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Friday, May 09, 2008

THURSDAY, MAY 14, 1863

The rain pours down all night, letting up only in midmorning. The roads into and out of Jackson are reduced to quagmires. General McPherson’s corps begins the day by capturing Clinton, Mississippi, five miles East of Jackson. This is the first stop on the Vicksburg & Jackson Rail Road, and McPherson sets his men to work at once destroying the track. The instant that track is broken and twisted into what will later be called “Sherman’s neckties” Vicksburg becomes an albatross around Pemberton’s neck. Johnston knows this, and that is why he has ordered General Gregg to hold Jackson only long enough to allow for an orderly retreat.
Sherman also senses the rebels are not serious about fighting. So, despite facing water a foot deep across his path, despite facing a continuing downpour, and despite not being certain about the condition of his soldier’s powder, Sherman orders his men forward at the bayonet, looking for weak points. At about 10AM they cross the Plum Creek and the Lynch Creek Bridge and quickly drive the Confederates back into their fortifications. Meanwhile, to the North, on the Union right flank, General McPherson has pushed two divisions, commanded by Generals Logan and M.M. Crocker, forward to pin down the rebel troops.
General Marcellus M. Crocker is an example of the way the war has reshaped men’s lives. He had been enrolled in West Point when his father’s death required him to return home to Illinois in the fall of 1849. Marcellus then moved to Iowa and passed the bar in 1852. When the war broke he immediately raised a company of volunteers. Over the winter of 1861-62 Marcellus was promoted to Brigadier General and commanded troops at the battles of Shiloh and Corinth. In the Vicksburg campaign Crocker commands the 17th division. Later in the war Crocker will be offered the Republican nomination for Iowa governor, but replys “If a soldier is worth anything he cannot be spared from the field; if he is worthless, he will not make a good Governor.”
By noon Crocker and Logan’s men have driven the Confederates back into their fortifications, and McPherson calls a halt to feel out the rebel lines. At the same time, to the South and West of Jackson, Sherman’s Corp is tapping the Confederate lines at the bridge over Plum Creek, and sends General Tuttles’s division Eastward to outflank the rebel line. There, just after 2pm, General Tuttle finds the fortifications empty. The Confederate General Gregg has received orders to withdraw North along the Central Mississippi Railroad and the Canton Road.
The “Battle of Jackson” has cost Grant’s army 42 dead, 25 wounded and 7 missing. Gregg lost about 845 dead, wounded and captured, affirming Johnston’s decision not to stand and fight with a mix of militia and regulars against a far stronger Union force. Sherman’s men enter Jackson at about 4pm, and almost immediately Grant begins issuing orders to abandon the newly won prize.
The goal of the campaign is Vicksburg, and Grant has never lost sight of that. The capture of Vicksburg opens the Mississippi River and it cuts the Confederacy in-two. The capture of Jackson is merely a step on the road to that goal. Grant does not have the men to hold the place and take Vicksburg. So, even while Grant’s commanders celebrate in the Bowman house he is ordering McPherson’s men on the road again, to rejoin McClernand’s Corps, now almost at Clinton. Sherman is to leave two divisions in Jackson, but only long enough to destroy track along the Central Mississippi Railroad, and any manufacturing in the city. By the time Jackson is returned to the Confederacy, Grant means it to be almost worthless.
That night, six miles North of Jackson, and with the telegraph lines cut at Clinton and, now, at Jackson too, General Johnston sends written dispatches to Pemberton in Vicksburg, telling him of the capture of Jackson. But he also see’s an opportunity in this calamity. He now commands 11,000 men, and in 24 hours he will have 15,000. He knows that Grant does not have enough men to hold Jackson and take Vicksburg. So he tries, once more, to prod Pemberton, into action against Grant, asking, “Can he supply himself from the Mississippi? Can you not cut him off from it, and above all, should he be compelled to fall back for want of supplies, beat him? As soon as the re-enforcements are all up, they must be united to the rest of the army. I am anxious to see a force assembled that may be able to inflict a heavy blow upon the enemy." But what Johnston and Pemberton do not yet realize is that Grant is two steps ahead of them. There is no supply line for Pemberton to cut.
This night at Edward’s Station, General Pemberton holds a council of war with his four commanders: Wirt Adams, whose cavalry at Edward’s Station was Pemberton’s eyes and ears; Pembertons's most trusted subordinate, Major General Stevens Bowen, who graduated from West Point in 1853; Major General Carter Stevenson, who graduated from West Point in 1838; and the most colorful and the most argumentative of Pemberton's three divisional commanders, Major General William Wing "Old Blizzard" Loring.

In 1862 Loring was subordinate to Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in the Shenandoah Valley when winter closed in and Jackson took his troops into winter quarters. But Jackson ordered Loring to remain active to keep an eye on the Federals. Loring complained of Jackson’s “utter disregard for human suffering”, specifically he complained to Jackson’s boss, the Confederate Secretary of War, Judah P. Benjamin. Benjamin agreed with Loring and gave him permission to get his men out of the cold. But the insulted Jackson thereupon threatened to resign. And Loring was eventually shipped out to Vicksburg where he could henceforth torment Pemberton.
After the council Pemberton replys to General Johnston’s telegram. “I shall move as early tomorrow as practicable with a column of 17,000 men to Dillions, situated on the main road from Raymond to Port Gibson, 7 1/2 miles to Raymond and 9 1/2 miles from Edward’s Depot. The object is to cut the enemy’s communications 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.”
Pemberton has thus rejected Johnston’s recommendation that they jointly fall on Grant’s rear, at Clinton. Instead Pemberton has chosen to attack the Union supply trains that must be filling the roads between Grand Gulf and Jackson. The most logical focus for such an attack is Dillion, midway between the two. Dillion will be Pemberton’s objective.
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