Tag Archives: William W. Loring

Georgia: Hood Attacks Sherman’s Lifeline

October 4, 1864 – General John Bell Hood directed his Confederate Army of Tennessee to attack the Federal supply lines in hopes of forcing Major General William T. Sherman to come out of Atlanta and give battle.

Federal Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: collaborationnation.wikispaces.com

As October began, Sherman’s three Federal armies remained stationed in and around Atlanta. Hood had decided not to attack these armies directly, but instead move north and wreak havoc on their supply lines, which stretched all the way to Louisville. Hood hoped that this would lure Sherman out of Atlanta and onto open ground, where he could be defeated and driven out of Georgia.

Sherman had already detached two divisions under Major General George H. Thomas to stop Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate raids in middle Tennessee. Now he directed Thomas to also protect the Western & Atlantic Railroad, the main Federal supply line, between Chattanooga and Atlanta. As Hood’s Confederates approached this railroad, Sherman reported to Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant, the overall Federal commander:

“Hood is evidently across the Chattahoochee, below Sweetwater. If he tries to get on our (rail)road, this side of the Etowah, I shall attack him; but if he goes to the Selma & Talladega road, why will it not do to leave Tennessee to the forces which Thomas has, and the reserves soon to come to Nashville, and for me to destroy Atlanta and march across Georgia to Savannah or Charleston, breaking roads and doing irreparable damage? We cannot remain on the defensive.”

Sherman wanted to ignore Hood and move southeast to the Atlantic, but if Hood remained above Atlanta, Sherman would have to take notice. To his dismay, it was confirmed (through scouts and an ill-advised speech by President Jefferson Davis) that the Confederates would indeed remain above Atlanta and threaten his main supply line. Sherman therefore left his 12,000-man XX Corps in Atlanta and directed his remaining 55,000 Federals to move north and confront Hood.

Gen J.B. Hood | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

As the Confederates began wrecking track on the Western & Atlantic, Hood confidently wrote his superiors at Richmond, “This will, I think, force Sherman to move on us or to move south.” He dispatched Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart’s corps to wipe out the Federal garrisons at Big Shanty and Acworth, “and to destroy as great a portion of the railroad in the vicinity as possible.”

Sherman, still unsure exactly where Hood would strike, dispatched a division under Brigadier General John M. Corse to defend the Federal garrison at Rome while the other Federals moved toward Marietta. Corse was to “act against Hood from Allatoona if he got on the railroad between that place and Atlanta.” Sherman also ordered Thomas to lead his two divisions toward Nashville in case Hood turned north to attack that vital Federal supply base.

On the 4th, elements of Stewart’s corps attacked the Federal garrison at Big Shanty. Stewart reported, “The small force of the enemy took refuge in the depot, which was loop-holed. After the exchange of a few shots and a small loss in killed and wounded they surrendered–some 100 or more.” Moving toward Acworth, the Confederates seized Moon’s Station, “and by 3 p.m. of the 4th the railroad was effectually torn up, the ties burned, and rails bent for a distance of 10 or 12 miles. This work, the capture of some 600 prisoners, and a few killed and wounded, was effected with a loss of not more than 12 or 15, mostly wounded.”

One of Stewart’s divisions under Major General William W. Loring advanced toward Acworth, while Hood set his sights on the Federal supply warehouses at Allatoona Pass. Meanwhile, the Federals crossed the Chattahoochee and Sherman took up headquarters on Kennesaw Mountain, where he could see the nine miles of destruction the Confederates had done. Recognizing that the Confederates were targeting Allatoona, Sherman ordered Corse’s division to hurry from Rome to defend that point.

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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. 465-67; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12777-87, 12820-41, 12894-904; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 504-05; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 578-79; McMurry, Richard M., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 7; Nevin, David, Sherman’s March: Atlanta to the Sea (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 19-20

The Battle of Ezra Church

July 28, 1864 – General John Bell Hood’s Confederate Army of Tennessee looked to attack one of Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal armies while in motion and isolated from the rest of Sherman’s command.

The Federal Army of the Tennessee, led by Major General Oliver O. Howard, had been holding a line east of Atlanta. Sherman directed the force to shift to the west and south, to the other side of the Armies of the Ohio and the Cumberland. Howard’s ultimate objective was the intersection of two railroads (the Atlanta & West Point and the Macon & Western) at East Point.

Confederate General J.B. Hood | Image Credit: Flickr.com

Hood learned of Howard’s movement and developed a plan to ambush his army while it was in motion and isolated from the rest of Sherman’s Federals. Hood selected the crossroads at Ezra Church, west of Atlanta, to launch his surprise assault. Lieutenant General Stephen D. Lee’s corps was posted behind breastworks near the crossroads, facing north.

Sherman did not expect Hood to react to Howard’s movement so quickly, but Howard, who had been Hood’s classmate at West Point, knew better. As his Federals approached the Ezra Church crossroads, they were ordered to quickly build makeshift defenses, just before Lee launched his attack.

The Confederates assailed what they thought to be Howard’s vulnerable right flank, only to find it strongly defended by Major General John A. Logan’s XV Corps. Logan positioned his Federals at a right angle to the rest of Howard’s line to better defend against the assaults.

Ezra Church battle map | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Federals repelled three charges, inflicting heavy casualties in the process. Lieutenant General Alexander P. Stewart’s Confederate corps then came up on Lee’s left and tried turning the Federal right to no avail. Both Stewart and Major General William W. Loring, commanding a division under Stewart, were wounded. Howard feared that he would soon be outnumbered and called for reinforcements, but the Confederates disengaged before they arrived.

Had Sherman counterattacked the Confederate left, he could have destroyed the force and left Hood with just one last corps to defend Atlanta. However, Sherman did not recognize this opportunity due to an erroneous map.

Like the battles at Peachtree Creek and outside Atlanta, the Confederates sustained heavy losses that they could not replace. Hood lost as many as 5,000 men (and an estimated 18,000 since taking command), while Howard lost just 562. Hood’s other corps commander, Lieutenant General William Hardee, later said, “No action of the campaign probably did so much to demoralize and dishearten the troops engaged in it.”

Another desperate Confederate assault on an isolated Federal army had failed, but Hood at least prevented Howard’s Federals from reaching the Atlanta & West Point Railroad for now. Having lost up to a third of his army, Hood could now only act on the defensive, and he ordered his troops to withdraw to the fortifications outside Atlanta. From these defenses, the Confederates temporarily stopped Sherman’s drive down the west side of the city.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 133-36; Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 250-51; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 516, 526; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 82-84; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 440-41; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 10244-54; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 476; Linedecker, Clifford L (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 98-99; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 547; 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. 754-55; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 327

The Battle of Kennesaw Mountain

June 27, 1864 – Major General William T. Sherman’s Federals assaulted Confederates heavily defended on an eminence 15 miles north of Atlanta.

Sherman had resolved to directly attack the Confederate line anchored on Kennesaw Mountain. General Joseph E. Johnston, commanding the Confederate Army of Tennessee, had strengthened his flanks to prevent them from being turned, so Sherman felt he had no choice but to try breaking through his center.

The 27th began hot and humid, with temperatures quickly reaching 100 degrees. At 8 a.m., 200 Federal guns opened on the Confederate lines, and Confederate gunners responded. A witness wrote, “Kennesaw smoked and blazed with fire, a volcano as grand as Etna.”

Sketch of firing on Kennesaw Mountain | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

A half-hour later, about 5,000 Federals from Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee began advancing toward Little Kennesaw and Pigeon Hill, which were held by the Confederate corps led by Major General William W. Loring (formerly under Leonidas Polk). McPherson hoped to break the enemy defenses and isolate Loring to the northeast. About 5,000 entrenched Confederates awaited the Federals’ approach.

As the Federals scaled the steep ridges, Confederate artillerists fired down into them. When their guns could not be depressed any lower, the Confederates rolled rocks and other impediments down the hill. The Federals reached the forward rifle pits, with many using their rifles as clubs, but they could not reach the main line. The fight raged for two hours before the Federals were ordered to fall back.

About two miles south, 9,000 Federals began advancing across a mile-wide front at 9 a.m. They belonged to Major General George H. Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland. Facing them were two divisions of Lieutenant General William Hardee’s corps under Major Generals Patrick R. Cleburne and Benjamin F. Cheatham.

The Federals marched in columns to apply maximum power against specific points on the line, thereby increasing their chances for a breakthrough. However, this left them vulnerable to artillery, which cut swaths into the formations. The Confederate defenders noted the Federals’ bravery, with one recalling, “They seemed to walk up and take death as coolly as if they were automatic or wooden men.”

Only a few Federals managed to reach the Confederate lines, including Colonel Daniel McCook, who was killed after shouting, “Surrender, you traitors!” He was the fourth of 15 “Fighting McCooks” to die in combat. Vicious hand-to-hand fighting ensued, and this area of the field became known as the “Dead Angle.”

Thomas issued orders around 10:45 for the Federals to fall back, but those pinned down by enemy fire had to wait until nightfall. Sherman wrote Thomas at 1:30, “Do you think you can carry any part of the enemy’s line today?… I will order the assault if you think you can succeed at any point.” Thomas replied, “We have already lost heavily today without gaining any material advantage. One or two more such assaults would use up this army.”

Johnston, not yet aware of the extent of his victory, wired Richmond, “The enemy advanced upon our whole line to-day. Their loss is supposed to be great; ours known to be small.” But the Confederates were not in good shape, despite their victory. One soldier recalled:

“I never saw so many broken down and exhausted men in my life. I was as sick as a horse, and as wet with blood and sweat as I could be, and many of our men were vomiting with excessive fatigue, over-exhaustion, and sunstroke; our tongues were parched and cracked for water, and our faces blackened with powder and smoke, and our dead and wounded were piled indiscriminately in the trenches.”

The Federals sustained 2,051 casualties (1,999 killed or wounded and 52 missing), while the Confederates lost 442 (270 killed or wounded and 172 missing). These numbers were small compared to the terrible battles in Virginia, but they were the greatest losses in this campaign thus far. Sherman came under severe criticism for this failed attack, but he wrote in his report:

“I perceived that the enemy and our officers had settled down into a conviction that I would not assault fortified lines. All looked to me to outflank. An army to be efficient, must not settle down to a single mode of offence, but must be prepared to execute any plan which promises success. I wanted, therefore, for the moral effect, to make a successful assault against the enemy behind his breastworks, and resolved to attempt it at that point where success would give the largest fruits of victory.”

This was Johnston’s greatest tactical victory of the campaign. However, Sherman turned this into a strategic victory for the Federals when Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio extended its right flank beyond Johnston’s left. This allowed Sherman to turn Johnston’s flank once more, even though it would force the Federals to detach themselves from their supply line on the Western & Atlantic Railroad.

That night, Sherman wrote Thomas, “Are you willing to risk (a) move on Fulton, cutting loose from the railroad?” Thomas responded that such a move was risky, but, “I think it decidedly better than butting against breastworks 12 feet thick and strongly abatised.”

Sherman later wrote, “Satisfied of the bloody cost of attacking intrenched lines, I at once thought of moving the whole army to the railroad at a point about 10 miles below Marietta, or to the Chattahoochee River itself…” Kennesaw Mountain proved to be Sherman’s last large-scale frontal attack of the war.

Two days later, Federals and Confederates agreed upon a seven-hour truce to bury the dead and alleviate the overwhelming stench around Kennesaw Mountain. Confederates helped Federals drag bodies, using bayonets as grappling hooks, into deep trenches. The opposing soldiers fraternized, and some Federals impressed by General Cheatham’s leadership at the Dead Angle asked for his autograph.

Meanwhile, Sherman wrote to his wife, “I begin to regard the death and mangling of a couple of thousand men as a small affair, a kind of morning dash. It may be well that we become hardened… The worst of the war is not yet begun.”

Johnston soon learned that Sherman was trying to flank him again. But he was confident that Sherman would eventually overextend his supply line, leaving him isolated in enemy territory. This did not satisfy Johnston’s superiors, who were growing more impatient with his retreats. When Johnston told Richmond that he could not take the offensive without more men, General Braxton Bragg, advisor to President Jefferson Davis, expressed frustration:

“Every available man, subject to my control, has been sent to General Johnston, and he had retained several commands deemed absolutely necessary elsewhere, after receiving orders to move them. No doubt he is outnumbered by the enemy, as we are everywhere, but the disparity is much less than it has ever been between those two armies.”

Since this campaign began, Sherman lost nearly 17,000 men while Johnston lost just over 14,000. This represented 14 percent of Sherman’s total force and 25 percent of Johnston’s. Contrary to Johnston’s boasts that Federal supplies would soon run out, Sherman still had enough men to guard the supply line all the way back to Chattanooga.

As June ended, Georgia Governor Joseph E. Brown issued a third call for state militia to oppose Sherman’s drive on Atlanta. President Davis informed Brown that he had sent Johnston “all available reinforcements, detaching troops even from points that remain exposed to the enemy.” Davis did not know what else he could do.

Brown then turned to Senator Benjamin Hill, a personal friend of Davis’s. Brown asked Hill to write the president and ask him to send more troops to Johnston. Hill replied, “Time is too precious and letters are inadequate,” and announced that he would consult with Johnston and then travel to Richmond in person.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 175-76; Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 18, 66-67, 75; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 481; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Crocker III, H.W., The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Civil War (Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2008), p. 82-84; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 430; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 8328-48, 8371-424, 8638-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 462; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 23-24, 155-56; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 529-30; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 413; 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. 749

Georgia: Johnston Compacts His Line

June 14, 1864 – Federal forces killed a prominent Confederate commander, General Joseph E. Johnston contracted his Confederate line, and Major General William T. Sherman tried moving southeast around Johnston’s left.

By this time, Johnston’s Confederate Army of Tennessee had formed a line facing north, with the left on Lost Mountain, the center bisecting the Western & Atlantic Railroad (in front of Kennesaw Mountain), and the right at Brush Mountain, north of Marietta. Sherman was trying to find a way for his Federals to move around these formidable defenses, and a portion of Major General George H. Thomas’s Federal Army of the Cumberland was working its way around Pine Mountain.

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

Johnston and two of his corps commanders, Lieutenant Generals William Hardee and Leonidas Polk, personally scaled the crest of Pine Mountain to see the three Federal armies on the plain 300 feet below. Johnston informed Hardee that his troops were overextended and must withdraw to meet the Federal threat coming around the mountain.

The commanders stood atop an artillery redoubt to get a better view. Aides warned them that the enemy Parrott rifles a half-mile way had been routinely hitting the area with fire. According to Sherman:

“When abreast of Pine Mountain, I noticed a rebel battery on its crest, with a continuous line of fresh rifle-trench about half-way down the hill. Our skirmishers were at the time engaged in the woods about the base of this hill between the lines, and I estimated the distance to the battery on the crest at about eight hundred yards. Near it, in plain view, stood a group of the enemy, evidently observing us with glasses.”

Sherman told gunners at a nearby Federal battery, “How saucy they are! Make ‘em take cover.”

Confederate General Leonidas Polk | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

A solid shot exploded near the Confederate commanders, prompting them to move for cover. Polk, bringing up the rear, was instantly killed when a second shot tore through his body. Both Johnston and Hardee mourned the loss of their friend; Hardee told Johnston, “General, this has been a dear visit. We have lost a brave man, whose death leaves a vacancy not easily filled.”

Polk was not considered a great general, but he was one of the most beloved among the officers and men as the “fighting Bishop.” That night, Johnston announced Polk’s death to the troops:

“In this distinguished leader, we have lost the most courteous of gentlemen, the most gallant of soldiers. The Christian patriot soldier has neither lived nor died in vain. His example is before you; his mantle rests with you.”

That afternoon, Federal signalmen intercepted a Confederate wigwag message: “Send an ambulance for General Polk’s body.” They forwarded this news to Sherman. The next day, Thomas’s Federals continued moving around Pine Mountain, toward Kennesaw Mountain. Sherman reported to Washington, “We killed Bishop Polk yesterday, and have made good progress today.”

The Confederates responded by pulling back their left to stronger defenses along Mud Creek. Frustrated, Sherman wrote Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck, “I am now inclined to feign on both flanks and assault the center. It may cost us dear, but in results would surpass any attempt to pass around.” After a few more days of skirmishing and repositioning, Johnston had formed a new semicircular defensive line:

  • Lieutenant General John Bell Hood’s corps held the right, north of Marietta along the Western & Atlantic Railroad
  • Polk’s corps, now commanded by Major General William W. Loring, held the center, which ran southwest through Kennesaw Mountain
  • Hardee’s corps held the left, which curved southeast and ended south of Marietta

This five-mile line was Johnston’s strongest since the campaign began in May. Sherman continued to try flanking maneuvers, sending Federals around Hardee’s left to try reaching the railroad south of Marietta. Johnston responded by shifting Hood’s corps from the right to Hardee’s left and filling his right with Major General Joseph Wheeler’s cavalry. Wheeler’s Confederates harassed Sherman’s left flank, manned by Major General James B. McPherson’s Army of the Tennessee.

By the 21st, Hood held the area around Kolb’s Farm, southwest of Marietta. Major General John Schofield’s Army of the Ohio, supported by Major General Joseph Hooker, began probing the Confederate lines there, which would trigger a fight the next day.

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References

Bailey, Ronald H., The Battles for Atlanta: Sherman Moves East (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 61-63; Bearss, Edwin C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 590; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20808-17; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 425-29; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 7449-88, 8213-23; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 455-59; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 500; Linedecker, Clifford L. (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 23-24, 155-56; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 521-25

Meridian: Sherman Targets Jackson Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federal Maj Gen W.T. Sherman | Image Credit: collaborationnation.wikispaces.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vicksburg: Federals Abandon Yazoo Pass

March 20, 1863 – The Federal vessels comprising the Yazoo Pass expedition began steaming back down the Tallahatchie River after failing to neutralize Fort Pemberton near Greenwood, Mississippi.

Yazoo Pass Expedition Map | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Lieutenant Commander James P. Foster, commanding the U.S.S. Chillicothe, took charge of the Federal naval fleet in the Yazoo delta. He replaced Lieutenant Commander Watson Smith, who had suffered from health problems and finally requested to be removed after issuing incoherent orders that subordinates could not follow.

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Wilson, the lead Federal topographical engineer on the expedition (and no fan of Smith), reported, “His Excellency Acting Rear-Admiral Commodore Smith left to-day for a more salubrious climate, very sick, giving it as his opinion that the present force of iron-clads could not take the two (largest) rebel guns in our front.”

Foster consulted with Brigadier General Leonard F. Ross, heading the army portion of the expedition, and it was “deemed advisable to retreat to Helena, Ark., as the strength of Fort Greenwood (i.e., Fort Pemberton) is such that it is impossible, with the naval forces alone, to conquer it, and it being impossible for the army forces to combine in the attack in consequence of water, etc., and as we are in imminent danger of being outflanked and cut off by rebel forces coming down to the mouth of the Coldwater.”

Wilson protested the retreat, writing, “We have thrown away a magnificent chance to injure the enemy, and all because of the culpable and inexcusable slowness of the naval commander in the first place, and his timidity and cautiousness in the second.” He stated he knew from Confederate deserters that the fort was almost out of ammunition, and it could be taken if three more ironclads were sent to help. Wilson persuaded Ross to wait for reinforcements on their way under Brigadier General Isaac Quinby, Ross’s immediate superior, before withdrawing.

Ross waited three days; during that time, rumors circulated that the Confederates were about “to establish a blockade at the mouth of Coldwater by sending infantry and artillery by railroad to Panola, and thence down the Tallahatchee.” This would trap the Federal flotilla between the blockaders and Fort Pemberton. Hearing no news on when Quinby might arrive, Ross began withdrawing on the 20th.

Major General William W. Loring, commanding the Confederates at Fort Pemberton, had worried that the Federals might try besieging his garrison, which would starve the men into submission. But he was happy to report on the 20th, “Enemy in full run as fast as steam can carry him, and my men after him.” Loring dispatched a cotton-clad vessel to pursue the Federals, having repelled their “great plan for the attack of Vicksburg in rear.” Loring added:

“After many months of secret preparations, they were certain of success. With but little time to fortify, they were determinedly met and forced to an ignominious retreat, leaving behind them evidences that their loss was great in men and material–a check which will undoubtedly prevent a further invasion of the State of Mississippi by the way of Tallahatchee and Yazoo Rivers.”

The Federal flotilla returned to Moon Lake on the 21st, where they met Quinby and his reinforcements. Ross and Foster explained how the Confederate guns and natural obstructions in the waterways had forced them to retreat. Quinby said that retreating “would have a depressing effect upon our army and the country, and raise the hopes and the determination of the rebels.” Thus, he ordered Ross to go back down the Tallahatchie and renew the assault on Fort Pemberton. Since he had no authority over the navy, Quinby then persuaded Foster to join Ross.

The flotilla began its return voyage on the 22nd and arrived within range of the fort the next morning. The ironclads Chillicothe and Baron de Kalb fired some probing shots at the fort, but the Confederates did not respond. The Federals pulled back and prepared to launch the main assault the following day. But rain poured for the next five days, during which time Quinby began doubting that the fort could be taken.

Quinby proposed other ways to try getting to Fort Pemberton, but Foster finally announced that the navy was pulling out of the expedition. Quinby reported to his superior, Major General James B. McPherson, “Should he act on this determination, the land forces would be left here in a very precarious position, with nearly 200 miles of unguarded water communications between them and the Mississippi.”

When Foster led the gunboats out, Quinby followed with the transports, hoping to get reinforcements at Yazoo Pass for another attack. However, the troops did not arrive as expected, and Quinby told McPherson on the 28th:

“This delay is to be greatly regretted, for the rebels are constantly receiving re-enforcements, adding to and strengthening their works. It is evident that they intend to make a determined stand at this point. Every move that we make is answered by one from them.”

Quinby finally realized what Ross and Foster had known since the 16th: the expedition was futile. Confederates had planted a battery where Quinby wanted to bridge the Tallahatchie and cross troops for a ground attack. Moreover, heavy rains had made the rivers and tributaries too high to bridge. There were also delays in getting the men, artillery, and supplies needed for the operation.

Finally, Major General Ulysses S. Grant, the Federal army commander, ended the expedition: “The troops that have gone down Yazoo Pass are now ordered back” to Helena, Arkansas. He needed the troops for another plan he had in mind.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 272-73; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 77; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 846

Vicksburg: Federals Clear Yazoo Pass

March 2, 1863 – After nearly a month, the last Federal transport finally cleared Yazoo Pass in the effort to approach Vicksburg from the north.

The transports entered the Coldwater River after struggling to clear obstructions and navigate the winding waterway. The Federal mission was to move down the Coldwater to the Tallahatchie, and then onto the Yazoo, which would bring the Federals within striking distance of Vicksburg to the south.

Brig Gen Leonard Ross | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Brigadier General Leonard F. Ross, commanding the army portion of the expedition, reported that two steamers did not make it through and two others, the Diana and the Emma, were badly damaged. Ross also stated:

“A large force of rebels is reported on the Tallahatchee awaiting our advance. I do not credit the report, but if they are there we shall probably find them in the course of a couple of days, when we shall do just the best we can.”

Confederates under Major General William W. Loring awaited the Federal flotilla at Fort Pemberton, where the Tallahatchie, Yalobusha, and Yazoo rivers met. They had been waiting so long that some began thinking the Federals had given up trying to get through Yazoo Pass. A scout reported, “Fleet returned up the Pass Tuesday, except one tug, Walch, two guns, which is anchored at junction. Rest of enemy’s forces gone back to (Moon) Lake; some think to Helena (Arkansas).”

Another report from a “reliable gentleman” stated that “the Federal officers proclaim that they will take Vicksburg by a dash of their gunboats, and transports will land their whole force in front, taking it by storm.” Meanwhile, the Federal expedition’s naval commander, Lieutenant Commander Watson Smith, reported that his vessels could not move any faster than a mile and a half per hour due to the countless obstructions in the waterway.

Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, began having grave concerns because in addition to the flotilla, Federals were digging a canal to bypass the Vicksburg batteries on the other side of the Mississippi, as well as other canals north of town. He received a message from his superiors asking about reports that Federals had reached Yazoo City: “What are the facts? And where are the boats?”

By the 10th, the Federal flotilla had entered the Tallahatchie River, continuing east to reach the Yazoo. As the ironclad gunboat U.S.S. Chillicothe destroyed a bridge spanning the Tallahatchie above Fort Pemberton, Ross received a message from his immediate superior, General Isaac Quinby:

“He (Major General Ulysses S. Grant, army commander) evidently attaches great importance to the movement down the Yazoo River, the failure of which would in all probability render it necessary to make a complete change in the present programme, and, to say the least, delay for a long time the accomplishment of our immediate object.”

Quinby directed Ross to “proceed with extreme caution, and under no circumstances bring on an engagement until re-enforced by at least my division, unless confident of victory.” Ross, Smith, and Lieutenant Colonel James H. Wilson (commanding the Federal engineers) decided to probe Fort Pemberton to determine its strength. But since the ground was too marshy for a major troop landing, just a small detachment went ashore. And due to the waterway’s narrowness, only two gunboats could advance at a time. The Chillicothe took the lead, followed by the U.S.S. Baron de Kalb.

After the initial probe, the gunboats returned to trade fire with the Confederates from about 800 yards. Lieutenant Commander James P. Foster of the Chillicothe reported that one of his gun crews was “rendered perfectly useless, 3 men being killed outright, 1 mortally wounded, and 10 others seriously wounded, while the other 5 of the gun’s crew had their eyes filled with powder.” The Confederates scored numerous hits on the Federal ironclad until she had to withdraw. The Baron de Kalb, farther out of range, sustained no damage but withdrew with the Chillicothe.

The Federals spent the next day repairing the Chillicothe and placing a battery on shore northeast of Fort Pemberton, protected by cotton bales. Pemberton wrote President Jefferson Davis, “I think General Loring will be able to repel them,” because “not more than two gunboats can operate at the same time against the fort.”

The gunboats resumed the fight at 11 a.m. on the 13th, with the Chillicothe again forced to withdraw after taking 38 hits. The Baron de Kalb continued the bombardment but had to withdraw when her ammunition ran low. The Confederates sustained some casualties when a Federal shell exploded some of their ammunition, but the fort was otherwise undamaged. Had the Federals known the Confederates were running out of ammunition, they might have pressed the attack harder.

Loring reported to Pemberton, “We have lost some valuable gunners and a few others. Thank God, our losses so small. Enemy’s losses must be great.” But the Federals lost just six men (two killed and four wounded) aboard the Chillicothe. Ross reported, “We have no means of knowing the extent of the enemy’s damage. If no greater than our own, I may truly say that nobody was hurt by today’s operations.”

Assessing the damage to his gunboat, Foster reported, “The Chillicothe is now in condition to engage the enemy, she is, however, badly battered and shattered, and does not withstand the enemy’s shot and shell near as well as expected.” Both sides spent the next two days strengthening their positions, with the Federals placing more shore guns and Loring receiving much-needed ammunition.

During that time, Colonel Wilson wrote a series of letters to Colonel John Rawlins, Grant’s chief of staff. In them, he expressed a low opinion of Lieutenant Commander Smith’s handling of affairs and stated that neither Smith nor “his commanders are very sanguine” about another attack. Wilson added a touch of sarcasm in one letter:

“I have no hope of anything great, considering the course followed by the naval forces under direction of their able and efficient Acting Rear-Admiral, Commodore, Captain, Lieutenant-Commander Smith… Ross has done all in his power to urge this thing forward. If what he suggested had been adopted, the iron clads would have been here fifteen days ago and found no battery of any importance. So much for speed.”

Wilson predicted that if the Federals failed to capture Fort Pemberton, “Vicksburg becomes subordinate, our department secondary, and (William) Rosecrans’ army (of the Cumberland) our hope in the West. Won’t we, in that event, be required to furnish 50,000 or 60,000 men?”

The Federal gunboats renewed their attack on Fort Pemberton on the 16th, with the Chillicothe and Baron de Kalb advancing again, supported by a mortar boat. The Confederates disabled the Chillicothe within 15 minutes by hitting her casemate and disabling her guns, forcing her to withdraw. Foster reported, “The backing to the turret is shattered all to pieces, and the iron plating on the turret is penetrated, knocked loose, stove in, and almost unfit for service.”

Smith ordered the Baron de Kalb to fall back as well, and Ross concluded that the fort could not be taken with the resources at hand. Wilson, however, remained “perfectly certain the place can be taken in time, by a proper and prompt array of strength, and all the necessary materials for such an operation.” But for now, the Yazoo Pass expedition appeared to be fizzling out for the Federals.

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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. 265-67; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 269-71; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 328; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 846

The Yazoo Pass Expedition

February 7, 1863 – A Federal army-navy expedition began in an effort to capture Vicksburg by entering Yazoo Pass and approaching the city by water from the north.

Acting Rear Admiral David D. Porter, commanding the Federal Mississippi River Squadron, had lost all hope that Vicksburg could be taken by naval force alone. Confederates now had 50 guns overlooking the river, atop bluffs so steep that 10,000 troops could not climb up to them. Porter wrote, “We can, perhaps, destroy the city and public buildings, but that would bring us no nearer the desired point than we are now, and would likely put out the little spark of Union feeling still existing in Vicksburg.”

Yazoo Pass Expedition Map | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

He then came upon the idea of destroying a Mississippi River levee to flood Yazoo Pass. This would allow his gunboats to move to the Coldwater River, a tributary of the Tallahatchie, and then on to the Yazoo River in Vicksburg’s rear. Grant could then “follow with his army and Vicksburg attacked in the rear in a manner not likely dreamed of.”

Major General Ulysses S. Grant was not confident that such an operation would work. But he would not be ready to launch an all-out offensive against Vicksburg until spring, and he could not afford to appear idle until then. He therefore approved this and other minor operations, standing ready to exploit them in the slim chance that they succeeded.

The expedition would include elements of the army headed by Brigadier General Leonard F. Ross of XIII Corps, and the navy led by Lieutenant Commander Watson Smith. Seven gunboats, led by the ironclads U.S.S. Baron de Kalb and Chillicothe, would escort 5,000 troops aboard army transports.

Lieutenant Colonel James H. Wilson, chief Federal topographical engineer, devised the plan to open the levee sealing Yazoo Pass. Federal soldiers and engineers mined and detonated explosives that blew a 75-foot-wide hole in the levee and flooded the pass. The water swept away everything in its path, running too fast to guarantee safe navigation. This delayed the start of the expedition for several days.

The flotilla finally moved out on the 7th, riding the fast current onto Moon Lake. Obstructions such as underwater tree stumps and low hanging tree branches damaged the tinclad U.S.S. Forest Rose and generally hindered the Federal advance.

Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, commanding the Confederate Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, knew that Yazoo Pass could be a weak point and directed his troops to obstruct the area with felled trees even before the Federal expedition began. The natural impediments combined with the Confederate obstructions to slow the Federal advance to about 10 miles per day.

As the flotilla struggled ahead, the Confederates quickly installed a garrison at Fort Pemberton, also known as Fort Greenwood, near Greenwood, Mississippi. The small work stood on the neck of land between the Tallahatchie to the north and the Yazoo to the south, about 50 miles north of Yazoo City. The troops, led by Major General William W. Loring, built defenses out of cotton bales but had just 10 guns to defend against a Federal naval approach. Loring also scuttled the former Star of the West to obstruct the waterway.

Meanwhile, the Federals continued pushing through the obstructions using “picks, spades, and wheelbarrows.” Smith insisted that the entire flotilla move together, rejecting Ross’s pleas to allow the ironclads to go ahead. This delayed the advance and gave the Confederates more time to build their defenses.

Two weeks after the Federals blew up the levee, Pemberton received a report from a Confederate naval lieutenant:

“The enemy have driven us off from the works on the Pass, and are coming through. Hasty obstructions with fortifications may save Yazoo City. I have done my best; worked under their noses, till their pickets came in 100 yards of me.”

Captain Isaac Brown, commanding Confederate naval forces at Yazoo City, also wrote Pemberton:

“I regret that we have so little time to make preparations, so little, in fact, that I cannot be answerable for what may happen, in other words, I can give no assurance that we shall be able to stop the enemy, as we cannot tell with what amount or description of force he is coming through. We will do all we can.”

Pemberton in turn wrote President Jefferson Davis:

“Many believe that the enemy will get through the Yazoo Pass, and I am informed that, by the use of steam saw-mills, three quarters of a mile of solid obstructions were removed in two days. I do not apprehend anything serious from this demonstration, still, if it be the enemy’s purpose to lay siege to Vicksburg, this is doubtless part of his plan to cut off our supplies, and would materially assist the investment of the place.”

Pemberton requested a “full supply of ammunition to be furnished for the defense of Vicksburg.” On the 23rd, Pemberton received word that the Federal flotilla had reached the Coldwater, en route to the Tallahatchie. He sent more troops to bolster Loring at Fort Pemberton. However, the Federals turned back when Colonel Wilson advised them to clear more obstructions before continuing forward. By the end of February, the Federals had finally cleared Yazoo Pass and entered the Coldwater River.

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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. 259, 264; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 202; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 260-62, 265-67; Grant, Ulysses S., Memoirs and Selected Letters: Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant, Selected Letters 1839–1865 (New York: Library of America, 1990), p. 267; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 75-76; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 321; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 846