May of 1863 was a dry month. In California it was the second spring of a 4 year drought, which killed half a million cattle and sheep. It was so dry that spring in Kansas, the Junction City Union reported “If this continues another week, this section, at least, will be 'blowed' away.” In Nebraska hot dry winds converted the muddy South Platte river into “...clouds of dust and sand...”. Farmer Sam Clark wrote from southern Iowa, “Unless we have rain and that very soon the corn crop in this state will be almost a complete failure… “
In Saint Paul, Minnesota, the Mississippi River fell so low that May, riverboats were unable to navigate. During the first three weeks of the month, Milwaukee, Wisconsin receive just six-tenths of an inch of rain. In Kentucky, the dry weather sped up the hay and grain harvesting, but also “shriveled the rivers (to) fordable in many places”. But the dry weather made marching easy for the long columns of blue clad locusts as they spread across the interior of the state of Mississippi, consuming everything within reach.
But all good - and bad - things must come to an end, and in the early morning darkness of Thursday, 14 May, 1863, a cold front slipped across the American south. Clouds suddenly appeared. and dropped a brief downpour on the dirt roads and the 55,000 sleeping Yankee soldiers.
When 33 year old Hoosier, Brigadier General Marcellus Montroe Crocker (above), saw the Clinton – Jackson road that morning, the water was pooling a foot deep in low spots on the sun hardened pavement. Over night General McPherson and, 9 miles to the south, General Sherman and agreed to coordination their assaults, so Crocker found himself burdened with a schedule.
General Crocker, also known as "The Black-Bearded Cossack", for his behavior under fire, was another example of the way the war had reshaped men’s lives. He had been forced to leave West Point in 1849 when his father’s death required him to return to Indiana. In 1851 Marcellus had moved to Iowa, where he passed the bar in 1852. But when the war broke he immediately raised a company of volunteers. Over the winter of 1861-62 Marcellus was promoted 4 times, eventually to Brigadier General. He commanded a brigade at the battle of Shiloh (above) - where he was wounded in the arm, the neck and the shoulder. He also led a brigade at the Battle of Corinth, throwing the rebels back with a desperate charge. He had now risen to command the 17th division, 13 regiments from Iowa, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio.
On the other side of the war, just about dawn that Thursday, General Gregg led the about 900 men - 24th South Carolina, 46th Georgia, and 14th Mississippi Regiments – past the deaf and dumb asylum, 2 miles out the muddy Jackson - Clinton road. Their goal was the hilltop farm of 51 year old Oliver Perry Wright.
Oliver had been born in North Carolina, married Katherine “Kate” Barrett and moved to Mississippi in 1852. Over the next eight years the couple raised six children, 1 boy and 5 girls, supporting them by using slaves to cultivate 400 acres of not cotton but fruit and foodstuffs for the citizens of Jackson. Like all white males in Mississippi, Oliver was a member of the anti-slave militia. And despite his age Oliver was a member of the 23rd Mississippi Volunteer Infantry, but probably as a staff officer. He was not listed as captured when the 23rd surrendered at Fort Donaldson in February of 1862. But he was a loyal southerner. And now, General Gregg had decided to turn the Perry “farm” into a battlefield.
It took the rebels about an hour on slick, muddy roads to reach the farm, and they immediately began laying out a defensive line, with skirmishers out front in the fields. The 24th was stationed behind the fence line in front of the house and barns, the Georgia 46th cleared some some fields of fire in an orchard by chopping down a few trees, and the 14th Mississippi was held back in reserve. By about 10:00am the rebels were as ready as they were ever going to be, when the lead elements of General Crocker's 2nd Brigade arrived from Clinton. The rebel skirmishers were pushed back into their lines by the advance of 5 regiments under 32 year old Colonel Green Berry Raum, a fiercely anti-slavery Democrat from Illinois. And Raum had just gotten his men into a line of battle for the uphill assault when the skies opened up again.
The down pour forced a full hour's delay. Frustrated by the rain, General Crocker ordered Colonel Raum to quickly clear the road to Jackson. So, about 11:00am, with bayonets fixed, the 17th Iowa, the 10th Missouri, and the 80th Ohio regiments (above) surged forward toward the fence line. The rebels had time to fire a single volley before they were swamped by the blue coats.
For a few long moments the entire war was reduced to twenty-five hundred men in hand to hand combat, struggling for personal survival. The 80th Ohio suffered 90 men killed or wounded. The Missouri and Iowa regiments probably matched that loss. The 24th South Carolina Volunteers lost over a 100 men, and the Georgia boys almost as many.
Realizing he had already bought the city of Jackson an addition 2 hours, General Gregg (above) sounded the recall. And covered by the 14th Mississippi, Gregg's bloodied little force of now less than 700 men, arrived back in the Jackson trench lines about 1:00pm. But by 2:00pm, “Crocker's Grayhounds” had been reorganized and were following the rebels back up the road to Jackson.
Ten miles to the south the 16,000 men of Major General William Tecumseh Sherman's XVth Corps had spent the evening camped around an old health spa called “Mississippi Springs” - half way between Raymond and Jackson.
In a rough circle, 7 sulfur springs fed pools, each with a distinctive taste, smell and laxative effect, and with their adjacent hotels or rooming houses. The Federal soldiers, road grit grinding between their teeth, would have understood the words offered 20 years earlier by the drill operator to the Reverend Cooper. When he hit water south of Raymond, he told the Reverend, “It is water, but it stinketh mightily. It stinketh so bad you can never use it." So, like the Reverend Cooper, the owners of the Mississippi Springs labeled their source a “health spring” and charged more for bathing in and drinking it. But all these dusty Yankee visitors wanted was a long drink of cool untainted water, and after midnight the cloud burst gave them that, and more.
Come the dawn, the Federal advance was led by the 5,000 men of the 3rd division under 39 year old Brigadier General James Madison Tuttle (above).
In the front was Brigadier General Joseph “Fighting Joe” Anthony Mower (above)'s brigade. Immediately behind them was the 6 gun 2nd Iowa Battery, and 6 guns of Battery E of the 1st Illinois Artillery. Clearly Sherman expected some delaying action by the Confederates to try and stop his corps from getting into Jackson. The rest of the division's infantry, Brigadier General Charles Matthies and Brigadier General Ralph Buckland's brigades, followed.
General Gregg had just dispatched 900 men up the Clinton road when his few cavalry pickets reported Yankees out the Raymond Road. Quickly Gregg threw what he had at the new problem, the 1st Georgia “Sharpshooter” Battalion and the 3rd Kentucky Mounted Infantry, both under the 34 year old Kentucky lawyer, Colonel Albert Petty Thompson (above).
His orders to Thompson were to hold the enemy at the Lynch Creek bridge. And to provide the defense some punch he also dispatched a precious 4 gun battery – a pair of six pound Napoleons and two 3 inch rifles – the Brookhaven Light Artillery - commanded by Captain James S. Hoskin. Gregg made it clear to the Captain those guns had to hold the Yankees until relieved.
Two miles from the trenches of Jackson, and at about 9:30am, Thursday, 14 May, 1863, the 5th Minnesota Infantry crossed the crest of a ridge above Lynch Creek. Hoskin's artillery immediately laid down harassing fire on the approaching Yankees So 27 year old Colonel Lucius Frederick Hubbard got his Minnesota men spread out into a skirmish line, and Captain Nelson Spoor deployed all 12 federal guns on both sides of the Raymond road and started laying down a counter-battery fire.
One of the rebel crewmen in Hoskin's battery, the unit's bugler, Isaac Herman, remembered that counter fire as very personal. “One of their shots passed over my gun,” he wrote later, “and knocked off its sight. passed between the detachment, striking the caisson lid in the rear and staving it in.” Herman stuck to his gun, until he, “... saw a ball rolling on the ground, about six feet to my right. It seemed to be about the same caliber as ours. It rolled up a stump, bouncing about fifteen feet in the air. I thought it was a solid shot and wanting to send it back to them through the muzzle of our gun, I ran after it. It proved to be a shell, as it exploded, and a piece of it struck my arm...Another ball struck a tree about eight inches in diameter, knocked out a chip, which struck my face and caused me to see the seven stars in plain day light...”.
In the meantime, General Tuttle started looking for a way around the bridge. The overnight rain had converted the usually lazy Lynch Creek into a full river, but after half an hour the Hoosier found a ford to the south, and started pushing the rest of the 2nd battalion across. As they did, Colonel Thompson realized his position had been turned. So he sent his Georgia foot soldiers streaming back toward the Jackson trenches, relying on his mounted Kentuckians to cover the withdraw of the cannon. They were not in time, and the battery was captured.
By 2:00pm, General Tuttle had advanced up to the Jackson defenses, and seeing the trench line filled with men and cannon, he again moved to outflank the rebels. But the enemy to his front were now mostly Mississippi militia. Johnston had declared the evacuation complete, and Thompson's men were retreating through the city. Only Gregg's 700 were still in the western trench line. But they were ready to follow.
When Tuttle's latest flanking movement found empty trenches, Sherman ordered his corps to move into the city, sweeping up the militia in the process. By 4:00pm the stars and stripes was flying again from atop the Mississippi statehouse (above). The Battle of Jackson – such as it was – had cost General Grant 42 dead, 25 wounded and 7 missing in both corps. Rebel losses were about double that The second Confederate state capital – after Nashville – had fallen to federal forces. Immediately Grant issued orders to first gut the place and then to abandon it.