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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

MONDAY, MAY 11, 1963

Union General McClernand’s Corp, out of the lead of the Union Army for the first time since leaving Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana in mid-April, reaches Five Mile Creek in Mississippi. Meanwhile, General Sherman reaches Auburn, Mississippi. But because the roads out of Raymond have not been picketed, travelers from there can come and go as they please. Thus McPherson, advancing out of Utica, is well aware of the presence of Confederate troops in Raymond, but the Confederates are not yet aware of his presence, just half a day’s march South of Raymond. Not wanting to alert the Confederates, the Federals are marching under strict drum and bugle silence. Still, General McPherson’s biggest concern this day is finding water for his men. It is an amazing turn of events considering that for weeks his men have been waist deep in swamps and bayous. It has been the driest Mississippi spring in decades.

In fact it is a year for freakish weather. On January 21, 1863 the Army of the Potomac suffered through the infamous “Mud March”. Days of heavy rain, followed by vicious winds and temperatures in the 30’s, turned yet another attempt to sidestep Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, into a freezing march into hell. Defeated by the weather the Union troops returned to their winter camps and the bumbling General Ambrose Burnside was replaced by the over confident Hooker. A month later, on February 25, a foot of snow and mild temperatures allow 10,000 rebel soldiers of the Army of Northern Virginia to engage in what might have been the largest snowball fight in history.

Early that spring farmers in the upper Midwest sensed a good crop ahead, but May brought drought from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. St. Paul recorded less than an inch of rain over the first 21 days of May, and then on the 22 \23 the city was flooded with a 2 inch downpour – followed by a return to drought conditions and cool temperatures. The Mississippi River is so low that barge and boat traffic through the twin cities is heavily restricted.

The droughts in Southern California that year and the next were so severe they killed a quarter of a million cattle in Santa Barbara County, and even more in Los Angeles and San Diego counties, reducing all of the Southern California Rancheros, the foundation of the local economy, to financial ruin. It also opens the way for the introduction of the Valencia Oranges from South America. The record of tree rings says that the drought of 1863-64 across the Great Plains and the South Western United States was even more severe than the Dust Bowl years of the 1930’s.

Confederate General Johnston telegraphs Pemberton in Vicksburg, urging him to abandon the city and withdraw to Jackson. Pemberton refuses. Jefferson Davis has ordered him to hold Vicksburg at all costs. Pemberton replies instead to Johnston that he has placed strong forces along the Big Black River and is attempting to build a force “of maneuver” at Raymond. Pemberton’s “plan” is simple; either way Grant turns there will then be a Confederate army in his rear. It is a brilliant “Napoleonic” plan on paper and totally impractical in reality. It depends upon rapid communication between two widely separated forces, divided by a powerful and active enemy force. Johnston knows that by the time the forces at Raymond could intervene, Grant could defeat Pemberton’s army on the Big Black. And Grant is about to prove the absurdity of Pemberton’s plan, should the Union troops instead fall on Jackson. Besides, whichever way Grant turns, Pemberton’s strategy has left the Vicksburg & Jackson Railroad unprotected. With so much as a singe mile of that track destroyed, Vicksburg becomes an albatross around Pemberton’s neck. But Pemberton seems unwilling to accept this reality.

General Gregg’s troops arrive in Raymond late in the afternoon, dust covered and exhausted yet again. One soldier writes, “…when the brigade filed into a field near Raymond to camp, the men were too tired to stand in line long enough to ‘right dress,’ and everyone dropped to rest as soon as we halted.” To his surprise Gregg does not find Wirt Adam’s cavalry in town as he had been told they would be, (Adams has galloped ahead to Edwards), leaving behind on guard only a force of 40 state cavalry militia. Gregg is forced to rouse his own men to finally picket the Utica road.

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