Category Archives: Mississippi

Meridian: Sherman Targets Jackson Again

February 5, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal Army of the Tennessee continued its drive through central Mississippi and approached the state capital of Jackson, which had been captured and ransacked twice before.

The Federal advance resumed, consisting of 27,000 men in two wings: Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut’s XVI Corps on the left (north), and Major General James B. McPherson’s XVII Corps on the right (south). The only obstacle in the Federals’ path was Brigadier General William Wirt Adams’s cavalry brigade of about 2,500 Confederates.

Adams dismounted his men and pulled up his two guns to try destroying the bridge over Baker’s Creek. The Confederate artillerists were “offering the most determined and stubborn resistance, maintaining their position to the last moment.”

Both Adams and Colonel Peter Starke’s brigade to the north fell back toward Clinton, trying to slow the Federals long enough for infantry to come up in support. Starke abandoned the plantation belonging to President Jefferson Davis’s brother Joe. When the Federals nearly crumpled Starke’s flank, the Confederates were forced to abandon Clinton as well. Starke withdrew to the east first, with Adams covering him. But then Federal troops moved around Adams’s flank and appeared in his rear. According to Adams:

“Advancing a six-gun battery at the same time with a strong infantry support to a commanding elevation on my front and left, and two 20-pounder Parrotts in my front, he opened a rapid and vigorous fire of artillery, pushing forward at the same time a strong line of skirmishers under cover of a wood from the column moving past my right. As the enemy showed no inclination to advance in my front, and my artillery was seriously endangered by the column turning my position, I ordered the artillery and supports to withdraw, following with the remainder of the command.”

Adams’s troopers narrowly escaped capture as they fled east to join the remaining Confederates. Meanwhile, Major General Samuel G. French’s 3,000 Confederate infantry defended the state capital of Jackson, farther to the east. He had called on Major General William W. Loring to bring his division of 6,000 Confederates down from Canton to support him, and Loring had agreed to start moving that morning.

Major General Stephen D. Lee, commanding cavalry that included the brigades of Adams and Starke, advised both French and Loring to abandon Jackson and withdraw east to Brandon, over the Pearl River. Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk, commanding the Confederate Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana from Mobile, directed Loring and French to “detain the enemy as long as possible from getting into Jackson.”

With the Federals taking control of Clinton, French replied, “It is impossible to comply. Loring will cross (the Pearl) above and I am across on this side. Lee will swing to the left and harass the enemy in flank and rear.” By day’s end, French’s Confederates were heading for the Pearl River as Sherman’s Federals entered Jackson from the west. French wrote:

“I found the Federal troops in possession of the western part of the town, so we turned round and had a race with their troops for the (pontoon) bridge and ordered it taken up. As the end was being cut loose one of Gen. Lee’s staff officers sprung his horse on the bridge and cried out that Lee’s force was in the city and would have to cross here. We soon threw some of the plank into the river and knocked the bottoms out of the boats. Lee got out of the city by the Canton road. Under fire of their batteries, in the dark, the infantry marched for Brandon.”

Their path to the Pearl blocked, Lee’s troopers headed to Canton, 20 miles north of Jackson, and waited for the Federals to pass. Loring had abandoned Canton earlier that day and fled toward Morton, 20 miles east. Lee warned French and Loring that the Federals would soon look to cross the Pearl River. Polk, learning that the Federals had taken Jackson once more, hurried to his Meridian headquarters to oversee operations.

Federal Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit:

The next day, Sherman telegraphed his progress thus far to his superiors:

“General Sherman’s command, composed of McPherson’s and Hurlbut’s corps, left Vicksburg on the 3d in two columns via the railroad bridge and Messinger’s. On the 4th, McPherson met the enemy and skirmished as far as Bolton. On the 5th, Hurlbut’s column encountered Starke’s brigade of cavalry at Joe Davis’ plantation and drove it through Clinton toward Canton. Same day McPherson pushed Wirt Adams into and beyond Jackson. General Sherman occupied Jackson on the 6th, and will cross Pearl and enter Brandon on the 7th, and so on. He reports three small brigades of cavalry and Loring’s division of infantry up toward Canton, and French’s division of infantry to his front at or near Brandon.”

The Federals continued marching into Jackson that day, with Sherman noting, “Roads are excellent. We find some corn and meat, but Jackson and country are desolate enough.” This was the third time that Sherman led Federal troops into Jackson, and it still bore the scars of having its businesses, factories, public buildings, and private homes destroyed last year. Sherman ordered all public buildings burned again.

Sherman also learned that Brigadier General William Sooy Smith’s 7,000 Federal cavalry, which had been ordered to leave Memphis and meet Sherman’s forces at Meridian, had not left yet. Sherman said, “The delay may compel me to modify my plans a little, but not much.” Expecting a fight, Sherman stated, “I think the enemy will meet us at some point between this and Meridian, with General Polk in command, with Loring’s and French’s divisions and the entire cavalry force of General Stephen D. Lee…”

As Lee warned, the Federals quickly began building pontoon bridges over the Pearl River to continue their eastward advance.


References; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 368-69; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 395; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 461; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 488


Sherman’s Meridian Campaign Begins

February 1, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman’s campaign to advance from Vicksburg to Meridian in Mississippi began.

Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit:

Sherman’s march was to be preceded by Brigadier General William Sooy Smith leading 7,000 Federal cavalry troopers out of Colliersville, Tennessee, west of Memphis. Smith’s troopers were to raid southward to Pontotoc, Mississippi, cripple the Mobile & Ohio Railroad, and move through Okolona. Sherman issued orders for Smith to move out on the 1st, but Smith experienced lengthy delays.

Sherman planned to move about 27,000 men 120 miles east from Vicksburg to Meridian, the largest railroad center still in Confederate hands in Mississippi. Sherman hoped to deny essential provisions to Confederate troops by eliminating the state’s railroads and devastating the countryside. Smith’s command was to link with Sherman’s at Meridian on the 10th, and from there they would continue east along the railroad to the Confederate manufacturing center of Selma, Alabama.

Confederate General Leonidas Polk | Image Credit:

Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk, commanding the Confederate Department of Alabama, Mississippi, and East Louisiana, had just 13,500 men scattered among various garrisons to oppose Sherman. Polk forwarded the latest information about Sherman to his superiors at Richmond: “I am informed reliably it is his intention to make a forward movement from Vicksburg and Yazoo City in a few days.”

Polk had two infantry divisions:

  • Major General Samuel G. French’s 3,000 men were stationed at Brandon, east of the state capital of Jackson.
  • Major General William W. Loring’s 6,000 men were posted at Canton, north of Jackson.

Polk also had two cavalry divisions:

  • Major General Stephen D. Lee’s 2,000 troopers patrolled the railroad between Vicksburg and Jackson.
  • Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s 2,500 troopers were stationed near Oxford to the north.

Believing that the Federals were targeting Jackson again, Forrest recommended wrecking the railroad west of Jackson “if it can be more effectually destroyed than it has been already.” East of Jackson, Confederates were trying to repair the railroad bridge over the Pearl River. Polk asked his commanders, “Can you not send out and press negroes on the east side (of) Pearl River to hasten the completion of the trestles? This may become necessary.”

Polk then acted upon Forrest’s intelligence and directed Lee “to destroy the railroad from Vicksburg to Jackson immediately, beginning as far west as you can, and putting as many men upon it as you can employ. Let it be done thoroughly.”

Meanwhile, French strengthened Confederate defenses at Jackson, even though Polk knew his army was no match for Sherman’s Federals. To ensure that Polk could expect no reinforcements, the Federals at Chattanooga began moving to demonstrate against the Confederate Army of Tennessee at Dalton, Georgia.

Rear Admiral David D. Porter, commanding the Federal naval squadron on the Mississippi River, granted Sherman’s request to move up the Yazoo River and divert attention from Sherman’s offensive. Four gunboats headed up the Yazoo on the 3rd and destroyed a Confederate shore battery at Liverpool. Retreating Confederates destroyed one of their steamers to prevent its capture.

Sherman’s Federals left Vicksburg that same day. They moved in two columns, with Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut’s XVI Corps leaving north of town and Major General James B. McPherson’s XVII Corps leaving east of Vicksburg. Colonel Edward Winslow’s four cavalry regiments rode ahead of the infantry. Sherman had previously arranged to have two bridges built across the Big Black River; McPherson’s men crossed at the railroad, while Hurlbut crossed north at Messinger’s Ferry.

Lee’s Confederates did not challenge the Federal crossings; instead they gathered near Bolton Depot, about 10 miles east of the river, and prepared to block the roads to Clinton. As the Federals resumed their advance the next day, they were met by Brigadier General William Wirt Adams’s Confederate horsemen. Adams unsuccessfully attacked Winslow’s left flank as McPherson deployed his infantry in line of battle near the old Champion’s Hill battlefield. A soldier named Lucius W. Barber recalled:

“We advanced one mile uninterrupted and then came upon a brigade of Wirt Adams’ rebel cavalry. It was strongly posted in the woods across the open space in front of us. Without any delay, we opened fire upon them, which they returned. They being concealed in the woods had the advantage, but we had good backing and did not hesitate to attack them.”

The Federals charged and drove the Confederates off. The Confederates regrouped, but the Federals charged and drove them off again. Barber wrote:

“The rebs had taken a position just beyond a dwelling house where lived a widow with three small children. She came to the door to see what was going on when a ball struck her, killing her instantly. When our boys got there, they found her form rigid in death, lying in a pool of her own life’s blood. Her little children were clinging frantically to her, not realizing that she was dead. General Sherman caused a notice to be immediately posted on the house, specifying the manner of her death and ordering the premises to be held as sacred. I do not know from which side the shot was fired that killed her.”

McPherson reported that his men drove the Confederates back 10 miles, “easily and steadily over a very broken country, with little loss on our side.” On Sherman’s left, Hurlbut’s corps advanced to Bolton Depot, where Confederate cavalry and artillery blocked their path on the plantation of President Jefferson Davis’s brother. Hurlbut deployed his men, who scattered the Confederates just as easily as McPherson’s had done.

That night, McPherson reported that Winslow’s cavalry drove the Confederates “across the creek east of Bolton, the bridge saved, and my command bivouacked near the junction of the Clinton, Bolton, and Raymond Roads.” However, McPherson noted that “the enemy occupied a good position on the hills on the east side of the creek, and everything indicated that they intended to contest the ground stubbornly.” Skirmishing would resume the next day.


References; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 366-67; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 924; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 394-95; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 460-61; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 488, 702

Sherman Targets Meridian

January 10, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman, the new commander of the Federal Army of the Tennessee, arrived at Memphis to discuss his upcoming campaign against Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s Confederate Army of Mississippi.

Federal Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit:

In December, Sherman had proposed clearing Confederate guerrillas from the Yazoo and Red rivers in Mississippi and Louisiana. But as the new year began, that plan changed. At Memphis, Sherman shared his new plan with Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut, commanding XVI Corps. Sherman’s army, consisting of two corps (Hurlbut’s and Major General James B. McPherson’s XVII) garrisoned throughout the region, would move across central Mississippi from the Mississippi River to confront Polk, whose 10,000-man army was stationed near Meridian.

Sherman next wrote McPherson, “Now is the time to strike inland at Meridian and Selma. I think Vicksburg is the point of departure from the (Mississippi) river.” Sherman would pull 20,000 white troops from the garrisons at Fort Pillow, Memphis, Corinth, and other posts, and replace them with black troops. Sherman wrote, “Keep this to yourself, and make preparations.” Sherman demanded strict secrecy or else the Confederates might hurry reinforcements to Polk. This included severely restricting the number of newspaper correspondents in his military department.

Sherman then met with Brigadier General William Sooy Smith, who commanded 2,500 Federal cavalry troopers clearing “the country of the bands of guerrillas that infested” Middle Tennessee. Smith’s force would be expanded and assigned to confront Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s 3,500 Confederate horsemen, which were currently heading into Mississippi to gather new recruits and join Polk.

Within two weeks, Smith’s force had been bolstered to 7,000 troopers in two divisions. They would advance southeast from Memphis, plundering along the Mobile & Ohio Railroad line from Okolona to Meridian while looking to confront Forrest.

Sherman arrived at Vicksburg aboard the gunboat Juliet on the 29th. He wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck explaining his plan to launch Smith against Forrest and the railroad while the main force moved east from Vicksburg to Meridian. A third force would move up the Yazoo River and threaten Grenada as a diversion.

Sherman wrote Major General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Military Division of the Mississippi, “All things favorable thus far for movement on Meridian.” The official Federal mission was to inflict so much destruction on the railroads in Mississippi “that the enemy will not attempt to rebuild them during the rebellion.”

To McPherson, Sherman made it clear that he intended to wage war on civilians: “Let the commanding officer impress on the people that we shall periodically visit that country and destroy property or take it, as long as parties of Confederate troops or guerrillas infest the river banks.” Sherman directed his men to seize farmers’ cotton and give it to Federal ships that had been fired upon by Confederate partisans.

Sherman stated that civilians along the Yazoo must know “that we intend to hold them responsible for all acts of hostility to the river commerce,” because they now must–

“… feel that war may reach their doors. If the enemy burns cotton we don’t care. It is their property and not ours, but so long as they have cotton, corn, horses, or anything, we will appropriate it or destroy it so long as the confederates in war act in violence to us and our lawful commerce. They must be active friends or enemies. They cannot be silent or neutral.”

The Federals were not to bring any provisions with them on the march, “for the enemy must not only pay for damages inflicted on our commerce but for the expenses incurred in the suppression.”

To divert attention from Sherman’s expedition, Grant directed Major General George H. Thomas, commanding the Federal Army of the Cumberland at Chattanooga, to advance on General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee at Dalton, Georgia. Thomas was not to bring on a general battle, but rather just keep Johnston occupied so he could not reinforce Polk.

Sherman learned that keeping his plans secret would be more difficult than anticipated. Forrest reported to Polk on the 31st, “A gentleman just from Memphis says the enemy design moving a large force from Vicksburg on Jackson and contemplate rebuilding the railroad between those points and moving from Jackson on Mobile and Meridian.” Nevertheless, Sherman’s campaign of destruction began as scheduled in February.


References; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 358, 362; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 923; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 391; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 457-58

Sherman’s Plans for Mississippi

December 29, 1863 – Major General William T. Sherman shared his plan to clear the Confederates from Mississippi and its connecting waterways with his close friend Major General Ulysses S. Grant.

Following his victory at Chattanooga, Grant returned to division headquarters at Nashville. President Abraham Lincoln sent him a personal message, which Grant issued to his troops as a general order:

“Understanding that your lodgment at Chattanooga and Knoxville is now secure, I wish to tender you, and all under your command, my more than thanks–my profoundest gratitude–for the skill, courage, and perseverance with which you and they, over so great difficulties, have effected that important object. God bless you all.”

Federal Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit:

Grant soon began preparing for the next campaign. Sherman, whose troops had recently returned to Chattanooga after “rescuing” the Federals at Knoxville, urged Grant to send him back to Mississippi to deal with the growing number of guerrillas on the Mississippi River, Confederates raiding Federal supply lines, and Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk’s Army of the Southwest stationed at Meridian.

Grant agreed, notifying his superiors at Washington, “I will send Sherman down the Mississippi.” Sherman planned to work with Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron to clear the waterways for Federal commerce and then confront Polk’s Confederates. Sherman wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “I will be at Cairo (Illinois) and down the Mississippi by January 2, and strike Grenada and Shreveport, if the admiral agrees. I left my command ragged, but in splendid fighting order.”

In a second letter to Halleck, Sherman addressed the growing problem of guerrillas attacking Federal shipping and elaborated on his plans:

“I propose to send an expedition up the Yazoo, above Yazoo City, to march back to the Grenada road and do a certain amount of damage, and give general notice that for every boat fired on we will destroy some inland town, and, if need be, fire on houses, even if they have families, for I know the secessionists have boasted that although we have the river, still it shall do us no good.”

Sherman asserted that there was “complicity between guerrillas and the people, and if the latter fire on our boats loaded with women and children, we should retaliate.” After clearing the Yazoo River, Sherman proposed to move up the Red River “as high as the water will permit, and make them feel their vulnerability.” Sherman then explained his overall view on how the war should be prosecuted in the Mississippi region:

“I do not believe in holding possession of any part of the interior. This requires a vast force, which is rendered harmless to the enemy by its scattered parts. With Columbus, Memphis, Helena, and Vicksburg strongly held, and all other forces prepared to move to any point, we can do something, but in holding the line of the Memphis and Charleston road, inferior points on the Mississippi, and the interior of Louisiana, a large army is wasted in detachments.”

Turning to the command structure, Sherman told Halleck that Grant’s authority should be expanded to control the entire Mississippi River. Currently Major General Nathaniel P. Banks, who technically outranked Grant, controlled the stretch running through Louisiana to the Gulf of Mexico. Sherman proposed retaining Banks’s Department of the Gulf, but limiting its jurisdiction to Texas only.

Writing to Grant on the 29th, Sherman provided more specifics in his plan to wipe Confederates off the Mississippi and other connecting rivers. He reported that he had asked Porter to provide “accurate accounts of all damages to steam-boats on the Mississippi, with the localities where they occurred.” Once this data was collected:

“I think that we can hold the people on Yazoo and back responsible for all damages above Vicksburg, the country on Ouachita for all damages between the mouth of Red and Arkansas on the west bank, and finally the rich country up Red River for the more aggravated cases near the mouth of the Red River. We should (force) planters pay in cotton not only for the damages done, but the cost of our occupation, and in case of failure to pay we should inflict exemplary punishment.”

Sherman then added a lavish assessment of his friend’s new prominence in the army command:

“You occupy a position of more power than Halleck or the President. There are similar instances in European history, but none in ours. For the sake of future generations risk nothing. Let us risk, and when you strike let it be as at Vicksburg and Chattanooga. Your reputation as a general is now far above that of any man living, and partisans will maneuver for your influence; but if you can escape them, as you have hitherto done, you will be more powerful for good than it is possible to measure.”

He then repeated to Grant what he had proposed to Halleck: “I wish you would urge on Halleck to give you the whole Mississippi.” With the entire river now under Federal control, “the navigation is one and should be controlled by one mind.” Without Grant commanding all of the Mississippi, Sherman’s proposed expedition up the Red River could be rejected by Banks because Sherman would be operating in Banks’s department.

The discussion would continue into next year, as Sherman went on planning for what he hoped to be a ruthless campaign.


References; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 918

From William Nugent, 28th Mississippi Cavalry

Letter from Captain William Nugent of the 28th Mississippi Cavalry to his wife

Hd. Qrs. Cavalry Brigade

Tupelo, Miss.

September 7, 1863

Mississippi State Flag | Image Credit:


The hour of your trial is approaching and I feel very very uneasy on your account. I hope and trust in the Giver of all good, though the thought that you are so far away, so near the enemy’s lines and surrounded by so many dangers makes me feel quite blue at times: and were it not for the elasticity of mind and heart which characterizes me, I should have long since grown utterly despondent.

War is fast becoming the thing natural, tho’ abhorrent to my feelings. I got at it just as I used to go at law-suits. Still I am not by any manner of means fond of the profession. The idea of being continually employed in the destruction of human life is revolting in the extreme. Necessity imperious and exacting, forces us along and we hurry through the dreadful task apparently unconscious of its demoralizing influences and destructive effects both upon the nation and individuals. I wish Uncl. Saml. would recognize his nephew and give us peace. I do not desire a reconstruction and a hollow truce, a servile place in the family of nations and to eat the bread of dependence while I am denied all the privileges of a freeman. The Yankees say that when we are conquered they cannot afford to let us have the right of trial by jury, because they say a “secesh” jury would clear us all, neither can we have our own judges or exercise the elective franchise. This is the doctrine held by their main supporters and is the one which will be practiced by them if they are successful. And yet our weak-minded friends are willing to lick the hand that would smite them and pay court to the hardhearted minions of abolitionism. I own no slaves and can freely express my notions without being taxed with any motive of self interest. I know that this country without slave labor would be wholly worthless, a barren waste and desolate plain–we can only live and exist by this species of labor: and hence I am willing to continue the fight to the last. If we have to succumb we must do it bravely fighting for our rights; and the remnant must migrate. If the worst comes, we must go over to England or France, and become Colonies again. Never will I be content to submit to Yankee rule. The Russian yoke would be preferable. The close fisted Yankees would filch our pockets at every turn–France I would prefer. Her policy is more enlightened than that of England and she would give us the rights and privileges of freemen. It would be her policy and doubtless when her affairs are straightened in Mexico, she will recognize the importance of a more decided policy in American affairs.

I hope the enemy now discovers that the possession of the River is a barren victory. Their Western produce finds no market and the foreign demand will not be very large or extensive either at New Orleans. Their commerce is fettered by childish restrictions and the Southern privateers keep them uneasy. Cotton cannot be found and flour and bacon is not a commodity of much exchangeable value. A few men, in authority, may make fortunes; but the poor man who brings his flat load of corn and potatoes expecting to return with a pocket full of money will be utterly mistaken. The Yankees won’t see this until too late to remedy the evil. They are not far-seeing enough. If they only had the negroes at work on the plantations under their masters, they would have realized some beneficial results.

We are now camped at a place memorable in this war, and whose name will live in history. We are occupying Genl. Bragg’s old Hd. Qrs. and have a cozy time of it–and if the enemy don’t disturb us soon we will be quite comfortably fixed…

Old Pillow is conscripting every man in the whole country. He is no respecter of persons. There is in consequence a terrific quaking among the noncombatants and substitute men. Judge Handy has just decided that the principal is liable unless his substitute is over 45 yrs. of age; and is in any event liable for militia duty. This will make the nice young gentlemen quake in their shoes, and force them to “come to the centre.”

My health continues good–I am endeavoring to get Clarence promoted so that he can come up here and be with me, and, I think I will succeed in due course of time. The Company is, I am sorry to have to say, going to pieces, numbering now only some twenty-nine men for duty.

Give my love and kisses to all. Do the best you can, and ever remember that you are supreme in my affections. May God Almighty bless, comfort, protect and preserve you is the prayer of

Your devoted husband,




Tapert, Annette, The Brothers’ War: Civil War Letters to Their Loved Ones from the Blue and Gray (New York: First Vintage Books, 1988), p. 175-77

The Second Fall of Jackson

July 16, 1863 – General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederates abandoned Jackson and central Mississippi as superior Federal numbers closed in on them.

Generals W.T. Sherman and J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: Bing public domain

Major General William T. Sherman’s 40,000 Federals had chased Johnston east to the Mississippi capital of Jackson after the fall of Vicksburg. Sherman partially encircled the city and prepared to put Johnston’s 32,000 Confederates under siege. The Federals began a bombardment on the 12th, with heavy guns shelling the Confederate defenses from multiple directions.

Johnston did not want to lose his army the way that Generals John C. Pemberton and Franklin Gardner lost theirs at Vicksburg and Port Hudson. Johnston was willing to sacrifice the town if it saved his men. He wrote President Jefferson Davis, “If the enemy will not attack, we must, or at the last moment withdraw. We cannot attack seriously without risking the army.”

Brigadier General Jacob G. Lauman’s Federal division of XIII Corps reconnoitered the woods between the railroad and the Pearl River, on Johnston’s extreme left. During this mission, one of Lauman’s brigades exceeded orders and charged Major General John C. Breckinridge’s Confederate earthworks. The attack failed miserably, as the Federals lost 465 of 880 men and three regimental colors. Major General E.O.C. Ord, commanding XIII Corps, relieved Lauman from command for this fiasco.

Federal commanders did not request a truce to collect the dead from the field, instead leaving them to rot for two days in the sweltering heat. Johnston sent Sherman a message offering a ceasefire so the Federals could collect the bodies, and Sherman agreed. This temporarily halted the almost constant exchange of artillery that had taken place since the siege began.

Over the next few days, the Federals inched closer to surrounding the defenses. Johnston dispatched his cavalry division under Brigadier General William H. Jackson to capture a large wagon train coming from Vicksburg to supply Sherman’s Federals. However, Jackson could not intercept the wagon before it reached its destination, thus ensuring that the siege would last indefinitely.

Sherman notified Major General Ulysses S. Grant at Vicksburg, “I think we are doing well out here, but won’t brag till Johnston clears out and stops shooting his big rifle guns at us. If he moves across Pearl River and makes good speed, I will let him go.” Johnston hoped to lure Sherman into a frontal assault, but Sherman would not take the bait. Johnston informed Davis on the 15th:

“The enemy is evidently making a siege which we cannot resist. It would be madness to attack him. In the beginning it might have been done, but I thought then that want of water would compel him to attack us. The remainder of the army under Grant at Vicksburg is beyond doubt on its way to this place.”

Grant was not on his way, but he could have easily reinforced Sherman if needed. Johnston had no reinforcements to draw from, and a protracted siege would only result in losing his entire army. Worse, Johnston learned on the 16th that his cavalry expedition to capture Sherman’s supply train had failed, resulting in the Federals having enough ammunition to train 200 guns on the Confederates.

Johnston wrote Davis, “The enemy being strongly reinforced, and able when he pleases to cut us off, I shall abandon this place, which is impossible for us to hold.” He sent his sick and wounded out of town to the east before evacuating the main army that night. The Confederates fell back across the Pearl River to Brandon. They left behind a large amount of weapons and supplies because they did not repair the railroad bridge needed to transport them.

Noting a lack of enemy activity on the morning of the 17th, Sherman sent his troops forward to confirm the defenses had been abandoned. He dispatched a division to pursue the Confederates, but Johnston moved farther east to Morton. The distance and the blistering heat halted the Federal pursuit. Sherman later wrote, “General Johnston had carried his army safely off, and pursuit in that hot weather would have been fatal to my command.”

Sherman lost 1,112 Federals in the partial siege of Jackson, while Johnston lost 604. The Federals began a second occupation of the city and set about looting and pillaging what was left, despite Sherman assigning a division to prevent such destruction. The Federals that reached Brandon burned that town as well before Sherman led his force back to Vicksburg on the 25th. Johnston saved his army, but he gave up central Mississippi in the process.



Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 393;; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18759; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 308, 310; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 619-20; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 328, 330-31, 335; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 156; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 386-87; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 637

The Jackson Campaign

July 10, 1863 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals approached the Mississippi capital of Jackson to confront General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederates.

Federal Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit:

During the siege of Vicksburg, Major General Ulysses S. Grant dispatched Sherman to lead a force in defending against an attempt by Johnston’s “Army of Relief” to break the besieged Confederates out. Once Vicksburg fell, Sherman was to go on the offensive against Johnston. The day before Vicksburg’s formal surrender, Grant told Sherman, “I want Johnston broken up as effectually as possible, and roads destroyed.” As the surrender was being finalized, Grant provided more detail:

“When we go in, I want you to drive Johnston from the Mississippi Central Railroad, destroy bridges as far as Grenada with your cavalry, and do the enemy all the harm possible. You can make your own arrangements and have all the troops of my command, except one corps–(General James) McPherson’s, say. I must have some troops to send to (General Nathaniel) Banks, to use against Port Hudson.”

Grant assigned 40,000 of his 77,000 troops to Sherman’s expedition. Sherman commanded Major General Frederick Steele’s XV Corps, Major General John G. Parke’s IX Corps, and Major General E.O.C. Ord’s XIII Corps. This new Federal army had orders to “inflict all the punishment you can.”

Johnston had 32,000 Confederates in four divisions, led by Major Generals William W. Loring, John C. Breckinridge, Samuel G. French, and William H.T. Walker. He also had Brigadier General William H. Jackson’s cavalry division. Johnston learned that Pemberton had surrendered on the 5th, as he was planning to try breaking him out of Vicksburg.

Sherman’s Federals came out of their trenches that day to oppose him. Johnston ordered his men to abandon their line along the Big Black River and fall back east toward Jackson. Federals clashed with Johnston’s rear guard at Birdsong Ferry on the river.

The Federals marched to Bolton before continuing to Jackson. Sherman later recalled that “the weather was fearfully hot, and water scarce. Johnston had marched rapidly, and in retreating had caused cattle, hogs, and sheep, to be driven into the ponds of water, and there shot down; so that we had to haul their dead and stinking carcasses out to use the water.”

On the 7th, Johnston deployed 26,000 of his men in defensive works around Jackson. News spread among the Confederates that Vicksburg had fallen, which dampened morale. The Federals camped on the Champion’s Hill battlefield on the night of the 7th, and one of Sherman’s aides recalled the scene:

“We reached it in the night and bivouacked on the very spot where we had fought. It was a strange happening. Our sensations were very unusual, for we realized that all about us there in the woods were the graves of our buried comrades and the still unburied bones of many of our foes. Save an occasional hooting owl the woods were sad and silent. Before we lay down in the leaves to sleep the glee club of Company B sang that plaintive song, ‘We’re Tenting To-night on the Old Camp Ground.’ Never was a song sung under sadder circumstances. All the night a terrible odor filled the bivouac.

“When daylight came one of the boys came to our company and said, ‘Go over to that hollow, and you will see hell.’ Some of us went. We looked but once. Dante himself never conjured anything so horrible as the reality before us. After the battle the Rebels in their haste had tossed hundreds of their dead into this little ravine and slightly covered them over with earth, but the rains had come, and the earth was washed away, and there stood or lay hundreds of half-decayed corpses. Some were grinning skeletons, some were headless, some armless, some had their clothes torn away, and some were mangled by dogs and wolves. The horror of that spectacle followed us for weeks. That, too, was war!”

Sherman’s Federals, enraged by Confederate efforts to ruin the drinking water, devastated the countryside as they advanced east. They looted and burned private homes, barns, businesses, cotton gins, crops, and anything else within their reach. Valuables were seized, and anything not considered valuable was destroyed. Civilian protests against such barbarism went unheeded.

Skirmishing occurred at Clinton, Bolton Depot, and various other places as the Federals pushed east. They approached the defenses outside Jackson on the 9th. Although Johnston had just four divisions to Sherman’s 11, Sherman opted to move his left flank to the Pearl River above town, extend his right to the river below town, and initiate siege operations. He also sent raiders north and south to cut the Mississippi Central Railroad. Sherman hoped this would result in capturing Johnston’s entire army.

President Jefferson Davis, unaware of the massive force extending around Johnston’s works, wrote to him expressing hope that he would “attack and crush the enemy.”



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