Tag Archives: John A. McClernand

Post-Vicksburg: Grant’s Army Reduced

August 3, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal Army of the Tennessee underwent vast reductions following its capture of Vicksburg.

Maj Gen U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

By this month, Grant’s Federals were performing occupation duty at Vicksburg and other points in Mississippi and western Tennessee. After borrowing IX Corps to help conquer Vicksburg, Grant returned those troops to Major General Ambrose E. Burnside’s Army of the Ohio, which was poised to invade eastern Tennessee.

Grant proposed joining forces with Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Army of the Gulf to capture Mobile, Alabama. This plan was backed by both Banks and Rear Admiral David G. Farragut, whose naval force would be needed to attack the city from the Gulf of Mexico. But General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck rejected the idea and instead urged Banks to invade eastern Texas while Grant continued managing occupation forces.

Halleck informed Grant on the 6th, “There are important reasons why our flag should be restored to some part of Texas with the least possible delay.” Halleck did not explain those reasons, but President Abraham Lincoln did in a letter to Grant three days later:

“I see by a dispatch of yours that you incline strongly toward an expedition against Mobile. This would appear tempting to me also, were it not that, in view of recent events in Mexico, I am greatly impressed with the importance of re-establishing the national authority in Western Texas as soon as possible.”

Lincoln was referring to Mexico falling under the rule of Maximilian I, a puppet dictator installed by Emperor Napoleon III of France. European interference in the affairs of a Western Hemisphere nation violated the Monroe Doctrine. Even worse, Napoleon had hinted at the possibility of allying with the Confederacy, and the administration feared that the Confederates could start receiving military and financial support from French-occupied Mexico.

Thus, much of Grant’s army was broken up, with Major General E.O.C. Ord’s XIII Corps going to reinforce Banks at New Orleans and Major General William T. Sherman’s XV Corps performing garrison duty in Louisiana. The rest of Grant’s forces held points along the Mississippi River in western Tennessee and Mississippi.

Meanwhile, Lincoln tried convincing Grant of the effectiveness of black troops. Lincoln wrote on the 9th that black troops were “a resource which, if vigorously applied now, will soon close the contest.” However, Sherman wrote his wife Ellen doubting the ability of blacks in the military and stating, “… I cannot trust them yet.” Consequently, Sherman did little to alleviate the problem of freed slaves scouring the region and resorting to robbery for food and shelter.

Major General John A. McClernand, who had caused Grant so much trouble until Grant relieved him of corps command during the Vicksburg campaign, had his military career effectively ended when Lincoln declined assigning him to a new command.

On the 17th, elements of Sherman’s infantry from Vicksburg and Major General Stephen A. Hurlbut’s cavalry from Memphis raided Grenada, Mississippi, south of the Yalobusha River, where Confederates had gathered supplies from the Mississippi Central Railroad. Those supplies were guarded by a token force while the main body of Confederates evacuated Jackson and burned the bridge over the Pearl River in May.

The Federal forces drove the Confederate guards off and seized 57 locomotives, destroyed over 400 railcars, and burned buildings containing vast amounts of commissary and ordnance supplies. This was one of the most destructive raids of the war, with damage estimated at $4 million.

In late August, Grant attended a banquet in his honor at the Gayoso House in Memphis. A pyramid in front of his place at the table listed all his battles, beginning with Belmont. He was toasted as “your Grant and my Grant,” and his feat of opening the Mississippi River was compared to the feats of Hernando de Soto and Robert Fulton. Grant delivered a two-sentence speech to the 200 guests, thanking them and pledging to do what he could to maintain their prosperity.

On the water, Rear Admiral David D. Porter formally took command of all Federal naval forces and operations on the Mississippi River, replacing Farragut. Porter’s main goal was to suppress Confederate raids on Federal shipping while promoting river commerce.

Recalling the terrible problems the navy had in trying to navigate the Yazoo River before the fall of Vicksburg, Porter reported to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, “There are no more steamers on the Yazoo. The large fleet that sought refuge there, as the safest place in rebeldom, have all been destroyed.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 314-16; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 770-73; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 337, 339, 345; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 393-94, 396-97; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 167, 170-71; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 178

Vicksburg: Federal Operations

June 18, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant continued his relentless siege, and he also finally removed one of his troublesome commanders.

Maj Gen J.A. McClernand | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The tedium of the ongoing siege gave Grant time to address a longstanding problem with one of his commanders, Major General John A. McClernand of XIII Corps. McClernand was a former politician who had gained his position through political connections rather than military experience. Grant had long sought to remove McClernand but refrained due to his popularity in the North and his ability to get Democratic support for the war.

In mid-June, Major General Francis P. Blair, Jr., commanding a division in Major General William T. Sherman’s XV Corps, discovered an article in the Memphis Evening Bulletin that included a congratulatory order issued by McClernand to his men for their valiant efforts in the Second Battle of Vicksburg on May 22. The order itself was not improper, but McClernand then went further:

“How and why the general assault failed, it would be useless now to explain. The Thirteenth army corps, acknowledging the good intentions of all, would scorn indulgence in weak regrets and idle criminations. According justice to all, it would only defend itself. If while the enemy was massing to crush it, assistance was asked for a diversion at other points or by reinforcement, it only asked what, in one case, Maj. Gen. Grant had specifically and peremptorily ordered, namely, simultaneous and persistent attacks all along our lines, until the enemy’s outer works should be carried: and what in the other by massing a strong force in time upon a weakened point, would have probably insured success.”

This implied that the defeat had been caused by Grant and his other two corps commanders failing to do enough to support McClernand’s men. McClernand compounded his poor judgment by sending this order to newspapers politically friendly to him, without first sending it through the commanding officer per army regulations. Thus, neither Grant nor anyone else outside McClernand’s corps knew about the order until Blair found it two weeks later.

Sherman sent the article to Grant, calling it an outrage to the rest of the army and “an effusion of vain-glory and hypocrisy.” In fact, it was so offensive that Sherman, who had served under McClernand in the Fort Hindman campaign, initially believed that he had neither written it, “Nor can I believe General McClernand ever published such an order officially to his corps. I know too well that the brave and intelligent soldiers and officers who compose that corps will not be humbugged by such stuff.”

Sherman added that the order, if real, was not intended for the troops, but rather to convince the voters back home that McClernand was “the sagacious leader and bold hero he so complacently paints himself.” Major General James B. McPherson, commanding XVII Corps, called the order an effort “to impress the public mind with the magnificent strategy, superior tactics and brilliant deeds” of McClernand.

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

Grant was reminded of the War Department directive “which actually forbids the publication of all official letters and reports, and requires the name of the writer to be laid before the President of the United States for dismissal.” He sent the newspaper article to McClernand with a message:

“Inclosed I send you what purports to be your congratulatory address to the Thirteenth Army Corps. I would respectfully ask if it is a true copy. If it is not a correct copy, furnish me one by bearer, as required both by regulations and existing orders of the Department.”

McClernand replied, “The newspaper slip is a correct copy of my congratulatory order, No 72. I am prepared to maintain its statements. I regret that my adjutant did not send you a copy promptly, as he ought, and I thought he had.” Noting that all of McClernand’s orders had gone through the proper channels without incident except this one, Grant immediately issued a directive:

“Major General John A. McClernand is hereby relieved of command of the Thirteenth Army Corps. He will proceed to any point he may select in the state of Illinois and report by letter to Headquarters of the Army for orders.”

Grant assigned Lieutenant Colonel James H. Wilson, the army’s chief engineer who happened to despise McClernand, to deliver the order. Wilson arrived at McClernand’s headquarters at 3 a.m. and woke the general. When he finally read the message, McClernand, knowing that Wilson hated him, invoked a pun: “Well, sir, I am relieved. By God, sir, we are both relieved!”

McClernand quickly wrote a reply: “Having been appointed by the President to command of that corps, under a definite act of Congress, I might justly challenge your authority in the premises, but forbear to do so at present.” Grant did not acknowledge this veiled threat, but he did address McClernand’s official report on the Battle of Vicksburg, which he submitted just before being relieved:

“This report contains so many inaccuracies that to correct it, to make it a fair report to be handed down as historical, would require the rewriting of most of it. It is pretentious and egotistical, as is sufficiently shown by my own and all other reports accompanying.”

Grant replaced McClernand with Major General E.O.C. Ord, a Regular army officer. McClernand spent the rest of the year lobbying General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, and President Abraham Lincoln for reinstatement. Lincoln finally returned him to command of XIII Corps in early 1864, after the corps had been transferred to the Department of the Gulf.

Meanwhile, the siege inexorably continued. Federals spent two days digging a tunnel under a Confederate redan north of the road to Jackson. The tunnel was 45 feet long and included three 15-foot passageways. Gunpowder was packed at the end of each passageway, totaling 2,200 pounds, with the intent to blow a hole in the Confederate defenses. The gunpowder was detonated on the 25th. The explosion created a large crater in the ground, but the Confederates had expected the blast and pulled back. They easily repelled the ensuing Federal charge.

Federal artillery on land and on the Mississippi continued bombarding Vicksburg around the clock, and Federal troops inched closer to the Confederate defenses each day. Vicksburg residents and Confederate troops faced starvation as the Federals cut all supply lines and guarded all approaches to and from the city. Grant wrote Sherman about rumors from the Confederate lines:

“Strong faith is expressed by some in (General Joseph E.) Johnston’s coming to their relief. (They) cannot believe they have been so wicked as for Providence to allow the loss of their stronghold of Vicksburg. Their principal faith seems to be in Providence and Joe Johnston.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 295; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 414, 421-22, 424; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 313, 316; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 136-37, 147-49; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 368; Simon, John Y., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 456-57

The Second Battle of Vicksburg

May 22, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant resolved to send his Federals against the Confederate defenses outside Vicksburg once more.

Maj Gen U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

After sustaining a sharp defeat while trying to penetrate the Vicksburg defenses on the 19th, Grant conferred with his corps commanders (Major Generals William T. Sherman, James B. McPherson, and John A. McClernand) on the morning of the 20th and ordered a careful reconnaissance of the Confederate positions before attacking again. Grant told his commanders to spend the next two days preparing “for a renewed assault on the 22d, simultaneously, at 10 a.m.” Unlike the disjointed attack of the 19th, the upcoming assault was to be closely coordinated.

General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Western Department, continued working to relieve Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton’s Confederate army trapped in Vicksburg. Johnston soon assembled about 23,000 troops in northern Mississippi, but that was not enough to confront Grant’s army, which was growing as Grant pulled resources from various posts in northern Mississippi and western Tennessee.

Johnston wrote the Confederate commander at Port Hudson, Major General Franklin Gardner, that Port Hudson was “no longer valuable,” and therefore “all the troops in the department should be concentrated as soon as possible.” But by the time the message reached Gardner, his troops were being surrounded by Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Army of the Gulf on land and Federal naval forces on the Mississippi.

Meanwhile, Confederates in Vicksburg faced a continuous artillery bombardment, as well as the danger of being killed by sharpshooters waiting for anyone to rise above the breastworks. Pemberton wrote Johnston, “At present, our main necessity is musket caps. Can you send them to me by hands of couriers or citizens?” This indicated that Pemberton’s supply lines had been cut, making it only a matter of time before his army was doomed if Johnston did not rescue him or he did not break through the Federal lines.

On the 21st, a Federal gunboat flotilla led by Commander James Grimes forced Confederates to abandon Yazoo City. Grimes led the vessels from Haynes’s Bluff and destroyed a Confederate navy yard, along with several tooling shops and boats. The Federals destroyed three warships under constructions, including “a monster, 310 feet long and 70 beam… she would have given us much trouble.” Outside Vicksburg, Grant’s Federals continued entrenching around Vicksburg in preparation for their attack the next day.

The Federals opened a massive artillery barrage at 6 a.m. on the 22nd, as 200 guns on land joined 100 naval guns on the Mississippi and Yazoo rivers. Confederate return fire scored several hits on the river fleet, as a master’s mate on Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s flagship wrote, “It is useless to try to remember the different times the vessels were hit.” But none of the gunboats were seriously damaged.

After a four-hour bombardment, Federal troops from all three corps began advancing in the first-ever assault coordinated by synchronized watches (done because the signal guns could not be heard above the artillery barrage). Spread across a three-mile front, the men struggled through the dense brush and deep ravines with orders not to fire until they entered the Confederate works.

When the Federals came within range, Confederate artillerists opened fire with every gun they had, pouring grape and canister into their lines. Then the Confederate infantry, “rising in the trenches, poured into their ranks volley after volley with so deadly an effect that, leaving the ground literally covered in some places with their dead and wounded, they precipitately retreated.”

Fighting at Vicksburg | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Federal charge devolved into mass confusion like the assault three days before. Men of Sherman’s corps temporarily seized one area of trenches but were quickly repelled. Grant was about to call off the assault when McClernand insisted that his men could break through the Railroad Redoubt with another charge. Though skeptical, Grant ordered the three corps to renew the attack around 3 p.m., with Sherman advancing on the right and one of McPherson’s divisions supporting McClernand on the left.

Just as Grant feared, the assault failed. Sherman watched the carnage and told an aide, “This is murder. Order those troops back.” The Federal survivors pulled back all along the line. This was the bloodiest engagement of Grant’s campaign. He sustained 3,199 casualties (502 killed, 2,550 wounded, and 147 missing), while the Confederates lost less than 500 men. Sherman reported to Grant, “We have had a hard day’s work, and all are exhausted.” Grant notified General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck:

“Vicksburg is now completely invested… Today an attempt was made to carry the City by assault, but was not entirely successful. We hold possession however of some of the enemy’s forts and have skirmishers close under all of them. Our loss was not severe.”

Grant later expressed regret for ordering the second assault, which “only served to increase our casualties without giving any benefit.” He had ordered it based on McClernand’s exaggerated claims of success. This added more tension to the already tense relationship between McClernand and Grant.

Grant had resisted the idea of besieging Vicksburg because capturing the city could take months. But he finally realized that no attacking force could penetrate such strong defenses, and starving the enemy into submission was the only way to win. Grant informed Admiral Porter, “I now find the position of the enemy so strong that I shall be compelled to regularly besiege the city.” He announced to his officers that night, “We’ll have to dig our way in.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 368; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 128-29; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 320; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 68; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18605; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 286; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 383, 386; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 300-01; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 127, 130-32, 136-37; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 356-57; 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. 632; McPherson, James M., War on the Waters: The Union and Confederate Navies, 1861-1865 (Littlefield History of the Civil War Era, The University of North Carolina Press, Kindle Edition, 2012), p. 166; Simon, John Y., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 456-57; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781-84

The Battle of Vicksburg

May 18, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant followed up his overwhelming Federal victory on the Big Black River by driving toward Vicksburg, the ultimate goal of his campaign.

Federal General U.S. Grant | Image Credit: Wikispaces.org

Federal forces crossed the Big Black using hastily built bridges and headed west toward Vicksburg. Major General William T. Sherman’s XV Corps, holding the north end of Grant’s line, advanced on Haynes’s Bluff, the formidable defense point north of Vicksburg that the Federals had been trying to capture since the campaign began.

Now, with the Federals coming from the land side in overwhelming numbers, the Confederates on the bluff were finally forced to evacuate on the morning of the 18th. They joined the rest of Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton’s Confederate army in Vicksburg.

Sherman took the bluff around 10 a.m., where he connected with the Federal gunboats on the Yazoo River to open a supply line. Sherman told Grant, “Until this moment I never thought your expedition a success. I never could see the end clearly until now. But this is a campaign. This is a success if we never take the town.”

Meanwhile, Major General James B. McPherson’s XVII Corps advanced on Vicksburg from the east, and Major General John A. McClernand’s XIII Corps advanced from the southeast. Because General Joseph E. Johnston’s 20,000 Confederates still hovered in northeastern Mississippi, Grant placed the bulk of his forces in the northeast and east sectors to block any attempt by Pemberton or Johnston to join forces.

Pemberton entered Vicksburg with two demoralized divisions under Major General Carter L. Stevenson and Brigadier General John S. Bowen. They joined the other two divisions defending the city under Generals John H. Forney and Martin L. Smith. The troops had spent the previous night strengthening the city defenses, which consisted of entrenchments and breastworks surrounding Vicksburg, with both flanks anchored on the Mississippi River. The defenses were covered by 102 guns.

On the morning of the 18th, Pemberton received a message from Johnston, in “camp between Livingston and Brownsville,” responding to news of yesterday’s defeat on the Big Black:

“If Haines’s Bluff is untenable, Vicksburg is of no value and can not be held. If, therefore, you are invested in Vicksburg, you must ultimately surrender. Under such circumstances, instead of losing both troops and place, we must, if possible, save the troops. If it is not too late, evacuate Vicksburg and its dependencies, and march to the northeast.”

Pemberton called a council of war, where he shared Johnston’s message with his four division commanders and asked for advice on “the question of practicability.” President Jefferson Davis had ordered Pemberton to hold Vicksburg at all costs, but Grant was now closing in on three sides. Federal gunboats covered the fourth side, and they began bombarding the city that day. After consulting with his officers, Pemberton replied to Johnston:

“… the opinion was unanimously expressed that it was impossible to withdraw the army from this position with such morale and material as to be of further service to the Confederacy. I have decided to hold Vicksburg as long as possible, with the firm hope that the Government may yet be able to assist me in keeping this obstruction to the enemy’s free navigation of the Mississippi River. I still conceive it to be the most important point in the Confederacy.”

Grant, having destroyed any hope Pemberton had to join forces with Johnston, wanted to attack the Vicksburg defenses before Johnston was reinforced enough to try breaking Pemberton out. As Federal troops surrounded the defense perimeter, Grant planned to drive through the seemingly demoralized Confederates the next day and take the city.

The “general charge of all the corps along the whole line” was ordered to begin at 2 p.m. on the 19th. Sherman’s corps was ready to attack on time, but McPherson and McClernand were slowed by dense underbrush and deep ravines. Thus, Grant’s plan for a simultaneous assault by all three corps began with just Sherman’s men attacking. They approached Stockade Redan and faced defenses that required a ladder to reach. Already exhausted from marching across the uneven terrain, the Federals were repulsed.

McPherson and McClernand were never able to fully commit their corps to the attack, and those who managed to get close to the defenses were quickly halted by heavy fire. Grant suspended the attack, and the Federals pinned down at the foot of the enemy works fell back under cover of darkness.

The Federals sustained 942 casualties, while the Confederates lost less than 200 men. The Confederate defenses proved to be the strongest works of the war to date, giving the defenders a nearly insurmountable advantage over attackers. Sherman wrote his wife, “This is a death struggle, and will be terrible.”

This was the first time during the campaign that Grant’s army had failed to achieve an objective. Grant, refusing to believe that the defenses could not be taken, planned to strike again before Johnston could rescue Pemberton. Johnston wrote Pemberton that day, “I am trying to gather a force which may attempt to relieve you. Hold out.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 367-68; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 128-29; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 320; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18542-51, 18575-89, 18598; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 286; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 379-81, 383, 413; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 299; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 126-27, 136-37; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 354-55; 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. 632; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781-84

The Battle of Big Black River

May 17, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals routed Confederates under Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton and sent them fleeing into the defenses outside Vicksburg.

After yesterday’s defeat at Champion’s Hill, Pemberton was backed against the Southern Mississippi Railroad crossing on the Big Black River, the last waterway separating Grant from Vicksburg. Pemberton had just two divisions; his third division under Major General William W. Loring had been cut off and forced to try joining with General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederates to the north.

Pemberton sent Major General Carter L. Stevenson’s division, which had taken the brunt of yesterday’s fighting, across the river toward Vicksburg, 15 miles west. That left Brigadier General John S. Bowen’s division, whose 5,000 men were entrenched behind cotton bales east of the Big Black, with both flanks on the river.

The left flank guarding the railroad bridge was weakly held, but Pemberton expected Loring to rejoin him there, unaware that Loring had instead gone north. The troops were demoralized, and disgruntled conscripts held the important center of the line.

Grant’s XV Corps under Major General William T. Sherman had left Jackson last night, and now Grant directed those Federals to take Bridgeport, five miles upriver, and block any attempt by Pemberton or Johnston to join forces. Major General James B. McPherson’s XVII Corps remained on the Champion’s Hill battlefield to tend to the wounded and bury the dead.

Major General John A. McClernand’s XIII Corps moved forward to confront Bowen around 7 a.m. A brigade in McClernand’s corps, hoping to gain the glory that McPherson’s men had won yesterday, charged without orders and routed the vulnerable Confederate left. This broke the entire line.

Fighting at the Big Black | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The rest of the Confederates rushed across the river; some drowned while trying to swim across. Two of Stevenson’s brigades tried covering the retreat, as Pemberton ordered the railroad bridge burned even before all his men crossed. The steamer Dot, which had been anchored sideways to serve as a second bridge, was also burned.

When Pemberton received word that Sherman was trying to outflank him to the north, he ordered his men to continue retreating all the way to Vicksburg’s defenses. Lieutenant Colonel James H. Wilson, heading the Federal corps of engineers, directed his men to use cotton bales and planks from nearby houses and barns to bridge the river and pursue the Confederates.

The Federals sustained just 279 casualties (39 killed, 237 wounded, and three missing), while Pemberton lost about 1,951 (200 killed or wounded, and 1,751 captured), along with 18 guns. He lost 5,500 men in two days. On the way to Vicksburg, Pemberton told an officer, “Just 30 years ago I began my cadetship at the U.S. Military Academy. Today, the same date, that career is ended in disaster and disgrace.”

In 17 days, Grant’s men had marched 180 miles, won five engagements, captured a Confederate state capital, drove one Confederate force away and demoralized another, and were now poised to seize their ultimate goal of Vicksburg. They had lost no guns or colors in what had become one of the most remarkable Federal campaigns of the war.

Vicksburg residents learned of the defeat on the Big Black late on the 17th, as Confederate soldiers began straggling into the city’s defenses. A woman wrote, “I shall never forget the woeful sight. Wan, hollow-eyed, ragged, footsore, bloody, the men limped along unarmed… humanity in the last throes of endurance.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 367; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 128; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 317; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 285-86; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 376-77; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 298; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 122-25; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 354; 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. 630-32; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781-84

The Battle of Champion’s Hill

May 16, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals headed west from Jackson and took on Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton’s Confederates near the halfway point to Vicksburg.

At 8:30 a.m. on the 15th, General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Western Department, received Pemberton’s message stating that he was not moving to join forces with Johnston, but instead moving southeast to attack Grant’s supply line at Grand Gulf. Neither Pemberton nor Johnston knew that Grant had cut himself off from Grand Gulf and his army was now living off the land.

Johnston, frustrated that the two main Confederate forces in Mississippi were not reuniting but moving farther apart, responded, “Our being compelled to leave Jackson makes your plans impracticable. The only mode by which we can unite is by your moving directly to Clinton.”

Meanwhile, Grant’s XVII Corps under Major General James B. McPherson moved west from Jackson to link with Major General John A. McClernand’s XIII Corps near Raymond. From there, the two corps would advance in multiple columns to Edwards Station, about 15 miles east of Clinton. Major General William T. Sherman’s XV Corps stayed at Jackson and continued destroying anything of military value, along with most other valuable property.

Grant, who had a spy on Johnston’s staff, expected to confront Pemberton at Clinton because Johnston urged him to go there. Grant was unaware that Pemberton decided to defy Johnston’s order and instead go southeast. Blocked by a flooded waterway, Pemberton’s Confederates countermarched until cavalry reported a large Federal force near Bolton. That night, Grant’s troops bivouacked on the Jackson, Middle, and Raymond roads. The forces of Grant and Pemberton were within four miles of each other.

The next morning, Pemberton received Johnston’s message urging him to go to Clinton so they could join forces. By this time, Colonel Wirt Adams, commanding the Confederate cavalry, had reported skirmishing with Federals on the Raymond road. Pemberton, who had disobeyed Johnston’s initial order to join him, now decided to obey. He replied, “The order of countermarch has been issued. I am thus particular, so that you may be able to make a junction with this army. Heavy skirmishing is now going on in my front.”

As Pemberton’s 22,000 men began countermarching toward Clinton, McPherson advanced from Bolton to block him at a wooded ridge called Champion’s Hill, on the farm of Sid Champion, almost exactly between Jackson and Vicksburg. Federals drove in Pemberton’s pickets and opened with artillery. Pemberton saw that the Federals were to his north, poised to either block him from joining Johnston or hurry west to capture Vicksburg. He therefore decided to give battle.

Fighting at Champion’s Hill | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Pemberton deployed Major General Carter L. Stevenson’s division on the hill to face McPherson while sending the divisions under Major General William W. Loring and Brigadier General John S. Bowen against McClernand to the southeast. McPherson attacked Stevenson around 10:30 a.m., pushing the Confederates back and taking the hill. Bowen joined Stevenson in a counterattack that regained Champion’s Hill and almost pushed its way to Grant’s headquarters.

Just as McPherson’s line began wavering, the rest of his corps came up, led by Major General John A. Logan and Marcellus Crocker’s “Greyhounds.” The Federals launched another attack while Loring failed to support Bowen and Stevenson. This drove the Confederates off what they called “the hill of death” for good. The “up in the air” Confederate left flank disintegrated.

Pemberton ordered a retreat southwest to Edwards Station, with Loring’s division serving as the rear guard. Brigadier General Lloyd Tilghman, who had surrendered Fort Henry last year, was killed by a shell fragment while directing artillery to cover the Confederate retreat.

The Confederates fell back on the Raymond road to Baker’s Creek, and then to Edwards. But the Federals pursued, and the disorganized Confederates could not hold Edwards Station. They broke and fled around 5 p.m. toward the bridge over the Big Black River, just 10 miles from Vicksburg, leaving Loring isolated. Loring held a council of war and decided not to try reuniting with the rest of Pemberton’s army. He hurried north to join with Johnston instead.

The Federals sustained 2,441 casualties (410 killed, 1,844 wounded, and 187 missing), and the Confederates lost 3,840 (381 killed, 1,018 wounded, and 2,441 missing or captured). The Federals captured 27 enemy cannon. Grant later claimed that more Confederates could have been captured had McClernand not been so cautious, but the Federals succeeded in cutting off Loring’s entire division.

This was the decisive battle of Grant’s campaign, during which he had defeated two Confederate armies and made it impossible for them to join forces. Meanwhile, Sherman’s corps remained at Jackson, where Sherman reported, “We have made good progress today in the work of destruction. Jackson will no longer be a point of danger. The land is devastated for 30 miles around.”

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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 367; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 128; Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 126; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 317; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 68; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18485-91, 18507; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 285; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 368-71, 374-75; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 297; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 756; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 116, 118, 122, 124-25; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 353-54; 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. 630; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 781-84

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: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

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: Wikimedia.org

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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References

Anderson, Nancy Scott; Anderson, Dwight, The Generals: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee (New York: Vintage Books, 1987), p. 366-67; Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 126; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 293, 310-11; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 67; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18453, 18460-85; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 284-85; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 361-65, 367-68; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 295-96; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 113-15, 117; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 352-53; 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. 630; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 392-93, 487, 781-84; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q263