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Thursday, May 08, 2008

WEDNESDAY, MAY 13, 1863

This morning General U.S. Grant orders General McClernand to pulls back to a line to the East of Raymond, Mississippi, to protect the rear of his operations against Jackson. Having thus neutralized any threat of McClernand getting into trouble (at least for 24 hours) Grant now feels free to join Sherman’s Corp as it advances toward Jackson through Raymond, via Mississippi Springs. In the lead is McPherson's Corps, marching through Clinton before turning East toward Jackson. At Clinton, McPherson's men will cross the Vicksburg and Jackson railroad line, and they will pause here long enough to destroy a couple of miles of track and cut the telegraph line to Vicksburg. The jugular of the "Gilbraltor of the South" will then be severed.
*
Late in the afternoon General Joe Johnston’s train finally arrives in Jackson. Here Johnston discovers that half of the 6,000 troops he expected to command have already been defeated at Raymond the day before, while bearing down on him are two Federal army corps: about 24,000 men. Still there are Confederate reinforcements on their way. Another five thousand men will arrive within 24 hours, and six thousand more 24 hours beyond that. But Johnston is convinced Grant will not give him time for those reinforcements to arrive. And he is right. After consulting with the General Gregg, Johnston telegraphs Richmond, “I am too late”. He then orders Gregg to defend the Jackson only long enough to evacuate as many supplies as possible. To meet this requirement Gregg throws his first line of defence out two miles beyond the Jackson fortifications to the South and West. Johnston is certain that, if he can get Pemberton to come out of Vicksburg, together they will finally have enough men to crush Grant's army between them.
*
General Joseph Eggleston Johnston always contended that the shrapnel wounds he suffered at the Battle of Seven Pines in May of 1862, was the best shot “…ever fired for the Confederacy”. Severely wounded in the shoulder and leg, Johnston was replaced as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia by General Robert E. Lee. But the truth is that Confederate President Jefferson Davis, convinced of his own military genius, had already grown frustrated with Johnston’s cautious formality in command. A hunting companion describs Johnston as man reluctant to shoot because he was “…afraid to…risk his fine reputation.” Johnston is elegant and well mannered to a fault. His feud with Davis really began because he was listed fourth on the Confederate promotion list of new Generals, ahead only of General Bragg, and Johnston felt he should have been listed first.
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Johnston had graduated from West Point in 1829 and had been the first in his class to be promoted to General in the ante bellum U.S. Army. In person Johnston exudes elegance, education and culture, and a 19th Century "Star Quality" largely lost on us today. He was described by Stephen Vincent Benet as the "...the little precise Scotch-dominie of a general, stubborn as flint, in advance not always so lucky, in retreat more dangerous than a running wolf". But whether it was circumstances (such as the timing of his arrival in Jackson) or his overly cautious nature, Johnston is always an excellent general… in retreat.
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After recovering from his wounds Johnston is sent to the Western Theatre in early 1863 - seemingly to keep him out of Lee’s way and Davis' hair. This time Johnston is given no troops to command. Rather he is limited to advising the dyspeptic and argumentative General Braxton Bragg in Chattanooga, and the indecisive Pemberton in far off Vicksburg. Johnston complains to Davis that “I cannot direct both parts of my command at once”. Still, Davis does not have enough faith in Johnston to allow him to command a theatre reserve, nor enough troops to form one - at least not until the situation is so desperate as to be too late. This is what has happened at Jackson. Still, after the war, Grant will observe that, “I have had nearly all of the Southern generals in high command in front of me and Joe Johnston gave me more anxiety than any of the others. I was never half so anxious about Lee.”
*
Late that afternoon, before the telegraph lines to Vicksburg are cut, Johnston sends the following message to Pemberton; "I have lately arrived, and learn that Major-General Sherman is between us…It is important to establish communication, that you may be re-enforced. If practicable, come up in his rear at once...All the troops you can quickly assemble should be brought. Time is all-important."
*
That night the heavens open and the spring drought is briefly quenched with a massive downpour. For awhile, nobody is going anywhere in Mississippi very quickly.

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