Tag Archives: John C. Pemberton

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

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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

The Battle of Raymond

May 12, 1863 – A lone Confederate brigade offered stiff resistance against one of Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federal corps near the town of Raymond, Mississippi.

Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, still believed that Grant’s primary target was the Jackson & Vicksburg Railroad where it crossed the Big Black River. As such, he directed Major General William W. Loring to defend that point with 20,000 Confederates. Pemberton did not know that Grant intended to move east of Loring and cut the supply line between Vicksburg and the state capital of Jackson.

Pemberton informed General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Western Department, and President Jefferson Davis that he intended to confront the Federals as they advanced toward Edwards Station, 16 miles east of Vicksburg. Pemberton requested reinforcements, “Also, that 3,000 cavalry be at once sent to operate on this line. I urge this as a positive necessity. The enemy largely outnumbers me, and I am obliged to hold back a large force at the ferries on Big Black.”

Early on the 12th, Federal Major General James B. McPherson’s 12,000-man XVII Corps resumed its advance toward Raymond, about 15 miles west of Jackson, with General John A. Logan’s division in the lead. The Federals climbed a ridge about three miles southwest of Raymond near 10 a.m. Brigadier General John Gregg, commanding a Confederate brigade, learned of the Federal approach. Believing these troops were just a feint, Gregg arranged his men and guns in line of battle.

The Confederates opened fire as Logan’s Federals descended the ridge. The Federals responded by forming a battle line of their own and advancing into the woods surrounding Fourteen Mile Creek. The two sides exchanged intense fire, as Gregg repelled Logan’s initial advance. The heavy smoke and dense brush prevented Gregg from seeing how outnumbered he truly was. It also confused the Federals and caused some to flee before Logan personally rallied them.

Fighting at Raymond | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

By 1:30 p.m., elements of McPherson’s other two divisions had come up to reinforce Logan, along with 22 guns. Logan attacked again and broke the Confederate right. Gregg, now realizing he was outnumbered three-to-one, began slowly pulling back through Raymond around 2 p.m.

The Federals sustained 442 casualties (66 killed, 339 wounded, and 37 missing). The Confederates lost 514 (72 killed, 252 wounded, and 190 missing), of which 345 came from the 7th Texas and 3rd Tennessee regiments alone. Gregg withdrew to Jackson, where Confederate reinforcements were arriving.

The Federals entered Raymond around 5 p.m. and seized a large amount of food and supplies the Confederates left behind. They also laid waste to much of the town. McPherson notified Grant, “The rough and impracticable nature of the country, filled with ravines and dense undergrowth, prevented anything like an effective use of artillery or a very rapid pursuit.” Meanwhile, Grant’s other two corps under Major Generals William T. Sherman and John A. McClernand advanced along different routes and clashed with various Confederate units.

Pemberton telegraphed Major General Carter L. Stevenson, commanding Confederates at Vicksburg:

“From information received, it is evident that the enemy is advancing in force on Edwards’s Depot and Big Black Bridge; hot skirmishing has been going on all morning, and the enemy are at Fourteen-Mile Creek. You must move with your whole division to the support of Loring and Bowen at the bridge, leaving Baldwin’s and Moore’s brigades to protect your right.”

Davis responded to Pemberton’s message by wiring Johnston at Jackson: “In addition to the 5,000 men originally ordered from Charleston (from General P.G.T. Beauregard’s department), about 4,000 more will follow. I fear more can not be spared to you.”

Although the engagement at Raymond was relatively small, it changed Grant’s plans. He had originally intended to merely cut Vicksburg off from Jackson, but now, seeing how lightly defended the state capital was (and learning that Johnston was on his way with reinforcements), he decided to veer east and capture Jackson before pivoting west toward Vicksburg.

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References

Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 617; 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 18437, 18445-53, 18559; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 283; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 360; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 295; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 111-12; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 352

Vicksburg: Grant Moves East

May 4, 1863 – Major General John S. Bowen’s Confederates evacuated Grand Gulf, as Federals under Major General Ulysses S. Grant continued their eastward advance from Port Gibson.

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

The Federals moved through Port Gibson and crossed parts of Bayou Pierre on the 2nd. Lieutenant Colonel James H. Wilson, chief Federal engineer, repaired the bridge over Grindstone Ford so the advance could continue. Grant wrote, “The enemy is badly beaten, greatly demoralized, and exhausted of ammunition. The road to Vicksburg is open…” Meanwhile, Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron continued ferrying troops across the Mississippi, with gunboats covering their landing.

By day’s end, the Federals were deep behind the Confederates clinging to Grand Gulf, north of Port Gibson. Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, Confederate department commander, had rushed reinforcements to Bowen, giving him 9,000 men. However, Major General James B. McPherson’s XVII Corps landed to join Major General John A. McClernand’s XIII Corps, giving Grant about 30,000 Federals. More would come soon because Major General William T. Sherman’s XV Corps was on its way.

When Bowen learned that the Federals were on their way to the Big Black River, he ordered a withdrawal from Grand Gulf around midnight. The Confederates left five guns and moved north just as four of Porter’s gunboats approached to shell their defenses again. When Porter saw the place empty, he reported to Navy Secretary Gideon Welles, “… it is with great pleasure that I report that the Navy holds the door to Vicksburg.”

Grant wrote General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck, “Our victory has been most complete, and the enemy thoroughly demoralized.” Bowen’s defense effort had been “a very bold one and well carried out. My force, however, was too heavy for his, and composed of well-disciplined and hardy men who know no defeat and are not willing to learn what it is.”

Grant had initially planned to advance on Vicksburg from the south, but the harsh terrain gave defenders a major advantage over attackers. Also, Confederates in Vicksburg could be supplied by the railroad leading to the state capital of Jackson. So Grant planned instead to move east, cut the railroad between Vicksburg and Jackson, and then turn to take Vicksburg to the west.

The plan called for establishing a supply base at Grand Gulf in anticipation of Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Army of the Gulf coming up from Louisiana to join Grant’s army. But when Grant learned that Banks would be busy trying to capture Port Hudson, he opted to “live off the country.” As the Federals moved east, they looted houses, farms, and plantations, leaving desolation in their wake. On the 6th, Sherman’s Federals arrived at Hard Times, on the west bank of the Mississippi, and began crossing to join the main army.

Lt Gen John C. Pemberton | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Pemberton wired Secretary of War James A. Seddon explaining that he did not receive enough reinforcements to stop the Federals. Pemberton wrote, “The stake is a great one; I can see nothing so important.” President Jefferson Davis wrote the next day, approving the withdrawal from Grand Gulf while stating, “Am anxiously expecting further information of your active operations… To hold both Vicksburg and Port Hudson is necessary to our connection with Trans-Mississippi. You may expect whatever it is in my power to do for your aid.”

This prompted Pemberton to countermand his order for Major General Franklin Gardner to lead the bulk of his force from Port Hudson to help defend Jackson. Pemberton instead directed Gardner to stay at Port Hudson “and hold it to the last. President says both places (Port Hudson and Vicksburg) must be held.” However, Pemberton received conflicting instructions from General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Western Department, who urged him to come out of his defenses and fight Grant, even if it meant losing Vicksburg.

By that time, Grant’s army had swelled to 44,000 men as it continued moving east. Grant commended his troops for their victory on May 1, a battle which added to “the long list of those previously won by your valor and endurance.” Grant declared, “A few days’ continuance of the same zeal and constancy will secure to this army the crowning victory over the rebellion… A grateful country will rejoice at our success, and history will record it with immortal honor.”

Grant’s Federals, led by McPherson and McClernand, began arriving at Utica, some 20 miles southwest of Jackson, on the 9th. Sherman informed Grant that supply wagons were clogging the road all the way to Grand Gulf, hampering troop movements. Grant responded:

“I do not calculate upon the possibility of supplying the army with full rations from Grand Gulf. I know it will be impossible without constructing additional roads. What I do expect, however, is to get up what rations of hard bread, coffee, and salt we can, and make the country furnish the balance.”

Confederate General J.E. Johnston | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

That same day, Seddon ordered Johnston to “proceed at once (from Tullahoma) to Mississippi and take chief command of the forces, giving to those in the field, as far as practicable, the encouragement and benefit of your personal direction. Arrange to take, for temporary service, with you, or to be followed without delay, 3,000 good troops…”

The administration hoped that Johnston could better manage the crisis in Mississippi if he was there directing Pemberton’s movements in person. Johnston, whose wounds from the Battle of Seven Pines nearly a year before were still giving him trouble, replied, “I shall go immediately, although unfit for service.” He left on the 10th, after responding to Pemberton’s report on troop positioning around Vicksburg: “Disposition of troops, as far as understood, judicious; can be readily concentrated against Grant’s army.”

Pemberton had about 23,000 troops to face 44,000 Federals. He wrote Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, “My force is insufficient for offensive operations. I must stand on the defensive in all events until reinforcements reach me.”

Grant dispatched Federal cavalry under Colonel Benjamin H. Grierson to operate around Crystal Springs, where they severed the New Orleans & Jackson Railroad line. Grant reported to Halleck on the 11th:

“My forces will be this evening as far advanced towards Fourteen Mile Creek–the left near Black River and extending in a line nearly east and west–as they can get without bringing on a general engagement. I shall communicate with Grand Gulf no more except it becomes necessary to send a train with heavy escort. You may not hear from me again for several days.”

Pemberton received word that the Federals were closing in on Edwards Station, 16 miles east of Vicksburg, in an apparent effort to wreck the Jackson & Vicksburg Railroad. Pemberton directed Brigadier General John Gregg, who had led a brigade from Port Hudson to Jackson, to scout for Federals around Raymond while defending the main crossings on the Big Black River. Gregg was unaware that McPherson’s 12,000-man corps was approaching Raymond.

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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. 361-62; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 128-29; Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 617; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18374, 18437, 18445; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 281, 283; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 349-53, 355-57; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 292-94; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 104, 108-09; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 347-48, 350-51; 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. 629; Robbins, Peggy, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 628-29; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 392-93, 781-84

The Battle of Port Gibson

May 1, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant’s Federals tried pushing inland from the Mississippi River to gain a foothold on the ground south of Vicksburg. Confederates blocked their advance at Port Gibson.

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

Grant’s troops continued landing at Bruinsburg, on the east side of the Mississippi, while Major General William T. Sherman’s troops continued diverting Confederate attention north of Vicksburg. Sherman informed Grant, “At 3 p.m. we will open another cannonade to prolong the diversion, and keep it up till after dark, when we shall drop down to Chickasaw and go on back to camp.”

Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana from Jackson, received word of Grant’s landing and immediately called on both General Joseph E. Johnston (commanding the Western Department) and President Jefferson Davis to send reinforcements. Davis replied that he was trying to get Johnston to send troops from southern Alabama. Secretary of War James A. Seddon replied that reinforcements should be forthcoming from General P.G.T. Beauregard’s department at Charleston.

Johnston advised Pemberton, “If Grant’s army lands on this side of the river, the safety of Mississippi depends on beating it. For that object you should unite your whole force.” Pemberton currently had about 5,500 Confederates under Major General John S. Bowen to contest the Federal landing force, estimated to number at least 20,000.

At 6 a.m., Grant’s lead corps under Major General John A. McClernand pushed inland from Bruinsburg toward Port Gibson, about 30 miles south of Vicksburg. The main road split into north and south paths, separated by heavy brush and ravines. A local slave informed McClernand that the roads reconnected at Port Gibson, so McClernand sent one division up the north road and three up the south.

Confederate defenders contested both roads, with Brigadier General Edward D. Tracy commanding the northern approach and Brigadier General Martin L. Smith commanding the southern. Bowen arrived at Port Gibson in mid-morning to assume overall command.

The Confederates put up a strong resistance as the Federals advanced along the difficult terrain, during which Tracy was killed. Colonel Isham W. Garrott, who temporarily took over for Tracy, recalled that he “fell near the front line, pierced through the breast, and instantly died without uttering a word.”

A Federal thrust on the southern road knocked Smith back to within a half-mile of Port Gibson. Bowen directed Confederate reinforcements from Grand Gulf and Vicksburg to help defend the southern road. Meanwhile, Federal artillery began bombarding the Confederate positions.

Gen J.S. Bowen | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Heavily outnumbered, Bowen notified Pemberton that he would “have to retire under cover of night to the other side of Bayou Pierre and await reinforcements.” Before receiving this message, Pemberton, now at Vicksburg, replied that he was “hurrying reinforcements; also ammunition. Endeavor to hold your own until they arrive, though it may be some time, as the distance is great.” When Pemberton saw Bowen’s message, he wrote, “It is very important, as you know, to retain your present position, if possible…”

Fighting raged back and forth until a division of Major General James B. McPherson’s Federal corps came up to reinforce both fronts and aid in a general advance. The Confederates on the northern road broke and retreated toward Grand Gulf. The southern road defenders broke soon after, falling back through Port Gibson before turning north toward Vicksburg. The Confederates destroyed bridges over Bayou Pierre and Little Bayou Pierre.

Bowen directed his men into position to defend Grand Gulf, which he believed would be the Federals’ next target. Bowen had skillfully delayed the Federal advance for a day despite being heavily outnumbered. The Federals camped just outside Port Gibson for the night, with Grant planning to push northeast toward Jackson, not Vicksburg, the next day. Grant directed Sherman to stop his diversionary operation and join the main army.

The Federals sustained 875 casualties (131 killed, 719 wounded, and 25 missing), and the Confederates lost 832 (68 killed, 380 wounded, and 384 missing). Abandoning Port Gibson gave Grant a permanent foothold on the east side of the Mississippi. Pemberton informed Davis, “Enemy movement threatens Jackson, and, if successful, cuts off Vicksburg and Port Hudson from the east.”

The Federals advanced at dawn to renew the contest but found Port Gibson empty. Grant directed his chief engineer, Lieutenant Colonel James H. Wilson, to build a bridge over the south fork of Bayou Pierre. The work was completed by the afternoon of the 2nd. The Federals crossed and the vanguard reached Grindstone Ford, eight miles northeast, where the bridge had been destroyed. It was now becoming clear to the Confederate command that Grant was targeting Jackson and not Vicksburg.

Pemberton received word that Bowen had abandoned Port Gibson and responded by advising Governor John J. Pettus to remove state archives from the capital at Jackson. He then asked Johnston to send “large reinforcements” to handle this “completely changed character of defense.” Pemberton next cabled Davis, “I think Port Hudson and Grand Gulf should be evacuated, and the whole force concentrated for defense of Vicksburg and Jackson.”

Johnston addressed Pemberton’s reluctance to abandon Jackson or Vicksburg by advising, “Success will give you back what was abandoned to win it.” When Johnston advised Pemberton to “unite all your troops,” Pemberton directed Major General Franklin Gardner, commanding the Confederate garrison at Port Hudson, to leave a token force there and come north with the rest of his men to join in defending Jackson. Confederates abandoned Grand Gulf by nightfall.

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References

Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 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 18365-74; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 279-80; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 333, 346-49, 353, 355; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 102-04, 109; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 344-47; 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. 628; Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 760; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 595-96, 781-84

Vicksburg: Grant Needs Another Crossing

April 29, 1863 – Major General Ulysses S. Grant needed to find another place to cross the Mississippi River after Confederate defenses at Grand Gulf proved too strong to overcome.

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

By this time, two of Grant’s three Federal corps were below Vicksburg, waiting to be shuttled across the Mississippi River to threaten the city from the south. He planned to land the troops at Grand Gulf, Mississippi, but Confederates had hurried to build strong defenses there. Grant relied on Rear Admiral David D. Porter’s Mississippi River Squadron to break the defenses so the troops could cross.

Grant’s third corps, led by Major General William T. Sherman, was to create a diversion north of Vicksburg. Sherman’s Federals moved up the Yazoo River with a fleet of eight gunboats, three mortars, and 10 transports. Sherman directed the men to stand on the transport decks and “look as numerous as possible.” The Federals landed near Haynes’s Bluff, marched forward, then marched back onto the transports to draw enemy fire while firing back with artillery of their own.

The ploy worked. Major General Carter L. Stevenson, commanding the Vicksburg defenses, wrote Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, department commander, “The demonstration at Grand Gulf must be only a feint. Here is the real attack. The enemy are in front of me in force such as have never been seen before at Vicksburg. Send me reinforcements.”

Meanwhile, 33 miles southwest of Vicksburg, Porter positioned six gunboats on the Mississippi to bombard Grand Gulf: the U.S.S. Benton, Tuscumbia, Lafayette, Carondelet, Mound City, and Louisville. The Confederate defenses included two recently installed heavy batteries. As Grant watched from a nearby boat, Porter began the bombardment. Brigadier General John S. Bowen, commanding the Confederates at Grand Gulf, informed Pemberton that he was under heavy attack in preparation for an enemy troop landing.

The Federals fired 2,500 rounds, but they inflicted just 18 casualties while silencing one battery and disabling four guns. The Confederate response was more damaging, as Porter reported that his fleet was “pretty cut up.” His flagship Benton took 70 hits, the Lafayette took 45, and the Tuscumbia was put out of action for several days after taking 81 hits. The other three gunboats generally stayed out of range and suffered minimal damage.

At 12:30 p.m., five hours after the fight began, Porter signaled the fleet to fall back with the message “transports cannot pass.” The Federals sustained 75 casualties (18 killed and 57 wounded). According to Porter, “It was the most difficult portion of the river in which to manage an ironclad, strong currents (running six knots) and strong eddies turning them round and round, making them fair targets.”

When Pemberton learned of the Federal repulse, he wired Bowen, “In the name of the army, I desire to thank you and your troops for your gallant conduct today. Keep up the good work… Yesterday I warmly recommended you for a major-generalcy. I shall renew it.”

Grant and Porter agreed that the Grand Gulf defenses were too strong for the troop landing. That night, Federals seized a local slave who knew the area and had him show where another landing could be made. Grant initially planned to cross opposite Rodney, but the slave showed the Federals an unguarded crossing farther south, opposite Bruinsburg. A road extended from that town to Port Gibson and the rear of Grand Gulf.

That night, the Federal gunboats lashed transports to their sides facing away from Grand Gulf and passed the Confederate batteries to the new crossing point. The next day, Grant’s lead corps under Major General John A. McClernand began crossing on the transports and landing at Bruinsburg unopposed. By noon, 23,000 Federals had landed on Mississippi soil.

Grant later wrote that he felt:

“… a degree of relief scarcely ever equaled since. I was now in the enemy’s country, with a vast river and the stronghold of Vicksburg between me and my base of supplies. But I was on dry ground on the same side of the river with the enemy. All the campaigns, labors, hardships, and exposures, from the month of December previous to this time, that had been made and endured, were for the accomplishments of this one object.”

Grant directed the Federals to attack before their landing was discovered. They first needed to confront the 5,164 Confederates at Port Gibson, 12 miles east of Bruinsburg and six miles southwest of Grand Gulf. Bowen dispatched 5,000 more Confederates under Brigadier General Martin L. Smith out of Grand Gulf to intercept the Federals. They moved across Bayou Pierre and arrived about four miles west of Port Gibson that night, where they set up defenses.

McClernand’s Federals marched seven miles inland before camping for the night. Grant ordered Sherman to stop his demonstration and come down to join the main operation. Grant had the numbers, and now he had seized the initiative in a daring gamble, with help from Sherman’s feint and Grierson’s raid. The fight for Vicksburg would begin on the 1st of May.

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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. 353-54; Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 127-29; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 66-68; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 18348-56; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 279; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 332, 342-43, 346-47; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 287-88; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 96-97, 100-01; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 343-44; 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. 628; 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. 165-66; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 595-96; 781-84