (written prior to the fall of Jackson) to come east and join him, but President Jefferson Davis had ordered Pemberton to hold Vicksburg at all costs. This directly conflicted with Johnston’s order, and Pemberton had second thoughts about obeying. He therefore stopped at Edwards and called a council of war to decide his next move.

Most of Pemberton’s subordinates supported obeying Johnston’s order, but Major-General William W. Loring proposed cutting Grant’s supply line at Raymond. Grant no longer had a supply line, but he did have 200 supply wagons heading toward his army, and capturing those wagons would hinder the Federal campaign. Pemberton agreed with Loring, and he directed his Confederates to move away from Johnston’s Confederates rather than join them. This ensured that the Confederate forces in Mississippi, which outnumbered Grant’s if united, would remain divided. 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 his third victory since landing his army in Mississippi. It 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. Grant revealed that he had a dispatch Johnston had sent to Pemberton thanks to a Federal spy. This dispatch informed Grant that Johnston was trying to unite with Pemberton.

Grant responded by sending orders to McClernand: “It is evidently the design of the enemy to get north of us and cross the Big Black, and beat us into Vicksburg. We must not allow them to do this. Turn all your forces toward Bolton station, and make all dispatch in getting there. Move troops by the most direct road from wherever they may be on the receipt of this order.” Grant 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 to join forces. Sherman’s corps would stay behind and continue destroying Jackson.


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