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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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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.
*
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.
*
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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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

TUESDAY, MAY 12, 1863

General Johnston sends yet another, firmer, warning to Pemberton. He tells the commander at Vicksburg that Grant is moving toward Jackson and pleads with Pemberton to attack the Union rear. Pemberton replies that he is still not certain which way Grant is going to turn.

General Gregg in Raymond receives word that the main Federal force is approaching Edwards, Mississippi. But he also knows, finally, that there are Federal troops approaching his own position. He logically assumes this latter group must be a mere raiding party. Just after dawn he parades his men through town and conceals them in fields at the edge of Fourteen Mile creek, with 35 men picketed on the bridge over the creek itself. When the Federal raiding party charges across the bridge Gregg intends to pin them against the river with a furious and overwhelming charge of his own.

Just as Gregg expects, about 10AM, Federal skirmishers appear at the tree line South of Fourteen mile creek. But to his surprise they are supported by Union artillery, which begins to shell his picket guard with canister. Clearly this is more than a mere raiding party. But Gregg now assumes it is merely a brigade. So he moves his 3,000 men out of canister range behind some low hills, where they can remain hidden, ready to fall upon the Union Brigade after it crosses the bridge. Gregg also moves two regiments into woods to his left where they can quickly slip across the creek and capture the Union artillery.

What Gregg does not know it that he is facing General John Alexander “Black Jack” Logan’s entire Third Division, advance guard for McPherson’s 17th. Corps of 16,000 men. Logan may look like a wild man with his intense jet black eyes and tosseled hair but he is a surprisingly good soldier - even if he is yet another of those Stephen Douglas Democratic generals. But the difference between the political generals Logan and McClernand, is that Logan is a charismatic leader of men with no dreams of higher command. And he smells Gregg’s trap to his front. Logan allows his men to take a meal break while he posts cavalry on his flanks.

It is after noon before Logan orders his men to advance. But what follows would be a comedy of errors if men were not dieing. On the Union right the 23rd Indiana regiment crosses Fourteen Mile Creek above the bridge, and stumbles sideways into a Texas Regiment that punishes the Hoosiers and sends their survivors scampering into retreat back the way they came. Then the Texans charge across the creek and are caught in a cross fire between an Ohio and an Illinois regiments. They also fall back in retreat. On the opposite flank, the two Confederate regiments step out of concealment to discover what looks like the entire Federal Army in line of battle in front of them, with another two full Union Regiments outflanking the rebel position at that very moment. In a flash the tables have been turned, and suddenly it is the Confederates who had been suckered into attacking a far superior force. The best that Gregg can now do is to fight a series of desperate delaying actions while he withdraws, covered by the Third Kentucky Mounted Infantry which has just arrived from Jackson. Raymond is abandoned as Gregg falls back on the Mississippi capital.

The Union casualties at this "Battle of Raymond" are 68 killed, 341 wounded, and 37 missing. Rebel losses are reported as 100 killed, 305 wounded, and 415 captured. But the Union Army reports burying many more Rebel dead than the 100 officially listed, indicating the almost haphazard nature of the force that was quickly thrown together at Raymond. McPherson senses this and notifies Grant.

By courier and telegraph Grant notifies Washington of his intention to attack the state capital of Jackson, Mississippi on the 14th. The pace of events around Vicksburg are suddenly picking up.

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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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Monday, May 05, 2008

SUNDAY, MAY 10, 1863

In Virginia General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson dies of pneumonia, brought on by bed rest demanded by his wounds at Chancellorsville. When told of his death, Lee, who admits he did not know Jackson very well, still cries out, “I have lost my right arm.”

In Mississippi, Union General McPherson’s Corps cautiously approaches Utica, while Sherman’s Corps advances to the Big Sandy River. McClernand’s Corps, out the lead for the first time since leaving Miliken's Bend, has been ordered to slowly fall back Clinton. Grant has now dropped all his “lines of communication” with Grand Gulf. His men are making do with the rations they carry and what they can forage from the countryside. It is a massive gamble.

William T. Sherman will later calculate that each Union soldier in the field requires three pounds of food stuffs each day, in addition to the 13 pounds of “re-supply” required to keep him “effective”. All of this had to be carried in horse or mule drawn wagons that accompanied each regiment and which tailed behind the army in long supply trains. In addition, each regiment was expected to carry 25% additional supplies for their teamsters - for even though the Civil War has been labeled as “the first railroad war”, its armies were always carried on the backs of horses and mules.

To support each 1,000 men in the field required 40 – 50 wagons (drawn by about 300 mules), to carry foodstuffs (for humans and animals), tents, blankets, cooking gear, ammunition, tack, horse and human shoes, and one or two ambulances. Each of the horses required 26 pounds of fodder per day and each mule required 24 pounds, half of which the army was required to carry and half of which the animals were expected to find for themselves. When Grant proposed “living of the land” after leaving Port Gibson it was a literal proposal for the animals. Each 2-3,000 pound wagon load of supplies could cover about 20 miles in an eight hour day of marching. As the army marched the supplies would be used up, which would lighten the load a little, but the humans and the animals still had to eat.

On average a Civil War army required one horse for every three men - 20 horses to pull each artillery piece, and six mules to pull each wagon. And that was in addition to the mounts for cavalry and officers – which meant that Grant’s army of 42,000 men required 14,000 horses and mules. And the vast majority of animals in a civil war army (and all the mules) were merely beasts of burden. Each horse and mule lived a short, brutal life, even more so than the humans who controlled them.
Following Pemberton’s orders, Gregg’s brigade begins another forced march from their positions North of Jackson to Raymond, 25 miles to the West.
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SATURDAY, MAY 9, 1863

Confederate President Jefferson Davis has repeatedly ordered General Pemberton to defend Vicksburg, while Confederate General Jonston, his immediate superior, has urged Pemberton to take the field against Grant. But with his South Carolina history fresh in his mind Pemberton is inclined to obey Davis, first. Besides he does not feel he has enough strength to secure Vicksburg and Haynes Bluff and engage Grant as far away from Vicksburg as possible. Davis has also attempted to get Robert E. Lee to release Longstreet’s Corps for the Vicksburg defense. But Lee is in the middle of planning his invasion of Pennsylvania and knows that without Longstreet there can be no such invasion. So, as it becomes clear that Pemberton is losing control of events, Davis is forced to finally turn to a man for whom he has no respect. Finally, on this late date, Davis authorizes his Secretary of War (as Davis will not even communicate with the man directly) to order General Joseph E. Johnston to “…proceed at once to Mississippi and take chief command of the forces in the field.” He also issues a public call for state militias to defend Vicksburg. It is all he can do to save the situation in Mississippi.


Meanwhile Brigadier General John Gregg’s over strength 3,000 man Brigade, dispatched from Port Hudson, finally arrives in Jackson after a forced march of 80 parched miles up the damaged rail lines from Brookhaven. He posts his men on the Pearl River, just North of town, where they can enjoy some desperately needed water.

Although he is now a Texan, this is familiar territory for Gregg. He was born in Alabama and attended La Grange College, just across the border in Tennessee (where Grierson began his cavalry raid). Gregg graduated with a law degree, and in 1847 he moved to Fairfield, Texas, where he was elected a County Judge. In 1858 Gregg married the lovely and extraordinary Mary Garth, daughter of one of the wealthiest plantation owners in Alabama and a direct descendant of Patrick Henry, of “give me liberty or give me death” fame. And while, in 1861, John Gregg helped organize the Texas convention on secession and served in the Confederate Provincial Congress in Montgomery, Alabama, his father-in-law was a firm Union man who tried to sell his slaves, in a vain hope of helping to avoid the coming war. Resigning his office, Gregg formed the 7th Texas Infantry regiment and was almost immediately captured. He was exchanged almost as quickly and in September 1862 was commissioned a brigadier General and sent to Mississippi, where he fought at Shiloh.

Today he commands the 1st Tennessee Battalion, made up of the 3rd Tennessee Regiment, 10th/30th Tennessee Regiment (Consolidated), 41st and 50th Tennessee regiments , Captain Hiram W. Bledsoe’s Missouri Battery and Gregg’s old 7th Texas Regiment. With this force, Gregg expects to fall on the rear of Grant’s army when the Union General tries to cross the Big Black River on his way to Vicksburg.
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FRIDAY, MAY 8, 1863

Sherman’s Corp, at last on the Mississippi side of the river, force marches from Grand Gulf all the way to Harkinson’s Ferry, almost 20 miles in a single day. General McClernand’s Corps advances to the Big Sandy Creek. And General McPherson’s Corps is edging toward Utica, Mississippi.

James Birdseye McPherson was a life long soldier, a superb engineer, and universally liked and admired by his peers. He graduated from West Point in 1853, (his roommate was John Bell Hood) and he then designed defenses for New York City and Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. His civil war service began at Forts Henry and Donelson, and after the Battle of Shiloh he was promoted to major General, all under General Grant. He was loved by his troops, and asked no more from them than he himself was willing to risk. A fierce unionist and patriot, McPherson would later answer those who criticized his compassion for suffering Southerners in Vicksburg by saying, “When the time comes that to be a soldier, a man must forget…the claims of humanity, I do not want to be a soldier.”

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