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Friday, May 02, 2008

TUESDAY MAY 5, 1863

Lt. General John C. Pemberton has been ordered by Jefferson Davis to defend Vicksburg, Mississippi “at all costs”. His immediate superior, General Joe E.Johnston, has reminded Pemberton that his army is more valuable than the town. But Pemberton has learned his lesson from South Carolina too well. In the end, Davis had appointed a man much like himself – a man without much imagination. And in the commander of an independent, distant and vital outpost, that is a recipe for disaster.


After misjudging Grant’s move downstream, Pemberton now compounds his failure by underrating Grant’s audacity and tendency to strike for the jugular. The jugular of Vicksburg, its reason de arte as a military objective, is the Vicksburg, Jackson & Brandon Railroad that runs west to Jackson, Mississippi. There it crosses the Central Mississippi Railroad, which connects the wharehouse of the Vicksburg docks with the rest of the Confederacy. A Federal army across the tracks of the Vicksburg, Jackson line, even for a few days, could cut that supply line permanently. And if that happened Vicksburg’s value to the Confederacy would be reduced by half: cut that railroad and supplies from Arkansas and Texas and Western Missouri, carried to the Western banks of the Mississippi River on the Vicksburg & Shreveport Railroad, and ferried across the river to Vicksburg, would then have to be loaded onto wagons and transported the painful, tortuous 44 miles by road to the state capital at Jackson, Mississippi and reloaded on the Central Mississippi Railroad. What can be traversed today by automobile in less than an hour, in 1863 required five long exhausting days to cover; it required horses and men and, after two years of war, the Confederacy was running short of both. So it was vital not that Vicksburg be held, but that the Vicksburg, Jackson & Brandon Railroad be held. And the only way that can be done, now that Grant is on the East shore of the River, is to defeat Grant’s army and force it to retreat.

Grant understands that and expects Pemberton to come out of Vicksburg for the fight, and to do so before Sherman can make the long march from Milliken’s Bend to Hard Times Landings, be ferried across the Mississippi, and then march up to the Bayou Pierre line to reinforce him. And before Grant's perilously long supply line could be cut. At the moment Grant has only two corps with him, perhaps 28,000 men. Pemberton has, in Vicksburg, 5 divisions – perhaps 35,000 men. In effect Grant has gambled everything on one big battle somewhere along the Big Black Creek or Bayou Pierre, (and soon!) where his experienced and confident veterans of Shiloh and Fort Donaldson can defeat Pemberton’s men in a one-on-one fight.


But Pemberton will not come out to fight Grant. Instead Pemberton sends three of his five divisions forward to guard the line of the Big Black Creek, about half way between Vicksburg and Grant’s position behind Bayou Pierre, as if daring Grant to attack him . And he instructs all reinforcements (which had finally begun hurrying to his aid) to disembark at Jackson and advance to Raymond, Mississippi, about 20 miles West of Jackson – just under half way between the two cities.

But it was here that the April Federal cavalry raid by Col. Grierson re-enters the story. Late in his raid, Grierson's troopers had cut the Central Mississippi Railroad at several places around Brookhaven. Because of that the Confederate infantry moving from Port Hudson to Jackson, (a total travel distance of 200 miles) have to march 85 miles of that. A one or two day trip by rail has been turned into a week long, exhausting odyessy. One overstrength brigade of 3,000 men (Gregg’s ) from Port Hudson would not arrive in Jackson on until May 9. Two others would not arrive in time.

In the mean time the only offensive force that Pemberton commands in Jackson is a regiment of cavalry under Daniel Weisiger ("Wirt") Adams, a combative Kentucky lawyer. Adams now takes his entire brigade, not to Raymond as Pemberton has ordered, but all the way to the watering station at Edwards –almost 2/3 of the way to Vicksburg. Perhaps he is attempting to cover the Vicksburg & Jackson Railroad, but more likely Adams is just looking for a fight. But because "Wirt" Adams makes this advance without notifying Pemberton (or anyone else) he is also fatally wounding the defense of Jackson, Mississippi.

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