On Saturday, 9 May, 1863, 56 year old General Joseph Eggelston Johnson (above) received a telegram from the Confederate Secretary of War, 47 year old James Alexander Seddon. In classic Seddon double-talk, it read, “Proceed at once to Mississippi and take chief command of the forces there, 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, three thousand good troops...now on their way to General Pemberton...and more may be expected.”
To Johnson's experienced eye the missive set him up to be blamed for the military disaster created by the arrogant meddlesome martinet, Confederate President Jefferson Davis ((above). And hidden in Seddon's verbosity were two ugly realities. There were no additional troops available, and Davis reserved the right to interfere with Johnson's command at anytime to make things worse.
The unwelcome call to duty found Johnson still recovering from his 1862 wounds, almost bedridden in muddy little village of Tullahoma, Tennessee, watching the 45,000 hungry men of The Army of Tennessee slowly starving to death. It was clear to Johnson, that his subordinate, 46 year old General Braxton Bragg, was going to be easy prey, as soon as the 50,000 man Federal Army of the Cumberland, under 42 year old Major General William Starke “Rosy” Rosecrans, decided to move against them. But south of Bragg's precarious position was the vital railroad junction town of Chattanooga, Tennessee, through which food and arms from Alabama and Georgia were being carried to the rebel Army of Northern Virginia. Surprisingly little of that bounty reached Bragg's slowly dwindling army.
Like the arrogant and annoying carbuncle Jefferson Davis thought him to be, Johnson replied promptly. He wrote, “ I shall go immediately, although unfit for field-service. I had been prevented, by the orders of the Administration, from giving my personal attention to military affairs in Mississippi at any time since the 22d of January. On the contrary, those orders had required my presence in Tennessee during the whole of that period.” You could almost hear Davis spit in reply across the humming telegraph wires.
Pausing in his whining, on Sunday morning, 10 May, 1863, Joseph Johnson boarded an express train headed south for Chattanooga. Arriving on the Tennessee River, he was less than 400 miles from his destination, via first the Memphis and Charleston Railroad, to Corinth, Mississippi, where he would previously have changed to the Mobile and Ohio rail line directly to Jackson. At 30 miles an hour the journey should have taken less than a day. But Corinth had been in Federal hands for a year, and that route was no longer available to Confederates.
So, from Chattanooga, General Johnson had to continue 140 miles south on the Western and Atlantic Railroad to Atlanta, Georgia. There he had to switch to the Atlanta and West Point Railroad to connect in that city with the Western Railway of Alabama, in order to reach Montgomery - another 160 miles of travel. It is famously only 50 miles from Montgomery to Selma, Alabama, home in 1863 to the Ordnance and Naval Foundry complex at the head of navigation on the Alabama River. And it was only 50 miles further to Meridian, Mississippi, along the planned route of the Alabama and Mississippi Railroad. But the war had broken out before that line had reach much beyond Selma, and the final 50 mile gap would never be completely closed – a bridge over the Tombigbee River would not be built until the 1870's.
So, after reaching Selma, General Johnson had to shift to a spur of the Nashville and Louisville railroad, which traveled 176 miles south and west to Mobile Alabama. There he was able to transfer to the Mobile and Ohio railroad for the 150 mile trip almost due north to Meridian, Mississippi. Once there, the weary and wounded General could board a Southern Railroad express for the final 100 miles to the capital city - Jackson, Mississippi. The 400 mile original trip had been almost doubled and the travel time tripled. Johnson did not arrive in Jackson until Wednesday, 13 May, 1863 – a day late and a dollar short.
As the sun rose on Tuesday, 12 May 1863, 19 year old regimental adjutant Henry Otis Dwight (above), was marching north out of Utica, Mississippi in the lead of 7,000 federal infantry. He recalled, “The weather was splendid, the roads were in fine condition and there was plenty to eat in the country.” He also noted, “...we were more conscientious about taking (about) what we wanted than where we were.”
Where they were was deep in the bowels of the Confederacy, without a safe line of retreat or a reliable line of supply. And yet they were supremely confident in themselves and their commanders - from 38 year old Colonel Manning Ferguson Force of the 20th Ohio, all the way up to 37 year old commander of the 3rd division, 37 year old Illinois native John “Jack” Alexander Logan.
He was born and raised in the southern crust of Illinois which touched the slaves states of Missouri and Kentucky. The busy port at the junction of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, Cairo, Illinois, along with the towns of Thebes, Goshen and Karnak, inspired the title usually given to the region - “Little Egypt”. In fact Cairo was further south than Richmond, Virginia.
And although the 1847 state constitution made Illinois a “free state”, there were always slaves to be found in “Little Egypt”. And as a member of the state legislature in 1853, John Logan had authored the “Black Law”, which fined any free black man or woman $50 if they stayed in Illinois for longer than 10 days. It earned him the nickname, “Dirty Work Logan”. The fine was increased by $50 for each re-arrest. But even members of his own family, and his long time law partner condemned him for it, John Logan, as a Stephen Douglas Democrat spoke against secession. At the behest of Colonel Ulysses S. Grant, he told a crowd of potential recruits, "There can be no neutrals in this war, only patriots or traitors."
It was understandable then, if there were many who thought “Black” John Logan was a little crazy. He was “...not a large man, (but) his long black hair, piercing ebony eyes, and swarthy complexion gave (him)...an impressive presence.” He was also a political general, given a command because he could raise troops and inspire loyalty in a conflicted region. And he turned out to be a damn good field commander. Wounded three times at Fort Donaldson, and reported as dead on the casualty list, he kept his unit in the fight and held off the rebel attempt to break out. General Logan missed the battle of Shiloh while his wife nursed him back to health. But by the spring of 1863, he was back in the saddle, and in command of the 3rd Division as it marched across Mississippi.
What John Logan saw of slavery in the flesh, in all of its ugly sexist and brutality, convinced this racist that Americans of black skin must be given their freedom, and the right to vote. No less a man than Frederick Douglas once said that if a man like “Black” Jack Logan could have a change of heart about race, then there was hope for everyone. And out in front of that Logan's hope, just after 10:00am this Tuesday morning, was Henry Dwight, and the men of the 20th Ohio.
Dwight wrote later, “The road lay through woods and fields, passing few houses, and what there were were as still as a farmhouse in haying time...Sometimes an old negro woman would appear, bowing and smirking, and then when the first embarrassment had worn off like she would say: “Lord a masay! Be there any more men where you uns come from? ‘Pears like as if I nebber saw so many men since I’se been born.” At this, some one would be sure to give the regular answer in such cases made and provided: “Yes, aunty, we come from the place where they make men.
It was the beginning of the battle or Raymond. And within a few hours, the military situation in Mississippi would be very different.